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Aidin Ebrahimi’s NBA Western Conf. Update: Feb 22-Mar 2

The West is a bloodbath, with just three games separating the 10th seed from the fifth seed

Posted on March 3, 2024


  By Aidin Ebrahimi, SuperWest Sports

With the All-Star break behind us, we’re into the latter stages of the regular season.

The West is a bloodbath, with just three games separating the 10th seed from the fifth seed, and four legit teams entrenched in a fierce battle for home-court advantage throughout the playoffs.

As always, here is my update on the status of NBA Western Conference teams, as well as a look at the previous week’s best team and MVP.


Exceptional Rookies

Victor Wembanyama

Finally, Wemby’s minutes have gone up again.

In his first 24 games, Wembanyama averaged 30.5 minutes a night but put up slightly disappointing numbers considering the hype, and then the Spurs put him on a minutes restriction following a minor ankle injury.

The generational prospect finally showed everyone what he was made of by putting up 22 points, 9.2 rebounds, and 3.4 blocks per game on 50% shooting in his next 25 games while only averaging 26.4 minutes a night.

But now that Wemby and the Spurs are back from the All-Star break, it seems like Gregg Popovich is no longer scared to play him more than 30 minutes a night.

In his last four games, Wembanyama has put up 23.5 points, 11.5 rebounds, 5.5 assists, 2.5 steals, and 4.8 blocks per contest while shooting 47.6% from the field and 44.4% from three while playing 31.1 minutes per game.

Fun fact, Zach Collins had a higher usage rate than Wemby during this stretch. These numbers are simply ridiculous on their own, but they get even better if you adjust them to 36 minutes.

Wemby had 28 pts and 12 rebs vs Thunder | Darren Abate/AP

If you do that, Wemby would average 27.2 points, 13.3 rebounds, 6.4 assists, 2.9 steals, and 5.6 blocks a game.

These stats are unprecedented and we can easily expect this French phenom to put up numbers like this in the next few seasons.

But we all know that you can’t win MVPs and championships by putting up numbers like that, you need help to win accolades and boost your legacy, or else you’ll just be known as a stat compiler.

Contrary to popular belief, this team isn’t just Wembanyama and some G-League players.

They have some serious young talent like Devin Vassell (who has averaged over 23 points a night since the All-Star break), Keldon Johnson, and Jeremy Sochan.

But it’s obvious that they’ll need many more young talented players to compete. The pressure will be on Popovich to surround his star man with more talented youngsters and develop them well.

If he can do that, they can easily be as good, if not better than, what OKC is right now.

Chet Holmgren

Speaking of OKC, Chet Holmgren is Wembanyama’s only real rival in the Rookie of the Year race.

Holmgren actually took the lead over Wemby after the Frenchman’s poor start, but his stats declined just a little bit during the lead-up to the All-Star break and now Wembanyama has clearly surpassed him in this race.

Even though the ROY seems to be out of reach, the Gonzaga product is still having a fantastic season and is looking as dominant as ever since coming out of the break.

Holmgren scored 23 pts vs the Spurs | Daniel Dunn/USA TODAY Sports

Holmgren has averaged 22.4 points, 9.6 rebounds, and 2.4 blocks a night while shooting 62.7% from the floor and 44.4% from deep in his first five games after the All-Star break, as he went 4-1 with his lone loss coming against Wembanyama’s Spurs.

Holmgren looks to have an All-Star career ahead of him and all the doubts about him being too “weak” and “skinny” to compete in the NBA have been proven wrong.

Hopefully, he can have a great and competitive rivalry with Wembanyama as the Spurs get better in the coming years.


Is It Just a Bad Slump?

The Los Angeles Clippers (38-20, 2-3)

The Clippers were easily the best team in the NBA for a 31-game stretch from the start of December to early February, losing just five times and looking dominant.

However, they went on a bit of a cold streak before the All-Star break and they’ve had a losing record since coming back from the break.

This means that they’re now three games behind the first seed, while the Suns are 3.5 games behind them to take over the fourth seed.

They had a terrible collapse against the Lakers in a game that they should have easily won, but it was excused due to the absence of Paul George.

As soon as PG-13 came back though, Russell Westbrook got hurt and might not be back until the playoffs. Now the Clippers need to see if their bench players can step up while Westbrook is out.

The starting lineup can certainly win them games, but players like Norman Powell and Bones Hyland will be ones to watch, as they can keep them in contention for the first seed if they can play better.


Squandered Momentum

The Houston Rockets (25-34, 1-4)

Remember the Jazz from last year? Yeah, that’s the Rockets this season. At the start of the season, the Rockets shocked everyone with their suffocating defense.

Their young players were playing great on the offensive end too, and they looked like a sneaky pick to make the playoffs. But now they’ve fallen off big time, squandering all the momentum that they’ve had previously.

Their defense is now allowing over 120 points pretty regularly, while their offense is simply inefficient. Alperen Sengun is a future star but he can’t do everything and isn’t as effective when no one around him is shooting well.

Jalen Green is still allergic to efficiency, while Fred VanVleet’s assists numbers have gone down as of late which is a big reason why they’re losing.

I’m still a huge fan of Jabari Smith Jr.’s game and he has been more aggressive recently, but his shots haven’t been falling. And don’t even get me started on Dillon Brooks, who has shot 36.6% from the field since January ended.


Best Team of the Previous Week

The Denver Nuggets (41-19, 5-0)

How to go undefeated in a week? Well, it’s pretty easy when three of your top players average 20+ points on elite efficiency.

Jokic

It all started with a dominant win over Washington where Nikola Jokic had 21 points, 15 assists, and 19 rebounds. Jokic recorded another triple-double against Portland while Michael Porter Jr. poured in 34 points to finish the job.

“The Joker” continued his triple-double streak against the Warriors, dropping 32 points, 16 assists, and 16 boards. He had his last triple-double of the week against Sacramento as Jamal Murray scored 32 points in the win.

Lastly, the Nuggets wrapped up the week by dominating their 2023 Finals opponent, the Miami Heat, in a game where the Heat didn’t lead for a single second.


MVP of the Previous Week

LeBron James (Los Angeles Lakers)

Long live the King. LeBron had a masterclass against the Clippers in the fourth quarter, outscoring the entire Clippers team 19-16 to lead his squad to the improbable win.

James

But he had a pretty great week apart from that game too. LeBron averaged 30.8 points, 9.5 assists, and six rebounds a night while shooting 58.1% from the floor and 53.8% from deep as he led his squad to a 3-1 record.

LeBron becomes the first player to score 40,000 points in their NBA career, reaching that milestone on Saturday.

He may not be as explosive as he used to be, but in terms of sheer statistical production, LeBron James is still one of the best in the business.




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