Oct 17, 2012; Houston, TX, USA; Memphis Grizzlies forward Rudy Gay (22) dribbles up court against the Houston Rockets during the second quarter at the Toyota Center. Mandatory Credit: Thomas Campbell-US PRESSWIRE

NBA 2012/13 Season Preview: 5 Big Predictions For Southwest Division

Mandatory Credit: Thomas Campbell-US PRESSWIRE

1) THE HOUSTON ROCKETS WILL FINISH WITH THE WORST RECORD IN THE WESTERN CONFERENCE

“Lin-Sanity” will not bring good fortune to the Houston Rockets next season. The aura will disappear quickly.

For this team to be successful in 2012/13, Jeremy Lin is going to have to display the same fire and tenacity (and luck) he showed last year in New York that made him the overnight global phenomenon that he is today.

It’s not going to happen. No disrespect to Jeremy of course, but this team has undergone so many renovations and changes this offseason that even if Lin were to have another magical year, it still wouldn’t be enough. Teams will figure him out quickly and neutralize him on the court.

Omer Asik and his $25 million dollar contract will prove to be one of, if not the worst offseason acquisition made this summer in the NBA as he falters in more minutes as a starting center. A front court of Asik and Patrick Patterson will be eaten alive on a nightly basis by the more dominant low post tandems around the Western Conference.

Houston’s 3 rookies (Royce White, Terrence Jones, Jeremy Lamb) will produce good numbers and show potential throughout the season, but they will be so similar in style that they collectively won’t improve this teams chances, at least in year one.

The rest of the west has improved quite a bit, with bottom-feeders in the Sacramento Kings and Golden State Warriors looking to make some noise themselves and climb out of the cellar so to speak.

The Rockets just aren’t good enough at the moment to be anything more than the worst team in the conference, which they will undoubtedly be in 2013.

Mandatory Credit: Derick E. Hingle-US PRESSWIRE

2) NEW ORLEANS HORNETS ROOKIE ANTHONY DAVIS WILL NOT WIN ROOKIE OF THE YEAR

This is in no way a shot at the #1 pick of the 2012 draft and his abilities as a basketball player. When we look back 10-12 years from now, Davis could very well be the best player from this draft class.

It’s just that for this upcoming season, it’s going to be a lot harder for him to be named the top rookie than some may think.

Voters love to pick the rookie who scores the most points. The last 3 ROTY winners (Kyrie Irving, Blake Griffin, Tyreke Evans) all led their teams in that department when they won the award. Anthony Davis won’t have that luxury.

With Eric Gordon, Ryan Anderson and even fellow rookie Austin Rivers handling much of the scoring load, it will be difficult for Davis to get his. He will rebound the basketball and defend the paint with his length to block shots, but a seasonal output of just 10-12 points a game (which I predict will happen) won’t be enough to sway voters.

A lot of other rookies (Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, Damian Lillard, Bradley Beal, Harrison Barnes) will have much larger roles on their teams as far as scoring the ball is concerned. Those are the type of players that eventually turn into Rookies of the Year.

Plus, and say what you will about Rivers, but he could very well turn out to be the more efficient rookie this season. He’s struggled up to this point, but he’s more NBA ready than his teammate Davis. Anthony might not even be the best rookie on his own team. He has a larger ceiling of course, but we’re just talking about the 2012-13 season here.

Davis has just as much a chance of winning ROTY as the next guy, but there are to many factors going against him, including the underrated field of rookies he’s competing with as well as his role on the New Orleans Hornets.

3) SECOND-YEAR PLAYER KAWHI LEONARD WILL EMERGE AS THE SAN ANTONIO SPURS “NEXT BIG THING” IN 2013

“I think he’s going to be a star, and as time goes on, he’ll be the face of the Spurs, I think.” – Gregg Popovich

The skies the limit for Kawhi Leonard and in 2013, he will garner even more attention and more fandom as he continues to evolve and grow as a basketball player.

Last season was just the tip of the iceberg. Despite averaging just 7.9 points a game (good for 11th on the Spurs roster), Leonard put up solid numbers in all other areas. He shot 49.3% from the field, 37.6% from three-point range, grabbed 5.1 rebounds and accumulated 1.7 steals a game.

Kawhi was recently ranked #95 in ESPN’s annual player rankings. He was also selected as a member of the USA Men’s Basketball Scrimmage team last summer as well.

I see Leonards role getting much larger in 2013. Pops is looking for any reason to give his big three of Tim Duncan, Manu Ginobili and Tony Parker more rest, so expect to see the Spurs young core of Kawhi, Danny Green, Gary Neal and Tiago Splitter getting more PT, with Leonard leading the way.

An increase in minutes from 24 to roughly 29-31 a night seems like a conservative estimate as he continues to start at the 3 spot. Kawhi will make the most of his larger role within the team and become the Spurs diamond in the rough all season long, playing an integral part in San Antonio’s regular season success.

Mandatory Credit: Jerome Miron-US PRESSWIRE

4) THE DALLAS MAVERICKS WILL WIN THE SOUTHWEST DIVISION TITLE

Since the division originated back in 2004, the San Antonio Spurs have won 5 out of a possible 8 Southwest crowns. The Dallas Mavericks have won 2, despite finishing each year with 50 or more victories (not counting last years lockout shortened season).

In 2013, Dallas will surpass the Spurs in the standings on route to a division win.

Writing off the Mavericks this season after losing Jason Kidd, Jason Terry, Brandon Haywood and Lamar Odom would be foolish. With all of the moves made this summer to shore up the rosters depth (trading for Darren Collison, signing Chris Kaman and Elton Brand etc.), this team will not only win the division, but they can very well (and will) make some serious noise in the playoffs.

The health of Dirk Nowitzki will obviously come into play here. Dirk is going to miss the first 10 games of the season and possibly more after undergoing arthroscopic surgery on his right knee. Even with his injury, the Mavericks new parts will be able to maintain the franchises winning ways until their heart and soul returns.

O.J Mayo will step right in and be the teams #1 scoring option as Nowitzki recovers from the sidelines. Moving from the second-unit of Memphis to now being a starter on a team that won a championship just two years ago will do wonder for his confidence. The duo of Chris Kaman and Elton Brand will provide solid interior defense, as well as underrated offensive games as well. Darren Collison will find success in his new home as the Mavericks starting point guard, thriving in a role that he lost as a member of the Indiana Pacers to new starter George Hill. Vince Carter and Shawn Marion will continue to provide veteran leadership (yes, even V.C), as well as a nice 1-2 punch in scoring on the wings.

The San Antonio Spurs will be with the Dallas Mavericks everly step of the way as they battle tooth and nail, but ultimately Dallas will pull away at the end of the season and win its third Southwest title.

 5) EITHER RUDY GAY OR ZACH RANDOLPH WILL FIND THEMSELVES DEALT FROM THE MEMPHIS GRIZZLIES BY THE ALL-STAR BREAK

Was last years first round collapse against the Los Angeles Clippers in the playoffs a mirage, or was it a sign of a fading Grizzlies team?

I’ll take the latter.

After eliminating the San Antonio Spurs two years ago in 4 games and nearly taking out the Oklahoma City Thunder the following round, the Memphis Grizzlies have gone from the darlings of the league to the middle of the pack, which is somewhere they don’t want to be.

O.J Mayo is now out the door (surprising considering how the team got absolutely nothing for him) after joining division rivals the Dallas Mavericks, leaving this team with a bonafide trio of Rudy Gay, Zach Randolph and Marc Gasol. The unfortunate thing is that they will be unable to afford all three players in just two years when collectively their contracts will be worth $52 million dollars.

I don’t believe dipping into the luxury tax hardcore is something this team wants to do.

To top it all off, the Grizz are now under new management. Investor Robert Pera and minority owners such as Penny Hardaway, Justin Timberlake and Peyton Manning now all own a piece of the action. In a move made by many new upper-echolon personnel in sports past, the roster may end up being changed to suit their liking.

Gay and Randolph seem to be the likeliest of the three to be dealt.

Cap space issues and a slow start to the season will spell the demise of at least one of aforementioned individuals come February.

Christopher Walder is a sports blogger and lead editor for Sir Charles in Charge. You may follow him on Twitter @WalderSports

Tags: Anthony Davis Dallas Mavericks Dirk Nowitzki Houston Rockets Jeremy Lin Kawhi Leonard Memphis Grizzlies New Orleans Hornets Rudy Gay San Antonio Spurs

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