Paul Millsap has left the Atlanta Hawks for the Denver Nuggets. Paul George was traded from the Indiana Pacers to the Oklahoma City Thunder, bringing back only a modest return. Ditto for Jimmy Butler, whom the Chicago Bulls sent to the Minnesota Timberwolves.
Sure, moves like Gordon Hayward’s journey to the Boston Celtics help cancel out some of the Western Conference’s influx of talent. But the disparity between the East and West is only getting worse.
Way worse, in fact.
The West was already the vastly superior conference, producing each of the league’s top three records in 2016-17. But it’s only getting stronger at the expense of its counterpart, and we’re turning to NBA Math’s total points added (TPA) metric to underscore the expanding crevasse.
Leaving current free agents in the free-agency pool (Andre Roberson’s deal with the Oklahoma City Thunder was the last to go into the calculation), we looked at every player’s TPA score from 2016-17, broken down position by position.
Could the summed efforts of the East even score a victory at one of the five lineup slots?
Do note that TPA is only one metric. There are some outliers (cough, Lucas Nogueira, cough), but the overall estimate still produces a result that’s easier to understand than any one-number mark. Don’t take the positional rankings as gospel, because the numbers are wholly devoid of context.
But together, the scores are meaningful.
East’s Top Scores: LeBron James (470.37), Giannis Antetokounmpo (425.68), Kyle Lowry (292.19), Isaiah Thomas (274.58), John Wall (241.45)
West’s Top Scores: Russell Westbrook (890.62), James Harden (626.23), Stephen Curry (405.88), Jimmy Butler (384.82), Kawhi Leonard (383.56)
Let’s pare this down to a single description that really helps put into perspective how dominant the Western Conference has become—as if the yawning chasm in summed TPA doesn’t already do the job.
With 191 players from 2016-17 contributing to that minus-1045.08 TPA, the average contributor in the East posted minus-5.47 TPA last year. The closest comparisons come from Johnny O’Bryant (minus-5.35 TPA) and Justin Harper (minus-5.66).
On the flip side, 187 players racked up the 3406.47 TPA for the league’s stronger side—an average of 18.22 per man. This time, the closest comparisons stem from the work of Kelly Olynyk (18.61) and Marreese Speights (18.02).
If the discrepancy between Olynyk/Speights and O’Bryant/Harper isn’t large enough, just remember that’s only for one average player. Now, multiply that by 186 or 191, and you get a better picture of the magnitude of the ever-growing gulf.