Quest to be best of the rest in the West

Tom Clarke Roar Pro

By Tom Clarke, Tom Clarke is a Roar Pro

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    The Golden State Warriors are the NBA champions, and will be for the foreseeable future.

    Their Western Conference rivals would have been forgiven for going into rebuild mode and waiting out the Warriors’ glory years, but instead the free agency period has been a frenzy. Every Western Conference team has spent the post-season busily resigning and adding key pieces that they think will give them the best chance to remain competitive in their ridiculously stacked side of the league.

    So while LeBron James should cruise comfortably towards his eighth consecutive Finals campaign in a severely weakened Eastern Conference, let’s take a look what teams have been willing to do in order to finish second to the Warriors next season…

    1 – Golden State Warriors
    Last season finished first in the Conference, NBA Champions

    Golden State crushed all comers last season. They are a basketball behemoth and they’re only getting better! In free agency, GSW managed to resign league MVPs Steph Curry and Kevin Durant, held onto key role players Andre Iguodala and Shawn Livingston, and signed Nick Young from the Lakers, a move that will improve their already insane ability to space the floor and shoot unimaginable amounts of threes.

    2 – San Antonio Spurs
    Last season finished second in the Conference, lost in Conference Finals

    San Antonio have had a quiet post-season (aside from re-signing Patty Mills to a $50 million contract), mainly reflecting their belief that they already have a championship-calibre team. That’s not unreasonable either – after all, the Spurs won 61 games last year, and had a 23-point lead in the Conference Finals against the Warriors in Game 1 of the Western Conference finals with under eight minutes remaining in the third quarter before Kawhi Leonard was injured by Zaza Pachulia.

    Leonard is a future MVP, and Gregg Popovich is a savant. Never rule out the Spurs.

    Kawhi Leonard for the Spurs

    (AP Photo/Rick Scuteri)

    3 – Houston Rockets
    Last season finished third in the Conference, lost to Spurs in Semi finals [bold]

    Under Mike D’Antoni, the Rockets became a very good basketball team. James Harden, while still a defensive liability, was very nearly the MVP following a season where he produced an offensive masterclass every week. And in a staggering free agency move, the Rockets have managed to lure Chris Paul to Houston.

    Paul is one of the top-ten point guards of all time, and he just joined an offensive juggernaut that values ball movement above all else. Even if they can’t beat the Warriors, it’s going to be incredible to watch them try.

    4 – Oklahoma City Thunder
    Last season finished sixth, lost to the Rockets in first round of playoffs [bold]

    The Thunder was a one-man team last season, and still managed to finish sixth in the Conference. Russell Westbrook played at constant unrelenting breakneck pace, averaging a triple-double for the season and cantering towards a well-deserved MVP award, while the rest of his team stood around and watched.

    And then, in a genuine shock move, the Thunder added Paul George. George is a two-way superstar who should fit with Westbrook beautifully. This team is going to be amazing fun to watch.

    Oklahoma City's Russell Westbrook

    (Wikipedia Commons)

    5 – Minnesota Timberwolves
    Last season finished 13th

    Minnesota should make a huge leap next season. Karl Anthony-Towns and Andrew Wiggins are former No.1 draft picks who are developing nicely, and could well be All-NBA players in the next couple of years.

    Most significantly though, Minnesota just landed Jimmy Butler in one of the best trades of the post-season. Butler is a phenomenon, who was as wasted in Chicago as George was in Indiana. Pairing Butler with the Wolves’ young guns should see this team shoot up the ladder.

    6 – Los Angeles Clippers
    Last season finished fourth, lost to the Jazz in the first round of playoffs

    The Clippers are the NBAs almost-team. They’ve been so close to contending seemingly forever, and have flamed out in the playoffs each year. And now they’ve lost Chris Paul to Houston. Lob City is over. However, don’t expect them to plummet too far.

    DeAndre Jordan remains a solid option at centre (and was All-NBA just two seasons ago!). Meanwhile, Blake Griffin, if he can stay healthy, may finally be able to unlock his potential as a facilitator, rather than just a dunking machine.

    He has the best passing of any big man in the league; all he needs is permission to properly unleash his skill set. A good coach would reinvent the team around Blake as a giant point guard, unfortunately Doc Rivers is not that coach.

    7 – New Orleans Pelicans
    Last season finished 10th

    Anthony Davis is a top ten talent in the world. And top ten talents do not hang around in garbage teams for long before they go looking for a chance to actually compete. Last season, New Orleans added DeMarcus Cousins and are trying to make Twin Towers work in the era of small ball.

    They’ve just handed Jrue Holiday $126 million contract hoping he is the point guard to get Boogie and the Brow to meld effectively. If the Pelicans don’t make the playoffs this year, they can expect to lose the greatest asset they’ve ever had in Davis. I suspect they know this.

    8 – Denver Nuggets
    Last season finished ninth
    Denver should make the leap into the playoffs this year. Nikola Jokic is a very talented player who jumped from “potentially great” to “actually great” last season, and the Nuggets added Paul Millsap from Atlanta in free agency.

    Millsap has the least hype and least personality of any superstar in the league, but he is a big deal. He’s been an All-Star for the last four years and should assist Jokic greatly in the front court.

    And the rest…
    The Jazz finished fifth last year, but they lost Gordon Hayward in free agency to Boston, and Rudy Gobert (as impressive as he is) isn’t the kind of star you can build a contender around.

    The Kings, Suns and Mavericks remain those teams (read: bad). The Blazers have reached their ceiling and done nothing in free agency to indicate a change in direction.

    The Lakers are a couple of years away from contending, though Lonzo Ball was a great addition from the draft. And Memphis, well, you forgot Memphis was even in the Western Conference, right? Sorry, Mike Conley.

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    The Crowd Says (11)

    • July 11th 2017 @ 7:45am
      Rossy said | July 11th 2017 @ 7:45am | ! Report

      Would put Houston second. The spurs haven’t really improved and the Rockets nearly bet them and have added Paul and (likely) Carmelo. Through in Capela, Nene, Ariza, PJ Tucker and Eric Gordon and that’s a hell of a well rounded roster.

      • Roar Pro

        July 11th 2017 @ 9:53am
        Tom Clarke said | July 11th 2017 @ 9:53am | ! Report

        Houston looked great last season and I think they’ll step up this season. Will be very interesting to see how Chris Paul and James Harden gel on the court. Can’t see why they would chase Carmelo though – he won’t fit in with D’Antoni’s offence given his preference for the mid-range over shooting threes, and to get him they’d surely have to lose Ariza or Gordon (who both just became more valuable after Lou Williams was traded). I’d never rule out the Spurs as contenders while they have Leonard on the court and Pop calling the shots, whereas Houston have a couple of question marks.

        • July 11th 2017 @ 11:56am
          astro said | July 11th 2017 @ 11:56am | ! Report

          And dont’ sleep on the addition of Rudy Gay. He gives the Spurs a lot more flexibility on the wing, and a legitimate scorer alongside Leonard.

        • July 11th 2017 @ 12:36pm
          mushi said | July 11th 2017 @ 12:36pm | ! Report

          I’m not a Melo fan, but I think you’ve got the old narrative.

          Roughly a quarter of his shots have come from deep over the last 5 years. Last year he took 5.7 shots from beyond the arc which was good for 5th amongst guys his height or above that played 2000 minutes.

          Also I’d give him the benefit of the doubt on D’antoni. They didn’t mesh well last time but Melo has changed his game (if only he’d defnder and rebound a bit more…) and would be deliberately choosing to go back into that relaitonship, suggesting he want’s to play within the system.

          I kind of get it, if they get rebounding, defnseively locked spot up shooter with an array of moves on the clsoe out Melo from team USA then they can mount a challeng, but…

          I don’t think you can get that guy for 82 games, or even jsut the playoffs. Team USA only ask him to sublimate his ego for a handful of games. Look at Kyrie – he actually plays defence for team USA but for the cavs, ummm not so much

          • Roar Pro

            July 11th 2017 @ 2:20pm
            Tom Clarke said | July 11th 2017 @ 2:20pm | ! Report

            Team USA Carmelo is a top 10 player in the league, NBA Carmelo is a different story altogether. Given what Houston would likely need to give up in order to get him, I don’t think it would be worth it over the course of a season. But if Harden and Paul could carry him to the playoffs, I’d back Carmelo to then explode and play the sort of ball he plays for Team USA for at least a couple of series.

    • July 11th 2017 @ 11:50am
      astro said | July 11th 2017 @ 11:50am | ! Report

      Great article! After the top 4, its a blood bath in the West…anyone’s guess as to which teams emerge and which struggle.

      I’m with you on Minny and the Nuggs making it, but I actually think Portland make it. A full year of Nurkic, adding the rookie Collins and some roster stability will help them. They have depth, and stars in Lillard and McCollum.

      I actually think the Nuggets will end up 5th in the West. They still have a move or two to make, but the Nuggs are talented and really deep. Guys like Harris, Barton, Lyles, Murray and Hernangomez, will all improve…The addition of Millsap is huge. If they can trade for a quality PG to upgrade over Mudiay, look out for the Nuggets!

      I remain unconvinced about the Pelicans and the Clippers, and can see both dropping out of the playoffs. The Pellies have nothing outside of Davis and Cousins, and it remains to be seen if those guys can play together effectively. I’m not a huge Jrue Holiday fan, so I for one can’t see how those three guys are enough in the West.

      As for the Clips…they have concerns. The roster looks odd to me. A lot of role players, but no PG to make things happen and drive the offense. Beverley is great, but he’s not a facilitator. He’s a 3 and D guy who plays point. Similarly for Gallo. Great shooter, but not someone who can create an offense. Is it possible that Austin Rivers will actually be relied upon to initiate the offense? Blake has had more surgery this off-season and might miss the start of the year. The idea that he can play point forward is a fantasy. And do we know if DeAndre is any good without Chris Paul? It helps having one of the greatest PGs ever playing alongside you…too many questions around the Clips for me.

      I have the Utah Jazz making it instead of the Clips. Yes, they lost Haywood…but I still like their team and their coach. Firstly, they’ll be a great passing team. Rubio, Ingles and Diaw are great at moving the ball and creating space. Defensively, they’ll be tough. Rubio is a good defender and with Rudy at the 5, they’ll be hard to score against. I’m totally biased, but I’m still an Exum believer (the dude is only 21!) and Dante and the rookie Mitchell could be productive for the Jazz.

      So, after the top four, I have the Nuggs, Minny, Blazers and Jazz making it…

      • Roar Pro

        July 11th 2017 @ 12:39pm
        Tom Clarke said | July 11th 2017 @ 12:39pm | ! Report

        I’ll be honest, it’s definitely a fantasy to see Blake Griffin unleashed as a point forward. His body has been too broken for too long and Doc isn’t the most inventive coach, so I can’t see it happening. I think if Blake plays between 60 and 80 games, Clippers make the playoffs, but that’s a big if!

        Good points regarding the Jazz- Quin Snyder is a quality coach and if anyone can make playoffs with that roster, it’s him. Would love to see Dante Exum play to his potential, he could be really great and is playing well in the Summer League.

        The Portland ceiling is good, but they were 8th last season and there’s not much higher that McCollum and Lillard can carry them. If Minnesota and Denver climb, which they should, that knocks Portland down a couple of rungs.

        Huge question marks over New Orleans, but I’m banking on Davis and Boogie combining better than they did last year. They are both looking to get seriously paid in the next couple of years, so it would help them to play nicely together and boost their individual values. Not sold on Holiday either, but he’s got to start playing like a $100m man now.

        • July 11th 2017 @ 3:28pm
          astro said | July 11th 2017 @ 3:28pm | ! Report

          Having said Blake at point forward is a fantasy…I agree that it would be great to see! I think it would be a disaster, but I’d still love to see it.

          And agree, its a HUGE year for Boogie. If he under-performs, or worse, causes locker room issues, his trade value could plummet.

    • Roar Guru

      July 11th 2017 @ 5:57pm
      Machooka said | July 11th 2017 @ 5:57pm | ! Report

      Tom… thanks for the read.

      But please don’t put Kings in the same sentence as MAVS or Suns… now that’s bad!

    • Roar Guru

      July 14th 2017 @ 3:42pm
      Chris Kettlewell said | July 14th 2017 @ 3:42pm | ! Report

      The Warriors have the sort of roster that’s likely to put up a lot of wins in the regular season, but I reckon there’s a few teams that can challenge them come playoffs time. Just look at the way that the Spurs completely dominated them until injury suddenly intervened, and the fact that a number the teams the next level down have made some definite moves that will significantly strengthen their lineups suggests there could be a few teams who could make it very hard for the Warriors come playoff time, even if the Warriors finish comfortably on top in the regular season.

      • July 17th 2017 @ 8:26am
        mushi said | July 17th 2017 @ 8:26am | ! Report

        Yes those 24 mintues had no chance of mean reversion.

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