Bobby Krivitsky is canceling what we saw of the Southwest Division to kick off the 2020-2021 regular season.
We’re in a little over a week in our 75th. regular season of the NBA and have already seen some significant developments. From realigning the teams that have made an off-season coaching change, to the impact of some of the more critical off-season acquisitions with their new teams, to developing the rookie class as almost all of them move to the highest level of the game of them played a role in the development of the young season.
And here at Basketball Insiders, we’re taking stock of these developments and more to create a comprehensive ranking of how each team is performing within their division. We talked about the Atlantic, Central, Southeast, and Pacific Divisions earlier this week and we’ll be looking over the Southwest today.
We’re starting in Houston, where the Rockets are a franchise in transition. After Daryl Morey left for Philadelphia, longtime front office assistant Rafael Stone took over as the team’s GM, while Stephen Silas replaced Mike D’Antoni as the team’s head coach. And as for the Houston roster, an off-season rework that included a John Wall-Russell Westbrook swap has left the team floating as they continue to look for a trading partner to move James Harden into.
As of this writing, Harden is still a missile, but that could change immediately. In the meantime, the price the team is asking for him – a host of young players and a package of draft pick – could put them in a number of different areas in relation to their immediate future, should a team comply with that request or Houston compromise on that enter into what they want to do in a return. By that time, the Rockets could just as easily compete for a spot in the NBA’s new play-in tournament as they could be far from any postseason basketball. If Harden isn’t traded (a big one if at this point) the Rockets should be a playoff team, save for injuries, COVID-19, or a toxic locker room derailing their season.
For Stone, an emphasis is on replenishing the designs. Morey emptied the war chest before last season to maintain the missile’s competitive status, but it ultimately exploded in his face. Stone has already stocked this chest well, however, as he added several picks – one from the Washington Wizards in the Wall-Westbrook deal and two more from the Portland Trail Blazers in a deal for Robert Covington. Christian Wood, acquired through a sign and trade with the Detroit Pistons, has also proven a strong addition and should be a cornerstone in the new era of the Rockets.
Aside from something drastic, however, don’t expect Houston to take its place at the top of the Southwest’s hierarchy.
Zach Kleiman, executive vice president of basketball operations for the Grizzlies, has carefully been patient with the rebuilding of Memphis. They already have a strong base in the cornerstones of Ja Morant and Jaren Jackson Jr. and almost made it through the postseason a year ago. Even so, while Kleiman and the Grizzlies clung to eighth and last place in the playoffs, they made a deal for their future when they kicked off strikers Jae Crowder and Andre Iguodala at close of trade for Justise Winslow. While Winslow hasn’t played for the franchise at the age of 24, he fits the franchise’s timeline a lot better than the Veteran Crowder, fits much better with their timeline than the crowded Veteran.
The Grizzlies will not be rushed with this renovation – their priority has always been the long-term growth and development core. However, there are plenty of fascinating young talents on their current roster who are given ample playtime to prove they are a part of the future. Brandon Clarke looks like a promising young tall man, while the team kept De’Anthony Melton and designed Desmond Bane, both of which would long be contributors to Memphis’ bank.
The team does not yet have a schedule for Jackson Jr. . who tore his left meniscus while playing in his bladder in early August, or for Winslow, who sustained a hip injury in July. Meanwhile, Morant has a left ankle sprain 2. Degree and is expected to miss three to five weeks. If these three can surprise and return sooner than expected, the Grizzlies may have a shot, but if not, it may be time to wave the white flag in the 2020-21 season.
The Mavericks have launched a campaign that has produced the most efficient offensive season in NBA history. Even so, even at this end of the floor, this team is faced with a number of questions that could determine the ceiling.
Thanks in large part to their defensive battles, the Mavericks often found themselves in close competition that were within five points in the final five minutes. In these situations via the NBA. com, as the defense tightened, Dallas’ record breaking was reduced to below the league average.
It’s easy to write off the Mavericks’ defeat at the season opener between 106 and 102 to the Phoenix Suns, especially after a shortened off-season and the absence of Kristaps Porzingis. However, in the final five minutes of the game, Dallas missed all three attempts from beyond the arc, Luka Doncic missed a free throw and after three losses less than 10 seconds ahead, the Mavericks abandoned a rebound that resulted in a setback. Breaking Devin Booker’s free throw.
The deal in Seth Curry against Josh Richardson should help the Mavericks defensive and, to some extent, lighten the burden on Doncic of causing his own wrong. And yes, while Doncic is an MVP candidate, it may ultimately be the durability of Porzingis, the productivity of Richardson, and the way the Mavericks Games close as a team that gives their place in the Western Conference and the Southwest’s pecking order Division determined.
David Griffin brought on Stan Van Gundy to replace Alvin Gentry as Pelicans head coach and believed that young, talented players like Zion Williamson, Brandon Ingram and Lonzo Ball would benefit from his guidance. The other part of Griffin’s calculation was Van Gundy, who coached the Orlando Magic for the 2009 NBA final. He is qualified to take the helm if this trio proves they are ready to compete at a high level this season.
The Pelicans opened this season with an impressive 113-99 win over the Toronto Raptors. Ingram poured 24 points, along with 11 assists and nine rebounds, while Williamson registered a double-double of 15 points and 10 rebounds. Ball showed his improved shooting form, squirting four of his eight three-point attempts en route to a 16-point performance with five ricochets.
Since then, New Orleans suffered a 111-98 defeat at Christmas to the Miami Heat, which was squeaked by the Spurs (98: 95) and then blown out by the Phoenix Suns (111: 86).
While Ball’s shooting form is the best it’s ever been, it hasn’t exactly led to success on the pitch: he only shot when he was 28. 6% from depth with seven attempts per game, significantly worse than the 37. He shot 6% from beyond that arc last season. Maybe it’s just a small sample, but Ball’s shot will prove critical to the pelicans. With Jrue Holiday gone, the space the ball could create is critical to Williamson and Ingram’s success.
Defensively, New Orleans is still adapting to Van Gundy’s system, where rim protection is paramount. The early returns are encouraging as the Pelicans drop the second smallest dots in color per game and NBA. com. The most pressing issue they are currently facing is that they are tied for the third highest revenue per game this season. Combined with their poor transitional defense, these turnovers have provided the teams with easy buckets during the quick break. They also need to step up their full defense as the opponents shot 36. 1% from beyond the arch against them.
If they can do that, the Pelicans should easily secure a place in the play-in tournament for one of the last two play-off places in the Western Conference.
Gone are the days when you were a multi-year title contender. This iteration of the Spurs, however, offers an intriguing mix of promising young talent and accomplished veterans.
Gregg Popovich has reconfigured the San Antonio grid that now flanked LaMarcus Aldridge with four perimeter players, DeMar DeRozan, Keldon Johnson, Lonnie Walker IV and Dejounte Murray who are under 6-foot-7. DeRozan is the tallest member of this quartet at 6-foot-6.
And the early return was promising: improved ball movement, more three-point attempts per game than a season ago and, as expected, faster game pace. Defensively, the Spurs have proven to be far better than a season ago.
Of course, there is always a price for playing with a smaller group. At the season opener in San Antonio, the Grizzlies managed to get 66 points from the painted area. In their second competition, the Toronto Raptors finished 50, Zion Williamson and the Pelicans 44 in their third. They have to support the inside if they are to remain competitive in the Western Conference.
Derrick White’s return should help in this regard as well. White, who averaged nearly 19 points per game in the Orlando NBA bubble and recently signed a four-year extension for $ 73 million, should provide an immediate push for a crime. There’s also the case for Devin Vassell, the Spurs’ first round of selection in the 2020 NBA draft, who has seen a smooth start to his rookie campaign but over time should give San Antonio the strong shooting and defensive skills that it calls Florida State Seminole.
If they stall, there should be great interest in the Spurs at close of trading. Patty Mills and Rudy Gay should definitely cause a stir, while Aldridge and DeRozan, both with contracts expiring, should interest a lot of competitors.
The Spurs still seem to be in the division’s driver’s seat for the time being. And after missing the postseason for the first time in 22 seasons, you shouldn’t be shocked to see San Antonio again in the middle of the postseason chase or secure a spot in the play-in tournament.
The door to the Southwest Division title appears to be wide open. At the very least, the Spurs, Pelicans, Mavericks, Grizzlies, and Rockets (should they keep Harden) can battle for a spot in the NBA’s extended postseason. With that in mind, the Southwest should be one of the most interesting departments to keep an eye on this season.
With a season full of cadres, here are the league’s free agents who could play a pivotal role. Quinn Davis takes a look at five available players who stand out from the crowd.
There were no positive tests in the last round of the NBA’s coronavirus testing. There was a negative result for the virus associated with 500-750 nasal swabs.
Maybe it was a godsend or a testament to the discipline of the players in this league. In any case, it is unlikely to be sustainable. The Houston Rockets started the season postponing their start due to infections from multiple players. At some point, a Virion will find its way into a different team locker room, as has sometimes been the case in MLB and the NFL.
A breakout can result in games being postponed or teams being forced to scramble to fill rosters for games that cannot be postponed. In the latter case, teams may seek last minute help from the Free Agent Wire.
Unfortunately, the free agent pool is a desolate and desolate place in the preseason. It’s mostly made up of players who missed the cut at training camp and are now waiting for another opportunity to stay – there is unlikely to be any needle-moving acquisitions.
Even so, the NBA is a league where eight minutes before the eighth man could make or break a game. A game could make or break a playoff spot. So, of course, it is of great importance that the front offices know who to grab if a living body is needed.
Fortunately, Basketball Insiders took the liberty of rating the top five free agents available. With apologies to Frank Jackson, Marvin Williams, TJ Leaf, and Isaiah Thomas, here are five that should be high on many teams’ lists.
Roberson is a one-way wing whose specialty is on the defensive. He spent five seasons in Oklahoma City and was the first two-guard for the team’s many playoffs in the post-James Harden era.
Roberson almost missed two full seasons with an injury, which understandably detracted from his appeal. He returned for the bladder, however, and played well in his limited minutes. In 182 properties with Roberson on the Orlando course, the Thunder had a defensive rating of 94. 0. That number is well below the number the league led for Cleaning the Glass last season.
It’s a small sample size, so take that with a grain of salt – but that type of defense is an issue in Roberson’s career. The injuries are cause for concern. However, if Roberson can be close to his former self, he is worth a look as a situation defender. He could fit in well with a competitor like the Brooklyn Nets who have the scoring and ball handling departments under control.
The University of Connecticut fast point guard has just completed the second half of his sixth NBA season with the Washington Wizards. In his short time there, Napier set up solid numbers in 24 minutes per game – so he could also be a nice, easy goal-plaster.
He doesn’t live on the fringes and only tries 24 percent of his shots there per cleaning the glass, but he did well when he got the chance and pulled a decent number of shooting fouls. Most of his work comes from behind the three-point line, where he averaged 36 percent of his attempts on the league average.
On March. 8th. Napier put up 27 points, 7 assists and 4 rebounds against the Miami HEAT in 40 minutes. The over-fulfilled wizards lost the game, but it showed what Napier can bring at his best.
Realistically, Napier won’t consistently offer this type of production, but he can give a spark to a team in dire need of one from the bank.
Mudiay is another point guard who has found minutes as a backup throughout his career, most recently at Utah Jazz. At 6-foot-5, Mudiay is a good size for a point guard. Mudiay cleverly uses his frame to get in the paint and tries most of his shots either on the edge or out of range of the swimmer.
He’s a mediocre finisher, however, who only converts 56 percent of those looks at the basket per cleaning of the glass.
In the last two seasons he has done his best work in midfield, where he is 46 percent or. Made 48 percent of his attempts. The midrange pull-up was Mudiay’s favorite pick-and-roll weapon when the Jazz scored 0. 93 points per possession in this action with Mudiay as ball handler per NBA. com. This number is not too far removed from Donovan Mitchell and Jordan Clarkson’s numbers, albeit in a smaller sample size.
Mudiay has limitations as a passerby, defender, and ground spacer, but there’s still room for a pick-and-roll creator in the middle area today. As a bettor, look for him to find a home before the end of this season.
Ilyasova, a member of Milwaukee Bucks last season, was a victim of the failed Bojan Bogdanovic sign-and-trade, which broke up after the franchise was hit on tampering charges.
The Turkish striker was supposed to join the Sacramento Kings but after the deal failed the Bucks had to release Ilyasova and he has yet to be signed.
Ilyasova isn’t the most versatile player, but he does some things very well. He can place the bottom evenly and in his last five seasons he shoots about 37 percent from the depth. Its size and high release allow it to launch these shots fairly easily in a confined space.
Ilyasova also has a knack for hard hits in midfield, where he completed 61 percent of his long two-point attempts per cleaning the glass.
On the defensive, Ilyasova is sluggish and grounded, so he has his limits. There is one area he excels in – offensive fouls. He has the awareness and IQ to get in the right position, and he combines that with a sense of drama like any good attacker would. Just two seasons ago, Ilyasova led the NBA on drawn charges.
If teams are looking for wing lows, the veteran should find a place to contribute before the season ends.
Hollis-Jefferson of Philadelphia over Arizona has carved out a role in his first five seasons by taking a defensive lead. On a long 6-foot-7, he manned both the forward force and the center stance in Brooklyn and Toronto. He was added to the Minnesota Timberwolves preseason list but surprisingly failed to make it and is now waiting for another opportunity.
His offensive play leaves a lot to be desired, and Hollis-Jefferson has yet to develop a constant jumper trying to land on the edge between the trees. However, he is excellent in the hustle and bustle, attacks offensive boards and pulls fouls.
Hollis-Jefferson’s value comes on the other end, where his length and athleticism allow him to alternate between guarding multiple positions. In almost 2. The Raptors held 300 possessions in Toronto last season against a 107. 0 defense rating with the tweener on the floor per cleaning of the glass. There is noise there, but it was clear that Hollis-Jefferson had a positive impact on this end of the floor.
Hollis-Jefferson scored his free throws with a respectable 73 percent last season, leaving room for optimism in his offensive game. Even if the knight never develops, a roster slot is usually available for a player willing to guard and do the dirty work.
As mentioned at the beginning, there are more than just five that could fill a team. While these veterans have made contributions in the past, or are ready to contribute in the future, there are likely some raw diamonds waiting to be discovered.
In a season that promises a lot of mystery, the team lucky enough to find one of these diamonds may shine brighter than the others.
LeBron James and Anthony Davis have started their title defense with the Los Angeles Lakers, but they are not the only elite teammates of the Western Conference.
With the NBA regular season officially opening after the shortest off-season ever, it’s time to take the Western Conference’s best double hits for the 2020-21 season. There’s no shortage of talent in the West, which inevitably resulted in some very talented pairings not making the top 5.
In addition, the Houston Rockets and Golden State Warriors do not crack the top 5 for team-specific reasons. The Warriors are without Klay Thompson and complement Stephen Curry this season. If Thompson were healthy they would be in the top 5. The missiles are not included due to John Wall’s long layoff and the entire James Harden saga – there are just too many unknowns in Houston.
With that said, here are the top five Western Conference duos for the 2020-2021 NBA season.
The only duo on the list that consists of two guards, Lillard and McCollum, are a nightmare when it comes to facing the backyards every night. Two of the top scorers in the league, teammates averaging 52. 2 points per game last season. The face of the franchise, Lillard, gives the Trail Blazers duo the edge over the teams behind them.
Lillard has had a career-best season and there’s no reason to believe he won’t be producing in the same impressive way this year. The Portland pairing is their defensive ability, and it’s a fair point. Fortunately, they’re more than capable of carrying the offensive charge night after night like few combos in the league.
The Mavericks arrive at No.. 4 behind MVP favorite Luka Doncic and the uniquely talented Kristaps Porzingis. Doncic was only 21 and had a season two breakout last year when he led a deadly Mavericks attack. He showed an impressive performance in the bladder, especially in the first-round playoff series loss to the Los Angeles Clippers.
Porzingis was injured at the beginning of this series, an injury he’s still recovering from as we step into January. Provided he can bounce back and get back to the player we all know he can, the Mavericks have two of the most unique talents in the association today. With Doncic and Porzingis in the lead, Dallas offensive will be some of the best in the game this season as well.
The stud duo of the Nuggets of Nikola Jokic and Jamal Murray has a slight advantage over the duo of the Mavericks because they proved it in last year’s bubble. Her comeback win over favorite clippers was a statement. Murray took his game to another level, showing that he could be the perfect player to complement the unique great man Jokic.
Jokic has started the new season in an absurd way, letting the rivals know that the nuggets are still improving. In four games, the center averages 13. 5 templates for 11. 5 rebounds and 24. 5 points. He not only averages a triple-double early on, but also does it efficiently. 40 percent behind the arch and 62 percent. 5 percent from the field. Somewhere near that production level, the Nuggets duo could pose a threat to leap to the top.
Even so, the Clippers duo, who went through the devastating lead against the Nuggets, retain the higher rank in the new campaign. No excuses should be made for the team’s breakdown, but we have to acknowledge the specific circumstances of the playoffs as a whole last year. These factors, combined with the talent of Kawhi Leonard and Paul George on the pitch, give them the edge over Denver for the time being.
The biggest difference in the Leonard-George combination compared to the duos behind it is on the defensive. A proven champion in Leonard and a two-way stud in George result in the Clippers having the second best duo in the Western Conference. Honestly, sometimes it really is that simple.
The obvious choice here is the one, as LeBron James and Anthony Davis are only months away from winning a championship in their freshman year as teammates. It wasn’t long before the Lakers leaders began to dominate last year, but they ended the season a full year later and did the same.
James averaged a career level and a league-top 10. 2 assists per game as he was the team’s main distributor last season. Across the court, Davis anchored a Lakers defense that was among the best in the league. The iconic tall man also helped his playing partner on offense, becoming James’ first teammate to lead his team in the per-game rating – Davis averaged 26. 1 per game while James averaged 25. 3.
Things can change quickly in the NBA, but as of today’s league, these are the top five duos in the Western Conference. There’s little room for regression in this ranking as young and emerging teams like the Phoenix Suns and New Orleans Pelicans are poised to secure a spot in the top five.
Basketball insiders put their « Who’s in trouble? » Series as Shane Rhodes views the Western Conference teams as having trouble in the future.
Whether players, head coaches or even a whole team, there are many who have had a fair share of bad luck in the new season. And for some of them, the 2020-21 regular season will get a lot worse before it gets better.
But who had it worst to start the season? Drew Maresca has already taken a look at those in the Eastern Conference who have had an awkward start to the season, and today we’re going to be looking at the West.
The Timberwolves haven’t seen much success since Jimmy Butler blasted his way out of town. In the two years since it was extradited to the Philadelphia 76ers, Minnesota had two consecutive seasons at the end of the Western Conference, winning 36 and. 19 games.
The 2020-21 season looked like a light in the dark, however. Your two cornerstones, Karl-Anthony Towns and D’Angelo Russell, should go on the pitch together as teammates for the second time. With Anthony Edwards, the top pick in the 2020 NBA draft, also in tow, the Timberwolves’ immediate future looked surprisingly bright.
Then, of course, you’ve hit the first bump of the season. And it was great.
Cities that were injured in their victory over Utah Jazz will miss an indefinite amount of time with a dislocated left wrist. Her 2-0 record, which she had at the top of the Western Conference, has fallen to 2-2, with ugly losses of more than 20 points to the Los Angeles Lakers and Clippers. The immediate schedule doesn’t get any easier with the Denver Nuggets and Portland Trail Blazers next on the schedule.
Where is Minnesota? Unsurprisingly, this isn’t the best place. The Timberwolves have lost a terrible 12-36 without cities over the past three seasons. Last year the team went 8-3 in Russell’s 11 games without Towns (who missed out on time with another wrist injury).
Of course, Minnesota’s squad is completely different from the one that took over the field at the end of the season. And the Timberwolves made Edwards a top pick for a reason – their hope, best scenario, is that Edwards can do enough with Russell to keep the crime afloat while Towns stands on the shelf.
But rarely, if ever, does the best scenario play out. If Towns is out for a long time, or even longer than expected, Minnesota’s postseason dreams may already be dead in the water.
After disappointing with the NBA bubble, the Grizzlies faced an uphill battle to get the 2020-21 season started.
With Jaren Jackson Jr. . The Grizzlies are already on the mend (and will likely miss most of the season). They are now expected to lose second star Ja Morant for up to five weeks with a class 2 ankle sprain he suffered while defeating the nets.
So where are you going from here? The basement of the conference seems to be the most logical destination.
Without their top two players, it wouldn’t be a shock if Memphis dug a hole that neither Morant nor Jackson’s return could get them out of. Of course, they might come as a surprise – the Grizzlies have serious depth and could see multiple players step into the offensive void created by the absence of the aforementioned duo.
The Grizzlies went 4-0 without Morant last season – no, even without him and Jackson they won’t be without a win until February. However, at a highly competitive Western conference, Memphis will struggle to stay afloat, and if they can’t stay afloat, they may have to throw in the towel a little earlier than they’d like in the 2020-21 season.
With Daryl Morey and Russell Westbrook already out of town and James Harden longing for a new home, it would never be a « good » season for the Rockets. Now that the Harden situation remains unsolved, a 2-0 start should only get worse. And then of course, once it’s resolved, it’s hard to imagine their situation improving.
COVID-19 didn’t make it easy in Houston either. Several players, including new Rockets DeMarcus Cousins and John Wall, have yet to take the field due to the NBA’s contact tracing guidelines. As they continue to miss the time, Houston’s record should only drop further, fueling Harden’s dissatisfaction and pushing management to find a trading partner sooner rather than later to avoid a toxic locker room.
There were some bright spots, namely Christian Wood. Shortly before Harden, Wood was the best player in the Rockets with an average of 27 points, eight rebounds, two assists, one steal and 1. 5 blocks through two games and would well outperform the $ 41 million three-year deal he signed with the team in November.
Likewise, rookie Jae’Sean Tate has flashed and is 6-foot-4,230 pounds, an intriguing prospect that should play a role in Houston in the post-hardening era.
Beyond these two, however, there are few positive aspects of missiles. And they’ll apparently stay that way until the cloud that is Harden’s upcoming trade is lifted – and is there any hope for Houston this season after that?
Yes, it’s early in the season, very early. But there is a lot we can collect from those first few games – and these teams in particular have already had a tough time. Of course, even in a shortened season there is still time to change that, but can you with the seemingly stacked opportunities against you?
Daryl Morey, Philadelphia 76ers, Houston Rockets, NBA, James Harden, China
World News – AU – NBA Daily: Southwest Division Ranking
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