The NBA season is around the corner. The preseason has already begun, while regular season action kicks-off on October 22.
The Game Haus will be doing division previews following an exciting offseason. Teams will be reviewed in order of where they are expected to finish in the division. Today, the Southwest Division will be previewed.
#5 Memphis Grizzlies
The Grizzlies earned the “Grit and Grind” moniker for their physical, defensive play in the 2010’s. Within the past year, the team traded the cornerstones of that era, Marc Gasol and Mike Conley, kickstarting the inevitable rebuild.
With the second pick in the 2019 Draft, Memphis took Murray State point guard Ja Morant, the consensus best player behind Zion Williamson. Morant is an athletic, well-rounded point guard that should be great given a couple years to get stronger.
Morant and fellow first-round draft pick Brandon Clarke will join Jaren Jackson Jr. as the Grizzlies’ core moving forward. Though a portion of his rookie season was spent injured, Jackson Jr. averaged nearly 14 points and five rebounds as the starting power forward.
While there are some veteran players, Memphis is largely young and looking towards the future. Andre Iguodala will not play for Memphis, and will likely be moved sometime around midseason. Center Jonas Valunciunas could also be traded as well, as he still has value as a solid big man.
The Grizzlies will be a bad team this season, but forming a chemistry between the young core is far more important than where they end up in the Southwest Division.
#4 Dallas Mavericks
While the Mavericks, along with Pelicans and Grizzlies, finished with only 33 wins last season, but the franchise had a lot to look forward to at the end of the year. Luka Doncic, third pick of the 2018 NBA Draft, had one of the best rookie seasons in recent memory.
The team went into the offseason looking to build off his 21-8-6 stat line, as well as having Kristaps Porzingis waiting to return from injury. Porzingis is starting training camp healthy after not playing basketball since February of 2018.
The trade for Porzingis gives Dallas a potential superstar duo in the making. The Mavs have an okay cast around the two, making them a team that will be knocking on the eighth seed in the West.
Maxi Kleber and Dwight Powell are decent big men, but could be problems when up against the league’s best centers. Boban Marjanovic can also only do so much defensively.
Delon Wright, JJ Barea and Jalen Brunson will all get minutes at the point guard position, while Tim Hardaway Jr. will start at small forward, and be an x-factor for the team as he is coming off of an injury.
Doncic and Porzingis will be enough to earn the Mavericks a winning record. Their biggest competition for seeding will be two other teams in their division.
#3 New Orleans Pelicans
The Pelicans had themselves a huge summer. In addition to drafting Zion Williamson with the number one overall pick, the team was able to get a massive haul for superstar Anthony Davis. Add in a couple veteran free agents, and New Orleans will be one of most interesting teams to watch in the 2019-2020 season.
The Pelicans have a great backcourt in Jrue Holiday, JJ Redick, Lonzo Ball and Josh Hart. Holiday and Ball is a fantastic defensive backcourt, but they may need the scoring abilities of Redick to start depending on who the opponent is.
Brandon Ingram will be the starting small forward, with Williamson likely at the power forward spot. Ingram has shown that he is a great scorer and should make a leap this season with a talented team around him.
Veteran Derrick Favors will play center, with Jahlil Okafor and lottery-pick Jaxson Hayes as backups. With Williamson already at NBA size, he should be able to make an immediate impact in New Orleans’ frontcourt.
While the West is stacked with good teams that will be fighting for the playoffs, the Pelicans are right there. They are a deep team that can be a surprise to many if the young talent can make an immediate impact behind Holiday’s leadership.
#2 San Antonio Spurs
A team that always seems to find success, the San Antonio Spurs are currently riding a 22-year playoff streak. The Spurs have a good chance of keeping that streak alive this season with a mix of young and veteran talent under coach Gregg Popovich.
The Spurs have a very promising young backcourt in Derrick White and Dejounte Murray. While White had a breakout season last year, and got more experience with Team USA this summer, Murray will be returning from an injury that cost him all of last season.
San Antonio’s primary scoring option remains DeMar DeRozan, one of the league’s most-underrated stars. DeRozan averaged 21-6-6 last season on a career-best field goal percentage.
LaMarcus Aldridge mans the paint for the Spurs, and will be key for the team if they face-off against a team like the Clippers or Rockets in the playoffs who don’t have a great post player.
While the development of young talent is key, the Spurs will need great seasons out of Aldridge and DeRozan again, as well as forward Rudy Gay. Popovich will need to find the right balance between the two.
If history is any indication, he will. The Spurs will be a winning team yet again, but in a stacked Western Conference, the standard for a playoff berth might be higher than before.
#1 Houston Rockets
After being stopped by Golden State in the playoffs for multiple seasons in a row, the Houston Rockets decided to make a change this offseason. With Chris Paul out and Russell Westbrook in, Houston will look to overpower teams offensively in the playoffs.
James Harden will have another outstanding season, even with Westbrook sharing the scoring load. Harden played historically good last season as he averaged a career-high 36 points. While Paul was a solid scorer, Harden will have to defer more this season.
Westbrook also put up huge numbers last year, averaging a tripe-double for the third year in a row. The pairing gives the Rockets two incredibly ball-dominant, high-usage players.
The Rockets’ core supporting cast remains in-tact, as Eric Gordon, Clint Capela and PJ Tucker all return. This summer, the team brought in veteran big Tyson Chandler, as well as Ben McLemore, Anthony Bennet and Thabo Sefolosha to help shore up some depth.
Harden and Westbrook seem committed to making their duo work, and it likely will, but how well? The two will lead Houston to the division crown yet again, despite a drop-off in three-point shooting with Westbrook. However, the Rockets may not be built to deal with strong frontcourt attacks like the Lakers or Jazz in a playoff series. Time will tell for the postseason, but expect Houston to win the Southwest Division for a third straight year.
Featured image credited to Getty Images.
Stats credited to basketball-reference.com.