2018 NBA Christmas wishes: Western Conference
Adrian Dy on Dec 22, 2018 08:16 AM
NBAE via Getty Images
Christmas is fast approaching, and most people are spending that time wishing for that perfect gift. NBA teams are no different - no matter where they currently find themselves in the standings, there's always a little something more they could use.
Here's what your favorite Western Conference NBA squads are probably hoping to find under their Christmas tree this year:
Dallas Mavericks - A blueprint to build around Luka Doncic
We're witnessing the passing of the torch right now from Dirk Nowitzki to Luka Doncic, who's made the Mavs front office look like geniuses, as they were able to move up to #3 to draft him. And while Doncic has been a big reason for the team being in the thick of the West Playoffs race, down the line, Dallas will need to surround him with the appropriate talent. Remember, it took Dirk 13 years before he won his first championship, and he's never been close to getting back since then. Hopefully Luka doesn't have a similar fate.
Denver Nuggets - Health for their starting five
The Nuggets have been an intriguing bunch, capturing the first seed in the Western Conference. What makes them extra interesting though is the fact that their starting five has been ravaged by injuries, and they're still all the way up top in the standings.
In Denver's 30 games, only Nikola Jokic has been in all of the starting fives (Jamal Murray has played all 30, but missed one start). Paul Millsap has missed the last five games with a broken toe, Gary Harris suffered a groin injury early in December and has been sidelined for the last seven outings, and Will Barton's hip has limited him to a mere two matches. Remember, this is the same team that just missed out on the Playoffs by a game last year, so this strong early start is a good thing for them to have.
Golden State Warriors - To truly be "light years" ahead
Maybe the Warriors have a vision that will convince Kevin Durant to stay long-term.
Maybe the Warriors also have a backup plan that will allow them to remain on a championship level if Durant leaves.
But if they're truly "light years" ahead they'll probably have a plan that allows them to keep KD AND get another big name free agent ala Boogie Cousins. And if they don't, well, that's what Santa is for!
Houston Rockets - New hamstrings for Chris Paul
The Houston Rockets were zooming along last postseason when Chris Paul's right hamstring caused them to crash and burn.
This season, the Rockets were able to rebound from a slow start, and were in the midst of a five-game win streak when Paul hurt his left hamstring in a loss to the Miami Heat.
If there's anything they can do to preserve the health of their 34-year-old floor general, now would be a good time to use it, especially in this competitive Western Conference.
LA Clippers - Becoming more popular than the Lakers
For a stretch of several seasons, the Lob City Clippers were the better LA team, as Kobe Bryant broke down, before finally hanging up his Lakers uni. This past offseason though, LeBron James joined up with the Lake Show, making them the toast of Tinseltown anew. Still, all's not over yet for the Clips. They're tied with the Lakers right now in the standings, and have the cap flexibility to, in theory, add both Kevin Durant and Kawhi Leonard in free agency. Two superstars are better than one, right?
LA Lakers - A sidekick or two for LeBron James
Speaking of LeBron, did you know that he'd like to play with Anthony Davis?
Memphis Grizzlies - A mulligan for the Chandler Parsons contract
The Memphis Grizzlies had good intentions when they signed Chandler Parsons back in 2016, as they needed someone, anyone, who could reliably hit a three-pointer. Memphis shelled out a ton of money for him - a $94.5 million deal - and unfortunately, it's been one of the league's worst contracts due to his inability to stay on the court.
Parsons played 34 games in his first season as a Grizzly, 36 games last season, and so far in 2018-19, a mere three games. He also hasn't averaged more than 20 minutes and more than 8 points on his third team. I suppose the good news for the Grizz is he has just one more season (though at a whopping $25.1 million) left on his contract before he hits free agency anew.
Minnesota Timberwolves - Playing time for Josh Okogie
Some coaches just don't like rookies. Unless you're a lottery pick, their thinking goes, you're going to have to earn your minutes. Learn from the bench. Get used to things in the pros.
Tom Thibodeau, head coach of the Timberwolves, definitely subscribes to that school of thought, but he ought to make an exception for Josh Okogie, the 20th pick in this year's draft. The 6'4" wing has managed to impress whenever he gets playing time, which is usually only when someone is hurt, and Thibs needs a guy to plug into the rotation. However, an argument can be made that he needs more consistent minutes, as his per-36 minute averages (12.8 points, 5.7 rebounds, 1.8 assists, 1.5 steals) suggest there's a lot of potential. Maybe as a one-two bench punch with Sixth Man of the Year front-runner Derrick Rose?
New Orleans Pelicans - A stop to all the Anthony Davis trade rumors
The Pelicans front office right now:
Oklahoma City Thunder - A healthy Andre Roberson
The Thunder currently have the best defensive rating in the league, giving up 101.7 points per 100 possessions. That's quite the feat, because last season, their defense took a big hit when Andre Roberson went down with injury. Flash-forward to this campaign and Roberson is still out, experiencing a setback to his return from a ruptured patellar tendon that will keep him out even longer, and yet, there the Thunder are.
So if they get Roberson back, and work him into their rotation again...just how good can they be? Western Conference Finals good perhaps?
Phoenix Suns - To rise from the ashes
Since reports arose of the team moving and the franchise got scorched by a senior citizen, Phoenix has surprisingly gone on a four-game win streak, after previously looking futile in 10 in a row. It helps that Devin Booker has been back for the last three games, but this Suns team is so raw still that there's still plenty of room for improvement.
Portland Trail Blazers - One of their rookies to be a contributor
The Blazers have a ton of cap space allocated to not just their big three of Damian Lillard, CJ McCollum, and Jusuf Nurkic, but to members of their supporting cast like Evan Turner, Mo Harkless, and Meyers Leonard. Those latter deals have made it so Portland's depth can only be augmented in two ways: minimum contracts, and draft picks.
Luckily for the Blazers, they hit on 2017 10th overall pick Zach Collins, giving the team a zippier, more athletic alternative to the ground-based Nurk. As for this year's batch of rookies, it might be too early to tell. Anfernee Simons (#24 overall) has played just five games, and Gary Trent Jr. (#37 overall) just three. To be fair, Collins didn't get a ton of playing time in his rookie campaign either. But the Blazers have to hope that one of the two becomes a reliable backcourt scoring option, rather than having to lean on guys like Seth Curry or Nik Stauskas for another campaign.
Sacramento Kings - Good vibes for all
Surprise, surprise, the Sacramento Kings have been good. Tied for the eighth seed good, to be specific. That's quite a leap for a team many expected to once again struggle, but De'Aaron Fox and Willie Cauley-Stein have taken massive leaps, Nemanja Bjelica and Buddy Hield have been scorching, Iman Shumpert, when he plays, has provided veteran leadership, and Bogdan Bogdanovic returned from injury and hasn't hit a sophomore slump yet.
Now reportedly, there has been some tension between the front office and head coach Dave Joerger, but for the sake of Kings fans, the franchise owes it to everyone to put those petty spats aside, and do whatever they can to keep this team on a winning track. They don't even need to make the Playoffs for this season to be a success, to be honest. They just need a healthy dose of good vibes to keep this run going.
San Antonio Spurs - The next Tim Duncan
He doesn't necessarily have to be a big man (though someone in the mold of an Anthony Davis would be perfect). But what the Spurs lack right now is the quiet, two-way superstar that's more than willing to embrace Coach Gregg Popovich's ways.
That's not a slight on LaMarcus Aldridge or DeMar DeRozan by the way. There's just not a lot of players right now on the Spurs that are standouts on both offense and defense like Tim Duncan was. Of course, we all know that it was thought that Kawhi Leonard would be that guy...right up until he wasn't, Perhaps there will never be another Timmy. But if there is, the Spurs sure would like to have him.
Utah Jazz - Ricky Rubio's jumper back
Last season, Ricky Rubio made huge strides in his game. In his first six seasons with the Timberwolves, he had the reputation of being an elite passer, but a terrible shooter. In Utah, owing to the team's more deliberate style of play, his assists dropped, but his shooting percentages, including from beyond the arc, all spiked to career-bests.
So far in 2018-19 though, Rubio's shot seems to have deserted him anew. While much of the focus of Jazz fans has been on Donovan Mitchell's sophomore slump, Rubio's been shooting poorly as well. From 41.8 percent, he's now hitting just 38.5 percent from the field, while his three-point shot dipped from 35.2 percent to 31.1 percent. Perhaps it's just a blip on the radar, but in the tight Western Conference, the Jazz can't afford a lot of slippage.
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