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Aidin Ebrahimi’s NBA Western Conference Update: Jan 7-20

At the start of the season, who would have thought the Timberwolves would be in first place?

Posted on January 21, 2024


  By Aidin Ebrahimi, SuperWest Sports

The halfway point of the 2023-24 NBA season is here.

This has been one of the most unexpected seasons in recent memory. At the start of the season, who would have thought the Timberwolves would be in first place?

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.


Heartbreak

The Memphis Grizzlies (15-26, 3-3)

When Ja Morant stepped back onto the court this season, I knew we were about to witness history.

The Grizzlies were 6-19 before Ja’s return, but right after he hit that game-winner against the Pelicans to give the Grizz their seventh win of the campaign, hope returned to the “Grind City.”

We had already seen the 2022-23 Lakers and the 2021-22 Pelicans make the playoffs after terrible starts to the season, and Morant had won over 64% of his games over the last two seasons.

So making the Play-In Tournament or even the playoffs was not impossible. Yes, they needed a lot of things to go their way, but there was still a chance.

Morant would lead the Grizzlies to a 6-3 record in his first nine games back, which was a winning percentage of 66.7%.

Assuming that he would have stayed healthy for the rest of the season and kept up the same winning percentage, Memphis would have won 31 out of their last 47 games, ending the season with a 43-39 record.

That record would have essentially guaranteed them a spot in the Play-In Tournament at the very least.

Grizzlies’ Ja Morant | Brandon Dill/AP

Unfortunately for Grizzlies fans though, Morant would dislocate his shoulder during a team practice which ended his season after just nine games. All that hope, all that hype, gone because of a practice injury.

As if things couldn’t get any worse, Desmond Bane and Marcus Smart would suffer injuries not long after which could see them out of action for two months.

The Grizzlies also don’t have Steven Adams and Brandon Clarke, so they’re putting out some of the worst lineups in NBA history to play with Jaren Jackson Jr. But this could be a good thing for them.

They still have their draft pick, so they can either draft a stud or they could use this pick to acquire a star player from another team.

This injury crisis might be terrible for Grizzlies fans right now, but years down the line we could be talking about these unfortunate events as the trials this core had to go through to finally become a real contender.

The Golden State Warriors (18-22, 1-4)

Let’s be honest, this has been an absolute train wreck of a season for the Warriors.

The team is 12th in the Western Conference, the veterans are playing poorly, the young players like Jonathan Kuminga have reportedly “lost faith” in Steve Kerr, and the fans are livid that the team failed to trade for Pascal Siakam.

But putting all of that aside, the worst thing that has happened to this team this season has to be the sudden passing of assistant coach Dejan Milojevic.

Dejan Milojevic | Darren Yamashita/USA TODAY Sports

Milojevic was a very skilled player in Europe, and after he retired he quickly rose up the ranks and became a head coach.

He coached many future NBA players like Timothe Luwawu, Ivica Zubac, Goga Bitadze, and the one and only Nikola Jokic.

He joined the Warriors as an assistant coach and was very impressive, and he was quickly on his way to becoming a future NBA head coach.

Sadly, he was taken from us way too soon at the age of 46. By all accounts, Milojevic was not just a great basketball mind, but also a great human being, and the basketball world will miss him dearly.


Crashed Back Down to Earth

The Houston Rockets (19-21, 1-5)

The Rockets shocked everyone with their 13-9 start to the season, and their suffocating defense was a major part of their success.

However, their inconsistent offense was bound to haunt them eventually, and they have only won six games since December 17.

Sengun

Dillon Brooks’ absence hurt their defense too, as the charismatic “villain” missed nine games which contributed to some blowout losses against playoff teams like Minnesota and Phoenix.

Alperen Sengun has been excellent, but the players around him simply aren’t scoring enough to take advantage of their defense.

Jalen Green has averaged 16.8 points on 14.4 shots a night over his last 18 games, while Jabari Smith Jr. still isn’t aggressive enough.

However, I still don’t think that they should go after a scorer at the trade deadline. They should try and work on the flaws of their current players, much like what OKC did last year.


The Biggest Surprise

The Minnesota Timberwolves (30-11, 5-2)

I don’t think many people had the Minnesota Timberwolves being on top of the Western Conference after 41 games on their preseason bingo card, but here we are.

Anthony Edwards has taken the superstar leap and is averaging 26.1 points a night this season while also shooting the ball better than ever.

“The Stifle Tower” Rudy Gobert is back to being a dominant force on defense, while Karl-Anthony Towns has the sixth-highest True Shooting percentage among players with 600+ shot attempts (63.1%).

Timberwolves center Karl-Anthony Towns | Mike Watters/USA TODAY Sports

But the true reason for their success has been their defense. They’re the better version of the Rockets; a dominant defense that can actually outscore their opponents on the offensive end.

Towns has always been criticized for his lack of defensive effort, but he has been great on defense this year.

Other pieces like Mike Conley, Naz Reid, and Jaden McDaniels are playing great as well, and the Wolves could be darkhorse contenders come playoff time.


Best Team of the Previous Two Weeks

The Utah Jazz (22-21, 5-1)

Just a few weeks ago my fellow Warriors fans were talking about how the Jazz were going to blow their roster up and how the Dubs should make a move for Lauri Markkanen.

Markkanen

But now the Jazz have a winning record and are above the Warriors in the standings.

The Finnish star led his squad convincingly over the last six games, averaging 26 points and 10.7 rebounds a night while shooting 51.8% from the field and 48.6% from three.

Collin Sexton was great too, but we’ll talk about him later. Jordan Clarkson is great when his shots are falling, and he couldn’t miss from deep in his last six games, shooting 41.2% from three-point range.

The likes of Kris Dunn, Walker Kessler, and Kelly Olynyk also played effectively and efficiently and are a big part of their recent success.


MVPs of the Previous Two Weeks

Collin Sexton (Utah Jazz)

Collin Sexton started the season averaging just 12.3 points a night over his first 22 games, but when Jordan Clarkson went down with a short-term injury in December, Sexton got an opportunity to prove himself.

Sexton

It’s safe to say that he’s made the most out of this opportunity, as he has averaged 22.3 points a night on 52.3% shooting from the floor and 41.9% shooting from deep.

Over the last two weeks, he scored more points (149) than his number of minutes played (146).

And no, this isn’t the return of Cleveland Collin Sexton, because Cleveland Collin Sexton was a ball hog who couldn’t contribute to winning basketball games.

Sexton had an average plus/minus of +10.5 over the last two weeks and has shown that he’s now a better decision-maker who uses his energy with a purpose.

Will Hardy and Danny Ainge are building something special in Utah, just give them some time.




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