NBA Western Conference January Review
After taking a quick look at the Eastern Conference earlier this week let’s have a nice dry look at the Western Conference:
Tier 1 – The Legitimate Title Contenders
Oklahoma City – Incremental improvements in Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook and Serge Ibaka’s games and the scoring efficiency of Kevin Martin off the bench has offset the loss of James Harden and makes the Thunder the current Western Conference favourite. The only concern is the play of Eric Maynor and Kendrick Perkins. If these two pick up their games then we should see a Miami-OKC rematch in the Finals.
LA Clippers – The Clippers have emerged as a legitimate title contender with the best bench in the league, a 5 man lineup that plays almost as well as their starters. A crunch time lineup of Paul/Bledsoe or Crawford/Barnes/Griffin and Jordan is one of the best five man units in the league. Matt Barnes and Jamal Crawford have given this team both defensive and offensive swagger and the Clippers can play every type of game and counter every type of lineup. Their depth will be mitigated in the playoffs when benches are shortened but Chris Paul and Blake Griffin are only playing 32-33 minutes a game.
San Antonio – Tim Duncan is having a crazy good season with a 25 PER (Player Efficiency Rating). Tony Parker is rounding into form that had him as a top 5 MVP choice last year. The Spurs are rolling as usual but will face their usual questions come the playoffs. They got blitzed by the Thunder in last year’s playoffs and I think they would have trouble beating the Clippers. I can’t discount the year Duncan is having though and if the Spurs big 3 can stay healthy they will be a force to be reckoned with.
Tier 2 – The Outside Shots
Memphis – If the Grizzlies were in the East they would be in the next tier up. The problem is they don’t match up well with the Clippers or San Antonio. The Grizzlies have the best starting frontcourt in the league with Marc Gasol, Zach Randolph and Rudy Gay. They are a great defensive team but do need another shooter. If they can acquire a shooter like JJ Redick then this team could move up a tier. One subplot to this team is that Rudy Gay might be traded for luxury tax purposes. Since the return will not be optimal with the trade being a salary dump it will be interesting to see if the Griz can overcome the loss of Gay like they did in their playoff run two seasons ago.
Golden State – David Lee has been an All Star for the Warriors and Steph Curry’s ankle has held up so far and he Warriors have used an improved defense and a relatively easy schedule to challenge for the 4th seed in the West. If Andrew Bogut can come back and solidify the defense, the Warriors could be the dark horse team in the West.
Denver – the Nuggets have had one of the league’s toughest schedules up to this point so I have ranked them as the fifth best team I the West. They could use a bit more interior defense and need some more outside shooting and the Nuggets will be one of the more interesting teams to watch at the trade deadline.
Houston -The addition of James Harden, Jeremy Lin and Omer Asik have propelled the Rockets to a playoff spot. Harden has been better than advertised and looks like a franchise player. Lin is still learning to play off the ball but is making progress. If the Rockets add another piece they could become serious contenders in the next couple of years.
Tier 3 – Who Knows?
LA Lakers – The Lakers are three games out of the playoffs at the moment but have missed Steve Nash for a significant stretch and are currently without Pau Gasol. They are 2-0 since head coach Mike D’Antoni stated that the season started on Monday beating an overmatched Cleveland team and catching the Bucks on a bad night at home. I don’t see the Lakers missing the playoffs because Dwight Howard is looking better and Nash is finally healthy. One subplot to this season is that Kobe Bryant has been defending the other team’s best perimeter players like Kyrie Irving and Brandon Jennings. If Kobe continues to keep his workload on offence then he probably will wear down in the playoffs. This is assuming that Kobe is human which is never a safe assumption.
Tier 4 – The Disappointment
Utah – The Jazz are struggling along at around .500 and should be playing better. The Mo Williams injury has hurt them and I think they will look into trading one of their frontcourt stars, Paul Millsap and Al Jefferson by the trade deadline since they have young players who should get playing time and they won’t be keeping both of these players when they become free agents in the off-season.
Tier 5 – The Injured
Minnesota – For the T-Wolves to be at 16-19 without Kevin Love and Ricky Rubio (among others) for most of the season is a testament to the coaching of Rick Adelman. I don’t see the Wolves making the playoffs since Love is out for 8-10 weeks but their fans have to be excited for next year and can be happy with a team that will be competitive for the rest of the year.
Dallas – The Mavericks have only have Dirk Nowitzki for 12 games and this team is now a shadow of the championship team of two years ago. Dallas will have to make quite a run to make the playoffs where they would get blown out in the first round by the Thunder/Clippers/Spurs.
Tier 6 – The Rest
I’m hoping the Kings stay in Sacramento because the only reason they would move is due to owner incompetence, not due to the fanbase. The Suns are a weird team that has a number of different parts that don’t fit. I see Martin Gorcat being traded in the next month. The Hornets have had a disappointing season but Eric Gordon is back and he can pair with Anthony Davis going forward to give them a solid top 2 to build the team around.