The Pacific Division is home of the 73-win Golden State Warriors, and so many are quick to proclaim the Dubs as “locks” for a 2017 NBA title. Those of us in the handicapping business know there is no such thing, and watching Stephen Curry and company’s 3-1 Finals lead evaporate to LeBron James and the eventual champion Cleveland Cavaliers illustrated there are no guarantees in professional sports.
(Odds and futures bets c/o Bovada.lv)
This season the Golden State Warriors have unparalleled talent and two MVP winners on their vaunted roster, teams league-wide will gun at them to do the seemingly impossible and send the Bay Area home humble again in the 2018 postseason.
Until that point, however, it is difficult to imagine any sort of collapse that would result in the Warriors ceding its division crown. Even with major injuries to two of its top-four stars, the Warriors still have a noted advantage over perhaps all the teams in this division besides the Los Angeles Clippers. And fully healthy?
The Los Angeles Clippers are not much of a challenge, just a talented “also-ran” whose championship window is rapidly closing as Chris Paul begins to age on a roster that has not made any notable internal improvements.
The L.A. Lakers, Phoenix Suns and Sacramento Kings are likely all lottery bound. The Lakers have an emerging second-year guard in D’Angelo Russell and No. 2 overall pick Brandon Ingram to develop, but Luke Walton is going to work on growing a winning culture in L.A. because this team is still several seasons off from being ready.
The Phoenix Suns are stacked in the backcourt and have a talented offensive unit, but lack depth and interior play necessary to put together any sort of run in the West.
And the Sacramento Kings? Well, they have not made the playoffs in 10 years now, and nothing seems likely to change there, not with free agent acquisition Ty Lawson already having off-court problems in a city no stranger to such issues.
(1) Golden State Warriors
Odds to win Pacific Division: -10000
Odds to win NBA Title: -125
Over/Under 66.5 wins
The Golden State Warriors are coming off the winningest season in NBA history, and they found a way to only get better over the offseason, adding the NBA’s biggest free agent prize in Kevin Durant. While Durant was heavily criticized for “taking the easy way out” in joining the loaded Warriors team, that point falls flat when considering just how good the Dubs can really be now.
The team took a bit of a hit in the depth department, but this is a team featuring the best shooter in NBA history and now the wings are filled by another MVP leader and four-time scoring champion. The Dubs also added some quality bench players, and Zaza Pachulia may be even some sort of small upgrade over Andrew Bogut as a starting center. Though the Warriors no longer have Bogut or Festus Ezeli, Pachulia is a hustling big capable of holding the Warriors together in the paint.
It almost does not seem fair when considering the Warriors have another all-time great shooter in Klay Thompson and the league’s most versatile power forward in Draymond Green. That quartet of talent alone justifies 60 wins, and that is about the absolute basement if the Warriors have a run of injuries and bad luck.
Really, this is a team that will again approach the 70-win mark, and it may do it more effortlessly this season. If Curry has an off-night, there is still Thompson and Durant to carry the team to an easy victory. Apply the same statement to Durant, Thompson and Green, in any unfortunate world of Warriors injury troubles.
What perhaps makes the Warriors most scary is that they have branded today’s NBA with their style of play. Teams are trying to play Warriors’ small ball to beat the Warriors, and it hardly works. Sure, the Cavaliers did defeat the Dubs in the NBA Finals and prevent them from repeating, but that is some sort of pause in this impressive dynasty that is shaping up in the Bay Area.
The Warriors’ odds to win the division are as close as we will get to dubbing anything a “lock,” but the greater title hopes will still have to go through the likes of the San Antonio Spurs and Cleveland Cavaliers. In a seven-game series, a lot can happen, but the most talented team usually wins out. That team is Golden State, even if Cleveland can again give them another strong run and epic Finals like we were treated to in 2016.
Prediction: 68 wins (over)
(2) L.A. Clippers
Odds to win Pacific Division: +1000
Odds to win NBA Title: +2500
Over/Under 53.5 wins
The Los Angeles Clippers have been knocking on the door as some sort of soft contender for the past half-decade, but there is also nothing to think that narrative as “postseason failures” comes to an end this season. The roster is largely the same, not getting younger, and Doc Rivers takes as much blame as the players as a coach whose accolades do not really match what he brings as a coach.
The result is that the Clips are “right there” in the West again, when in fact they may not really be at all. J.J. Redick said a narrative stands until it changes, and that it will change, but what makes the former Duke sharpshooter so sure of that?
Blake Griffin is still arguably a top-three power forward in the NBA, and Chris Paul’s status as an all-time great point guard is not in dispute. DeAndre Jordan is the league’s best defensive center, and his finishing ability makes him a viable weapon on offense. Redick is just hitting his prime past age 32, and he shows no signs of slowing down as one of the league’s best marksmen.
But even with the assemblage of talent, the Clippers are a weak team at the 3-spot, and they have been for several seasons. Paul Pierce’s farewell tour does nothing to solidify the wing, really.
And that is a problem for L.A. Some of the best talent in the league runs through the small forward position, and the Clips have no one there to make it work on the defensive end. Kevin Durant will be largely able to relax and save his energy for destroying the Clips on the offensive end, and when it comes down to it no one is giving LAC a fighting chance of knocking off Golden State anyway.
This is a very good basketball team, but it seems to be just that: very good. There is nothing different in L.A. to take this team to the next level, and it has to be wondered how much longer the Clips are going to ride out a talented roster destined to fall short annually in the stacked West.
Prediction: 51 wins (under)
(3) Phoenix Suns
Odds to win Pacific Division: +20000
Odds to win NBA Title: +50000
Over/Under 30 wins
The Phoenix Suns are fairly stacked in the backcourt, but no where else really. Devin Booker, Eric Bledsoe and Brandon Knight form about as good a three-guard rotation as anywhere in the league, but with Jared Dudley, T.J. Warren and Tyson Chandler as its starting frontcourt, this is not a Suns team that can do much damage in the long-run.
Phoenix seemed to have learned its lesson from having too many guards, but that clearly proved not to be the case. The Suns have eight guards on the roster, and really only the aforementioned three hold enough promise to not consider selling off talents at a bargain.
Phoenix is still high on Maryland product Alex Len, but it is unclear whether he is much more than a fringe starter or solid backup. He is a big bodied 5 who can defend, but his progression has been somewhat slow and the Suns are hoping Chandler can tutor him into a viable NBA player.
Dudley is nothing more than replacement-level fodder at the 4-spot, but the Suns do have a promising rookie there to develop isn Marquese Chriss. Fellow lottery pick Dragan Bender is also a long-term hope for a dominant forward, but at just 19 years of age he may be a while away from growing into the NBA game.
Dudley may do little more than eat up valuable playing time that could go towards developing Bender and Chriss. The safe bet is that Phoenix quickly moves to its youngsters as this is something of a tanking year for a team whose talents are too headily outclassed in the West to be brought into the consideration of postseason contention.
Chriss in particular, though, impressed in the preseason in averaging 13.6 points per game, the highest of an NBA rookie. He also led all rookies in boards with 6.2 per contest. His athleticism should enable Suns fans to quickly and further forget Markieff Morris, but Phoenix really has to better balance its roster or a finish below Sacramento and the L.A. Lakers is not out of the question. That said, Bledsoe and Booker are talented enough to regularly get this team some ‘Ws,’ just not enough to crack the playoffs.
Prediction: 31 wins (over)
(4) L.A. Lakers
Odds to win Pacific Division: +10000
Odds to win NBA Title: +20000
Over/Under 24.5 wins
The L.A. Lakers will start the season without Kobe Bryant for the first time since 1996. 19 seasons of Laker basketball have begun and end with Kobe, and the Lakers won five titles during his brilliant and legendary career. But now the time is here for the young guns to shine, and without Bryant chucking up so many ill-fated jumpers the Lakers are due to progress this season.
How far that progression can run with so many young players being key cogs is anyone’s guess, but the Lakers are beginning to add the young talent to return to relevancy in a few seasons. Just having Bryant’s colossal paycheck off the books will help in shaping this team, and Los Angeles has always been a premier destination for NBA free agents. Lakers fans do not despair.
That said, the Lakers are going to struggle a lot this year. Even with D’Angelo Russell showing the signs of superstardom, he is still a guy who snitched on a teammate last season and will continue to fight for the respect of his teammates, both on and off the court. Nick Young said all is water under the bridge, but that did not stop him from “leaving Russell hanging” on a high-five, a Vine that went viral in illustrating just how irreparable that bridge really is.
It is a pity in some senses, but the Lakers are also not foolish enough to cast Russell away. He is the better talent of the two, and the Lakers can build a real backcourt around the 6’5” combo guard. Young is nothing more than a shot chucker whose popularity keeps him both on the Lakers roster and in the league in general.
Outside Russell there are plenty of other prospects. Julius Randle, Larry Nance Jr and Brandon Ingram are all in their first or second years, and the Lakers have high hopes for all three.
Expect a position battle of sorts to ensue between Randle and Nance, a proposition that seems like a win-win for L.A. Julius Randle is a dynamic talent at the 4-spot, and he drew high praise from Warriors forward Draymond Green. Nance is an athlete and defender whose hustle will keep him in the league and a valued part of some team’s rotation. The pieces are still loosely assembled in Los Angeles, but there is enough young talent on the roster to better last season’s win tally as Bryant leaves a huge scoring void but plenty of opportunity behind him.
Prediction: 26 wins (over)
(5) Sacramento Kings
Odds to win Pacific Division: +15000
Odds to win NBA Title: +50000
Over/Under 34 wins
The Sacramento Kings have not made the playoffs in a decade, and this season will not snap that streak. Last year the team tried to bring in aged legend George Karl, but even he was powerless to stop the incessant struggles of the Kings. DeMarcus Cousins, unarguably one of the league’s best centers, continues to find himself without much help in Sactown, and the time for Sacramento to cut its losses and accept a rebuilding package seems nigh.
What else really could happen? Rajon Rondo did have a strong season last year, but to what end? He is in Chicago now, and the Kings replacement for him, Ty Lawson, is continuing to be an off-court problem and distraction. His career may be over.
The Kings also may have to look at shopping Rudy Gay, to extract some value from a talented offensive wing whose value could still net the Kings a lottery pick to help start yet another windup at rebuilding.
And that seems to be all Sacramento has really done: rebuild, rebuild, but from what? This is a team who was all but robbed of a trip to the NBA Finals by a referee scandal of all things, and nothing has gotten better since those days of Chris Webber and Vlade Divac.
It is ironically Divac now who has been holding the franchise back by his refusal to deal Cousins, but Sacramento has to enter those discussions sooner than later. There are some talented players on the roster, but it certainly lacks direction and will likely be the worst team in the division even with the Lakers and Suns engaged in rebuilds of their own. They are still not Sacramento.
Prediction: 25 wins (under)