Posted Oct 1, 2012 2:15 PM
The Southwest Division underwent quite a bit of change this summer. The Houston Rockets dumped most of their roster, the Dallas Mavericks swapped out half their rotation and the New Orleans Hornets added a franchise player just 6 ½ months after losing their last one.
The San Antonio Spurs made minimal roster changes, but they're still very much a team in transition, trying to enhance an aging core with young role players. And while the Memphis Grizzlies also stayed pretty stable, they should be a different team with a healthy Zach Randolph.
If Dirk Nowitzki returns to form and if the Hornets can replace the Rockets in the middle of the Western Conference standings, the Southwest should still be one of the toughest divisions in the league. But it will be a different landscape no matter what.
Here's a deeper look at some key numbers from last season for each team in the Southwest Division, and how those numbers might change this year.
Pace: 93.6 (16)
OffRtg: 101.0 (20)
DefRtg: 99.7 (8)
NetRtg: +1.3 (14)
Pace = Possessions per 48 minutes
OffRtg = Points scored per 100 possessions
DefRtg = Points allowed per 100 possessions
NetRtg = Point differential per 100 possessions
After winning their championship, the Mavs parted ways with Tyson Chandler, who went on to win the Defensive Player of the Year award with the New York Knicks. Yet, it wasn't on defense where Dallas fell off last season.
Only three teams regressed more offensively than the Mavs, who scored 6.6 fewer points per 100 possessions than they did in their championship season. They fell to 20th in offensive efficiency, the lowest they've been ranked on that end since Dirk Nowitzki was drafted in 1998.
Nowitzki was partially to blame. He was out of shape at the onset and followed up the best shooting season of his career (54.5 effective field-goal percentage) with the worst in his last seven (49.5). He regressed from every distance and shot from the paint less often.
Nowitzki's dropoff wasn't the only reason the Mavs regressed offensively. Shawn Marion shot much worse last season and the combination of Brendan Haywood and Ian Mahinmi wasn't nearly as efficient as Chandler was down low.
This summer, the Mavs essentially replaced Haywood, Jason Kidd, Lamar Odom and Jason Terry with Chris Kaman, Darren Collison, Elton Brand and O.J. Mayo. The new group shot better last season than the old group, but the old group shot much more often from 3-point range, and that resulted in a higher effective field-goal percentage.
The offensive key for the Mavs may be Kaman, whose post game should complement both Nowitzki and Brand, who had the worst shooting season of his career last year. If Kaman can rebound from a down year in New Orleans, the Mavs should be in good shape offensively.
Pace: 94.3 (11)
OffRtg: 102.7 (13)
DefRtg: 102.1 (15)
NetRtg: +0.6 (16)
In each of the last three seasons, the Rockets finished with a winning record but failed to make the playoffs. The good news is that they don't have to worry about finishing with a winning record again this season.
The Rockets have only three players who started more than 30 games last season, and only two -- Jeremy Lin and Kevin Martin -- who averaged more than 10 points per game. They won't have any continuity either, considering only 30 percent of last year's minutes were played by guys who are still on the roster.
Lin, of course, played great for a stretch of 26 games in New York last season. But while he had some impressive numbers, the Knicks won with defense, allowing 97.4 points per 100 possessions during that stretch. Not coincidentally, the teammate with whom Lin played the most minutes was Chandler.
So the jury is still out on Lin. More of a sure thing is that Omer Asik will help the Rockets defensively. No player had a better on-court defensive rating than Asik over the last two seasons, with the Bulls allowing just 90.3 points per 100 possessions in his 1,961 minutes on the floor.
On the opposite end of the spectrum was Carlos Delfino. In fact, of the 221 players who played at least 1,000 minutes for one team last season, no player had a worse differential between his on-court and off-court net ratings. The Bucks outscored their opponents by 5.8 points with Delfino on the bench, but were outscored by 6.3 with him on the floor.
The Rockets acquired a little offense with Lin and a little defense with Asik. We'll see if that keeps them out of the Western Conference basement.
Pace: 93.4 (18)
OffRtg: 101.0 (21)
DefRtg: 98.9 (7)
NetRtg: +2.1 (12)
The Grizzlies were the best defensive team in the Western Conference last season, but they regressed offensively. Blame that on a knee injury to Zach Randolph, who missed 38 games and started only eight.
Even though Randolph shot just 46 percent last season (down from 50 percent the year before), the Grizzlies were still very good when he was on the floor, scoring 106.4 points per 100 possessions. They were even better (110.1) in 155 minutes when Randolph was on the floor with starters Mike Conley, Tony Allen, Rudy Gay and Marc Gasol.
That lineup played just 155 minutes together -- not a huge sample size -- but was also excellent defensively (93.0 points per 100 possessions allowed). Its +17.1 net rating ranked fifth among 64 lineups that played at least 150 minutes together last season.
With Randolph on the floor, the Grizzlies shot very well (37.5 percent) from 3-point range, but overall they ranked 25th at 32.6 percent from beyond the arc. As terrific as Allen is defensively, he's made a total of just 18 threes over the last three seasons.
Allen isn't going anywhere, of course, so the Grizzlies have a ceiling offensively -- they're unable to spread the floor as much as they could with an additional shooter. New addition Jerryd Bayless shot well from 3-point range (42.3 percent) last season, but in only 104 attempts. And the departed Mayo has been a better shooter than Bayless over the course of their careers.
Still, if Randolph is back at full strength, the Grizzlies will be an improved team, making the top half of the Western Conference playoff picture very crowded.
Pace: 90.7 (30)
OffRtg: 98.3 (26)
DefRtg: 102.3 (16)
NetRtg: -4.0 (24)
There are a few reasons to be bullish on the Hornets this season.
First and foremost, they have the one rookie -- Anthony Davis -- who can make a real impact right away, even if it's just on defense. Second, coach Monty Williams seemingly got the most out of a depleted roster last season. Third, they were pretty good (+5.2 net rating), especially offensively, in Eric Gordon's limited minutes last year.
Finally, new addition Ryan Anderson has come to prove that he doesn't need to be playing next to Dwight Howard to be effective. Over the last two seasons, Anderson's effective field-goal percentage with Howard on the floor (55.5 percent) was only slightly higher than with Howard on the bench (54.8 percent).
The most interesting question in New Orleans could be who gets the bulk of the minutes at point guard. Austin Rivers was taken with a lottery pick, but doesn't have the skill set of a true point, and the Hornets weren't so bad (-0.4 net rating) with Greivis Vasquez on the floor last season.
They were even better when Vazquez was on the floor with Al-Farouq Aminu, who should be the Hornets' starting small forward after New Orleans dealt Trevor Ariza to Washington. In 906 minutes with both Vasquez and Aminu on the floor, the Hornets were a plus-22 and allowed just 98.5 points per 100 possessions.
If you put those two together with Davis, that's a pretty good defensive lineup. Throw in Gordon and Anderson and the Hornets can score. There are a lot of other questions, but the numbers say that the Hornets could be competitive just a season after trading away Chris Paul.
Pace: 95.1 (8)
OffRtg: 108.5 (1)
DefRtg: 100.6 (11)
NetRtg: +7.9 (2)
On May 31, everything was going great for the Spurs. They were two wins from The Finals, riding a 20-game winning streak with an unstoppable offense. Then, it all fell apart. Over the next seven days, the Spurs couldn't stop the Oklahoma City Thunder, who scored 112.0 points per 100 possessions over the final four games of the Western Conference finals.
When you compare their defensive rating with the league average, the Spurs' defense has regressed each of the last eight years. San Antonio had one of the best defenses in NBA history in 2003-04, allowing 8.5 fewer points than the league average. Since then, it's been all downhill: -7.3, -6.5, -6.3, -5.3, -3.5, -2.9, -1.7 and -1.2 last season.
But here's the good news: The Thunder played over their heads in those four straight wins last Spring. Compared to their numbers from their first 10 playoff games, the Spurs' defense didn't fall off much in terms of rebounding, forcing turnovers or keeping OKC off the line.
Their paint defense struggled a little. But mostly, the Thunder just hit a lot of jumpers. OKC shot 46.3 percent from outside the paint in those four games, a big increase over the 38.9 percent it shot in the regular season, the 39.8 percent it shot in its first 11 playoff games and the 39.3 percent the Spurs allowed in their first 10 playoff games.
If the Spurs continue their defensive slide, they have little chance at a championship. The last team to make The Finals with a defensive ranking lower than 11th was the 2000-01 Lakers. But if you look at that OKC series as a little flukey, you can see the reasoning for keeping the Spurs intact for one more title run.
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