So basketball is back.
Save the date, October 17 sees the Boston Celtics and the Philadelphia 76ers tip-off the 2018 season, and once you go ahead and circle that on your calendar, it’s time to get stuck into some preseason previews for the year ahead.
Trades and draft picks are the two things you need to know, but in case you’ve been snoozing since June, the NBA Championship market has received a bit of a shake-up.
This week, we’re looking at a division dominated by a dynasty that’s now being challenged by a King – the Pacific.
Here’s a look:
Golden State Warriors
DeMarcus Cousins signed a one-year, $5.4 million deal with the Golden State Warriors in July.
- Starting Five: Stephen Curry, Kevin Durant, Draymond Green, Klay Thompson, Jordan Bell
Recapturing a Reputation
Was it a knee jerk reaction from the Warriors to sign DeMarcus Cousins just five days after LeBron signed with the Lakers? Perhaps we’ll never know, but it was no doubt the surprise move of the summer after Boogie suffered a season-ending achilles injury last year.
The Warriors’ three-peat hopes don’t entirely depend on Cousins’ health, although they’d want to hope they get some bang for their buck after shilling out $5.3 million on a one-year deal.
There’s also plenty riding on this gig for Cousins himself. He played in only 48 games with the Pelicans last year in a less than memorable season, and although to the casual NBA fan this mightn’t seem like much, Cousins needs to reclaim his reputation as one of the most feared center’s if he has any hope of a rich NBA future.
As it stands, Golden State are way over the salary cap, and thanks to a not-so-well-known NBA rule, the Warriors aren’t allowed to re-sign Boogie for more than 20% of his current salary. That means if he struggles to average anywhere close to 25.0 points-per-game with let’s say, 10-rebounds, Cousins could be staring at another cheap one year deal. If he exceeds expectations though, that means he’s definitely leaving the Bay Area next year.
With no word on when Boogie is likely to return (our best guess is January), this is a story line to watch.
Warming the Pine
When a team wins back-to-back trophies, you start to nitpick, but the Warriors’ bench is still a minor concern.
Kevin Durant, Steph Curry and Klay Thompson are the three best shooters on this team, aside from that though, there’s not much else going on.
So what happens when those two are off the floor?
Golden State struggled to space the court last year, and with two aging veterans in Andre Iguodala and Jonas Jerebko likely to step in, it doesn’t look all that promising. Both players failed to average anywhere close to 10.0 points-per-game last season, and with a list of guys now gone, including JaVale McGee, Zaza Pachulia and David West, suddenly the Warriors don’t look quite as deep as we’re used to seeing.
The Sky is the Ceiling
They’ve won three titles in four years, so yeah, this is still the best team in the league.
Like it or not, the Warriors have also gotten pretty lucky in recent years when it comes to health. Last season Curry played in only 51-games, but he came back in fine form for the Playoffs, while the injury to Chris Paul in the Western Conference Finals was enough to tip the balance in their favour.
As far as morale goes, everyone is pretty happy. Golden State re-signed Kevin Durant for two years, and if Boogie returns in good nick, this team is destined for another Finals run so long as everyone stays healthy.
- NBA Championship Odds: $1.60
Los Angeles Lakers
As well as LeBron James, the Lakers also signed JaVale McGee and Rajon Rondo during the offseason.
- Starting Five: LeBron James, Brandon Ingram, Kyle Kuzma, Lonzo Ball, JaVale McGee
What Could Have Been
Make no mistake, LA got a lot better during the offseason thanks to LeBron James, and by all accounts, pairing him with two youngsters like Lonzo Ball and Kyle Kuzma, as well as the newly acquired JaVale McGee, should be enough to get Laker fans thinking playoffs.
But there was so much more General Manager Rob Pelinka could have done to make this team a sure-thing. It’s a work in progress, sure, but missing out on signing guys like Paul George and Kawhi Leonard still has the Lakers just that one piece away from the complete package.
B-Grade Brandon No More
If you really think small-forward Brandon Ingram is going to average 16.1 points-per-game again with LeBron on the court this season, think again. He should, however, continue to improve from three-point range after taking serious strides last season.
In his 2016 rookie year, Ingram shot just 29% from the behind the line, while that mark improved to 39% last season. He’s got some work to do defensively, and at 6’9, you’d certainly expect him to average more than 4.4 defensive rebounds a game. Still, now entering his third year with some experience under his belt, he should be in line to start in at least 70 games.
The Fallen King?
LeBron defied father time and is still, somehow, in the prime of his career.
Let’s be real though, he does turn 34 in December, and as we saw last year in Cleveland, when he isn’t surrounded by a top-level defence, winning another ring ain’t easy.
The King averaged 27.5 points-per-game last year, his highest since 2009. His three-point shooting was equally as great, shooting 36% from beyond the arc. Still, this is a new conference – a much tougher one – and a new team still in the midst of a rebuild. Age catches up to everyone eventually, now we wait and see if it’s LeBron’s turn in his 16th season.
Los Angeles Clippers
Clippers head coach Doc Rivers prepares for life after Blake Griffin and Austin Rivers this season.
- Starting Five: Patrick Beverley, Avery Bradley, Danilo Gaillinari, Tobias Harris, Marcin Gortat
Out With The Old, In With The New
Lob City is a distant memory now. Blake Griffin belongs to Detroit, DeAndre Jordan the Mavericks, and Chris Paul is still in Houston – so the Clippers are rolling with a veteran approach to the 2018 season, one they hope will be good enough, and healthy enough, to sneak them into the postseason.
The team nobody cares about gained plenty of experience during the offseason, currently ranking third in the NBA in average age behind the Grizzlies and the Mavericks. The first of many offseason moves came in the form of a trade with the Wizards, sending Austin Rivers to Washington in exchange for Marcin Gortat.
Overall, the move isn’t much of an upgrade, but the addition of Luc Mbah a Moute helps defensively, and it’s also nice to welcome a player familiar with the team and head coach, Doc Rivers.
You Can’t Take the Fight Out of the Dog
Look, the Clippers have lost a lot of their star-power, and it’s tough to figure out what the goal is for this team in 2018. But as we saw last season, a Doc Rivers coached squad is capable of just about anything, even when the chips are down.
The injury bug took a chunk out of this team last year, costing Danilo Gaillnari, Patrick Beverley and Milos Teodosic basically their entire season. Somehow the Clippers put together a winning season though, as well as ranking second in the league in points-per-game. Repeating that effort in an even tougher Western Conference this season will be tough, but never say never when Doc is at the helm.
But You Can Take the Defence
It’s strange to look at this Clippers roster and struggle to pick out a star player. LA have lost a lot offensively, yet at the same time, their defence took a major blow with Griffin, Rivers and Jordan leaving town.
Of course, neither of those guys were particularly well known for their defence. Now the burden falls squarely on the shoulders of Bradley and Gortat though, a recipe for disaster considering Lou Williams is one of the worst defenders in the league.
In a nutshell, don’t expect the Clippers to finish fifth, let alone anywhere near the Top 10 this year in overall defensive rating.
The Suns drafted Deandre Ayton with the No.1 overall pick in the 2018 NBA Draft.
- Starting Five: Devin Booker, Deandre Ayton, T.J. Warren, Trevor Ariza, Tyson Chandler
It’s debatable, but drafting Deandre Ayton with the No. 1 overall pick in the draft was the right move for this franchise. It was also one that had to happen from General Manager Ryan McDonagh’s standpoint, the lone man responsible for allowing Isaiah Thomas and Goran Dragic to walk from this team several years ago.
The Suns have made a habit of misjudging talent, and more importantly, making the wrong decisions on draft day. Ayton looks to be the right one though, a player that has tremendous size at 7’1, and plenty of offensive ability after averaging 20.1 points-per-game at Arizona last season.
It’s also exciting to consider the Suns’ future for a moment. Give it a couple years, but Ayton, alongside Devin Booker could be a lethal combo for seasons to come, especially if Ayton is able to improve defensively.
The Suns brought back former assistant coach Igor Kokoskov during the offseason following his one-year stint in Slovenia. The 46-year old Serbian spent time with the Suns between 2008 and 2013, followed by brief one-year deals with the Cavs, Magic and Jazz.
Kokoslov has a mountain of work ahead of him if he is to not only turn Phoenix’s misfortune around, but also avoid becoming the seventh coach fired since the 2013 season.
Phoenix lost 27 of their final 31 games last season, and after trading Brandon Knight to the Rockets to receive Ryan Anderson in return, there’s still plenty of rough spots – particularly at point guard and in the paint – for Kokoslov to work out this year.
On the plus side, the Suns did re-sign Devin Booker to a hefty five-year deal, and welcomed Trevor Ariza, adding some much-needed leadership and experience to this young side. Kokoslov seems to have a keen eye for talent development, so it looks as though the Suns have made the correct move with their future in mind.
Willey Cauley-Stein averaged 12.8 points-per-game and 7.0 rebounds last season with the Kings.
- Starting Five: Willie Cauley-Stein, Marvin Bagley III, Bogdan Bogdanovic, De’Aaron Fox, Justin Jackson
Same Ole’ Same Ole?
In case you haven’t been paying attention, the Kings have been going through the motions ever since DeMarcus Cousins left town in 2016.
Again, there’s a lot of youth on this team, albeit very green. The Kings drafted Marvin Bagley III with the second overall pick in the draft, passing on European sensation Luka Doncic who fell to the Mavs. The jury is still out on that one, but overall, it’s one step forward, two step backs for Sacramento once again.
In less notable news, the Kings also failed to land Zach LaVine during the offseason. In Sacramento’s defence, they did place an $80 million offer on the table, but ultimately were outmatched by the Bulls two days later.
It’s a familiar theme for this team as they continue to try and develop some kind of winning culture.
Fountain of Youth
Currently sitting at an average age of 25.6, the Kings are one of the youngest teams in the league, in large part thanks to retaining the majority of their draft picks from 2015 onward.
The beauty of last year’s 27-55 season meant the Kings could also pump plenty of playing time into their young stars. Guys like Willie Cauley-Stein, De’Aron Fox and Buddy Hield should play crucial roles in Sacramento’s future, however, there is one or two big names worth keeping an eye on.
Bagley is already an early Rookie of the Year favourite, but Bogdan Bogdanovic could easily have the best season of any Kings player. His minutes are likely to go up this season, and if he can shoot anything near 45% from the field like he did last year, the Kings might just pull off a few upsets this season.
Alongside Bogdanovic, Harry Giles is another talent coming off an impressive Summer League season. The Kings finished third in three-point shooting last year, and after shooting 57% from the field himself with Duke in 2017, Giles is likely to contribute to that number.