Oct. 10, 2012; Ontario, CA, USA; Los Angeles Lakers guard Steve Nash (10) handles the ball in the second half of the game against the Portland Trail Blazers at the Citizens Business Bank Arena. Portland won 93-75. Mandatory Credit: Jayne Kamin-Oncea-US PRESSWIRE

NBA Season Preview: Pacific Division

The Pacific Division is very top-heavy this season thanks to the two teams that call Los Angeles their home. The Kings can be quietly very good, the Suns are looking to rebuild post-Steve Nash, and the Warriors, are well the Warriors. Here are my projected Pacific Division Standings.

Oct 21, 2012; Los Angeles, CA, USA; Los Angeles Lakers shooting guard Kobe Bryant (24) drives against Sacramento Kings shooting guard Marcus Thornton (23) during the preseason game at the Staples Center. Mandatory Credit: Richard Mackson-US PRESSWIRE

First Place – Los Angeles Lakers

Starters:

PG – Steve Nash

SG – Kobe Bryant

SF – Metta World Peace

PF – Pau Gasol

C – Dwight Howard

 

This has to be the best team on paper in the league, if not; it is certainly in the top 3. Steve Nash put up 12 points and 10 assists on a bad Phoenix team with no real scoring options to pass to. At 38 years old, Nash could possibly post his best career assists numbers with this star-studded squad. Kobe Bryant was second in the league in scoring last year even with all his nagging injuries. We know what he brings to the table, as he will go down as one of the best players ever when it is all said and done. Kobe will take all the trash talk and doubters as his fuel. He knows this is his window to tie or possibly pass Michael Jordan in the ring race so I think he will do whatever it takes to win.

Metta World Peace is not the Peace of old but he still has it on defense. Being the fifth option on offense will help him focus more on defense where the Lakers need him most. Pau Gasol is a top five power forward and knows what it takes to win in L.A. He now knows he will not be traded and got the Kobe approval over the summer. Gasol playing right next to Dwight Howard is a nightmare for any team. Howard is the best center in the league and is just a flat out beast. He has so many other great players around him now that he doesn’t need to be everything for this franchise as he was in Orlando. Dwight is going to do him, which is averaging 20 and 10 while being the best defensive big man in the league.

Key Bench Players: Antawn Jamison, Steve Blake, Devin Ebanks, and Jodie Meeks.

It’s hard to obtain a fierce bench when you have the huge names in your starting lineups like the Lakers do. They don’t need these guys to come off the bench and score 15 a night. They need them to come in for hustle plays, rest for the starters, and honestly, just don’t play stupid basketball. They will know their role and will be fine.

Team MVP: Kobe Bryant – The Lakers go wherever Kobe takes them. It’s still his team and he is looking to build to his legacy. He will be the MVP if he trusts his star teammates and sacrifices in order to win his sixth ring.

The Lakers are looking to avoid a season like the Heat had in 2010-2011. They want to avoid the early season chemistry problems and start dominating early. With Nash running the show, I don’t think this will be a problem. Lakers win this division without much trouble.

 

Second Place – Los Angeles Clippers

Oct 22, 2012; Los Angeles, CA, USA; Los Angeles Clippers guard Chris Paul (3) during the game against the Golden State Warriors at the Staples Center. The Clippers defeated the Warriors 88-71. Mandatory Credit: Kirby Lee/Image of Sport-US PRESSWIRE

Starters:

PG – Chris Paul

SG – Chauncey Billups

SF – Caron Butler

PF – Blake Griffin

C – DeAndre Jordan

The Clippers will start the season with a full training camp and another year of chemistry under their belt. Chris Paul has no trade rumors around him and looks to show the league there isn’t much debate who the best point guard in the NBA is. Paul does it all and is easily the leader for this Clippers team. Billups is coming off an injury but when he was healthy he did what he does best last year- hit big shots. Billups has the brain of a point guard so he knows where to be at all times. He is smart and brings championship experience to this Clippers squad. Most teams that try to have two natural point guards on the floor at the same time fail, but not these two veterans.

Caron Butler is a very solid player. I don’t think he is a top tier player, which some people think he is. He is an above average forward who is on the perfect team for him. This season will be all about the Blake show. Griffin has exploded on the scene and taken the league by storm. His injury in the Olympics might have people worried but he should be 100 percent as the season rolls around. Knee injuries are now a scare for Griffin but if he is healthy there aren’t many better players around the rim in the league. If he develops a consistent outside shot he might become the most dangerous offensive big man in the NBA. DeAndre Jordan is also a great compliment to Blake, as he doesn’t have much of an offensive game but is known for his defense and rebounding. Great duo down low for the Clippers.

Key Bench Players:  Lamar Odom, Jamal Crawford, Grant Hill, and Eric Bledsoe

The additions of Odom, Crawford, and Hill were perfect the Clippers. Odom is a small-risk and big-reward player. His love and comfortbility level in L.A. is well documented and if he is anywhere close to what he was when he was with the Lakers, it’s a good signing. Crawford is now a journeyman who still supplies a spark off the bench while Hill brings the veteran presence to this young team. Bledsoe is a solid backup point guard and is learning from the best.

Team MVP: Chris Paul – This is the golden age of elite point guards and CP3 might just be the overall best one. He is the motor to this team and the unquestioned leader. He will push this franchise to places it has never seen before.

The Clippers are tired of being the Lakers little brother in L.A. Before CP3 got there, it would be a slap in the face to the Lakers to consider the Clippers a family member. Times have changed and the Clippers are now very much relevant. They aren’t in the class of the Lakers, Thunder and Spurs, but the Clippers will be better than last year and will compete with the best of them. My bold prediction is that Mike D’Antoni will eventually coach this team. Chris Paul and Blake Griffin can be a better due than Steve Nash and Amar’e Stoudemire once were under coach D’Antoni.

 

Third Place: Sacramento Kings

Starters:

Oct 21, 2012; Los Angeles, CA, USA; Sacramento Kings center DeMarcus Cousins (15) during the preseason game against the Los Angeles Lakers at the Staples Center. Mandatory Credit: Richard Mackson-US PRESSWIRE

PG – Isaiah Thomas

SG – Marcus Thornton

SF – Tyreke Evans

PF – Jason Thompson

C – DeMarcus Cousins

 

The Kings are young and growing together. The ball will be in the young and overlooked Isaiah Thomas’ hands. Last pick of the draft means nothing for him as he opened eyes with his play and earned his spot as the starting point guard. His backcourt partner, Marcus Thornton, broke out last season averaging 18.7 points per game. This team’s best outside player, hands down is Tyreke Evans. He was masterful his rookie season averaging 20 points a game, but the last two season his PPG has slipped to 17 and 16 respectively. Evans needs to play like his rookie self if the Kings have any chance of making some noise in the West. It takes years for a player to figure the ins-and-outs of the NBA; to give up on Evans would be foolish.

The Kings frontcourt is young but they have extremely raw talent. Jason Thompson, just like the rest of their starters, is young and still learning the game. I believe Thompson will split minutes and possibly lose his job during the season to Thomas Robinson. Robinson is a pure beast and has a motor that doesn’t stop. He is physically ready for the NBA but now needs to translate it to the NBA hardwood. Both of these big men will have to make way for DeMarcus Cousins. Cousins had a huge leap in his sophomore season averaging a double-double at 18 and 11. I believe his attitude is no longer a problem and he will be one of the best centers in the league after this season. Cousins is for real.

Key Bench Players: Aaron Brooks, John Salmons, Thomas Robinson, Travis Outlaw, and Chuck Hayes

Aaron Brooks and John Salmons have had stints in the NBA where they were impact players. They are now in perfect roles with the Kings, where they can be huge sparks off the bench, especially if the starters don’t bring their A game every night. Outlaw and Hayes are good role players as well.

Team MVP: DeMarcus Cousins – Cousins will take the reigns as the team’s best player this season. I see Cousins ditching the attitude problem, taking Robinson under his wing, and averaging over 20 and 12 this season.

The Kings have a tough task in front of them for a long time with the Clippers and Lakers in their division. The Kings can fight for a low playoff spot this season if they play together as a team. They will go through growing pains and hopefully this helps them mature and doesn’t destroy this young team.

 

Fourth Place: Golden State Warriors

Oct 19, 2012; Portland, OR, USA; Golden State Warriors shooting guard Stephen Curry (30) speaks with Golden State Warriors head coach Mark Jackson in the first quarter of the game against the Portland Trail Blazers at the Rose Garden. Mandatory Credit: Steve Dykes-US

Starters:

PG – Stephen Curry

SG – Klay Thompson

SF – Harrison Barnes

PF – David Lee

C – Andrew Bogut

On paper, the Warriors have a pretty solid starting lineup. Curry is one of the NBA’s best pure shooters but he needs to stay healthy if the Warriors have any chance of making noise in the West. Curry had a glass ankle last season, playing in only 26 games. He has to stay on the court for the Warriors this season. Thompson showed he can really shoot the rock and progressed as the year went on. Curry’s injuries were maybe a blessing in disguise as this lead to Thompson learning the game better by picking up some of Curry’s minutes. If he avoids the sophomore slump, the Warriors have a deadly shooting backcourt.

Barnes was a coveted prospect out of Ames High School and one of the best players in the country at North Carolina. I believe he received too much pressure as a freshman when he was named to the preseason All-American team. Barnes will have not as much pressure in Golden State as all he needs to do is play hard and learn the game. He is expected to make rookie mistakes but his upside is huge. David Lee has been a model of consistency and is in the prime of his career. A double-double machine but not a franchise player, you can count on Lee to give you numbers night in and night out. Bogut came into his own at the end of his Bucks career but was riddled with injuries. If he is healthy, you don’t have to worry about the production from the Warriors frontcourt with Lee and Bogut out there.

Key Bench Players: Brandon Rush, Richard Jefferson, Jarret Jack, Andris Biedrins, and Carl Landry.

The Warriors bench is filled with great role players. Brandon Rush has established himself as a great sixth man and spot starter. The Kansas product has developed a nice three-point shot. Jack is a solid backup point guard and is great to have with the uncertain health of Steph Curry. Jefferson brings the veteran presence but doesn’t bring the production anymore. Biedrins and Landry are a nice duo off the bench for the frontcourt and should contribute as expected.

Team MVP: Klay Thompson: I think Thompson comes into his own this season and steps up the scoring due to Monta Ellis no longer being on the team. The boy can play and will help Mark Jackson’s team win games.

The Warriors, like the Kings, are a young team on the rise. David Lee and Andrew Bogut know the game but Curry, Barnes, and Thompson are just beginning. If these three come up together, they can shoot the lights out of the ball. Mark Jackson will get the best out of his team night in and night out but it might take a year or two for them to seriously compete. The Warriors are slowly on their way and the development of their three young guns is key for the present and the future.

 

Fifth Place: Phoenix Suns

Oct 19, 2011; Tulsa, OK, USA; Phoenix Suns guard Goran Dragic (1) drives around Oklahoma City Thunder center Hasheem Thabeet (34) during the first half of a preseason game at the BOK Center. Mandatory Credit: Beth Hall-US PRESSWIRE

Starters:

PG – Goran Dragic

SG – Wesley Johnson

SF – Michael Beasley

PF – Luis Scola

C – Marcin Gortat

 

Dragic is a solid point guard in the league but he is no Nash. No one is, but these are the shoes Dragic has to fill. He has learned from Nash before and held his own in Houston. Wesley Johnson has extreme raw talent but didn’t figure it out in Minnesota. I think he has great upside and maybe a switch in teams so early in his career will inspire him. You would have to say that Michael Beasley is the best player on this Suns team. He needs to take that step to the next level in his career if he ever wants to justify his second overall selection in the draft.

Luis Scola moves from the sinking ship Rockets to the still afloat boat that is the Phoenix Suns. Scola has an awesome skill set and is the definition of a European player. He will give the Suns a consistent season. Gortat had a career year, as do most centers that play with Steve Nash. He now needs to play tougher and become a leader on this Suns team.

Key Bench Players: Sebastian Telfair, Shannon Brown, Markieff Morris, Jarred Dudley, and Kendall Marshall.

Telfair has been a bust but the Suns will give him decent playing time. The high draft selection of UNC product Kendall Marshall is a clear message on where this team wants to go with the future of their franchise. Brown has never been the same since he left the Lakers but provides a spark off the bench. Morris has to fight for minutes, as he needs to justify his first round selection. Dudley is probably the best and most consistent player of this Suns bench and will contribute as he has throughout his career.

Team MVP:  Michael Beasley – This might be Beasley’s last chance of being an efficient starter in the NBA. The Heat had to give up on him, but it wasn’t his fault as they formed their Super Team. The Timberwolves are building for their future and chose to go ahead with Derrick Williams and Kevin Love. It hasn’t been pretty for B-Easy, but he should be able to shine in the desert.

The Suns shouldn’t have high expectations as they are in the rebuilding phase. Long gone are the days of Nash and Stoudemire with D’Antoni on the sideline. This Suns team needs to take their time and learn the game together but it’s going to be rough as they play in a pretty stacked division. They need Johnson, Marshall, and Morris to develop nicely this year and coexist with the veterans still on the team. A high draft pick can form a nice young nucleus for the Suns moving forward.

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Tags: Golden State Warriors Los Angeles Clippers Los Angeles Lakers Phoenix Suns Sacramento Kings

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