Where do the Utah Jazz now stand in the Western Conference?

SALT LAKE CITY, UT - MAY 6: Rudy Gobert #27 of the Utah Jazz dunks the ball in the second half of their 102-91 loss to the Golden State Warriors in Game Three of the Western Conference Semifinals during the 2017 NBA Playoffs at Vivint Smart Home Arena on May 6, 2017 in Salt Lake City, Utah (Photo by Gene Sweeney Jr/Getty Images)
SALT LAKE CITY, UT - MAY 6: Rudy Gobert #27 of the Utah Jazz dunks the ball in the second half of their 102-91 loss to the Golden State Warriors in Game Three of the Western Conference Semifinals during the 2017 NBA Playoffs at Vivint Smart Home Arena on May 6, 2017 in Salt Lake City, Utah (Photo by Gene Sweeney Jr/Getty Images) /
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HOUSTON, TX – APRIL 25: Russell Westbrook
HOUSTON, TX – APRIL 25: Russell Westbrook /

Seeds 4 through 6

4. Oklahoma City Thunder

Although he’s not quite Kevin Durant, having Paul George join forces with Russell Westbrook means that there is once again a startling dynamic duo in Oklahoma City. While there’s no questioning that Durant is the better overall player and no slouch on defense, I would give PG the edge as a perimeter defender, so it will be interesting to see how that trait, along with his others, pairs up beside Westbrook.

The biggest question mark here will be how the two players will coexist as both were in the top 20 in the league in usage percentage (Westbrook was number 1 and PG was number 20, but still). Although Westbrook is often described as a chucker, his ability to rack up triple-doubles like no other player the league has seen before is also evidence of his elite passing ability. And now he’ll have a second star alongside him in Paul George who can convert on those passes.

Make no mistake about it, this is still Westbrook’s team, but if Paul George is a team’s second option, that’s a scary thought. He’s an excellent three-point shooter, playmaker and defender, and as long as he and Westbrook can develop a solid chemistry, I think this is going to be a very difficult team to stop and pinning them as the fourth seed could very well be selling them short.

Unfortunately, after last season I had the Jazz pinned as being able to potentially build a Northwest Division dynasty, but unfortunately it looks like their stay atop the division will be a short one as I expect the Thunder to quickly regain that slot.

PORTLAND, OR – APRIL 22: Damian Lillard
PORTLAND, OR – APRIL 22: Damian Lillard /

5. Portland Trail Blazers

A lot of people are going to call me crazy for putting the Portland Trail Blazers this high, especially considering how much better many suppose that the Denver Nuggets and Minnesota Timberwolves will be next season, but hear me out on this one. Just two seasons ago, the Blazers were in fact the fifth seed in the West, riding on the shoulders of Damian Lillard, C.J. McCollum and the coaching of Terry Stotts.

True, they made some questionable offseason moves last year (I’m looking at you, Evan Turner) and they were a disappointment for much of the year only barely qualifying for the playoffs when all was said and done, but they also went on an incredible run to close out the year that saw them finish the final two months of the year with a record of 17-6.

And a big part of that turnaround was the acquisition of center Jusuf Nurkic who revitalized that Portland team. Lillard and McCollum are even better than they were two years ago, Stotts is still an incredible coach and Nurkic will get to log a full season in Portland that should help them get off to a much better start than last year.

Not to mention, while Denver and Minnesota are sexy playoff picks for next season and some may suppose that the Los Angeles Clippers should still be above the Blazers, for reasons I’ll explain shortly, I’m not sure that trio of teams will be quite as posed to make a jump up the standings as Portland will.

The Jazz split the season series with Portland last season and considering the Blazers are an offensive powerhouse (8th in the league in scoring last season) and the Jazz will continue to hang their hat on defense this year, I wouldn’t be surprised to see a similar result this time around.

SALT LAKE CITY, UT – MAY 8: Derrick Favors
SALT LAKE CITY, UT – MAY 8: Derrick Favors /

6. Utah Jazz

This is probably higher than a lot of you were expecting, but nevertheless I have faith in Quin Snyder and the rest of the Jazz’s ability to compete. Just look at how well Snyder was able to adapt last season despite a myriad of injuries and a constant need to alter his rotations as players went down like flies. Snyder will have to adapt once again with his former leading scorer out of the mix, but this time he’ll have an entire summer to plan for that rather than having to adapt on the fly.

If the Jazz had remained healthy, they could have very well finished as high as the third seed this past year, which means if they stay healthy this year, nabbing the sixth seed would still be living up to their expected regression but also still competing in the wake of Hayward’s absence.

The Jazz will still find success by locking opponents down defensively, Rudy Gobert will continue to improve on offense and with Hayward off the team, I’m certain that several others will step up and that this team will still be able to find a way to make noise even in a crowded Western Conference.

Even though a first-round playoff exit is very likely in the works (although if matched up against Houston who they played well against last year, I like their chances) the Jazz still shouldn’t be slept on next season.