How will the NBA Southwest division pan out in its first year without Tim Duncan in two decades?
The NBA Southwest division has not even been in existence as long as Tim Duncan was killing ’em softly in San Antonio. For the first time in twenty years, the ‘Big Fundamental’ will not be in silver and black. Will this shift the balance of power in the division, giving Houston or Memphis opportunities to take the division? Or can a Dallas or New Orleans surprise?
Here’s our look at the 2016-17 NBA Preview: Southwest Division.
Projected Order of Finish
1. San Antonio Spurs
Tim Duncan, Kobe Bryant and Kevin Garnett all decided to leave us in the same offseason, and that makes me sad. I’m sure fans of the San Antonio Spurs are a bit more sad than I am, but the silver lining is that Pau Gasol will serve as the replacement for Duncan in the lineup. Gasol has always been a team-first guy. Although he’s a bit long in the tooth himself, he still sees the floor well and is a good post defender. I think he will fit right in with the Spurs and along with Kawhi Leonard and LaMarcus Aldridge, should help Gregg Popovich’s team win their sixth Southwest Division title over the past seven years. The biggest concern I would have for the Spurs would be at the point guard position. If something happens to Tony Parker, they could be sailing down the Riverwalk with no paddle. But since we cannot predict injuries and no other team in the division stacks up better against the Spurs than they did last year, I’d be wiling to bet that Leonard and Aldridge help these guys repeat, especially since they too had a legitimate shot of winning 70 games last year.
2. Houston Rockets
The Rockets may have been the most disappointing team in the NBA last season. Coming off an appearance in the Western Conference Finals, the Rockets struggled all of last season defensively and with chemistry. At the root of the discontent was the relationship between James Harden and Dwight Howard. Howard is now in Atlanta, so that alone may reboot the chemistry in the locker room. The Rockets also added talented, but risky players in Ryan Anderson and Eric Gordon. The Rockets are getting a lot of spacing with Anderson and Gordon, which could open up things for Harden in the mid-range area and keep defenders honest when he is probing and attacking the basket. However, Anderson and Gordon have struggled with injuries for several seasons, so it’s possible these two could miss significant time this upcoming season. While the Rockets lost a few pieces this offseason, the chance of improving team chemistry, the additions of Anderson and Gordon and the hiring of Mike D’Antoni could get this team moving in the right direction again. Still, they will likely struggle to defend at a high level or consistently, which means their offense will need to be hitting on all cylinders.
3. Memphis Grizzlies
I wasn’t crazy about the addition of Chandler Parsons. I’m not a big fan of Parsons’ game and I don’t think he’s the kind of player who puts a team over the top and into contention. It’ll be interesting to see what impact David Fizdale has as the team’s new head coach. I was a big fan of what he did with the Miami HEAT, but there’s always an adjustment period when a guy becomes a head coach for the first time. If Memphis can stay healthy, they have a solid group that should be able to win a lot of regular season and be a tough out in the playoffs, but it’s hard to imagine this team being a legitimate contender since they’re a few notches below elite squads like the Golden State Warriors and San Antonio Spurs.
4. Dallas Mavericks
The Mavericks powered through to another playoff appearance last season, but sooner or later they won’t have the luxury of riding the back of future Hall of Fame forward Dirk Nowitzki. Dallas has had a tough time acquiring another superstar talent to usher in the next phase of Mavericks basketball, but did lock in forward Harrison Barnes in free agency to a four-year deal worth nearly $100 million. Barnes has always had the “potential” halo attached to his name, but in Dallas he’ll get a chance to break out of the shadow of being a role player and jump into a more prominent role. We know Dallas is going to be a well-coached and mentally tough bunch, but the franchise is relying on Nowitzki to do much of the heavy lifting, which limits their ceiling.
5. New Orleans Pelicans
What a difference a year makes. Heading into training camp last season, fresh off of a playoff berth, most were preparing for an absolute monster (and possibly MVP-level) campaign from All-Star forward Anthony Davis. But Davis limped to just 61 appearances and the club staggered its way to only 30 victories the entire season. Now, the heightened expectations have leveled off and the 2016-17 campaign is shaping up to be one of redemption for Davis and head coach Alvin Gentry. The team lost established veterans Eric Gordon and Ryan Anderson in free agency, but invested over $70 million in role players E’Twaun Moore and Solomon Hill in early July. The gamble may pay off, as both guys have showed flashes of potential in limited roles. The key to the Pelicans’ success, however, starts and ends with the play of Davis. For New Orleans gets back into the playoffs, Davis would have to hear his name in the nightly MVP discussion.