Best-case, worst-case scenarios for every Western Conference team
With the NBA regular season just a few weeks away, The Point Forward examines the best- and worst-case scenarios for each team in 2013-14. Ben Golliver has outlined the scenarios for the Eastern Conference’s 15 teams. Here’s a look at the Western Conference.
Best-case: Rick Carlisle somehow creates a makeshift defense from Shawn Marion, an out-of-shape Samuel Dalembert and duct tape.
Worst-case: Dallas’ defense collapses, keeping the Mavs out of the postseason for the second straight year.
In the combination of Dirk Nowitzki, Monta Ellis and Jose Calderon, Dallas may well have found offensive equilibrium. There’s enough shooting, driving and passing between them to build a flexible foundation — supported by skilled players serving complementary functions. Nowitzki can draw attention away from Ellis in the pick-and-roll when not pouring in points himself. Ellis’ drives will set up Nowitzki and Calderon for open jumpers. Calderon will alternate between spacing the floor and setting up his teammates for easy scores. Such chemistry will undoubtedly take time to ferment, but that trio — flanked by a deep cast of role players — should fairly easily forge a top-10 offense.
Dallas’ performance on the other side of the ball, however, could range anywhere from passable to absolutely disastrous. The fundamental problem in relying on Nowitzki, Ellis and Calderon at their respective price points is that their very union creates a massive defensive strain. Calderon and Ellis have both been truly disastrous defenders of late, while Nowitzki, at best, is right around average. Their joint struggles could be properly disguised if Dallas had a few top-flight defenders in the mix, but instead it will lean heavily on the overworked Marion and the overmatched Dalembert. Even if both have good defensive seasons, there’s still a very real chance that Dallas ranks as one of the worst defensive teams among those actually trying to win games this season. Carlisle so often does a masterful job of redeeming maximum value from meager resources, but he’ll have his hands full in trying to achieve defensive solvency.
Best-case: A first-round exit paves the way for an offseason of introspection.
Worst-case: A lottery berth paves the way for an offseason of introspection.
Even after expelling its mad scientist of a coach and losing its most idiosyncratic player, Denver remains incredibly odd. There’s enough there to challenge for a playoff berth, particularly if JaVale McGee is able to even vaguely stretch his awesome per-minute production from last season (when he averaged 18 points, 9.6 rebounds, and 3.9 blocks per 36 minutes) through double the playing time. Even with that improvement assumed, though, this is a fairly mismatched group — deep in all the wrong places and spending on all wrong things. Just this summer, Denver committed some $30.2 million over three years to J.J. Hickson and Timofey Mozgov, a curious investment that could well put the Nuggets into luxury tax territory in 2014-15.
There’s a lot of salary invested without much certainty; the shot-creating duo of Ty Lawson and Danilo Gallinari isn’t yet playoff-proven; McGee is as tantalizing (and frustrating) as ever; Wilson Chandler is a solid player, but perhaps not qualified for such high billing on a superstar-less team; Hickson promises to only compound Denver’s defensive woes; the wings are stocked with raw, unreliable prospects; and we have no way of knowing if Brian Shaw is the right coach for this job. Perhaps this season can begin to provide some answers.
GOLDEN STATE WARRIORS
Best-case: Good health and improved defense give the Warriors a shot to compete with the best teams in the West.
Worst-case: Periodic injuries never quite allow Golden State to hit its stride.
Golden State will likely wind up a title contender, but I’m keeping an eye on two very related pitfalls. The first is the offseason reimagining of the Warriors’ rotation, which — among other moves — swapped out a ball-dominant guard for a fill-the-gaps wing. Andre Iguodala is a wonderful addition for Golden State, fit to fill a variety of roles, but it’s not as if he he’s a clean substitute for former Warrior Jarrett Jack. Their wildly different games demand change in approach from Warriors coach Mark Jackson, and will likely demand a period of adjustment. Conversely, downgrading from Carl Landry to Marreese Speights will force Golden State to shift and compromise, all while reincorporating David Lee into the offense that fared so well without him during the playoffs.
All of which is very doable — even common in a league where so many teams undergo drastic offseason changes. My larger concern is that the Warriors’ efforts to shift their approach and integrate their new additions might be hindered by playing in fits and starts. If Andrew Bogut is as healthy as he claims and Stephen Curry can stay on the floor, Golden State should be quite good. But if either — or both — start popping in and out of the lineup with persistent injuries, it could make it challenging for the Warriors to ever sink into a groove.
Best-case: The Rockets make the jump ahead of schedule as Dwight Howard assumes his previously dominant form.
Worst-case: Houston is very good while still being — rather clearly — a piece or two away from challenging for the title.
Plenty still needs to be sorted out in terms of who and how the Rockets will play, but the pairing of Howard and James Harden is too sturdy for disaster. The worst that could happen is an expected delay; even a glance up and down Houston’s roster would reveal a glaring hole at the power forward spot, one of which the Rockets are intimately aware and surely looking to address. Otherwise, this is a team in a position to grow organically during the season, potentially to the point of challenging for the title in spite of its flaws. Once more, with feeling: This is going to be fun.
LOS ANGELES CLIPPERS
Best-case: Doc Rivers weaponizes DeAndre Jordan and Blake Griffin as defenders, making the Clips a stout two-way team.
Worst-case: Highly efficient offense isn’t enough to make L.A. a top-flight contender.
One of the best offenses in the league gets better, both by addition (J.J. Redick, Jared Dudley, Darren Collison) and subtraction (Vinny Del Negro). Yet it’s no secret that Rivers was hired as coach in part to tease some defensive potential out of Griffin and Jordan. Both are incredibly mobile and athletic, possessing the raw components necessary to be effective team defenders. But some aspect of that execution has somehow eluded them; even after the Clippers tweaked their system to better leverage Jordan and Griffin’s collective speed, their team defense faltered at times behind their bigs’ inconsistent rotations.
Expecting dramatic improvement in a single season might be a bit much, but the Clippers have done enough to bolster their offense that they don’t necessarily need dramatic improvement. If Chris Paul is able to incorporate the newly acquired shooters as well as expected, then L.A. will at the very least be on the periphery of the title conversation. From there, it’s up to Rivers and the Clippers themselves to find a way to make the defense — and the painful lack of even a single useful reserve big man — work on a level that could carry a championship run.