NBA Southwest Division Preview: A Trio of Budding Superstars
The NBA’s Southwest Division is home to some of the league’s brightest young stars, with players like Luka Doncic, Ja Morant, and Zion Williamson, who are must-see TV. With that in mind, let’s dive deeper into how each club might fare with the 2022-23 campaign fast approaching.
Led by superstar Ja Morant, the Grizzlies enter the upcoming campaign looking to build off last season’s franchise-tying best 56 wins. Memphis will be without defensive menace Jaren Jackson Jr. (right foot surgery) for at least the first month of the season but have more than enough depth to withstand his early absence.
Upon Jackson’s return, he’ll continue to form a solid core with Morant and sharpshooters Desmond Bane and Dillon Brooks. One of the most exciting young teams in all of basketball, the Grizz should again be the class of the Southwest Division and a strong contender in the Western Conference.
Dallas Mavericks (+2700)
Fresh off last season’s surprising berth in the Western Conference Finals, the biggest question facing the Mavs in 2022-23 is if they have enough pieces around superstar Luka Doncic to contend for a championship.
While Dallas added big men Christian Wood and JaVale McGee in the offseason, it failed to re-sign 2021-22 breakout Jalen Brunson (16.3 PPG), who inked a massive four-year, $104 million free agent contract with the New York Knicks. Doncic’s brilliance alone is enough to have the Mavericks firmly in a playoff spot at season’s end, but a possible Finals run feels unlikely.
New Orleans Pelicans (+5000)
If a team is poised to take a step forward this season, it’s the New Orleans Pelicans. The Pels will welcome back star forward Zion Williamson from injury after the 22-year-old missed all of last year with a Jones fracture in his right foot. When healthy, Williamson has proven to be one of the top players in the game.
Along with high-scoring guards Brandon Ingram and CJ McCollum, the trio should have New Orleans humming on offense. That said, the key for the Pels will likely be on the defensive end, where they finished 13th in points allowed, surrendering 110.2 PPG last season. If they can continue to make strides in that department, a lengthy playoff run is certainly within the realm of possibility.
Houston Rockets (+50000)
Boasting an impressive young core of rising star Jalen Green, Alperen Şengun, and 2022 first-round pick Jabari Smith Jr (No. 3 overall), the future is certainly bright in H-Town.
While success will likely be difficult to come by again this season, the Rockets should at least be able to improve upon last year’s league-worst record of 20-62. If anything, another year of development will only help Houston’s young guns.
San Antonio Spurs (+50000)
The offseason trade of All-Star point guard Dejounte Murray confirmed San Antonio’s intention to rebuild. Gone are the glory days of Duncan, Parker, and Ginobili, as Spurs fans will need to grow accustomed to vying for ping pong balls for at least the next few seasons.
Doncic enters the 2022-23 campaign as the odds-on-favorite to capture his first career MVP award. It’s easy to see why, as the 23-year-old has been Mr. Everything for the Mavs since he set foot on an NBA floor. And the scary part? He’s only getting better. Simply put, as Doncic goes, so does his team. That won’t change anytime soon.
Rookie to Watch: PF Jabari Smith (Rockets)
Widely expected to go No. 1 in the 2022 NBA Draft, Smith ultimately fell to the Rockets with the third overall pick. The freshman out of Auburn provides Houston with another versatile scorer to pair alongside Jalen Green while more than holding his own on the defensive end of the floor.
Smith should play heavy minutes from the jump and will be out to prove that the Orlando Magic and Oklahoma City Thunder made a mistake in passing on his services.
Favorite Futures Bet: New Orleans Pelicans to make the postseason (-205)
The Pels’ trio of Williamson, Ingram, and McCollum ranks among the Association’s best. At the same time, first-round draft pick Dyson Daniels should help shore up some of New Orleans’ issues defensively.
A Zion-less Pels squad was good enough to qualify for the postseason in 2021-22. I’m willing to wager on a second straight playoff berth with Williamson back in the fold.
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