Wednesday 18 October 2017 / 09:59 PM

NBA SEASON PREVIEW: SOUTHWEST DIVISION

The NBA season is right around the corner, kicking off on October 25th. We are previewing every division in the league to get you ready for the season.

Today, we’ll be previewing the Southwest, which features five bona fide playoff contenders in a division that’s deep and talented.

Last season, it was all San Antonio, as the Spurs raced to match the pace of the Golden State Warriors. They quietly had one of the most dominant regular seasons in NBA history, leaving the division behind as a result.

But they struggled in the postseason and lost their franchise face – the great Tim Duncan – in the offseason. The Mavs suffered a setback last season, as did the new-look and injury-hit Grizzlies. Meanwhile, the Rockets were a mess. Oh, and the Pelicans wasted another year of Anthony Davis with some injuries and bad players around him

So after an emotional offseason for the division and some serious revamping, who is the favorite in the Southwest? Can the Spurs rebuild on the fly without Duncan? Will the Rockets get a lift with a new regime? Are the Pelicans finally a playoff contender? And are the Mavs and Grizz ready to compete after retooling?

1. San Antonio Spurs

Well, the loss of Duncan in the offseason certainly removes the stability that the franchise has had for close to two decades. And if there was any time for the Spurs to fall back to the pack in the Southwest, it would be now. Acquiring Pau Gasol certainly adds more flow and rhythm to the offense and should have the Spurs running more fluidly. The isolation-driven offense last season was really non-Spurs, and Gregg Popovich has said in the offseason that he’s trying to remedy that.

The addition of David Lee provided some depth, and the team has gotten a little deeper all-round. Newly drafted Dejounte Murray will surely get some minutes like they did with Kyle Anderson, while there should be less of an emphasis placed on the first team this season. The duo of Tony Parker and Patty Mills remains solid, and Manu Ginobli makes the bench tough to manoeuver around.

Danny Green is going to have to find his shot again – he’s regressed pretty hard in his seasons in San Antonio since the title run. They’ll need him locked in, as he’s the answer after Manu retires.

The focus of the team remains Kawhi Leonard and LaMarcus Aldridge. Aldridge disappeared in the OKC series; he has to get confident. And Leonard has to emerge as a leader of this team. This Spurs team is the most apparent challenger to the Warriors in the West, but they’ll need to be better than last season.

2. Houston Rockets

I really hope you like offense. After struggling through last season, the Rockets cleaned house, letting go of head coach Kevin McHale, and enacting a mass exodus in free agency. It’s fully James Harden’s team now, and he’ll take over as the full-time ball-handler.

That’s awesome news for the scoring, but the defense is another issue. New head coach Mike D’Antoni loves to score, but defense isn’t his strong suit. So this team will probably be even worse defensively. But if there’s a better three-point shooting team outside of Golden State, I’d love to see it. Eric Gordon, Trevor Ariza, Ryan Anderson, and Patrick Beverley can all let it fly, and the team has doubled down on Clint Capela to replace Howard.

This team is going to score in bunches, and that’s good news for an offense that suffered outside of James Harden.

The relationship between Harden and the roster is going to have to be solid, because they are going to ride him pretty hard all season. Eric Gordon has injury concerns, but if he’s healthy, the bench will be better. Depth is a major concern, but the roster is capable as long as no one goes down. There’s not another star on the roster – or anyone even close to that level – so it’s going to be the Harden show.

3. Dallas Mavericks

Big D got a slight overhaul from last season, which saw the departure of Chandler Parsons, and some changes on the bench. Dirk decided to give it another run and he was incredibly efficient last year. The benefactor of the Warriors’ salary dumps to make room for Durant happened to be the Mavs, who got Andrew Bogut and Harrison Barnes off that team. Barnes disappeared heavily in the postseason, so it’s a risk with the contract he got, but the upside is large.

Bogut was the biggest coup for the Mavs, as the Aussie commanded the explosive offense for the Warriors a season ago. When Bogut went down, the flow and rhythm of the Warriors totally changed, and the Cavs came back to win each game he missed. He was a much bigger focal point than people give him credit for, and he can do big things for a Dallas attack that was stagnant at best last season.

Wesley Matthews is going to have to provide some consistency this season and remain healthy, and the deep point guard rotation is going to have to offer some pop. The gamble on Barnes still sticks with me, as there’s not really an answer behind him. He’ll be the second or third option on offense for the first time in his career and is going to have to learn fast.

4. Memphis Grizzlies

Memphis finally added some shooting to a roster that desperately needed it. Chandler Parsons joins the starting rotation and finally gives the side some kind of shooting from the outside. Mike Conley got his big payday and Marc Gasol is back from injury. There’s a lot to like about a Grizzlies team that missed the postseason last year.

But there are some problems brewing. Dave Joerger’s departure may have been the team’s goal (or not), but it leaves them with the unproven David Fizdale. And who knows if he’s ready for this.

The Grizzlies have made their mark with defense, and that’s fine, but the two-big lineup has struggled to stop teams like San Antonio and Golden State. This team is still slow – and it’s thin. One injury (for a team that is injury-prone) could derail the season.

The defense should still be very good, but counting on anything more than that is a reach. Conley will improve, as he has every year, and Gasol is one of the best in the game if healthy. But Randolph regressed last season and there still just isn’t much perimeter play on this roster. If they have to score, this group is in trouble.

5. New Orleans Pelicans

The Pelicans are one of the rare teams in the NBA with a top-five player in the league. Anthony Davis has been one of the best players in the game when healthy, but he’s struggled to stay that way during his career. The forward has missed at least 14 games in each of his four seasons. And he’s not the only one: Jrue Holiday will miss the start of the season due to family issues, and Tyreke Evans and Quincy Acy will also miss the start of the season.

Throw in that the cast around him is really thin and you have a recipe for another down year in New Orleans. Buddy Hield was a nice addition in the Draft and should be ready to go from day one. And the front court is really deep, with Alexis Ajinca and Omer Asik there with Davis. Solomon Hill is a presumed starter, and they picked up some decent pieces at the minimum in Terrence Jones and Lance Stephenson.

But this team isn’t deep or proven at any level. There is definitely some promise around the roster, but this team looks like a graveyard of players who’ve yet to find a fit in the NBA. Maybe Davis returns healthy and leads the group, but this team appears to be headed in the wrong direction.

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About the author

Austin Albertson

Austin is CBS' senior NFL and NBA analyst, bringing you commentary on everything between the lines and inside the hashes, from the film room to the scoreboard.

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