The spotlight in the Pacific Division will surely be on former Clipper reserve Eric Bledsoe, who will now headline Phoenix's backcourt next to another young talent in Goran Dragic. Bledsoe's numbers last season (8.5 PPG/3.1 APG/20.4 MPG) wouldn't seem very comparable to what will be expected of him in 2013/14, especially considering some of his standout performances when given more than 30 minutes of playing time: 23 points, 10 rebounds, and 7 assists in 38 minutes against the Celtics, 19 points, 7 rebounds, and 5 assists in 37 minutes against the Rockets, 10 points, 10 assists, and six steals in 39 minutes against the Timberwolves, and a 27-point, 6 rebound, 6 steal, and 3-block performance in 41 minutes against the Magic to name a few. Now equipped with starter's minutes, it will be fascinating to see how the 6'1 guard will utilize his significantly increased role and responsibilities as a leader of a young team.
Keeping all this in mind, Bledsoe should undoubtedly be among the favorites within the whole league to have a breakout season. With that aside, it was unquestionably a summer of shakeups for the rest of the Pacific Division, as each of the other four teams will feature new key rotation players in 2013/14. Let's take a look at some of the other new faces looking to make a lasting impact on their respective clubs:
Marreese Speights, Warriors – The 6'10 power forward is entering his sixth year in the league and will be playing for his fourth NBA team after signing with Golden State this past July. Following a trade from Memphis to Cleveland halfway through last season, Speights averaged 10.2 PPG, 5.1 RPG, and 18.5 MPG in 39 games and one start for the Cavaliers. Although Sean Deveney of the Sporting News and NBA.com's Scott Howard-Cooper have reported that the team is currently expecting Andrew Bogut and David Lee to be healthy enough to play without limitation, head coach Mark Jackson could possibly rely on Speights for extended minutes on some nights in order to preserve some of his older frontcourt veterans.
Considering his production in a limited amount of minutes last season, the former Florida standout could prove to be one of the most important reserves on a playoff contender this year and may open some more eyes in the process.
Byron Mullens, Clippers – Fresh off of career highs in points, rebounds, and minutes last season with the Bobcats (10.8/6.4/26.9), it remains to be seen just how Mullens' minutes and role will be handled in Los Angeles. The 7'0 big man put together a flurry of attention-grabbing performances last season, averaging 12.9 PPG/8.2 RPG/33.0 MPG in November and 10.0/7.3/28.6 in December before being sidelined with an ankle injury. Following a 19-game absence, Mullens picked up where he left off, posting 14.6/7.9/32.1 in February.
Although his overall shooting percentages were less than desirable last season (.385/.317/.636), one thing to consider is the possible improvement in the quality of shot attempts as a by-product of playing with a superstar playmaker in Chris Paul and his solid distributing backup, Darren Collison. Byron's confidence in attempting perimeter shots is far from lacking, as nearly four of his 10.6 shot attempts per game last year were taken from beyond the arc. With that being said, Mullens may very well be a viable threat who can stretch the floor provided he can improve his shooting efficiency and have better opportunities created for him. If given the minutes, he's shown that he can definitely put up some numbers.
Wesley Johnson, Lakers – Despite his lack of floor time for the first four months of 2012/13, the 6'7 swingman made the most of his situation after being given consistent starter's minutes in the final two months of the season, averaging 13.2 PPG/1.2 SPG/30.3 MPG in March along with 12.9 PPG and 27.3 MPG in April respectively. He did well enough that despite the Suns opting not to exercise his fourth year option, there was still mutual interest in a return to Phoenix this summer. Ultimately, the former lottery pick out of Syracuse wound up with the Lakers, where he should have his fair share of opportunities as an athletic player in Mike D'Antoni's system. With Johnson playing on a one-year contract, it'd certainly be in his best interest to continue his momentum from last season and perform well enough to earn a lucrative contract next summer, whether it'd be in L.A. or somewhere else.
Greivis Vasquez, Kings – It's more than reasonable to deem 2012/13 as a breakout year for Vasquez. The 6'6 point guard rose to the occasion in New Orleans, producing an impressive 13.9 PPG and 9.0 APG stat line in 34.4 MPG and 78 games played/started. It's important to note that he'll be entering a contract year, and one significant question is how Vasquez's numbers will fare with an entirely different cast of teammates, especially with the surplus of guards on the roster – namely Isaiah Thomas, Ben McLemore, Marcus Thornton, and Jimmer Fredette. Although the former Maryland star displayed his capabilities as a distributor and a tertiary scoring option last season, it appears that another major improvement within reach would be to raise his shooting percentages (.433/.342) as well as the amount of times he gets to the line (2.0). Following his career-best season to date, Vasquez will surely have to deliver in his most important one yet.
After Bledsoe, who would you expect to be the most improved player in the Pacific Division?