Golden State Warriors. Houston Rockets. San Antonio Spurs. These are just three of many established teams in the Western Conference. Five teams in the West finished the 2016-2017 regular season with 50 or more wins, two with 60+ wins. Only three teams in the East had more than 50 wins. Third-ranked in the West, Houston had more wins (55) than the East-leading Celtics (53). And with the migration of stars like Paul George and Jimmy Butler from the East to the West, it certainly seems that the East will continue to be Boston vs. Cleveland come playoff time.
So, why does the gap between East and West continue to grow? Every star that moves to the West widens the gap, making it even easier for Boston and Cleveland to roll over the “competition”. Perhaps these stars are trying to avoid Lebron. By heading West, they avoid having to top Lebron and the Cavaliers in the standings. One of the commonly used units to measure a single player’s effect on team performance is win shares – a number that estimates how many wins a player produces for his team. According to basketball-reference.com, the Western Conference added 174.5 win shares in total this offseason, through free agency (Millsap), trades (Paul George to OKC and Jimmy Butler to Minnesota) and re-signings (Steph Curry, Kevin Durant). This speaks to the impact that Lebron has had on the league, as many people would agree that he is the best player in the world. By contrast, the Eastern Conference added 127.6 win shares in total. Even this simple statistic shows the ever-widening gap in talent between conferences and I feel Lebron James is a large part of the reason for this.
However, I believe there is another motive for these stars moving to the West. Today’s NBA is dominated by Golden State and Cleveland, two super-teams that rank up there with the best the NBA has ever seen. Aside from each other, no teams have been able to put a dent in these two powerhouses. Although they may deny it, players are starting to wisen up. They’re starting to realize that to beat these two teams, it will likely take another super-team. By going to the West (especially the top teams in the West), these players attempt to build lineups that could potentially compete with the two top teams. These moves cause the teams in the East to get significantly worse, which result in the East containing some of the league’s worst teams. The Brooklyn Nets (20), the Philadelphia 76ers (28), and the Orlando Magic (29) were all in the bottom five in the NBA in wins. All three of these teams are located in the Eastern Conference.
One thing is for sure: the 2017-2018 NBA regular season will hold a very competitive Western Conference. With many impressive rosters in the West, the race should be very fun to watch. As far as the Eastern Conference goes… well, I suppose we’ll get to see Cleveland and Boston face off in the postseason yet again.