X-Golden State Warriors 69-13 (1)
Another NBA season is beginning with the Golden State Warriors in the familiar position of being the team to beat. For the third time in the last four years, the Warriors will enter a new season as the defending NBA Champs, and they don’t appear to be ready to relinquish their throne as the kings of basketball. The Warriors have excelled at playing for the guy next to them, while also now embracing the role as the villains of the NBA due to the fact that their success has seen more people wanting to see them fail. The Warriors have played a plethora of games over the last four years as each season has seen them reach the NBA Finals, but that will not stop them from attempting to make it four titles in five years.
For Warriors head coach Steve Kerr, his job is made easier due to the fact that he has a veteran team that knows how to police themselves. Point guard Steph Curry, small forward Kevin Durant, shooting guard Klay Thompson, and power forward Draymond Green are the stars of this Warriors team, but their work ethic is contagious. There is no disputing that Curry, Durant, and Thompson are three of the best perimeter shooters that the NBA has ever seen as you’ll never beat them in a game of H-O-R-S-E, while Green’s ability as a facilitator brings it all together. And as all four of these players are in their respective primes, good luck slowing them down.
What has helped the Warriors attain their success is the ability to be unselfish. Golden State led the NBA in assists last season at 29.3 per contest which led to them also leading the league in field goal percentage. The Dubs knocked down more than 50% of their shots from the field which included connecting on 39% of their three-point attempts which also led the league as they’ve perfected the craft of passing up a good shot in order to find a great shot.
Durant, Curry, and Thompson all averaged at least 20 points per contest last season as they all reduced their scoring production for the betterment of the team, but don’t blink as each of them has the ability to score 50 points in a flash. Since joining the Warriors, Durant is playing the best basketball of his life as his controversial departure from the Oklahoma City Thunder has put a bulls eye on his back. Curry was already a great scorer, but now he is feeding off of Durant’s ability which only makes him deadlier as a three-point shooter. And if you concentrate too much on Durant and Curry, Thompson will burn you as he is a career 42% shooter from downtown.
The linchpin to this Warriors success has been Green due to his ability as a facilitator. Green has been in the top ten for assists in each of the last three years in the NBA. Green has the innate ability to be a passer while playing the post, as well as on the perimeter, and on the fast break. Green also knows how to clean up on the boards which can lead to more scoring opportunities for his teammates as a typical game will only see him score 12 points, but he will have 11 boards, and 9 assists which will be vital for Golden State’s cause
And if you think that this quartet is tough to deal with, the rich are getting richer as the Warriors signed All-Star center DeMarcus Cousins this summer. In nine NBA seasons, Cousins has morphed into one of the league’s best big men. Cousins is virtually unstoppable close to the basket due to his power and force. Last season as a member of the New Orleans Pelicans, Cousins was averaging career highs in points (25.2), rebounds, (12.9), and assists (5.4). But unfortunately for Cousins, he suffered a ruptured Achilles tendon this past January which really hurt him as he was seeking a big pay day this past summer as an unrestricted free agent.
And after being unable to attain a big money deal, Cousins decided to join the Warriors on a one-year deal for just $5.3 million. An Achilles injury is a difficult one to return from, but there are people who believe that Cousins is ahead of schedule. However being that the Warriors have some much depth in their starting lineup, they don’t need Cousins to be the dominant player that he has been in the past with the Sacramento Kings and Pelicans; but if he can give Golden State a consistent scoring presence in the post and on the boards, it will be very difficult to stop this team.
Golden State’s starting lineup receives plenty of pub and rightfully so as there are some Hall of Famers in the group, but their second unit cannot be overlooked. Veteran small forward Andre Iguodala and point guard Shaun Livingston could be starters for most teams in the NBA. But they have decided to stay with the Warriors for less money due to the fact that they enjoy winning. Even at the age of 34, Iguodala is still one of the better perimeter defenders in the NBA, while at 6’9″, Livingston gives Golden State a big man with court vision who knows how to handle and distribute the rock.
Power forward Jordan Bell is a young and athletic player who should continue to make strides in his second NBA season, while Golden State has a pair of young guards coming off of the bench in Quinn Cook and Tyler Ulis who’ll allow Kerr to keep Curry fresh for the playoffs.
Yes the Warriors have won three out of the last four NBA Titles, and thus they have plenty of mileage on their legs. But whereas Kerr knows how to manage the minutes for his team in order to keep them fresh for the stretch run, the folks in the Bay Area can once again anticipate their favorite team playing late into June.
Y-Los Angeles Lakers 48-34 (7)
It’s hard to believe but the last five NBA seasons have ended with the Los Angeles Lakers failing to make a trip to the postseason. The Lakers are one of the NBA’s marquee franchises as their 16 league titles are second only to the 17 of the Boston Celtics. This current five-year drought is by far the longest for the Lakers in the illustrious history of the franchise, but you don’t have to worry about the streak making it to six.
With the pending free agency of small forward LeBron James this past summer, it was expected that he would not be returning to the Cleveland Cavaliers, but it was not a slam dunk that he would joining the Lakers either. However James put his name of the dotted line and thus has given the Lakers franchise their first bona fide star since the retirement of Kobe Bryant.
The arrival of James has sparked a renewed interest around the Lakers due to what he brings to the table. In getting James to come to Los Angeles, the Lakers have themselves a four-time NBA MVP as well as a player that has led both the Miami Heat and Cleveland Cavaliers to titles.
Even at the age of 33, James is not showing any signs of slowing down as he is still one of the game’s best scorers. Throughout James’ 15-year NBA career, there have not been too many players in the league who can stop him when he goes to the basket. James is super explosive off of the dribble, while he has continued to improve his perimeter game over his career. For James’ career, he has averaged 27.2 points per game. James has also been a leader at every stop along his basketball career, and now he will get a new group of youngsters to work with.
In missing the playoffs for the last five years, the Lakers have focused on building their team through the draft, and in doing so, they have some talent that will feed off of James’ presence. In 2016, the Lakers made small forward Brandon Ingram the second overall pick of the NBA Draft, and in a brief period of time he is showing that he is the real deal. Ingram is a legit scoring threat who can get points close to the basket as well as with his mid-range shot. Ingram connected on 47% on his field goals, and he should have a big season being that he is the perfect wing player to player alongside James.
Heading into the 2017 NBA Draft, all of the headlines for the Lakers was their pursuit of point guard Lonzo Ball as most people were not paying attention to power forward Kyle Kuzma. Kuzma was selected late in the first round by the Brooklyn Nets who immediately traded him to the Lakers. And in Kuzma’s first season with the Lakers, all he did was flirt with being the NBA’s Rookie of the Year. Kuzma averaged 16.1 points per game last season which was tied for the Lakers team lead, and in the process he showed that he is a natural scorer as that ability of his will compliment the passing skills of James.
In regards to Ball, he endured an up and down rookie campaign as there was an immense amount of pressure on him due to his outspoken father LaVar. The elder Ball overly praised the skills of his son, while consistently attempting to put down stars around the NBA in the process. But at the end of the day, Ball is a naturally gifted passer who knows how to get the basketball to his teammates. Ball is in the mode of Hall of Fame guard Jason Kidd due to his ability to rebound from the point guard position. And after Ball averaged 10.2 points, 7.2 assists, and 6.9 rebounds, he will be poised to elevate his game to another level this season.
Since Magic Johnson became the Lakers president of basketball operations, he and general manager Rob Pelinka have gone to work in regards of reshaping the team’s roster, And this off-season has seen this duo go to work in regards to adding a toughness element. In a slew of moves the Lakers added a crew of grizzled veterans in point guard Rajon Rondo, guard Lance Stephenson, forward Michael Beasley, and center Javale McGee.
All of these players were only inked to one-year deals, but they will have a profound impact on the Lakers. Rondo has been one of the better passing point guards of this era as his wealth of experience will help the maturation process of Ball. During James’ time with the Cavs and Heat, Stephenson was always a “pest” to him. Stephenson is a gritty player who is not afraid to get dirty on the defensive end of the floor, and that mentality will go a long way for a Lakers team which must improve defensively after they were 25th in the NBA in points allowed last season.
Like Stephenson, Beasley is another player who can be best described as being a “loose cannon” throughout his career, but he has the potential to be effective in Los Angeles due to the fact the he is only on a one-year deal. In ten NBA seasons Beasley has averaged 12.7 points per game, and if he is focused on contributing this season, he can be a real valuable asset for the Lakers cause.
McGee have been a serviceable big man throughout his NBA career, but what he brings to the table is experience. In each of the last two years McGee won NBA Titles as a member of the Golden State Warriors, and that championship know how will be huge for a Lakers team where all of their youngsters have yet to experience playing in the postseason.
For Lakers head coach Luke Walton, he has been dealt a difficult deck to work with. As James is now wearing the purple and gold, the expectations for this team has now gone through the roof, while he must also find a way to manage so many combustible personalities. The Lakers will be a playoff team this year due to the presence of James, but their success in the postseason will come down to whether or not that their youngsters will be ready for the spotlight.
Los Angeles Clippers 40-42
For the seventh consecutive year the Los Angeles Clippers were able secure a winning record, but this time around they were unable to get to the playoffs. The Clippers were able to win 42 games last season, but they finished five games behind the Minnesota Timberwolves for the final playoff spot in the Western Conference. The Clippers shocked many observers as they were able to finish with a winning record being that trades and injuries took away from their depth. Lob City is now a thing of the past in Los Angeles as point guard Chris Paul, power forward Blake Griffin, and center DeAndre Jordan are no longer with the team. The current Clippers embody the mindset of their head coach Doc Rivers as they don’t have star appeal, but they fight scrap and claw for everything, while making a night’s work for their opponent miserable. But as the Clippers are in the midst of a transition period, don’t expect them to not be competitive.
The Clippers find themselves in that rare air being that their best scorer is not even a starter. Last season shooting guard Lou Williams only started in 19 games for Los Angeles, but he still managed to be the Clippers leading scorer. Williams provided the Clippers with instant offense coming off of the bench as he averaged 22.6 points per game. Williams’ exploits led to him being named as the NBA’s Sixth Man of the Year for the second time in his career as he could be regarded as the modern day Vinnie Johnson due to his ability to heat up and score in a hurry. Williams is a great scorer off of the dribble due to his ability to get to the basket, and don’t expect his productivity to slow down after the Clippers gave him a contract extension last season.
Last season the Clippers acquired small forward Tobias Harris when they traded power forward Blake Griffin to the Detroit Pistons. And in 32 games with the Clippers, Harris was able to average 19.3 points per game. Harris has continued to improve as a scorer during his seven-year NBA career which included him connecting on more than 41% of his attempts from behind the three-point line last season. And Harris will once again be an impact player for the Clippers as he is set to hit free agency next summer.
The summer of 2017 saw the Clippers acquire small forward Danilo Galinari from the Denver Nuggets in a move that was supposed to bolster their offense. But that wasn’t the case as injuries limited Galinari to only 21 games last season. But if Galinari is healthy for this season, it will be a huge boost for the Clippers. Galinari is a proven perimeter player who has averaged 15.4 points for his career, and if teams want to concentrate on him as an outside shooter, he can also slash in order to get to the basket.
A knee injury would sideline point guard Patrick Beverly for the majority of last season and the Clippers missed his scrappiness. Beverly came into the NBA they really hard way as he had to prove himself overseas for four years before he got a crack at the big time. Beverly has never forgotten this and that mindset is just what Rivers wants and needs on this team.
Aside from Beverly returning with a chip on his shoulder, the Clippers also acquired center Marcin Gortat over the summer to somewhat offset the loss of center DeAndre Jordan, while shooting guard Avery Bradley who was a favorite of Rivers during their time together with the Boston Celtics should have a more profound impact this season for Los Angeles as this will be his first full year with the team.
Overall the Clippers are lacking star appeal as they are biding their time for free agency next summer, but this team will be far from being a considered a pushover in the Western Conference.
Phoenix Suns 32-50
The Phoenix Suns find themselves in the midst of their worst stretch in franchise history. The Suns have not made the playoffs since 2010 which is their longest postseason drought in franchise history, while it is also the second current longest streak without a berth in the playoffs in the NBA. The Suns have been done in by bad personnel decisions which is illustrated by the fact that they are set to debut their sixth different head coach since 2012 when the season begins. Igor Kokoskov is the new Suns head coach as he has spent nearly two decades as an assistant coach in the league. But Kokoskov will have to start from the bottom as no player who has been drafted by the Suns this decade has made an All-Star Game appearance, while the man who hired him was recently let go.
After five years as the Suns general manager, Ryan McDonough was fired just prior to the start of the new season. McDonough was replaced by former NBA player James Jones on an interim basis, and he must now with Kokoskov in over to help this Suns team find a way to compete in the tough Western Conference.
The Suns have been one of the worst teams in the NBA, but this has not prevented shooting guard Devin Booker from becoming a household name. In just three NBA seasons, Booker has managed to become one of the game’s most prolific scorers. Booker knows how to fill up a stat sheet as he had three games in which he scored at least 40 points last season en route to averaging 24.9 points per game. Booker is a volume shooter, but the Suns will need him to stay healthy after he missed 28 games last season due to injury.
Like Booker, small forward T.J. Warren has continued to improve throughout his brief career with the Suns. Warren is coming off of averaging a career-high 19.6 points last season and he is also a good complimentary player to Booker due to his ability to get to the basket.
The Suns organization has high hopes for center Deandre Ayton whom they made the first overall pick of this year’s NBA Draft. Ayton joins the Suns fresh off of being named as the Pac-12 Conference’s Player after he averaged 20.1 points and 11.6 rebounds for Arizona. You cannot expect Ayton to immediately come in and be the next dominant big man in the NBA as he will be a project, but his athleticism will lead to him giving the Suns hope for the future in this his rookie campaign.
The Suns will still have an uphill climb in regards to ending their postseason drought, but that does not mean that they cannot show signs of improvement.
Sacramento Kings 27-55
It’s safe to categorize the Sacramento Kings as the laughing stock of the NBA. The Kings have not finished with a winning record since 2006 which was also the last time that they made the playoffs. And with the Minnesota Timberwolves having made the playoffs last season, the Kings now have the longest current postseason drought in the NBA. The Kings have been done in by bad personnel decisions by their front office as well as constant turnover at the head coaching position. Since 2006, the Kings have had 13 different head coaches which gives you and idea as to why they’ve continued to struggle. But with Dave Joerger set to begin his third season as the head coach of the Kings, is there any reason to believe that he will get things turned around in Northern California?
To give you an idea as to how bad that things were for the Kings last season, they along with the Memphis Grizzlies were the only teams in the NBA who failed to average at least 100 points per game, while they themselves were last in the league in the category. Sacramento didn’t have one player average 20 points per game, while their leading scorer in power forward Zach Randolph is 37-years of age.
There is hope that youngsters such as shooting guard Buddy Hield and point guard De’Aaron Fox will improve their respective games, but even if they do it more than likely will not be enough to turn things around for the Kings.
And once you eliminate the likes of Hield and Fox from the equation, there isn’t that much optimism for the Kings heading into the NBA season as the chances of an aging Randolph being able to shoulder the bulk of the scoring production are slim to none.
Just like it has been in recent years, the Western Conference is once again stacked with quality teams which means that the Kings will get lost in the shuffle another losing season is on the horizon.