With the regular season set to tip off on Oct.18, let’s take a
look at where each team in the Pacific Division stands. We’ll break
down what to like, what to be concerned about, a lineup to watch
and a reasonable range for them to finish in the standings. (If
you've missed them, read our season previews for the Atlantic Division, Northwest Division and Central Division.)
And for deeper thoughts on the Pacific Division, you can listen
to the latest episode of The
WHAT TO LIKE: YOUNG WING STABLE
It may be an odd place to start with the Warriors, but
I'm ready to watch this group spread their wings.
Andrew Wiggins is one of the best two-way wings in basketball;
not many people saw that coming based on the Minnesota stretch of
his career. This ecosystem allows him to be the best, most decisive
version of himself, and I'm excited to see him with another year of
Jordan Poole exploded as a secondary playmaker last season. He's
a crafty driver with some of the best footwork among young players
in the league, and an unconscious pull-up shooter when he gets
going. He's absolutely getting paid, whether it be before the
season or when he hits the restricted-free-agent market next
Jonathan Kuminga drives with force and has already shown value
as a screen-and-diver. The Warriors gave him plenty of creation
reps over the summer. Moses Moody has "gap-filler" written all over
him, and that might slightly understate the palette of skills he
The Warriors are in a good place.
- I mean, if you don't enjoy watching Steph Curry play
basketball, I don't know what to tell you.
- Last season, Draymond Green was the
easy selection for Defensive Player of the Year
before missing two months due to injury. I can't wait to watch him
quarterback the defense this year, especially in light of his
contract year... and everything else, I guess.
- Another year of Kevon Looney being reliable at virtually
everything the Warriors ask him to do. One might say he's an unsung hero.
BIGGEST QUESTION MARK: FRONTCOURT DEPTH
Well, the, ahem, "altercation" certainly adds some sauce to this
Aside from that, I did have questions about Green's scoring
moving forward. Teams sagging off Green isn't a new development by
any stretch, but it did feel like defenses were more liberal about
ignoring Green. The bouts of tentativeness popped up more than you
would like. He may not need to turn into a knockdown shooter, but
he has to be more willing and efficient as a downhill scorer.
As for the literal depth, this feels like the come-to-Jesus year
for James Wiseman. Injuries have derailed his career to this point.
It would be lovely if he can provide a consistent vertical threat;
Wiseman has only set 283 on-ball picks for Curry or Poole in his
career — a small sample with positive signs (1.05 points per
possession on direct plays), according to Second Spectrum.
There's more to Wiseman, including a shifty face-up game that he
seems comfortable with. I just don't know how far along he is
defensively, and what kind of freedom he'll be given to explore it.
Here's hoping Wiseman stays healthy so we get a real sense of how
he factors into the Warriors' long-term vision.
- It's preseason so it may not matter, but I'm at least keeping
an eye on Klay Thompson's general lack of availability.
- They're the champs, man. There isn't much to quibble
LINEUP TO WATCH:
The lineup made its debut during the postseason to mostly great
success: they outscored opponents by 42 points in their 105 minutes
together. We have to see how they hold up defensively; a 111.9
defensive rating in those minutes isn't great, and teams will try
to poke at Curry's size (a bad idea until proven otherwise) or
Poole (a good idea until proven otherwise) to get good looks.
Of course, the offense may be so good that it doesn't
BEST CASE: No. 1 Seed
Having Curry on the floor gives you a baseline of excellence
offensively. Having Green on the floor gives you a baseline of
excellence defensively. A full year of Thompson, another year in
the system for Wiggins, Poole, and the other young wings all scream
"this team is going to be even better this year."
What an absurd thought: the team that just won the title could
be better than they were last season.
WORST CASE: No. 5 Seed
It's worth wondering just how much maintanence will be involved
with the Curry-Thompson-Green triumvirate. They'll be 35, 33 and
33, respectively, when the postseason rolls around; I wouldn't be
shocked to see some rest days thrown in throughout the year.
Considering how much of last year's bench depth will be replaced by
their rookie-scale guys, it wouldn't shock me to see them get a
little more leash at the expense of regular-season wins.
WHAT TO LIKE: KAWHI LEONARD'S RETURN
The last time we saw Kawhi play basketball, he was destroying
worlds in the postseason. It doesn't get much better than 30.4
points (on 65/39/88 splits), 7.7 rebounds, 4.4 assists, 2.1 steals
and nearly a block per contest.
There will be rust to knock off after missing a full season, but
there's no reason to believe he won't return as one of the NBA's
best strength-based drivers, pull-up shooters and mid-post
- John Wall is also making a return to basketball, and we're
going to see him on a good team for the first time since... well?
Anyone? Bueller? I'm excited to see how he slots in.
BIGGEST QUESTION MARK: HEALTH
It's a boring answer, and one you can't project, but this is
probably number one, two and three on the list.
This is the deepest roster in the NBA; it is patently absurd
that someone as talented as Amir Coffey is,
like, the 12th man in the rotation. They should be able to weather
This team isn't making a title run without Leonard and George
operating at full tilt. Both wings have a recent history of either
missing massive chunks of time or playing through
Beyond them, Wall has to stay upright. Nic Batum, who's been
tasked with every defensive assignment you can think of over the
past two seasons, has to stay upright. Fingers crossed.
- Keep an eye on the point-guard depth. Reggie Jackson has been
important to the Clippers since he's been there; he'll have to
prove he can consistently make good decisions to help the Clippers
reach their ceiling. Wall is knocking off his own rust and trtying
to slot into a new ecosystem. I'm optimistic, but it certainly
isn't a slam dunk that this works.
- I appreciate how many small-ball units the Clippers can throw
out, but they will need size. Ivica Zubac is a
good starting center; behind him on the depth chart is... Moses
Brown? He's looked solid during the preseason, but I still have
questions about him defensively.
LINEUP TO WATCH:
Of the 37 different small-ball units the Clippers could
utitlize, this is probably my favorite version. The combination of
shooting, connective playmaking, perimeter defense and weakside
roaming is the stuff of dreams.
BEST CASE: No. 2 Seed
Even baking in some maintanence for Kawhi, the Clippers' offense
should be much better than it was last season.
It's easy to envision a top-10 finish in both offensive and
defensive efficiency if this group stays healthy.
WORST CASE: No. 6 Seed
We have to see just how much Kawhi plays, and the point-guard
play is worth keeping tabs on this year. WIth so many lineup
combinations to work through, the Clippers could prioritize finding
postseason answers and maintaining good health over pumping out
WHAT TO LIKE: LEBRON JAMES AND ANTHONY
We can start with this stat.
LeBron James and Anthony Davis missed 26 and 42 games,
respectively, last season. Davis was never really himself on either
end of the floor, while LeBron was an offensive marvel that showed
some slippage on the non-glamour end.
The Lakers are a different team when these two are on the floor.
Their two-man pairing is nearly impossible to deal with. Tossing
the ball to Davis or James at the elbow while the other receives a
Flex screen from a guard is one of the most lethal actions in
Hopefully we're able to see more of them this year.
- We haven't seen a "real" game yet, but the early returns
suggest that new head coach Darvin Ham has gotten buy-in from his
players. They've showcased heightened intensity defensively, and
there seems to be a clear emphasis on cutting off the ball. We'll
see how it holds, of course, but those are the glimpses you want to
- If the Lakers are back to their "pack the paint, get stops and
run" mantra from the title year, I'm in on some of their free-agent
pieces. Damian Jones should fit like a glove in the frontcourt, and
Lonnie Walker should be a fun transition threat to keep tabs on
- I'm here for a more aggressive, confident Austin Reeves. He
showed some good things during his rookie campaign; if the jumper
improves enough, he'll alleviate some of the wing concerns I
BIGGEST QUESTION MARK: RUSSELL WESTBROOK
Well, it surely didn't go well last year.
Pretty much every worst-case scenario came through in regards to Westbrook's fit.
Defenses ignored Westbrook on the perimeter (though it's worth
keeping an eye on his corner shooting); his finishing dropped,
which made the pull-up shooting struggles feel worse. There wasn't
much work done with him as a screener, on or off the
After a summer of trade rumors, Westbrook is still here. A large
portion of the Lakers' success this season will be contigent on how
well Westbrook fits in on both ends of the floor.
- How much good health can we expect from the James-Davis duo?
LeBron has played more minutes than anyone in NBA history at this
point, and Davis already had to miss time this preseason with back
- There isn't a ton of two-way talent on the roster, which could
make lineup combinations a bit of an adventure.
- I do wish they had a little more shooting on this roster. If
anyone can navigate in tight quarters, it's LeBron, but the goal
should've been to make life as easy as possible.
LINEUP TO WATCH:
Ideally, the best version of the Lakers will include LeBron and
Davis up front with Westbrook also providing creation. From there,
it's about finding the right blend of shooting and defense to
surround those three.
Both Pat Beverley and Kendrick Nunn are reliable shooters. Nunn
has... a lot to prove defensively, even more so following his
injury layoff. Beverley has been a menace at the point of attack
for his entire career. Color me intrigued.
BEST CASE: No. 4 Seed
Get 65+ games out of LeBron and Davis, and you should have the
foundation of a solid team. A bounce-back season from Davis can
raise the ceiling of this group. The early returns from preseason,
if you care about that, indicate that this team is going to give a
crap defensively. If they're able to set a tone there, get stops
and run enough in transition, they can rack up wins.
WORST CASE: Play-In Tournament
Getting 65+ games from the LeBron-Davis duo could be a tough
ask. The shooting talent of the roster is underwhelming, and they
feel a bit short on two-way wings. There isn't much margin for
error with this group; any injury or fit concerns within their main
core could spell trouble for the Lakers.
WHAT TO LIKE: THE OFFENSE
There may not be an offense in the league that I enjoy more when
they're humming. Chris Paul directing traffic and sprinkling in
pull-ups with ease. Devin Booker's off-ball mastery and bleep-you
jumpers over the outstretched arms of defenders. Then, there's the
schematic goodness, highlighted by multiple variations of Spain
pick-and-roll and a rolodex of play calls out of HORNS. With Cam
Johnson entering the starting lineup, the offense may have even
more juice than it had last year.
- Speaking of the wings, I'm here for giving Mikal Bridges and
Johnson more on-ball responsibilities. If the Dallas series
highlighted anything offensively, it's that more is needed around
the Paul-Booker pairing. Someone has to be able to tilt
- Another year of Bridges hounding dudes over screens, getting
rearview contests and wrecking havoc when he's off the ball. He's
one of the best defenders in the league.
- I'm glad Deandre Ayton is back. I hope he feels the same way,
BIGGEST QUESTION MARK: RIM PRESSURE
The Suns were one of the NBA's best offenses almost entirely
behind mid-range mastery. They made threes at a top-10 clip, but
took them at a bottom-10 rate. A large portion of that issue came
down to the rim; this team didn't generate many paint touches,
which meant a low share of shots at the rim (21.4%, 29th) and free
throw attempts (19.9, 27th).
Paul isn't solving that issue; the postseason was evidence of
that. Booker can't do it by himself. Getting growth from Ayton,
Bridges and Johnson as self-creators could go a long way to making
the team's shot profile more balanced.
- Uh, we can be honest and say that the vibes have been
very weird in Phoenix the last few months. I hope
they're able to rally together — at least through January 15.
- I can't say I love the backup guard situation.
They need Cam Payne to pop again, or they
quickly need to make a move for a guard that can shoulder some of
the creation burden.
- With Jae Crowder getting traded at some point,
there's a "big/power wing defender" void to fill. I like Torrey
Craig; I just don't know if he provides nearly enough offensively
to make defenses care about him.
LINEUP TO WATCH:
This is going to be your starting lineup when healthy. We've
only gotten a small sample — 66 minutes last season — but they won
those minutes by 50 points.
I'd wager this is going to be one of the most productive groups
in the league.
BEST CASE: No. 1 Seed
It's easy to forget because of how the season ended (and the
offseason weirdness that ensued), but the Suns absolutely blitzed
the league during the 2021-22 regular season. The offense is
schematic goodness, and there isn't much reason to believe the
defense will drop below top-10 levels with good help. They won't be
64-wins good, but they could still be a regular-season buzzsaw with
WORST CASE: Play-In Tournament
To be clear, I think the Suns would firmly land at 7th in the
Western Conference standings. I don't see the Suns missing the
playoffs. However, there is a one-injury-away vibe to this
team in light of their backcourt depth. Any injury or age-related
regression from Paul would shrink the Suns' margin for error. Add
in the collective strength of the conference, and it's easy to see
how they could slide.
WHAT TO LIKE: FOX-SABONIS DUO
What do you get when you combine one of the best screeners and
big-man passers in the league with one of the league's fastest
You get an elite pairing, at least in theory.
The early returns of the De'Aaron Fox-Domantas Sabonis duo were
good. The Kings generated nearly 1.13 points per possession on
trips featuring a Fox-Sabonis ball screen, an elite number among
duos with at least 200 picks, per Second Spectrum.
Chemistry should grow with more reps, and the usage should vary.
More handoffs, more post splits. Maybe even some inverted ball
screens sprinkled in.
- I'm ready to see Davion Mitchell work off Sabonis as well.
More than anything, I'm excited to watch Mitchell hound dudes at
the point of attack again. What a relentless defender.
- I'm all in on the Keegan Murray pick already. He shoots
and spaces well, can cut off of Sabonis and has
enough on-ball juice to beat tilted defenses. This might be
premature, but I think the Kings nailed this one.
- I'm here for KZ Okpala as a rotation piece — even a
spot-starter. The shooting really worries me, but the hope is the
cutting and defensive versatility is enough to make him a neutral
or slight positive in his minutes.
BIGGEST QUESTION MARK: DEFENSE
Hiring Mike Brown as head coach is a step in the right
direction. He has a reputation for instilling defensive principles
and generating buy-in. Adding length over the offseason — drafting
Murray, taking a flyer on Okpala — signals that they're trying.
I just have no idea what their base scheme is going to be. They
don't have the personnel to switch. We've seen enough of Sabonis in
a drop to know that isn't tenable. It'll likely be something
aggressive — either asking their bigs to get to the level before
dropping back, or leaning into hedging.
- To that point, what is the lineup balance going to look like
with this group? Can you get enough spacing around the Fox-Sabonis
duo without saying bleep-it to the other end? I have my doubts.
- On the Fox front: I'm keeping tabs on his decision-making this
year. It feels like he hasn't quite found the balance between
tapping into his now-competent pull-up middy and keeping pressure
on the rim.
- What's going to happen with Richaun Holmes? He's good, but it
also seems clear that he and Sabonis can't really work in the same
lineup. It may be worth exploring what you can get for Holmes; if
the Kings can add to the wing room, I'd probably make a move.
LINEUP TO WATCH:
We haven't gotten much of a sample of the
Fox-Mitchell-Barnes-Sabonis quartet — 66 minutes, per PBP Stats —
so I'm curious to see how that group can mesh. Having a fifth like
Murray should make life easier for everyone though. And in theory,
the Mitchell-Murray-Barnes trio should give you enough defensive
ability to flank Fox and Sabonis in whatever scheme they wind up
BEST CASE: Play-In Tournament
This could be a top-10 offense if they get the half-court blend
right. If Mike Brown is able to coax a semblance of competency out
of this group on defense, a 9th- or 10th-seed run shouldn't
WORST CASE: Bottom of the West
It's hard to call this a worst-case scenario in light of what
this year's draft class projects to be. It would stink to have the
postseason drought continue, especially considering the trade for
Sabonis last season. To make that kind of timeline-accelerating
move only to miss out on postseason play again... wouldn't be
Check out our season previews for the Atlantic Division, Northwest Division and Central Division.