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Aidin Ebrahimi’s NBA Western Conference Update: Dec 3-9

The final game of the In-Season Tournament saw the Lakers crowned as the inaugural champs

Posted on December 11, 2023


  By Aidin Ebrahimi, SuperWest Sports

The first quarter of the 2023-24 NBA season is officially past us, and it has been a very interesting season so far.

The final game of the In-Season Tournament saw the Lakers crowned as the inaugural champs.

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.


Legacy

LeBron James

LeBron James has now added yet another honor to his trophy collection, but this time, it’s even more special. It’s always great to be the first. The first to win something.

LeBron really cares about his legacy, just like most superstars in the NBA today. In his mind, he is already the GOAT.

He said it after he fulfilled his promise to Cleveland and led the Cavaliers to their first championship in 2016, after the Lakers won the championship in 2020, and even last year after he broke the all-time scoring record as he said:

“I feel like I’m the best basketball player that ever played the game.”

But your legacy is not defined by what you think about yourself. Your legacy is defined by how others perceive you. Most people consider Michael Jordan to be the GOAT, and that’s what LeBron has been trying to change for years.

Winning the inaugural In-Season Tournament certainly won’t change that on its own, but it will provide a solid boost to his legacy. What if he wins the NBA championship this year or the next year?

If he does, he’d make a very compelling case to be the GOAT, but LeBron’s detractors will say that he won fewer rings than Jordan. Now that he has won the NBA Cup, this could prove to be the difference maker.

Michael Conroy/AP

Would you take LeBron’s five rings, NBA Cup, and 20+ years of dominance, or Jordan’s six rings and 13 years of greatness?

It’d certainly be a very interesting argument if LeBron does indeed get ring number five. This year is a golden opportunity for him to do just that.

LeBron averaged 26.8 points, 8.2 assists, and 7.5 rebounds in the six games before the final before dropping 24 points and winning the tournament’s MVP to lead his squad to victory.

He has a lot of great players around him, which is evident by the Lakers’ 11-4 record over the last 15 regular season games.

They’ll have to beat teams like the Nuggets, Clippers, Suns, Thunder, and the resurgent Timberwolves if they want to make it out of the West.

But they are easily the most experienced team among them, which could prove to be very valuable in the playoffs.


Dynamic Duo

Anfernee Simons and Shaedon Sharpe

The Blazers’ season is pretty much dead after their 0-3 record this week which dropped them to 6-15 on the year.

Simons

The only team that ever made the playoffs after starting the year off with this record was the 1996-97 Suns who were revived after they traded for Jason Kidd.

Unfortunately, it looks like the Blazers won’t make a season-saving trade as they’re tanking, but at least they have a nice young duo who should stay together for years to come.

Sharpe

Anfernee Simons returned to the lineup last week and averaged 29 points and six assists a night while shooting 43.5% from three.

Sharpe, meanwhile, averaged 25 points on 49.1% shooting from the field and 44.4% shooting from three. They managed to stay competitive against the Warriors too, which is always a good sign for a young team.

The Blazers have the young stars, they just have to make smart decisions in the coming years.


Out of Shape

Zion Williamson

Right after the Pelicans lost to the Lakers in the In-Season Tournament Semi-Final, The Times-Picayune dropped a revelation.

The newspaper reported that the Pelicans “have repeatedly stressed to Zion Williamson that his diet and conditioning need to improve,” but the No. 1 pick of the 2019 NBA draft “doesn’t listen.”

Zion looked visibly out of shape during the game and was winded early on, and it’s just sad to see him waste all of his generational athleticism for nothing.

Zion started the season off averaging 24 points a night on 56.6% shooting from the field in his first 15 games of the season, but he hasn’t played for more than 30 minutes in the four games since then.

Kyle Terada/USA TODAY Sports

Shaquille O’Neal then claimed that he used to be just like Zion, as coaches told him that he didn’t work hard enough despite nice stats.

He also said that Zion doesn’t “have that look” in him, which means he lacks the killer instinct.

Kenny Smith then asked Shaq if he was saying this because he thought a motivated Zion could be the best player in the league, to which Shaq agreed. I agree too, this guy has all the tools, but he looks like he just doesn’t care.


Frustrating

The Phoenix Suns (12-10, 1-2)

It’s really frustrating for a contender to be performing like this.

Durant

The Suns had the perfect opportunity to win the NBA championship in 2021 and 2022, but they blew both of those chances away in spectacular fashion and are now paying for it.

Yes, they have added Kevin Durant and Bradley Beal since then, but they have also lost Chris Paul, Deandre Ayton, Mikal Bridges, and Cameron Johnson.

Their big three is also very fragile, as KD has missed three games, Booker has missed nine, and Beal has missed 19.

Guys like Grayson Allen and Eric Gordon are providing a nice spark, but their numbers will inevitably plummet once Beal comes back.

Allen

And when your best bench player is 35-year-old Eric Gordon who has averaged just 8 PPG off the bench this year, you’re going to have problems.

The only way you can actually win a ring despite having a terrible bench is by having at least four outstanding stars who aren’t injury-prone. Unfortunately for the Suns, they only have three stars, and they’re all injury-prone.


Best Team of the Previous Week

The Los Angeles Lakers (14-9, 4-0)

Congratulations to the LA Lakers for winning the In-Season Tournament.

One year ago today, the Lakers were 10-15 and were 13th in the West, and now they have just won the In-Season Tournament and look like one of the most unstoppable teams in the NBA.

Despite his age and injury concerns, LeBron James proved to everyone that he’s still one of the best players on the planet on a single-game basis.

Lakers celebrate winning the NBA Cup | Candice Ward/USA TODAY Sports

Anthony Davis dropped 41 points and 20 rebounds in the final, which is the fifth 40-point and 20-rebound game of his career.

Austin Reaves has averaged 20.8 points a night over his last four games (including the final), while the team has been ranked as the league’s best overall defense since the return of Jarred Vanderbilt.


MVP of the Previous Week

Kawhi Leonard (Los Angeles Clippers)

Two weeks ago I told everyone here that Kawhi was still elite and he was not washed up in any way, shape, or form.

The Klaw proved me right by averaging 26 points, 5.7 rebounds, and 5.7 assists while shooting 56.4% from the floor, 56.3% from deep, and 7-7 from the foul line.

But it was his wins this week that were the most impressive part, as he beat the last two NBA champions the Warriors and the Nuggets before capping his week off by dropping 41 points against the Jazz.

Rick Egan/AP

That game featured a ridiculous three-point floater that perfectly showed why he’s still that guy.

The Clippers have gone 8-3 since Russell Westbrook was benched and Kawhi has led the team in scoring while doing it on elite efficiency.

Ty Lue has finally figured it out, Westbrook is the facilitator off the bench, Harden is the facilitator in the starting unit, and they can just let Kawhi and Paul George cook.




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