Sunday, 29 October 2006

2006 NBA Preview: Southwest Division

And now on to the division that had, at least for my money, at least 2 of the 3 best teams in the NBA last season. And that's not even counting the team that employs Tracy McGrady and Yao Ming.

Dallas Mavericks - Where to start. They have one of the best coaches in the NBA, one of the top 3 or 4 players in the NBA, and a great cast of guys who all know their roles. They can play smallball, pound it inside, play a perimter and uptempo game, or beat you with strong defense. They have the most versatile roster in the NBA, which is why they made it to the Championship last year and have a shot to repeat that this year. Another good thing is that Josh Howard keeps getting better and better. What a joy to watch.

Houston Rockets - I know I have mentioned this once before... but think about how the Heat won the NBA Title last year... they had a playmaking off guard that could score at will when he was on his game, a solid Center down low to keep defenses honest, a couple of guys that could hit down open shots, and role players that didn't command the ball. What do the Rockets have? An off guard that can score at will when he's hot (and healthy), a great Center that's gotten better every year, and they now have capable role players with guys like Shane Battier and Bonzi Wells. I'm not saying they're the Heat and that they'll win the Title... but if McGrady stays healthy, they're very dangerous.

Memphis Grizzlies - Their starting guards are Damon Stoudamire and Eddie Jones. I think both were in their prime about 5-10 years ago. Sadly, it doesn't get much better. Pau Gasol is out to start the season. Jake Tsakalidis is their starting center. Shane Battier, Lorenzen Wright, and Bobby Jackson are all gone. They've got some nice rookies with Rudy Gay and Kyle Lowry, but this will be a long year for the Grizz, especially considering that they were in the playoffs last year.

New Orleans/Oklahoma City Hornets - The team that made the biggest splash in the offseason, and seems to be the sleeper pick of many people. However, I think they played over their heads last year and may have overinflated some expecations... but there is definitely lots of reasons for optimism. It starts with Chris Paul, and I do really like him a lot. Simply put, he's second only to Steve Nash as a playmaking PG in year 2 of his NBA career. The assist total should only go up, with Tyson Chandler being able to outlet the ball and start the break, and Peja Stojakovic in town to drain the 3. David West is efficient and very good on the low block. And through the draft and a couple of other minor additions, they'll have more depth. If nothing else, Chris Paul makes them one of the most exciting teams in the League to watch.

San Antonio Spurs - The old reliables are all back in town for San Antonio. With mainstays Gregg Popovich, Tim Duncan, Tony Parker, and Manu Ginobili, we know they'll always be in contention. But they also made some other nice moves. They signed Jackie Butler, a guy you may not have heard of but according to John Hollinger, "...he's been working out all summer in San Antonio and I expect him to be a revelation this season as the Spurs' starting center." So that's nice. They also signed role players like Matt Bonner, Jacque Vaughn, etc. The core is the same, but they should be better able to compete with teams like the Mavs or Suns when they play small.

Predicted Order of Finish
1. Dallas Mavericks
2. San Antonio Spurs
3. Houston Rockets
4. NO/OC Hornets
5. Memphis Grizzlies