Blakely: A very early look at potential Western Conference All-Stars
BOSTON – This NBA offseason has been a game-changer with the West become even wilder with a trio of Eastern Conference all-stars – Paul George, Jimmy Butler and Paul Millsap all playing in a Western Conference that was already overstocked with all-star talent.
And they could potentially become even more star-studded if the New York Knicks move Carmelo Anthony out that way (Houston?), or Cleveland’s Kyrie Irving gets his wish to be traded.
And while the All-Star game is months away, it’s never too early to start looking at the players whose talents heading into the season will keep them firmly entrenched in the conversation as to who the best players in the NBA will be this year.
Russell Westbrook, Oklahoma City: The NBA’s reigning league MVP has some added firepower with the addition of Paul George, but don’t get it twisted. This is still Westbrook’s team and while he may not average a triple-double like he did this past season, he will still dominate most games and put up big numbers and more likely than not, win more games this season.
Stephen Curry, Golden State: The Warriors didn’t blink when it was time to show Curry the money this summer. The two-time league MVP will continue to deliver in a big way for the Warriors who will once again be an overwhelming favorite to win a third NBA title in the last four seasons.
Kevin Durant, Golden State: The NBA Finals MVP got what he came for in Year 1 with the Warriors – an NBA title. Now he learns firsthand the only thing harder than winning one, is defending it. Like Curry, Durant will also put up huge numbers scoring the ball but his impact defensively was huge for Golden State and it will once again be a major factor in their quest to repeat as champions.
Kawhi Leonard, San Antonio: The best two-way talent in the NBA continues to lead a Spurs team that’s going to be among the best in the NBA. Leonard has steadily improved his offensive game to the point where he can get buckets in just about any matchup and then come down at the other end of the floor and shut you down. You would be hard-pressed to find a more complete player in the NBA.
Karl Anthony-Towns, Minnesota: While Jimmy Butler’s arrival will draw most of the headlines, watch out for the Big K.A.T. He has tremendous size, skills to impact the game at both ends of the floor and with the arrival of Butler, the pressure to lead isn’t nearly as great for him as it was previously
James Harden, Houston: You really could throw Harden, Curry and Westbrook’s names into a hat, pick two to be starters and be totally good with whatever random outcome you get. But fans pick the starters with Chris Paul now playing alongside Harden, look for that to likely take some of the shine away from Harden more so than the addition of Paul George to Oklahoma City impacting Westbrook. Regardless, Harden is one of the best players in the NBA and will once again be a member of the Western Conference’s all-star team.
Mike Conley, Memphis: In what will once again be the deepest position out West when it comes to All-Stars, this man is more than due to officially be an All-Star. The Grizzlies aren’t expected to be among the elite in the West, but Conley’s growth will make them a playoff contender. And with some of the team’s aging veterans with other teams now, more of the scoring responsibility will fall upon his shoulders. There will be no shortage of quality options for coaches here, but this should be the year when Conley finally breaks through to earn his first career all-star appearance.
Anthony Davis, New Orleans: The voting will be close between him and Karl Anthony-Towns for the starting nod this year, but Davis’ chances will be hurt by K.A.T. playing for what should be a better team, and Davis playing in the frontcourt with another All-Star caliber big in DeMarcus Cousins. I’m curious to see how they mesh with a full training camp under their belt. Regardless, Davis still ranks among the most talented big men in the NBA.
Paul George, Oklahoma City: New team, same role as one of the best two-way talents in the NBA. Playing with Westbrook will definitely be an adjustment for George, but so will the prospect of playing for a team that can get to the playoffs and actually be good enough to win a round or two. This change of scenery should inspire George to play some of the best basketball of his career, good enough to keep him among the game’s elite and more important, put him exactly where he wanted to be when he demanded a trade – playing for a contender.
DeMarcus Cousins, New Orleans: Yes, he picks up a ton of technical fouls and yes, he does things that makes you shake your head and wonder, ‘what the hell was he thinking?’ But there is no denying that Cousins’ ability to score, rebound and (when motivated) defend, sets him apart from just about every center in the NBA. If the Pelicans struggle badly, don’t be shocked if Cousins gets passed over for someone like Draymond Green of Golden State, Rudy Gobert of Utah or maybe even Harrison Barnes whose Dallas squad seems poised for an improvement over last season.
Jimmy Butler, Minnesota: Of all the offseason moves made, few rival the impact that Butler should have on the Timberwolves. He’s reunited with Tom Thibodeau who was his first coach in Chicago, the man who really helped put Butler on the NBA radar. Butler will be charged with leading a talented but extremely young Timberwolves team, into the playoffs this season. Putting them on that course leading up to the break should be more than enough to secure an all-star spot for Butler.
Klay Thompson, Golden State: Often the forgotten one, Thompson remains one of the most under-rated two-way talents in the NBA. He can shoot with the best of them on a night-in, night-out basis. And defensively he’s often tasked with defending the opposing team’s best perimeter player. There will be a number of others in the mix for this all-star spot, such Houston’s Chris Paul and Portland’s Damian Lillard. But it’s Thompson’s ability to have a significant impact on the game at both ends of the floor, is what gives him a slight edge over the remaining field when it comes to one of the last coveted all-star spots.