The NBA is officially back as training camps are underway and preseason is starting up. The NBA’s preseason schedule runs from September 30 to October 18 and then the regular season will kick off on October 22.
The Pacific Division in the Western Conference will have the most attention on it this season as the division has three NBA title contenders (Warriors, Clippers, and Lakers) as well as one team that is a playoff contender (Kings) and another that should be much improved from last season (Suns).
Last season the Pacific Division only had two teams make the playoffs, the Warriors and Clippers, but the first two teams out were the Kings and Lakers. With training camp and preseason underway here are five burning questions for the Pacific Division:
Have the Suns found their point guard?
One of the biggest problems facing the Sun’s franchise this offseason was finding a point guard to pair with Devin Booker. Now the Suns enter the 2019-2020 season with a true point guard to pair with Booker in Ricky Rubio and more importantly they also have found their future point guard in Ty Jerome. Rubio is coming off of two solid but somewhat underwhelming seasons with the Utah Jazz but his role in Phoenix should be easier. The Suns want to see an improved team on the court while Utah wanted to see its team become a title contender. Rubio will be asked to help the young roster as well as being a mentor for Jerome who the Suns landed in a draft-night trade.
The 24th pick is coming off of a season in which his Virginia Cavaliers won the national championship. The early reviews from training camp have been very positive as it seems the Suns found their current point guard as well as their future point guard. As long as both players mesh well with Booker then the Suns should start to see an improved team. The Suns haven’t won more than 24 games in a season since 2014-2015 but with Rubio and possibly Jerome they could have a chance to surpass that number this season.
Can the Kings take the next step and make the playoffs?
The Sacramento Kings were one of the league’s surprise teams last year as they went 39-43 and finished ninth in the Western Conference. For a team that many believed would have one of the NBA’s worst records, the Kings were a scrappy team that was able to hang in the playoff race until the final weeks. Now the question becomes can the Kings take the next step and make the playoffs? A big part of last season’s success was the emergence of point guard De’Aaron Fox who averaged 17.3 PPG, 3.8 RPG, and 7.3 APG.
It was only his second season in the NBA but the growth he showed in his game from year one to year two was huge. If Fox can take another step this season then he may be enough to help the Kings steal a playoff spot. The Kings will also look for more production from Harrison Barnes, Buddy Hield, and Marvin Bagley. Those three plus Fox make a solid young core that the Kings can build around. With the Western Conference so deep this season, it will be tough for the Kings to make the playoffs but they should be viewed as a true threat should any team fall victim to an injury or trade.
How good will the new-look Warriors be?
The Warriors enter the 2019-2020 NBA season no longer viewed as the title favorites. Golden State will enter the season without Kevin Durant (Gone to Brooklyn), Andre Iguodala (Traded to Memphis), Shaun Livingston (Cut and the retired), and Klay Thompson (Out till at least All-Star break). The Warriors did manage to trade for D’Angelo Russell so they will at least have him to pair with Stephen Curry and Draymond Green. If those three can keep the Warriors in the playoff hunt till Thompson comes back then the Warriors should have one of the NBA’s best offenses but the defense will be a major question mark.
According to Cleaning the Glass, the Warriors offense has ranked first or second in points per 100 possesions in each of the last five seasons while also ranking first in eFG% each of those five seasons. The Warriors have shown that with or without Durant they will have an elite offensive attack led by Curry. However, defensively the Warriors went from a top-four defense in points per 100 possesions to ranking ninth in each of the last two years. If the defense is worse this season then it will put a lot on Curry and Russell to help offset their defensive limitations.
The Warriors will look different this season but they should still be one of the best teams in the Western Conference. As long as they have a healthy team with Klay Thompson then the Warriors will be a tough opponent for any team come playoff time.
Can LeBron and Anthony Davis get the Lakers back to the NBA Finals for the first time since 2010?
The Lakers went all-in on acquiring Anthony Davis this offseason after missing the playoffs again for the sixth straight season. It was also the first time a team with LeBron James failed to make the NBA Finals in eight years. L.A. knew it had to make a big move to make its team a true NBA Finals contender and that was the trade for Davis which cost them several young players and draft picks. The Lakers, LeBron James, and Anthony Davis know this season is a big one for all of them. They have to make the playoffs and they need to show they are still the main attraction in L.A.
The battle for L.A. should be must-see as the Lakers and Clippers have rosters that are viewed as championship favorites. The Lakers have been the worse of the two teams lately and with the Clippers having a deeper roster as well as the reigning NBA Finals MVP Kawhi Leonard, it won’t be easy for the Lakers to return to the Finals. As long as LeBron James and Anthony Davis are healthy this season then the Lakers should easily return to the playoffs for the first time since the 2012-2013 season. However, with the West having several teams worthy of winning the championship, it won’t be easy for the Lakers to make it back to the Finals this season.
Can Kawhi Leonard and Paul George lead the Clippers to their first Conference Final and/or NBA Finals appearance?
The Clippers were easily the winners of free agency this summer after acquiring Kawhi Leonard and Paul George. L.A. went from a team that was the eighth seed in the playoffs to a team many believe is the favorite to win the championship. Kawhi Leonard is coming off of an NBA Finals MVP while Paul George finished third in MVP voting this past season. The Clippers need both to be healthy though as George will likely miss the first month of the season recovering from surgery on his shoulder.
Once he returns the Clippers should have one of the top defenses in the league. Last season L.A. ranked 21st in points allowed per 100 possessions according to Cleaning the Glass as well as 27th in turnovers forced. Leonard and George are two of the game’s best defenders and those two alone should help raise those rankings.
The Clippers enter the season with championship aspirations, which is remarkable considering the franchise has never made it to a Conference Final before. As long as they keep healthy then the Clippers should achieve many first for the franchise and that could include a Conference Final, NBA Finals and NBA championship.