Friday, November 2, 2007

2007 Western Conference Preview

Alright, now it’s time to take an in depth look into what most believe is the superior conference in the NBA: the West. For the last few years, including this year, the majority of the top teams in the league came from the Western Conference. And while the East has improved quite a bit, especially in this past off season, the best teams still reside on the other side of the Mississippi River.

#15—Minnesota Timberwolves. Man, this hurts. Not in a “former championship team that has fallen on hard times” type of way, but rather a “we always at least had a shot with KG, but now…” kind of pain. Yes The Franchise, The Big Ticket, The Man—Kevin Garnett—is gone. It was time for a change, both for Kevin and the Wolves. We had to bottom out to give ourselves a chance at rebuilding. Well you can hand it to Kevin McHale & Co.; they sure to know how to bottom out.

Now I have to spend an entire season talking myself into things like “Gerald Green could be pretty good if…” and “You know, there’s a reason Sebastian Telfair was a highly touted prospect at one time…” Yeesh. At least there is some promise in Al Jefferson. I hope for his sake that he turns out to be a pretty good player. He’s got a lot of weight on his shoulders.
Late Editors Note: Fuzz and I are watching the opening game for our beloved Wolves and just before tip the camera flashed to a shot of two guys sitting on our bench. Simultaneously, we both said, out loud, “Who the eff are those guys?” That might be the worst start to a season ever. When two big time fans have absolutely no idea about a couple of key players, that’s a sure sign that it’s going to be a long season.

#14—Sacramento Kings. Not only is this team getting old, but they don’t have anything resembling a young up and coming star. First round pick Spencer Hawes looks like a plodding big man without the size to go with it. He’s definitely a candidate to be out of the league in 3 years. The leaders of this Kings team are Mike Bibby and Ron Artest.

A point guard who doesn’t drive very well and can’t play D, and a former defensive specialist who seems to have lost his touch on both ends of the floor and, oh by the way, is completely insane and ready to throw away his NBA career at the drop of a hat (just ask him). Oh, and Shareef Abdul Rahim is on this team and his track record for playing on atrocious teams is impeccable. Yeah, I trust this team to win more than 20 games. Psyche.

#13—Portland Trailblazers. I like the potential that the Blazers are putting together. They’ve rid themselves of a lot of attitude/legal issues, even if it meant sacrificing talent. Gone are the days of the “Jailblazers”, and in comes a young group of talented players who, one can only assume, will have smaller rap sheets than their predecessors. Much like in my Eastern Conference preview, I am predicting a big time breakout year from a guy on a less than stellar team: LaMarcus Aldridge.

The former University of Texas standout looked pretty good at the end of last year. Now that he’s out from under Zach Randolph’s shadow (and that must be a VERY big and dark place), he’ll see more minutes and make the proverbial “Leap” to the next level of star. When everyone is talking about his remarkable start to the season, just remember where you heard it first.

#12—Seattle Supersonics. Gone is top scorer and team leader Ray Allen. He will be replaced by youngsters Kevin Durant and Jeff Green. While I seriously doubt that they’ll be able to replace Allen’s scoring right away, it does appear that the Sonics are moving in the right direction. The key to their season will be PG Luke Ridnour. The kid is lightening quick and can make some highlight reel passes. His problem comes from his lack of consistent scoring and zero defensive skills. If he can lead them in a “Suns-lite” type of offense, this team could have a shot at respectability. If he continues to turn the ball over and get absolutely abused on D, then it’s another high lottery pick for the Oklahoma, I mean Las Vegas, I mean Seattle Supersonics.

#11—Los Angeles Clippers. I can almost guarantee you that I’m going to regret this ranking. In fact, I have no idea why I have them this high. The likelihood that the Clippers completely fall off the basketball map is off the charts. They’ll be without their star, Elton Brand, for a majority of the season with an Achilles injury (effing ouch) and who knows if Shaun Livingston will ever play again. That leaves me-first guard Corey Maggette and ET to lead the troops. Please forgive me if I don’t see that dynamic duo bringing LA to the Promised Land. The one thing I can say that they have going for them is 43 year old rookie Al Thornton, previously of Florida State (the university, not the penitentiary). He’s the young, athletic swing guard that they can build off of. But if they’re going to build around him, they better do it soon, seeing as he’ll be retiring in 5 years.

#10—New Orleans Hornets. In sharp contrast to the Clipjoint preview, I can’t believe that I have the Hornets this low. The have one of the best pure point guards in the game, Chris Paul, leading them once again. The value of having a “real” PG to run the show can’t be overstated.

CP3 can do just about anything with a basketball. He can drive the lane, shoot from both inside and out, make both the easy and difficult passes, and lock down on D if necessary. Yeah, you could say I have a serious man-crush on Mr. Paul. And if you’re looking for more breakout players, look no further than Tyson Chandler. I know he had a very solid year in the 06-07 campaign, but I see him going for big numbers this year. Something in the 18 and 12 range sounds about right. If my prediction about him is right, then all they’ll need is minor production out of guys like Peja Stojakovic, Morris Peterson, David West, and/or Julian Wright to be the surprise team in the West.

#9—Los Angeles Lakers. I just don’t get the Lakeshow. I feel like this should be a good team. You have the best player in the NBA, Kobe Bryant. You have role players like Lamar Odom, Andrew Bynum, Luke Walton, and Derek Fisher. You have the coach, Phil Jackson. That would seem like a recipe for at least some success to me. Apparently I’m wrong. Maybe the fact that I haven’t paid much attention to the NBA for the last few years is clouding my judgment. Whatever the reason is, this team is not very good. Now they’re looking to move their biggest asset, KB. His potential trade clouds their ranking considerably. If they move Kobe and get the entire Chicago roster in return, as has been rumored, then they might actually move up into a playoff spot. If they lose him for 30 cents on the dollar, then they’ll move down considerably. If they stand pat, then this is where I have them—just on the outside, looking in at the playoffs.

#8—Golden State Warriors. To borrow a phrase, “let’s not start sucking each other’s popsicles just yet”. I know about the magical playoff run last spring. I watched every minute of it. Those few weeks made them media darlings (albeit gangster media darlings). The problem is that most fans (and some media members) have that run clouding their judgment about how good this team really is. The 07 playoffs were great—they’re also over. Last year Golden State was an 8 seed. What reason is there to believe that they would significantly improve? Baron Davis is good, but can he carry a team for an entire season and postseason? Steven Jackson is good, but he’s the definition of a loose cannon. They have some athletes, but they play at such a fast, frenzied pace that you have to wonder if they can keep it up all year. I’m betting against it.

#7—Utah Jazz. I hate this team. Always have, always will. Even back in the mid-90’s when they were dominating the Western Conference every year, I was cheering for Chicago to beat the piss out of them. Karl Malone was a prick who set illegal screens and purposely kicked his legs out at the opposition’s groin. John Stockton was dirty little rat who probably “tipped” guys on D. This Utah team is from that same mold. They have Euro-trash players like AK47 and Mehmet Okur that flop and whine and complain all the time. Then they have “that guy” in Carlos Boozer.

You know “that guy”, the one who tries way too hard all the time and is a danger to all others on the court (in our Burnsville men’s league, that guy’s name is Eric and he’s the most intense person ever). Add to the mix an overrated point guard, Deron Williams, and you have the perfect combination of a team that I hate. And yes, Williams is overrated. I saw the playoffs last year and I don’t care. Anyone in the NBA can average 7 assists since they hand those things out like candy on Halloween. They’ll get bounced in the first round, count on it.

#6—Memphis Grizzlies. Here they are; my surprise team of the 2007-08 NBA season, the Memphis Grizzlies. This is solely based on me wanting to go out on a limb with one team and the Grizz having a number of players I like. It starts with Pau Gasol. Normally I am extremely anti-Euro when it comes to basketball players. Their flopping/complaining/shooting garbage runners in the lane-type of game is bothersome to me. But for some reason, I like Gasol. I especially like him on this team with the complimentary players around him. I see a guy like Rudy Gay poised for a breakout season. I also like the combination of athletic big guys like Stromile Swift and Hakim Warrick with sleek, quick guards like Kyle Lowry and Mike Conely Jr. You can also add to all of that a couple of big time shooters in Mike Miller and Casey Jacobson, plus role players Darko Milicic and Brian Cardinal. Put it all together and you have a team that can play in a number of different styles and should make a very nice little run this year.

#5—Houston Rockets. There is one reason and one reason alone for ranking Houston right here: Tracy McGrady. Simply, he is the man. One of the most skilled players in the league, T-Mac has an uncanny ability to rise to amazing levels when his team needs him. Look no further than his spike in all major statistical categories when Yao gets hurt. He knows the team needs more from him and he delivers. Now if he can just get a full, dominant season out of the aforementioned 7’6” Ming, the Rockets could do some things. I think the change to Rick Adelman as head coach could be the x-factor that pushes this team to new heights. Adelman has a knack for getting the most out of his centers and focusing the offense to their strengths. If he continues this trend with Yao, watch out. The role players that compliment Big Two on this team are going to have to play well for Houston to live up to this ranking. Among the starters, this means Rafer “Skip To My Lou” Alston and Shane “Fold Head” Battier need to be steady contributors. Off the bench, one of the following guys also needs to step up: Bonzi Wells, Steve Francis, Mike James, and/or Luther Head. There is a lot of potential talent on this roster. Watch out.

#4—San Antonio Spurs. Can a team be the best and the most mind numbingly boring in the league at the same time? The Spurs say yes. Because I dislike this team A LOT, this will be a short write up. Here, in a nutshell, is what you can expect from San Antonio: Tim Duncan will complain and miss free throws, Manu Ginobli will flop all around the court and complain, Tony Parker will have a hot wife, make clutch shots, and complain, and Greg Popovich will stand around, look unconcerned, and complain. The worst part about this team is the high potential for a flood in the greater San Antonio area due to the tears from all the crying these bitches will do.

#3—Denver Nuggets. You know who’s good? Carmelo Anthony. Big time. Despite his huge talent, Denver strikes me as a Jekyll and Hyde type of team. Either everyone is going to stay healthy, play together, and dominate, or everything will blow up and they will be the disappointment of the league. I see no middle ground. The most important guy to the Nuggets’ success is Allen Iverson.

There are a lot of reports that say he’s lost a step and isn’t the player he once was. Well when you play for as long as he has with the reckless abandon that he does, that’s bound to happen. How much he’s lost is the key. If he can still be an effective guard and distribute the ball, they’ll be in the top tier of Western Conference teams. But the heat isn't just on him. The big men that keep the pressure off AI and Melo are just as important. Kenyon Martin and Marcus Camby have to stay healthy and play well. Given their natural abilities, this shouldn’t be that difficult, but it always seems to be an issue with these two. Despite all of these potential question marks, I see this Denver team finally making a push to make the Big 3 in the Western Conference a Big 4.

#2—Phoenix Suns. You know who’s stupid? Shawn Marion. How could you possibly want off of this team? If I was an NBA player, I’d cut off a pinky toe just to be the 12th man on the end of the bench in Phoenix. They’re fun to watch, they make everyone who comes there better, and they win 50-60 games a year. What’s not to like? Plus, The Matrix is the highest paid player on a team with the likes of Steve Nash, Amare Stoudemire, and Grant Hill. What an idiot. Speaking of Hill, his presence is huge for this team. A veteran, calming presence in the locker room who also showed last year that he can still get it done on the court after 15 years of injuries. If Stoudemire is truly back from that microfracture surgery and can continue to run the court and catch alley-oop passes from Nash, then this team will be right where it is every year—at the top. At some point though, someone on this team or in this front office needs to realize that the only way they are getting past San Antonio/Dallas is to play a little defense. I think this might be the year they get that. Maybe the starters get a little more rest than normal. Maybe instead of averaging 120 points per game, they tone it down to 105 to keep everyone fresh for a deep playoff run. Maybe, just maybe…

#1—Dallas Mavericks. The main reason I have for putting Dallas at the top of this list is that I think they’ll be playing with a major chip on their collective shoulder all year. They were flat out embarrassed in the playoffs by Golden State, and then got to hear months worth of “Dirk is the worst MVP of all time” talk. They simply didn’t show up for that first round series and paid dearly for it. It has people questioning their heart, their desire, their dedication. I think it’s that doubt that will drive the entire team this season. Look, Nowitzki is good—he wouldn’t have won the MVP if he wasn’t. And there is still a ton of talent around him. Jason Terry, Erick Dampier, Jerry Stackhouse, and Eddie Jones are all proven veterans with quite a bit of talent still left in the tank. They also have two of the better young players in the league in Josh Howard and Devin Harris (who could have a HUGE year). And they have Avery Johnson as their coach.

I can’t think of anyone better to motivate a team this talented and deep team (who shouldn’t need any more motivation than just winning that elusive title). They’ll be the last one standing when all is said and done this June.

1 comment:

bellz said...

Q - nicely done. great shout out to the BVille men's league. "Geric" should be happy to get any ink he can.