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Ranking The NBA’s Pacific Division

The Golden State Warriors still own the Pacific, but the rest of their division is loading up as well.

Dennis Chambers

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Following the final minute of this year’s NBA Finals, the league underwent a serious landscape change. Nearly every notable free agent, and marquee player on the trading block — sans Gordon Hayward — wound up relocating to a home based in the Western Conference.

As a result, the conference that was already widely regarded as a more difficult road to the game’s biggest stage subsequently became more difficult. However, despite the added depth to the team’s littered throughout the West, everyone is still left looking up at the Golden State Warriors.

Even in the vastly different — and improved in most cases — Pacific Division, all teams not located in Oakland, Ca., will ultimately be left fighting among themselves for second place. So, after diving into the Atlantic and Southeast divisions at Basketball Insiders, it’s time to take a look into the reigning champs’ division for the upcoming 2017-18 season (last season’s record next to team name).

Golden State Warriors — 67-15

Even after walking away with the NBA’s most coveted hardware at season’s end, the Warriors actually took a step back in the win column from their record setting 73-win season in 2015-16, despite adding Kevin Durant into the mix. But considering how history played out, the guys in the Bay Area probably didn’t mind trading off a few regular season wins for a ring.

After winning their second championship in three years, all Golden State has done this offseason is improve. The Warriors were able to retain the core of their group, with Durant agreeing to take less than market value on his contract, and even went ahead and added some depth help by signing guys like Omri Casspi and Nick Young (yes, Swaggy P really is a Warrior).

For the foreseeable future, Golden State has a stranglehold on the Pacific Division and the entire NBA for that matter. Don’t expect that to change next season.

Projected Wins: 65-70

Los Angeles Clippers — 51-31

The days of Lob City may not be over completely, but they’re certainly modified going into next season.

After trading franchise point guard Chris Paul to the Houston Rockets in a package centered around Patrick Beverley and Lou Williams, the Clippers retooled their roster to ensure that they wouldn’t be one of the teams missing the playoffs next season in the loaded Western Conference.

After re-signing Blake Griffin to a max deal, the Clippers allowed J.J. Redick to find a new home in Philadelphia and then used Jamal Crawford in a three-team sign-and-trade deal to land themselves Danilo Gallinari.

The Clippers then went ahead and inked arguably the best point guard in the world who wasn’t playing in the NBA, Milos Teodosic, to a two-year deal. Teodosic has long been coveted by NBA clubs for his uncanny passing ability, and Los Angeles needed to fill the void left by Paul best they could.

While the Clippers definitely have a new look to them, the team did a nice job of replacing talent lost in a manner that shouldn’t drop them out of playoff contention. However, winning 50 games in their conference may be a bit of a stretch, and a sign that all of the newcomers gelled from the jump.

Projected wins: 45-50

Sacramento Kings — 32-50

The franchise that has quietly had one of the best offseasons in the entire NBA is the team that is usually the butt of everyone’s jokes. The Kings have put together a nice couple of months since the end of last season, and for the first time in a long time have a bright future.

After drafting point guard De’Aaron Fox fifth overall in June’s draft, the Kings made savvy selections at picks No. 15 and 20 to take Justin Jackson and Harry Giles, respectively. The Kings also grabbed college star Frank Mason in the second round, adding to their group of young players with promise.

Along with this year’s draft class, the Kings also have Buddy Hield, Skal Labissière, and Willie Cauley-Stein in the fold. At a quick glance, Sacramento has five or six players 23 years old or younger with legitimate skill.

What the Kings did, however, to really win their offseason was use their abundance of cap space to sign veterans that are not only going to help Sacramento win games next season, but help shape their handful of malleable, young players. Enter George Hill, Zach Randolph, and Vince Carter to the California franchise with the worst reputation for the last decade.

By adding those players, Kings management sent a message that they’re taking the necessary precautions with their young guys to ensure the best possible environment for growth and success.

While all the additions are well and good for Sacramento, the West is just too deep next year, and will likely leave the Kings on the outside looking in of the playoff picture.

Projected Wins: 37-42

Los Angeles Lakers — 26-56

The Lakers are back. Just ask new president of basketball operations, Magic Johnson.

The Purple and Gold regained identity this summer when they used the No. 2 overall pick in the draft on Lonzo Ball, officially completing the next phase of LaVar Ball’s prophecy. But success this summer didn’t stop there for the Lakers. Later in the first round, Los Angeles selected Kyle Kuzma with the 27th pick and Josh Hart with the 30th pick.

All of these young additions led the Lakers to a championship… in the Las Vegas Summer League. But hey, the rebuild has to start somewhere, right?

Along with their trio of 2017 first round picks, Los Angeles got a 26-point performance from last year’s second overall pick Brandon Ingram to kick things off in Vegas. Unfortunately, he cramped up at the end of the game and Johnson shut him down for the remainder of the summer session. But that showing alone was enough to suggest that Ingram could be in line for a big jump in production heading into his sophomore year.

Los Angeles didn’t stop at just adding players organically, though. After the Detroit Pistons traded for Avery Bradley, they renounced their rights to Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, making him an unrestricted free agent. KCP’s agent, Rich Paul, reached out to Lakers’ new general manager Rob Pelinka (a former agent in his own right) about a potential Caldwell-Pope-LA marriage. The two sides reached an agreement on a one-year deal, giving the Lakers an unexpected splash signing this summer.

After shipping D’Angelo Russell off to Brooklyn in exchange for Brook Lopez, the core of young players in the fold have the approval of Johnson and Pelinka.

As with most improving teams in the Pacific division, and West in general, the positive tinkerings of their roster probably won’t be good enough to land the Lakers a playoff spot. But it does lend a ray of light for the future.

Projected Wins: 32-37

Phoenix Suns — 24-58

Out in the desert, Phoenix was one of three teams in this division to hold a top-five pick in the draft. With their selection, fourth overall, they drafted highly-touted wing Josh Jackson.

The Suns now have a core that includes Jackson, Devin Booker, Marquese Chriss, Dragan Bender, and Tyler Ulis. Much of the same can be said about the Suns as it can about the Lakers and Kings regarding how loaded the team is with young players full of potential.

Out in the Las Vegas Summer League, the trio of Jackson-Chriss-Bender put together more than their fair share of impressive performances, effectively hitting the ground running for chemistry building heading into next year.

Next season for Phoenix will be about continuing to find out which players should be with the franchise long-term, for their next run at the playoffs, and which guys are expendable at the moment. Along with that level of evaluation, it will be up to Earl Watson and the Suns’ coaching staff to continue building Booker into star player that his potential can allow him to be.

Phoenix will more than likely find themselves in the draft lottery next season with a chance to add another potential young stud to the core they already possess.

On top of that, the Suns just hired newly-retired James Jones as their vice president of basketball operations. And everyone knows Jones is super close with that guy up in Cleveland.

Could LeBron James consider leaving The Land for the desert next summer? Unlikely.

But crazier things have happened in the NBA.

Projected Wins: 25-30

Dennis Chambers is an NBA writer in his first season with Basketball Insiders. Based out of Philadelphia he has previously covered NCAA basketball and high school recruiting.

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Sources: Milwaukee Bucks Fire Coach Jason Kidd

Basketball Insiders

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The Milwaukee Bucks have fired coach Jason Kidd, sources ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski.

Source: Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN

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Defensive Player Of The Year Watch – 1/22/17

Spencer Davies checks into the DPOY race with his latest list of candidates.

Spencer Davies

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It’s a new year and Basketball Insiders is continuing its Defensive Player of the Year watch with sample sizes widening and new players emerging in the conversation.

There were a couple of names knocked out of the list, but that gives more of a spotlight to those who have really stepped up since our last edition ran on December 29. Without further ado, let’s get into it.

 6. Hassan Whiteside

After missing nearly a month of action with a knee injury, Whiteside has returned with a vengeance. The Miami HEAT were already a good defensive team before he came back, but he’s really bolstered that reputation even further. Since Dec. 26, the 7-foot center has recorded eight multi-block games. In five of those, he had at least four swats, including a six-rejection performance in a win at Milwaukee. Overall in ESPN’s Defensive Real-Plus Minus, Whiteside owns by far the best rating at 4.73. “Agent Block” is back and daring all comers to try him.

5. Anthony Davis

Slowly but surely, the New Orleans Pelicans are creeping away from the bottom of the league in defensive rating. Once ranked in the bottom five a few weeks ago, they’ve shot up to 18th in the league (108.4) rather quickly. While that’s not the most impressive statistic to provide, the obvious reason for their improved standing on that end of the floor is Davis. He’s been an absolute workhorse for Alvin Gentry in the restricted area as an elite rim protector, with a heavy responsibility and a ton of minutes. Without him on the floor, the Pels are allowing 8.9 more points per 100 possessions, which puts Davis in the 96th percentile according to Cleaning The Glass.

4. Josh Richardson

Notice there are two members of the HEAT on this list. It’s because they are on fire right now, no pun intended, so it’s about time they received some love in the conversation for DPOY. Whiteside was addressed first, but if we’re talking about a greater sample size with consistent evidence, Richardson fits the bill. Opponents are attempting over 11 shots per game against him, yet are only making 38.9 percent of those tries. That’s the lowest conversion rate in the league with a minimum of 10 attempts.

Battling injuries a season ago, Richardson has played in all 46 games for Miami this year. While it’s been a team effort, he is the heart and soul of Erik Spoelstra’s defense, taking on the most difficult assignments each game. For that reason, he deserves long overdue recognition on this list.

3. Kevin Durant

This isn’t a case where Durant is slipping because of his performances. He’s only ranked third this time around because of the job others have done outside of him. The Golden State Warriors are still a juggernaut on both sides of the court. He’s still a top-notch individual defender. The numbers don’t suggest otherwise and the eye test certainly confirms it.

In isolation situations, Durant is allowing only 0.53 points per possession, which is second in the NBA to only Tony Snell. When it comes to crunch time, he’s always locking up. In fourth quarters, he is limiting the competition to shooting less than 30 percent—and his defended field goal percentage and field goal percentage discrepancy is the best in the league at -17.2. He’s got as good of a chance as anybody to take home DPOY.

2. Joel Embiid

Everybody loves to focus on the off-court antics and hilarities that come with Embiid, but the man deserves his due when it comes to his reputation in the NBA as a truly dominant big. The Philadelphia 76ers have won seven out of their last eight games and it has started on the defensive end of the floor.

Take the games against Boston, for example. Al Horford is a crucial part of the Celtics offense and has had problems getting going against the 23-year-old. In the 22 minutes per game, he’s been on the floor along with him, Horford has been held to below 30 percent from the field on an average of nine attempts. With Embiid off, he’s converted nearly 73 percent of his tries.

Another matchup you can examine is with Andre Drummond. The two have had their fair share of words with each other, but Embiid’s had the edge one-on-one. Similar to Horford, the Detroit Pistons big man has had a rough time against him. Embiid has limited Drummond to under 38 percent on five attempts per game in an average of over 23 minutes on the floor together. When he’s not playing, Drummond has had close to a 78 percent success rate.

Regarding centers, Embiid ranks second in ESPN’s DRPM and fifth in Basketball Reference’s Defensive Box Plus-Minus. Citing Cleaning The Glass, the Sixers are allowing 10 more points per 100 possessions when he’s sitting, which slots Embiid into the 97th percentile.

He’s altering shots. He’s blocking shots. He’s forcing kick outs. And that’s a big reason why the NBA gave Embiid its Eastern Conference Player of the Week honors. Trust The Process.

1. Paul George

Basketball Insiders was well represented this past Saturday in Cleveland when the Oklahoma City Thunder decimated the Cavaliers in their own building. The focus was on the “OK3” exposing a terrible defense, but the real story in this game was how in-tune and sound George was on both ends of the court. He was sizzling shooting the basketball, but perhaps more defining was shutting down LeBron James on a day that was supposed to belong to him.

Any time 23 got the ball to try and get the Cavs going, George was there. He suffocated him with pressure, forcing James into bad decisions and contested shots. The talk of the day was the 30,000-point mark, but PG-13 had other ideas.

“I was hopeful that it took two games for him to get to that,” George said after the 148-124 win at Quicken Loans Arena. “I actually didn’t know that stat until right before coming into [Saturday]. They told me he needed 25 to go to 30,000. I’ve been a part of a lot of those baskets that he’s had, so that’s an achievement or milestone I didn’t want to be a part of.”

Thunder teammate Steven Adams spoke to his prowess on that end of the floor.

“He’s a really good defender man,” Adams said. “It was like a perfect matchup, honestly. He played LeBron really well in terms of our system and what we want him doing. He did an amazing job there.”

Oklahoma City head coach Billy Donovan is a huge fan as well.

“He really I think puts forth good effort,” Donovan said pre-game. “He’s long, smart. He’s disruptive. He’s got good feet. He’s a physical defender. He’s hard to shoot over. Certainly, with he and Andre [Roberson] on the wings, that’s certainly bolstered our defense.”

That was one performance, but it’s obvious how much George brings to the table as one of the toughest guys to score on in this league. He’s got a league-leading 188 deflections and is tied with Eric Bledsoe at the top of the NBA with 2.2 steals per game.

Recently, the Thunder have allowed 91 points at most in three of their last four games. They are also in the top three allowing just 104.7 points per 100 possessions and George has been a huge part of that.

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NBA AM: Most Likely All-Star Snubs

Damian Lillard seems to top the All-Star snub list every season. It couldn’t happen again, could it?

Joel Brigham

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This year the NBA has famously decided to mix up the way the All-Star rosters work, while rather infamously deciding against televising the draft that will organize those players into teams, but even as some things change, some things remain the same.

Just like every year, there will be snubs when the All-Star reserves are announced on Tuesday night. Oh, there will be snubs.

The starters already have been selected, chosen by a combination of fan votes, media votes and player votes, the latter of which were taken so seriously that Summer League legend Jack Cooley even earned a single nomination from one especially ornery player voter.

For those that missed the starters, they include LeBron James, DeMar DeRozan, Giannis Antetokounmpo, Kyrie Irving, and Joel Embiid from the Eastern Conference and Kevin Durant, Steph Curry, DeMarcus Cousins, Anthony Davis, and James Harden from the Western Conference.

That leaves seven more reserves from each conference and way more deserving players than that from which to choose. These will be selected by the coaches, per tradition, but it’s anybody’s guess who ends up making the team. There absolutely are going to be some massive snubs this year, so let’s take a quick look at the most likely candidates to earn roster spots this winter, as well as who that might leave out of this year’s event in Los Angeles.

The Eastern Conference

Let’s start with the “sure things,” which almost certainly will include with Indian Pacers guard Victor Oladipo. Not only is he putting up a career-best 24/5/4 line, but he’s also averaging two steals per night for an Indiana team that currently lives in the playoff picture despite dismal expectations. That’s almost entirely because of Oladipo.

In the frontcourt, there was plenty of healthy debate when Embiid was voted the starter over Al Horford and Kristaps Porzingis, so there’s a very good chance that those two guys find their way to the roster, as well.

Kevin Love, who also is having a monster statistical season, seems like the most obvious third frontcourt guy, but his defense stinks and the Cavs haven’t exactly proven themselves worthy of two All-Stars. Detroit’s Andre Drummond and Tobias Harris both are having borderline All-Star seasons for a borderline playoff team, but they are the closest contenders to stealing away that third frontcourt reserve slot from Love.

Beyond that, Bradley Beal or John Wall likely will be the “other” guard reserve, but choosing which one is dicey. Wall’s the four-time All-Star, but Beal arguably is having the better year and has been snubbed for this event entirely too many times already. It doesn’t seem likely that both guys will make the team.

The wild cards could be that “other” Wizards guard among Beal and Wall, one of those two Pistons players, Miami’s Goran Dragic (they are fourth in the conference, rather surprisingly), Milwaukee’s Khris Middleton, Toronto’s Kyle Lowry, or Rookie of the Year candidate Ben Simmons.

What seems most probable is that Oladipo and Beal earn the Eastern Conference reserve slots, with Horford, Porzingis and Love earning the backup frontcourt positions. Lowry and Wall feel most likely as reserves.

That means the most likely Eastern Conference snubs will be: Goran Dragic, Ben Simmons, Andre Drummod, Tobias Harris and Khris Middleton.

The level of controversy with this group feels fairly low, though if Dragic or Drummond were to make the team over Wall or Love, the conversation would be a lot feistier.

The Western Conference

Choosing the reserve guards in the Western Conference is a no-brainer. It will be MVP candidates Jimmy Butler and Russell Westbrook, which immediately means that if Klay Thompson, Damian Lillard, Chris Paul and Paul George are not named as Wild Card players, they will be left off of the team. That’s about as “yikes” as “yikes” gets.

The battle for the frontcourt spots are going to be no less brutal, even with Kawhi Leonard effectively out of consideration having missed so much time at the beginning of the season. The Spurs will have an All-Star anyway, though, which makes LaMarcus Aldridge all but a lock.

Towns, who is averaging a 20/12 with over two assists and 1.5 blocks per game on one of the West’s top teams, also feels likely to get in. That means Draymond Green and Nikola Jokic are the two guys expected to battle over that last frontcourt spot, and both deserve real consideration. Green’s importance is less obvious to this Warriors team with Durant on the roster, but he’s no less essential even if his offensive numbers are down. Jokic, meanwhile, has kept Denver in the playoff hunt even without Paul Millsap, and is the best passing big man in the game.

The most likely scenario in terms of Western Conference reserves has Butler and Westbrook getting voted in at guard, Aldridge, Towns and Green voted in as frontcourt players, and Thompson and Lillard voted in as the wild cards.

That means the most likely Western Conference snubs will be: Chris Paul, Paul George, and Nikola Jokic.

Paul has missed 17 games this season, which is just too many when there are so many other great guards from which to choose, and George’s usage has dropped massively in Oklahoma City. As for Jokic, somebody has to get snubbed, and the other reasonable possibility is that he be named a wild card player at the expense of Lillard, and no NBA fan should have to see that happen yet again.

The 2018 NBA All-Star Reserves will be announced at 7:00 p.m. EST on January 23 on TNT.

Tune in Tuesday night to see which players will make the team, and which will inevitably be snubbed.

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