NBA Pacific Division Preview: New-Look Lakers are a force to be reckoned with
The 2021-22 NBA season begins in one week. To get you primed for the upcoming season, we’ll be running through season previews of each NBA division. Today we tackle the Pacific Division, home to no less than four probable playoff teams.
Pacific Division Winner 2021/2022
Thu, June 2 2022, 12:00 AM
Los Angeles Lakers
Golden State Warriors
Los Angeles Clippers
2020-21 record: 51-21
Key additions: JaVale McGee, Landry Shamet
Key departures: None
The Phoenix Suns had a fairytale season, even if it was ultimately undone by an equally magical performance by Giannis Antetokounmpo in the Finals. They managed the second-best record in the West and were sixth on offense and defense league-wide per Cleaning the Glass. The fit between Chris Paul and Devin Booker ended up seamless in the regular season, and Deandre Ayton leaped into his first-ever playoffs with outstanding on-ball defense and one of the most efficient postseasons in NBA history.
Yes, they played injured teams on their path to the Finals, but they survived their own injury woes as well. With a bevy of two-way wings including Jae Crowder and Mikal Bridges backing up their star trio, this group is equipped for another deep postseason run.
LOS ANGELES CLIPPERS
2020-21 record: 47-25
Key additions: Eric Bledsoe
Key departures: Patrick Beverley, Rajon Rondo
The Los Angeles Clippers found something in last year’s playoffs. Paul George, long the subject of Internet ire, pushed the Clippers far beyond what their talent suggested they were capable of when Kawhi Leonard went down. But reality set in after the playoffs, without Kawhi, this team is currently not a contender. The Clippers also made the strange choice to trade Patrick Beverley and bring in Eric Bledsoe, who doesn’t fit their small-ball system.
Still, Kawhi re-signing and saying that he did so with the intent to play again this year is encouraging, and a challenge to the rest of the division. If Leonard returns healthy in time for the playoffs, the Clippers might become West favorites.
LOS ANGELES LAKERS
2020-21 record: 42-30
Key additions: Russell Westbrook, Malik Monk, Rajon Rondo, Carmelo Anthony, DeAndre Jordan
Key departures: Kyle Kuzma, Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, Montrezl Harell, Marc Gasol, Alex Caruso
It has only been a calendar year since the Los Angeles Lakers were crowned champions in the Bubble. But outside of LeBron James and Anthony Davis, this team is nigh unrecognizable.
The Lakers traded a lot of complementary pieces to go all-in on Russell Westbrook, a player they themselves schemed off the court in the playoffs just two years ago. Inevitably Anthony Davis is going to play more center than ever before as it’s the only way to make the offense with Westbrook work. But that doesn’t answer the question of what Russ will do when LeBron has the ball at the end of a game.
Can Frank Vogel manufacture something approaching a top-five defense with this group? I’m skeptical that they have the personnel. And I worry Westbrook will be less of an X-factor and more their Achilles heel when the games start to matter.
GOLDEN STATE WARRIORS
2020-21 record: 39-33
Key additions: Otto Porter Jr., Andre Iguodala, Nemanja Bjelica, Moses Moody, Jonathan Kuminga
Key departures: Eric Paschall, Kelly Oubre Jr.
The Golden State Warriors are one of the most intriguing teams in the division. Some think they’ll miss the playoffs again completely, while others think they’re a real threat to win Steph Curry’s fourth championship. Obviously, title hopes depend on the Warriors getting something out of Klay Thompson, their All-Star Splash Brother wing who has been sidelined for two years with back-to-back ACL and Achilles injuries.
But the real swing player to keep an eye on is Jordan Poole.In the past, the Warriors’ offense has fallen apart every minute Curry was off the court, but Poole has flashed a level of self-creation and off the dribble 3 point shooting that might finally end that trend. His confidence and skill level seem to have grown exponentially since he entered the NBA as the 28th pick, and if his play can continue to grow, the Warriors could beat anyone in the playoffs.
2020-21 record: 31-41
Key additions: Alex Len, Tristan Thompson, Davion Mitchell
Key departures: Delon Wright
The Kings are stuck somewhere between mediocre and just plain bad, and nothing they did this offseason is likely to change that. Their big move of the offseason, trying to trade Buddy Hield to the Lakers, was a good thought but ultimately didn’t materialize.
The Kings are relying on internal improvement by De'Aaron Fox and Tyrese Haliburton to push for the Play-In. It’s not clear how the Kings get better from here, but they need a lot of improvement to challenge the Pacific Division again someday.
PACIFIC DIVISION PREDICTION
Westbrook might hurt the Lakers in the playoffs, but he should help them win the division this year.