The NBA trade deadline is only a week away, and with it comes the potential for many of the most significant changes to come from deals made between now and then. Indeed, the market appears to be heavily dominated by buyers at this point in time, giving teams like Toronto and Utah plenty of bargaining power when negotiating trades.
With such an advantage firmly in hand and considering the day-to-day developments that have taken place so far this season, there are certain teams best situated to take full advantage of opportunities heading into the fast-approaching Feb. 9 trade deadline – as well as those that follow.
As these events approach, let’s look at the top 5 contenders in the Western Conference:
#1 Memphis Grizzlies
When it comes to championship contenders, Memphis is a team worth keeping an eye on. Their roster is more than just talent; they have the league’s best defensive rating with Ja Morant’s star power, Desmond Bane’s deadly shooting, and Jaren Jackson Jr.’s chances of being Defensive Player of the Year.
All of that is magnified by Steven Adams providing an imposing frontcourt presence. But what separates the Grizzlies from teams like Denver is the ability to add even more players to their core. They have their own first-round picks and a pick from Golden State, along with numerous young players that could help another team rebuild.
If Memphis manages to snag OG Anunoby as well, then they’re clearly built for a successful postseason run that could take them all the way to a championship title.
The Grizz have +450 odds to win the Western Conference title, and +1100 to win the NBA championship (per DraftKings Sportsbook).
#2 Denver Nuggets
The Denver Nuggets have the best record in the Western Conference after 50 games. They won again over the short-handed Pelicans and improve their record to 35-16. This is not a huge surprise, as Nikola Jokic has emerged as one of the top players in the NBA this season. He’s averaging a triple-double (25.1 points, 11.1 rebounds, 10 assists) while shooting 63.1% from the field and 82.5% from the charity stripe.
The Denver Nuggets are already the best team in the Western Conference and are very popular among NBA bettors to win the championship this year, and yet questions still remain as to how much better they can become. Specifically, the Nuggets have historically struggled with defense whereas this January saw them have an impressive defensive rating of 111.3, good enough for fourth in the league.
Another lingering problem for the Nuggets is the minutes not played by Nikola Jokic, who may be one of the key factors in determining how well Denver can ultimately improve on their defensive numbers.
Maximizing the potential trades, or even the buyout market would be good for the Nuggets, especially if it helps them improve their defense. With a strong offense and an easier-than-average schedule going into the end of the regular season, they are more than likely to comfortably finish above the rest of the Western Conference standings.
The Nuggets have +350 odds to win the Western Conference title, and +800 to win the NBA championship (DraftKings Sportsbook).
Meanwhile, Nikola Jokic is still the favorite to win the NBA MVP, with -105 odds on FanDuel Sportsbook. The 6′ 11″ Serbian is named an All-star for the Fifth time and will start for the third straight year.
#3 Golden State Warriors
After a bumpy start to the season, the Golden State Warriors are roaring back in the standings. Their current three-game win streak has them rising up to fifth place in the Western Conference, and it looks like they have what it takes to keep up their momentum going forward.
With their core of players healthy and unified, there’s no doubt that this team is capable of becoming an unstoppable force in the playoffs – a scenario that would spell disaster for their rivals. It’s almost certain that other teams will be looking anxiously over their shoulder as they prepare themselves for an intense clash with Golden State if they make it far enough into the playoffs.
#4 Phoenix Suns
Phoenix remains a contender despite the sudden shift in ownership. Reliance on the same stars who shone so brightly last season is a great confidence booster; Chris Paul and Devin Booker can, once again, be counted upon to bring the Sun’s success and an exciting style of play.
Moreover, the potential offensive boost which could emerge from a Crowder trade will bring extra depth to an already elite roster and provide Phoenix with that much-needed edge. All in all, the Suns are expected to be in the playoffs this year, but a deep run is far from guaranteed.
#5 Dallas Mavericks
With their current roster, the Mavericks rely heavily on Luka Doncic to be their offensive catalyst. Consequently, opponents have had success stifling him by employing a ‘pick your poison’ approach – either slow down Doncic or risk open shots for Dallas’ shooters. However, this strategy can only take the team so far and they are in need of something extra if they want to make a serious push for deeper playoff runs.
The trade deadline will present an opportunity for the Mavericks to add another playmaker who can ease some of Doncic’s burden, though pulling off such a feat could require a blockbuster trade. An opportunity worth taking as it could become the missing piece that elevates them into contender status.