While this year is ostensibly for rebuilding the Jazz franchise around the youth, another unstated but obvious goal is to get a potential future superstar in the draft. This post is just touching on a couple of side-benefits of "rebuilding" in the current season with the likes of RJ, JLIII, and Mr. Beans getting more than garbage time minutes.
First, the West is once again a brutally competitive conference. As I write this, the eighth seed in the conference is currently 14-10, a win percentage of .583. Golden State is one game out of a playoff spot at 13-12. The Lakers and Minnesota are 2.5 games back at 12-13. Memphis, which made it to the conference finals and finished 56-26 last year, is currently 10-14 and in 13th place. Phoenix, Denver, Dallas, Golden State, New Orleans, Minnesota, Los Angeles, and Memphis are all battling for the 6 through 8 seeds. It is definitely plausible that teams with final records of 45-37 will miss out on the playoffs in the West.
Conversely, the East is very bad. Indiana and Miami are title contenders. Every other team is mediocre to terrible. The 3rd seed Atlanta Hawks would be in 9th place in the West. No other team is even .500. Boston, widely speculated as a bottom five team preseason, is currently the four seed.
So, why do we care?
- An alternate reality 2013-14 Jazz team with Millsap and a capable backup point guard instead of RJ, JLIII, and Beans would struggle to make the playoffs this year. The West is brutal, and even with a good bench, the Jazz would not be .500 this year.
- The unbalanced NBA schedule means that the Jazz play the Western teams 52 times out of the 82 games. That’s good for some extra losses against good teams that we wouldn’t experience in the East. In contrast, Milwaukee and Philadelphia, our top competitors, have 52 games against the putrid East. Each extra game they play against each other and other Eastern mediocrities forces someone to win a game, increasing their records. It is harder to lose in the East than the West.
- The Jazz historically play badly on their Eastern conference road trips. We’ve already gone 0-4 on our first swing through, and we’ll see how this 5 game roadie plays out. But based on our past, we may continue to lose badly on the road, even against teams that are bad.
The Western Conference will help us to finish with a worse record than equally bad Eastern Conference teams. If we finish with the worst or second worst record, we are guaranteed a top five pick. With the third worst record, there is only a four percent change of not picking the top five. That jumps to 17% at fourth, and 47% at fifth.
And next year, the conference may not be as imposing as it is this year, especially with some extra talent in hand. The Spurs have to show their collective age at some point, as do the Lakers and the Grizzlies. Golden State will get injured and can’t pay Harrison Barnes. Phoenix will miss out on the extra piece they need to be a title contender. Portland is going to have pay big sums to keep Aldridge and Lillard. Nowitzki is old. Minnesota is capped out. Admittedly, Houston, the Clippers, and Oklahoma City look to remain very good for awhile, but one key injury to anyone on those teams and they don’t have the depth to remain contenders.
In conclusion, this certainly appears to be a great year to be bad in the Western Conference.