12 way-too-early opinions on how NBA Western Conference is shaking out originally appeared on nbcsportsbayarea.com
DALLAS — We’re one month into the NBA season, and the Western Conference standings — Warriors aside — look as if a 7-year-old randomly matched teams with numbers.
The Utah Jazz are in 12th. The Memphis Grizzlies are No. 4. My goodness, there are the Sacramento Kings in ninth place.
It was that kind of month for the West, and it deserves some reflexive review. So we offer 12 completely premature opinions that make sense to us, at least today:
Most surprising team (in a good way): Clippers
We thought about the Grizzlies, who woke up Saturday in position for the No. 4 playoff seed. We dismissed them because they’re always solid when Mike Conley is healthy.
Thought about the Kings, but Sacramento’s résumé is much thinner than that of L.A.
The Clippers (9-5) are in a three-way tie for the third-best record in the conference. They dropped the Houston Rockets twice. They have two double-digit losses. Most impressive, they just rolled through the Milwaukee Bucks, the Warriors and the San Antonio Spurs in the span of six days.
Most surprising team (in a bad way): Jazz
Because of their defense and their strong history of playing well at home, Utah was a popular team to pencil in as a top-4 lock. So how do the Jazz respond to the slightest speculation of expectation? By losing their first four home games.
After a 4-2 start, the Jazz (7-8) lost six of the next nine.
They went to Dallas this week and scored 13 points in third quarter. Apparently seeking a lower point, the Jazz hung a 9 in the fourth to score 68 and lose by 50. To the Mavericks!
Best acquisition: Tyson Chandler by the Lakers
They knew they had to fix their defense. They also realized JaVale McGee’s effectiveness wears off after about 20 minutes.
So they got Chandler. He’s not the Chandler of yore, but he has fresh legs at 36. He played 93 games — despite generally good health — over the past two seasons. He’s still a paint presence, and he’s perfect for 15 to 20 minutes per game.
The Warriors when Curry, who is sidelined by a strained groin, was healthy for the entire game: 10-1.
The Warriors when Curry wasn’t healthy for the entire game: 2-3.
(Judge pounds gavel) Next case.
Weirdest quick trigger: Suns
Debate all day whether Ryan McDonough was competent as a general manager in Phoenix. He had some hits and some misses, like many others.
But firing a GM one week before the season opener — and barely three months after allowing him to make the first overall pick in the draft — is downright idiotic.
Yes, the Suns are the Knicks West.
Player who got old during the summer: LaMarcus Aldridge
We know. He’s never been the quickest dude. There were signs of slowing last season, even the year before.
But this season, Aldridge has been stunningly bad. He’ a post player who has shot better than 50 percent just three times in 14 games. He’s shooting 41 percent, with a 2-of-14, a 3-of-15, a 3-of-12, a 5-of-18 and a 7-of-23.
Spurs coach Gregg Popovich might be ready to drive Aldridge to the airport.
Best tirade: Draymond Green
Magic Johnson was holding it down for his reportedly harsh reprimand of Lakers coach Luke Walton. Then came Draymond.
Kevin Durant threw a lit match at Green for not passing the ball, and Green responded with a bazooka that shook the Warriors to the core.
This gets bonus points for occurring in public, during a game that was very much in doubt.
Best player with no shot to be an All-Star: Montrezl Harrell
Harrell comes off the bench for the Clippers. He’s listed at 6-foot-8. He plays like he’s 6-11.
He’s top five in true shooting percentage and top 10 in Player Efficiency Rating. For someone without much of a shot, the man who plays behind Marcin Gortat — but gets more minutes — consistently finds a way to make an impact.
Because Lou Williams is a teammate, Harrell won’t even be on the radar for the NBA Sixth Man of the Year award.
Playing more minutes than he’s earning: Eric Gordon
We understand. The Rockets are programmed to shoot 3-pointers every third breath, and Gordon is built for that. Houston’s Sixth Man is launching from the moment he waddles onto the court.
But he has been horrid, a 3-point shooter whose true-shooting percentage (43.8) lags behind such non-shooters as Markelle Fultz, Marcus Smart and Rajon Rondo.
Gordon is a specialist who’s shooting 24.5 percent from deep — while averaging 32.4 minutes per game. He’ll need the next five months to get that percentage where it belongs.
Least disappointing player: Jusuf Nurkic
The Trail Blazers (10-5) are off to a strong start, and not because of Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum. The two dynamic guards are doing what they always do.
The key to Portland being dangerous is Nurkic. When he’s good, he offsets the team’s ordinary forwards. And on most nights, he has been quite good. He’s shooting 53 percent, and has scored in double figures in all but two games.
If he keeps this up, the Blazers might win 50 games.
Most disappointing player: Brandon Ingram
We trimmed it to three candidates: Ryan Anderson, Carmelo Anthony and Ingram.
All three have been abysmal, but we had the highest expectations of Ingram. Anderson can’t find his shot, and Anthony has nothing left.
Ingram is a young baller jogging in circles. He has more turnovers than assists, and shot better than 50 percent three times in 10 games. His performance, more than that of Lonzo Ball or any other Laker, illustrates the team’s early struggles.
Teams that should enjoy it while they can
Of the eight teams currently in playoff position, two are clear candidates to drop out.
The Grizzlies will fall if (when?) Conley gets hurt, and the Clippers will drop when talent gets serious. And we’re still not completely sold on the Thunder.
The Rockets and the Jazz will recover. And they’ll pass at least two of those three teams.