Saturday, January 24, 2015

The NBA Has An Alignment Problem

Celtics & Lakers = Lawful Evil
Last night in Golden State, Warriors SG Klay Thompson set an all-time NBA record with 37 points in the third quarter. Thompson didn't score his first basket of the quarter until 2+ minutes had passed, just to put the accomplishment into greater relief, and he didn't even take all that many shots to do it (14 in total). It might have been the single best performance in a game this season, in the midst of a breakout season for a guy who has been one of the bigger reasons why his team has the best record in basketball.

Oh, and Thompson isn't even a starter in the All-Star Game. No lock that he'll make it as a reserve, either.

That, more than anything else, should tell you how good the Western Conference is now, and how much better it is than the East. If you were to split the NBA in two divisions, and promote / relegate the franchises, you'd be hard pressed to put more than a team or two from the East in the top spot. And even those teams would be suspect, since Atlanta has compiled much of its strong record in its own conference.

But let's back up to the All-Star Game.When you get into this, player by player... yeesh.

East: LeBron James, John Wall, Pau Gasol, Kyle Lowry and Carmelo Anthony.
West: Anthony Davis, Stephen Curry, Blake Griffin,  Marc Gasol and Kobe Bryant.

First off, Carmelo and Kobe are just lifetime achievement awards, and at least Bryant's season-ending rotator cuff injury ends that charade. Nothing against what the guy has done for his career, but the current Kobe is a part-time low-percentage gunner with not much in the way of defensive effort... and the fact that this also describes 'Melo is part of the reason why Knick Fan is a synonym for masochist.

Rather, let's discuss Pau. A guy with defense issues who was benched in LA during the ill-fated Dwight Howard era... is not just an All-Star in the East, but a starter. And I get that he's played well for the Bulls, and that maybe this is just name recognition over guys like Marcin Gortat or Al Horford... but man alive. Benchie in the West, A-S Starter in the East. Kevin Durant will come off the bench, but Pau will start. Ye gads.

As for Lowry, I like good stories of veterans who keep getting better at their craft as well as the next guy... but he's light years behind James Harden, Chris Paul and Damian Lillard, which means he's not even making the roster in the West. In the West, the Lowry story is Monta Ellis in Dallas, and that guy is probably not going to the game. This isn't a tilt in the direction of one conference; it's an avalanche.

Oh, and by the way? It's not going to get better any time soon. Andrew Wiggins is going to be the Rookie of the Year; he plays in the West. Thompson keeps getting better. Davis is just coming into his own now. James has lost a lot of explosion this year before recent rest; he's starting down the back nine of his career. DeMarcus Cousins is putting up the best big man numbers in the league, and might not even be a reserve in the West; he's also 24. Russell Westbrook is the most athletic PG in the NBA, and might be better than anyone in a head to head game. He's 26, and terrifying if he stays healthy. The East is going to need some free agent migration, some remarkable draft classes, and the development of a great deal of undercooked / underaged guys to even start to bridge the gap.

All of which leads me to think... why should we have to wait years for that, really? There isn't a Finals matchup now that doesn't look like a sweep... and realigning conferences  is a simple matter of treating things on a North-South continuum, rather than East-West. To wit:

North East: Boston, New York, Brooklyn, Philly, Washington.
North Central: Chicago, Toronto, Minnesota, Detroit, Milwaukee.
North West: Portland, Utah, Denver, Golden State, Sacramento
South East: Atlanta, Orlando, Miami, New Orleans, Charlotte
South Central: Cleveland, Indiana, Oklahoma City, Memphis, Dallas
South West: Lakers, Clippers, Phoenix, San Antonio, Houston

(And yeah, life would be so much easier on this if Memphis and OK City were still in Vancouver and Seattle, but so be it. It's not like the current system is without geographic flaws, either.)

So... let's revisit the All-Star Game in my world.

North: Stephen Curry, John Wall, Klay Thompson, DeMarcus Cousins, LaMarcus Aldridge.
South: LeBron James, Anthony Davis, Kevin Durant, James Harden, Chris Paul.

Better game, right?

Better playoffs, right?

Better next decade, right?


Albert Klyachko said...

Interesting idea. And it might make even more sense if the NBA does end up moving into Europe. Maybe the status of the East expedites that move.

Albert Klyachko said...

And by the way, check the stats - Gasol is totally deserving of the start (as is his brother). Gortat and Horford are significantly worse, and all three are on winning teams so it's not like any of them are padding stats. The only other guy with comparable stats is Vucevic, but he has no D and plays on the Magic, so no. He didn't fit the Laker system, but he's the perfect fit in Chicago.

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