2016-17 Western Conference South Preview

by Dan M | Posted on Saturday, October 29th, 2016

mavs-1477176070-_d2_5065By Fran Blinebury
NBA.com

Give Mavs owner Mark Cuban credit. He’s been failing to hit a home run in the free-agent market for so long, but it never stops him from getting back in the batter’s box and taking another swing. After
the latest first-round wipeout in 2016, Dallas reloads with Harrison Barnes and Andrew Bogut and should be right back in the mix.
ICYMI
When Kevin Durant’s jump from OKC to Golden State blew up part
of the Warriors’ roster, the Mavs were only too happy to pick up the
pieces … After years as an afterthought in the Warrior offense,
Barnes should blossom in Dallas and provide scoring punch on the front
line to go with the venerable Dirk Nowitzki … If Bogut can stay
healthy, he provides rim protection on defense and a nifty ball mover
and assist man in the middle of the offense … Having played for four
different NBA clubs in the past three seasons, Seth Curry will get a
chance to add depth to the Dallas backcourt … A veteran-heavy roster
would love to have contributions this season from youngsters Dwight
Powell at power forward and Justin Anderson at shooting guard.
THREE POINTS
1. Nobody is happier to see Harrison Barnes ride his horse into Big
D than the Big D himself, Dirk Nowitzki. At 38, Dirk still has tricks
up his sleeve, but needs the young gun at small forward to come in and
carry a good deal of the offensive load.
2. It is imperative that center Andrew Bogut is fully recovered from
the knee injury suffered in The Finals and stays healthy all season.
He’s the anchor in the paint at both ends of the floor and the depth
behind him is almost nonexistent.
3. Point guard is getting a bit long in the tooth in Dallas with
32-year-old Deron Williams, 33-year-old Devin Harris and 32-year-old
J.J. Barea battling to keep up with all of the young legs at the
position.
MAN ON THE SPOT
With a new role on a new team, Warriors’ afterthought Harrison
Barnes gets a new chance at becoming the star everybody thought he
would be in the first place. He needs to live up to that $94-million
contract by being a big factor at both ends of the floor.
STARTING FIVE
Deron Williams | 14.1 ppg, 2.9 rpg,
5.8 apg
No longer elite, but Year Two back in his hometown should be
comfortable and effective.
Wesley Matthews | 12.5 ppg, 3.1 rpg, 1.9 apg
A year now since the Achilles’ surgery and he should be ready to take off.
Andrew Bogut | 5.4ppg, 7.0 rpg, 2.3 apg
A vital cog as rim protector on defense and facilitator on offense.
Harrison Barnes | 11.7 ppg, 4.9 rpg,
1.8 apg
Finally gets his turn in the spotlight, and has to show he won’t
wilt in heat.
Dirk Nowitzki | 18.3 ppg, 6.5 rpg, 1.8 apg
One of the years he won’t be able to deliver. That time not here yet.
KEY RESERVES
Devin Harris | 7.6 ppg, 2.2 rpg, 1.8 apg
He’s lost a step, but has valuable experience and smarts.
Justin Anderson | 3.8ppg, 2.4 rpg,
0.5 apg
Rookie season showed flashes of all the Mavs hope he can become.
Salah Mejri | 3.7 ppg, 3.6 rpg, 0.3 apg
Remember the night he barked at Gregg Popovich? Tall and salty.
THE BOTTOM LINE
Since winning the only championship in franchise history back in
2011, the Mavericks haven’t made it out of the first round of the
playoffs. Once again coach Rick Carlisle will have them scrapping to
make the bottom half of the West bracket and then a long-shot to
advance.
pellicanslogoLet’s just say that Alvin Gentry’s first season in New Orleans
left him feeling like he was run down by a Mardi Gras float and left lying in the gutter with a whopping hangover. Sure, there were injuries. But everything else went wrong, including star Anthony Davis
taking a step backwards. It’s time to pick up the pieces and get back in the game.
ICYMI
The Pelicans have added Danny Ferry in the front office to work
with GM Dell Demps and the pair decided against blowing it all up
after a 30-52 season … Biggest addition is rookie sharpshooter Buddy
Hield, who has already promised to fill up the basket and do many
great things … Also made a late addition of the itinerant Lance
Stephenson … Starting point guard Jrue Holiday is out indefinitely
pending the outcome of his wife’s brain surgery … Veterans Ryan
Anderson and Eric Gordon were allowed to walk in free agency …
Solomon Hill and E’Twaun Moore were signed to add some defense and
ability to run out on the wings … Davis says he’s feeling stronger
since coming back from surgery on his left knee and ready to pick up
where he left off back in 2015 as the force that can lead Pelicans to
the playoffs … Gentry wants to run and push the pace and hopes to
get a new beginning with a healthier roster from the start.
THREE POINTS
1. Though there is no questioning his talents and status as a
franchise player, the Pelicans must find a way to keep Anthony Davis
on the court. After four years in the NBA, he hasn’t yet played 70
games in a single season.
2. For a team that has Davis and big man Omer Asik on the front line,
the Pelicans were a horridly ranked 27th in team defense a year ago.
Since they are only mediocre on offense, stopping the other guys is
key.
3. It’s going to take a group effort to survive the first part of the
season as the Pelicans open up without their point guard Jrue Holiday.
While Holiday is taking care of his wife, his teammates will have to
tread water.
MAN ON THE SPOT
Alvin Gentry was full of enthusiasm when he went from the
Warriors’ top assistant to taking over in New Orleans. He said his
Pelicans were ready to be a force in the West. Instead they went splat
in his first season on the job and now he is already under the gun to
produce.
STARTING FIVE
Jrue Holiday | 16.8 ppg, 3.0 rpg, 6.0 apg
He’ll have reins of the offense in his hands as soon as he can
make it back.
Tyreke Evans | 15.2 ppg, 5.2 rpg, 6.6 apg
Up and down career as a scorer and offensive triggerman.
Omer Asik | 4.0 ppg, 6.1 rpg, 0.4 apg
Can’t run, jump or score. Has bad hands, but excels at pouting.
Dante Cunningham | 6.1 ppg,3.0 rpg,1.0 apg
Versatile shooter who can guard both forward positions.
Anthony Davis | 24.3 ppg, 10.3 rpg, 1.3 apg
Still the rising star that every GM in the league would love to
build around.
KEY RESERVES
Solomon Hill | 4.2 ppg, 2.8 rpg, 1.0 apg
Solid defender who had good playoff showing with the Indiana
Pacers last spring.
Lance Stephenson | 8.3 ppg, 3.2 rpg, 1.9 apg
Low risk pick-up that could pay dividends if he clicks.
Buddy Hield | rookie
The question is whether Pelicans made right choice in taking him
over Jamal Murray.
THE BOTTOM LINE
In a bind. Superstar foundation Anthony Davis is locked down
for another four years. But the clock is already ticking and the
Pelicans will have to make progress to keep him long-term. There just
aren’t pieces here yet to make that happen. Not even a playoff
threat.
(Fran Blinebury has covered the NBA since 1977. You can e-mail him
here and follow him on Twitter.)

San Antonio Spurs' Tony Parker (9), from right, Kawhi Leonard (2), Danny Green, LaMarcus Aldridge and Pau Gasol (16) take the floor after a timeout against the Detroit Pistons in the first half of a preseason NBA basketball game in Auburn Hills, Mich., Monday, Oct. 10, 2016. (AP Photo/Paul Sancya)

There is change, and there is change. When the Spurs open the season without the greatest player in franchise history for the first time in 19 years, it’s the upheaval of an earthquake. Still, they have the core of a lineup that won 67 games last season and the combination
of Kawhi Leonard and LaMarcus Aldridge is the best 1-2 punch in the Southwest Division.
ICYMI
Franchise icon Tim Duncan retired … Free agent signee Pau Gasol will take his place in the lineup, if not quite fill Duncan’s shoes … Big man Boris Diaw was traded to Utah to make room for Gasol. His minutes had been dwindling … David Lee signed on as a
free agent and will get his chance to score as backup PF behind
Aldridge … Designated shooting big man Matt Bonner was cut … Gasol
is coming off back-to-back seasons as an All-Star in Chicago and
should enable the Spurs to make a solid transition from the Duncan Era
… Below the radar loss is assistant coach Chad Forcier to Orlando.
Forcier was instrumental in developing young talent and S.A. will lean
on youth more this season.
THREE POINTS
1. There is no replacing the talent of the 15-time All-Star, two-time
MVP Duncan in the Spurs lineup. But a bigger void to fill will be in
the locker room and on the bench. Over two decades, Duncan created a
Spurs culture that was both embracing and demanding.
2. Even at 36, veteran Pau Gasol has the ability and the drive to
thrive. The Spurs will have to get him up to speed quickly in their
passing game offense and use a team effort to help him out defensively
in the areas that Duncan owned.
3. With Duncan gone and the new age beginning, the Spurs must find a
way to get young blood flowing through their lineup. Kyle Anderson
and Jonathan Simmons are holdovers who should step up and rookies
Dejounte Murray and Jean-Charles Livio have solid opportunites.
MAN ON THE SPOT
Kawhi Leonard has increased his numbers, his production and his
value to the Spurs in each of his first five seasons. Now the
two-time Defensive Player of the Year faces his biggest challenge —
to take over the locker room in his first time around without Duncan
him up.
STARTING FIVE
Tony Parker | 10.4 ppg, 2.2 rpg, 5.3 apg
Older, slower and has to pick his spots while running the offense.
Danny Green | 7.2 ppg, 3.8 rpg, 1.8 apg
The 3-and-D man who can put the Spurs over the top when his shot
is falling.
Pau Gasol | 16.5 ppg, 11 rpg, 4.1 apg
The only surprise is that the team-first Gasol didn’t find his
way to San Antonio sooner.
Kawhi Leonard | 21.1 ppg, 6.8 rpg,
2.6 apg
The defensive stopper keeps expanding his offense could explode in Year 6.
LaMarcus Aldridge | 18 ppg, 8.5 rpg,
1.5 apg
The second season with new team is usually a more comfortable
fit. Expect even more.
KEY RESERVES
Manu Ginobili | 6.7 ppg, 2.7 rpg, 2.5 apg
39-year-old on thin ice, has to pick his spots now
Patty Mills | 8.5 ppg, 2.0 rpg, 2.8 apg
The bridge at point between Parker and rookie Dejounte Murray
David Lee | 7.8 ppg, 5.5 rpg, 1.5 apg
There’s never been a question about his ability to put ball in the basket
THE BOTTOM LINE
Even without Duncan, expectations remain high for a bunch that
once more figures to chase Golden State for the No. 1 seed in the
Western Conference. The Leonard-Aldridge-Gasol front line needs to
show it can defend to contend.
(Fran Blinebury has covered the NBA since 1977. You can e-mail him
here and follow him on Twitter.)
The Dwight Howard era ended with far more of a whimper than a
bang. His three seasons in Houston produced just one trip past the
first round of the playoffs and eventually a 41-41 meltdown that made
them the NBA’s most disappointing team last season. Now the Rockets
hit the reset button with a new coach and new faces lining up behind
James Harden.

Apr 27, 2016; Oakland, CA, USA; Houston Rockets guard James Harden (13) and center Dwight Howard (12) between plays during the third quarter in game five of the first round of the NBA Playoffs at Oracle Arena. Mandatory Credit: Kelley L Cox-USA TODAY Sports
ICYMI
Just as happened in Orlando and L.A., Dwight Howard slinked out of Houston taking no responsibility for what went wrong … Mike D’Antoni gets the coaching reins with a mandate to juice up the offense and at least make the Rockets fun to watch … It goes back to
being the James Harden show with the ball in his hands and everybody else playing off him … Ex-New Orleans Pelicans Ryan Anderson and Eric Gordon signed as free agents to bury those open shots off the
space that Harden creates … Young center Clint Capela is the man in the middle, but will be backed up by veteran Nene … Defensive guru
Jeff Bzdelik arrives from Memphis and has been tasked with teaching
what is supposed to go on at the other end of the floor.
THREE POINTS
1. The first task is to get everybody back on the same page after a
lost season of dysfunction and disappointment that resulted from a
slow-growing rift between Howard and Harden. This is now strictly
Harden’s team once again and the spirit in training camp was back.
2. Everybody knows that Harden is an unstoppable offensive force and
that the opportunities D’Antoni will create for him could make his
numbers skyrocket. But the Rockets have to give at least cursory
attention to defense and try to stop the other guys at least
occasionally.
3. It goes without saying that you’ve got to keep key players healthy
and in the lineup. But Gordon hasn’t played more than 62 games since
his rookie year and Anderson has missed no fewer than 16 games in all
but one of his eight NBA seasons.
MAN ON THE SPOT
After three seasons of chafing under the uncomfortable
partnership with Howard, Harden signed a contract extension and says
he’s ready, willing and able to re-take ownership in locker room and
on the court and lift the Rockets back to the level of Western
Conference contenders. It’s all on him.
STARTING FIVE
Patrick Beverley | 9.9 ppg, 3.5 rpg,
3.4 apg
The feisty pit bull loves to sink his teeth on defense for a
team that needs it.
James Harden | 29ppg, 6.1 rpg, 7.5 apg
Says he’s NBA’s best player and there are nights when it’s hard to argue.
Clint Capela | 7.0 ppg, 6.4 rpg, 0.6 apg
Young, aggressive, still raw defender will get minutes, chance
to prove himself.
Trevor Ariza| 12.7 ppg, 4.5 rpg, 2.3 apg
Veteran wingman not quite stopper of old and shooting fell off
badly last season.
Ryan Anderson | 17 ppg, 6.0 rpg, 1.1 apg
Perfect fit can bury the 3-pointer, but couldn’t guard a locked door.
KEY RESERVES
Eric Gordon | 15.2 ppg, 2.2 rpg, 2.7 apg
Sweet shooter can fill it up if healthy. But that’s always been
a big if.
Corey Brewer | 7.2 ppg, 2.4 rpg, 1.3 apg
Long, lean wing man can do little bit of everything and good
locker room presence.
Nene | 9.2 ppg, 4.5 rpg, 1.7 apg
34-year-old big man still has spark and nose for the ball.
THE BOTTOM LINE
A year after the Rockets claimed they were championship
contenders and flopped badly, now they’re hoping to contend for home
court in the first round of the playoffs. More realistic goal is just
making playoffs and that will take uncharacteristic defense from a
Mike D’Antoni team.
No team was happier to see the 2015-16 season put in the rearview
mirror than the Grizzlies. They were decimated by injuries from start
to finish, eventually using an NBA record 28 different players. Now
they’ve got a new coach in David Fizdale, new shooter in Chandler
Parsons and are ready to roll again with the big boys in the West.

grizzlies-marc-gasol-zach-randolph-nba-philadelphia-76ers-memphis-grizzlies
ICYMI
The relationship wore out and it was just time for a change at coach and now David Fizdale brings in his experience from Miami to get things jump-started … They paid dearly for free agent Chandler
Parsons, but if the small forward is healthy, the Grizzlies finally have the shooting wingman they’ve needed since Rudy Gay’s departure.
THREE POINTS
1. More than anything, the Grizzlies need to stay healthy. Of current
rosters, only the New York Knicks and Brooklyn Nets played fewer total
minutes last season than the wounded Grizzlies.Gasol says he’s ready
to be better than ever. Parsons is still on the mend following
surgery.
2. Point guard Mike Conley got his payday with the richest contract in
NBA history. Now he has to stand up to the grind of playing all those
minutes. Grizzlies are going with the green Andrew Harrison and Wade
Baldwin behind Conley.
3. Here we go again. New coach David Fizdale says he wants to push the
pace, get down the floor and score easy buckets. The difference this
time around is that Memphis might actually have enough young legs and
shooters to do it.
MAN ON THE SPOT
Mike Conley has been perennially underrated for years. In a
Western Conference loaded with point guards, he hasn’t even been able
to make an All-Star team. Now that big, big contract will place added
spotlight and burden on him. The last couple of seasons have virtually
worn him out physically.
STARTING FIVE
Mike Conley | 15.3 ppg, 2.9 rpg, 6.1 apg
Huge contract, next step playing in the All-Star Game.
Tony Allen | 8.4 ppg, 4.6 rpg, 1.1 apg
Age hasn’t take the edge off those sharp defensive fangs.
Marc Gasol | 16.6 ppg, 7.0 rpg, 3.8 apg
Back from foot surgery and ready to pass, shoot and rumble in
middle again.
Chandler Parsons | 13.7 ppg, 4.7 rpg,
2.8 apg
Two knee surgeries, might not be ready for season opener.
Zach Randolph | 15.3 ppg, 7.8 rpg,
2.1 apg
The tides, gravity, Z-Bo: things you can always count on.
KEY RESERVES
Vince Carter | 6.6 ppg, 2.4 rpg, 0.9 apg
Still making an impact on games at 39.
JaMychael Green | 7.4 ppg, 4.8 rpg,
0.9 apg
Spent much of the summer working on his 3-pointer shot.
Brandan Wright | 6.9 ppg, 3.6 rpg,
0.5 apg
Long, lean and, if healthy, wants to run the floor.
THE BOTTOM LINE
Grit and grind philosophy got the Grizzlies to 56, 50 and 55
wins from 2013-15 and there’s no reason to think they can’t get back
to that level as long as the bottom doesn’t fall out again in the
health department. They’re a top 4 seed in West.

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