NBA Western Conference: Midseason report | February 9, 2013
With the All Star break mere days away it’s time for us to take a look at the teams out west in the NBA. The west has certainly been good value for entertainment this season, blockbuster trades involving Dwight Howard,Andrew Bynum and James Harden and free agents like Jeremy Lin going out west have filled plenty of column inches. I want to touch on the season so far and how i think these teams can improve going into the stretch run, starting with the……
Oklahoma City Thunder 37-12
When I heard about the Harden trade that morning in mid October, the first thing i thought was…are the Thunder insane?? The reigning 6th man of the year is one of the premier players in the whole NBA and added to Durrant,Westbrook and Ibaka formed one of the most devastating cores in Basketball. When i thought a little more about it,it all started to make sense.General manager Sam Presti does nothing without thought and to get the outside shooting of Kevin Martin, plus draft picks,plus a project to develop in Jeremy Lamb was a good bit of business. It allowed them to max out their 3 key players and secure their future for a very long time. Looking at their record and dominance of the west so far,it’s hard to argue. In the Finals last year against the Heat they struggled mightily because they didn’t know who should handle the ball (Westbrook or Harden) and because they didn’t have the outside scoring off the bench to keep up with Battier/Miller and co. I actually think Martin makes them stronger. The starting 5 is still fearsome with Perkins and Sefolosha adding toughness to the core 3. Martin is happy to come off the bench and be a catch and shoot 3 point marksman,something they have sorely lacked and could have possibly given them an NBA title last season.
Grade A. As strong a team as you’ll find in the association.
Denver Nuggets 32-18
The Nuggets continue to be a sneaky good team under coach George Karl. They were huge benefactors in the Howard/Bynum merry-go-round where they received all star and Team USA gold medalist Andrew Iguadola for their troubles. Ty Lawson continues to improve,the diminutive point has taken on more responsibility this season and is running the show in less of a split with Andre Miller. Danilo Galinari continues to fill up the stat sheet to the tune of 17 ppg and 5.8 rebounds. All in all this is a strong outfit. Kenneth Faried is the most enticing player on their roster at the younger end,while 7ft athletic freak JaVale McGee continues to frustrate both on and off the court with his play and his attitude. In the right frame of mind McGee could be a monster…but he just doesn’t seem to put it together. If the Nuggets can tighten up their rotation and nurse Wilson Chandler back to health, they have a punchers chance of a deep play off run.
Grade B-. Deeper than you or anyone thinks.
The North West is made up by the Portland Trailblazers,the Minnesota Timberwolves and the Utah Jazz. The Jazz lead by Al Jefferson are having a middling season. An injury to newly acquired point guard Mo Williams and an early season blip from Paul Milsap have been contributing factors in the teams just above .500 season so far. The young talent on this team needs time to shine,but personally i feel the likes of Favors and Enes Kanter have been given minutes that have been detrimental to their key performers. Millsap and Jefferson is this teams bread and butter and the sooner they realise that the better they will be. The Blazers hover around the .500 mark but their season has been lit up by rookie of the year candidate Damian Lillard. The young point guard is sensational to watch and has shown a penchant for taking the big shots. LaMarcus Aldridge continues to produce on an all star level and Nickolas Batum is finally fulfilling his potential and giving them nightly production. Blazers could be a team to watch down the line. The T-Wolves bringing up the rear have been racked with injury. Kevin Love has barely been on the court. Ricky Rubio has been slow to return to form following his ACL tear and disappointingly, former all star Brandon Roy cannot get healthy. They have to be disappointed with their season on the whole and are looking at a sure fire lottery pick.
Grades. Jazz C. Blazers C. T-Wolves D-
Los Angeles Clippers 35-16
Pound for pound the Clips are the deepest team in the NBA. Chris Paul running the show,DeAndre Jordan and Blake Griffin playing above the rim and the mercurial Jamal Crawford and his ankle breaking crossover having a new lease of life as the 6th man. As exciting and explosive as they are though, the Clippers have a tendency to shut off on defence and ship a lot of points. As well as Eric Bledsoe has been playing,the lack of a time scale on CP3′s injury is massively worrying and the Clips are in the midst of their first slump of the season without him on the court. Talent wise,few stack up to the men from Lob City,but i would question their tenacity and toughness to really get it done down the stretch.
Grade B+. A quality team but must add substance to all that style.
Golden State Warriors 30-19
Mark Jackson has the men from the Bay Area playing out of their skin. This is no fluke either…this is a deep and talented team that should make noise come the post season. Steph Curry is in the midst of his best (and most injury free) season of his career. He is on pace to knock down over 300 3 pointers on the season. A remarkable stat when you consider the great Larry Bird had just over 600 in his career. It would not be a stretch to say that Curry is one of the best shooters to ever play the game of Basketball,so fluid and accurate is his stroke. He is paired in the back court with second year man Klay Thompson who is no mean shooter in his own right. David Lee has earned his first all star appearance up front and he will be relieved to see the return of Andrew Bogut in the centre spot. The Warriors gave up a lot to get the big Aussie,if the former 1st overall pick can get healthy he makes Golden State a serious threat. Jarrett Jack is also having an excellent season off the bench and has proved a steady hand on a young,up and coming team.
Grade A. Of all the “outsiders” to win the west, these guys have the best chance.
Los Angeles Lakers 23-27
Where to start with the Lakers. It all looked so promising in the off season when they acquired Dwight Howard and picked up Steve Nash in free agency. A starting 5 of Nash,Kobe,Howard,Metta and Pau could compete for a title right?….Wrong. On every level. If i were to say you could legitimately make an argument for Earl Clark being the Lake Show’s best player behind Kobe, then that goes a long way to summing up just how much of a disaster their season has been. Bryant continues to play at an MVP level and looks as sharp and as healthy as ever. Howard and Gasol simply can’t play together as it doesn’t allow Dwight the touches he desires (and probably warrants given how dominant he can be). Nash has been turned into a catch and shoot guy in favour of Kobe being the facilitator. As crazy as it sounds, playing Kobe as a de-facto point guard and Nash at the 2 spot has seen an upturn in fortunes with the team winning 5 of the last 7. They still sit 4 games outside the play offs and time is running out,further compounded by an injury to Pau Gasol that will see him miss 6 weeks at least.
Grade E- I think they will make the tournament…Ultimately get bounced early.
The pacific is made up by the Phoenix Suns and the Sacramento Kings. The Suns replaced coach Alvin Gentry with Lindsey Hunter after a disappointing start to a season in which they reloaded after the departure of Steve Nash. Goran Dragic is the incumbent point guard and has played extremely well all season. Michael Beasley continues to be an NBA disappointment and there are rumblings of star centre Marcin Gortat being unhappy. In the likes of Markief Morris and Kendall Marshall,young coach Hunter has pieces to work with,but this season for the Suns is looking like a lost one. The Kings are on the brink of a move to Seattle with the Maloof family agreeing a deal to sell the club to a consortium based in the Pacific Northwest. Sad news for the people of Sacramento for sure. On the court they have been a disappointment with petulant players and poor performances. Young guard Isaiah Thomas has not hit the heights of his rookie season and Tyreke Evans has missed large parts through injury. Demarcus Cousins continues to be their best player on the court and worst influence off it. A beast of a player,Cousins simply cannot keep out of trouble,leaving Sac town staring at another lottery pick.
Grades Suns D. Kings E.
San Antonio Spurs 39-11
The Spurs just keep on ticking. Lead by the trio of Manu Ginobli,Tony Parker and the ageless Tim Duncan they just keep winning games and playing well. Young wingman Kawhi Leonard looks like developing into something special too. Building on his rookie year with an impressive sophomore effort. Thiago Splitter has taken his game up a notch and Gary Neal also provides solid contribution off the bench. I do worry about Tim Duncan missing time through injury. The big man has taken a few knocks of late and Boris Diaw is not exactly an adequate replacement. No one will want to face these Spurs in the post season and Pop’s men as usual are a big threat in the west.
Grade A-Best record in the NBA. Like clockwork,year in year out.
Memphis Grizzlies 30-18
A strange season in Memphis. A blistering start with the perhaps the leagues most impressive front line doing damage night in and night out. Then the trade rumours started to surface and seemingly against their coaches wishes management wanted to trade star small forward Rudy Gay to bring the team under the luxury tax threshold. A deal with Cleveland to trade basically all their depth for second year man John Leuer brought them under the cap,but they still went on to trade Gay in a 3 team deal with Detroit where they received veteran Tayshaun Prince and Austin Daye among others. Prince gives Memphis some much needed outside shooting and Daye is also a solid player,but Gaye will be a miss make no mistake. The Grizz should still have a decent play off seeding and will be a difficult beat,but you have to question their thinking here.
Grade B. Would have been A. Blowing up a good team.
The Southwest is made up by Houston,Dallas and New Orleans. The Rockets are hovering above the .500 mark and looking at a play off birth. James Harden is playing at an extremely high level and as the Rockets add more pieces he will only continue to thrive. Omer Asik has been an excellent free agent pick up and though turnover prone,Jeremy Lin has proven he is a legit NBA player. Dallas just 2 seasons removed from a championship have struggled in 12/13. Dirk Nowitzki has missed large portions of the season through injury and the Mavs have suffered. O.J Mayo was playing at an all star level in the early stages but seems to have found his middle ground going into the break. Elton Brand has played good defence at times and Darren Collison continues to do a good job manning the point. Dallas have under achieved in my opinion and i wouldn’t be surprised to see them finish strong. The soon to be Pelicans are having another poor season in New Orleans. Blessed with the first overall pick and the 10th,the Hornets are a rebuilding team with a strong core. Eric Gordon is key to this teams hopes and his relatively healthy season has been a big shot in the arm after the paid him last summer. Antony Davis has had a steady season if not spectacular and fellow first rounder Austin Rivers has been largely anonymous. This team has a chance to be good down the line,but right now they are raw and it shows.
Grades. Rockets C. Mavs D. Hornets D.
And that concludes the West. The rest of the season should be very exciting with genuine contenders coming from each division. Catch my regular thoughts on the Association here on 1AM Sports. You can also follow me on Twitter @NEILDONOHOE for NBA/Celtics chatter.