Much of the East’s dominance has come at the expense of the bottom sector of the alarmingly stratified Western Conference. The division between the haves (the top nine teams) and the have nots (the bottom six) in the West is stark enough that in another time and place it would have caught the attention of Leon Trotsky when he was at his most militant.
The top eight teams in the East are 67-38 (.638) in non-con play. The top eight in the West are at 64-33 (.660). Then it gets really ugly. The bottom seven in the East are 38-49 (.437), while the scrubs in the West are 23-72 (.242).
So from top to bottom, the East hasn’t grown stronger so much as the bottom six teams in the West have descended into major rebuilding mode.
In games between the current top eight in the East versus the top eight in the West, the West has a 28-24 advantage. That’s still better then recent seasons, but at the moment, the best in the West is still a tad better than the best in the East.
Doolittle concludes that the balance is shifting towards the East because the East has a greater percentage of “wins produced” that “have come from players under the age of 30.”
I’ll buy that explanation. Young players like LeBron James, Dwyane Wade, Dwight Howard, Devin Harris, Joe Johnson, Josh Smith, and Rodney Stuckey are entering their primes. While the Western Conference is led by guys like Kobe Bryant, Steve Nash, Shaquille O’Neal, Jason Kidd, Dirk Nowitzki, Chauncey Billups, Manu Ginobili, and Tim Duncan — players who are approaching or have already entered the twilight of their careers.
I’ll even buy that the top 8 teams in the West are inflating their win totals because of the bottom 6 teams in their conference. But the gap between the top 8 teams in each conference still exists. And there’s reason to believe the gap could remain for the foreseeable future.
Let me explain. Doolittle writes, “the East seems to have collected more quality young talent and after an extended gestation period, this group of talent has matured and evened the playing field with the West.” The East may have more players in their prime, but if the Western Conference’s top teams are inflating their win totals by beating up on the bottom six teams in the West then those bottom feeders — namely the Minnesota Timberwolves, Memphis Grizzlies, Golden State Warriors, Sacramento Kings, Los Angeles Clippers, and Oklahoma City Thunder — will have greater draft odds.
How long will it be before Al Jefferson, Kevin Love, and the Timberwolves hit the draft lottery and select a top flight point guard? How many losses will the Grizzlies endure before they pair OJ Mayo with a powerhouse forward or center? The same rule applies to Monta Ellis in Oakland, Kevin Martin, Jason Thompson, and Spencer Hawes in Sacramento, and Kevin Durant and Jeff Green in Oklahoma City.
The Western Conference has dominated the Eastern Conference in winning percentage since Michael Jordan’s second retirement. The Lakers aren’t going anywhere. Neither are the Hornets, Jazz, Blazers, or Nuggets. The Mavericks, Spurs, and Suns could experience a dropoff in the near future, but if the aforementioned bottom six teams in the West continue to benefit from lottery picks in the NBA draft, those teams will be well-equipped to take their place. In short, the cycle will continue and the gap will remain.