Things have changed considerably since two years ago when all five teams in the division made the playoffs. Now the only sure bets are the Spurs and Grizzlies as the cream of the crop. The Mavs will scrap and overachieve, the Rockets will try to do it without defense, and the Pelicans need to find an identity and style that proves they can be winners.
Team On The Rise
Memphis Grizzlies – Following a season when they were decimated by injuries and had to use an NBA record 28 different players, the Grizzlies have free agent Mike Conley back in the fold and good health will put them back above the 50-win plateau.
Team On The Decline
San Antonio Spurs -- All things are relative. The Spurs are playing for the first time in nearly two decades without Tim Duncan and there’s no way they come close to last season’s 67 wins.
Anthony Davis, New Orleans Pelicans -- He should be a lock to hold down this spot for years with his all-around talents. But the explosive and hungry Kawhi Leonard is giving him a run for his money at both ends of the floor.
Player On The Rise
Solomon Hill, New Orleans Pelicans – As a small-ball power forward, Solomon came on strong at the end of last season in Indiana, showing he can make the outside shot. He’ll give a boost to the Pelicans' defense, which badly needs it.
Gregg Popovich, San Antonio Spurs – He always said he’d walk out the door right behind Duncan, but now Pop is sticking around to take the Spurs into a new era. He continues to be the gold standard for handling his team off the court and making in-game moves.
Coach On The Hot Seat
Alvin Gentry -- He was beset by a slew of injuries that started in training camp in 2015. But another disappointing record that doesn’t make the playoffs and wastes another year of A.D.’s prime will likely shuffle Gentry out the door after just two years.
Buddy Hield -- If the No. 6 pick in the draft can live up to the hype and his own boasts, the Pelicans and Davis could finally have the consistent No. 2 scoring threat they need.
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