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Grades At 20 Games: Pacific Division

The Pacific Division is one of the more competitive in the NBA, even with an unfamiliar cellar dweller.

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We continue grading the first quarter of the season with today’s look at the Pacific Division. While the Warriors and Clippers are ahead of the pack, the Suns and Kings are each hovering right around the .500 mark while the Lakers continue what fans hope is the rebuilding process.

Here are their grades through 20 (or so) games:

1. Golden State Warriors (19-2)

While the debate of Steve Kerr vs. former coach Mark Jackson continues to make the rounds in the news, the truth of the matter is each man has been instrumental in the development of this team. Jackson took a young, talented, but somewhat lost group of players and helped instill a confidence and camaraderie that was vital throughout their early development. Now, Kerr’s philosophy and approach appear to be the perfect fit for a group that has yet to advance beyond the second round of the postseason.

Put simply, if even relatively healthy – especially at the key positions and in the frontcourt – the Warriors should absolutely be expected to compete for the Western Conference crown this season. They really don’t have any noticeable flaws as a team. Beyond being one of the deeper rotations in the league, Kerr’s Warriors rebound well, defend, share the ball and are easily one of the more high-powered offenses.

Stephen Curry (23 PPG, 7.7 APG, 5.1 RPG) is a legitimate MVP candidate and has clearly grown into one of the league’s best point guards. A real argument could be made about the ever-improving Klay Thompson and Curry being the most talented backcourt, rather than simply regarding them as the best shooting duo.

Harrison Barnes looks as though he’s rebounding from a rough 2013-14, and the versatility that Draymond Green has provided in Kerr’s system has truly been a difference-maker for the Warriors so far this season.

They’ve endured the early loss of David Lee, but it will be interesting to see how they react and adjust if they are without the services of starting center Andrew Bogut for any extended period of time. His statistics may not turn many heads (7.1 PPG, 9.3 RPG, 2.2 BPG), but Bogut provides a low-post presence these Warriors simply haven’t been able to supplement when missing in past years.

Grade: A+

Los Angeles Clippers (16-5)

After a bit of a slow start, the Clippers are finally looking like the Western Conference contenders many of us anticipated heading into the season. A nine-game winning streak will do that for you, but with a franchise transition now complete, these Clippers are now faced with the expectations that come along with being one of the league’s better teams.

Questions about the production (and consistency) they receive from the small forward position may still exist, but for now Matt Barnes has been as solid as can be expected. The jury is still out on Reggie Bullock, but the front office has at least another month (now that he’s healthy and available) to determine whether additional swingman firepower will be necessary before running up against the trade deadline (Feb. 19).

In the meantime, a steady diet of Blake Griffin, Chris Paul, Jamal Crawford and J.J. Redick should be enough offense to win a bunch of regular season contests, but the question remains if enough players beyond Barnes and DeAndre Jordan (12.6 RPG, 2.6 BPG) consistently do enough of the dirty work on the defensive end and particularly beneath the basket to finally lead this team beyond the second round of the postseason?

We definitely look forward to seeing just how much these Clippers challenge the Warriors for Pacific Division supremacy over the next few months. They still have three games against each other remaining, including a Christmas Day showdown at Staples Center in Los Angeles.

Grade: A-

Phoenix Suns (12-11)

The Suns still boast one of the league’s fastest-paced offenses (105.5 PPG), but the trouble is they also surrender the fifth-most points per contest (103.9). The tempo of their play is to blame for a portion of that, but the fact that they still reside in an ever-challenging Western Conference and no longer have the benefit of the element of surprise last year’s team definitely enjoyed can also explain their slight regression.

Goran Dragic and Eric Bledsoe remain one of the league’s most exciting backcourt duos, and Isaiah Thomas has provided Jeff Hornacek with the type of steady bench production (15.5 PPG, 4.1 APG) most coaches dream of. The Morris twins have been fantastic (especially Markieff) and Gerald Green continues to impress, even in a slightly diminished role from last season.

The Suns actually have six players currently averaging double-figures in scoring, but – like others on this list – Phoenix may need to consider additional frontcourt depth in order to add some interior toughness and a rim-protector if they are to remain in the playoff discussion since former fifth-overall pick Alex Len and Miles Plumlee each still need time to develop.

Grade: B-

Sacramento Kings (11-12)

Time will tell if this lasts, but the Sacramento Kings have been one of the biggest surprises and brightest spots of the early season. DeMarcus Cousins seems to have really benefited from his time with Team USA and has entered the year shocking some with MVP-level play and leadership for a franchise and fan base that hasn’t enjoyed a winning season since 2005-06.

With Cousins out indefinitely due to viral meningitis, head coach Mike Malone is going to need guys to pick up the slack on both ends. Rudy Gay will have to lead the attack, but Darren Collison and Ben McLemore will need to provide increased and steady contributions too.

A combination of Jason Thompson, Carl Landry and veteran Reggie Evans may be able to offset some of the post production lost without their team leader, but it will be difficult for the Kings to maintain this pace without the 23.5 points, 12.6 rebounds and 1.5 blocks they are accustomed to counting on from Cousins. In the past, his outbursts were clearly a detriment to these Kings, but now the team actually feeds off his emotion… not to mention his impressive skills.

Grade: B-

Los Angeles Lakers (6-16)

Unless you entered the year with unrealistic expectations for these Lakers, this start really isn’t all that surprising for Kobe Bryant and Co. While Bryant’s name is still on the marquee, head coach Byron Scott’s inaugural season at the helm was really to have been about the development of Julius Randle.

Once Randle went down with what will likely be a season-ending injury (broken tibia) on opening night, not only should expectations have been curbed, but the focus immediately and quite unavoidably shifted to the uncertainty surrounding next year’s top-five protected lottery pick owed to the Suns.

Randle should make a full recovery and purple and gold faithful will be ready to welcome him back in 2015-16, but if you’re the Lakers you absolutely cannot afford to hand a lottery pick to a team on the rise and within your own division.

We all know the immense amount of pride that resides within Bryant, the organization and admittedly-spoiled fan base, but whether it tugs at the chords of your ego or not, the reality is these Lakers could really benefit from continuing to bottom-out and head into what could be Bryant’s final year in the league with a returning Randle, another young asset and perhaps even a key free agent acquisition or two.

The team has been able to compete on many nights, but it still hasn’t resulted in very many wins. They may never acknowledge it, but if you give an unbiased look at the roster that could very well be by design.

Grade: D-

Be sure to take a look at our Southeast, Central and Atlantic division grades as well!

Jabari Davis is a senior NBA Writer and Columnist for Basketball Insiders, covering the Pacific Division and NBA Social Media activity.

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