Oct 23 2012 3:25PM

NBA Season Preview: Pacific Division

LOS ANGELES LAKERS


Andrew D. Bernstein/NBAE/Getty Images

2012-13 ANALYSIS: What happens when you add arguably the best offensive player in the game to the NBA's 10th-best offense, and then what happens when you also add perhaps the game's top defensive player to the NBA's 13th-best defense? Well, we shall see this season, with anticipation riding high once again in the City of Angels as the Lakers field a championship contender once again. Kobe Bryant, Pau Gasol, Dwight Howard, Steve Nash and Metta World Peace field a dream team of sorts, with all five combining to play in 33 NBA All-Star Games thus far. Add in a deep bench--led by two-time All-Star forward Antawn Jamison--and you now have a star-studded squad that becomes the best team money can buy, at a tab of $132 million, once you weigh in the penalties incurred with the $70 million luxury tax. Bryant and Gasol's greatness is already cemented in Laker lore, with the two of them leading L.A. to 2009 and 2010 NBA championships--not to mention Bryant earning three more rings a decade ago in the 2000, 2001 and 2002 NBA Finals. But it is the addition of Nash and Howard that has LaLaLand dreaming of dream-team starting fives. The point guard Nash has already engineered five of the 11 greatest offenses in NBA history, without ever having the talent he now has alongside him in L.A. Meanwhile, the center Howard has already earned three Defensive Player of the Year awards and gives Coach Mike Brown the Tim Duncan-like dominator he worked with nine years ago when Brown was a San Antonio assistant on the Spurs' 2003 championship team. With the influx of this talent, will the Lakers be able to win their 17th NBA championship? Who knows? But it is good again to see the Lakers fight for the right to party come playoff time.

2012-13 PROJECTED RECORD: 55-27

PACIFIC DIVISION PREDICTION: 1st

2012-13 TOP CONTRIBUTORS … Victory Value projection

PG Steve Nash*10.75
C Dwight Howard*10.48
PF Pau Gasol9.47
SG Kobe Bryant8.28
SF Metta World Peace4.12
SG Jodie Meeks*3.12
PF Jordan Hill2.72
SF Antawn Jamison*2.39
PG Steve Blake2.29
PG Chris Duhon*1.97
SF Devin Ebanks0.46
PG Darius Morris0.14
PF Earl Clark*0.02

* denotes new acquisition

(Note: Victory Value projection is a wins-contributed metric based on plus-minus and playing-time projections)

LOS ANGELES CLIPPERS


Andrew D. Bernstein/NBAE/Getty Images

2012-13 ANALYSIS: The Los Angeles Clippers have a lot of talent. The Los Angeles Clippers have a lot of depth. But the Los Angeles Clippers still have some holes in their game and it is these vacancies that will keep the L.A. Clips from being an elite team in 2012-13. First, the good news. You'd have to travel to Oklahoma City, Miami or hang around Staples Center for that other L.A. team to find a duo quite as dynamic as Chris Paul and Blake Griffin. They are like Batman & Robin in the first 12 DC Comics issues. They are great now and have only played one season together. Just imagine the damage the creative point guard and the explosive power forward can cause if they can get through the playoffs without being hobbled. And since we're working on our imagination, let's consider how much better the Clippers would have been in the 2012 NBA Playoffs--where they were swept by the Spurs in the second round--if an injured Billups had played, not to mention if Butler were 100 percent, playing with a broken left arm. This season, the Clippers have added to their bench, with Grant Hill, Lamar Odom, Matt Barnes and Jamal Crawford giving them veteran help where it is needed. Two of their youngsters with potential--DeAndre Jordan and Eric Bledsoe--are also getting better every day. But the Clips are still a year short from having the chemistry it takes to reach the NBA Finals. After all, Jordan, Griffin and Paul will likely be the only Clips to have played 5,000-plus minutes together by postseason time. Another big area of weakness is the center position. Granted, Jordan may be able to plug 30 minutes per game there if he can avoid foul trouble--not a given, considering he ranked 9th in fouls in 2011-12. But it is highly unlikely Ronny Turiaf or Ryan Hollins can deal with Dwight Howard or Tim Duncan at playoff time, even playing only half the remaining 18-minute chunks against the stars. Keep in mind, however, these Clippers did improve. They will still be a Top 5 offense and will likely improve their No. 18 defense. They even may be able to knock off the Lakers, Thunder or Spurs in a seven-game series. But can they knock off three elite squads, including the Miami Heat in the 2013 NBA Finals? It's a tough, uphill climb. Like I said, they are almost there, but still a year away from plugging the holes before reaching that elite status.

2012-13 PROJECTED RECORD: 52-30

PACIFIC DIVISION PREDICTION: 2nd

2012-13 TOP CONTRIBUTORS … Victory Value projection

PG Chris Paul12.79
PF Blake Griffin11.79
SF Caron Butler5.18
C DeAndre Jordan4.23
SG Chauncey Billups3.59
PG Eric Bledsoe3.51
SF Grant Hill*3.09
PF Lamar Odom*2.87
SF Matt Barnes*2.01
SG Jamal Crawford*1.75
C Ronny Turiaf*0.80
SG Travis Leslie0.60
C Ryan Hollins*0.56
SG Willie Green*0.25
PF Trey Thompkins0.08

* denotes new acquisition

(Note: Victory Value projection is a wins-contributed metric based on plus-minus and playing-time projections)

GOLDEN STATE WARRIORS


Rocky Widner/NBAE/Getty Images

2012-13 ANALYSIS: Rest in Peace, Warriors smallball … Donut lineups with no centers … Salary-minimum bench players … Matador defensive schemes…. 6-3 small forwards … 6-8 centers. Ah, yes. How we will miss those days of entertaining-and-overachieving-yet-mostly-losing teams of the 21st Century. Now with new ownership and management getting their feet under them after last year's lockout-shortened season, the Golden State Warriors enter 2012-13 with a team that has playoff intentions on its mind and now has a roster to support such goals. Golden State has never had a second-string unit as strong as Jarrett Jack, Brandon Rush, Harrison Barnes, Carl Landry and Andris Biedrins. And place that squad behind a starter quintet of Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson, Richard Jefferson, David Lee and Andrew Bogut, and it's quite easy to see why Warriors management seriously believes it will win between 40-50 games this year. That simply is a lot of offensive talent, backed by one of the five best defensive centers in the game in newcomer Andrew Bogut, who was acquired as an injured asset in the Monta Ellis/Ekpe Udoh trade last season. If Bogut can help improve the Warriors' standing as the 26th-best defensive team (he can), Golden State can make the playoffs. You know these sharpshooters have the potential to be a Top 10 offensive team, with such young three-point marksmen as Curry, Thompson and Rush complemented by a vet like Jefferson. And now that Lee has some help on the boards in the form of Bogut, you can be certain the Warriors won't be the worst rebounding squad in the NBA. Like I said before, the days of playing small are over.

2012-13 PROJECTED RECORD: 38-44

PACIFIC DIVISION PREDICTION: 3rd

2012-13 TOP CONTRIBUTORS … Victory Value projection

PG Stephen Curry8.28
C Andrew Bogut6.77
PF David Lee6.63
SG Klay Thompson4.42
SG Brandon Rush2.85
PF Carl Landry*2.71
SF Harrison Barnes*2.71
SF Richard Jefferson2.51
PF Draymond Green*0.94
PG Jarrett Jack*0.91
PF Jeremy Tyler0.20
C Festus Ezeli*0.20
C Andris Biedrins0.10
PG Charles Jenkins0.02

* denotes new acquisition

(Note: Victory Value projection is a wins-contributed metric based on plus-minus and playing-time projections)

SACRAMENTO KINGS


Rocky Widner/NBAE/Getty Images

2012-13 ANALYSIS: The Kings haven't won 40 percent of their games in any of the last four seasons, but expect that to change in 2012-13. Coach Keith Smart has these youngsters--a dozen Kings are in their 20s--believing in themselves, while GM Geoff Petrie has a team creating chemistry and not spending big free-agent money. Granted, Sacramento is far, far away from being a playoff team, but its steady growth rate gives Kings fans hope for the future. Hope that 22-year-old Cousins will develop into an All-Star center one day. Hope that point guard Isaiah Thomas will top his surprising debut. Hope that power forward Thomas Robinson will follow in Thomas' footsteps to that All-Rookie team. Hope that youngsters Jason Thompson, Tyreke Evans and Marcus Thornton will develop into contributing veterans. The best sign of things to come is best seen in Sacramento's growth offensively, with the Kings rising from 26th to 20th in offensive efficiency over the last two seasons. Having a legit point guard like Thomas was instrumental in the team's improvement, but just as important was Cousins' maturation and development, best evidenced by his rise in Player Efficiency Rating from 14.6 to 21.7 during his first two NBA seasons, not to mention a -2.7 to -0.4 rise in Regularized Adjusted Plus Minus. Cousins is still is his own worst enemy--ranking first and second in the NBA in personal and technical fouls respectively the past two seasons--but Smart seems to be getting through to his young charge. Cousins was tossed out of three games as a rookie and zero as an NBA sophomore.

2012-13 PROJECTED RECORD: 35-47

PACIFIC DIVISION PREDICTION: 4th

2012-13 TOP CONTRIBUTORS … Victory Value projection

C DeMarcus Cousins7.28
PF Jason Thompson5.80
PG Isaiah Thomas4.97
SG Marcus Thornton3.04
C Chuck Hayes2.93
PF Thomas Robinson*2.93
SF James Johnson*2.50
SF Tyreke Evans2.23
PG Aaron Brooks*1.53
SF John Salmons1.29
SF Francisco Garcia1.19
SF Travis Outlaw0.73
SF Tyler Honeycutt0.19
SG Jimmer Fredette0.04

* denotes new acquisition

(Note: Victory Value projection is a wins-contributed metric based on plus-minus and playing-time projections)

PHOENIX SUNS


Barry Gossage/NBAE/Getty Images

2012-13 ANALYSIS: The Suns were a .500 team (33-33) in 2011-12 because they had one of the NBA's best starting fives and one of the league's worst benches. To illustrate, the Phoenix 5 (Steve Nash, Grant Hill, Jared Dudley, Channing Frye and Marcin Gortat) was second in the NBA in Adjusted Plus Minus (+9.45) and had the biggest raw plus-minus differential in the league (scoring 1649 points and giving up 1440 points in the 745 minutes they played together). On the flip side, the other Phoenix combinations proved to be a liability (scoring 4843 and giving up 5068 in the remaining 2423 minutes). Therein lies the problem for the 2012-13 Suns because the band has broke up. Nash is now a Laker, Hill is now a Clipper and Frye is likely out for the season with an enlarged heart. Dudley and Gortat are the only team members who have any sustained chemistry with the Suns, unless you count free-agent signee Goran Dragic, the Rockets point guard who has been brought back to Phoenix to run the show (Dragic was Nash's backup from the 2008-09 through 2010-11 seasons). That being said, you can probably expect the Suns starters to take a step back in status this season. It will take time for Dragic, Dudley, Michael Beasley, Luis Scola and Gortat to figure each other out this rebuilding season in Phoenix. There are just too many areas of weakness that are readily apparent: Dudley and Beasley are the only above-average three-point shooters on the team; Gortat is the only above-average rebounder; no reserve has a positive Regularized Adjusted Plus Minus score. Coach Alvin Gentry will have to start all over with virtually a new squad, but it must be reassuring for Suns fans to know the coach does have history of developing chemistry with his leaders. The rebuilding process begins now.

2012-13 PROJECTED RECORD: 34-48

PACIFIC DIVISION PREDICTION: 5th

2012-13 TOP CONTRIBUTORS … Victory Value projection

PF Luis Scola*6.62
SG Jared Dudley5.33
C Marcin Gortat4.85
PG Goran Dragic*4.34
SF Michael Beasley*3.04
SG Wesley Johnson*2.44
PG Kendall Marshall*2.24
PF Markieff Morris2.10
C Jermaine O'Neal*1.81
SG Shannon Brown1.67
PG Sebastian Telfair1.19

* denotes new acquisition

(Note: Victory Value projection is a wins-contributed metric based on plus-minus and playing-time projections)