Through the Net #1-Making the NBA West playoffs

Guess I best start things off with an introduction. My name is Dylan McKay. I have been a hockey fan for about 20 years and a basketball fan for about 15 years. Although my basketball fandom wained a bit in between the Grizzlies drafting Steve Francis and Steve Nash winning MVP. My favourite teams are the Vancouver Canucks and the Portland Trail Blazer, although a small part of me yearns for the Vancouver Grizzlies to come home. I have an irrational hatred for Mark Messier and Stu Jackson. And I am, admittedly, a nerd, and that carries over to my sports fandom. I love analyzing stats. I love reading about and trying to contextualize the histories of both hockey and basketball. I will be focussing on trends and stories that I find interesting, which will tend to not be the same ones everyone else is talking about. So, without further ado, hopefully my insights are insightful and my wit is witty.

For my first article, I’ll be focussing solely on basketball, simply because the NBA offseason has been a lot more interesting and I have too much to say and fit the NHL in anywhere.

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I should start with my opinion of James, Wade and Bosh in Miami. First off, I can’t hate Miami, no matter how much they play the heel, they are the only NBA team with two Canadian players. (Joel Anthony and Jamaal Magloire) And as long as Canadians being good at basketball is a rare occurance, I will have nearly unconditional respect for Canadian players. With that out of the way, I’m going on the record as saying that Lebron James and Dwayne Wade will have statistically worse season. They are redundant players. Both play best with the ball in their hands, both prefer to cut to the net rather than shoot from the outside and then either score or pass. Which means they will both have less oppertunities to play their game. I fully expect them to find an effective balance. But mark my words, their production will decline.

With that out of the way, what I want to focus on is the changing shape of the Western Conference. It’s a safe assumption that barring an injury to a star player the L.A. Lakers, Dallas Mavericks, Portland Trail Blazers, Oklahoma City Thunder and Denver Nuggets will return to the post-season. The Utah Jazz are a worse team, but a hall of fame coach and MVP contender on the point mean this team should make it unless another team takes a strong leap forward. San Antonio is slowly withering, but I suspect you’ll have to pry that playoff spot from Tim Duncan’s cold dead hands. That leaves Pheonix. As long as Nash holds up, it’s staggering what he’s done past 30, Pheonix is far from out of the picture. But they are now officially the Steve Nash show. Hill and Richardson are good players, but their all-star days are behind them. And while Hedo, Lopez, Frye, Warrick and Childress have value, they are all the very definition of role players. The question is, who can strike?

Minnesota Timberwolves:

Sorry, that was a bad joke, okay, the team is a bad joke.

Sacramento Kings:

Key Additions: DeMarcus Cousins

Key Losses: None.

Keys to success: Cousins adapting to the NBA, and more importantly, Tyreke Evans. Tyreke is going to command the ball, but to take the next step, he needs to improve his assist to turnover ratio, or Sacremento needs to get a legitimate starting point guard. Cousins has a reputation for a poor attitude and work ethic, unless this changes, he will be a bust, but his raw talent is potentially game breaking.

How will it play out: They need to catch lightning in a bottle. The supporting cast is average at best and the key players have one season between them. The future has potential, but the future is not now.

Golden State Warriors:

Key Additions: David Lee

Key Losses: Corey Maggette and Anthony Randolph

Keys to success: Stephan Curry and Monta Ellis working together. Both players want to run the play, and there are situations where either one is the best ball handler for the team. But will their ego’s allow it?

How will it play out: This team is a model for addition by subtraction. With Maggette, Kelenna Azubuike, Raja Bell, Anthony Morrow and CJ Watson all gone, Don Nelson has fully purged his mencrush on swingmen. Leaving them with Curry at PG, Ellis at SG and Reggie Williams at SF. There are some concerns about depth with Charlie Bell currently the only proven guard option off the bench. But the Warriors finally have a team where everyone will know their role and excell at it. This is where David Lee becomes the most important off-season acquisition in the NBA. The team has used bad picks and half-hearted signings to fill the need for inside scoring. No more. David Lee gives them an ideal fit for an up-tempo system, he can score 16-20 points per game and he can hit the boards with authority. He’s everything lacking from the Warriors. The only question is, can Andris Biedrins return to form? If he does, this is a team right in the thick of the playoff hunt.

L.A. Clippers:

Key Additions: Blake Griffin

Key Losses: None.

Keys to success: Stop being the L.A. Clippers. I so want to believe that this is a team that can work. They can score inside and out, they have some decent defensive players and a well balanced roster with clear roles. But they can’t find chemistry between youth and vets and a critical injury is an expectation.

How will it play out: Something bad will happen. I still really want to believe in the team. I want to root for them. Blake Griffin could easily win rookie of the year. Baron Davis can be a lead guard still. Eric Gordon is exciting. And Chris Kaman can put up numbers. But, unfortunatly, I have to take an “I’ll believe it when I see it approach.”

New Orleans Hornets:

Key Additions: None.

Key Losses: None.

Keys to success: Chris Paul makes another run at MVP.

How will it play out: Chris Paul very will could win MVP. And David West is the best player that everyone has forgotten about. Beyond that, it’s ugly. Trading their first to dump Morris Peterson eliminated their best chance to add a quality player. Peja Stojakovich is on the downward slide, and he was injury prone enough. Emeka Okafor just doesn’t fit in on this team. Finding a place for Okafor will be the biggest challenge for new coach Monty Williams, he’s too good a player to be dead weight. I can’t write off a team with Chris Paul, but I can’t believe in a team that’s going nowhere slow.

Memphis Grizzlies

Key Additions: Xavier Henry.

Key Losses: None.

Keys to success: I honestly don’t know. Zach Randolph was a better fit than he had any right to be, but he can’t add more. Are OJ Mayo, Marc Gasol or Rudy Gay going to be much better? Probably not. That means it comes down to relying on a rookie, Xavier Henry, to be the push to get the team over the hump.

How will it play out: Word is that OJ Mayo will attempt to play the point, which, if nothing else, will be interesting to watch. The problem is, how is this team better than last years team? Last years team had everything click and they fell short of the playoffs. I fully expect a small step back.

Houston Rockets

Key Additions: None.

Key Losses: None.

Keys to success: This team had no business missing the playoffs. Out East they would have made it. With the return of Yao Ming, they really should be good enough to not only make it, but be contender.

How will it play out: Not only should this team make it, they can be a higher seed and a contender. Yao Ming could still be the second best center in the league. Aaron Brooks had a breakout year. Kevin Martin can score. And they have tremendous depth, filled with smart players who know how to look after the defensive end. The only criticisms are Yao’s health and that neither Brooks or Martin are true lead guards. But this is a very dangerous team.

Barring an injury, I would be surprised if Houston missed the playoffs. But the team that I feel has done the most to make themself a viable contender is the Golden State Warriors. They are a well organized, fast paced and exciting team. But I can’t help but fear they will once again be the team that has no business missing the playoffs, but still finds themself on the outside looking in.

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