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First Quarter Grades: Pacific Division

Shane Rhodes breaks down each team in the Pacific Division at the season’s quarter mark.

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At the seasons quarter mark, NBA teams have really begun to settle into their own identity. The teams, much like the players, now have a much better idea of who they are and what they can accomplish this season. While some teams have and continue to struggle this season, others have played well or even turned things around in the standings.

For Basketball Insiders’ third installment of First Quarter Grades, we’ll be taking a look Pacific Division. Let’s jump in.

Sacramento Kings 7-16

The Sacramento Kings are bad, there really is no other way to put it. As most expected, the Kings find themselves in the Western Conference cellar with one of the worst records in the NBA. There have been some surprises, such as the upset over the reigning champion Golden State Warriors, while rookies De’Aaron Fox, Frank Mason and Bogdan Bogdanovic have flashed at times. However, for the most part, the Kings haven’t had a season to remember at the quarter mark.

Bright Spot: Zach Randolph, Vince Carter and pretty much every veteran on the Kings roster not named George Hill have proved solid contributors this season. Garrett Temple, who is shooting 41.4 percent on four three-point attempts per game, could be a potential trade chip for the Kings at the trade deadline. Meanwhile, Randolph has provided a steadying presence in the starting lineup while Carter continues to hold his own at the ripe age of 40-years-old.

Biggest Area to Improve: The Kings currently rank 29th in both Offensive and Defensive Rating, not exactly a winning combo. They need to improve all over the basketball court, and they should as the rookies continue to develop and adjust.

First Quarter Grade: D-

Phoenix Suns 9-17

It has been a messy season for the Phoenix Suns. Three games into the season, they fired head coach Earl Watson. Eleven games into the season, they traded disgruntled guard Eric Bledsoe to the Milwaukee Bucks. Marquiss Chriss, Dragan Bender and others haven’t exactly taken the next step in their sophomore seasons. Now, Devin Booker could miss time with a potentially serious left adductor injury he suffered against the Toronto Raptors.

Bright Spot: Booker is the easy answer here, but people have known that he would be a star for quite some time. Instead, T.J. Warren is the pick here. The fourth-year forward is averaging career highs in points, rebounds and assists. His three-point percentage is a terrible 17.5 percent, but that number should go up as the season continues. In a league that is moving closer and closer to positionless basketball, the Suns appear to be set for the future with both Booker and Warren on the wing.

Biggest Area to Improve: Everywhere. Like the Kings, the Suns rank near the bottom of the league in both offensive and defensive efficiency. With Booker potentially missing time, the offensive rank could dip even further. Chriss, Bender and others will have to step up in order to fill the void left by Booker in the lineup.

First Quarter Grade: D

Los Angeles Lakers 8-15

The Los Angeles Lakers sit at 8-15, but the season has seen steady improvements across the roster from last season. The Lakers currently have the eighth-best defensive rating in the NBA thanks to the improved play of holdovers Jordan Clarkson, Julius Randle and Brandon Ingram coupled with the arrival of Brook Lopez, Lonzo Ball and Kyle Kuzma. They have more talent and are all around a better squad than they were last season, now it’s up to Head Coach Luke Walton and the players putting it all together.

Bright Spot: The Lakers have plenty to be happy about at the season’s quarter mark. Making the jump from dead last in defensive rating into the top ten is no small feat, while Clarkson has played great all-around basketball and Ingram has started to figure things out as a scorer. But Kuzma is the obvious choice. Kuzma has looked like the steal of the 2017 NBA Draft, shattering all expectations and proving a cornerstone for the Lakers future. Currently averaging 16.8 points, 6.5 rebounds and 1.5 assists, Kuzma is the only rookie to lead his team in scoring

Biggest Area to Improve: The Lakers need help offensively; they rank 28th in NBA in offensive rating and are dead last in both three-point and free throw percentage. While their defense is, for the most part, keeping them in games, the offense just doesn’t have enough firepower to close things out on a regular basis. If they want to improve on the offensive end, they are going to need to get more out of Ball, who has flashed at times but is shooting just 25 percent from three and only 31.3 percent from the field on over 10 attempts per game.

First Quarter Grade: C

Los Angeles Clippers 8-14

It was a promising four-game start for the Los Angeles Clippers, but it’s all been downhill ever since. Decimated by injuries, the Clippers have lost 14 of their last 18 games, including a nine-game losing streak. They have struggled without Blake Griffin, who will miss significant time with an MCL injury, while their offseason acquisitions have done little to fill the void left by the departure of Chris Paul. With a middle of the pack offense, a bad defense and deteriorating health, the Clippers could be starring down the road of a long rebuild.

Bright Spot: The Clippers don’t have much to be happy about right now. But at least DeAndre Jordan has continued to play well in the absence of both Paul, Griffin and most of the starting lineup. On the season, Jordan has averaged 10.4 points and 13.9 rebounds per game while shooting 68.3 percent from the floor.

Biggest Area to Improve: Griffin, Patrick Beverley, Milos Teodosic and Danilo Gallinari, four starters, have all missed or are currently missing time due to injury. Their situation has forced the Clippers to rely on rookies Sindarius Thornwell and Jawun Evans more than any team would ever want to. If the injury situation ever improves, the team’s play should improve drastically.

First Quarter Grade: D

Golden State Warriors 19-6

The Pacific Division would likely be the worst division in the NBA if not for the Golden State Warriors. Aside from a few upsets, the regular season has been par for the course for the offensive juggernaut, who sit at the top of the Pacific Division and second in the Western Conference behind the Houston Rockets.

Bright Spot: On a team filled with superstars, rookie Jordan Bell has flashed some serious potential, albeit in a limited role. Bell is averaging just 4.2 points and 2.9 rebounds across 10.2 minutes per game, but is seventh on the team in plus-minus at +3.9. In his lone start, Bell stuffed the stat sheet, going for seven points, six rebounds, four assists, two steals and six blocks in just over 26 minutes. He’s looking like an absolute steal for the Warriors, who got him from the Bulls for a measly

Biggest Area to Improve: It almost seems nitpicky to say the Warriors need to improve anywhere. They are a well-rounded basketball machine, evidenced by their 12.9 net rating. But, if they had to improve somewhere, it would be on defense. The offense will keep them in and often outright win them games, but a team with as much talent as the Warriors have should be able to post a defensive rating under 100. Currently, their defensive rating sits at 101.7, “only” seventh best in the NBA. They can be better, which should be scary for the rest of the Association.

First Quarter Grade: A-

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