Aidin Ebrahimi’s NBA Western Conf. Outlook: Dec 27-Jan 2
Posted on December 27, 2022
As we approach the New Year, we subconsciously begin to reflect on the year that just passed, with all the good and the bad memories in between.
The 2022 season was a fantastic year for basketball fans, and we hope that 2023 can be just as good, if not better.
So as always, here is my preview of this upcoming week’s NBA action, as well as a look at the previous week’s best team and MVP.
What did they want for Christmas?
The Phoenix Suns (19-15, 0-3)
After a 15-6 start to the season, the Suns have fallen off big time. Most of this is down to Devin Booker’s injuries.
Booker started the season as an early MVP candidate, averaging 29 points per game while shooting 49% from the field in his first 22 games. However he only averaged 15 points and shot 35% from the field in his next 4 games, and it was clear that something was off.
Booker was ruled out for a couple of games with a hamstring injury, he then exploded for 58 points against the Pelicans, but missed three games due to a new groin injury.
Finally, he was ready to go on Christmas day in Denver. However, he re-aggravated his groin injury less than 5 minutes into the contest. Without Booker, the Suns are completely hopeless, going 1-4.
This has been the case even before this season, as Phoenix has a record of 24-59 without their star man since he was drafted in 2015.
The last time the Suns beat a championship contender without Booker was December 10, 2021, when they beat the eventual eastern champions Celtics.
But here’s the catch: That Celtics team hadn’t figured things out yet and entered that game with a 13-13 record. Also Jaylen Brown didn’t suit up for that game.
So if we don’t count that game against Boston, the last time that the Suns beat a healthy, contending team without Devin Booker was…January 12, 2019, when they beat the Nuggets.
To put that into perspective, only two Suns players who played in that game are still members of the Phoenix roster—rookies DeAndre Ayton and Mikal Bridges.
The Suns desperately need Booker to stay healthy if they want to have a chance at winning a championship, or even making the playoffs in this brutal Western Conference. All Phoenix wanted for Christmas is a healthy Devin Booker for the rest of the season.
The Los Angeles Lakers (13-20, 0-3)
A Russell Westbrook trade would be…
• A magical potion that turns LeBron into a three-point sniper (“The King” has only made 26% of his three-point attempts in his last ten games)
• A robotic clone of Anthony Davis that will never get injured
• A version of Dennis Schröder that makes a positive impact on the floor (once again, despite putting up solid raw numbers, Schröder is averaging a negative Plus/Minus per 100 possessions)
• A version of Patrick Beverley that’s actually good, someone that can restore Kendrick Nunn’s right knee to what it was before joining the Lakers
• Another magical potion that can turn Scotty Pippen Jr. into the prime version of his father, the Pelicans suddenly becoming generous and letting the Lakers keep all of their picks (New Orleans can swap two out of their next three picks for the Lakers’ picks)
• A witch that can somehow put the Lakers below the salary cap (LA is paying 170 million dollars to their players this year, almost 50 million over the cap)
• And a partridge in a pear tree.
Jokes aside, the Lakers are doomed, and so is LeBron. Had he not signed that extension, he could have left after this season.
He could have returned to “The Land” or even returned to “South Beach”, but unfortunately for LeBron, he’ll have to stick to making movies in Hollywood for now.
A Golden Opportunity
With the 28th pick in the 2019 NBA draft, the Golden State Warriors selected Jordan Poole, from Michigan. Poole was solid, yet unspectacular at the collegiate level, but had bags of potential.
He was supposed to be a guy who provided a spark off the bench for the Warriors, but then Steph Curry went down with a major hand injury that essentially ended the Warriors’ season right then and there.
So all of a sudden, Jordan Poole was thrust into the starting lineup and was asked to salvage Golden State’s season.
As a Warriors fan, I closely followed that team to check up on D’Angelo Russell (before he was traded) and Golden State’s “youngsters” like Damion Lee, Kyran Bowman, Eric Paschall, Omari Spellman, and Alen Smailagić.
Yeah, that was a terrible time to be a Warriors fan. Anyway, at that time I absolutely despised Jordan Poole. He was always shooting 3-11 from the floor every single game.
And they still kept giving him minutes because Golden State needed to tank for James Wiseman. But towards the end of that season from hell, something unexpected happened.
Jordan Poole became competent. In his last 13 games, he averaged 14 points and shot the ball efficiently. And the rest is history.
Now, Poole is in a slightly similar situation. Steph is out, but not for too long. His team is underachieving, but he has All-Star-level talent all around him.
This is a Golden opportunity for Jordan Poole to solidify himself as an All-Star level player for years to come, and it looks like he’s already making the most of it, as he has averaged 28.5 points in Steph’s absence.
If Poole can keep this level of production up, he can become a legitimate 2023 All-Star candidate.
Is This the Final Year?
Gregg Popovich’s deal with the San Antonio Spurs expires after this season. So will 2023 be the final year that we see Gregg Popovich as San Antonio’s head coach?
Popovich has a Hall of Fame induction ready for him at the end of the season regardless, since a new rule allows coaches who have worked on a professional level for at least 25 years and reached the minimum age of 60 can be considered for the Hall of Fame.
Popovich may want to make history as an active inductee, so he might stick around for another season, but with the way that this season is going for San Antonio right now, honestly, what’s the point?
You’ve done it all Pop, so don’t ruin your win/loss stats, and just enjoy your retirement…Unless you can get Victor Wembanyama, he’s so good that he can turn the Spurs into a Playoff team overnight.
Best Team of the Previous Week
The Denver Nuggets (21-11, 4-0)
Nikola Jokic might just win his third MVP in a row. That’d make him the first man since the legend himself Larry Bird to earn back-to-back-to-back MVP honors.
“The Joker” averaged 31 points, 16 rebounds, and 12 assists this week. At this point, we’re not even surprised. Aaron Gordon also had an incredible week, putting up 21 points and grabbing 9 rebounds a night while shooting 61% from the field.
They destroyed the Grizzlies without Jamal Murray and Michael Porter Jr, and when the two returned to the lineup, they rolled past the Blazers. After a 10-7 start to the 2022-23 campaign, Denver has gone 11-4, and they have won 7 out of their last 8 games.
They have proven that they are a force to be reckoned with.
MVP of the Previous Week
Luka Doncic (Dallas Mavericks)
I can’t believe that this is the first time that I have named Luka as my MVP of the previous week, but that just shows how talented the league is at the moment.
Luka ended the week putting up 36 points and 9 rebounds and 10 assists per contest, while shooting 55% from the field and 45% from three-point range.
He led the Mavs to a 3-0 record in the last seven days, which included a memorable game at Houston where Luka dropped 50 points to beat the Rockets by six.
But there’s a massive problem here, one of your players scores 50 and you beat the 2022-23 Houston Rockets, a team that’s very clearly tanking, by six points? That’s very concerning.
The Mavs are a Playoff team with Luka, and they are nothing without Luka, plain and simple. Get this man some help.
—More from Aidin Ebrahimi—
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