The 2014/15 NBA regular season doesn’t officially begin until Tuesday October 28th, when the will Spurs raise another Championship banner to the rafters, and host the rival Mavericks. This is the time of year when most fans can still have hope, and every team is still undefeated. It’s also the time of year for predictions to start rolling in on how the upcoming season will play out. Today we’ll be seeing who you folks think will win the Southwest Division. Let’s take a quick look at the possible contenders…
Note: All projected starters taken from the respective team pages at ESPN.com.
The Rockets had as difficult an offseason as any team in the league. GM Daryl Morey attempted to add a third star to the roster but came up short in his overtures to Chris Bosh and Carmelo Anthony. But it’s not so much who they didn’t get that will make it difficult to equal last season’s 54-28 mark, but rather who the team lost.
In his attempt to clear cap room to sign Bosh, Morey dealt away Jeremy Lin and Omer Asik. While it can be argued that neither of those two were performing up to their contracts, both provided Houston with some needed depth, and if Howard has any injury woes this season, Asik will be especially missed.
The franchise also chose not to match the offer sheet that Chandler Parsons inked with the rival Mavericks. Acquring Trevor Ariza will ease the sting of that loss somewhat, as both players’ statistical production was remarkably similar last year. Ariza did shoot three-pointers at a higher percentage than Parsons (40.7% for Ariza, 37% for Parsons), and he is also a better defender, and Houston has certainly had room for improvement on defense. But Parsons has a higher upside than Ariza, and also had his numbers impacted by being the third option behind Harden and Howard.
Some regression in the won-loss column is likely for the Rockets this season, especially competing in this difficult division. It also doesn’t help that the Mavs improved as much as they did, and the Pelicans will continue to grow along with Anthony Davis‘ game. With Harden and Howard, the Rockets are top-heavy with talent, but it’s their depth and supporting cast that may let the team down this season.
New Orleans Pelicans
Though the Pelicans finished at the bottom of the division last season, this is definitely a franchise on the rise. If they played in the Eastern Conference they would have an excellent shot at snagging a playoff spot, but in the brutal Western Conference they look to be a year away from breaking through.
Losing Jrue Holiday for all but 34 games certainly put a dent in any chance that New Orleans had at competing for the division crown in 2013/14. Plus, Eric Gordon continued his injury woes, missing 18 contests, and he still hasn’t approached the production he had while with the Clippers. A full season of Holiday and Gordon would go a long way for New Orleans’ chances this coming year.
The brightest spot for Pelicans fans is the presence of Anthony Davis. Davis had an excellent season last year, averaging 20.8 PPG and 10 RPG. But those numbers appear to be just the beginning, and if he can stay healthy, Davis has a chance to climb into the best player in the league discussion. He also had a strong FIBA World Cup, and should carry that momentum into the season. Davis should also benefit from the defensive presence of Omer Asik, which will allow him to focus more energy on scoring. Bad news for stretch-fours tasked with trying to slow down the “Uni-brow.”
My take on the Pelicans is that they’ll show improvement, but not necessarily in the win column this year. The team will be better overall, but the west is just too stacked. New Orleans really should figure out a way to switch to the Eastern Conference. But watch out for them in 2015/16.
San Antonio Spurs
The defending champs return with their aging core still intact for another season. Is this the year that “Father Time” and injuries finally catch up with the Spurs? One would have to think they are due for a decline and/or a string of injuries, but the same could have been said for any of the last few seasons. San Antonio has managed to remain one of the best, if not the best, organizations in the league.
The rest of the teams in the division probably need to hope that San Antonio experiences some bad luck. Otherwise, there isn’t much reason to think that the Spurs won’t be at or near the top of the Southwest for another year. Their style of ball doesn’t rely on freakish athleticism, just basketball IQ, which this roster has plenty of.
The two primary factors for the Spurs this year will be the health of Manu Ginobili, who is still recovering from a leg injury he suffered during last year’s playoffs, and the continued development of Kawhi Leonard. Leonard is the future of this franchise, but he also needs to show that his stellar playoff performances weren’t an aberration. He has a wealth of talent, and if Leonard can continue to progress, he may just keep the “old guard” around for a bit longer as San Antonio’s championship window will remain open.
No team in the division did more to improve themselves this summer than the Mavs. While I still believe that three years, $46.08MM was an overpay for Chandler Parsons, I can’t deny that he will help this team out quite a bit. With Dirk Nowitzki in his decline phase, Parsons has a chance to get a lot of touches, and he can shine in the Dallas offense. What remains to be seen is how much Parsons benefited from Houston’s offensive system, and if he will feel the pressure trying to justify that large of a contract.
Another major addition is Tyson Chandler making his return to the Lone Star state. Now, this isn’t the same Chandler who departed Dallas as a champion, but he’s still a major upgrade at center. Chandler seems revitalized by his return to Dallas, and this should translate into a strong season from the big man. If he can remain on the court, he’ll anchor the defense, which will need all the help it can get.
The Mavs won 49 games last season, which they will have a chance to improve upon thanks to their new performers. One concern is that despite adding Jameer Nelson, the team isn’t as strong as it needs to be at the point guard position. They will miss Jose Calderon more than they realize, but the Mavs will be a big factor in the divisional race just the same.
The two biggest questions facing the Grizzlies this year are whether Marc Gasol can stay healthy and if this team will be able to create enough offense to be contenders. Gasol missed 23 games last season, and he is the team’s most important player. He needs to remain on the court for the team to make any noise.
As for the offense, Memphis averaged 96.2 PPG, good for only 26th in the league last year. The addition of Vince Carter should help, but he’s more of a part-time contributor at this stage of his career and isn’t a game-changer.
There’s no reason to believe that Memphis won’t be in the playoff hunt this year. They play defense well and control the pace of the game to mask their offensive deficiencies. But with Dallas improved, and New Orleans improving, getting to 50 wins again might be a tough task in this division.