Grading The NBA’s Pacific Division
The Los Angeles Lakers have dominated the Pacific Division for a long, long time but injuries and poor play have led to a changing of the guard. Instead the Los Angeles Clippers and Golden State Warriors are standouts, not just in the division, but in the Western Conference.
The Lakers are closer to the struggling Sacramento Kings and Phoenix Suns, two teams that have little hope of climbing out of the lottery. At least the Lakers will get Steve Nash (leg), Pau Gasol (knees) and Steve Blake (abdominal surgery) back from their various injuries. The Kings and Suns don’t appear to have similar lifelines.
Here are HOOPSWORLD’s Pacific Division grades:
Los Angeles Clippers (16-6) – A
The Clippers are arguably the deepest team in the league. Jamal Crawford, off the bench, is the team’s second-leading scorer at 17.1 points a game. Seven players average at least 9.4 nightly.
Grant Hill has yet to play this season and Chauncey Billups has made only three appearances. As deep as the Clippers are, they still have more talent to work into the rotation.
The mixture of young, athletic emerging stars like Blake Griffin, DeAndre Jordan and Eric Bledsoe and veterans who know how to play (Chris Paul, Crawford, Caron Butler, Matt Barnes, Lamar Odom, etc.), is just overwhelming opponents.
While there are areas they need to improve (defending the three, rebounding, etc.), the Clippers have won eight-straight games and are seven games ahead of the Lakers.
Conclusion: The Clippers got to the second round last year, but were swept by the San Antonio Spurs (who they’ve since beaten twice this season). LA should be even better once Billups and Hill return, especially in the playoffs, where experience and know-how can swing a series.
Golden State Warriors (15-7) – A
In recent years, the Warriors always seem to be a good team on paper but one that never stays healthy. Early in the year the team had a run of bad luck when Brandon Rush (knee) and Andrew Bogut (ankle) both went down (Rush for the year, Bogut indefinitely).
Instead of packing it in, the Warriors have rallied. Jarrett Jack and Carl Landry have been tremendous reserves, both averaging double figures. Jack’s 4.6 assists per game off the bench is second only to Stephen Curry’s.
Defense is new for the Warriors. They haven’t done that as a team in recent memory. Second-year coach Mark Jackson has his roster playing exceptionally well. On Wednesday night Golden State took out the HEAT in Miami, winning their fifth straight.
Conclusion: The Warriors have a 9-4 road record. They’re second in the Pacific, down by a single game. In the West, Golden State is just three games back of the Oklahoma City Thunder. If and when Bogut returns, the Warriors may actually improve upon what has been a fantastic 22 games.
Los Angeles Lakers (9-13) – D+
The Lakers are flat-out awful without Gasol and Nash. The question is how good will they be when fully healthy and how long until that actually comes to pass?
First when the Lakers lost the entire eight-game preseason schedule, it was about waiting for the team to learn Mike Brown’s offense, for Dwight Howard to get in shape after back surgery, etc. Then Steve Nash broke his leg and Brown was out as the team won one of their first five games.
A brief oasis under Bernie Bickerstaff, with an extremely easy schedule at home, the Coach Mike D’Antoni reign has yet to bear fruit. Gasol’s play was anemic, perhaps because of fit or maybe it was just the leg tendinitis.
Conclusion: Maybe it all comes together but at this early stage, it may already be too late for the Lakers to catch the Clippers and Warriors. The Lakers may be looking at the sixth seed as the best-case scenario.
Phoenix Suns (8-15) – D+
The Suns broke a seven-game losing streak on Wednesday night, beating one of the top teams in the league (Memphis Grizzlies). They’ve won eight games, which isn’t necessarily terrible in the West but only the New Orleans Hornets have lost more than 15.
Phoenix had higher expectations this season, not necessarily to be a contender, but to be far more competitive than they’ve been.
Goran Dragic has been a positive as has Luis Scola, but Michael Beasley simply doesn’t fit. Marcin Gortat’s production is down. Wesley Johnson hasn’t brought anything of merit.
Conclusion: The Suns have enough talent to win games on occasion but this is not a cohesive unit, not even close.
Sacramento Kings (7-14) – D+
The Kings are .500 at home (6-6) and a paltry 1-8 on the road. Just 21 games into the season and Sacramento doesn’t seem any better off than they did a year ago.
Each year the Kings bring in lottery-level talent (DeMarcus Cousins, Tyreke Evans, Jimmer Fredette, Thomas Robinson, etc.), but the team still lacks leadership. They need that one transcendent player that makes everyone else on the roster better.
Perhaps they achieve that in June’ NBA Draft but the Kings may need to start exploring the trade market.
Conclusion: With Evans in the final year of his contract, Sacramento should look to cash him out before the trade deadline.
The Pacific Division may have three playoff entries in the Western Conference. It’s no surprise that the Clippers will be there but the Warriors are better than expected . . . the Lakers are far, far worse. It wasn’t too long ago that the Suns got as far as the conference finals but they’re rebuilding. The Kings? They seem to be perpetually rebuilding.
This is the fourth entry a six part series from HOOPSWORLD grading each division in the NBA. Check out Central Division analysis from Joel Brigham here, Derek Page’s Southwest Division analysis here and Alex Raskin’s take on the Atlantic Division here.