X-Golden State Warriors 65-17 (1)
Last year was a dream season for the Golden State Warriors as they set a new NBA single-season record for wins 73 that should stand for a very long time. The Warriors appeared poised to repeat as NBA Champions as they built a 3-1 series in the NBA Finals, only to falter and lose the final three games to the Cleveland Cavaliers, which included two of those defeats coming at home. The Warriors only lost nine games during the regular season, but they would lose nine contests during the playoffs which includes their last three as they’ve had all summer to sit back and only ponder what could have been if they were able to repeat as NBA Champions. But after a record breaking season for the Warriors, don’t expect them to drop off that much.
What has propelled the Warriors over the past few NBA seasons has been their perimeter shooting. As a team the Warriors shot nearly 42% from beyond the three-point arc while they were led by “The Splash Brothers” of point guard Steph Curry and shooting guard Klay Thompson.
Curry is the reigning two-time NBA MVP who is one of the best perimeter shooters that the game of basketball has seen as he is indeed a pure shooter. Last season Curry averaged 30.1 points per game and at times he can make deep shooting almost look like making layups as it doesn’t take that much for him to get into the zone.
Thompson is no slouch either when it comes to scoring as he is a career 42% shooter from downtown, while also seeing his points per game average increase in each of his five NBA seasons.
But one element that hurt the Warriors in their NBA Finals loss to the Cleveland Cavaliers was the fact that Curry nor Thompson have the ability to score close to the basket, while they are not nearly as effective when opposing defenses keep a body on them to prevent them from consistently getting open looks at the basket. And in a very surprising move which could remedy that issue, small forward Kevin Durant decided to join the Warriors on Independence Day.
For nine years Durant was the face of the Seattle Supersonics/Oklahoma City Thunder franchise. Only Gary Payton scored more points than Durant’s 17,566 in the history of the franchise, and no one who ever played for the organization made more three-point field goals (1,143) than him. Durant also helped the Thunder reach the NBA Finals in 2012, but allure of playing with the Warriors, while being lukewarm at best to remain in Oklahoma City and playing alongside point guard Russell Westbrook was enough to persuade him to take his talents west and join the Warriors.
What Durant gives the Warriors is a bigger scorer, but is he indeed the missing piece that can get Golden State another NBA Championship?
For Durant’s NBA career, he has averaged 27.4 points per game, but he is never going to be confused with being a defensive stalwart, which is an element that the Warriors are going to need if they are going to once again claim the NBA Title. The other big issue is going to be how will Durant fit in with Curry and Thompson as there is only one basketball to go around. Durant doesn’t appear to be the kind of player that will want to rock the boat as he understands that there is a winning formula in place, while Curry and Thompson must love the thought of having another scoring option that can take some of the burden off of them.
The Warriors do have a defensive presence on their team in the form of power forward Draymond Green and small forward Andre Iguodala. Last year Curry was the NBA’s MVP, but in actuality Green is the Warriors best player. Green can do it all as he is a perimeter scorer, interior, rebounder, defender, facilitator, and the heart and soul of this team. I also doubt that Green would have an issue in taking a backseat to Durant, Curry, and Thompson as far as the scoring goes, while he can still strengthen the team in other areas.
But all is not well with the Warriors as they’ve lost some of their depth that was key to their success over the last few years. In making room for Durant, center Andrew Bogut was traded to the Dallas Mavericks, while center Marreese Speights left to join the Los Angeles Clippers, and shooting guard Leandro Barbosa is now a member of the Phoenix Suns. On top of that small forward Harrison Barnes left in free agency to sign with the Mavericks after the Warriors made it clear that they were zeroing in on Durant.
The Warriors new supporting cast includes the likes of veteran power forward David West and center JaVale McGee to partner with stalwarts off of the Golden State bench such as point guard Shaun Livingston, but will it be enough to get the Warriors back to the NBA Championship?.
In spite of not winning the NBA Championship last June, the Warriors will still have a bulls eye on their backs due to what they did in the last regular season. And Warriors head coach Steve Kerr will have to make sure that his team will be up for the challenge.
Y-Los Angeles Clippers 54-28 (3)
The last three years have seen the Los Angeles Clippers be one of the better teams in the Western Conference, but they’ve been unable to get over the hump in the postseason. The Clippers have never won an NBA Championship and dating back to their stints in Buffalo and San Diego, they’ve never gotten to the conference finals.
Doc Rivers has been the Clippers head coach for the last three years and he has given this organization a high level of respectability. Under Rivers, the Clippers have won 50 games in each of the last three seasons, and once you factor in their 56-win campaign under Vinny Del Negro during the 2012-2013 NBA season, Los Angeles is in the midst of their best run in franchise history. But unfortunately for the Clippers, they have taken a backseat to the Golden State Warriors in the Pacific Division which is something that must change if they are going to achieve their ultimate goal which is to win an NBA Championship.
As point guard Chris Paul is set to begin his sixth season with the Clippers, he is the leader of this team, but who is the their go-to-guy? Aside from Paul, the other recognizable faces of the Clippers are power forward Blake Griffin and center DeAndre Jordan. Paul is one of the better floor generals in the NBA as he has averaged 9.9 assists for his 11-year NBA career, while Jordan is currently one of the top rebounders in the league. Injuries limited Griffin to just 35 games last season, and he needs to find a way to remain healthy for this campaign. But you have to wonder if the title window is closing for this trio?
Griffin has never come off of as being “the guy” for the Clippers as he plays off of Paul. Jordan has never developed his offensive game enough to be a consistent scorer, while he is also a liability late in contests due to the fact that he is a career 42% free throw shooter. And as for Paul, he has never shown the ability during his NBA career to be a player that a team can consistently count on to score 25 points per contest.
But aside from this the Clippers still have a team that can do some damage in the regular season as long as they can remain healthy. Shooting guard J.J. Redick is one of the best deep range shooters in the NBA which was evident last season when he connected on nearly 48% of his shots from downtown. Jamal Crawford is set to begin his fifth season with the Clippers, and after averaging 14.2 points off of the bench last year for Los Angeles, he will once again be vital to their success as he is the only three-time winner of the NBA’s Sixth Man of the Year Award. At 39-years of age, small forward Paul Pierce is not the player that he was during the prime of his career, but his knowledge of the game should be able to help the Clippers in this his last go round in the NBA. The last few years have seen center Marreese Speights be a valuable role players coming off of the bench for the Warriors, and he should be an upgrade at the offensive end of the floor for the Clippers when Jordan goes to the bench. And at 6’10”, Speights’ size will also help the Clippers at the defensive end of the floor last season as they were seventh in the NBA in points allowed.
In order for the Clippers to have a shot to contend with the power teams in the Western Conference such as the Warriors and San Antonio Spurs, they must take care of their business against the also-rans. And if everyone is one the same page, the Clippers should be a tough team to reckon with in spite of the fact that they more than likely won’t win the NBA Title.
Sacramento Kings 36-46
You have to go back to 2006 to find the last time that the Sacramento Kings finished an NBA campaign with a winning record. Over that stretch the Kings have gone through eight different head coaches with a ninth in Dave Joerger set to begin his tenure with the club. The Kings have not won more than 38 games in a season during their latest journey to futility, while they’ve also been an organization that has lacked leadership which means that Joerger will have his work cut out for him.
Joerger spent the last three years as the head coach of the Memphis Grizzlies where he compiled a record of 147-99. Joerger also led the Grizzlies to three consecutive playoff appearances which included guiding a Memphis team last season that had a slew of injuries. Joerger is an excellent communicator, while he also focuses on defensive basketball, but he will have his hands full as far as turning things around in Northern California.
Center DeMarcus Cousins has been the Kings best player in each of the last six years, but he has also been the organizations biggest headache. Cousins is coming off of a season where he averaged 26.9 points and 11.5 rebounds, while also being a member of the United States Men’s Basketball Team that won the gold medal this past August at the Summer Olympics. However the category that the Kings need Cousins step up in the most is his leadership.
As Cousins is now on his sixth different head coach with the Kings, it is safe to label him as a “coach killer”. But Kings owner Vivek Ranadive and general manager Vlade Divac continue to keep Cousins as their centerpiece in spite of the fact that he continuously clashes with head coaches, along with being unable to make the players around him better which will more than likely be on display this season due to the fact that Sacramento has individual talent and not a group of guys that will more than likely be able to function as a cohesive unit.
Along with Cousins, the Kings are set to return four of their top five scorers from last year’s team. Small forward Rudy Gay is set to begin his fourth season with the Kings. During Gay’s time in Sacramento, he has averaged 19.4 points per game, but just like Cousins he has been unable to help the Kings get over the hump and back to the playoffs. Point guard Darren Collison is set to begin his third season in Sacramento, and he could have more of an impact this year due to the fact that he won’t be looking over his shoulder after the Kings allowed point guard Rajon Rondo to leave in free agency. Small forward Omri Casspi gives the Kings a solid perimeter scorer coming off of the bench which will be vital as Sacramento does’t want to get lost in the shuffle once again in the Western Conference.
During the off-season, the Kings also picked up veteran wing players in small forwards Matt Barnes and Arron Afflalo who aside from both playing their college ball at UCLA could provide Sacramento with experience and more importantly a defensive toughness that is going to be necessary for them under Joerger.
Something will have to give for the Kings as no team in the NBA allowed more points per game (109.1) last season than they did, while Joerger typically had one of the better defensive teams in the league during his time in the Memphis. For the Kings to improve at the defensive end of the floor, it is going to take a collective effort, but players such as Cousins, Gay, and Casspi don’t have a solid history of being solid defenders which puts Sacramento in an interesting situation being that Ranadive and Divac have been known to chose Cousins over their head coaches.
Just like last year, the Kings have tremendous individual talent, but they must learn to play together as a team. The Kings are currently one of the most poorly run franchises in the NBA, and the only highlight of their season will be the unveiling of their new home in Northern California which is the Golden 1 Center.
Los Angeles Lakers 33-49
It’s no secret that the Los Angeles Lakers are in the midst of their worst stretch in franchise history. The last three years have seen the Lakers fail to post a winning record, while they’ve also been unable to qualify for the playoffs. This marks the first time in the illustrious history of the Lakers franchise that this has happened as they are now coming to grips with a very unfamiliar word which is “rebuilding”. The upcoming NBA season also marked the end of one era for Lakers basketball, and the beginning of a new one.
The past 20 years have seen shooting guard Kobe Bryant as a fixture on the court for the Lakers. Bryant helped the Lakers win five NBA Championships. But like all good Hollywood productions, Bryant’s time on the court has come to an end. Bryant’s departure means that the focus will be on the youth movement for the Lakers, along with a new voice on the sidelines.
36-year old Luke Walton is set to become the 26th head coach in the illustrious history of the Lakers franchise and there is only one way for him to go which is up. Walton has played for the Lakers as he was a member of their championship teams in 2009 and 2010. Walton has spent the last two seasons as an assistant coach with the Golden State Warriors and he hopes to bring the same ball movement offense that has been successful in Oakland to Los Angeles. And although that Walton doesn’t have the same level of talent to work with in Los Angeles as opposed to Oakland with the Warriors, all is not lost for Walton as there is some potential on the Lakers roster.
As the Lakers have combined to lose 181 games over the last three NBA seasons, it has also seen them picking very early in the NBA Draft. In 2014, the Lakers used their first-round pick on power forward Julius Randle. In 2015, the Lakers used the second overall pick of the NBA Draft on point guard D’Angelo Russell. And after winning just 17 games last year, the Lakers once again had the second overall choice; this time they selected small forward Brandon Ingram whom they are hopeful will be another piece to their young core of players.
In the first game of the 2014-2015 NBA season, Randle suffered a broken leg which ended his rookie campaign before it even started. Randle would return last season in what was his de facto rookie campaign as he averaged 11.3 points and 10.2 rebounds as he is showing that he has the potential to be a low-post presence in Los Angeles. Russell had an up and down rookie campaign as he averaged 13.2 points and 3.3. assists while having the locker room turn on him after an incident with shooting guard Nick Young. Russell is only 20-years of age, and there is still a level of immaturity that must be curbed if he is going to grow as a professional basketball player. Aside from Russell, the Lakers are high on another guard in Jordan Clarkson. Last year was Clarkson’s second NBA season and after averaging 15.5 points per game, he received a four-year extension that is worth $50 million. Ingram showed flashes of what he could be during his one year of collegiate basketball for the Duke Blue Devils as he averaged 17.3 and 6.8 rebounds en route to being the Atlantic Coast Conference’s Player of the Year. And Ingram’s development as a wing player and all-around player are going to be vital for the Lakers who are looking to pick themselves up off of the canvas in the Western Conference.
Aside from the Lakers youth movement, they do have veterans on this club such as small forward Luol Deng and shooting guard Lou Williams who’s experience will be important as Walton looks to get his message across to his young team.
It might not seem like it, but the Lakers are in the process of building something special, and although that the 2016-2017 NBA season will more than likely see Los Angeles miss the postseason once again, they are on the verge of building something very special.
Phoenix Suns 30-52
Throughout the 48-year history of the Phoenix Suns franchise, they’ve never won an NBA Championship, but they have had a reputation of being a perennial playoff team. However things have really gone awry for the Suns as they have failed to make the postseason since 2010. Over that stretch the Suns have had four different head coaches which has taken away from their ability to build some cohesion. Earl Watson was the Suns interim head coach for the final 33 games of the 2015-2016 NBA season after Jeff Hornacek was fired. The Suns would go 9-24 under Watson, but team general manager Ryan McDonough decided to stick with him heading into the upcoming NBA season. However it doesn’t matter who will be coaching the Suns as this organization has lost its luster.
When you think of the history of Suns basketball, an uptempo pace that produces plenty of points generally comes to mind. But last season the Suns were 22nd in the NBA in points per game at 100.9 per contest. One issue that the Suns have had is that they’ve concentrated too much on being a guard oriented team. In the past five years the majority of the Suns draft picks have been guards and this has robbed the Suns from gaining cohesion on the basketball court along with an overall identity. The Suns two best players are a pair of point guards that played collegiately for the Kentucky Wildcats in Eric Bledsoe and Brandon Knight, but it is counter productive to have each of them on the court at the same time when they have the same skill set.
However regardless of whether it is Bledsoe or Knight that is running the show for the Suns at point guard, they have a promising player to run with in the Phoenix backcourt in shooting guard Devin Booker. Last year as a rookie, Booker was the Suns third leading scorer at 13.8 points per game behind Bledsoe and Knight and the ceiling is very high for him as his second year in the NBA is set to begin.
The Suns do have a veteran presence in their front court with center Tyson Chandler who is still a solid rebounder, and power forward Mirza Teletovic who is a quality scorer as he averaged 12.2 points per game last year for Phoenix, but it is highly unlikely that it will be good enough to make them a playoff team.
Five of the Suns first eight games this year will be on the road, and a slow start could be the prelude for another long season in Phoenix.
Y-Clinched Playoff Berth