2018-19 NBA PREVIEW (SOUTHWEST DIVISION)

Chris Paul

SOUTHWEST DIVISION

Here are our team previews for the Western Conference, Southwest Division. We will dissect Houston, San Antonio, Dallas, New Orleans, and Memphis. Can someone overthrow the powerful Rockets this season? Here are our in-depth previews of these teams.

 

Houston Rockets

 

G: Chris Paul

G: James Harden

F: James Ennis III

F: Carmelo Anthony

C: Clint Capela

 

G: Eric Gordon

G: Gerald Green

F: PJ Tucker

F: Marquese Chriss

F: Nene Hilario

 

In the eyes of many people, the Houston Rockets were one healthy Chris Paul away from defeating the Golden State Warriors in last season’s Western Conference Finals. Suffice to say that, since then, everything that the Rockets has been through the lens of overcoming that gap, and wrestling the supremacy of the west away the Warriors.

Given that, it begs the question: did Houston really get better this off-season? Sure, the Rockets made moves. But there’s a difference between “making moves” and “making moves that make your team better.”

Houston saw a couple of key defections from their team that won an NBA-high 65 games last year.

Eric Gordon

Eric Gordon

Specifically, Houston lost two of their best defenders in Trevor Ariza and Luc Richard Mbah a Moute. Those guys aren’t household names, but they’re a major reason why Houston’s defense was able to get so much closer to their offense, thus making them a far more formidable team.

Of course, those losses were offset – from a media coverage perspective – by the acquisition of Carmelo Anthony. Nobody is going to mistake Anthony for being anywhere near the defensive caliber of the aforementioned two guys, but the thought is that his offensive contribution should make up for his lack of a defensive contribution.

But whether that’s actually the case, or whether it’s just wishful thinking, is what remains to be seen this season. How Anthony accepts his role in Houston, especially if it’s coming off the bench, will have a major part in how much of a contribution he’ll make as a whole. Of course, the other ace up Houston’s sleeve might be the fact that they’re a dark-horse in the race for disgruntled forward Jimmy Butler. In matters like that, never count out General Manager Darryl Morey.

 

San Antonio Spurs

 

G: Patty Mills

G: DeMar DeRozan

F: Rudy Gay

F: LaMarcus Aldridge

C: Pau Gasol

 

G: Marco Bellinelli

G: Bryn Forbes

F: Dante Cunningham

F: Davis Bertans

C: Jakob Poeltl

 

Derrick White — 6-8 weeks (Plantar Fasciitis)

Lonnie Walker IV — 6-8 weeks minimum (knee surgery)

 

Over the last 29 years, the San Antonio Spurs have made the playoffs 27 of 29 times. But between losing a guy who most people consider to be one of the top 10 (if not higher) players in the NFL, followed by a rash of injuries to several players they were counting on this season, many people believe this could be the first time the Spurs fail to qualify for the playoffs for the first time since the year before Tim Duncan was even drafted.

Any NBA fan is well aware of the biggest headline, which dominated a majority of this past off-season: the Spurs traded forward Kawhi Leonard, along with guard Danny Green, to the Toronto Raptors, in exchange for All-NBA guard DeMar DeRozan, center Jakob Poetl, and a protected first round pick in the 2019 NBA Draft.

So the latest iteration of this heralded franchise will be built upon a guy who publicly demanded a trade last off-season (Lamarcus Aldridge), and a guy who was devastated to be traded by his former team (DeRozan).

An optimistic fan will tell you that those two represent two guys who were named All-NBA Second Team last year, meaning they effectively had two of the 10 best players in the NBA last year. The pessimist will tell you that neither one of those guys are true “superstars” in the way that Leonard was, and might not be enough to get the Spurs where they expect to be each year.

Adding to all of this are the injuries suffered by Dejounte Murray, Derrick White, and Lonnie Walker IV. Murray’s injury was absolutely devastating, as many people believed he could be the breakout start of this season, especially given the departure by Tony Parker.

Then, Derrick White – who was going to see extended time as Murray’s replacement – went down for the next two months with a bout of plantar fasciitis. Even Lonnie Walker IV, the team’s top pick in the 2018 NBA Draft (who was a steal of a pick at 18th overall), will miss the next two months at minimum due to knee surgery.

But there’s a reason Gregg Popovich is still the most respected coach in the NBA, and the Spurs being the most venerated franchise. This team knows exactly who and what it is, so bet against them at your own risk.


Dallas Mavericks

 

Starting Lineup

 

G: Luka Doncic

G: Dennis Smith Jr.

F: Harrison Barnes

F: Dirk Nowitzki

C: DeAndre Jordan

 

Key Reserves

 

G: Welsey Matthews

G: J.J. Barea

G: Devin Harris

F: Dorian Finney-Smith

F: Maxi Kleber

 

Amidst the ongoing investigation and specter of the “workplace hostility” accusations levied against the team’s front office, if there was a team that needed something to right for the franchise as a whole, it was the Dallas Mavericks.

And it’s safe to say that any such prayers by Mavericks’ employees and fans were answered, when the team found themselves in position to select Luka Dončić in the 2018 NBA Draft.

As the team use the 2018-2019 season, in large part, as a farewell tour for the most decorated player in

Luka Doncic

Luka Doncic

franchise history in Dirk Nowitzki, it’s also going to very much be a coming out party for Dončić. The reigning EuroLeague MVP comes into the league as one of the most ready-to-play-immediately prospects in the entire draft class, and even in the preseason, Dončić’s highlights are already start to make their way around social media.

On a team that’s mostly filled with (high-priced) complimentary parts, Dončić – who’s effectively a point guard in the body of a wing player, with a skill-set that allows him to do virtually anything on the court – will have free reign to run the team.

If Dončić assumes more of a true point guard role, that’ll allow Dennis Smith Jr. – the team’s top pick in last year’s draft – to play in more of an off-guard capacity, a role for which he might actually be better suited. In fact, as Dončić increasingly becomes the focus of opposing teams, that’ll allow for greater opportunities for Smith, Harrison Barnes, and DeAndre Jordan to play their parts, without having to worry about being “the guy” for the Mavericks.

While Dallas’ starting five should be able to keep them in most games, the bench is far more suspect, and represents the Achilles’ heel for the Mavericks. It is, in large part, why the Mavericks have a projected win total somewhere in the mid 30’s. But given what the starting lineup could be, that win total feels rather low to many people.

 

New Orleans Pelicans

 

Starting Lineup

 

G: Jrue Holiday

G: E’Twaun Moore

F: Nikola Mirotic

F: Julius Randle

C: Anthony Davis

 

Key Reserves

 

G: Elfrid Payton

G: Ian Clark

F: Darius Miller

F: Solomon Hill

C: Jahlil Okafor

 

You can’t talk about New Orleans without starting the conversation around Anthony Davis. Arguably one of the most gifted players from the day he entered the NBA, from an “all the tools you could ever ask for” from a basketball standpoint, Davis finally took that leap from “star” to “one of the most singularly dominant players in the league.” In 75 games last year, Davis scored 28.1 points per game (4th-highest in the NBA), hit 53.4% of his field goals, shot 34% from three, and hit just under 83% of his free throws — all of which were career highs.

Unsurprisingly, the conversation then shifts to “what is there, besides Davis?”

The mid-season acquisition of forward Nikola Mirotic was a huge part of Davis’ boom last year, and New Orleans went out and signed forward Julius Randle as a free agent. As a front line, the three of them sounds rather promising. But with Randle really being more of a guy who operates from the post, there are some questions as to how Davis and Randle would fit on the court together. More specifically, is there a crunch time lineup that features both Davis and Randle together? Similar to the questions faced when the Pelicans had when Demarcus Cousins was there, that remains to be seen; it’s not a coincidence that Davis was fully unleashed after Cousins went down with an injury.

The other big story-line in New Orleans involves their rather-thin back-court. Point guard Jrue Holiday is coming off a career season in which he was named to the NBA All-Defensive First Team, and set career highs in points per game (19.0) and field goal percentage (49.4%). But Holiday operated as something of an off-guard for large portions of last season, next to Rajon Rondo. Rondo’s departure from New Orleans should not be understated, considering he led the team with 12.2 assists per game, and provided tremendous veteran leadership and savvy while on the court.


 

Memphis Grizzlies

 

Starting Lineup

 

G: Mike Conley

G: Andrew Harrison

F: Kyle Anderson

F: JaMychal Green

C: Marc Gasol

 

Key Reserves

 

G: Garrett Temple

G: Wayne Selden Jr.

F: Dillon Brooks

F: Jaren Jackson Jr.

F: Chandler Parsons

 

So the Memphis Grizzlies have an All-Star center who’s entering the twilight of his career, an All-Star caliber point guard who’s also entering the twilight of his career (while consuming about 25% of the team’s entire salary cap), and a tremendously talented big-man with All-Star potential, whom they drafted with their top selection in the 2018 NBA Draft.

And honestly, there’s not much else after that.

Asking Mike Conley and Marc Gasol to push a rag-tag group of players to a run at one of the last spots in the

Mike Conley Jr.

Mike Conley Jr.

Western Conference playoffs might be a bit much, even if the West is more wide-open than usual.

The glass half-full world for the Grizzlies involves free agent signee Kyle Anderson (formerly of the San Antonio Spurs) approaching double-digit scoring per game and flirting with 40% shooting from three, Jaren Jackson getting double-digit points and seven or eight rebounds per game, and Chandler Parsons meaningfully contributing for more than 50 games. But even if all three of those happen, nobody is going to suddenly mistake this team for the Golden State Warriors, because they would still lack a go-to scorer in offense-centric NBA.

At the risk of being overly pessimistic, there’s a strong chance that Memphis not only ends up near the bottom the Western Conference, but right in the mix for the highest odds in the 2019 NBA Draft lottery. If things start heading south by the holiday season, expect there to be a lot of discussion around Memphis potentially moving Conley and/or Gasol for assets to use to rebuild this team. The Grizzlies have loads of cap room after this season is over, giving them even greater flexibility for their upcoming rebuild.