Basketball in California is going to be sizzling hot. The Sacramento Kings are hopeful that this can be the season that finally gets their franchise into the playoffs for the first time since 2006. The Los Angeles Clippers are out for revenge after blowing a 3-1 lead to the Denver Nuggets in the first round. California has been represented in the NBA Finals the last six seasons, and these two teams are looking to continue that run.
After an injury-depleted season, the Golden State Warriors snapped a five-year streak of making it to the NBA championship. Last season, the Los Angeles Lakers marched through the league to win it all. As the 2020-2021 season is right around the corner, which team will take the Pacific Division and more?
The Duel Of The Superstars
With Davis resigning with the Lakers, the team owns the best superstar tandem in the league. Even at the age of 36 (turns this age on December 30), James has shown no signs of slowing down after averaging 25.3 points, 7.8 rebounds, and a career-high 10.3 assists per game. Davis will turn 28 years old next season and is coming off a season that saw him average 26.1 points, 9.3 rebounds, and 2.3 blocks per game. Not to mention, Davis should also be in the conversation for the league’s Defensive Player of the Year. He was only second to reigning DPOY winner Giannis Antetokounmpo in nearly every major defensive efficiency category.
The Warriors lost Klay Thompson for the season with a torn Achilles tendon. If Thompson was on the list, Golden State would have a real shot at contending with the Lakers’ superstars. Curry is back and healthy after playing in just five games last season. When Curry is on the floor, he can score nearly 30 points each night. The world is still waiting on Wiggins, the former No. 1 overall pick in 2014, to produce as a “Batman.” Last year, Wiggins averaged 19.4 points, 4.6 rebounds, and 3.6 assists. Despite playing for six years, Wiggins has never made an All-Star game. That has to change this year if the Warriors want to keep pace.
The Lakers were a top-5 team in defensive efficiency last season. While Gasol is not in his prime anymore, the 35-year old can serve as a veteran voice and as a role player for Davis. Also, Gasol is a former Defensive Player of the Year. He only will make the defense better. We already know about what the seven-time All-Star Davis can produce offensively and defensively. The Lakers own one of the better frontcourts in the league. Kentavious Caldwell-Pope and Wes Matthews both shot over 38% from three-point range last season. Throw in LeBron as your point guard and this team has a very respectable starting lineup.
Watching what Curry and Wiggins can do together in a full season has brought a level of intrigue to the table. That could be a combined 55 points every night. Draymond Green had a down year statistically compared to years in the past, but he is nowhere past his prime. Green was hurt last year, which kept him off the All-NBA Defensive Team for a sixth straight season. He can play toe-to-toe with anybody. Kelly Oubre averaged 18.7 points last season for the Suns, and that seems to get washed away.
No. 2 overall pick James Wiseman is a dealbreaker. Before Wiseman was suspended at Memphis, he was on pace to be the guaranteed No. 1 overall pick in the draft. At 7-foot-1, 240-pounds, Wiseman has an NBA-ready body. While the Warriors are known more for their guard play over the last couple of years, Wiseman should contribute immediately to make the Warriors a much better team. The starting lineup is a real toss-up because we can say Curry & Wiggins and LeBron and Davis offset. Green and Oubre can also offset Matthews and Caldwell-Pope. With the hype of Wiseman and the age of Gasol, we can give a slight nod to the Warriors here.
Lakers Bench: Dennis Schroeder, Alex Caruso, Zavier Simpson, Quinn Cook, Talen Horton-Tucker, Markieff Morris, Kyle Kuzma, Alfonzo McKinnie, Kostas Antetokounmpo, Montrezl Harrell
Warriors Bench: Brad Wanamaker, Mychal Murder, Nico Mannion, Yam Madar, Jordan Poole, Juan Toscano-Anderson, Justinian Jessup, Damion Lee, Kent Bazemore, Dwayne Sutton, Eric Paschall, Marquesse Chriss, Kevon Looney, Alen Smailagic
The Lakers managed to not get just one potential Sixth Man of the Year, but two. The Lakers signed former Clippers big man and 2020 Sixth Man of the Year power forward Montrezl Harrell. The 26-year old is coming off a season where he averaged 18.6 points and 7.1 rebounds per game. There’s also Dennis Schroeder, who averaged more than 18 points a game last season and was the Runner Up for Sixth Man of the Year. That is as good as a 1-2 punch off the bench that we have ever seen in recent years.
Among others, Markieff Morris is a solid defender and can serve as the team’s power forward if Davis ever needs to move to the center position. You can’t forget Kyle Kuzma, who can be a Sixth Man of the Year candidate. Kuzma averaged nearly 19 points a game before last season, so he could be this team’s version of Lou Williams. Alex Caruso was the team’s starting point guard in the NBA Finals, while Quinn Cook is an NBA champion with a lethal three-point shot when used.
The Warriors don’t have a lot to offer after their starting lineup. The days of looking at the bench and asking for big minutes from Andre Iguodala, Shaun Livingston, and Zaza Pachulia are over. However, we should give head coach Steve Kerr credit. He made players like Ian Clark, and Patrick McCaw contribute during the team’s title runs. He will likely do the same with Kent Bazemore, Damion Lee, and Brad Wanamaker. True title teams have a deep bench and this bench is nowhere near what it used to be.
Coach: Frank Vogel vs. Steve Kerr
Frank Vogel solidified his place in NBA history last season. When the Lakers swung out on every coaching choice before the 2019-2020 season, the media laughed when the franchise hired Vogel. Instead, Vogel changed the identity of this team by getting everyone to believe in team defense. As a defensive unit, the Lakers allowed the fourth-fewest points (107.6) per game, allowed the seventh-best three-point shot percentage (34.9%) and held opposing teams to the second-fewest rebounds per game (42.2). Vogel once led the Indiana Pacers to the Eastern Conference Finals with the same principles when he was coaching Paul George.
How can you go against Kerr though? Ever since Kerr landed in Golden State, all the team does is win. The only outlier was when last season the team once featured a lineup that didn’t contain Curry, Thompson, Green, or D’Angelo Russell (before he was traded). Other than that, Kerr led the Warriors to five straight appearances in the NBA Finals and three NBA championships. Again, the loss of Thompson for the year is catastrophic to the team’s chances of winning it all. However, if there is a coach that can take a shattered glass and glue it back together to something beautiful, it’s Kerr.
The Warriors have more questions than answers. Will Curry play like his former MVP self? Can Wiggins play like Thompson offensively, while who will step up and fill the defensive void? How good is Wiseman going to be? Will the bench provide the starting lineup a break, or will it break down and allow opposing teams in? For now, the Warriors have talent, but not enough answers on how that talent will produce at a high level.
In the end, the Lakers have the depth and talent to repeat as NBA champions. The moves for Harrell and Schroder give the Lakers the best bench headliners in the league. LeBron and Davis are two of the top-5 players in the NBA right now. Plus, LeBron is on a mission to chase down Michael Jordan and cement his legacy. It’s going to be interesting to see which teams have a shot to dethrone the Lakers. As of now, the Warriors are not one of those teams.