With the NBA season just a stones throw away, I figured now was the best time to kick start our annual NBA preview series. Now because the world went to hell and things are a little different this year, this blog had to adjust. Normally we would have had 3 months to cover every team, there would be a daily poll to who the stoolies would want to see, and it would take us right up to the start of the preseason. Well since the NBA offseason was about two weeks, I'm going to switch gears and do these preview blogs by division, or basically 5 teams a blog. It'll give you everything you need to know to have you ready for the start of the season, which is only like 13 days away.
To show that I am a grown up and mature and not at all triggered, we will begin with the Pacific Division. It's the home of the defending champ Los Angeles Lakers, so it only seems right. Hopefully I won't have to type that sentence again for the rest of my life, but let's dive in.
Los Angeles Lakers
2019-20 record: 52-19
Key Offseason Additions: Dennis Schroder, Wesley Matthews, Montrezl Harrell, Marc Gasol
Key Offseason Departures: Rajon Rondo, Danny Green, Avery Bradley, Dwight Howard
Playoff Performance: Won the NBA title
I don't think it's a stretch to say the defending champs, a team that pretty much ran through every playoff opponent they faced while also having one of the best records in the league the entire season, just got a whole lot better. That's a scary thought for a lot of other fanbases to have to deal with. I mean just look at those lineup changes. Every single person on that list is an upgrade over what the Lakers had last season. Schroder is better right now than Rondo, Wes Matthews is a better bench shooter than Danny Green, and the combination of Harrell/Gasol should theoretically be better than Dwight. Oh right, they still have LeBron and AD too and something tells me there won't be too much regression from either of those two.
All season last year we waited for the dysfunction to take over this team, and it never came. Ever. In fact, there was absolutely zero drama at any point of the season. When a lot of people first saw the names they were bringing in, few predicted that it would be smooth sailing the entire year. There's no reason to think the Lakers shouldn't be overwhelming favorites to repeat based on where we are today, especially with the areas they've improved. For example, last season the Lakers had the 11th ranked offense, 3rd ranked defense, and 5th best net rating. You don't think if everyone stays healthy that their offense is going to be much better than 11th with the scoring power they now have on their second unit? Listen nobody hates the Lakers more than me but I have eyes. I know Dennis Schroder is a billion times the offensive player Rondo is. I know Harrell is way more impactful on the offensive end than Dwight. If you're looking for a spot up shooter, Wes Matthews fits the bill.
You throw in solid role players like Caruso/KCP/Markieff Morris and young players with upside like Kyle Kuzma, and there is a lot to be excited about as a Lakers fan obviously. But if you had to pick some areas to question, it's not like there isn't anything to choose from. Marc Gasol looked beyond washed up in the Celtics series last season, Montrezl Harrell was virtually unplayable in the playoffs for the Clippers because he is such a disaster defensively, so it'll be interesting to see how their play changes now that they are in the Lakers system. Was it just a bad fit in their previous spots, or are they truly washed?
I keep coming back to that second unit though. Last season the Lakers bench was 11th in scoring, which will improve. I'm curious to see how they look defensively though, especially if the team is going to be cautious with LeBron/AD since it was a short offseason. By the playoffs it won't matter, but I do wonder how they'll handle their load management and if these reserves will be able to lock down defensively like we saw last year's group do.
Either way, things are great for the Lakers and that's not changing anytime soon.
Los Angeles Clippers
2019-20 record: 49-23
Key Offseason Additions: Luke Kennard, Serge Ibaka, Nicolas Batum
Key Offseason Departures: Montrezl Harrell, JaMychal Green, Landry Shamet, Maurice Harkless
Playoff Performance: Blew a 3-1 lead in the second round
You know all those positive things I just said about the Lakers? It couldn't be the more opposite for the Clippers. They are a shitshow right now. Nobody likes Paul George, he refuses to take any responsibility for sucking ass in the playoffs AGAIN, the team chemistry is all fucked up and is showing no signs of getting better, they have a new coach, their "rival" is the defending champ, and now the league isn't letting teams load manage how they want.
The biggest thing last year with the Clippers was we never really got to see their team fully healthy. I think they only played like 11 games or something with their best lineup available. That obviously came back to bite them in the ass when every player talked about a lack of chemistry after they choked against the Nuggets. A team with the 2nd best offense, 5th best defense, and 2nd best net rating last season couldn't even make the WCF. That's tough.
So their season will basically be about proving that their collapse was a fluke and not who they really are. They still have talent on this roster. Kawhi and George are still good. Lou Williams off the bench is still going to get buckets, Serge Ibaka was a nice save after losing Harrell, and who knows maybe if Luke Kennard stays healthy he'll actually be able to give them something. Marcus Morris still believes he's the best player on the team and that'll win you a game or two here and there. It's not like this is going to be a lottery team, but they are going to be the butt of everyone's joke until proven otherwise. That's just the reality.
You could argue this is perhaps the most important season in recent franchise history. Why? Well both Paul George and Kawhi have player options after this year. If they get bounced in the 2nd round again? Who says they both stay. Losing even one of them would be a DISASTER given everything the Clippers gave up to bring them to LA. I do also have questions about their second unit. This was the #1 scoring bench in the league last year, and now half of that duo is gone. If Kawhi and George aren't going to play every game, I'm not sure this bench has the same level of firepower to still be at the same level we saw last season. Defensively the team should be fine, I don't think the starters will be an issue, but that bench is a concern.
In terms of system, Ty Lue was already on the bench so I imagine things will look pretty similar, but now we'll see if all that dysfunction we heard about this offseason is over, or just the beginning of the end.
2019-20 record: 34-39
Key Offseason Additions: Chris Paul, Jae Crowder, Jalen Smith (rookie)
Key Offseason Departures: Aron Baynes, Kelly Oubre Jr, Ricky Rubio, Frank Kaminsky
Playoff Performance: Missed playoffs after going 8-0 in the bubble
Find me someone who doesn't love the Suns right now. You can't. They are pretty much everyone's pick to take a leap out West this season and for good reason. Devin Booker was basically the Bubble MVP. Chris Paul is still very very very good. They have shooting to surround those two with Cam Johnson and Mikal Bridges. If we get a better version of the Bubble Suns this season they are going to be not only good, but also awesome to watch.
But there are pretty obvious areas of improvement that this team needs to accomplish to finally get back into the playoffs. It starts on the defensive end. Last season they had the 17th ranked defense, and I do think that adding guys like Paul/Crowder as well as the advancement of Ayton should help. For example, the Bulls were the 9th best defense last year. You're telling me the Suns can't do that? If they can improve to around a top 10 defense to go along with an offense that should be much better than 12th this year, that's how they make the playoffs.
Devin Booker is on the verge of taking a big time leap, but I think more people need to pay attention to the development of Deandre Ayton. He was really good once he came back from his suspension. I'm talking like 18/11 on 54% shooting. Not only that, but he took a big stride on the defensive end which is maybe the most exciting part. Remember, he's only 21 years old. He should absolutely be in the conversation of one of the best young bigs in the game, especially if he continues to advance defensively. We saw what Chris Paul was able to do with a young OKC team, well now he's getting better young talent in PHX, so why shouldn't we see a similar result? Would it shock anyone if this team somehow found a way to be a 5-6 seed this year? It shouldn't. This team has the veteran leader in CP3, the blue chip talent in Booker and Ayton, good role player shooting to surround everyone and a coach in Monty Williams who seems to know what he's doing and gets the team to play hard.
Their season is now about showing us that what we saw in the bubble was not a fluke. That they can seriously compete with anyone and finally get into the postseason. Easily one of the more intriguing storylines in the entire league if you ask me.
2019-20 record: 31-41
Key Offseason Additions: Hassan Whiteside, Tyrese Haliburton (rookie), Frank Kaminsky
Key Offseason Departures: Bogdan Bogdanovic, Kent Bazemore, Harry Giles, Alex Len,
Playoff Performance: Missed playoffs
As much as I want to find the positive spin for any Kings fans out there, it's pretty tough. I guess the good news is that De'Aaron Fox signed his max extension so that's cool, and it's also pretty great that Haliburton fell to them in the draft, but other than that? It's slim pickings. Who knows if Buddy Hield will finally be happy with his role now that they opted to get zero in return for Bogdanovic, who knows if this is the season Marvin Bagley finally stays healthy, and it's probably not the greatest when your biggest free agent signing is another round of a Hassan Whiteside experience.
The Kings had the 18th ranked offense to go along with the 19th ranked defense, and what do we see that tells us this will change all that much? It's not like they brought in some legit defenders to help on that end, so I guess the idea is that with internal development everyone will get better? I dunno about that. For me, now that he has a max extension it's time for Fox to elevate his play into being an upper level point guard. That's the expectation now. To do that, you have to show up on both ends. I do wonder if come the deadline we see the Kings start to unload pieces like Harrison Barnes and his huge contract, because you may as well just invest fully into Fox/Bagley/Haliburton/Hield. It also wouldn't shock me if Hield continues to be a problem and they end up trading him.
Basically what I'm trying to say is this probably isn't the year we see the Kings make the playoffs. I feel for their fans, they've been through some shit, but the West is so stacked I think it's more likely this team is fighting for a chance to play in the play-in game and that might even be pushing it.
Golden State Warriors
2019-20 record: 15-50
Key Offseason Additions: James Wiseman (rookie), Kent Bazemore, Kelly Oubre Jr, Brad Wanamaker
Key Offseason Departures: Klay Thompson (injury)
Playoff Performance: Missed playoffs
Ah yes, the biggest wild card in the entire Western Conference. It really sucks that it'll be another year without Klay Thompson, but with Steph back and some of the additions they made in the offseason, it's not like the Warriors don't have talent. It's just hard to predict how they'll look. I like the Kelly Oubre move to help with their offense, but he's certainly not a proven defender. We have no idea if this will be the year Andrew Wiggins takes a leap and actually ya know, tries.
On paper, this looks like a team that will be right back to contending in the West, but there are certainly more questions than previous Warriors teams. I also think we're about to get a big time bounce back season from Steph. I'm talking like 2015 Steph. But if you remember, what made those Warriors teams so unstoppable wasn't just their shooting. It was their defense. They were incredible on that end, and now that guys like Draymond are a little older, I wonder how that'll look. I mean they had the 26th defense last year with everyone hurt, and that was with Draymond playing 43 games. Nobody has really considered Wiggins/Oubre Jr as legit defenders, and while Steph has improved on that end over the years, he's not making an All NBA Defensive team. It's fair to wonder how NBA ready and effective Wisemen will be as a rim protector.
If we can assume that everyone will be healthy, they do have enough talent to be a top 4 seed in my opinion. We just had no idea at this moment in time how it'll all fit given the injuries they had last year and the in-season trade for Wiggins. Now that they've had time to get familiar with one another and healthy, it's only logical that they are back to being a problem in the West. I do like Eric Paschall and what he showed last year, that should help the second unit for sure. They did a good job of rebounding after the Klay news, now we just have to see if all these new pieces fit together right away because the Warriors window is right now.
And that'll do it for the Pacific Division. For my money, it's one of the more stacked divisions in the entire league now that the Suns are an actual thing and the Warriors are back. Sadly though, everyone still has a lonnnnnnnnnng way to go to catch the Lakers, but the good news is the division games are going to be awesome. Even the Kings have shown they can explode for like 135 points on any given night. My suggestion is do yourself a favor and stay up late watching these teams on League Pass, you will not be disappointed.