Stoop Sports NBA staff members Niko Regalbuto and David Vertsberger look at the NBA’s Pacific Division and the key players that will drive the season for the respective teams.
Los Angeles Lakers
David’s Person of Interest: Kobe Bryant
With the Lakers closing out their preseason campaign at 0-8, fans and experts alike are beginning to become concerned. Ha, right. The best Kobe-led L.A. teams hardly tried in the regular season, which makes this all the more… hilarious. This team easily has the talent and the scheme to compete for an NBA championship this season, but every player must buy in to the team mentality and the Princeton offense. To help make this happen, Kobe Bryant, the leader for the Lakers, will have to play a major role. I’ve already written two pieces on the new-look Lakers, one an overview of the Princeton offense and how it could make the Lakers unstoppable scoring the basketball (link here), and the other focusing on the Lakers’ possible problems in crunch time (link here). Now the Lakers have a pretty pathetic bench, but it’s far from something that could end their season. The Lakers will at the very least make it to the Western Conference Finals, and right now they are the only team that can give the Miami Heat serious trouble in the NBA Finals.
Niko’s Person of Interest: Eddie Jordan
Personally, I hold a special little spot in my heart for Eddie Jordan. The spot where I also hold brussels sprouts, Lindsay Lohan, and Nascar. A place that no matter what happens to those in it, I will never like them. When Eddie Jordan was coaching my beloved Sixers, he went a solid 27-55 and got himself fired after just one year. In what was supposed to be a season of progression for the Sixers, Eddie Jordan structured the worst game plan night in and night out. Now, the Lakers have brought him in to initiate their Princeton offense. Let me reiterate, they brought in the man who’s most recent coaching job was bringing the Sixer’s into a fiery crash failure, to install a new offense for one of the game’s all-time offensive wizards, Steve Nash, to run. When you put the ball in Nash’s hands good things happen, but the Princeton offense is one revolved around a big at the high post and playing through him (i.e. Vlade Divac, Brad Miller). Pau Gasol is a great passer, but would you ever take the ball out of Nash’s hands? I woulden’t. The Lakers have enough raw talent to be one of the top two teams in the West, but boy it’s going to be fun to see how this plays out.
Los Angeles Clippers
David’s Person of Interest: Blake Griffin & DeAndre Jordan
Alert the press: the Los Angeles Clippers can score the basketball. That is not the problem for them, they were 4th in the league last year in offensive rating, but they were 18th in defensive rating. Now the perimeter defense is not that bad. Chris Paul is a helluva pest in the backcourt for the opposition, and then there’s also Caron Butler, speedy guard Eric Bledsoe, and the Clippers’ new signings this summer. Matt Barnes and Grant Hill are two seasoned veterans who play lock-down defense. But what about the front court? Blake Griffin is the second-best power forward in the game, but he’s nothing more than a decent defender. DeAndre Jordan, his buddy at the center position, was absolutely dreadful on defense, aside from the occasional highlight-reel block. These defensive concerns are what makes Griffin and Jordan my persons of interest for ‘Lob City’. The Clippers made a silent splash in free agency this summer, and although they are coming into the 2012-13 a bit banged up, assuming they are healthy come Playoffs time the Clippers will be a top-4 seed in the West and will be fighting for championship contention.
Niko’s Person of Interest: DeAndre Jordan
The Clippers have the best point guard in the game, the second best power forward in the game, a deep bench, which also includes Eric Bledsoe who is arguably the best backup point guard in all of basketball. Now, in order for them to progress, they need DeAndre to step up. Last year Charles Barkley jokingly said “If you left DeAndre Jordan in a gym all night and told him no dunking, in the morning he’d have six points.” While it’s funny, to the distain of the Clippers it’s (almost) true. DeAndre didn’t do much offensively besides corrupt the Clippers spacing and catch lobs from Chris Paul, but if he would just add a nice little offensive threat he could open up a new realm of offense in Lobtropolus. He claims he’s been working on a nice little jump hook, and to my surprise when I tuned into a Clipper pre-season game 3 of their first 4 baskets were Jordan jump hooks. I already have them as my surprise team in the West, but boy will they be scary if Jordan’s improved offense isn’t just another pre-season mirage.
David’s Person of Interest: Michael Beasley
This Phoenix Suns roster is just… weird. A bunch of young, underachieving players, and the ones who have played good basketball have done with Steve Nash on their team. And in case you did not know, Steve Nash is playing for the Los Angeles Lakers now. The Suns’ starting lineup as of right now is Goran Dragic, a slippery overseas-originated point guard who had some stellar moments when he was with Phoenix in his rookie year, Shannon Brown, an athletic two guard that’s… athletic. Michael Beasley, a SECOND OVERALL PICK who did not even come close to playing up to expectations and moved around a bit before landing here, and is now playing on a team without a superstar. This could lead to a breakout year for ‘Be Easy’, or just another disappointing campaign, hence me making him my person of interest. Luis Scola, flopper extraordinaire who was once one of the best low-post scorers in the league until his production lowered dramatically, and finally Marcin Gortat, who is bound to be nothing more than average now that Steve Nash is in another jersey. So yeah. Not a chance this team is going to the NBA Playoffs, unless they can trade their training staff for some very good players.
Niko’s Person of Interest: Goran Dragic
In 28 starts in Houston this past year, Goran Dragic averaged 18 and 8 in 36 minutes. Now, he enters Phoenix as the heir to the Steve Nash era. Dragic is an efficient scorer, willing passer, and clutch performer. His 18 points as a starter were posted with a field goal percentage of 49%, and while in crunch time he shot a ridiculous 69.6% form the field. The Suns are going to face their fair share of issues, particularly now that Alvin Gentry wants Michael Beasley to be their star player, but fortunately Goran Dragic is good enough to put them in a competing position. Clearly Dragic won’t be as good as Nash, and anyone would be stupid to say so. But I don’t think the fall off from Nash to his former pupil is as big as some may think. This team won’t make the playoffs, but with max-contract money available in their organization, they could be a contender next year after a big move in free agency.
Golden State Warriors
David’s Person of Interest: Stephen Curry(‘s ankle)
This Golden State Warriors team has the potential to be as fun to watch and maybe even as good as the 2007 Warriors that pulled off one of the greatest upsets in NBA history, a win over the first-seeded Dallas Mavericks in the first round as the eighth seed. David Lee is still going to be gobbling up boards. Klay Thompson is going to develop into one of the best wing shooters in the league. The Warriors drafted Harrison Barnes, who was once considered the best player in the country. Last year, Golden State traded for center Andrew Bogut, a dominant Australian that is one of the best big men in the game when healthy. Problem is he hasn’t been healthy in quite some time. As of now it seems as if he will miss the start of the season, and maybe a bit more, but as much as this will slow down the Warriors, (not literally, this would in fact speed their game up a bunch) the biggest piece of the puzzle is another injury-ravaged talent in point guard Stephen Curry. This man is the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth. Except it’s hard for him to prove it with his ankle always keeping him on the sideline. So the keys for the Warriors if they want to possibly try and sneak into the eighth seed this season follows. Make sure this beast of all beasts stays healthy. Put him in a suit of armor if you have to. Curry played 26 games last season, and the Warriors went 18-8 in those games.
Niko’s Person of Interest: Andrew Bogut
I’m a huge fan of Klay Thompson and his ridiculous scoring ability. I’m a huge fan of Steph Curry’s play, when he does play. I’m a huge fan of David Lee’s beautiful passing from the power forward position. But most of all, I’m a huge fan of what Mark Jackson is trying to do with this team. Jackson is trying to change the identity of Don Nelson’s (/Keith Smart) run and gun Warriors, and put some defensive focus into their game plan. He already move the undersized Monta Ellis to add some size in Bogut, while in the process successfully tanked the Warriors into the lottery to obtain Harrison Barnes. When healthy, Bogut is one of the league’s premier post defenders, though health has always been a problem. Personally I don’t think Bogut is injury-prone, I just think he’s experienced his fare share of freak injuries, if that even makes sense. When Bogut does finally return to the court, watch out for this Warriors team. It’s tough for me to make a prediction on their success because there’s just so many players on their roster that I like, including Jarrett Jack who will run the show when Steph Curry inevitably gets hurt. My guess, is that they’ll be battling for one of the bottom seeds in the West, but will probably fall short given their recent history.
David’s Person of Interest: Tyreke Evans
Let me be absolutely clear. When I selected Tyreke Evans as my person of interest for this team, it’s because he will make some good trade bait. The Kings have been playing Evans wrong for the past couple of seasons and it’s cost them. With his contract expiring this summer, there is no doubt in anyone’s mind that he will be on the trading block throughout the year. So the Kings can perhaps, maybe, possibly lure in enough takers to maybe come out of this situation with a much better team. It’s extremely hard to stay optimistic about a team that has stunk it up for the past handful of years and is likely to leave its loyal fan base. But the good news is DeMarcus Cousins and Isaiah Thomas make for great Fantasy Draft selections. Yeah, this team is crap.
Niko’s Person of Interest: Keith Smart
Keith Smart is so close to being on Eddie Jordan level with me. He has a certain affinity for benching productive players. Isaiah Thomas was absolutely the biggest asset they had on offense last season outside of DeMarcus Cousins, and yet struggled to find his way on the floor for over 30 minutes. Let’s not forget, Smart was the one who loved playing Acie Law in favor of Steph Curry during his time in Golden State. Now, they add Aaron Brooks to the equation. Keith Smart complains about them not having good defenders, then adds Aaron Brooks? I just don’t get it. I love the acquisition of James Johnson, as I most recently stated in our NBA roundtable. He adds some defense and size to the small forward position where they started former point guard Tyreke Evans last year. They’ll also be moving Marcus Thornton to the bench this season, which I think is the right move, where he’ll be serving as a Nick Young type instant offense kind of guy. This team will be fun to watch, because who doesn’t love to watch a 5 foot 8 point guard breaking down the defense and a supremely talented big man rack up technical fouls. But yeah, David’s right, they won’t even smell the playoffs.