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Western Conference Preview-Pacific Division

Western Conference Preview will culmintate with a "larger than the others" Blazers preview

 

Previous Altantic Division Preview Link

http://www.blazersedge.com/2008/9/15/614761/eastern-conference-preview

 

Previous Southeast Division Preview Link

http://www.blazersedge.com/2008/9/2/606260/eastern-conference-preview

 

Previous Central Division Preview Link

http://www.blazersedge.com/2008/9/4/607441/eastern-conference-preview

 

Pacific Division

 

Playoff seeds

LA Lakers

59-23

1

Phoenix Suns

46-36

7

LA Clippers

41-41

 

Golden State Warriors

30-52

 

Sacramento Kings

27-55

 

 

Sacramento Kings

Prediction: 27-55 do not make the playoffs

Depth Chart

PG

Beno Udrih

Bobby Jackson

MVP:  Kevin Martin

Biggest Surprise: Jason Thompson as surprise lottery pick becomes surprisingly good player

Biggest Letdown: Brad Miller stops caring, but Spencer Hawes still sucks

Key to success: Find a starting PG, Garcia perhaps?

Grab bag: Only NBA team with 2 white trash centers

SG

Kevin Martin

Quincy Douby

SF

John Salmons

Francisco Garcia

PF

Mikki Moore

Jason Thompson

C

Brad Miller

Spencer Hawes

 

Kevin Martin, John Salmons and Spencer Hawes, and hopefully Jason Thompson are set to form the core of the Kings.  On paper, they only lost Ron Artest, but compared to the rest of the Western Conference they are not improved.  The starting lineup is ok, but essentially they are holding place until something better comes along.  The only permanent piece is Kevin Martin.

 

Martin missed about 20 games last year, mostly because of injury.  The Kings went 8-12.  That was with Ron Artest.  There isn’t a second fiddle this year.  Kevin Martin is it.  Brad Miller is the next closest player they have to a star.  He was only an All-Star by default in previous years and has never shown he can carry a team.  Martin absolutely cannot have a bad year this year if the Kings want to surpass expectations.

 

At PG, Beno Udrih will start and hope to continue from last year’s breakout.  He needs to get more assists (4.3 apg last year) this year and improve his scoring from 13 ppg up to 15 ppg or so for the team to improve.  Bobby Jackson is back, I assume and hope, to finish his career in Sacramento.  He still has a bit left, and can be a solid backup, but he can’t just jack threes like in Houston.  The PG’s on this team have to be careful to set their offense up every time down the floor.  This isn’t a running team. Even the wing players prefer half-court sets, and the big men, specifically Brad Miller, aren’t able bodied enough to fly up and down the court.

 

Miller has been a mainstay since the playoff days, but it seems as if he is wearing down.  His rebounding was solid last year (9.4), and he scored very efficiently, usually taking between 10-11 shots per game, but his energy level seems to be lacking.  He needs another big man like Jason Thompson to be dangerous so Miller can play more of a supporting role like he did when he was paired with Chris Webber.  Shareef Abdur-Rahim is now a coach, RIP.

 

I like Reggie Theus because he is a fundamentals coach.  Because of this, the team will play the right way and be the thorn in the sides of some of the leagues better teams, but just don’t expect a lot results, they are still a couple players and a couple years from any serious run at the playoffs

 

Golden State Warriors

Prediction: 30-52 do not make the playoffs

Depth Chart

PG

Monta Ellis

Marcus Williams

MVP: Stephen Jackson

Biggest Surprise: Ronny Turiaf

Biggest Letdown: Monta Ellis at PG

Key to success: Keep core together if a meltdown

Grab bag: Biedrins makes 562.5 times the amount of annual income than his average countyman

SG

Stephen Jackson

Marco Belinelli

SF

Corey Maggette

Kelenna Azubuike

PF

Al Harrington

Brandan Wright

C

Andris Biedrins

Ronny Turiaf

 

The Warriors only lost one ‘real’ player, but he happened to be their best scorer, playmaker and their heart.  Baron Davis, in my opinion, was the key to what made Golden State so formidable the last two years.  His loss was huge, Corey Maggette barely eases the loss because he doesn’t bring the playmaking and leadership that Davis provided.  Because of the arrival of Maggette, Monta Ellis has been pushed down to the PG, a position that he hasn’t really proven to be able to play.

 

Ellis is a good player, and despite missing an early portion of the season, he will be the most important piece to the Warriors success this season.  He doesn’t have to be a true point guard to run the offense and he can still call his own number, and in that respect it won’t hurt the team.  The biggest disappointment in Ellis running the point will be the drop in his production.  He might put up as many points, but he isn’t going to be shooting 53% anymore.  I wouldn’t be surprised if his shooting percentage drops a full 10% into the low 40%.  He will have to find his own shot a lot more.  One thing that Baron Davis did very well for Ellis was create space and match up problems for opposing teams.  Ellis took less than 55 three point shots last year because he was constantly driving against bigger, slower shooting guards.  Davis was defended by the point guard leaving Monta Ellis isolated on a player that couldn’t match his quickness.  This year, Ellis will be guarded by the quickest player on the court.  The best hope for Ellis is for Marcus Williams to show he can carry a team as the backup and eventually combine together in the backcourt

 

Stephen Jackson and Corey Maggette will provide support as the wing players.  They are essentially interchangeable pieces at the 2 and 3 positions but Jackson is the better long range shooter.  Jackson is now the heart and leader of the team.  If his head is in the right place he can still be a difference maker.  Maggette should flourish in Don Nelson’s attack and Kelenna Azubuike and Marco Belinelli should add scoring off the bench.

 

Up front, Andris Biedrins returns after signing a new contract and should be the energy guy that plays well in Warriors’ fast pace offense.  Al Harrington also returns and will keep jacking up shots and not playing defense, much to the delight of Nelson.  There are interesting prospects up front with Brandan Wright and Anthony Randolph, too.  Randolph won’t likely get much time this year, but his future is most likely as a small forward and Brandan Wright is surprisingly showing a back to the basket game.

 

The Warriors don’t have enough talent to make the playoffs this year, or in the foreseeable future, their style of play is indicative of blowing teams out, or being blown out themselves, but the way they are shaped these next few years, after Don Nelson’s inevitable departure, hinges on developing the current young talent, and hoping that it translates into success.

 

Los Angeles Clippers           

Prediction: 41-41 do not make the playoffs

Depth Chart

PG

Baron Davis

Jason Hart

MVP: Baron Davis

Biggest Surprise: Camby and Kaman can play together

Biggest Letdown: Rick Davis is a headache

Key to success: Keeping turnovers down

Grab bag: Coach/GM for a volatile coach like Dunleavy?  Ouch.

SG

Cuttino Mobley

Eric Gordon

SF

Al Thornton

Ricky Davis

PF

Marcus Camby

Tim Thomas

C

Chris Kaman

Brian Skinner

 

Taking into account that Elton Brand left after the initial signing of Baron Davis, the Clippers have restocked their roster pretty well.  They are definitely deeper there is no denying who the star on the team will be.

 

Davis, when healthy, is a big, strong guard, who can make miraculous plays.  Now he is playing in his hometown where he’ll play comfortably, be the face of the franchise and want to prove the loss of Elton Brand won’t spell the end of making the playoffs.  Davis can change a game, but most importantly, he get his team pumped up.  When he drives and finishes with a dunk it is instant adrenaline for the fans and his teammates.  I don’t know how to explain it.  Baron Davis has the timeliest and inspiring dunks in the league.  Jason Hart (not Jason Williams, sadly) becomes Davis’ backup.  He will be deterring a lot to the scorers off of the bench, Ricky Davis and Rookie Eric Gordon, so his role is well defined and will be charged with running the offense about 20 minutes per game.  If Baron gets hurt, he will be a starter though, and that could spell trouble.

 

Cuttino Mobley returns playing the 2 and, although he is on the downside of his career, is a great ball handler and excellent, albeit undersized, defender when given the task.  He won’t need to score much this year and will be looked upon to hit outside shots and play mistake free. He is the longest tenured Clipper on the team who has seen significant minutes, and will inherit a leadership role alongside Baron Davis.  Eric Gordon will spend most of his time at the 2 behind Mobely, but will get plenty of minutes as the season progress due to the inevitable injuries to Mobley and/or Baron Davis.

 

At small forward, Al Thornton is very exciting. He can flat out score, is athletic and hasn’t met a shot he doesn’t like, which is the biggest knock on him.  This year he will get a lot more easy baskets just from run of play at a faster tempo.  He’ll most likely be the second scoring option just because he can score in so many ways.  Backing him up in the sixth man role is Ricky Davis.  He is a head case, but can score, and that is all he will really be asked to do.

 

Up front is Marcus Camby and Chris Kaman.  Camby, now healthy the last few years, is an elite shot blocker, great rebounder and one of the best passers at his size.  He plays a lot like Garnett without the scoring, but even his offensive game is good.  He can hit the mid range, hit his free throws, and post up a little.  Kaman became the first option in the post last year because of the injury to Brand and showed that he is a capable scorer.  What was most impressive is that his defensive stepped up. His numbers rose, yes, but by guarding the other team’s best low post player in most games, he was thrown into the fire, learning through experience rather than coaching, and it served him well.

 

I think the Clippers can be a team that ends up either ruining a couple of playoff contenders’ chances or making a run to the playoffs themselves.  This of course depends on the health of Baron Davis, and Camby’s ability playing the 4 next to Kaman.  The Clippers have a chance to be a good team and move in the right direction.

 

Phoenix Suns

Prediction: 46-36 7th seed playoffs

Depth Chart

PG

Steve Nash

Goran Dragic

MVP: Steve Nash

Biggest Surprise: Shaq’s health lasts the year

Biggest Letdown: Backup PG, whoever it is can’t be Nash.

Key to success: Defense! (stomp stomp) Defense!

Grab bag: Amare will quibble with Shaq, Porter proceeds to bitch slap them both.

SG

Raja Bell

Leandro Barbosa

SF

Grant Hill

Matt Barnes

PF

Amare Stoudemire

Boris Diaw

C

Shaquille O'Neal

Robin Lopez

 

This team got old very quickly.  The average age of their starters is 32.4.  Their bench is young, but outside of Barbosa, not very effective.  Their regular season record will fall, but I see Steve Kerr’s thinking, this team is built for a seven game series, whether this is an effective ploy or not, remains to be seen.

 

Steve Nash is awesome at most things, dribbling, passing, shooting, dancing, soccer, and charities to name a few.  One thing he isn’t good at, is defense.  Amare Stoudemire doesn’t even try to play defense.  This has been one of the biggest hindrances of the Suns the last 5 years in the playoffs.  Nash, at 34 isn’t going to magically start excelling at defense, but I do think that his attention to it, may be easier.  While Phoenix will still be a running team, they will look to do it out of the fast break, rather than the shoot it as soon as you can philosophy.   Nash will again run the offense and put up great assist numbers, probably averaging somewhere around 17 ppg.  There will be many more half court sets to fully incorporate Shaquille O’Neal, because this year, Terry Porter is at the helm, and knows that a full run ‘n’ gun attack isn’t going to get them very far.

 

On the wings, Raja Bell and Grant Hill will get the majority of minutes, and although Grant Hill no longer drinks Sprite, he is still a solid veteran with a basketball IQ that can make up for his shortcomings.  Bell continues to be the guy who pisses off opposing players when he is guarding them, which is good, and he can make an open three, which he should get plenty of.  Playing behind these two are Matt Barnes, who may start to save Grant Hill for the long run, and Leandro Barbosa, who is a blur with the ball, and despite an unorthodox release, is a good outside shooter.  Matt Barnes may make a good addition to the starting lineup with his ability from beyond the arc and the down low presence of O’Neal and Amare sinking the D, and of course, Steve Nash can find anyone with the ball.

The goal of the Suns is to keep everyone healthy headed into the playoffs.  Most likely that means that Nash, Hill and O’Neal will play less minutes and Barbosa, Boris Diaw and Matt Barnes will play more.  The regular season record will reflect this.  But whether they are the1st seed or 8th seed, no one will want to play a healthy Suns team in the playoffs.

 

Los Angeles Lakers

Prediction: 59-23 1st seed playoffs

Depth Chart

PG

Derek Fisher

Jordan Farmar

MVP:  Hmmm.

Biggest Surprise:  Odom coming off the bench

Biggest Letdown: Vujacic jacking shots

Key to success: Pau and Bynum co-existing in the post

Grab bag: I hate to say it, but this team is dominant

SG

Kobe Bryant

Sasha Vujacic

SF

Luke Walton

Lamar Odom

PF

Pau Gasol

Vladimir Radmanovic

C

Andrew Bynum

Chris Mihm

 

Talent wise, the Lakers are scary.  Their bench is much better than it was in their last three championship years, and although Pau Gasol nor Andrew Bynum are as good as player as Shaquille O’Neal was, the offense is more balanced.  Well, as balanced as it could be with Kobe Bryant on the floor.

 

In the backcourt the calming Derek Fisher is stable, can hit an open three and is a below average, but not terrible defender.  He brings the ball up the court, but isn’t a creator and doesn’t get a lot of assists because of that.  He does, however, set the tempo when the ball is in his hands and is Phil Jackson’s direct conduit onto the court.  Jordan Farmar has turned himself into a capable backup and fills the Fisher role.  The Lakers have never really have had to have a great point guard, and the one year they had a known point (Gary Payton) in the finals, they didn’t win the championship.  This is how Phil Jackson’s system has always been.

 

Bryant is the stalwart.  People hate him, as do I.  I am willing to grant him great player status though.  Anyone who can score 30 PPG and lead their team deep into the playoffs is a good player.  Without that scoring, the Lakers would not be better.  Saying that, Bryant does have a tendency to overshoot while the rest of the team watches and the whole rhythm is thrown off.  This is why Bryant defers to his teammates early, hoping to get them involved.  When the other Lakers don’t get involved is when they have trouble.

 

Helping them stay out of trouble are Lamar Odom, Pau Gasol, and Andrew Bynum,  all of who can score on their own, and are great rebounders.  Each one of these players is capable of 17ppg and 10 rpg in post.  Odom will most likely slide to the 3 this year and play a Scottie Pippen-like point forward role.  He will undoubtedly get some time on the front line as well.  He may come off the bench some too to avoid the shot traffic of the starting lineup, but he can still be effective without shooting the ball, he took less than 10 last year and averaged almost 14 ppg.  Bynum will come back as the starting center and if, as the Lakers hope, he continues where he left off, Bynum could be an All-Star this year.  His offense is good because he has a nice touch and great footwork.  And rebounding wise he is in the top 10 in the west if he averages the 10.2 rpg he did last year.  What Bynum’s return also does is push Gasol down the to 4.  Gasol was effective last year playing center, but as a PF he is harder matchup because of his size and length.  There are not many teams in the league that can guard both Bynum and Gasol, as well as worry about Kobe on the perimeter. Each team will need like, eight guys, to double team them all.

 

Overall, they are the Lakers. So come May, you’re going see them on TV.

 

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