Thunder Obsessed staff got together and we’re going to preview all six divisions. Then we’re going to vote, pick a conference champ, then a world champion. We’ll conclude it all by choosing your award winners. Then at the end of the season we’ll see how wrong we were.
As the NBA season gets closer, teams in the Southwest division are beginning their preseason games and deciding who they need to keep on their roster. Right now seems to be one of the strongest divisions in the NBA. They have teams that have proven they can win, with three teams from the division making the playoffs last year. The other teams in the division made good moves over the off season to help them get better going into the season.
Additions: Monta Ellis, Devin Harris, Jose Calderon, Dejaun Blair, Wayne Ellington, Samuel Dalembert, Ricky Ledo, Shane Larkin (draft).
Losses: OJ Mayo, Anthony Morrow, Chris Kaman, Darren Collison, Mike James, Rodrigue Beaubois.
Expectations: Coming off a season filled with injuries the Mavericks main concern this season should be to keep Dirk Nowitzki healthy. He has been the heart of the Mavericks for many years now and that was very obvious when Dallas struggled during the 29 games he missed last season.
After losing O.J. Mayo in free agency the Mavericks began trying to sign Dwight Howard but instead settled for Monta Ellis, Devin Harris and Jose Calderon. With these additions Dallas has a chance to win enough games to challenge for a low playoff seed in the West but it will be difficult. With Nowitzki getting older, he did not look the same last year. Although he was recovering from an injury, Nowitzki’s points per game dropped to 17.3 points per game, dropping a little over five points from his career average of 22.6 points per game. This means that Dallas will need people like Calderon and Ellis to step up and help Nowitzki produce points.
Overall the Mavericks have a solid starting five, which will most likely be Devin Harris or Jose Calderon at point guard, Monta Ellis, Shawn Marion, Dirk Nowitzki and Samuel Dalembert. While this is a solid group it will be hard for them to keep up with some of the teams in the Western Conference this year. Overall though if they can stay away from injuries this team has a chance at making the playoffs. After going 41-41 last year the Mavericks seem to have added enough pieces to improve on that record from last year.
The Houston Rockets
Additions: Dwight Howard, Reggie Williams, Omri Casspi, Isaiah Canaan, Robert Covington, Marcus Camby, Ronnie Brewer.
Losses: Thomas Robinson, James Anderson, Tim Ohlbrecht.
Expectations: After making the playoffs last season the Houston Rockets, lead by James Harden, made one of the biggest moves of the off season by picking up Dwight Howard in free agency. This should no doubt help the Rockets improve on their 45 wins last year. If the chemistry is right, Dwight Howard could make a huge difference for this team.
While Howard is not exactly outstanding on offense, the Rockets don’t need him to be. With players like James Harden and Chandler Parsons, Houston is more than capable of putting up points just as they showed last season when they averaged 106 points per game. Where they do need help though is defense. Houston was 28th in the NBA in points allowed per game. This is where Howard will help the most. The three-time NBA Defensive Player of the Year should give the rockets and big boost on defense that could make this team very dangerous.
While Howard will play a major role in the teams success, the player to watch for this team is James Harden. Harden has gotten better every year he has been in the league and proved to everyone last year that he was more than capable of being the main man for a team. Coming into this season, it will be fun to watch how Harden and Howard work together. After taking a lot of criticism for being a bad teammate last season in Los Angeles, Howard will be the one of the biggest factors for the Rockets this season. Everyone knows Harden will produce and do his job, but the key is to get Howard to buy into things in order to help this team win. If he does this the Rockets have a chance to win a lot of games this season with the pieces they have and could be looking at one of the top four or five seeds in the Western conference.
The New Orleans Pelicans
Additions: Anthony Morrow, Greg Stiemsma, Tyreke Evans, Jeff Withey, Greg Stiemsma, Jrue Holiday, Arinze Onuaku, Lazar Hayward.
Losses: Lou Amundson, Roger Mason Jr., Xavier Henry, Greivis Vasquez, Robin Lopez, Terrel Harris.
Expectations: After only winning 27 games last season, the Pelicans decided it was time for a change. Not only did they change their name from the Hornets to the Pelicans but they decided to make some changes to the roster. After finding a potential centerpiece to build around in Anthony Davis, the Pelicans have now placed a good group of talent around him.
This off season, the Pelicans traded for former Philadelphia 76ers point guard, Jrue Holiday, while also picking up Tyreke Evans in free agency. These pick ups, along with Anthony davis, Eric Gordon and Austin Rivers should help the Pelicans improve on their record from last year. While it will not be easy being in one of the toughest divisions in the NBA, the Pelicans have a chance to make great improvements from last year.
With these added pieces, New Orleans could have a shot at the playoffs. However, this would be a lot to ask of a younger team playing in one of the tougher divisions in the NBA. If Davis can continue to improve along with the other younger players on this team, they could have a good season in which they could contend to make the playoffs as a lower seed.
The Memphis Grizzlies
Additions: Mike Miller, Nick Calathes, Jamaal Franklin, Melvin Ely, Tony Gaffney.
Losses: Austin Daye, Keyon Dooling, Donte Greene, Tony Wroten Jr.
Expectations: After making it to the Western Conference Finals last season, the Memphis Grizzlies are looking to build on last season. While the Grizzlies didn’t make a ton of off season moves, they really didn’t need to make moves. Going into this season you can expect the Grizzlies to do what they do best which is play defense. Lead by the NBA Defensive Player of the Year, Marc Gasol, the Grizzlies, were first in the league in points allowed per game. This should be no different going into this year as Marc Gasol continues to improve.
Memphis will once again have a good chance at winning a lot of games and making a long playoff run. This team will be difficult to beat, especially in a seven game series because of their physical style of play. With a frontcourt that features Marc Gasol and Zach Randolph, the Grizzlies are able get a large number of points in the paint and just out rebound other teams which are two key things to winning any basketball game.
While Gasol and Randolph stand out offensively, their starting five is full of players than can step up defensively. Tony Allen and Tayshaun Prince are players that are capable of shutting down a lot of NBA players. When you put all of these pieces together with a good point guard in Mike Conley the Grizzlies should be one of the better teams in the Western Conference while also having a shot at making another long playoff run.
The San Antonio Spurs
Additions: Marco Belinelli, Jeff Pendergraph, Corey Maggette, Myck Kabongo, Sam Young.
Losses: DeJuan Blair, Tracy McGrady, Gary Neal.
Expectations: One rebound was all San Antonio needed late in game six of last season’s NBA Finals to walk away with a championship. Going into this season you should expect another big year for the Spurs. Although this is a team that is getting older they still have enough weapons to win a lot of games over the course of the season.
While Tim Duncan, Manu Ginobili, and Tony Parker are getting older they can still produce enough to lead this team. While these guys have been the leaders of the franchise for many years now, the Spurs now have a good group of younger talent around them that is only getting better. Danny Green, Kawhi Leonard and Tiago Splitter all proved last season that they are good NBA players that are only improving.
With most of their important pieces coming back this year the Spurs are one of the teams to beat in the NBA. Not only do they have a great core, they are probably the most well coached team in the NBA. Under Greg Popovich, the Spurs play better team basketball than just about anyone else. Last year, San Antonio led the NBA in assists per game, which is one of the main factors for their success. While the Spurs might not be the flashiest or most exciting team in the NBA, too many fans expect them to make another long run in the playoffs and to be a championship contender going into the 2014 season.