The Western Conference is just ridiculously tough. Now, it's getting even more difficult following Rajon Rondo's move to the Dallas Mavericks and the Houston Rockets following that up with a deal of their own, one that allowed them to land Corey Brewer and add more depth to their roster.
Even before the sudden frenzy of activity, the West boasted seven teams that had won at least 65 percent of their outings during the 2014-15 season; the Eastern Conference had just three. According to Basketball-Reference.com's simple rating system, which ranks teams based on strength of schedule and margin of victory, six of the league's top seven squads called the West home.
Now, the conference has added another All-Star-caliber point guard. Rondo, as first reported by Yahoo Sports' Adrian Wojnarowski, has joined the Mavericks and made the West even wilder. In response, the Rockets just went out and got even more deadly:
For the Minnesota Timberwolves, this deal makes a lot of sense. They're giving Brewer an opportunity to play for a contending team, which he deserves after putting up with so many rebuilding projects, and they're opening up space for players like Andrew Wiggins and the surging Shabazz Muhammad.
Plus, Troy Daniels is the type of young shooter the team so desperately needs, especially while Kevin Martin is injured. Despite the strong start to the season he enjoyed, Martin too old (31) to factor heavily into the squad's future.
But this isn't about the Wolves, who aren't trying to stay relevant in the here and now but rather continuing to stockpile young prospects and draft picks with which they can acquire more. It's about the Rockets, a Western power who fell to the No. 4 spot in the conference after a 99-90 loss to the New Orleans Pelicans just a day before striking this deal.
If this team hopes to keep pace with the other elites, it needs to continue adding pieces. Despite playing so much of the season without Dwight Howard, who missed time with knee problems, the Rockets have taken advantage of an easy schedule—Basketball-Reference.com calls it the ninth-easiest thus far—and they can't afford to stagnate and fall back in the standings.
That's the motivation behind acquiring Brewer, especially when they're only giving up picks and a player who rarely spent any time on the court. Daniels, despite his playoff heroics last season, had appeared in only 17 games, playing a grand total of 108 minutes before he was sent north.
Basically, the Rockets are adding a player who can help them out without sacrificing anything.
Brewer won't aid Houston's offense, but he will help confirm the defensive identity of this team while coming off the bench and spelling Trevor Ariza. Houston has allowed only 100.6 points per 100 possessions in 2014-15, giving it the No. 2 defensive rating in the NBA.
But despite excellence in the point-preventing department, the Rockets are by no means perfect on the less glamorous end of the court. They're actually fairly weak when Ariza has to go rest on the bench, as you can see below:
That is an insanely large difference.
With Ariza on the floor, the Rockets play defense better than anyone in the league. But when he sits, they become so porous they're superior to only the Timberwolves, Utah Jazz and Los Angeles Lakers.
See why Brewer is necessary yet?
The 28-year-old small forward was averaging just 10.5 points, 3.9 rebounds and 3.3 assists per game for the struggling Wolves. He's ultimately a flawed player, one who struggles to space out the court and is basically restricted to transition scoring.
However, when he's stuck in the right role, he's quite valuable.
After all, this is a guy who's leading the league in steals per game, as he's been allowed to gamble incessantly and play his brand of aggressive defense. That's the same task he'll be given as soon as he arrives in Houston, serving as a defensive spark plug for the second unit and stepping in with the starters whenever Ariza can't go.
The Rockets weren't in need of a drastic overhaul. Though they aren't quite one of the elites in the West, they're dangerously close to that tier and draw even nearer now that they've acquired the exact type of player they needed on their bench.
Even though no players came over from the Eastern Conference, the West just got even stronger. Who knew that was even possible?
Note: All stats, unless otherwise indicated, come from Basketball-Reference.com and are current heading into Dec. 19's games.