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NBA Daily: Areas of Concern: Southwest Division

Shane Rhodes continues Basketball Insiders’ “Areas Of Concern” series with a look at the Southwest Division.

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On a team-wide scale, 10-or-so games into the season may be the definition of “small sample size.” However, there are definitely problems cropping up that teams will need to address as the season picks up.

Every team will face some struggles throughout the course of the season; Basketball Insiders has already looked at what may ail the teams of the Central, Northwest and Atlantic divisions. But what has troubled the teams of the Southwest?

The Injury Bug Has Bitten San Antonio Hard

The league has seen its fair share of injuries to start the season, but there may be no team hit as hard as the San Antonio Spurs.

Third-year guard Dejounte Murray and rookie Lonnie Walker IV both were forced out before the season even began. Since, Derrick White, Rudy Gay, Pau Gasol and others have all missed time with their own injuries. Injuries tend to crop up in groups, as players are forced into more minutes or pushed into a role that they are not accustomed.

The Spurs lead the Southwest through 10 games. However, if the injury bug floats around the roster further into the season, they could find it very difficult to keep pace with the New Orleans Pelicans, Houston Rockets and other in the Southwest and Western conference in general.

Does Memphis Even Like Offense?

It hasn’t exactly been grit-n-grind, but the Memphis Grizzlies are still playing that slow, hard-nosed style of basketball in 2018.

Through 10 games, Memphis ranks just 18th in the NBA in field goal percentage (44.8 percent) 28th in points per game (102.2) and is dead last in pace (96 possessions per game). While they have flashed a strong defensive game — the Grizzlies are second in the NBA in steals per game (10.2) and rank fifth in the NBA in defensive rating (104.9 points per 100 possessions) — they will need a bit more oomph on the offensive side of the ball if they expect to be a real threat in the Western Conference.

Defense can be the great equalizer, but Memphis must change something if they hope to compete with the high-octane offenses at the top of the NBA.

Anthony Davis is Already Missing Games

Anthony Davis is one of the best players in the NBA. No one in their right mind would argue against that.

But the fact that he has already missed multiple games this season should be somewhat concerning.

Davis has missed multiple games every season of his career due to various injuries. This season, Davis has already missed multiple games to an elbow injury and, after a dominant start to the season, hasn’t looked the same since he returned. Then, on Wednesday, Davis sent a chill through the spines of Pelicans and basketball fans alike when a hit to the face sent him first to the parquet floor and then to the locker room.

Davis is, clearly, the most important player on New Orleans’ roster. While Nikola Mirotic, Jrue Holiday, Julius Randle and others have excelled alongside him this season, their numbers — and the team’s season-long prospects — dip when he isn’t on the floor.

The team will go as Davis goes. And, for obvious reasons, if he is unable to stay on the floor then that is bad news for New Orleans. Whether they meticulously manage his minutes or go so far as to wrap their star in bubble wrap, Davis’ propensity for injury will be something the team must address, and something they’ll have to look into soon.

Can Houston Play with Consistency?

Like many teams, the Houston Rockets have stumbled out of the gate to just a 4-6 record. But their problems run deeper than a slow start.

James Harden has missed time and Chris Paul hasn’t looked like Chris Paul. While there have been flashes, this Rockets team just hasn’t looked like the squad that took the Golden State Warriors to the brink in the Western Conference Finals back in May. Houston just hasn’t been able to play at a high level on a consistent basis.

Much of that lack of consistency can be found with their defensive effort. Houston hasn’t been the worst in the league, but they have looked the part at times and barely capable at others. While they have posted strong block and steal numbers, 6.2 and 8.6 per game, respectively, their defensive rating is a paltry 109.9 points per 100 possessions and ranks just 21st in the NBA. Their offense hasn’t been the juggernaut the NBA had grown accustomed to, either; while the philosophy hasn’t changed — the Rockets are tops in three-point attempts (41.9) and second in three-point makes (13.7) per game — the results have taken a dive; Houston is 27th in points per game (102.8), 26th in offensive rating (104.2 points per 100 possessions) and 30th in field goal percentage (42.1 percent).

Their woes may be remedied as soon as the shots start falling, but the Rockets need to shake up something to get themselves out of the rut they’ve been stuck in through in the first ten games and back on track on both sides of the ball.

Dennis Smith Jr. Hasn’t Looked Great

While the basketball world has been captivated by wunderkind Luka Doncic, the play of Dallas Mavericks’ sophomore Dennis Smith Jr. has been less than stellar.

Smith has posted solid counting stats through 10 games; the guard has averaged 16.1 points, 3.8 assists and 2.6 rebounds per game while shooting 39.5 percent from three-point range. But his ability and effort have been inconsistent at best.

Part of that inconsistency has been adjusting to life with Doncic — and life without the ball in his hands all the time — but there are areas where Smith should be a positive and he just hasn’t been. His athletic ability alone should make him a capable defender, but the second-year pro has been unable to make a positive impact on that side of the ball. Worse, Smith’s assist numbers are down and his turnovers are up: the 1.12 assist-to-turnover ratio he has posted through 10 games is one of the worst in the NBA.

Smith is still just 20-years-old and has plenty of time to figure things out, but his play thus far into his second season shouldn’t exactly thrill the Mavericks.

These teams, as all teams do, have faced their early season struggles. Hopefully, these teams can tackle these issues, learn from them and better themselves as they look to fortify their squads for the long haul.

Keep on the lookout for the remaining divisions in Basketball Insiders’ “Areas of Concern” series.

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