<
>

Best, worst stories in the West

While a certain Big Three in South Beach have hogged most of the national spotlight, our TrueHoop Network bloggers are here to dish on the under-the-radar storylines in the NBA that deserve more attention. We started in the East on Tuesday, and hit the West today.

DALLAS MAVERICKS

What upbeat story deserves more attention?

Jason Terry is quietly having his best season in assists since 2006-07, a testament to JET's underrated playmaking abilities and a slightly altered configuration in Dallas' backcourt. Terry now has two very distinct roles: When playing with Jason Kidd, he fires at will, but when sharing the court with the more limited J.J. Barea, Terry takes over a considerable share of the ball-distributing responsibilities.


What downbeat story deserves more attention?

The Mavs dropped some considerable coin on draft night in order to select the seemingly NBA-ready Dominique Jones, a savvy scorer out of South Florida. However, despite Jones' effectiveness in the NCAA, he's struggled to finish at the rim in the NBA thus far, and his defensive awareness could use some fine-tuning. Jones is still an intriguing prospect, but he's not quite ready for consistent NBA playing time right now.

-- Rob Mahoney, The Two Man Game

DENVER NUGGETS

What upbeat story deserves more attention?

Carmelo Anthony has one foot out the door, but the Nuggets are so much more than Melo. With players like Nene, Arron Afflalo, Ty Lawson and J.R. Smith all taking a step forward, Denver has been winning even when Melo is playing poorly or isn't playing at all. Add in undrafted rookie Gary Forbes and a healthy, uber-tatted Chris "Birdman" Andersen, and Denver is as deep as it has ever been.


What downbeat story deserves more attention?

Chauncey Billups was an All-Star last season, but he did not play well down the stretch. Billups was the veteran leader of the 2010 U.S. World Championship team, but played poorly; the team was better off when he was on the bench. And Billups has followed it all up with a very slow start to this season. The sad thing is he seems to have no idea he has slipped so far so quickly.

-- Jeremy Wagner, Roundball Mining Company

GOLDEN STATE WARRIORS

What upbeat story deserves more attention?

Stephen Curry has been spectacular: 21.5 player efficiency rating, 21.2 points, 5.7 assists, 59.7 true shooting percentage. Someone tell his coach, Keith Smart -- Curry is playing fewer minutes this season. Someone tell Warriors PR -- they seem to push only Monta Ellis. Someone tell the fans -- my Twitter feed is choked with Curry complaints. Curry is one of the league's best young point guards, but an ingredient sacrificed to a rancid stew of recent Warriors play.


What downbeat story deserves more attention?

The Jeremy Lin situation is … awkward. He adds energy, hustle and some of the most cringe-prompting play seen outside of a rec league. Lin was supposed to resonate as symbolic and he did that -- for a time. But it's hard to keep cheering when he seems capable of blocking his own layups. Oracle used to roar when Lin entered games. These days, the cheers are muting into nervous brow sweat. This isn't the heartwarming story it could have been.

-- Ethan Sherwood Strauss, Warriors World

HOUSTON ROCKETS

What upbeat story deserves more attention?

Lost amid the chatter about the Rockets' disappointing season has been the development of Jordan Hill. After a shaky start, Hill has come on strong, bolstering Houston's front line with his physical talents. Hill triggered the Rockets' Dec. 1 win over the Lakers by frustrating Pau Gasol (season-low eight points) with his length in single coverage. Assumed to be mostly a trade throw-in, the dreadlocked one may be making management reconsider its plans.


What downbeat story deserves more attention?

The plan all along, it seemed, was to flip the "Knicks Picks," the real prize from last season's Tracy McGrady trade. With light protections, the two draft picks obtained from New York were to form the basis of a package for a true star or at least help Houston rebuild through the draft. Unfortunately, with New York looking poised to finish higher in the standings than the Rockets, the circumstances serve as the true indignity from what has thus far been a disastrous season.

-- Rahat Huq, Red94

LOS ANGELES CLIPPERS

What upbeat story deserves more attention?

It's hard to imagine Blake Griffin doing anything that isn't documented for posterity on YouTube, but it's true. Lost in the theatrics of the dunks, Griffin has a select repertoire of moves: a right-handed hook bank shot on the right block, the over-the-right-shoulder fadeaway off the left block, a decent shot out to (for now) 16 feet, and a spin move that he can unleash anywhere on the floor. He's also emerging as a very capable passing big man.


What downbeat story deserves more attention?

As the image-conscious league touts its NBA Cares program, Clippers owner Donald Sterling attempts to void contracts and faces racial discrimination suits, among assorted other examples of mismanagement, all of which hangs over the franchise. Unfortunately, Sterling has been such a comically bad owner that, other than a report or two a year, nothing seems to gain traction anymore. His behavior is accepted as nothing more than a byproduct of his eccentricity instead of being called what it is -- bad for basketball and beneath the standards of the league.

-- Breene Murphy, ClipperBlog

LOS ANGELES LAKERS

What upbeat story deserves more attention?

Matt Barnes' strong play has not been talked about enough. While his strengths -- good defense, rebounding, shooting, slashing ability -- were known commodities, he's provided great consistency off the Lakers' bench with his nonstop motor and fearlessness on both sides of the ball. His strong production (8.6 points, 5.1 rebounds, 2.0 assists per game) has earned him opportunities late in tight games, a trend few saw coming when he signed this summer.


What downbeat story deserves more attention?

Ron Artest's play to start the season has been less than inspiring. His average play on offense is one concern, but more worrisome is his up-and-down defense, with inconsistent focus and intensity. Every player will have bad nights on defense, but elite D is Artest's calling card and he's been below the high standard he set last season.

-- Darius Soriano, Forum Blue & Gold

MEMPHIS GRIZZLIES

What upbeat story deserves more attention?

The intelligent decisions the Grizzlies made to re-sign Rudy Gay and Mike Conley. They have been the two most consistent performers on the team and neither is 25 years old. The team took heat for signing them but their performances this season have earned the contracts. Both players would have been offered similar or larger deals had the market been able to determine their worth.


What downbeat story deserves more attention?

Zach Randolph and O.J. Mayo's performances. Z-Bo has failed to maintain the discipline he showed last season, and that has hurt the Grizzlies. Mayo lost his starting role in part because the team needed his contribution more off the bench. The experiment started out well, as Memphis went 3-1 in its first games with the lineup, but overall, Mayo's scoring (12.2 points per game) and field goal percentage (40 percent) have dipped to career lows.

-- Chip Crain, 3 Shades Of Blue

MINNESOTA TIMBERWOLVES

What upbeat story deserves more attention?

Over the first two weeks of the season, Darko Milicic was pretty clearly the worst starter in the league. These catastrophic performances got plenty of national attention, and rightly so. But lately, there have been some signs of renewal. He's occasionally drawing double-teams. He's showing a little energy on defense. He's starting to move the ball like the deft passer he's supposed to be. No telling if this will continue, but we can hope.


What downbeat story deserves more attention?

The Wolves are 5-16. This is not news. What's been really painful, though, and a little under the radar has been their propensity for the late-game collapse. They've lost two big fourth-quarter leads to San Antonio. They folded late in Oklahoma City and Charlotte. This -- the inability to execute late in games, the epic losses of poise -- is what a truly young team looks like.

-- Ben Polk, A Wolf Among Wolves

NEW ORLEANS HORNETS

What upbeat story deserves more attention?

Monty Williams has been a breath of fresh air for a Hornets team that is constantly in the middle of media speculation. Chris Paul rumors, attendance benchmarks, talk of relocation or contraction -- none of it fazes the youngest coach in the NBA. His focus is on cultivating a winning culture. He preaches "no excuses" to his players, and although others may see a sinking ship, these players believe in their captain.


What downbeat story deserves more attention?

The focus has been on the possible exodus of Paul in the summer of 2012, but a full year before that happens, the Hornets' other cornerstone will likely be an unrestricted free agent. David West holds a player option that he will likely exercise next summer, and if he leaves, the Hornets will lose a talented player, a community advocate and the big brother figure of one CP3.

-- Michael McNamara, Hornets247

OKLAHOMA CITY THUNDER

What upbeat story deserves more attention?

Very quietly, Jeff Green is having the best statistical season in his four-year career. Green didn't receive a contract extension from the Thunder and is playing this season knowing he'll be a restricted free agent. He is averaging 18.9 points and 6.6 rebounds (both career highs) in 40.3 minutes per game (second most in the league). While Green may not be a prototypical power forward, he's playing some of the best ball of his career.


What downbeat story deserves more attention?

OKC traded two picks in the 2010 draft to move up and select center Cole Aldrich. Most saw it as a move to help solidify the Thunder's somewhat soft front line against the bigs of the West -- except Aldrich was quietly sent to the D-League two weeks ago after failing to make much of an impact early on. He was recently recalled, but it's disappointing that he wasn't able to crack the rotation and make an immediate impact.

-- Royce Young, Daily Thunder

PHOENIX SUNS

What upbeat story deserves more attention?

Jason Richardson is playing up to his $14.4 million price tag this season. Before Tuesday, J-Rich had scored at least 20 points in seven straight games, and he averages a team-high 20.5 ppg while drilling 46.8 percent of his league-high 59 treys. With Richardson filling it up from the outside and punishing smaller guards in the post, Phoenix's offense has hardly missed a beat without Amare Stoudemire, as the Suns once again lead the NBA in scoring (109.3).


What downbeat story deserves more attention?

The Suns' defensive rebounding has been historically bad this season. Their 68.5 defensive rebound rate is one of the lowest in the NBA in years, and only Channing Frye averages more than five boards overall per game (5.7). The bright side? Since Earl Barron became a starter, Phoenix has won or tied the rebounding battle in three of four games after doing so in only one of its first 17.

-- Michael Schwartz, Valley of the Suns

PORTLAND TRAIL BLAZERS

What upbeat story deserves more attention?

That the Rose Garden has gone green? Seriously, it's that bleak in Portland. After another mysterious, season-ending microfracture surgery for Greg Oden and a career-altering knee injury to Brandon Roy, there's little left above water. The Blazers even lost beloved Portland great Maurice Lucas, who succumbed to cancer at the season's onset. Hope of an Aldridge-Roy-Oden championship-caliber nucleus has vanished. Now they're in a free fall.


What downbeat story deserves more attention?

The Blazers knew Roy's knees were problematic when they signed him to a max extension in 2009. Roy was rushed back in the 2010 playoffs, eight days after a meniscus tear and subsequent surgery. Now in his other knee Roy has no meniscus left to operate on, basically dooming him to a career of pain and limited mobility. While Roy deserves credit for helping turn the franchise around, his contract likely will strangle Portland if he can't produce.

-- Andrew Tonry, Portland Roundball Society

SACRAMENTO KINGS

What upbeat story deserves more attention?

Jason Thompson has been a bright spot for the Kings. He's doing everything asked of him on the basketball court and not complaining about any of it, despite his inconsistent minutes and the trade rumors involving his name. JT has just showed up to work throughout the season and played as hard as he can. It would be easy for a young guy to get frustrated with an always-changing role, but he continues to be a positive influence on the Kings in this tough start.


What downbeat story deserves more attention?

The Kings don't really have an offense this year. They've scaled everything way back and basically run an isolation set the majority of the time. NBA scouts don't even know what offense the Kings throw at teams. A lot of this could be because the Kings don't trust Tyreke Evans and the young team with a complicated offense, or they know they don't have the personnel to run intricate sets. Whatever it is, the Kings are struggling to find efficient offense most nights.

-- Zach Harper, Cowbell Kingdom

SAN ANTONIO SPURS

What upbeat story deserves more attention?

Manu Ginobili is quietly putting together an MVP-caliber season. It's a shame that many will disqualify him for averaging too few minutes per game (32.6), despite the fact those minutes represent a career high. Still, Ginobili motors the Spurs forward, registering a career-best PER (24.8, fifth-best in the league) and leading San Antonio to an NBA-leading 17-3 record.


What downbeat story deserves more attention?

Tiago Splitter, San Antonio's heralded rookie center, has yet to find consistent playing time. The Brazilian big was injured for most of training camp and finds himself buried in a frontcourt featuring Tim Duncan, Matt Bonner, Antonio McDyess and DeJuan Blair. But Splitter does have one thing going for him -- even in limited minutes, he's displayed Ginobili-esque flopping skills. Surely, coach Gregg Popovich will eventually reward that kind of gamesmanship.

-- Timothy Varner, 48 Minutes of Hell

UTAH JAZZ

What upbeat story deserves more attention?

Jerry Sloan is quietly putting together a virtuoso performance on the sidelines for the Utah Jazz. The longest-tenured coach in North American sport amazingly still hasn't been honored as Coach of the Year. Though he would be the first to tell you that things haven't traditionally worked out well for recipients of the award, Sloan deserves recognition for once again pushing a team to contender status when many predicted mediocrity instead.


What downbeat story deserves more attention?

The amazing comebacks have been the defining story for the Jazz this year, but the dramatic wins help hide long lapses by Utah's defense. The addition of Al Jefferson and the addition by subtraction of Carlos Boozer's matador defense were hailed as the beginning of a new era that would no longer allow opponents to feast at the rim. Instead, the Jazz appear to once again have serious defensive problems that are as unpredictable as the team itself.

-- Spencer Hall, Salt City Hoops

WESTERN CONFERENCE

What upbeat story deserves more attention?

In the world of NBA coaching, different is risky and risky is bad. But Gregg Popovich's and Rick Carlisle's teams are threatening the Lakers' playoff supremacy by adding new tricks. The Spurs' permitting Tony Parker to push the pace exploits the Lakers' one defensive weakness (remember Russell Westbrook lapping Derek Fisher in April?) and Dallas' commitment to developing the league's best zone defense could wrong-foot L.A. like last season's Suns.


What downbeat story deserves more attention?

It's depressing to see Steve Nash's organization failing his loyalty. I'm not quite ready to count the Suns out of the playoffs -- their style is too hard to handle -- but the days of contending left with Amare. Unquestioningly the franchise's most beloved player ever, Nash appears prematurely entombed by an inept front office that has its greatest asset sealed up until age 38, when his only chance at the Chip might be Paytonesque ring-trolling.

-- Beckley Mason, HoopSpeak