2008-09 NBA Draft Kit: Southwest Division Preview
We continue with the 2008-09 RotoRob NBA Draft Kit as Herija unveils his next division preview. Soon, we’ll be rolling our picks for this year’s sleepers, busts and rookies to watch, plus plenty of other goodies to help you on draft day.
Our third installment brings us to the league’s most competitive division, home to four teams that won better than 50 games last season…and Memphis. All four of those clubs should be poised to make another push for the 50-win plateau, and even though Dallas and San Antonio are getting a little longer in the tooth this should once again be the NBA’s toughest division title to capture.
NEW ORLEANS HORNETS (56-26)
Lost in Conference Semifinals
With Chris Paul developing into perhaps the league’s best player, the Hornets made the jump from sub-.500 lottery club to division winner in just one season. Paul was virtually unstoppable one-on-one and made other supposedly elite point guards (I’m looking at you right now, Jason Kidd) look ordinary whenever he got the chance. Some thought the team might struggle to escape a first-round matchup with a battle tested Mavericks club, but New Orleans easily dispatched them before pushing the defending World Champions to seven games in the second round. That experience should do nothing but help a still developing Hornet team.
Beyond Paul, the team features an overlooked talent in David West. The first-time All-Star was tremendous in both the regular and postseasons, putting New Orleans in the discussion for the league’s best point guard/power forward combo. Tyson Chandler is a hard worker on the boards, and Peja Stojakovic is still a great spot-up shooter when healthy. The signing of James Posey gives the Hornets an insurance policy for Stojakovic and someone that can shoot and play great individual defense off the bench. Shooting guard looks to be their biggest weakness with Morris Peterson reduced to little more than a three-point shooter, though the addition of Devin Brown (Cavs) should help. If Paul and/or West are able to elevate their game this season the Hornets could make a run at a spot in the NBA Finals.
Guy I like…Chandler – He faded a little in the second half, but he’s still a walking double-double that has shot over 60 per cent for two straight years. At 25, he should still be developing and has the capability to block a lot of shots. His poor free-throw shooting is a drawback for fantasy purposes.
Guy I hate…Stojakovic – Yeah, he can still shoot, but there’s not much else there as he no longer adds the half-dozen boards and two assists a game he used to. The signings of Posey and Brown should cut into his minutes, and Peja has never been considered an iron man.
SAN ANTONIO SPURS (56-26)
Lost in Conference Finals
If the Spurs didn’t spend the entire offseason kicking themselves for their aborted post-season run they certainly should have. Everything seemed to be proceeding according to plan with San Antonio once again coasting through the regular season, dispatching the Suns in Round One, outlasting the Hornets in a seven-game slugfest and entering the Western Conference Finals with a distinct experience advantage over the Lakers. Unfortunately for the Spurs, Manu Ginobili was hampered by an ankle injury, leaving Tim Duncan and Tony Parker to do almost all of the heavy lifting. Even with Ginobili hurting, the Spurs still built large leads in Games One and Five, but ultimately lost them both to fall, four games to one.
Despite a starting lineup that features four players over the age of 30, San Antonio elected to do little more than tweak its roster in the offseason. The team’s biggest addition was the signing of Roger Mason, Jr., who should fill a spot-up shooter role and also keep the position warm while Ginobili makes his way back from off-season ankle surgery. Michael Finley returns and should help in that regard, though he couldn’t have looked more done than he did during last year’s playoffs. Bruce Bowen is still the league’s best agitator, and Fabricio Oberto does an underrated job of functioning within the Spur offense. No other club can match San Antonio’s veteran savvy, meaning if Ginobili comes back healthy the club should be a threat for another NBA Championship in 2008-09.
Guy I like…Mason – Someone is going to have to emerge as San Antonio’s third scoring option until it gets Ginobili back, and unless Finley was able to pull that giant fork out of his back during the offseason my money is on Mason. He can bury threes and is a career 87.4 per cent foul shooter.
Guy I hate…Ginobili – The guy is a virtual lock to miss the first two months of the season and possibly more recovering from his ankle injury. Even once he’s ready to go, the Spurs aren’t going to force him into extended minutes. They’re all about the playoffs, and they’ll treat Ginobili accordingly.
HOUSTON ROCKETS (55-27)
Lost in First Round
The Rockets continued to serve as the NBA’s most unsolvable riddle last year, rattling off a 22-game winning streak (much of it without Yao Ming) and finishing just a game back of both New Orleans and San Antonio while still managing to never feel like a threat to escape the first round. Tracy McGrady was a one-man wrecking crew, averaging 21.6 PPG, 5.1 RPG and 5.9 APG in the regular season before pushing those numbers to 27.0-8.2-6.8 in the playoffs. Despite McGrady’s Superman impression, the Rockets simply had too many Clark Kents to get past the Jazz, falling in six games.
Houston responded to its third failed attempt to get past the first round with McGrady by acquiring talented head case Ron Artest, which gives the team another offensive option at the expense of defensive specialist and all-around glue guy Shane Battier. The Rockets may use a small lineup at times with Artest at the four and Luis Scola at centre, but Battier’s minutes should take a hit this year. At the point, Rafer Alston has developed into a legitimate NBA talent, and the “And-1” pioneer can still resurrect “Skip to my Lou,” authoring a classic moment last season when he frustrated Laker guard Sasha Vujacic so much with his slick dribbling that Vujacic gave a hard foul. This team is deep and talented, but Ming and Artest are significant injury risks. If they’re healthy come playoff time they should at least carry the moniker of “team no one wants to face in Round One.”
Guy I like…Alston – He’ll have three legitimate 20 point-per-game scorers to distribute the ball to this season, and he’s a plus contributor on steals and three-pointers. You’re going to take a hit in field goal and free throw percentage, but he could be a 14-point, eight-assist guy if things fall into place.
Guy I hate…Ming – It’s all about Ming’s inability to stay on the court as the 28-year-old has played less than 60 games in each of the last three seasons. When healthy, he’s a highly skilled scorer that can block shots and shoot a great percentage from the line, but I’m not willing invest the first- or second-round pick it’ll probably take to get him on my roster.
DALLAS MAVERICKS (51-31)
Lost in First Round
Things have gone downhill for the Mavericks ever since they were staring a 3-0 lead in the face back in the 2006 NBA Finals. To say they blinked would be an understatement as they dropped four straight to Miami to lose the title and followed that up by getting eliminated by the eighth-seeded Warriors the following year. Owner Mark Cuban’s patience seemed to finally wear out last year as he made an ill advised trade to bring J-Kidd in from New Jersey at the cost of Devin Harris. The Kidd move was made ostensibly to add toughness and experience, but Kidd couldn’t stay in front of CP3, and Dallas was easily eliminated by the Hornets in five games.
Dallas still has a legitimate star in Dirk Nowitzki, and Josh Howard is a damn fine player when he’s not, ya know, insulting the National Anthem. But beyond those two, it’s mostly solid veterans such as Kidd (sorry, he’s not a star anymore, did you see the Olympics?), Jason Terry and Jerry Stackhouse – guys that are still good, but have no real upside any longer. Twenty-three-year-old Brandon Bass may be the lone exception, so look for him to see plenty of minutes alongside Nowitzki whenever the Mavs aren’t facing a true centre. When they are, Erick Dampier and DeSagana Diop (who was mysteriously re-signed for significant money) will get the call. If you’re looking for a surprise team to fall out of the playoffs it could be the Mavs, who suddenly feature an aging roster with little room to improve.
Guy I like…Bass – He averaged 11.6 points and 6.8 boards per game in the playoffs and looks like he could be a beast if given enough playing time. I love this guy as both a late-round sleeper and potential inspiration for naming a fantasy squad – may I suggest, “Tappin’ Dat Bass?”
Guy I hate…Kidd – Time isn’t kind to point guards (just ask “The Glove”), and Kidd looked stuck in quick sand against guys like Paul and Deron Williams last year. He’ll still contribute decent assist and rebound totals, but he’s a liability in shooting percentage and may not score 10 points per game.
MEMPHIS GRIZZLIES (22-60)
The Grizzlies posted their second straight 22-60 record last season, and drew the ire of countless fans when they gift wrapped Pau Gasol for the Lakers. They continued their rebuilding effort during the offseason, sending Mike Miller to the T-Wolves as part of a package deal that netted them exciting rookie O.J. Mayo and equally unexciting Euro-scrub Marko Jaric. Mayo and Mike Conley should form an dynamic young back court, though Kyle Lowry and Javaris Crittenton remain on roster, giving the Grizzlies an overabundance of young point guards.
Rudy Gay is the team’s best player, but the rest of their front court looks undersized and overmatched. Infamous former No. 2 overall pick Darko Milicic has never developed and seems stuck as an eight-point, six-rebound a night player. Hakim Warrick picked up his play after the Gasol trade, but at 6-foot-9, 219 pounds, seems ill suited for the rigors of an 82-game season at the four. Antoine Walker provides depth, but he’s 32 years old and has already logged somewhere in the neighborhood of 462,378 minutes in the NBA, so it remains to be seen if he has anything left. The signing of Quinton Ross is a solid move as he is a great on-the-ball defender and a nice backup at both shooting guard and small forward (but he’s far more valuable in the real world; as a fantasy commodity, Ross is useless). With a young nucleus of Gay, Mayo, Conley and Warrick, Memphis should be more exciting to watch this season, but the club is not getting out of the cellar.
Guy I like…Warrick – Sure, I have concerns about his size, but there is nobody else on the roster to handle the job, and the 26-year-old averaged 16 points and 6.7 rebounds per game after the All-Star break. Smells like nice late-round value to me.
Guy I hate…Mayo – He’s perhaps the most intriguing rookie scorer entering the league, meaning he’s sure to draw some serious attention in fantasy drafts. Look for him to average in the low teens while shooting in the high 30-per cent range. Mayo might be a worth a flier in the final rounds, but odds are someone will reach for him. Don’t be that person.