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What We Learned: Western Conference Week 2

Ariel Pacheco takes a look at what’s gone on in the Western Conference in the second week of the 2020-21 season.

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The NBA season is a months-long grind, so here at Basketball Insiders, we’re breaking down each conference on a week-to-week basis. And, just two weeks into the NBA season, the Western Conference is shaping up to be a gauntlet. 

As it currently stands, nine teams are at .500 or better with another three just one win away from reaching that mark. It was an interesting week, so let’s get into it. 

Stephen Curry is Still Stephen Curry

After what would be considered a rough start for Stephen Curry, his play recently is more emblematic of the player many wanted and expected to see this season. His 62-point explosion against the Portland Trail Blazers was reminiscent of the Curry we saw during his two-time MVP run. Meanwhile, the return of Draymond Green has enabled Curry’s play and a surge by the Golden State Warriors as well; the team went 3-1 in a week that included solid wins over the Sacramento Kings, Trail Blazers and a 22-point comeback over the Los Angeles Clippers. 

Going forward, the Warriors are going to need Curry to continue his nuclear streak. In their five wins this season, Curry is averaging 39.4 points and 7 assists per game with a 72.8% true shooting percentage. In their four losses, Curry has managed just 19.5 points, 6.5 assists while his true shooting percentage dips to 47.3%. 

If it wasn’t obvious, Golden State’s playoff hopes are tied along to Curry’s play — and they’re doing everything they can to get him easy looks. The Warriors have played at the second-fastest pace in the NBA this season, which has allowed Curry to generate easier shots in transition. The improved play of Andrew Wiggins and Eric Paschall has also been helpful and, while Kelly Oubre’s shooting struggles are well documented — he’s made just 6 of his 45 three-point attempts (13.3%) — a positive regression should do both him, Curry and the team wonders.

Regardless, where the Warriors go over the course of the season rests solely in Curry’s hands.

The Spurs Are Still Competitive

Like the Warriors, the San Antonio Spurs also went 3-1 this week, picking up impressive wins over the Clippers and Los Angeles Lakers along with an overtime victory over the Minnesota Timberwolves.

They are currently 5-4 and playing good basketball. They score by committee, with seven guys averaging double figures. And, while the numbers may not reflect it, they defend extremely hard, a constant among Greg Popovich coached teams. They’ve also had one of the tougher schedules to start the season

A nice balance of youth and veteran talent has allowed the Spurs to be competitive while also developing a lot of their future core at the same time. Dejounte Murray, Keldon Johnson, Lonnie Walker IV and Devin Vassell, for example, are all under 25-years-old and contributing positive minutes. LaMarcus Aldridge, DeMar DeRozan, Patty Mills and Rudy Gay, meanwhile, are older guys that can produce and keep the team in games while allowing the younger guys to grow without the pressures of being the focal points on offense or the primary focus by opposing defenses.

San Antonio also sports the league’s best assist-to-turnover ratio and has the fewest turnovers on the season. Their offense is methodical as they try to force matchups that are advantageous for them. DeRozan seems to have reinvented himself, as well, as he’s averaged what would be a career-high seven assists per game and shot 39.1% from three, which would also be a career-high.

The Spurs may have been one of the more overlooked teams coming into the season. But, if there’s anything the last two decades have taught us, it’s that Popovich and San Antonio are almost always a competitive squad and can’t be counted out. 

New Orleans Still Working Things Out

The New Orleans Pelicans are on a three-game losing streak, having dropped close games to the Indiana Pacers, Oklahoma City Thunder and Charlotte Hornets. And, while there’s no question the Pelicans are one of the more talented teams with a young core that is filled with potential, there have been some early-season red flags.

To start, New Orleans’ lack of depth has really hurt them, as their bench outside of Josh Hart has largely struggled. And, Nickeil Alexander-Walker hasn’t taken the sophomore leap the team had likely hoped for, the offseason trade that sent Jrue Holiday to the Milwaukee Bucks has left them in desperate need of a competent guard that can attack and create for others.

Outside of Eric Bledsoe and Brandon Ingram, the Pelicans lack capable depth at guard or on the wing — and it’s shown in the way their bench has played. An easy fix could just be to move Bledsoe to the second unit but, of course, the starting lineup has struggled in without him as well. If Alexander-Walker can’t take the next step, New Orleans will have to get creative to address their depth issue.

On a more positive note, the defense has been good. Very good. With Stan Van Gundy at the helm, the Pelicans have packed the paint and dared teams to shoot it from deep — based on the sheer size and strength of Steven Adams, Jaxson Hayes and Zion Williamson, it’s probably more forced rather than dared — and it’s led them to the eighth-best defensive rating in the NBA. New Orleans is also third in rebounding and fifth in offensive rebounding, in large part because of Adams and Williamson. Ingram, meanwhile, has continued to improve, becoming a much better playmaker for others as he’s registered a team-high 5.8 assists per game.

The Pelicans are under .500, but there are reasons for optimism. Still, they’ll need to address their depth and bench if they truly want to right the ship.

It’s still early in the season and many teams are still trying to find their footing. Still, the Western Conference is already filled with tons of exciting teams and storylines and should be exciting to watch going forward. And, as you watch, make sure to follow along as Basketball Insiders continues our “What We Learned Series” all season long.

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Jazz agree to trade Derrick Favors, first-round pick to Thunder

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First reported by ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski, the Utah Jazz are trading power forward/center Derrick Favors and a first-round pick to the Oklahoma City Thunder for a future second-round pick. The goal here was to help reduce their tax bill. While the six-foot-eight Georgia native does not have any notable NBA awards or honors on his basketball résumé, in the 2020-21 NBA season, Favors averaged 5.4 points, 5.5 rebounds, and a field goal percentage of 63.8 percent. The 11-year NBA veteran also recorded a free throw shooting percentage of 73.8 percent last season.

The 2020-21 Thunder finished 27-50 (.306), ranking 14th overall in the Western Conference. They could use another first-round pick. Plus, per ESPN’s Bobby Marks, this trade will put Utah $13 million below the luxury tax. On November 24, 2020, Favors signed a three-year, $29.2 million contract with the Jazz. Favors is set to earn $9,720,900 next season. This is the second time in his career he has left the Jazz.

He played with them from the 2010-11 season to the 2018-19 season, before he was traded to the New Orleans Pelicans on July 7, 2019 for a 2021 second-round pick and a 2023 second-round pick. For the 2022-23 season, he has a player option of $10,183,800. The Jazz plan to also re-sign Mike Conley, so this was somewhat of a drastic move to help clear up cap space. On July 6, 2019, Conley was traded by the Memphis Grizzlies to the Jazz, in exchange for Grayson Allen, Darius Bazley, Kyle Korver, and a 2020 first-round pick.

Moreover, scoring-wise, the 33-year-old point guard has not lived up to his performances from his last few seasons on the Grizzlies, but the Jazz need all the help they can get. Jazz general manager Justin Zanik will make it a top priority to re-sign Conley here soon. Conley earned $34,504,132 in the 2020-21 season.

According to Spotrac, Conley has a cap figure of $39,344,900. Center Rudy Gobert and shooting guard Donovan Mitchell have a combined percentage of 47.61 percent of Utah’s total salary cap. On December 20, 2020, Gobert signed a five year, $205 million extension with the team. He will earn $35,344,828 next season.

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Wizards, Lakers agree to Russell Westbrook and Three-Player Trade Deal

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The Los Angeles Lakers have agreed with the Washington Wizards to acquire Russell Westbrook in a three-player trade, sending Kyle Kuzma, Montrezl Harrell, Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, and the No. 22 pick in Thursday’s 2021 NBA Draft to the Wizards. According to ESPN, the Wizards are also giving up their 2024 and 2028 second-round picks as well. During last night’s draft, at pick No. 22, the Lakers sent Wildcats’ center Isaiah Jackson to the Pacers via the Wizards. At pick No. 15, the Wizards drafted Gonzaga forward Corey Kispert. In the second round, at pick No. 31, the Milwaukee Bucks traded NBA G League player Isaiah Todd to the Wizards via the Pacers.

On Thursday, Harrell decided to pursue his $9.7 million player option for next season. Yesterday, rumors surfaced across social media regarding a possible Lakers-Kings trade involving Harrell. Despite the outlandish predictions and mindless speculation from fans over these last couple of days, this trade move could work out great for both teams.

After all, Westbrook is a 9-time NBA All-Star and three-time assists leader. In his MVP season back in the 2016-17 season, over the course of 81 games, he averaged a career-high 31.6 points, 10.7 rebounds, 10.4 assists, and 1.6 steals per game. On Twitter, Westbrook tweeted, “I’m blessed to have been a part of such a stand up organization. It didn’t take long to make a home in DC, and I will forever be grateful and appreciative of my experience with the organization. Thank you!”

In the 2020-21 NBA season, Caldwell-Pope averaged 9.7 points, 2.7 rebounds, and 1.9 assists per game in 67 games started for the Lakers. The 28-year-old shooting guard will make $13 million next season. As for Kuzma, in 68 games played last season, he averaged 12.9 points, 6.1 rebounds, and 1.9 assists per game. Kuzma is set to earn $13 million next season. For Harrell, in 69 games played last season, he averaged 13.5 points, 6.2 rebounds, and 1.1 assists per game. The six-foot-seven power forward/center is also a six-year player. Instead of having one or two notable super stars, the Wizards having several contributing players might work out better in their favor.

Last season, in 65 games played in his only season spent on the Wizards, Westbrook averaged 22.2 points, 11.5 rebounds, and 11.7 assists. The 32-year-old point guard finished the 2020-21 season with 38 triple-doubles, ranking first in the league and second highest in his own playing career. Westbrook also surpassed Oscar Robertson last season for the most all-time assists; Robertson accumulated 181 triple-doubles in 14 seasons. Now, the two-time NBA scoring champion has 184 career triple-doubles, the most all-time for any player. Furthermore, this is Westbrook’s fourth team in his NBA career.

He is the fifth former MVP in league history to play on four different teams over the course of four seasons or less, adding to the existent list of Bob McAdoo, Allen Iverson, Shaquille O’Neal, and Derrick Rose. Moreover, on December 2, 2020, Westbrook was traded by the Houston Rockets to the Wizards for John Wall and a 2023 first-round draft pick. He is set to earn $44.2 million in the upcoming season. His player option for the 2022-23 season is $47 million. This trade deal will not be official until August 6th.

Per Bovada’s NBA Futures odds, the Lakers now have +300 odds of winning their eighteenth championship in the 2021-22 season. This is a move from 4/1 odds before the trade, leaping the Milwaukee Bucks and Golden State Warriors, and they now have the second best odds behind the Brooklyn Nets (+250). Westbrook also has the best odds of leading the league in assists next season, with first place odds showing EVEN. He is ahead of James Harden (+150), Trae Young (+450), and Luka Doncic (+600). With +6600 odds, he also ranks 19th in the NBA for next season’s MVP odds, trailing Lakers’ teammates such as James (+1200) and Davis (+2800).

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Russell Westbrook joins L.A. Lakers in One of the biggest trades in NBA History

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(Image courtesy of AP)

In one of the biggest NBA Draft trades ever, Los Angeles Lakers acquired the services of Washington Wizards’ former MVP, Russell Westbrook, last night!

As a result of the trade, the Lakers can now boast a holy trinity of attacking talent in Westbrook, Anthony Davis, and, of course, Lebron James, unlike anything seen in recent memory. Assuming this new contingent clicks into gear, it might just be the most frighteningly talented trio to play together in NBA history, rivaling the Bulls triple horn of Michael Jordan, Scottie Pippen, and Dennis Rodman, or that great Lakers team of the late 80s with Magic Johnson, James Worthy, and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar.

In exchange for their star man, the Wizards received three players and what was the No 22 overall pick in last night’s NBA Draft. The former Lakers tasked with replacing Westbrook in Washington will be Kyle Kuzma, Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, and Montrezl Harrell.

Washington then spent the Lakers No.22 pick on Kentucky’s Isaiah Jackson, but immediately traded him on to the Indiana Pacers in a deal that saw the Wizards acquire pick No.31 and point guard Aaron Holiday. Wizards then used pick No.31 to draft Isaiah Todd to bolster their ranks at power forward.

(Image courtesy of AP)

The effervescent Westbrook had another great year in 2020-21, averaging 22.2 points, 11.7 assists, and 11.5 rebounds per game in his first season with the Wizards.

In joining the Lakers star cast, which already boasts the likes of LeBron James and Anthony Davis, Westbrook, a 9x NBA All-Star & 2016-17 MVP, will now be hoping to end his NBA championship drought.

Westbrook has since taken to social media to thank the WashingtonWizards franchise for a great year spent in the capital, tweeting:

“Thank you DC! You welcomed my family and I with open arms from day one,” he wrote. “Everyone from the front office, to the training staff, the coaches, my teammates, and the fans. I’m grateful y’all took a chance on me and supported me every step of the way.”

“I’m blessed to have been a part of such a stand up organization. It didn’t take long to make a home in DC, and I will forever be grateful and appreciative of my experience with the organization. Thank you!”

With a legendary point guard now fixed among the ranks, 2020 NBA Championship winners the Lakers have all the talent required to wrestle back the title from the freshly-crowned Milwaukee Bucks.

So, get yourselves ready for an influx of NBA betting lines on Antetokounmpo, Holiday, and Middleton vs. LeBron, Davis, and Westbrook for next year’s championship games!

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