2017-18 Season Preview: Southwest Division


This is legitimately the toughest division in the league, and the hardest to predict. I wouldn’t feel particularly confident in betting on any one of these teams to miss the playoffs, as all five have a chance. Even though I say that, Dallas is a safe pick as of now to be last in the division. Memphis and New Orleans are an injury to one of their superstars away from being as bad or worse than the Mavs. Top to bottom, this is the most well-coached division; although the rest of the West is arguably close.

With that, let’s dive in…

       Houston Rockets – Projected: 62-20

Key Losses: Patrick Beverley, Montrezl Harrell, Lou Williams, Corey Brewer

Key Additions: Chris Paul, PJ Tucker, Luc Mbah a Moute, Tarik Black

Projected Starters:
G – Chris Paul
G – James Harden
F – Trevor Ariza
F – Ryan Anderson
C – Clint Capela

In year one under Mike D’Antoni, James Harden led the Houston Rockets to a top-10 offense in league history. If you look at what they lost, it seems impactful; until you look at what they gained. Part of me wishes we could have seen Chris Paul in a D’Antoni-system earlier in his career, but this will have to do. I fully expect Paul & Harden to lead Houston to another top-10 offensive season. Although the Warriors are continuously raising that bar.

Chris Paul’s presence takes pressure defensively off of James Harden, much like Pat Beverley did. Of course, CP3 will also alleviate Harden’s offensive burdens as well. The Rockets biggest potential step forward from last season, however, comes in a significant boost to their defense. Both Tucker and Mbah a Moute are candidates to start in place of Anderson. Regardless if they start or not, PJ and Luc give Houston a pair of more than capable perimeter defenders behind Trevor Ariza.  Eric Gordon should be a finalist for 6th Man of the Year again, if healthy.

Best Case: I’m not sure I foresee any best case scenario in which Houston gets the 1 seed. So for that sake, I’ll say best case is 65+ wins and a solid hold on the 2 seed. The addition of Chris Paul helps boost the Rockets past the Spurs, and into the Western Conference Finals. Houston’s offense would need to get absolutely red hot for 5-6 games against the Warriors to be able to realistically win 4. It’s certainly not impossible, but feels unlikely

Worst Case: Chris Paul again only plays about 60 games. The rest of the roster struggles with injuries, as well. Houston stutters out of the gate, and vastly underachieve on their way to a 47 win season and the 6 seed in the West. A first round role-reversal rematch with OKC proves to be their worst nightmare, and the Rockets are ousted in six games.

       San Antonio Spurs – Projected: 61-21

Key Losses: Jonathan Simmons, Dewayne Dedmon

Key Additions: Rudy Gay

Projected Starters:
G – Patty Mills
G – Danny Green
F – Kawhi Leonard
F – LaMarcus Aldridge
C – Pau Gasol

San Antonio is safely a lock to be a top three team in the West. I don’t see a scenario in which both Houston and Oklahoma City finish ahead of them. For the sake of my predictions, I chose Houston at #2. It could easily be San Antonio second (check the projected records, they’re purposely close).

Kawhi is expected to be fully healthy to start the season. He’s sitting out the preseason, but that seems more precautionary than anything else. Tony Parker is aiming to return around the end of November. So, they may be missing two starters on opening day. But I expect only Parker will be out. And, honestly, Patty Mills is probably a better player at this point in their careers than Tony.

While coached by Gregg Popovich, the Spurs have been THE model of consistency. 60+ wins for back to back seasons would be just another drop in the bucket for this legendary franchise. Expect Kawhi Leonard to put up MVP type numbers again, on a top three team in the loaded Western Conference, but to once again be denied legitimate MVP consideration. While those of us who love the game understand there is absolutely nothing “boring” about the Spurs, old heads in the media still haven’t gotten past that ignorant inaccuracy, for whatever reason.

Best Case: San Antonio is carried by a fully healthy Kawhi and a reinvigorated LaMarcus to 65+ wins and the 2 seed. The Spurs face a familiar challenge in the playoffs, again defensively overpowering the offensive-minded Rockets. This year in the Western Conference Finals, Kawhi stays healthy and nearly single-handedly upsets the reigning champs, like many hoped he could have done last season.

Worst Case: Kawhi faces setbacks with his knee, and misses a lot of time. The Spurs age and lack of depth shows throughout the season, and San Antonio falls a full 10 games back of their 61 wins last year. The Spurs 50+ win streak continues, but doesn’t bring with any playoff success.

       New Orleans Pelicans – Projected: 48-34

Key Losses: Tim Frazier, Tyreke Evans, Langston Galloway, Solomon Hill (injury) Rajon Rondo (injury)

Key Additions: Rajon Rondo (when healthy), Ian Clark, Tony Allen

Projected Starters:
G – Rajon Rondo
G – Jrue Holiday
F – Dante Cunningham
F – Anthony Davis
C – DeMarcus Cousins

This is the season where we get to see what Anthony Davis and Boogie Cousins can become together. We may not get more than this year, although I hope that we do. It might be tough for New Orleans to retain both, when Jrue Holiday is currently the highest paid player on their roster. Undeniably the most talented frontcourt in the league, if we only consider PF & C. But a ridiculous lack of depth at the guards and wings, along with some frustratingly bad contacts, has many people questioning how successful this team can be.

How far the Pelicans are able to fly this year depends entirely on how well Davis and Cousins play. Which is admittedly unfair, because the lack of talent and depth around them makes it easier for teams to key in on just those two. This team lacks floor spacing like they forget it’s 2017 and you need floor spacing in the NBA. It seems absurd to start two guards who can’t shoot threes. To quote one of my favorite movies, “That’s a bold strategy Cotton, let’s see how it works out for them.”

Best Case: Boogie and the Brow prove to be just as dominant together as they had been separately, and both are named All-NBA again this season. Defensive prowess covers offensive woes just enough to allow them to get into the bottom three seeds of the highly competitive Western Conference. A strong first round showing, and the chemistry developed with his fellow UK alum, convinces Cousins to re-up and remain in New Orleans.

Worst Case: An injury to either Davis or Cousins would be keep the Pels far from playoff contention. But true worst case would be narrowly missing the playoffs, ending up with a low lottery pick, and watching Boogie walk in the offseason.

       Memphis Grizzlies – Projected: 44-38

Key Losses: Tony Allen, Vince Carter, Zach Randolph

Key Additions: Tyreke Evans, Ben McLemore

Projected Starters:
G – Mike Conley
G – Tyreke Evans
F – James Ennis
F – JaMychal Green
C – Marc Gasol

Much like New Orleans, the Grizzlies success depends almost entirely on their two stars, Conley and Gasol. And also like the Pelicans, Memphis lacks much support outside of those two. The “Grindfather”, as Tony Allen was affectionately known, was allowed to walk in free agency this offseason. A head-scratching move to say the least, even moreso when you consider that Ben Mclemore was who they signed as his replacement. Mclemore suffered a broken toe and will be out for at least a couple months, so the Grizzlies guard depth will be strained from the very beginning this season.

The good news for Memphis is that Mike Conley and Marc Gasol are fully capable of carrying this team to an above .500 record and an outside shot at a playoff appearance. Thankfully they finally resigned JaMychal Green, their next best player, for 2 years / $17 million. Tyreke should help take some offensive pressure off of Conley, but isn’t nearly the defender that Tony Allen is/was. And, like Allen, Evans is also not a threat from three.

Overall, Memphis is a pretty good team. They’d be a solid 4 or 5 seed in the East, maybe higher. But in this overpowering Western Conference that we all must now come to grips with, the Grizzlies are likely outside of the playoffs looking in.

Best Case: Conley and Gasol perform at an All-NBA worthy level. Tyreke stays healthy, and maybe Parsons finally becomes healthy again? The Grizzlies, coached by the extraordinarily talented David Fizdale, outperform expectations and once again creep into the bottom half of the playoffs. A first round exit still looks likely, although they gave the Spurs a push last year.

Worst Case: There isn’t a wide gap between best/worst case with this team. That’s a credit to their consistency, coaching, and leadership. Lack of depth and lack of outside shooting hurts Memphis. And honestly, worst case probably looks similar to the 44 wins I have them projected at. Narrowly missing the playoffs, and sitting at the back end of the lottery.

       Dallas Mavericks – Projected: 30-52

Key Losses: Seth Curry (injury)

Key Additions: Dennis Smith Jr, Josh McRoberts

Projected Starters:
G – Dennis Smith Jr
G – Wes Matthews
F – Harrison Barnes
F – Dirk Nowitzki
C – Nerlens Noel

While Dallas has the lowest expectations of any team in this division, they have arguably the biggest upside. Yeah, Dirk is old and near the end of his career. But the rest of this roster is filled with young talent. Seth Curry emerged last year as an explosive playmaker who can play either guard position. Yogi Ferrell was an All-Rookie 2nd teamer, who now gets to benefit from playing against other teams’ second units.

Dennis Smith Jr is my pick for Rookie of the Year. He will be handed the keys to this offense from day one. Rick Carlisle has always excelled at getting point guard production out of his pick-and-roll offenses. Harrison Barnes is still the go-to-guy, and I expect him to continue to grow in his second year in this role. Nerlens Noel didn’t get the max contract he wanted, but he has a chance to earn that now in his first full season with the Mavs. There is plenty to be excited about with this team.

Best Case: Dennis Smith Jr lives up to the hype, running away with Rookie of the Year. Barnes improves his scoring, and his efficiency, living up to that max contract. Nerlens blossoms as the full time starter, giving Dallas a true ‘Big 3’ to build around. The young Mavs challenge for the playoffs, and somehow steal the 8 seed.

Alternate “Best Case”, the Mavs embrace tanking and wind up with a top pick in a loaded draft.

Worst Case: DSJ struggles through his rookie season, occasionally losing the starting spot to last year’s rookie sensation, Yogi Ferrell. The Mavs meddle around the middle of the West, neither securing a playoff spot nor a top draft pick.

About Preston Dubey

Lifelong basketball fanatic and Bucks' supporter I coach basketball; but I eat, sleep, and breathe the game.

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