Mixed re­views for War­riors’ pur­suers

The rest of the West is a bit of a puz­zle so far this sea­son

Saskatoon StarPhoenix - - SPORTS - RYAN WOL­STAT rwol­stat@post­media.com twit­ter.com/Wol­statSun

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 to ever play the game, 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 of the moves shows mixed re­sults.

Sit­ting 8-5, Min­nesota is off to its best start since 2003-04, a sea­son that saw the Wolves win a fran­chise-record 58 games but fall to the Los An­ge­les 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 with Min­nesota yet, but he is tak­ing pres­sure off young fran­chise cor­ner­stones Karl-An­thony Towns and An­drew Wig­gins.

The of­fence has been great, ranked eighth in ef­fi­ciency as of Tues­day, but the de­fence is a tire fire at 26th — still, you can see the shape of some­thing of sub­stance start­ing to emerge.

While Ok­la­homa City’s 6-7 record makes the Thun­der ap­pear to be among the big­gest early dis­ap­point­ments, don’t be fooled. OKC has been solid, with three of their losses com­ing by four points or fewer.

Aside from com­pletely dis­in­te­grat­ing in the clutch — un­like in 2016-17, when West­brook boosted his MVP case by clos­ing con­tests like prime Michael Jor­dan — the Thun­der have mostly looked good, with only the Boston Celtics al­low­ing fewer points per 100 pos­ses­sions go­ing into Tues­day’s games, per stats. nba.com.

Hous­ton has been the od­dest story. De­spite los­ing Paul to in­jury fol­low­ing open­ing night’s one-point win 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 ac­tu­ally help him carry the load, or will he just get in the way once he returns to ac­tion?

Tied with the T-Wolves go­ing into Tues­day are the San An­to­nio Spurs, and a half-game back at 8-6 are the New Or­leans Pel­i­cans and the Den­ver Nuggets.

Jimmy But­ler

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