It’s a familiar tune for DeMarcus Cousins who has still never appeared in the NBA Playoffs.
Earlier this week the basketball bombshell broke when it was announced that the New Orleans Pelicans had acquire center DeMarcus Cousins from the Sacramento Kings. In nearly seven seasons with the Kings, Cousins averaged 21.1 points and 10.8 rebounds as he leaves Sacramento as one of the best players in the history of the franchise. But during Cousins’ time with the Kings, he became the poster boy for players who put up big numbers while failing to make the team around them better. With Cousins leading the way for the Kings they were never able to make the playoffs, while he played under six different head coaches. At the All-Star break the Kings were in ninth place in the Western Conference as they were only -1.5 games behind the Denver Nuggets for the final playoff spot. However with Kings trading Cousins, they are waving the white flag for this season as he’ll now join a Pelicans that began the second half of the NBA season in 11th place in the Western Conference and 2.5 behind the Nuggets. And for Cousins the excuses must now be a thing of the past for him.
Throughout Cousins’ entire NBA career, it has always been someone else’s fault which has seen Kings owner Vivek Ranadive and general manager Vlade Divac consistently siding with him. Cousins developed a reputation around the NBA as a “coach killer”, and a player whom nobody could get through to. And ever with a weaker Western Conference this season, it wasn’t a guarantee that the Kings were going to be able to end their long playoff drought which dates back to 2006 as Cousins was never to get this franchise over the hump.
Now Cousins is in New Orleans where he’ll play alongside another Kentucky Wildcats alum in power forward Anthony Davis. In five seasons with the Pelicans, Davis has become one of the NBA’s best big men as he is averaging 27.7 points, 12 rebounds, and 2.5 blocks per contest. In acquiring Cousins and small forward Omri Casspi from the Kings, the Pelicans gave up guards Tyreke Evans, Langston Galloway, and Buddy Hield, along with their first and second-round picks here in 2017. And even though the Pelicans sacrificed their play on the perimeter in order to get Cousins, there aren’t too many teams in the Western Conference that can match up with him and Davis. You can all but pencil in Cousins and Davis to combine for at least 50 points each night as it is the classic example of “pick your poison”. It’s been a long time since the NBA has seen a combination on the interior in their prime that can score in the fashion that Davis and Cousins can which makes them an instant headache for opponents. But for Cousins who has never appeared in the NBA Playoffs, if he cannot do it now, will he ever?
At the end of the day the NBA is a business and Cousins’ arrival in New Orleans gives him a fresh start. But for Cousins there cannot be any finger pointing at Davis for taking too many shots, or a failure to listen to Pelicans head coach Alvin Gentry as it is simply time to do whatever it takes in order to win.
As talented as Cousins is, he is one the NBA’s biggest headaches as he has already accrued 17 technical fouls this season which led to a one-game suspension. Cousins has worked to remedy his frustration which at times gets the best of him, but now more than ever, he must check his ego at the door. But Cousins’ time with the Pelicans didn’t get started on the right foot as they lost by 30 points at home last night to the Houston Rockets.
If Cousins comes to play on a nightly basis with the Pelicans, this can be one the best teams in the Western Conference. Pelicans point guard Jrue Holiday must be salivating as he now has the opportunity to dish the ball to two of the league’s best big men. And regardless of what the Pelicans are able to for the remainder of this NBA season, they won’t have to beg small forwards and shooting guards to come to the Bayou and play as long as Cousins is all in on winning.
Davis has proven that he can get the Pelicans to the playoffs, while he and Cousins have each won a gold medal with the United States Men’s Basketball team during the Summer Olympics. And if everyone in New Orleans is all in, the combination of Cousins and Davis could be as legendary as Tim Duncan and David Robinson were when they teamed to win a pair of NBA Championships with the San Antonio Spurs.
But whatever the final verdict may be in New Orleans, if Cousins cannot make the playoffs now, I am not sure that he ever will.
It’s still early in the NBA season, but that doesn’t mean we cannot begin to look at who’ll take home some hardware in the spring as the league’s MVP. And although that Christmas has not yet arrived, here are some players that are right now a cut above the rest.
DeMar DeRozan-Shooting Guard-Toronto Raptors
Since the Toronto Raptors made shooting guard DeMar Derozan the ninth overall selection of the NBA Draft in 2009, he has been a work in progress. As a rookie, DeRozan averaged 8.6 points per contest, but he would make a huge leap in his second season as he netted 17.2 points per game. And by 2014, DeRozan had elevated his game to that of an NBA All-Star.
Last season saw DeRozan help the Raptors make the Eastern Conference Finals for the first time in franchise history, and he’s doing his part to help Toronto take that next step in order to win an NBA Championship.
This season DeRozan is averaging 28 points per game, which has included a pair of 40-point performances. In all but three games this season DeRozan has scored at least 21 points as he is the focal point of the Raptors offense.
DeRozan deserves a ton of credit as after signing a five-year, $139 million extension to remain in Toronto over the summer, his production has increased which goes against the norm as athletes tend to regress after agreeing to a mega deal. But DeRozan is mentally tough and as he has the Raptors poised to make a title run, he cannot be overlooked in regards to being the NBA’s MVP.
LeBron James-Small Forward-Cleveland Cavaliers
Cleveland Cavaliers small forward LeBron James falls into that rare air. James has been one of the best players in the NBA since he first came on to the scene in 2003 which is evident by him being a four-time NBA MVP. James is always in the discussion to be the NBA’s MVP, and although that he’s only averaging 23.9 points so far this season, he is averaging 9.1 assists, and 7.6 rebounds per contest as he is still the game’s best all-around player.
Russell Westbrook-Point Guard-Oklahoma City Thunder
Since Oklahoma City Thunder point guard Russell Westbrook made his NBA debut in 2008, he has been one of the league’s most explosive players. Westbrook is a five-time NBA All-Star in spite of the fact that he has spent his entire professional career playing out of position as he was always a shooting guard prior to joining the Thunder.
I expected Westbrook to have an increased role in the Thunder’s offense after small forward Kevin Durant left last summer in free agency and he has lived up to the expectations and then some.
In Westbrook’s first game this season, he dropped 32 points, 12 rebounds, and 9 assists on the Philadelphia 76ers. Westbrook follwed this up by torching the Phoenix Suns in the second game of the season for 51 points, 13 rebounds, and 10 assists.
For the season Westbrook has 11 triple-doubles to his credit which includes recording one in his each of his last six games. Westbrook is currently averaging 31 points, 11.3 assists, and 10.9 rebounds as he is seeking to become the first player in the NBA to average a triple-double for an entire season since Oscar Robertson in 1962. And if Westbrook is able to pull off that feat, he should receive very strong consideration to be the NBA’s MVP.
Kevin Durant-Small Forward-Golden State Warriors
Small forward Kevin Durant shocked many people last summer when he left the Oklahoma City Thunder as a free agent to join the Golden State Warriors. And when Durant joined the Warriors, it was going to be interesting to see how he would play alongside point guard Steph Curry and shooting guard Klay Thompson who are two of the premier scorers in the NBA.
But so far Durant hasn’t skipped a beat with his new team as he is averaging 26.5 points, 4.8 assists, and 8.4 rebounds which are a career-high. Durant has been consistent for the Warriors as he has scored at least 20 points in every contest in all but two for the Warriors. And as the Warriors once again find themselves in the title hunt, Durant’s contributions cannot be overlooked.
James Harden-Point Guard-Houston Rockets
Before this NBA season began, new Houston Rockets head coach Mike D’Antoni announced that he would be shifting James Harden from shooting guard to point guard. And whereas people such as myself laughed at the notion, D’Antoni has been right on so far.
Harden has still maintained his status as one of the better scorers in the NBA as he is averaging 28.5 points per game. But the amazing feat is that Harden has done this while he is leading the league in assists at 11.4 per contest. Harden has four triple-doubles on the season. And in those contests the Rockets are 3-1 which includes victories over the San Antonio Spurs, along with the Golden State Warriors.
D’Antoni has maximized the ability of Harden which is leading to victories for the Rockets and the elevation of the all-around game of one of the best players in the NBA.
Anthony Davis-Power Forward-New Orleans Pelicans
Being that the New Orleans Pelicans are not one of the better teams in the NBA, the exploits of power forward Anthony Davis could go unnoticed to the casual fan. Davis was the first overall pick of the 2012 NBA Draft by the then New Orleans Hornets, and he has been as good as advertised. Davis is a budding superstar which began to recognized as he was named to his first All-Star team in 2014. That season Davis averaged 24.4 points, 10.2 rebounds, and 2.9 blocks as he helped the Pelicans reach the postseason for the first time since 2011.
Injuries limited Davis to just 61 games last season, but this time around he is currently averaging 31.6 points, 11.4 rebounds, and 2.8 blocks.
On the season Davis has 10 games in which has delivered at least 30 points and 10 rebounds which was highlighted by going for 50 points and 15 rebounds in an opening night loss to the Denver Nuggets, along with a 41-point, 16-rebound barrage last Tuesday in a victory over the Los Angeles Lakers.
The Pelicans don’t have a good team around Davis which will hinder his chances as far as making the postseason goes, but what he is currently doing the season cannot be discredited.
X-San Antonio Spurs 63-19 (2)
Last season saw the San Antonio Spurs win 67 games, but they were a team that most people were not talking about since the Golden State Warriors set an NBA single-season record for victories with 73. The Spurs were poised for another title run until they ran into the Oklahoma City Thunder in the Western Conference Semifinals who knocked them out in six games. The loss to the Thunder signaled the end for power forward Tim Duncan with the San Antonio Spurs. For the last 19 seasons Duncan has been the face on Spurs franchise. With Duncan leading the way, the Spurs never missed the playoffs en route to winning five NBA Championships. But under the guidance of head coach Gregg Popovich, don’t expect the Spurs to slow down now that Duncan has retired.
In order to attempt to replace Duncan, the Spurs signed free agent center Pau Gasol. In 15 NBA seasons Gasol has averaged 18.2 points, 9.5 rebounds, and 3.3 assists as his skill set is an ideal fit for the Spurs system. Gasol is also a two-time NBA Champion and his leadership and knowledge of the game will be welcomed with open arms in San Antonio.
Gasol will team in the Spurs starting front court with small forward Kawhi Leonard and power forward LaMarcus Aldridge to give San Antonio one of the toughest trios in the NBA to match up against. In each of Leonard’s five seasons with the Spurs, his numbers have improved and he is becoming one of the best two-way players in the league. Last year Leonard averaged 21.2 points, 6.8 rebounds, and 1.8 steals as he finished second in the NBA’s MVP voting. Leonard should once again be a force to be reckoned with this time around. As for Aldridge, his numbers were slightly down in his first year with the Spurs which was the result of the constant ball movement that is orchestrated in San Antonio. However you can pencil in Aldridge for another All-Star caliber season, and he should also benefit from playing alongside Gasol who is one of the better passing big men in the NBA.
Veteran point guard Tony Parker has seen his fair share of the NBA’s grind as he is set to begin his 15th season with the Spurs. And even at the age of 34, Parker isn’t showing any signs of slowing down as he is still one of better guards in the NBA when it comes to penetration. Veteran shooting guard Manu Ginobili is 39-years of age, but he will still be a vital member coming off of the bench for San Antonio, while shooting guard Danny Green is looking to bounce back after a subpar campaign last season from downtown. Power forward David Lee is set to begin his first season with the Spurs, and as he has averaged 14.2 points, along with 9.2 rebounds during his 11-year NBA career, he will be a valuable player coming off of the bench for the Spurs.
The Spurs are one of the most complete teams in the NBA, and being that they are led by Popovich, I don’t expect this team to take their eyes off of the prize as they will once again be a very formidable team when the playoffs roll around.
Y-Dallas Mavericks 49-33 (6)
The past five years have been a rough go at it for the Dallas Mavericks. The Mavericks do have four playoff appearances over that stretch, but they’ve been unable to advance past the first round of the NBA Playoffs. After winning the NBA Championship in 2011, Mavericks owner Mark Cuban has been hell bent on getting back to the promised land. And after Cuban and the Mavs were spurned several times recently in free agency, they could be ready to re-emerge as a contender in the Western Conference.
Power forward Dirk Nowitzki is set to begin his 19th season with the Mavericks and he is still playing at a quality level. Nowitzki averaged 18.3 points per contest last season and you can expect another quality campaign from him due to the talent that has been assembled around him.
In four seasons with the Golden State Warriors, small forward Harrison Barnes saw his points per game average increase, but he was still under utilized. With the Warriors, Barnes took a backseat to shooting guard Klay Thompson and point guard Steph Curry. But after the Warriors signed small forward Kevin Durant over the summer, Barnes became an afterthought there. And once Barnes hit free agency, the Mavs welcomed him with open arms to the tune of $94 million dollars over the next four years. Barnes will definitely see more shots per game and he should be able to average at least 16 points per game in Dallas.
The Mavericks also landed another player formerly with the Warriors in center Andrew Bogut. The Mavericks acquired Bogut from the Warriors over the summer, and like Barnes, he saw a dip in his production there. Bogut won’t look to be a scorer in Dallas, but what you can expect from him is a solid rebounder, while he is also a quality facilitator from the center position.
The summer of 2015 saw the Mavericks sign shooting guard Wesley Matthews, but he spent his first season in Dallas attempting to get back on track after he ruptured his Achilles tendon in the previous season as a member of the Portland Trail Blazers. However Matthews is now healthy and he should able to contribute as a solid wing player; especially at the defensive end of the floor.
In 65 games with the Mavericks last season, point guard Deron Williams showed flashes of what made him a three-time NBA All-Star. And even at the age of 32, if Williams is once again motivated, it will be a huge plus for the Mavericks.
Mavericks head coach Rick Carlisle is one of the best in the business when it comes to dealing with different personalities while getting the most out of his team. And the Mavericks could be set up to have a very productive NBA campaign.
Y-Memphis Grizzlies 46-36 (7)
The past six NBA seasons have seen the Memphis Grizzlies be the little engine that could of the Western Conference. The Grizzlies have made the playoffs in each of the last six years, and although that they have been unable to advance to the NBA Finals, they continue to be a tough out in the postseason. But things are once again changing for the Memphis Grizzlies as after compiling a 147-99 record over the last three years, Dave Joerger was fired as the team’s head coach.
Joerger was replaced in Memphis by Dave Fizdale who has spent the last 14 years as an assistant coach in the NBA; most notably as an assistant coach with the Miami Heat for the last nine seasons. Fizdale has inherited a veteran team that he must find a way to keep healthy for the riggers of the long haul that is the regular season in the NBA.
A broken foot forced center Marc Gasol to miss 26 games last year, along with the playoffs. Gasol is a catalyst for the Grizzlies at both ends of the floor as he is an all-around player. In 2013, Gasol was the NBA’s Defensive Player of the Year, while in each of the last four seasons, he has averaged nearly 4 assists per contest. Gasol has good court vision which can see him pass the basketball from the top of the key as well as in the post equally which always keeps an opposing defense on its toes.
Like Gasol, power forward Zach Randolph has been a recent fixture for Grizzlies basketball. In seven seasons in Memphis, Randolph has averaged 17.2 rebounds and 10.5 rebounds as along with Gasol, they give the Grizzlies one of the better front courts in the NBA. But at the age of 35, Randolph has 15 years worth of mileage on his legs from playing in the NBA. Fizdale understands that and he is looking to preserve Randolph which will see him come off of the bench this year, but he can still be extremely effective in that role.
Point guard Mike Conley Jr. has spent his entire nine-year NBA career with the Grizzlies and this past summer saw him become a very rich man as he signed a five-year, $153 million deal to stay in Memphis as it was one of the largest contracts in league history. For Conley’s career he has averaged 13.6 points and 5.6 assists, and now the pressure is going to be on him to increase those statistics due to the lucrative deal that he agreed to.
In two years with the Dallas Mavericks, a bad knee kept small forward Chandler Parsons from reaching his full potential. But if Parsons is healthy, he could have a big impact in Memphis due to his shooting ability which compliments the playing style of Gasol, and Conley’s ability to penetrate into the paint.
Small forward Vince Carter is 39-years of age, and although that he isn’t able to crank it up and thrown down thunderous dunks as often as he once did, he is still brings a tremendous skill set to the table, along with a plethora of NBA experience. And along with guard Tony Allen who is still a solid defender, Carter adds to the Grizzlies depth off of their bench.
The Grizzlies will be a work in progress as the season goes along, but once the postseason rolls around, they will once again be a tough out.
Houston Rockets 40-42
The past NBA season saw the Houston Rockets wilt under the lofty expectations that were thrust onto them. The Rockets made the Western Conference Finals in 2015 and there was hope within the organization that they could build off of that. But after a 4-7 start, the Rockets decided to part with head coach McHale. McHale would be replaced by J.B. Bickerstaff who was able to get the Rockets to the playoffs, but they could never rekindle the magic from the previous season.
The Rockets have now turned to Mike D’Antoni to be their next head coach. In 12 seasons in the NBA as the head coach of the Denver Nuggets, Phoenix Suns, New York Knicks, and Los Angeles Lakers, D’Antoni has a record of 455-426. D’Antoni has six playoff appearances to his credit as his teams have been known to very offensive oriented. The Rockets scored 106.5 points per contest last season which was fourth in the NBA, but they surrendered 106.4 points game which was 25th in the league. And being that D’Antoni is now running the show in Houston, you can expect that trend to continue.
When you think of Rockets shooting guard James Harden, you think of instant offense. Harden is always in the MVP discussion as he is one of the best scorers in the NBA. Harden averaged 29 points per contest last season, and in D’Antoni’s “fun and gun” offense, you can expect him to be off to the races. Harden averaged 7.5 assists last year, and you can expect him to play the point guard position more this season which should be very interesting.
But aside from Harden, the Rockets don’t have any other players that can step up and put the team on their back. Small forward Trevor Ariza is a solid defender, and guard Patrick Beverly plays with tremendous heart, but will that be enough to make the Rockets a playoff team for a fifth consecutive year?
Rockets general manager Daryl Morey is a huge proponent of analytics to build his team from which hasn’t been produced as many wins lately and it will once again be put to the test this season. Seven of the Rockets first eight games will be on the road which includes two meetings with the Dallas Mavericks, along with games against the Cleveland Cavaliers and San Antonio Spurs which won’t be a picnic.
New Orleans Pelicans 38-44
In 2015, it appeared as if the New Orleans Pelicans were destined for greatness until they shot themselves in the foot. The Pelicans made the playoffs for the first time in three years and they appeared ready for an upswing under head coach Monty Williams. But surprisingly, Williams was fired by the Pelicans and replaced with Alvin Gentry. Under Gentry, the Pelicans got off to a slow start last season with a record of 1-11 and they were unable to recover as they only managed to win 30 games. The Pelicans were also done in by injuries with their best player in center Anthony Davis missing 21 games. But as a new NBA season is set to begin, will the Pelicans be able to pick up their production in the Western Conference?
Any chance that the Pelicans have for a turnaround begins with Davis. Davis is one of the NBA’s rising stars and he will be the MVP of the league at some point. If Davis is healthy, you can pencil him in to average at least 22 points and 10.5 rebounds per contest while he makes the players that are around him better due to the attention that he receives. Last year Gentry had Davis take more perimeter shots, but if he concentrates on his post game, there won’t be too many defenders in the NBA that will be able to stop him.
The Pelicans will definitely miss the contributions of point guard Jrue Holiday who has stepped away from the basketball team to care for his wife as she deals with a brain tumor, and although that it won’t be easy, New Orleans will have to find a way to replace his production as he averaged 16.8 points and 6 rebounds last season.
With Holiday away from the team, Tyreke Evans should see more time at point guard this year, and getting the basketball to Davis early and often should be his main priority.
Shooting guard Buddy Hield was the Pelicans first-round past June and he should have an immediate impact. Hield comes to the NBA as a very decorated player which included him being the Naismith Player of the Year as the nation’s top men’s basketball player during the previous college basketball season as he averaged 25 points per game in helping the Oklahoma Sooners reach the Final Four this past April. Hield is one of the players that can heat up from behind the three-point line rather quickly and playing alongside Davis should see them help each other.
The Pelicans should be a little bit better than last year, but being that the Southwest Division is one of the toughest in the NBA, they will be fighting an uphill battle as far as making the postseason in the spring.
The New Orleans Pelicans hit the jackpot in 2012 when they drafted power forward Anthony Davis after winning the NBA’s Draft Lottery to obtain the first overall pick. In four years with the Pelicans, Davis’ numbers have continued to improve and he hasn’t gone unnoticed as he is a three-time NBA All-Star while also being a member of the United States Men’s Basketball Team that took home gold medals during the 2012 Summer Olympics. Last year Davis helped the Pelicans make their first playoff appearance since 2011. And even though that the Pelicans were swept in the first round of the NBA Playoffs by the Golden State Warriors, the future still appeared to be bright for them heading into the 2015-2016 NBA season.
But that hasn’t been the case for the Pelicans as they stumbled out of the gates with a record of 1-11 which has been tough to overcome. The Pelicans entered play today with a record of 22-33 and they added to that futility tonight with a 20-point loss to the Washington Wizards. The Pelicans record has them in the basement of the Southwest Division and in 11th place overall in the Western Conference. Whereas the Pelicans appeared to be making strides last year under head coach Monty Williams who was surprisingly fired, they have taken steps backwards under current head coach Alvin Gentry as there doesn’t appear to be a semblance of order. And the person who is suffering the most is Davis who is having an MVP-caliber season which is being wasted due to a lack of consistent support around him.
On the year, Davis is averaging 24.3 points, 10.1 rebounds, and 2.2 blocks which was highlighted by him going off for 59 points and 20 rebounds this past Sunday night against the Detroit Pistons. What makes matters more interesting what that it was an easy 59 points that Davis poured in. On the season Davis has scored 30 points or more in a game ten times while also having 28 double-doubles. For the month of February, Davis is averaging 30.7 points and 9.2 rebounds as he is the running the Western Conference’s Player of the Month. And whereas Davis is one the NBA’s elite big men, he doesn’t have a good support system around him in New Orleans which is reflected in the Pelicans current record.
The first mistake that the Pelicans made was to fire Williams last spring. Williams appeared to be a guy that was respected by the Pelicans team while also having a rapport with Davis who publicly expressed support for last year, but for some bizarre reasoning he still lost his job. Williams was replaced with Gentry who has only had three winning campaigns over his 12-year career as an NBA head coach which has included stints with the Miami Heat, Detroit Pistons, and Phoenix Suns while the Pelicans are now finding out the hard way about his struggles from the bench.
Aside from Davis, the Pelicans have had five different players average in double figures this season, but guards Eric Gordon and Tyreke Evans have seen their NBA careers sidetracked by injuries while New Orleans has simply lacked “the guy” who can consistently take some of the load off of their All-Star big man.
Last summer the Pelicans locked Davis up when both parties agreed on a five-year extension that is worth $145 million. Davis is signed through 2021, but it is time that the Pelicans to put a solid team around him that will be able to help New Orleans take the next step in the Western Conference. And if the Pelicans are unable to do that through both free agency and the NBA Draft, team general manager Dell Demps and Gentry will soon have a disgruntled superstar on their hands that will be looking to get out of town on the first riverboat heading up the Mississippi River.
Y-San Antonio Spurs 62-20 (1)
The dawn of a new NBA season is upon us, but it’s same standard of excellence for the San Antonio Spurs. Each of the last 18 seasons have seen the Spurs make the NBA Playoffs and they’ve done damage when they get there as they’ve won five NBA Championships. The Spurs dynasty has mainly consisted of power forward Tim Duncan, shooting guard Manu Ginobili, and point guard Tony Parker as the trio has combined to win four of the Spurs five NBA Titles with Duncan leading the way in 1999. And as this trio is now in its mid-to-late 30’s, nothing last forever which is something that is not lost on Spurs general manager R.C. Buford and head coach Gregg Popovich.
Popovich knows how to keep his veteran players fresh for the stretch run of the season by managing their minutes early on which gives his role players the opportunity to gain quality playing time which always pays dividends in clutch situations down the stretch. The Spurs consistently have one of the deepest teams in the NBA which will once again be magnified this season.
This past summer saw the Spurs dip into free agency which is something that they don’t normally do. Recognizing that Duncan is 39-years of age and that he doesn’t have much more basketball left in the tank, the Spurs went out and signed power forward LaMarcus Aldridge. Aldridge has spent his entire nine-year NBA career with the Portland Trailblazers where he averaged 19.4 points and 8.4 rebounds per game while being named to four NBA All-Star teams. And the Spurs are hoping to transition to Aldridge into becoming their main post presence in the same fashion that David Robinson passed the torch Duncan many moons ago.
The Spurs also signed veteran power forward David West and shooting guard Jimmer Fredette over the summer. West is a grizzled veteran that has seen his fair share of the wars in the paint in the NBA as he has played for the New Orleans Hornets and Indiana Pacers and he is now looking to put a league championship on his resume. What West gives the Spurs is another unselfish player that is not afraid to crash the boards while giving them a presence in the post coming off of the bench. The Spurs are one of the best shooting teams in the NBA from behind the three-point arc and what Fredette provides them with is another solid deep shooter and he’ll enjoy playing pick and roll along with coming off of screens in San Antonio.
The Spurs are the most unselfish team in the NBA which is why they are always in contention to win the NBA Championship. Small forward Kawhi Leonard is emerging as a star and as he has already won a title along with being NBA Finals MVP, he might be able to add NBA All-Star to his resume this season due to the fact that he is becoming a solid two-way player in the league. And as long as Parker is able to continue to penetrate the lane and kick out the basketball, shooting guard Danny Green will continue to knock down open shots from downtown.
The Spurs will need a little bit of time gel, but they’ve always been a tremendous second half team under Popovich which means that we can expect another deep run in the playoffs next spring.
X-Houston Rockets 52-30 (5)
The Houston Rockets are coming off of their best campaign since the 1996-1997 NBA season when they went 57-25 and reached the Western Conference Finals. Last season the Rockets won 56 games and they made a surprise appearance in the Western Conference Finals. But with it being so difficult to consistently make deep playoff runs in the Western Conference, what will the Rockets be able to do for an encore this season?
In three years with the Rockets, shooting guard James Harden has become one the top scoring threats in the NBA. Harden is coming off of a season which was worthy of him winning the NBA MVP Award, but that honor went to Golden State Warriors point guard Steph Curry. Harden averaged 27.4 points last season along with 5.7 rebounds per contest. Harden also knew how to get his teammates involved as he averaged 7.0 assists per game as well. This season Harden has help in the backcourt in the form of point guard Ty Lawson. The Rockets acquired Lawson from the Denver Nuggets where he had an up and down six-year stint. Lawson is one of the better point guards in the NBA, but he wasn’t fully motivated over the past few seasons in Denver which is something that should change now that he is playing along side Harden.
There are some critics of Rockets center Dwight Howard who want to see him take his offensive game to another level. But Howard is an 11-year NBA veteran who will be 30-years old this December and at this point, what you see from him is exactly what you are going to get. Howard is a three-time NBA Defensive Player of the Year who has led the league in rebounds on five separate occasions. And with Harden, Lawson, and all of the three-point shooters that Houston employs under head coach Kevin McHale, the Rockets strictly need Harden to be a presence in the paint defensively while continuing to clean up on the glass.
No team in the NBA attempted more three-point shots than the Rockets last who chucked up 32.7 per game and you can expect more of the same with Harden, shooting guard Jason Terry, small forward Corey Brewer, and rookie forward Sam Dekker leading the way.
The Rockets will once again be one of the most entertaining teams in the NBA and the addition of Lawson at the point guard position could help them achieve better things this season.
X-Memphis Grizzlies 52-30 (6)
The past few years have seen a common theme attached to the Memphis Grizzlies which is that they are a team the nobody wants to face in the NBA Playoffs. The Grizzlies have won at least 50 games in each of the last three NBA seasons as they are matchup nightmare for opponents due to the fact that they have two quality big men in power forward Zach Randolph and center Marc Gasol. Gasol had the ability to leave Memphis over the summer as a free agent, but he decided to stay and he was rewarded by the Grizzlies with a new five-year, $110 million contract. What makes it so difficult for teams to defend Gasol and Randolph is that they have different offensive skill sets. Randolph plays more in the post while Gasol who can post up, is a great perimeter passer and scorer with the vintage “European” game.
But the Grizzlies are more than Gasol and Randolph with solid contributors in point guard Mike Conley and small forward Jeff Green in their starting lineup while they also have solid and versatile role players in swingmen Tony Allen and Courtney Lee along with small forwards Vince Carter and Matt Barnes.
The Grizzlies allowed the second fewest points in the NBA last season and once again under head coach Dave Joerger, the FedEx Forum in Memphis will be the “Grindhouse”.
The Grizzlies have a favorable schedule to begin the season and a fast start could be exactly what they need as far securing one of the top four seeds in the Western Conference which would give them home-court advantage for at least the first round of the NBA Playoffs.
X-New Orleans Pelicans 47-35 (7)
Last season saw the New Orleans Pelicans make tremendous strides as they made their first trip to the postseason since 2011, but it wasn’t enough for Monty Williams to keep his job as their head coach as he was fired. Williams was replaced in New Orleans as Pelicans head coach in favor of Alvin Gentry. Gentry spent last season as an assistant coach with the Golden State Warriors and he has previous experience in the NBA as a head coach with the Miami Heat, Detroit Pistons, and Phoenix Suns. But in New Orleans, Gentry will be dealing with the most talented team that he has ever coached and his job will be to get the Pelicans to take their game to another level.
In just three seasons, Pelicans power forward Anthony Davis is showing the ability that made him the first overall pick of the 2012 NBA Draft. Davis’ numbers have improved in each year in the NBA and as long as he stays healthy, you’re looking at a player that will be the NBA MVP in the very near future. Aside from Daivs, the Pelicans have depth in their front court with center Omer Asik who is a solid rebounder while power forward Ryan Anderson is a consistent three-point shooter. The Pelicans also have potential in their backcourt with point guard Jrue Holiday along with shooting guards Eric Gordon and Tyreke Evans. But like Davis, it is just a matter of them playing healthy.
We’ll get a feel about how good that the Pelicans will be right out of the chute as two of their first three games will be against the Warriors who are the defending NBA Champions. But this will be a very fun team to watch this season.
X-Dallas Mavericks 44-38 (8)
Since winning the NBA Championship in 2011, the Dallas Mavericks have had a bit of a rough go at things. Whereas the Mavericks have not posted a losing season since 2000 and they’ve only missed the playoffs once over their current stretch, they’ve been unable to get past the first round of the NBA Playoffs since 2011. The Mavericks have also been hurt in free agency which took another turn for the worse over the summer. It appeared that the Mavericks were going to sign center DeAndre Jordan when both sides came to a verbal agreement. But Jordan had second thoughts on joining the Mavericks, and being that he had never signed a contract to come to Dallas, he was free to return to the Los Angeles Clippers. Mavericks owner Mark Cuban is one of the sharpest business minds in the world. And in the business world you need to have the ability to roll with the punches along with adjusting which is something that the Mavericks must once again be able to do for the 2015-2016 NBA season.
Three of the Mavericks top five scorers from last season are no longer with the team. Point guard Monta Ellis decided to opt of his contract with the Mavericks after leading the team in scoring last season and he elected to join the Indiana Pacers. Last season center Tyson Chandler led the Mavs in rebounding at 11.5 per contest. But in the wake of pursuing Jordan, Chandler wasn’t a priority for the Mavericks and he also left as a free agent to sign with the Phoenix Suns while power forward Amare Stoudemire also left Dallas to join the Miami Heat.
Along with Cuban, the Mavericks still have Rick Carlisle who is in that rare air of quality head coaches that are currently in the NBA. The upcoming season will put that notion to the test as Carlisle will be blending veteran players with new players as the Mavericks look to stay afloat in the Western Conference.
Power forward Dirk Nowitzki is set to begin his 18th season with the Mavericks and he is a player that is still a viable scoring option in Dallas. Nowitzki averaged 17.3 points per game last season and Carlisle has done a good job in managing the 37-year old’s minutes which allows him to still be effective in the Mavericks offense. Small forward Chandler Parsons was the Mavericks big free-agent acquisition in 2014, but a troublesome knee limited him last season. Parsons more than likely will not be available when the 2015-2016 NBA season begins for the Mavericks and they are hopeful that he’ll eventually be able to regain his form as a solid wing player.
The Mavericks signed shooting guard Wesley Matthews over the summer. Matthews averaged 15.9 points per game last season as a member of the Portland Trailblazers before an Achilles injury ended his season. But Matthews is expected to be healthy for the Mavericks and he’ll provide them with the presence of an all-purpose guard. But the ultimate wild card for the Mavericks this season could be point guard Deron Williams.
The Mavericks were able to get Williams on the cheap after he agreed to a buyout with the Brooklyn Nets after a disappointing four-year stint with them. There was a time when Williams was recognized as one of the best point guards in the NBA, and if he is able to be a hungry player this season, Dallas could really benefit.
After losing out on Jordan, the Mavericks were able to center JaVale McGee. The Mavericks will be McGee’s fourth different NBA team and although he won’t be a serious scoring option in Dallas, they’ll need him to be a consistent rim protector and rebounder in the mode of Chandler.
With so many quality teams in the Western Conference once again, the Mavericks will be fighting hard to avoid getting lost in the shuffle.
X-San Antonio Spurs 58-24 (1)
The San Antonio Spurs walked off of the floor at the 2013 NBA Finals with an unusual feeling as they didn’t claim the NBA Championship. The Spurs however didn’t take the time to wallow in their pity as they laced up their sneakers and came back with a vengeance last season to claim their fifth NBA Championship since 1999. The Spurs are the most unselfish team in the NBA as they had six players last season that averaged in double figures which is their key to success. The San Antonio offense doesn’t revolve around one player as any player on their roster can give Spurs head coach Gregg Popovich 20 points on a given night and you can expect more of the same in the upcoming NBA season.
Spurs power forward Tim Duncan is the modern day Bill Russell as all he does in win. Duncan is 38-years old and he is set to embark on his 17th season in the NBA (all with the Spurs). On the surface it may appear that Duncan has taken has lesser role with the Spurs, but he is still the leader of this team as he is their anchor. Duncan only averaged 15.1 points and 9.7 rebounds per game last season, but he knows how to take it to another level in May and June during the NBA Playoffs. Like Duncan, Spurs point guard Tony Parker continues to be written off by his critics only to continuously rise to the occasion. Parker is 32-years of age and he has no sign of slowing down as he is still one of the fastest point guards in the NBA. Like Duncan and Parker, Spurs shooting guard Manu Ginobili is in that 30 something club in San Antonio where age is only a number. Ginobili is 37-years old and despite recent injuries he is still one of the best sixth men in the league.
Aside from Duncan, Parker, and Ginobili, the Spurs have tremendous depth that includes centers Tiago Splitter and Boris Diaw along with shooting guards Danny Green and Marco Belinelli. At 23-years of age, Spurs small forward Kawhi Leonard is a star in the making. Leonard is entering his fourth NBA season and he is the reigning NBA Finals MVP. At this point the only person that could slow Leonard’s progression down in Spurs head coach Gregg Popovich who uses the old-school, team first philosophy to the fullest.
The Spurs will begin the defense of the NBA Championship tomorrow night when they take on the Dallas Mavericks and you can expect another deep playoff run next spring from the silver and black.
Y-Dallas Mavericks 51-31 (6)
The Dallas Mavericks might be a veteran club, but there is a ton of optimism this season for them in the Metroplex. Center Tyson Chandler was an important part of the Mavericks championship team in 2011. After that title season for the Mavericks, Chandler became a free agent as he joined the New York Knicks. This off-season the Knicks would trade Chandler along with point guard Raymond Felton to Dallas which is a shot in the arm for Mavericks owner Mark Cuban and head coach Rick Carlisle because they didn’t want to see Chandler leave town in the first place.
On the floor one person who is really happy to have Chandler back in Dallas is Mavericks power forward Dirk Nowitzki. Nowitzki will go down as one of the greatest scorers that the NBA has ever seen from the power forward position while at 36-years of age he still has the ability to average 20 points per game. Nowitzki and Chandler will team with small forward Chandler Parsons to give the Mavericks a good front court. Cuban surprised some people this past summer when he signed the free agent Parsons to a three-year, $46 million contract. Parsons spent the past three seasons with the Houston Rockets where he averaged 14.1 points per game, but his numbers have increased in every season and he gives the Mavericks another player that can spread the floor on the offensive end.
The Mavericks will have a veteran starting back court in point guard Jameer Nelson and shooting guard Monta Ellis. In three of the last four NBA seasons, Nelson has averaged more than 7 assists per game as he is a good facilitator which will come in handy for Carlisle and his squad this season. In his first year in Dallas, Ellis shocked some people by being able to blend into Carlisle’s system so fast and he should improve for this campaign with the arrival of Nelson which allows him to be more off an off-guard.
After a few years as an afterthought, Cuban and Carlisle both feel that they have a team that can contend once again for an NBA Championship.
Y-Houston Rockets 50-32 (7)
With a nucleus of shooting guard James Harden and center Dwight Howard, the Houston Rockets are hopeful that they won’t get lost in the shuffle that is the Western Conference. The Rockets went 54-28 last season, but they were knocked out in the first round of the NBA Playoffs for the second consecutive year which is something that head coach Kevin McHale and general manager Daryl Morey are hoping to avoid this season.
The Rockets have their one-two combo in shooting guard James Harden and center Dwight Howard to once again lead them. Harden is one of the better perimeter players in the NBA while Howard is a terrific rebounder and interior defender. Last season in his first go round with the Rockets, Howard was able to compliment Howard as he averaged 18.3 points and 12.2 rebounds per outing. Morey and the Rockets struck it big in free agency over the summer when they were able to sign small forward Trevor Ariza. This will be Ariza’s second go round with the Rockets as he will replace Chandler Parsons who Morey was willing to let walk away in free agency. But what Ariza gives the Rockets is a better on-the-ball defender on the wing than Parsons which Houston will need if they are going to be able to advance in the postseason this time around.
Aside from the star power of Harden and Howard, the Rockets have questions at the point guard position in Patrick Beverley. In his two seasons in the NBA, Beverley has only averaged 2.8 assists per game. But Beverley appears to be the Rockets full-time starting point guard for now, and if Houston wants to be legitimate contenders in the Western Conference this season, I see McHale and Morey needing to upgrade that position at some point this season.
As the Rockets look to keep pace in the Western Conference, they must take advantage of their schedule to start the season as their first four opponents this season had losing records last year.
Y-Memphis Grizzlies 45-37 (8)
In the past few NBA seasons the Memphis Grizzlies have become a matchup nightmare for opponents. The Grizzlies have a pair of legitimate post presences in center Marc Gasol and power forward Zach Randolph. The Grizzlies are also not afraid to get dirty on the defensive end either as they are one of the top teams on defense in the NBA. For Grizzlies head coach Dave Joerger, he has a club that can contend with the top teams in the Western Conference.
Last season Gasol and Randolph combined to account for nearly a third of the Grizzlies offense. Grizzlies point guard Mike Conley is coming off of his best season in the NBA as he was second on the team in scoring while also becoming a dependable floor general that Joerger can count on. Along with Gasol, Randolph, and Conley, the Grizzlies have role players that include forwards Vince Carter, Tayshaun Prince, and Quincy Pondexter along with shooting guard Courtney Lee who will have a say in any success that Memphis will be able to have this season.
The Grizzlies will open with a soft schedule which will get them ready for a road trip at the end of November that will see them face the Los Angeles Lakers, Portland Trailblazers, Sacramento Kings, and Houston Rockets. But come the spring and the NBA Playoffs, the Grizzlies will once again be a tough out.
New Orleans Pelicans 44-38
The New Orleans Pelicans have increased their win total in each of the last three seasons, but it hasn’t resulted in them making the postseason. But will that trend change for the Pelicans this season? Under head coach Monty Williams, the Pelicans have a young team that could be a playoff team this season if they are able to remain healthy.
Last season Pelicans power forward Anthony Davis led the team in scoring (20.8) and rebounds (10.0) per game. Davis is only 21-years of age and he is already a very exciting player in the NBA as he can run the floor. Davis can block shots in the mode of Bill Russell which ignites the fast break and he also knows how to clean up on the boards. It is just a matter of Davis remaining healthy as in his two seasons in the NBA he has yet to participate in all 82 regular season games. Like Davis, Pelicans point guard Jrue Holiday is another exciting player, but his 2013-2014 NBA season was cut short due to a stress fracture in his right tibia which limited him to just 34 games. But if Holiday is a go this season, New Orleans will be a tough team to defeat in the Western Conference.
Aside from Davis and Holiday, the Pelicans have a potent starting lineup consisting of center Omer Asik, small forward Tyreke Evans, and shooting guard Eric Gordon. Asik is one of the better rebounders in the NBA while Evans and Gordon could have a positive impact if they both remain healthy. With veterans in power forward Ryan Anderson and small forward John Salmons coming off of the bench for Williams, this should be a good NBA season on the Bayou.
Within the first five games of the upcoming season, the Pelicans will have road games against the Grizzlies and Spurs who have been two of the top teams within the Southwest Division and it will also serve as a litmus test to see how the season will go in New Orleans.
Y-Clinched Playoff Berth