This season, the disparity in talent between in the Western Conference and Eastern Conference is staggering. The Eastern Conference is driven by a pair of elite teams (Miami Heat and Indiana Pacers), three teams that are “nice stories” (Toronto Raptors, Washington Wizards and Charlotte Bobcats), and two teams that have underachieved for the season, but are currently turning heads with their improved play (Chicago Bulls and Brooklyn Nets).
In the West, there are nine quality teams. At the top are four of the six best teams in the league: the San Antonio Spurs, Oklahoma City Thunder, Houston Rockets and Los Angeles Clippers. I highly doubt that the Blazers can pull out a seven-game series, with either the Clippers or Rockets waiting to take them on in the 4-5 matchup, so that’s why they’re not included among the big boys out West.
When the playoffs come around, we’ll be begging for the Conference Finals in the Eastern Conference, suffering through two rounds of incompetence. However, in the West, we’ll be at the edge of our seats from from round one. Foundational players will either add or detract from their respective legends, while rotational guys will either be exposed, go (relatively) unnoticed or become household names.
Strangely enough, all four of the elite teams in the Western Conference have similar foundations. For the most part, every good team in the NBA can be broken down by their foundational players and their rotational players. Look at the top three players of the top four teams in the West, and you tell me what they have in common:
So, did you figure out what all three core’s have in common? Need some more time? Well, you can’t have it.
Okay, here it is.
1. All four teams have either a number one overall pick or a second overall pick: Duncan was No. 1 in 1997, Durant went second in 2006, Griffin went first in 2009, and Howard went first in 2004 (drafted by the Orlando Magic).
2. All four teams have a second lottery player or 15th overall in their core (Leonard screwed this one up): Leonard went 15th overall in 2011, Westbrook went fourth overall in 2008, Paul went fourth overall in 2005 (drafted by the Charlotte Hornets), and Harden went third overall in 2009.
3. All four teams have a core player who was either taken near the end of the first round, or in the second round: Parker went 28th overall in 2001 (last pick of the first round), Ibaka went 24th overall in 2008, Jordan went 35th overall in 2008 and Parsons went 38th overall in 2011.
For the most part, we as fans already know about all of these guys. Most of them are current or future All-Stars, and since this is a star’s league, we have these guys down pat. When the playoffs finally roll around, we will start to learn about the rotational guys, as writers across the country will start to throw out labels like “The Next Bruce Bowen,” “The Second Coming of Jason Terry,” and “The Evolutionary Rick Fox.”
When a role player becomes a winner, all of a sudden something happens to them. They become glorified, compared to an ex-Celtic or Laker and they become household names (like J.J Barea…who has since fallen off the face of the Earth).
With that, here are the rotational players who you could be hearing a lot about this postseason, tied together by common denominators.