Hoonhout: Who can challenge the Warriors in the West?
Tobias Hoonhout | Wednesday, October 11, 2017
Although my colleague Mia Berry made some good points about the unbalance in the NBA in her column yesterday, the fact of the matter is that the Western Conference, with potentially 10 teams fighting for the final five playoff spots, remains a dogfight for who will be playing besides the Spurs, Rockets and Warriors come playoff time.
With this in mind, I thought I’d rank the five teams in the West with the best chances to take down Golden State this season.
1) Houston Rockets
While the Warriors pose multiple dangers on both sides of the ball, they’re most dangerous when they play small. With Andre Iguodala in and Draymond Green playing center, Golden State can move the ball like no one else, set constant screens for three of the best shooters the NBA has ever seen and run in transition with the best of them.
Luckily for Houston, its probably lines up the best in terms of small ball with the Warriors. With Chris Paul now in the mix, the Rockets now at least have the potential to go small, as Harden’s offense can at least make up for his defense, and the trio of Trevor Ariza, Luc Mbah a Moute and P.J. Tucker are all athletic wings. There’s no doubt that Houston can put up a bunch of points; it’s more a question of if it can keep the Warriors from doing the same thing.
2) San Antonio Spurs
Before Kawhi Leonard went down in last year’s conference finals, the Spurs looked up to the task of taking on the Goliath in Golden State. Leonard is a bonafide superstar, and everyone knows how Greg Popovich can somehow always squeeze every last drop out of his scheme and his players.
The addition of Rudy Gay adds some length on the wings (sensing a trend here?) and LaMarcus Aldridge should be better this season. The Spurs also still have three-point machine Danny Green. The only question mark is where Tony Parker and Pau Gasol, both in the twilight of their careers, fit in. Parker is already set to miss the start of the season, and only time will tell if Dejounte Murray is up to the task of replacing the future Hall of Famer.
3) Oklahoma City Thunder
Russell, rejoice! You have reinforcements!
It’s undeniable that Paul George and Carmelo Anthony were absolute steals considering what the Thunder gave up to get them. With its own Big Three, Oklahoma City now has some serious fire power on the offensive end. But when the Warriors go small, the Thunder will, like every team, have to figure out the best way to at least hang with defending champs.
The major flaw is the combination of Anthony, who will get eaten alive on defense, and Andre Roberson, who Golden State can practically ignore on the offensive end. It will take some tweaking, but this is Russell Westbrook’s best chance of exacting his revenge on Kevin Durant and Co.
4) Minnesota Timberwolves
All aboard the Minnesota hype train!
With the addition of Jimmy Butler, Tom Thibodeau finally has the reunion he’s been waiting for. And I love the T-Wolves’ starting five. Jeff Teague fills a huge hole at point guard with the departure of Ricky Rubio and Kris Dunn, and Andrew Wiggins and Karl-Anthony Towns have the third piece in the that they’ve been missing in Butler.
But Minnesota’s bench tips heavily in favor of big men, and that doesn’t bode well for facing Golden State. Thibodeau will have to run his starting five for at least 38 minutes to give the Minnesota a decent chance at the playoffs, and a lot of that rests on the ability for the Timberwolves to stay healthy. It’s also time for Wiggins to show off why he was pegged as the next LeBron James. There’s a lot of uncertainty in the Twin Cities, but also a ton of potential.
5) Denver Nuggets
Where are the Clippers? Well, until Blake Griffin’s health proves otherwise, the last spot in these rankings belongs to Denver. The Nuggets should improve on defense, especially with the addition of Paul Millsap, arguably the best free-agent signing of the summer, to complement an incredibly efficient offense.
Moving things through Nikola Jokic is a matchup nightmare for any team, including the Warriors, and if Denver’s young guards develop, things could be looking suddenly very bright for the Nuggets. Although it wouldn’t be bad idea to move some of those pieces for a star guard/wing (did someone say DeMar Derozan)?
The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.