Holbrook: Projecting the NBA’s Western Conference with a former Cyclone finishing in first

Monte Morris has the ball stripped away from him while driving through the lane against Purdue in the second round of the NCAA Tournament on March 19, 2017, in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. Iowa State fell to the Boilermakers 80-76, ending its season.

Trevor Holbrook

If you’re not an NBA fan, do yourself a favor and check out any Western Conference game this season.

The West is loaded this season, and a handful of Cyclones will appear in games throughout the year. If you missed it last week, I ran through the Eastern Conference outlook and where former Cyclones’ teams may finish.

With Golden State retooling this season and multiple rosters being injected with new superstars, the West shows a wide open future.

Before I project where teams will finish, Cyclone fans can pay attention to Denver (Monte Morris), Utah (Georges Niang), the Los Angeles Lakers (Talen Horton-Tucker) and Oklahoma City (Abdel Nader and Deonte Burton) for former Cyclone players.

1. Denver

I’ll be a little bold and take the Nuggets to finish first in the West. Denver retained its starting five from last season that was a few plays away from making the Western Conference Finals.

I like the Nuggets as a regular season team because of how the rest of the West looks. Utah, Houston and both Los Angeles teams all made major changes from last season. I think it could take some time for adjustments to take place, plus load management could play a key role for the Los Angeles teams.

Simply put, I like Denver in the regular season for the consistency in its roster, while the rest of the West gets acquainted with their rosters.

2. Houston

I like the Rockets as a long-term NBA Finals pick, but I think Denver edges them out in the regular season. Houston added Russell Westbrook in the offseason, and I think that’ll pay dividends. Westbrook should take more pressure off James Harden and decrease Harden’s work load more effectively than Chris Paul.

3. Los Angeles Clippers

The Clippers may look bad at times early in the year as the team gels, but I personally like them to make a deep run in the playoffs. Last season, newly acquired Kawhi Leonard saw action in 60 regular season games for the eventual champions: the Toronto Raptors.

Leonard might not get the luxury of rest as often in the West, but I think his total games will still have a limit, costing some wins along the way.

Despite the rest factor, the Clippers have a lot of talent and a bunch of defensive options. They’ll be pretty good in the regular season, but watch out in the playoffs.

4. Los Angeles Lakers

I think one through three are debatable in the West, but I think it will be some combination of the Clippers, Nuggets and Rockets. For four through eight, I see a big jumble of solid teams that will jostle for seeding as the season progresses.

I’ll toward the Lakers leading the second group based on superstar talent. I think the Lakers have holes — especially in the back-court — but LeBron James and Anthony Davis are good enough to lift them to fourth.

5. Portland

Disclaimer: I’m a Blazers fan.

Despite rooting for Portland, I think fifth is a solid place for the Blazers. The back-court is among the best in the league with Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum, but outside of those two, the team consists of a lot of unproven players.

We know Lillard and McCollum will produce, but can the Blazers get enough production from the other pieces? I think some nights they will and some nights they won’t, leading to a fifth-place finish.

6. Dallas

Dallas brings one of the most fun, young tandems to the table in Luka Doncic and Kristaps Porzingis. Outside of those two, I don’t love the roster makeup (besides Seth Curry, of course).

Even with the roster still leaving some left to be desired, Doncic and Porzingis will elevate the Mavericks into the playoffs if they stay healthy. Unfortunately, that’s somewhat of a big if.

7. Utah

Utah received a lot of Finals hype entering this season, but I just don’t see it. I love Mike Conley at point guard, and I like Rudy Gobert anchoring the defense at center. Donovan Mitchell gained a lot of praise throughout the offseason, but I’m still not sold on the young guard.

Outside of that trio, I like the rest of the role players and bench (including Niang), but none of them scare me too much. The Jazz will underperform this year and get bounced in the first round of the playoffs.

8. Minnesota

The weather in Minnesota is cold, but the Wolves are blazing hot to start. After a 3-0 start, I like the way the Wolves look. Obviously we can’t put too much stock into October games, but I think Karl-Anthony Towns manages to lead Minnesota to the playoffs.

Outside of Towns, Robert Covington pairs well with the team, and when Andrew Wiggins is good he provides a boost. The bench also sports a few good defenders for Minnesota.