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2017 Season Preview: Southwest Division

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Here’s a look at the new faces and breakout players of the Southwest Division.

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The NBA offseason is finally coming to a close with the preseason set to kick off this weekend.

It has a been a ridiculous offseason with superstar players getting traded left and right. We have also enjoyed the social media highlights of China Klay, workout LeBron, and smiling Kawhi. But, enough with that. The NBA season needs to start already. We’re tired of having a certain someone call out our favorite sports personalities and flood our Twitter timelines with nonsense.

It’s time to indulge in another season of the hit TV drama: The National Basketball Association. Twitter drama can now be limited to stress tweeting during fourth quarter comebacks and close games.

Some teams are entering the 2017-18 campaign with the expectation of title contention, while others are in rebuilding mode. Others are just caught in NBA limbo — not good enough for a high playoff seed, but talented enough to barely make the playoffs.

So, let’s take a look into the Southwest division.

New Orleans Pelicans

NBA: San Antonio Spurs at New Orleans Pelicans Derick E. Hingle-USA TODAY Sports

Key Additions: Rajon Rondo, Tony Allen

Significant Losses: No notable losses

Breakout Candidate: Jrue Holiday

The Pelicans are in an interesting situation. They have arguably a top-5 NBA talent in Anthony Davis, who is their franchise player and only 24-years-old, by the way.

Last season, New Orleans went all-in and traded rookie Buddy Hield, Tyreke Evans and a first-round pick for All-Star center DeMarcus Cousins and Omri Casspi. It was a trade that left the entire NBA flabbergasted, as if the Pelicans had committed grand larceny. The team was pegged to make a strong push for the eight seed last year, but fell flat.

In this New Age NBA, where having a shooting backcourt is quintessential to success, the Pelicans have loaded their talent in the front court. It’s an interesting experiment that we’ll get a better taste of, as Cousins has had a full offseason to get acclimated to the offense.

Both Davis and Cousins can work around the perimeter and around the basket. Adding Rondo and Allen provides additional veteran leadership and solid defense. Collectively, they have made 10 All-NBA Defensive teams in their careers (both first and second teams). However, both are atrocious jump shooters.

The Pelicans threw out the red carpet when they re-signed Jrue Holiday to a five-year, $126 million extension this offseason. Holiday will be entering his ninth NBA season, and the success of this team will teeter on his ability to run the offense. Having Cousins and Davis should make his job much easier; he can also play off-guard when Rondo runs the point.

If Alvin Gentry is unable to get this team to the playoffs yet again, don’t be surprised if the Pelicans’ organization tires to blow up the team and start over.

Dallas Mavericks

2017 NBA Rookie Photo Shoot Photo by Elsa/Getty Images

Key Additions: Dennis Smith, Jr.

Significant Losses: No notable losses

Breakout Candidate: Harrison Barnes Dennis Smith Jr.

The Dallas Mavericks are in rebuilding mode. Last season was just the first year the team posted a losing record in the Rick Carlisle era. Luckily, the team has struck it big by landing Dennis Smith, Jr. at the ninth pick in this year’s draft and acquiring Nerlens Noel on virtually pennies on the dollar from the Philadelphia 76ers. (More on Dennis Smith, Jr. later.)

Rick Carlisle should be considered in the top five of elite NBA coaches, along with Greg Popovich, Steve Kerr, Erik Spoelstra and Mike D’Antoni. He has the ability to get the most out of his players without having elite talent all around. Dirk Nowitzki is a sure first-ballot Hall of Famer, but he is in the twilight of his career and this year might be his last hurrah.

The Mavericks will be rocking the young trio of Harrison Barnes, Nerlens Noel and Dennis Smith, Jr.

Smith might just be the biggest steal of the draft, falling all the way to number nine. If Las Vegas Summer League was any indication, Smith is an explosive guard and exceptional finisher at the rim.

Check out this MONSTER dunk from Summer League. He has a bit of young Derrick Rose and Russell Westbrook in his game. For a team that has mowed through hundreds of point guards, the team might just have found its next franchise player to take the torch from Nowitzki.

Memphis Grizzlies

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Key Additions: Ben McLemore, Tyreke Evans

Significant Losses: Tony Allen, Zach Randolph, Vince Carter

Breakout Candidate: Andrew Harrison

The Memphis Grizzlies were branded as Grind City: a tenacious group of gritty defenders. Defense is what defined the team and what made them successful over the years. Yet, they lost two of their most notable characters in Tony Allen and Zach Randolph to free agency. This leaves a big hole on their bench as well as in the locker room in terms of veteran presence.

Mike Conley and Marc Gasol are still talented enough to lead a playoff push for this team, but it’s hard to say they got better this offseason.

Adding McLemore and Evans is pretty underwhelming, but Chandler Parsons has a chance to redeem himself after a disappointing first year that was cut short due to a season-ending knee injury.

Andrew Harrison, therefore, should be the best candidate for an increased role with the departure of Vince Carter. Harrison can create his own shot and has extended range which Memphis has lacked over the years.

This team is closer to being a fringe playoff team rather than a title contender. The talent is there, but the team just isn’t enticing. David Fizdale might just be one of the better young coaches in the NBA, but I don’t see this team making the playoffs.

San Antonio Spurs

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Key Additions: Rudy Gay

Significant Losses: Jonathan Simmons

Breakout Candidate: Dejounte Murray

Death, Taxes and Spurs in the playoffs: All are certainties in life.

The Spurs are the model franchise, having made the playoffs just about two straight decades. Each and every year they are in discussion for title contention and each and every year Greg Popovich outsmarts us all.

He was able to clone Tim Duncan’s DNA and upload his genetic profile into Kawhi Leonard — a true robot that shows no emotion or expression on the court. But there was a recent glitch in his operating system, as evidenced here.

The Spurs should contend for a top-three seed in the West, as the team is substantially the same as last year. But the key loss was breakout player Jonathan Simmons, replaced by notorious chucker Rudy Gay.

We all know the Spurs will make the playoffs. But, let’s face it: This team is old as hell. Pau Gasol is 37, Manu Ginobili is 40 and Tony Parker is 35. These are arguably three of their top five or six players and it’s just not reasonable to expect them to continue to draw from the fountain of youth.

Tony Parker is still on the road to recovery after suffering a ruptured quad tendon in last year’s Western Conference Semifinals. Patty Mills is the starting point guard and does a fairly good job, but there is another young guard who has a chance to break out this year: Dejounte Murray.

Murray should see an expanded role with Parker still recovering. He is an exciting 6-foot-5 point guard coming into his second year. While Mills is able to succeed off of fundamentals, Murray possesses a bit more skill and could be a better long-term fit.

His length gives him advantage over smaller guards and he has great range. With the limited shots he got off last year, Murray was able to put up a 39% three-point field-goal percentage (Source).

Keep an eye out for Murray this year.

Houston Rockets

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Key Additions: Chris Paul, PJ Tucker

Significant Losses: Patrick Beverley, Sam Dekker, Lou Williams

Breakout Candidate: Clint Capela

Chris Paul is a Houston Rocket.

Although it still sounds weird to say, Paul was part of a blockbuster trade this summer — traded to the Rockets for a boatload of players and a future first-round pick.

Most notable losses are Dekker, Beverley, and Williams, which was a BIG gamble by Daryl Morey, as the team sacrificed a lot of depth in exchange for a premium player. Now the Rockets have an elite backcourt, pairing two top-10 NBA players in James Harden and Paul.

The issue here is whether they can coexist as running mates. Both need to play on-ball to really be effective, and with Harden transitioning to point guard last season, they both play the same position. The benefit of bringing in Paul is that it allows D’Antoni to stagger their minutes to have at least one of them play with the second unit.

D’Antoni proved he can make this offense run, and Paul adds another facet that can further unlock their potential. However, the expectations for this team might be a bit excessive. Though Paul is a great player, he is a 32-year-old player who has already hit his peak. And the players lost by way of trade should not be discounted. Beverley is a pest on defense, Dekker was starting to carve out a significant role and Williams was an efficient bench scorer.

The best breakout candidate might just be Clint Capela.

With the departure of Dwight Howard last offseason, Capela carved out a larger role and had a bit of a breakout already. With Paul added to the mix, Capela can expect to see even more opportunities at the rim. He may not be DeAndre Jordan, but I expect a lot of lobs to the rim.

This team will be good, but I would peg them below the Spurs in the division. The Paul trade could easily blow up in their faces, however, and he could leave for nothing next summer.

Poll

Which team will be the biggest surprise this season?

This poll is closed

  • 3%
    Memphis Grizzlies
    (9 votes)
  • 16%
    Dallas Mavericks
    (38 votes)
  • 35%
    New Orleans Pelicans
    (83 votes)
  • 11%
    San Antonio Spurs
    (27 votes)
  • 33%
    Houston Rockets
    (78 votes)
235 votes total Vote Now