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Why the Warriors and Wolves will crash the NBA Playoff Party
- Updated: October 12, 2012
By: Jay Wallis
(Ed’s note: This is the first contribution from Jay, a Missouri school of journalism student and NBA fan with Dallas roots. You can follow him on Twitter @JayWallis11 or check out his blog at Jaysjems.wordpress.com.)
Including ESPN’s Summer Forecast, many envision the West having the same playoff teams from last year. Even though this conference is clearly the more competitive of the two, all the competition has taken place between the same teams. The past four playoff brackets have all included Dallas, the LA Lakers, San Antonio and Denver, while Oklahoma City, Utah and Portland have made it in three of these four seasons. (If you want parity, you might need to go back and watch some ‘80s basketball.)
When looking season-to-season though, each year brought along with it two different playoff teams that didn’t make it the previous season. For example, last postseason included Utah and the LA Clippers, two teams that weren’t in the playoffs two years ago.
So, who will be the two new teams in the Western Conference Playoffs once April rolls around?
(Everything you’re about to read is assuming Andrew Bogut and Stephen Curry will finally be able to play close to a full NBA season.)
WHY THEY’LL REACH THE PLAYOFFS:
Defense. Close your eyes, Don. This team is about to play some defense. Remember the last time a West team brought in a shot-blocking, paint-influencing big man from the East? Their 2011 championship rings are tangible evidence of their consequent success. Bogut will command this defense with his blocking and influence the rest of his teammates into working a little harder on that end of the floor.
Depth. This team has amazing depth. Behind the starting lineup are five players (R. Jefferson, J. Jack, B. Rush, C. Landry, A. Biedrins) that have all regularly started at one point in their careers. Other than Biedrins and his awkwardly horrific free-throw shooting, these men still know how to put up big numbers on any given night. If Draymond Green finds a way to fit his small stature into NBA gameplay, that will be icing on top of the cake.
David Lee. The big man will finally be able to play the role he wants to play for his team. Since he was traded to the Warriors in 2010, Lee has been expected to be a force on the defensive end and shut down the best of their offensive opponents. No longer will the power forward have expectations unsuitable with what he can bring to the court, which is being an efficient low-post scorer and respectable rebounder.
Klay Thompson. A certain Warrior is about to take a huge step in his game. When you watch Klay Thompson play, you just get that feeling in your gut that he is going to explode onto the scene this season. Not only did Thompson improve his scoring in every single sequential month last season (3.0 ppg, 7.7 ppg, 8.1 ppg 16.4 ppg, 18.6 ppg), those last two double-digit scoring months came once Ellis was shipped out to Milwaukee, proving what he can do with more responsibility. Put him next to a healthy Curry that will likely begin to focus on being the orchestrator of this offense and you have a potent starting two guard. Curry-Thompson might soon become the second best starting backcourt in the NBA, behind those Hollywood MVPs.
Harrison Barnes. If not during the first game of the season, Harrison Barnes eventually taking on the role as the starting small forward will be a win-win situation for the former No. 1 high school prospect and his new team. Even though Barnes might not have the explosive characteristics that make the crowd get out of their seats, he has the versatility every NBA team should want in their primary swingman. Offensively and defensively, the 6-8 forward brings quality play on both ends of the court that will almost always be considered one hundred percent. He can shoot, finish, dribble and rebound while letting the game come to him. As long as Mark Jackson, who now is no longer new to the coaching scene, makes an effort to implement Barnes into his rotation, he will reward his coach with efficient production.
WHY THEY’LL REACH THE PLAYOFFS:
Kevin Love. Just finishing his second All-Star season with averages of 26.0 points and 13.3 rebounds, only Dwight Howard can say he had a better statistical season. (Sorry Andrew and DeMarcus, it’s the truth.) The now in-shape reigning three-point contest champion has a complete game built on hard work and boxing out. Coming through in the clutch has also never been a problem when the pressure’s on. A team with someone as dominate as Love does not take long to take it to the next level.
Chemistry. Superstars often need certain styles of offense or certain teammates to be happy with their game but Love is a player that will work his butt off for every single point and rebound – no matter the context. Now having the right cast around him, finding chemistry with Love shouldn’t take long as the best power forward currently in the NBA will finally get to play in meaningful basketball games.
Roster Depth. Unlike the Jazz, the T-Wolves moved some pieces around from last season and no longer have a forward-heavy roster. In fact, they potentially have the deepest roster in the league. With the Michael Beasley fiasco finally coming to an end, well, that has finally come to an end. The point guard trio of Barea, Rubio and Ridnour consists of a lot of vision and energy. Barea is clearly the sparkplug off the bench that every successful team needs. Until Rubio and his excellent passing skills get back onto the court, Ridnour (1.8 turnovers per game last season) can hold his own and run this offense. If Brandon Roy and Andrei Kirilenko find a way to look anything like the players that we used to know, this team will have a very balanced offense along with two more hard workers.
Better Luck. The Wolves found themselves in some bad luck last season. Prior to Rubio’s season-ending ACL injury, they were 21-19. After the injury, they were 5-21. Things spiraled downward due to one player’s setback. This team was on track to at least contend for the playoffs with a very efficient and gelling Rubio-Love duo leading the way. Rubio is being cautious and won’t give a timetable pertaining to when he will be back, but don’t worry – he will come back this season. And when he does, he will come back to the same core that was on track to finally make it back into the playoffs.
WHO THEY’LL REPLACE:
- The Grizzlies lost O.J. Mayo – their one true outside shooter. Being in the bottom five of the league in terms of three-pointers made the past four seasons, the Grizzlies heavily relied on Mayo, who made 36 percent of their three-pointers during this time, for the little production they got from deep. Mike Conley may be able to shoot well, but he is there to distribute the ball and run the offense. This loss will hurt their ability to spread the floor, especially since they are primarily a spot-up shooting team.
- Shooting wasn’t the only thing this team lost when Mayo left for Dallas. Who now will provide the scoring punch off the bench? Mareese Speights? Jerryd Bayless? There is no one on this team’s bench that has shown any signs of being able to step up and be the sixth man every playoff team needs.
- Their 2011 playoff magic seems to be fading fast and there aren’t any new, important faces to jumpstart this team after a disappointing end to last season.
- It’s difficult to take the “internal improvement approach” in a league that is all about making the big acquisitions in order to go to the next level (Spurs and Pacers may be the only exception to this rule).
- With new ownership, what will this roster will look like by the end of the year? With that uncertainty lingering, the hype for these Grizz must come to a close.
- The Jazz simply overperformed last season. Remember when Milwaukee and Charlotte made the playoffs just three seasons ago? There are two prime examples of teams squeezing into playoffs only to digress the very next year.
- If the Jazz were tired of the point guard play from Devin Harris last year, they’re in for a treat with Mo Williams. This overrated spot-up point guard (those do exist), PG Jamaal Tinsley and PG Earl Watson have 29 long years of NBA experience under their belts and combined to average as many assists as the Lakers new point guard did all on his own last season. They lack the passing ability Utah has so desperately craved since D-Will was shipped out.
- The fact that the Jazz are hoping Hayward continues to improve going into this season is worrisome. Even though he not only had an improved sophomore season but also finished March with an average of 16.1 ppg, I think the former Bulldog is reaching his peak as an NBA player.
- Last year, with Portland’s blow-up of the roster and Minnesota’s tanking after injuries, Utah found themselves with a lucky chance to grab a playoff spot that they didn’t truly deserve. And if it wasn’t for Phoenix’s collapse (losing their final three games and five of seven) along with their own five-game winning streak to end the season, they would currently be as insignificant as Houston.