Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Top Four Teams in the West

The lines of distinction in the Western Division aren’t quite as clear as they are in the East, but there is a five-game difference between the number four-seed (Oklahoma City) and the five-seed (Denver). So, to balance yesterday’s report on the top four teams in the East (where are all of the playoff match ups are nicely set), we’ll take a look at the top –seeded Spurs along with the Mavericks, Lakers, and Thunder, who are all bunched within a game of each other. It is interesting to note that three of the four hottest teams in the west are the Nuggets, Trailblazers, and Grizzlies who have all won seven of their last ten games (the Thunder are also 8-2 in their last ten and have won five straight), but we’ll talk about those other teams when the match ups can be written in ink.

1. San Antonio Spurs

The Spurs have had a remarkable season. They have quietly won an NBA-best 61 games and weathered a slump at the end of March while Tim Duncan worked himself back into the lineup after spraining his ankle. San Antonio has won their last four games, although three of those four teams will not make the playoffs. While the team is still led by Duncan, Manu Ginobili, and Tony Parker (and all three might be slightly undervalued because they are not exciting picks), the others have contributed more this season and could be Fantasy Postseason draft values. George Hill is providing 11.6 points and 2.6 assists. The third year pro from IUPUI is hitting 44.1% of his threes at home, and the Spurs will likely have home court advantage throughout the playoffs. Gary Neal might not be a household name, but he is making 42.0% of his threes and providing 9.7 points. DeJuan Blair could also be a nice late round find because double-doubles get a bonus in default scoring.

4. Oklahoma City Thunder

The Thunder were the chic pick to make a lot of noise in the west after taking the Lakers to the limit in last year’s playoffs. Kevin Durant hasn’t quite blossomed into the MVP candidate that some people predicted, but that may be less because of his own play than the emergence of point guard Russell Westbrook. The third year player from UCLA has broken out with 21.9 points and 8.2 assists. While his perimeter shooting has improved (33.3%), Westbrook can still get better from long range. That’s a pretty scary thought. Durant is leading the league at 27.9 points, so he is the best bet to get the 30-point default bonus. If the Thunder do meet the Spurs in the second round, then Serge Ibaka would be a nice value pick. In three games against San Antonio, Ibaka averaged 12.3 points and 11.0 rebounds (compared to season averages of 9.9 points and 7.6 rebounds). Kendrick Perkins may take away some of Ibaka’s value. The former Celtic has been relatively quiet in his Thunder tenure, but has snagged 31 rebounds in his last two games.

2. Dallas Mavericks

It’s surprising to see the old Mavericks here at the two-slot, isn’t it? They consistently win 50 games, but generally don’t do much in the playoffs. Maybe this year will be their year to break through and make it back to the finals to meet the Heat, like they did five years ago. More than any other playoff team, Dallas splits their triple-double stats among various players. Dirk Nowitzki, and to a lesser extent, Jason Terry, score, Tyson Chandler rebounds, and Jason Kidd passes. Shawn Marion does a little of everything. While this may seem like a bounce back year for Marion, his stats are right in line with his first year in Dallas (12.5 points, 6.9 rebounds). Marion has scored 18.7 points in three games against the Lakers and has scored 18.8 points in six games in April. He could be a nice value.

3. Los Angeles Lakers

Did the Lakers peak too early? Los Angeles has now lost five straight games after winning 17 of their previous 18 games. Perhaps coach Phil Jackson just has the team which is going for a three-peat hiding in the reeds, but they have now lost home court advantage in the second round, if the records hold and the Lakers and Mavericks advance. They could even fall to the four-seed, if they can’t get back on the winning track in the regular season. Kobe Bryant is making just 42.4% of his shots from the field. He may have taken his foot off the gas pedal with just 3.3 rebounds this month. He will get his shots and his points, so he still makes for an excellent first round pick. The most intriguing statistical factoid of the losing streak is Andrew Bynum’s 13.3 rebounds per game. Bynum has snagged 56 boards in his last three games. While his performance may take away from Pau Gasol and Lamar Odom’s value a little, Bynum makes for an intriguing mid-round draft pick.