The Pacific division is oddly stacked this season, or at least it appears to be. The Golden State Warriors are the defending champions. The Phoenix Suns had the best record in the NBA last season. Both teams bring back their rosters mostly intact, and maybe improved.
And speaking of improvement, the Los Angeles Clippers are getting back Kawhi Leonard. Their roster looks built to win in the postseason. The Los Angeles Lakers look messy, but they have LeBron James and Anthony Davis, so you can never count them out. The Sacramento Kings might be better than the Lakers!
Let’s take a deeper look at the division:
Tier 1: Championship or bust
Phoenix Suns: Over/Under 52.5 wins
The Suns put together a spectacular regular season, but ultimately fell short in the second round of the playoffs. They lost to the Dallas Mavericks in such a lopsided blowout the team had to release an apology. Much of that team remains, and they’re hoping that their postseason was just an odd outlier. JaVale McGee left and signed with the Mavericks, but Dario Saric is returning from injury. The Suns added Josh Okogie, who should make offenses miserable along with Mikal Bridges. Phoenix will surely win a lot of regular season wins again, but there’s no guarantee they’ll succeed in the playoffs.
Los Angeles Clippers: Over/Under 52.5 wins
The Clippers only lost Isaiah Hartenstein, but they gained a lot. Leonard is returning from injury, and his presence alone turns them into elite contenders. They also picked up John Wall in free agency. If Paul George can stay healthy all year, the Clippers will be a monster in the regular season and the playoffs. They’ll surround those two All-NBA talents with Robert Covington, Wall, Reggie Jackson, Nicolas Batum, and Ivica Zubac. The Clippers are deep in all the important positions, and they’ll be a handful for every team in the NBA.
Golden State Warriors: Over/Under 51.5 wins
The Warriors bring back the core of their title team, but several supporting characters have left. Steph Curry, Draymond Green, Klay Thompson, and Kevon Looney return. Gary Payton II, Otto Porter Jr., Nemanja Bjelica, and Juan Toscano-Anderson all left in free agency. The Warriors have several young players that could make a leap, like James Wiseman, Moses Moody, and Jonathan Kuminga. They also added Donte DiVincenzo. If the Golden State core stays healthy and plays up to their usual standards, it’ll be another fun season in The Bay.
Tier 2: The special Lakers
Los Angeles Lakers: Over/Under 46.5 wins
The Lakers bring back most of squad that mostly disappointed last season. They still have LeBron James and Anthony Davis, and if those two are healthy and playing well, then they’re dangerous. At least in a playoff series. The question will be if they can actually get to a playoff series.
Russell Westbrook is still on the team, despite the Lakers’ best efforts to trade and/or exile him. The Lakers lost Talen Horton-Tucker and Stanley Johnson, decent role players they can’t afford to be without. They did add Patrick Beverley, Thomas Bryant, and Toscano-Anderson. Beverley and Bryant will definitely help. But the Lakers need much more than help than quality role players can provide. This season might look like last year, despite Hollywood’s best wishes.
Tier 3: Trying their best
Sacramento Kings: Over/Under 33.5 wins
The Kings added Domantas Sabonis by sending Tyrese Haliburton to the Indiana Pacers in an odd trade. But Sabonis and De’Aron Fox played well together. They added Kevin Huerter in a trade with the Atlanta Hawks, and signed Malik Monk. Keegan Murray, the fourth overall pick in the draft, will be interesting to watch. And former Maverick Harrison Barnes will be there to steady the roster. The Kings probably won’t compete for anything beyond a play-in spot, but they could touch 40 wins this season, which would be huge for them.
Players to Watch
Kawhi Leonard. Leonard has returned from his ACL injury and looks BIG. If he’s even 90% of what we last saw from him, the Clippers will be dangerous. Can he hold up all season? It’s worth asking.
Domantas Sabonis and De’Aaron Fox. This pairing looked good in a short stretch last season. Was it for real? It would be exciting to see the Kings have a legitimate 1-2 punch for the first time in a long time.
DeAndre Ayton. The Suns’ talented young center is saying all the right things, but it’s obvious he’s not happy. It will be interesting to see if Ayton can play at a high level all year despite all the distractions and bad vibes surrounding the Suns.
The Clippers will come into this season healthy and determined to prove that all the hype generated when this team was assembled is for real. They’ll definitely pace themselves, so the chance of getting the best record in the Western Conference is remote. But the Warriors will be doing the same, and the Suns seem set to implode. The Clippers will win the Pacific.
Division Award Winners
Most Valuable Player. Leonard will lift the Clippers to a top three seed while putting up some decent stats. He’ll also have the support around him to make sure he’s not suffocated by double and triple teams.
Defensive Player of the Year. Mikal Bridges will continue to terrorize the NBA, but especially the Pacific division. His ability to disrupt offense on the perimeter will have opponents dreading their dates with Phoenix.
Sixth Man of the Year. Jonathan Kuminga will have a chance to win this award. He’s got the skill and athleticism to give opponents fits. The only thing that might hold him back is the Warriors not being able to keep him on the bench.
Most Improved Player. De’Aaron Fox has the chance to reward the Kings’ faith in him. Playing with Sabonis unlocked something in Fox last season, and with a full year of the duo, there’s a chance he finally blossoms into the franchise player Sacramento has lacked for years.
Rookie of the Year. I was upset about Keegan Murray being ranked ahead of Dorian Finney-Smith in ESPN’s Top 100 list, but he will be fun to watch for the Kings this year. And importantly, he’ll get opportunities.