Predicting Wins For NBA’s Pacific Division
The pecking order has certainly changed within the Pacific Division over the past couple seasons. Los Angeles Lakers fans may not like the sound of it, but lost in the shuffle of the potential inner-city changing of the guard between both STAPLES Center inhabitants was the fact that the Golden State Warriors also found a way to leap-frog their perennial “Big Brother” Lakers by the end of the 2012-13 season.
Combine the coaching changes and roster additions of other teams, and the unexpected (at least by the Lakers) exodus of free agent center Dwight Howard, and one can see why fans of other teams within the division are finally feeling a bit more comfortable with their chances at contending for the Pacific.
As the NBA continues to evolve, especially coinciding with the restrictive nature of the new CBA, teams are being forced to change their approach. While teams like the Lakers are in a state of transition, with the Sacramento Kings and Phoenix Suns remaining in flux, the L.A. Clippers and Warriors remain as the division’s current ascending figures.
Here is how the Pacific Division could play out in 2013-14:
2012-13 Record: 56-26
Projected 2013-14 Record: 59-23
The Clippers had one of the busier and more productive offseasons of any team in the league. Following an initial delay due to a failed attempt to also land the services of Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce, the Clippers were finally able to hire Doc Rivers as not only their head coach, but also as their Senior Vice President of Basketball Operations. With an entirely new philosophy and regime on the bench, the team was able to re-sign free agent point guard Chris Paul. Paul is one of the best players in the organization’s 43-year history. Alongside Blake Griffin, Paul has been the driving force behind transforming the proverbial butt of all NBA punchlines into a legitimate contender in the Western Conference, let alone the Pacific Division.
The Clippers were also able to complete a three-team deal with the Suns and Milwaukee Bucks that sent guard Eric Bledsoe and small forward Caron Butler to Phoenix and netted them shooting guard J.J. Redick and small forward Jared Dudley. They were also able to draft smooth-shooting small forward Reggie Bullock as a future prospect, re-sign forward Matt Barnes and center Ryan Hollins, and sign free agent center Byron Mullens.
The question still remains, how much of a consistent interior presence on both sides of the ball will they have? Coach Rivers will look to instill the type of frontcourt toughness he enjoyed in Boston. Even though they were unable to land Garnett, Doc will have to find a way to inspire that type of play from two of the more athletic bigs in the league in Griffin and DeAndre Jordan. As impressive as Paul and the supporting cast of scorers and wings were last season, the Clippers were still in strong need of a consistent interior scoring option on offense as well as rim protecting and rebounding on the defensive end. The Clippers’ big men have each shown flashes of excellence at times, especially in the case of Griffin, but will need to be consistently special on both sides of the ball for these Clippers to reach that next level of success in the postseason.
2012-13 Record: 47-35
Projected 2013-14 Record: 52-30
The Warriors won’t have the benefit of being able to surprise teams in 2013-14 following their breakout season one year ago. The good news for Warriors fans is that they won’t have any need to. With one of the stronger, young cores in the league, the Warriors were surprisingly one of the more active teams in the league during the first few days of free agency.
They’ll certainly miss the services of guard Jarrett Jack and power forward Carl Landry, but the additions of small forward Andre Iguodala, point guard Toney Douglas and suddenly resurgent center Jermaine O’Neal could more than offset any productivity. Iguodala adds a veteran presence to the locker room and court, but also provides the Warriors with a much-needed perimeter defender to match-up against the league’s plethora of scoring swingmen. O’Neal also adds a veteran presence, and could prove to be a valuable insurance piece if Andrew Bogut were to be limited due to injury.
It will be interesting to see how Mark Jackson manages the minutes at the small forward position as Harrison Barnes showed signs of star potential as he continued to improve over his rookie season of 2012-13. More than most other teams, health may be the ultimate determining factor for these Warriors. Guys like Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson and Barnes are expected to continue improving, but overall team health with a roster full of players prone to injuries will remain Golden State’s largest challenge.
2012-13 Record: 45-37
Projected 2013-14 Record: 46-36
As mentioned, for the first time since the 2005-06 season, the Lakers were not at least the second-seed in the Pacific Division. Some may question how they could possibly be predicted to win more games following Howard’s exit, but they should be encouraged to look beyond the surface level at the current circumstances with the league’s most storied franchise. It should be mentioned, many of the experts and analysts predicting a low-to-mid 30s win total for the Lakers in 2013-14 are the very same individuals to predict either a Finals run or eventual title out of last year’s team. Apparently, it is my turn to jump into the ‘fool’s pot’, as I think this team could actually be better than last season.
To no one’s surprise, Kobe Bryant is actually ahead of schedule in his return from a ruptured Achilles tendon as he heads into his 18th season in the NBA. After using their one-time amnesty provision on Metta World Peace, the front office made a serious effort to add youth and athleticism. The additions of players like small forward Wes Johnson, small forward Nick Young and point guard Jordan Farmar should permit the team to play a style closer to that of head coach Mike D’Antoni’s preference. Center Chris Kaman, if healthy, should prove to be more-than-serviceable in the post. Like Kaman, Johnson and Farmar actually took less money for the opportunity to join the Lakers.
— Steve Kyler (@stevekylerNBA) August 5, 2013
Unlike in recent years, this roster has several interchangeable players that can help limit Bryant’s playing time and responsibilities. This should not only encourage him to work his way back after such a potentially career-altering injury, but also permit him to provide even more efficient minutes when he does play on rested legs.
The questions, aside from health, will remain on the defensive end of the court. With many people predicting doom and gloom on that end, especially with Howard’s exit, the blend of added length, agility and youth around the perimeter could make these Lakers a slightly better team if recently hired Kurt Rambis can help devise and implement the right defensive schemes.
2012-13 Record: 28-54
Projected 2013-14 Record: 32-50
When local software mogul Vivek Ranadive was finally approved as the new majority owner of the Sacramento Kings, loyal and dedicated fans of the franchise could finally breathe a sigh of relief regarding the team’s potential move to Seattle. Along with the new ownership group, the Kings completed a total front office makeover in hiring Pete D’Alessandro as the new general manager and longtime assistant Mike Malone as the franchise’s sixth head coach since the start of the 2006-07 season.
The organization has shown a desire to build a foundation around center DeMarcus Cousins, and even went as far as trading small forward Tyreke Evans for the services of point guard Greivis Vasquez to partner with the talented big man as he heads into his fourth season. Rookie shooting guard Ben McLemore’s addition adds even more youth to their backcourt mix, while the signing of free agent power forward Carl Landry adds a veteran presence for their big men behind longest-tenured King, Jason Thompson.
While the playoffs aren’t likely in this team’s immediate future, terms like “stability,” “consistency,” and “hope” are being used around this team for the first time in years. They have the look of a franchise on the right path for the future.
2012-13 Record: 25-57
Projected 2013-14 Record: 29-53
On the heels of a disappointing 2012-13 season for the team that resides in the Valley of the Sun, fans may not want to hear terms like “patience” for too much longer, but that is the reality of Suns fans these days. They were able to strike a deal that landed them guard Eric Bledsoe and small forward Caron Butler, but this remains a organization lacking a “franchise” player in a league with teams that have up to three.
This was much of the reason why HOOPSWORLD’S Alex Kennedy added the Suns to his list of teams in the unofficial race for dynamic 6’8 swingman Andrew Wiggins (Kansas). Adding Bledsoe to a backcourt with Goran Dragic is certain to add excitement, and Butler has proven to be an above-average small forward when healthy, but make no mistake about it when projecting the potential outcome of this season: Phoenix, barring an unexpected surge, is much more likely to be in the mix for either Wiggins or any other top lottery picks in June of 2014 than they are to make a playoff push.
With the current landscape of “super-teams” and “Big Threes” in the NBA, and the potential for the 2014 NBA Draft to be one of the strongest classes in nearly a decade, that isn’t necessarily a bad thing for a team like the Suns. Under the current CBA, teams like the Suns are better suited to bottom-out, maximize roster assets to the maximum of their ability and strike it big with a franchise player or two via the draft. See: Oklahoma City circa 2008.