Affiliate Disclosure This post may contain affiliate links. If you make a purchase through them, we may earn a commission.

Aidin Ebrahimi’s NBA Western Conference Update: Dec 17-23

Parity abounds as the 11th-seeded Warriors are just 3.5 games behind the fourth-seeded Kings

Posted on December 24, 2023


  By Aidin Ebrahimi, SuperWest Sports

Winter is here, and the regular season is in full swing.

The 11th-seeded Warriors are just 3.5 games behind the fourth-seeded Kings, so there’s a lot of parity in the stacked Western 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.


Ja’s Back

The Memphis Grizzlies (8-19, 2-1)

He’s back, and he is hellbent on revenge. After a long 25-game suspension, Ja Morant has finally returned and the Grizzlies feel alive again.

Contrary to popular belief, this isn’t a lost season for the Grizzlies yet.

The Grizzlies are currently 13th in the West, and there have been two teams in the past two seasons who have made the playoffs from this spot at this point of the season.

The 2022-23 Lakers and the 2021-22 Pelicans were also 13th in the West in late December, and both teams managed to make the Play-In tournament.

The 2023 Lakers probably looked like the best team in the entire NBA down the stretch, and it wouldn’t be shocking to expect a similar turnaround from the Grizzlies.

Without Ja, the Grizzlies have no hope, no direction, and no purpose. But once Ja came back on the court everything changed. It’s like the players are having fun again.

Desmond Bane and Jaren Jackson Jr. looked so depressed in the first 25 games of the year as they were both trying their best to give the fans something to root for.

Mike Stewart/AP

But now they have the same energy as last year and the year before that.

Some fans are angry about the media’s positive reception to Morant’s return, but we’ve found out in the months following his initial suspension that the NBA is filled with demons.

And while he isn’t a saint, he’s far from the worst.

Morant also proved in his return game that he hasn’t lost a step on the court. He put up 34 points, six rebounds, and eight assists on 50% shooting from the field and hit the game-winning buzzer-beater against the Pelicans.

Not even the most optimistic Grizzlies fan could have imagined such a dream scenario. He followed that up by dropping 20 points and eight assists as he led his team to their ninth win of the season against the Pacers.

Those are two valuable wins against two great teams and they need to stay focused as they’ll have to hit the road for their four-game road trip.

They currently have a 7% chance of making the playoffs, and while it looks unlikely, you have to remember that in the NBA, anything is possible.


Hungover?

The Los Angeles Lakers (15-14, 0-3):

Ever since they won the inaugural In-Season Tournament on December 9, the Lakers have gone 1-5 and fans are starting to question what’s going on with this squad.

We’ve all heard of a “championship hangover” before, but we usually don’t use this term for a team that won an in-season cup competition.

Anthony Davis is still great, and so is LeBron. Austin Reaves is playing at an All-Star level and Taurean Prince is knocking down his threes, so what’s causing this poor run of form?

Lakers’ D’Angelo Russell | Jesse Johnson/USA TODAY Sports

It’s simple: D’Angelo Russell usually performs poorly in December, and since the Lakers are dependent on him as a scorer and playmaker, they struggle whenever he struggles.

Russell is averaging just 9.8 points while shooting 37.5% from the field and 27.5% from three in December, and his poor play has caused HC Darvin Ham to finally make a change.

It’s reported that Jarred Vanderbilt will start over Russell from now on, which could be the wake-up call that the former second-overall pick needs.


The Failed Experiment

Jeremy Sochan

Jeremy Sochan showed that he could be a great piece for the Spurs’ future as a rookie, as he averaged 15.5 points and 6.3 rebounds on 45.8% shooting from the field over his last 19 games last season.

Sochan

He also showed glimpses of his playmaking ability, which caused legendary Spurs HC Gregg Popovich to try an experiment: What if he started Sochan at Point Guard, a position that he had never played before in his life?

Sochan tried his best, but it was clear that he just didn’t have the playmaking ability of a Point Guard.

Sochan is a good playmaker as a Power Forward, but that’s not the main strength of his game, which makes him a poor playmaker as a Point Guard.

Popovich finally decided to pull the plug on this experiment, and now Sochan’s role with the offense is unclear.

He’s averaging just 7.1 points on dreadful shooting splits in the seven games since the end of this experiment, and it’s clear that he’s confused about his role on the team now.


Board Man Gets Paid

Trayce Jackson-Davis

Is Trayce Jackson-Davis the light at the end of the tunnel for the Warriors? The Warriors finally had a great week (which we’ll get to), and much of that is down to the play of their rookie Power Forward.

The former Indiana Hoosier averaged 19.4 points and 9.3 rebounds a night over his last three years in college, but he was overlooked and fell to the 57th overall pick of the 2023 NBA Draft.

The Warriors didn’t trust him initially, as he had to spend some time in the G-League.

Karl Mondon/Bay Area News Group

But after he averaged 17.5 points on 75.7% shooting in four games with the Santa Cruz Warriors, he was called back up to the first team and he has made the most of his most recent opportunity so far.

Jackson-Davis averaged 11.3 points and 12 rebounds a night on 16-23 shooting in his last three games and his rebounding has provided a massive spark for the Dubs.

The Warriors averaged the most rebounds a night among teams in the Western Conference last week, and they couldn’t have done it without Jackson-Davis.


Best Team of the Previous Week

The Golden State Warriors (14-14, 4-0)

Did I just reverse-jinx my favorite team?

Curry

I talked about how they weren’t good enough to contend in my last article, and while their recent play hasn’t done enough to change my pessimistic views, they were easily the best team in the West last week.

Stephen Curry averaged 26.8 points while shooting almost 50% from the field and from three, Klay Thompson is looking like his old self again and is shooting 43.2% from deep, and Chris Paul averaged 10.3 assists.

Jonathan Kuminga is also turning into this team’s X-factor, as he has scored 10+ points in each of his last eight contests while finally getting a decent number of minutes every night.

Maybe things aren’t as bad as I originally thought.


MVP of the Previous Week

Domantas Sabonis (Sacramento Kings)

Kawhi Leonard would have won this award once again under normal circumstances but a three-peat MVP of the Week winner would be a little boring, don’t you think?

Sabonis

So, I picked the next best option, Domantas Sabonis.

Sabonis averaged a triple-double last week, as he grabbed the third-most rebounds while also dishing out the third-most assists among all players in the Western Conference over his last four games.

He was also pretty good as a scorer, averaging 22.3 points on 69.1% shooting from the floor.

The Kings went 3-1 last week and they have only lost six games out of their last 21 contests. I think we can all agree that last season was not a fluke and Sabonis and the Kings are here to stay.




—More from Aidin Ebrahimi—