The NBA‘s Pacific Division is home to the association’s only super-team. The Golden State Warriors look to once again dominate the division. Then there’s the division’s most confusing team, the Los Angeles Clippers. Team president and head coach Doc Rivers will once again rely on the “Lob City” trio. The Clippers have the talent to win 50-plus games. Then there’s the regressing Sacramento Kings. The Kings appear to be getting worse by the season, and will once again be overly reliant on All-Star DeMarcus Cousins. Then we have two young teams on the rise. The Los Angeles Lakers and Phoenix Suns both have good young rosters and bright futures within the division.
Whether it’s before or after reading this article, be sure to check out Last Word on Pro Basketball‘s Pacific Division preview podcast.
2016-17 NBA Pacific Division Preview
A Look Back at the 2015-16 Season
Last season saw the Warriors not just win the division, but win in style. Golden State won an NBA record 73 games. Led by the association’s first ever unanimous MVP in Steph Curry, the Warriors dominated the division. The Clippers had another impressive season, winning more than 50 games for the fourth year in a row. Cousins led his Kings team to yet another stagnant season. Winning just 33 games, the Kings are in a bad place and can’t seem to recover. The Lakers landed the No. 2 overall pick in the 2016 NBA Draft, after winning a woeful 17 games last season. Then we have the Suns, who won 23 games. The Suns had an average season, considering that the team suffered so many injuries.
Golden State Warriors
After a disappointing collapse in last season’s NBA Finals, the Warriors have not just reloaded; they have gained access to the whole armory. The Warriors signed superstar Kevin Durant, adding yet another All-Star to the mix. Durant’s talent speaks for itself, but some question whether or not this new-look Warriors starting line-up will work. The Warriors look strong, but chemistry is key to winning in the NBA.
One problem the Warriors will face this season is a lack of bench depth. The team lost three key reserve role players in Leandro Barbosa, Festus Ezeli, and Marreese Speights. All three left for rival Western Conference teams. One of the keys to the Warriors’s great success in recent seasons was their bench. Key role players consistently came into games and filled in for the resting stars. The Warriors have filled some of these missing spots, but the team is now lacking post players. This puts a lot of pressure on the likes of veterans Zaza Pachulia and David West.
This Warriors team is very talented, but don’t expect them to top last year’s tally of 73 wins. Even with the addition of Durant, this Warriors team will likely fall short of last season’s record-breaking win total. This season, the Warriors would like to see a reverse of last campaign. The team’s focus is now more on winning a championship than racking up regular season wins. Head coach Steve Kerr has a tough challenge on his hands, so expect growing pains early on.
Record Prediction: 63-19
Los Angeles Clippers
Under head coach Doc Rivers, the Clippers have had three consecutive seasons with 50 or more wins. The “Lob City” trio has been key to this success. Chris Paul, Blake Griffin, and DeAndre Jordan head into the new season under scrutiny. Clippers fans are beginning to question whether or not this team is capable of playoff success. The Clippers are the closest thing to competition that the Warriors have in the Pacific Division.
Rivers is on the hot seat. This season could determine whether or not Rivers remains as Clippers head coach. He’s a very good coach, but with his team failing to perform in the playoffs, Rivers heads into the season on shaky ground. The Clippers have a high-priced roster, so it’s about time that this team performs when it matters. This season is make or break for everyone involved. The Clippers are one season away from potentially pressing the reset button. If the Clippers fail to deliver this season, then expect big changes in Los Angeles.
This team should win 50 or more games once again, and finish as the runner-up to the Warriors in the division.
Record Prediction: 54-28
The Phoenix Suns are young and improving slowly. Under new head coach Earl Watson, the Suns finally have direction. Being one of the youngest teams in the NBA will lead to growing pains. But the Suns do have the advantage of having very low expectations. After suffering so many injuries last season, the Suns will hope to have luck on their side this time around.
The Suns will go young this season. Last season, the Suns tried to find the ideal balance between young and old. This season should be similar, but with a few tweaks. Center Alex Len will likely start ahead of veteran Tyson Chandler. Len is looking better every year and could have a breakout season. The Suns have arguably the best young player in the division in Devin Booker. Booker had a great rookie year and looks set to start in Watson’s version of the Suns.
The Suns look stronger than last year, without actually making any major changes. Point guards Eric Bledsoe and Brandon Knight are both healthy again. They look set to share minutes with one another this season. The draft went well for Phoenix, as the team selected Dragan Bender fourth overall. Bender will need time to adapt to life in the NBA, but he looks like a good prospect. General manager Ryan McDonough also traded for Marquese Chriss on draft night.
The Suns used the off-season very well. Suns fans should expect their team to play better and win some more games this season.
Record Prediction: 32-50
It seems like the Kings are re-building every season. So just like most seasons, the Kings head into a new year with low expectations. All-Star DeMarcus Cousins will once again be the lone highlight of a Kings team that fails to progress. Cousins is in a difficult situation, as a star on a below .500 team. This season, Cousins will likely be the subject of trade speculation (again).
The Kings are a bad team; it’s as simple as that. But bad teams are supposed to get better; that’s what the draft is for. But when you judge this division, the Kings are the only team on the decline. General manager Vlade Divac has struggled to add talent in both the draft and free agency. One other big issue for the Kings has been stability. The Kings are just like the Cleveland Browns of the NFL. Firing coaches has become an annual event in Sac-Town.
This season, the Kings have Dave Joerger at the helm. Joerger has a tough year ahead, with this Kings team lacking talent across the board. Point guard Darren Collison is suspended to start the season. Forward Rudy Gay is a key scorer for Sacramento, but his future with the team looks uncertain. The Kings look set for another disappointing season, likely leading to mass off-season changes.
Record Prediction: 27-55
Los Angeles Lakers
Last season was disappointing but predictable in Los Angeles. Lakers fans are always very expectant, but the growing process continues under new head coach Luke Walton. Patience appears to be key, as the Lakers look set for another poor season. This team is still young, so it shouldn’t come as a shock when the Lakers finish last in the division.
D’Angelo Russell will receive starter minutes in his second year. Russell has been the Lakers’ most impressive player in both the preseason and NBA Summer League. After a turbulent rookie season, Russell appears to be developing into a leader for a young Lakers team. The Lakers are currently in the same boat as the Phoenix Suns. They’re two young teams, just looking for gradual improvement.
The best rookie in the division will play ball in Los Angeles, but Brandon Ingram won’t start for the Lakers. The skinny rookie was drafted No. 2 overall back in June, but he’ll have to work for his starting spot. General manager Mitch Kupchak was expected to deliver big in free agency. However, he only managed to bring in forward Luol Deng and center Timofey Mozgov. Both players are set to start, but Lakers fans wanted so much more.
Record Prediction: 23-59