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Bold NBA Predictions: Southwest Division

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A look at the Southwest Division
.

I realize that NBA divisions don’t matter, but they’re a good way to group teams into separate posts.

Here, I’ll be listing teams in order of my projected standings, as well as give one bold prediction for each squad beyond that.

Southwest
Kawhi Leonard and the Spurs are the class of the Southwest

(1) SAN ANTONIO SPURS

The Spurs finally unleash their slow-mo offense.

As in third-year forward Kyle Anderson, nicknamed “slow mo” for his limited foot speed and athleticism. Anderson’s shown glimpses of promise over his first two years but still has been restrained in the actual rotation, averaging less than 20 minutes a game last year.

But I believe Anderson’s such a good natural basketball player that the Spurs will realize that he should be a major part of their rotation. Anderson, for his part, isn’t some hidden gem that they plucked from nowhere (ala another promising young forward in Jonathon Simmons). Anderson was actually a top-10 high school recruit, who played very well in his two years at UCLA, showing his versatility and playmaking as a sophomore, to the tune of 14.6 points, 8.8 rebounds, and 6.5 assists per game (not to mention 1.7 steals and 0.8 blocks thrown in.)

Finding significant minutes on a loaded Spurs team won’t be easy. Even aside from starters LaMarcus Aldridge and Pau Gasol, the team has backups like the proven David Lee and the unproven but talented Dewayne Dedmon. However, I see them utilizing Anderson off the bench as a primary playmaker for the second unit — he’ll not only serve as a Boris Diaw type role but add a little extra juice that Manu Ginobili may be too old to provide consistently. In fact, if Anderson gets 25-30 minutes a night, it wouldn’t surprise me if he was floated around as 6th Man of the Year candidate. Either way, I expect 20-25 minutes from him, and an important role in the team’s title chances.

(2) DALLAS MAVERICKS

Harrison Barnes earns his money.

Most NBA fans and experts scoffed as the Mavs paid a max deal for Harrison Barnes, a player coming off another underwhelming season (11.7 points, 4.9 rebounds). Obviously, I understand the skepticism. A former #1 prospect in high school, Barnes has been underwhelming ever since.

However, I feel that part of Barnes’ problem is that he’s a good teammate who’s too willing to “blend in.” When he went to UNC, he never forced his stats on a veteran team that also included older players like Tyler Zeller and John Henson. In Golden State, he’s been willing to be the 4th or 5th option on a stacked Warriors team.

Personally, I feel like Barnes has more in the tank than he’s shown so far, and could rise to the challenge if given that opportunity. Aside from Dirk Nowitzki, there’s no one else around blocking Barnes’ chances of a true breakout and his grabbing the mantle as a near All-Star level player. He may never be an alpha dog, but he can be a 17-5-5 player on the level of a Nic Batum, who signed a 5 year, $120 contract without anyone blinking an eye.

(3) HOUSTON ROCKETS

James Harden flirts with a 30-point, 10-assist season.

Like a lot of NBA fans, I was optimistic about the Rockets’ decision to bring in Ty Lawson. This is why I’m an NBA fan and not an NBA GM.

This year, the Rockets basically realized that they don’t need a point guard when they have James Harden running every possession, and built the entire roster around that idea. The only other point guards they have on the roster are Patrick Beverly and Pablo Prigioni, both of whom may never even touch the ball if Harden’s in the game.

The rest of the team’s loaded and ready to roll in Mike D’Antoni’s offense. Eric Gordon and Ryan Anderson will provide extra spacing and shooting (without needing any plays drawn up for them), and even Clint Capela inside will require less touches than the departing Dwight Howard. That all spells a TON of usage for Harden. I’m not sure how many wins it’ll lead to, but the stats should be eye-popping.

(4) NEW ORLEANS PELICANS

The Pelicans keep Tyreke Evans glued to the bench.

New Orleans, once again, is starting off with a siege of injuries and off-the-court complications. They’ll surely miss Jrue Holiday, who’s dealing with personal matters. Hopefully, everything works out for him and he’s able to return to the court in time.

Their other unavailable “star” at the moment is Tyreke Evans, but I’m not as optimistic that his return will benefit the team. In fact, I suspect the Pelicans’ unheralded role players will play so well that the team keeps Evans on ice and under 30 minutes a game even when he’s back.

I’m high on these no-names and low-key free agent additions. Rookie Buddy Hield is obviously a big name, but (relatively) bargain basement free agents E’Twaun Moore and Solomon Hill can be serviceable wings. I particularly like the addition of Terrence Jones, a college teammate of Anthony Davis, who can provide athleticism to their front court. And don’t sleep on Holiday’s sub Tim Frazier, who has shown promise in limited time so far. In fact, I wouldn’t be surprised if Frazier plays so well that other teams look at him as a starting option.

(5) MEMPHIS GRIZZLIES

Memphis’ playoff streak ends at 6.

Facing an uncertain off-season, the Grizzlies came away with a smile on their face. They not only retained Mike Conley, but they nabbed another star in Chandler Parsons.

That said, I still don’t know if it’s enough to ward off the young and promising upstarts in the West like Utah, Minnesota, and New Orleans. Conley, Parsons, and Marc Gasol all have their own injury issues of various degrees, and it’d be surprising if that doesn’t plague this team. While I do like some of their bench players (Brandan Wright, James Ennis, and rookie Wade Baldwin), it’s not exactly a loaded team that can sustain those injuries.

New coach David Fizdale’s early returns have been good, but he’s also replacing a coach in David Joerger that may have been underrated by the organization. Despite the good off-season work, I suspect the Grizz will stall around .500, which may have them on the outside looking in for the first time in seven years.

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