SOUTHWEST DIVISION PROSPECTUS
The Southwest Division is home to five teams all capable of crashing the 2018 playoffs. It has long held five teams that are simply going to be competitive basketball teams. While the Dallas Mavericks and Memphis Grizzlies are both in a state of franchise decline, neither can be written off as locks to appear in the lottery.
As strange as the New Orleans Pelicans’ roster construction is, betting against its success entirely is also a bit foolish. Anthony Davis is that good. DeMarcus Cousins usually is. The Houston Rockets might be the league’s second-best regular season team this year, but how much will that ultimately mean when Mike D’Antoni is faced with a seven-game series against the seemingly unbeatable Golden State Warriors? These questions and more, as we dive into the Southwest Division.
Odds c/o Bovada.lv
Regular Season Wins: Over/under 35.5
Over (-115); Under (-115)
The Dallas Mavericks and legendary forward Dirk Nowitzki enter the 2017-18 season in a strange position: The team is too good to simply deconstruct, and as long as Dirk is playing, the Mavs are simply too relevant to entirely be discarded as a postseason threat. While few are considering Dallas any sort of real contender, the Mavericks do boast a few talents that are going to render it a near .500 team—even if NBA oddsmakers set the bar a little lower with an over/under of 35.5 wins.
What could derail that? Well, for starters, Nowitzki must remain healthy. That by itself is a precarious position, because, no matter his decline, he makes Dallas a far more dangerous team. Nowitzki has become more of a center in his twilight years, but does anyone want the ball in the hands of Harrison Barnes with the game on the line? Hardly. Dirk is still a legend, and Dallas is still relevant. Beyond the play of the talented swingman Barnes and Nowitzki, the Mavericks add a dark horse Rookie of the Year candidate in point guard Dennis Smith Jr.
Smith is an electric guard who slashes to the hole with ferocity, and he could end up being the steal of the 2017 NBA Draft. But even if he is, the Mavericks still have to find a way to make him gel with last year’s breakout guard Yogi Ferrell. Ferrell surprised the entire league and along with Seth Curry, the Mavs managed to add two very talented guards without surrendering a single thing.
That trio, along with Nerlens Noel, gives Dallas some candidates for the NBA’s Most Improved Player award, which should indicate that this team can be better than pundits are expecting. Or, at least, better than 35.5 wins. We expect Dallas to better that figure by about six wins, and finish somewhere very close to .500 in a season not much was expected from to begin with. OVER.
Regular Season Wins: Over/under 55.5
Over (-125); Under (-105)
The Houston Rockets were regular season juggernauts last year, but the vast collection of talent and James Harden just was not enough to get it done in the postseason. That theme could run familiar again, but Houston also easily could be the Western Conference’s second-best team in 2017-18. The addition of Chris Paul is mostly why, but the Rockets have several complementary players who are really starting to thrive in the offensive system of Mike D’Antoni.
Not the least of these has been the reclamation project of Eric Gordon, who is now resembling something close to the talent he once was early in his career before the knee injury that derailed his ascent to All-Star status. Besides Gordon, the Rockets have other capable shooters who fit the system perfectly, including starting forwards Trevor Ariza and Ryan Anderson. Clint Capela is one of the best defenders at the 5-spot in the NBA, and his energy is infectious. Nene Hilario is more important than many will wager, and his injury spelled the final nail in the coffin of Houston’s postseason aspirations a year ago.
The Rockets have some other contributing talents that could help improve the defensive prospects of D’Antoni’s team, including Tarik Black, Luc Richard Mbah a Moute and Chinanu Onuaku. These are not household names, but they are paired with two such talents, who alone, will make the Rockets very exciting and tough to match offensively. Chris Paul and Harden are two of the best passers in the NBA, and watching the duo operate together in a backcourt will make Houston one of the league’s most formidable regular-season threats.
Turning into a true postseason powerhouse, however, is going to require some defense from a D’Antoni-led team, and that is not something we have seen before. Even so, Houston should come close to 60-wins this year, and we like the OVER on the 55.5 wins set by oddsmakers at Bovada.
Regular Season Wins: Over/under 37.5
Over (-115); Under (-115)
The Memphis Grizzles “Grit N Grind” may be evaporating and disappearing altogether right before our eyes. Memphis has prided itself on toughness and defense, and the two players who most embodied that concept are now departed: Tony Allen is off to New Orleans and Zach Randolph faces retirement or servitude in the hell that is Sacramento. In their wake, the Grizzlies turn to a bunch of no-names to become something: Wayne Selden, JaMychal Green, James Ennis, Wade Baldwin, Andrew Harrison—all these guys must become viable role players and starters for the Grizzlies now.
Beyond that, the Grizzlies are hoping Chandler Parsons returns to the form he showed in his first three NBA seasons with the Houston Rockets, and Parsons is hoping his minute-restrictions come to their silly end.
There is scarcely a reason to expect Memphis to improve this year, though a team with Mike Conley and Marc Gasol will remain in some way competitive simply because the two veterans are too talented and hard working to expect anything less. Still, there is too much of a talent deficit in Memphis to see this team winning 40 games, and the 37.5 set by oddsmakers is deadly accurate as to what we can expect: For that reason, we are calling this one a PUSH for bettors.
New Orleans Pelicans
Regular Season Wins: Over/under 39.5
Over (-115); Under (-115)
The New Orleans Pelicans have perhaps the most-uniquely constructed roster in the NBA, but that uniqueness hardly guarantees any real success. The Pels start two centers, DeMarcus Cousins and Anthony Davis, and as good as that pairing really is, it is also expecting New Orleans to succeed swimming against the current of a league intent upon playing “small ball.” The Pelicans can tantalize with potential, but equally as frustrating are some glaring holes GM Dell Demps did almost nothing to address over the offseason.
Quincy Pondexter would have added some outside shooting, so why not deal him to the Chicago Bulls? The acquisitions of Tony Allen and Rajon Rondo add defense and talent, but where is the shooting? It is the most glaring weakness the Pelicans have, and nothing was done to solve it.
Jrue Holiday can shoot the rock, but can he thrive as a 2-guard when Rondo returns from his sports hernia injury in about a month? The Pelicans have no shortage of talent, but it fits together about as well as a shredded finger-trap. And while the Pelicans will remain in games simply due to how good Cousins and Davis really are, they will also regularly fall short because the team lacks court spacing and any logical roster construction that resembles a functional basketball team?
Of course, we said all these things about the Chicago Bulls last year just to see a Rondo and Dwyane Wade backcourt result in a No. 8 seed, but that was in the Eastern Conference, and the Pelicans inhabit the West. This team will likely struggle a good bit, but 39.5 wins is seeing these struggles ultimately peak. With a healthy roster for most of the season, New Orleans more likely notches a .500 record with ’41’ wins still falling just shy of an 8 seed. OVER.
San Antonio Spurs
Regular Season Wins: Over/under 54.5
Over (-125); Under (-105)
The San Antonio Spurs are slowly making its transition into a competitive non-contender. Few are willing to admit that as the case, but the Spurs have a backcourt reliant on aged talent, and Manu Ginobili and Tony Parker are slowing ceding their starting roles to the likes of Dejounte Murray, Patty Mills and Danny Green (though Green has always started, Ginobili’s backup minutes are becoming less and less as he leans towards retiring).
But as long as Gregg Popovich is the head of this team, as long as there are quality NBA talents coming to San Antonio, the Spurs are postseason threats. What is now in question is whether San Antonio is good enough to remain a top-4 team in the Western Conference, for that prospect mostly relies on Kawhi Leonard going from sensational to some form of great that we have yet to see from the league’s best two-way talent. Even as aged as Pau Gasol and LaMarcus Aldridge are becoming, the pairing is still one of the league’s better 4/5 tandems, and at any given point it is possible to see Aldridge go atomic from mid-range and become entirely unstoppable late in games.
Pairing that kind of output with Leonard’s all-around dominance will result in 50 wins, but how many more than 50 is really anyone’s guess. The Spurs are going to try to utilize Rudy Gay as he has never been before, making him a 4-man and even a small-ball 5, at times, but since when has Gay been enough to push any team to the next level? He is almost the epitome of a “hollow numbers” type of guy, and if his talents are to improve San Antonio, it will be because Popovich, once again, has found a way to get blood from an orange.
That said, Pop has now been doing that for two decades, so perhaps the safer bet is that Gay revolutionizes his career and the Spurs win 55 games. Oh, and indeed, that would put them OVER, if barely.