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North by Southwest with the Memphis Grizzlies

For the Grizzlies to head north in the Western Conference rankings, they need to succesfully navigate their way through the treacherous Southwest division.

NBA: Houston Rockets at Memphis Grizzlies Justin Ford-USA TODAY Sports

On Sunday, the expected wins prediction for the NBA was released. NBA fans were able to gain a better sense of what to expect from their respective teams heading into next season. The prediction shows how the offseason will impact each team’s play on the court. As a result, it provides a good way to determine which teams will overachieve and which will disappoint in 2018.

After an offseason that many feel was significantly positive, the Memphis Grizzles were given a mark of 34.5 wins. This figure can be viewed both with a positive and negative perspective. The expected increase from 22 wins to 34 is the second largest number of added wins in the NBA, trailing the 13 added to the Los Angeles Lakers. Unfortunately, a 34-48 record still falls well short of playoff contention. While the fan base should certainly be encouraged that better days are ahead, a “playoffs or bust’ mentality may be unrealistic.

Along with gaining a realistic perspective of the Grizzlies, the expected wins predictiion also revealed that the Southwest division will again be one of NBA’s best. The Rockets, Spurs, and Pelicans all project as playoff contenders, while the Mavericks had the third most added wins, going from 24 to 34. Over the past five years, the Southwest division has sent at least three teams to the playoffs every year, including four teams in three of those years, and all five teams in 2014-2015. This proves that the Grizzlies consistently have one of the tougher schedules in the league each year.

Just like the Grizzlies, each of the other four teams in the Southwest division have experienced transactions that will significantly impact their present and future. These roster shakeups resulted in several highly impactful players leaving the division, yet also produced the addition of many exciting talents. With all the action that has occurred, let’s take a look at how each team has evolved…

Dallas Mavericks

Notable Departures: Yogi Ferrell, Devin Harris, Nerlens Noel, Doug Mcdermott

Notable Arrivals: Luka Doncic, Jalen Brunson, DeAndre Jordan

The focus going into the offseason for the Mavs was to add quality talent and star power. Furthermore, the goal was to improve efficiency across the board. This is clearly evident through the additions that were made. The Mavericks received high praise for adding Doncic and Brunson in June. Jordan provides good post productivity on both ends of the court. Along with Harrison Barnes and Dennis Smith Jr., Dallas has put together an exciting core for next year and beyond.

New Orleans Pelicans

Notable Departures: DeMarcus Cousins, Rajon Rondo, Dante Cunningham, Jameer Nelson

Notable Arrivals: Julius Randle, Elfrid Payton

For the New Orleans Pelicans, their best move of the offseason was perhaps the one they did not make. Despite his immense talent, letting Cousins depart was the right move, as the Pelicans played better without him. Anthony Davis further established himself as an All-NBA talent, while Jrue Holiday finally delivered his long awaited breakout. With the additions of Randle and Payton as quality fits to the Pelicans fast paced offense, New Orelans should again be right in the middle of the playoff hunt in 2018.

San Antonio Spurs

Notable Losses: Tony Parker, Kawai Leonard, Kyle Anderson, Danny Green

Notable Arrivals: Lonnie Walker, Demar Derozan, Marco Belinelli, Jakob Poeltl, Dante Cunningham

San Antonio arguably had the most significant roster turnover of any team in the league. In terms of collective talent leaving the roster, perhaps Cleveland is the only team to experience a more impactful subtraction. Despite the dramatic turnover, the Spurs did incredibly well in replacing that talent. Pairing Derozan with LaMarcus Aldridge gives the Spurs an All-Star duo for this year and beyond. If Dejounte Murray can turn into a complete point guard, and Lonnie Walker IV delivers on his promise, the Spurs will stay a contender in 2018.

Houston Rockets

Notable Departures: Trevor Ariza, Luc Mbah a Moute

Notable Arrivals: Michael Carter-Williams, Deanthony Melton, Carmelo Anthony

Coming off the best regular season record in the NBA, the Rockets focus was locking up its core for the foreseeable future. Over the past 13 months, the Rockets have extended James Harden, Chris Paul, and Clint Capela, and have that trio in place for at least four more years. The losses of Ariza and Luc Mbah a Moute will be felt next season, especially on defense. However, the addition of Anthony will give the Rockets yet another weapon for one the NBA’s best offenses. Overall, the Rockets seem to again be the biggest threat to dethroning the Warriors in the West.

The Southwest division clearly remains one of high quality and competitiveness. The Rockets, Spurs, and Pelicans all seem in position to continue their success from last year. The Mavericks and Grizzlies have both improved enough to reasonably be viewed as playoff hopefuls. For each team, a combined sixteen games of their schedule will come against established or improving postseason contenders.

The impact of this offseason not only affects the present, but will greatly influence the future of the division. Many of the best talents in the division are now under their team’s control for multiple years. This is significant for the Grizzlies because they will continue to have one of the more difficult NBA schedules for years to come.

The reason for that significance is how much division play impacts a team’s playoff chances. In each of the past five years, at least 13 of the 16 playoff teams have finished with a winning record in their division. Furthermore, during that same time frame, the last playoff seed in the West has been decided by one game or less. When Memphis plays a divisional opponent, it impacts its playoff chances by two games, potentially adding a win to its record and a loss to the opponent, or vice versa.

This means that for next year and beyond, sixteen regular season games could be the difference between making the playoffs or staying home for the Grizzlies. For a team needing every extra win it can get, improved play within its division is a great place to start.

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