Luka and Zion and Ja, oh my!

It’s Day 6 of 30 Groups 30 Picks. At present: We’re wrapping up with arguably essentially the most thrilling division within the NBA by way of potential. The Southwest options three of the league’s brightest younger stars in Luka Doncic, Ja Morant and Zion Williamson. We all know what we’re getting out of two of them. The query stays: What is going to Zion do?

Western Convention – Southwest Division

It actually places into stark reduction how nice the highest half of the West is whenever you write about them back-to-back like this. The Southwest is one other division that includes three groups I’ve excessive hopes for, and solely a type of – the New Orleans Pelicans – seems like a tiny attain.

Dallas and Memphis had been on my “nice worth title contenders” checklist, each accessible at +2200. Memphis gave the eventual champs in Golden State a troublesome time all season, whereas Dallas already has a convention finals journey below their collective belts.

New Orleans? They went from a 4-16 begin to one of many friskier 8-seeds in latest reminiscence after upsetting the Clippers within the Play-In Match. And so they (ostensibly) get Zion Williamson again.

Additionally, Houston and San Antonio are right here.

Memphis Grizzlies – o/u 50.5 wins

Key additions – Jake LaRavia (F), David Roddy (F)

Key losses – Kyle Anderson (F), DeAnthony Melton (G)

I imagine in Ja Morant. However much more than that, I imagine within the core the Memphis Grizzlies have constructed round Morant. That’s the crux of why I believe Memphis shall be good once more within the 2022-23 season.

The items match collectively so effectively, and the timelines mesh completely. Desmond Bane areas the ground and has an otherworldly sense of when and how you can get open as Morant drives. Jaren Jackson Jr. has change into one of many league’s elite shot blockers, and he additionally occurs to house the ground. Zaire Williams confirmed flashes of changing into an ideal three-and-d function participant.

And Dillon Brooks brings a lot tenacity at each ends you nearly don’t discover when he shoots the Grizzlies out of video games doing his Kobe impression. Plus, their core ought to all be a bit bit higher yearly as their careers progress.

Memphis has a star to get behind, they’ve developed an identification, and so they have loads of room for enchancment. My solely fear is that they went 7-1 towards Denver and the L.A. Clippers final season, and people video games shall be a lot more durable wins to select up this yr. Plus a motivated (and improved) Mavericks squad is in their very own division. That is much less about Memphis and extra about their competitors, however I just like the UNDER 50.5 wins. Nobody will need to see the Grizz within the playoffs, although.

Dallas Mavericks – o/u 47.5 wins

Key additions – Christian Wooden (C), JaVale McGee (C), Jaden Hardy (G)

Key losses – Jalen Brunson (G)

Jalen Brunson’s departure shall be powerful to soak up. He was Dallas’ greatest playmaker, scorer, and chief not named Luka Doncic. However that vacuum will be stuffed, with a mixture of Spencer Dinwiddie stepping up, and Doncic making that ultimate leap from top-10 participant to MVP.

Nobody within the league feels extra prone to carry his workforce to a championship the way in which LeBron James did in 2016 than Doncic. As nice as he’s been in his brief profession, it seems like we haven’t but reached the ceiling for the Mavericks’ star.

And he’s enjoying with, arguably, the 2 greatest choose and roll companions he’s had in a very long time in Christian Wooden and JaVale McGee.

Sure, I simply known as JaVale McGee a terrific roll man. Don’t choose. Watch the tape. The man nonetheless rolls to the rim with a vengeance and offers the type of vertical spacing that Maxi Kleber can solely dream of.

Wooden brings some optionality, as an adept choose and pop shooter.

Regardless of all that, when you could have a transcendent star like Doncic, the distinction between profitable and dropping often comes all the way down to what you do when that star is off the ground. And that’s the place Dinwiddie turns into arguably the Mavs’ most essential function participant. If he can discover his manner again to the 20 factors per recreation he was placing up just a few years in the past, Dallas shall be in enterprise.

The Mavericks have a greater large man rotation, the identical elite three-and-d wings as final yr in Reggie Bullock and Dorian Finney-Smith, and Luka Doncic heading into his prime. The one query is “can Dinwiddie rise to the event?” I believe so, and I believe this workforce may win the division operating away. Give me the OVER 47.5 wins.

New Orleans Pelicans – o/u 44.5 wins

Key additions – Dyson Daniels (Wing)

Key losses – Nothing vital

Possibly I’m this workforce by means of rose-coloured glasses, as a result of nobody really is aware of what Zion Williamson will appear like this coming season. However the Pelicans are one in every of my favourites to steer the league in wins added over final season.

They had been a particularly powerful playoff out for the 64-win Suns with out Zion. And so they’re getting again one of many league’s handiest offensive gamers when he returns. Add to that Brandon Ingram, who positively confirmed a gear we hadn’t seen from him in that first spherical playoff sequence, together with veteran scorer C.J. McCollum, and also you’ve obtained a terrific three-man offensive core that compliments one another effectively.

After which there’s the longer term Defensive Participant of the Yr, Herb Jones. The child got here into the league a completely shaped elite defender, and his shot has been getting higher with seemingly each recreation. Jones’ capability to cowl a ton of house offers New Orleans some nice choices down the stretch in video games. Go small and pesky with Jones, Jose Alvarado, McCollum and Ingram with Zion at centre, or go large with a Zion-Jonas Valanciunas-Ingram entrance courtroom paired with Herb Jones and McCollum.

I really like each of these lineups, and I really like this workforce. I’m pounding the OVER 44.5 wins onerous.

San Antonio Spurs– o/u 23.5 wins

Key additions – Malaki Branham (Wing), Jeremy Sochan (Wing)

Key losses – Dejounte Murray (G), Lonnie Walker (G)

On paper, the San Antonio Spurs seem like tanking. But, that was the case final season and Gregg Popovich one way or the other managed to steer the Spurs to a berth within the play-in event.

Right here’s the factor about this workforce: Sure, they traded away their greatest participant in Dejounte Murray. Sure, the Spurs’ offence will probably be constructed round a still-pretty-raw Keldon Johnson. No, they don’t have a ton of expertise on their roster.

However they’ve Popovich, and Pop hasn’t received fewer than 32 video games in his profession. Final season was his profession low, and so they nonetheless made the post-season. I don’t need to wager the below on a quantity this low if it means betting towards the best coach of all time. No thanks. I’ll take the OVER 23.5 wins, please.

Houston Rockets – o/u 25.5

Key additions – Jabari Smith (F), TyTy Washington (PG), Tari Eason (F)

Key losses – Christian Wooden (C)

Houston, we now have one other unhealthy season coming. Nonetheless, it’s all a part of the plan. Jalen Inexperienced confirmed flashes of brilliance final season, however was so inconsistent he’s most likely obtained one other yr or two of enchancment earlier than I’m keen to spend money on him long-term.

The Rockets shall be a excessive variance workforce. Inexperienced can rating 40 on a Monday and appear like a net-negative on Tuesday. Jabari Smith is an immense expertise, however his lack of deal with means he’ll want another person to set him up.

That’s not what you need to be asking of a younger backcourt. The Rockets really feel like this yr’s most definitely winner of “Western Convention Punching Bag.” Give me the UNDER 25.5 wins.

As all the time, play secure, and don’t chase.

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