Although they were one win away from earning a playoff bid last season, the Nuggets are sneaky contenders for the title of “Best Team in the West Besides Golden State” this year. Denver has been firing on all cylinders on both sides on both ends of the floor thus far, as they rank 9th in the league in both offensive and defensive efficiency. What makes the Nuggets dangerous to a team like Golden State is their style of play. Denver features a soon-to-be All-Star at the 5 in Nikola Jokic, but the whole offense doesn’t revolve around him. Jokic has a phenomenal statline (17.5 ppg, 10.4 rpg, 6.9 apg), and he isn’t doing it alone. Alongside Jokic are FIVE other double-figure scorers, including Jamal Murray, who recently poured 48 on Boston. As dominant as Denver has been, the Nuggets are still nowhere near full strength. Will Barton, Isaiah Thomas, and Michael Porter Jr. are all currently out with injuries, so just imagine Denver’s potential with a healthy lineup.
The Jazz have gotten off to a bit of a slow start this season, but there’s no reason to worry just yet. At one point last year, Utah was 19-28. They proceeded to go 29-6 the rest of the regular season and advanced to the Western Conference Semifinals. A key factor behind Utah’s disappointing start is a drop off in defensive efficiency. Last season, the Jazz ranked second in the entire league in this category, trailing only the Celtics. So far his season, the Jazz are ranked 15th. If Quin Snyder can turn his team’s defense around, they’ll be just fine. Donovan Mitchell and Rudy Gobert can pose problems on both ends of the floor, and Utah is even more dangerous when Joe Ingles gets hot from deep.
The Lakers are on this list primarily for two reasons: LeBron James and versatility. LeBron is LeBron; no further explanation is necessary to describe what he brings to the table. He has already proven that he is capable of threatening the Warriors all by himself. The difference this year is that now he is surrounded by a team that is also capable of challenging Golden State. True, the Lakers’ roster is extremely young and inexperienced, and it is unlikely that they would be able to defeat Golden State in a seven game series, but they can definitely give them a scare. Although their roster has been highly scrutinized for appearing as a band of misfits, the Lakers have the luxury of putting together versatile lineups and playing positionless basketball. Along with LeBron, Brandon Ingram and Kyle Kuzma can also match up with anybody and can play anywhere on the floor. Lance Stephenson and Rajon Rondo are fearless veterans and have proven that they can be pests on the court, which will be important as they try to take down a superior opponent. Also, Josh Hart is beginning to emerge as a stud off the bench and Lonzo Ball’s shooting has drastically improved since last season, giving the Lakers more options on offense.