After winning yet another Larry O’Brien trophy, the Warriors, once again, have a target on their back.
The Western Conference is loaded with contenders and the Dubs will have a lot of competition vying for their throne.
Last season, the injury bug spread like a wildfire throughout the Western Conference, many teams even throwing in the towel mid-season due to a lack of healthy players. However, the West is shaping up to be a bloodbath this year, and the Dubs will have to scratch and claw in order to retain the top spot.
Let’s take a look at the five biggest inner-conference threats to the Golden State Warriors crown.
5. The New Orleans Pelicans
The fifth spot came down to the Pelicans and the Minnesota Timberwolves – two young teams looking to soar up the standings this season. Ultimately, the Pelicans earned the nod as they are the deeper and more experienced squad
The Pelicans have been the victim of some tough injury luck in recent years, but at full strength, it’s hard to overstate just how perfectly constructed they are. The Pels took the Phoenix Suns to six games last year on the heels of some stellar play from both Brandon Ingram and CJ McCollum. A healthy Zion Williamson could propel this team to the top of the conference.
Williamson missed all of last season with a foot injury, but Duke product became the 4th youngest player to be selected to the All-Star game back in 2021. When healthy, Zion is a 6’8, one-of-a-kind ball of athleticism with the skill and finesse of a guard.
Jonas Valanciunas provides a steady, versatile interior presence, while Jose Alvarado and Herb Jones contribute an element of tenacity and grit.
With Trey Murhpy III, Kira Lewis II, Larry Nance, and Dyson Daniels in the second unit, the Pelicans are equipped with not only starpower, but real depth as well. If any of their young pieces take a leap, the Pelicans will be even more of a threat than they already are.
4. The Memphis Grizzlies
The Grizzlies gave the Warriors their toughest test of the postseason, despite their collective youth and inexperience. The Grizz may have capitalized on a weaker Western Conference last season, but their success was no accident. Last year’s Grizzlies team brought “Grind City” back to life, embodying the city’s grit and toughness on the court. Ja Morant led the way, continuing his ascent to superstardom while Desmond Bane and Jaren Jackson each took leaps of their own.
Memphis would’ve been higher on the list if it weren’t for the fact that Jaren Jackson Jr. will likely be out for a chunk of time to start the season. The third-year forward underwent foot surgery in the off-season and won’t make a full recovery until around mid-season.
That being said, Memphis is only getting better. With youth and depth on their side, they remain a tough test for the Dubs.
3. The Phoenix Suns
The Suns had a collosal meltdown in Game 7 of the second round last year, suffering an embarrasing defeat at the hands of Luka Doncic and the Dallas Mavericks. Prior to the playoffs, the Suns were unanimously dubbed the Warriors’ biggest threat. However, when the going got tough, the Suns faded while Luka and crew snatched their souls in demoralizing fashion.
Notwithstanding that truth, the Suns were the number one seed last season for a reason. Chris Paul is aging like fine wine and Devin Booker and Deandre Ayton are yet to hit their prime. They are practically running things back with the same group from last season.
As long as the Suns are able to steer clear of any off the court nonsense, they will pose just as big of a problem.
2. The Denver Nuggets
The Denver Nuggets were absolutely ravaged by injury last season. With Jamal Murry out wth and ACL tear and Michael Porter Jr. sidelined with a back issue, reigning 2-time MVP Nikola Jokic was left to go to war with most of the Nuggets second team. He still managed to carry Denver to the postseason but the Nuggets stood no chance against a loaded Golden State sqaud.
Murray and Porter Jr. are set to return for the start of the season and the Nuggets are primed for a deep post-season run.
The Nuggets also acquired Kentavious Caldwell Pope and Bruce Brown in the off-season – two players that fit Denver’s system to a tee.
Denver has reinforced their bench, and are whole once again. With Jokic at the helm and a helluva group backing him up, the Nuggets are to be taken very seriously this season.
1. The Los Angeles Clippers
The Clippers were without Kawhi Leonard for the entirety of last season and Paul George missed significant time with an elbow injury. They too, are whole again and deeper than ever before.
Los Angeles also brought in John Wall to help facilitate the offense and add to their stacked arsenal of role players.
Paul George and Kawhi Leonard are yet to realize their full potential as a duo, but with their new and improved supporting cast that includes the likes of Norman Powell, Robert Covington, Reggie Jackson, and Luke Kennard, the Clippers will enjoy their most complete unit to date.
Defense, three-point shooting, firepower – the Clips have it all. Obviously, health must permit, but the Clippers are shaping up to be the Warriors biggest threat in the Western Conference.