In the first post of this new series, I dissected the Pacific division from the eyes of the Kings. In this one, we are going to go to the strongest division in the NBA: the Southwest. Last year, all five teams made the playoffs in this talented division. This year, at least four teams look to compete for the chance to return to the promised land. I was joined by Tony Xypteras, as we each broke down what these teams have to offer and how the Kings can fare.
San Antonio Spurs
Key Addition(s): LaMarcus Aldridge, David West, Ray McCallum
Key Subtractions(s): Tiago Splitter, Marco Belinelli
BRAD: DeMarcus Cousins vs. LaMarcus Aldridge
TONY: Ray McCallum vs. Darren Collison
BRAD: Before the Clippers accidentally beat the Spurs last year, they were my pick to win it all. Now, with a largely similar roster that has added top free agent LaMarcus Aldridge, I feel safe in making them my favorite once again. When you see what they have done with fringe guys like Patty Mills, adding a piece with the talent of Aldridge is scary. If I didn't know that Pop will rest these guys. I would increase my guesstimation to the upper 60's, but that isn't the Spurs way of business.
As far as the Kings go, I actually think that talent wise, they match up pretty well at nearly every position. They have Rondo and Collison to send after Tony Parker, and Rudy Gay to keep Kawhi on his toes defensively. The Spurs do have the advantage at the 2 guard, though I could see a Belinelli revenge game in the works. The big man rotation of Boogie, Kosta Koufos, and WCS should be able to keep up with Tim Duncan, LaMarcus Aldridge, David West, and whatever made up players Pop throws out there and makes into superstars. Gregg Popovich could coach a team built entirely of Sactown Royalty writers and still make the playoffs, so it will be a tough matchup regardless of how it looks on paper. I am very excited to see what Ray McCallum can do in San Antonio under Popovich. I thought the same about Jimmer, too, but after a rough preseason I am not sure he will be there. The homer in me wants to call the split, but the basketball genius in me knows better.
TONY: If the Spurs could do it again, I’m sure they’d prefer to have had a deeper playoff run last season, but that extra rest along with the additions of Aldridge, West, that Andre the Giant looking dude (Boban Marjanovic) and, of course, Ray McCallum, it’d be relatively easy to see the Spurs and the Warriors in the Western Conference Finals this season.
My key matchup is kind of a joke, kind of not. I just wanted to shed a light on the fact that the Kings’ starting point guard for the second half of last season will be riding the Spurs pine while Darren Collison is playing 30 minutes per game on the second unit. Love you, Ray.
In a stroke of schedule luck, the Kings only play the Spurs three times this season, and two of those matchups are in Sacramento. It is taking every fiber of my being not to give the Kings a 2-1 record here, because weird things happen to the Spurs, and the Kings’ added versatility makes this matchup a little more palatable. I’m saying 2-1 in the Spurs favor, but an injury to one of the old guys here, Pop sits a few players there, and this one could flip.
Who Takes the Series?
BRAD: Spurs win the series, 2-1.
TONY: Spurs win the series, 2-1.
Key Addition(s): Matt Barnes, Ryan Hollins, Brendan Wright
Key Subtractions(s): Kosta Koufos
BRAD: Frontcourt vs. Frontcourt
TONY: DeMarcus Cousins vs. Marc Gasol
BRAD: For a team that has been as good as the Grizzlies have been for as long as they have been, it seems to me that they still fly under the radar year after year. I think this year will be no different. Some of their individual pieces may not be that attractive on paper, but the overall sum of them works. I like the Grizzlies brand of basketball, and the only thing I can see working against them this year is Father Time.
They come back with a largely similar roster, adding Matt Barnes and Ryan Hollins, (whom I can only assume is going back to the scene of last year's egregious crime in Memphis). I will always enjoy watching Boogie take on Marc Gasol and Zach Randolph, and with a little more help around him this year, he should be able to open up a little more instead of fighting both of them. The Grizzlies may not be the most exciting team to watch, but I expect good things from them this year, and, if healthy, could see them surprising people come April and May. That said, the Kings have shown they can play the Grizzlies well, and I see this year being no different, as the Kings come in with a much better team.
TONY: At what point do the Grizzlies start to decline, or better yet, at what point do teams figure out how to play them? I don’t have an answer to that question, but I think it’s one worth asking. Everyone is a year older, that bully ball approach is a year older, and you’d think coaches would be more prepared to play the Grizzlies than any other team in the NBA. That doesn’t mean they won’t tear you apart, of course, but the Western Conference is deeper this year, and someone is going to have to slide.
I’ll tell you what I don’t like about the Grizzlies. I don’t like Jeff Green, and I don’t like Matt Barnes. They don’t have Kosta Koufos anymore, (although I do like Brandan Wright quite a bit) and I could see a slight decline in Memphis this season.
Who Takes the Series?
BRAD: Kings take the series, 2-1
TONY: Kings win the series, 2-1
Key Addition(s): Ty Lawson, Marcus Thornton
Key Subtractions(s): Josh Smith
BRAD: DeMarcus Cousins vs. Dwight Howard
TONY: James Harden vs. the Kings
BRAD: As good as the Rockets did last season, I have a hard time seeing them repeat the success. Don't get me wrong, they will still be a very good team, but I feel there was a little bit of fool's gold there, and that they may come down to earth, if just by a little bit this season. With Dwight having a hard time staying on the court and the loss of Josh Smith, I don't see them repeating the success they experienced last season. Still, with James Harden's ability to score from anywhere on the court and the addition of Ty Lawson, who like Rondo, has the ability to redeem himself, they should still be a very good team. One thing the Rockets have against them is their bench, which remains inconsistent. With the only real addition there being former basketball player Marcus Thornton, this could be their downfall. Morey does have a knack for finding made up players who end up being very good at this game called basketball, so we shall see.
As far as the Kings go, if they are healthy, DeMarcus and Dwight should be fun to watch. If the Kings can put together 48 minutes of NBA basketball, they can beat this team, especially if Ben can guard Harden as well as we've seen him guard some of the other elite players in the NBA.
TONY: I like Houston a lot more than you do this season. They are a flawed basketball team, but I think they have scary offensive potential. I can see them doing what the Warriors did in the regular season last year where they’d have you beat by way of insane offensive production before their opponents even knew the game had started. I think both Ty Lawson and Marcus Thornton make this team even more offensively dangerous than they were last season, and while Howard’s defensive ability isn’t what it used to be, you can do much worse than Howard and Terrence Jones defending the paint.
I don’t know if Sam Dekker or Montezl Harrell are going to play this season, but I thought both of those picks were excellent selections by Morey considering where they were drafted. I just think this roster has so much talent, a lot of which is either unproven, injury prone, or both, but talent nonetheless.
Who Takes the Series?
BRAD: Kings split the series, 2-2.
TONY: Rockets win the series, 3-1
New Orleans Pelicans
Key Addition(s): Alvin Gentry, Nate Robinson, Kendrick Perkins
Key Subtractions(s): Besides Monty Williams; no one, really
BRAD: Boogie vs. Brow (Duh!)
TONY: Yup, DeMarcus Cousins vs. Anthony Davis
BRAD: The Pelicans flew (pun only semi-intended) under the radar last year, and found themselves sneaking into that playoff spot that many had the Thunder in for most of the season. Despite their late surge into the playoffs, they let go of long-time coach Monty Williams, and brought in Warriors assistant and former Suns coach, Alvin Gentry. This was a great pickup. Since he was fired from Phoenix, I have been hoping for Gentry to get another shot in the NBA.
While they added some smaller pieces for depth in Nate Robinson (again, pun only semi-intended), and Kendrick Perkins, Gentry is the biggest addition for them. I have always found the Pelicans roster to be kind of strange however, and I can't quite put my finger on what it is. They have quite a few talented players but the overall assembly of talent is still a little off to me. Another big concern for them is injuries. Almost every key player on that team has had some sort of chronic injury issue. Despite the success last year and what is sure to be another monstrous year for Anthony Davis, if the Kings were to sneak into the playoffs, the Pelicans would be one of my candidates to fall out and make room for them. I could however see both making it in certain Twilight Zone scenarios. One endearing part about this particular match-up this season is that we may see more Boogie vs. Brow than we have in the past due to this revamped Kings frontcourt. I expect a good series from these teams but I expect the Kings to come out on top.
TONY: The Pelicans are going to be a fascinating team to watch this season. I wouldn’t argue against Alvin Gentry being an upgrade over Monty Williams but at the same time it’s hard for me to sit here and say that New Orleans underachieved last season. They had 45 wins in 2014-15 despite Anthony Davis missing 14 games and being less than 100% for more than that. I don’t know how much higher the Pelicans ceiling is with this current roster, and yet Davis is so good that 50+ wins and a top-4 playoff seed wouldn’t shock me. I’m guessing a somewhat conservative 47 wins, because as you said, injuries have decimated this team in the past, and it could certainly happen again this season.
Who Takes the Series?
BRAD: Kings take the series, 3-1
TONY: Kings split the series, 2-2
DeAndre Jordan, Javale McGee, Deron Williams, Wes Matthews, Zaza Pachulia
Key Subtractions(s): Rajon Rondo, Tyson Chandler, Amare Stoudemire
BRAD: Rudy Gay vs. Chandler Parsons; Rajon Rondo vs. Rick Carlisle
TONY: Rajon Rondo vs. his lost playoff share; Roland Beech's game planning vs. his old squad
BRAD: With one of the more interesting offseasons I've ever seen, the Mavericks kind of got screwed by DeAndre Jordan when he let a slumber party change his mind about re-signing with the Los Angeles Clippers, leaving the Mavericks late to the free agent party. They were able to bring in Wes Matthews, who should be a good signing if his Achilles can heal up, but he is going to miss part of this season recovering from that injury. With Dirk being another year older, and a point guard lineup of Deron Williams, Raymond Felton, and Devin Harris, the Mavericks biggest problem seems to be that they are about a half decade late from this roster being able to help them. I hope Dirk can spend what short time he has left on some good teams but I am not sure this year will bring that. Knowing Mark Cuban, though, the Mavericks should be able to bounce back next year. As far as the Kings match-up goes I think the Kings could finally break that pesky losing streak in Dallas as I feel like we have a better roster.
TONY: The Kings are better than the Mavericks, right? I mean, ‘on paper’ etc. But we can say that with some certainty, right? RIGHT?
I’ve written this team off in the past, and I won’t do it this season. I don’t expect them to be good per se, but I probably think they are going to have a better year than most NBA pundits. They just keep finding ways to be casually competitive. You better believe Mark Cuban is going to be working the phones at the first whisper that some other teams’ star is unhappy, and that front office activity makes it hard to completely rule this team out. Rick Carlisle is a really good coach. Maybe Chandler Parsons can squeeze a little more potential out of his potential tube? Maybe Matthews comes back sooner than later? Maybe Deron Williams isn’t toast? Maybe Sammy Dalembert isn’t Sammy Dalembert? This team has a lot of question marks, but I don’t think it’s going to be a disaster. For the Kings’ sake, I hope I’m wrong.
Who Takes the Series?
BRAD: Kings take the series, 3-1.
TONY: Kings take the series, 3-1