Western Conference, Southwest Division: Season In Review
San Antonio Spurs
2011-12 Record: 50-16, 1st in the Western Conference
2011-12 Draft Picks (Pre-Lottery): 59
Needs: C, PG, SF
Players Selected in Past Two Drafts on Roster: Kawhi Leonard (2011 - 15th overall), Cory Joseph (2011 - 29th), James Anderson (2010 - 20th)
Overview: Despite injuries and advancing age, coach Gregg Popovich led the Spurs to a second consecutive Western Conference title. Tony Parker had his best year as a pro averaging 18 points and a career-high 7.7 assists per game in his 11th NBA season and even as his perimeter shooting dwindles even further, Parker penetrated into the heart of the defense, almost at will, to finish with short-range floaters and lay-ups as well as dump-off passes. 36-year old Tim Duncan continues to slow down, but was never a great athlete or one who relied on his quickness; he operates as a skilled tactician and a high basketball IQ, one that allows him to maximize his effectiveness scoring and rebounding year-after-year still. Oft-injured reserve guard, Manu Ginobili posted a seven-year low in scoring, but for the first time in his career, he made more than half of his field-goal attempts and for the second time shot better than 40 percent from 3-point range; if it was not for a rib injury, conditioning/rest that limited him to under 40 games played and only 23 minutes a night, the Spurs could have been even better this year.
All that aside, rookie Kawhi Leonard, acquired in a draft night trade with the Pacers, was a pleasant surprise offensively, while he gave the team the lengthy perimeter defender they needed. Also stepping up this season in his second year with the team was center Tiago Splitter; he was mostly inefficient last season after coming up from Brazil, but gave San Antonio a much-needed low-post center who can finish shots around the rim and rebound the basketball on both ends of the floor.
San Antonio was the league's most efficient offensive team, taking and making plenty of high-quality shots with the increase play of Tony Parker at the point. The Spurs had the second-best assist rate combined with the fourth lowest turnover rate, but it wasn't just Parker, everyone was chipping in.
Needs: For the last decade or so, San Antonio has been able to build around the trio of Duncan, Parker and Ginobili, adding role players to complement each one and the team philosophy at the same time. While each is as nowhere near as dominant as they have been in years past, the way they play together and utilize their talents makes the Spurs the Western Conference's best team- for now. Eventually, at some point soon, San Antonio will need to build again. And there will be no replacing Tim Duncan, a once-in-a-decade talent. When Parker losses more of his speed and quickness or Manu doesn't heal quite as quick as he used to, this team will be in trouble. Is last year's first-round pick Cory Joseph the eventual replacement at point guard? 2010 first-rounder James Anderson certainly doesn't look like the answer at shooting guard, one of the few swings-and-misses by the Spurs' front office.
Anderson, as well as last season's free agent surprise, Gary Neal who is one of the better 3-point shooters, and Danny Green will be free agents this summer. With plenty of cap room, but no first-round pick in 2012, expect San Antonio to work the free agent market for at least a pair of wings. The frontcourt looks stable with Duncan, Splitter, Matt Bonner and DeJuan Blair (team option this summer), but one more body wouldn't hurt.
2011-12 Record: 41-25, 4th in the Western Conference
2011-12 Draft Picks (Pre-Lottery): 25
Needs: SG, PG
Players Selected in Past Two Drafts on Roster: Josh Selby (2011 - 49th overall), Quincy Pondexter (2010 - 26th)
Overview: With the four most crucial pieces to the team's success locked up for at least three more seasons, Memphis has a bright future. Even though he played in less than half of the Grizzlies' games, Zach Radnolph, a one-time black-hole on offense, has become the most valuable player with his ability to score inside and out and utilize his toughness and strength to dominate the glass. Alongside him, 7'1" center, Marc Gasol, anchors the frontline and he seems to fit with Randolph quite well given his unselfishness (extremely high assist rate for a center) and his ability to score on the low-post, while Randolph favors to take his skills to the perimeter.
Alongside Randolph and Gasol is a budding star in 25-year old Rudy Gay, but if he will be able to blossom in this crowded frontcourt remains to be seen. He has the ideal size, athleticism, mid-range jumper and developing defensive game for an NBA All-Star, but has yet to be voted in.
With the backcourt, the combination of OJ Mayo and Mike Conley can definitetly be improved upon- it's not bad, but certainly not great; although Conley is just 24 years-old, his development has been slow. He has good overall quickness, but is limited by his lack of size and his inability to grow his advanced ball-handling skills, especially with his right hand. Without that, he will be just an average point guard in this league. Coming off the bench is OJ Mayo, a scoring wing that has talent, but talent that is often curbed with a poor head on his shoulders. He doesn't always play with focus, resulting in turnovers and a poor shot selection and has long-rumored to be on his way out of town; as a free agent this summer, expect Mayo to say his "good-byes".
Needs: Memphis needs to get healthy- they have won quite a bit in a competitive Western Conference the past two seasons despite major chunks of the season lost by Rudy Gay and Zach Randolph due to injury. When all that size and length is healthy, the Grizzlies will be a dominant rebounding team, securing plenty of second-chance opportunities for themselves on offense and limiting opponents on the other end of the floor.
Memphis is an above-average defensive team, thanks in large part to, again, the length of the frontcourt and the speed and their guards in applying pressure to opposing ball-handlers and creating difficult looks all around. The one area of weakness is their propensity to foul and send their opponents to the line, essentially giving them free-points; Memphis held opponents to under 44.5 percent shooting from the floor, but allowed 1.20 points per shot because of conversions at the foul line.
Offensively, the Grizzlies were one of the least efficient teams as they simply rely too much on the jump shot. Randolph, Gay, Mayo among others settle too often and without a real penetrate-and-kick point guard, things do not appear destined to get any better in the near-future. Memphis was 26th in the league in 3-pointers made, with a hair over 4 per game at a rather inaccurate .320 percent clip, 25th worst.
2011-12 Record: 36-30, 7th in the Western Conference
2011-12 Draft Picks (Pre-Lottery): 17, 55 (from Los Angeles Lakers)
Needs: PG, SF, SG, C
Players Selected in Past Two Drafts on Roster: Dominique Jones (2010 - 25th overall)
Overview: All was not well in the paradise known as Dallas as the defending national champions; Dallas went from being the 8th ranked offensive team in the league down to 20th this season. The Mavericks' overall defensive efficiency actually increased despite the aging roster and loss of the NBA's likely Defensive Player of the Year, Tyson Chandler. The Lamar-Odom-Experiment crashed and burned to a crisp. Dirk Nowitzki averaged the fewest amount of points since his second season in the league, Shawn Marion posted the lowest scoring average since his rookie year, Vince Carter set a career-low with his scoring, the seventh consecutive year his average has dropped and Jason Kidd's scoring average also hit a new bottom. Yet despite all of this, Dallas still managed to make the playoffs, although a run like last year's is extremely unlikely.
Needs: In short, Dallas just needs to get younger- you'd have to dig all the way back to the 2003 NBA Draft to find the Mavs' first-round pick that played more than 50 career games for them and that player was Josh Howard. Whether it was trading the actual player (like Jordan Hamilton last season) or trading the actual pick prior to, Dallas' youth is now paying for that "win now" strategy.
The future isn't bright in Dallas, by far the league's oldest roster, relying far too heavily on a cast of players all at least 33 years old; nearly every contributor from a year ago regressed in the lockout shortened season when comparing the PER from this season to 2010-11.
Although Dallas was in the top-third of defensive efficiency in points per possession, they did allow opponents to make nearly 475 3-point shots on the year, third-worst in the league. With their aging perimeter defense, are Roddy Beaubois and Dominique Jones the future backcourt or will Dallas look to upgrade the youth and depth; Beaubois, when healthy, can be an offensive and defensive catalyst with his speed and quickness. Jones, on the other hand, hasn't been able to get on the court to showcase his skills due to the depth in front of him. He's a strong wing who can handle the ball, set up teammates and rebound, but his outside shot and turnovers have hampered him.
2011-12 Record: 34-32, 9th in the Western Conference
2011-12 Draft Picks (Pre-Lottery): 14, 16 (from New York Knicks)
Needs: C, SG, SF
Players Selected in Past Two Drafts on Roster: Marcus Morris (2011 - 14th overall), Donatas Motiejunas (2011 - 20th), Chandler Parsons (2011 - 38th), Greg Smith (2011 - Undrafted), Patrick Patterson (2010 - 14th), Courtney Fortson (2010 - Undrafted)
Overview: Houston has made the best of a crummy situation since Yao Ming's rapid deterioration; losing their franchise centerpiece and steadily mounting a return to the playoffs thru the NBA Draft, free agent signings and trades; the list of players acquired in the past two seasons is significant from rangy centers like Marcus Camby and Hasheem Thabeet to diminutive point guards like Aaron Brooks and Courtney Fortson. Thru the Draft, management hit an apparent home run with former-Florida Gator Chandler Parsons and the jury is still out on first-round pick, Marcus Morris.
This year's team was an exciting combination of up-tempo, efficient offense and lackadaisical defense, leading to an overall offensive efficiency that was ranked quite high, while their defense was near the bottom of teams.
Houston had just $57.5 million committed to this year's team, 23rd in the league, almost half of which was for the likes of Kevin Martin and Luis Scola, the team's most productive players, which is great news for Rockets' fans because both will be back next season. Martin is the epitome of this year's team- a lethal scorer who does lots of damage at the foul line, but is a brutal defender. Similarly, Scola is a physical, low-post brawler, but a mediocre defender at best due to a lack of size and quickness. His spot will eventually be overtaken by last season's first-round pick, Donatas Motiejunas, who will come over the NBA for the 2012-13 season.
Point guard Kyle Lowry missed some time with injury this year, but is signed for the next two seasons to run the team; although undersized, Lowry is a tough, aggressive guard who applies pressure defensively in the half-court or full-court setting with a developing offensive game. His ability to take the next step offensively allowed Houston to trade Aaron Brooks last season. But now Lowry may have a position battle of his own on his hands if Goran Dragic is re-signed this summer; Dragic is a bigger guard at 6'3" and lefty. Even if he is a little more erratic with his passing (lower assist rate, higher turnover margin compared to Lowry), he is a much better weapon from the perimeter, and attacking off the dribble.
Needs: Houston needs to figure out if they are going to build a roster to compete now, or for the future. In the crazy, lockout-shortened offseason last year, the Rockets were in the mix to trade both Kevin Martin and Luis Scola and land a veteran like Pau Gasol in the franchise-changing Chris Paul deal. Dangled on the block to other teams, is Kevin Martin the answer at shooting guard? Does his offense make up for his makeshift defense? Although Chandler Parsons has been solid in his rookie year, small forward is a position of need, as is finding a true center- Marcus Camby will likely re-sign with the team, but is at the tail-end of his career. Sam Dalembert certainly isn't the answer and hasn't been for a handful of teams; Scola, Marcus Morris and Patrick Patterson are all power forwards, who have played some center this season.
New Orleans Hornets
2011-12 Record: 21-45, 15th in the Western Conference
2011-12 Draft Picks (Pre-Lottery): 3, 10 (from Minnesota Timberwolves)
Needs: SG, C, PG, SF
Players Selected in Past Two Drafts on Roster: Al-Farouq Aminu (2010 - 8th overall),Xavier Henry (2010 - 12th), Lance Thomas (2010 - Undrafted)
Overview: With the traded that gutted the team of most of its talent (i.e. Chris Paul), there may be very little return as trade centerpieces Eric Gordon and Chris Kaman will unlikely be in uniform next season, leaving the new management team with essentially a blank slate no better than an expansion franchise. A lack of talent aside, New Orleans was hurt with the injury bug perhaps moreso than any other team in the league: Gordon played in under 10 games, Jarrett Jack, Chris Kaman, Carl landry and Trevor Ariza, all key producers missed a handful of games and Emeka Okafor was on the bench for more than half of the season.
What doesn't New Orleans need? Currently on the books for next season, management boasts Emeka Okafor: an undersized center with a limited offensive game, Trevor Ariza: a one-time potential long-term option who is talented defensively, but his offensive game has yet to improve during his NBA tenure and Jarrett Jack: a solid point guard who is coming off a career year with the Hornets at least offensively; defensively, he struggled with opposing 1s.
With that being said, the jury is still out on youngster Al-Farouq Aminu as a wing, but the results aren't looking pretty as he is a poor outside shooter with a limited handle that turns the ball over far too often. His minutes increased late in the 2011-12 season and he actually played quite well. Not sure what the bigger surprise is- Aminu's production or the zero-sum game of Ariza's minutes dropping to DNP - Coach's Decision.
Needs: The Hornets have essentially a blank slate heading into next season- the free agent list includes Eric Gordon, Chris Kaman, Marco Belinelli and Carl Landry. The first-round pick from Minnesota that was acquired in the Chris Paul is a nice start to rebuild the franchise. Combined with their own pick, the New Orleans front office will have their choice of two of the top players in the 2012 NBA Draft.
They were one of the four or five worst offensive teams in the league in 2011-12, a drop-off of about 10-15 spots the past few seasons when Chris Paul ran the point. Now, if injuries didn't strike this team as hard as they did, especially to Eric Gordon, the results may be a different story, but the end result would be the same: this is not a playoff team given the current makeup of the roster.
New Orleans needs to get bigger up front through the Draft (because re-signed Chris Kaman isn't an option), find a potential franchise centerpiece if Eric Gordon doesn't re-sign and it's not likely that he will. Can Jarrett Jack play as well as he did this season? Can we expect him to hold down the position for the next two or three seasons until a replacement is groomed? With these two top picks, New Orleans needs talent in the worst kind of way and should look to go best available with each selection.