1. Is San Antonio done as a championship contender? It looks like an asinine question on the surface, but when I think about this team I do see some issues. I think their frontcourt is relatively thin after Aldridge and Gasol, what if one of them gets hurt for a significant length of time? Tony Parker is now 34 and Manu Ginobili is 39. I do know that one of their guys will develop under Popovich, that is a given. Honestly, they are still a contender in my opinion, but to say that I am skeptical would be true also.
2. I don’t care about the Rockets’ offense, will they improve on defense? Houston could very easily average 110-115 points per game. The issue is will their defense suffer because of the up-tempo pace. Mike D’Antoni is not exactly a “defensive wizard”. I think a big issue in the past for the Rockets on defense has been a lack of commitment from the “veterans”. This must change if the Rockets want to vault themselves into championship contention.
3. New coach, new philosophy, better results for the Grizz? In a move that looked surprising, Memphis fired coach Dave Joerger. New coach David Fizdale comes in from Miami and decides to change Memphis from “grind-it-out” to “playing faster” on offense. He has pledged to give Mike Conley more freedom offensively. Also, Zach Randolph is now coming off the bench in favor of JaMychal Green. There is a change in the air in Memphis, hopefully for Grizzlies’ fans the change will bring on a deeper playoff run.
4. Can Anthony Davis and the Pelicans stay healthy? Want to know how many games Davis, Jrue Holiday, and Tyreke Evans started last year? Combined, they played 109 games! This can not continue to occur if New Orleans is seriously going to challenge for a playoff spot. Funny thing is, Davis actually started 61 of those games. Holiday and Evans are not expected to be ready for the start of the season, Holiday is with his wife as she recovers from having birth and brain surgery.
5. Will Harrison Barnes take the next step? Barnes was benched during the playoffs for poor play and severely ridiculed by fans. He hardly played in the Olympics for Team USA. He still received a “max” contract from Dallas this off-season. I understand that Dallas has struck out on free agents in the past, but I don’t know if Barnes is good enough to erase those painful memories. If anyone can get a player to play above themselves, it’s Rick Carlisle.
5 Best Players
1. James Harden, Rockets Despite the multitude of shots he took, Harden still averaged 7.5 assists and six rebounds per game. A switch to point guard might make James a double-double player.
2. Anthony Davis, Pelicans Great player, health is the major issue as to why he is not #1. Scores, rebounds, and blocks shots.
3. LaMarcus Aldridge, Spurs His numbers took a dip last season, but his talent is undeniable. Would like to see Pop fully use Aldridge’s skill.
4. Kawhi Leonard, Spurs Has improved mightily offensively, great defender. Last year showed me that he is not there yet as far as carrying the team.
5. Marc Gasol, Grizzlies People forget about him because of injury issues last year. He impacts this team on both ends of the floor. Solid in all facets.
Best Coach: Gregg Popovich
Surprising Player: Mike Conley, Grizzlies. I think with having more freedom, Conley will prove his worth to the doubters. Always has been a good, prototypical point guard. He takes the next step towards being one of the elite.
Disappointing Player: Dirk Nowitzki, Mavericks. Eventually, the 38-year old has to have a decrease in production. Last year, he shot a career-low 44.8 percent. Also, the Mavs don’t have a bunch of talent surrounding him so he might have to volume-shoot this season. I don’t think he can carry a team anymore.
Order of Finish: 1. San Antonio 2. Memphis 3. Houston 4. New Orleans 5. Dallas