Who's 2nd best team in Western Conference?


Ueber Meister
Apr 24, 2005

With Denver's current record sitting at 37/19, they should get the nod for being the 2nd best in the Western Conference.

I have some issues with their line-up though, which makes me think they're really not the 2nd best team, and could be trumped either before, or during the playoffs. I'm going to do my best impression of Charley Rosen, so here we go...

The Positives

Carmelo Anthony - I pegged him as a loser a couple of years ago, but since the time he played in the Olympics, he's really dedicated himself. So much to the point, that I'm not so sure that Wade was the 2nd best player selected from the '03 Draft (including Bosh & of course LeBron). He's basically 2 years younger, less injury prone, and there still seems to be plenty of upside to his game. His defense has also improved, to the point where I'm unsure why LeBron gets so much publicity for his defense, because I don't see it being better than Anthony's. With that, Kobe was quoted about a year ago, as saying that Anthony is actually much stronger than LeBron if you can believe that.

His shot selection has vastly improved, and he comes to play every game; something he didn't do in the past. With Billups showing him the correct way to be a consummate professional (which he learned from Sam Mitchell and Terrell Brandon), and getting Iverson out of town, has really benefited him as a person.

Chauncey Billups - While he's on the wrong side of 30, he still has plenty of game left. He's still a great point guard, maybe even slightly underrated until all of the media pointed-out that he was underrated, and now I'm not so sure... While his assists aren't up to par with the most elite guards, he may be the most disciplined; rarely turning the ball over. He still plays great defense, a hair worse than when he was on that Piston's team that won it all, but still great.

The Negatives

Nene Hilario - He does come with some positives, but I've always found him to be completely overrated. Sure, he generally goes under the radar, but even so, how can someone that BIG pull down only 6.8 rebounds per game for his career, while averaging close to 30 minutes per game? That sucks. At least with Rasheed (who was never a great rebounder), he did everything great, but with Nene, he doesn't really block well, his scoring is okay, but more along the lines of an Eric Dampier, Tyrone Hill, or a Brendan Haywood. He's the main center, and he's the team's beefiest interior player, but he's not really all that tough, and if he is, does it matter?

To be fair, he is having his best season, an injury-free season at that, and he's still just 27 years old. His numbers/averages are up across the board, so there's still hope that the best has yet to come. Although his rebounding is below par, and his blocks are a rarity, he does get a fair number of steals, and his positioning on defense is pretty good.

Kenyon Martin - I've never liked him. He was the prized lottery pick from easily the worst NBA Draft in history (2000). Aside from starting out his career injury prone (operations going back to his college days), he never really solidified his position as being a dominant power forward. He's paid like one, but he doesn't really show much as far as I'm concerned. Early on his career, he got a reputation for being a dirty player, and that reputation has pretty much disappeared, but he still acts like a total thug. When his team loses, he's there pointing fingers, and when his team is winning, he's barking the loudest. Kevin Garnett - who's a MUCH better player & person - gets under my skin for doing just that, but at least he's 'Kevin Garnett'.

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Like Nene, for his career, Martin has only pulled down 7.3 rebounds per 32 minutes, which is fine but it isn't considering that literally all of the teams that he's played for, he's been the #1 option as the team's main rebounder. He's never had any business taking 3's, yet he's taken 257 of them at a clip of .237... not good. Okay, I'm cherry picking here. Like Nene, he's having one of his better years, miraculously pulling down a career high 9.6 rebounds per game, playing tough (although I still think he believes he's tougher than he actually is), scoring okay, and playing above average defense. If anything, once his contract expires, Denver will have tons of credit to go after a marquee player who's actually worth $15 million a year.

J.R. Smith - Fantastic scorer, elite scoring talent, but a complete boob. Is there any room left on his body for any more tattoos? Wasted talent, and if he reminds me of anyone, it would be Vernon Maxwell.

So, that's basically the starting 5 with the Nuggets, although Smith tends to come off the bench (at least historically), but he gets enough playing time to get credit as being one of the top-5 players in the Nugget's rotation. Looking at that, I think that the Nuggets could get to the Conference Finals, but I see them more fit for winning a 1st round series, and losing out in the 2nd round (although being competitive).

The bench is okay, but just okay. The Birdman (Chris Andersen) is a great energy guy, perfect for this team, but he's basically the only other big in the rotation (with Nene and Martin), and he's not really big, so there's not much beef in that line-up. Nene is big, but he's not Shaq big, so his girth isn't enough to make-up for whatever the team is lacking in size. Ty Lawson are Arron Afflalo are nice back-up guards, but again, once the game slows down to a crawl, the Nuggets are a bit on the small side, and they're hardly a run-and-gun team like the Suns who make up for their lack of size by running their opponents out of the building.

This is a very good team, playing great right now, but I think in the final quarter of the season, the bigs will be very tired (their bigs have known to be VERY injury prone), and I just don't see them being strong once the playoffs start. Personally, I don't see why Karl doesn't give someone like Shawn Kemp a tryout for 12th spot in the rotation, because he'll be getting experience there, he knows how to work with him, Kemp is in great physical condition (that's what I've heard), he's never had a serious leg injury (so that shouldn't be a problem), he's got enough beef and length to make-up for their not really being a 4th big in the rotation, and hey, he's really cheap and there's still time to sign him. I'd even got as far as giving a call to Kevin Willis, see if he wants some spot minutes; although Kemp is the safer pick.


Looking at the rest of the pack, I prefer Utah over Denver in the end, because they're younger at a lot of positions, overall bigger and longer, have GREAT depth coming off the bench, play great defense (say for Boozer), rebound well, shoot well, are well coached, have been together long enough to make a go at it (continuity), and maybe there's a sense of urgency there because Boozer is almost 100% likely to bid adieu to the fans in Salt Lake City. They're also getting stronger as the year goes on (very important), and they have a great, great, great point guard in Deron Williams. I know that a lot of people prefer Chris Paul (who's without question excellent), but I prefer Williams because he's a greater floor general (imho), he listens to the coach, he's very disciplined, he plays better defense (Paul gets more steals but he gambles too much), he's stronger, bigger, but not too big that he's slow.

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Paul is more like an Isiah Thomas (which is GREAT!), but with a touch of Stephon Marbury to the mix (NEVER a good thing). Marbury put up great numbers, almost 20/10 per game at his peak, but his teams weren't as great as they could have been. Paul handles the ball too much, whereas Williams does the perfect amount of ball-handing. I know a lot of people who follow basketball won't agree with that, but that's the way I see it. Paul will be what he is for 8-10 years, but I see Williams being what he is for 12-15 years. That's the difference.

I like Houston, and I like them picking-up Kevin Martin, and who knows where they'll rank once they figure-out what to do with each other. I've always liked Rick Adleman, and this team really appreciates playing for him. It's too bad Ming isn't back, but maybe the pieces play better together without him in the line-up. They're a team that could surprise some people in the playoffs, because let's face it, they're completely committed to playing great defense, they're committed to playing as a team, and they'll follow the orders from the bench because they respect Adleman. If anything, they're not the type of team that'll be swept out of the playoffs (which is something I can't say about the Nuggets for some reason).

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Always an under-appreciated and underrated coach...​

While Memphis won't be challenging for anything more than the 7th-8th spot (HUGE maybe, but I'm hopeful, although they'll likely just miss the squeezing in), I think that they could steal a series; and I'm biased because I'm hopping for them as well. They've got a great starting-5, they've been written-off (at least they once were), and they're quite big. While it's true that defense wins, and their defense is almost non-existent, there's something very solid about the core of this team. They'll play with nothing to lose, and everything to gain, and they're probably the only team (other than some of the weaker teams in the East) heading into the playoffs that won't be carrying around that burden. They've already exceeded everyone's expectations, so it's all gravy from this point on. The only trouble spot on the team, is that no one has really solidified their position for being the #1 PG (although Mike Conley seems to be getting it done). Zach Randolph will never be a great defensive player, but he's AWESOME down low; even when he wasn't doing well he could always score and rebound.

New Orleans are in the mix, but there's not enough depth (except at the PG position with Paul and the suddenly spectacular Darren Collison), behind their starting 5, and even somewhat shaky within their starting line-up. Some nice pieces, but not a great line-up. I see them as being a team that gets knocked-out in the 1st round, if they manage to hang-up getting there in the first place.

I would most certainly take Dallas over Denver, because suddenly the team has great depth. Sure, some of the pieces are older, or on the downward slope from greatness, but they've go 12 solid players on that team. Haywood is a step-up over Dampier, but Dampier has got to be the best back-up center in the league. DeShawn Stevenson, Haywood, Marion (yes, him too), and in spots Butler and Kidd can all be effective defenders. When your end of the bench guys are Najera, Matt Carroll, and enigmatic Tim Thomas, that's actually pretty good (considering here they're 10 through 12 guys, but on most teams they're more like 8 through 10 players). Not the greatest starting 5, but good, and great 1-12 guys. Reminds me a bit of those late '90s Portland teams that had tons of talent 1 through 12, but while those Blazers teams were a bit more stacked, at least this Dallas team has a go-to scorer in Nowitzki. I don't care what anyone says, this team should get to the Conference Finals, and make a series of it against the Lakers.

I'm a Suns fan, I love Nash, and I think that they could always make a run to get to the Conference Finals. They're better than people give them credit for. They went through a funk, and now they can set their sights on the playoffs. There have been a couple of key moves for getting this team back on track (in the past couple of months), and that's been moving Robin Lopez into the starting rotation (where he's been playing well and if anything adds size and a bit of a defensive presence to the line-up), allowing Channing Frye to come off the bench, and getting Goran Dragic more minutes to produce while allowing Nash more time to rest while being confident enough that Dragic can be productive in the process. Dragic has recently proven to be better than many had anticipated, so that's always a bonus. At least from what I can see, Jason Richardson seems to be fitting in much more nicely as of late (they REALLY need him and his electric talents). Stoudemire suddenly seems to be 'moved' enough to give a damn about defense, which is a major bonus, and his rebounding has been sensational as of late. I'm hoping they'll win it all (they won't though), or at least they'll go down with a fight.

Portland have done a great job, considering the amount of injuries they've had to put up with. Perhaps the addition of Marcus Camby is enough to get them into the 2nd round of the playoffs (provided there's enough left to get them into the playoffs), but beyond that, you can forget about it. I liken them to last year's Rocket's team. They both had to overcome injuries, they were both expected to fizzle out, but neither one did. A lot of scribes talked about how Nate McMillan lost the trust of his players in the off-season and at the beginning of the '09-10 campaign, but I don't think that's a problem anymore.

Oklahoma City is on fire. I make it a habit to never pick a young team to do well in the playoffs, but this team loves playing with one another. Kevin Durant is a total superstar, and I have a much easier time rooting for him rather than Kobe or LeBron. He's not as complete of a player as either one of those two, but I think he might eventually be the best scorer of the 3. He's about as natural of scorer as anyone has seen since the Iceman roamed the court in San Antonio. Who's going to stop him? He's got a VERY freakish wingspan, and I predict that he'll eventually evolve into a great two-way player. He seems like a great guy, he's dedicated about always improving his game (so I've read and heard), he can only get better. He has a chance to be as good as LeBron or Kobe, and I wouldn't put it past him to eclipsing either one of those players, although I've yet to read anyone saying this. Even though he's playing in Oklahoma City, I think he actually likes it (so he's no LeBron or Kobe who MUST play in a big market).

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LeBron, Kobe, Wade, etc get all of the ink, but he's right there already!

They've already got a great nucleus, a very young nucleus, and perhaps they're so talented, and they love playing together, that they're good enough to learn how to win with each other, and without having to trade away any major assets in order to bring over some veteran help.

I think that the Edmonton Oilers of the NHL - back in the Gretzky/Kurri/Messier/Coffey/Moog/Fuhr/Anderson/Lowe days - were the only other team that I can think of that were talented enough not to trade away young core pieces in order to learn how to win together (the Thunder aren't on par with the Oilers - which team could ever be - but there are some signs of potential greatness there with Durant being a legitimate HOF superstar).

I'm getting ahead of myself here, but Westbrook is already a borderline All Star (even if he's not the greatest natural point guard), Jeff Green is underrated, and is very solid. I liken him to a cheap man's Scottie Pippen, although his defense is light years behind Pippen, but like the rest of the young core, seems to care about improving. I wasn't crazy about them drafting James Harden, but he seems like a great 'team guy', and he's steadily improving during his under-the-radar rookie campaign. Perhaps the last piece is to get a big with the same kind of mindset that the rest of these players have. I think that they're going to the playoffs, and I'm rooting for them to go far (w/the Suns and the Grizzlies).

That leaves the Spurs. What is going on there? I was agreeing with those who said that they're probably going to be the best (or 2nd best team) in the West this year. I'm still waiting on them to turn this thing around. I still believe in them to do it. The Spurs are that one team, if they can get things turned around, that could potentially knock off the Lakers, and win another Championship.

I realize that they're not looking like a contender, heck, they're playing like they're not even going to make the playoffs, but that can't be happening. Duncan has played great this year, DeJuan Blair has been a great find in the draft (although he's become increasingly overrated because A) the team hasn't done well but he keeps getting glowing reviews and B) he doesn't play enough to make THAT much of a difference anyway), and hey, they're still the San Antonio Spurs who've won it all 4 times over the past 10-11 years. The nucleus is still intact. Duncan may have played a ton of NBA games already, and yes he's 33, but he still looks like he's got a couple of great seasons left in him before a sharp decline hits his production.

Ginobili is rumored to be almost completely healed from whatever was bothering him (always something), after the past 18 months, so that's good news I suppose. Tony Parker is still only 27 years old, so he can't be this bad, can he? Roger Mason and George Hill have another year under their belt, so they've grown into the system by now, which can only help, right?

Richard Jefferson has been a bust, but he was only supposed to be the No.3 or No.4 option anyway, so maybe with the trade deadline passing, and perhaps his needed time to figure-out his place within the system, he could still figure it out come playoff time (he's still only 29 years old). Too many people say that the Spurs are losing because they're too old, but they're not really THAT old. McDyess is the oldest at 35, but they're not demanding too much out of him, besides, he probably has a lot of gas left in the tank with his missing so many games over his career with injuries. Duncan and Ginobili are 33 and 32 years old respectively, but they're not exactly 38 and 37 years old either. They might both be in the decline phase of their careers, but I doubt that they've lost enough that they can no longer compete with the big boys.

I think that if the Spurs can go on a run in the last quarter of this season, they'll suddenly become the X-Factor in the playoffs. I'd still take them over Denver, Houston, or anyone 'IF' they show some sign of life soon.

So, I'd go with this as the final standings:

LA Lakers
Utah Jazz
Dallas Mavericks
Denver Nuggets
San Antonio Spurs
Phoenix Suns
Oklahoma City
Houston Rockets

Portland Trailblazers
Memphis Grizzlies
New Orleans Hornets

Playoffs with this alignment:

Lakers vs. Houston - Lakers in 6

Utah vs.Oklahoma City - Utah in 7

Dallas vs. Phoenix - Dallas in 7

Denver vs. San Antonio - San Antonio in 7

Next Round:

Lakers vs. San Antonio - Lakers in 6

Utah vs. Dallas - Dallas in 6

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They will win it all... not that I want them to win it all... I'm just sayin'...

Conference Finals:

Lakers vs. Dallas - Lakers in 7