Gabe Botero | October 13th, 2019
Another day, another division preview! The start of the regular season is almost here. T-minus less than two weeks! Are you excited? I’m excited. In fact, I think this could be the most interesting season for both players and for fans. So many teams switched up their rosters in a drastic way and that can only mean one thing: there’s going to be plenty of drama.
This article is all about the Southwest division of the NBA, a division with playoff perennials, rookie and sophomore sensations, and vivacious veterans. We’ll look at the Dallas Mavericks, Houston Rockets, New Orleans Pelicans, Memphis Grizzlies, and the San Antonio Spurs and how their season might shape up this year. I’ll be talking a little bit about their preseason games thus far and how this could translate into the regular season.
By the way, so far all my predictions from my Northwest division preview have manifested. Just saying.
Kristaps Porzingis and Luka Doncic; the European duo that Mark Cuban is relying on to bring the Mavericks back to the playoffs. They’re close and I could see them sneaking into the playoffs but I can’t help but feel that their missing one crucial piece and I can’t quite put my finger on it. It could be Tim Hardaway Jr. but I’m not willing to bet on that. Could it be Boban Marjanovic? I mean he’s made more threes than Ben Simmons and he seems to be a person that everyone likes, opposing players and fans included. Once again, I’m not willing to bet on it. Dallas combined the unicorn in Porzingis and the Rookie of the Year in Doncic; they came to play some basketball.
By the way, did you see Porzingis pull up for three from the logo at the Detroit Pistons game? And make it? Yeah, he could shoot before but this was much further from the basket than his previous attempts. People seemed to forget about him once he disappeared with his season-ending injury. But based on what I have seen thus far, people will remember him very soon. I was waiting for former first-round pick Justin Jackson to show up in both games and after an ok showing against the Oklahoma City Thunder, he played 23 minutes against the Detroit Pistons only to get two measly points. There’s room for improvement and room on the bench if he keeps playing like that.
Dallas was able to lure Seth Curry away from the Portland Trail Blazers and Marjanovic from the Philadelphia 76ers. Besides locking Porzingis in with an extension, they really didn’t make any other offseason splashes. Will the European stars usher in another Golden Age for Dallas? Maybe next year.
Reunited and it feels so good! Russell Westbrook and James Harden back at it again with the offensive onslaught. When I saw that Russ and the Beard were to be on the same team again, quite frankly I was a little hesitant. Combine two players who hold the ball a lot and play defense occasionally isn’t that good of an equation that results in a championship but based on how they’ve been playing thus far in the preseason, I was wrong and I’m ok with that. Westbrook seems to have taken the mantle of Chris Paul’s pass-first mentality, unfortunately, he still has a penchant to shoot the ball way too much. An attribute that has to be reined in on this Rockets team if they want to make it to the finals.
Interestingly enough, the fast break points have shrunk with Westbrook on the court, something I never thought that I would have seen with him on the court. He’s the fastest in the league right now and that can be useful on this team if he wants to spread the floor. To which I say “Run, Russell, run!”.
The offseason was eventful in signing Westbrook and Ben McLemore and a strange catch and release type deal with former number one pick Anthony Bennett. They were able to re-sign Austin Rivers, Gerald Green, and Danuel House Jr. early on in the free agency period. Will the Houston Rockets finally make it to the Finals? Will the Harden fans stop irritating me on Twitter? Will the one-legged step-back fadeaway prove to be revolutionary to the game? I will allow you to say yes to one of these questions because there’s no way that all three come true. The Western Conference Finals are still kind of like the Finals, right? Houston will be able to answer this question for us at the end of the season.
New Orleans Pelicans
Obligatory Zion praise. He’s going to be great.
Now that’s out of the way we can really talk about this team. In one of the craziest offseasons ever for this team, they were able to pick up Derrick Favors, Lonzo Ball, Josh Hart, J.J. Redick, and Brandon Ingram. You could make a team with just those five, but you add in Zion Williamson, Jaxson Hayes, and Jrue Holiday? Well, now you have both my curiosity and my attention. They did lose Anthony Davis and were able to shed the heavy contract of Solomon Hill, nevertheless, there is still room for improvement from some of these remaining players.
While on social media, it seemed that everyone had a couple of drafts that they were just waiting to send out: “Zion is taking the Pelicans to the Playoffs”, “Lonzo’s shot looks amazing”, and “Ingram for Most Improved Player”. Zion and his teammates could very well take this team to the playoffs but saying this as they beat the Atlanta Hawks and Chicago Bulls seems to be a bit premature. Lonzo has shot an average of 20% from the field and 15% from behind the arc thus far. Ingram could very well win Most Improved Player, granted this is like the third year I’ve said this.
Holiday, Favors, and Jahlil Okafor will prove to be the catalysts on this team, and they might get backseat praise playing behind the second coming of Lebron James, that’s Zion in case you haven’t heard. All that being said, I will enjoy watching this team no matter who they play if not only for the social media reactions. The Pelicans might just sneak into the playoffs.
They can start a game with players whose names all start with the letter J. That’s a fun stat. What’s not so fun is that this team is still lottery-bound. Hey, rebuilds happen. It’s a fact that some fans are more used to than others. When you lose cornerstones Marc Gasol and Mike Conley and get Jae Crowder and Jonas Valanciunas, that’s not exactly an upgrade.
Ja Morant is set up to be the next star in Memphis and I could see it! He was great in college and he’s currently on my list of players that I’m most excited to watch this year. He could make a great case to be a leader on this current Grizzlies team and I think that’s when he’ll really shine as a player. In a strange turn of events, Memphis was able to acquire Andre Iguodala from the Golden State Warriors; a trade that he himself ironically predicted. There have been some issues about whether or not he will play for the Grizzlies or if there will be a buyout. Either way, Iguodala is still a pretty good player and can serve as a role player on the Grizzlies or trade bait on the NBA general manager group chat.
They won’t finish last in the Western Conference but when people say your name in the same sentence as the Suns and the Hornets, well that’s not a good outlook. I can’t wait for in a few years that the anthem of the Memphis Grizzlies will be Drake’s “Started from the Bottom”. Hopefully, they will be somewhere other than the bottom otherwise this joke won’t age well.
San Antonio Spurs
I once got in an argument with a Spurs fan in a Dallas airport. He yelled at me when I said it would be hard for the Spurs to make the playoffs this year and his argument was that “Pop never misses the playoffs, he’ll lead us to the playoffs again. You’ll see!” This seems to be the general consensus from the fans, and they have a point. He’s a great coach both on and off the court, domestic and international!
But coaches are not on the court playing basketball. A play can be drawn up to perfection but without the capable players to back it up, the odds of the play working decrease. I thought about saying this to the fan at the airport, but he was much larger than me and a couple drinks in.
The Spurs rely on midrange shooting from DeMar DeRozan, Rudy Gay, and LaMarcus Aldridge. Quite frankly they seem archaic in an age of posters and shooting threes from the logo. They can make their shots and they can play their game, but it seems like they may need to adapt in order to make it more than an eighth seed.
Enter Dejounte Murray. He’s ready for a breakout year. Armed with a new three-point shot and coming off a year of a rehabbed ACL, this explosive point guard has a great potential to be exactly what this team needs, a scorer and a threat from anywhere on the court. Supported by rising stars in Derrick White and Lonnie Walker, there’s a chance that this team keeps its playoff streak going.
Don’t ever count out Gay. He always surprises me. New career highs last season in both field goal percentage and three-point percentage are what helped propel this team to rally in the last half of the season to make the playoffs and he’ll have to stay the course and keep scoring.
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