SB Nation NBA Pacific Division previews: Clippers, Warriors clearly top contenders

The L.A. Clippers are hoping for big things from DeAndre Jordan. The Golden State Warriors have Andrew Bogut. We should feel good. - Jeff Gross

With SB Nation having completed its previews of the Pacific Division this week, we begin to take stock of teams competing with the Golden State Warriors for the division title.

Atma has already provided an overview of the Golden State Warriors this week and Andy offered a "somewhat exhaustive team preview" as well, but SB Nation just completed its previews of every team in the Pacific Division today.

So where do the Warriors stand compared to their Pacific Division peers?

Earlier today, Sam Sorkin wrote up a fan post briefly previewing the Pacific and predicted that the Warriors would go 12-4 against division opponents. But how do other fans around the league think about about the Pacific?

Here's a quick roundup of some key themes from around the division.

Los Angeles Clippers

Remember when the Warriors were eager to pay DeAndre Jordan a lot of money to be the answer in the post? Well, after the Clippers paid him that money to retain him instead before trying to trade him this summer, SBN's Ricky O'Donnell suggests that Jordan's performance this season could be the difference between the Clippers being "good" and "great".

The Clippers allowed 97.8 points per 100 possessions without Jordan on the floor last year, per NBA.com, a mark that would have ranked third-best in the league. With him, that number jumped 104.1 points per 100, which would have placed L.A. No. 21 in defensive efficiency.

Can Jordan really go from a gaping hole in the middle to the defensive stalwart the Clippers' title hopes rest on?

It would take massive gains, but it's possible.

And if there's anything that could potentially short circuit the Clippers' title hopes, it's their defense, as Steve Perrin of Clips Nation elaborated on in his preview of the team.

...they had some defensive shortcomings to be sure -- and all those upgrades to shooting throughout the roster were accompanied by a few likely downgrades among individual defenders. Neither Redick nor Dudley can be described as wing stoppers (though they are as good as or better than last year's starting wings, Butler and Chauncey Billups). But the real problem comes in the front court, where the departed Odom was arguably the team's best defender last season, while Jamison is a defensive train wreck and Mullens isn't much better.

Yet regardless of what happens on the defensive end, the Clippers have the tools to be lethal offensively after acquiring J.J. Redick this offseason as SBN's Drew Garrison describes.

Redick's off-ball movement means Doc Rivers will have a player to use in a role similar to Ray Allen's during his heyday with the Boston Celtics. But it's not just Redick's ability to create his own shot that makes him a great fit for Rivers' team. His natural ability to extend his motion after catching the ball, coupled with his passing ability, turns him into a chaotic off-ball passing threat defenses must address.

As bizarre - or refreshing - as it might sound to long-time NBA fans, the Clippers and the Warriors should be battling it out for Pacific Division supremacy and it should produce some fun head-to-head battles in the process.

Los Angeles Lakers

Is it even possible for a Warriors fan to discuss the Lakers objectively?

No?

Ok.

Read this about Jordan Hill needing to play more and let's move on.

Phoenix Suns

The Suns took gigantic leaps backwards in the 2012-13 season and SBN's Mike Prada did a great breakdown looking at two reasons why: Steve Nash's departure (obviously) and the loss of Channing Frye who was forced to sit out the season due to health concerns.

The brilliance of Nash helped make these plays happen, but Frye's presence is also important. The threat of Frye's shooting gave Gortat more open lanes to roll, catch and finish at the rim. It's no accident that Gortat had the best season of his career feasting on these types of plays. In 2011-12, Gortat averaged 4.8 plays finished per game as the roll man on a pick-and-roll, according to MySynergySports.com. That number was chopped in half last year, even though Gortat only averaged 1.2 fewer minutes per game.

Although nobody has high expectations for the Suns, their fans have a couple of reasons for excitement in their backcourt: rookie Archie Goodwin, whose hype began in summer league, and Eric Bledsoe, a player whose still something of an unknown commodity according to SBN's Jonathan Tjarks.

Bledsoe's limited minutes in Los Angeles were mainly the result of Vinny Del Negro's impressively uncreative rotation patterns...[at Kentucky, John] Wall's presence allowed John Calipari to unleash Bledsoe on the opposition, freeing him up to wreak havoc on both ends of the floor.

A similar dynamic could occur in Phoenix. Goran Dragic, at 6'3 and 190 pounds, has the size to cross-match defensive assignments. As a result, Bledsoe could have a role similar to Avery Bradley in Boston, except with much, much more offense. He can take the tougher defensive assignment in the backcourt on most nights, pressing and ball-hawking up the floor. If Jeff Hornacek wants to run a more up-tempo system, Bledsoe is the perfect catalyst for a Nuggets South.

It's definitely a(nother?) transition year for the Suns, but this isn't a team without talent to build on either.

Sacramento Kings

There's no question that the Kings have made some improvements, but Tom Ziller of Sactown Royalty summed up the outlook for their season well.

...the sum of all of that (offseason) action is that the Kings still don't look like a remotely good team. And no one -- not Vivek, not Malone, not D'Alessandro -- is talking about making the playoffs this year.

That brings up a question unique to Sacramento in this moment: how much patience do fans have left?

At the same time, there's reason for hope for the Kings as outlined by SBN's Drew Garrison: they're deeper than they have been, due in part to the addition of former Warriors reserve Carl Landry.

The coaching staff will have plenty of positional depth to sort through with the additions of players like Greivis Vasquez and Carl Landry. It's a new leadership group, new head coach and fresh start for the franchise going into the 2013-2014 season.

But from a Warriors' perspective, what the Kings look like on paper almost doesn't matter: for whatever reason, they play the Warriors close every year almost as if the two teams were rivals or something.

- - -

It has been a very, very long time since the Golden State Warriors have been so widely considered a top preseason contender for the Pacific Division title. And with some of the uncertainty surrounding the Warriors alleviated with news of Bogut's health, the Warriors' advantage in chemistry and defense might end up making the difference in the race for the Pacific.

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