NBA Swing 30 Teams, 30 Questions: Southwest Division

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The Southwest Division NBA has some of the youngest but most promising teams in the league. The Dallas Mavericks are led by a young generational point guard in Luka Doncic. The New Orleans Pelicans are led by Zion Williamson, CJ McCollum and Brandon Ingram. Memphis shocked many last season when their young star Ja Morant led the Grizzlies to 56 wins. After 20 years of success, the San Antonio Spurs are looking for their next big star. Not too far from San Antonio, the Houston Rockets have several promising young stars who will blossom in the future. While the future is bright for all of these teams, they will all face challenges in the 2022-23 NBA season. For some of these teams, the end goal is to play in June while for others the goal is to take the next step in the rebuilding process.

Dallas Mavericks: Is it Luka’s season?

Since his draft in 2018, Luka Doncic has been one of the best players in the NBA. Having only been in the league for four seasons, Luka was a three-time All-Star and a three-time All-NBA First Team. Last season, Luka had a solid season averaging 28.4 PPG, 9.1 RPG and 8.7 APG in 65 games. Although the team started slow, he led the Mavericks to a 52-30 record, fourth in the West. Doncic would finish his season strong, finishing fifth in MVP voting. Luka would go on to shine in the NBA playoffs, helping the Mavs knock out the Jazz and upset the Suns with an average of over 30 PPG.

The team would eventually lose the Western Conference Finals to the Golden State Warriors, but exceeded the expectations many had for them. As for this season, it could be Luka’s year in Dallas. He’s not even 24 yet, he’s only going to get better. He turned out to be one of the best goalkeepers in the league. With a strong team behind him, there’s no doubt the Mavericks will not only be good this season, but Doncic will be in the MVP conversation. If Luka can compete at the level he played and the team around him can stay healthy, the Mavericks will be a contender for the Dark Horse Championship in April.

New Orleans Pelicans: What impact will Zion’s return have?

Last year the New Orleans Pelicans had a decent season. The CJ McCollum trade brought New Orleans a dependable guard who can put up 20 PPG. Brandon Ingram showed once again why he is an underrated player in this league while Jonas Valanciunas shocked everyone with his great season. The team would finish as the eighth seed and eventually lose in six games to the Phoenix Suns in the first round. The Pelicans did it without Zion Williamson. Zion missed the entire 2021-22 season with a foot injury. The story looked bad when it emerged that the team was withholding information, Zion’s family was unhappy with New Orleans, and fans were turning to Zion on social media.

This offseason, Zion signed a five-year rookie extension that could be worth over $200 million. When he prepares for the 2022-23 NBA season, Zion will join a team that has serious playoff potential. Much like the end of last season, the Pelicans will be a go-to team this season. Having not played since the 2020-21 season, many have forgotten what exactly Zion is capable of. In 61 games, Zion averaged 27.0 PPG, 7.2 RPG, and 3.7 APG. Finishing in the top 10 in scoring, Zion proved he was more than just a dunker. If Zion can stay healthy, the Pelicans could surprise many this season.

Memphis Grizzlies: Will they improve or step back?

The leap achieved by the Grizzlies between the 2020-21 and 2021-22 seasons can only be called incredible. The Grizz finished 38-44, the eighth-best record in the West. The team would be eliminated in the first round. Last season, the Grizzlies jumped to 56-26, the second-best record in the league. Several different things played into the fast jump. Ja Morant looked like an MVP contender all season and ended up winning Most Improved Player in his third season, an award that could easily have gone to teammate Desmond Bane. Jackson Jr. had a solid season missing only a few games. Dillion Brooks hasn’t played most of the season but was a big contributor when he did.

The team chemistry was off the charts, reminding many of the Grit and Grind Grizzlies of years ago. In free agency, the team made some moves but also lost a few players. The most significant move was signing Ja to a maximum five-year rookie extension. The team also re-signed Tyus Jones and extended John Konchar. Both had solid roles with the team. Memphis would let forward Kyle Anderson walk in free agency. On the injury front, Jaren Jackson Jr. has undergone off-season surgery that could see him out until the end of 2022. Additionally, Danny Green (who was acquired in an overnight trade for De’ Anthony Melton) will likely miss the entire season with a torn ACL. The Grizzlies will be a little different from last season, but the core remains. With several teams in the West improving, can the Grizzlies remain one of the best teams in the West, or will they drop in the standings?

San Antonio Spurs: Will they go all-in for Victor Wembanyama?

After sitting outside the playoffs in recent seasons following the Tim Duncan and Kawhi Leonard eras, Spurs are looking to embrace something they haven’t done since the late 1990s. In the three recent seasons, Spurs have won less than 35 games per season, unheard of since the 1996-97 season. This offseason, Spurs have made several moves to embrace rebuilding. First, they traded All-Star Dejounte Murray, who was arguably the best player on the team. Second, they signed forward Keldon Johnson to a four-year extension as he took a big leap from the previous season.

While most teams look to the 2022-23 NBA season, Spurs are looking beyond that to the 2023 draft. Specifically, they’re looking at French big man Victor Wembanyama. He has already been considered one of the best draft prospects for the 2023 draft. With Spurs’ history of signing international players and turning them into stars, as well as the central position starting to heat up again in the league, Wembanyama would be a perfect candidate for reconstruction. It’s possible he could give Spurs their next great era in basketball. With several Western Conference rivals set to improve, Spurs could quietly lean into the tank in hopes of landing the No. 1 pick in the 2023 Draft Lottery.

Houston Rockets: what can we expect this season?

Last season was bad for the Rockets. The team finished with a league-worst 20-62 record, although it was a slight improvement from the 2020-21 season. Rookie Jalen Green has had a solid season, averaging 17.3 PPG, 3.4 RPG, and 2.6 APG. Rookie Alperen Sengun has had a decent season, averaging just under 10.0 PPG in 72 games. Kevin Porter Jr. also had a great season, averaging over 15.0 PPG in 61 games. Big man Christian Wood would lead the Rockets in points, rebounds and blocks per game, but was traded draft night to the Dallas Mavericks after drafting forward Jabari Smith Jr. earlier in the night.

In free agency, the Rockets have been quiet. The team made just one move, re-signing Jae’Sean Tate to a three-year contract. While the Rockets now have a promising young core in Green, Smith and Porter, they are still years away from being a contender. With expectations not too high for the team, the Rockets can focus on developing their young stars while looking to make a jump in the 2023-24 season. If a realistic goal could be set for the Rockets, winning 25 games would be a step in the right direction for the team.


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Jordan Riha
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