After doing a series on the Eastern Conference, I thought it would be best to decide who the biggest threat would be in the ultimate showdown in the NBA season, the NBA Finals. You know the story by now: assume that the Milwaukee Bucks make it back to the Finals. Now, the West is a bit more tricky to decipher than the East as to who will come out on top, at least in my opinion, and there is a lot more competition within the conference. That’s how it always has been, and to start, we will take a look at the Southwest Division. This division is not as good as the Northwest Division by any means, but taking a glance at it, there is some talent here. Let’s take a look.
After Houston had the worst record in basketball last season, it is going to be a major stretch for them to be competitive against the Bucks. However, I don’t see an impossible scenario, like I did with the Thunder in the last section. Houston has the second drafted player in the 2021 draft in G Jalen Green, and he will need to be the best rookie since LeBron James. John Wall will need to realize that he missed quite a bit of time with injuries in Washington, and will need to actually play and possibly play like he did when he was one of the best, if not the best, point guards in the game. Christian Wood becoming an All-Star and an even more baffling roster cut by the Bucks would also be necessary.
Bench players like Eric Gordon and DJ Augustin will need to channel some of their past successes, and young players like Kenyon Martin Jr, Kevin Porter Jr, Jae’Sean Tate and Danuel House will need to all be net positives. Dante Exum will need to show why he was hyped coming into the NBA a few seasons ago.
I’m not saying Houston has a realistic chance, but remember: they did beat the Bucks last season thanks to a 50-point outing from Porter Jr. They should be better than last season, but they really still don’t have much of a chance.
My Odds: 5,000 to 1
This is the first time in over 30 years that the San Antonio Spurs have not had an NBA All-Star on the roster, and somehow I’m supposed to tell you how they can stop the Bucks. For starters, they will need to determine who their best player is. I think they have four candidates: Dejounte Murray, Derrick White, Keldon Johnson and Lonnie Walker IV, and three of them will need to form a legitimate big three. Veterans like Doug McDermott and Thaddeus Young will need to provide strong veteran leadership, and be productive. Zach Collins will need to return from injury soon and show that he was worth an investment. Jakob Poeltl, meanwhile, will need to not be one of the worst starting centers in basketball. And let’s not forget ex-Buck Bryn Forbes and his shooting prowess, and if either he or McDermott runs for Sixth Man, well, that will be great for the Spurs.
Don’t count out Coach Pop, but realistically, this team is probably the third worst in the West. I can see them sneaking into the postseason just because of Pop’s presence, but c’mon, this team is led by....
My Odds: 200 to 1
I’m not as down on New Orleans as a lot of people are, I think they actually made some good signings. This team’s not just Zion Williamson, but him running for his first MVP will be a good start. As for the rest of the team, Devonte’ Graham was forced out of a talented guard rotation in Charlotte, and I believe he is an upgrade in many aspects over Lonzo Ball. Jonas Valanciunas was a stud for Memphis last season, and putting him next to Zion and taking some of the big men away from him will be helpful. Brandon Ingram is a capable All-Star, and can score over 30 on any given night.
Who starts in the back court next to Graham will be interesting, and the favorite is the Swiss Army Knife in New Orleans, Josh Hart. He is a very underrated player, and becoming nationally recognized will be important here. Young players like Jaxson Hayes, Nickeil Alexander-Walker, and Kira Lewis Jr. along with rookies Trey Murphy and Herbert Jones are solid youngsters, and at least two will need to take big steps forward. Veteran swingmen Tomas Satoransky and Garrett Temple are solid players off the bench, and need to continue to be so.
If Zion is an MVP, Ingram is an All-Star, and the rest of the team plays up to their relative ceilings, this is a playoff team. And likely it won’t be an easy out either. Still, Zion is no match for Giannis yet, and when you add in Jrue Holiday having a massive advantage over Devonte Graham, it’s still not super close. But don’t overlook them either.
My Odds: 50 to 1
I don’t really like the Steven Adams and Eric Bledsoe for Jonas Valanciunas trade they did, and I really believe that will haunt this team from taking the next step. Aside from that though, Memphis still looks young and fun to watch. Ja Morant needs to be a top five point guard like he claims he is. Kyle Anderson needs to play like last season and not his first two seasons in Memphis. Jaren Jackson Jr. needs to come back fully healthy and take a massive step forward into the clear-cut second best player on the team. Dillon Brooks just signed a big contract, and needs to earn that.
They have other interesting young players like De’Anthony Melton, Desmond Bane, Jarrett Culver, Tyus Jones and Brandon Clarke, as well as rookie Ziaire Williams, and all of them need to be productive and provide depth here. Looking at it, I think Memphis will be the better team and has a better chance of being better, but if you look at optimism, I actually might have to have second thoughts and put them below New Orleans. Only Ja Morant is concerning here, and he is more equivalent to Brandon Ingram than Zion. Still, Memphis is deeper and better overall, and they should still be a tougher out than expected.
My Odds: 50 to 1
Some people believe that Luka Doncic is the best player in basketball. Granted, most of them are in Dallas or Eastern Europe (aside from Greece), but he has earned his way into the discussion. He needs to win MVP, and really push this Dallas team forward. I think trading Kristaps Porzingis would be a good idea, but assuming they don’t, he needs to live up to expectations. He actually is a very good basketball player, but becoming a real number two next to Doncic is what he needs to do.
I think Jalen Brunson has potential to be the third best player on this team, and he will need to play like it for them to be more successful. Tim Hardaway Jr., Dorain Finney-Smith and Maxi Kleber all need to build upon their success last year. The quartet of centers aside from Porzingis needs to sort itself out, and my favorite among that group is Willie Cauley-Stein. Sterling Brown playing like he did in Milwaukee and not Houston, as well as Reggie Bullock in New York, will be massive upgrades to their shooting and defense. And Trey Burke averaging around 10 points per game will be helpful too.
My Odds: 10 to 1
This team has a lot of work to do, but all of it is possible. I’d say they are right around where I put Miami in their chances of stopping the Bucks, making the Southwest Division not very likely to have much overall success. I’m not concerned with this division at all, and even if Dallas somehow makes the Finals, they might be gassed by the time they get there.