In the final edition of our three-part series previewing the upcoming NBA season, we examine breakthrough-player predictions and rivalries in the ultra-competitive West:
In your opinion, who is most likely to be the conference’s 2017-18 “breakthrough” player from another team?
Jim Eichenhofer, Pelicans.com: I like Denver guard Jamal Murray, who’s in a perfect position to move into a larger role in his second year. He looked like a different player in March and April, including a 30-point eruption vs. New Orleans in which he showed his array of skills (three-point shooting, four dunks, got to the foul line).
Chris Dempsey, Nuggets.com: I’m going with Utah’s Rodney Hood. He’s flashed good play and has already had some big games in his young career. Now, without the departed Gordon Hayward, I expect him to step up and become a big-time scorer for a team that needs it.
Kyle Ratke, Timberwolves.com: I think we’ll see some great things from Brandon Ingram. We’re all focusing on Lonzo Ball in LA and rightfully so, but I think Ingram will make a huge leap for the Lakers and remind us why he was the No. 2 pick last season.
Casey Holdahl, TrailBlazers.com: You could probably argue he’s already “broken through” to a certain extent, but Devin Booker is going to be a real problem for the next decade. The Suns could very well be the worst team in the West this season, so that probably stunts his Q rating, but the guy is only 20 years old and already a certified bucket-getter.
Tim Roye, Warriors.com: I struggled with this one as the conference added a lot of veterans this offseason. I will go with Devin Booker of the Phoenix Suns. He has proven that he can score in the league and has a great toolbox with which to work. This year could be one where he takes the next step and uses that ability to make everyone around him better and bring his team more victories.
From the perspective of fans of the team you cover, which opponents do they consider to be your team’s biggest West rivals?
Jim Eichenhofer, Pelicans.com: Some of the rivalries with the Texas teams have cooled in recent years, but the Mavericks and Spurs are still among the most disliked opponents in the Crescent City. At various times, the fan base has also not been very loving toward the Clippers or, more recently, the Warriors.
Chris Dempsey, Nuggets.com: Nuggets fans love to hate the Lakers, so I’ll start there. They also aren’t fond of San Antonio, but I wouldn’t necessarily consider them a huge rival. I’d say those two teams are at the top of the list.
Kyle Ratke, Timberwolves.com: Rivalries are tough to come by in the West if you’re not making the playoffs, but I’d look at the Nuggets. The two teams have had some fun battles over the years and probably more to come, especially between Towns and Jokic.
Casey Holdahl, TrailBlazers.com: Ever since the Sonics… left for Oklahoma City, the Trail Blazers haven’t had a natural rival. You could make a case for the Rockets due to their somewhat frequent meetings in the playoffs or the Lakers due to legacy and the dim view many Oregonians take of Californians in general, but neither comes close to the old I-5 rivalry.
Tim Roye, Warriors.com: In the West, I think Dub Nation feels that the Spurs and the Rockets would be right at the top of the list with a nod to Oklahoma City because of the KD connection. There is always a rivalry between Nor Cal and So Cal teams so the Lakers would be a default rival despite the fact the two teams have not been good at the same time for a couple of decades.