Southwest Division preview: Can Mavericks support Doncic's MVP-level talent?

Dallas Mavericks guard Luka Doncic celebrates. (Mark J. Terrill / AP)

The NBA is back, and Sportsnet is breaking down everything you need to know about each of the 30 teams in the lead-up to tipoff on Tuesday, Oct. 19.

Today, we look at best- and worst-case scenarios for the Western Conference’s Southwest Division. (Teams are listed in the order in which we believe they’ll finish in the 2021–22 standings.)

Dallas Mavericks

2020–21 finish: 42-30, first in the Southwest, lost in the first round.

Major additions: Reggie Bullock, Frank Ntilikina.

Major subtractions: JJ Redick.

Best-case scenario: With Luka Doncic, a legitimate top-five player in the world, secured long-term, the sky’s the limit for the Mavericks -- provided he can get enough support. It’s a broken record for just about every emerging team with a great young player, but Doncic can’t do it all by himself and he needs far more support than he’s often been provided. In particular, he needs Kristaps Porzingis to find a way to stay healthy and find that old near-all-star form he’s shown in the past.

Doncic is good enough to take the Mavericks to the promised land, but he’ll need his team to help pick him up on defence and his supporting cast – Porzingis, in particular – to help get him in a position to take his team there.

Worst-case scenario: The same-old, same-old over the past two seasons, where Doncic is a brilliant MVP-calibre player but doesn’t have enough around him and Dallas gets bounced in the first round again. The Mavericks must begin to advance to show signs of growth.

2021–22 season prediction: 45-37, eighth in the West.

New Orleans Pelicans

2020–21 finish: 31-41, fourth in the Southwest, didn’t qualify for the post-season.

Major additions: Devonte' Graham, new head coach Willie Green, Tomas Satoransky, Garrett Temple, Jonas Valanciunas.

Major subtractions: Steven Adams, Lonzo Ball, Eric Bledsoe.

Best-case scenario: With a pair of all-star forwards who can fill it up in a hurry in Zion Williamson and Brandon Ingram, the Pelicans should be a post-season team. They have the misfortune of playing in the ultra-competitive Western Conference, and have made some rather sweeping changes – notably, yet another new coach for Williamson. But this team should have the talent to at least get into the play-in tournament.

It’s unclear how, exactly, newcomers like Jonas Valanciunas, Tomas Satoransky and, especially, Devonte' Graham might fit into all of this – there’s only one ball after all – but this is a fairly talented New Orleans squad that should get at least a taste of the post-season.

Worst-case scenario: In order for franchise cornerstone Williamson to positively grow and help the team as a whole moving forward he needs to play meaningful, post-season games – even if it’s just a play-in game. If the Pelicans are unable to at least reach the play-in tournament, then this season should be considered a failure.

2021–22 season prediction: 44-38, ninth in West.

Memphis Grizzlies

2020–21 finish: 38-34, second in the Southwest, lost in the first round.

Major additions: Steven Adams, Jarrett Culver, Kris Dunn.

Major subtractions: Grayson Allen, Jonas Valanciunas.

Best-case scenario: The Grizzlies turned quite a few heads last season. They managed to make it into the play-in tournament as a No. 9 seed and then proceeded to prove why they belong, beating both the Spurs and the Warriors to reach the playoffs proper. They didn't stop there, either, eventually taking a game off the No. 1-seed Utah Jazz as Ja Morant introduced himself to the greater basketball world with a spectacular post-season debut.

Now, it’s all about building on this success they enjoyed and striving to threaten to win a playoff series. That’s easier said than done in the Western Conference, but the core of Morant, Dillon Brooks and then replacing Jonas Valanciunas with an even more rugged version of him in Steven Adams has to make you believe that Memphis can at least make it back to the play-in tournament.

Worst-case scenario: Though it may not seem like that big a deal, the departure of Grayson Allen, who’s a decent shooter and an ultra-competitive pest, may end up hurting the Grizzlies. As well, trying to integrate new pieces -- guys like Kris Dunn, who could help overall down the line -- may lead to some growing pains and ultimately cause Memphis to drop games it shouldn’t, something that may make all the difference in the standings.

2021–22 season prediction: 42-40, 10th in the West.

Memphis Grizzlies guard Ja Morant (12) drives ahead of Toronto Raptors forward Pascal Siakam (43) in the first half of an NBA basketball game Monday, Feb. 8, 2021, in Memphis, Tenn. (AP Photo/Brandon Dill)

San Antonio Spurs

2020–21 finish: 33-39, third in the Southwest, lost in No. 9-10 seed play-in game.

Major additions: Bryn Forbes, Doug McDermott, Joshua Primo (R), Thaddeus Young

Major subtractions: DeMar DeRozan, Rudy Gay.

Best-case scenario: The Spurs appear to be a team in transition and, unfortunately for them, they’re right in no-man’s land.

With the departures of star wings DeMar DeRozan and Rudy Gay, the best player on the team is now Dejounte Murray, and while he’s a good player, he isn’t what you’d exactly call a star, and that’s why San Antonio needs to find a way to get one. The best way to do that would be to, honestly, look to try to bottom-out and enter the Chet Holmgren sweepstakes this season. Whether or not they do that is another story altogether, though.

Worst-case scenario: As great a coach as Gregg Popovich is, he just doesn’t seem like the right fit for what this Spurs team needs right now. A Popovich-coached club will always compete hard and play decent defence. That helps you win games, but the Spurs as they are now don’t look to have enough talent to win enough games to justify trying to win at the moment. That still likely won’t stop Popovich from trying, meaning the Spurs will probably be bad -- just not bad enough.

2021–22 season prediction: 36-46, 11th in the West.

Houston Rockets

2020–21 finish: 17-55, fifth in the Southwest, didn’t qualify for the post-season.

Major additions: Jalen Green (R), Alperen Şengün (R), Daniel Theis.

Major subtractions: Avery Bradley, Kelly Olynyk.

Best-case scenario: In the aftermath of what was a trying season -- to say the least -- the Rockets ended up accomplishing their goal by bottoming out, getting the No. 2 overall pick and drafting bouncy scorer Jalen Green. Then they even made a move to go after an interesting young Turkish big in Alperen Şengün on draft night. Now, it’s got to be more of the same for Houston.

Of course, the Rockets will want to be in some competitive games to give Green some seasoning in those situations. But it’s all about talent acquisition for them again this season and the best way to do that will be to lose a bunch of games.

Worst-case scenario: Unless a miraculous blockbuster trade comes around that sees the Rockets manage to acquire a player like Damian Lillard or any other legitimate superstar, the Rockets need to do everything in their power to try to play for ping pong balls again.

2021–22 season prediction: 25-57, 14th in the West.

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