Posted on December 3, 2023
It sounds crazy, but we’re almost done with the first quarter of the 2023-24 NBA season.
The parity in today’s NBA is great, as there are still around 10 teams in the West that have a legitimate chance of winning the conference.
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.
The Fight For Dominance
The Minnesota Timberwolves (14-4, 3-0)When was the last time that the Minnesota Timberwolves were on top of the Western Conference in December?
Yes, throughout their previous 34 seasons of existence, the Timberwolves have never been at the top of the Western Conference in December, for even one day.
You have got to feel some sympathy for their fans. During that time span, Gary Payton was drafted, had a son, won a championship, retired, and was inducted into the Hall of Fame.
Then, his son made his NBA debut and won a championship.
Yes, Gary Payton and his son both won championships during those 12,000+ days while the Timberwolves only managed to win a grand total of 10 playoff games (all coming in 2004).
But somehow, they’ve figured things out this year.
They now have a two-game lead (and the tiebreaker) over the Nuggets for the first seed in the conference, which is a feeling of excitement that their fans haven’t had since the days of Kevin Garnett.
Speaking of KG, Anthony Edwards is the new “Big Ticket” in town, as he’s the main reason people come and watch Timberwolves games due to his electric style of play.
But one under-the-radar thing about Edwards’ game is his passing ability, which has steadily improved over the years.
Edwards increased his passing volume in his first three seasons, which led to increased turnovers, but this season he has been averaging more assists and fewer turnovers compared to last year.
But we’ve talked a lot about this team so far. We know that they’re good right now and that they’ll probably be a top-four seed in the West assuming everyone stays healthy.
But what really matters is the postseason. In this new era of NBA fans, most fans believe that for all 28 teams that didn’t make the finals, their season was a failure.
It’s harsh, and players like Giannis Antetokounmpo famously ranted about this subject, but it’s just what people think right now. Especially for the Timberwolves, who traded their future for this core.
If they don’t make the finals, people will keep making fun of the Gobert trade for years to come.
Right now, they’re a great regular-season team, but they have to figure out how to win in the postseason for people to take them seriously.
Alperen SengunAlperen Sengun is the next Nikola Jokic. That might sound like a crazy statement, but it doesn’t sound too crazy if you dive deep into the numbers.
Sengun is averaging 23.1 points, 9.4 rebounds, and 4.8 assists a night on 54.2% shooting from the field since November 10, numbers that are very similar to a young Jokic.
Comparing Jokic’s third season in the league to Sengun’s third season, you can see a lot of similarities.
Jokic averaged 18.5 points, 10.7 rebounds, and 6.1 assists a night on 50% shooting in 2017-18. It was only after he turned 25 that he really started to dominate the NBA as its best player.
Sengun still isn’t at the same level of passing as the Joker, but he has made tremendous strides in that department.
If he continues to build upon his passing game while also becoming a better free-throw shooter in the coming years, he could be an MVP candidate in the late 2020s.
Not There Yet
The San Antonio Spurs (3-16, 0-3)Last year, I said Gregg Popovich should retire unless he got Victor Wembanyama, as I predicted that he would make them a playoff team overnight.
Unfortunately, they’re not there yet. They have lost 14 straight games after starting the season 3-2, which included an ugly eight-game stretch from Wemby where he shot 38.1% from the field and 23.9% from three.
But they shouldn’t give up on this core, as they have a lot of solid pieces and just need one more piece to get serious about winning.
Wembanyama himself has recovered from that terrible stretch, as he’s averaging 21.8 points, 11.8 rebounds, and 3.3 blocks on 48.4% shooting since then.
They also challenged contending teams like the Clippers and the Warriors in close games. They shouldn’t lose confidence, because they shouldn’t have any expectations.
Coach Pop just has to make sure that his players keep learning and improving and have fun on the court, as wins and losses no longer matter since Popovich is sacrificing his legacy to help this young core.
New Season, Same Problems
The Dallas Mavericks (11-7, 1-2)Once again, the Mavs are back in the same spot they’ve always been in during the Luka Doncic era.
Mavs fans all got a little bit too excited after they started the season 8-2, but now the reality is setting in that this is still not a contending team.
Sure, Luka and Kyrie are nice, but they need another spark, both on offense and on defense. Tim Hardaway Jr. is a good player, but he’s not good enough to be the third-best player on a contending team.
Another key issue with this team is their depth in the frontcourt.
Derek Lively II has been pretty good as a rookie, but he should be the backup center for a team that wants to win a championship.
Kyrie and Luka are still flipping “Batman” duties on a game-to-game basis which is hurting the team, as the team is clearly at its best with Luka as the “Batman” and Kyrie as the “Robin.”
During their first seven games, Kyrie missed two games and never scored more than 22 points in games where he played, and the Mavs went 6-1.
For comparison, since November 18, Kyire has scored 23+ points in five out of six games, and the Mavs have gone 2-4.
Best Team of the Previous Week
The Denver Nuggets (14-6, 4-0)The Timberwolves might be on top, but the Nuggets are still the best team in the West until further notice.
Jamal Murray and Aaron Gordon combined to play for just 22 minutes last week, but Nikola Jokic didn’t even need them to prove his dominance over the NBA.
Michael Porter Jr. and Reggie Jackson (we’ll talk about him) played great too, as the trio combined to average 73.5 points a night to lead the Nuggets to a 4-0 record.
Beating the Spurs and Rockets was expected, but they also beat the Clippers (without Jokic) and the Suns in a game where Jokic dished out 16 assists and all the starters on the Nuggets scored over 15 points.
MVP of the Previous Week
Reggie Jackson (Denver Nuggets)It has been over a year since I started dishing out these awards at the end of my columns, and this was one of those extremely rare weeks where no one really stood out.
I take a player’s stats, games played, and wins into account, and Jackson actually was the best player of the west last week when you take all of these things into account.
The veteran will return to the bench once Jamal Murray comes back full-time, but he averaged 22.3 points and 6.3 assists a night while shooting a ridiculous 66.7% from the floor and 61.1% from deep to cap off an extremely efficient week.
Jackson still has a lot left in the tank and he could be a valuable contributor off the bench for the rest of the season.
—More from Aidin Ebrahimi—
- Aidin Ebrahimi’s NBA Western Conference Update: Feb 12-18
- Aidin Ebrahimi’s NBA Western Conference Update: Feb 4-11
- Aidin Ebrahimi’s NBA Western Conf. Update: Jan 28-Feb 3
- Aidin Ebrahimi’s NBA Western Conference Update: Jan 21-27
- Aidin Ebrahimi’s NBA Western Conference Update: Jan 7-20
- Aidin Ebrahimi’s NBA Western Conf Update: Dec 31-Jan 6
- Aidin Ebrahimi’s NBA Western Conf. Update: Dec 24-30
- Aidin Ebrahimi’s NBA Western Conference Update: Dec 17-23
- Aidin Ebrahimi’s NBA Western Conference Update: Dec 10-17
- Aidin Ebrahimi’s NBA Western Conference Update: Dec 3-9
- Aidin Ebrahimi’s NBA Western Conference Update Nov 19-25
- Aidin Ebrahimi’s NBA Western Conference Update: Nov 12-18
- Aidin Ebrahimi’s NBA Western Conference Update: Nov 4-11
- Aidin Ebrahimi’s NBA Western Conf. Update: Oct 29-Nov 3
- Aidin Ebrahimi’s ’23-24 Week 2 NBA Western Conf. Outlook
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