Mar 17, 2012; Dallas, TX, USA; Dallas Mavericks power forward Dirk Nowitzki (41) looks to pass the ball as San Antonio Spurs small forward Kawhi Leonard (2) defends during the game at the American Airlines Center. The Mavericks defeated the Spurs 106-99. Mandatory Credit: Jerome Miron-US PRESSWIRE
San Antonio SpursPG: Tony ParkerSG: Danny GreenSF: Kawhi LeonardPF: Boris DiawC: Tim Duncan
The assiduous underpinnings of the Spurs organization — Tim Duncan, Manu Ginobili, Tony Parker, Gregg Popovich etc — understand that continuity isn’t necessarily cool nowadays. Forging cap space for superstar free agents and getting lucky through the draft are the most reliable ways to build a contender; for San Antonio, that approach isn’t practical because the Spurs are already a contender.
They are, however, stuck in the precarious tier behind the Miami Heat, Oklahoma City Thunder and Los Angeles Lakers (barring their age coming back to bite them as I wrote this week). Not even the ingenuity of the Spurs’ organization gives them ample room for improvement.
Give them credit for creating a roster that slides just underneath the luxury tax. Give them credit for hoarding a bunch of cost-efficient pieces, pieces they molded into productive rotation members, that can easily be flipped elsewhere. But the intrinsic nature of the Spurs puts them a notch below the truly elite teams. For the time being, they will have to settle with merely being elite and I’m expecting San Antonio to win upwards of 60 games this year — again.
Projected record: 62-20
Memphis GrizzliesPG: Mike ConleySG: Tony AllenSF: Rudy GayPF: Zach RandolphC: Marc Gasol
The opulence of Memphis’ frontline — bolstered by Marc Gasol, Zach Randolph, Darrell Arthur and Marreese Speights — allows the Grizzlies to succeed in today’s NBA landscape, one that instituted small ball lineups out of necessity, in seemingly perpetuity. That’s not exactly the case here but their frontcourt creates advantageous solutions that otherwise can’t be created without size.
Yet for the credit they receive, Memphis scored 104 points per 100 possessions, a below league average rate of efficiency. The Grizzlies succeed on the strength of their defense but you wouldn’t be wrong to expect better results offensively. Should they improve in this manner, which may become difficult without OJ Mayo, they will continue to be a tough matchup for San Antonio and potentially a team that can put a dent into the Western Conference picture.
Jerryd Bayless, save their souls.
Projected record: 56-26
Dallas MavericksPG: Darren CollisonSG: OJ MayoSF: Shawn MarionPF: Dirk NowitzkiC: Chris Kaman
The Mavericks’ roster is perhaps the perfect complement to the NBA’s increasing reliance on versatile scoring guards and forwards. Their depth in the latter is slightly lacking while their backcourt depth is flourishing, and there will be solid players that will be forced out of the rotation as a result. Not many teams have this luxury; Dallas can trot out a bunch of practical roster combinations that can create for themselves and defend both positions with painstaking ease.
The trio of Dirk Nowitzki, Chris Kaman and Elton Brand is also above-average as they all can shoot relatively well from the perimeter and the defensive fortitude of Brand, who graded as an elite post defender per MySynergySports, brings an added dimension. They could be better, they could be worse but, at the end of the day, they will be a playoff team.
Projected record: 50-32
New Orleans HornetsPG: Greivis VasquezSG: Eric GordonSF: Ryan AndersonPF: Anthony DavisC: Robin Lopez
While I don’t necessarily forsee Ryan Anderson succeeding in the small forward role, as he played a negligible amount last year with Orlando and his defense isn’t optimal against quicker players, he’s a considerable upgrade over Al-Farouq Aminu. Plus, Anthony Davis’ long frame and athletic ability invite almost any kind of equitable skill as he will be expected to cover for his teammates mistakes if he wants to solidify himself as the defensive prodigy he appeared to be with Kentucky.
I’m not sold on Austin Rivers’ fit with the Hornets but in a quasi-Eric Gordon role, he may be effective and that will be an immense coup if he can replicate some of his scoring ability in the pick-and-roll. This team doesn’t set up as a definitive playoff team but they can rest easy knowing that they have the proper amount of pieces to eventually get there.
Projected record: 44-38
Houston RocketsPG: Jeremy LinSG: Jeremy LambSF: Royce WhitePF: Donatas MotiejunasC: Omer Asik
No one really understands Darryl Morey’s master plan and until they can bring lucidity to their situation, I’m not pinning them as a playoff team this year.
Projected record: 27-55