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Most Important Players: Pacific Division

David Yapkowitz breaks down the most important player for each team in the Pacific.

David Yapkowitz

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Our latest series at Basketball Insiders on the most important player for each NBA team wraps up this week with the Pacific Division. The Pacific Division is home to the defending champion Golden State Warriors, and a bunch of other teams with some question marks.

Can the Los Angeles Clippers bounce back from the loss of Chris Paul and still be a threat in the playoffs? Will the great offseason and draft that the Sacramento Kings had on paper translate into the regular season once games begin? Can Lonzo Ball impact the Los Angeles Lakers as much as some seem to think he will? Will the Phoenix Suns’ collection of young talent show on court improvement from seasons past?

In any case, each team in the Pacific Division has one key player on the team that will be crucial to whatever success they wish to have this upcoming season. Here’s a look at who those players are.

Golden State Warriors – Klay Thompson

You could probably put Kevin Durant, Stephen Curry, or Draymond Green at this spot and it wouldn’t be wrong at all. That’s part of what makes the Warriors so lethal — they have so many different guys who can hurt opponents in so many different ways. Curry and Durant are MVP caliber guys who will give you MVP level production night in and night out. Green is the glue that anchors the Warriors defense. But Thompson just might be their most important player.

An All-NBA and All-Star caliber player in his own right, Thompson had to make some sacrifices with the addition of Durant. Despite that, he still managed to put up 22.3 points per game on 46.8 percent shooting from the field, and 41.4 percent from the three-point line. He’s become so good at moving without the ball and he has such a quick stroke that even a second of separation from his defender is enough time for him to bury a jumper. When Thompson is on, which is pretty much every game, the Warriors are that much more difficult to defend.

Thompson’s contract with the Warriors runs for another two years, and he’s made comments recently about potentially taking a discount to remain with the team. He doesn’t need many shots to be effective and he’s arguably the Warriors best perimeter defender. If the Warriors hope to win back to back titles, Thompson will most definitely play a major role.

Los Angeles Clippers – DeAndre Jordan

Yes, the Clippers were able to retain potential MVP candidate and franchise cornerstone Blake Griffin in free agency, but the one player who their success depends on might just be DeAndre Jordan. Jordan definitely benefitted from playing alongside Paul, as do most players who play with an elite playmaker like that. But he’s improved his offensive game in his own right. He’s also developed into one of the top interior defenders and rebounders in the league.

This past season, Jordan tied a career-high in points per game with 12.7. He excels in the pick and roll and with a potential playmaker like Milos Teodosic feeding him the ball, not to mention Griffin, who is a solid playmaker in his own right, Jordan’s offensive production might not see much of a drop-off if any at all. His ability to attack the glass often results in second-chance opportunities for the team. On the defensive end, however, is where he’ll earn his money. Even if he’s not blocking shots, his mere presence in the paint is sometimes enough to deter opponents.

If the Clippers hope to keep pace in the Western Conference and not experience too much of a drop-off following the loss of Paul, they’ll need close to All-Star production from Jordan. He was a first-time All-Star this past season and is right in the prime of his career. One area where he might be able to take his game to another level is passing out of the post. He’s often swarmed by defenders looking to keep him off the offensive glass, and he might be able to create open looks for the Clippers shooters.

Los Angeles Lakers – Lonzo Ball

The Lakers have not had a rookie with as much hype as Lonzo Ball since they obtained Kobe Bryant back in 1996. Even then, Bryant was a relative unknown that suffered through growing pains and bench duty before he developed into the superstar that helped lead the franchise to five titles. Ball most likely will be thrown to the wolves from the get-go and probably be under the national media microscope for his entire rookie year.

With that said, the Lakers have not had a potential playmaker in the mold of Ball since Magic Johnson donned the purple and gold. In his lone college season, Ball transformed the UCLA Bruins into a powerhouse. While not as flashy as Johnson was, Ball has excellent court vision and playmaking instincts that he’s already shown in both summer league and preseason so far.

It’s probably safe to say that Ball will have the basketball in his hands quite a bit this upcoming season. He might not put up gaudy scoring numbers, but he will make everyone around him better. Since he isn’t such an explosive scorer yet, he might get passed over when it comes time for Rookie of the Year voting, but his impact on the Lakers will surely be felt. If the Lakers hope to use this season as a means to potentially attract max-level players next summer, Ball’s presence will definitely play a factor in that.

Phoenix Suns – Devin Booker

The list of players who have scored 70 or more points in an NBA game is incredibly small. There’s Wilt Chamberlain, Kobe Bryant, David Thompson, David Robinson, Elgin Baylor, and after this past season, Devin Booker. At age 20, Booker is one of the youngest players in the league but is also a player with some of the biggest potential.

In only his second season, Booker led the Suns in scoring with 22.8 points per game. Working on his all-around game, however, Booker’s 3.4 assists per game were third on the team behind only Eric Bledsoe (6.3) and Tyler Ulis (3.7), both of whom were the Suns’ primary point guards. He’s already putting his name in the conversation as one of the league’s most gifted and explosive scorers, and there are still several levels he could realistically reach.

A potential franchise cornerstone, as Booker continues to improve his all-around skill set, he’ll start getting more and more recognition as one of the top players in the league. It’s not impossible that the Suns compete for a playoff spot this season, just highly improbable given the number of talented teams in the Western Conference. But if they do surprise a few teams, and if/when they’re ready to take that next leap as a team, Booker will almost assuredly be leading the way.

Sacramento Kings – George Hill

This past summer, George Hill was one of the most sought-after free agent point guards. A veteran with lots of playoff experience, Hill would help nearly every team in the league. He ended up taking a deal with the Kings, a team that has been plagued with misfortune and hasn’t sniffed the postseason in over a decade. Following a very solid draft and offseason, the Kings are hoping that this season can be the beginning of a turnaround with Hill leading the way.

Although he suffered through some nagging injuries last season, when he did play, Hill had a big impact on the Utah Jazz offense. His 16.9 points per game were a career-high. He shot 47.7 percent from the field and 40.3 percent from three-point range. He’s also always been one of the better defensive point guards in the league. But perhaps the biggest impact he’ll have for the Kings this upcoming season is his veteran leadership, particularly when it comes to rookie DeAaron Fox.

Hill will most likely begin the season as the starting point guard, and depending on Fox’s play, might stay there for the duration of the season. What he’ll provide for Fox, however, is invaluable. Fox will be learning from one of the best in the business and it’ll have a big impact on his career going forward. It’s not likely that the Kings contend for anything this season, but whatever they’re hoping to accomplish, Hill is a great player to have.

It’s obvious that the Warriors are miles and miles ahead of every other team in the division. But the rest of the pack still have nice collections of talent that will probably be worth watching and paying attention to as the season progresses. The players mentioned here will definitely be ones to look out for and will play an important role in wherever their teams ultimately land.

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NBA Daily: Garrett Temple Fitting In With Clippers

David Yapkowitz sits down with Los Angeles Clippers swingman Garrett Temple to discuss his niche with the team and the culture they’ve established under Doc Rivers.

David Yapkowitz

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It’s been a season of silencing the doubters for the Los Angeles Clippers. Back in October when the NBA season began, you’d be hard pressed to have found anyone that would’ve given them a chance at making the playoffs.

Flash forward to the present, and they not only have made the postseason, but they’re currently tied 1-1 in the first round with the defending champion Golden State Warriors – and with the next two games on their home-court.

Even as recently as the trade deadline, there were people and pundits who doubted them when they traded away Tobias Harris, who was having an All-Star caliber season. But the new guys who arrived in February have been a huge reason why the Clippers continued to win, especially Garrett Temple.

The nine-year veteran began this season in Memphis after having spent the last two years with the Sacramento Kings. When the Clippers dealt Avery Bradley at the deadline, Temple – along with JaMychal Green – was one of the two pieces the Grizzlies sent back.

Temple had been a bit of journeyman prior to his time with the Kings and the four years before with the Washington Wizards. From his rookie season in 2009-10 to 2012-13, he had stints with the Houston Rockets, San Antonio Spurs, Milwaukee Bucks and Charlotte Hornets. When he first arrived in LA, he could tell right away the locker room dynamic.

“It’s great, we have a team where everybody knows their roles, everybody wants to win,” Temple told Basketball Insiders. “Winning is most important here, there’s no egos. We have a team like this where guys are coming together to do whatever coach [Doc Rivers] says. When it’s all about winning, good things can happen.”

And good things did happen. Following the trade deadline, the Clippers went 17-7, including win streaks of five and six games, to finish the season. They were two wins short of winning 50 games.

Temple had a big hand in that, sort of taking over the role Bradley played as the defensive-minded guard, who can stretch the floor and knock down the three.

“Coming off the bench, I give them some defensive energy. I give energy on the offensive end too, in transition, pushing the ball, make my open shots when I’m open,” Temple told Basketball Insiders. “When I get the chance, I make sure I push the pace. But just bringing that energy on the defensive side.”

Defense has been Temple’s strong suit since he’s been in the NBA. At 6-foot-6, he’s got the size to defend both guard positions as well as some small forwards. In this playoff series, he’s got the daunting task of being matched up against Stephen Curry or Klay Thompson.

But defense is something he prides himself on. He isn’t going to back down no matter who is standing across from him. Even as the oldest player in the Clippers locker room, he remains one of their best defenders.

“No question, I’ve prided myself on that since I got in the NBA. It’s part of the reason why I’ve been able to stay in the league,” Temple told Basketball Insiders. “A lot of guys in this league come off the bench and try to score. I pride myself on being that guy on the bench unit that can defend any three positions on the court.”

Since coming over to the Clippers, Temple has been averaging 4.7 points in 19.7 minutes per game. Normally a reliable three-point threat, his shooting numbers have dipped a bit. He’s down to 29.6 percent from three.

None of the team played well enough to mention in Game 1. But in the Game 2 thrilling comeback, Temple gave solid contributions of seven points, knocking down both his free throws and knocking down one of his two attempts from three-point range.

“You don’t fix what’s not broken, you continue to do what you do, whatever’s your strength,” Temple told Basketball Insiders. “Obviously there’s different transitions and different lingo, but at the end of the day, it’s just basketball. I find myself getting comfortable with what our coaches like us to do on the defensive end and offensive end, and trying to fit in well.”

It remains to be seen what happens in this series against the Warriors, but one thing is for sure – the Clippers definitely have Golden State’s attention. To this group, though, the fact that they were able to pull off a historic comeback probably isn’t surprising to them. They’ve prided themselves all season on having this tough mentality.

Temple recognized it right away before the playoffs even began. When he was in Memphis, he experienced the ‘Grit and Grind’ culture of hard-nosed basketball that the team had embraced. He noticed a similar time vibe with the Clippers, a vibe he knew would make them scary come playoff time.

“Just the fact that everybody is hungry, everybody understands their role. There’s no question from anybody what they’re supposed to do when they get on the court. It’s tough when you have a team that just got together,” Temple told Basketball Insiders.

“I think the biggest thing is we know what everybody does. We have enough firepower offensively, we have enough defensive pieces, and we have a Hall-of-Fame coach. We have a good recipe to be somebody to be reckoned with.”

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Mock Drafts

NBA Daily: 60-Pick NBA Mock Draft – 4/16/19

The deadline to declare for the 2019 NBA draft is April 29th, however, most of the notable prospects have already declared and started the training and preparation process. Steve Kyler offers up his latest weekly 60-Pick Mock Draft.

Steve Kyler

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Let the chaos begin!

The 2019 NBA Draft class has taken on more of a defined shape with the bulk of the expected early entry players having already declared for the draft, with several already in pre-draft gyms training and preparing for the marathon pre-draft process that will play out over the next 65 days.

There are a few dates to keep in mind as the draft process ramps into full speed.

The NBA deadline to declare for the 2019 NBA Draft is 11:59 p.m. on April 29th. Players must submit in writing to be a part of the draft. Once the early entry players are official, teams can start working those players out.

The NBA Draft lottery which will determine the top four selections of the 2019 NBA Draft will be held in Chicago on May 14th, just as the annual Draft Combine kicks off.

The NCAA has changed its rules and will allow players to not only test “the waters” but retain an agent, assuming that player does not accept anything more than transportation, reasonable lodging and meals related to meeting with that agent or conducting workouts for NBA teams.

The NCAA requires those players that wish to remain eligible to withdraw from the draft by May 29th.

The last date to withdraw from the draft by NBA is 5 p.m. on June 10th. This is usually not college level players; this date is typically international players that opt out of the draft.

The 2019 NBA Draft is set for June 20th.

Here is this week’s 60-pick Mock Draft:

Here are the first-round picks that are owed and how those picks landed where they are.

The Atlanta Hawks were to receive the Cleveland Cavaliers’ first-round pick as a result of the Kyle Korver trade in 2017, which is top-10 protected. But based on the final standings, that pick will not be conveyed.

The Boston Celtics were to receive the Memphis Grizzlies first-round pick as a result of the three-team Jeff Green trade in 2015; the pick is top-eight protected and, based on the final standings, that pick will not be conveyed.

The Atlanta Hawks are to receive the Dallas Mavericks first-round pick as a result of the Luka Dončić – Trae Young swap on draft night in 2018. The pick is top-five protected and, based on the final standings, that pick will be conveyed.

The Boston Celtics are to receive the more favorable of either the Sacramento Kings or Philadelphia 76ers first-round picks as part of the Markelle Fultz pre-draft trade in 2017. Based on the final standings, that pick will be conveyed; the Kings pick is the more favorable and would convey to Boston.

The Boston Celtics are to receive the LA Clippers first-round pick as a result of the Deyonta Davis draft day trade with Memphis in 2016. The Grizzlies got the pick in their Jeff Green/Lance Stephenson deal at the deadline in 2016. The pick is lottery protected and, based on the final standings, that pick will be conveyed.

The Cleveland Cavaliers are to receive the Houston Rockets first-round pick as a result of the three-team deadline deal that sent out Brandon Knight and Marquese Chriss.

The Brooklyn Nets are to receive the Denver Nuggets first-round pick as a result of the Kenneth Faried – Darrell Arthur trade in July 2018. The pick is top-12 protected and, based on the final standings, that pick will be conveyed.

The San Antonio Spurs are to receive the Toronto Raptors first-round pick as a result of the Kawhi Leonard – DeMar DeRozan trade in July 2018. The pick is top-20 protected and, based on the final standings, that pick will be conveyed.

The Phoenix Suns are to receive the Milwaukee Bucks first-round pick as a result of the Eric Bledsoe trade in 2017. The pick has top 3 and 17-30 protections, designed to yield a lottery-level pick to Phoenix. Based on the final standings this pick would not convey. Given that the debt is not settled this year, the Bucks pick in 2020 would be top-7 protected.

More Twitter: Make sure you are following all of our guys on Twitter to ensure you are getting the very latest from our team: @stevekylerNBA, @LangGreene, @EricPincus, @TommyBeer, @jblancartenba, @SpinDavies, @JamesB_NBA, @MattJohnNBA, @DrewMaresca, @JordanHicksNBA, and @Ben__Nadeau .

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NBA Daily: Wear & Tear Rearing Ugly Head In Playoffs

A rigorous schedule and demanding workload have limited three of the NBA’s best in the playoffs, writes Spencer Davies.

Spencer Davies

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There is nothing worse in sports than seeing somebody get hurt.

In the NBA, we’ve seen plenty of devastating setbacks. Torn ACL’s, ruptured Achilles, broken bones—all of them season-enders and most of them career-alterers.

Jusuf Nurkic’s gruesome leg injury most recently comes to mind. Before that, Victor Oladipo and Dejounte Murray. Last year, Gordon Hayward’s season was cut short less than halfway into a single quarter, as was DeMarcus Cousins’ in the midst of a dominant campaign. And there’s more going without mention, to boot.

It’s unfortunate that these things happen. Most of them are freak accidents, bad luck or something completely unexpected in an instant. But there’s another type of injury that’s affected the league and its postseason that needs to be addressed.

The term “wear-and-tear” is used predominantly to describe the aging of inanimate objects—shoes, tires, furniture, you name it. Yet, it has another meaning when it comes to the human body. As is the case with the majority of athletes, NBA players like to push their limits, so much so that it sometimes ends up biting them in the behind from doing it on a consistent basis.

Not shortchanging the game on effort is to be expected, but giving 110 percent and going the extra mile nightly to earn victory after victory is a whole ‘nother level of commitment to your craft. While those guys should be rewarded for it, unfortunately, they are oftentimes unfairly punished.

There are three players in the current playoff picture who—when in tip-top shape—can change the course of their respective series in an instant. However, each of those respective talents is dealing with nagging pains affecting their games.

Drawing a first-round matchup with the Milwaukee Bucks wasn’t ideal for the Detroit Pistons. This writer picked an easy sweep for Giannis Antetokounmpo and friends. However, one would be remiss to say that Blake Griffin wouldn’t make things more interesting.

Based on Sunday night, it’s more than arguable that the Pistons wouldn’t have been even close to a .500 record without Griffin’s contributions. He made his first All-Star game in four seasons and played in his most total games in five years.

Of course, as the team battled for a playoff berth, he left every drop of sweat he had. It resulted in left knee discomfort, which has, in turn, caused him to reportedly miss the entire first round of the postseason.

That’s just one case in which a player isn’t seeing the floor. What about the ones who are trying to push through these moments with hefty minutes?

Dealing with a sore knee of his own, Joel Embiid decided to give it a go for the Philadelphia 76ers in their first-round opener. Though he dominated the paint in the early moments and still put up a 22-point, 15-rebound, five-block stat line, it was clear that the dynamic seven-foot center wasn’t himself.

Embiid fired off a third of his shot attempts from the perimeter and never found the mark. When he put the ball on the floor, the burst and nimble footwork he’s shown time after time wasn’t quite there. Sixers head coach Brett Brown could only keep him out there for 24 minutes, well below his season average.

Yes, an Embiid at 75 percent is better than one at zero. It’s just not the same monster we’re all used to seeing on that court, which sucks because, when healthy, “The Process“ is as entertaining and talented as it gets, regardless of size.

We can head out west to find another example. Paul George’s shoulder is clearly bothering him. He stated Monday that the pain is gone—even though there was a bag of ice wrapped around his upper right body as he said the words. That’s probably the right avenue to take so there’s no competitive advantage for the Portland Trail Blazers to exploit against the Oklahoma City Thunder.

George won’t admit this because he wants to be out there and compete at the highest level at the biggest stage. It’s admirable that he’s playing through the pain. He was out there for 42-plus minutes and gave his group all he had. Anybody would take 26 points, 10 rebounds and four steals as an impressive output, too.

It’s the rate at which George struggled—8-for-24 from the field and 4-for-15 from deep, a trend that’s been happening since the All-Star break. Decreased shooting percentages have seemed to be the byproduct of overdoing it. It’s a shame because PG had been lighting it up in the first half of the season to the tune of 40 percent as a three-point shooter.

Whether it’s the reps that have had a negative effect on his motion or the physical style he’s played on both ends, George hasn’t looked like the MVP candidate we were watching back in the December and January.

So why are we bringing this up? Let’s put it as straightforward as possible—shorten the season and start the playoffs earlier.

The topic came up at Adam Silver’s recent media availability session after meeting with the NBA’s Board of Governors, though it was mostly about the pressing concern with players over-resting rather than the subject of wear and tear.

The commissioner has already done an outstanding job at taking a once-ridiculously grueling schedule filled with back-to-backs & four days in five nights and removing the number of such instances at a rapid rate (and completely eliminating the latter).

Possible solutions to lessening the 82-game load are to get rid of preseason altogether and begin the year then. Silver surmised to reporters that in-season tournaments based on the model of soccer overseas might be a way to do it. Another idea brought to the table was taking the full game length from 48 minutes to 40 minutes.

Actively seeking to make the league better is what makes Silver so revered by the NBA, players and executives alike. He’s exceptionally aware of concerns and always has his ears open.

We deserve to see players perform at their peak, especially during this time of year. It’s impossible to control what happens on the floor, but it’s possible to determine the frequency at which things occur.

So, Mr. Silver, this writer is pleading with you: Follow through.

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