Breakout Players: Southwest Division
The Southwest Division is probably the most intriguing division in the NBA this season. All five teams are going to deal with some hard questions this season and the answers to those questions will affect the entire NBA. Will the Pelicans trade DeMarcus Cousins? Will this be the year that the Spurs are no longer the Spurs? Will the Rockets be able to challenge the Warriors? Will the Grizzlies consider trading Mike Conley or Marc Gasol? Will the Mavericks be able to put together a foundation going forward or will they continue to be stuck in being a borderline playoff team with no real chance to improve? These questions are important to consider when thinking about which players will have breakout seasons.
New Orleans Pelicans
Ian Clark landed with the Pelicans after spending the past two seasons with the Warriors. Needless to say, he is not going to enjoy the team success that he did with the Warriors. However, he is going to get minutes for this Pelicans team. He showed in his time with the Warriors that he brings a great deal to the table. The problem with Clark is that he was playing with the best team that we have seen in quite some time and even the worst players can look good playing with the Warriors. I am optimistic that Clark is going to really show how good of a player he can be and the Pelicans need good players. Clark is a guard that is a good defender and has a good stroke from three. He hit a career high 37% of his attempts from three last year and should benefit from playing with Anthony Davis and Cousins.
Looking at playtype statistics Clark measures out pretty well offensively and defensively. The majority of his offensive possessions came as a spot up player and he scored 1.11 points per possession, which puts him at the 79th percentile in the NBA according to nba.com/stats. As stated above, Clark did benefit a great deal from playing with the Warriors, but he also benefitted from the overall basketball intelligence of the players on the Warriors. He is a smarter player after his time there and that should help the Pelicans. He rated out as a very good cutter, which will be useful playing with Cousins, who is going to play up top on offense for stretches. Clark is a good pick and roll defender that the Pelicans are going to need. He rated out in the 79th percentile only surrendering 0.74 points per possession according to nba.com/stats. The bottom line is that Clark is going to get minutes for the Pelicans and he will make the most of his opportunity. Clark is a good NBA player and is finally going to get the chance to show it.
San Antonio Spurs
Dejounte Murray is the name that comes up when people talk about the Spurs withstanding the Tony Parker injury. Some rate him higher than others and it is easy to become smitten with him as a player. Manu Ginobili likes him a lot. He is a 6’5 point guard with a 6’9 ½’ wingspan (similar to Rajon Rondo) according to DraftExpress. He showed flashes last year, but was not given a great deal of minutes during the season. He appeared in 38 games during the regular season averaging 8.5 minutes per game. He played in 11 of the 16 playoff games averaging over 15 minutes a game. There was not a dramatic increase in his level of play that got him the minutes, it was the aforementioned injury to Parker. Parker likely may not grace the court until after the All-Star break and Murray will have an opportunity. Murray has some work to do, but there is potential and head coach Gregg Popovich does not have many choices. Murray shot 39% from three on 23 attempts, which is not enough of a sample size to mean anything, but based on how the Spurs have helped Kawhi Leonard with his shot, they can help Murray. The great thing about Murray is that he has the length to guard wings, but is quick enough to stick with point guards. Murray has the ability to find the open man, but the Spurs are not reliant on one elite passer to run their offense. He had a great Game 6 against Houston and there is no reason to believe that Murray will not develop in the same way that other guards have flourished in San Antonio. Patty Mills, Corey Joseph, and Tony Parker have all become good NBA players, Parker became an elite point guard in the league. Murray has a shot and the Spurs are going to need it if they want to contend with the explosive offense of the Rockets for the division crown.
Clint Capela had a breakout season last year in his first season A.D. (After Dwight). Capela averaged 12 points and 8 rebounds last season despite not having a great deal of offensive skill in terms of posting up, but Capela is a great finisher at the rim converting 72% of his shots there according to basketball-reference.com. Capela needs to be set up to score and that is not a bad thing because the Rockets do not want to play through him. They want him to set a high screen and roll to the basket. They want him to drift around the basket and pick up offensive rebounds. They want him to be an option for drivers to the rim. Capela is perfect for this role and last season James Harden made Capela an important player for the Rockets. This summer, the Rockets added Chris Paul to their roster meaning that Capela is more than likely going to play every minute of this season with either Harden or Paul as his point guard. He is going to average more than 12 points per game and he is going to have another breakout season.
Clint Capela is a devastating roll man to the basket. His devastation will come from Harden and Paul’s ability to shoot from downtown. Teams will be forced to choose between allowing them to shoot a three or making the pass to Capela for a possible dunk. Capela last season was in the 72nd percentile as a roll man scoring 1.14 points per possession. Despite his low number of time in the post, he rated extremely well as a post up threat. He rated in the 88th percentile scoring 1.04 points per possession on just 0.4 possessions per game. I do not see that number increasing as the Rockets view post ups and mid range jumpers are the spawn of the devil. Capela is a good cutter and does a great deal of work grabbing rebounds and putting them back for his points. The great thing is that Capela does not seem to care that he does not get post touches. He seems to be interested in screening, rolling, and dunking. He is not going to get plays called for him and he is okay with that situation. In my view, this is a skill. It is a skill that some bigs do not have, case in point Dwight Howard. Howard wants post ups. He wants the ball in the paint and Capela does not seem to care. His current situation is going to get him paid this summer as a restricted free agent because someone is going to be willing to give him some money after the great season he is going to have.
Mike Conley is coming off of his best season as a pro and my inclusion is about the fact I think he will be even better. Head coach David Fizdale unleashed Conley last season and Conley will be the foundation of the Grizzlies’ offense. The Grizzlies are going to need a big season from Conley if they hope to remain in the mix in the West. Conley is such a great point guard, but he is outshined by the other point guards in the West like Stephen Curry, Chris Paul, Damian Lillard, and Russell Westbrook. While he may not end his All-Star game snub streak, he will continue to show people how talented he is as a point guard. The Grizzlies are going to look to play at a quicker pace this season and Conley seems ready. He is a great shooter from deep and he is an incredibly efficient guard. He shot a career high field goal and three point percentage last season and he shows no signs of slowing down. The Grizzlies may not be as good this coming season and they may be in danger of missing the playoffs, but I truly believe that Conley is going to be great.
His numbers in the pick and roll are magnificent. Over 42 percent of his offensive possessions were in the pick and roll and he rated in the 92nd percentile. He scored 1.01 points per possession and is a great player to have as your lead guard. The Grizzlies lost some key guys from last year’s team, but with Conley running the point they should be able to continue their playoff contention. Conley is probably the only player in this article that I worry could possibly be traded if things are not working out well for the Grizzlies. It is very strange to think about Conley possibly not playing for the Grizzlies, but any team that gets him would be getting one of the best point guards in the league.
Seth Curry is injured. He seems to be out for the first part of the season. He is going to miss games and it will likely take some time to re-incorporate him back into the lineup. He is coming off his best season as a pro. Although Curry averaged 29 minutes per game last season and 12 points per game, I feel that he is capable of more. He was a 42% shooter from deep last season and he has a nice feel for getting into space for his shot. He is such a threat out of the pick and roll. Although he is not a great defender, he plays hard on defense and he is committed to the game plan (otherwise Carlisle would not play him). If you have not already seen from this article, I am very high on Seth Curry. He could get minutes for any team in the league and the Mavericks are going to miss him, but he should be able to get back and play at least 60 games for them.
His numbers last season were astonishing when it came to playtype statistics. As an isolation player, Curry rated in the 92nd percentile. As a pick and roll player, he rated in the 88th percentile. As a spot up player, he rated in the 82nd percentile. The bottom line is that Curry is a great offensive player. Although he has suffered this setback, I expect a major year from him. He may not be as dynamic of a scorer as his brother, but he is a very valuable and extremely talented guard. His ability to shoot opens up the game for him. You cannot leave him open. The Mavericks have some questions to answer and if Curry has a breakout season for them they are going to have to pay him. Do they see him as a franchise building block? It really depends on how much this injury affects his season.