2019-20 NBA preview: Pacific Division
By: Lorenzo Robinson
After the most eventful offseason in league history, a new season is finally upon us. The landscape is drastically different this year than last, with over half of the league changing teams and key stars finding new homes. With the unprecedented amount of movement, we now have an NBA that is as wide open as ever, with eight-to-ten teams holding legitimate championship aspirations. The Western Conference will be the most competitive it’s ever been, with no team truly standing out at the moment. The Pacific Division, in particular, should look a lot different than a year ago.
The Golden State Warriors, winners of the Western Conference for five seasons in a row, will have a much different look this season. Two-time Finals MVP Kevin Durant has departed to the Brooklyn Nets, which netted the Dubs former Nets guard D’Angelo Russell in a sign-and-trade deal. All-Star guard Klay Thompson will miss most of the season with a torn ACL. They will be heavily reliant on the brilliance of sweet-shooting play-maker Stephen Curry, who is one of the few holdovers from a team that made the Finals a year ago. Forward Draymond Green will be asked to shoulder more of the load offensively as well, for the Warriors’ depleted frontcourt. With three All-Star caliber players and a great coach in Steve Kerr, they should still be a playoff team, but it’s hard to imagine them doing anything more.
The Los Angeles Clippers were already riding high off of a surprise playoff berth with a roster that featured no star players. However, their excitement reached another level on July 6, when they signed two-time Finals MVP Kawhi Leonard away from the defending champion Toronto Raptors, then traded for six-time All-Star Paul George of the Oklahoma City Thunder. In a matter of minutes, the Clippers went from a pesky underdog to an intimidating contender. George and Leonard are some of the best two-way wings in the game, and they will have support from great role players. Three-time Sixth Man of the Year Lou Williams, center Montezl Harrell and guard Patrick Beverley all have skills that will complement the team’s two stars. Add in a future Hall of Fame coach in Doc Rivers, and the Clippers seem primed to make a deep run this season.
The Los Angeles Lakers have a history of winning, holding 16 championships, second-most in league history. However, that hasn’t been the case recently, as their last postseason appearance came in 2013. Since then, they have consistently swung for the fences by reaching out to the NBA’s elite, with almost all of them turning them down. This changed when four-time MVP LeBron James signed with them in 2018, giving them arguably the best player of all time. Nearly a year later, they struck a deal for six-time All-Star big man Anthony Davis, creating a superstar duo the team hasn’t seen since Kobe and Shaq. They are two of the most versatile players in the league, with James being a freight train capable of running the offense like a guard, and Davis having solid ball-handling skills, rare for a big guy. Sharpshooting guard Danny Green, defensive specialist Avery Bradley, and upstart scorer Kyle Kuzma will provide support for the top guys, as they try to keep teams guessing on both ends. The Lakers’ playoff drought will almost certainly come to an end, and they possess the potential to be the last team standing in June.
The Phoenix Suns have been one of the worst teams in the NBA for the better part of the decade, and it’s hard to see them moving up the standings with one of the NBA’s youngest rosters. They have a promising duo in elite scorer Devin Booker and versatile center DeAndre Ayton. They will be expected to carry the load offensively, as the rest of the roster is filled with specialists. Draft pick Cam Johnson was one of the best shooters of his class, but he hasn’t shown the ability to do much else on an NBA level. Ricky Rubio is one of the league’s top playmakers but doesn’t hold value as a scorer despite having the ball for many of his team’s possessions. Mikal Bridges and Kelly Oubre have flashed potential on the wing but must become more consistent. The Suns may become a quality team one day, but it is unlikely to happen this season.
The Sacramento Kings surprised many last season, competing for a playoff spot until the last two weeks of the season. After years of mediocrity, they seem to finally be turning the corner as a group to be reckoned with. They are lead by speedy playmaker De’Aaron Fox, one of the league’s best young guards. Big man Marvin Bagley was excellent in his rookie campaign, even extending his range to the three-point line. Buddy Hield is one of the NBA’s best three-point shooters, and forward Harrison Barnes is the consistent veteran scorer this young team needs. After taking a massive step in their maturation process last year, the Kings will look to take the next step into the playoffs this season. It will be an uphill battle due to the tremendous depth of the Western Conference, but they will be right in the mix for their first postseason berth since 2006.
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