Wednesday, August 08, 2007

Southwest Division

I never thought I could get sick of writing about basketball, but I really want to finish this so I can write about other stuff. Maybe it will be good for me to plow through writing when I don't really feel like may be somewhat less inspired, but like I said earlier, I want a record of what I was thinking going into the season to review later. Without further adieu - The Southwest Division!

New Orleans Hornets. Well, this team is moderately cursed by playing in a pretty tough division. They're another team with a good mix of prospects and vets, but aside from Chris Paul, I would call this team "nondescript". Paul brings energy and speed to this offense and is the main attraction when watching this team. They've added some good pieces via free agency over the last couple of years, with Tyson Chandler having a breakout season last year, and SG Morris Peterson joining the roster this year. Peja continues to be plagued by injury, but can still shoot lights-out when he's on the court. David West also has been coming into his own at the PF slot, but as I said before, there are no matchups or players who are nightmares for opposing teams.

The Hornets did okay in the draft, selecting Julian Wright, whose stock dropped throughout the season. Hopefully between him and Cedric Simmons, one of them will be able to come up big this year. Perhaps the veteran presence of Peterson and Bobby Jackson will be enough to drag this team to the playoffs, but I don't see much dramatic improvement here. Hilton Armstrong also needs to step up his game a notch after a disappointing rookie campaign.

Houston Rockets. After a disappointing first-round playoff exit, the Rockets are looking to rebound in more ways than one. They have ZERO serviceable power forwards, now that Juwan Howard is a Wolf. The rest of their pieces are nice - T-Mac is still an elite player, and Yao is finally living up to the massive hype that surrounded his entry into the league. Just goes to show that a little experience goes a long way. They also have Shane Battier, an excellent defender and team-oriented glue guy.

This team is also logjammed at the PG spot - Steve Francis, Mike James, Aaron Brooks (rookie who had a good summer league), Luther Head, John Lucas III, etc. - there's not enough playing time for all of them. I'm not sure if Stevie Franchise is the answer for this squad, but they're certainly in the market for a PF and could give up one of their many point guards for that spot. This team's biggest offseason acquisition was that of coach Rick Adelman, former coach of the Kings during their most recent heyday. I'm confident that he can at least bring this team back to the playoffs.

Memphis Grizzlies. This team finished with the worst record in basketball last year, yet only managed to get the 4th overall pick. However, this team is really starting to look intriguing, at least on paper. Kyle Lowry and Mike Conley Jr. are both PGs Memphis has selected in the first round, and Lowry only played 10 games last year due to a broken wrist. Memphis also signed permanent prospect Darko Milicic, who I've always thought could wind up similar to Pau Gasol - now they're on the same team, so that could create some mismatch possibilities.

Memphis also has some athletic 6'9" players who could easily be on the Atlanta Hawks - Rudy Gay, Stro Swift, and Hakim Warrick all have room to grow (maybe less so for Swift), and can provide a spark if this team gets stagnant. Add a shooter like Mike Miller, and a highly-touted international prospect like Juan Carlos Navarro, and this team has really turned it around this offseason. It's just a matter of seeing how well all these pieces fit together - I expect the Griz to hand over the keys to the NBA cellar to a new team this year.

Dallas Mavericks. How embarrassing. You finish with the best record in basketball, your best player wins the MVP and you lose in the first round of the playoffs. Fortunately, Mark Cuban is too smart to do much hand-wringing or hold a fire-sale, he's staying the course and this team retains the continuity that elite clubs need. Like the Spurs, there's not too much to say about these guys that hasn't already been written. Nowitski, Howard, and a boatload of roleplayers will continue to excel next season and give the Spurs and Suns a run for their money.

One note though: great draft for the Mavs. They had some second-round picks, and used them wisely on Reyshawn Terry and Nick Fazekas, both of whom I believe will play in the NBA for awhile. Getting two quality players in the second round is a coup, and goes to show you what scouting can do for a club - both players won't immediately produce, but they're good to have stashed away on your already-deep roster.

San Antonio Spurs. I can't remember where I read this, but there was an article online which discussed the philosophy of building a powerhouse. The GM of the Spurs basically said, "Get 3 stars who can flat-out play ball, and surround them with guys who will go through a wall to win." It works.

Like the Mavs, the Spurs weren't in a great draft position, yet managed to pick up two quality players in Tiago Splitter and Marcus Williams. I don't see this team dropping much next year - their big 3 are a year wiser, although the vets they are surrounded with have to be gasping for breath.

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