Ranking the NBA Southwest Division: Where do the Mavericks land?

Memphis Grizzlies v Dallas Mavericks
Memphis Grizzlies v Dallas Mavericks / Sam Hodde/GettyImages
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New Orleans Pelicans, Zion Williamson
New Orleans Pelicans v Philadelphia 76ers / Tim Nwachukwu/GettyImages

3. New Orleans Pelicans

As previously mentioned, the Pelicans are the most confusing team in the Southwest Division. New Orleans has a strong core with a nice mix of youth and experience. However, their best player, Zion Williamson, has lacked availability throughout his career.

Last season, New Orleans stood atop the standings when the calendar year flipped to 2023. Coincidentally, when Williamson first went down with a hamstring injury at the beginning of January, the Pelicans began to fall down the standings.

From January 1 and on, New Orleans went 19-27 in route to missing the playoffs. Other than Williamson, the Pelicans do possess numerous talented players, even if last season's record didn't show for it.

The Pelicans are loaded with rangy wings and quality defenders. The starting lineup will consist of CJ McCollum, Brandon Ingram, Williamson, and Jonas Valanciunas. The fifth spot will ultimately go to forward Herbert Jones or swingman Trey Murphy III. Also keep an eye out for Dyson Daniels, as the supersized guard may have a breakout campaign in year two.

However, as potent as these first six/seven may seem, their ceiling is severely limited if Williamson cannot suit up for more than half the season. Whoever fills in for Williamson - Jones, Murphy III, or Daniels - will provide adequate substitute minutes, but no player can replicate Williamson's blend of size and athleticism.

Due to Williamson's spotty availability, the Pelicans are the third-best team in the Southwest Division. Even with a talented roster, Williamson's availability is key to New Orleans' overall success. If Williamson is limited once again, another near .500 season may be on the horizon.