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NBA Preview 2016: Southwest Division

The division preview series rolls along with the Southwest division, home of several Western Conference playoff mainstays.

NBA: San Antonio Spurs at Houston Rockets Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports

Once again, the teams will be covered in order from best to worst record. This is a tough division past the obvious front-runner, as each team has an argument to be at least good.

San Antonio Spurs

Added: Pau Gasol, David Lee, Dejounte Murray, Dewayne Dedmon, Livio-Jean Charles

Lost: Tim Duncan, Boris Diaw, David West, Boban Marjanovic

Summary: Tim Duncan is gone. The Big Fundamental was the steady rock behind the Spurs’ success over the last 20 years, and the Spurs are going to miss him horribly. Yes, Duncan fell off last season, his age finally reflected in his play. Yes, his mobility on the court was not much better than that of a large tortoise. But Timmy was somehow still one of the best defensive players in basketball last season, a force to be reckoned with around the basket. The Spurs signed Pau Gasol to replace him, a man who hasn’t played average defense in nearly half a decade. Pau will help the Spurs on offense—his jumpshot and passing ability are as good as ever—but he will be a drain on the other end. Diaw and West departed as well, and were replaced by David Lee, who is even more of a liability on defense than Pau. While Boris and West declined last year, they are still better players (and especially defenders) than Lee.

Yet not all is doom and gloom. Kawhi Leonard remains, and the Spurs defense won’t slip too far as long as he is headquartering the team on that end. His transformation into a top 5 NBA player has been truly remarkable, and, as scary as it sounds, he probably isn’t done improving yet either. LaMarcus Aldridge was terrific down the stretch for San Antonio, and while his best years are behind him, he is still a top 20 NBA player. Danny Green lost his three point shot last year-- hopefully that was just a weird season he can leave behind. Patty Mills, Lee, and Manu Ginobili are still an explosive offensive trio off the bench, though Mills might move into the starting lineup if he’s able to bring his Olympic performances back to the NBA. The Spurs are weakened, but they are nowhere near finished. Coach Popovich is the finest coach in the NBA, and, as usual, he will lead San Antonio to 55+ wins and a top four three finish in the Western Conference.

Predicted Record: 56-26

Memphis Grizzlies

Added: Chandler Parsons, Troy Daniels, Wade Baldwin, Deyonta Davis, Coach David Fizdale

Lost: Matt Barnes, Lance Stephenson, Mario Chalmers

Summary: The Grizzlies were beset by an abnormal amount of injuries last year. The question for this year is how much those injuries will affect them going forward. Marc Gasol and Mike Conley are their two best players, are signed for huge money over the next few years, have had foot injuries, and are over 30. That will not look pretty in 2018 or 2019. As for this year, the Grizzlies should be quite good if both stars remain healthy. Zach Randolph and Tony Allen are still in Memphis, still grinding as hard as ever, but neither is nearly as effective as they were four years ago. For the Grizzlies to really keep going strong, they need new acquisition Chandler Parsons to live up to his max contract. He’s a very good player, but, stop me if you’ve heard this before, he’s had injury issues. That statement sums up the entirety of the Grizzlies starting lineup.

Memphis’ bench is a different story. Outside of dinosaur Vince Carter, the remainder of the roster is young and inexperienced. Their most experienced backup at any of the guard or wing positions is Troy Daniels, who is a 3rd year player with 90 NBA games behind him. If any of the starters get injured, those young players will have to step up in a hurry. Things are a bit better at the big men positions-- Brandan Wright is one of the best backups in the league, and JaMychal Green played well down the stretch last season. Even so, their bench as a whole is dangerously thin. The Grizzlies will probably make the playoffs this season, though they need very good health to be dangerous once they get there. Coach David Fizdale is a first time head coach, which is always tough, but he was one of the top assistants in the league, and shouldn’t be too far in over his head.

Predicted Record: 46-36

Houston Rockets

Added: Eric Gordon, Ryan Anderson, Nene, Pablo Prigioni, Coach Mike D’Antoni

Lost: Dwight Howard, Jason Terry, Terrence Jones

Summary: The Rockets are going to be fascinating this year. They have a great deal of talent, but most of it is on one side of the ball. James Harden is one of the best players in the NBA, but as long as he doesn’t give effort on defense the rest of his team probably won’t either. If he steps up and takes responsibility on that end, the rest of the team will probably act accordingly. Dwight Howard is gone, which means all the talk of “bad locker rooms” should be over. This is Harden’s team, and he must take control of it.

The rest of the roster is laden with veterans, though that’s not necessarily a bad thing. Guys like Anderson, Gordon, and Nene will know their role and be able to perform, at least on offense. The Rockets are going to be deadly from distance, and should be one of the highest scoring teams in the league. The questions are on defense, especially with Coach D’Antoni taking over. On the other hand, he always hires defensive oriented assistants to help manage that end, and the team does have a budding rim-protector in Clint Capela. If he is able to become a force around the basket, it will alleviate a lot of the problems on the perimeter. The Rockets should be very fun to watch, but whether they will be good or not is hard to predict right now.

Predicted Record: 42-40

New Orleans Pelicans

Added: Solomon Hill, E’Twuan Moore, Langston Galloway, Buddy Hield, Terrence Jones, Tim Frazier, Cheick Diallo, Lance Stephenson

Lost: Ryan Anderson, Eric Gordon, Toney Douglas, Norris Cole, Luke Babbitt, Kendrick Perkins

Summary: The Pelicans won 48 games in 2015, making the playoffs for the first time since they traded away Chris Paul. Big things were expected of them last season under new coach Alvin Gentry, but they disappointed, winning a mere 30 games in a weak Western Conference. They almost completely revamped their roster in the offseason, swapping out injury-prone older players for promising youngsters. They paid a lot for guys like Hill, Moore, and Galloway, all of whom have the potential to develop into quite good two-way players. New Orleans also drafted college National Player of the Year Buddy Hield, who should help replace the shooting lost by Gordon and Anderson.

Their final record, however, depends almost entirely on two players. Anthony Davis was predicted by many to be last season’s MVP. Instead, he missed 20 games, and his play stagnated when he was in the lineup. For the Pelicans to make the playoffs, he must play most of the season, and now that he is playing center, he needs to turn into the fearsome rim-protector that he was destined to be. The other key is point guard Jrue Holliday, one of the most underrated players in the NBA. He is going to miss at least the first month of the season due to his wife’s surgery and the birth of their son, but when he comes back, he must keep on the court. If Davis and Holliday are able to stay healthy, the Pelicans could near 50 wins again.

Predicted Record: 41-41

Dallas Mavericks

Added: Harrison Barnes, Andrew Bogut, Seth Curry, Quincy Acy, A.J. Hammons

Lost: Chandler Parsons, Zaza Pachulia, Raymond Felton, David Lee

Summary: The Mavs are slowly getting younger, and even if the “official” rebuild isn’t starting this year with Dirk Nowitzki still on the roster, the process has already begun. Mark Cuban finally got his max player with Harrison Barnes, but it’s doubtful that Barnes is the player the Mavs really need. Barnes is a fine player, a fantastic 4th or 5th player on a contending team. What he hasn’t done is show any signs of being a number one option, and signing him to be one is not going to go well. Harry is still young, and has room to grow, but he has a long way to go. Similarly, the Mavericks roster is now lined with youngsters: Curry, Hammons, Dwight Powell, and Justin Anderson. Some of them might become really good in a few years. But right now, they don’t belong in a playoff team’s rotation.

The rest of the roster does not even have the benefit of youth. Deron Williams has fallen a long way since he was a top 10 player and top two point guard; he is now a below average starting point guard. The rest of the roster is old and injury prone, with Wes Matthews being the lone player who could be an above average starter. That leaves Dirk and Coach Rick. Dirk is as great a fighter of father time as Tim Duncan was, but Duncan is a warning that age can catch up at any time. This may or may not be the year that father time triumphs, but relying on Dirk for a playoff push is unwise. Carlisle is perhaps the best tactician in the NBA, and nobody is more proficient at making something out of nothing. This year, though, his roster is as barren as ever, and the Western Conference should be improved. The Mavs won’t be bad, but I foresee a below .500 record, the first for their franchise in an incredible 17 years.

Predicted Record: 33-49