This regular season has been riddled with a linty of storylines that have driven this years NBA regular season.
Here are 10 things we learned about the Western Conference this regular season
10. The NBA is hard!
Many people (including myself) felt that the Timberwolves would make a turnaround this season. They had one of the top centers in young Karl-Anthony Towns. Andrew Wiggins was thought to make that leap to becoming an all-star. Zach Lavine finished last year strong and was expected to take on more. And Tim Thibodeau was hired as head coach, which many thought would boost this young core.
What we got however, was proof that not only is the NBA hard, but veterans lives matter! The Timberwolves hard one of the youngest teams in the NBA and it showed. They are explosive offensively, but ranked in the bottom half of the league in defensive rankings. While KAT became the youngest player to ever average 25 points and 10 rebounds in NBA history, that has not equated to much wins, Wiggins regressed and the Wolves just could not catch traction all season.
Fans might have anointed the Wolves a little too soon.
9. The Lakers are who we thought they were
Remember in the beginning of the season when the Lakers were 5-5 and the season looked bright for LA. Luke Walton was getting “Coach of the Year” nods? The Lakers were back!
Then life hit the Lakers hard and they lost their next 20 out of 22 games, which triggered the ” tank button” quicker than expected. Brandon Ingram took awhile to gain momentum and D’Angelo Russell got injured for a number of games, which derailed the growth of the team. Luol Deng and Timofey Mozgov, who were inexplicably paid massive contracts this offseason, were relegated to the bench for the last month and change of the season.
And the upper management problems with the Buss family did nothing but put the cherry on top of the mess that is the Lakers. And to make matters worse, because the Lakers have a weird definition of what tanking means (winning 4 of their last 5 games), they might have costed themselves a top 3 pick in this years draft.
Good Job Lakers!
8. The Kings *insert Facepalm emoji*
I’m going to make this quick.
You trade the best center in the NBA for a bag of Sun Chips, a 7/11 slice of Pizza, and a can of Arizona half and half.
You come out days later saying you had a “better deal” on the table that you passed on.
Vivek Ranadive says they made the deal because they he thought “Buddy [Hield] has Steph Curry potential.”
And GM Vlade Divac comes out and says, “If we are not contenders in three years, I will resign.”
We are done here.
7. Nikola Jokic is here to stay
Talk about a breakout year!
The Denver Nuggets had their struggles this year to say the least. They finished dead last in the NBA in defense and they just missed the cut for the playoffs. But one thing that did go right for Denver was center Nikola Jokic.
After shipping off Jusuf Nurkic to Portland to make more room for Jokic, Denver put a lot of stock in his rise to stardom. And it paid off. Jokic emerged as one of the top centers in all of the NBA. He finished the season with three triple doubles, one of two centers to get at least one triple double on the season (DeMarcus Cousins.) He has terrific court vision and he has proven to be a solid leader. And with incredible touch around the rim along with a sweet stroke, Jokic is a complete package offensively.
If Jokic continues to serge upward, he WILL be a multiple time Allstar when it is all said and done.
6. Two Superstar Bigs = Still not enough
When the Kings traded DeMarcus Cousins to the Pelicans (see number 8 on this list), New Orleans gained one of, if not the best, centers in the NBA. Paring him with Anthony Davis, a top five talent in the league, The Pelicans gained the best big combo in recent memory. With that being said, New Orleans still couldn’t make the playoffs.
Yes, it was late when Cousins joined the team (and the teams playoffs chances were pretty much dead before his arrival), but the team did not exactly soar once he got there. They were 10-14 after the team acquired Cousins. Even with Cousins and Davis, the Pelicans are not a good team. Jrue Holiday is a solid scorer but not-a-so-solid defender, and there “good” players list pretty much stops there.
The team is ranked 19 in three point shooting and 26 in offensive efficiency. Yes, Davis and Cousins will reck havoc in the league for years to come, but if they find help, it will all be for nothing.
5. Steph Curry is still a two-time MVP!
With the arrival of Kevin Durant, Golden State knew two things:
A. They were getting one of the top players on the planet.
B. Some players were going to have to adjust their games for him.
Many felt that it would be Draymond Green and Klay Thompson who would be effected the most by Durant’s addition, but it was actually Steph Curry who took the biggest hit.
Coming off a historic MVP season last year, Curry and the Warriors were a blocked shot and a three pointer away from winning back-to-back championships. Curry finished the regular season averaging 30.1 point a game while shooting over 50 percent from the field and over 40 percent from deep. He also become the first ever unanimous MVP. Oh, and he broke the NBA single season record for most threes made with 402.
This year however has been a different story. No, Curry is not putting up the same numbers as last year (which is nearly impossible), but he did finish the season as one of the top players in the NBA. For the first time in nearly three years, Curry finished a game without hitting a single three point shot. He even had a seven game slump, hitting only 14-96 threes in that span. Curry’s season look all but lost (LOL).
Still, Curry set a NBA record for most threes made in a game at 13. He finished the season averaging over 25 points a game for the second straight year. He set the second most three pointers made in NBA history this year at 324. When Durant went down with an Injury, he led Golden State on a 14 game winning streak. He finished the season with the highest pule/minus ratio. And he surpassed his stats from his first MVP season.
Golden State is head and shoulders the best team in the NBA and it is safe to say that MVP Steph hasn’t left the building just yet.
4. Rudy Gobert might be the best Center in basketball
In a league with Anthony Davis, DeMarcus Couins, Marc Gasol, Hassan Whiteside, and DeAndre Jordan, who would of thought we would be talking about Rudy Gobert as one of the best centers in all the NBA.
Being known mostly for his unmovable rim protection, Gobert has polished his game on both ends of the court. Along with his ability to catch lobs at a crazy rate, his back to the basket game along with his decision making has improved greatly. While averaging 14 points and 12.8 rebounds a game, Gobert has turned into a true two-way center.
With his offense improving and his defense still one of the best in the NBA, it is hard to overlook Gobert as one of the best centers in basketball today.
3. Kawhi Leonard don’t care bout’ no dag MVP Race
Don’t look now but this is yet another season that sees Kawhi Leonard in the MVP conversation. What Leonard has done from his rookie year to now has been nothing short of remarkable. In his first year, he averaged only nine points a game and was known solely for his defense. Now, he’s a 25+ points a game scorer and is viewed as one of the top players in all on basketball.
However with Leonard safely planting himself in the MVP race, leading his Spurs to the second best record in the NBA (for the second straight year), and emerging as the best two-way player in the NBA, Leonard has not once talked about the MVP race this whole season! While players like James Harden, Russell Westbrook and even LeBron James has not shied away from MVP decisions, Leonard has kept it solely inside.
Kawhi Leonard is known for his emotionless greatness on and off the court. He is a “let my game do the talking” player and one of the best players in the world. Just don’t expect him to talk about, or even care honestly, about winning the MVP.
2. These Clippers are looking very familiar
Stop me if you have heard this story before.
At the start of the season, the Clippers looked unstoppable. They had the best record in the NBA (15-2) and was on a tear. They destroyed the fully loaded Cavaliers, Spurs, and Rockets and looked NBA Championship ready! Then they face Golden State in a much anticipated match up, only to be taken back behind the shed.
Then, one (if not both), of their best players go down indefinitely with an injury. The injury will require surgery and they will miss majority of the season. Clippers float on by the regular season, losing to most playoff teams and beating lottery teams. Then said injured player comes back “ahead of schedule.” But does not really do much to put fear in the rest of the league.
The bench is still a huge question mark and trade rumors begin to circulate around one or two of their stars.
Moral of the story people: We have seen these Clippers before.
1. Thank You Westbrook and Harden!
In a season that saw a super team run rapid throughout the league, “The King” continues to reign supreme in the East. But it was Russell Westbrook and James Harden that produced one of the most unforgettable seasons in NBA history.
After losing Kevin Durant to free agency, we knew that Westbrook was going to go on a personal killing spree of every rim in the NBA. He is by far the most athletic, ferocious player in NBA history and he was going to take his anger out on the world. Many felt he had the capabilities to finishing the season averaging a triple double, but seeing as has only happened once in NBA history, it was still far fetched. But since opening night, where Westbrook posted a 50+ point triple double, it was clear just how un-far fetched it really was. Westbrook became the second player in NBA history to finish the season with a triple double (joining the “Big O”.) He finished the season first in points (30.6) third in assist (10.4) and tenth in rebounds (10.7), which is incredibly to say the least. And being the sole engine of the Thunder, he has lifted them to the sixth seed in the loaded Western Conference.
Then we have James Harden. Losing your best defender in Dwight Howard is one thing. But losing Dwight Howard, getting a new coach and system, and moving to point guard (a position he has never officially played), the cards were stacked against Harden and the Rockets.
But Harden not only reminded the world that he is indeed a superstar, but he put on display just how good he really is. Harden finished the season with 21 triple doubles (second to Westbrook’s NBA season record 42), first in assists at 11.2 and second in scoring at 29.1 per game. Harden became the only person in NBA history to scoring 2,000+ points, 900+ assists, and 600+ rebounds in a single season. He finished with the most 40+ point triple doubles in NBA history and led his team to the third best record in the league. The Rockets, led by Harden, set an NBA record with more threes attempted and made and are on pace to have once of the best shooting teams in NBA history.
Westbrook and Harden have not only produced two historic season, they have arguably made this season one of the most special season in NBA history.