We don’t know when the next NBA season will begin, but whenever it does, three of the best five teams in the league will be in the Pacific Division.
The Golden State Warriors, Los Angeles Lakers and L.A. Clippers will all be championship contenders in 2021. LeBron James and Anthony Davis look poised to lead the Lakers to the title this year, while the Clippers will have one of the deepest rosters in the league once again centered around Kawhi Leonard and Paul George.
Golden State’s general manager Bob Myers has some work to do to build the roster around Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson and Draymond Green. Andrew Wiggins, Eric Paschall, Kevon Looney and Marquese Chriss should be a part of head coach Steve Kerr’s rotation as well.
But, one thing has become apparent during the postseason; the Dubs need to add some frontcourt depth if they want to compete with the big boys next season. Davis has been dominant for L.A, averaging 29.1 points and 9.3 rebounds during the postseason, with no opposing player being able to slow him down.
The Lakers owned the Miami Heat in Game 1 with their size. The Heat’s usually suffocating defense was reduced to a pulp as L.A. continued to have its way at the rim and got to the free-throw line 27 times. A lot of the easy points came off penetrate and dish plays, where AD is devastating. Davis is shooting 82.3% from within 3 feet during the playoffs, while James has been a bully in the paint during the games in Orlando.
Lakers head coach Frank Vogel has made adjustments to his lineup based on the opponent. When L.A. slapped around the Houston Rockets in second-round, he changed things up, deciding to remove JaVale McGee from the starting lineup after losing Game 1. The Lakers inserted Dwight Howard into the starting 5 when Nikola Jokic gave them fits during the Western Conference Final.
Having the versatility to go big has been a massive plus for Vogel. At 6’10, Davis has the size to start at the 5, but the Lakers have the luxury of moving him to the power forward spot with McGee or Howard on the floor. James is simply massive for a small forward and can overmatch anyone guarding him with his bulk. LeBron and Markieff Morris give Vogel the option of moving Davis to center, while not loosing too much size on the floor.
Offensively, the Lakers and Clippers (who admittedly choked) both score a ton in-close, ranking Nos. 1 and 2 in percentage of points in the paint out all 16 playoff teams.
The Warriors have the nucleus to win a championship, but it will be up to Myers to add the size they need to slow down Davis in a potential playoff series. Looney has proven he can hold his own, but his injury-history remains a concern. Chriss is still a project and can’t be relied upon to match up with Davis at this stage of his career.
Kerr could also move Green to center, something he often did when Golden State rolled out its death lineup of Dray, Curry, Thompson, Kevin Durant and Andre Iguodala. Unfortunately, the Dubs with being without the former and the latter.
When the death lineup was on the floor during the 2018-19 season, they outscored opponents by a whopping 32 points per 100 possessions. With Durant healthy for all of the 2017-18 postseason, Golden State gave up an offensive rebounding rate of 25.6%, per Cleaning the Glass, which would be tied for fourth-worst in these playoffs. All three of the Lakers’ opponents are among the bottom-six playoff teams in this stat.
Green is willing to play center, but it would be difficult asking him to guard Davis for an entire playoff series. Watching how the Lakers have abused opponents with their size during the playoffs shows why Myers can’t rely on Green to play the 5 every night.
Clint Capela doesn’t strike much fear in anyone, but even he averaged a double-double when the Rockets almost knocked off the Dubs in 2018. McGee and Zaza Pachulia were Golden State’s traditional big men in that series. Neither player was relied upon by Kerr.
The NBA changed to a spacing-based offense because of the Warriors’ success. Now, the Lakers have used similar concepts but made sure they have enough size throughout the roster to dictate the pace of the game.
Myers will have plenty of ways to address the frontcourt. He can use the mid-level exception to sign a big man in free agency. With limited financial resources, the realistic targets include Marc Gasol, Hassan Whiteside, Aron Baynes, Dwight Howard, Robin Lopez and Enes Kanter. Serge Ibaka and Tristan Thompson will also be UFA’s, but they might be out of the Dubs’ price-range.
There are a couple of big men available at the draft in Onyeka Okongwu and James Wiseman, but would you trust them guarding Davis for 15-to-20 minutes a game in the playoffs?
Golden State has the best backcourt in the league, with the Splash Brothers, so that is one area they will have the advantage. Green should produce at a level closer to when Curry and Thompson were in the lineup, while Wiggins projects to be a good complementary piece. The fifth-player who starts or finishes the game remains up in the air.
This is where Myers needs to be smart. Getting a veteran center will help, but the Warriors also need some 3-and-D wing players with some size. Draft prospects Devin Vassell and Tyrese Haliburton could be valuable pieces, but Myers can also address this need with the $17.2 million trade exception from the Iguodala deal.
The Dubs will be among the best teams in the NBA again next season, but they will have a tough time replicating their success from their five-year run if they don’t adapt to what their divisional rivals have done.