It’s a familiar tune for DeMarcus Cousins who has still never appeared in the NBA Playoffs.
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.
1. Philadelphia 76ers-Ben Simmons-Small Forward-LSU
Maybe this is the year that the Philadelphia 76ers finally get it right at the NBA Draft.
2. Los Angeles Lakers-Brandon Ingram-Small Forward-Duke
With selecting Ben Simmons out of the equation, look for the Los Angeles Lakers to select the second best small forward in this year’s draft.
3. Boston Celtics-Dragan Bender-Power Forward-Israel
If the Boston Celtics are right on with this selection, it could be the start of something special in Beantown.
4. Phoenix Suns-Ivica Zubac-Center-Croatia
If you watched the Phoenix Suns that much during this past NBA season, you could see the glaring weakness that they had in their front court.
5. Minnesota Timberwolves-Buddy Hield-Shooting Guard-Oklahoma
If the Minnesota Timberwolves don’t trade this selection, they could find instant offense at the shooting guard position in Buddy Hield.
6. New Orleans Pelicans-Jaylen Brown-Shooting Guard-California
In watching the New Orleans Pelicans play this past NBA season, it became quite apparent that they need more play makers around center Anthony Davis.
7.Denver Nuggets-Jamal Murray-Shooting Guard-Kentucky
The Denver Nuggets appear to have their franchise point guard in Emanuel Mudiay, now they need a running mate for him in the back court.
8.Sacramento Kings-Kris Dunn-Point Guard-Providence
I expect the Sacramento Kings to allow point guard Rajon Rondo to leave in free agency which opens the door for the arrival of Kris Dunn.
9. Toronto Raptors-Jakob Poeltl-Power Forward-Utah
The Toronto Raptors have proven that they can make a run in the NBA Playoffs with their strong back court of point guard Kyle Lowry and shooting guard DeMar DeRozan. But if the Raptors want to be serious as far as winning an NBA Championship, they are going to need more scoring up front.
10. Milwaukee Bucks-Deyonta Davis-Power Forward-Michigan State
At this point of the draft Deyonta Daivs is the best player available, while I also expect the Milwaukee Bucks to do some wheeling and dealing on Thursday night.
11. Orlando Magic-Timothe Luwawu-Shooting Guard-France
With a new head coach in Frank Vogel taking over, expect the Orlando Magic to be a more productive team.
12. Utah Jazz-Denzel Valentine-Shooting Guard-Michigan State
Denzel Valentine heads into this NBA Draft as arguably to most pro ready prospect.
13. Phoenix Suns-Domantas Sabonis-Power Forward-Gonzaga
The upgrade of the front court continues for the Phoenix Suns with the addition of the son of a former NBA big man.
14. Chicago Bulls-Tyler Ulis-Point Guard-Kentucky
The end of the Derrick Rose era with the Chicago Bulls could be coming to an end.
15. Denver Nuggets-Henry Ellenson-Center-Marquette
Henry Ellenson has top-ten talent, but if he falls here to the Denver Nuggets, he could be the steal of the draft.
16. Boston Celtics-Skal Labissierre-Power Forward-Kentucky
Size, size, and more size is the name of the game for the Boston Celtics this year at the NBA Draft.
17. Memphis Grizzlies-Marquese Chriss-Power Forward-Washington
There are several directions in which the Memphis Grizzlies can go with this selection, but they definitely need to get younger and more athletic in the front court.
18. Detroit Pistons-Brice Johnson-Power Forward-North Carolina
Rebounding and defense are vital for any Stan Van Gundy coached team which makes Brice Johnson a no-brainer here for the Detroit Pistons.
19. Denver Nuggets-Ante Zizic-Center-Croatia
The Denver Nuggets could be bulking up for a possible run to the postseason next year in the Western Conference.
20. Indiana Pacers-Malachi Richardson-Shooting Guard-Syracuse
If the Indiana Pacers want “small ball” to work for them, they are going to need more perimeter scorers that can compliment small forward Paul George.
21. Atlanta Hawks-Thon Maker-Center-Australia
The Atlanta Hawks could be rolling dice here, but if it works then they will look like geniuses.
22. Charlotte Hornets-Wade Baldwin IV-Shooting Guard-Vanderbilt
In losing in the first round of the NBA Playoffs this year, the Charlotte Hornets proved that they need more perimeter scoring.
23. Boston Celtics-Taurean Prince-Small Forward-Baylor
When the NBA season rolls around, the Boston Celtics could have one of the most athletic teams in the Eastern Conference.
24. Philadelphia 76ers-Furkan Korkmaz-Shooting Guard-Turkey
The Philadelphia 76ers are still going to be a work in progress, but under president of basketball operations Bryan Colangelo, they finally appear to be headed in the right direction.
25. Los Angeles Clippers-DeAndre’ Bembry-Small Forward-Saint Joseph’s
DeAndre’ Bembry is a tough minded player that fits the mode of what Los Angeles Clippers head coach Doc Rivers wants with his team.
26. Philadelphia 76ers-Demetrius Jackson-Point Guard-Notre Dame
Of all that the things that have held the Philadelphia 76ers back over the past few years, one of the biggest issues is that they’ve lacked a quality floor general which they can get here with Demetrius Jackson.
27. Toronto Raptors-Malik Beasley-Shooting Guard-Florida State
The arrival of Malik Beasley to the Toronto Raptors could allow head coach Dwane Casey to use DeMar DeRozan more at small forward.
28. Phoenix Suns-Paul Zipser-Small Forward-Germany
The front court transformation for the Phoenix Suns continues.
29. San Antonio Spurs-Ben Bentil-Power Forward-Providence
With power forward Tim Duncan hanging on by a thread, the San Antonio Spurs must get younger in the front court if they want to maintain their status as one of the top teams in the NBA.
30. Golden State Warriors-Damian Jones-Power Forward-Vanderbilt
Losing the NBA Finals this week showed that the Golden State Warriors must get better in the front court.
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.