The NBA’s Southwest division is arguably the weakest in the league. Only one of these teams earned an automatic playoff bid last season and a second qualified for the play-in tournament. Things aren’t expected to be much better this season, with only the Dallas Mavericks listed as favorites to make the postseason on DraftKings Sportsbook.
Can any of these teams exceed expectations? Let’s break it down on DraftKings Sportsbook.
Championship Odds: +2800
Western Conference Odds: +1300
Division Odds: -230
Win Total Over/Under: 48.5
MVP Contender: Luka Doncic (+380)
Coach of the Year Contender: Jason Kidd (+1400)
6th Man of the Year Contender: Jalen Brunson (+2000)
The biggest change for the Mavericks this season is at head coach, and it might not be a good one. Rick Carlisle is gone, and he’s been regarded as one of the best coaches in the league for a long time. Jason Kidd will take his place, and he posted a .491 win percentage during his tenure with the Bucks. That team didn’t really take off until they replaced Kidd with Mike Budenholzer.
Still, it’s hard to see things going too poorly for the Mavs this season. They still have Luka Doncic, who is already one of the best players in the league at just 22-years-old. He averaged 27.7 points, 8.0 rebounds and 8.6 assists per game last season, and he’s the current favorite to take home the MVP award in 2021-22. Doncic improved his efficiency as a scorer last season, posting career-highs in field goal percentage and 3-point percentage, and any additional improvement should strike fear into the hearts of opposing clubs.
The big question is can the rest of the roster do their part? Kristaps Porzingis was acquired to be Doncic’s running mate, but he’s struggled with injuries throughout his career. He’s played just 100 regular season games over the past two years after missing all of 2018-19 due to an ACL injury. The team needs a healthy and productive season from Porzingis, if they’re going to reach their full potential.
The rest of the roster is full of role players. Reggie Bullock was acquired in free agency after a strong season with the Knicks, and he should provide solid perimeter shooting. Tim Hardaway Jr. will also help with spacing after making at least 39.1% of his 3-pointers over the past two seasons.
Jalen Brunson might be one of the biggest discounts in the entire league. He’ll cost the Mavericks just $1.8M this season, and he should serve as the captain of the bench units.
Championship Odds: +10000
Western Conference Odds: +5000
Division Odds: +400
Win Total Over/Under: 41.5
MVP Contender: Ja Morant (+4500)
Most Improved Player Contender: Jaren Jackson Jr. (+1600)
The Grizzlies have some intriguing young pieces, but they may still be a year or two away from being true contenders.
Ja Morant is one of the most exciting players in the league. He attacks the rim and throws down some vicious hammers, but he still has work to do as a shooter. He shot just 30.3% from 3-point range last season, which is well below average for the modern NBA. Morant needs to improve in that area, if he wants to put himself in the MVP conversation.
Jaren Jackson Jr. might be their most important player. He was limited to just 11 games last season due to a knee injury, but his skill set is tantalizing. He averaged 1.6 blocks and shot 39.4% from 3-point range in 2019-20, and big men who can space the floor and protect the rim are extremely rare. Some better health for him this season would be massive for this team’s upside.
The fact that the Grizzlies no longer have Jonas Valanciunas makes Jackson even more important. They shipped him off to the Pelicans for draft picks, and he was the Grizzlies' best player at times last year. Steven Adams will be asked to fill that void, but that’s a massive downgrade.
The rest of the roster is full of solid yet unspectacular role players. Dillon Brooks can score the ball, while Kyle Anderson can do a little bit of everything. Brandon Clarke and Xavier Tillman give the team some reliable big men off the bench, and Desmond Bane had a solid rookie season.
Overall, this team needs big years from Morant and Jackson to hit their ceiling, but their role players give them a decent floor.
Championship Odds: +11000
Western Conference Odds: +6000
Division Odds: +700
Win Total Over/Under: 39.5
MVP Contender: Zion Williamson (+4000)
It’s panic time in New Orleans. The team has pushed all their chips into the middle of the table since they know they’re on the clock with Zion Williamson. That feels pretty crazy to say about a player in just his third season, but that’s how the NBA works these days. He’s just one year away from being eligible for a max extension, and once that’s in place, the trade rumors will start, if this team doesn’t improve.
Unfortunately, Williamson’s health is a big question mark at the moment. He had foot surgery during the offseason, but there is currently no timetable for his return. GM David Griffin said Williamson will be re-evaluated in approximately two weeks, but there’s no guarantee he’s ready to roll at that point.
There’s no denying Williamson’s talent when healthy. He’s an absolute monster in the paint, and he showed some ability as a playmaker last season as well. He’s still not much of a threat from the perimeter, but he doesn’t really need that in his arsenal at this point. With a healthy and in-shape Williamson, the Pelicans should contend for a playoff spot this season. If he’s in-and-out of the lineup, this team could miss the play-in tournament altogether. He’s that important.
Brandon Ingram is the Robin to Williamson’s Batman, and he has flourished since arriving in New Orleans. He’s averaged 23.8 points per game in back-to-back seasons, and he has the ability to score from every level. The Pelicans averaged an additional +7.6 points per 100 possessions with Ingram on the court last season, and he was their second-most important player from a Net Rating perspective.
The team will have to overcome the loss of Lonzo Ball, who signed with the Bulls during the offseason. He may not have developed into the star that people were expecting, but he’s still a very good player. He averaged a career-best 14.8 points per game last season while shooting 37.8% from 3-point range.
That said, the Pelicans do have some options to pick up the slack. Nickeil Alexander-Walker and Kira Lewis Jr. should both see more consistent playing time this season, while Devonte’ Graham and Tomas Satornasky were solid low-risk additions during the offseason.
Overall, the Pelicans might have the widest range of outcomes for any team this year. That makes them a tough team to peg in the betting market.
Championship Odds: +35000
Western Conference Odds: +18000
Division Odds: +2500
Win Total Over/Under: 28.5
Most Improved Player Contenders: Derrick White (+3500), Keldon Johnson (+3500), Dejounte Murray (+3500)
It feels like the end of an era in San Antonio. Gregg Popovich is still around, but he’s the only reminder of this team’s dominance. It wasn’t all that long ago that this team was contending for titles with Kawhi Leonard, but now they're projected to finish near the bottom of the Western Conference.
LaMarcus Aldridge and DeMar DeRozan are also gone now, so this team is in full-on rebuild mode. That said, they do have some interesting pieces. Derrick White, Keldon Johnson, and Dejounte Murray all own the same odds in the Most Improved Player market, which does make some sense. You can make a realistic case for any of those players emerging as their best option this season.
White had a bit of a lost year in 2020-21. He was limited to just 36 games due to injuries, but he was a breakout star in the bubble in 2019-20. He averaged 18.9 points, 5.0 assists and 4.3 rebounds in the seven seeding games while shooting 45.5% from the field and 39.3% from 3-point range.
Murray doesn’t have the same skill set as a scorer, but he is one of the most disruptive defensive point guards in the league. He ranked sixth in ESPN’s Defensive Real Plus/Minus at the position last year, and the Spurs allowed -6.8 fewer points per 100 possessions with Murray on the floor.
Johnson is still very young – he just turned 22 earlier this month – and he has some star potential to him. That’s largely unrealized potential at this point, but he is second on the team in scoring during the preseason.
I would bank on Murray being the best bet of this trio, but building around all three players should be the Spurs’ focus this season.
The one area where this team should undoubtedly be better this season is shooting 3-pointers. They brought in two snipers in Doug McDermott and Bryn Forbes, and losing DeRozan should also help in that department. That may not necessarily lead to more wins, but take the under on the Spurs at your own risk. It should not shock anyone if Popovich makes this team better than expected, even if that doesn’t result in a trip to the playoffs.
Championship Odds: +100000
Western Conference Odds: +35000
Division Odds: +15000
Win Total Over/Under: 26.5
Rookie of the Year Contenders: Jalen Green (+275), Alperen Sengun (+1200)
Most Improved Player Contender: Kevin Porter Jr. (+1000)
The Rockets had the No. 2 pick in the draft last season, and they should be in contention for another top pick in 2022. They still have John Wall under contract, but he is not currently a part of their plans. Trading Wall is not feasible at this point, so expect them to reach a buyout at some point during the year.
That leaves a group of young players to handle most of the minutes. Jalen Green was their first of four first-round picks in 2021, and he is among the favorites for the Rookie of the Year award. He was one of the first top recruits to forgo college for the G League, and he impressed in 15 games with the Ignite. He averaged 17.9 points while posting solid shooting splits, and he possesses elite explosiveness. Green should post big counting stats right out of the gates.
Alperen Sengun is another interesting rookie. He went a lot later in the draft than most experts expected, but he has plenty of talent. He should also get tons of minutes for this rebuilding squad, which makes him an intriguing dark horse for Rookie of the Year.
Kevin Porter Jr. is not a rookie, but the Rockets took a flyer on him after a flameout in Cleveland. It looks like that decision could pay off handsomely. Porter had some monster games for the Rockets down the stretch, and he’s followed that up with an impressive preseason. He’s led the team in points and assists during their exhibitions, and he’s one of the favorites to take home Most Improved Player in 2021-22.
The Rockets will definitely have some growing pains this season, but the cupboard is not bare.
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