8 Things No One Saw Coming (Western Conference)

Monty’s Crew. Only four teams (Houston, Milwaukee, Brooklyn, New Orleans) score more points than the Phoenix Suns. The Suns are 1st in field goal percentage and assists, 3rd in three point percentage, and Monty Williams has the Suns giving effort on defense. The Suns are middle of the pack as opposed to last year’s almost dead to last defense that quit most nights. Devin Booker may finally get that All-Star berth he has so coveted. Aron Baynes has been a shocker on offense- who knew? Dario Saric stretches the floor, and Ricky Rubio keeps the offense humming. This Phoenix bunch are an exciting League Pass watch and should win 75% of their home games. The road is where they will come back to earth.

Shai.   When he was traded for Paul George, Shai Gilgeous-Alexander was expected to build upon his rookie year with the Clippers which was a solid start: 11 points, 47% shooting, 9 shots ppg. No one penciled him in for a 20 ppg scorer and shooting 40% from three. He is the best player on the Thunder, a 21 year old 6-5 shooting guard. How good has he been? 50% in the 4th quarter and 40% from three, numbers Russell Westbrook couldn’t top last year in OKC. It’s clear that when Chris Paul is traded, the mandate will be to build around Shai.

Supermania. Shaquille O’Neal was annoyed at Dwight Howard stealing his Superman nickname and not producing on the offensive end. But these days Shaq is okay with Howard because Howard is balling in the paint. He’s blocking shots, getting offensive boards, hitting the opponent with cheapshots without begging for his touches.  He has been an energy presence and a good teammate. Howard is one of the reasons the Lakers are second in defensive efficiency.

Kawhi’s 64. Rumor has it that the promise the Clippers agreed to with their max free agent was that Kawhi Leonard would only play 64 games. The other 18 games  would have to be manipulated away by calling it load management. I call it b.s. Pretending Leonard is hurt when he isn’t is a slick way of trying to preserve Leonard for June but it pisses off the basketball gods. The Clippers will feel the wrath. Something bad is coming.

Welcome to Normal. When dynasties end they drop off the face of the earth. The Warriors last title (2018) feels light years away. This season, they are dependent upon D’Angelo Russell and second round pick Eric Paschall. The Warriors are a mediocre offense, a terrible shooting team, incompetent at the three. They are last in shot blocking, next to last in defense. They are the corpse to the beautiful game. Rest In Peace.

Wait No More. Brandon Ingram has been awesome so far.  But it’s not like this version of Brandon Ingram wasn’t expected. He was the #2 pick in the 2016 NBA Draft.  And then trouble. His development was molasses slow. He was injured. Or, he disappeared in games. Or, he was too passive. Or, he went on a dominant streak only to disappear again. Ingram had so many narratives. He couldn’t just pick one and stick to it. In NOLA, he is balling. 26 points. 7 rebounds. 45% 3-point percentage. Hello All-Star game in Chicago.

Where did it Go? Did Mike Conley lose his game on the flight from Memphis to Salt Lake? In Utah, he looks like a totally different player. Translation: father time cometh. Conley can’t make shots anymore. His passing is still crisp and his defensive rating is a solid 103 but where is the Mike Conley who made timely threes, went to the cup, pushed his man off the dribble and scored? He looks like an old school can’t shoot but has an offensive rating of 97  point guard. He has freed up Donovan Mitchell. Give him points for that. The Jazz though need Conley’s offense and his ability to make Mitchell better. This ain’t cutting it. 36% on jump shots. 26% in the 4th quarter.

Rip City WTF? The last we saw of the Portland Trailblazers they were losing in the Western Conference Finals. Their offseason was spent doing busy work. They signed Rodney Hood. They traded for big man Hassan Whiteside who was a pain in the you know what in Miami. Finally, the Blazers had front court help. And then the season started. Zach Collins hurt his shoulder. The defense is a disaster. Dame is doing his thing, 32 points, 39% from three, because he has to. C.J. McCollum is not C.J. McCollum. His 3-ball reeks. He has an offensive rating of 95. Whiteside is doing his part, 15 and 12, but the Blazers need more from Rodney Hood (10 ppg) and Kent Bazemore, who is shooting bricks. The kid, Anfernee Simons, has been a breath of fresh air but he can’t be, at times, the best player on the floor. In no one’s world should the Blazers be 4-7.