West Playoff Stocks

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NBA Stocks and Bonds – 2020 Playoffs Edition: Western Conference

On the previous edition of NBA Stocks and Bonds we evaluated the current ‘stocks’ of every Eastern Conference team going into the playoffs. In this edition, we will be picking apart the strengths and weaknesses of Western Conference team and ultimately predict what ceiling and floor each team has in terms of how far they can realistically go in the playoffs.

1. Los Angeles Lakers 📈

Strengths: LeBron and A.D. are the best duo in the league, Top defensive team

Weaknesses: Roster Depth, Inconsistent production outside LBJ and A.D.

Photo Credit: Jesse D. Garrabrant, NBAE via Getty Images

The Lakers have been an enigma to watch this year. At times, they’ve looked like the most dominant team in basketball. Other times they’ve looked rather pedestrian, losing to teams in rather odd fashion. Before the suspension of the NBA season, it looked as if the Lakers were finally hitting on all cylinders, with statement wins over the Clippers and Bucks in the same week.

And then, four months went by. Key contributors like Avery Bradley and Rajon Rondo didn’t make it to the bubble. The Lakers have had to sign Dion Waiters and J.R. Smith to fill out their roster. The Lakers finished their seeding games winning three of eight.

Under normal circumstances, the Lakers would be in much better shape, but things haven’t looked the greatest since they arrived in Orlando. Anthony Davis and LeBron James have been struggling to shake off the layoff rust, and it shows in their inconsistent performances.

It’s safe to assume that LeBron and A.D. will turn things around when the games they play start to matter more and more, as they are two of the best five players in the world. The Lakers are also top three in defensive rating. Where the Lakers are severely lacking is in their supporting cast.

Outside of James and Davis, the Lakers will have to rely on the likes of Dwight Howard, Javale McGee, Kyle Kuzma, and Alex Caruso to be consistent contributors throughout the postseason. If the Lakers can find some consistency from these players, they may be the favourites to win-it-all.

Ceiling: 2020 NBA Champions

Floor: Western Conference Finalists

2. Los Angeles Clippers 📈

Strengths: Kawhi Leonard + Paul George Duo, Defensive personnel, Roster Depth

Weaknesses: On court chemistry

Photo Credit: Nathan Denette/The Canadian Press via AP

The Clippers are one of the deepest teams in the league, featuring a stacked starting-five and two sixth-man of the year candidates off the bench. They boasted the league’s second-best offensive rating this year, and the fifth-best defensive rating.

The scariest prospect about the Clips is that they haven’t played with their entire roster healthy for an extended period of time this season. Leonard and George sat out games this year due to either load management or injuries, which have kept the Clippers from truly playing to their full potential so far.

We could be looking at the best basketball to come from the Clippers this postseason, but this factor could also prove to pose some growing pains for a team with championship aspirations.

Because the Clipper roster hasn’t had a significant stretch where they were all healthy and on the court, they haven’t quite developed the chemistry most teams have at this point of the season. It could be a minor speed bump, and it shouldn’t really slow down a team that only has one realistic equal in the west.

Ceiling: 2020 NBA Champions

Floor: Western Conference Finalists

3. Denver Nuggets ↔️

Strengths: Depth, Jokic, Offensively sound

Weaknesses: Defence

Photo Credit: Isaiah J. Downing, USA TODAY Sports

The Denver Nuggets are definitely one of the most interesting teams in the NBA right now. They have some great talent throughout the roster, mixing in young guys, veteran presence, and valuable role players. It has been a pleasure to watch the likes of Bol Bol and Michael Porter Jr. especially, considering their potential.

The Nuggets also have one of the best big-men in the league as Nikola Jokic is a point-guard in a center’s frame and height. Because of Jokic’s game (though not entirely just because of him), the Nuggets have a top-five offence in the NBA this season. They definitely don’t play fast, but they love to run their offence almost exclusively through Jokic in the post.

A steady diet of off-ball movement for the Nugget guards, along with some slashing here and there make up the dynamic Denver offence. They’ll be a tough team to stop for most teams.

The biggest question surrounding Denver’s playoff run will be their defence. The team has some solid defenders in guys like Paul Millsap and Jerami Grant, but there aren’t many other plus-defenders on this roster to stop some of the star guards and forwards lurking in the wild west. Jokic also isn’t the greatest at defending the paint, which is a weakness many teams in the postseason will look to exploit.

The Nuggets will certainly be a team to watch in the 2020s, but as of now they don’t have the pieces in place to go any farther in the second round of this year’s playoffs.

Ceiling: 2nd Round

Floor: Eliminated in the 2nd Round (despite their flaws they should get by Utah)

4. Houston Rockets 📉

Strengths: Three-point shooting, High Powered & Fast-Paced Offence

Weaknesses: Interior Defence, Playoff Harden?, Westbrook Injury

Photo Credit: Troy Taormina, USA TODAY Sports

Houston is one of the greatest experiments the NBA has ever seen. Aside from a veteran Tyson Chandler, the Rockets have no true-center on their roster. The Rockets, piloted by the analytical Daryl Morey, have abandoned all remnants of ‘tradition’ basketball and have gone all-in towards the pace and space era.

To their credit, the experiment has looked to be successful at times. When Houston is clicking on all cylinders, they are a hard team to stop. Russell Westbrook is playing with the best spacing he’s ever had on a roster, and his shooting efficiency shows for it.

Westbrook’s dominance is truly unlocked in this five-out lineup where P.J. Tucker and Robert Covington man the four and five spots.

What has the Rocket stock trending downwards going into the playoffs is the injury suffered to Westbrook. A quad strain is no joke, especially for a player who plays the way Westbrook does. He looks to be out for at least a few days during the first round.

Another question that needs to be addressed is the postseason performance of James Harden. Harden is arguably the best player to win an MVP and is that calibre of a player, yet still garners the reputation of a underwhelming playoff performer. The criticism is a little overblown, as it just so happens that the games Harden underperforms in are the ones that matter the most.

If Harden can silence the critics surrounding his playoff performance, and if Westbrook can stay healthy, the Rockets could very well shoot themselves into the stratosphere. They have a puncher’s chance in any playoff series thanks to their shooting and swing variables in Harden and Westbrook. They can definitely go far, but it can also end really poorly if shots aren’t falling. As such are the ‘all-or-nothing but threes’ Houston Rockets.

Ceiling: Western Conference Finalists (and they would have to shoot the LIGHTS out against the Lakers)

Floor: Eliminated in the 1st Round (if Westbrook is hurt for a majority of the series)

5. Oklahoma City Thunder ↔️

Strengths: Good Guard Play, Clutch, Led by one of the best PG’s ever

Weaknesses: Intimidating Isolation Options

Photo Credit: Sporting News

The Oklahoma City Thunder were not picked to be here. They were certainly overlooked. They have exceeded all expectations this season, and led by Chris Paul, the team has performed admirably. The Thunder run one of the league’s most efficient three-man lineups with Paul, Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, and Denis Schroder.

The Thunder are also one of the most resilient teams in the association this year, having multiple come-from-behind victories this year. All that, and they are also one of the best performing teams in the clutch.

Oklahoma is definitely one of the feel-good stories this year. They have a realistic shot of making some noise in the playoffs this year, but their biggest weakness will be evident against the better defensive teams.

The Thunder don’t have a true isolation scorer to depend on when defences start to load up on guys like Paul or Danilo Gallinari. Schroder and Gilgeous-Alexander are certainly great players, but neither can score in isolation the way Paul or Gallinari are capable of. This puts a cap on the potential this team ultimately has this playoffs.

Ceiling: 2nd Round

Floor: Eliminated in the 1st Round

6. Utah Jazz 📉

Strengths: Interior Defence

Weaknesses: Shot Creation, Playmaking

Photo Credit: Clutch Points

Utah is a team that certainly looked to be one of the dark horse contenders going into the season, with additions of Mike Conley and Bojan Bogdanovic having them penned on paper to be a threat in the west.

In general, the Jazz aren’t contenders this year for a number of reasons. The Conley and Donovan Mitchell duo in the backcourt just hasn’t worked out. Conley hasn’t played nearly as well as he had in Memphis, and both guards need the ball in their hands to be effective.

On another note, Bogdanovic has been an effective second scorer next to Mitchell, but his absence in the bubble is a huge blow to a team that struggled to create any offence with Mitchell alone.

The same weaknesses of shot creation and a lack of secondary playmaking throughout the roster severely limits the potential for any team. The name of the game is basketball, and teams need to make baskets in order to win at the end of the day. Utah will struggle to find makes in this years playoffs. It’s a make or miss league after all.

Ceiling: 1st Round (maybe push the Nuggets to 6)

Floor: Eliminated in the 1st Round

7. Dallas Mavericks ↔️

Strengths: Luka + Kristaps, Dominant Offence, Shooting

Weaknesses: Extremely shaky defensively

Almost all Filled Up

Photo Credit: Onlinegambling.com

Dallas has a lot going for them as a dark horse pick for a NBA contender. Their record suggests they are a middle of the pack team, but some advance metrics would have many fans seconding guessing this notion.

The Mavericks own the league’s top offence led by the likes of Luka Doncic and Kristaps Porzingis. They also have a bevy of three-point shooting threats on the roster in Seth Curry, Tim Hardaway Jr., and Dorian Finney-Smith.

The Mavs’ offence alone gives them a shot to win games, and whether the offence is firing on all cylinders is likely the swing factor in the games they play.

Dallas shows extreme vulnerability on the defensive end, where they have been particularly careless since entering the bubble. Having a shaky defence isn’t going to cut it, especially against the top tier opponents they will have to face in the west.

They’ll definitely be around in the future, but this year will inevitably serve as a time to experience growing pains for Luka and company.

Ceiling: 1st Round (and pushing the Clips to 6)

Floor: Eliminated in the 1st Round

8. Portland Trailblazers ↔️

Strengths: Dynamic Backcourt, Shooting, Offensively sound

Weaknesses: Defence, Health Concerns, Fatigue?

Supermax Coming to Lillard?

Photo Credit: Lachlan Cunningham, Getty Images

A lot of NBA fans were definitely pleased after Portland advanced through the play-in game against the Memphis Grizzlies. Damian Lillard has played at an MVP level throughout the bubble, and he’s had to maintain that play to just squeeze into the playoff picture.

Lillard and McCollum make up one of the league’s top backcourts, and with the contributions of Carmelo Anthony, Jusuf Nurkic, and Gary Trent Jr., the Blazers are an intriguing matchup for the Lakers in round one.

Portland owns the league’s third best offensive rating and it shows in their games. Especially against teams that aren’t the greatest on defence, the Blazers will put up the points. That’s where the Blazers’ weakness comes in though. They can score with the best of them, but they can’t defend well at all (28th ranked defence).

It would be wild to see the Blazers push the Lakers to the absolute limit, and there’s probably an alternate universe where the Blazers upset the Lakers, but in this world we live in, the Laker defence should be able to shut down the Portland offence.

Ceiling: 1st Round (pushes Lakers to 6)

Floor: Eliminated in the 1st Round (via broom)

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