The Golden State Warriors are heading back to the NBA Finals, while the San Antonio Spurs are attempting to pick up the pieces.
At 31-6, the Golden State Warriors have the best record in the NBA. But the Warriors cannot take their foot off of the throttle as the NBA’s most consistent team is right in their rear-view mirror. Through 37 games the San Antonio Spurs are 30-7 and they are on pace for their 20th consecutive winning season. But aside from winning, it is how it has come for the Spurs as all but one season over this stretch has seen San Antonio win at least 50 games. The Spurs are a team that is full of interchangeable parts that is led by a head coach in Gregg Popovich who has consistently adjusted his coaching style which has led to five NBA Championships. And just like the last 19 seasons, the Spurs are once again in line to contend for another NBA Title.
Last summer saw the Spurs bid farewell to power forward Tim Duncan who in 19 years in San Antonio became one of the best winners in which professional sports has ever seen. There was never a season with Duncan in which the Spurs didn’t make the postseason and they were only unable to get past the first round of the NBA Playoffs four times.
It’s impossible to replace to contributions of Duncan who was a leader for the Spurs on and off of the court. But credit to Spurs general manager R.C. Buford and Popovich for going out in the off-season to sign center Pau Gasol. Gasol came to San Antonio as a six-time NBA All-Star, while he also won a pair of league titles as a member of the Los Angeles Lakers. In 17 NBA seasons, Gasol has averaged 18 points and 9.5 rebounds. Gasol knew when he came to San Antonio that he would not be the focal point of the Spurs offense, but at 36-years of age he simply wants to win another NBA Championship.
This season Gasol is averaging 12.1 points and his 7.8 rebounds lead the team. Gasol gives the Spurs another leader, while he is one of the better passing big men of the era which is evident by his 3.3 career assists average. And if Pop needs it, Gasol can still put up quality numbers as he got the Sacramento Kings for 24 points and 7 rebounds on November 16.
The summer of 2015 saw the Spurs agree to a four-year deal with power forward LaMarcus Aldridge that is worth $80 million. The 2015-2016 NBA season was an adjustment for Aldridge as he had to get acclimated with how the Spurs go about their business. But Aldridge still managed to average 18.0 points and 8.5 rebounds as he played alongside a legend in Duncan. Aldridge is averaging 17.8 points and 7.3 rebounds per contest, and like Gasol, you never know when he is going to explode for a big game.
Point guard Tony Parker and shooting guard Manu Ginobili may not have the explosiveness that they had when they were key cogs in four of the Spurs five NBA Titles, but they are still key contributors which includes providing a wealth of experience. The Spurs once again have tremendous depth which includes the likes of point guard Patty Mills and power forward David Lee. The Spurs also continue to find diamonds in the rough as youngsters such as center Dewayne Dedmon and shooting guard Jonathon Simmons are turning into quality role players off of the bench. But the epicenter of the Spurs success in recent years has been small forward Kawhi Leonard.
Leonard was the 15th overall pick of the 2011 NBA Draft, but by the Indiana Pacers who immediately traded him to the San Antonio Spurs. And in each of Leonard’s six seasons with the Spurs, he has continued to improve his all-around game which was highlighted by him being named as the NBA Finals MVP in 2014, along with being selected as the league’s Defensive Player of the Year twice. This season Leonard is averaging 23.9 points which leads the Spurs. Leonard has eight, 30-point games to his credit this season which includes getting 35 points against the Warriors to begin the season that resulted in a Spurs road victory. And once you put it all together, the Spurs are once again in a familiar spot.
The Spurs are not only a model franchise for other NBA organizations, but all of professional sports. The Spurs don’t have any “me” guys on their team that are worried about how many touches that they receive on offense, and you never hear about any players in San Antonio having an issue with the way that the team is structured. The Spurs preach ball movement as rarely does a possession go by in which all five players do not touch the basketball, and defensively they rarely beat themselves. There isn’t a player on the Spurs roster who cannot score 20 points on a given night which gives their opponents something to always think about. And the scary parts about this is the Spurs have not drafted in the NBA’s Lottery since obtaining Duncan as they know how to scout and develop talent. Popovich has also become the king of knowing when to rest his players in order to keep them fresh for the stretch run in the regular season and for the playoffs as his teams are always ready to perform when the chips are pushed to the middle of the table.
The Spurs do find themselves facing some strong opposition right now from the Houston Rockets for first place in the Southwest Division as they are only a game behind San Antonio for first place. However the Spurs are currently 10th in the NBA points per game at 106 per contest which includes them connecting on nearly 48% of their shots as that happens to be the second best mark in the league. Defensively the Spurs are allowing 97.5 points per game which is second in the league and that strong defense will help them in the playoffs; especially in the fourth quarter against quality teams such as the Warriors and Rockets, or the Cleveland Cavaliers should both of these teams meet in the NBA Finals.
When the Spurs were eliminated in the Western Conference Semifinals last spring at the hands of the Oklahoma City Thunder, you knew that they would be a team on a mission this season, and so far they have yet to disappoint as fundamental basketball continues to rule the roost in San Antonio.
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.
As we’re in the midst of the holiday season, the action in the NBA is heating up. With roughly one-third of the regular season in the NBA complete, the San Antonio Spurs find themselves with a record of 24-5, but they are actually flying under the radar with all of the attention around the league being focused on the Golden State Warriors and their torrid 26-1 start. However the lack of attention is something that is not affecting the Spurs as far as what their ultimate goal is which is to win another NBA Championship.
Since 1998, the Spurs have been the most consistent winner in the NBA as they have won at least 50 games in all but one year which was the lockout shortened campaign of 1999 where they went 37-13. The Spurs success has revolved around their head coach Gregg Popovich and power forward Tim Duncan who have been cornerstones of the franchise. Popovich has been the architect of one of the greatest dynasties in NBA history which could not have been possible without the mindset of Duncan.
The Spurs made Duncan the first overall pick of the 1997 NBA Draft and it is a move that they have not regretted. Duncan is a 15-time NBA All-Star, but more importantly, he has helped the Spurs win five NBA Titles along with being a three-time NBA Finals MVP. But what has set Duncan apart is his unselfishness. When Duncan first joined the Spurs, he relied on the guidance of longtime center David Robinson as the duo led San Antonio to their first NBA Championship in 1999. But by 2003, Duncan had become the face of the Spurs as he helped them win another NBA Title. The Spurs would win the NBA Championship once more in 2005, and by the time that they won their fourth title in 2007, the team was shifting to rely more on the talents of point guard Tony Parker. The Spurs would win their fifth NBA Title in 2014, and by this time they were nowhere close to resembling the philosophy that they possessed when Duncan first joined the team in 1997. The Spurs have been the ultimate example of team basketball as they are a totally unselfish squad which relies on finding the open man regardless of the name on the back of his jersey. This mantra begins with Duncan due to his selflessness in taking a lesser role with the team as he is solely concentrating on winning. This makes Popovich’s job as the Spurs head coach that much easier as if Duncan is able to survive without the basketball going through him on the majority of possessions while also willing to take a chewing out from his head coach, everyone else on the team can and has to fall in line.
After losing in the first round of the NBA Playoffs last spring, the Spurs did something that they normally don’t do which is to dip into free agency. The Spurs would sign power forward LaMarcus Aldridge to a four-year, $80 million contract. Aldridge spent the first nine years of his NBA career with the Portland Trailblazers where he was the franchise’s second all-time leading scorer along with being a four-time All-Star. But all the personal accolades aside, Aldridge was only able to get past the first round of the NBA Playoffs once during his time in Portland, and now at the age of 30, he wants to win a title. Enter Duncan who took less money with the Spurs which enabled the front office in San Antonio to bring in Aldridge as they are looking to transition once again; just like they did when Robinson passed the torch to Duncan.
For his NBA career, Aldridge is averaging 19.3 points and 8.4 rebounds per game. Aldridge’s offensive numbers are slightly down this season he is averaging 16.1 points per game, but his rebounds have increased as he is tallying 8.8 boards per contest. Aldridge’s numbers are down slightly down due to the Spurs deep rotation along with Popovich’s philosophy of keeping his players fresh for the stretch run of the regular season. But whereas Aldridge’s points per game might be down, his efficiency has gone up as he is shooting nearly 48% from the field which comes from playing with Parker.
Parker is a wizard when it comes to penetration as he forces a defense to collapse on him. Parker might be the best point guard that is currently in the NBA to run a pick and roll play with and Aldridge is benefitting from this as he has consistently found himself shooting open jump shots.
Parker is in his 15th NBA season (all with the Spurs) and he might be the most underrated point guard of this era which fits the mode of the Spurs. Parker was an afterthought when the Spurs drafted him in the first round of the 2001 NBA Draft, but he quickly made a name for himself in the 2003 NBA Finals where the New Jersey Nets and point guard Jason Kidd had no answer for him. Parker has had to sit back and see most people praise the likes of Los Angeles Clippers point guard Chris Paul before him, but he has been one of the best winners of this era of basketball which is evident by his four NBA Titles. For his NBA career, Parker has averaged 16.8 points and 5.9 assists and he would average more points on another team, but like Duncan, he has bought into the “team first” philosophy of Popovich in San Antonio.
Along with Duncan and Parker, shooting guard Manu Ginobili has been apart of the majority of the Spurs recent success as the trio has been the franchise’s core for over a decade. But these elder statesmen have now taken a backseat for both Aldrige and small forward Kawhi Leonard.
The Spurs acquired Leonard in 2011 after he was drafted by the Indiana Pacers and he quickly blossomed into one of the better wing players in the NBA. Leonard’s numbers have increased in each season with the highlight coming in 2014 when he was named as the NBA Finals MVP. This season Leonard is leading the Spurs in scoring at 21 points per game and like Aldrige, he received a hefty contract from San Antonio over the summer as he agreed to a five-year, $90 million contract.
But aside from the individual players that the Spurs have, they are coming up big in some important individual categories. This season the Spurs are third in the NBA in three-point field goal percentage as they are shooting nearly 38% per game, second in field-goal percentage (48%), second in points scored (102), first in points allowed (88.9), and fifth in rebounds (46.2). The Spurs begin to click in the spring, but this season they’ve done it at the start.
And with a record of 24-5, the remarkable start of the Spurs can no longer be overlooked in spite of the fact of what the Warriors are doing. The Western Conference is not as strong as it has been for nearly the last 15 years and it appears that things could come down to the Warriors and Spurs in May during the NBA Playoffs as they’ve each set the gold standard this season. The Warriors were able to win the NBA Championship last season, but they avoided having to face the Spurs in the postseason due to the fact that San Antonio was eliminated by the Los Angeles Clippers in the first round. We’re not quite at Christmas, but you can see the writing on wall as this NBA season will be determined by either the sharp-shooting of the Warriors or the overall execution of the Spurs. But just like the Spurs typically are, they won’t be an easy out for the Warriors or anyone else in the NBA Playoffs.
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.
The San Antonio Spurs organization has been around for 48 years, but the last 18 years have been quite remarkable for them. After going 20-62, the Spurs won the NBA’s Draft Lottery in 1997 which allowed them to draft power forward Tim Duncan. And since then the Spurs have become the model of consistency in professional sports. The Spurs have made the postseason in each of the last 18 NBA seasons and they’ve gone on to claim five NBA Titles over that stretch with the lockout shortened NBA season in 1999 being the only time that the Spurs have failed to win 50 regular season games over that stretch. And when the Spurs reach the playoffs, their opponents respect and fear them as they’ve proven that playoff seeding means absolutely nothing to them. Some people keep attempting to write off the Spurs as being an aging veteran club, but like any successful business, they continue to reinvent themselves and adjust to life in the NBA.
The Spurs haven’t been known for dipping their hand into free agency in order to obtain a highly touted player. But that changed this summer when they signed power forward LaMarcus Aldridge to a four-year deal worth $80 million. In nine seasons with the Portland Trailblazers, Aldridge averaged 19.4 points and 8.4 rebounds as he was a four-time NBA All-Star. Aldridge will be 30-years old next week and at this point of his NBA career, he is solely focused on winning a title which led him to joining the Spurs.
Duncan is 39-years old and the Spurs recognize that he won’t be playing basketball much longer and Aldridge is someone that he can pass the torch to; just as Duncan was passed the torch in San Antonio by David Robinson.
The expectations for the Spurs will be high in the upcoming NBA season, but they are one team that doesn’t get fazed by that. Aldridge has always been able to put up solid numbers in the NBA, but he is now joining a team where individual stats do not matter as the only stat that the Spurs are concerned about is the final score. Spurs head coach Gregg Popovich doesn’t have a problem chewing out his star players which is something that Aldridge is going to have to get accustomed to in a hurry in order to be a solid contributor in San Antonio.
Aside from Aldridge, the Spurs signed veteran power forward David West who was willing to play for the veteran minimum of $1.4 because he is seeking to be a part of an NBA Champion. In 12 NBA seasons with the New Orleans Hornets and Indiana Pacers, West has averaged 15.5 points and 7.2 while also being a two-time NBA All-Star. But at this point, West doesn’t have a problem coming off of the bench as a role player if it means that he can get his hands on the Larry O’Brien Trophy and be called an NBA Champion.
The Spurs also re-signed shooting guard Manu Ginobili, small forward Kawhi Leonard, and shooting guard Danny Green as along with Duncan and point guard Tony Parker, their core is still intact as they’ve reloaded for another title run.
In December and January, not that many people are paying attention to the Spurs as they are finding their way on another long NBA journey. But as a result of Popovich resting his veterans throughout the NBA season, the Spurs always seem to get their sea legs in March and April just in time for the Playoffs. And before you know it, another deep playoff run is in the cards in the San Antonio. Duncan and Popovich will be looking for their sixth NBA Championship together while Aldridge has joined the Spurs express with his first title in sight which should make for an exciting 2015-2016 NBA season in San Antonio.
X-Portland Trailblazers 53-29 (3)
In his second year as the head coach of the Portland Trailblazers, Terry Stotts led a revival in “Rip City” as the Blazers made the second round of the NBA Playoffs for the first time since 2000. The Blazers have the ability to once again be a dangerous team in the Western Conference as they have balance on their roster along with having a dependable big man that can score along with a quick and elusive point guard. Trailblazers power forward LaMarcus Aldrige would be more of a household name if he played in a bigger market, but he is one of the best at his position in the NBA. Aldridge is coming off of his best NBA season as he averaged 23.2 points and 11.1 rebounds per game. Aldridge is entering the final year of his contract with the Blazers and he should have a tremendous impact this season before he hits the free agent market.
Blazers point guard Damian Lillard is set to embark on his third NBA season and he is quickly emerging as one of the better point guards in the NBA. Lillard has a tremendous combination of passing, speed, and scoring. Like Aldridge, Trailblazers shooting guard Wes Matthews is coming off of his best NBA season as he averaged 16.4 points per game last season. The combination of Aldridge, Lillard, and Matthews gives Stotts and the Trailblazers a great inside-out threat that will allow them to contend for the Western Conference Championship.
Aside from Aldridge, Lillard, and Matthews, the Trailblazers have a good blend of role players and reserves. On Twitter, Blazers starting center Robin Lopez refers to himself as the “Screech Powers” of the NBA and he plays with reckless abandon on the floor. Lopez averaged a double-double last season in points and rebounds as the successful teams in the NBA need scrappy players such as him on the roster. Blazers reserve center Chris Kaman has been a journeyman in the NBA, but like Lopez, he is willing to bring his lunch pale on a nightly basis and do all of the dirty work. At 6’8″ Blazers small forward Nicolas Batum has one of the longer wing spans at his position while reserve point guard Steve Blake continues to get it done as he is set to enter his 12th NBA season.
Fans in Portland should be treated to an exciting brand of basketball this season from their Trailblazers.
Y-Oklahoma City Thunder 51-31 (5)
The last four seasons have seen the Oklahoma City Thunder make deeps runs in the NBA Playoffs, but they don’t have any titles to show for it and they are hopeful that things will change in the upcoming season. Thunder head coach Scott Brooks has never had a losing season while walking the sidelines in Oklahoma City and that should once again be the case as he’ll have one of the top scoring threats in the NBA in the form of small forward Kevin Durant and point guard Russell Westbrook.
For his seven-year NBA career, Durant has averaged 27.4 points per game as he has one of the quickest releases on his jump shot in basketball. But for Durant and the Thunder to be able to take that next step and win an NBA Championship, he is going to need to play in the post more. This season will already be different for the Thunder being that Durant will begin it on the sidelines while he is recovering from a broken foot. As for Westbrook he deserves a ton of credit being that he has played out of position from his first day in the NBA. Westbrook is a shooting guard at heart, but he has been asked to play point guard. In spite of this and a severe knee injury in the 2013 NBA Playoffs, Westbrook returned to form last season by averaging 21.8 and 6.9 assists last season. Westbrook also turned into a triple-double machine in the 2014 NBA Playoffs and the Thunder are hopeful that it will carry over to this season. But until Durant returns from his injury, this will be Westbrook’s team and his scoring numbers should increase.
The Thunder have been unable to replace the scoring ability of current Houston Rockets shooting guard James Harden who was vital for them coming off of the bench when they won the Western Conference Championship in 2012, but center Serge Ibaka continues to improve. Last season Ibaka averaged a career-high in points (15.1) and rebounds (8.8) along with being an enforcer on the interior as he averaged 2.7 blocks per game. Ibaka continues to dabble with a mid-range jump shot that will take some much needed pressure off of Durant and Westbrook to carry the load in Oklahoma City.
The production of Thunder center Kendrick Perkins is not nearly what it was when he helped the Boston Celtics claim the NBA Championship in 2008 and Oklahoma City is hopeful that second-year center Steven Adams is prepared to step into a bigger role this season.
Once again the Thunder will only go as far as Durant and Westbrook will take them. You can pencil the Thunder in for another 50-win season, but for them it all comes down to what they are able do in the months of May and June.
Denver Nuggets 41-41
Last season saw the Denver Nuggets suffer their first losing campaign in 11 years. Brian Shaw was in his first season as Nuggets head coach and he had to deal with a rash of injuries that limited the Nuggets chances in the Western Conference. Nuggets small forward Danilo Galinari missed the entire 2013-2014 NBA season as he recovered from an ACL injury. What the Nuggets lost in Galinari was a player that has averaged 14.5 points in six NBA seasons and he gives them a presence as a perimeter player. This season Galinari will split time at the small forward position in Denver with another former New York Knicks small forward in Wilson Chandler.
This past summer the Nuggets were able to re-acquire shooting guard Arron Afflalo. Afflalo previously played with the Nuggets for three seasons before spending the last two seasons with the Orlando Magic. In seven NBA seasons, Afflalo has increased in each season as he averaged 18.2 points per game last season for the Magic.
Like Afflalo, the offensive numbers of Nuggets point guard Ty Lawson have increased in each NBA season. Lawson averaged 8.8 assists last season and he has plenty of talent around him to get the basketball to this season which means that those numbers could increase this year. Nuggets power forward Kenneth Faried is becoming the new “Junkyard Dog” of the NBA for his ability to crash the boards along with being able to fill up every column in the stat sheet and he will also be coveted in fantasy basketball.
The Nuggets will be an improved team this season under Shaw, but the overall strength of the Western Conference could see them once again watching the playoffs from home.
Minnesota Timberwolves 37-45
The Minnesota Timberwolves have not finished an NBA season with a winning record since 2005 and being that they are once again “rebuilding” they have a long shot of changing that this time around. After six years of an on-again, off-again relationship with the Timberwolves front office, power forward Kevin Love was traded over the summer to the Cleveland Cavaliers. In exchange for Love, the Timberwolves received shooting guard Andrew Wiggins and power forward Anthony Bennett from the Cavs while also acquiring power forward Thaddeus Young from the Philadelphia 76ers. Young is coming off of his best NBA season as he averaged 17.9 points and 6 rebounds per game last season with the Sixers. Bennett was the first overall pick of the 2013 NBA Draft by the Cavaliers, but he was unable to make an impact last season as he only appeared in 52 games without making a start. In his one season of playing college basketball at the University of Kansas, Wiggins showed tremendous scoring ability and he should be off to the races with his running mate in the Timberwolves back court this season in point guard Ricky Rubio. Rubio averaged a career high in assists last season at 8.6 per game and those numbers could increase this season with the Young and Wiggins now being in Minnesota.
The departure of Love will lead to a bigger impact this season for Timberwolves center Nikola Pekovic. Last season Pekovic averaged 17.5 points and 8.7 rebounds per game and at 6’11”, 285 pounds, he is a tough presence on the interior. Timberwolves head coach Flip Saunders can also rely on a bunch of underrated veterans in shooting guard Kevin Martin, center Ronny Turiaf, small forward Corey Brewer, and point guard Mo Williams to make some noise this season on the court in Minneapolis.
The Timberwolves may not be a playoff team this season, but they will be a thorn in the side of the contenders in the Western Conference.
Utah Jazz 25-57
From 1988-2011, Jerry Sloan was the only head coach that the Utah Jazz had. But since Sloan resigned in 2011, the Jazz are set to welcome their second head coach. Quin Snyder is the new head coach of the Jazz and he has a young team that must grow up in a hurry.
Jazz point guard Trey Burke was the 9th overall pick of the 2013 NBA Draft and a thumb injury forced him to miss some time at the beginning of last season as he was forced to learn on the fly. As a rookie, Burke averaged 12.8 points per game along with 5.7 assists and those numbers must increase if the Jazz are going to compete in the tough Western Conference. Jazz small forward Gordon Hayward has become the go-to-guy in Utah as led the team in scoring last season at 16.2 per contest. Jazz power forward Derrick Favors has seen his points and rebound averages increase in each of his four NBA seasons and Utah is hopeful that this trend continues in the upcoming season.
This season will be a long haul for the Jazz as they will not remind the people of Salt Lake City of the teams there that were contending for NBA Titles in the late 1990’s.
Y-Clinched Playoff Berth