Project Shanks NBA Preview: Southwest Division

By Matthew Carpenter
PSDC Writer

NBA SOUTHWEST DIVISION PREVIEW

tim-duncan

Since the NBA realigned to six divisions in 2004, this might be the best division ever assembled. All five teams have the ability to make the playoffs. It will be fun to watch and is really difficult to project.

Projected Order of Finish

1. Spurs. The coolest thing about the Spurs’ 2013-14 regular season run is that they won 62 games and had no player average more than 30 minutes-per-game. (Tom Thibodeau please take note.) I won’t hide my bias. Gregg Popovich is my favorite coach in any professional sport in my lifetime. If you’re into stats, check out just how valuable Pop has been to his team relative to win expectancy.

Say ‘Hello’ to: (assistant coach) Becky Hammon. This is only a cool story because it’s not a gimmick. I know very little about Hammon but I know GM R.C. Buford and Pop wouldn’t hire her if it didn’t help the team.

Outlook: No one manages a roster better than Pop, but he can’t control Father Time. In the playoffs, will San Antonio have 2012 Manu Ginobli or 2013 Manu? Sure the emergence of Kawhi Leonard and Patty Mills helps age-related concerns, but each year the core gets older, the tighter the fingers are crossed. They’re a team capable of another title run, but matching last season’s greatness will be a tall order.

2. Rockets. This team was so irritating to watch. Score. Let the other team score. Then James Harden shoots 14 free throws in the last three minutes to seal the victory. Before Houston got Lillard’ed in the first round, the Rockets put up 54 wins. With offensive talent like Chandler Parsons and Jeremy Lin, the Rockets were built to score a lot of points. This works for regular season success, but when Dwight Howard and Patrick Beverly are the only guys defending, you’re not long for the playoffs.

Say ‘Hello’ to: Trevor Ariza. I have no problem replacing Parsons with the cheaper Ariza. He will greatly improve their abysmal team defense and maintain floor spacing (40% 3P% last season).

Outlook: I think the Rockets are better built for post-season success.  But I’m done waiting for fulfillment of widespread proclamations that Harden and Howard will actually develop into more complete players. They are what they are – elite but flawed all-stars. There’s nothing wrong with that. I just don’t think Kevin McHale has the chops or all of the pieces to get Houston over the hump this season. A lot of regular season wins and an early playoff exit.

3. Grizzlies. The Griz might be bizarro Rockets. They are relentless defensively as Dave Joerger was able to have maintain the defensive success Memphis enjoyed under Lionel Hollins. They struggle to score, but their formula of rebounding, defense and protecting the ball make them an incredibly tough out in the playoffs. And who doesn’t love Tony Allen?

Say ‘Hello’ to: Vince Carter. I’ve dogged on Vince’s lack of game awareness and all-around aloof chucking for years. But he wasn’t terrible the last couple seasons in Dallas. Grizzlies need scoring so the green light should be flashing for VC.

Outlook: Marc Gasol and Mike Conley are healthy and should have great years. The Griz are hard to peg because their margin for error is thin as Zach Randolph is really their only elite scorer. But if they can get additional bench points from Carter and rookies Jordan Adams and Jarnell Stokes, they can creep up the standings. Regardless, if the Grizzlies get to the playoffs, their defense and frontcourt will allow them to make noise. So don’t be surprised if that happens.

4. Pelicans. I’ve searched for reasons to push New Orleans up the board. They have my favorite young player, my favorite nickname and reside in one of my favorite cities. So I did. New Orleans won 34 games last year and had a ton of injuries. While this is Eric Gordon’s M.O., the other key players who missed extended time – Jrue Holiday (48 missed games), Ryan Anderson (60) don’t have serious injury histories. They aren’t deep on the perimeter, but the reports are that Gordon is the healthiest he has been in years (for what it’s worth). Holiday is one season removed from being an All-Star.

Prediction – Anthony Davis will be the next player not named LeBron or Durant to win an NBA MVP. After showing he can score at the next level, the 21-year old Davis was 7th in the league with a .212 WS/48. If he improves his interior passing, he’ll be the most complete big guy in the league right dang now.

Say ‘Hello’ to: Omer Asik. Omer the Red Nosed Turk was acquired from the Rockets for a protected 1st round pick. I like Omer, but at the time was a little confused by this move. Once I took a look at the Pelicans’ defensive numbers it made a lot of sense. Davis can pretty much guard anywhere on the floor, so adding another rim protector (who is also one of the league’s best rebounders) was a good call.

Outlook: I like Monty Williams and really want to see him coach a healthy roster, but if the wheels fall off early he might be one of the first coaches on the chopping block. The Pelicans have shot-creators and two guys who can shut down the interior on defense. They’ll have to be better in transition and get rebounding from someone other than Davis and Asik but I see them fighting with the Mavs and Suns for the final playoff spot.

5. Mavs. Here is where I diverge the most from conventional wisdom. A lot of smart NBA observers seem ready to hand over Executive of the Year to Donnie Nelson. I don’t. That being said, I get the team’s strategy. Dirk is on the wrong side of 35, so let’s find some proven veterans to take another run at the title. The Mavs probably gave San Antonio their toughest test last postseason and I’m wondering if that gave the front office some misplaced hope. I just don’t get their team composition. Yes, Chandler Parsons is a talented scorer and Jameer Nelson is a trustworthy veteran point guard, but who the heck is going to guard someone? Tyson Chandler can’t do it by himself. On the flip side, Rick Carlisle has a proven record as a tactician so they’ll be a very difficult team to defend with Dirk, Monta Ellis and Parsons on the floor.

Say ‘Hello’ to: Tyson Chandler. Chandler’s games played since 2008-09: 45, 51, 74, 62, 66, 55. Chandler still rebounds well, but the rest of his game took a dip last season. It’s difficult to bring the “toughness” element to a team when you’re not on the floor. Chandler has had a really nice career but Mavs’ fans expecting the 2010-11 vintage are likely to be disappointed.

Outlook: A really good coach can hide one or two defensive liabilities. Carlisle will have to hide more than that. The Mavs will score a lot but I have them scratching from the outside of the playoff picture. And that’s a shame because who doesn’t love watching Dirk play playoff basketball?

Best Rookie: Kyle Anderson. He might not get a ton of minutes this year, but there’s something about the Spurs drafting a 6’9 combo guard that spells trouble for the rest of the league. Just seems like someday Marv Albert will be saying, “Do 29 teams wish they didn’t pass on Anderson? Yes.”

Coach Rankings: 1) Pop 2) Carlisle 3) Williams 4) Joerger 5) McHale

Weird Tweet of the Off-Season:

Just go with it.

Best Celebrity Fan: Grantland just did their Celebrity Fan feature and I learned that badass actor Danny Trejo is a Spurs’ fan. So that’s a great piece of info.

danny-trejo-spurs

Worst Celebrity Fan: Lost Chandler. Kept Jim. This guy’s flippin’ show. Geez. (though it’s nice to know people go to Rockets’ games now)

jim-parsons-rockets

Speak Your Mind

*