2014/15 Predictions: The Pacific Division

1:  The Los Angeles Clippers

 

Chris Paul, Blake Griffin and DeAndre Jordan return to the Clippers with their sites set on a championship.

Chris Paul, Blake Griffin and DeAndre Jordan return to the Clippers with their sites set on a championship.

The Clippers won the Pacific Division by a fairly large margin last year, earning six more wins than the Warriors, and though the Warriors underachieved last year, it’s certainly fair to expect that barring injury, the Clippers will be able to maintain their dominance in the Pacific Division.  The three key players for the Clippers, Chris Paul, Blake Griffin and DeAndre Jordan, are all returning and should all be playing at a level at least as high as last season, and in the case of Griffin and Jordan, may very well continue to improve, and given that Paul already plays at an MVP level, the Clippers nucleus is solid.  Coach Doc Rivers is a defensive expert, and with defender like Paul guarding the opposing team’s playmaker, and Jordan protecting the rim, the Clippers have an excellent defensive foundation.  The Clippers also have exceptional ball movement and star players that are eager to pass in Griffin and Paul, and with shooters Matt Barnes, Hedu Turkaglu, Jamal Crawford, J.J. Redick and rookie C.J. Wilcox (who proved an exceptional three-point shooter in college), the Clippers have the shooters to spread the floor, and the interior offense in both Griffin and Spencer Hawes to draw defenders into the paint and divide the defences.  If Hawes and Griffin can step up their defensive games, this Clippers may very well earn 60 wins on the way to the NBA finals.  The biggest problem the Clipper will have, though, is a lack of depth at point guard.  Jordan Farmar is not exactly the best back-up point guard in the game, and with the departure of Darren Collison, should Paul have another injury, the Clippers would have few options at the point guard position.

 

2:  Golden State Warriors

 

The Warriors have put together one of the best starting line-ups in the league.

The Warriors have put together one of the best starting line-ups in the league.

Though the Warriors placed second in the Pacific Division, eclipsed the 50-win mark, and pushed the Clippers to seven games in the post-season, ownership was still disappointed in the team’s performance and fired coach Mark Jackson, replacing him with Steve Kerr.  The move was not a popular one, and given that Andrew Bogut, David Lee and Andre Iguodala all missed significant time, it may not have been entirely on Jackson’s shoulders that the team didn’t fare better.  When considering that the Warriors had won more games in the last three season than in any three-year stretch in past twenty years, Jackson’s dismissal seems unfair.  That said, it’s reasonable to assume that a healthier Warriors’ squad should be able to pull out a few more wins than they did last season.  With Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson and Harrison Barnes continuing to improve their games, and Bogut, Lee and Iguodala playing in their prime, the Warriors have a deep rotation.  Having Leandro Barbosa and Jason Kapono coming off the bench, and Shaun Livingston joining the team to spot Stephen Curry at point guard, the Warriors have a plethora of depth on the wing and at the point.  However, in the front court, the Warriors seem a little thin.  Though Maurice Speights and Festus Ezeli are both solid rebounders, their overall games are not as polished as they could be.  If both improve and rookie James McAdoo proves a steal, the Warriors could have one of the best front courts in the league.  At the very least, though, they will have the best passing duo in the front court outside of Chicago, even if they have to rely on their starters a little too much.

 

3:  The Phoenix Suns

 

With their young core still improving, the Suns hope rookies can give them the depth to compete with the Clippers and Warriors for the division title.

With their young core still improving, the Suns hope rookies T.J. Warren and Tyler Ennis can give them the depth to compete with the Clippers and Warriors for the division title.

Unless a rash of injuries depletes the Warriors or Clippers, it’s fairly certain that the rest of the division will be competing for third.  Given their performance last year, and the fact that they have been able to hold onto all their key players, there is little reason to suspect that the Suns won’t be able to at least perform as well as they did last year, and given that they are adding two first-round picks (T.J. Warren and Tyler Ennis) and point guard Isaiah Thomas, the Suns will likely have depth that they were lacking last year, especially if Alex Len, who proved disappointing last year, can develop his game and demonstrate that he was worthy of being selected in the lottery last year.  Given that their core players, Goran Dragic, Eric Bledsoe, Markieff and Marcus Morris, and Miles Plumblee are all young an improving, the Suns are in position to increase last season’s win total.  Some believe that the Suns overachieved; this year they will have an opportunity to prove that last year wasn’t a fluke.

 

4:  The Sacramento Kings

 

Should DeMarcus Cousins continue to improve, it seems likely that he could soon be the best center in the league.

Should DeMarcus Cousins continue to improve, it seems likely that he could soon be the best center in the league.

Ranking the Kings is a difficult task. Their front office has been active, discussing trades that would bring in Rajon Rondo and/or Josh Smith, and should either player end up in a Kings uniform before the trade deadline, the team could easily leap-frog the Suns, especially given that center DeMarcus Cousin seems to be on the verge of reaching his potential and vying for the title of best center in the league.  Though Isaiah Thomas was a fan favorite, Darren Collison is likely an upgrade at point guard.  He may not score as much as Thomas, but he is bigger than Thomas, which means opposing point guards won’t be able to shoot over him as easily, and given that he was coached by Doc Rivers last year, and mentored by Chris Paul, it is likely to expect that Collison’s defense has improved.  With Ramon Sessions added to the roster, the Kings are arguably in better position at point guard than they were last year.  Rudy Gay seemed to play well with Cousins, and though Ben McLemore’s shooting was a little underwhelming, rookie Nik Stauskas will hopefully provide an upgrade while the Kings are waiting for McLemore to improve his game.  Veterans Jason Thompson and Reggie Evans should be able to give Cousins all the help he needs on the glass, but without depth at small forward and shooting guard, or long-range snipers at either position, the Kings will be relying on Stauskas spread the floor, which can be a lot of pressure for a rookie.  Their offence may not be as fluid as some, but with such strong rebounders and improved point guard play, the Kings should be able to increase their win count.

 

5:  The Los Angeles Lakers

 

The Lakers have an interesting line-up, but it will be hard to compete with teams in the ever-improving Pacific Division.

The Lakers have an interesting line-up, but it will be hard to compete with teams in the ever-improving Pacific Division.

I hate to bet against Kobe Bryant, but the Lakers simply do not have a center, and without a defensive anchor in the middle or defensive-minded point guard, the Lakers are going to be abused by opposing offences, whether it’s by post players like Blake Griffin, Zach Randolph, David Lee, and DeMarcus Cousins, or point guards who penetrate the lane, like Tony Parker and Chris Paul.  The Lakers are going to struggle when it comes to stopping opposing teams from scoring, and Mike ‘Antoni will have nothing to do with it.  Bryant may be able to post scoring averages as high as he did before his injury, but it seems unlikely that he will do it as efficiently as he used to do, especially with few players on the roster that can draw defenders away from him.  The Lakers do have cause to expect rookie forward Julius Randle develop into a potential All-Star, but their only other significant addition was Carlos Boozer, who plays the same position as Randle.  While Jeremy Lin may be able to help sell jerseys, and Kobe will be able to increase his career totals in points, it seems unlikely that the Lakers will be able to move up from last place in the division, even if Randle and Boozer both play well.  After losing players like Andrew Bynum, Dwight Howard, Pau Gasol and Chris Kaman, it just seems unlikely that the Lakers will be able to compensate the losses they have incurred at center over the last three seasons.  Jordan Hill has an excellent work ethic, and is a great rebounder, but he can’t keep up with the elite centers in the West, and Robert Scarce won’t be able to fare any better.

Speak Your Mind

*