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Ranking the Western Conference’s Second Units

Eric Saar breaks down and ranks the Western Conference’s second units.

Eric Saar



The NBA is a league driven by star power. It’s what many fans care about. That’s how it’s marketed to the masses, and usually fans are more interested in teams with one or more established superstars.

But that’s not how basketball is played. While only five guys are on the court at a time, each team is afforded 15 roster spots for a reason. Basketball is a team game, and it’s important that teammates work together in a cohesive and effective way. It is true that superstars can take a team to the next level and even play more as the playoffs roll around, but depth is very important too. In a 48-minute game, the starters usually play around 32 minutes each (with superstars sometimes averaging a bit more) and that even bumps up a few minutes by the postseason. But those 16 extra minutes can easily be the difference in a game, and can have a cumulative effect throughout the grueling 82-game regular season. .

What if your star players get hurt or have a bad game? That’s when a bench needs to pick up the slack. Needless to say, a team isn’t going anywhere in the NBA without a top-20 player or two, but it similarly won’t go far without an effective bench. The NBA season is a grind and when the stars aren’t feeling up to the task, the reserves needs to provide a spark.

In this article, we rank the Western Conference’s second units. The teams will be divided up into three tiers. The top tier includes teams that are deep and can rely on production from their reserves. The second tier features teams with reserves that are inconsistent or just average. The third tier consists of teams whose benches are a major weakness and will likely be a liability throughout the upcoming season. The following list ranks the West teams from worst to first.

Third Tier

  1. Dallas Mavericks

The Mavericks’ bench is a disaster. When DeAndre Jordan made his U-turn, things started going downhill for Mark Cuban and his team. They were able to re-sign J.J. Barea, but lost Richard Jefferson. The rest of their backcourt consists of Raymond Felton, John Jenkins, Devin Harris and rookie Justin Anderson. If you thought this was going to be top-heavy team before, just take a look at the roster now. Their best player off the bench might be the 2015 version of Harris, or perhaps Anderson. Their frontcourt consists of some relatively unknown players that most casual fans have never heard of, including Dwight Powell, Maurice Daly Ndour, Satnam Singh Bhamara, Jarrid Famous.

  1. Portland Trailblazers

The Trail Blazers lost a whole bunch of players in free agency this summer. In addition to losing 80 percent of their starting lineup, they also lost depth. Their second unit is basically a host of young, promising, yet unproven talent… and Chris Kaman. At this point, their best bench player is probably C.J. McCollum. The rest of the rotation consists of Noah Vonleh, Meyers Leonard, Allen Crabbe, Maurice Harkless, Pat Connaughton and Tim Frazier. It looks like it’s going to be a rough year for the rebuilding Blazers, though, to their credit, they did well in acquiring some young talent after losing LaMarcus Aldridge to the San Antonio Spurs.

  1. New Orleans Pelicans

Compared to other Western Conference teams, the Pelicans have very little depth and will again likely rely on the monster production of the “The Brow,” also known as Anthony Davis. While Quincy Pondexter and Ryan Anderson aren’t bad players, the rest of the bench is a little thin. While New Orleans will likely be healthier next season compared to 2014-15, their bench will likely be hit and miss throughout, especially considering Luke Babbitt, Dante Cunningham, Alonzo Gee and Toney Douglas will probably be relied on for meaningful production.

  1. Utah Jazz

The Jazz’s starting lineup is certainly maturing and starting to mesh as a unit, but the rest of their roster is comprised of relative unknowns. As of today, the Jazz’s best bench player is probably Alec Burks. Rodney Hood has shown some promise and rookie Trey Lyles could be special. The problem is everyone on the bench is young and inexperienced, which could lead to inconsistent production. Utah’s roster rounds out with Trevor Booker, Grant Jerrett, Jack Cooley, Tibor Pleiss, Joe Ingles, Chris Johnson, Elijah Millsap, Bryce Cotton and Raul Neto.

  1. Los Angeles Lakers

While the Lakers have certainly upgraded their roster both in the starting and second units, they still have a lot of unproven players. Jordan Clarkson had a great summer league, Julius Randle has some serious potential and Lou Williams is a potent scorer, but apart from that they don’t have much. Robert Sacre isn’t really a league average backup center at this point and everyone else are unknowns. The roster is rounded out with Ryan Kelly, Larry Nance Jr., Tarik Black, Anthony Brown and Jabari Brown.

Second Tier

  1. Minnesota Timberwolves

The Timberwolves have the last three number one draft picks in Karl-Anthony Towns, Andrew Wiggins and Anthony Bennett. Towns and Wiggins will be in the starting unit, which leaves Bennett, who hasn’t lived up to his draft position, along with high-flyer Zach LaVine and bruiser Shabazz Muhammad as reserves. While there is young talent here, the bench will likely struggle against opposing second units featuring several veteran players. Tyus Jones, Lorenzo Brown, Damjan Rudez, Gorgui Dieng, Nikola Pekovic, Adreian Payne and Nemanja Bjelica finish out the roster.

  1. Sacramento Kings

The Kings have taken a slightly different route than many of these teams. When other free agents spurned the Kings, they had to move to Plan B. They’ve signed older players as backups that have already hit their peak in the NBA. These veterans won’t make as many mistakes, but also their ceiling is limited. Their bench is headlined by sharpshooter Marco Belinelli and big man Kosta Koufos, both of whom were acquired this summer as free agents. They also have Caron Butler, Omri Casspi and Quincy Acy coming off their bench with Eric Moreland, James Anderson, Seth Curry, David Stockton and Duje Dukan rounding out the roster.

  1. Denver Nuggets

The Nuggets have a very balanced roster overall, which in this case is not a great thing. Most of their players are basically on the same level talent-wise. No one necessarily stands out. They have a bundle of decent role players dotting their roster, but no superstar, at least yet. Headlining the Nugget’s bench is the seventh overall pick in this year’s draft, Emmanuel Mudiay. As of right now he is behind experienced veteran Jameer Nelson, but probably not for long. Also on the roster riding the pine are Gary Harris, Will Barton, Wilson Chandler, J.J. Hickson and a few others. The players ahead of them are only marginally better than them, which means their bench is decent, but their starters arguably are not when compared to the rest of the league. They can hold their own, that’s for sure. The rotation also includes Nick Johnson, Erick Green, Joffrey Lauvergne, Nikola Jokic, Joey Dorsey and Kostas Papanikolaou.

  1. Memphis Grizzlies

The Grizzlies have a very nice starting lineup as well as some high caliber players coming off their bench. Brandan Wright, Jeff Green (though he starts occasionally), the old man Vince Carter and Beno Udrih, have a good mix of talent and skill along with the rest of the second unit to keep the team afloat until the starters can come back in the game. Matt Barnes, Jarnell Stokes, JaMychal Green, Jarell Martin, Jordan Adams and Russ Smith round out the roster.

  1. Oklahoma City Thunder

The Thunder have a great starting lineup but was demolished by injuries in 2014-15. The upside is their bench players gained valuable experience with the extra playing time. D.J. Augustin, sharpshooter Anthony Morrow, Andre Roberson, Kyle Singler, and Steven Adams can certainly hold their own on the court until Russell Westbrook, Kevin Durant and Serge Ibaka are done resting. The rotation is rounded out by Nick Collison, Steve Novak, Cameron Payne and Mitch McGary. However, they probably aren’t going to win you too many games by themselves or make up deficits without some help. That’s what top tier second units do.

First Tier

  1. Phoenix Suns

The Suns have locked in their core for the future and bolstered their shooting and defense as well as their leadership through the draft and free agency. Their bench unit will be quite good in 2015-16. Adding Tyson Chandler sends the budding Alex Len to the bench and gives him even better mentoring as a defensive anchor. They drafted one sharpshooter in Devin Booker and they signed another one in stretch-four Mirza Teletovic. Plus, they opened the door for the effortless scoring of T.J. Warren in a salary dump that created time at the backup small forward spot. They also have Archie Goodwin and signed Sonny Weems. The future is bright for this bench. Look for them to win some games single-handedly when the starters don’t have it going next year.

  1. Houston Rockets

The recent trade to acquire Ty Lawson took a little depth and some longer-term prospects from Houston, but what they lost in quantity they gained in quality.  Lawson will likely take over as the starting point guard (subject to his off court issues), which slots former starter and defensive stalwart Patrick Beverley as the backup point guard. Beverley is a pesk on defense and can knock down shots from three-point range, so he could potentially be one of, if not the best backup point guard in the Western Conference next season. Along with Corey Brewer, Donatas Motiejunas and draft picks Sam Dekker and Montrezl Harrell, the Rockets have some serious firepower coming off the bench. Rounding out their rotation is Clint Capela, Jason Terry and K.J. McDaniels as the backup small forward.

  1. San Antonio Spurs

Of course the Spurs are ranked this high. They have a knack for picking great players from a low draft position and developing players effectively. This offseason they landed star forward LaMarcus Aldridge in free agency and convinced David West to turn down millions in guaranteed money from Indiana for a chance to win a championship. West, along with Manu Ginobili, Boris Diaw, Patty Mills along with some young talent like Ray McCallum and Kyle Anderson will sway many games back in the Spurs’ favor when San Antonio’s starters are off their game. The roster is rounded out by Matt Bonner, Reggie Williams, Boban Marjanovic, Jonathan Simmons and Jimmer Fredette.

  1. Los Angeles Clippers

Boy did the Clippers’ free agency period go from bad to amazing! They lose DeAndre Jordan, then get him back and also sign Paul Pierce, Lance Stephenson, Wesley Johnson and Josh Smith. The Clippers bench is basically a starting unit for an average NBA team all by itself. The rotation is rounded out by Jordan Hamilton, C.J. Wilcox, Cole Aldrich, Austin Rivers and Branden Dawson.

  1. Golden State Warriors

The defending champs won their ring on the back of their versatility and depth. The Warriors retain Draymond Green, which leaves the starting unit intact. They also re-signed Leandro Barbosa and drafted Kevon Looney, who could be a steal as the 30th overall pick. With a championship run under their belts, the bench will likely continue to dominate moving forward, led by finals MVP Andre Iguodala, who stepped up big time when his name was called. A former All-Star, he rode the bench and contributed where he could. Then, when he called to guard LeBron, he performed admirably. The roster is rounded out by James Michael McAdoo, Festus Ezeli, Marreese Speights, Shaun Livingston and Brandon Rush.

Let us know how you rank the Western Conference benches in the comments section below!

Based in Arizona, Eric Saar is an analyst for Basketball Insiders. He has covered the league for several years. He loves to converse about the NBA on Twitter, so follow him at @Eric_Saar. Eric graduated with honors from the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication.


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NBA Daily: Can Anyone Challenge the East’s Top Teams?

The Eastern Conference Finals will likely have two of the top three teams represented. While the rest of the teams in the East battle amongst themselves, do any of them have a shot to knock off Brooklyn, Philadelphia, or Milwaukee in the playoffs?

Chad Smith



The Western Conference has been dominating the league once again, in terms of quality teams from top to bottom. The 13th worst team in the West would be a playoff team in the Eastern Conference. Though their depth is lacking, the East still has a few teams that are championship contenders this season.

The Brooklyn Nets, Philadelphia 76ers and Milwaukee Bucks all have a legitimate chance of reaching the NBA Finals this summer. It is championship-or-bust for these franchises who have emptied their wallets in order to pursue the Larry O’Brien Trophy.

Each of these teams has at least two star players and another All-Star caliber player to help them reach their ultimate goal. Each one of these teams has a legitimate MVP candidate. In Brooklyn’s case, they just might have the greatest offensive three-headed monster the league has ever seen.

Kevin Durant, James Harden, Kyrie Irving, Joel Embiid and Giannis Antetokounmpo are what separates these three teams from the rest of the conference.

This season there is plenty of parity among the remaining teams in the East. The standings change every night as these teams battle with nearly identical records. It would be a shocking surprise to not see one of Brooklyn, Philly or Milwaukee make it to the NBA Finals.

Odds are that two of these three teams will meet in the Conference Finals, but is there another team lurking that could upset the apple cart? Do any of these teams in the second-tier have enough talent and firepower to upset one of the East’s elite? Here are four teams that could play spoiler.

Miami HEAT

After reaching the NBA Finals last season in the bubble down in Orlando, the HEAT have definitely cooled off this year. They had a slow start at the beginning of the season, then had a long pause as health and safety protocols wreaked havoc on their roster. Not having Jimmy Butler and Goran Dragic available really hurt them, but the tide could be turning.

Butler himself has been on a tear since returning to the court — and his teammates have followed his lead. Bam Adebayo has quietly had another outstanding year and they finally got their man Victor Oladipo before the trade deadline passed. Unfortunately, his recent injury put a serious damper on their hopes of getting back to the Finals.

Miami needs Tyler Herro and Duncan Robinson to play more consistently, especially with Oladipo out. Veterans Andre Iguodala and Trevor Ariza should help in the postseason as they incorporate another perimeter shooter in Nemanja Bjelica. They have the star power and the experience needed to make another run, but the odds are stacked against them.

Atlanta Hawks

After a dismal start to the season, the Hawks appear to have figured out their identity. Much like the situation in Boston, this team was tasked with trying to build chemistry during a pandemic without essentially any practice. That is a difficult proposition and something that was going to take time. They also still needed to develop their young guys like Cam Reddish, De’Andre Hunter, Kevin Huerter and Onyeka Okongwu.

After turning things over to Nate McMillan, he has been able to coach up this young squad, even without some of their top talent. Every player on the team has missed a chunk of time this year and they have had to seriously rely on their depth to get them through most of the regular season. Having won 15 of their last 20 games, they now find themselves in a position to have home-court advantage when the playoffs begin.

The vision that Travis Schlenk had in the offseason is finally becoming clear. The incredible play of guys like Clint Capela, Danilo Gallinari, Bogdan Bogdanovic and even Solomon Hill has been vital to their success. They will still lean on Trae Young and John Collins for their offense but the talented pieces around them are what will make this team tough to beat in a seven-game series.

Charlotte Hornets

The Hornets have been one of the pleasant surprises this season, even after the acquisition of All-Star forward Gordon Hayward. Charlotte is the true definition of a team, as they have multiple guys that have stepped up and played well in spots throughout the season. PJ Washington, Malik Monk, Miles Bridges, Bismack Biyombo, Jalen McDaniels and the Martin twins of Cody and Caleb have all contributed to their success.

The play of LaMelo Ball had him sitting at the top of the rookie class before he suffered his broken wrist. His phenomenal first season may be over, but the organization is holding out hope that he may be able to return in the playoffs should Charlotte earn a spot in the postseason. Hayward is also back on the shelf as he continues to deal with a sprained foot. Charlotte has been able to stay afloat during their absences, which is a huge credit to James Borrego.

One more major difference-maker for the Hornets this season has been Terry Rozier. The electric guard is one of the top 40 scorers in the league this season and has been one of the best clutch performers as well. He is shooting a career-best 41 percent from behind the arc and 46 percent overall from the floor. They can be a dark horse come playoff time, but they will need their two best players healthy in order to have any chance.

Boston Celtics

It has been a very strange season for the Celtics, who entered the year with high expectations. They have been the greatest mystery this season and a puzzle that Brad Stevens is still trying to put together. Jaylen Brown has taken his game to another level and Jayson Tatum has had his moments as well. Both have cooled off since the All-Star break and Kemba Walker has been hot and cold from game to game.

Marcus Smart missed a lot of time and they brought in Evan Fournier at the trade deadline but he has yet to fit in like many thought he would. Chemistry could be the issue, but no one has really been able to put their finger on their kryptonite. The good news is that Tatum appears to finally be returning to health after his battle with COVID.

The center position has been a revolving door for this team all season, with Tristan Thompson, Daniel Theis, Robert Williams, Tacko Fall, Moritz Wagner and Luke Kornet all trying to fill the void left by Enes Kanter. They could have had the league’s leading shot-blocker Myles Turner, but Danny Ainge let Hayward walk for nothing instead.

On paper, this team is oozing with talent and should be much better than their record indicates. They may finally be figuring things out, having won six of their last seven games, including four straight. If their issues are truly fixed and if they can stay healthy, they will be a team that nobody wants to face in the playoffs.

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NBA Daily: Rajon Rondo Brings Leadership, Playmaking to Clippers

The Los Angeles Clippers made a big trade deadline move last month when they shipped out locker room favorite and perennial Sixth Man of the Year Lou Williams to the Atlanta Hawks in exchange for Rajon Rondo.

David Yapkowitz



The Los Angeles Clippers made a big trade deadline move last month when they shipped out locker room favorite and perennial Sixth Man of the Year Lou Williams to the Atlanta Hawks in exchange for Rajon Rondo.

The Clippers have had one of the most efficient offenses in the NBA this season, but even so, they have had times where the offense seemingly stalls and they can’t seem to generate easing scoring opportunities especially late in games.

The calls for a true point guard only got louder after those games and the team finally gave in and rolled the dice on one of the league’s better playmakers, especially come playoff time. Williams has been a good playmaker himself throughout his career and he was averaging 3.4 assists per game prior to the trade.

But in Rondo, the Clippers get a premier playmaker and floor leader who has won two championships and whom the Lakers often closed games with last year in the postseason. Rondo made his Clippers debut on Easter Sunday in the team’s win over the Los Angeles Lakers and although his numbers didn’t jump off the stat sheet (2 points, 1 rebound, 3 assists and 4 turnovers in 12 minutes of play), he played with a lot of energy and pushed the pace well, something the Clippers haven’t always been so good at this season.

After the game, Rondo summed up what his role on the team is going to be quite simply.

“Just go out there and try and lead by example,” Rondo said. “I don’t like to talk as much without showing out on the court for my teammates.”

Clippers head coach Tyronn Lue was a little more effusive in his thoughts on how Rondo will fit in on the team and how much better they will be with his addition. The Clippers have spoken all season long about needing to push the ball in transition and try and generate easy scoring opportunities on the break and that’s something Lue noticed right away with Rondo.

“You could just tell his pace brings a different something to our team and offensively he’s getting the outlet close to half court before the first pass is made. That generates pace for us and we need that,” Lue said. “As slow as we run sometimes, it’s probably going to have to be something that we adjust to, but I think he makes the game easier. When you get out and run in transition, a lot of teams can’t get back and get a match so we will get open shots. With him generating the pace, that’s going to be good for us.”

One area in particular that the team is hoping Rondo can help with is taking some of the ball-handling pressure off of Kawhi Leonard and Paul George. Both players have really stepped up in transitioning to primary ball-handling roles, something they haven’t had to do thus far in their careers.

They’re both averaging career-highs in assists at 5.0 and 5.4 respectively and have done well moving the ball around and getting good shots throughout the game for themselves and their teammates. But there have been times when the ball stagnates a bit and both Leonard and George end up taking tough contested shots late in the game.

With Rondo on board, the Clippers have a player that will keep the ball moving and can help get both of them easy looks down the stretch, something he did to perfection last year with LeBron James and Anthony Davis.

“Just trying to get our two main guys the ball in easier spots as far as them having to work so hard to get the ball against a set defense,” Rondo said. “If we are able to create stops to get on the break, my job is to advance the ball and let those guys attack one-on-one before the defense is set.”

In his first game playing alongside Rondo, George immediately saw the benefits and how Rondo will take pressure off of both him and Leonard.

“You just see his intangibles, you see he just sees plays happening,” George said. “I thought it just made the game easier getting it up to him, letting him push the ball, letting him initiate instead of a lot of times myself and Kawhi doing it. We got a guy that can do it, it’s just going to make the game easier for us.”

A team’s point guard is often an extension of the head coach on the court and Rondo certainly has been that throughout his career. He’s been a vocal leader on the court and in the locker room and his stint with the Dallas Mavericks notwithstanding, he’s been a very positive influence wherever he’s been.

He’s looking forward to working alongside Lue and doing his best to implement Lue’s schemes on the court both offensively and defensively.

“Just try to be on the same page as my coach. Not too much as me trying to outsmart my opponents, which at all times I want to be two steps ahead of,” Rondo said. “I want to stay afloat with my teammates as well and be on the same page as them and be an extension of [Tyronn Lue] on the court.”

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NBA Western Conference Bright Future Watch

The Western Conference is loaded with talent this year, but who will be the teams that dominate it in the future? Zach Dupont takes a look at which teams have the brightest future in the Western Conference.

Zach Dupont



It’s easy to get swept up in the excitement of the current season as we head towards the climax of a great race for the Western Conference title. But there are already reasons to look past this year and get excited about the teams who could dominate the Western Conference past 2020-21.

Who are the teams that could strike next year? And who has set themselves up to have a bright future in the Western Conference?

Denver Nuggets

The Denver Nuggets are primed to become a force in the Western Conference for years to come and could easily be the favorites heading into next year. The Nuggets’ four best players, Nikola Jokic, Jamal Murray, Michael Porter Jr. and Aaron Gordon, are all under contract for next season, and all of them are younger than 26-years-old. Jokic has proved himself to be one of the best players in the NBA over the past few seasons and has emerged as a favorite for the MVP award this year. In 2020-21, Jokic is averaging 26.3 points, 10.9 rebounds and 8.8 assists per game while shooting 57 percent from the field and 42.9 percent from three. Jokic’s wingman Murray is no slouch either, posting the best numbers of his career with 21.3 points per game on 48 percent shooting and 41.2 percent shooting from three. Combine Jokic’s MVP play and Murray’s high-end scoring ability with the shooting and potential of Porter Jr., and the defensive ability of Gordon and the Nuggets emerge as a clear threat in the Western Conference.

The Nuggets also won’t be lacking for depth next year like many of their rivals. Monte Morris is locked up for the next few seasons, and Will Barton and JaMychal Green have player options for next season that they could easily accept. The Nuggets can also keep Facundo Campazzo and P.J. Dozier for next season, as both are on non-guaranteed contracts. There are also younger players on the roster who have shown some promise and could be a factor next season. Zeke Nnaji showed potential as a stretch four in limited showings this year, and Bol Bol is still an exciting talent. Denver will even have some money to play with in free agency this offseason, although the looming extension they will owe Porter Jr. will make options limited. Paul Millsap will no longer be on the books at near $15 million a year, and if either Barton or Green decided to decline their player options, that would give the Nuggets more cap flexibility.

The Nuggets have the most intriguing mix of high-end talent and youth in the west, and while they’re already a threat this season, next season, they may be the favorites.

Memphis Grizzlies

The Grizzlies may not be where Denver is as a team now, but long-term, they are equally as exciting. The Grizzlies are loaded with young talent up and down the roster, and they already have one of their stars of the future. Ja Morant has been a sensation since entering the league last season, and with another year of experience under his belt, the league should be worried about the Grizzlies’ potential. Morant is averaging 18.8 points and 7.4 assists per game in his sophomore campaign. Morant is joined by fellow youngster Jaren Jackson Jr., a two-way big with loads of potential. Jackson has yet to see the floor this year, but he showed the ability to protect the rim like an elite defender and knock down a high volume of three-pointers in his first two seasons of action.

The Grizzlies core may be focused around Morant and Jackson, but what makes Memphis more exciting than other teams out west is the roster’s pure volume of prospects. Brandon Clarke was a steal in the 2019 NBA Draft and has already shown to be a great center who can impact the game on both offense and defense, De’Anthony Melton is one of the league’s most underappreciated defensive players at just 22-years-old and Desmond Bane is already knocking down over 45 percent of his three-point attempts in his rookie season. From top to bottom, Memphis has exciting young talent. Together with their established talent like Dillon Brooks and Jonas Valanciunas, you’ve got a team primed to compete in the Western Conference in 2021-22.

Memphis may not be a title favorite next year, but their ability to acquire talented youth will only make them better and better every season.

New Orleans Pelicans

The Pelicans have some major decisions to make this offseason, but they are a team to watch out west next year no matter what they do. New Orleans has maybe the most exciting young talent in the NBA in Zion Williamson, who has emerged as one of the most efficient and dangerous scorers in the league this season. Williamson is putting up 26.3 points per game this season on an absurd 62 percent shooting and 66 percent true shooting. At just 20-years-old Williamson is already an All-Star, and he will inevitably improve over the next few seasons with his ceiling being as high as anyone’s in the NBA. New Orleans has managed to pair Williamson with another All-Star level player in Brandon Ingram, who has averaged nearly 24 points per game in each of the past two seasons. The Pelicans’ big decision this offseason will be what to do with their point guard, Lonzo Ball. Ball has always been a talented distributor and defender since entering the league, but this year he has taken a step forward as a scorer, averaging a career-best 14.5 points per game and 38.4 percent shooting from three. Ball is set to be a restricted free agent this offseason, and it’s not a given that he will be back next year.

New Orleans already has a core to build around, and they have young depth pieces to add to the already exciting potential of the roster. Nickeil Alexander-Walker and Kira Lewis are a pair of young point guards who have shown a lot of potential and could fill in nicely for Ball if he departs this summer. Alexander-Walker is putting up more than 10 points per game in his sophomore campaign, and he has shown glimpses of being a defender and shooter in the same mold as Ball. Lewis is a speedy rookie out of Alabama who has found playing time hard to come by, but if either Ball or Eric Bledsoe find themselves not in New Orleans next year, he has showcased skills that could put him in the conversation for major minutes.

If Zion takes another step next year, and the whole team cleans it up defensively, the Pelicans could become serious players in the Western Conference.

Los Angeles Lakers

The Los Angeles Lakers may not be full of young players with high-end potential like other teams on this list, but they still represent the West’s most dangerous threat when healthy. Every season the question “when will he finally slow down” is asked about LeBron James, and every season LeBron shows he is still one of the most dominant players in the NBA. LeBron Is 36-years-old, and this season he has put up 25.4 points, 7.9 rebounds and 7.9 assists per game and, before getting injured a few weeks ago, was one of the favorites for the MVP award. LeBron’s running mate, Anthony Davis, is equally dangerous and could be considered the NBA’s best two-way player. The Lakers have both Davis and LeBron locked in for next season, and the presence of those two players alone makes them a title threat in the west regardless of the team put around them.

One benefit of having superstars like LeBron and Davis is that it becomes much easier to sign role players. The Lakers will already have the services of Kyle Kuzma, Kentavious Caldwell-Pope and Marc Gasol next season, and Montrezl Harrell has a $9.7 million player option for next season. But the draw of potentially winning a championship will bring the Lakers role players on cheaper contracts than they would have signed elsewhere, as evident by Gasol, Andre Drummond and Wesley Matthews’ contracts.

The Lakers may not be the first thing that comes to mind when thinking of bright futures, but LeBron and Davis will keep the Lakers’ future bright for as long as they remain in LA.

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