Western Conference, Pacific Division: Season In Review
Los Angeles Lakers
2011-12 Record: 40-26, 5th in the Eastern Conference
2011-12 Draft Picks (Pre-Lottery): 22, 43 (from Phoenix)
Needs: C, PG, SF
Players Selected in Past Two Drafts on Roster: Darius Morris (2011 - 41st), Andrew Goudelock (2011 - 46th)Devin Ebanks (2010 - 43rd), Derrick Caracter (2010 - 58th)
Overview: Another year, another top finish in the Western Conference, making it five straight seasons the Lakers have clinched the Pacific Division title. Kobe Bryant narrowly missed out on a scoring title with 27.9 points per game, although he posted the worst field-goal mark in over ten years. Andrew Bynum is transforming into the dominant center we knew he could be. Offensively, he has made advances in scoring at the rim, but defensively, he has taken massive strides into a tremendous rim protector. And Pau Gasol continued to be one of the top power forwards in the game with his third straight season averaging a 17+ points, 10+ rebounds and 3+ assists. But the real story here was the Lakers appeared to finally get the point guard they desperately needed in Ramon Sessions.
Los Angeles was in the top ten of nearly every statistical category this past season, but did drop a bit in most of them due to increased offensive efficiency that had the team fall from 101.5 points per game to 97.3 points.
One major concern moving forward is the Lakers' age- they were the league's third-oldest team this season with Kobe Bryant aging, but continuing to play through injuries.
Needs: This team has put together a significant run over the last five seasons, winning two NBA titles and made a third appearance in the finals in 2008. But is their run over? LA's age showed as the team slowed down in the 2011 postseason and they aren't getting any younger, while teams like Oklahoma City, the Clippers, Memphis and Utah seem to have much brighter futures ahead of them.
Locked up for the next two seasons, Pau Gasol will hope that the Lakers re-sign Andrew Bynum to create a formidable tandem that dominated the glass this past season; they combined to average 22+ rebounds, 36+ points and 3.5 blocks per game. However, the team's two small forwards Metta World Peace and Matt Barnes did not add much offensively, particularly World Peace, who has seen his PER fall each of the last five seasons. While him and Barnes are primarily defenders by nature, each are at least 32 years old. World Peace has one year left plus a player option for a second, while Barnes may be finding himself a new home in free agency this summer.
Throughout the years, LA has lacked a 2-guard talented enough to back-up Kobe Bryant and give him a chance to rest. This is primarily because Bryant's competitive nature and high-level of play make him near-impossible to take off the court, but as the injuries mount, LA will have to find a capable wing with their late-first-round picks, if not this year, then next.
Sessions is a free agent with a player option for 2012-13 and needs to be re-signed. His ability to score the basketball from the perimeter and penetrating into the lane, while also make his teammates better make him an invaluable asset to the team. Last year's first-round pick, Darius Morris, didn't show anything during his rookie season to warrant any promise moving forward.
Los Angeles Clippers
2011-12 Record: 40-26, 5th in the Eastern Conference
2011-12 Draft Picks (Pre-Lottery): 22, 43 (from Phoenix)
Needs: C, PG, SF
Players Selected in Past Two Drafts on Roster: Trey Thompkins (2011 - 37th), Travis Leslie (2011 - 47th), Eric Bledsoe (2010 - 18th)
Overview: In the shortened season, "Lob City" drastically turned the ship around, going from a .390 winning percentage to upwards of .620 in 2011-12. Of course, the addition of All-Star point guard Chris Paul and the development of Blake Griffin in the frontcourt was behind most of that. Paul led the league in steals for the second-consecutive year and narrowly missed out on collecting the best assist-to-turnover ratio in the NBA, but still managed to finish in the top three every year since 2006-07. Griffin joined the elite ranks of the 20/10 club, one of just three players to accomplish that feat, joining Dwight Howard and Kevin Love.
23-year old center DeAndre Jordan did not take the step forward we had hoped offensively during his fourth year in the league, but has tremendous potential as a defensive force; with his length and athleticism, Jordan mustered 2+ blocks and 8+ rebounds per game. He is an offensive post-move away from being a consistent double-double force next to Blake Griffin.
Also consider here, the up-and-down season that was; Chauncey Billups was lost for the year after 20 games, averaging 15.0 points (third on the team) and 4.0 assists (second). The Clippers were 13-7 with him (.650 winning percentage) and 27-17 without him (.614). His absence force Los Angeles to acquire former-Washington Wizard, Nick Young, who filled in nicely scoring the basketball (14.5 points), but wasn't the creator, nor the perimeter shooter Billups was. Coach Vinny Del Negro lost 8 of 12 at one point, nearly costing him his job, but followed that up by winning 13 of the next 15.
Needs: There is some potential for turnover here, especially in the backcourt- Randy Foye, Nick Young, Chauncey Billups are all free agents this summer. Backup to Chris Paul, Mo Williams, is a free agent as well, but has a player option for $8.5 million he is expected to pick-up. Eric Bledose showed some serious potential late in the season- he is a great athlete with electric quickness, demonstrating his skills in the open court when the Clippers get out and run.
Playing two point guards at a time makes the Clippers vulnerable defensively when they get matched up with bigger guards, but the rotation worked out as Los Angeles was an efficient 1.20 points per shot last year due to the high assist rate of Paul, Williams and Billups. A scoring shooting guard or small forward would be a great addition- someone to replace the expected losses from free agency. Nick Young, if re-signed, could be this threat, but if he commands money or decides to split, shooting guard will be a definite need. Caron Butler signed a three-year deal in December, but had his least productive year since his sophomore year in the NBA, dating back to 2003-04. His offensive game is trending the wrong way.
2011-12 Record: 33-33, 10th in the Western Conference
2011-12 Draft Picks (Pre-Lottery): 13
Needs: SG, SF, PG, PF
Players Selected in Past Two Drafts on Roster: Markieff Morris (2011 - 13th overall)
Overview: The Suns have less than half of their current pay-roll committed to next season, potentially ridding themselves of aging veterans Grant Hill, Michael Redd and Mickael Pietrus. The one exception here, and it's a pretty big one, is that of two-time league MVP, Steve Nash, who is still playing at a high-level at age 38. His quickness is diminishing, but his floor leadership and court vision are still amongst the league's best as he was second in the NBA in assists per game (although his turnovers were at a five-year high). If not for Nash, this team would have been far out of playoff contention.
The building block of this team moving forward will be Marcin Gortat in his first-year as a starting center in this league; he averaged team-bests of 15.7 points and 10.0 rebounds, shooting nearly 56 percent from the floor to go along with 1.5 blocks per game. Because of his mobility, he has been the primary beneficiary of Nash's passes off the pick-and-roll and the occasion pick-and-pop from the mid-wing. Without Nash, Gortat's game will most definitely suffer.
Other than Gortat and Nash, nearly every other player compiling the Suns' roster is better suited coming off the bench. Jared Dudley is a solid role player based on his high-basketball IQ and fundamentally sound game. Channing Frye is a rare breed- a spot-up big man with 3-point range, but a weak defensive player and an even worse rebounder. It should only be a matter of time before rookie forward Markieff Morris unseats Frye as the starter; he's tougher, a much better rebounder and a sufficient stroke from midrange with the ability to finish at the rim. If Phoenix can keep Steve Nash in town, Morris will no doubt benefit from Nash's deliveries.
Unfortunately, the frontcourt depth is locked up for another two years with players like Frye, Dudley, Hakim Warrick and Josh Childress. Don't get us wrong- these players are talented role players, but Phoenix was one of the worst rebounding teams in the league on both ends of the floor last season.
Needs: If Phoenix wants to keep Steve Nash around for another year or two or even three, they need to surround him with the weapons to succeed. He was the sole reason the offense ranked as highly as it did in assist and turnover ratios last season as he continues to run the pick-and-roll and transition offense to perfection. But a successor is needed and the Suns are in a great position to find one in this year's draft. However, Nash will most likely jet for a championship contender this offseason.
The Suns also need to upgrade both wing positions- last season, they plugged the gaps with Vince Carter and Michael Redd- two former-stars on the steep decline of their career. Shannon Brown is not a starting-caliber shooting guard, yet is used like one in Phoenix. Any point guard, whether its Nash or another, need an option to knock down the open 3-point attempt or better yet, one with the quickness to penetrate the gaps and attack the rim. Phoenix hasn't had this type of player in quite some time.
Like we mentioned before, the Suns were one of the worst-rebounding teams in the league last season, allowing opponents to attack their own offensive glass for put-backs and second-chance points. Aside from Gortat and a rookie in Morris, the rotation lacks the size and toughness to fight for loose balls.
Golden State Warriors
2011-12 Record: 23-43, 13th in the Western Conference
2011-12 Draft Picks (Pre-Lottery): 7, 29 (from San Antonio Spurs), 35 (from New Jersey Nets), 52 (from Atlanta Hawks)
Needs: SF, PG, PF
Players Selected in Past Two Drafts on Roster: Klay Thompson (2011 - 11th overall), Jeremy Tyler (2011 - 39th), Charles Jenkins (2011 - 44th), Chris Wright (2011 - undrafted)
Overview: Golden State did what they had to do this season to better the outlook of the franchise- trade scoring (and shooting) machine, Monta Ellis- the team's leading scorer the previous two seasons. In the process, the Warriors' management team added in defensive-minded forward Ekpe Udoh and the expiring contract of center Kwame Brown for injury-prone, but potentially great, Andrew Bogut to anchor the middle for years to come (health permitting). The team gave up a hefty load for Bogut, who didn't play in a game in the 2011-12 season, averaged 12.7 points, 9.3 rebounds and 1.6 blocks per game when he did play. He is certainly an upgrade over another injury-prone center, Andris Biedrins, who is on a steep decline the last few seasons.
Add in starting power forward, David Lee, a former All-Star, was the team's leading scorer at over 20 points per game and has shot above 50 percent each of his seven seasons in the NBA thus far. Lee's skill set is an excellent fit for Golden State's offense which allows him to handle the ball on the perimeter, pass and knock down the mid-range shot. And while he is one of the better rebounding 4s in the Western Conference, coach Mark Jackson is hoping that Lee's defensive inadequacies will be hidden playing with a shot-blocking Bogut on the backline.
The backcourt will shine for years to come with two excellent perimeter-shooters in Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson, who are capable of playing some point guard as well. Curry is one of the most gifted scorers in the game today, but his perimeter defending is still in question. At 6'3", he pairs well with the 6'7" Thompson, another long-range shooter, but one who is also a second-tier athlete by NBA standards. Rookie Charles Jenkins showed some poise and promise playing both backcourt positions off the bench.
Needs: Statistically, Golden State was the worst rebounding team in the NBA last season, especially on the defensive glass, but Biedrins missed nearly 20 games and played limited minutes and gathered minimal production in his slight action. Like we previously mentioned, Bogut missed the entire season due to injury and was only acquired mid-season.
A defensive minded small forward, not an aging one like Richard Jefferson, who is best suited for a backup role at this point in his career and a replacement to 60+game starter Dorrell Wright could be picked up in the draft.
The undersized Nate Robinson, is a free agent this offseason, but did what he has always done best this past year, score the basketball. Golden State should look for another backcourt scoring punch this summer, especially with the recent ankle injuries to Curry.
2011-12 Record: 22-44, 14th in the Western Conference
2011-12 Draft Picks (Pre-Lottery): 6, 36
Needs: C, SF, PG
Players Selected in Past Two Drafts on Roster: Jimmer Fredette (2011 - 10th overall), Tyler Honeycutt (2011 - 35th), Isaiah Thomas (2011 - undrafted), DeMarcus Cousins (2010 - 5th), Hassan Whiteside (2010 - 33rd)
Overview: The only thing worse than the current roster makeup is the team's geographical/lease situation which has gone from bad-to-positive-to-drastically worse over the course of the season. There was a coaching change, which didn't turn the team around at all, in fact, their overall play, specifically their defensive efforts looked to get worse.
DeMarcus Cousins has the talent to be one of the best big men in the league, but at the same time, there is so much to dislike about this youngster. He can overpower opponents in the paint or he can take them outside, spread the defense thin and knock down the jumper. But his conditioning and attitude issues are what's holding him back from taking the next step; he has so many red flags surrounding him, it's an enormous question mark whether he will ever reach his lofty expectations.
In the backcourt, Tyreke Evans and Marcus Thornton combine to create an extremely talented offensive duo. Recently re-signed, Thornton is an aggressive, high-scoring (team-leading 18.7 points per game) shooting guard, but doesn't know when to say "no" to an attempt. He settles for too many jump shots, rarely getting to the foul line and lacks complete defensive intensity. Evans, on the other hand, penetrates at a high-rate, drawing fouls quite often, but struggles shooting the ball from the outside. His aggressiveness on the defensive side of the floor leaves a lot to be desired; when your starting backcourt plays as little defense as these two, and then combine with two more defensive impediments: Jimmer Fredette and Isaiah Thomas, it's no wonder Sacramento is one of the league's worst teams.
The aforementioned Isaiah Thomas, a 5'9" rookie guard from Washington, was one of the highlights of this year's draft class- he is more of a scoring point guard, but like his showed in his senior year and as he is showing Kings' fans now, he can also distribute the ball a bit. He can break down the defense and create for himself, as well as others, with his electric quickness, but he struggles to finish given his size.
Needs: Sacramento has spent two high picks in the last three drafts on its backcourt (Tyreke Evans and Jimmer Fredette) and then invested a decent amount on an extension (Marcus Thornton), but there needs to be improvement in terms of offensive efficiency; this group lacks a true play-maker, one that can run the offense and create for others. This team ranked in the bottom-five in assist ratio, turnover ratio and effective field-goal percentage. Although the Kings were top-ten in the league in points per game, they were right near the bottom in overall offensive efficiency and desperately need to re-configure this backcourt in the near-future to find themselves a true point guard.
While the backcourt is a situation that needs to be addressed, the team also needs to improve both of its starting forwards next to Cousins or find a true center to push Cousins to power forward: Jason Thompson, Donte Green and Francisco Garcia all started a handful of games this season, but all are backups on a playoff-caliber team.