Offering up New Year’s resolutions for every team in the Western Conference
With the new year upon us, The Point Forward offers up resolutions for every NBA team. To read Rob Mahoney’s resolutions for every team in the Eastern Conference, click here. For the West, check out below.
Dallas Mavericks: Appreciate the finer things in life.
It’s easy to gloss over what Dirk Nowitzki is doing in Dallas this season. He’s been putting up 20 per night for the Mavericks for more than a decade, carrying them to the playoffs year after year, with the exception of last year’s injury-plagued campaign.
But missing the playoffs appears to have lit a fire under Nowitzki this year, as has the arrivals of Monta Elis and Jose Calderon. While we’ve seen Dirk dominate for what feels like ages, the 35-year-old has been particularly lethal this season, even for his standards. Nowitzki is currently a golden lock short of the famed 50/40/90 splits, shooting 49.3 percent from the field, 40.5 percent from deep and 91.9 percent from the stripe.
With that type of efficiency, we’ll likely see another playoff run out of Nowitzki and the Mavericks. But Dallas shouldn’t take the playoff berth for granted, nor should it overlook the man who makes the impossible look so easy. It might seem like old hat at this point to see the 7-footer splashing jumpers from all over the floor in all manner of ways, but Father Time hangs over the veteran just like everyone else. Dallas should appreciate Nowitzki while he’s still around and marvel at his mastery.
Denver Nuggets: Play the hand you’ve been dealt.
The Nuggets have a smorgasbord of a roster, made up of a variety of talented players that don’t really go with each other, but have nonetheless been paired together. The biggest eyesore of all is at point guard, with Ty Lawson, Nate Robinson and Andre Miller making up three of the team’s seven best players. The team has a slew of athletic bigs who can finish , such as Kenneth Faried and J.J. Hickson, and a number of other players who can run — and yet the notoriously speedy Nuggets rank just No. 14 in fast break points this season at 13.6 per game.
First-year head coach Brian Shaw is trying to make his impact on the streaky Nuggets, who held a seven-game winning streak at one point during December and are now on a seven-game slide, but he’d be wiser to try and tailor his team’s offense to what it already has. Denver ranks 18th in points per possession and continues to be stuck somewhere between a run-and-gun and half-court team, but the Nuggets should give in and push down the throttle. With three talented point guards, Denver has the horses to push the ball and find the open man. While they don’t have the shooters ideal for an up-tempo game, they do have enough athletic bigs to run the floor, attack the rim and make them a dangerous offensive team.
Golden State Warriors: Use size to their advantage.
On the surface the Warriors are a glamorous team, led by the sharpshooting duo of Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson. But a closer examination reveals Golden State is actually a physical, bruising team with enforcers like Andrew Bogut, Marreese Speights, Draymond Green and Jermaine O’Neal.
Golden State’s group of imposing big men, coupled with the lockdown defense of Andre Iguodala, has helped the Warriors rise to No. 3 in the league in points allowed per 100 possessions (98.1) . With Bogut, David Lee and Iguodala in the starting lineup, the Warriors will hold a size advantage on opposing teams on almost every night. And with physical players like Green, Speights and O’Neal coming off the bench, Golden State’s second unit pounds the paint just as hard.
Curry and Thompson will get the spotlight for their feats on offense, and rightfully so, but the key to the Warriors’ success could be the big bodies in the paint occupying space under those jumpers.
Houston Rockets: Quit Omer Asik.
You know that awkward position when you are trying to trade a player and the rest of the league knows it? No? Just Daryl Morey? OK, well that might explain why the Rockets GM has had such little success in moving the disgruntled big man. Asik made his intentions known that he wanted out of Houston in mid-November, and yet Morey has been unwilling to find a deal to his liking despite Asik’s talent.
At his core, Asik is one of the best defensive centers in the league. He averaged 10.1 and 11.7 rebounds in a starting role for Houston last season, and his ability to protect the rim makes him a valuable commodity. But he’s not a power forward, nor is he suited to play next to Dwight Howard, which is why the Rockets no longer have any use for him.
Morey might not get everything he wants for Asik, but it would be wise for him to cash out sooner than later. There are plenty of teams that could use a talented center and the Rockets have plenty of needs (backup to Howard, bench shooter) they could address with a player in return.
Los Angeles Clippers: Let cooler heads prevail.
The Clippers are hands-down the most likely team in the NBA to get into a fight on any given night. It’s not even close. It’s like Doc Rivers put together the perfect storm of fisticuffs. With Blake Griffin, who carries possibly the biggest target on his back in the league, the team is always ready to throw down at a moment’s notice after a hard foul or rough play. And don’t forget Chris Paul, whose trash-talking tendencies have instigated more than one scuffle before when things get heated enough.
But Griffin and Paul aren’t the ones likely to do the scrapping. Enter Matt Barnes, arguably the dirtiest player in the league, and the newly signed Stephen Jackson, who played a major role in the infamous Malice at the Palace, and has had a serious of violent run-ins over the years, including our personal favorite, choking Steve Francis in a club.
With Barnes and Jackson getting Griffin’s back, plus the menacing DeAndre Jordan, the scrappy Paul and Griffin himself, who is 6-10 and 250 pounds and can more than stand up for himself, the Clippers aren’t one to back down from a fight if they see red.
Technical fouls and suspensions are blips on the radar during the regular season, but during the playoffs they can be series altering. It’s up to the Clippers to keep themselves from being their worst enemy and getting in any fights.
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?
Portland Trail Blazers: Know when to say “no” to three-pointers.
Look, it’s the holidays. We’ve all indulged a little more than we should have. But that doesn’t mean we have to go on some kind of crazy diet (right?). Instead, it’s all about moderation, which is exactly what the Blazers need to realize.
The facts: Portland is an incredibly talented offensive team. They lead the league in points per possession, points per game and a host of other categories. One of those is three-pointers made per game, with an impressive 10.3 per contest. They also rank second in three-point percentage (39.6), a sign that they are taking good shots.
But there is such thing as too much of a good thing and that’s wherein lies the problem for the Blazers. While Portland is a terrific perimeter shooting team, it suffers when it relies too much on the three-pointer. The team is 11-6 when shooting 26 three-pointers or more in a game and 14-1 when putting up 25 or less.
With shooters like Wes Matthews, Damian Lillard and Nicolas Batum, it’d be foolish for the Blazers not to feature a steady diet of three-pointers. They just need to learn when to walk away from the table.
Sacramento Kings: Free Jimmer.
Jimmer Fredette took the country by storm during his senior year at BYU, averaging 28.9 points and blowing us away with his three-point range and the Cougars’ magical Sweet 16 run. “Jimmer” became a household name. Fans would gasp in anticipation every time he would even touch the ball. He was drafted by the Kings with the 10th overall pick in 2011 — and has toiled in anonymity ever since.
Fredette showed plenty of promise off the bench last season, appearing in 69 games and averaging an economical 7.2 points in 14.0 minutes and hitting 41.7 of his three-point attempts. But he has barely seen the light of day under new head coach Michael Malone this year, playing just 10.1 minutes per game and appearing in only 17 of the team’s 29 games. But it’s not as if Fredette is mired in a shooting slump, he’s hit 9-of-18 from behind the arc this season.
It’s obvious Fredette isn’t in Sacramento’s future plans. It’s time for the Kings to let go of Jimmer in 2014 and let the country enjoy Jimmermania again.
San Antonio Spurs: Stay well rested, but also stay sharp.
We already know Gregg Popovich and the Spurs view the regular season as an 82-game dress rehearsal, and they deserve the right to cruise after so many postseason runs. Tony Parker (30.6 minutes), Tim Duncan (28.8) and Manu Ginobili (23.7) have been monitored carefully this season, with San Antonio even going as far as to give them the occasional night off. Nonetheless, the Spurs have amassed a 25-7 record to start the season, and top-10 outfits on both offense and defense.
But there is some concern about Popovich going too easy on his players. As valuable as health and rest are to the Spurs, they are ultimately trumped by wins, which San Antonio hasn’t recorded many of against the NBA’s elite this season. The team’s seven losses have come against the Blazers, Thunder, Rockets, Pacers and Clippers, all contenders the Spurs could potentially face in the playoffs.
We’ll give Pop the benefit of the doubt, but a few wins down the stretch against some fellow contenders would put some of our concerns to rest.
Utah Jazz: Work Enes Kanter back into the starting lineup.
His struggles most definitely warranted demotion, but when you’re a rebuilding squad what’s the sense in having the center of your future ride the pine in favor of veterans on expiring contracts?
After starting the first 14 games of the year, Kanter has seen sporadic playing time ever since, playing less than 20 minutes in 12 of hia team’s last 18 games. His per-36-minutes numbers are down across the board, going from 16.9 ppg and 10.2 rpg last season to 15.1 ppg and 8.3 rpg this season. His shooting percentage has slipped from 54.4 to 46.2 and his PER has plummeted from 17.6 to 12.6.
That said, the Jazz used the third overall pick in the 2011 draft on Kanter. They’ve invested too heavily in the 21-year-old — remember, they let Al Jefferson and Paul Millsap walk this summer — to bench him just for a mediocre start. Kanter’s getting his first taste of big minutes since high school, so an adjustment period should be expected.
Worst of all are the players Tyrone Corbin is giving minutes to over Kanter. Marvin Williams, 27, has been inserted at power forward, with Derrick Favors moving over to center. Williams (41.0 percent from three-point range) has helped spread the floor for the Jazz, but the short-term benefits of improving the offense of a 10-24 team are trumped massively by the plusses of letting one of your franchise building blocks play through his first batch of NBA adversity.