Ja Morant Memphis Grizzlies

With the 2022-23 NBA season quickly approaching, we’re taking a closer look at each division.

Today’s division? The five teams in the Southwest.

The Southwest Division is shaping up to be highly competitive this season and boasts some of the best players in the NBA. Luka Doncic and Ja Morant both earned All-NBA selections in 2021-22, and Zion Williamson is only a season removed from being the talk of the league.

How far can Doncic and Morant lead their teams? Will Williamson turn the Pelicans into a force in the Western Conference? What should we expect from the Rockets and Spurs?

Here’s everything you need to know about the Southwest Division.

MORE: Additions and departures for all 30 NBA teams

Best team

Memphis Grizzlies

The Southwest Division could have three teams in the playoffs once again this season.

Something would have to go quite wrong for Memphis and Dallas to miss the playoffs. The Grizzlies finished last season with the second-best record in the Western Conference and the Mavericks made it to the Western Conference Finals. Even though they both lost some key pieces this summer — De’Anthony Melton and Kyle Anderson for the Grizzlies, Jalen Brunson for the Mavericks — they should be in the mix once again.

I give the Grizzlies a slight edge on the Mavericks going into the season, but Dallas will be right there with Memphis if it can fill the Brunson void.

While the Pelicans have more questions than the Grizzlies and Mavericks do, a core of CJ McCollum, Brandon Ingram and Williamson should be dynamite. Health provided, they could be in the mix for a top six-seed.

The Rockets have an exciting young core, but they’re still years away from joining the postseason party. The Spurs, meanwhile, might be heading toward the worst record in the league.

Best player

Luka Doncic, Mavericks

There aren’t many players in the league better than Doncic right now.

Doncic has earned three All-Star selections and three All-NBA First Team selections in his four seasons in the NBA. He’s a threat to post a 30-point triple-double any time he steps foot on an NBA court, and he’s fresh off of leading the Mavericks to the Western Conference Finals.

It’s scary to think Doncic can still get better because he already has an answer to pretty much anything teams can throw at him. His skill at his size makes him a walking cheat code.

I mean, look at this:


Best rookie

Jabari Smith Jr., Rockets

It looked like Smith was going to be the No. 1 pick in the 2022 NBA Draft until, well, he wasn’t.

Smith is the ideal big for the modern NBA. He canned 42.0 percent of his 5.5 3-point attempts per game in college, and he has the length and mobility to defend all five positions. TSN’s draft expert Kyle Irving thinks Smith could be a perennial All-Star if he sharpens his ball handling and gets more comfortable creating his own shot.

Here’s more of what Irving had to say about Smith ahead of the draft:

Smith has drawn comparisons to a variety of sharpshooting forwards from Rashard Lewis to Chris Bosh to Kevin Durant. While I won’t go as far as comparing Smith to Durant, I do think the freshman forward has shades of Bosh in his game. Lewis made two All-Star teams as an ahead-of-his-time stretch forward while Bosh earned 11 All-Star nods and evolved into the prototypical lengthy floor-stretching, rim-protecting five. 

Saddling anyone with a Durant comparison is unfair. Yet if Smith can land somewhere between Lewis and Bosh, that’s a slam dunk.

The Rockets are in good hands with Smith, 19, and Jalen Green, 20, leading their youth movement.

Best new addition

Christian Wood, Mavericks

There’s a lot to like about the Mavericks acquiring Wood from a talent perspective. Since breaking out with the Pistons in 2019-20, he has been good for 19.1 points, 9.9 rebounds, 2.1 assists and 1.0 blocks per game. He’s an effortless 3-point shooter who should fit like a glove next to Doncic, and he can do enough off the bounce to make up for some of the loss of Brunson.

What remains to be seen is if Wood can be a difference-maker on a Mavericks team that has big expectations. Dallas will be looking to compete as long as Doncic is there, and none of the teams Wood has played for to this point of his career have finished with a winning record.

The key to Wood’s success in Dallas could be on defense. The Mavericks went from ranking 21st in defensive efficiency to seventh in Jason Kidd’s first season pulling the strings. Wood has the tools to be an impact defender, but consistency has been an issue. Much more will be asked of him on that end of the court in Dallas.

Wildest X-factor

Zion Williamson’s return

Williamson’s potential was clear in the few games he played as a rookie, and he proved to be a star in his sophomore season.

If you need a reminder: Williamson averaged 27.0 points per game on 61.1 percent shooting from the field in his sophomore season. Want to guess how many players have ever posted those sorts of numbers before? Two, and they’re both Hall of Famers: Kevin McHale was the first to do it, then Charles Barkley.

He’s only 6-foot-6, but the NBA has no answer for Williamson’s speed, power and athleticism. He’s too quick for most power forwards and centers to stay in front of, and he’s too strong for any guard to have a chance of keeping him out of the paint. He truly is unlike anything we’ve seen before.

Unfortunately, a foot injury sidelined Williamson for the entire 2021-22 season. Let’s hope that’s the last significant injury he has to deal with because the Pelicans are building something special around him.

Over/under win predictions

Memphis Grizzlies — 48.5 wins. Over.

Dallas Mavericks — 48.5 wins. Over.

New Orleans Pelicans — 45.5 wins. Under.

Houston Rockets — 23.5 wins. Over.

San Antonio Spurs — 22.5 wins. Under.

Biggest unanswered questions

Memphis Grizzlies

Can Ja Morant stay healthy? Morant was limited to 57 games last regular season and missed half of the Grizzlies’ second-round matchup with the Warriors.

How long is Jaren Jackson Jr. out? Jackson will be sidelined to start the season after undergoing foot surgery.

Can Desmond Bane take another leap? Bane doubled his scoring average from his rookie to his sophomore season while shooting a scorching 43.5 percent from 3-point range.

Dallas Mavericks

How big of a loss is Jalen Brunson? There’s no question that Dallas will miss Brunson. The question is how much.

Is Spencer Dinwiddie ready for a bigger role? Brunson’s departure will open up even more opportunities for Dinwiddie next to Doncic.

Which version of Tim Hardaway Jr. will show up? Hardaway getting back to the player he was in 2020-21 would be a big development for the Mavericks.

Brandon Ingram CJ McCollum Zion Williamson 100122

New Orleans Pelicans

Can Zion Williamson stay healthy? Injuries are the only thing that will hold Williamson back from being a superstar.

Has Brandon Ingram arrived? If Ingram’s performance in the 2022 NBA Playoffs is a sign of what’s to come, watch out.

Can the Pelicans get it done on both ends? The Pelicans have the makings of an elite offense, but they can’t be turnstiles defensively to compete with the best of the best.

Houston Rockets

Is Jalen Green the real deal? The No. 2 pick in the 2021 NBA Draft ended his rookie season on a high.

Is Jabari Smith Jr. ready to contribute? Smith had a couple of rough games in Summer League but looks as good as advertised defensively and shot the lights out in his preseason debut.

Is Alperen Sengun Houston’s center of the future? Sengun impressed in the 13 games he started in his rookie season, posting 12.1 points, 8.2 rebounds and 3.6 assists.

San Antonio Spurs

How much longer will Gregg Popovich coach the Spurs? There were rumors last season that retirement was on the horizon for Popovich, but he reportedly likes the young group the Spurs have put together.

What do the Spurs have in Jeremy Sochan? San Antonio selected Sochan with the No. 9 pick in the 2022 NBA Draft, helping the franchise earn an A+ grade from TSN’s draft expert Kyle Irving.

How good can Keldon Johnson become? Johnson had a breakout season in 2021-22 with an average of 17.0 points per game.

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