NBA Western Conference Midseason Review

As promised, we are back with our midseason review of the Western Conference. If you missed our review of the East, just follow this link.

Pacific Division

Golden State Warriors – Guess which team is on pace for 70+ wins, again? Although barely even a talking point this season after Westbrook’s offensive output and Harden’s new magic, the Dubs are, again, historically great. They lead the league in offensive and defensive rating, as well as points per game. After a rough start, they are dominating teams with a combination of their key strength (daggers from deep) and Kevin Durant’s score-from-anywhere ability. Add in the constant competitor, Draymond Green, who is doing everything he can to be Defensive Player of the Year and a not terrible bench and life seems pretty good. After smashing the Rockets, their strongest foe in the West is likely the ever consistent Spurs. It remains to be seen if San Antonio can still run with the Warriors, especially in a seven game series, but at the moment their next game, March 11th, is circled on both teams calendars. Before then, the Warriors are still sorting out a few kinks, especially the Curry/Durant pick-and-roll, which has not been as prolific as one might assume. Golden State has to hope it can find the right balance between the two stars before the playoffs as it remains their biggest weakness in crunch time. Probably a problem most teams would like to have. – Jordan Curet

Los Angeles Clippers – Is there a more predictable good team than the Clippers? It’s the same story with them every season, they are going to win a bunch of games and at some point at least one of their star players are going to miss extended time. Give Doc Rivers and his staff credit as the Clippers rarely miss a beat when they are undermanned as they are so far this year without Chris Paul. If the Clippers are ever going to reach the Finals (or the conference finals for that matter) they need another piece and as of now that piece is rumored to be Carmelo Anthony. I think in the right situation, Melo would take a step back and become a complementary piece on a title contending team and what better situation could Melo be in than playing with one of his best friends in Paul. The problem? How in the hell are the Clippers going to acquire Melo? They have no real young players with any kind of upside (sorry Austin Rivers believers) and they already owe one of their future first round picks to Toronto. As fun as it would be to see Melo on the Clips and the amount of fun it would add to an already entertaining Clips-Dubs rivalry is off the charts, I just do not see how the deal gets done and how the Clippers ever get out of the second round of the playoffs. – Randy Haines

 

Los Angeles Lakers – The baby Lakers were one of the nicer surprises to start the season. They didn’t necessarily knock the socks off of the league, but were competitive and, more importantly, fun to watch. Some of that luster has fallen off lately, as the Lakers have dealt with multiple injuries to D’Angelo Russell and the team has lost 8 of their last 9 games. They now sit in dead last in the West, but that might be fine. Let the young guys continue to gain experience and get better and hopefully luck into one more high lottery pick. Actually, they should keep losing and make sure they get a Top 3 pick, otherwise The Process will get their pick. – Nick Bair

Phoenix Suns – The Suns are not good. Not exactly a surprise given their young roster but at this point in season, 15 games back from .500 as of January 26th, there would be hope their young guys would also be playing more. Instead, Dragan Bender is getting only about 12 minutes a game, Tyler Ulis 9 minutes a game, and Marquese Chriss 18 minutes a game. Although 18 minutes isn’t insignificant, it would be better to see what you have in these players as opposed to letting Jared Dudley receive more minutes at the same position, a very known quantity. That being said, none of the youngsters rate well in advanced stats, where Devin Booker leads the way at a net zero offensive plus/minus. What this team does from here is anyone’s guess, given Eric Bledsoe, P.J. Tucker, Tyson Chandler, and Brandon Knight are four of their top six minutes earners. Knight is the youngest of the bunch at 25, but if he can’t break into a starting role on a bad team, what more do you need to know? There is some soul searching to do in the back half of the season for the Suns and there’s still time for them to move players for pieces to build on. – JC

Sacramento Kings – The Sacramento Kings have a chance at the playoffs! Now maybe it’s not quite how they dreamed it up as Sacramento is currently 9 games under .500, but the good news is the West is no longer what it once was and the Kings are only 1.5 games out of the eighth seed. The loss of Rudy Gay does hurt and it could hurt even more if the Kings pull off a panic trade for someone who doesn’t move the needle just to end up being swept by the Warriors or Spurs. On the other hand, getting to the playoffs is what matters to this team regardless of how they get there and at what cost. Being only 1.5 games out of the playoffs also means there is basically no chance they deal Boogie Cousins before the deadline and will continue to be a laughing stock of the league until they finally start their long overdue rebuild. – RH

Southwest Division

Dallas Mavericks – After over a decade of success, the Mavs have had their first really down year and will likely finish with their worst record since 1999. Their roster has been plagued by injuries, age, and a lack of talent. Against all odds and predictions by me, Harrison Barnes hasn’t been complete trash as a max signing this offseason and is in competition for the Most Improved Player award. Despite this mild success, he hasn’t been able to put the team on his back and the Mavs are near the bottom of the West. This could work out in their favor though. A big time young draft pick could be just what the doctor ordered for this aging Mavs roster. Maybe Mark Cuban can spark a fast rebuild and get one last championship run in the next few years before he runs for president in 2020. – NB

Houston Rockets – Not that anyone should be surprised about the Rockets success this season, but now sitting third in the West, with the number two offensive rating, is exceeding expectations. Despite a middling defensive rating, Houston is burying teams behind a hale of threes and Harden’s genius. Has anyone revived their reputation so quickly? The Beard was buried by the media and fans last season for his utter lack of defensive effort and the drama with Dwight Howard. Now, he rightfully is getting MVP talk for being the beautiful engine at the heart of new Coach Mike D’Antoni’s system and playing acceptable defense. What a turnaround. The other key to this team is Eric Gordon, who thrives when Harden sits and keeps the bench unit competitive. They also have survived injuries with key minutes from young players like Sam Dekker and Montrezl Harrell. Everything is clicking for the Rockets, but they still play in the West and will have to face the Warriors sooner or later. So far, they’ve shown they don’t have enough to beat the top dog. – JC

Memphis Grizzlies – Yawn. New year, same Grizzlies. I thought the addition of Chandler Parsons would spice this team up and give them some extra punch offensively, but Parsons has played just 19 games this season and may never be the player he once was. However Marc Gasol is playing better than he maybe ever has while extending his already devastating postgame out to the three point line. As much as I love what Gasol has done this year, the Grizzlies are still stuck in the middle and with Parsons appearing to be a bust there may not be a direct path to finally getting over the hump. – RH

New Orleans Pelicans – Why will the Basketball Gods not let Anthony Davis stay healthy? Furthermore why will the Basketball Gods not let Anthony Davis have good players around him? Jrue Holiday is a nice player and Buddy Hield has shown flashes, but this roster is pretty bad as a whole. With the current state of the Western Conference, the Pelicans are right in the thick of the things to return to the playoffs, but they are better off bottoming out and praying the can get some good lottery fortune in what appears to be a loaded draft class. Until they can put one or two more real players around Anthony Davis, he will continue to be the Andrew Luck of the NBA. – RH

San Antonio Spurs – As I’ve been saying for years, KAWHI til you die! The silent assassin needs to be in the MVP discussion, especially after the Spurs’ big OT win over the Cavs last Saturday. The reigning back to back Defensive Player of the Year is now averaging over 25 points per game as well, making him possibly the best all around player in the whole league. He has taken the crown from Tim Duncan and kept the Spurs’ dynasty moving forward. Coach Pop should once again be Coach of the Year too as San Antonio stays on the tail of a team who starts four All-Stars. The Warriors are still the overwhelming favorites in the West, but don’t count out the ol’ Spurs quite yet. – NB

Northwest Division

Denver Nuggets – Despite sitting six games back from .500 (as of January 26th), the Nuggets are clinging to the 8th spot in the West, which is an impressive accomplishment given they are next to last in defensive rating. Their key players, Danilo Gallinari, Wilson Chandler, Emmanuel Mudiay, Will Barton, Gary Harris, and Nikola Jokic, is a healthy mix of younger players and vets (a lesson the Suns would do well to learn). Even Jamal Murray, their first round draft pick, receives around 19 minutes a game. Unfortunately, if Portland can get their team healthy and together again, the Nuggets are likely to fall back out of the playoff picture. This certainly isn’t a team that can compete with the top six teams in the West so it wouldn’t be shocking to see a tank job once they aren’t in that eighth spot. – JC

Minnesota Timberwolves – I had hope for the baby Wolves this season. Pairing a solid core of Karl-Anthony Towns, Zach LaVine, and Andrew Wiggins with the defensive wizardry of Tom Thibodeau theoretically offers a great recipe for success. Unfortunately, this is the NBA in a season where nearly every team started the season competitive (remember when the Lakers were crushing it?). KAT hasn’t taken the giant leap this season many thought might happen and he is especially showing his youth on the defensive end. For a team coached by Thibodeau, 26th in the league in defensive rating is not great. The good news is, there are only two players on this roster over 30 (Brandon Rush and John Lucas III) and none of their core is over 21. There is plenty of time for KAT to take another step forward in his development. In the short term, if the rumors are true, the Wolves are going to move Ricky Rubio (smart). Unfortunately, it may be for a different point guard (dumb), when they have Dunn and Jones on their roster. The Timberwolves should let the youth movement fully take over, get another draft pick from the Sixers by moving Rubio, and enjoy the next five years. – JC

Oklahoma City Thunder – All that really matters is Russell Westbrook. Not just for the Thunder, but for life in general. He is a must watch every night and even though the phrase “carrying his team” is thrown around a lot in sports, Westbrook really is doing that this season. Westbrook may also be the rare case where we shouldn’t want him to get more help as the Thunder would likely be less fun to watch if they had more good players. I’ve found myself watching OKC games against any opponent over games with a better matchup just to see what Rusty does next. It is Russell Westbrook’s world and we are all just living in it. – RH

Portland Trail Blazers – Who knew that signing random free agents without a plan to put a real roster together might backfire? The Blazers have taken a big step back this year as the struggle to play any sort of defense. The Evan Turner signing looks terrible right now, as they haven’t been able to acclimate him to the team at all. Also, the re-signing of Allen Crabbe doesn’t look great as he is already on the trade block. Lillard and McCollum remain solid, but again they don’t play much defense either. Any team that allows 75 points in a half to the Wizards needs to get back to basics. Portland still might sneak into the playoffs as an 8 seed before getting swept by the Warriors in Round 1. – NB

Utah Jazz – Beware the Jazz! After a slow start, suddenly the Jazz are one of the most frisky teams in the Western Conference, and may also boast the best defense in the league. Led by Rudy “The Stifle Tower” Gobert, the Jazz defense is allowing just 95 points per game (3 less than the Spurs and 4 less than the Grizz) to lead the entire NBA. Gobert is averaging 2.5 blocks and just under 13 rebounds per game as he petitions for some votes for Defensive Player of the Year. Gordon Hayward continues to play really well, along with George Hill and Rodney Hood in the backcourt. Can the Jazz actually compete with the Dubs, Spurs, and Rockets in the playoffs though? That’s the big question for this team. At this point, their ceiling looks to be a second round exit in the playoffs, but maybe their defense can surprise us all. – NB

-Nick Bair, Jordan Curet, and Randy Haines

Photo Credit: Sports Illustrated

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