NBA Southwest Division Preview: Mavs are a sleeping giant
The 2021-22 NBA season is less than a week away, and we've been serving up previews of each division to help get you primed. Today we’re checking in on the Southwest Division, which is defined by its plethora of young, rising star talent.
Southwest Division Winner 2021/2022
Thu, June 2 2022, 12:00 AM
New Orleans Pelicans
San Antonio Spurs
2020-21 record: 42-30
Key Additions: Reggie Bullock, Sterling Brown
Key departures: None
The Dallas Mavericks feel like a sleeping giant. There’s a reason that Luka Doncic is the favorite to win MVP this season despite the Mavs' limited playoff success. He is a true superstar, a rare player capable of being the Alpha and Omega of an all-time offense.
Still, they didn’t get much out of the offseason. Reggie Bullock is a big upgrade over Josh Richardson, but Dallas didn’t acquire a secondary creator to take the playmaking load off of Doncic. And while Rick Carlisle’s time had clearly run its course, replacing him with Jason Kidd is cause for concern (if not outright alarm).
To reach the mountaintop, this team will need Jason Kidd to surprise, Kristaps Porzingis to recover his defensive form, and Luka to keep doing Luka things.
2020-21 record: 38-34
Key additions: Steven Adams, Zaire Williams
Key departures: Jonas Valanciunas
The Memphis Grizzlies’ greatest advantage is self-knowledge. Unlike most young, small-market teams that have early playoff success, the Grizz took a hard look in the mirror after their 4-1 first-round loss to the Utah Jazz and chose not to go all-in.
Memphis traded Jonas Valanciunas and ate a lot of bad money for draft capital, despite knowing it might hurt them in the standings. This is a long-term strategic view that should be lauded, but where they failed was in recouping requisite value. Valanciunas was arguably their best player last season and they have little to show for it - a few moved lottery spots, used on Zaire Williams, who was expected to be available much later in the draft anyway.
It was also a doubling-down on the upside of Jaren Jackson, the tantalizing big man who might ultimately determine whether the Grizzlies are a nice team in the Ja Morant era or a real contender. Given Jackson’s outrageous shooting and ballhandling potential at 6'11, it’s a good bet to make.
SAN ANTONIO SPURS
2020-21 record: 33-39
Key additions: Thad Young, Zach Collins, Doug McDermott
Key departures: DeMar DeRozan
The San Antonio Spurs are in for some lean years. Despite a rebuilding roster, nobody on this team projects as a future All-Star (if you squint hard enough, maybe you can see a single appearance by a Devin Vassell or Keldon Johnson). And though this team is relatively inexperienced, the core isn’t that young anymore either.
It seems the Spurs are content to play out the string until Gregg Popovich retires, which he has no doubt earned, but if this were any other franchise, there would be a lot of hard questions about their strategic vision the last few seasons.
NEW ORLEANS PELICANS
2020-21 record: 31-41
Key Additions: Jonas Valanciunas, Devonte’ Graham, Tomas Satoransky, Garrett Temple
Key Departures: Lonzo Ball
The single most critical issue to the New Orleans Pelicans is Zion Williamson’s foot injury. His recovery and the effect it might have on his overall conditioning is a serious concern, and the secrecy with which it was handled has surely raised some eyebrows.
When Zion returns this team will be a menace to defend inside. They led the league in offensive rebounding a year ago and figure to be only better in that area with the addition of Valanciunas. Valanciunas also gives them a powerful offensive option, even if he isn’t the stretch big that David Griffin would like you to believe he is.
And their defense actually improved a lot last year when they reverted to a simple drop scheme. If Willie Green maintains that change and leans into offense, this Pelicans team has some upside.
2020-21 record: 17-55
Key additions: Jalen Green, Alperen Sengun, Josh Christopher, Usman Garuba, Daniel Theis
Key departures: John Wall (sitting out per agreement with the team), Avery Bradley, Kelly Olynyk
The Houston Rockets took the opposite approach to their interstate rivals the San Antonio Spurs. Rather than try and chase the eighth seed with the remnants of their Western Conference Finals teams after the James Harden trade, they got religion, got bad, and now have one of the most promising young cores in the NBA.
Jalen Green will be competing for Rookie of the Year, Alperen Sengun profiles as a Swiss Army Knife center, and Josh Christopher and Usman Garuba might be the foundational pieces of an impressive defense.
They’ll be bad again this year in order to get one more bite at a top-five pick, but this team will be on the rise in the division sooner rather than later.
SOUTHWEST DIVISION PREDICTION
I worry about Jason Kidd has a coach, but Luka Doncic plus shooting is about as foolproof a regular-season NBA plan as there is.
PICK: DALLAS MAVERICKS (-230)