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Around the NBA: figuring out the West, part 3

We finish off our analysis of the Western Conference, one month into the season, with teams that are headed for the lottery.

NBA: Phoenix Suns at Los Angeles Lakers Kelvin Kuo-USA TODAY Sports

Check out part 1 and part 2 if you haven’t already.

11. Utah Jazz (8-11)

The Jazz are already falling out of the playoff picture due to Rudy Gobert’s injury. Their defense is great (and probably elite when Gobert is healthy) but that might not be enough. They lack both efficient and high-volume scorers—their bottom-five offense isn’t likely to get much better soon.

Losing Gordon Hayward and his offensive playmaking was a huge hit to this team’s explosiveness and potential. If Gobert can’t return at full health, and given his troubling injury history, it may be wise for them to focus on developing young talent this year.

12. Phoenix Suns (7-12)

After a disastrous start to the season, the Suns fired Earl Watson and have been playing inspired ball since. They don’t have much overall talent, but Devin Booker and T.J. Warren have kept this band of misfits afloat. Hopefully, somebody like Josh Jackson, Marquese Chriss, or Dragan Bender is able to develop into a consistent player sometime this season.

The Suns are headed back to the lottery, and that’s a good thing: landing one of the best prospects in the 2018 draft could really change everything for this team. Things are at least looking up.

13. Los Angeles Clippers (6-11)

What a fall. After a red-hot start, the Clippers have lost eight in a row while dealing with injuries to key players like Milos Teodosic, Danilo Gallinari, and Patrick Beverley. I don’t expect them to stay this low in the West, but they won’t make the playoffs this season.

The Clippers’ roster construction this season was always a delicate experiment, one that made sense in theory but was always a question mark. Despite Blake Griffin’s excellent play, these recent injuries have really exposed the flaws in the roster. Doc Rivers may be on his way out, and the team should really think about a full rebuild.

14. Sacramento Kings (5-13)

The Kings have an extremely young team sprinkled with a few vets, and so far they’ve struggled to coalesce. Zach Randolph, who is 36 years old, leads the team with 12.4 points per game. That’s not ideal!

In a post-Boogie world, the Kings simply have a massive dearth of talent, with by far the worst net rating in the league. They have a bunch of young guys who could become good NBA players on the team, but it seems unlikely any one of them becomes “the next big thing.” This team’s rebuild will take a long time, but they seem heading in the right direction.

15. Dallas Mavericks (4-15)

The Mavericks weren’t supposed to be this bad. With Harrison Barnes, Wesley Matthews, and Nerlens Noel, they have decent veterans that should help the team win games. Dennis Smith Jr. has played decently for a rookie, if a little inefficiently, and players like J.J. Barea and Dirk Nowitzki can still score the ball.

But the team has the worst record in the league, and is bottom five in both offensive and defensive rating. Noel has been in and out of the rotation, and the team looks like disorganized and listless. I don’t expect this team to finish at the very bottom of the West by the end of the season, but it’s clear that this team should do a complete rebuild soon.

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