2010-2011 Season Preview: Western Conference, Part 1

You may remember that I was starting down the road of putting together detailed previews of every division in the Association. It was an ambitious undertaking, and one that came to realize was a bit too ambitious for me at the moment – trying to find more than two positive things to say about the Kings was making my brain hurt – so I’ve scaled back and decided instead to take another approach.

I’m going to tackle my season preview in three parts. I’ll start with a review of teams that I think will be in the playoff hunt and a quick hit about the rest of the teams in the field. Then, I’ll take a look at teams I think are solid candidates to go deep into the playoffs, and finally, I’ll take a look at the teams to beat.

Let’s get started with teams likely to make the playoffs in the Western Conference:

Phoenix Suns

Meaningful Offseason Moves

  • Sign-and-traded Amare Stoudemire to the New York Knicks for a conditional second-round pick.
  • Signed Channing Frye to a 5-year, $32 million dollar deal
  • Traded a 2011 second-round pick to Chicago for Hakim Warrick
  • Traded Leandro Barbosa and Dwayne Jones to Toronto for Hedo Turkoglu
  • Draft Gani Lawal and Dwayne Collins

Why the Suns are Relevant
The Suns head into this season with a dramatically differently looking squad than the one that lost to the Lakers in the Western Conference Finals.

They’ve parted company with Amare Stoudemire (23.1 PPG, 8.9 RPG) and Leandro Barbosa (9.5 PPG, 1.6 RPG) while adding Hakim Warrick (9.6 PPG, 4.1 RPG), Hedo Turkoglu (11.3 PP, 4.6 APG) and Josh Childress (11.8 PPG, 4.9 RPG).

In my opinion, the Stoudemire loss is going to be a painful one.

The Suns still has Nash, and he’s about as valuable an asset as one could ask for, but the question becomes who will step into the role of the potent offensive threat.

Remember that for all the assists he had last year (11.0 APG), Nash only provided 1,333 points (16.5 PPG). Amare was the primary point of offense for the Suns last year, and his departure leaves a 1,896 point hole to fill.

The 2009-2010 Suns lead the league in points per game at 110.2, but finished 23rd overall when it came to defense. With Amare gone, it seems inevitable now that the Suns are going to need to run (and run, and run) to be a threat in the west. With Nash at the helm, I’m confident they can do just that, but ultimately someone on that roster is going to need to step up and thrive.

Not to mention get some rebounds.

Dallas Mavericks

Meaningful Offseason Moves

  • Traded Matt Carroll, Eduardo Majera and Erick Dampier to Charlotte for Tyson Chandler and Alexis Ajinca
  • Re-signed Dirk Nowitzki to a four-year, $80 million deal
  • Re-signed Brendan Haywood to a six-year, $55 million deal
  • Drafted Dominique Jones with the 25th pick (from Memphis)
  • Signed Ian Mahinmi to a one year, minimum contract.

Why The Mavs Are Relevant
Let’s start with the obvious.

Dirk Nowitzki averaged 25.0 PPG in 2009-2010 (7th highest in the NBA regular season) while pulling down 7.7 rebounds a game (25th). He shot .915 from the free throw line (2nd), which is especially meaningful when you consider that he attempted 586 free throws last season (8th).

I contend that most teams don’t have the right pieces on their roster to handle Nowitzki, which means that teams have to extend their defensive game plans in unusual ways to try to pick up the slack (i.e. you need to figure out how to slow him down on the interior but still provide for defensive rotation to keep him from getting the ball on the perimeter).

Nowitzki’s offensive skills keeps things interesting, so against the right combination, Dirk can put on his cape and go for 30+ points – something he did 20 times last season. I should also point out that there were only 17 games last season wherein he didn’t score at least 20.

That said, the trouble comes when trying to figure out who else on the Mavericks roster warrants serious concern. Jason Terry put up 1,280 points last year (to Dirk’s 2,027), and after that came Shawn Marion at 898.

So then the question becomes what one thinks of Tyson Chandler. In 51 games last year, Chandler averaged 6.5 PPG – his worst since 2003. It’s certainly likely that Chandler could thrive with Jason Kidd running the point, especially since he’ll no longer be asked to shoulder the offense, but if you’re Phil Jackson, is the three-headed ‘dragon‘ of Nowitzki-Terry-Chandler going to keep you up at night?

P.S. Dirk really needs to cut his damn hair.

Denver Nuggets

Meaningful Offseason Moves

  • Attempted to Move Carmelo Anthony to the Nets
  • Currently attempting to move Carmelo Anthony to the Knicks
  • Signed Al Harrington to a 5-year, $34 million contract
  • Declined to match Toronto’s offer sheet to Linas Keiza
  • Signed Shelden Williams and Anthony Carter to one-year, veteran minimum contracts

Why the Nuggets are Relevant

For the record, I’m not someone who thinks that the fate of Melo makes or breaks the Denver Nuggets. Even outside of Chauncey Billups, the Nuggets are a solid team at every position, and probably would have wound up toe-to-toe with the Lakers in the Western Conference Semis were it not for the absence of George Karl and Jerry Sloan’s ability to pick apart interim coach Adrian Dantley – a former Jazzman under Sloan.

That said, I feel like there’s no debate to the fact that Carmelo is the face of the Denver Nuggets – not to mention the centerpiece to their offense – and it’s going to be painful for Nuggets fans to see him go. Anthony was responsible for 22% of all points scored by the Nuggets last season, and he missed 13 games last year due to injury.

The Nugget front office did offer Anthony a three year extension over the summer, an offer that he did not pick up. That was followed by a highly publicized trade rumor that featured four teams shuffling their lineups in order to provide the Nuggets enough motivation to release ‘Melo to the Nets. The deal fell through (and I was personally glad for it, as it would have sent Andrei Kirilenko to the Nuggets), but even just in the past couple days, rumors are a brewing that the Knicks are getting into the hunt.

However it works out, one has to assume that Carmelo Anthony will be moved by the trade deadline, and until we know who the Nuggets are able to get back for him, it’s difficult to predict how things will turn out for the Nuggets.

In my opinion, this roster is still a playoff worthy squad without ‘Melo, but it’s hard to say how much further they’ll be able to go until we know who will be replacing him.

And now, the rest…
I’ll be honest, it’s a struggle to think up who may wind up in the 8 seed come playoff time. I fell that, much like the last several year, it’s going to be a battle to the finish.

If you don’t believe me, consider the following:

Houston Rockets

On the upside, the Rockets have a solid interior offense between Yao, Scola and Brad Miller (if you happen to be a pro-Brad Miller guy). They also drafted Patrick Patterson and added additional height in Jordan Hill and Jared Jeffries.

On the downside, their guard line consists of Aaron Brooks, Courtney Lee, Kyle Lowry, Ishmael Smith and Jermaine Taylor.

New Orleans Hornets

On the upside, they still have Chris Paul, they made moves to get a hold of Trevor Ariza, and dramatically shook up their front office by bringing in a new GM in Dell Demps and a new coach in Monty Williams

On the downside, to put this nicely, the best additions to the team – outside of Trevor Ariza – were said additions to the front office. Demps and Williams will be able to spend this season focused on figuring out a rebuilding strategy while they still have the opportunity to move Paul for something valuable.

Memphis Grizzles

On the upside, the Grizzles had a positive offseason by signing Tony Allen and Rudy Gay while draft Xavier Henry and Greivis Vasquez. They also still feature interior strength in Marc Gasol and Zach Randolph.

On the downside, Memphis was at the bottom of the league when it comes to points generated from an assist (which is a nice way to say that they weren’t blessed with a meaningful point guard). I don’t know if they’re planning to give Tony Allen the ball, but even if they do, there’s no guarantee that he’ll be able to thrive there.

Portland Fail Blazers

(I told them I’d start calling them the Fail Blazers if they stole Wesley Matthews from the Jazz. Now they can feel my wrath!)

On the upside, the Blazers are probably still the best looking non-contender team when you look at them on paper. Roy, Fernandez, Oden, Miller, Przybillia and now Matthews is potentially a monster lineup, assuming they can stay healthy for a meaningful stretch of time.

On the downside, they can’t stay healthy. I could stop there, but I think that’d be overlooking the key thing that I always feel is overlooked by basketballers…

<rant>
It seems, to me, that the Blazers organization is an incredible mess. I know that doesn’t ordinarily prevent talented players from playing well on the court, but something feels funky with that group. Between the disfunction found during the draft, to the mishandling of the Rudy Fernandez situation, to the game of chicken the Blazers played with the Jazz over Wesley Matthews – not to mention all the drama that comes with all those injuries – I just feel like the Blazers has got to be a strange place to call home.

There’s no denying the talent on this squad, but at the same time, I just struggle to see any real coherency, on or off the court.

Of course, I say all this fully aware that the Blazers are the team mostly likely to prove me wrong. If they ever do, we the fans of Western Conference basketball are all in serious trouble.
</rant>

Golden State Warriors

On the upside, the Warriors are probably the most exciting young team in the NBA. Stephen Curry and Monta Ellis are rapidly becoming studs out West. Last year, the Warriors ran one of the fastest offenses in the league, and in the offseason, they pulled together a cornucopia of young talent, including David Lee, who may prove to be the best guy to come out of last year’s free agent pool that no one was talking about at the time.

On the downside, the Warriors made 9 significant offseason transactions, not to mention a change of ownership, which promptly led to the departure of Don Nelson as coach, and the addition of Keith Smart, who lead the 02-03 Cavs to a 9-31 record under his reign.

In other words, there’s no way to know how this team will look until they start playing together.

Sacramento Kings

On the upside, they have a pair of particularly talented players in Tyreke Evans and rookie DeMarcus Cousins. They also move Andrew Nocioni and Spencer Hawes to Philadelphia for Samuel Dalembert – presumably to serve as a veteran voice for their developing young talent.

On the downside, this combination is still a longs ways from being a meaningful threat – unless you’re playing NBA Jam.

Los Angeles Clippers

On the upside, they finally get to see if Blake Griffin was worth the #1 pick a season ago, and early indications suggest that he is. They also have a new coach in Vinny Del Negro and Baron Davis still has some juice in him.

On the downside, they’re still the Clippers.

Minnesota Timberwolves

On the upside, they’ve got Jonny Flynn and Wesley Johnson.

On the downside, the Wolves are a squad that seems to be stuck in rebuilding hell. I’m sure that things will turn around for them, I just don’t know that it’ll be this season.

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~ by djepperson on October 21, 2010.

One Response to “2010-2011 Season Preview: Western Conference, Part 1”

  1. […] blow of the Jazz defeat – cause really, the Jazz just plain lost the game – but in my preseason preview, I suggested that the Suns were going to see a drop as a result of losing A’mare. […]

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