• Matthew Handel

The Best Division in the NBA

With the All-Star starters being revealed Thursday night, and the top players in the league getting recognition, or lack thereof in Westbrook’s case (that’s another story), I asked myself, what's the best division in the NBA?

The best division in the NBA has three, possibly four, playoff teams, three of the top ten players in the league, and a player that is having a record-breaking season. This division, if you haven’t figured it out by now, is the Southwest Division. It consists of three teams from the state of Texas (Houston Rockets, Dallas Mavericks, San Antonio Spurs) and one from Louisiana(New Orleans Pelicans) and another from Tennessee (Memphis Grizzlies).

Now, let’s breakdown the best division in the NBA down, team by team.

San Antonio Spurs

The Spurs have the best record in the division and the second best record in the Western Conference, currently at 33-9. They have the best two-way player in the league in Kawhi Leonard, who has just been named an All-Star starter, and is currently averaging 24.8 points, 5.7 rebounds, and 3.1 assists per game. The reason the Spurs are atop their division and one of the top teams in the league, is because of their statistical rankings compared to the rest of the league. They rank 1st in 3-point percentage, 1st in opponent’s points per game, 2nd in both free-throw and field goal percentage, and 1st in opponent’s 3-point field goals made against them. The Spurs will most likely win the division and are sure to make some noise in the playoffs.

Houston Rockets

Quite frankly, one of the most surprising teams of the first half of the season, the Houston Rockets. The Rockets are the second reason why the Southwest Division is the best in the NBA. They are sitting at second in the division and third in the Western Conference with a record of 33-13. The biggest reason for their success so far this year is the play of shooting-guard-converted-point-guard James Harden. Harden is having one of the best seasons in the history of the NBA. He is averaging close to a triple-double with 28.9 points, 8.3 rebounds, and 11.6 assists per game and is shooting 44 percent from the field and 85 percent from the free-throw line. Head coach Mike D’Antoni made the decision to move Harden from shooting guard to point guard and he is currently looking like a genius for that move. Harden, along with D’Antoni, have the Rockets ranked 1st in points per game, 1st in 3-pointers attempted and made, and 2nd in 2-point percentage. Harden is the front-runner for MVP, and mostly because of the way he has elevated the play of the players around him. If Harden can continue his record setting season in the second half of the year, the Rockets could have huge upside in the playoffs this year.

Memphis Grizzlies

The third best team in the Southwest Division is also the sixth ranked team in the Western Conference. The Memphis Grizzlies really impress me, because they are right in the thick of the tough Western Conference and they really don’t have a lot of great pieces. They have two superstars in Mike Conley and Marc Gasol, but they really don’t get enough credit in the league. Conley is averaging 19.1 points and 6.2 assists per game and his name has been thrown around for making this year’s All-Star team. Marc Gasol is another player for the Grizzlies that has made the team go. He is putting up 19.6 points, 6 rebounds, and 4.3 assists per game, all while shooting 46 percent from the field. The Grizzlies have been known for their tough defense over the years, and this year is no different. They are ranked 3rd in opponents’ field goal percentage, 2nd in opponents’ 3-point percentage, and 1st in opponents’ free-throw percentage. They will probably finish third in the division, but don’t be surprised if the Grizzlies can beat a better team in the first or even second round of the playoffs.

New Orleans Pelicans

You might think that the division drops off after the top three teams, but that just isn’t the case. The Pelicans did start the year terribly with a record of 2-10 through their first 12 games, but it has since picked up and they are currently 17-27 and only 1.5 games back of the eight and final spot in the Western Conference. Anthony Davis is their best player, and he is playing like it. He started off the year with an injury, but since returning to the team he has been on fire. He is averaging 28.8 points, 12.1 rebounds, and 2.4 blocks per game. He has also been named an All-Star starter this year and that is something two other players in the Southwest Division can say (Leonard and Harden). The Pelicans may make the playoffs or they might miss it, either way they are still a couple pieces away from making any noise. They will need to surround Davis with some players with promise, or they may be in jeopardy of losing one of the best big men in the league.

Dallas Mavericks

The Mavericks were the NBA Champions just 5 years ago, but in 2016 things are much different. Dirk Nowitzki is just too old to carry this team, and they just don’t have any exciting pieces being brought in. They did pick up ex-Warrior, Harrison Barnes, but he isn’t the superstar they need to get them back to the NBA Finals and it’s really showing this season. They are last in the division and 12th in the Western Conference, four games back of the eight spot. They will need to add another piece this offseason and really start preparing for life after one of the best scorers the game has ever seen in Nowitzki.

There are a lot of great teams in the NBA and some divisions have more than one, but the Southwest Division is the only one with three teams over .500. James Harden, Kawhi Leonard, and Anthony Davis all in the same division? Yes, please. Be on the lookout for the Southwest Division to represent in the post-season and maybe even represent the Western Conference in the NBA Finals; looking at you Spurs and Rockets.

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