X-Golden State Warriors 69-13 (1)
The last three years have seen the Golden State Warriors playing at a different level than the rest of the NBA. The Warriors have won two of the last three NBA Championships, and in the process they’ve gone a combined 207-39 over the last three regular seasons. The Warriors are a team that is loaded with stars, but their best players don’t have a problem in regards to checking their egos at the door for the greater good of the team. And as the Warriors continue to play their brand of unselfish basketball, don’t expect this team to fall off anytime soon.
Steve Kerr is set to begin his fourth season as the head coach of the Warriors and he is seeking his fourth consecutive trip to the NBA Finals. Kerr knows a thing or two about hoisting the Larry O’Brien Trophy that represents the NBA Champion as he won three championships as a player with the Chicago Bulls, two more with the San Antonio Spurs, and twice now as the head coach of Golden State. Kerr knows how to let his players be themselves which he learned from playing under Phil Jackson, while he also reigns them in when need which he picked up from current Spurs head coach Greg Popovich. And as this formula has been so successful for the Warriors, don’t expect them to go away from it anytime soon.
The Warriors averaged 115.9 points per game last season which was tops in the NBA. Teams have tried to outscore the Warriors in their meetings which is a recipe for disaster as there is not another team in the NBA that can match them point for point.
After joining the Warriors last summer, small forward Kevin Durant knew that anything short of winning an NBA Championship was going to lead to more ridicule for him. Durant joined Golden State after spending the first nine years of his NBA career with the Seattle Supersonics/Oklahoma City Thunder franchise. Durant’s time with Oklahoma City included him being an NBA MVP, leading the league in scoring four times, and being a burden in the side of the Warriors.
But Durant joined Golden State seeking to get that elusive NBA Title and he delivered in a big way last season as after averaging 25.1 points, 8.3 rebounds, and 4.8 assists in the regular season. Durant would then take his game to the next level in the NBA Finals as he averaged 35.2 points, 8.4 rebounds, and 5.4 assists, while he shot nearly 47.5% from beyond the three-point line. Durant just turned 29 years-old last month, and as he in the prime of his career, he is not showing any signs of slowing down. Durant doesn’t appear to be content with just having one title which means that he’ll continue to be on board with Golden State’s “team first” philosophy.
Like Durant, point guard Steph Curry saw his offensive numbers slightly dip as he was teamed with so many quality shooters, but that didn’t take away from his effectiveness. Curry once again shot more than 40% from behind the three-point line as he continues to show off one of the sweetest deep shots in NBA history. And if Golden State opponents want to put too much attention on Durant, Curry can light it up, and before you know it, he’ll have 50 points.
With so much of the focus being on Curry and Durant, the forgotten scorer for the Warriors has been shooting guard Klay Thompson. In spite of Durant and Curry garnering so much attention last season, Thompson still managed to average 22.3 points per contest which was a career-high. Like Curry, Thompson has connected on more than 40% of his three-point shots throughout his NBA scorer as along with Durant and Curry, this becomes a dangerous trio that I am in no rush to compete against in a game of H-O-R-S-E.
But the glue that continues to keep this team together is power forward Draymond Green. Green does a little bit of everything for the Warriors at each end of the floor as he is indeed the team’s MVP. Last season Green averaged 2 blocks and 1.2 steals per contest en route to being named as the NBA’s Defensive Player of the Year. Green’s temper at times can get the best of him, but he is by far the most intense player who is currently in the NBA. And as long as the Warriors are able to reign in Green’s aggression in a way that it benefits his club, the sky is once again the limit for this quartet.
Aside from Golden State’s star power, they also have a solid supporting cast. Small forward Andre Iguodala and point guard Shaun Livingston each had the opportunity to leave Oakland over the summer in free agency, but both guys chose to remain with the Warriors for an opportunity to win another NBA Championship. Iguodala continues to be one of the best perimeter defenders in the NBA, while at 6’9″, Livingston is mismatch for most point guards, and he also gives the Warriors a quality ball handler coming off of the bench.
One of the quiet signings over the summer in the NBA was the Warriors signing shooting guard Nick Young. Throughout Young’s NBA career, he has been an under utilized player with some of it being his on doing. Young has always shown flashes of being a solid scorer, but he has not always played within the realm of an offense. However Young should be committed to his craft which comes this season with playing for the Warriors and their dedication to winning. And if Young is on top of his game, he will provide Golden State with instant offense coming off of the bench.
The Warriors will enter the NBA season once again with a target on their backs. However in recent years Golden State has embraced the hate as they once again have everything in place to be playing in June.
Y-Los Angeles Clippers 52-30 (5)
Each of the last five years have seen the Los Angeles Clippers win at least 50 games in the regular season, but it has not translated to success in the playoffs. The Clippers have never been able to advance past the second round in the NBA Playoffs, while their recent success has seen them take a backseat to the dynasties of the San Antonio Spurs and Golden State Warriors in the Western Conference. And with the Clippers failing to get out of the first round of the playoffs in each of the last two years, changes were made and you can expect more to be coming down the pike for the “other” NBA franchise that calls Los Angeles home.
Since Steve Ballmer became the Clippers owner in 2014, he has sought out to change the culture for this franchise. Ballmer inherited a head coach in Doc Rivers who knows what it takes to win an NBA Championship as he led the Boston Celtics to the title in 2008. Rivers joined the Clippers in 2013 not only as their head coach, but also as the team’s president. But with the Clippers inability to take the next step, Ballmer decided that it was time for Rivers to focus solely on being the team’s head coach which paved the way for Gillian Zucker to be the team’s president. However the biggest move that Ballmer made was to lure Jerry West away from the rival Warriors.
For nearly six decades, West has symbolized greatness in the NBA. West helped the Lakers win an NBA Championship as a player in 1972, while he became the team’s general manager in 1982 and became the architect of one of the greatest dynasties in league history as Los Angeles would go on to win four more titles with him at the helm during the 1980’s. Overall the Lakers would win seven NBA Titles with West as their general manager, while he would also help to reverse the fortunes of the Memphis Grizzlies and Warriors. West had been a consultant for the Warriors since 2011 and he helped to nullify a trade that would have sent shooting guard Klay Thompson to the Minnesota Timberwolves for power forward Kevin Love as Thompson has gone on to become a vital piece in two NBA Titles for Golden State. And after winning the NBA Title this past June, Warriors co-owners Joe Lacob and Peter Guber tried valiantly to retain the services of West, but his heart was on returning to Los Angeles; this time with the Clippers.
Upon joining the Clippers as a consultant, West inherited a disgruntled star player in point guard Chris Paul. The last six years saw Paul ascend to being the best player in Clippers franchise history, but a failed trade to acquire small forward Carmelo Anthony from the New York Knicks last season all but signaled the end of Paul’s run in Los Angeles as he had now reached his boiling point. And with Paul unwilling to sign an extension to remain with the Clippers, he was traded this past June to the Houston Rockets for eight players and a future first-round pick. This huge haul speaks to the genius of West as he has always had a keen eye for talent, while also being a tremendous negotiator. The Clippers may not have a point guard that can lead this team, but they now have the depth which could help them pull off some more trades in order to get one.
One of the biggest issues that has hindered the Clippers is that they have lacked a consistent go-to-guy. The hope is that power forward Blake Griffin can be that guy as he has led the Clippers in scoring in each of the last seven seasons, but you have to go back to his rookie season to find the last time in which he was able to play a full 82-game schedule. Griffin’s inability to stay healthy has limited what the Clippers have been able to do. However even with that Griffin received a new five-year $173 million contract from the Clippers this past summer after he flirted with joining the Phoenix Suns.
Aside from trading Paul, the Clippers lost three of their top five scorers from last year’s squad. Shooting guard J.J. Redick signed with Philadelphia 76ers, while shooting guard Jamal Crawford joined the Minnesota Timberwolves via a trade.
In trading Crawford, Los Angeles was able to acquire small forward Danilo Galinari from the Denver Nuggets. Since Galinari came to the NBA from his native Italy in 2008, he has been an underrated scorer, and now he can give the Clippers a consistent scorer at the small forward position.
Lost in the trade which sent Paul to Houston were two of the guards that the Clippers received. Point guard Patrick Beverley has played with a chip on his shoulder since he came into the NBA in 2012. Beverley has always been a tough minded player which is right up the alley of his new head coach in Rivers.
Guard Lou Williams has always been instant offense coming off of the bench for the majority of his NBA career. Williams has averaged 12.8 points for his NBA career primarily as a bench player, and it does not take that much for him to get going. In trading Crawford, the Clippers parted with a player who is a three-time NBA Sixth Man of the Year Award winner. However Williams has also taken home the honor once, and the Clippers second unit should not skip a beat this season in regards to having quality scoring coming off of the bench with Williams.
With so many new players on the Clippers roster, they should start of slow before getting into a groove. However the Clippers still don’t match up with the Warriors or Spurs which will once again prevent them from making a deep playoff run.
Los Angeles Lakers 35-47
The best way to sum up the current state of the Los Angeles Lakers is that they are in uncharted waters. For the first time in franchise history the Lakers have missed the playoffs in four consecutive years as they have become a shell of themselves. Former Lakers point guard Magic Johnson was hired to be the team’s new president of basketball operations this past February and he knows a thing or two about the organizations winning tradition. Johnson helped the Lakers win five NBA Championships in the 1980’s as a player and now he wants to bring that winning formula to the front office. Johnson hired former sports agent Rob Pelinka to be the Lakers new general manager, while he retained the services of Luke Walton as the team’s head coach. And this will be the brain trust that can hopefully turn around the fortunes of the purple and gold.
The Lakers went into the 2017 NBA Draft in possession of the second overall pick. There were several directions that the Lakers could have gone in regards to their selection, but they ultimately decided on UCLA Bruins point guard Lonzo Ball. In Ball’s one season at UCLA, he averaged 14.6 points, 7.6 assists, and 6 rebounds en route to being a First-team All-American as well as the Pac-12 Conference’s Player of the Year.
Unfortunately for Ball, his prowess on the basketball court has been overshadowed by the off-the-court antics of his father LaVar Ball. Ball has been outspoken in regards to how he feels about the basketball skills of his son as well as how his son stacks up versus some prominent NBA players. All along the elder Ball wanted his son to play for the Lakers, but will his enthusiasm benefit or hinder the young Lakers team?
In drafting Ball, the Lakers traded point guard D’Angelo Russell to the Brooklyn Nets. Part of the Lakers compensation for sending Russell to the Nets was that they were able to obtain center Brook Lopez. Lopez had spent his entire nine-year NBA career with the Nets as he became the franchise’s all-time leading scorer. Lopez comes to Los Angeles after he averaged 20.5 last season for Brooklyn. Lopez won’t be the focal point of the Lakers offense, while he must get adjusted to the triangle offense that Walton operates. But the fact that Lopez will become a free agent next summer should see him have a solid season for the purple and gold.
If the Lakers are going to push for a playoff spot in 2017, the maturation process of small forward Brandon Ingram must continue. Ingram was the second overall pick of the 2016 NBA Draft by the Lakers, and as a rookie he averaged 9.4 points. Ingram came off of the bench in 39 games for the Lakers last season, and he should have more of an opportunity to be an impact player this year due to his potential as a scorer and ball handler.
Power forward Julius Randle continues to be a consistent double-double threat in the front court for the Lakers. However Randle is not going to be a player that can continuously produce 20 points and 10 rebounds due to his inability to be a consistent scorer in the post. Randle gets the majority of his points off of put backs and his energy on the boards must continue.
The young Lakers will be more exciting than they have been in recent years, but there is still a rather large gap between them and the playoff contenders in the Western Conference.
Sacramento Kings 32-50
The Sacramento Kings will enter the current NBA season in possession of the second longest current playoff drought in the league. You have to turn the calendar back to the 2005-2006 NBA season in order to find the last time that the Kings were able to reach the postseason. Since then the Kings have been plagued by bad horrible front office decisions which includes making poor choices in the NBA Draft. The Kings have one of the best home arenas in the NBA which the debuted last season in the Golden 1 Center. However the basketball fans in Northern California are not going to consistently support the Kings with the product that they are putting out on the basketball court. And by the looks of things this could be another long NBA season in Sacramento.
As Dave Joerger is set to begin his season season as the head coach of the Kings, his squad will definitely have a different feel to it. Five of the top six scorers for Sacramento from last season are no longer with them which includes All-Star center DeMarcus Cousins who was traded to the New Orleans Pelicans this past February. And in trading Cousins, the Kings are once again “starting over” which unfortunately has been the norm for them.
The key player that the Kings received in trading Cousins was shooting guard Buddy Hield. In 25 games last season with the Kings, Hield was able to averaged 15.1 points per game as he was showing the flashes of being “instant offense” which made him an All-American during his senior season for Oklahoma Sooners in the 2015-2016 college basketball season.
The Kings now have three first-round picks from this year’s NBA Draft on their roster. Guard De’Aron Fox, forward Justin Jackson, and forward Harry Giles won’t be able to turn around the fortunes of the Kings right away, but they will each have the opportunity to get their feet wet while potentially showing the fans of Sacramento a glimpse into the future. The Kings also have veterans such as power forward Zach Randolph and small forward Vince Carter who are familiar with Joerger’s coaching style from their time together with the Memphis Grizzlies. However it is hard to believe that a 36-year old Randolph, as well as a 40-year old Carter will be able to have a big impact this season for the Kings.
The Kings will be fighting an uphill battle all season long as their playoff drought will continue.
Phoenix Suns 30-52
Ever since the Phoenix Suns made the Western Conference Finals in 2010, they don’t have any postseason appearances, while only being able to record one winning season. During that time the Suns have restructured their front office several times, but to no avail as the losing continues. Earl Watson is set to begin his second full season as the head coach of the Suns. Watson has one of the youngest teams in the NBA to work with as the Suns had 13 players on their roster under the age of 25 when training camp began. And as the youth movement is once again the direction that the Suns are going, will it result in them being competitive in the Western Conference?
It is not a secret anymore that the Suns are developing one of the best backcourt combos in the Western Conference. Each of point guard Eric Bledsoe’s seven years in the NBA have seen his production increase. Bledsoe averaged 21.1 points per game and 6.3 assists last season. Bledsoe is one of the most explosive point guards in the NBA due to his speed and ability to get to the basket. And that ability could lead to Bledsoe making his first All-Star team this season.
Booker made tremendous strides from his rookie season to his sophomore campaign in the NBA. After Booker averaged 13.8 points per game as a rookie, he was able to tally 22.1 points per contest last season which included him dropping 70 points versus the Boston Celtics on March 24. Booker is instant offense and as he is developing his perimeter game while also benefiting from the penetrating ability of Bledsoe, he could find himself in the top ten in regards to scoring this season in the NBA.
Another project for the Suns has been small forward T.J. Warren. Warren was selected by the Suns in the first round in 2014 and like Bledsoe and Booker, his production continues to improve. Warren does not yet have the ability to make an impact for the Suns as a perimeter scorer as he only shot 26% from behind the three-point line last season, but he could be a force in regards to playing pick-and-roll with Booker and Anderson, while also crashing the boards which will help the Suns who were sixth in the NBA last season in rebounds per contest with 45.
Last season the Suns were ninth in the NBA in scoring at 107.7 points per game, but they were also dead last in points allowed (113.3). The Suns must find a way to get tougher on the defensive end of the court as they are not always going to be able to outscore their opponents. However Phoenix should still be one of the more exciting teams in the NBA this season.