Monday, November 05, 2012

2012-13 NBA Preview: Pacific Division

Wins Produced Order of Finish
1. LA Clippers 55-27
2. LA Lakers 49-33
3. Phoenix 29-53
4. Sacramento 29-53
5. Golden State 23-59

I feel like the world will almost certainly end if things do in fact play out this way, but the Clippers project as the stronger LA team on the strength of a still-improving Blake Griffin (and DeAndre Jordan, for that matter), a full training camp and off-season of Chris Paul, and an upgraded backcourt rotation that will include Jamal Crawford and Chauncey Billups instead of Randy Foye, Nick Young, and Mo Williams.  The backcourt will also be bolstered by expanded minutes for Eric Bledsoe, and Matt Barnes and Grant Hill will be an upgrade over Bobby Simmons and Ryan Gomes behind Caron Butler.  The x-factor will be if Lamar Odom can approach his 6th Man of the Year performance in 2010-11, or if his putrid showing in Dallas is a sign his career may be done.  Oh, and Vinny Del Negro could always screw things up completely.

The Lakers are a bonafide super team on paper, boasting sure-fire Hall-of-Famers at both backcourt spots and center, a possible Hall-of-Famer at power forward, and a small forward who at times looked like he could have been a Hall-of-Famer (if only he weren't so crazy).  Unfortunately, all of these Hall-of-Fame players are old and/or somewhat broken down by injury, and there is very little backing them up.  Steve Blake is probably the best option off of Mike Brown's bench, and that is saying much more about the Lakers' lack of depth than it does about Blake's ability.  Steve Nash, Kobe Bryant, Metta World Peace, Pau Gasol, and Dwight Howard should be good enough to carry Blake, Antawn Jamison, and Jodie Meeks to the playoffs; the key will be if the big five have enough left once they get there.  I see injuries and strategy forcing each of the starters out for at least 10 games a piece, which will lead to a lower win total but potentially fresher legs for a playoff push.

Phoenix, Sacramento, and Golden State round out what could be the worst division top-to-bottom in the NBA, as I see only Golden State having a chance to out-perform their projection.  Phoenix threw a lot of money after a lot of bad players (Wes Johnson, Michael Beasley, Jermaine O'Neal, a seemingly-washed up Luis Scola), and all that bad outweighs any good Marcin Gortat, Jared Dudley, and Goran Dragic may provide.  Sacramento is a mish-mash of talented, flawed players who all want to shoot, shoot, shoot (except for Chuck Hayes), and adding Aaron Brooks to the mix is only going to make matters worse.  If the Kings could shed some of their perimeter gunners (Tyreke Evans, Jimmer Fredette, or even Marcus Thornton) for a Kawhi Leonard-type player, they may actually have a nice nucleus of Isiah Thomas, Jason Thompson, and Kawhi Leonard-type player X to surround burgeoning superstar DeMarcus Cousins.  Golden State, meanwhile, will probably once again have the league's most talented injured list, highlighted by Stephen Curry and Andrew Bogut.  David Lee will most likely also battle injuries, and last year's breakout star Brandon Rush is already out for the year with a torn ACL.  I feel like Klay Thompson is overrated, and Harrison Barnes will be a bust.  A healthy Curry, Bogut, and Lee should be good enough to compete for a playoff spot, but at this point in their careers, healthy versions of that triumvirate may simply cease to exist.

Wins Produced All-Pacific Team
PG Chris Paul, LA Clippers
SG Brandon Rush, Golden State
SF Jared Dudley, Phoenix
PF Blake Griffin, LA Clippers
C Dwight Howard, LA Lakers

Eyeball Test All-Pacific Team
PG Paul, LA Clippers
SG Kobe Bryant, LA Lakers
SF Dudley, Phoenix
PF Griffin, LA Clippers
C Howard, LA Lakers

Paul, Griffin, and Howard are slam dunk choices, with only Pau Gasol challenging Blake Griffin.  Brandon Rush is obviously a shocking choice over Kobe Bryant, Tyreke Evans, or even his own teammate Klay Thompson, and he certainly won't outperform any of them now that he is out for the year.  While Jared Dudley is a very solid player who I personally like, you don't think All-anything team when his name comes up.  The spate of quality 3's (Metta World Peace? Caron Butler? Harrison Barnes?), though, gives Dudley a spot on the team by default.

Wins Produced Anti-Pacific Team
PG Aaron Brooks, Sacramento
SG John Salmons, Sacramento
SF Lamar Odom, LA Clippers
PF Antawn Jamison, LA Lakers
C Ryan Hollins, LA Clippers

Brooks and Salmons are older, much less-promising versions of the young chuckers making up the majority of the Kings' rotation.  Jamison is perhaps the worst defender in the league, and his 17 ppg in Cleveland last year came on an absurd amount of shots.  Ryan Hollins has never been good, and his continued NBA employment is a testament to how many chances 7 feet of height can get you.  Everyone hopes Odom will get back to his normal production levels now that he's back in LA, but early returns are not promising.

Wins Produced Pacific MVP: Chris Paul, LA Clippers
Canaan's Pacific MVP: Dwight Howard, LA Lakers

Paul is awesome, and if the Clippers meet their projections, he probably will finish in the top 3-5 in MVP voting.  My vote goes to Howard, though, who should get back to his superstar levels now that he is in a more settled situation.  Upgrading from Jameer Nelson to Steve Nash should up Howard's scoring, while the complete lack of defenders and rebounders around him should allow Howard's block and board totals soar.

Wins Produced Pacific LVP: Aaron Brooks, Sacramento

If you haven't gotten the point yet, the Kings signing Brooks may be the most baffling move of the off-season.  Brooks wouldn't bring much to the table for any team, but on this team, he is so redundant and adds so much volatility to an already chaotic situation that it is reasonable to speculate if this is the first ever free agent signing made with tanking in mind.

Pacific DPOY: Dwight Howard, LA Lakers

If Howard is healthy, he's the best defender in the league.

Pacific Matador of the Year: Antawn Jamison, LA Lakers

Jamison will have some stiff competition from Luis Scola, but his utter indifference for even making a show of defending is unmatched by few players in the league.

Wins Produced Pacific ROY: Thomas Robinson, Sacramento
Canaan's Pacific ROY: Harrison Barnes, Golden State

If we were just going off of efficiency and per minute production, Robinson would be my pick, too.  Unfortunately, Robinson is going to have to split minutes with Jason Thompson and DeMarcus Cousins, so the opportunity for big numbers will not be there.  Barnes, on the other hand, is already the starting SF on the Warriors, and with Brandon Rush already out and Stephen Curry likely to battle an injury at some point, Barnes could find himself as the number 2 scoring option behind Klay Thompson.  I'm not saying it will be efficient or even effective, but Barnes will put up high point totals, which will make him seem like the best rookie in the division.

Wins Produced Pacific Rookie Bust: Harrison Barnes, Golden State
As  stated above, Barnes is not very efficient as a scorer, and he brings literally nothing else to the table.  His teammate Fesutus Ezeli actually projects to be the worst player in the division this year, and without Andrew Bogut he's going to get a frightening amount of minutes.


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