The NBA’s most important players: Pacific Division

Today’s tour of the NBA takes us to the Pacific division, where the distinction needs to be made between an important player and an important player-coach.



Paul Pierce might be the most important Los Angeles Clipper outside the CP3-Blake Griffin-DeAndre Jordan trio, but Pierce is — in reality if not in formal title — a player-coach this season. It’s Pierce’s job to impart veteran wisdom (and Doc Rivers’ coaching principles) to Lance Stephenson and Josh Smith, getting them to play well in an integrated way. If Pierce succeeds in being Doc’s on-court coach, Stephenson could encounter a career rebirth.

Stephenson matters more to the Clippers because Los Angeles has Griffin and Jordan to hold things down in the paint. This team needs a little more help on the perimeter, and someone with Stephenson’s skill set could become an excellent complementary piece on the roster. Stephenson does not have to worry about taking long jumpers, either; that’s what Pierce, CP3, and J.J. Redick are for. If he can be an effective defender and slasher who coughs up relatively few turnovers, the Clippers could have the right mix — enough to reach the West Finals for the first time.


After an injury-truncated first season, Randle needs to stay on the floor in season two so that the Lakers can truly get to know the Kentucky product and see what they have. Merely getting accustomed to the NBA this season will shape Randle’s future and help the Lakers to plan accordingly for the summer of 2016, “FreeAgentPalooza.”

Working with Kobe Bryant and D’Angelo Russell will be simultaneously fun and challenging, but that’s just part of what will make the coming season such a revelatory journey for Randle. It’s how he fits into the Lakers as a whole which will shape the organization’s outlook for the future. NBA people want to be able to see what this young man can do.


Can there be any doubt here? DeMarcus Cousins has proved himself as an NBA force. The question mark of question marks in Sacramento — other than how the team will get along with George Karl — is how well Rondo is able to perform. Three years ago, it was reasonable — debatable, but reasonable — to suggest that Rondo could become the best in the league at the loaded point guard position. Right now, his career lies in tatters. Can he rediscover his best basketball — at least something close to it — or has the magic disappeared forever, never to return in any appreciably recognizable form? The answer to this question will answer a lot about how the Kings fare this season.


Tyson Chandler will naturally make the Suns stronger in the paint — he’s not necessarily a “question-mark” player for the organization. A player who arrives in the Valley of the Sun(s) with a little more uncertainty is Teletovic, who figures prominently in the Suns’ plans if only because the franchise couldn’t land LaMarcus Aldridge in the offseason.

This is not meant to compare Teletovic and Aldridge, because there is no comparison; the point is that Teletovic has to fill some specific needs for the Suns (perimeter shooting from a stretch-four position), who have quick ballhandlers at the point but will need guys to knock down shots in order to maintain good floor spacing.


Staff contributor John Cannon, who covered the Warriors throughout the 2015 playoffs, viewed Harrison Barnes as central to the team’s success.  Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson, and Draymond Green are the three best players on the team, with Andre Iguodala being the difference-making figure in the NBA Finals. If the Warriors are to repeat (or at least return to the Finals), the player who needs to elevate his game (and can realistically do so) is Barnes. If he reaches and maintains a much higher level of performance, San Antonio will have to max out to match and then surpass Golden State in the West. With Barnes being his best self, the Spurs would have virtually no margin for error in a best-of-seven battle against the Dubs.

About Matt Zemek

Editor, @TrojansWire | CFB writer since 2001 |