Sorting Through the New Look of the Western Conference Part 2

by Varon Panganiban

by Varon Panganiban

The race to the top of this conference is making out to be a pretty competitive one. A lot of things can happen between now and November, but with the way that these rosters are shaping out on paper this could be one of the best races that we’ve ever seen.

The Houston Rockets aren’t the only team that has made a move or two to improve. Count the Los Angeles Clippers and the Golden State Warriors in that same pool. Both teams should be vying for top spots on the conference pedestal. With other teams making minimal improvements, I’d say its likely that they do.

The Los Angeles Clippers were proactive in keeping their team in the hunt for once. Chris Paul needed to be re-signed, but he also needed to be convinced that this was going to be a winning organization going forward. So because of that, Donald Sterling made key trades that should result in this team being far better than it was last season.

They made a move for one of the top head coaches in Doc Rivers. Snagging him from the Boston Celtics was key going forward. If the Clippers weren’t going to bring back Vinny Del Negro, they needed to upgrade that position tremendously. Rivers does exactly that.

Del Negro wasn’t the issue defensively, but this team’s offense was too vanilla at times and didn’t have a lot of versatility to work with. Although Del Negro’s offense was fourth in the league per possession, it was simple to expose it and stop it. The Memphis Grizzlies did that in the postseason by icing Paul on pick and rolls and forcing others to make plays outside of the paint.

Rivers provides the Clippers with an upgrade in offensive scheme. His offenses were pretty bland in Boston outside of his first year being there, but with the additions that the Clippers have made it will be far better.

Instead of just an All-Star point guard, Rivers now has an All-World point guard in Chris Paul. He’ll get JJ Redick and Jared Dudley to juice up the wing position and make plays off of the catch. They both also add some much needed extra ball handling for the Clippers. Outside of Jamal Crawford and Chauncey Billups–when rarely available–the Clippers didn’t really have too many players who could make plays with the ball.

Redick and Dudley will be comfortable in catch-and-shoot situations, dribble drive situation and feeding teammates off of the bounce. They bring the exact thing that the Clippers needed offensively in versatility.

They’ve got a viable back-up point guard in Darren Collison who has played pretty well behind Chris Paul. This was a much needed necessity because you don’t want Paul playing 36 minutes per game. His knee health is sketchy at best throughout the year and you don’t really want to take chances on it. Since Eric Bledsoe has been dealt, the Clippers needed someone who could run the offense. Collison can do that for you–even if its only in short stretches.

Bringing back Matt Barnes was very important for this team. Going through the Western Conference, you’ll need to have an above average wing defender. They’ll have to play the likes of James Harden, Kevin Durant and plenty of deadly point guards. With Barnes, you get a guy who can plug most perimeter defending holes and be a force that can slow these guys down.

The Clippers still need another big man on this team. I’d look for them to make that addition at some point when the free agency pool calms down. They need a third big who can defend well without fouling in their system. Of course, that’s all dependent on which route Rivers chooses to take defensively. He can opt to play a sag-back game where the bigs sit in the paint, or he can play up like the Clippers did last year.

Of course, the Grizzlies found a way to get around that, but the Clippers still have tremendous athletes in their front court. They got both bigs above the free throw line at one time and had Zach Randolph slipping screens for easy entry into the paint. This way, deep position could be established without much of a fight and these kind of plays resulted from that:

Though, it’ll be incredibly hard for the Clippers to find a good big with where their salary is sitting. They are just outside of the cap threshold at $70.415,281. To find a player who will be solid enough at the minimum. They used their mid-level exception to sign Darren Collison and Matt Barnes. Finding another big isn’t likely for them before the season starts.

Still, this team should be a very good one should be a top candidate for making the Western Conference Finals next season.

The Golden State Warriors have made plenty of moves to put them in the race for the top of this conference as well. They’ve got the best shooting backcourt in the league in Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson, but defense was really an issue for them both. Klay is blossoming into a decent wing defender but he isn’t at an elite level yet.  Signing Andre Iguodala helps with this issue a bit.

The Warriors can now place Iguodala on the opposition’s best perimeter scorer. The Warriors were torched by Tony Parker during the playoffs. Curry was running around on a bum ankle and Thompson couldn’t guard him the entire game while contributing on offense as well. They were both playing huge minutes during the playoffs and that ended up becoming an issue, too.

With Iguodala on tap that isn’t a problem that they’ll have to deal with defensively anymore. They have the luxury of letting Thompson focus completely on the offensive end of the floor instead of trying to be a stopper.

Iguodala also brings some versatility on the offensive end of the floor, too. He gives the Warriors another ball handler to couple with Thompson and Curry on the floor. The Warriors let Jarrett Jack walk to Cleveland because of the addition of Iguodala. He’ll allow their two sharpshooting guards to play off of the ball just as Jack did. They haven’t lost any of their flexibility by letting Jack go and have improved defensively.

The issue here comes with Harrison Barnes–and this isn’t really an issue. The Warriors have to figure out what to do with him. Do you play him at the power forward for a majority of the season? If so, what happens to David Lee’s minutes? The Warriors have been hard-pressed to move Lee, but I’m sure they wouldn’t mind walking into the season with him still on the roster. He’s still a player that produces double figure points and rebounds.

He’s a great pick and pop partner who possesses the ability to shoot, pass or drive. There’s no telling what he’s going to do off of the catch and once he gets into the paint. Even though he’s a minus defender, he’s a good option to have at that power forward slot.

Barnes isn’t as versatile as Lee, but he can provide a shooting touch from beyond the arch at the power forward spot like we saw during the postseason. He’ll be eaten alive by some of the best power forwards defensively and will need to be a better rebounder, but he knows how to play small ball offensively. I doubt we’ll see the same hot shooting all year long that we saw from Barnes in the playoffs, but if he can give half of that it will be a successful experiment.

Starting Lee and going to Barnes off of the bench would serve as the best option here. A bench scoring role isn’t what Barnes is going to be used to, but it provides the Warriors with a different combination of players that will certainly be hard to defend when everyone is shooting well.

These two teams are going to be forces in the Western Conference this year. They’ve made vast improvements and taken away some of their weaknesses that were exposed  during their postseason runs last year. They should be much better going forward and should both play for a top four seeding position next season.

In the next edition, we will talk about teams who didn’t do too much and where they may stand in the conference. Most importantly, we’ll talk about Russell Westbrook and his wardrobe.


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