Remember during the offseason when fans and media alike were shaping their vision of the Western Conference? Everybody had Golden State leading the pack by a wide margin, followed by the surging Utah Jazz and the high-octane Houston Rockets. Similarly, people had last year’s flops staying towards the bottom of the standings. Sacramento will be Sacramento and Memphis doesn’t impress anybody.
Boy, don’t we all look stupid.
One of the biggest disappointments a quarter of the way through the season has been the Utah Jazz. The team showed a tremendous amount of upside last season. Led by rookie sensation Donovan Mitchell, the Jazz were viewed to be the second-best team in the West this season. Unfortunately for them, Mitchell hasn’t been as consistent and Ricky Rubio has regressed to the mean. Donovan Mitchell has very similar numbers as last season, but his efficiency has taken a dip. He is currently shooting under 30% from beyond the arc, something that a team lacking shooters did not want to see. Ricky Rubio’s numbers are down across the board. Utah is looking to turn the ship around after acquiring sharpshooting forward Kyle Korver from Cleveland.
Utah isn’t the only team scratching their heads. The Houston Rockets, last year’s second best team in the West, has started slow out of the gate. Many people expected a slight slowdown from last year, as they lost two of their best defenders in Trevor Ariza and Luc Mbah a Moute. Not only did they regress, but they find themselves at the bottom of the conference, only ahead of the lowly Phoenix Suns. The Carmelo Anthony experiment proved to be a bust early in the season, but parting ways with the former superstar have not made much of a difference.
Contrary to these two distressed teams, teams like the Memphis Grizzlies, Los Angeles Clippers, and the Sacramento Kings have turned some heads. Memphis has followed the same lock-down defense method that they have preached for years, which is part of the reason why many were down on them this season. Along with the comeback of the point guard, Mike Conley came newfound success. They may not be the sexiest team in the NBA, but they have shown that their fundamentals can help them compete with the likes of the top-tier teams.
If I were to tell you at the beginning of the season that Tobias Harris’ Clippers would be the best NBA team in Los Angeles you would think LeBron had gotten lost at Staples Center and walked into the wrong locker room. Believe it. A Clippers team without Blake Griffin, DeAndre Jordan, and Chris Paul are leading the Western Conference. The majority believed that after parting ways with Lob City, the Clippers would find themselves collecting ping pong balls for the NBA Draft Lottery. However, the Clippers are winning games and doing so as a team. According to hoopsstats.com, the Clippers are leading the league in bench point differential by a wide margin at 17.1. The closest team to them is Dallas at 10.6.
Each season for the past decade, teams had circled the Sacramento Kings on their schedule as an easy victory. Not so fast. De’Aaron Fox has this team looking like a real NBA team, something that most thought would be impossible. So far this season, Fox has seen increases in every category, all while shooting over 47% from the field and 38% from behind the three-point line. The one question that will remain until proven otherwise is whether or not this misery-laden franchise can continue their success.
With all of the surprises thus far this season, the cut-throat Western Conference has gone as expected. Only five games separate the first seed from the fourteenth seed. Teams are pressured to win every game possible, as just a couple losses can separate those in the playoffs and those that are not. How will these teams respond in the next phase of the season? We will soon find out. Buckle up!