(PACIFIC DIVISION PREVIEW)
In-Depth analysis of the Golden State Warriors, Phoenix Suns, LA Clippers, LA Lakers, and Sacramento Kings. Western Conf. Pacific Division Preview.
GOLDEN STATE WARRIORS
At this point, what’s left to say about the Golden State Warriors? Regardless of a different team still having the best player in the NBA (LeBron James) and all the movement of star point guards — like Chris Paul and Kyrie Irving — in the attempt for contenders to assemble “superteams” of their own, the Warriors are still in a class of their own.
Golden State is trying to become the fifth team to reach the NBA Finals in four straight seasons. The others: 2011-14 Heat, 1984-87 Celtics, 1982-85 Lakers and 1957-66 Celtics. Of those four teams, only the 1957-66 Celtics won more than two titles during that run of four consecutive trips to the Finals.
If Golden State reaches the 67 wins that many Las Vegas sports-books have set as the over/under for the win total, it would be the fourth time – and fourth straight year – in which they do so, breaking a tie with Michael Jordan’s Bulls for the most 67-win seasons in NBA history.
Regardless of who the fifth guy they put on the floor may be, Golden State appears to be virtually unstoppable when Stephen Curry, Kevin Durant, Klay Thompson, and Draymond Green are on the floor and clicking together (like they were for much of last year). It would be an enormous upset if they don’t make it back to the NBA Finals, and enter the Finals as the prohibitive favorite.
Projected Record: 70-12
LOS ANGELES CLIPPERS
The Los Angeles Clippers you knew are gone. With Chris Paul in Houston and J.J. Redick in Philadelphia, there will be no more talk about whether or not they can get over the hump, no more speculation about how their stars get along, no more questions about why the front office can’t put together a better bench. As soon as Blake Griffin re-signed this past summer, he became the No. 1 option for a franchise that needed new energy. With their revamped roster, energy should not be in short supply.
The new-look Clippers won’t be as good as they were with Paul running the show, but they might be more exciting. There is less pressure now, and it showed this preseason.
There are all sorts of good vibes right now, with coach Doc Rivers saying he prefers a motion-based offense with play-makers at a variety of positions. Griffin might be the primary play-maker, but Patrick Beverley, Danilo Gallinari, Milos Teodosic, Lou Williams and Austin Rivers will all have the opportunity to run pick-and-rolls and create. If this works, the Clippers will be much less predictable than they have been in a while.
In giving Griffin a $173 million contract, the Clippers made a bet that he will be able to avoid more freak injuries, get his bounce back and regain his status as one of the top 10 players in the league. At 28, he could just be entering his prime, with more responsibility and a much more mature offensive arsenal than he had when he was a nightly highlight factory.
The trick is going to be balancing his perimeter game with the explosiveness and physicality that made him so thrilling as a young player. Griffin should run pick-and-rolls, but he must also dunk on people. He should space the floor, but he must also hit the offensive glass. He should throw alley-oops, but he should also finish them.
Projected Record: 43-39
LOS ANGELES LAKERS
The Los Angeles Lakers are the basketball stars in the city of stars, so it figures their conversation would start with one of their newest and youngest stars.
His jumper is ugly, and there will be some struggles, especially as opponents place a bulls-eye on his back because of the outlandish statements and general stupidity of his father. But no member of this rookie class can distribute the basketball quite like Ball. It just feels serendipitous that a player like this would end up on a team that Magic Johnson is now running.
But this team is about so much more than Lonzo Ball and the Ball family’s general boorishness. Kentavious Caldwell-Pope was an extremely underrated acquisition, as he was one of the few bright spots on an otherwise disappointing Detroit Pistons team last year. Brandon Ingram has a boatload of talent that he’s still scratching the surface of; the advanced metrics are much kinder to his future prognosis, even if the “eye test” is not. Brook Lopez is still a consistent threat to get you 18 points and eight rebounds per game.
There is a good chance more people will spend the season talking about what happens in July, with the highly anticipated free-agent splurge, as opposed to what could happen this season. They might not be a playoff team by the end of the season, but they could easily be one of the most talked about teams all year long.
Projected Record: 34-48
Thanks to year after year of making draft selections in the NBA Draft Lottery, the Sacramento Kings are loaded with a weirdly intriguing combination of tantalizing young players, and veterans that are very long in the tooth.
The Kings were able to steal point guard De’Aaron Fox from the University of Kentucky with the 5th overall pick in the 2017 NBA Draft. Many people believed he could be the very best point guard in the draft. However, Sacramento followed that up by trading out of the opportunity to pair De’Aaron Fox with former University of Kentucky teammate Malik Monk. That would have been an incredible opportunity to add some serious buzz to a team that still suffers from being in an NBA outpost The team did add Justin Jackson and Harry Giles through that trade, who each bring their own strengths and weaknesses. So Fox, Jackson, and Giles will join Buddy Hield, Willie Cauley-Stein, and Skal Labissiere as the future of the Kings.
And if the kids happen to lose their way, they’ll have the collective wisdom of George Hill, Vince Carter, and Zach Randolph — all of whom were signed as free agents in the off-season — to lean on. All of those guys are past the prime of their careers, but could potentially be key role players and mentors (of some sort) to the Kings’ youth movement.
Possibly the only upside is that the veterans are almost exclusively comprised of players long-familiar with head coach Dave Joerger’s system. That desire to make the Kings one of the best defensive teams will still take time, but there’s little chance of a youth mutiny. They will have to buy in.
Projected Record: 33-49
Everyone knows about “The Process” in Philadelphia, and how that team might finally be poised for the playoffs after years of losing games and procuring top lottery talent via the NBA Draft.
But nobody talks about the Phoenix Suns undergoing the same process, likely because they’re still nowhere near competing for the postseason in the Western Conference. In fact, as they’re primed to miss the playoffs for an eighth consecutive season, the Suns will be lucky to avoid 50 losses on their 50th anniversary as a franchise.
On paper, this is a really interesting team. Eric Bledsoe is still a good player. Devin Booker showed flashes of his enormous scoring potential last year. Josh Jackson is a do-it-all wing that was made for today’s NBA. Marquese Chriss and Dragan Bender are still talented players taken in the NBA’s Draft lottery. So was Alex Len.
But games aren’t won on paper. And while Phoenix fans remain patient with this team’s development process, how much longer they’re willing to wait will be the question.
Projected Record: 30-52
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