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2023-24 NBA Mid-Season Reports: Southwest Division

Luka Doncic Mavs Season

To begin the NBA season, our staff writers took a stab at previewing each team and their division. While some predictions and prognostications have panned out, there is plenty that has been surprising. 

This week, our writers will again break down the league, team by team, in order to get ready for the rest of the NBA season.  We hope to give insight into where teams are at this point in the year, and with the trade deadline right around the corner, we will try to forecast what move lies ahead. 

For our final division, our writers broke down the play and storylines for the teams in the Southwest Division. Although the last division, plenty has yet to be settled between these five teams, and is there an under-the-radar contender lurking around? 

(BSP mid-season reports were written prior to Feb. 8, 2024)


Dallas Mavericks 

Record: 31-23 (8th in Western Conference)

First-Half Best Performer: Luka Doncic

First-Half Underperformer: Offseason Additions

*Updated after Feb. 10, 2024*

The Dallas Mavericks have benefitted from a season jam-packed with storylines. Just in their division, there is enough to distract from a hectic season in Dallas. On and off the court, the direction of the Mavericks changed. A change in ownership and an abandonment of offseason acquisitions has been a whirlwind. Yet, the Mavericks have stayed above water because of their superstar, Luka Doncic

It feels like the Mavericks have similar issues surrounding Luka with the right talent that the early versions of Lebron James’ Cavaliers teams had. Just look at how many roster figures they have had during Luka’s tenure. Make no mistake that falls on the front office. That pressure has resulted in some head-scratching decisions. However, early returns from rookie Derek Lively and the acquisition of Daniel Gafford feel like the players who will thrive in Dallas. 

Ultimately, the reasons for the recent trade deadline deals from the Mavericks indicate that they don’t want to waste another season of Doncic. Similarly, the play of Kyrie Irving heightens the pressure on this team’s version to capitalize. 

Second-Half Forecast: 

It all starts on defense. Can the Mavericks survive in a playoff series against the Suns, Clippers, Thunder, let alone the Nuggets, without getting stops? Probably not. No matter how good Doncic or Irving are. That’s why their ceiling is the first round of the playoffs. It’s foreseeable that the Mavericks could go nuclear in a series, but stringing together multiple rounds seems far-fetched. 

-Matt Strout


Houston Rockets

Record: 24-29 (12th in Western Conference) 

First-Half Best Performer: Alperen Sengun

First-Half Underperformer: Jalen Green

The Houston Rockers were one of the darlings of the NBA early on. They are a young and upcoming team that made some swings in the offseason, including signing some veterans and a new head coach. While all those things are valid, the Rockets’ play steadily dipped as the campaign continued. After starting the year 13-9, they have since posted a record of 11-20. Most of those struggles happened in January, where offensively and defensively, the Rockets put up their worst stretches of the season.

NBA: Minnesota Timberwolves at Houston Rockets

(Thomas Shea/USA Today)

Alright, enough criticism for now. Overall, the Rockets have played above most people’s expectations this season. Much of that had to do with the lingering questions about fit (and hierarchy). While key problems exist, the Rockets have been able to establish not only a defensive identity but also the individual improvement of their homegrown talent. Alperen Sengun and Jabari Smith Jr. are a formidable frontcourt pairing. Outside shooting needs to be improved, but that tandem is proving to be the franchise’s future. Amen Thompson has shown flashes of excellence, too. His raw talent goes both ways, though, meaning the flashes can be sporadic and limited. 

This brings us to Jalen Green. The third-year player was projected to be the lead facilitator and playmaker (akin to Shai Gilgeous-Alexander) on the young Rockets squad. That hasn’t panned out. Now, the addition of Fred VanVleet has taken additional playmaking responsibilities away from Green. However, a Green has shied away from those opportunities too. Clearly, he settles too much for difficult, inefficient shots. By shooting 31% from three and 67% from inside three feet, Green should be ferociously attacking.  

Second-Half Forecast:

It doesn’t look like the Rockets have the firepower to string together enough wins to compete for a play-in spot. Some of that is out of their control, with the Western Conference being stacked. So, what should the focus be in the second half? Certainly, it is decision time with Jalen Green. What the last 20 games or so look like from him could determine his future on the team or his trade value. Knowing Ime Udoka, he won’t let them settle or wallow even if they are out of contention. Therefore, expect some experimentation as the Rockets look to prepare for next season. 

-Matt Strout


Memphis Grizzlies

Team Record: 18-36 (13th in Western Conference)

First Half Best Performer: Desmond Bane

First Half Underperformer: Jaren Jackson Jr.

To say this has been a lost season for the Memphis Grizzlies would be an understatement. With the suspension of Ja Morant for the first 25 games, Memphis predictably struggled, going 6-19 in that span. But the return of the Grizzlies’ star point guard was starting to turn things around, as Memphis went 6-3 in the nine games Morant played. That was until it was announced that Morant would miss the rest of the season due to shoulder surgery, effectively ending the Grizzlies’ hope of being playoff contenders like they were the last two years.

The absence of Morant has been one factor contributing to the downfall of the Grizzlies, whose plus/minus per 100 possessions has been -7.0 without Morant, compared to +3.1 with him in the lineup, but far from the only one. Besides Morant, the Grizzlies have struggled with injuries this year. Essential role players like Marcus Smart, Luke Kennard, and Derrick Rose have missed a combined 87 games. Brandon Clarke has missed the entire season so far but is aiming for a return after the All-Star Break. Jaren Jackson Jr., last year’s Defensive Player of the Year, has stayed healthy but has taken steps back in his rebounding and block numbers, in addition to field goal percentage. Jackson Jr. is still one of the best frontcourt defenders in the league, and the Grizzlies are a decent defensive team, but as they average the fewest points per game in the NBA, that hasn’t been enough to make up the difference.

Second-Half Forecast:

In short, nearly everything that could’ve gone wrong for the Grizzlies this season. There have been some positives, like Desmond Bane, who has stepped up as the Grizzlies’ leading scorer in Morant’s absence right before his contract extension is set to kick in. Santi Aldama and Vince Williams also seem to be young rotational pieces who will improve over time. 

But all in all, Memphis needs to put this season in the rear-view mirror and look towards returning to the playoffs next season. That starts with moves to acquire assets and clear money, like they did last week, getting Victor Oladipo and three 2nd-round-picks in exchange for Steven Adams. Draft picks are always good to have for either using or trading. After this season, Oladipo is set to be a free agent, freeing up money that Memphis can put toward next year’s team. 

-Ean Goldstein


New Orleans Pelicans

Team Record: 32-22 (5th in Western Conference)

Best Performer: Brandon Ingram 

First-Half Underperformer: Jonas Valanciunas 

Overall, the 2023-2024 season for the New Orleans Pelicans is seeing a breakout and potentially a fully healthy campaign for former No. 1 overall pick Zion Williamson. Through 37 games, Zion is leading the team with a career-high average of just under 22 points per game while also hitting a shade less than 59% of his shots from the field (not including a 40% make rate from beyond the arc). However, he’s not the only former Duke Blue Devil making a significant impact in the Crescent City. Small Forward Brandon Ingram is showing signs of becoming a valuable leader, averaging 21, five, and six a night (21 points, five rebounds, six assists). His best game to this point in the season was a 28-point triple-double (28 points, ten rebounds, ten assists) in a 132-112 win over the Charlotte Hornets.  

The one guy who seems to be underachieving a bit is Lithuanian big man Jonas Valanciunas. Valanciunas isn’t quite the dominant paint presence he once was, but he is still averaging about 14 points and 10 rebounds a game through 46 contests. His rebounds and points per game have seen some drop-offs in recent seasons, and with Ingram and Williamson on the rise, Valanciunas may be a guy who might not see a lot of touches in Coach Willie Green’s offense. 

The Pels are on top of the Southwest Division but are sixth in the tightly-contested Western Conference. So far, the team’s best win of the season is a victory over LeBron James and the Los Angeles Lakers back on New Year’s Eve 2023, 129-109. Conversely, their worst loss came back in the third game of the season, when they fell to the currently struggling Golden State Warriors, 130-102, on Oct. 30. 

Second-Half Forecast:

The Pels have moved before the Feb. 8 trade deadline, dealing with Kira Lewis Jr. as part of a three-team package that sent Pascal Siakam to the Indiana Pacers. But there are plenty of rumors swirling around that the Pelicans could make a move for current Cleveland Cavaliers center Jarrett Allen. Any other potential transaction will most likely involve young forward Herbert Jones. The future does look promising for New Orleans to make the playoffs, but it will all depend on Ingram’s emergence and Williamson’s health.

New Orleans will make the playoffs, finishing with 47 wins on the season, securing the Southwest Division crown and either the fifth or sixth seed in the West. 

-Nate Powalie


San Antonio Spurs

Record: 11-43 (15th in Western Conference)

First-Half Best Performer: Victor Wembanyama

First-Half Underperformer: Jeremy Sochan

The San Antonio Spurs are currently in last place in the Western Conference with a record of 11-43. This has not been a surprise, as they just had the number one pick last year. With the first pick, they selected Victor Wembanyama in hopes that he could bring more championships to the franchise. Victor is fitting in perfectly with the team as he showcases massive potential. The Spurs are in the rebuilding phase as they are the youngest team in the NBA

Victor Wembanyama Nets Season Game

(Gregory Fisher-USA TODAY Sports)

One thing that Spurs fans should be happy about is Victor Wembanyama. In his first year in the NBA, he averages 20.6 points, 10.1 rebounds, 3.1 steals, and 3.2 blocks. The 7’5″ phenom is showing why he was the first overall pick and why people labeled him as the next face of the NBA. He is already showing off his offensive and defensive skills that help impact the game.

Offensively, he is fearless to score and has ball handles a guy as tall as him should not have. Wembanyama is already leading the team in scoring as the first scoring option in his first year. His height helps him offensively, as he can pull up and shoot over anyone. It is also mind-boggling that he has shown that he has good shooting form as a rookie. He will need to improve his build so he can be more dominant when posting up. He will also need to work on his three-point shooting, as he shoots 30% from three.

Defensively, he has just been impressive on the offensive side. It seems impossible to score on him in the paint with his height and wingspan. When he switches on to a guard, he has surprisingly good footwork and speed to keep up. It looks like he will win multiple Defensive Player of the Year awards in the future.

Second-Half Forecast:

The one thing the Spurs lack this season is a true point guard. The Spurs have tried multiple players at point guard, but that has yet to work out. They initially experimented with Jeremy Sochan at first, but it needed to be a better fit. His true position is at the power forward position, so it was interesting seeing him bring the ball up the floor and try to make plays. The only true point guard they have on their roster is Tre Jones. Jones would make a great backup but looks different from the future starting point guard for the Spurs. The Spurs must address this problem to help create easier shots and develop Victor Wembanyama.

Spurs fans should not be expecting a lot from the team for the rest of the season. They will have another shot at the first pick in the draft again. Even with young players like Devin Vassell and Keldon Johnson on the team, they will need to surround their team with more talent. The future looks bright if they can continue to build around Victor Wembanyama.

-Aaron Mata

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