Southwest Division Predictions:
1) San Antonio Spurs
PG: Tony Parker/Cory Joseph
SG: Danny Green/ Manu Ginobili
SF: Kawhi Leonard
PF: Tim Duncan/Boris Diaw/Matt Bonner
C: Tiago Splitter
If we learned one thing from last season, it’s to never count out the Spurs. As long as Greg Popovich is at the helm with Tony Parker running the show and Tim Duncan still doing his thing, you have to consider the Spurs an elite team. Danny Green emerged last year as a productive player while Kawhi Leonard already has a reputation as a great all-around player. This team doesn’t blow you away on paper — they never really have — but with the way Popovich schemes and coaches, the Spurs will be an elite team in the West once again.
2) Houston Rockets
PG: Jeremy Lin/Patrick Beverley/Aaron Brooks
SG: James Harden
SF: Chandler Parsons
PF: Terrence Jones
C: Dwight Howard/Omir Asik/Marcus Camby
Dwight Howard and James Harden are looking to be the premier outside-inside duo in the league this season. When healthy and happy, Howard is hands down the best center in the league. Harden had a breakout season after the Rockets invested in him and had the chance to carry the load for a franchise. I think this marriage should work well as long as they are winning games. Dwight and Harden seem like they have personalities that can work together and both have chips on their shoulders.
The rest of the team needs to adapt to having a force like Dwight on their team. Jeremy Lin is a crafty point guard, and it will be interesting how he will run an offense with a big man who needs the ball. I think Chandler Parsons is the perfect role player for this team; he is a player that can knock down an open three, create for himself when needed, and knows his role. Asik will be a serviceable backup center when Dwight needs a breather but I can’t see them playing together on the court. The Rockets will be fun to follow this season, especially with a team like the Warriors trying to climb the ladder in the West just like they are.
3) New Orleans Pelicans
PG: Jrue Holiday
SG: Eric Gordon/Austin Rivers
SF: Tyreke Evans/Al-Faqouq Aminu/Anthony Morrow
PF: Anthony Davis/Ryan Anderson
C: Jason Smith/ Greg Stiemsma
As the Grizzlies take a step back, I think the Pelicans (yes the Pelicans) leapfrog them. The Pelicans are far from any Western Conference Finals talk, but they made some moves that made them relevant again. Jrue Holiday is an excellent point guard and will get a fresh start in New Orleans as he leaves the terrible 76ers. Add another “if healthy” player to list in Eric Gordon, who’s 2012-2013 season was basically a washout. The addition of Tyreke Evans will help, and if Anthony Davis takes that crucial next step, the Pelicans have enough to talent to compete for a bottom playoff spot.
4) Memphis Grizzlies
PG: Mike Conley
SG: Tony Allen/Mike Miller
SF: Tayshuan Prince/Quincy Pondexter
PF: Zach Randolph/Ed Davis
C: Marc Gasol/Kosta Koufos
The Grizzlies might have missed their opportunity last season but ran into a special Spurs team. As the teams around them improved, all they added was Mike Miller, who is only relevant in the Finals. Mike Conley is a top 10 point guard and has shaped up to be better than he was projected. Tony Allen is an elite defender but it’s easy to take him out of the game offensively, where the Grizzlies struggled greatly as the Spurs swept them.
Their bread and butter is their frontcourt. Prince has always fulfilled his role and has made fans forget about Rudy Gay. Zach Randolph and Marc Gasol might be the best PF-C combo in the league with Gasol surprisingly winning the Defensive Player of the Year. I think Randolph shows his decline this year and the Grizzlies take a step back, especially after letting go former head coach Lionel Hollins.
5) Dallas Mavericks
PG: Jose Calderon/Devin Harris/Shane Larkin
SG: Monta Ellis/Wayne Ellington
SF: Shawn Marion/Vince Carter/Jae Crowder
PF: Dirk Nowitzki
C: Salem Dalembert
The Mavs are in a tough spot. Their superstar got his ring and is heading into the sunset, but their team has no young future. Mark Cuban still wants to win and spent the money on Calderon and Ellis to make sure the Mavs don’t miss the playoffs again this season. Sadly for Mark, I foresee the Mavs not having much success this season. They hoped for Dwight Howard and Deron Williams years ago, and ended up with Ellis, Calderon, and Dalembert. Cuban wants Dirk to retire a Mav but he might have to blow it up if he wants to Mavs see to have any long-term success. Cuban and his team are in no man’s land.