With less than a week until the NBA season kicks off, it’s time to get our final preview out of the way. This week we turn our eyes to the land of oil, boudin, and country music. That’s right kids, its time for the Southwest Division, home of the San Antonio Spurs, Houston Rockets, Dallas Mavericks, New Orleans Hornets, and the Memphis Grizzlies.
In addition to the best chili and barbecue of any NBA division, it is also host to regular buffet of storylines. We will be waiting to see if Dirk can salvage the pieces after failing to get a running mate in the off-season. With Linsanity headed south, can he fill the shoes left by Kyle Lowery and Goran Dragic? We will see of Eric Gordan can rally the Hornets, even though he doesn’t really want to be there. Will Zach Randolph return to form and lead the Grizz back into the deeper rounds of the playoffs? Will Tim Duncan follow up his DNP-Old from last season with a DNP-Decrepit?
We look to answer these questions and more in our Southwest Division preview, presented (for the sixth time, you guys don’t listen well) in The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly Format.
Eastern Conference Previews
Western Conference Previews
The Good: Win for win, the Spurs have been one of the most successful teams of the last fifteen years or so, and this is in no way by accident. In addition to their effective three headed monster of Tim Duncan, Manu Ginobili, and Tony Parker, management has always found ways to trade for great complimentary pieces, and coach Gregg Popovich (in addition to being the funniest sideline interview in the league) is a master at wringing wins out of his roster. The Spurs will likely land themselves as one of the top seeds in the Western Conference yet again, and if they are healthy when they get there, then Manu Ginobili (who is somehow STILL underrated) will see if he can lead the team to the promised land. Other than Tim and Tony, he will have plenty of help from Gary Neal, Danny Green, Stephen Jackson, and Kahwi Leonard’s ever-choking defense. How Pop rations Timmy’s time on the frontline between Matt Bonner, Dejuan Blair , and Tiago Splitter will remain an ongoing project, but he is more than up to the task.
The Bad: The thing about sticking with such an old core is of course that the chances of all of them being healthy throughout the season and playoffs are essentially zero. Pop was better than anyone in the league at this last year, mainly by employing a strategy of blowing people out so bad that his stars were seemingly never on the court during the fourth quarter. But that doesn’t mean that the risk still isn’t there. And after the Thunder solved the Spurs’ riddle last year in the Western Conference Finals, one has to wonder if this team will be able to compete in the west against much improved Clippers and Lakers squads, not to mention those same Thunder.
The Ugly: Look, I’m done predicting that the Spurs are too old and are going to fall off. I’m going to go with the Bill Simmons theory and let them tell me. But at the same time…they have to get too old eventually right? Will this team hang on until my children are in middle school? Can Tim Duncan play until he’s 45? I know that is sounds ridiculous, but would it really surprise you? Not me. Play as long as you want guys. This team and its coach are filled with unintentional comedy.
Season Previews: 56-26
Hit the jump for the rest of Jordan’s preview…
The Good: The good news here is that even though the loss of Kyle Lowry, Goran Dragic, and Luis Scola means that this is a dramatically different team, that fact alone is a good thing. It isn’t good in the NBA to hang around competing to get low playoff seeds and never really being good enough to go the distance. This Rockets team will feature twelve players under twenty five, and Carlos Delfino is their only player over thirty. It is almost a certainty that the majority of this team has their best years in front of them, as players like Jeremy Lamb, Terrence Jones, Patrick Patterson and Royce White will get better as years go by. As for now? The Rockets might have given Omer Asik a lot of money, but his defensive skills and hustle will help set the tone for the team on that side of the ball. The Rockets’ experience with the Asian fanbase makes a Jeremy Lin a good PR move, and even if Lin isn’t an elite NBA point guard, he did show a penchant for making something out of nothing when Melo and Amare were out in New York.
The Bad: This team is far from being anything that could be called a contender, obviously. This is a sort of moving rebuild, where the team remains good enough to be entertaining but not good enough to compete for a title. Daryl Morey gets a lot of press as an intelligent and savvy GM, but one has to wonder how it takes for Houston’s inability to attract top level talent to fall in his lap. It will likely be entertaining to see how this team develops, but not necessarily so fun to watch them lose as much as they likely will.
The Ugly: Will Linsanity still be a thing? I’m not so sure. I think that it might be. Linsanity’s allure lied in the fact that the Knicks were a rudderless ship, absolutely terrible before his emergence, which came from nowhere straight into the bright lights of Madison Square Garden. The lights don’t shine quite so bright in Houston. Unless Jeremy pulls another miracle out of his jock and leads Houston to the playoffs, I’m afraid the story of Linsanity may die.
Season Prediction: 30-52
The Good: While I’m not sure that things will be quite so sunny this season, the Hornets have stumbled into a rather nice core of Ryan Anderson, Anthony Davis, and Eric Gordon. Anderson’s dead-eye shooting was an amazing complement to Dwight Howard in Orlando, and though I’m not sure Anthony Davis will reach such lofty heights, he does figure to be the same type of player. Eric Gordon has the ability to score on the wings, although with injuries and other concerns he is the wild card. If he returns to his 2011 form and contributes 22 points and 4.4 assists to make up a PER of 18.37, then the core New Orleans has found could be something to be built around. If Austin Rivers develops that would be a huge bonus. This team does have its holes, but when you consider that they are only one year removed from losing the best point guard in the NBA, the progress they look to have made is pretty amazing, and with a little bit of work, this core could possibly compete with anyone in the league.
The Bad: I’m having a lot of trouble finding the bench rotation here, mainly because the bench would be the hole that I am mainly talking about. Greivis Vasquez, Hakim Warrick, Robin Lopez, and Roger Mason do not an effective bench mob make. But that’s honestly okay at this point. Let the chemistry between Gordon, Davis, and Anderson develop, and see what you need. You can always improve the bench as you go.
The Ugly: You may have heard about Eric Gordon was nearly signed by Phoenix this year, but the Hornets decided to match the Suns’ offer, despite the fact that Eric asked them not to. It’s a pretty dicey game trying to build around a player that doesn’t want to be there. It shouldn’t really harm their long term plans, since I’m assuming that if they matched the offer it was mainly to try to trade Gordon before the deadline, which could bring back the valuable rotation players this team needs. Shame to lose someone of Gordon’s talent though.
Season Prediction: 31-51
The Good: Other than Mayo’s leaving, the Grizzlies really didn’t change much this offseason, which is really okay. This is a team that already has an effective core established, and all that is left for them to do is go out and execute. Rudy Gay will need to step up his game and become more of a force on both ends of the floor, and him doing that is going to be absolutely critical to Memphis’s chances this year. Also huge will be Zach Randolph returning to his form of two years ago in the playoffs, where he was essentially unstoppable on the block. Marc Gasol remains one of the best centers in the league, and his performing well will be crucial. Tony Allen will again bring his impeccable defense to the table. Jerryd Bayless will help to shore up the frontcourt, and point guard will be handled again by Mike Conley. Like I said, other than Mayo’s departure, it will largely be business as usual for Lionel Hollins and company. And as this team has been good for two years, that’s largely okay.
The Bad: Except it really isn’t. The Grizzlies’ problem is that they haven’t had a great bench or three shooting outside of Mayo. There really aren’t any impressive acquisitions to help shore that up now that he’s left, so I fail to see how this team has gotten any better in any way. I know the crux of the offense is Gasol and Randolph beating people down low, but against other big teams like the Clippers, Thunder, and Lakers, that doesn’t cut it unless you have shooters on the wing to kick out to. And ask the Lakers how easy it is to compete in the playoffs without a bench.
The Ugly: Presented, without comment, are a few of Tony Allen’s tweets: “Is it me or! Montell Williams and Obama sound just alike!” “wow<wooooow” “Lol no I didn’t buy a just Busted paper!” “Did Suh. Get fined.” “Its. 2012 Gotti voice!” “Hoarders! Wow!! This can’t be real!!”
Season Prediction: 46-36
The Good: Considering the fact that for a while it looked like the Mavericks wouldn’t even be able to field an actual point guard, much less a complete team, I think that they have done well in assembling a team that can compete in the NBA. We’ll get to some of Dirk’s troubles later, but he is still a seven footer whose favored shot is a fade away jumper, which makes him just about the hardest person to defend ever. If Chris Kaman stays healthy he is still an elite talent at the center position, and Elton Brand may have fallen off from his star caliber years, but I like him coming off the bench as a backup big. Jason Kidd is out, replaced with a combo of Darren Collison and Roddy Beaubois. OJ Mayo is in theory the big pickup this season, and if he actually takes the leap Cuban is predicting, the Mavs could be alright. Backing up Mayo will be Vince Carter’s apathetic corpse and the NBA’s resident crazy person, Delonte West. Throw in Shawn Marion’s great defense and ugly jumpers, and to be honest, I’m kind of intrigues by the team. Could have shaken out worse for the Mavs, for sure.
The Bad: Even though Cuban has covered his mistakes pretty well, make no bones about it, they are still mistakes. Cuban let the defensive anchor of his title team walk, preventing and effective title defense, so that he could take a swing at Dwight Howard and Deron Williams this past offseason. Granted, no one could have predicted all the crap Dwight Howard would do, but Williams showed up and was interested in possibly going to Dallas, his hometown. And instead of being there for the meeting, Cuban was filming a reality show. I know this has been said multiple times, but it still one of the most ridiculous things I’ve ever heard.
The Ugly: If this season doesn’t pan out, be on the lookout for Dirk Nowitzki’s guest spot on Shark Tank. Dirk will be helping his coach Rick Carlisle demo a hologram that can take the place of an owner during an offseason meeting, and afterward he will yell “Shut it down!” while dunking Mark Cuban into a tank of actual sharks for potentially wasting the last good years of his career. Watch it at 8/7 Central on ABC!
Season Prediction: 38-44