Over or Under Achievers? Western Conference Edition

Now that the NBA season has a decent sample size to make observations, let’s talk about the how the teams out West are doing. Most of the standings come as no surprise, with the LA teams being near the top. How are teams doing compared to their pre-season expectations?

 

Los Angeles Clippers – 16-5: Meeting Expectations

Following a disappointing end to the NBA bubble in the summer, the Clippers reloaded and locked back in on their quest to a title. Paul George has returned to form after his abysmal performance in the playoffs. Added role players in Nicolas Batum, Luke Kennard, and Serge Ibaka have meshed very nicely with the Clippers core. Having another successful regular season, the real test for this unit will come in the playoffs to see if they are ready to take the next step.

Utah Jazz – 15-5: Overachieving

The talent on this roster should lead to the Jazz meeting expectations. However, after last year failed to go as the team envisioned, their overwhelming success has them as overachievers. The addition of Mike Conley a year ago should have resulted in this team playing this well all last season. His emergence back to the guard they traded for has been key in turning them into one of the west’s elites. While they don’t seem poised to unseat the Lakers or pass the Clippers, the Jazz are going to be a scary opponent for any playoff team.

Los Angeles Lakers – 15-6: Meeting Expectations

The defending champs are sitting near the top of the west, just as everyone expected. The new acquisitions of Dennis Schroder, Montrezl Harrell, Marc Gasol, and Wesley Matthews have shown what this team is capable of. Anthony Davis has been underwhelming so far this year, but it is likely a matter of time before he turns it around and helps the push towards another championship.

Denver Nuggets – 12-8: Slightly Underachieving

With Nikola Jokic playing at an MVP level, the Nuggets find themselves near the top of the west yet again. Jokic’s elite play leading to only a 12-8 record is a little worrisome, however. Jamal Murray has come back to Earth after his insane performances in the bubble, which has hurt them. Losing key players Jerami Grant and Malik Beasley depletes the depth and length the Nuggets had, but young players like Michael Porter Jr. and P.J. Dozier are taking on bigger roles to fill the void. This team should make another run at the western conference finals, but they need a consistent second option for that to happen.

Memphis Grizzlies – 8-6: Slightly Overachieving

Ja Morant’s incredible rookie season had the Grizzlies one game away from the postseason. Although Memphis has been hit harder with postponed games than any other team, they have managed to stay above .500. Along with postponed games, Ja Morant has only played in 6 because of injury. The young core of the Grizzlies really answered the call when Ja went out to keep this team afloat in a tough western conference. The more they mesh could lead to a breakthrough where they find themselves in the playoffs.

Phoenix Suns – 10-8: Meeting Expectations

Adding Chris Paul to a team who won their final eight games should only continue to elevate that team, and it has. On a young team with Devin Booker, Mikal Bridges, and Deandre Ayton – Chris Paul can take the foot off the gas a little and let the young guys get buckets. Booker has not been as explosive scoring as expected and is now dealing with injury. Booker will likely return to form following injury as he has all his career. While it is unclear if the Suns can ever be legitimate contenders with Paul, his presence will be key to the future development of this organization.

Portland Trail Blazers – 10-8: Meeting Expectations

Portland continues to be stuck in the purgatory of not good enough to compete for a title, but definitely good enough to be a playoff team. Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum continue to be the gold standard when looking at offensive backcourts, but the rest of the team has been off. Robert Covington and Derrick Jones Jr. were added for their length on the defensive end, but their inability to produce on offense has killed them. Covington especially has been miserable on offense, shooting under 30% for three and just above 30% from the floor. Dame and CJ will ball out and keep them in the conversation, but the rest of the team needs to show up.

Golden State Warriors – 11-9: Meeting Expectations

Once Klay Thompson was ruled out for the season, the Warriors lost any hype of being a title contender. Steph has returned to form following injury, but the rest of the team got off to much slower starts. Kelly Oubre came in to be a high end three and D wing yet is shooting just 22% from three. Steph’s elite play will keep them near the top eight, but don’t expect them to move up much more without some roster changes.

San Antonio Spurs – 11-9: Overachieving

Is anyone surprised? Gregg Popovich has a team over performing by a mile. Led by past prime players DeMar DeRozan and LaMarcus Aldridge, the Spurs are right in the thick of the playoff race when everyone expected them to be near the top of the draft next year. The Spurs have eight (8!!!) players averaging double figures this year. Popovich has this team playing a brand of basketball that doesn’t rely on any singular player, and the team has bought into it.

Houston Rockets – 9-9: Underachieving

Based on preseason expectations of a team with James Harden and John Wall, many saw them as a sleeper to make far in the west. Harden threw that all in the trash and has forced this franchise into a completely different direction. The current unit is overachieving for sure, with Demarcus Cousins and John Wall looking like their old selves. The most crucial part to this team’s future is Christian Wood who is enjoying a breakout season and is a positive sign of things to come.

Oklahoma City Thunder – 8-10: Slightly Overachieving

It’s very difficult for a team under .500 to be considered overachieving, but the fact that the Thunder are closer to the playoffs than not is impressive considering their offseason. When an already overachieving team trades away two of their key starters, a tank season is expected. While the Thunder are not dominating this season, they are playing respectable basketball. Do not expect to see the Thunder in the postseason, but also never count them out.

Sacramento Kings – 8-11: Underachieving

The Kings have failed to develop so far as they were once hoping. De’Aaron Fox and Buddy Hield continue to show they belong in this league, but also that they seemingly will not win as one and two options. Marvin Bagley looks solid but is not progressing as they would have hoped and probably needs a change of scenery to take that next step as a player. Rookie Tyrese Haliburton has looked great so far, but the Kings are at the bottom of the west yet again.

Dallas Mavericks – 8-12: Underachieving

Maybe the most disappointing team in the NBA so far this season, Luka Dončić is putting up MVP numbers and the Mavericks are still struggling. Kristaps Porzingis has struggled to stay on the floor, and newly acquired Josh Richardson is struggling to shoot the ball. The team all together has been miserable from three all year, which has been what hurt them the most considering their success from three in the last year.

New Orleans Pelicans – 7-11: Underachieving

Right up there with the Mavericks, the Pelicans have been such a disappointment so far this year. The positive for this team is they have their duo for sure for the future. The negatives are basically everything else. Lonzo Ball has been inconsistent all year, J.J. Reddick looks like he forgot how to shoot, and Steven Adams has not been all they hoped for. While Adams has not played poorly, he has not helped this team on defense as they still rank near the bottom of the league. Brighter days are certainly ahead for the Pelicans.

Minnesota Timberwolves – 5-14: Underachieving

While nobody was picking the Wolves to do anything crazy this year, a 5-14 start must be underachieving. Although Karl Anthony-Towns has missed 15 of their 19 games, the rest of the talent has failed to pick up the slack. D’Angelo Russell and Malik Beasley have been a good scoring backcourt, but the Wolves are one of the worst defenses in basketball. Anthony Edwards has looked good so far while Jarrett Culver at 6th overall in 2019 has been disappointing. The Wolves have a ton of young talent and will certainly look a little better once KAT returns to the lineup.

 

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