Examining the Western Conference All-Star Landscape
The starters for the 2015 All-Star game were announced on Thursday evening, and this morning Lang Greene discussed how the fans did voting for the Eastern Conference starters, and what that now means for the East reserves to be selected soon by the league’s 30 head coaches.
That of course leads to a conversation about the Western Conference All-Stars, which already has proven to be very interesting with Kobe Bryant in the starting lineup (for now) and Kevin Durant out of it.
Did the Fans Get the All-Star Voting Right for the West?
As is typical every year, the All-Star voters put together an interesting mix of highly-intelligent voting and borderline silly omission, with this year’s most egregious error coming in the form of 36-year-old Kobe Bryant.
Bryant, selected to start in the backcourt alongside MVP candidate Stephen Curry of the Golden State Warriors, is not having his finest season by a longshot. The Lakers, for starters, are among the worst teams in the NBA, and the statistics show that they’re actually a more efficient team when Bryant is off the floor than when he is on it. Their offensive efficiency is 4.1 points lower when Kobe’s on the floor, while their defensive efficiency is actually 9.8 points better when he’s on the bench. Bryant is 74th in the league in PER and 361st in win shares.
In short, he’s not having a landmark season, but Rockets shooting guard James Harden is. Harden is currently leading the league in points per game and win shares, is second in PER and third in real plus-minus. By nearly every advanced metric, he’s a candidate for MVP of the entire league, so fans failing to vote him in as one of the five best players in his conference seems a little ridiculous. He should have started alongside Curry rather than Bryant, without question.
This, of course, is what will likely happen now that Bryant is reportedly out for the rest of the season due to his torn rotator cuff. The Lakers haven’t announced that Bryant will undergo surgery, but multiple reports have indicated that he will and his 2014-15 campaign is over. Harden seems like the no-brainer replacement for Bryant. Even still, it’s just odd that the same millions of fans who acknowledged Curry’s MVP-caliber season by making him the leading vote getter overall also failed to acknowledge Harden’s MVP-caliber season with at least enough votes to top Bryant.
As far as the frontcourt is concerned, it’s hard to argue with Blake Griffin, Marc Gasol and Anthony Davis rounding out the starting lineup. All three guys earned their votes. Although it’ll be interesting to see who has to play some small forward since all three are big men.
Who Are the Likely Reserves?
Who else will get onto the Western Conference team as a reserve? Here’s a look at the likely choices:
It’s interesting that Bryant was popular enough through a down season to earn a starting nod, but Durant, the reigning MVP and easily one of the league’s most beloved and marketable superstars, was not. While it’s true that Durant only has 19 games under his belt, those 19 games have been played at an MVP level and the fans could have easily voted him in.
The question now is whether the coaches will think Durant has put in enough work to make the 2015 All-Star team. Back in December, Basketball Insiders staff did not unanimously include him among their picks for reserves; only three of the five voters put him among the final seven spots on the Western Conference squad.
Since late December, however, Durant has gotten his minutes back up and looks like the dominant guy he’s been his entire career. Chances are pretty good he gets a nod as a reserve, even with so few games under his belt this season. He’s a cornerstone of the sport, so to exclude him would make the event feel empty somehow, especially with the momentum he’s built for himself the last few weeks.
James Harden, Houston Rockets
For all of the reasons listed above, Harden is a shoe-in. The fans didn’t vote him in, but the coaches absolutely will.
DeMarcus Cousins, Sacramento Kings
Clearly in the midst of a breakout season, Cousins is averaging career-highs with 24 PPG, 12,7 RPG and 1.7 BPG. That puts him fourth in the league in scoring, third in the league in rebounding and 11th in the league in blocks. There’s no way this kid doesn’t make his first All-Star appearance this winter.
Damian Lillard, Portland Trail Blazers
The Blazers are having an outstanding year, leading the Northwest Division by a wide margin, and with LaMarcus Aldridge now sidelined for six-to-eight weeks with an injured thumb, Lillard is the obvious choice to represent them in the All-Star game. He’s having an All-Star season anyway, averaging 22.1 PPG (10th in the NBA) and 6.2 APG (15th in the NBA), so while it seems like there are half a million elite point guards in the West, Lillard has been good enough this season to stand out among them.
Chris Paul, L.A. Clippers
Still one of the best point guards in the NBA, Paul is third in the league in assists (9.8 APG) and has a way of making All-Star games incredibly fun. For the sake of the game, let’s hope he gets in over an amazing crop of Western Conference point guards this year. Guys like Mike Conley and Tony Parker are plenty deserving, but Paul has done nothing to rescind his perennial All-Star crown to either of those guys.
Tim Duncan, San Antonio Spurs
The honorary aged veteran spot could just as easily go to Dirk Nowitzki, who’s helping lead an awesome resurgence in Dallas, but the ageless Duncan gets a slight nod for no particular reason. He is averaging 14.7 PPG and 10.0 RPG (his highest average in five years), but flip a coin. It could be either guy here, especially considering Dallas is having the better season.
Klay Thompson, Golden State Warriors
The last wild card spot is nearly impossible to fill considering the remaining players who could all reasonably put in that spot, but based on the Warriors’ success and the incredible breakout season by Thompson, who is averaging career-highs essentially across the board, he’s the big winner over some undeniably deserving competition. What a tough vote in the West this year. So many good players aren’t going to make it in simply because of math.
Who Are the Likely Snubs for the Western Conference?
And, as always, there are deserving players left off of the team. It’s worth noting that two of these players could be added to the team as injury replacements (select by NBA Commissioner Adam Silver) for Kobe Bryant and LaMarcus Aldridge. Here are the nastiest snubs should the aforementioned players end up being the ones voted in by coaches:
LaMarcus Aldridge, Portland Trail Blazers
Speaking of Aldridge, there’s actually a chance that he gets voted in over Duncan based on merit, despite the fact that he won’t actually play in the game and Duncan will likely take his spot eventually anyway. He’s sixth in scoring and 11th in rebounding for a killer Portland team, so the only way he doesn’t make it in is if the coaches consider the injury. Hopefully he’ll get the honor, even though he’ll likely have to miss the game due to the injury.
Russell Westbrook, Oklahoma City Thunder
Some point guard has to lose out here, and while Westbrook is doing all the same stuff he always has, Oklahoma City just isn’t getting two guys in this year with all the talent involved, particularly not two guys that have each failed to play at least 30 games to this point. The reigning MVP Durant will probably be the Thunder player representing OKC this winter, which leaves Westbrook out in the cold.
Mike Conley, Memphis Grizzlies
It’s such a shame because Conley is having an unbelievable individual season for a good Memphis team, but like Westbrook, he may not make it because there are just too many good point guards in the mix this year. Throw Tony Parker and Monta Ellis into this category, too. So many good players with just no shot at making it in.
Dirk Nowitzki, Dallas Mavericks
If Duncan’s out, Nowitzki’s likely in, but we’ll be talking about one of these guys as a snub once the reserves are announced. Like Duncan, Dirk keeps getting older but still remains relevant. It will be interesting to see which player starts to slow down first (if they ever do – it’s possible these guys are robots).
Who do you expect to make the Western Conference team as reserves? Hit up the comments section or keep the conversation alive on Twitter. The actual reserves will be announced on Jan. 29.
Seattle Mayor Thinks Team Isn’t Coming Any Time Soon
The annual storyline of Seattle getting an NBA team back somehow is a beacon of hope for those living in the Great Northwest, but according to Seattle mayor Ed Murray, it doesn’t sound as though this particular beacon should remain lit, at least not for the next few years.
“[The NBA’s] official line, and I think they’re being straightforward with me, is a city grabbing a team or a new [expansion] franchise at this point is not, in their mind, something they see happening,’’ Murray told the Seattle Times following a meeting with NBA commissioner Adam Silver on Monday. “They actually expressed to me that they felt expectations in Seattle had been raised that weren’t consistent with what they had been sharing about a path to get there within the next few years.’’
That’s not great news for Seattle since the Chris Hansen ownership group has a memorandum of understanding with the city to help fund a new arena that could potentially run out by the time some team does look ready to relocate.
“I worry that it may not happen,’’ Murray said. “I worry that both councils will not go the full way toward approving this [arena] if there is no team. If it’s two or three years away, this will run out in 2017 and the whole thing will have to start over again.’’
That doesn’t necessarily mean that basketball will never return to Seattle, but it does appear as though Silver isn’t under the impression any team will be moving to Washington state in the near future. Also, it doesn’t look like Silver is interested in going the expansion route either, as it’s very unlikely the current 30 owners would enjoy splitting revenue with another team or two.
In short, the Seattle think isn’t on the horizon at the moment, and it might be a few more years before it is.
NBA Daily: Marcus Morris Thriving Off Bench
Marcus Morris has been one of the Clippers’ most dependable reserves this season, David Yapkowitz breaks it down.
When Marcus Morris Sr. came over to the Los Angeles Clippers last season near the trade deadline, he stepped right into the starting lineup at power forward. He started all 19 regular season games – including the bubble – and when the team re-signed him this past offseason, he looked like a lock to remain in the starting lineup.
But he’s been one of the main anchors of the Clippers’ second unit this year and coming off the bench was something he requested of new head coach Tyronn Lue. Along with Lou Williams, the pair have spearheaded one of the most formidable bench units in the NBA. The pair has combined for 24.8 points per game on the season and they’re both shooting lights out from three-point range.
On a call last month with media, Morris admitted that this dynamic pairing with Williams was exactly what he was envisioning when he initially asked to be part of the second unit.
“Building that chemistry with me and him both coming off the bench, we’ve to be one of, if not the best bench in the league. Both of us are proven vets, proven scorers in this league,” Morris said. “I think our camaraderie, us being really good friends, I think that helps on the court. Not just scoring but just being vets, being able to talk and being able to lead our unit.”
As well as he’s played this season, it wasn’t always such a smooth transition to the Clippers. Morris’ numbers dropped last year from his career averages and he shot 31 percent from the three-point line; the lowest he’s shot since his second year in the NBA. Like most of the team, he faded a bit during the team’s second-round playoff debacle against the Denver Nuggets.
This season, although his scoring isn’t as high as it used to be at 12.4 points per game, Morris’ shooting has been much more efficient. His 46.3 percent from downtown is a career-high. He looks much more comfortable in the flow of the offense and he’s played his role to perfection. Naturally, Morris credits Lue with helping him establish his role.
“I think the biggest difference is just having that exact from [Tyronn Lue] just talking to me and telling me exactly what he’s wanting me to do. Last year, I thought I was a lot of times in no man’s land, I couldn’t really put my finger on my role,” Morris said.
This year, I’m coming off the bench to be aggressive, coming off to bring energy, shoot the ball, the guys I’m playing with just playing off them. Lou does a great job of drawing the defense and you have to have guys that can knock it down. I’m just here to do whatever it takes, whether it’s to bring energy or to score.”
Morris began the season missing the first eight games due to a knee injury. But he’s always been one of the more durable players in the league and since then, he only sat out one game. Thankfully for him, he didn’t end up needing surgery only rest.
Lue has been quite pleased with Morris’ contributions this season. He credited Morris’ conditioning while acknowledging the extra work he’s put in to be as effective as he has.
“Just putting in the work, just trying to get his body right, just trying to adjust to the speed of the game, when you’ve been out for so long it is kind of tough to just step back in and play well,” Lue said. “We’ve been needing and asking more from him in the post, rebounding the basketball and, of course, shooting the basketball. He’s been great and he’s been putting in the work. You see the results.”
Like the rest of the team, Morris has been able to shut out any lingering effects from the bubble. He knows the Clippers have championship aspirations this season and, because of the way they flamed out in the playoffs, there will doubt as to whether this team is capable of winning a title.
“Seeing how many people jumped ship last year, I think it definitely helped us. That’s how it works when you have a good team and doesn’t work, people tend to jump off the ship,” Morris said. “We get back to work and we get a championship, people will jump back on the ship. That’s just how it works. We are going to continue to find our camaraderie and we are going to continue to get better. Come playoff time, we’re going to be ready.”
And for the Clippers to win their first championship in franchise history, they’re going to need Morris to be at his best. His versatility is key to their attack, while that ability to stretch the floor with his three-point shooting –plus putting the ball on the floor or posting up – is a big part of what makes the Clippers so dangerous.
He’s willing to do whatever needs to be done.
“I’m a hooper. Whatever you need me to do. One thing I do, I don’t just talk,” Morris said. “I’m just playing. I’ve been in the league for a long time, going on my eleventh year. It doesn’t change for me. One thing you’ll find out about me is I’m never too high, never too low.”
NBA AM: Defensive Player of the Year Watch
Will we see Rudy Gobert win another Defensive Player of the Year Award? Or will we have a new winner this year?
In the fourth edition of the Defensive Player of the Year Rankings, Basketball Insiders continues to look at the players excelling on the defensive side of the ball. The Utah Jazz continues to be a powerhouse in the Western Conference amidst a surprising season, and they will still be well represented in these rankings. But there’s another newcomer to the list, an MVP-caliber player looking to lead his team to the NBA Finals. Ready to take look at the rankings? Let’s get into it.
1. Rudy Gobert (Previous: 2)
The 28-year-old center out of France is one of the best defensive big men the game has seen in recent years – and this year is another example of that as Gobert has been the anchor of the best team in the NBA. Better, he has been a vital piece to their unanticipated success by taking part in all 35 of the Jazz games thus far.
Looking at Gobert’s numbers, he is still second in the league in blocks with 2.8 blocks per game, trailing only Myles Turner in that category. Gobert has had three or more blocks in 18 games, even reaching four in 12 of them.
In the defensive rating category, Gobert ranks third in the league with a rating of 103.0, per NBA Advanced Stats. This number is just enough behind Lebron James at 102.6 and teammate Mike Conley, who leads the NBA with a rating of 100.8. These three players are also in the top three for defensive win shares, with Gobert sitting in third with a DWS of 0.154. Gobert should be the current frontrunner as he has led the best team in the NBA on defense through the first half of the season.
2. LeBron James (Previous: 4)
As a reminder, LeBron James has not made an All-Defensive Team since 2014. How about breaking that streak with a DPotY award as well? He very well could.
Without Anthony Davis, James is unarguably the tone-setter for the defense. The Los Angeles Lakers’ victory over the Portland Trail Blazers on Feb. 26 is a prime example of this. During that contest, James had 3 blocks and 4 steals as the Lakers won by 9. Furthermore, James has managed to average 1 block and 1.3 steals per game since the injury to Davis.
Notably, James ranks in the top three in both defensive rating and defensive win shares. James is just behind Conley in defensive rating at 102.6 compared to Conley’s 100.8 rating. Keep an eye on James’s defensive impact for the defending champs as the season continues to unfold.
3. Joel Embiid (Previous: N/A)
Embiid has been very neglected on this list, but now is the time for him to make his appearance. Yes, it is very high for a player to debut on this list, but he’s been on a tear as of late.
In his career-high night on Feb. 19, Embiid went off for 50 points, 17 rebounds and 4 blocks in a matchup with the Chicago Bulls. This is the game that put the league on notice of Embiid’s brilliant season, both offensively and defensively, as he leads the first-place Philadelphia 76ers. As things stand right now, he’s averaging 1.3 blocks and 1.2 steals per game.
Taking a deeper dive into Embiid’s floor presence is what makes him stand out. He’s 13th in the NBA in defensive rating at 106.6. He also ranks 10th in defensive win shares with 0.131, per NBA Advanced Stats. The coaching change in Philadelphia has allowed Embiid to run the Sixers’ offense and, as things stand right now, he’s certainly in both the MVP and DPotY conversation.
4. Mike Conley (Previous: 1)
Since an extended absence, Conley returned to make an instant impact in the Jazz lineup, averaging 2.0 steals over his last five games. The unexpected success has been due in large part to Conley’s improved play. Of course, Conley is high up on this year’s All-Star snub list, but his significant individual improvements won’t go unnoticed here.
Conley is currently tied for third in the league in steals per game at 1.5. He is also first in defensive rating with a rating of 100.8. Beyond that, he then ranks second in defensive win shares with 0.168. Without Conley, it’s hard to see the Jazz having the success they’ve enjoyed this year. Watch out for him as the season approaches the midpoint as he tries to become the first guard to win the award since Gary Payton during the 1995-96 season.
5. Myles Turner (Previous: 3)
Despite a slip in the standings for the Indiana Pacers, Myles Turner has been a very bright spot for the team defensively. He leads the league in blocks with 3.4 per game and has a pretty sizeable lead over Gobert in that category. Add in the fact that he is averaging 1.1 steals per game, it’s easy to see why Turner is so high in these rankings.
If the Pacers can manage to get things back in order amidst a sub-.500 record thus far, Turner could rise into the upper part of these rankings again.
Honorable Mention: Giannis Antetokounmpo (Previous: N/A)
While voter fatigue may hinder the chance of Giannis earning his second consecutive DPotY award, he should be in the conversation again. The Milwaukee Bucks are amongst the top three in the Eastern Conference standings, thanks to the stellar defensive play from the two-time MVP.
It will be interesting to see where he finishes in the voting after the season’s end. Maybe he gets this award for a second-straight year, while the voter fatigue towards him takes place in the MVP ballots.
While these rankings have gotten competitive as of late, there’s still plenty of time for rising and falling in Basketball Insiders’ weekly Defensive Player of the Year rundown.
NBA PM: The Wizards Are Good Now?
The Washington Wizards went from 5-15 to 13-18 out of nowhere. Much improved from their early-season play they make a run? Dylan Thayer examines.
After the swap of John Wall and Russell Westbrook, the Washington Wizards did not look like they were going to be a playoff team. 20 games into the season, the team found themselves at 5-15 with trade rumors constantly buzzing. At one point, they even had the worst record in the NBA, while looked like a trade of Westbrook, Bradley Beal or even both was a certainty with the team was set to pivot into a true rebuild.
Now, all of a sudden, Washington has the look of a team that could make the postseason play-in game. 8-5 in their last 13 with wins over the Boston Celtics, Denver Nuggets, Portland Trail Blazers and Los Angeles Lakers, the Wizards have started to climb the conference, now just 2.5 games back on the Charlotte Hornets for the East’s eighth seed.
But what’s changed? Let’s take a step back and look at what exactly made them start the season out so slowly.
Early in the year, the former MVP Westbrook was playing through a left quad injury. He wasn’t nearly explosive with the ball as he’s always been, settling for low-percentage jumpers and outside shots, perhaps the biggest weakness in his game. Between the injury and COVID-19 postponements, Westbrook and many other Wizards were away from the court for a significant time — the whole team was in flux.
Then, on Valentine’s Day, the team took the floor in Boston and destroyed the Celtics; the 104-91 final doesn’t truly reflect that, but at one point the Wizards led by as many as 25. A national game beatdown, their play led into the best stretch the Wizards have seen this season.
Westbrook, over his injury, looked like his former explosive self. He’s posted six triple-doubles since, while he came within a point or assist of doing so in three other contests. And, back on the court, the entire team was also able to spend some time together, which allowed them to further jell as a unit and build some momentum toward future games.
It was a surprise when Beal came out and said he did not want to be traded from Washington, with more than a few curious as to how the NBA’s leading scorer could be satisfied with such subpar play from the rest of his roster. But he “shared a consistent viewpoint” with the team, according to Shams Charania, as to what they have done to build around him. The Wizards’ clear leader, Beal has signaled he’s in it for the long-haul, while additions like Westbrook should only serve to solidify that commitment.
Beyond their two stars, the Wizards roster has also stepped up in their most recent stretch. Sophomore Rui Hachimura has proven capable alongside the star-duo in the first unit, while Robin Lopez has stepped up in the absence of Thomas Bryant, who was lost for the season to a torn ACL. Deni Avdija and Garrison Matthews have both flashed as well, with Matthews shooting 41.3 percent from three and even earning a starting role.
If they can sustain their recent success, Washington could easily make the postseason in an underwhelming Eastern Conference. In fact, the tightly-packed nature of the East — while they’re 2.5 games behind Charlotte, just four games separate the Wizards and the fourth seed Celtics — should only serve to benefit Washington in their quest for their first postseason berth since the 2017-18 season. And, if the Wizards want to bolster their team for a playoff run and look to buy at the deadline, they certainly have the pieces to make some interesting moves. With most of their draft capital for the foreseeable future, along with some interesting contracts they could flip for more win-now type players, anything could happen.
The Beal-Westbrook, while it started rough, has not nearly been as bad as most people would think. For the team, the 2020-21 season has proven more promising than they may have thought and, if they can continue to elevate their game, don’t be shocked to see the Wizards on the big stage come May.