The NBA season is still more then a month away, but it's never too early to begin previewing the season. In order to preview all 30 teams without spamming the homepage with 30 articles, I'm going to preview the league division by division, starting with the Pacific Division. All five teams in the Pacific Division are convinced that they can compete, and that they can compete this season, but in the deep Western Conference, it seems completely delusional for the Lakers and Kings to make the playoffs this year, though we said the same thing about last year's Suns.
Los Angeles Lakers:
When you think of the Lakers the first thing your mind goes to is Kobe Bryant, and despite all of his injuries that is still true. Bobby ranked him as the the leagues 5th best shooting guard, and I wrote a whole article about him, so I don't need to write more about him. If Kobe struggles, which I believe he will, the rest of the team will likely benefit from the tank effect that helps players on losing teams, but they will no longer get the inflation from pace that helped them with D'Antoni, as Byron Scott's Cavs were never a top ten team in pace, and his Pelican teams were routinely towards the bottom in pace.
Players to watch:
Jordan Hill: Kobe's always had a center on his team, Shaq, Bynum, Howard, Gasol, and this year, Jordan Hill is taking the spot of Lakers' starting center. Hill had a breakout year of sorts, setting career highs in minutes, points, rebounds, both per game, and per 36 minutes, and did even better when in the starting lineup, which he will routinely be in this year. If given consistent minutes, Hill will be one of the league leaders OReb, as he was third in league OReb% last year, DReb, 20th in league DReb%, obviously total rebounds, while being a consistent double-double threat.
Nick Young: There's not much Swaggy P can do for you, he can hit threes, and he can score (and Points Per Minute if your league uses that category), but he's a shooting guard, he's not expected to do much else, but with Nick Young had a usage rate of almost 27%, and that won't happen this year, not when Kobe, Lin, and Julius Randle all on the court.
Julius Randle: Speaking of Julius Randle, the 7th pick in the 2014 draft was a dominant rebounder in college averaging 12.1 rebounds per 36 minutes, grabbing 19.2% of all available rebounds during his 40 games in Kentucky. He's currently behind Carlos Boozer in the depth chart, but Carlos Boozer isn't that great a player, and should quickly lose his starting spot to Julius Randle. The only problems with Julius Randle are his free throw percentage, which were at 70%, while shooting twelve of them a game, and his height, listed as 6'9" with shoes, which is small for a power forward in the NBA.
Los Angeles Clippers:
Steve Ballmer's team has a lot to look forward to next season, they have a deep roster, highlighted by Point God Chris Paul, superstar power forward Blake Griffin, and the high flying DeAndre Jordan. They've added depth with the additions of Spencer Hawes, Jordan Farmar, and Glen Davis, expect a big year from the Doc Rivers coached squad
Players to watch:
Chris Paul: Bobby ranked the Point Guard as his number one point guard, and I agree with him. CP3 is a multi-category beast, helping owners last season by averaging 19.1 points, 10.7 assists, and 4.7 rebounds, all while having an above average FG%, making over a three a game, and getting 2.5 steals per game, and the best part, only 2.3 turnovers a game. Chris Paul is an obvious top five pick, so if he falls, you've gotten very lucky.
Blake Griffin: Blake Griffin is really good. Bobby called him the 11th best power forward in the league, because of the free throw problems, and lack of blocks, but I disagree, Blake Griffin is higher. Following an off year in 2013, Blake Griffin rebounded with a campaign of 24.1 points, 9.5 rebounds (2.4 offensive), and 3.9 assists, including an improved free throw percentage. He still doesn't get blocks, and turns the ball over over two and half times a game, but he'll still probably lead all power forwards in points, assists, and maybe steals, which I think will more then make up for his deficiencies.
DeAndre Jordan: DeAndre Jordan led the league in rebounds per game, was second in both OReb and DReb per game, and led the league in FG%. He was a double-double every other night, and was third place in blocks. Perfect player right? Wrong. DeAndre's career free throw percentage is 42.5%, third worst among players who played more then 25 minutes a game. DeAndre has high value, if you're deciding to completely ignore FT%.
Jamal Crawford: Like Swaggy P, Jamal Crawford doesn't provide much more then scoring, but you aren't going to find much of anything but scoring, steals, and a select few that offer assists. Jamal Crawford will make a good SG2 on a team desperate for scoring, but not much else.
Golden State Warriors
The Golden State Warriors were in the Kevin Love sweepstakes early in the offseason, before they decided to stupid it all up, and refused to offer Klay Thompson, for the best power forward in the league. I repeat, they refused to trade KLAY THOMPSON, for Kevin Love. It's not like they lack wing depth, they have Harrison Barnes, Andre Iguadala, and Leandro Barbosa, who just averaged twelve points in the FIBA World Cup, in 24 minutes a game.
Players to watch:
Stephen Curry: He's a really good player, 24 points (.66 per minute), 8.5 assists, 4.3 rebounds, 3.3 threes, 89% on free throws, 47% field goals, 1.6 steals, double-doubles almost every other game, that's nine categories he's helping you in, and he only hurts you in one, turnovers, where he averages 3.8 a game. I don't have much else to say. He's really good, and not yet in his prime.
David Lee: At 30 years old, you have to expect David Lee to begin at least a small decline. He's averaged at least eighteen points and nine rebounds the past three years, and bigs age well, so it won't be too large a decline, but I don't think he'll be a consistent double-double anymore, but he'll still be a good player, and he won't hurt owners with high turnovers, or a low free throw percentage.
They say pictures speak louder then words, and that's accurate in this advanced shot chart from Austin Clemens over at Nylon Calculus. Thompson is a three point shooter, and not much else, he doesn't get steals or assists, and his FT% is 80%, so he's valuable if you need a specialist, but not much else.
The Kings are convinced that they can compete this year, so they let Isaiah Thomas walk in free agency, only to sign Ramon Sessions and Darren Collison? I'm confused too. Isaiah Thomas was almost a all star caliber player, and they let him walk, but more on him when I get to his new team, the Suns.
Players to watch
DeMarcus Cousins: BOOGIE! DeMarcus Cousins is the star of the show in Sacramento, he averaged 22.7 points (.70 PPM, 6th in the league), 11.7 rebounds (3.1 offensive), a block and a steal per game, and a double-double seven out of every ten games. He shoots 73% on free throws, which is close enough to league average to where it doesn't hurt your team, especially compared to other centers, but he does hurt your team in the turnover category, where he's 6th worst in the league, which is really bad, considering he's a center.
Rudy Gay: He's another straight up scorer, averaged twenty points (.58 PPM), had over a steal per game, and is among the leaders in rebounds among small forwards. The problem is, Gay has a lot of negatives makes less then one three per game, but his shooting percentage is only at league average, due to his tendency of shooting long two point shots. His rebounding took a dip once he got traded to the Kings, because DeMarcus Cousins grabs 30% of all available defensive rebound, and Gay is also one of the worst small forwards in the assist category. With Paul George out, you can make a case for Gay being a top five small forward.
Nik Stauskas: Look out Kyle Korver, there's a new shooter in town, and he's going to give you a run for your money. Stauskas made more threes than twos last season, that's not that uncommon among three point shooters, but it's still something worth mentioning. Stauskas had a True Shooting Percentage of .642, which would have been good for third in the NBA last year, and his three point percentage was 44%, which would have made him fourth in the NBA, though the college lline is shorter, so he'll see a regression. One thing that makes Stauskas different then Korver though, is free throw rate (FTM/FGA). For every field goal Stauskas attempts, Stauskas makes .43 free throws, that far above the league average free throw rate, that gives Stauskas the ability to help owners in the free throw categories, in addition to the three point categories.
Following a surprisingly successful season under rookie head coach Jeff Hornacek, and his two point guard system, the Suns went out, drafted a point guard in the first round, with Tyler Ennis, signed an almost all-star caliber point guard , Isaiah Thomas, and Zoran Dragic, the less talented younger brother of Goran Dragic, who was already there. Clearly management agrees with Bobby's want to not use shooting guards. Boy was i wrong in thinking the pick of Ennis meant Bledsoe is gone (read it if you want a preview of the rookies).
Players to watch:
The three headed point guard monster of Bledsoe, Dragic, and Thomas: You tell me how the usage and minutes are going to be split up, so I'll just say what each on is good at.
The newly maxed out Eric Bledsoe is very good at getting injured, he's missed significant time in two of his four seasons, when it comes to basketball, Bledsoe is good at everything, but great at nothing, he averaged 17.7 points, 5.5 assists, 4.7 rebounds, 1.7 steals, and a three a game. The only way Bledsoe hurts you is through his turnovers, 3.3 per game, and his consistent use of an IR spot.
The Slovenian Dragon is a lot like Bledsoe, but he's a slightly better scorer, scoring a point and a half more per 36 minutes, is a better shooter, 3% better on twos, 5% on threes, and is consistently healthy, but he slightly offsets that through the two less rebounds per 36, and 2% drop in free throw percentage. I understand what's going to happen in Phoenix as well as you do.
The 2012 Draft's Mr. Irrelevant had a breakout year of sorts last year, averaging 21.1 points, 6.5 assists, and 3.1 rebounds per 36 minutes last season, so he's basically the same player as the other two...
I probably should have just shown you this chart