Offering up New Year’s resolutions for every team in the Western Conference
Los Angeles Lakers: Stop bringing knives to gun fights.
We’d tell the Lakers to be cautious with Kobe Bryant, but it’s not smart to make resolutions you can’t keep. Instead, we warn the Lakers to stay out of the type of shootouts Mike D’Antoni’s squads are prone to get into. As the score goes up, so too does the Lakers’ opponents chance of winning this season. Los Angeles is 0-13 this year when the other team scores at least 105 points. Despite the reputation of D’Antoni’s golden touch on offense, the reality is the Lakers rank just No. 22 in points per 100 possessions (100.6) this season.
Memphis Grizzlies: Help Jerryd Bayless find his stroke.
Offense comes at a premium in Memphis. The Grizzlies rank just below league average in points per possession, but watching Memphis operate on offense paints a much more dreary picture. The fact that losing Quincy Pondexter for the season put their playoff hopes in jeopardy pretty much says it all. It probably should have been a sign the Grizz’s offense wouldn’t improve much this year when its biggest offseason acquisition was Mike Miller.
With Marc Gasol also sidelined, the Grizzlies are desperate for sources of production. James Johnson has been added and looks like a respectable contributor off the bench, but the Grizz need more from their second unit. With no one else capable enough of creating offense, the onus falls on Jerryd Bayless to step up.
But that’s easier said then done. Bayless is shooting just 38.5 percent from the field this season, his lowest mark since his rookie year, and converting only 28.2 percent of his three-point attempts. His 13.8 points per 36 minutes marks his lowest average since his rookie year and his Player Efficiency Rating has plummeted to 11.1.
With no other options on the roster, it’s up to Bayless to buoy the Grizz’s offense. Maybe a new year is just the fresh start he needs.
Minnesota Timberwolves: Have Kevin Love worry about the stat that matters the most.
When you put up numbers like Kevin Love, your name will naturally gravitate towards the MVP discussion. The Wolves’ big man boasts a gaudy stat line of 26.5 points, 13.7 rebounds and 4.2 assists this season and has totaled a PER of 28.7. But the truly great players not only dominate, but help their teammates do the same, and it’s in that area where Love has yet to achieve the same success.
Love is in his sixth season and has still yet to play a playoff game. This year, Minnesota is just 15-16, sitting three games out of the No. 8 seed in the West. Rather than evaluate Love by his individual stats, it’s time to judge the star by his team’s success. If Love is to genuinely be considered for the MVP award, the Wolves have to be bound for the postseason.
New Orleans Pelicans: Find more time for Tyreke Evans.
The Pelicans made a big splash — and a few eyebrows raise — this summer when they signed Tyreke Evans to a four-year, $44 million deal in a sign-and-trade deal, committing significant money to the volatile guard despite the presence of Eric Gordon and Jrue Holiday already on the roster.
With no place in the starting lineup, Evans has become an expensive sixth man, but it turns out effective one, too. He’s averaging 18.3 points, 6.7 assists and 6.3 rebounds per 36 minutes, numbers that only LeBron James and Russell Westbrook can match. He’s become the team’s go-to-option in clutch situations, as demonstrated by his game-winning jumper over the Blazers on Monday.
His Player Efficiency Rating (19.0) is only bested by Anthony Davis (27.2) on the Pelicans, yet he’s the third guard on the team and playing just 25.9 minutes per night (less than Jason Smith). One way or the other, Monty Williams is going to have to find a way for Evans to play more, likely at either Gordon or Holiday’s expense.
Oklahoma City Thunder: Make the best out of Russell Westbrook’s absence.
Westbrook was playing some of the best basketball of his career before going down with his third knee injury in the past year. He was averaging 21.3 points, 7.0 assists and 6.0 rebounds, coming off a torn meniscus no less. But Oklahoma City will be forced to play for an extended period without its second star once again, with Westbrook out until after the All-Star break and possibly longer.
But the Thunder shouldn’t dwell on their fallen comrade. Rather, they should focus on the silver linings of Westbrook’s absence. For one, it allows Kevin Durant to have free reign, a dangerous proposition for the rest of the league. Since Westbrook has been sidelined, Durant has averaged 34.6 points on 52.1 percent shooting and added 13 rebounds per game. Westbrook’s injury also allows Reggie Jackson to get even more valuable experience, something from which the Thunder will potentially benefit in the playoffs when Westbrook returns and Jackson slides back into the sixth man role.
Finally, the move also shifts some more responsibility on the slender shoulders of 21-year-old Jeremy Lamb. He is proving in his sophomore season to be a dangerous sharpshooter off the bench, averaging 10.0 points and hitting 39.8 percent of threes, and he possesses the potential to be much more.
Phoenix Suns: Go all-in and trade for a star.
The Suns already made their interest known in acquiring a big name to pair with their surprisingly effective roster, off to a 19-11 start this season. What they have to offer in return is enticing: first-round picks in the loaded 2014 draft, cap flexibility and a slew of talented prospects.
By trading for a star, the Suns could potentially complete their rebuilding process overnight. They have potentially as many as four first-round picks in 2014 and two in 2015. If they can parlay some of those picks into a talented player and cement their playoff chances, they could go into 2014-15 coming off a playoff berth and with several first-round picks in hand.
It’s a bold move to mess with success, but the potential payoff could be too attractive for first-year general manager Ryan McDonough to turn down. At this point, he’s playing with house money. Why not go all-in?