NBA Daily: Biggest Surprises – Pacific Division

Listen, if you’ve found yourself here at this exact moment in late October and/or/potentially early November, there’s likely only one thing on your newly-refined, basketball-obsessed minds: hot takes.

Make ‘em as hot as you can. And none of that Cholula weak sauce spiciness either — no, let’s sear some taste buds off and shoot them all to the moon, never to be seen or heard from again. While a handful of my colleagues — sorry, Matt, Jordan, Drew — have launched reasonable observations in their by-the-division assignments, the conclusion still remains: any sample sizes, to this point, fall firmly under the difficult umbrella of filing — too tough to commit to, too impossible to guarantee.

In other words: they’re boring. (And what’s spicier than sending shots across the bow about your web-based teammates — I’m doing this correctly, right?) The Utah Jazz will probably have an elite-level offense, eventually. There’s little reason to worry about James Harden’s nosediving percentages until the All-Star break, too. And, sure, the Indiana Pacers have disappointed without Victor Oladipo to steer the ship — but, in reality, they weren’t true Eastern Conference contenders at any point.

Naturally, to make up for that tameness, the Pacific Division edition of the series will merely just lean in even harder. The Golden State Warriors? Send them to the G League. The Sacramento Kings? We were all suckers for believing that a tortured franchise could ever claw their way back from the depths of decade-long despair. The Pheonix Suns? They might as well be anointed as the new Kings, appropriate as that title may be.

And after five games, these are some undeniable and concrete conclusions. Set in stone, you can send them along in group chats with absolutely zero worry or responsibility. Embrace the hotness of October basketball and try to invent some even bigger claims about the Pacific Division!

Disband The Warriors — Better Yet, Take Away The New Arena

Has it really been that long since the We Believe Warriors of 2007? While that lovable gang of misfits shocked the world over ten years ago — early on, it’s obvious that this current version of the once-historically-great Golden State franchise will be lucky to even sniff the postseason. In lieu of outright saying that they stink — their 30th-ranked defensive rating of 118.5 speaks for itself — perhaps then, should they lose the rights to play in their brand-new, state-of-the-art arena until matters course correct.

Of course, before Wednesday, the answer was obviously that they should not tank. Of course, they could not consider blowing it all up. Of course, Klay Thompson is hurt and most of their notable role players are gone, retired or suffering in Memphis — but tank? No, that’s a building worth $1.4 billion and the back-to-back-to-back-to-back-to-back NBA Finalists could never embrace such a fate. Unsurprisingly, Draymond Green couldn’t buy into the rose-colored, glass-half-full perspective just yet, even after finally breaking into the win column:

“Oh, we’re still not a very good team,” Green said. “We have a lot of room for improvement, just because we won one game doesn’t mean we don’t suck right now, we still have a lot of improvement to do.”

And then, the optimism — if there was any — went out the window when Stephen Curry broke his hand. Out for the foreseeable future, the tank-worthy takes came faster than ever — after all, they would likely owe their 2020 first-rounder to Brooklyn if things didn’t completely capitulate. So, maybe: Rest up, nurse Curry and Thompson to health and take a year to evaluate the potential surrounding pieces. D’Angelo Russell is still adjusting and Green will keep Golden State from being historically bad on defense — but that’s not exactly the biggest issue at this point.

Alas, it’s the rest of the roster that remains a question mark of the highest variety. Willie Cauley-Stein and Alec Burks made their season debuts during Wednesday night’s loss against Phoenix — 12 points, five rebounds; seven points, respectively — but the bench is littered with unproven youngsters.

At this time last year, Eric Paschall was gearing up to lead a depleted Villanova squad as a 21-year-old — today, he’s Warriors’ third-highest scorer. Glenn Robinson III averaged 4.2 points over 13 minutes per game for the Detroit Pistons in 2018-19 — as of now, he’s Golden State’s nailed-on starter at small forward. Kevon Looney, Cauley-Stein and Burks will help — but not enough in a Curry-less Western Conference hierarchy. Already, continuing their monumental half-decade run to the Finals seems nearly impossible.

But that’s OK: Basketball is cyclical and those on top rarely stay there forever. Still, their current level of play is not befitting for one of the most expensive stadiums in human history — although, in their defense, the New York Giants and Jets doubly share in that pricey mediocrity as a yearly tradition without issue.

So here’s the proposal: Play like a G League team, play in the G League. Until the Warriors improve as an overall unit, swap them out with Santa Cruz.

The Santa Cruz Warriors are set to open their season on Nov. 8 and if their parent club can’t figure it out by then, give them the heave-ho. Last year, Santa Cruz went 34-16 and made the Conference Finals — and, honestly, that might be a better on-court product than whatever the 126-opponent-points-per-game-Golden State Warriors are offering up.

Disband the franchise, shoot their championship banners into the outer reaches of our solar system and then pray for mercy — but sadly, the basketball isn’t even pretty as it stands and maybe that’s the most surprising bit of all. Without Curry, it’s bound to get way worse.

The Phoenix Suns Are Basically A Disney Movie

This is difficult, but Basketball Insiders would like to apologize for any shade, tweets or personal negative thoughts shared — both publicly and privately — about the Phoenix Suns and general manager James Jones over the last six months. They’re actually… good? For some real statistical analysis, we’d suggest moseying over to Quinn Davis’ earlier piece on the conversation. Better then, that means this section-long apology can continue unbarred from here on out.

Frank Kaminsky? Maybe he didn’t get a fair shake in Charlotte after all as the seven-footer is currently averaging 12 points, 6.6 rebounds and 2.8 assists over 26 minutes per game — all would, obviously, set new career-bests. Deandre Ayton: Suspended, but still promising. Devin Booker: Not a fan of double teams, but remains an undeniable scoring machine (and now a much-improved passer). Kelly Oubre Jr., once famously the fourth man of a two-ring Washington circus, has absolutely continued to thrive with the new scenery (and his new swimming pool of cash, too).

Phoenix’s point differential is a ridiculous plus-9.2, fourth-highest league-wide and surrounded by Finals hopefuls and rosters with bonafide MVP candidates. The Suns’ 28.8 assists per game slot them at second-best in the NBA; last year, they finished in 20th in that category. Then there’s Ricky Rubio, recently cast out of both Minnesota and Utah for shinier toys, who tries on defense and satisfies the Suns’ multiple-year effort to both identify and sign/trade/develop a real point guard.

And maybe that’s the emerging theme in Phoenix this year: They’re clearly just copying the plans to any nondescript gritty, underdog Disney movie. And better yet: It’s actually working. Cool Runnings, Rudy, The Big Green; rinse and repeat, take your pick, it hardly matters. Maybe once a team hits a certain amount of castaways and underrated athletes, they automatically transcend proceedings and take on an unshakable date with destiny. If it’s not too late to bet the house and your entire life savings on the Suns, do it.

The easy caveated asterisk would be to mention that this probably won’t last. In the end, they’ve still got to play the two Los Angeles-based squads and the rest of Western Conference for, oh, six more months and, again, these are small sample sizes. So unless we’ve got a 1988 Winter Olympics situation afoot — remember, the Jamaican bobsled team came this close — then try to enjoy it while this lasts. Still, the damage has been done to media egos across the board: Phoenix has a competitive roster and we were all wrong — sorry, James.

The Sun(s) Will Rise Again starring Timothée Chalamet as Ricky Rubio to hit theaters in April 2020 — don’t miss it!

The Kings Are Suddenly No Longer Everybody’s Favorite Undisclosed Second Team

In 2018-19, you’d be hard-pressed to find another darling as loved as the Sacramento Kings were. De’Aaron Fox was affable, funny and, better yet, a blossoming basketball player. Marvin Bagley III looked, too, like a star in the making, while Buddy Hield, pre-contract negotiations, had ascended to long-range royalty. Although the Kings barely missed the postseason, the message appeared to be clear: At long last, the curse had been lifted and Sacramento would finally and definitively graduate to the rank of “Real Basketball Team” again.

And how silly it was to believe any of that, right?

Bogdan Bogdanovic may or may not be unhappy. The Kings may or may not have buyer’s remorse on Harrison Barnes’ offseason deal. Through five games, Dewayne Dedmon, Sacramento’s newly-signed center, is rocking a PER of 2.06. Over 22 minutes per game, Trevor Ariza is only tallying 3.8 points and the Kings’ defensive rating is down near the cellar. Harry Giles has struggled to stay healthy and now Bagley is out for the next 4-to-6 weeks with a fractured thumb. Worse, the run-and-fun offense that the young Kings made a staple of their surprise campaign has evaporated completely.

In the five defeats, Sacramento has notched just 12.4 fastbreak points per game — ranking them at No. 18 thus far. It’s a distant cry from the league-leading 20.9 points they averaged last season with head coach Dave Joerger at the helm, who was unceremoniously fired despite leading the Kings to their best regular season record since 2005-06. Now under the watchful eye of Luke Walton, they’ve begun to trend backward and sideways instead ahead. In what seems to be a competitive division hidden amongst a cutthroat conference, the Kings may be digging themselves into a giant, bottomless pit — so, unfortunately, it’s time to say farewell to your secret second favorite team.

Everybody’s got them, don’t lie.

Generally speaking, these teams are tailor-made for post-practice and corporate water cooler conversations. Fun and scrappy — and, importantly, unable to truly disappoint given a low bar of expectations — the Kings often gave onlookers an outlet of solace for their regular-day pains. With Fox, Hield and Bagley operating on all cylinders, Sacramento existed as a breezy secondary option, a late-night solution for any iso-laden trappings and star-heavy shortcomings found elsewhere. For a brief moment, the Kings were a dose of cure-all medication: Young, speedy and modern — a match made in heaven within a social-media indebted society.

Now, unfortunately, those Kings are dead. We’ve buried them. They’re gone and all we can do is swiftly move on.

Other new sneaky-good options to claim fandom ownership of come the holiday season: Ja Morant; the Orlando Magic; mastering the art of tradsies between James Harden and Russell Westbrook; the Cleveland Cavaliers; Nikola Jokic; the aforementioned Suns; Kyrie Irving’s desire to freestyle dribble every possession permanently into the hardwood; Joe Ingles and steadfastly defending Ben Simmons’ role as ‘a peacemaker, not a three-taker.’

The point of a secret backup team is having an easy-to-reference comeback when somebody sullies the great and impeachable name of your favorite squad. Oh, really, I should believe in Bobby Portis? How’s Terry Rozier working out so far? The Chicago Bulls? More like the Chicago Dulls, right? And if that go-to retort happens to be 0-5, everybody is suddenly unhappy and playing slow, slow basketball — then they’ve got to go.

There’s already too much sadness in the world already, so find yourself a secret second favorite team that won’t make your trips to the office kitchen even more upsetting than usual.

Time can only tell if the Kings are truly cursed for eternity — but you can’t afford to wait around.

The season is only five games young, but don’t hesitate to write teams off completely, bury them alive and erase years and years worth of data from your mind with reckless abandon. In the case of the Pacific Division, that means demoting the Warriors to the G League and/or sending their championship banners into space. It also mandates that the Kings should probably be treated as an ex-significant other when whispered about in the hallways and on gym floors too — they’re just forgotten ghosts to you, don’t get it twisted

In the end, we’re already a full six percent into the season and that’s plenty of time to build an irrefutable narrative from which nobody will dare deviate from. So, for the moral of our story: Just lean in, we all know you want to.

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