Big changes have taken place on both Los Angeles teams, but clearly Golden State is the class of the NBA. Can some fantasy nuggets be discovered in Sacramento and Phoenix? Maybe. Let’s dive into the details.
Golden State Warriors
I know everyone is picking the Warriors to sweep the playoffs for their third championship this decade. I get it. But isn’t this team due for some injuries? Stephen Curry has played 78+ games each of the last five years. Draymond Green has played 76+ games each of his five seasons. Klay Thompson has played 77+ games each of the last five years. Some of this is athletic durability, sure, but it’s also dumb luck. Isn’t this team due for some adversity?
The roster has barely changed from last season. Curry, Thompson, Green, Kevin Durant and Zaza Pachulia will again be the starters, with Shaun Livingston, Andre Iguodala and JaVale McGee returning as the main support off the bench. New ring chasers Nick Young and Omri Casspi might have the best per-minute seasons of their careers, but the overall impact will be small. Let’s move on.
Los Angeles Clippers
The Chris Paul era is over for the Clippers, leaving the oft-injured Blake Griffin as the undisputed leader of the squad. CP3’s departure creates an interesting mix in the backcourt.
Guards: Patrick Beverley, Milos Teodosic, Austin Rivers, Lou Williams
Rivers can play both guard spots, but with Williams entering his 13th season, it’s assumed the Clippers will need Rivers to play more shooting guard. That’s been the case thus far in the preseason.
While it seems Williams has been around forever, he’s only 30 years old and averaged 25 minutes per game over 81 contests last year. There is still plenty of gas in the tank. I expect both Rivers and Williams to see roughly 24 minutes per game, with each getting extra minutes in occasional small-ball lineups.
The real intrigue is at point guard, with new arrivals Beverley and Teodosic fighting for the starting spot. Beverly got the start for game one of the preseason, but the two saw roughly equal minutes. Ideally, the Clippers could magically merge the two into one super guard, combining Beverly’s junkyard dawg defense with Teodosic’s magical passes. But that’s just crazy dreaming. Beverley will help tighten the D within the starting uni, while Teodosic will see regular minutes off the bench, helping spark what should be the best and deepest second unit of the Blake Griffin era in L.A.
Rivers might occasionally start Teodosic to mix things up, but there are too many lights-out star point guards for the Serbian import to keep up with. Doc knows he needs Beverley’s D.
Here is coach Doc Rivers discussing the point guard scenario with ESPN:
Los Angeles Lakers
Fans expecting the Lakers to make the playoffs sure are expecting new arrivals Lonzo Ball and Brook Lopez to gel quickly with their new teammates. There is too much youth and too many big egos for that to happen naturally. I think the first half of the season could be frustrating for the new Showtime crew. The talent is there for a long term improvement, though. Things might get messy at the two-guard spot.
Shooting Guards: Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, Jordan Clarkson, Kyle Kuzma
The starting unit really needs Caldwell-Pope’s three-and-D skillset, even if he isn’t all that great of a three-point shooter. And the bench needs Clarkson’s scoring. Yes, Clarkson is the bigger name for Lakers fans (he started 117 of 138 games his first two seasons), but remember he came off the bench for 63 contests last season under coach Luke Walton. Expect that to continue, with Kuzma likely seeing more of his minutes at the forward spots.
Are these youngsters good enough to win? Devin Booker and Eric Bledsoe will continue to put up monster fantasy numbers, but the young bigs need to grow their game for this team to be more than a doormat in the hyper-competitive West. The ageless Tyson Chandler will continue starting at center while the other young bigs fight for minutes.
Frontcourt: Josh Jackson, T.J. Warren, Marquese Chriss, Dragan Bender, Alex Len
Jackson and Warren will fight for minutes at one forward, while Chriss and Bender will compete at the other. With P.J. Tucker out of the mix, Chriss, especially, should take on an even larger workload, and the Suns remain high on his long-term potential despite an up-and-down rookie year and relatively disappointing summer league showing.
Warren, who signed an extension just before camp, looks like the favorite to get the nod at small forward, but a player with Jackson’s all-around skillset will be tough to keep off the floor.
I mention Len above because while he’ll never ditch the “disappointment” tag, he did improve his poor field goal shooting and could be a nice source of cheap blocks this season, especially if the elder Chandler runs out of gas.
The post-Boogie era in Sacramento is certainly interesting. Expecting Zach Randolph and 40-year-old Vince Carter to care about the future of the Kings is a head scratcher. But I’m happy to see both still playing. George Hill will be a quality teacher for both Buddy Hield and De’Aaron Fox. And he can fill in for either when they struggle.
To me, the entire starting unit is a fog – no need to highlight one particular area. The future is Fox, Hield, Willie Cauley-Stein, Skal Labissiere and Justin Jackson. For vets Hill, Randolph, Carter, and Kosta Koufos, it’s a fine line between “playing while the rookies learn” and “blocking critical playing time from the team’s future”. This team won’t win by playing these vets, so why keep rolling them out there? Jackson will need some seasoning, but the other three youngsters need to play right now. I want fantasy shares in Fox and Cauley-Stein. And I’ll take a late round flier on Hield. Let’s hope the old guys get benched sooner than later.