NBA 2015-16: Southwest Division Season Preview

Kawhi Leonard-spurs-2015The Southwest Division has the distinction of producing nothing but playoff teams, something no other division in the NBA can brag of. It also created a Conference Finals club in the Houston Rockets, who ultimately fell in five games to the NBA Champion Golden State Warriors.

Can the Southwest produce five playoff teams again? Can it produce a champion again as it did in 2014 with the San Antonio Spurs?

From the Rockets and Spurs to the Mavericks, Pelicans and Grizzlies, there are nothing but solid clubs in the division, and the Pels are a chic pick to make another jump in the standings with an MVP candidate in Anthony Davis. Davis bulked up in the weight room, and the Pelicans chances bulked up a good bit too, with the team listed at +4000 to win the title in 2016.

Memphis never sleeps, and the Grit N Grind showed its stuff with a nearly-dead Mike Conley willing the team in the postseason. The Grizz have knocked on the door for long enough that no competent analyst is ready to write off a team with the guts that Memphis shows.

All things being equal, this is one tough division, and claiming the crown of it will prove to be nothing less than a dogfight as these five teams jostle for postseason seeding and ever elusive respect in the West.

Chandler Parsons-mavericks-2015Dallas Mavericks
2014-15 Record: 50-32
Championship Odds: +6600
W/L Projection: 41-41

Last year seemed like the best chance to predict the Dallas Mavericks falling off and failing to make the playoffs. It may have just been one season too premature. This is it: This is the year the Mavs fail to make the postseason; the beginning of the official end of Dirk Nowitzki’s decorated career.

Where do we start when making such a proclamation? The center position seems like a good starting point. The Mavs do have JaVale McGee, but he is not even projected to start. Zaza Pachulia and Samuel Dalembert are both in the mix, who were mediocre when they were in their respective primes. There really is nothing to be enthused about at the 5-spot for Dallas. Even at power forward, Nowitzki has nothing really backing him up besides one of the worst shot chuckers at the 4-spot in the league in Charlie Villanueva.

The Mavs still have Dirk as an all-around fate saver, but the backcourt is featuring a wildly underachieving Deron Williams at the point and another point guard at shooting guard, in Devin Harris. The Mavericks welcomed back J.J. Barea, but he is little more than a spark plug, certainly not a game changer in the backcourt.

Chandler Parsons is the best perimeter talent on Dallas’ squad, and Justin Anderson is a unique point-forward. But Parsons is really not much more than an average starter, whose continued improvement more or less stagnated once he left Houston. The Mavs paid a lot for rather average production, and he is really the second best player on its roster. This is the year the Mavs do not make the playoffs, and it is hardly as bold as it was when written prior to last season.

james harden-rockets-2015-2Houston Rockets
2014-15 Record: 56-26
Championship Odds: +1600
W/L Prediction: 57-25

The Houston Rockets did get to the Western Conference Finals, but it really seemed as though the team had no chance in the series, even if it did win a game in the series. For this team to really turn the corner, it is going to need Dwight Howard to begin to play as he did in Orlando. And that seems impossible, does it not?

Sure, James Harden is arguably the best 2-guard in the league, and the team got a bargain on Ty Lawson even with his DUI antics taken at face value. Trevor Ariza is still an elite defender on the wing, and Terrence Jones is better than Josh Smith without any of the mental impairments. Donatas Motiejunas is a unique stretch-4 backed further on the depth chart by potentially one of the biggest steals in the draft in Montrezl Harrell. Corey Brewer is capable of getting hot off the bench in a hurry, and Dwight’s backup Clint Capela certainly had his moments in 2015 playoffs.

So in many senses, the Rockets are a team not short on talent. But why does this team seem so much better suited for regular season success than postseason glory? It really begins with the fact that Harden’s game is one reliant on getting whistles, and the whistle sounds a lot less when teams are putting their seasons on the line. Howard, too, underachieves far too often to be the team’s second best offensive option.

At his best, he is still the league’s best center, but the fact he is not always at his best is what makes Marc Gasol the owner of that honor. There is no writing off a team with two talents both near the best at their position, and the Rockets certainly can defend. It is just that the Warriors and Spurs are both far better teams, and Houston really drew a favorable path to success, even if it barely edged the Clippers in the semis.

It was a best case scenario, and it is tough to say it can get much better until the Rockets re-tool, or get some kind of miracle season from Lawson, who might not even start given Patrick Beverley is still in the fold.

Mike-Conley-grizzlies-11Memphis Grizzlies
2014-15 Record: 55-27
Championship Odds: +3300
W/L Prediction:  53-29

Memphis is the quasi-contending team that just will not quit. And why should it? The Grizzlies have a rabid fanbase that expects the team to contend and be in the playoffs, and if the end goal is not always rings, then it is doing the right thing. Sometimes there is more in being competitive over a long span than there is flash in the pan contentions, and the Grizzlies still have to be accepted as contenders because it is a team built for postseason success.

The Grizzlies best attribute is that the team can really get on it defensively, and that it is a physical ball club. Memphis has a battering ram in the frontcourt in bulldozer Zach Randolph, and Marc Gasol is nearly as good as his older brother Pau was during his stint in a Grizzlies uniform. The younger Marc has already notched a Defensive Player of the Year award, and has a strong case to be made for being the league’s best center. Jeff Green is a good scoring small forward, backed by pest Matt Barnes and what remains of Vince Carter (the guy can still get off the floor, I promise).

In the backcourt, the Grizzlies have a defensive trio not bested by any team in the league. Former Western Kentucky Hilltopper Courtney Lee, Tony Allen and Mike Conley combine to absolutely be a wrecking force on opposing backcourts. Jarnell Stokes showed during summer league that he fits the Grizzlies M.O., putting a lot of aggressiveness on the line with some good athleticism. The Grizz will be back in the postseason, and maybe this is the year that things fall into place. For a team that just prides itself on competitiveness, that really may have already happened sans titles.

Anthony Davis-pelicans-2015-2New Orleans Pelicans
2014-15 Record: 45-37
Championship Odds: +4000
W/L Prediction:  51-31

We went out on a limb and said the New Orleans Pelicans would make the playoffs last season. They did just that. Sure, it took an injury plagued season from the Oklahoma City Thunder, but New Orleans also did about the best it could to prove it earned it, tying OKC’s record in a head-to-head matchup on the season’s final day while also holding the tiebreaker.

Anthony Davis is the league’s best post player, and he might make his argument as the league’s premier talent as soon as this season. He added 15 pounds of pure muscle over the offseason, and he could be grooming himself for an eventual transition to the 5-spot. Omer Asik is still there to be the rugged bruiser he is, and Davis is backed up by the team’s best shooter Ryan Anderson.

Late in games, it may be Anderson often on the court with Davis sliding over to center, but the Pelicans have a nice problem with three able-bodied big men, not to mention a mid-range drilling long bodied Alexis Ajinca in the mix. At small forward, the Pels have the choice of Dante Cunningham or going small with Tyreke Evans at the 3, preferably so, when he returns from injury.

Eric Gordon has hardly been the player he was in Los Angeles, but he is still dangerous when he does not play hesitant.  The Pels need him to stay healthy at least until Evans returns, as he is going to be vital during this juncture.

Jrue Holiday was still absolutely worth the risk of a future first round pick, and if he is healthy he is the No. 2 option in the starting lineup. He is a heady pass first point guard who can hurt a team a lot of different ways and Norris Cole is about as good as backups can be.  The fact both may be out to start the season is hardly a good sign, but Holiday will be good for at least some minutes until Cole is ready to go.  Injuries are already starting to flag themselves as a problem for New Orleans, but the fanbase counts itself lucky that Davis is likely enough to carry the team until fully healthy.

The Pelicans really are a team headlined by Davis, but his surrounding talent is good enough to help him make a legitimate run through the playoffs. It could be nothing more than another first round bounce, sure, but teams do have to pay their dues before becoming true contenders. New Orleans may just do it quicker than some other clubs.

Danny Green-spurs-2015San Antonio Spurs
2014-15 Record: 55-27
Championship Odds: +350
W/L Prediction:  61-21

The San Antonio Spurs had possibly the biggest signing of the 2015 offseason when it lured perennial All-Star LaMarcus Aldridge to San Antonio. It also nearly ensures the team has its successor to Tim Duncan when the legend does finally hang it up.

San Antonio had to part with Tiago Splitter to make it happen, but that is merely collateral damage when considering how much Aldridge brings to an already stacked team. It was enough that NBA oddsmakers made San Antonio the No. 3 most-favored team for the 2016 title.

Aldridge, Duncan and Kawhi Leonard are likely the league’s best frontcourt now, and the Spurs can hit up any one of the three for late game heroics. In the backcourt, the Spurs retained Danny Green, who drew considerable interest around the league as a free agent.

Manu Ginobili has declined a lot but is still smart enough to be a problem on occasion. Patty Mills is a system point guard, but he is also the backup to Tony Parker who is still on the top of his game (and far less old than most seem to remember as a 33 year old).

The Spurs just have more than enough firepower and the league’s best coach in Gregg Popovich. This will be a team that is in contention, and the fact that Pop’s system has been tried, tested and proven allows us to know that guys like Boris Diaw, David West (did we mention he came on a vet min contract and is still absolutely starter quality), Matt Bonner and Kyle Anderson will be absolutely maximized and turned into an effective blend of players?

It is almost like setting a premier pallet of paints before Rembrandt, to put this much talent at Pop’s disposal. David West on a vet min contract is kind of like the glistening “oh by the way” that allows us to take the Spurs very serious as true ring threats.

Share This Post

The information contained at this site is for entertainment purposes only. Any use of this information in violation of any state, federal, or local laws is prohibited.
Copyright © - Premier Sports Picks and Sports Odds Web site