Two months after the finish of the NBA’s restart season in Orlando, another NBA season is right around the corner, and rightfully so. It will truly be the most wonderful time of the year in so many ways for basketball fans, as the 2020-21 NBA season will commence on December 22. All 30 teams, including the ones that participated in the aforementioned NBA restart, look to make a big impression during the 72 game season, leading up to the Finals in June. Following on from the Pacific Division, we conclude our season previews as we take a look at the Southwest Division.
The San Antonio Spurs were a model of consistency, always making the playoffs and sometimes, reaching and winning in the NBA Finals. Last season, that 21-year streak would end as the Spurs missed out on the postseason, despite being a part of the NBA restart season in Orlando. Since that time, San Antonio acquired Keita Bates-Diop from the Denver Nuggets and Cameron Johnson from the Milwaukee Bucks’ G-League affiliate team Wisconsin Herd. The Spurs entered the NBA Draft with only two picks and selected Devin Vassell from Florida State along with Tre Jones from Duke University. San Antonio may have all-stars in DeMar DeRozan and LaMarcus Aldridge, but for how long?
There are rumors circulating possible trades that involve the two all-stars with teams like the Toronto Raptors and New York Knicks being mentioned. However, with one of their state rivals having major issues with one of their star players, San Antonio can find a way to climb up the rankings in the Southwest Division. It’s going to be a challenging season for the Spurs, if not defining where this team goes for the next few years.
While upward in the Lone Star State, the Dallas Mavericks are still amazed by the ongoing stardom and stellar play of Luka Doncic and the improvements of Kristaps Porzingis. The duo of Doncic and Porzingis, which is reminiscent of the Dirk Nowitzki-Steve Nash days, gives Mavs fans a lot to be hopeful for.
Though they were eliminated in the first round of the Western Conference Playoffs by the Los Angeles Clippers, Dallas will certainly climb to the top of the rankings in the conference. In the offseason, they traded Seth Curry to the Philadelphia 76ers for Josh Richardson. In the NBA Draft, the Mavs selected Josh Green from the University of Arizona, Tyrell Perry from Stanford, and received Tyler Bey, who was selected by the 76ers. The Mavericks are going to improve just like how Doncic and Porzingis continue to provide double-double and triple-double highlights. Dallas could also be a team that could surprise a lot of people and could reach the Conference Finals this upcoming season.
The ongoing drama between James Harden and the Houston Rockets have been prevalent and consistent all throughout the free agency period. From Harden issuing his thanks to the organization, holding the front-office ransom, and ultimately trading away Russell Westbrook to the Washington Wizards for John Wall, the tension within the Rockets have been front-page news and have rumors speculating where things could go.
Aside from the Harden drama, the Rockets also acquired DeMarcus Cousins from the Los Angeles Lakers, Christian Wood from the Detroit Pistons, Bruno Caboclo from the Memphis Grizzlies, Kenny Wooten from the New York Knicks’ G-League affiliate team Westchester Knicks, and David Nwaba from the Brooklyn Nets.
The Rockets were the only team not to partake in the NBA Draft, but they should look into signing some undrafted rookies to their G-League affiliate, the Rio Grande Valley Vipers. As for Harden, it’s clear he wants to leave the Rockets, but will it happen during the midseason trades or when the next free agency market opens next July.
Year one of the Zion Williamson project seemed very successful for the New Orleans Pelicans. Last season, Williamson averaged 22.5 points and 6.3 rebounds per game. Though he didn’t win Rookie of the Year honors, Williamson looks to make the jump to becoming an all-star.
During the offseason, the Pelicans traded Jrue Holiday to the Milwaukee Bucks for Eric Bledsoe, plus Steven Adams from the Oklahoma City Thunder. In the draft, the Pels selected Kira Lewis Jr. from Alabama, Elijah Hughes from Syracuse (only to send him to the Utah Jazz), Nick Richards from Kentucky, and Sam Merrill from Utah State. Along with Lonzo Ball, J.J. Redick, and Brandon Ingram, the Pelicans are looking to make some more waves and build upon Zion’s success. Expect the Pelicans to trend upward, even if they seem to be punching above their weight in an already competitive Western Conference.
The Memphis Grizzlies have found lightning in a bottle with their rookie of the year sensation Ja Morant. The Grizzlies managed to reach the playoffs somewhat, in which they played a best of three against the Portland Trail Blazers for the 8th seed. The Grizzlies came up short in the third and decisive game, but just a glimpse of reaching the playoffs should be an indication of what direction Memphis is trending towards. In the draft, they selected Robert Woodard III from Mississippi State and acquired Desmond Bane of TCU, who was selected by the Boston Celtics. Memphis has a young core with Morant as the centerpiece and is more than capable of building a team worthy of his talent. Even more so, Morant could be an all-star this season and could be in the conversation for MVP honors down the road.
The Southwest Division is going to be full of intrigue and drama this season. Aside from the obvious with Harden and the Rockets, Memphis and New Orleans are going to be in a race to see which of the two teams will develop and build a core around their budding all-stars. The Spurs are going to face some serious decisions regarding not just their all-stars, but also the trajectory of their team’s future. As for the Mavericks, they have some upside and be considered wildcards in the entire Western Conference.
The teams that will reach the postseason: Dallas, Houston, Memphis, New Orleans
The teams that will be in the draft lottery: San Antonio, New Orleans, Memphis
Players to watch in the division: Luka Doncic, Kristaps Porzingis, Zion Williamson, Steven Adams, J.J. Redick, Lonzo Ball, James Harden, John Wall, DeMarcus Cousins, DeMar DeRozan, LaMarcus Aldridge, Rudy Gay, Lonnie Walker IV, Ja Morant, Dillon Brooks, Brandon Clarke, and Jonas Valanciunas
Rookies to watch: Kira Lewis Jr., Desmond Bane, Robert Woodard III, Devin Vassell
Rising stars to watch: Zion Williamson, Ja Morant