|San Antonio||18||5||.783||–||7-2||11-3||4-0||10-3||105.5||97.3||+8.1||Lost 1||8-2|
|Dallas||11||11||.500||6 ½||7-3||4-8||1-0||5-5||100.8||101.3||-0.5||Lost 1||5-5|
|New Orleans||5||16||.238||12||3-9||2-7||0-3||2-10||91.3||97.6||-6.2||Lost 5||2-8|
The Southwest division is playing out just about exactly as one would expect. The veteran Spurs team, with their wily coach and deep roster have put together an amazing first quarter of the season. The Spurs have 6 players (nearly 7) that average in double digits and are the NBA’s highest scoring team at 105.5 points per game. They also have the second highest point differential of any team, trailing only Oklahoma City in that category. The ageless Tim Duncan (22 points, 21 rebounds and 6 blocks in last nights loss to Utah) is having his best season in at least 5 seasons and looks to be playing with the urgency of someone who realizes this is one of his final opportunities to win another NBA title and add to his already impressive collection of 4. With the emergence of Tiago Splitter at the center position, Duncan is able to play his more natural position of power forward while having to battle less in the paint defensively against NBA brutes. While Carmelo Anthony would undoubtedly be the MVP if the season ended today, Duncan is right there nipping at his heels.
The rest of the Spurs cast is also off to a fast start. Leading the team in points at 19 a game, Tony Parker continues to control the offensive rhythm for this high powered offense. He ability to get into the lane using his ball handling and dribbling ability is allowing shooters like Many Ginobli, Danny Green, Gary Neal, Stephen Jackson and Matt Bonner to have open passing lanes to get the ball into a good shooting positions. Whether it’s the initial pass by Parker or the ball movement off of that initial pass, the Spurs are getting open looks from downtown. On any night, one of 8 spurs can be the leading scorer for this team. Coach Greg Popovich has also done a terrific job of managing his teams minutes as no player averages more than 33 minutes per game. Duncan currently sits at 30.5 minutes per game, but look for that to drop into the upper 20’s as the season moves forward, especially as they begin to rest players heading into the playoffs. The team should also only continue to improve once second year player and defensive stud Kawhi Leonard return from injury in late December or early January. While this team is in prime position in the Western Conference, they need to be careful of the fast starting Grizzlies.
After losing it’s opening game, Memphis dominated the NBA in its next 13 games, winning 12 of those contests. They have lost three of their fast, but fret not Memphis fans, this team is for real. Team MVP, Zach Randolph has registered double-doubles in 16 of the teams 19 contests. He’s averaging nearly 5 offensive rebounds per game and 12.7 overall, both impressive numbers. He is shooting 51% from the floor and scoring 17.6 a game. Memphis as a team has the 5th best point differential at a +6.5. Also playing well, but with room for improvement as the season progresses are both PG Mike Conley and C Marc Gasol. Conley has some of the quickest hands in the NBA, averaging 2.6 steals a game and quarterbacking a team that lacks a true perimeter game. Gasol, who’s knocks down short jumpers with regularity has played well so far, but need to hit the boards with more vigor. He’s averaging on 7 boards a game compared to 9 last year. AND it’s impossible to talk about the Grizz without mentioning there “franchise player” Rudy Gay. While I love Rudy Gay’s athleticism and defense during crunch time, his lack of efficiency on the offensive end makes him hard to watch at time. Gay is shooting under 42% to start this season, which for a player with his ability to get to the rim is totally unacceptable. He is actually doing a solid job from 3 point land shooting 35.4%, and while there’s certainly room for improvement, the Grizzlies can live with that number. Gay often settles for long 2 point jumpers or shies away from contact and instead opts for a fade-away For Gay and the Grizz to reach the next level and become an elite team consistently, Gay needs to attempt more than 4 free throws a game. If things ever fully click for Gay, he could reach the “franchise player” potential he has. A bad week for Memphis as they lost to Phoenix last night on a Dragic layup with a half second remaining and a loss to Atlanta Saturday. Things wont get easier either as they face both Denver and Utah on the road back to back starting tomorrow in Denver. A split would be acceptable.
Third in the Division, the Mavericks are just biding time and treading water until all-world power forward Dirk Nowitzki returns from his knee injury. Last night, Dirk hinted at a Christmas debut, which is music to the ears of Dallas fans. With Dirk in the Mix, this team can be dangerous as it has an aging, but solid roster. Collison has continued his up and down play, but should benefit in a pick and roll game with Dirk. Chris Kaman is as solid as ever. This man can hit mid range jumpers with regularity and will also benefit from the double teams Dirk Draws. The biggest off season addition may be the one who benefits the most from the return of Dirk. OJ Mayo, who now is seeing people double him on pick and rolls, has had an amazing first season with the Mavs. After averaging only 12.6 last year for Memphis, Mayo has been on fire to start the year averaging 20.9 points per game and second in the league in 3pt shooting percentage. I’m very excited to see what this team can do with Dirk healthy, they should challenge for a playoff spot, although the division is going to be out of their reach.
The Rockets continue to be one of the most fun teams in the NBA to watch. With a young starting unit and an even younger bench what this team lacks in experience and discipline it attempts to make up in speed. James Harden, 5th in the league in scoring at 25 per game, has been a revelation in H-town. He is getting to the free throw line at an extremely high rate, 9.3 times per game, the highest number for a guard in the league. The biggest issue in Houston seems to be ball movement. Neither Harden nor Jeremy Lin excel away from the ball, preferring to have the ball in their hands to make they play. While this is fine when one of them is on the floor, we are seeing a lot of issues when they both play at the same time. Some of the best things we re seeing out of Houston is the continued excellent play of last years second round pick Chandler Parson, an athletic freak who play with incredible passion. Parsons is averaging nearly 16 points and 7 rebounds a game. Third year layer, Patrick Patterson is finally achieving some of his potential with his expanded role, averaging 13 and 5. And perhaps the best news from the Rockets is the inspired play of gym-rat Omer Asik. Asik, known as a tireless worker in NBA circles, has shown incredible improvement each year in the league. Many questioned the $25 million, 3 year contract the Turkish born player received in the off-season, but he has silenced his critics with averages of 10.6 points and 11.6 rebounds. He needs to continue to work on his defense, but has turned himself into a good NBA center. In all honesty the Rockets don’t look like a playoff team, but should be in years to come once their young players get some seasoning. In the meantime, they are fun to watch. They face the Celtics tomorrow in Boston.
The basement dwellers of the southwest, the Hornets have no shot this year, but did have some good news in the return of top overall pick Anthony Davis. After Davis and Ryan Anderson, the talent on this team takes a nose dive. Robin Lopez and Aminu have played well and Austin Rivers may be turning a corner, but this team won’t win many games. Without top scorer Eric Gordon, who continues to sit with sore knees and quads, this team lacks the scoring punch needed to win. Gordon has no timetable for his return. The Hornets are destined for the lottery, which may not be a bad thing. They could use another foundation piece to pair with Davis in order to have the playoff team it hopes for over the next decade.Third to last in scoring, this team is just not good.
The top two teams in this division will be fun to watch and fans will look forward to the return of Dirk in Dallas. I’ll check back in next week with more up-to-date statistics and information. Feel free to ask any questions or leave any comments, we’d love to hear from you.