It’s been said that the only dumb questions are the ones you don’t ask. We took that old chestnut to heart yesterday with our Burning Questions for the Eastern Conference, and we’re back again today with more queries for the NBA’s Western Conference teams. We’ve examined depth charts, injury reports, and tea leaves to identify the biggest issues facing all 15 teams as they roll into the 2017-18 season, which opens on Oct. 17. We’ve also supplied props and odds in an attempt to answer each one of the head-scratchers we’ve posed.
Want to learn how the West will be won? Check out our 2017 NBA Win Totals: Western Conference Edition to see how your favorite team will fare.
Dallas Mavericks: Is Dirk Nowitzki holding back the Mavs?
Dirk Nowitzki is justifiably the most popular player in franchise history, but there comes a time when you have to stop honoring the past and start focusing on the future. The Lakers learned that lesson the hard way during Kobe Bryant’s final two seasons and it stunted the growth of the team’s young players and ruined their draft-lottery odds. Dallas will never cut or trade Nowitzki, but it might be time to seriously scale back his minutes and allow the team’s young core to play through their mistakes. According to ESPN, the team has three other top-100 players (Harrison Barnes, Nerlens Noel, Dennis Smith Jr). While that’s eminently debatable, there is young talent on this team that needs to grow.
Odds Dirk Nowitzki will play beyond the 2017-18 season: 1/2
Denver Nuggets: Is Kenneth Faried part of the team’s future?
Everyone in Denver was thrilled with the team’s acquisition of Paul Millsap. Everyone, that is, except Kenneth Faried. The seventh-year forward has stubbornly refused to accept a reserve role and has suggested that he may be better off elsewhere. “If this team doesn’t want, or respect me enough, to play me the minutes that I think I deserve to play, then I understand that,” he said during Media Day. “Hey, there’s 29 others.” The Nuggets are a better team with the Manimal in the fold, but his insistence on starting could jeopardize the team’s fragile dynamic.
Odds Kenneth Faried is dealt by the 2017-18 trade deadline: 2/3
Golden State Warriors: Can the team remain focused?
The most daunting foe the Warriors may face all season long is complacency. The defending champs are more talented than every other team in the league and will need to find new challenges and grudges to keep them motivated on a nightly basis. Golden State is too good to go into an extended slump, but don’t be surprised if they lose a few gimmes as fatigue and boredom kick in.
Over/under on the number of games Golden State will win in 2017-18: 68.5
Houston Rockets: Do the Rockets have enough depth?
The Rockets made one of the splashiest moves of the offseason when they acquired Chris Paul from the Los Angeles Clippers. The deal immediately elevated them to the West’s upper echelon, but did so at the expense of depth and cohesion. Houston gave up seven players and a protected first-round pick for the nine-time All-Star and will now have to rely on a collection of unproven journeymen and injury-prone vets when Paul and James Harden need a breather. They still have enough talent to win the Southwest Division, but will they have enough depth to beat the Warriors?
Odds the Rockets will have the best record in the Western Conference: 17/4
Los Angeles Clippers: Can Blake Griffin and Danilo Gallinari go a full season without driving their fists into someone’s face?
When you think of basketball injuries, you tend to think of sprained ankles and torn ACLs, but the Clippers’ two best players landed in the infirmary this year after smashing their fists against someone else’s skull. Blake Griffin missed six weeks after breaking his hand punching the team’s assistant equipment manager in January, and Danilo Gallinari fractured his hand in July after punching an opponent in an international “friendly.” If both players can keep their emotions in check, L.A. has a chance to beat up on the competition.
Odds Griffin and Gallinari will get in a fist fight in 2017-18: 50/1
Los Angeles Lakers: Can the Lakers show enough promise to lure LeBron and PG13?
The Lakers’ game program may say 2017-18 on the cover, but make no mistake, this season is all about 2018-19. The Lakers will try to show just enough promise to convince LeBron James and Paul George to defect to L.A. as soon as their respective contracts are up. It would have sounded far-fetched a few years ago, but LeBron’s growing disenchantment with Cleveland and George’s California roots could lead to the biggest free-agent coup in history.
Odds LeBron James signs with the Lakers in 2018: 4/3
Memphis Grizzlies: Is Chandler Parsons finally healthy?
Few players have had worse luck than Chandler Parsons. The Florida native’s injury report is thicker than the Memphis phonebook and contains everything from debilitating back spasms to a trio of knee surgeries. Parsons played 18 minutes in the Grizzlies’ preseason debut on Monday, but it will likely take a while before he regains the explosiveness and athleticism that led Memphis to give him a four-year, $94 million max contract.
Over/under on the number of games Chandler Parsons will play in 2017-18: 63.5
Minnesota Timberwolves: Is Andrew Wiggins worthy of a max deal?
Andrew Wiggins has demanded a max deal and the Wolves appear inclined to give him one, but is he really worth $148 million over five years? The high-flying Canuck can fill the basket with the best of ‘em, but is a lackadaisical defender who does nothing to make those around him better. Investing so much in a one-dimensional player could come back to haunt Minnesota since Karl-Anthony Towns will be eligible for a max extension of his own next summer and Jimmy Butler can re-up in two years.
Odds Andrew Wiggins makes the 2017-18 All-Star Game: 12/1
New Orleans Pelicans: Will management stick with Boogie and the Brow?
The entire league cowered in fear when DeMarcus Cousins and Anthony Davis joined forces last season following the All-Star break. Pundits expected the duo to control the glass and dominate the paint, but the results were far more uneven than anticipated. NOLA went just 11-14 with the dynamic duo, and scored just 3.2 more points per game while racking up fewer rebounds, blocks, and free-throw attempts. Cousins will be an unrestricted free agent next summer and management will be watching him closely to determine whether to give Boogie and the Brow another season in primetime.
Odds New Orleans will deal DeMarcus Cousins before the 2017-18 trade deadline: 2/1
Oklahoma City Thunder: Can Russ learn to share the spotlight?
We all know that Russell Westbrook is a phenomenal player, but it remains to be seen just how well he plays with others in the NBA sandbox. His pathological need to control the rock ultimately drove Kevin Durant out of town and could easily led to tensions with his new teammates, Carmelo Anthony and Paul George. Bare in mind that all three players ranked in the top 21 in usage rate last season and are accustomed to a steady diet of touches.
Over/under on the number of triple-doubles for Russell Westbrook in 2017-18: 28.5
Phoenix Suns: Is Devin Booker more than just a chucker?
Devin Booker proved himself to be one of the NBA’s most lethal scorers last season when he went off for 70 points against the Celtics. We all know he can score in bunches, but the question remains whether all of that scoring actually helps his team. The Suns ultimately lost that game by ten points and Booker’s below-average PER and nonexistent defense have routinely cost Phoenix wins over his first two years in the league. He’s still just 20-years-old, but Booker needs to show he can do more than play hero-ball and heave up shots in runaway losses.
Over/under on Devin Booker’s PER in 2017-18: 15.1
Portland Trail Blazers: Did the Blazers waste a pick on Zach Collins?
It’s still early, but the returns on Zach Collins have not been positive. The 7’0” center looked overwhelmed by the physicality of the NBA Summer League and was named the event’s “Most Disappointing Rookie” by ESPN. He’s since suffered a right quad injury and a concussion and could spend more time on the pine than a woodpecker. If you’ve ever been to the Pacific Northwest in January, you can understand why Portland has to rely on the draft to improve, and it can’t afford for Collins to be a bust.
Odds Zach Collins will be named to the 2017-18 NBA All-Rookie Team: 25/1
Sacramento Kings: Will Harry Giles ever be healthy?
The Kings can’t be knocked for drafting Harry Giles. After all, the Duke product was a top-five talent who fell to 20th in the draft due to concerns over his surgically repaired knees. However, over three months have passed since the draft and Giles is still undergoing bilateral knee rehabilitation. It’s looking more and more like he may never become the player that first had scouts salivating way back in 2013.
Over/under on the number of games Harry Giles will play in 2017-18: 33.5
San Antonio Spurs: Is Tony Parker washed up?
Tony Parker has been aging less like a fine French wine and more like a juice box left out in the sun. The six-time All-Star’s scoring average has dipped precariously in each of the last four seasons and reached a 15-year low last year when he averaged just 10.1 points per game. He likely won’t be back until December and may never again be the disruptive driver and distributor that made San Antonio such a tricky out.
Over/under on how many games Tony Parker will play in 2017-18: 55.5
Utah Jazz: Was Ricky Rubio’s offensive outburst just a mirage?
It isn’t often that a player suddenly – and mysteriously – gets better in his sixth season, but that’s precisely what happened to Ricky Rubio in 2016-17. The crafty Spaniard averaged 16.0 points, 10.8 assists, and 4.6 rebounds following the All-Star break and generally looked like one of the most explosive players in the league. Rubio has always had the potential to be a dynamic two-way player, and now finally seems to have struck a balance between calling his own number and setting up his teammates. Now that Gordon Hayward has taken the bulk of Utah’s offense to New England, the Jazz need Rubio to continue trending upward at the offensive end.
Over/under on how many points Ricky Rubio will average in 2017-18: 13.5