The Mediocre and Best in the West, and how the West will be Won

Los Angeles Lakers: B

B’s aren’t usually bad, but the Lakers are a team that should be getting A’s. With a team whose “Big 3” consist of Kobe Bryant, Pau Gasol, and Andrew Bynum, they should have not been so easily defeated by Kevin Durant and the Oklahoma Thunder in the conference semifinals. If that wasn’t bad enough, they went seven games in the first round of the playoffs against a Melo-less Denver Nuggets. The Ramon Sessions trial is over. When it comes to the regular season, Sessions was a valuable point guard, but when they got to the big stage, he got stage fright. Sessions averaged only half of his assists in the playoffs than in the regular season. Andrew Bynum proved himself as a powerful center, and showed a lot of improvement from seasons before. Pau Gasol also proved himself last season, even though he almost wasn’t a Laker before the season started. Kobe Bryant averaged over 20 PPG in the regular season, and 30 PPG in the postseason, but the Lakers need a point guard who can deliver, and a solid bench who can take over after Kobe leaves.

Looking to the future:

If the Lakers want to become championship contenders again, they need to a point guard who can pass and shoot. Enter Steve Nash. Ever since the draft ended last week, and the free-agent signings began, NBA rumors have been buzzing like bees on flowers. Along with the Deron Williams deal, one of the biggest transaction news has been the Steve Nash-Lakers deal. Nash is exactly what the Lakers, and every other Western conference team needs, a point guard who can assist. During the regular season Nash was second only to Rajon Rondo in assists per game. It’s unfortunate Nash won’t be wearing his lucky number 13 jersey, unless he can score more than retired Lakers number 13 Wilt Chamberlain.

Los Angeles Clippers: A

Three years ago people forgot that there was a second team in Los Angeles, and if David Stern didn’t veto Chris Paul’s move to the Lakers, people would still forget. The last time the Clippers were in the playoffs Blake Griffin was in high school. Drafting Griffin and later signing Paul has been the best thing to happen to the Clippers in a long time. Both men shoot, Griffin rebounds like a beast, and Paul passes like my potential prom dates. A team once considered a laughing stock is now gaining wins over teams like Dallas and Oklahoma City. They made it through the first round of the playoffs, but were swept by San Antonio in the next round. They may not be championship contender material next season, but they will certainly be one of the most exciting teams to watch, and toughest team to play against. Any other team with a similar record would get a B, but the Clippers are lucky this grade is based on a curve.

Looking to the future:

Lamar Odom returns to L.A., but in a Clippers jersey. Odom, along with Chauncey Billups provides a lot of experience to the Clippers’ roster. Odom didn’t make a huge splash last season in Dallas, but with the Clippers he can provide good backup to Griffin. Paul is trying to recruit Ray Allen, which would give the Clippers a great shooter from the perimeter, which is something they are extremely lacking. The Clippers recently signed Jamal Crawford and re-signed Chauncey Billups, giving them a stacked shooting bench.

Oklahoma City Thunder: A

Four years since moving from Seattle to Oklahoma City, the Thunder have made leaps and bounds. Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook, and James Harden have become household names in Oklahoma, especially Harden’s beard. They are also one of the youngest teams in NBA history with a majority of their players age 25 and under. They were second in the Western conference behind one of the oldest teams in the league, the San Antonio Spurs. Durant led the league last season in scoring, with Westbrook not too far behind. They are great perimeter shooters, and whenever you see Durant or Harden shoot for a three, you can pretty much call it in the air. The Thunder also led the league in blocks, thanks to Serge Ibaka who has provided great backup to the team. Kendrick Perkins failed as a big man player, and let a lot of Heat players get passed him in the paint. The Thunder can shoot, but that’s all they can really do, and that was able to carry them to the finals. The Thunder trailed the league in assists per game, and that really showed in the finals against the Heat when they passed like a bad game of hot potato near the paint.

Looking to the future:

The team has good chemistry, and even though they’re passing isn’t too great, they still have a lot of time to develop. Westbrook needs to pass the ball more, especially against teams with great defenses like Memphis, New York, and Chicago. Don’t expect to see major changes to the Thunders lineup. Derek Fisher is the most likely player to leave the Thunder, but he won’t make a huge impact on the Thunder’s roster.James Harden, Erik Maynor, and Serge Ibaka’s contracts expire, but the Thunder organization can still re-sign and extend deals for the three.

 Minnesota Timberwolves: C-

The reason the Timberwolves get a C- is because the Golden State Warriors, and Sacramento Kings are still in the League. But that shouldn’t take away anything from NBA All-Star Kevin Love. He was able to step in and filled in hole Kevin Garnett left in the Target Center five years ago. The Minnesota Timberwolves ranked fifth in the league in rebounds per game, just ahead of Oklahoma City, which is surprising because have you seen Durant’s arm length? Love also average over 20 points per game last season. The team also has Ricky Rubio, who played really well at beginning of the season, but unfortunately tore his ACL and couldn’t finish the rest of the season. Michael Beasley helped Love in the points department, but is signing with the Phoenix Suns as a free agent. The Timberwolves had a solid “Big 3” who can shoot and play defense, but need someone who can shoot from the perimeter. Injury woes also troubled a very young, and inexperienced team. Luke Ridnor did a good job in replacing Rubio, but it wasn’t enough to secure a playoff space. It’s the team’s “Big 3” that gives them a C, but it’s the team’s inability to build a solid bench around them that makes them tread D territory.

Looking to the Future:

With Beasley out, the Timberwolves lost a good shooter who can help get points along with Love. Former Portland Trail Blazers player Brandon Roy has announced his comeback to basketball after recovering from a knee procedure. Roy can shoot from the free throw, and has great field goal percentage. He missed last season, and who knows if his knee problems will return. Even with Love, Rubio, and a returning Roy, the Timberwolves are still in need of a good perimeter shooter. The Timberwolves made Nicolas Batum of the Portland Trail Blazers an offer, which could give Minnesota a more solid roster.

Phoenix Suns: C

The Phoenix Suns were in the top ten last season in points per game (PPG), assists per game (APG), and blocks per game (BPG), but somehow they allowed a lot of points against. The Phoenix Suns receive a C because this team is not playing to its full potential. The Suns of the 2000s were perennial playoff contenders, but have not been able to have the same success this decade. Nash played a crucial role in getting the Suns many points, thus is the best in the west when it comes to assists. Marcin Gortat, and Jared Dudley have done a good job in scoring twos. Grant Hill is the second oldest player in the NBA, but plays like younger veteran. Even though the Suns were eighth in the league for PPG, they don’t have any great shooters who can knock down threes. Their lack of cohesion in defense is also a problem, which allowed them get an average point differential of -0.2.

Looking to the future:

The Los Angeles Lakers recently acquired Steve Nash in a sign-and-trade deal, and Grant Hill became a free agent. That shouldn’t worry the Suns too much because with the loss of two old, veteran players, they acquired three young players. The Suns offered Eric Gordon, who averaged 20 PPG last in New Orleans, a four-year $58 million deal. If the Hornets can’t match the Suns’ offer, Gordon could be seen wearing an orange jersey next season. The Suns have also reached verbal agreements with Michael Beasley of the Minnesota Timberwolves, and Goran Dragic of the Houston Rockets. The duo will certainly provide great backup in scoring if Gordon goes to Phoenix. Nash’s exit leaves a major hole in assists, but today’s NBA game has shifted towards more one-on-one plays. 

 

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