Next up in the 2023 NBA preview is the Southwest Division, home of several playoff teams and a couple of likely tankers.
Additions: Danny Green, Jake LaRavia, David Roddy, Kennedy Chandler, Kenneth Lofton Jr., Vince Williams Jr.
Subtractions: Kyle Anderson, De’Anthony Melton, Jarrett Culver, Yves Pons, Sam Merrill, Tyrell Terry
Other: Signed Ja Morant to a 5 year, $231M extension, Re-Signed Tyus Jones to a 2 year, $29M deal
Outlook: The Grizzlies, who were the second seed in the West last year and lost in the second round, are returning the core of the team. However, I do have them slipping a bit, as they lost two very competent and solid veterans in Anderson and Melton and replaced them with rookies. Additionally, a lot went right for the Grizzlies last year, Morant injury aside, and the West promises to be tougher this year. The Core Three of Ja, Jaren Jackson Jr., and Desmond Bane is awesome, and all three guys could still make major strides. Jackson in particular is intriguing, as he’s put together years of highly positive offensive and defensive level play, but never both in one season. The Grizzlies have the depth to withstand injuries, so if they stay healthy and their young guys continue to improve, they could blow past this prediction. I’m just a bit wary on their win totals this year.
Additions: Christian Wood, JaVale McGee, Jaden Hardy (37th Pick in 2022 Draft), Tyler Dorsey, McKinley Wright IV
Subtractions: Jalen Brunson, Sterling Brown, Trey Burke, Marquese Chriss, Boban Marjanovic
Outlook: The Mavericks lost their second-best player in Jalen Brunson and replaced him with Christian Wood, a talented but mercurial big man who doesn’t fit the Mavs’ roster (specifically Luka) as well as Brunson. The Mavs still have a lot of the same roster from last year on a team that made the Western Conference Finals, and most importantly still have in Doncic a true superstar, but their roster seems a bit shabby compared to other West playoff teams. Luka plus defenders and rim runners is enough to win a good amount of games and maybe a playoff series, but probably not enough for anything more unless Luka makes another leap to “best player in the NBA status”.
New Orleans Pelicans
Additions: Dyson Daniels (8th Pick in 2022 Draft), E.J. Liddell (41st Pick in 2022 Draft)
Subtractions: Gary Clark, Tony Snell
Other: Getting Zion Williamson back from injury – and signing him to a 5 year, $193M extension
Outlook: The Pelicans made fewer offseason changes than almost any team in the NBA, only adding a couple players in the raft and letting two reserves walk in free agency. Their big move will be getting star big man Zion Williamson back after he missed all of last year with an injury, and putting him into place around the team that squeaked into the playoffs last year. A lineup of CJ McCollum – Herb Jones – Brandon Ingram – Zion – Jonas Valanciunas is extremely potent offensively, but features just one plus defender, and doesn’t have a ton of shooting. Zion is awesome, but he’s a bit of a difficult player to fit around, and it will take some work. Coach Willie Green proved up to the challenge in his first season, and has a nice roster with good depth to utilize. The Pelicans are going to be good – how good depends on Zion’s health, his improvement in year four (but really three), and their other young guys taking steps forward.
San Antonio Spurs
Additions: Jeremy Sochan (9th Pick in 2022 Draft), Malaki Branham (20th Pick in 2022 Draft), Blake Wesley (25th Pick in 2022 Draft), Gorgui Dieng, Alize Johnson, Isaiah Roby, Dominick Barlow, Jordan Hall
Subtractions: Dejounte Murray, Lonnie Walker, Jock Landale, Davontae Cacok, Tyler Johnson, Anthony Lamb
Outlook: The Spurs are fully leaning into a rebuild for the first time in over 20 years. They weren’t great last year, but the presence of Dejounte Murray helped keep them at the mediocrity level. With Murray gone, all bets are off. The Spurs still do have some competent vets, notably Jakob Poeltl, but who knows how long such players will stick around. The Spurs also have some promising young talent, such as Keldon Johnson, Devin Vassell, and Tre Jones, but none of those guys seem like true difference makers yet. Sochan, Branham, and Wesley were a nice haul in the draft, adding some defense as well as shot creation, but the Spurs are still a couple years away from being interesting, even with Pop still coaching.
Additions: Jabari Smith Jr (3rd Pick in 2022 Draft), Tari Eason (17th Pick in 2022 Draft), TyTy Washington (29th Pick of 2022 Draft), Boban Marjanovic, Trey Burke, Sterling Brown, Trevor Hudgins
Subtractions: Christian Wood, Dennis Schroder, Trevelin Queen
Other: Re-signed Jae’Sean Tate to 3 year, $20.6M deal
Outlook: The Rockets had an excellent draft, adding a strong 3 and D type forward in Smith, a do-everything defensive dynamo in Eaosn, and a guard in Washington who has strong backup/capable starter potential. Add them to explosive scoring guard Jalen Green, crafty big man Alperen Sengun, and other young talent such as Usman Garuba, Kenyon Martin Jr., and Kevin Porter Jr., and you have the makings of a promising core. However, nearly the entirety of their roster outside of Eric Gordon is either a fringe veteran or less than three years into their career, and teams that young are rarely good. The Rockets might be fun, but barring massive leaps from several of their young guys, they seem destined for another high lottery pick this season.