To kick off our 2023-2024 NBA season coverage, Back Sports Page will preview all 30 NBA teams for the upcoming year. Different from years past, however, our previews will be put out according to their respective divisions. In our third edition, our staff looked at the Central division and broke down each of the five teams.
With the Eastern Conference preview wrapped up, our staff turned their attention to the Western Conference and the Southwest division. There is plenty to discuss, from the debut of Victor Wembanyama to the up-and-coming Houston Rockets.
Follow along over the next two weeks to see an analysis of the outlooks for teams as they head into the new season.
Dallas Mavericks Preview
Record Last Season: 38-44, 11th place in Western Conference
What a colossal collapse for the Dallas Mavericks last season. Initially, in the middle of the pack as the 5th seed last season before the trade deadline, General Manager Nico Harrison pulled the trigger to acquire one of the biggest blockbuster additions in Kyrie Irving. This move was expected to establish ground in the Western Conference and slingshot their way to the NBA Finals for the first time since 2011. The actual result? Completely out of playoff contention. For Luka Doncic, one of the most talented offensive players in the league, this was a stab in the heart.
In preparation for this season, Dallas will look to retain most of their roster around the Irving-Doncic duo. To secure what they traded for last season, the Mavericks signed Kyrie to a lucrative three-year deal this past offseason. In an attempt to re-establish wing defense, Grant Williams and Seth Curry are additional pieces that are expected to bolster their depleted wing defense as well as their three-point shooting.
But will that be enough to complement their offense? Returning Forwards like Maxi Kleber and Dwight Powell won’t necessarily be enough in the interior. With Luka’s playmaking and Kyrie’s other-worldly scoring ability off the dribble, the Mavericks look to prioritize offense more than defense and desperately hope this iteration of the Doncic-Irving duo puts them back in playoff contention. If Dallas continues to play mediocre basketball, expect someone in the Dallas front office to be the scapegoat, most likely Head Coach Jason Kidd.
Houston Rockets Preview
Record Last Season: 22-60, 14th place in Western Conference
Is the rebuild finally over? After three straight years of bottom-feeding with no end in sight, the Houston Rockets playoff window may finally reopen. New acquisitions in Fred VanVleet, Dillon Brooks, Jock Landale, and Jeff Green look to improve leadership and establish a culture in the city of Houston. Both these traits were something Houston desperately lacked throughout their rebuild. Along with this, draft selections Amen Thompson and Cam Whitmore are nothing short of brilliance from the Rockets front office. They will surely be a large part of Houston’s young core of Jalen Green, Jabari Smith Jr., and Alperen Sengun as they aim to make a playoff appearance for the first time since the James Harden era.
Just when things with Rockets basketball were starting to get good, Houston came down with some tough news. Guard Kevin Porter Jr. was arrested in New York City for assaulting his girlfriend, WNBA player Kyrse Gondrezick. With a promising 2022-2023 campaign, the 23-year-old was expected to be a focal part off Houston’s bench as a potential Sixth Man. Now, he might find himself out of Houston and, likely, the league as a whole. Currently, the Rockets are looking for a trade partner to acquire Porter, along with some second-round draft picks. He is not expected to report to Rockets training camp.
With Porter likely gone, more minutes will be given to the newly drafted players, such as Thompson and Whitmore. Porter’s departure could actually benefit the team in the long run. Houston is still expected to make it over the hump, given this minor setback.
Memphis Grizzlies Preview
Record Last Season: 51-31, 2nd place in Western Conference (lost in first round to Los Angeles Lakers 2-4)
After back-to-back playoff appearances, the goal is to get past the first round of the playoffs for the Grizzlies. Of course, they will be without their star in Ja Morant for the first 25 or so games due to his gun-brandishing incident. One guy who will have to lead the squad will be two-guard Desmond Bane, who pocketed a 5-year, $207 million extension in the off-season.
Without Morant, who will step up as the lead guard in his absence? Marcus Smart and Derrick Rose are viable options, but how will the team gel without Dillon Brooks and Morant? Sure, Smart is a solid defender at the point, but there are question marks abuzz, especially considering who is there on the bench that the Grizz can turn to. Smart and Rose will help with veteran leadership at the point guard position, and Steven Adams has plenty of experience locking down the middle. The rest of the team is fairly young, so Smart and Rose will need to prove that they can lead a young group when down a star player.
The Grizzlies are, without a doubt, a good team, but they will be in a dogfight with the Dallas Mavericks and the New Orleans Pelicans for the Southwest Division crown again in the 2023-24 season. Without Morant for the first 25 games, they will have to turn to someone else to take the reins on both sides of the ball. Marcus Smart is a valuable addition as a defensive-minded guard, and Derrick Rose still has something left in the tank to work with. The Grizzlies will more than likely be one of the top teams in the Western Conference again in 2023-24.
New Orleans Pelicans Preview
Record Last Season: 42-40, 9th in the Western Conference (Lost in Play-in)
The New Orleans Pelicans were an odd bird last year. They had a great start to the season, going 23-13 through December. A horrendous January followed, which dropped them from the top ranks of the Western Conference (they were 2nd at the end of December) to a play-in game spot where they remained to end the regular season. A close loss in the first play-in game to the Oklahoma City Thunder ended their season. The Pelicans have a well-balanced squad between young and old and definitely have the firepower to make noise in the West.
Zion Williamson and his health are the key to unlocking the next level for the Pelicans. In general, health was their downfall last year, with Brandon Ingram also missing nearly half the season. Any team is not going to look good when their two best players miss that much time. Zion is a monster when he plays, averaging 26 points on 61% from the field. He’s a dominant force inside, as close to as unstoppable as it gets really. Well, unstoppable by opponents. His own health, however, frequently stops him from seeing the court altogether, playing just 35% of the possible games in his four-year career.
A fully healthy Pelicans squad should be contending for a middle seed in a strong Western Conference. There are quite a few killers in the West, but their starting lineup can hang with anyone. The bench is solid, and adding Cody Zeller helps.
At the writing of this preview, it’s hard to see the Pelicans at the top of the West, given how strong it is a the top. However, when they were healthy, they were top three to start the year. In other words, anything is possible with this squad. Remain healthy, and they have a puncher’s chance in the West. Zion and Ingram get hurt, and it’s a race to the bottom. To be fair, that might not be the worst thing. They have a fairly young core and might have a chance to retool quickly if things do bottom out. Either way, all eyes are on Zion.
San Antonio Spurs Preview
Record Last Season: 22-60, 15th in Western Conference
Despite finishing with their worst record in a full season coached by Gregg Popovich, the Spurs have good reason to look forward to their 2023-2024 campaign. The most obvious question mark – what will we see from Victor Wembanyama? The highest-touted prospect in decades will have all eyes on him come October. While we should certainly see his impact shooting from the outside and all over the court on defense, expect his interior scoring to be an area to improve upon throughout his rookie campaign.
Winning the Wembanyama sweepstakes this offseason is surely the most notable pickup for the Spurs this offseason, but San Antonio’s front office was still quite active in bolstering their squad of youngsters in other ways. Moves to acquire Reggie Bullock, Cameron Payne, and Cedi Osman provide a solid base of veteran talent to help develop the likes of Wemby, Jeremy Sochan, Malaki Branham, and Keldon Johnson. While their youth will hold them back from contention this year, it will most certainly work to the Spurs’ advantage in years to come. After all, it’s not the first time that the Spurs are looking to rebuild around a generationally talented big man. Expect the Spurs to make some noise out west this year.
Patrick Yen is a contributor on Back Sports Page. He has written for NBC, SB Nation, and a few more websites in his four-year sports journalism career. He has been the Back Sports Page beat writer for the Philadelphia 76ers and now the Cleveland Cavaliers. Patrick, a graduate of Ohio State University, was born in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania but moved to Columbus, Ohio, early in his life and has lived there ever since. You can find more of Patrick on Twitter @pyen117.
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