With the new year upon us, I thought I'd compare each team's performance so far with preseason expectations, and highlight a few reasons for their surprising or disappointing play. I'll be comparing their current win pace to the preseason Vegas over-unders, vjl110's preseason predictions, and my own expectations. Today, the West.
- Vegas: 58.5 Wins (post-trade)
- vjl110: 10.4 Diff. (pre-trade)
- Me: 57 Wins (post-trade)
- Current Pace: 63 Wins, 8.7 Diff
What happened? Durant got better, Westbrook got better, Ibaka got better, and Kevin Martin is shooting 44% from three. I don't think they'll be as good as they could have been, but their internal improvements have been enough to cement their status as a title contender and regular season juggernaut. If they ever stop playing Kendrick Perkins, watch out. (How funny would it be for them to trade Harden because they wanted to keep the "Dwight stopper", only to have Dwight miss the playoffs?)
- Vegas: 50.5 Wins
- vj110: 5.2 Diff.
- Me: 53 Wins
- Current Pace: 46 Wins, 2.6 Diff
What happened? An absolutely brutal schedule. Now that they have one of the easiest schedules going forward, they should start racking up wins. Other than that, they can't trust any of their bigs on defense, and they don't have enough outside shooting. Yet, they are still quite good.
- Vegas: 39.5 Wins
- vjl110: 3.1 Diff
- Me: 48 Wins
- Current Pace: 42 Wins, 0.4 Diff
What happened? To quote vjl110's preseason preview, "Barring significant injury we should be in the playoffs." That says it all, really. It's amazing this team is still beating the pre-Love injury Vegas over-under.
- Vegas: 43.5 Wins
- vjl110: 0.4 Diff
- Me: 46 Wins
- Current Pace: 41 Wins, -0.6 Diff
What happened? They are 21st in defense, and Mo Williams is their only point guard. They could still sneak into the 8th seed due to every other contender for that spot being decimated by injuries, but they won't be any better than that until they learn to play defense. With the offense so reliant on Al Jefferson, that might be difficult.
- Vegas: 33.5 Wins
- vjl110: -7.7 Diff
- Me: 28 Wins
- Current Pace: 46 Wins, -1.9 Diff
What happened? With an easy schedule and a negative point differential, it's unlikely they keep up this pace. Still, Lillard has been better than expected, Batum has shown the ability to be the second perimeter playmaker I didn't think they had, and JJ Hickson has gone from being a (presumed) huge liability to a very good player.
- Vegas: 55.5 Wins
- vjl110: 8.3 Diff
- Me: 61 Wins
- Current Pace: 60 wins, 8.2 Diff
What happened? As David Bowie once sung, "Time may change me, but not San Antonio." Tim Duncan is the best center in the league this year, Tony Parker is quietly having a career year, Manu has recovered after a rocky start, and according to 82games.com, the Spurs defense is 7 points/100 possessions better when Kawhi Leonard is on the court (in a small sample size). Oh, and they're already through most of the difficult parts of their schedule.
- Vegas: 48.5 Wins
- vjl110: 6.4 Diff
- Me: 52 Wins
- Current Pace: 56 Wins, 5.7 Diff
What happened? Finally healthy, they are who we thought they were, notwithstanding a disappointing year from Rudy Gay. Conley keeps getting better, ZBo is close to his 2011 self, Tony Allen is wonderful, and Gasol is sublime. If they were in the East, they'd be co-favorites to reach the Finals. In the West, they're a clear 4th.
- Vegas: 27.5 Wins
- vjl110: 2.8 Diff
- Me: 35 Wins
- Current Pace: 22 Wins, -5.6 Diff
What happened? Here's me from the comments of vjl's preview, "The biggest concern with the Hornets is health. They are really, really thin on the perimeter. Greivis Vasquez is their only mildly competent point guard, I don’t trust Eric Gordon, their only reliable perimeter scorer, to stay healthy, I’m not an Aminu believer, and there is nothing behind them." Gordon's missed most of the season, Anthony Davis has had injury problems, and their perimeter players have been unbelievably awful, with the exception of Vasquez, whose value is very much overstated by some gaudy assist totals. More surprisingly, their defense has fallen off a cliff. They are 28th in the league right now, and I thought they'd be in the 15-20 range, which would make them respectably bad.
- Vegas: 42.5 Wins
- vjl110: 2.4 Diff
- Me: 44 Wins
- Current Pace: 30 Wins, -4.5 Diff
What happened? No Dirk, no way to compensate. Elton Brand's been worse than I expected, and the defense hasn't held up as well as I thought it might. Even with Dirk, this looks hopeless, but at least they're not stuck with Deron Williams on a 5 year deal!
- Vegas: 33.5 Wins (post-trade)
- vjl110: -4.0 Diff (pre-trade)
- Me: 41 Wins (post-trade)
- Current Pace: 49 Wins, 3.1 Diff
What happened? James Harden is a phenomenal basketball player. Over his last 17 games, he is averaging 29.5 PPG, 4.1 RPG, 5.4 APG, 2.3 SPG, and 3.0 TO on .495/.391/.885 shooting (.655 TS%), Asik improves their defense by over 10 points/100 possessions without hurting their offense, Greg Smith has come out of nowhere to become one of the most efficient players in the league, and all of their role players are playing as well or better than could be expected. They are really fun to watch, push the pace like crazy, and will be really scary in a couple years, if one of their myriad power forwards develops into a really good player.
- Vegas: 58 Wins
- vjl110: 8.2 Diff
- Me: 57 Wins
- Current Pace: 36 Wins, 1.6 Diff
What happened? Hahahahahahahahah... Ok, let me try to be an adult about this. Dwight Howard is not the defensive player he was, Pau Gasol has somehow gone from a top ten player to a liability in two years, Steve Nash has played ten games, and I guess it's not enough that Kobe's playing his best basketball in about four years. As for the rest of the team? They're really, really bad. The point differential is ok, but it's trending down, and no one except for Artest plays defense, and he's not what he used to be. It's bad.
- Vegas: 49.5 Wins
- vjl110: 3.1 Diff
- Me: 47 Wins
- Current pace: 63 Wins, 8.8 Diff
What happened? Essentially everybody on the team is playing better than expected. Paul and Griffin are better than last year, DeAndre's finally taken the leap everybody's been waiting for for two years, Odom's becoming his old self, Jamal Crawford is a good player again, Matt Barnes is having a career season, Eric Bledsoe is one of the most improved players in the league, Odom is much better than I thought he would be, and Ronny Turiaf has been fantastic. Some of those guys have to come back to earth, right? Right?
- Vegas: 30.5 Wins
- vjl110: -2.4 Diff
- Me: 25 Wins
- Current Pace: 30 Wins, -5.6 Diff
What happened? Enough talent to steal one out of every three games, but none of it being used optimally. There are useful players here, but the team is so poorly constructed and coached, it's sad. And they are being stolen, apparently. Condolences to the city of Sacramento.
- Vegas: 36.5 Wins
- vjl110: -3.8 Diff
- Me: 36 Wins
- Current Pace: 55 Wins, 2.3 Diff
What happened? I was bearish on this team because I didn't believe Bogut would stay healthy, and their best defender after him seemed to be Brandon Rush orJarrett Jack. Bogut's missed the entire season so far, as has Rush, and they're 12th in defense. I don't get it. Curry, Lee, Jack, and Landry have been fantastic, although my Klay Thompson and Harrison Barnes skepticism has been justified, and they've been lucky so far, which is good enough to probably get them into the playoffs. I just don't understand how a team giving huge minutes to three horrible rookies has been this good. Maybe David Lee's a MVP candidate. Somebody help me understand!
- Vegas: 32.5 Wins
- vjl110: -4.1 Diff
- Me: 23 Wins
- Current Pace: 27 Wins, -4.2 Diff
What happened? They're bad, and they need to commit to rebuilding ASAP. Dragic is good, and shockingly the Nash deal turned out to be a heist. Other than that, there's nothing positive to say here. Trade Gortat and Dudley for picks, and start over with Dragic and a bunch of young guys.
Who has surprised you in the West this year?