The fifth installment of our division-by-division breakdown focuses on one of the toughest divisions in the league—the Southwest.
There are quite a few superstar talents in this group of five teams, but lost in the shuffle are players who are well on their way in development, as well as those who have been around the block. Here’s a list of names to keep an eye on next year.
Cheick Diallo – New Orleans Pelicans
Firmly behind Anthony Davis and DeMarcus Cousins in the starting lineup, it’s not the former Jayhawk’s time to shine yet. However, the Pelicans are extremely shallow at power forward, which could open up an opportunity for him.
After bulking up and putting on a strong showing in the NBA Summer League in July, it looks like Diallo could earn some more playing time and make an impact with the second unit at some point in the near future.
Seth Curry – Dallas Mavericks
Five different teams in four seasons as a pro for the “other” Curry, but it seems like he’s found a home for the foreseeable future.
Last year was a success for the Mavericks’ sharpshooter. Knocking down 42.5 percent of his three-point tries, in addition to 48 percent of his total attempts from the field, he looked the most comfortable he ever as at the pro level.
Dallas rookie Dennis Smith Jr. may be drawing the attention, but Curry could be the one to take the next step for Rick Carlisle.
Dejounte Murray – San Antonio Spurs
With Tony Parker sure to take his time returning from a torn quadriceps suffered this past postseason, the sophomore point guard will earn a good number of minutes either as a starter or as a backup to the newly re-signed Patty Mills.
Murray gained a plethora of meaningful experience last year, both in the playoffs and in the regular season. There were ups and downs as you’d expect, but this time around might be a little more fortunate. Whatever role the 20-year-old plays for San Antonio, it’s obvious the team has enough trust in him.
It’s the ol’ Gregg Popovich throw Murray into the fire and see how he reacts.
Mike Conley – Memphis Grizzlies
Following a huge payday in the summer of 2016, Conley did not disappoint in the first year of his contract. In fact, it was a season of career highs for the veteran point guard all across the board.
He became more aggressive than ever before, putting up over six threes per game and cashing in on over 40 percent of them. The 29-year-old averaged over five free throw attempts and converted almost 86 percent from the stripe.
Conley was one of two Grizzlies to provide a consistent, reliable threat on the team. Marc Gasol, of course, was the other. But who knows how long “Big Spain” will stick around? It’ll come down to whether the front office favors getting younger or attempting to realistically compete in their conference. That’s a difficult position to be in, especially in the extremely competitive West.
If at any point this year Memphis decides to deal their aging All-Star center in favor of getting younger, then it will be on Conley to be the go-to guy. With the grit-and-grind era fading away as David Fizdale establishes a new identity for the team, expect him to be the one leading the way.
Clint Capela – Houston Rockets
As expected after an incredible offseason, H-Town has a lot of buzz. Mike D’Antoni is coming off a Coach of The Year award-winning season. Daryl Morey executed a blockbuster trade to land All-Star point guard Chris Paul to pair with James Harden. On top of that, the Rockets have signed multiple under-the-radar talents that will help make them a complete basketball team.
Those players will get the spotlight, but Capela is a real candidate to have an even more noticeable breakout. Entering his fourth season, the up-and-coming center is only 23 years old and has only begun to scratch the surface when it comes to his potential.
Capela’s rapid growth as one of the most intimidating presences in this league is quite honestly freakish. Per SportVU data, the Swiss big man was one of nine players last year to hold his opponents to under 50 percent at the rim on more than seven attempts per game.
Putting that in perspective, he was statistically better than Anthony Davis, DeAndre Jordan, and Tristan Thompson at protecting the basket. You can take this with a grain of salt because of his low mark of 23.9 minutes per game, but to not be impressed with this in his first real season as a starter is ludicrous.
Capela is a fast-developing post threat as well. Here’s some food for thought: Between his second and third seasons, he improved his true shooting by eight-and-a-half percent, attempted almost four more shots per game and averaged nearly six more points per contest.
At 6-foot-10, 240 pounds, Capela is always giving Houston second chances with offensive rebounds. He can finish with authority and can be described as anything but soft. Harden loved finding him for alley oops last year and now Paul will have the option to do so, too, just as he did with his old friend Jordan in L.A.
There are quite a few opportunities internally that will allow players to improve. Some are younger and others are entering their prime, but the end goal is the same for all of them this year. Just like most years, the Southwest Division will be highly competitive and fun to watch.
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