This is a battle between state-named teams who almost always disappoint their fanbases. It's also a battle between two relatively enjoyable, balanced squads that have a decent shot of making the postseason next year. But it's probable that both teams watch the playoffs from home again.
The West is too deep this year to accommodate both newcomers, and possibly too deep to accommodate either. Dallas still has Dirk and an excellent coach in Rick Carlisle; Denver just got a nice defensive boost in the acquisition of Andre Iguodala.
Let us not sleep on the Utah Jazz, who have a young, developing roster. It stands to reason that they should be better next year just by virtue of gaining experience. While I would like to sleep on Portland, there is a chance they'll wake me up with a sweet LaMarcus Aldridge, Damian Lillard pick-and-roll combo. Again, it's a deep Western Conference class.
So I feel compelled to pick among the two teams, Warriors or Wolves, for that new playoff spot. For the sake of entertainment value, I wish both squads the best of luck—especially since Minnesota's luck depends on when Ricky Rubio will return and how healthy he'll be when he does. If Minny's success correlates with plays like this, then I'll cheer on that success.
Of course, the main engine of Minnesota success will be Kevin Love, he of top-five MVP candidate status. Love is coming off a breakout season, one in which he averaged a staggering 26 points and 13.3 rebounds. His boarding average actually dropped down a bit from 2010-2011 when he was at 15.2 per game.
This rebounding drop might be connected to a positive development, though. Love has discovered a deadly three-point shot which he's been using to stretch opposing defenses into knots. Love went from 2.9 attempts from beyond the arc in 2010-2011 to 5.1 in 2011-2012. Last year, he hit on a respectable .372 of those attempts.
Love's field-goal percentage doesn't look impressive at .448, but that's mostly a result of firing from deep. Once the threes are factored in, his true shooting percentage is a healthy .568. Functionally, the shot is a boon to Minnesota's offensive aspirations. Not every power forward can guard above the three-point line, and defenses must be extended to contest Love's attempts. It's all the more room for Ricky Rubio to exploit with his passing. Together, the two form one of the best pick-and-pop duos in basketball.
Apart from the burly inside play of Nikola Pevokic, the rest of Minnesota's roster fails to impress. Derrick Williams could come closer to No. 2 pick status next season; Luke Ridnour is a capable backup point guard; Russian rookie Alexey Shved should be erratic and exciting; Andrei Kirilenko is enigmatic, though still capable of flaunting a uniquely varied skill set.
The Wolves need Kirilenko to provide the defense that was lacking last year. They also need Rubio to come back quickly, in part because he was crucial to the defense they played earlier last season. It's asking a lot to depend on both players. I wouldn't be surprised to see Minny win over 50 games and wouldn't be shocked if they won less than 40.
Final Prediction: 45 wins
What is this I'm looking at? Why it just might be a logically constructed Warriors roster! It's an unexpected sight after years of Don Nelson freak-show experiments. Golden State has an actual, defensive-oriented center in Andrew Bogut. Power forward David Lee can rebound as well as run pick-and-pop with the sweet-shooting Stephen Curry. Klay Thompson does not need to dominate the ball as he gets open from working screens. The newly inked Brandon Rush provides a nice three-point stroke to go along with some nasty defense.
The bench is promising, though young. If Curry gets hurt (again), Jarrett Jack can fill in as a league average point guard. Remember, a league average backup point guard is something of a luxury. We don't quite know how good Harrison Barnes, Draymond Green or Festus Ezeli will be, but I would bet on contributions from at least one this season. Green is an especially intriguing addition due to his abilities as a three-point shooter.
Andris Biedrins comes off the bench at center. I see no reason to predict that Biedrins will reclaim his old form, but it's good that the Warriors have finally addressed that he needed replacing. Charles Jenkins returns as a second-year guard. He was effective at hitting long twos, but it remains to be seen if he has a place in the league.
I am confident in saying that the Warriors are an "if healthy" playoff team. An "if healthy" Stephen Curry is better than you think; an "if healthy" Andrew Bogut is one of the best defensive players in basketball, but a mix of injuries and a small-market past has obscured such skills.
This team is good, and I will bet on their health while cringing in the process. "Injury-prone" is a scary proposition, but it is rare for even injury-prone players to miss most of a season.
Prediction: 50 wins