Western Conference After a Quarter

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Where each team stands seven weeks into the 2010-11 season

Where each team stands seven weeks into the 2010-11 season

The 2010-11 NBA regular season hit its quarter mark this week. So it's time to take a look at where each conference stands 20 games in. Below is a breakdown of the Western Conference's frontrunners for MVP, Rookie of the Year, Defensive Player of the Year, team-by-team MVPs, top rookies and an Athlon's Take on each team. Also check out Athlon's Eastern Conference first-quarter report.

MOST VALUABLE PLAYER
Pau Gasol — F/C, LA Lakers
Playing on a bad hamstring, Gasol is tied for second in the league with 15 double-doubles, including 12 in the first 15 games — one more rebound against Golden State would have made it 13. He is among the top 10 in the league in offensive and defensive rebounds, blocks, minutes per game, and player efficiency rating (PER).

Manu Ginobli — SG, San Antonio Spurs
A nine-year veteran, Ginobli has helped the Spurs became a prolific scoring team unlike anything seen out of San Antonio over the last decade. He is the clutch player for the Spurs and has seen many of his numbers go up against those of his career averages.

Dirk Nowitzki — F, Dallas Mavericks
Thirteen years in and he is shooting the best he has in his career — .553 percent from the field, which is 7.8 percentage points higher than his career average. He is scoring 1.9 points per game above his average and has the Mavericks on a nine-game winning streak and as the No. 2 seed through Dec. 6.

Chris Paul — PG, New Orleans Hornets
He is healthy and a healthy Paul means a Paul in the running for the MVP race. The five-year vet is the league's top player in PER and helped get the Hornets off to an 8-0 start. They have stumbled to 5-7 since then, but Paul keeps on trucking, averaging 15.6 points on .469 shooting from the field and 10.4 assists the last 12 games.

Russell Westbrook — PG, Oklahoma City
Maybe he's here because Kevin Durant has been battling injuries, or maybe it's because Westbrook has really established himself as one of the NBA's top point guards. Either way, through the first quarter of the season the second-year player has proven those wrong who thought he was selected too high as the fourth overall pick. He's No. 2 in PER behind Paul and in the top five in minutes, points, assists and steals.

Deron Williams — PG, Utah
Has seen his numbers exceed those of his career in almost every category this year. Williams' takes, makes, percentages, offensive boards, defensive boards, assists, steals and points are all up against those of his previous five years.

ROOKIE OF THE YEAR
Blake Griffin — F/C, LA Clippers
After missing last season with a knee injury, Griffin has taken to the court like a mad man. The rookie from Oklahoma has logged the eighth-most minutes (792), made the sixth-most field goal attempts (173) on the 16th-most attempts (334) to be 14th in total points (445). Griffin has made it to the free throw line a seventh-best 173 times and made a 19th-best 99 of them. He is among the tops in rebounding — second in offensive (86) and fourth in defensive (173) boards. And if spectacular dunks were stats, he'd probably be leading that, too.

If a ball comes off the rim or off the glass, get out of the way, teammates included. Case in point: His 259 rebounds is 55 less than the rest of the starting five currently out there, and his 173 offensive rebounds is 70 more than the rest of the current starting five.

DEFENSIVE PLAYER OF THE YEAR
Tyson Chandler — C, Dallas
On his fourth different team since entering the league as the No. 2 overall pick in 2001, Chandler is having a career year, registering the third-best defensive rating in the league. He is grabbing 1.2 more rebounds against his 5.7 defensive rebounds a game career average and maintaining his career average of 1.4 blocks a game. He helps lead a Mavericks defense that allows a Western Conference-best 92.2 points per game and second-best .431 shooting percentage from opponents.

CONFERENCE TEAM-BY-TEAM REPORT
Quarter mark through Monday, Dec. 6

Dallas: 16-4, 2nd in the Southwest Division
MVP: Dirk Nowitzki, PF. The 7-footer continues to lead the way for the Mavericks. He is third in field goals made (192), 11th in attempts (347) and 11th in shooting percentage (.553). He is the league's fifth-best scorer (24.9 ppg) and has the seventh-best PER (24.6).
Top Rookie: Dominique Jones, G, South Florida. The first-round pick has appeared in nine games, but has contributed next to nothing.
Athlon's Take: The Mavericks rode a nine-game win streak into the week. They have beaten almost every contender in the West, and have done so on the road as part of an 8-1 mark. The only contender the Mavs have not faced is the Lakers, which won't happen until Jan. 19 in Dallas. The Mavericks have done all of this by using the fourth-best defense (92.2 ppg) to counter the 18th-best offense (98.1).

Denver: 13-6, 2nd in the Northwest Division
MVP: Carmelo Anthony, F. Despite all the rumors swirling around if, or when, he will leave Denver, Anthony is averaging 22.8 points on .432 shooting from the field, .835 from the stripe along with 8.0 rebounds, 3.4 assists, 1.2 steals and 0.6 blocks per game. He is the NBA's 10th-best scorer per game (22.8), gets to the line 11th-most (145) in the league and makes the 10th most (121).
Top Rookie: Gary Forbes, G/F, UMass. The 2007-08 A-10 Player of the Year bounced around professionally the last three summers before ultimately landing a spot in the Nuggets training camp. He has turned that opportunity into action in 16 of the team's 19 games, including two starts. He is averaging 12:35 a game, scoring 6.3 points on 41-of-80 shooting. with 2.0 rebounds and 0.6 assists a game.
Athlon's Take: The first three weeks of the season had its ups and downs as the Nuggets went 6-6. Over the last two weeks, however, Denver had not lost a game in seven outings leading up to Dec. 7. If Anthony can stay through this season and the frontcourt eventually gets healthy, the Nuggets could put a scare into some teams in the West. Production similar to that of the first quarter of the season should be expected come the halfway point for the Nuggets.

Golden State: 8-12, 3rd in the Pacific Division
MVP: Monta Ellis, G. It's a tough call between guards Stephen Curry and Ellis, who can score in bunches at a .486 clip, can assist, rebound, steal and plays injured. Ellis will get the MVP nod through the first quarter of the season, but it could just as easily be Curry come the halfway point.
Top Rookie: Jeff Adrien, SF, UConn. The undrafted Adrien saw 4:46 of action over the first eight games, but has turned that into 11:24 per game over the last 12 contests. He narrowly missed a double-double when he had nine points and 10 rebounds against the Lakers on Nov. 21.
Athlon's Take: The Warriors started the season 6-2 with free-agent acquisition David Lee. Then a collision with Wilson Chandler's mouth on Nov. 10 in New York turned out to be an infection in his elbow and Lee was out the next eight games. The Warriors promptly lost seven of those eight before Lee's return n Nov. 27. The post player has no double-doubles since his return, whereas he had six before the injury. There are playmakers on the squad with Lee, Ellis and Curry and Dorell Wright is emerging. But the team does not play defense and that usually won't cut it in a seven-game series.

Houston: 7-13, 5th in the Southwest Division
MVP: Luis Scola, F/C. Scola has improved almost everywhere for the Rockets as compared to a year ago. His scoring (20.3), rebounding (8.7), assists (2.2), blocks (0.7) are all up, while his shooting percentages are down — granted he is taking 2.6 more attempts from the field and 2.8 more attempts from the line a game than he was last season.
Top Rookie: Ishmael Smith, PG, Wake Forest. The undrafted point guard has played in 20 games, starting three of them when both Aaron Brooks and Kyle Lowry were injured. He is averaging a little over 14 minutes a game with 2.6 assists, 1.6 rebounds, 0.6 steals and 3.3 ppg.
Athlon's Take: As the season began, the Rockets were the "best worst" team in the league after an 0-5 start. They lost to the Lakers, Warriors, Nuggets, Hornets and Spurs by an average of six points before defeating Minnesota by 26 for their first win. Then Houston went through a stretch where it was just a bad team, losing seven of its next 11 to close out November. The Rockets kicked off December with wins over the Lakers, Grizzlies and an OT loss in Chicago. They have battled injuries at the point (Aaron Brooks) and center (Yao Ming) and might suffer the same fate as the Warriors. They are a team that can get it done offensively, but probably don't have the defensive abilities or personnel in the paint to go very far.

L.A. Clippers: 5-17, 4th in the Pacific Division
MVP: See top of the story for all things Griffin.
Top Rookie: Different verse. Same as the first. See top of the story.
Athlon's Take: The Clippers, despite the performances of Griffin and Eric Gordon and the emergence of rookie guard Eric Bledsoe, are a terrible team. They are 22nd in scoring (97.3 ppg) and 23rd in defense (103.5). What you will see if you tune in or attend is a great performance by Griffin and the two Erics conducting the show. There's the chance for a nucleus to be built here, perhaps better than many in years past, but until the Clippers' brass proves it can produce a winner, we will have to say same ol' Clips.

L.A. Lakers: 14-6, 1st in the Pacific Division
MVP: Pau Gasol, PF/C. During the Lakers' 13-2 start that carried them to Thanksgiving, Gasol recorded a double-double in 12 of those games and was one rebound off in another. As banged up as the Laker frontcourt has been, Gasol himself included, with a nagging hamstring, the 7-foot Spainard has been the glue that's kept the ship together. Kobe Bryant scores, it's what he does. But Gasol does that and a lot more.
Top Rookie: Derrick Caracter, PF/C, UTEP. The second-round pick has benefited from the injuries to the Laker frontcourt and seen action in 17 of 20 games. He has not done much with the court time, but it should prove as a valuable learning experience considering the track record of health in the L.A. frontcourt and the need for big men to win a title.
Athlon's Take: How bad is the Pacific Division? So bad that the Lakers can go on a four-game losing streak to end November and still maintain a three-game lead on first place. Granted, an eight-game winning streak to open the season followed by a five-gamer helped build the lead. Injuries to their frontcourt, namely Andrew Bynum and Theo Ratliff, have hurt the Lakers. Gasol and Lamar Odom have battled through nagging injuries as well. There's no doubt that, when fully healthy, the Lakers should be the team to beat in the West. But to note is the four-game losing streak and the fact that no Phil Jackson-coached team has had a four-game skid turn into a championship year. It's happened to the 11-time champion on 11 occasions.

Memphis: 8-14, 4th in the Southwest Division
MVP: Rudy Gay, F. Like Amar'e Stoudemire who signed a max contract for New York when many thought that might have been an economic no-no, Gay has joined Stoudemire in proving his worth. His scoring (21.6), rebounds (6.5), assists (2.6), steals (1.4), blocks (1.3) field goal percentage (.483), 3-point percentage (.408) and free-throw percentage (.833) are all well above career averages. He's also the league leader in minutes played at 892 — a full game and five minutes ahead of second-place Raymond Felton of New York.
Top Rookie: Xavier Henry, SG, Kansas. The first round pick had to be ecstatic that he was averaging just over 13 minutes a game through the first 11 games of the year. But he must have been through the roof when coach Lionel Hollins decided to start him over O.J. Mayo at the 2-guard for the last nine games. He hasn't necessarily dazzled, but he did log a career-high 27:29 of action Dec. 5 and turned that into his best scoring night (17) and assist night (3).
Athlon's Take: The Grizzlies are too inconsistent to be the Oklahoma City of this year. It certainly doesn't help that they are in the Southwest Division where Dallas and San Antonio have decided to try and prove they are the best in the league this year, New Orleans can win in bunches and Houston is always dangerous. Losing streaks of three, four and five through just the first quarter of the season won't get you in the playoffs. For comparison, the Thunder had three three-game skids last season — one each of the first three quarters of the season — not three in the first quarter alone.

Minnesota: 5-16, 5th in the Northwest Division
MVP: Kevin Love, PF/C. To think the season began with a mere 11-point, 10-rebound night for double-double No. 1 of the 2010-11 campaign. Since then, Love has 15 double-doubles, including the last seven straight games through Dec. 6. Lines like 23 and 24, 31 and 31, 32 and 22 and 21 and 22 have peppered the box scores for Love this season. Needless to say, he is the league's leading rebounder — 62 ahead of Blake Griffin. Love gets to the line 13th-best in the league (132) and makes a 12th-best 118 of them. He's also the 18th best scorer at 421 points. To make things even tougher on opponents, he is 8-of-13 from 3-point range in the last two games.
Top Rookie: Wes Johnson, G/F, Syracuse. The fourth overall pick needed just four games before he got into the starting lineup. Oddly enough, he was better on average in the four games as a reserve. He shoots .428 from the field, is averaging 9.3 points, 3.3 boards, 2.0 assists, 0.7 blocks and 0.4 steals in 28:30 per game.
Athlon's Take: Only once have the Timberwolves won consecutive games (Nov. 10 and 12 vs. Sacramento and New York) this season. Two six-game losing streaks have already occurred. They are eighth in in scoring (102.3 ppg) but 29th in defense (109.3). As of the quarter mark of the season, six players were on the injury report, including point guard Jonny Flynn, who has yet to play. On the uptick, the play of Michael Beasley and Darko Milicic has been a pleasant surprise to go along with Love's tremendous stat lines. It's a nucleus to build on, but in the Western Conference you have to build quick.

New Orleans: 13-7, 3rd in the Southwest Division
MVP: Chris Paul, PG. Back from an injury-plagued 2009-10 season, Paul is among the league leaders in PER (first at 27.0), steals (first with 60), assists (third with 207), 3-point percentage (eighth at .489) and free-throw percentage (10th at .903).
Top Rookie: Quincy Poindexter, SF, Washington. The first round pick has played in 13 games, averaging just under 10 minutes a contest with 3.2 points on .486 shooting from the field and .800 from the stripe to go along with 1.4 boards per game.
Athlon's Take: Everyone seems to want to burn the Hornets for their quick start and eventual flame out. Like the Lakers, New Orleans started the season 8-0. Unlike the Lakers, it was not expected. The eight teams the Hornets defeated have combined for 79 wins as of Dec. 6, while the eight teams the Lakers defeated have 60 wins. It took until Nov. 19 — 11 games in — for a team to score 100 against the Hornets. It took one game for that to happen to the Lakers and happened five times during their first eight games. Point being, the Hornets can build on their defensive efforts which are fifth-best in the league (92.7 ppg). It's offensively where New Orleans is going to have to find production — 94.9 a game won't get it done. The Hornets have scored over 100 just five times themselves this season and are mired in a 5-7 slump since the winning streak ended.

Oklahoma City: 14-8, 3rd in the Northwest Division
MVP: Russell Westbrook, PG. It's tough to push the league's top scorer (27.4), Kevin Durant, over for a bit but that's exactly what Westbrook has done with his contributions to the Thunder. He's No. 2 in PER at 25.2 with some spectacular numbers. The second-year man has logged the fourth-most minutes (823), points (521) and assists (190), third-most field goal attempts (394), seventh-most makes (172), third-most free throw attempts (196), is first in makes (171) and second in steals (49). It's a good thing the Thunder have a young point guard that can produce like this while Durant battles knee and ankle injuries, and it keeps OKC in the conversation of having one of the top PGs in the league.
Top Rookie: Cole Aldrich, C, Kansas. The No. 11 overall pick is the only rookie on the roster. He has already done a stint in the D-League and has appeared in just five games for the Thunder — 11 rebounds and five points.
Athlon's Take: An up-and-down first 10 days drew quick criticisms that maybe we were too high on the Thunder after just a 3-3 start. They were the eight seed last year, not the one. But OKC started acting like a top seed from Nov. 10 through Nov. 30. The Thunder reeled off a 9-3 mark in that time. They have settled back down with a 2-2 mark so far in December. OKC is in a tough division with the Jazz and Nuggets as well as tough outs in Minnesota and Portland. The rise from the eighth seed to actually hosting a series may be a stretch, but signature road wins at Boston and Utah have shown this young group can get it done on away from home. The 22nd-ranked defense (103.4 ppg) will have to improve.

Phoenix: 11-9, 2nd in the Pacific Division.
MVP: Steve Nash, PG. Is it any surprise the the former 2005 and 2006 NBA MVP is still the one that makes this team run? He still dishes out the assists — 10.4 per game for second-best in the league — scores 18.2 a game on .504 shooting from the field and .898 from the sripe. Along with Rajon Rondo and Deron Williams, Nash is the only other player averaging a double-double in points and assists this season. At 36 years old, that is a feat he has missed out on just once since 2004-05 (9.7 apg in 2008-09).
Top Rookie: Garret Siler, C, Augusta State. Undrafted in 2009, he went to China last year. He played for the Nets, Magic and Heat during NBA Summer League play before signing a two-year deal with the Suns in September. Unfortunately for Siler, that last paragraph took more time to compile than his contributions this season — eight points, nine boards, two blocks, two assists, a steal and six turnovers in 5:47 of play.
Athlon's Take: These are the Suns we've come to know and love — all offense (ranked first at 109.8 ppg) and no defense (ranked last at 110.4). So hovering right above .500 sounds just about right with that discrepancy. A run to the conference finals is unlikely without any significant presence down low. Even if the Suns were to get there, history has proven in the Nash era that making it on to the NBA Finals is too big a hump. The team has been to three Western Conference Finals since 2004-05 and won a combined five games there.

Portland: 9-11, 4th in the Northwest Division
MVP: Wesley Matthews, G/F. He moved into the starting lineup Nov. 16 and took off. The second-year, undrafted player from Marquette kicked his scoring up 10.7 points, rebounds up 1.6, shooting percentage up 5.7 points and steals up 1.1 per game. Simply put, when Matthews is in the starting lineup better things are happening on offense for the Blazers.
Top Rookie: Armon Johnson, PG, Nevada. The second-round pick appeared in every game through November, averaged 11 minuntes, scoring 4.2 points on .467 shooting with 1.9 assists per game. He has yet to play in December.
Athlon's Take: A three-game win streak tipped off the season, but that was quickly followed by trading wins and losses over the next seven games. The losses eventually became the consistent ones, namely six of them in a row to end November and begin December. Injuries plague the roster, Brandon Roy's knee plagues both himself and the team. A 21.5-point, 4.7-assist, 4.4-rebound guy a year ago, he's now 18.1, 2.7 and 3 this season. If there's one area where the Trail Blazers have been respectable it is on the defensive end. They boast the seventh-best defense at 95.5 points allowed per game. That goes to 99.8 against Western Conference teams, which still isn't bad considering the potent West teams average 101.6 a game.

Sacramento: 4-15, 5th in the Pacific Division
MVP: Tyreke Evans, PG/SG. He's not having as good a season as he did as a rookie in 2009-10. Plantar faciitis is probably the main culprit in his struggles, but he still leads the team in scoring (17.6 ppg), assists (5.4), steals (1.5) and is third in total rebounds (86).
Top Rookie: DeMarcus Cousins, PF/C, Kentucky. The fifth overall pick has seen the attitude problems follow him from college to the pros as many thought they would. Play him as a starter and he's fine — seven games has produced 14.1 points, 7.1 boards, 2.9 assists, 0.6 blocks and steals per game. Play him as a reserve and it's not so good — 12 games have produced 9.7 points, 6.8 boards, 0.8 assists, 0.6 blocks, 0.8 steals and his already poor shooting percentages go down from .425 to .384 in the field and .769 to .638 on the stripe. Keep in mind his starter minutes are 24:48 a game while his reserve minutes are 23:53. So he is clearly more motivated to have starter attached to his name even though we are talking about 55 seconds difference.
Athlon's Take: Plain and simple, the Kings are terrible. They score a paltry 93.8 points a game (28th in the league) and surrender 101.5 (18th). They have won just once since Nov. 1 and that was an 86-81 win over a New Jersey team that might be the Eastern Conference version of the Kings. After taking some solace in scoring at least 100 points in the first five games, Sacramento has failed to hit the free-food-for-the-fans mark in 12 of the last 14 games. But for the rookie Cousins, things might be looking up. There's talk of bringing the Kings to Louisville.

San Antonio: 17-3, 1st in the Southwest Division
MVP: Manu Ginobli, SG. One word: Clutch. A nine-year veteran, Ginobli is exceeding many of his averages — scoring is up 5.4, assists are up 1.2, steals are up 0.4, blocks are up 0.1, field goal percentage is up 0.2, 3-point percentage is up 0.6, free throw percentage is up 7.7 points.
Top Rookie: Gary Neal, SG, Towson. The undrafted Neal, who bounced around overseas for four years before signing a three-year deal with the Spurs in July, has played in all 20 games. He scores at 6.6 an outing with 2.4 boards, 1.0 assists, 1.4 3s a game on .422 from beyond the arc, .419 from the field and .875 from the stripe.
Athlon's Take: These aren't your dad's ... OK, maybe your older brother's Spurs. Since the turn of the century, San Antonio has been a team that averages 96.4 points a game, good for around 17th in the league over the last 11 years. Then comes the 2010-11 campaign, where half the roster combines for 52 years of experience and the other half combines for seven years of experience. What do the Spurs do with this mix? Well, they become the fourth-best scoring team in the league at 106.7 points a game. The season has seen a 12-game winning streak, an 8-1 mark on the road and wins over Orlando, Utah, Chicago, Oklahoma City and New Orleans. Two games against Denver, one against Orlando and the first meeting with the Lakers is still to come this month. Take a look at this stretch to get to the halfway point of the season: Play host to the Lakers on Dec. 28 followed by games against Dallas, Oklahoma City, New York, Boston and Indiana before back-to-backs against a tough out T'Wolve team, a defensive-minded team in Milwaukee and then Dallas and Denver again. If 17-3 turns into 34-6 by Jan. 17 and the Spurs stay healthy it's going to be hard not to say they are not the Western Conference favorites.

Utah: 16-6, 1st in the Northwest Division
MVP: Deron Williams, PG. Arguably the most complete point guard in the league, Williams is surpassing career numbers in just about every category. He is up 4.8 points a game, up 0.9 in assists, up a full rebound, up 0.3 in steals while his field goal percentage is up 0.3 points and his free throw percentage is up 5.6 points. Williams is the second-leading assist getter (219), 12th in points (21.8) and 12th in PER (23.6).
Top Rookie: Gordon Hayward, G/F, Butler. The ninth overall pick has played in 18 games, reaching double-digit minutes five times and is averaging 2.1 points to go along with 1.3 rebounds on 41 percent shooting from the field.
Athlon's Take: After a 2-3 start, the Jazz became known as the "Comeback Kids," winning five straight from double-digit deficits. It certainly sparked confidence in the squad, as they are 9-2 since the five-game streak ended, including another seven-game win streak stuck in the middle. Utah has a helluva stretch to begin the second quarter of the season with consecutive games against Miami, Orlando, Dallas, Golden State, New Orleans and Milwaukee. A winning record during that gauntlet would continue to raise the confidence level of the Jazz.

— Corby A. Yarbrough @AthlonCorby on Twitter

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