The Talent Difference Between the West and Eastern Conferences

The State of the Association pt. 6

If you don’t recall I recently ranked my top 50 players in the NBA. In the same article I tiered the players into five groups. The first tier was called “In a league of their own” and featured three players: LeBron James, Kevin Durant, and Stephen Curry. All three of these players are in the Western Conference. The next tier, “The All-World Players”, ranked players 4-8 and only one of them, Giannis Antetokounmpo at eight, is from the Eastern Conference.

So, in my opinion at least, only one of the eight best players in the world is from a team in the East. That’s pretty one-sided and it matters because these are the players that are one man wrecking crews. The players at 4-7 are Kawhi Leonard, who may be in the East soon enough, James Harden, Anthony Davis, and Russell Westbrook. You’d think that the top tier talent would be a little more evenly distributed.

Things didn’t get any better as I advanced to the third tier, the “All-Pros”. This tier ranked players 9-20 and only four of them (Joel Embiid, Kyrie Irving, Victor Oladipo, and DeMar DeRozan) were from the East. The other eight were Western Conference players. That puts the East at a total of five out of the 20 best players in the game, the same total as the Golden State Warriors!

Funny thought, how would the Golden State Warriors against a potential Eastern Conference All-Star team? If DeMarcus Cousins was fully healthy the Warriors would steam roll any team the East built. They could probably do that anyways even without Cousins. But they do have five of my top 20 players in the game now, or one fourth of the “All-Pros” tier. They’re the best team in the NBA but are also almost more talented than the entire collective of the Eastern Conference. That’s interesting for me to analyze as a sports nerd, but also sad for the East.

Anyway, the East did fair better in the fourth tier: the “All-Stars”. Players 21-37 fell here and 12 of them were from the East. That meant just five players were from the West. The fifth and final tier, “Stars”, ran from 38 through 50. Four of the 13 players were from the East, bringing its’ grand total up to 21 out of my top 50. Now that number looks a lot less skewed than the previous ones we’ve seen. It’s because the East has a lot of good talent at my fourth tier, but that isn’t where the real super stars are. So even though the East holds 42% of my top 50 players, it holds a much smaller percentage of talent. Only 30% of the top 20 players in the game play in the East. The West just has the better name brands right now and that makes the situation feel even more unequal.

Besides the issues with individual player talent, the West also has better teams than the East. It was almost a public consensus this year that whoever won the Warriors-Houston Rockets Western Conference Finals series would win the Championship. Some even claimed that the Western Conference Finals was the real championship series. It was far more entertaining, and the games were just more intense. I agree that the Warriors and Rockets are better than any team in the East, but is there another great team in the West? The San Antonio Spurs come to mind, but they aren’t a great team without Leonard. The Portland Trailblazers finished third in the West last year, but they aren’t a great team either. Honestly, the Jazz were more impressive than the Spurs and Trailblazers last season and they seem to be a team on the rise.

Ultimately, I’d actually favor the Boston Celtics, Philadelphia 76ers, and maybe even the Toronto Raptors over any Western team, excluding the Warriors and Rockets, from this past season. Now that James has gone to the Los Angeles Lakers I might move them ahead of the Eastern teams, but no one else really jumps off the paper as being completely better than the East. The OKC “big three” last year were supposed to be that good but weren’t. Personally, I expected big things from the Minnesota Timberwolves and their newer squad, but they disappointed as well.

To sum everything up, the West has the two best teams in the NBA, and the curious new look Lakers, but besides them the East matches up well as far as teams go. However, the West has the bigger and brighter stars. The Warriors alone are better than an All-Star team from the East! Because of the difference top level players and teams, I don’t see a team from the East claiming the Championship for the next several years.

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