POSTED: Sep 21, 2012 11:10 AM ET
The Lakers and the Clippers are both set up to walk away with the Pacific Division crown.
The Pacific Division got a lot more intense last season when Chris Paul brought the Clippers up to the Lakers' level. Things will get even more interesting now with the Clips adding former Laker Lamar Odom, the Lakers adding a point guard to match up with Paul and new Laker Dwight Howard pushing things to another level.
There are three other teams in the Pacific, of course, but they'll once again take a back seat to the Staples Center cohabitants. It's been six years since this division had more than two playoff teams, and that streak just might continue.
Here's a deeper look at some key numbers from last season for each team in the Pacific Division, and how those numbers might change this year.
Pace: 94.7 (10)
OffRtg: 103.1 (11)
DefRtg: 106.0 (27)
NetRtg: -3.0 (22)
Pace = Possessions per 48 minutes
OffRtg = Points scored per 100 possessions
DefRtg = Points allowed per 100 possessions
NetRtg = Point differential per 100 possessions
The Warriors had several things working against them offensively last season. Stephen Curry played just 26 games and Monta Ellis was traded in mid-March. Furthermore, the team was awful at getting to the free throw line and grabbing offensive rebounds.
Yet, the Warriors still ranked 11th in offensive efficiency because they took care of the ball and were the second best 3-point shooting team in the league. Dorell Wright has gone to Philly, but the Warriors' shooting won't fall off much if they get full seasons from Curry and Richard Jefferson.
If the Warriors have hopes of competing for a playoff spot, they need to get much better defensively. The biggest question in Oakland then becomes whether or not Andrew Bogut is going to be (and whether he will stay) healthy.
Bogut, acquired by the Warriors at the trade deadline and recovering from ankle surgery, is one of the top five defensive centers in the league. He played just 12 games last season, but in the previous three seasons, the Bucks allowed seven fewer points per 100 possessions when Bogut was on the floor than when he was on the bench.
Where Bogut's presence helped most was keeping opponents off the free throw line and off the glass. And that's exactly where the Warriors have really struggled.
Last season, Golden State ranked dead last in defensive rebounding percentage, allowing their opponents to grab over 30 percent of available offensive boards. And they ranked 27th in opponent's free throw rate, allowing their opponents to attempt almost 32 free throws per 100 field goal attempts.
If Bogut is healthy, he can make the Warriors a much better team ... and a playoff contender.
Pace: 91.8 (25)
OffRtg: 105.2 (4)
DefRtg: 102.9 (18)
NetRtg: +2.2 (11)
When a team has Paul and Blake Griffin, it's going to be a very good offensive team. Not surprisingly, the Clippers were good across the board, ranking in the top seven in effective field goal percentage, offensive rebounding percentage and turnover rate, while ranking 11th in free throw rate.
Defensively, the Clippers weren't nearly so good. They were particularly bad at defending the 3-point line (opponents shot 36.5 percent from beyond the arc) and keeping their opponents off the free throw line (33 free throw attempts per 100 field goal attempts).
The good news is that the Clippers' two worst defenders, Reggie Evans and Mo Williams, are both gone. Evans committed 7.3 fouls per 48 minutes last season, and opponents scored almost 108 points per 100 possessions in his 771 minutes on the floor. In Williams' 1,472 minutes, opponents shot 38.5 percent from 3-point range and scored 105.4 points per 100 possessions.
Though the Clippers will miss Kenyon Martin defensively, Lamar Odom can be a big upgrade (as long as he's back to his old self). His time in Dallas was a disaster, but the Lakers were always at their best defensively when Odom was on the floor. The same goes for the Suns and Grant Hill, who should be a huge defensive upgrade over Nick Young. And really, new guard Jamal Crawford can't be any worse than Williams.
The offense will be fine, especially as Griffin refines his game and adds range to his jumper. Defensively, the Clippers should be improved ... though not as improved as their rivals down the Staples Center hall.
Pace: 92.9 (20)
OffRtg: 103.3 (10)
DefRtg: 101.7 (13)
NetRtg: +1.7 (13)
Just when you thought the Lakers' run at the top of the Western Conference was over, they went and upgraded both their offense and their defense.
Both needed a shakeup. The Lakers were one of eight teams that regressed (vs. the league average) in both offensive and defensive efficiency last season. It was the first time in five seasons that they didn't rank in the top six defensively, and it was their second-worst offensive season since 1995.
Enter Nash and Howard, the former an offensive genius, the latter a defensive anchor.
For a nine-season stretch ending three seasons ago, the team that ranked No. 1 in offensive efficiency was the team (either Dallas or Phoenix) that had Nash as its point guard. The Suns fell off offensively the last two seasons, but they still ranked in the top 10 and they were still much more efficient when Nash was on the floor.
Last season, Nash's teammates had an effective field goal percentage of 51.3 percent when he was on the floor and just 45.6 percent when he was on the bench. That should bode well for Kobe Bryant, whose effective field goal percentage hit a career-low 46.2 percent last season.
Effective field goal percentage = (FGM + (0.5*3PM)) / FGA
Howard, of course, makes a similar impact on defense. Prior to last season, Howard's Magic ranked in the top five defensively four straight times. And though they ranked 14th defensively overall, last season's Magic allowed almost seven fewer points per 100 possessions when Howard was on the floor than when he was on the bench.
Interestingly though, the Lakers' biggest problems were in the turnover department. They ranked 21st by committing 16 turnovers per 100 possessions and ranked dead last by only forcing 12. And Nash and Howard won't necessarily help in those areas. Over the last five years, Nash and Howard rank first and third in total turnovers, respectively. Forcing turnovers is the one thing that those Howard-led Magic teams were never great at defensively.
Still, the Lakers will shoot much better and force their opponents to shoot much worse this season. That should make up for whatever turnover issues they may have.
Pace: 95.0 (9)
OffRtg: 103.5 (8)
DefRtg: 103.8 (23)
NetRtg: -0.2 (19)
On the other end of the Nash spectrum are the Suns, who will obviously suffer an offensive dropoff without their former two-time MVP Nash. Just how much will depend on which Goran Dragic they're getting.
Two seasons ago, (before they traded him to Houston) the Suns were absolutely awful, getting outscored by 9.8 points per 100 possessions with Dragic on the court. He couldn't hold his own on either end of the floor and Phoenix suffered dramatically whenever Nash went to the bench.
Last season in Houston though, Dragic formed a pretty solid offensive combination with Luis Scola, who's coming with him to Phoenix. The two played 1,036 minutes together and the Rockets scored 103.9 points per 100 possessions in those minutes.
But the two weren't too good defensively. Factor in the losses of Hill (gone to the Clippers) and center Robin Lopez (gone to the Hornets) and the Suns might be even worse defensively than they were last season.
The only hope for some decent defense in Phoenix is if Jermaine O'Neal, who has played just 49 games over the last two seasons, can stay healthy. But even if he does, he's not likely to take much playing time from Marcin Gortat, who's not much of a defender.
So Nash or no Nash, it's the same old story for the Suns. The defense won't be good enough to get them where they want to go.
Pace: 97.3 (1)
OffRtg: 101.0 (22)
DefRtg: 106.7 (28)
NetRtg: -5.8 (25)
When a team finishes with the worst record in its division, it's probably not a good thing to stand pat. The Kings' only real additions are rookie Thomas Robinson and point guard Aaron Brooks. If they're going to take more than a minor step forward, they need to improve from within.
That's certainly possible with a young roster. And Robinson should be able to help where the Kings are most desperate: interior defense. Sacramento ranked last in defending shots in the paint last season, and ranked 29th in defensive rebounding percentage. They didn't force enough missed shots, and when they did, they didn't rebound them well enough.
A rookie big man who makes a real defensive impact is rare, but Robinson has the length and athleticism to make up for some of his inexperience. Plus, he's a terrific rebounder. He averaged 11.9 boards per game with Kansas last season.
Offensively, the Kings need 3-point shooting, an area where they also ranked 29th last season. Two seasons ago, in his last NBA season, Brooks shot just 30 percent from beyond the arc, but he shot 40 percent the season before that.
The addition of Brooks likely means Tyreke Evans will play almost all of his minutes off the ball. Evans' primary task in that role is to shoot better than the 20 percent he shot from 3-point range last season.
There's a lot of room for improvement in Sacramento, just not enough changes to make any significant progress.
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