2019-20 NBA Preview: Southwest Division
By: Lorenzo Robinson
After the most eventful off-season in league history, a new season is finally upon us. The landscape is drastically different this year than last, with over half of the league changing teams and key stars finding new homes. With the unprecedented amount of movement, we now have an NBA that’s as wide open as ever, with 8-10 teams holding legitimate championship aspirations. The Western Conference will be the most competitive it’s ever been, with no team truly standing out at the moment. In the Southwest Division, some teams will have reasons for optimism, while others will take this season to regroup and rebuild.
The Houston Rockets have won the division for the past two seasons behind the duo of James Harden and Chris Paul. However, they decided to pull the plug after falling short in the playoffs, trading Paul to the Thunder for guard Russell Westbrook, reuniting the former teammates, who both started their careers in Oklahoma City. Westbrook is an athletic marvel who’s frenetic pace contrasts with the measured and controlled style of Harden. Clint Capela returns to man the middle, looking to bounce back from a sub-par showing during the 18-19 season. Eric Gordon remains the third scoring option, using his shooting and secondary play-making to complement the two stars. The Rockets have the potential to be a contender, but head coach Mike D’Antoni must figure out the best way to use his two dynamic guards and what players can fit around them.
The Dallas Mavericks are a team on the rise, despite a poor 33-49 record last season. 2018-19 Rookie of the Year Luka Doncic is one of the most exciting players in the league, using a great blend of play-making and shooting to keep the defense on their toes. 2017 All-Star Kristaps Porzingis, acquired in a trade-in February, missed all of last season with a torn ACL. Now fully healthy, the 7’3 big man is expected to continue to be one of the most skilled players in the league, possessing three-point range and play-making skills usually seen in small guards. Dwight Powell is the anchor down low, a perfect front court mate for Porzingis due to his athleticism and finishing ability. Jalen Brunson can run the point when Doncic is getting rest, or play the off guard role when Doncic is on the ball. Tim Hardaway Jr. and Seth Curry are going to provide spacing for the young superstar duo with their shooting ability. The Mavs aren’t used to missing the postseason, making it 15 times out of 16 seasons before their recent three-year no-show. With two great young stars, solid role players, and a Hall of Fame level coach in Rick Carlisle, this appears to be the year their playoff drought ends. The West is extremely tough, but they will be right in the thick of the playoff race going into April.
The Memphis Grizzlies will be one of the younger teams in the league this season, as they are in the midst of a rebuild. By trading away G Mike Conley and C Marc Gasol, they are now fully committed to the development of their youth. Number 2 draft pick Ja Morant will be given the reins of the team at the point guard position. He attacks the rim with forcefulness while having a nice touch on floaters. He will have to learn how to control NBA tempo and continue to make strides with his three-point shot. C Jaren Jackson Jr. returns after a solid rookie campaign. He has the tools to be the next great modern NBA center, possessing a sweet stroke from beyond the arc, with dominant rim protection. Veterans Jae Crowder, Jonas Valanciunas, and Kyle Anderson will be quality mentors for the young cornerstones. It will be a long year for Memphis, but they have a nice young duo to build upon going forward.
The San Antonio Spurs kept their impressive streak off 22 straight playoff appearances intact with a 50-win season in 18-19, losing to the Denver Nuggets in a 7 game series during the playoffs. They are led by Demar DeRozan, one of the better mid-range scorers in the league. All-Star LaMarcus Aldridge mans the post for San Antonio, using a plethora of post moves to find ways to score. Bryn Forbes is one of the league’s best three-point shooters, providing space for the two stars. Derrick White and Dejounte Murray create one of the NBA’s fiercest defensive backcourt duos, with each getting All-Defensive team votes during the past two seasons. Due to the depth of the West, it will be hard for them to keep their streak alive, but with Gregg Popovich at the helm, they’ll be well prepared to make a run to a 23rd straight postseason.
The New Orleans Pelicans will undoubtedly be one of the most exciting teams to watch this season, with their main attraction being uber-athletic number 1 pick Zion Williamson. At 6’7 and 280 pounds, he’s already one of the heaviest players in the league, and he has a combination of physical gifts that are rarely seen in the NBA. F Brandon Ingram will look to build upon a superb second half of the season that was cut short due to blood clots. He has the potential to become this team’s go-to isolation scorer. G Lonzo Ball is already an elite playmaker and defender, and is looking to round out the rest of his offensive game to become even more of a threat offensively. Jrue Holiday and JJ Redick will provide veteran leadership for this young group while providing valuable shooting, defense, and play-making. The Pelicans may be a young team, but they have the potential to fight for a playoff berth come April.
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