2014/15 Predictions: The Southwest Division

1: The San Antonio Spurs

The Spurs will be looking to repeat as champions for the first time in franchise history.

The Spurs will be looking to repeat as champions for the first time in franchise history.

The Southwest Division is likely going to be the deepest and toughest division in the league.  They were the only division last year with three 50-win teams, and the fourth-place team, The Dallas Mavericks, won 49 games.  The worst team in the division came away with 34 wins, the most for any team at the bottom of their division last year, and good enough to place them ahead of ten other teams. Given the stiff competition, it might be a stretch to suggest that the ever-aging Spurs dynasty can win another division title, but far from aging, these guys look timeless.  Duncan’s per36 minutes stats weren’t too far off from numbers he was putting up when he was thirty, and though Manu Ginobili does seem to have lost a step, Tony Parker was as fluid as ever with his unguardable spin-cycle move.  But the secret to the Spurs’ success is not their ‘big three’, but rather their dedication to team play.  With last year’s finals MVP Kwahi Leonard still improving his game, and guys like Patty Mills and Danny Green developing into legit NBA starters, if not stars, the Spurs have as much youth as they do experience.  Veterans Boris Diaw and Marco Belinelli, with the help of combo guard Corey Joseph, should give the Spurs the depth they need to weather the injury of Patty Mills to start the season, and as is often the case, the Spurs got one of the biggest steals of the draft in Kyle Anderson, who racked up a staggering number of steals, blocks, rebounds and assists in college and was expected to go in the lottery by many, before dropping to 30th due to perceived weight issues.  Given how Diaw also had such concerns, it seems reasonable to expect the Spurs to make the most out of Anderson, and with Greg Popovich and the league’s best coaching staff leading the way, the Spurs are the heavy favorites to take the Southwest crown.

 

2:  The New Orleans Pelicans

Anthony Davis will look to make his first playoff appearance, and will likely be a top candidate for Defensive Player of the Year.

Anthony Davis will look to make his first playoff appearance, and will likely be a top candidate for Defensive Player of the Year.

Given that the Rockets, Mavericks and Grizzlies played as well as they did last season, there likely aren’t many who think that the Pelicans can leap frog over these three teams this year, but looking at their roster, is seems as though it is possible.  In the middle, the Pelicans have one of the league’s elite rebounders in Omer Asik, who they picked up for next to nothing, and alongside him another rebounding stud in Anthony Davis at power forward.  Given that both are exceptional rebounders and defenders, it seems unlikely that the Pelican will be victims of any speedy point guards who break down defenses on the perimeter.  At small forward they have past MIP winner Ryan Anderson, who can slide over to power forward.  Anderson spreads the floor with his three-point shot and gives the Pelican a reliable scorer, and with a veteran like John Salmons backing him up, the Pelicans should do well outside of nights when Anderson is matching up with LeBron James or Kevin Durant.  All-Star point guard Jrue Holiday will likely be starting at point guard again, and promising young guards Tyrke Evans and Eric Gordon will be eating up most of the minutes in the back court.  There are legitimate concerns about Evan’s woeful shooting last year, but Gordon and Anderson will likely be the team’s sharp shooter, allowing Evans to do what he does best: rebound, pass the ball and get steals.  The addition of Asik really gives the team some meat inside and the Rockets may find that they regret dumping Asik on a division rival by the season’s end.  There is a lack of depth in the front court, but so long as there are no injuries, the Pelicans should be poised for a huge improvement this season, and may even push a first-round opponent to seven game, though I don’t see them winning a series this year.

 

3:  The Houston Rockets

 

Dwight Howard (left) and James Harden (right) will have to step up their game to compensate for the loss of several players.

Dwight Howard (left) and James Harden (right) will have to step up their game to compensate for the loss of several players.

If it hadn’t been for the addition of Trevor Ariza, I likely would have had the Rockets finishing last.  They lost Omer Asik, Jeremy Lin, and Chandler Parsons, and received little back in return, and though the loss of Lin won’t hurt much beyond jersey sales, Parson’s long-range shooting and Asik’s rebounding and defense will be sorely missed.  In Ariza, though, the Rockets picked up an exceptional defender who can shoot from behind the arc, which will compensate for James Harden’s defensive deficiencies.  Dwight Howard will likely need a little help on the glass, but power forward Terrence Jones will be returning to help on the glass, and with the addition of Jeff Ardien, the Rockets have a solid front court rotation as far as rebounding is concerned.  The biggest question for the Rockets will be at point guard.  With D.J. Augustin and Jameer Nelson on the market, the Rockets could have likely done a better job in free agency of bringing somebody in to improve the point guard rotation.  Jason Terry should be able to pick up some minutes there, and Patrick Beverly could do well at the point if he develops a strong passing game.  For now, however, Beverly is more like a shooting guard in a point guard’s body, and without at least one solid distributor on the roster, the Rockets will likely see a significant amount of turnovers.  There are high expectations for Kevin McHale, and a slow start could cost him his job and send the front office scrambling to the phones, trying to sign a competent coach and make a trade that will land the team a qualified ball handler.

 

4:  The Memphis Grizzlies

 

The Grizzlies may not have a superstar, but they have one of the best defensive line-up in the league.

The Grizzlies may not have a superstar, but they have one of the best defensive line-up in the league.

It would be hard to picture a better defensive line-up than the ones the Grizzlies have.  With Tony Allen and Mike Conley in the back court, and Tayshuan Prince and Marc Gason in the front court, there are some stellar defenders in the starting line-up, and though Zach Randolph isn’t quite the defender that Gasol is, his consistent offensive game, rebounding, and vastly improved passing skills make him an important piece to the puzzle for the Grizzlies.  The addition of Vince Carter was a small coup for the Grizzlies, and though he won’t be expected to do much given his age, stealing him away from the Maverick reduces the fire power the Mavs have at their disposal, while simultaneously giving the Grizzlies a valuable scoring punch off the bench.  Courtney Lee, Fab Melo and Kosta Koufos give the Grizzlies some interesting pieces of the bench that should allow them to stretch the resource they have into another playoff berth, though I wouldn’t expect a deep run out of this roster without a significant trade.  At best these guys will look like the 2004 Pistons on some nights, but after the first round they will likely be reminded of the criticism they face last season: without a star player, they will not be able to make a run for a championship.

 

 

5:  The Dallas Mavericks

 

Dirk Nowitzki will be welcoming back Tyson Chandler, but it seems unlikely that they will be able to repeat their past success together.

Dirk Nowitzki will be welcoming back Tyson Chandler, but it seems unlikely that they will be able to repeat their past success together.

A year ago I would have seen the loss of Jose Calderon as a big deal, but given that the Mavericks relied heavily on Monta Ellis for balling handling, and given that they have picked up Jameer Nelson, Raymond Felton and have Devon Harris returning, the Mavericks should be set at point guard, and with Ellis attacking the basket and Chandler Parsons on the wing, Dirk Nowitzki should be able to pick up from where he left off last year in terms of shooting percentage.  The departure of Vince Carter might hurt them, but the addition of Richard Jefferson should offset that.  The biggest news for the Mavericks is the return of DPOY Tyson Chandler and the signing of Chandler Parsons.  Tyson Chandler will provide rebounding and interior defense, which will be especially important given the departure of Shawn Marion whose perimeter defense was grossly undervalued by many outside of Mark Cuban, while Parsons will more than make up for the loss of Marion on offense but will not likely be able to perform as well on defense.  I don’t expect the Mavericks to win as many games this year as they did last, but I expect they will still finish over .500.  With a solid coaching staff (Rick Carlisle is one of only four current coaches to lead a team to a championship), the Mavs should be able to keep up with Houston and Memphis throughout the season, even if they fall slightly behind them.  Of course, if Parson continues to improve on his game, the Mavericks could fin themselves chasing 50 wins and second place in the division.

Speak Your Mind

*