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NBA Pacific Division Predictions: The Clippers Are Contenders, If They Can Stay Healthy

What teams are true playoff contenders? Which of the division’s superstars will have the biggest impact? SI has scouts’ takes and expert picks.

The Pacific Division will enter the 2023–24 season with plenty of star power, but how singular talents like Chris Paul will fit into their teams remains to be seen. The Suns, Warriors and Lakers will look to come together, while the Clippers hope to stay healthy and the Kings seek to replicate last year’s success. What else should you keep an eye on from these five teams?

Projected Order of Finish

  1. Phoenix Suns (2)
  2. Los Angeles Clippers (3)
  3. Golden State Warriors (4)
  4. Los Angeles Lakers (5)
  5. Sacramento Kings (6)

Conference seed in parentheses

Golden State Warriors guard Chris Paul.

All eyes will be on how Paul fits in with Golden State.

Anonymous Scouts’ Takes (as told to Chris Mannix)


Everyone has been praising the Lakers for their offseason. I thought it was just O.K. What they did do was give LeBron [James] and AD [Anthony Davis] reason to get excited about this team. Which means a lot. Last year there was no reason to be excited about that team. The Russell Westbrook deal was a pain in the ass, the coach was new and there were not a lot of reasons to be excited. This year, it feels like they’ve got some enthusiasm to go play. It feels like what they did this offseason is enough to get those guys excited to play. They seem like they’re f------ ready and excited to go out and play, which in and of itself is worth quite a bit.

Gabe Vincent is a solid rotation player. Taurean Prince is a decent rotation player. LeBron probably helps with Prince. He’s not always the most rational when it comes to his own game, but he is a wing who at one point in time could maybe make a three and can guard. Guys like that have had success when they played with LeBron throughout the course of his career. Vincent was interesting to me because I thought there were a number of games last year where he was playing in the playoffs and I was like, “Get his ass out and get Kyle Lowry in as soon as you can because he is not helping.” But this year, I think with LeBron, it’ll be a little bit different. I think he will play well off LeBron, too.

LeBron can still be pretty impactful night in and night out. He can still control games, still put up pretty good numbers to very good numbers. Defensively, I just don’t know if he’s got much. He struggles there in terms of what he can do other than just use his smarts. To me, the thing that it looked like in the playoffs was when he had to make high-level effort plays. It took a lot out of him. He could still make them, but after he did, he looked exhausted. I know he had the foot problem. That was probably pretty f------ tough, but I'm not even talking about the mobility. Just when he had to exert himself at a high level, that was hard for him. I don’t see that getting better. To me, if AD doesn’t want to play the five and they’ve got [Rui] Hachimura and all these other guys that are fours, how they hide LeBron defensively is going to be paramount for them most nights. I’m interested to see how they go about doing that at times.

AD is the five. Period. Has to be. They can’t win with him playing the four. And he needs to be in better shape. He looks like he worked this offseason. The last time he was in great shape was when they won the title. He was significantly leaner than what he looked like last season. I don’t know what his deal was. But he looked significantly heavier compared to what he did. They need a leaner version of him this season.


I still see the Clippers as a title contender. They have got some versatility and some different things they can do on both sides of the ball. Ty Lue is an excellent coach. … But when and for how long will they be healthy? That’s obviously the biggest question. Paul George is hurt every year. Kawhi [Leonard] is hurt every year. Is that going to change as they get older? That was pretty evident this year, too. I know Ty was really frustrated with the way things went, in terms of guys sitting out all the time and stuff like that. How do they address that, or are they going to address that? They can’t load-manage these guys the way they have and expect to win. I think if they’ve got everybody out there, they're pretty fucking good. They’re hard to deal with. They got a good coach. But how do they get them out there?

The Westbrook fit ended up being pretty good. Certainly better than what we saw from him with the Lakers. But I also thought he was really bought into doing things the way that would be more helpful. But I don’t know, I still don’t see him being a good spot-up shooter all of a sudden. I don’t see him being a good decision-maker, and as that athleticism continues to decline, how much will he accept who he is and impact the game in a positive way?

To me, the guy that you want next to George and Kawhi is a guy who can distribute the ball, who helps get into the offense, make spot-ups and then plays solid defense. Defensively I thought Westbrook’s effort level was good. I thought he gave more than he did with the Lakers. But I don’t see him as being a fit. But he is talented and he does provide something on the nights those guys aren’t playing. He’s definitely better than John Wall was. For the price tag you're getting him for, I guess that’s probably something that you can justify.

Terance Mann is a guy I like. He seems like the type of guy that you’d want on a good team, in terms of play on both ends. He can guard primary guys. He’s tough. He is able to initiate the offense a little bit for them. He’s not a great shooter, but I like the way he plays. In terms of his style, I think he compliments really good players well.

; LA Clippers forward Kawhi Leonard.

Can Leonard stay healthy and lead the Clippers on a title run?


Sacramento surprised everyone last year. I thought a number of times they benefited a lot from a great home court atmosphere, being a good team and from teams going up there thinking like, “Oh, this is an easy win.” And I don’t know how much they’re going to get that benefit this year. They were also really lucky with health. When everybody was struggling and hitting that malaise during the year, they had all their guys playing every game, which helps. And then De’Aaron Fox down the stretch, is he able to duplicate what he did last season? Because end of games, that dude was f------ off-the-charts good. Fourth quarter, he was lethal, which surprised me a little bit. I like Fox, but I guess I wasn't expecting him to be the best f------ clutch player in the league.

Keegan Murray has another level. I thought he was a solid role player as a rookie. Defensively, he’ll improve. Physically, he’ll get better, and then we’ll see what he can add to his game to go with it. Can he make more plays off the dribble and do some different things like that? Is he more than just a space-the-floor, spot-up, cut, defend type of player? His improvement, if it happens, will be big for them.

I don’t know how much better defensively they can be. You’re limited with [Domantas] Sabonis and his defensive liabilities when you play him. He’s playing the five. The only time I’ve ever seen him be part of a good defense is in Indiana, where they put him out there with Myles Turner for at least 18 minutes a night. And then to me, you’re going to count on some of these guys to become better individual defenders. Murray and some of the wings, but I don’t know how. If I’m them, we had one of the best offenses in history last year. Can we go from a below-average defensive team to an average defensive team? If they can do that, then they’re going to be in a pretty good position to improve by a few games.


People keep asking how Chris Paul will fit in Golden State. My question is: How much is Chris Paul willing to change who he is? The way he’s played is a very different style than what they have traditionally played. If you’re putting him out there with [Steph] Curry and [Klay] Thompson, I think back to Curry’s early days when they had Jarrett Jack, and Jack would be the ballhandler and those two would be running off the screen. You can certainly do that type of stuff with Chris.

The second unit, in the past, Steve Kerr would call plays a little bit more. CP can be useful there. But what does he have left in the tank? He didn’t look like he had a lot left last year. He looked worn down right off the bat last year relative to the year before, where he got beat up and worn down in the playoffs. Last year, to me, he looked like he was just showing his age more immediately. And I don’t know how much that changes for him at 38. Maybe in a reduced role. If they’re winning early on and things are going positively, that’d probably be great. If things aren’t going positively, I could see him being a pain in the ass. But usually in his first year teams like him. It’s over time that he starts to wear down.

Size is a major problem for them. I guess they’re going to say Draymond Green and Dario Šarić are their fives, but the more that Green has to play five on a nightly basis, the harder it is for them. And I think that that’s tough when you’re that undersized. You got to fight.

Jonathan Kuminga could take a step forward, maybe. But the one thing is with Kuminga, who’s going to take the step back and let him do more? Where does he get more opportunity? With the second unit, maybe? He has shown himself to be a high-level defender, which has been I think can be really impactful for them. His shooting is not there, but it’s not as broken as it was. Everything I’ve heard about him is that he’s a guy who views himself as being more than the role he’s in, which is natural, but how he gets the opportunity to show it and if he can do it, I don’t know.


There’s a lot of overlap with [Kevin] Durant, [Devin] Booker and [Bradley] Beal in Phoenix, but it’s only an issue if there is not a willingness to sacrifice. If there’s a willingness to sacrifice, then I don’t see that. I see it as a lot of really talented players, and it’s going to be really hard to f------- go against. But if there’s an unwillingness to sacrifice, then I think that’s when that type of stuff gets harder for them to be successful. I think at the end of the day, you can say what you want about Beal’s contract, but if you told me that you could trade a guy with a bloated contract and some second-round picks and get Bradley Beal, I think we would all call that a win. So I think that’s a net gain for them.

Who’s going to be the willing passer and the distributor is going to be interesting. Watching them last year, I thought Durant did not look like someone who was O.K. with the role he was in. I thought he had a lot of possessions where he looked disenfranchised, and just his comments after games when he’d say things like, “Yeah, I’m just trying to be a good teammate and space the floor and do what the team needs me to do.” The way he said it and those comments to me looked like those from a guy who’s like, “These dudes are f------ idiots, but this is what they want.”

So depth during the regular season, how they get that, what they’re going to do there will be interesting. How they distribute point guard minutes will be interesting. I think Frank [Vogel] will probably be very prepared defensively. He’ll have some good thoughts in terms of schemes and how they can play there. Offensively, he’s usually been pretty, I don’t know, underwhelming to say the least. But they’ve got a ton of firepower that if they’re willing to share the ball, they’ve got three guys that can cause two to have to guard the basketball. So they’ve got less of a need to really scheme it up on offense. Defensively, they’re going to have to be really sound, I would assume, and Frank’s teams are usually pretty good about that. Very prepared, he gets guys ready to go.

Point guard could be a problem. To me, it just depends on how much those other three are willing to sacrifice. Is Beal going to be a willing playmaker? If he is, then you probably got a pretty good team. If you think back to when the Celtics had Ray Allen, Paul Pierce, Kevin Garnett, Garnett went overboard to try to sacrifice for those guys and really made it work. Chris Bosh did a ton of sacrificing when he went to Miami for those other two. Who’s going to be willing to make those big-ass sacrifices, I guess? Who’s going to say, ‘Yeah, I'll score 16 a night. I’m O.K. with that.’

Did they get enough depth? I don’t know. But in the playoffs, I’m not sure as much how much it matters except for Durant. That dude, man, he’s going to miss games. They’ve got enough firepower, but he’s going to miss games. Beal misses a lot of games. Booker here recently missed significant time last season. It’s going to be very interesting during the regular season—who can play and be consistent for them because they’re going to have guys that miss time.

Phoenix Suns guard Devin Booker

Booker (right), Durant and Beal may need to sacrifice for the Suns to succeed. 

The most interesting thing about the …


With their Big Three of Durant, Booker and Beal in place, the big question is who will bring the ball up? Phoenix jettisoned both its point guards from last season (Paul and Cameron Payne), and the projected starting five has Beal and Booker in the backcourt. While both have handled point duties for stretches, both have also typically played alongside lead ballhandlers and most often with strongly authoritative ones.


The Clippers will have their most balanced roster since George and Leonard arrived in 2019. Even Westbrook seems to have revived his career here, looking the best he has in years, surrounded by a gang of shooters. But it all comes down to George and Kawhi staying healthy. The Clippers looked great when both players were on the floor last year, but those occasions—38 games in the regular season and none in the playoffs—were all too rare.


In a surprise trade this July, the Warriors shipped spark-plug guard Jordan Poole to Washington in exchange for 12-time All-Star Paul. CP3 employs a methodical style that is the antithesis of the Warriors’ free-flowing offense. The move could still pay dividends, though, especially if Paul accepts a bench role. Golden State could sorely use a steady hand when Curry is out of the game, a situation in which the team has struggled for years.


The Lakers have three players who will undoubtedly be on the floor come crunch time: LeBron, Davis and [Austin] Reaves. Free-agent signee Vincent, with his off-ball shooting and tenacious defense, will likely be the fourth, leaving a battle for the fifth spot. Hachimura is an intriguing option. He was great last postseason, but that small-sample success came after an uneven regular season following his acquisition from Washington in January.


In their first season under Mike Brown, the Kings had a 118.6 offensive rating, far and away the most efficient mark in NBA history. But there’s reason to wonder whether Sacramento can do it again. The Kings were major beneficiaries of injury luck last season; their starting five played 900 minutes together, while no other teams played even 750. Even if Sacramento stays healthy, it won’t have the benefit of sneaking up on anyone this year.