Pacific Division Preview

Pranav Ramasubramanian | October 22nd, 2019

The Pacific Division is set to look very different after one of the biggest offseasons in NBA history completely shifted the league balance. The division went from one of the decent divisions in the NBA to the most competitive in a very quick period of time. Here’s an outlook at the division.

Los Angeles Clippers

After an extremely promising season where Doc Rivers coached up the reserves and role players to the playoffs pushing the Golden State Warriors in six games, it impressed those around the league with marquee players starting to see the Clippers as a free-agent destination. After everybody had ruled the Clippers out of the Kawhi Leonard sweepstakes an absolute shock arrived when Kawhi Leonard announced he would be signing with the Clippers on July 5th. He had also convinced Paul George to come with him so the Clippers traded away five first-round draft picks, Danilo Gallinari and Shai Gilgeous-Alexander to acquire Paul George from the Oklahoma City Thunder. However, a shoulder surgery he had in the summer keeps him out until mid-November to early December.

Paul George was playing at an MVP level for the Thunder before that same shoulder injury limited him so George should come back ready to play. The Clippers were able to get two of the best wings in the game . George, who is one of the game’s most prolific scorers with his ability to score in the paint, mid-range and from three while Kawhi’s quick release and speed coming off screens for open shots will help propel the Clippers offense. The two other big pieces on offense are the sixth man of the year Lou Williams, and the sixth man of the year candidate Montrezl Harrell, while Lou is a three-point sniper, who can move the ball around Harrell, can bring the intensity that can help the Clippers not miss a beat when Kawhi or Paul George hit the bench.

All great teams have good shooters and the Clippers have plenty in Landry Shamet, Patrick Patterson, JaMychal Green, and Derrick Walton. Terance Mann and Mfiondu Kabengele are just rookies, but if they seize their opportunity well then they may get an increase in minutes throughout the course of the season. The defense is absolutely loaded with players whose IQs are through the roof and even if you run a high number of ball screens the Clippers should switch effectively while closing out on the shooter to eliminate easy baskets with their size.

Kawhi is the defensive mastermind, who can lock anyone down one on one while Paul George can swat passes and get a ton of steals so the defensive duo of these two wings will wreak havoc in the NBA. Patrick Beverley is a pest on defense getting in the face of opponents to try and rattle them or throw them off their game while his offense may dip due to an overcrowded backcourt. Ivica Zubac got stronger in the summer so he needs to figure out a way to be more physical down low on defense so he can make the right impact while his offense is getting better and better as he keeps improving his moves.

The TrailBlazers no longer felt they needed Maurice Harkless so they traded him to the Clippers where the Clippers will love his defensive versatility of guarding 1 through 4 even though his three-point shooting isn’t too consistent. If the Clippers can weather the initial storm of playing without Paul George and can build good team chemistry when he comes back then look out for the Clippers to seriously contend for the Western Conference.

Golden State Warriors

Kevin Durant decided to go to the Brooklyn Nets instead of signing a long term max with the Golden State Warriors after what happened in the NBA Finals. Durant had made the ultimate decision to play, but the training and medical staff should have been able to see that he was clearly not ready.

Klay Thompson is also out for most of the year with a torn ACL in his left knee and won’t consider playing unless the Warriors are in playoff contention. This means the defense suffers because Durant was a great one on one defender finishing plays with blocks and Thompson lowered Curry’s burden by guarding the best player on the floor. Stephen Curry now has full freedom in terms of shot attempts so he should be averaging close to 35 points per game to keep the Warriors in games. Another member of the core that stayed was Draymond Green and he should be his usual self this year passing, rebounding and playing high-intensity defense.

The Warriors combated the loss of Klay Thompson by acquiring D’Angelo Russell from the Brooklyn Nets. Russell had a resurgence last year leading the Brooklyn Nets to the playoffs with his offense, which was efficient because of the floaters, three-pointers and mid-range shots he was making. Steve Kerr may have made a mistake getting rid of a proven Alfonzo McKinnie for an unproven Marquese Chriss, but if any team knows how to develop talent it’s the Warriors.

Michigan isn’t just known for producing football players, but good basketball players and the Warriors drafted sharpshooter Jordan Poole from Michigan in hopes that he will come right in with good production helping the Warriors keep pace in the West. Kerr doesn’t demand much from guys like Omari Spellman, Jacob Evans, Willie-Cauley Stein, Kevon Looney, Glenn Robinson III, Alec Burks or Eric Paschall other than them playing their role well. A rookie breakout contributor could be Alen Smailagic, who was signed off the Santa Cruz Warriors and might fill the void Durant left with his scoring ability.

The offense will be run by Stephen Curry as he will be shooting more and Draymond’s help initiating will keep the offense stout, but the defense took a huge hit due to injuries meaning the Warriors will spend a lot of time scrambling on defense this season.

Los Angeles Lakers

LeBron James is looking to have a bounce-back year after missing the playoffs for the first time in the decade because of his groin injury that knocked him out 18 games despite still putting up good numbers. LeBron will relish having Anthony Davis this season as Davis can shoulder some of the offense with his all-around game and should have some highlight-worthy plays all year long.

This opens stuff up for LeBron to play his game in the post while still distributing the ball at a high level. The Lakers saw the formula of not surrounding LeBron James with shooters massively underwhelm last season so this year they surrounded him with shooters like Danny Green, Avery Bradley, and Troy Daniels.

Danny Green is likely to start and he brings not just his shooting, but his great fundamental defense limiting isolation basketball with his great natural instinct. Vogel tends to lean on players with more experience to start at point guard as even LeBron will play at the position heavily this year, but if healthy expect to see Rondo’s passing ability and chemistry with Anthony Davis help him sneak into the starting rotation.

Davis isn’t comfortable playing the Center position at all times so the Lakers signed DeMarcus Cousins, who injured his torn left ACL in the summer at a workout in Vegas prompting the Lakers to look at other options. That’s when Dwight Howard hit the market and the Lakers decided since they needed help down low and having nothing to lose they signed Howard to a one year deal. Howard brings his terrific rebounding and physical toughness down low back to the Lakers for a shot at redemption so he can go back to being a double-double machine along with being one of the better centers in the league.

The sixth man Kyle Kuzma is indefinitely out with a left foot injury he suffered from Team USA so the new additions Quinn Cook, Troy Daniels, and Jared Dudley have to fill in with decent production until Kuzma is back. Caruso’s health is also a question mark, but if he’s good to go his offense will need to be in full form like last season and Kentavious-Caldwell Pope needs to take better shots so he can help the team more than hurt it. The health isn’t the only thing the Lakers should be concerned about, but also their defense so they need guys like JaVale McGee, Avery Bradley, Jared Dudley, Rajon Rondo, Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, Danny Green and Talen Horton-Tucker to step up so they can brush away those flaws and contend for a championship.

Sacramento Kings

Luke Walton was hired as head coach after getting fired by the Los Angeles Lakers at the end of last season. De’Aaron Fox showed what he could do without a leash last year averaging 17 and 7, but it’s the speed that made him hard to stop so he needs to continue to play with the same speed for the success to continue. It helps to have a running mate like Buddy Hield, who stepped up in a big way last year by shooting with more confidence willing to take tougher shots and he made most of them helping the team offensively. Harrison Barnes and Trevor Ariza will likely split their minutes at Small Forward so they can help on defense by trying to manipulate the other team’s wings into fewer shots and good looks.

Fox should find Ariza for easy three’s and Barnes just needs to work down low to get baskets by shooting over whoever is guarding him. Bagley needs to stay healthy so he can dominate in the post while Dewayne Dedmon can clean up the glass with offensive and defensive rebounds. A solid bench is needed for success in the NBA and sixth man Bogdan Bogdanovic helps provide that.

Bogdanovic can score in so many different ways and he can be the ignition that kickstarts the team when they are tired from their constant traveling. The Kings can play their younger players for a long time on the court and use subbing patterns to keep some on the floor while others rest so if the bench can just hold up till then the Kings could easily be looking at the playoffs. The defensive issues stem from them using too much energy on offense so Walton needs to figure out a scheme where the younger players can conserve some energy for that side of the ball as well. Walton held Lonzo Ball and some of the Lakers’ young core back by benching them too much just when they got on a roll, but he must trust Fox and Hield more if the Kings are to be more successful. It was a good thing they settled the Buddy Hield extension fast so they could sign him at a discounted price. They must quickly sign the rest of the young core so they can avoid those future contract stalemates.

Phoenix Suns

It’s funny to even think that the Phoenix Suns got players in free agency to come to their inept franchise. Ricky Rubio‘s passing ability will help the Suns get good looks on offense, but he must also be consistent from three if the Suns want to even think about the playoffs. It definitely helps that they filled out the roster with shooters like Tyler Johnson, Dario Saric, Cameron Johnson, Ty Jerome, Frank Kaminsky, and Jared Harper to help space the floor. Ayton didn’t disappoint offensively last year with 16 and 10, but defensively he wasn’t fast enough to close out letting opposing big men get easy baskets. Booker is a master at pulling up from anywhere on the court and draining buckets, but he too needs his defense to improve at a drastic level or else the Suns will continue to give up great looks to the opposing team. It won’t help that the roster will get no upgrade during the season so this is what the Suns are stuck with all year.

New head coach Monty Williams has to extract good minutes from the rookies and solid production from the younger players or else the Suns will be in for a long year again. The defense got lazy again and that’s been a recurring pattern that Williams has to fix or else the Suns will get lost in the Wild, Wild West. The Suns have replaced some of their younger players, who they believed didn’t have the potential to develop with players who have more of a chance of developing into helping some of their team needs. The Suns’ organization must cooperate with the long term plan and not expect short term results from a team that is years away from contending. If the organization tries to blow it up again they risk more lost years and alienating the stars of their franchise in Booker and Ayton. This won’t be the season the Suns will rise from the ashes, but if they stay patient they can potentially build something great.

Prediction

The battle of Los Angeles will start tonight on TNT and likely continue till the end of the season as both teams should make it to the Western Conference Finals. The Clippers are likely to have 55 plus wins and be the 2nd seed in the West while the Lakers win somewhere in the 47-49 range to be the 5th seed in the West.

The West is gonna be even more intense this year with more superstars joining so the Golden State Warriors will be on the outside looking in with just 45 wins as they will be unable to overcome Klay Thompson’s defensive acumen when it matters most.

The Phoenix Suns have been in the doghouse of the West and this year should be no different because, until management changes, nothing about their franchise will, which means success is still far away.

The Pacific Division will see one new playoff team in the Sacramento Kings as De’Aaron Fox and Buddy Hield should elevate their play to sneak them in as they should win 47 games to get the 8th seed. In the Western Conference Finals, the Los Angeles Lakers should knock off the Los Angeles Clippers with the help of dominating performances from Anthony Davis and LeBron James. The Los Angeles Lakers should win banner No.17 and LeBron James’ 4th ring in this upcoming season.

Questions and comments?
thescorecrowsports@gmail.com

Follow Us on Twitter @thescorecrow
Follow Us on Reddit at u/TheScorecrow
Follow Us on Facebook at The Scorecrow
Follow Us on Instagram at The Scorecrow
Facebook Group where you can read and post articles at The Scorecrow
Reddit Group where everyone can post without fear of being banned at The Scorecrow

Follow Pranav on Twitter @PranavRama1

Main Image Credit: Embed from Getty Images