A quick summary of the Pacific Division, one month into the NBA season.Just over one month into the 2012-13 season, and we take a look at how the Pacific division is panning out from top to bottom.
Golden State Warriors (10-6)So much of the Warriors’ success for this season was related to the health of two players who can only be described as ‘injury prone’ in their relatively young careers – Andrew Bogut and Stephen Curry. One player has lived up to his potential and so far avoided his ankle injury marred past, but one has not. Curry is showing why he is known as such an elite shooter, leading the team in scoring, assists, steals, free throw percentage and three pointers made and three point percentage. Bogut on the other hand, has only played 72 minutes in total – not something Mark Jackson was planning on I’m sure. Carl Landry has filled in admirably as a score-at-will PF/C off the bench, and David Lee has been, well David Lee, but neither can protect the paint and deter slashers to the hoop. Klay Thompson’s horrendous four game slow patch in mid November where he went just 11-47 from the floor, has been eclipsed by his last five where he has shot around 47% and averaged over 21pts and 2.8 threes per game. Jackson has worked two rookies into his rotation, Festus Ezeli and Harrison Barnes, with Barnes in particular showing some real potential. Check out his dunk against the Timberwolves if you haven’t already seen it – it’s a contender for dunk of the year already. Overall, a really nice start for a team that really could have gone either way but was more inclined to struggle, and they're leading their division! One Month In Grade: A-
Los Angeles Clippers (10-6)Surprisingly good to some, underachieving for others. This Clippers team has at times looked like a top 3-4 team in the NBA, knocking off the Grizzlies, Lakers, Spurs and the Heat. But then like ‘The Strike’ episode in Seinfeld, in the wrong light this team has cracks and flaws and can play some ugly basketball – like this past week when they lost four straight to the Spurs, Thunder, Nets and the Hawks, before finally righting the ship and beating Minnesota and Sacramento. Chris Paul is the best point guard in the NBA, and Eric Bledsoe is making a case to being the best back-up point guard and next young player who will get overpaid, then likely justify their paycheck when he hits free agency (see Goran Dragic). The Clips have a deep bench – maybe too deep, especially now that Chauncey Billups is back in the mix, but if anything it means we won’t have to see Willie Green trying to hold down another starting gig. Jamal Crawford has been playing out of his mind as 6th man, thriving as the go to scorer in the second unit and in crunch time, as he hits countless circus shots and performs dribbling acts that few players can replicate, at least in the NBA. Blake Griffin seems to have reached a plateau this season, let’s hope he isn’t just cruising on his physical abilities and actually wants to improve and become the dominant PF he could become. DeAndre Jordan has shown he wants more touches, his post game has improved dramatically and he is no longer a Kendrick Perkins black hole on offence, becoming more of a Tyson Chandler efficient scorer when the team needs easy baskets. Grant Hill, Matt Barnes, Billups and Lamar Odom are all old but the engine will sputter every so often when they’re 100% healthy, and Caron Butler can still shoot the ball a few times a month, but he can’t be relied upon as a consistent 15-18 point scorer as he once was. The Clippers will continue to be up and down, but they will win 50 games plus as long as Paul is healthy. Much like their LA counterparts, this isn’t a finished product yet. One Month In Grade: B+
Los Angeles Lakers (8-9)No other team has gone through such a massive overhaul both in the offseason AND the regular season. The team scrapped Mike Brown and his anaemic offence after a sluggish but forgivable 1-4 start, going 4-1 under interim coach Bernie Bickerstaff, before bringing in Mike D’Antoni who has tried to stamp his mark on this storied franchise – if you can call organised chaos a mark – and the results have been iffy at best. Of course to paint his masterpiece he needs his favourite brush, Steve Nash, the player credited with reviving the Suns franchise from the mid 2000s. Nash has been dealing with a broken leg, and has yet to make an impact on his new team, instead the Lakers have been rolling with Darius Morris, Steve Blake and Chris Duhon platooning at PG. The mess at lead guard has perhaps contributed to Pau Gasol and Dwight Howard’s struggles, as the team has gone just 2-4 over their last six games, with Gasol failing to register a single double double in that stretch – an unreal statistic considering he’s been known for years as an 18-10 threat every night. Metta World Peace has been solid, shooting better than he has in years, and keeping a level head – so far. I still get the feeling that he’s a run-away train and a very rusty bent break is ready to snap at any point and he’ll eventually kill everyone around him like Jean Grey in X-Men 2. The one true constant for the Lakers remains Kobe Bryant. Even by his standards, his shooting and efficiency has been awe inspiring, shooting at a career high clip in field goal, three point, and free throw percentage. D’Antoni will figure this team out, whether Pau’s a part of the team long term will depend on both his health and his fit in this high priced unit. Basically they will get better, they have to. This team gets a pass because Nash has only played two games, and despite the turmoil and depth issues, they’re still 5-4 under Pringles. One Month In Grade: C
Phoenix Suns (7-11)As the team I follow with the most passion, it’s disappointing to see their record reflect their defensive schemes – open 7-11. This is a mediocre team filled with mediocre to good players, and unfortunately they aren’t sniffing the postseason unless teams ahead of them falter and a star somehow falls into their lap at midseason. The loss of Nash was somewhat offset by the acquisition of Goran Dragic, who has excelled running Alvin Gentry’s D’Antoni-esque offense, but he’s reliant on others stepping up and they simply haven’t. Luis Scola was a high quality, low cost addition, but it didn’t take long for him to be moved to the bench in a puzzling move, and the team’s other ‘big’ free agent addition Michael Beasley has been fantastic at being inconsistent. One night Beasley will drop 21 points but it will take him 21 shots, the next he’ll disappear altogether in what is becoming a common theme for this team. Marcin Gortat looks like the first trade chip to be shifted, already voicing his displeasure at the number of touches he has gotten, but seemingly never being accountable himself. The rest of the unit are mainly castoffs: Shannon Brown, Sebastian Telfair, PJ Tucker and Jermaine O’neal have had the odd good game, but all have significant holes or flaws that would see them as end of rotation players on good teams, rather than players getting big minutes nightly. Markieff Morris showed flashes of good scoring ability, but he lets his emotions take over his game and he often finds himself in Gentry’s doghouse. The Suns need to realise the only thing worse than being terrible in the NBA, is being mediocre and ‘just’ missing the playoffs year in, year out. They’d be best tanking and hoping to build through free agency and getting lucky in the draft rather than getting a 10-15 range pick like they did this year with Kendall Marshall, who will struggle to make it as a starting PG in the NBA. One Month In Grade: C-
Sacramento Kings (4-12)The Kings are far from resembling a successful team, and Keith Smart is making a mockery of his last name by throwing together some interesting rotations at best. Surprise rookie Isaiah Thomas has found himself in and out of the starting lineup and the rotation, with Smart favouring Aaron Brooks and at times Jimmer Fredette. I don’t understand the move, Thomas is a scrapper who worked really well alongside Marcus Thornton towards the end of last season, and if anything the problem seems to be Tyreke Evans. Evans is so talented that you’d think he’d be a 20-5-5 threat every night like he was his rookie year, but for whatever reason, when he plays well, the team loses. I think it’s time for the team to move Evans, they haven’t tendered him a qualifying offer so he will become a restricted free agent this off-season. If the right offer comes to the Kings, I suspect they take it, rather than potentially lose Evans for nothing, or have to match a larger than they’d like contract offer. DeMarcus Cousins was on everyone’s lips for the ‘Next Player To Take The Leap’ list, but he too struggles with keeping his emotions in check, too often getting into foul trouble and making for want of a better word, ‘stupid’ plays. He scores at will inside though, is a willing passer, and has busy hands which nab him his fair share of steals and blocks, and he has the potential to be a true franchise big man. They have some ok veterans on the squad like John Salmons, Jason Thompson and James Johnson, but perhaps they’d be better dealing them away to contenders at the deadline and hope for another high lottery pick. Thornton has been paid like a starter but he has only recently gotten spot starts as Evans recovers from a bruised knee, but he can get hot quickly and shoot a team to the odd victory. The team selected Thomas Robinson as the 5th pick in this year’s draft, but he is a while away yet. He’s a physical brute who doesn’t shy away from contact, but he isn’t ready for big minutes and Thompson has played admirably in front of him. I suspect Smart will be challenging Randy Wittman for next coach fired this season, he just isn’t sticking to a solid rotation and starting lineup, and the fans aren’t keen for another losing season, which is exactly where they’re headed currently. One Month In Grade: D+ What do you think? Do you agree with these ratings? Tell us what you think.
Photo Credit: Gary A. Vasquez/US Presswire