More often than not, superstars run the NBA and the Phoenix Suns are betting big on this in the upcoming season.
After bowing out from the second round of last year’s playoffs, Phoenix doubled down on their strategy this past offseason. They brought in three-time NBA All-Star Bradley Beal via a trade last June with the Washington Wizards to complete a fearsome Big Three with Kevin Durant and Devin Booker.
The Suns now have two players in Durant and Beal who have averaged over 30 points per game in multiple seasons while it is undeniable that Booker has the talent to do so as well if given the right opportunity.
The presence of these three elite scorers who are still in their prime is more than enough to push Phoenix into the top tier of Western Conference contenders along with the defending champion Denver Nuggets.
Denver may not have the top-heavy roster that the Suns have, yet their continuity and depth is more than enough to make up for whatever deficit of NBA All-Stars that they may have. Nikola Jokic remains the only player with NBA All-Star experience on the Nuggets’ roster, although the impact that a player of his caliber has often feels like that of two All-NBA players.
The 28-year-old Jokic has gained acclaim as the best player in the world following Denver’s title run this past June and any potential seven-game series between him and this Phoenix team is bound to be a classic.
Meanwhile, the aging Golden State Warriors, Los Angeles Lakers, and Los Angeles Clippers sit a tier below the Nuggets and Suns as Western Conference contenders. These three teams cannot be overlooked despite the advanced age of their superstars and the accelerated development of some of their young players could easily give them enough of a boost to emerge as a dark horse in the West race.
If Ja Morant can pick up from where he left off last season upon his return from his 25-game suspension, the Memphis Grizzlies must be considered contenders in the West too. The recent unpredictability of Morant’s behavior is a major curveball though which puts a blanket of uncertainty around this team’s entire season.
The Dallas Mavericks are in a similarly precarious situation as their success hinges largely on the health of Luka Doncic who is out indefinitely with a calf strain. Dallas needs Doncic at full strength to compete in the West, although the best case scenario for them is likely a fifth or sixth place finish in this loaded conference.
One team that could realistically take a leap into the Western Conference elite is the Sacramento Kings. They were last year’s surprise team and the benefits of continuity should only make them better this season. De’Aaron Fox and Domantas Sabonis both made the All-NBA Third Team in ‘22-’23 and it would not be farfetched to imagine these two players becoming a staple of this prestigious group.
The list of Western Conference contenders continues to grow each year and it would not come as a complete surprise if one or both of Denver and Phoenix fail to make it past the second round. The NBA is in a great place in terms of parity and the best example of this is the cutthroat West where no team has won back-to-back conference titles since 2019.