Mixed reviews for Warriors’ pursuers
Several Western Conference squads loaded up this summer in pursuit of the powerhouse Golden State Warriors, a team heavily favoured to repeat as NBA champions.
Minnesota added Jimmy Butler, perhaps formerly the East’s best two- way player, while Oklahoma City gifted reigning MVP Russell Westbrook with both Paul George, another great two-way threat, and Carmelo Anthony, one of the pre-eminent scorers of his generation. Chris Paul, one of the best point guards, joined MVP runner-up James Harden in Houston.
It is far too early in the season to make any definitive calls, but the instant analysis show mixed results.
At 8- 5 ( all stats prior to Tuesday’s games), Minnesota is off to its best start since 2003- 04, a season that saw the Wolves win a franchiserecord 58 games and fall to the Lakers in six games in the conference finals.
Butler has taken a step back offensively (a whopping 7.7 fewer points per game than when he did everything for Chicago last year) and has not played up to his usual standards there yet, but he is taking pressure off of young franchise cornerstones KarlAnthony Towns and Andrew Wiggins. The offence has been great ( eighth in efficiency), the defence a tire fire (26th), but for once, you can see the shape of something of substance starting to emerge in Minnesota.
While Oklahoma City’s 6-7 record makes it appear to be among the biggest early disappointments, don’t be fooled. OKC actually has been solid, with three of the losses coming by four points or fewer. Aside from completely disintegrating in the clutch, the Thunder has mostly looked good, with only the Boston Celtics allowing fewer points per 100 possessions, per stats. nba.com.
Houston has been the oddest story. Despite losing Paul to injury following a onepoint win on opening night against Golden State, the Rockets roared into an 11- 3 start before Tuesday’s meeting with the Toronto Raptors.
Harden has been incredible, with recent lines of 56 points and 13 assists, 26 and 15, 35 and 13 and 38 and eight. Harden ranks first in assists per game, second in scoring, first in win shares and value over replacement player. So, can Paul help him carry the load, or will he just get in the way once he returns to action?
New Orleans made its move late last season, acquiring DeMarcus Cousins and pairing him with fellow dominant big man Anthony Davis and the results have been encouraging. The Pelicans have gone against the grain in this small- ball era by building around a pair of monstrously skilled giants.
A perennially dismal franchise is now solidly in the playoff mix, mostly thanks to Cousins and Davis. They already have a pair of games in which each notched at least 30 points and 10 rebounds, the first time a duo has managed that since Charles Barkley and Moses Malone in 1985-86.
No teammates have ever averaged 25 and 10 for an entire season and only nine have managed 20 and 10. Imagine if they ever get teammates who complement their strengths (that is, shooters).
Rockets guard James Harden briefly loses the ball under pressure from Toronto’s Pascal Siakam Tuesday night in Houston. The Raptors beat the Rockets 129-113. For a full report on the game, go to nationalpost.com/sports.