By Harris Hicks
Now that the light work is done in the East, it’s time to dissect the Wild West. The NBA’s Western Conference might be the richest individual sports conference seen in this decade. With so many competitive teams and copious loads of talented individuals, the Western Conference makes it difficult to choose only the 12 best players to represent the conference in New Orleans.
There are so many All-Star caliber players, and to slight anyone by leaving them off the 12 man roster is not the worst of offenses. To think that Damian Lillard, who averaged 25 and 7 last season, didn’t make the 2015-16 West All-Star team shows exactly how competitive and tight the Western conference actually is.
The decisions were very tough, but here is the team.
WESTERN CONFERENCE STARTERS
G Russell Westbrook, Oklahoma City Thunder
Stats: 30.7 PPG 10.5 RPG 10.3 APG 1.5 SPG 43% FG 29.8 PER
The year that Westbrook is having is not of this world. It seems so long ago that young Rus was just a three-star recruit coming out of high school and mere role guy on the UCLA bench until his sophomore year as a Bruin. Westbrook is on track to become the second player in NBA History to average a triple-double, with his only other company being Hall-of-Famer Oscar Roberts.
Westbrook is averaging 30.7 PPG leads the NBA, 10.3 APG (which is second-best in the league), and he is on track to become the first double-digit rebounding guard since 1963 when the Robertson did it.
Additionally, Westbrook is leading his team to a playoff birth with an abysmal supporting cast. He almost has a 30 PER which leads the NBA. Nobody thought his assists numbers would remain in double digits without Kevin Durant, but despite the lack of talent next to him, he’s still off the charts statistically. What Russell is doing right now is jaw-dropping and may never be replicated.
G James Harden, Houston Rockets
Stats: 28.4 PPG 11.7 APG 8.2 RPG 1.4 SPG 44% FG 28.0 PER
Any other year, James Harden would be the clear favorite to take home the MVP trophy, but instead he’s competing against a guy who’s averaging a triple-double and leading the NBA in scoring. However, not to be out-shown by ex-back court partner Russel Westbrook, the Beard has been making noise with his performance so far this season.
The debacle Houston had last year is well documented. With their defense downright awful and the constant friction in the locker room plaguing the team, the Rockets stumbled into the playoffs about as quietly as they exited.
Now, in 2016-17, Harden’s defense has taken a Shaq sized step up. He is by no means a glove or anything, but at least he is no longer a total liability anymore. Besides, anything that Harden lacks defensively, his offensive game more than makes up for it.
James Harden has established himself as a top two offensive player in this league. He’s responsible for the most points in the NBA. Also, Harden has added to his production is his distribution. His 11.7 APG leads the NBA.
Harden’s PER also ranks top five in the league, as he leads all SG’s in rebounding with 8.2. The Beard is the leader of a top 3 team in the West and he has his team lighting up the association.
F Kawhi Leonard, San Antonio Spurs
Stats: 24.6 PPG 5.7 RPG 3.1 APG 1.9 SPG 48% FG 28.1 PER
Year after year, Kawhi Leonard gets better and better. His productivity on the offensive end has elevated every year of his career to compliment his spectacular defensive game. On offense, Leonard is averaging 25/6/3 in just 33 minutes a game.
His defense is excellent, as always, and Leonard is well on the way to pick up another defensive player of the year trophy this season. Leonard’s passing ability has also grown as he averages three assists a game.
Kawhi’s high scoring numbers, efficient field goal percentage, ability to pass and of course his superior lockdown defense has allowed the quiet Leonard to begrudgingly transform from just another one of Pop’s guys into a full blown super-star.
F/C Anthony Davis, New Orleans Pelicans
Stats: 29.0 PPG 12.0 RPG 2.2 APG 2.5 BPG 1.3 SPG 50% FG 28.4 PER
It was a really tough deciding who should get the two starting spots between Kevin Durant, DeMarcus Cousins and Anthony Davis. Davis made the team as the best out of those three.
When you think of Durant and Cousins, you think how good they are offensively. It’s not that their bad defenders, but you don’t think of them as anchor defenders. Davis, on the other hand, is known as one of the league’s best defenders.
Besides that reputation, Davis has better offensive statistics than Durant and Cousins. His 29.0 PPG ranks second in the league, only trailing Russell Westbrook, and his 12 RPG is 6th in the league. The brow also chips in 2.46 BPG which is good for second in the NBA. When you put all of that together, Davis beats Cousins and KD.
F Kevin Durant, Golden State Warriors
Stats: 25.8 PPG 8.6 RPG 4.7 APG 1.7 BPG 1.1 SPG 54% FG 27.4 PER
It came down to Durant and Cousins for the last starting spot in the West. Both are offensive superstars thriving in their prime. However, when you look at the All-Around game that KD has, the nudge goes Durant’s way.
Averaging eight rebounds and almost five assists a game, along with career high numbers in blocks, KD has cemented his status as an all-pro player again this year. His 25.8 PPG is scored on a 54 percent shooting percentage… that’s basically unheard of.
Durant is also a catalyst on a team that has the best record in the entire association. Cousins is a great player, with undeniable offensive ability, but Durant has the All-Around qualifiers that Cousins simply does not. Pair that with the success that the Warriors are enjoying this year, and the decision is made.
WESTERN CONFERENCE RESERVES AND 6TH MAN
6th: Chris Paul, LA Clippers
17.5 PPG 9.7 APG 5.3 RPG 2.3 SPG 47% FG 27.5 PER
Chris Paul might be the most consistent point guard of this era. CP is always around the top of the league in assists, and he has a knack for getting buckets of steals. This season has been the same story. He leads the entire NBA in RPM, is sixth in the league in PER with an impressive 27.5, and his ability to excel on both ends of the floor while having a very efficient PER makes CP3 worthy of his 10th All-Star game appearance.
7th: DeMarcus Cousins, Sacramento: 28.1 PPG 10.0 RPG 4.2 APG 1.4 BPG 45% FG 27.2 PER
8th: Stephen Curry, Golden State: 24.6 PPG 6.0 APG 4.2 RPG 1.8 SPG 46% FG 23.4 PER
9th: Gordon Heyward, Utah: 22.0 PPG 5.8 RPG 3.6 APG 1.0 SPG 46% FG 22.9 PER
10th: Damian Lillard, Portland: 26.2 PPG 6.0 APG 4.8 RPG 0.7 SPG 45% FG 23.4 PER
11th: Marc Gasol, Memphis: 19.4 PPG 6.1 RPG 4.2 APG 1.4 BPG 45% FG 20.4 PER
12th: F/C Karl-Anthony Towns Jr, Minnesota: 21.8 PPG 11.9 RPG 3.0 APG 22.7 PER
Just missing the cut:
G Klay Thompson, Golden State: 21.4 PPG 3.7 RPG 2.0 APG 0.8 SPG 47% FG 16.0 PER
F Draymond Green, Golden State: 10.7 PPG 8.6 RPG 7.7 APG 2.0 SPG 45% FG 18.2 PER
F LaMarcus Aldridge, San Antonio: 17.5 PPG 7.1 RPG 2.0 APG 1 BPG 50% FG 20.1 PER
C Rudy Gobert, Utah: 12.4 PPG 12.5 RPG 2.6 BPG 0.7 SPG 66% FG 22.0 PER
Mike Conley, Memphis: 19.0 PPG 6.2 APG 3.7 RPG 1.3 SPG 44% FG 22.2 PER