Welcome to the third of the Corner Three 2019-2020 NBA division-by-division season previews. In each of these previews, we use RJ Garcia’s player-by-player ratings (based on on/off metrics and career trajectory) and per-game minutes projections (taking into account potential minutes lost to injury) to project overall team quality for the upcoming season. RJ and Derek Reifer also provide their own analyses and commentary to provide any context and additional insights.
The Knicks are horrible at basketball.
Twitter is the lifeblood of the NBA.
As described by the Washington Post, it’s “a sports bar that doesn’t close, where the stars pull up a seat next to you”. According to Twitter itself, the NBA was the most tweeted-about sports league in 2018, and it’s no surprise, as the online home of the players houses more organic drama than any episode of The Bachelor. From burner accounts of superstars and GMs, to asking for trades and reacting to them, to basketball players doing what they do best – shooting their shot, fans of the NBA know there’s no way to track their favorite league quite like Twitter.
Russell Westbrook will never win an NBA title.
As takes go, this might be more mild than you first think. Westbrook is going to be 30 years old this season and the Golden State Warriors’ juggernaut continues to power on, in another Conference Finals, and with rumors of a Klay Thompson extension, showing they are prepared to plow into the luxury tax. Westbrook, though, will likely be in the top five of MVP voting once again, and is one of two players to ever average a triple double in a season (he’s now done it twice). He is a fascinating, polarizing character who challenges what the goals and expectations for an NBA team are supposed to be, and whether fans and front offices have prioritized their values in the “correct” way. What is the correct way?
Giannis Antetokounmpo might be the best player in basketball.
Of course, he also might not be, but the fact that he might be tells you enough about his talent. The 23-year-old, 6’11” tall, 7′ wingspan, every-position nightmare from Athens has more than earned his nickname “The Greek Freak”. However, the name originates more through a combination of his raw physical measurables and his hard-to-pronounce surname than his actual skill, which has grown at an incredible rate. Just the 15th pick in the 2013 draft, Giannis has panned out to an extent perhaps unimagined by even the Bucks, and more quickly than the rest of the league would wish. Giannis ranks 3rd overall in CornerThree WAR and 2nd in RPM WAR across the entire NBA, and has an extremely versatile skillset that allows him to play all 5 positions on both offense and defense. Despite this, the Bucks sit just half a game above the 8th seed in the Eastern Conference, sport a -0.3 average point differential per game, and rank 19th out of 30 in TSP, which expects them to perform at a level under that of a 38 win team in the postseason. FiveThirtyEight ranks them as the 2nd-worst team in the postseason.
Since the race for once-in-a-lifetime prospect Anthony Davis, tanking has been one of the most controversial topics in NBA conversation. The then-Bobcats aggressively lost games to put themselves in position to get the Brow, leading them to the worst winning percentage in the history of the league.
The biggest argument about tanking is usually regarding its morality, and whether a team and its fans should root for failure in order to find long term success. The league is also split on whether tanking is good for the NBA and its franchises, as shown by the failed “anti-tanking” vote that would’ve revolutionized the lottery system. However, for most NBA fans, there is little doubt that tanking is a “smart” plan. But is tanking really smart? Does it often work?
After an amazing 2013-2014 season, the unbearably long offseason is finally coming to a close. There’s a lot to look forward to this year in the NBA, with superstars on new teams, contenders adding pieces, and more squads than ever with a chance to make noise. Let’s continue with my projected standings for the Western Conference, and analysis for the teams in it: