- Golden State will be better than it was a year ago, with the rest of the NBA trying to keep pace. So what do we make of the Pacific's non-Warriors class?
The NBA’s Pacific Division is a one-team race for the foreseeable future. The Warriors will win this division for the fourth straight year, with an act of God more likely to stop them than any of the other team in this group. Golden State would have to lose multiple stars before it started to worry, so don’t expect a tight race here for even a second.
Still, there’s some intrigue for the non-Warriors class of the division. The new-look Clippers are starting the post-Chris Paul era. Lonzo Ball is getting the keys to the Lakers. And the Kings and Suns are looking to make the leap into respectability. Let’s dive deep into the Pacific.
Golden State Warriors
Outlook: The Warriors are better going into this season than they were a year ago. Kevin Durant is now fully acclimated into the team, and he seemed to iron out any ball distribution issues with Stephen Curry during this most recent postseason. Not that they needed one, but Nick Young gives the Dubs another scorer off the bench. Omri Casspi was also a stealthily solid pickup, given his fit into what Golden State wants to do. And the usual suspects—Draymond Green, Klay Thompson, Andre Iguodala—are mostly still at the top of their games, though Iggy's game is showing signs of age. All that’s left to wonder is how many games this team can win. If Adam Silver’s new resting rules are taken seriously, don’t be surprised if the Warriors flirt with 70.
Best case: Warriors win 73 games and actually win the Finals this time.
Worst case: Steph leaves a game holding his ankle and Durant forgets to switch accounts before calling him soft.
Los Angeles Clippers
Outlook: The Clippers decided to stay competitive instead of bottoming out after Chris Paul’s departure, which may not have been the best long-term strategy. But the team they’ll put on the court this season looks very fun. Blake Griffin will finally be given control of the team and he’s proven in smaller samples he can acquit himself well outside of Paul’s shadow. Danilo Gallinari should also have a featured role provided he stays healthy. And Milos Teodosic is going to have the Association’s greatest YouTube mix by the end of the season, both in terms of volume and quality. The Clips probably won’t reach the heights of their Paul-led offensive juggernauts, but there’s definitely some sleeper potential with this team.
Best case: L.A. clicks immediately, and Griffin, Teodosic, Patrick Beverly and DeAndre Jordan form Lob City 2.0 en route to the fifth seed in the West.
Worst case: Griffin and Gallinari miss significant time with injuries, but Clippers games still take three-and-a-half hours because teams won’t stop fouling Jordan.
Outlook: The Kings had what was for them a shockingly competent offseason. They were the stars of draft night, picking up De’Aaron Fox, Justin Jackson and Harry Giles to breath new life into the organization. And then Sacramento picked up some solid vets to keep the young guys in check, with George Hill, Vince Carter and Zach Randolph all coming on board. The Kings didn’t get better by trading Boogie Cousins, but that move did help unlock some potential in guys like Buddy Hield and Willie Cauley-Stein. This team is very far from the top of its division, but after years of being a laughingstock, the Kings appear to be ready to shed that label.
Best case: The mix of old and new forms an entertaining team that stays in the hunt for the West’s final playoff spot.
Worst case: Vivek Ranadivé starts coaching the team himself and his unconventional methods prove to be a spectacular failure.
Los Angeles Lakers
Outlook: There’s excitement in L.A. again, so much so that some Lakers fans are getting cocky about the players actually on the team, and not the free-agent photoshops that go up in flames every time a star decides against playing for the Lakers. Los Angeles won’t be good this season, but they should be more respectable than in recent years. Brook Lopez was a sneaky good pickup, and Kentavious Caldwell-Pope should soak up some solid minutes on the perimeter. Lonzo will have fun running the fastbreak with guys like Julius Randle and Larry Nance, while Brandon Ingram will hopefully round into form with a year of seasoning sprinkled on his game. Don’t get your hopes too high, but Luke Walton’s team will probably steal some games throughout the season.
Best case: Lonzo is the real deal, and LeBron watches games from courtside at Staples Center in his spare time.
Worst case: The young guys continue going through their growing pains and Walton loses touch with the veterans as the team sinks to the bottom of the standings.
Outlook: The Suns should be making something of a mini-leap in Year 3 of Devin Booker, but they seem destined to finish in the bottom third of the league yet again. Booker’s prowess as a scorer obfuscates his deficiencies as a defender, making it hard for him to truly carry this team. Eric Bledsoe is perennially underrated, but it would be a surprise if he finished the year in Phoenix. Tyson Chandler is somehow still projected to start at center, which is a bad sign for Alex Len. Lottery pick Josh Jackson will add a dash of spice on the perimeter, but this team still has a lot of building to do.
Best case: Booker makes the leap into a well-rounded star, Jackson is a Rookie of the Year candidate, and the Suns push 35 wins.
Worst case: Booker keeps scoring empty buckets, Bledsoe gets traded early, and the Suns fall apart in another lost season.
Breakout Player: Milos Teodosic, Clippers
Teodosic is going to be the thinking person’s favorite NBA player by mid-December. A 30-year-old rookie, Teodosic has been embarrassing lesser players in Russia for the last six years as the point guard for CSKA Moscow. American fans may remember him from the Rio Olympics, where he led Serbia to a silver medal after it fell to the U.S. in the championship game. Teodosic’s best skill is his passing. He can uncork some wild connections from seemingly anywhere on the court, which means he will absolutely catch your favorite player off guard at some point this season. Will Teodosic hold up defensively? Probably not. Will he drain some threes and bring back fond memories of the first And1 mixtape you watched? Almost definitely.
Rookie to watch: Lonzo Ball
Ball’s star potential will play a giant role in the Lakers’ future. If Ball proves quickly he’ll be a force in the NBA, Los Angeles has an ace in its pocket when meeting with free agents next summer. (If the Oklahoma City experiment goes south, maybe Paul George will want to play with a pass-first point guard.) So Ball isn’t only playing for himself or to shut up the people who criticize him and his dad. He’s also playing to clarify the Lakers’ road map back to championship contender. For all the hoopla around Ball and his family, don’t forget that this dude can play. He’s a willing passer, a force in transition and athletic enough to defend both guard spots well. Ball knows all eyes will be on him early in the season, so he’ll also have a chance to show how he can perform under pressure.
Coach on the hot seat: Doc Rivers
Rivers was stripped of his GM duties this summer, and rightfully so. Doc never could find the right pieces to uplift the Paul-Griffin-Jordan nucleus of yesteryear, relying on out-of-shape veterans and guys he knew to round out his teams, ultimately placing too much burden on his stars. Rivers has now been given a team that’s expected to remain competitive, but he may have a tough job finding a way to fit all the pieces together. With Jerry West now overseeing operations for the Clippers, there’s probably a little less loyalty to Doc from the top of the organization. If West and the front office like what they have on the roster, Doc could be in trouble if the team decides they want to fully commit to a new era of Clippers basketball.
Random Bold Prediction
The Warriors will win 71 games.