Wednesday, March 7, 2012

The Western Pretenders

No, not these guys.


No these guys (unfortunately):


And these guys:



  Why aren't the Nuggets real contenders? Let me count the ways..... A) Because I said so. B) Well just because! Oh, you want real reasons? Grumble grumble grumble grumble grumble grumble.

Denver's biggest concern that I have is defending the paint adequately against the best low post threats. Additionally, I wonder how Denver matches up with a perimeter oriented team like Oklahoma City that has their entire offensive arsenal on the perimeter as is.

There aren't any other real ways to score in the NBA unless you believe half court shots are fairly reliable.

The Nuggets play at the fastest pace in the NBA, have the 4th best ORtg (due to leading in points in the paint) and the 19th best DRtg.  Of all the West Contenders and possible playoff teams, only San Antonio and Houston are in the bottom half of the defensive eFG% for the entire NBA. Denver is in the bottom 5. This is a big problem if you can't defend the paint very well with one of the best post defenders in the NBA in Nene. It's not like Timofey Mozgov is a slouch in this area either. The Nuggets give up the 18th worst defensive % at the rim according to Hoopdata. (The Clippers are also in the bottom tier of teams that give up a lot of points at the rim. This may be their biggest real weakness moving forward even with DeAndre Jordan around.) In fact, the only place where Denver defends well percentage wise is in the long 2 range (16-23 feet) where they actually lead the league. But since most teams do not aspire to take many of those shots every game, it's a rather difficult defensive strategy to hang your hat on when you give up much easier shots much closer to the basket.

Besides the defensive question, who is the best player on the Nuggets? Is it Ty Lawson, Andre Miller, Nene, Danilo Gallinari? Is it someone else like Arron Afflalo or Al Harrington? The Nuggets have an impressive amount of depth for a team that is aspiring to make a deep playoff run. What the Nuggets do not have is that one player to push all of those incredibly amazing complementary pieces together and give the Nuggets that much needed centerpiece. Unless the Nuggets answer that question come playoff time, and get a higher seed than the 8th seed they are currently sitting in, I suspect this will be a long term problem.

Plus, can you be taken seriously when you have a guy on your team who has more hair gel in his hair than Pat Riley? Even Riley's slickback fears the Birdman's 'do.

Houston Rockets

The Rockets offense is built around 3 players: Kevin Martin, Kyle Lowry and Luis Scola. Their defense is built around Sam Dalembert, Lowry and Scola. And there is a host of interesting complementary players such as Chandler Parsons, Chase Budinger, Patrick Patterson and Goran Dragic. Where Houston is not as efficiently proficient as Denver, they are almost as bad as defensively as Denver is.

While Lowry is one of the most chronically underrated PG's in the entire NBA, Martin is one of the more misunderstood players in the NBA (efficient offensive player and little else), and Scola is an interesting combo of defense/offense that does not always play well against the top tier teams.

That's it in a nutshell: Houston is too flawed at the top to make their depth work for them in a deep playoff run. On the other hand, Houston does have some super cool uniforms so maybe I should root for them to make the playoffs and win another Finals. Or something.

In fact at this point, I'm not convinced Houston is a guaranteed playoff team.

Minnesota Timberwolves and Portland Trail Blazers

Are these two teams even playoff teams let alone actual contenders? No. I hope, for Wolves fans sake (as a Kings fan I have empathy), the Wolves make the playoffs, but that doesn't mean they are a championship contender. Whomever the Wolves matchup in the 1st round is almost guaranteed a move into the 2nd round. But, on the other hand, who doesn't want to see Kevin Love and Ricky Rubio in the playoffs for the first time?

Portland is so discombobulated that I'm not sure they have the chemistry at the moment to pull off even a push to make the playoffs let alone a deep contender run. When beating New Orleans is a must win for your franchise, I'm not sure you are a playoff contender.

Summary 

So these are the 6 West Contenders as I see it. Oklahoma City, San Antonio, LA Clippers, LA Lakers, Dallas and Memphis. Each of those teams have inherent weaknesses and issues across the board. Then again, so does Miami and Chicago and they have inherent weaknesses too. What I would say is that, again, I'm looking forward to the Western Conference playoffs. Why? Because many of these teams are evenly matched, well coached, and have motivated talent wanting to get to that next level for whatever reason. This makes for a good playoffs in my humble opinion.

 Oh, remember all the talk how about the NBA would be ruined after the lockout with all the anger and angst over greedy callous billionaires and millionaires arguing with each other? Well, apparently, that angst is not existing at this particular moment with ratings higher than last year's tremendously excellent ratings.

What's very clear is that on any given moment a team could jump into the ring in the West and run the table. Now if only the Eastern Conference was interesting the NBA might be an interesting league. (That may or may not be sarcasm.)

Tomorrow, Oklahoma City and why they are the best in the West.

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Sheridan Hoops

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