With a revamped division, the Southwest looks to be the toughest in the NBA.
With the new additions all around the division this past offseason, the Southwest Division, top to bottom, will be the most competitive and toughest division in the NBA during the 2013-14 season. Dwight Howard going to Houston, the new look Pelicans with Tyreke Evans and Jrue Holiday to go with Anthony Davis, Dallas acquiring Jose Calderon and Monta Ellis, the up-and-coming Memphis Grizzlies, and the old and reliable Spurs.
Out of all of that, we break down the best player at each position in the division, along with a sixth man, sleeper pick and head coach, as well as those who just missed out. Enjoy:
Point Guard- TONY PARKER (SA)
Point guard was a two-player battle between 31-year-old Tony Parker and the newest Pelican, the 23-year-old Holiday. My final decision was Parker because he’s like the Spurs: reliable. Add in the fact that Holiday will be playing in a new environment with a new team; I just don’t know how well he’ll do.
For Parker, who was in the midst of last season’s MVP race before getting injured, might be getting old, but still dismisses the critics and haters and puts up ridiculous stats and even more ridiculous shots.
Holiday set career-highs in points, rebounds and assists and was fourth in assists per game. He also had 19 double-doubles (DD) and 23 games of 10 or more assists, but stats are going to be more balanced in New Orleans with Evans, Davis and Eric Gordon.
I say Parker is getting old because he’s been in the league for 12 years, but the fact is that he’s only 31. He’s eight years older than Holiday, but sometimes that’s a good thing because the older players are usually the ones that always make the right decision and limit mistakes. That’s why Parker has led the Spurs during the last 11 or 12 years to three NBA titles, also being named Finals MVP in 2007. For now, checkmate goes to Parker.
2012: 66 gms 20.3 ppg 7.6 apg 3.0 rpg 52.2 FG%
Projected 2013 Stats: 65 gms 19.7 ppg 7.9 apg 2.7 rpg 52.0 FG%
Shooting Guard- JAMES HARDEN (HOU)
Unlike the other four positions, there is no doubt who the best two guard is in the division. Monta Ellis can score, but doesn’t play that much defense; Tony Allen only plays defense; Danny Green proved himself in the Finals, but let’s give me another year; and Gordon is like Ellis, he can score, but he’s injury-prone.
After three seasons with the Oklahoma City Thunder and arguably being the best sixth man in the game, OKC traded Harden to Houston right before the start of the 2012 season.
Some players do better coming off the bench, some of them can’t play starter minutes, but for Harden, he absolutely shined as a starter under coach Kevin McHale and the Rockets as it was seen in the first two games.
Harden went for 37 and 45 points and combined for 14 assists, 13 rebounds, four steals, 28-for-43 from the field, and 20-for-23 from the line.
Harden played 78 games, averaging 38 minutes per game, nearly seven minutes more than his previous career high. In those 78 games, Harden was fifth in the league with 25.9 points per game (ppg) and 1.8 steals per game (spg). A big part of his game came from the charity stripe as Harden had a career-high 85.1 percent and was first in the league in both free throws made and attempted per game (he was 674-for-792 from the line, 42 more attempts than second-place Kevin Durant).
Harden is a straight-out playmaker. Harden finished last season with 65 games with 20+ points, 23 of which were for 30 or more (also had two games of 40 or more). He can create his own shot, draw fouls or dish it to a teammate, and with the arrival of Howard, Harden’s assists will go up. Harden remains the best shooting guard in the division, and possibly the entire league.
2012: 78 gms 25.9 ppg 5.8 apg 4.9 rpg 1.8 spg 43.8 FG%
Projected 2013 Stats: 80 gms 22.5 ppg 6.5 apg 4.5 rpg 1.8 spg 43.5 FG%
Small Forward- KAWHI LEONARD (SA)
I was really leaning Evans’ way, but I decided that Evans is playing with Holiday and Gordon. Evans was a playmaker in his first two years in Sacramento when he was the starting point guard, but last year he played more two guard and even small forward.
Now in New Orleans, he will be the starting small (as long as Gordon stays healthy). With assists going Holiday’s way and Gordon being an excellent scorer, Evans, who had career-lows in points and assists last season, is going to have less in those stat columns this season.
As for Leonard, he just continues to get better. In his sophomore season, Leonard had career-highs in minutes, points, rebounds, assists, blocks, steals, and free throw percentage (FT%). Leonard is one of the up and coming defenders in the league, but also stays consistent with his shooting (49.4 and 49.3 field-goal percentage (FG%) in his two years).
As for the other small forwards, both Shawn Marion and Tayshaun Prince have their moments defensively, but just don’t score as much as the two are getting high in age. Chandler Parsons is in the same boat as Leonard, coming into his third year, but even though Parsons is a better 3-point shooter, Leonard stays consistent in other categories and is a better defender.
2012: 58 gms 11.9 ppg 6.0 rpg 1.7 spg 49.4 FG%
Projected 2013 Stats: 69 gms 13.2 ppg 6.5 rpg 2.0 spg 48.9 FG%
Power Forward- TIM DUNCAN (SA)
This was by far, the most difficult decision for me. Being a Dirk Nowitzki fan, I really wanted to chose Dirk here, but Dirk is coming off a season where he missed the first 27 games. He should be fully healthy come October and be back to his MVP-like ways for the Mavs, but what can I say, I have to go with Mr. Fundamental.
Even though I hate the Spurs, I have a lot of respect for them, starting with Duncan. If I wanted to stay away from Spurs, I wouldn’t have chosen Parker and Leonard.
Duncan has shut me and other critics up. He’s getting old, but age is just a number, right? Plus, I have to go with his credentials.
Duncan is a 4-time champ, 2-time MVP, 3-time Finals MVP and 10-time All Star. Nowitzki, Zach Randolph, Davis and Omer Asik can’t say much because only Nowitzki has done anything in his career.
Last season, Duncan, even at the young age of 37, had his most points since 2009, was third in the league with 2.7 blocks per game (bpg), his second-best mark, ninth in the league with 9.9 rebounds per game (rpg), and a career-high 81.7 FT% and almost led the Spurs to their fifth title. In 69 games, Duncan recorded a double-double 36 times, giving him a double-double every 1.9 games played. Until he retires, Duncan remains one of the best, if not the best, power forwards in the league.
2012: 69 gms 17.8 ppg 9.9 rpg 2.7 bpg 50.2 FG%
Projected 2013 Stats: 67 gms 16.5 ppg 8.9 rpg 2.3 bpg 51.5 FG%
Center- DWIGHT HOWARD (HOU)
We know all the problems that come with Dwight Howard. His issues with both Orlando (later years) and coach Stan Van Gundy, as well as the issues in his first year with the Lakers and coach Mike D’Antoni last season, but he is still the best center in the game. Even through all his back injuries last season, Howard still managed to miss just six games for the Lakers.
He was tops in rebounding with 12.4 per game, the eigthth straight year he’s averaged 12 or more (Howard has led the NBA in rebounding in five of the last six seasons). He was fifth in the league with 2.4 bpg, the sixth straight year he’s averaged two or more. He was second with 57.8 FG%, the seventh straight year he’s averaged 57 percent or higher.
His biggest issue comes at the free throw line. For the last two seasons, Howard has only managed 49 percent, this after averaging 60.3 percent in his first seven seasons, but let’s get past the bad and focus more on his game.
Howard is a 7-time all star, 3-time defensive player of the year, and has made five all-defensive first teams. If he’s able to accomplish what he did last season, aside the free throws, with a “bad” back and down year in Los Angeles, just wait until he’s healthy in Houston. It will be just like his glory days in Orlando.
His points may not change a whole lot, with Harden on his team, but if Asik comes off the bench, the rebounding and blocks will still be there. If Harden is willing to decrease his points for assists, Howard could average 20 or more points once again.
2012: 76 gms 17.1 ppg 12.4 rpg 2.4 bpg 57.8 FG%
Projected 2013 Stats: 79 gms 19.2 ppg 11.9 rpg 2.5 bpg 58.8 FG%
Sixth Man- MARC GASOL (MEM)
Has a big man ever won sixth man of the year? Only one true center has won the award and he’s in the Hall of Fame. That’s Bill Walton for the 1985-86 Boston Celtics, and at 7-feet-1, Gasol would be the tallest to win the award.
Gasol had a magical year in 2012, winning his first defensive player of the year (although I don’t know how he only made second team all-defense).
Gasol averaged 14.1 ppg, 7.8 rpg, 1.7 bpg, 1.0 spg and career-highs with 84.8 FT% (10 percent more than his previous high), and 4.0 apg. Rebounds and points are hard to come by with big ol’ Z-Bo down low, but Gasol seems to find ways.
Out of the top 25 rebounders last season, Gasol joined Lebron James, Durant and Josh Smith as the only players to average four or more assists, making him tops in the category for centers, and Gasol also joined Al Horford and Al Jefferson as the only starting centers to average more than one steal and one block per game (Horford- 1.1/1.1, Jefferson- 1.0/1.1).
It was tough not to put Holiday here, but like Howard, he’s going someplace new and some of his stats may decline, we’ll have to wait and see. For now, Gasol is first to come off my bench.
2012: 80 gms 14.1 ppg 7.8 rpg 4.0 apg 1.7 bpg 49.4 FG%
Projected 2013 Stats: 80 gms 14.3 ppg 8.0 rpg 3.8 apg 1.8 bpg 50.3 FG%
Coach- GREGG POPOVICH (SA)
As it was the case with shooting guard, there is no competition when it comes to best coach in the division.
Let’s shoot out some stats- 17 years, over 1,300 games coached, over 900 wins, 16 straight playoff appearances, four NBA titles, twice named Coach of the Year, 10 division titles, and six Southwest titles since the division formed in 2004.
His name is Gregg Popovich and he’s a beast. You take the division’s four other coaches, and you get a combined 732 wins and 11 playoff appearances with one title in 18 years of coaching experience. That is a huge gap!
There is no doubt that Pop will make the hall of fame one day, but for now, he just might be the best active coach in all of American pro sports. If your dream is to become a NBA head coach one day, you might want to start under Pop. Four active coaches this year all held assistant positions during Pop’s tenure in San Antonio (Mike Budenholzer-ATL, Brett Brown-PHI, Mike Brown-CLE, and Jacque Vaughn-ORL).
2012: 58-24, 1st in Southwest, 2nd in West, Lost in Finals to Heat 4-3
Projected 2013 Stats: 55-27, 1st in Southwest, 3rd in West, Second Round
Next off the bench- PG JRUE HOLIDAY (NO)
Holiday had a career year with the Sixers in 2012, but after being traded to the new-look Pelicans for rookie Nerlens Noel, Holiday joins a loaded and high-potential lineup, starting with Davis and Evans, and a healthy Gordon.
Like we said in the point guard section, stats are going to be hard to come by, with a more balanced attack for New Orleans. We see Holiday’s numbers taking a hit, but not too much.
2012: 78 gms 17.7 ppg 8.0 apg 4.2 rpg 1.6 spg 43.1 FG%
Projected 2013: 77 gms 16.0 ppg 7.8 apg 4.0 rpg 1.5 spg 42.8 FG%
Sleeper Pick- PF/C BRANDAN WRIGHT (DAL)
Wright is coming off career-highs in minutes, points and rebounds per game last season with the Mavs.
Signing a two-year deal worth $10 million this past summer with Dallas, Wright is set to come off the bench for either Nowitzki or Samuel Dalembert. At 6-foot-10, Wright can play both the four or five and provides the Mavs with great length and defense.
Wright played in 64 games last season, after averaging 41 in his first four years. We expect Wright to be in more contests and have a career year for Dallas.
2012: 64 gms 8.5 ppg 4.1 rpg 1.2 bpg 59.7 FG%
Projected 2013 Stats: 72 gms 9.2 ppg 5.0 rpg 1.4 bpg 58.0 FG%