Blakely: Five Western Conference players who’ll make biggest impact
Five Western Conference players who’ll make biggest impact
BOSTON – On paper, the Western Conference should be a cakewalk for the Golden State Warriors who serve as yet another example of the exceedingly rich getting obnoxiously richer when it comes to basketball talent.
Already a title contender going into the summer, the Warriors all but sealed their deep postseason destiny to get back to the NBA Finals for what would be a third year in a row, by adding Kevin Durant.
While Golden State adding Durant certainly garnered the most attention (the Celtics were also on Durant’s short list), other teams besides the Warriors added veteran superstars from other teams.
Here’s a look at five players out West, who are on a different roster than a year ago, and why these veteran ballers have the potential to be high-impact, difference-making signings.
5. Harrison Barnes, F, Dallas
Barnes didn’t have the kind of playoff run with Golden State that he would have liked, but this is a player who has been on a number of team’s radar for years because of his talent, versatility and upside that we saw in flashes throughout his time with the Warriors. In Dallas, Barnes will finally get a chance to have more of a starring role rather than being the supporting cast member he was in Golden State while two-time MVP Stephen Curry along with all-stars Klay Thompson and Draymond Green, garnered most of the headlines. Of course the Mavericks are still Dirk Nowitzki’s team, but the 6-8 Barnes will be looked upon to be that No. 2 guy. Despite a limited role with the Warriors, Barnes’ scoring average has increased in each of his four NBA seasons. And with him being such a bigger focal point of the offense, it stands to reason that he’ll continue that trend in Dallas. He’s also a career 35.5 percent shooter from 3-point range, and drills better than 40 percent of his 3s in catch-and-shoot sets. Throw in the fact that he has a wingspan that has been measured at more than 7-feet, Dallas has a player who can cause problems in post-up situations as well as be an adequate defender who can contest shots even when out of position due to his length. And then there’s head coach Rick Carlisle, one of the best at getting the most out of his players. In Carlisle’s system, Barnes should find success individually as well as for a Dallas team that should once again find itself nailing down one of the last two or three playoff spots.
4. Kevin Durant, F, Golden State
Unless you’ve been under a rock all summer or live on one of those earth-like planets that’s light years away, you already know that Kevin Durant’s taking his game to the Bay Area this season to supersize an already star-studded Golden State team. Without Durant, the Warriors were the NBA’s next best thing to the defending champ Cleveland Cavaliers. With Durant, Golden State should leap-frog LeBron James and company and win it all this season. That’s why Durant isn’t higher on this list. There’s no question that Golden State has a greater stable of talent by adding the former league MVP. But in terms of where they were before he joined them, Durant doesn’t really move the needle as much as some other offseason additions have to their respective teams. That said, Durant’s impact on the Golden State and the NBA as a whole, is undeniable.
3. Chandler Parsons, F, Memphis
There were quite a few of us scratching our heads when Parsons, who was unable to finish this past season out due to a knee injury (for the second year in a row) in Houston, opted out of the final year of his contract to become a free agent. Health injuries aside, the 6-10 forward had plenty of suitors and eventually signed a four-year, $94.8 million max deal with the Memphis Grizzlies. That’s because when healthy (and that’s becoming a bigger “if” with him as time passes), he’s one of the best players in the NBA. This past season he had a two-month stretch (January-February) when he shot nearly 50 percent from 3-point range as the Mavericks rallied to earn a playoff berth for the third straight year. So, much of Parsons’ success hinges on his ability to stay healthy. Having had his past two seasons end prematurely, expect Parsons to end that trend this season and help the Grizzlies move up a couple spots and contend for home court advantage in the first round of the playoffs.
2. Evan Turner, G/F, Portland
The Blazers certainly added some versatility, talent and depth with the Turner signing. As we saw first-hand in Boston, the 6-foot-6 Turner is a jack-of-all-trades when you look at what he brings to the floor as a ball-handler, decision-maker and maybe most significant, a calming presence when the game is on the line. As much as the Celtics relied on him to provide those particular skills, it’s yet to be determined how Turner’s game will mesh with All-Star Damian Lillard and blossoming star C.J. McCollum, who was last season’s Most Improved player. Turner was at his best when he had the ball in his hand, something that won’t happen as much with Lillard and McCollum around. But in the Western Conference, depth often trumps defined roles which is why this signing was so significant in terms of its impact. Portland had the fifth-best record in the West last season and will very much be in the thick of things when it comes to hosting a first-round playoff series. And Turner, a key cog in the Celtics’ turnaround the past two seasons, will certainly be a key player in the Blazers’ success going forward.
1. Joe Johnson, G/F, Utah
The Jazz are not among the elite teams in the NBA let alone the Western Conference. But of the non-playoff teams from a year ago, Utah appears to be the one best suited to make that all-important leap from lottery contender to playoff team with Johnson in the fold. He has 101 playoff games (95 starts) under his belt which more than triples the total number of playoff games (33) for Utah’s returners. In addition to Johnson, the Jazz also acquired Boris Diaw and George Hill during the offseason who have appeared in 108 and 75 playoff games, respectively. Johnson isn’t the same elite scorer that led to him being a seven-time all-star (2007-2012, 2014). But his experience and ability to find ways to impact the game remain alive and well. In Miami’s 106-73 Game 7 win over Charlotte in the first round of the playoffs last season, Johnson only had nine points (3-for-10 shooting) but his plus/minus for the game was +33 – identical to Miami’s margin of victory. Adding him to a mix that includes borderline all-star Gordon Hayward, emerging star Rodney Hood, defensive nemesis Rudy Gobert not to mention Derrick Favors, veteran newcomers George Hill and Boris Diaw not to mention a healthy Dante Exum, Utah has a much better balance of young up-and-coming talent combined with experienced, battle-tested veterans. Having finished just one game out of the eighth and final playoff spot, look for the Jazz to return to the postseason for the first time since 2012 with the play of Johnson being one of the main keys to their turnaround.