Unlocked … 2012 NBA Season Report #10 – Final Report and Playoff Preview

First as you have probably seen from the last couple of entries, people still have Cystic Fibrosis – blah blah blah – click here to help

FINALLY.  The best of the playoff seasons is upon us.  Of course this was after a truly execrable last couple of weeks of the season where teams were playing scrubs shamelessly while still charging full prices.  The Tuesday Celtics-Heat game was a particular atrocity.  So the rankings could be skewed a tiny bit.  But whatever, the playoffs are here and looks at the series are coming up … how have the rankings changed since we last did this?

  1. (2) Bulls (50-16)
  2. (4) Spurs (50-16)
  3. (1) Thunder (47-19)
  4. (3) Heat (46-20)
  5. (5) Sixers (35-31)
  6. (10) Nugggets (38-28)
  7. (6) Celtics (39-27)
  8. (8) Hawks (40-26)
  9. (7) Grizzlies (41-25)
  10. (15) Clippers (40-26)
  11. (13) Mavericks (36-30)
  12. (9) Lakers (41-25)
  13. (14) Knicks (36-30)
  14. (16) Pacers (42-24)
  15. (11) Magic (37-29)
  16. (12) Rockets (34-32)
  17. (18) Suns (33-33)
  18. (20) Jazz (36-30)
  19. (19) Bucks (31-35)
  20. (17) Blazers (28-38)
  21. (21) Timberwolves (26-40)
  22. (22) Warriors (23-43)
  23. (24) Hornets (21-45)
  24. (23) Raptors (23-43)
  25. (25) Kings (22-44)
  26. (29) Wizards (20-46)
  27. (27) Pistons (25-42)
  28. (28) Nets (22-44)
  29. (26) Wizards (21-45)
  30. (30) Bobcats (7-59)

It’s the playoffs!  So – quick looks at your first round series are in order:

  • (E1) Bulls v (E8) Sixers – This is #1 vs #5.  What a matchup!  However, the Sixers have really stumbled down the stretch, but the metrics have been strong as the Sixers blowouts early still have resonance.  The Bulls with Derrick Rose’s dicey injury situation could be great – but they could be tricky.  Defense will be the order of the day (#2 v #3) and neither team is great from outside.  I can’t imagine the Bulls losing this but the Sixers match up well with them, better than they do with the Heat.  Bulls in 7
  • (E4) Celtics v (E5) Hawks – #7 vs #8.  Interestingly here the lower seed has home court.  The Celtics have been very strong down the stretch.  But so have the Hawks, both in the Top 6 since the trade deadline.  The Celtics have serious issues with rebounding and size, but the Hawks are 26th in offensive rebounding, so it is hard to read that as a huge edge.  The games have all been close in their head to head.  Really more of a coin flip than the experts purport.  Hawks in 7
  • (E2) Heat v (E7) Knicks – #4 vs #13 Fun series with two defensively adept teams.  Anthony and LeBron will be a great matchup and the Novak/Smith bench for the Knicks could explode.  But it is hard to envision the Knicks winning in Miami.  This is a fun series but Heat in 6
  • (E3) Pacers v (E6) Magic – The Pacers have the 5th best record in the league but merely #14 in rankings.  This describes the Pacers in general – a nice team, lot of good players, but is this the juice to win a playoff series?  The Magic will be motivated with no Dwight Howard and “nobody believing in them”. Did the Pacers more competitive than it seemed result vs Chicago last year inform them or will the Magic’s winning experience do it?  Without Glen Davis, the Magic just don’t have enough players now – good or otherwise.  Pacers in 5
  • (W1) Spurs v (W8) Jazz – Spurs can flat out score, but the Jazz can attack with size.  Will the Spurs lose in round 1 again?  Frankly I’d have more faith in the Jazz if their defense was not so mediocre.  Against the buzz saw offense of San Antonio it is tough sledding.  Spurs in 5
  • (W4) Grizzlies v (W5) Clippers – Grizzlies are a sexy pick to upset the apple cart.  However this is not last year’s Zach Randolph.  Meanwhile the Clippers just have more better players and one of the game’s best all around players and leaders.  Look how the Hornets stole 2 games against the Lakers with Chris Paul and nobody – he is just that good.  In the playoffs, the stars play more.  Lob City is not done yet.  Clippers in 6
  • (W2) Thunder v (W7) Mavericks – Hard series to peg.  On paper, Thunder should rip through this.  In actuality, Dallas can throw a lot of junk D at them and make the Thunder really work for it.  But it won’t be enough.  Thunder in 7
  • (W3) Lakers v (W6) Nuggets – Denver has depth.  The Lakers don’t.  Denver has speed, and the Lakers have real issues with that.  But the Lakers have all the really good players here and their size and ability to dictate in the half court.  I hope Denver can make this fun.  I think the Lakers grind it out enough.  Lakers in 6

Unlocked … 2012 NBA Season Report #4

With football gone, now we are getting the important stuff.  How have the rankings changed since we last did this?

  1. (3) Bulls (21-6)
  2. (2) Sixers (18-7)
  3. (1) Heat (18-6)
  4. (6) Thunder (19-5)
  5. (8) Blazers (14-11)
  6. (4) Hawks (16-9)
  7. (5) Nuggets (15-10)
  8. (9) Spurs (17-9)
  9. (11) Lakers (14-11)
  10. (12) Celtics (13-10)
  11. (10) Clippers (15-7)
  12. (15) Pacers (16-7)
  13. (7) Mavericks (14-11)
  14. (14) Rockets (14-11)
  15. (17) Grizzlies (12-13)
  16. (13) Timberwolves (12-12)
  17. (18) Magic (15-10)
  18. (16) Jazz (13-10)
  19. (19) Bucks (10-13)
  20. (21) Suns (10-14)
  21. (22) Warriors (8-13)
  22. (24) Knicks (10-15)
  23. (20) Hornets (4-21)
  24. (25) Cavaliers (9-13)
  25. (23) Raptors (8-18)
  26. (28) Kings (9-15)
  27. (26) Nets (8-18)
  28. (27) Wizards (5-20)
  29. (28) Pistons (6-20)
  30. (30) Bobcats (3-21)

Some notes:

  1. Back in the top spot is Chicago – they have been there before this year, they finished the regular season last year #1.  Put simply, there is something to lean on here.  That said, as the Miami playoff showed, the offense was a problem.  The Bulls won last year with a combination of the league’s best defense and an offense that was above average – much the same formula the Celtics took to the title when Tom Thibodeau was assisting Doc Rivers.  That said, unlike the Celtics – the Bulls were in 2011 one of the league’s better shot generating teams.  The Bulls were 4th in the league at offensive rebounding and while the turnover rate was below average, it was enough to give them a lot of shots at the basket.  Despite a mediocre TS team, they were able to squeeze some extra juice out of their possessions.  What is interesting this year is the turnaround their offense HAS made – and it gives some hope for them advancing further in the playoffs.  The Bulls simply put, are making more shots.  Replacing Keith Bogans’ corpse with Richard Hamilton’s corpse has helped.  Also, a shocking improvement (probably unsustainable) by CJ Watson has upped the ante too – along with Derrick Rose upping his own FG%.  The team is just shooting better, their 3 point percentage has also gone up to 7th in the league – and while they get to the line less, it is by no means a huge drop off.  The TS side of the formula has gone up – while the already excellent shot generation is even better.  The Bulls are tops in the league in offensive rebounding, and they take care of the ball much better this season … all this leads to the 2nd best shot generating team in basketball.  So the Bulls are getting more shots up, and making more shots – this bodes well.
  2. The Suns … 20th in offense, it’s inconceivable.  Let’s move on.
  3. The 6th ranked Hawks did not have a particularly good week – and they are showing some possible regression to the mean here.  Al Horford is a really good player, and it is hard to imagine them being able to truck on without him so fearlessly.  But this is a good team, and that’s still 16 games they don’t have to win again.  The pieces are there to make the playoffs and possibly win a round considering the non-Miami and Chicago flotsam in the conference.  What is remarkable is the Hawks have been a legitimately good team this year with virtually no turnover from last year – when they were a searingly mediocre one.  Obviously the first real change is in personnel where Jeff Teague has showed he can be a legitimately decent NBA point guard.  If you saw him at Wake Forest, the elite level athletic ability has not abated.  He has been very strong defensively and has run a solid offense – not the elite level they were in 2010 on that end of the floor, but a more than estimable 11th.  However, their big leap has been defensively.  A year ago, this was an area of mediocrity, while now it is a strength.  Part of it is having Teague to check point guards.  Part of it is having an elite defender like Kirk Hinrich to be able to match up with a variety of alignments.  Part of it is Marvin Williams settling into becoming a good rotation player, and Josh Smith limiting his mental vacations.  But whatever the cause, the same roster which only was 11th in TS allowed due to its ability to resist committing fouls and defend the three, the roster which was near the bottom of the league in shot prevention – is in the top ten in both.  The Hawks have defended two point shots better this year while still fouling very little.  Moreover, they have risen from 29th in forcing turnovers a year ago to a solid 14th.  If the Hawks continue to defend this well – and really Josh Smith has to be the pillar here – they will not go away.
  4. The Clippers acquisition of Kenyon Martin is a quiet gem of a move.  The team clearly has a giant pile of bupkus behind Blake Griffin and DeAndre Jordan.  Everybody knows that.  But what everybody might not know is that the front court has also been quietly atrocious defensively.  Griffin has not shown an ability to be a high effort defender, and Jordan for his shot blocking clearly has not learned any of the Tim Duncan calculus on when is a good time to take a chance.  What is interesting is that despite an elite defensive backcourt – the Clippers are a pretty bad defensive team, and bad in a surprisingly across the board way.  They have issues defending the two, the three (28th), they foul too much (28th) and they aren’t especially distinguished at recovering misses when they DO happen (19th) or forcing turnovers (19th).  The offense has had to carry them and largely it has.  Martin, who has been an elite defensive big his whole life HAS to be able to help this somewhat.  Of course, part of defense is scheme and coaching and scouting, and this is still the cheap-ass CLIPPERS we are talking about.  If you think Vinnie Del Negro is an incompetent coach, the defensive level here might be something your lawyer might use in a trial.

2011 NBA Eastern Conference Finals Preview (Sort of)

With life events making posting these days a bit trickier, it makes sense that I am one game late already to a conference finals party.  If we use the season ending power rankings as a guide, we have a varsity-junior varsity semifinal bracket if you consider the whole body of work.  However since the trade deadline (the time when these rosters were “complete”, we actually have three of the six best teams still standing.   So what does it mean, in such a terrific playoff season to date?

Eastern Conference Finals: Chicago Bulls (1st overall, 1st since March 1) vs Miami Heat (2nd overall, 4th since March 1)

This is pretty clearly the matchup that will determine who is favored to win the whole thing.  The Bulls finished with the best overall record, and the Heat just trailing the Bulls in scoring margin, the better leading indicator.  Both teams have been outstanding since the trade deadline.  As Game 1 showed, for a half, the Bulls and Heat are capable of matching up very evenly.  In some ways the Game 1 result showed what the Bulls could do, but in terms of the big picture – I expected a long series anyway.

Heat offense vs Bulls defense:  The Heat finished as the league’s third most efficient offense, and it’s most efficient down the stretch.  The Bulls defense was tops for the whole season and after the deadline.  There is a lot of irresistible force-immovable object cliches to be had here.  The Heat, as you might have known, have a couple of super talents.  LeBron and Wade had worked the whole season to develop their offensive chemistry while Chris Bosh tried to fit into a #3 role.  The Heat’s offensive power was based on shooting the basketball.  The Heat were 2nd in true shooting percentage, 7th in 3 point shooting and 3rd in free throw rating.  Put simply, the Heat by commanding double teams and rotating were excellent at converting scoring chances.  This was especially crucial since the team did not generate many shots, finishing as a below average offensive rebounding team and an average 16th at taking care of the ball (surprisingly high considering the amount of isolations they run).

The Bulls on the other hand are just excellent throughout.  Much has been made of Tom Thibodeau’s defensive schemes, and more should be mentioned.  The Bulls were an excellent team at both preventing successful scoring chances, and preventing scoring chances period.  The Bulls were the top true shooting defense in the league, and did it by smothering opponents field goal chances.  This team was not a ball hawking side like the Grizzlies for instance, but they made it very hard for their opponents to score, with the leading FG% and 3P% against and the lowers 3P frequency.  They prevented good looks from three point land and forced tough two point shots.  When they forced misses, they retrieved them, with an exemplary 2nd overall defensive rebounding rate.

As Game 1 showed, Miami’s first shot offense will be able to do some things here and there.  The Heat shot a fairly respectable 47% from the floor.  Indeed they actually shot a decent true shooting percentage of about 55% (for perspective, the 10th place team this year did that), when you combine their unsustainably perfect 15-15 from the line.  The Bulls affected them, but only about the level you’d expect.  However, the shot quantity disadvantage showed badly.  The Heat only recovered 6 of their 36 misses (league median is about 1 in 4) and turned it over 16 times in a slow game.  Both of those rates would be far and away dead last over the season.  Erik Spoelstra mentioned that it was about the rebounding.  He was absolutely right.

Can the Heat flat out get enough looks against the Bulls defense?  They need to do better with the chances they have or generate more chances.  Considering they actually did fairly well with the former, the latter has to get better.  When you look at the Bulls bigs though, especially bringing forces like Taj Gibson and Omer Asik in, the shot generating is a wound that might not heal.  EDGE: Bulls

Bulls offense vs Heat defense: The Bulls have an average offense, finishing 13th overall though it did improve as the season went on.  The Heat defense finished a sound fifth, although it dipped to 14th after the trade deadline – probably a function of adding molasses slow Mike Bibby to their starting lineup.  Looking at the Bulls, they are an average conversion offense.  They finished 15th in true shooting percentage, with fairly pedestrian stats across the board.  They finished only 13th in FG%, 13th in 3P%, 14th in 3P frequency, and got to the line decently but shot it poorly, thus finishing 13th in overall FT efficiency.  However, they were decent at generating chances, finishing 6th in shots per possession – a function of, as you might have intuited from above, their size and rebounding.  The athleticism edge shines through here too, as the Bulls were 4th in the league in offensive rebounding, which more than offset their poor turnover rate (21st).

The Heat do it with first scoring chance defense.   They finished 5th in the league in TS%, 2nd in the league in FG%.  What the Heat have managed to do defensively is augment their stars with some guys like Joel Anthony who cannot catch a cold, but block shots and make it hard for opponents to score.  The Heat’s ability to prevent baskets and successfully rebound misses essentially creates the entirety of their defensive prowess.  What is interesting to Heat watchers is that Wade and LeBron streaking into the open floor seemed like a rare occurence (and at least not a team wide one).  This is backed up numerically, as no matter what stretch of the season – they have not forced turnovers (finishing 26th overall).  Perhaps the decision to stay solid and conservative was due to a lack of trust of their wings to do their jobs, or the back line to be stout when offensive players tried to break down the perimeter.  The result is that the Heat were below the league average in shot prevention.  They were able to lock down shots, but not good at preventing them.

Game 1 actually fed into this trend again.  The Bulls shot only 43.7%, below their season average, and certainly good enough for the Heat.  However the TS% was actually 53.8% due to the Bulls going 10 for 21 from three point land.  These numbers were both out of line with what the Heat typically allow and what the Bulls typically shoot.  In that sense, this could be an outlier.  On the other hand, the Bulls recovered 19 of their 49 misses an turned it over only 9 times in the 86 possessions.  This meant that in a slow-ass 86 possession game, the Bulls got 87 shots off, a rate which no other team in the league did this year.  As Spoelstra said, it was a hustle problem, a quantity problem.

The Bulls with their frontcourt athleticism and depth crushed Miami in the shot generation department, while doing a good job taking care of the ball.  That sort of quantity advantage is necessary to offset the Heat’s advantage defending the shots that are taken.  However in the long run, will the Bulls edge on the offensive glass be THIS bad?  Miami normally protects its backboard well.  The Bulls do not turn the ball over this rarely normally, and they do not shoot the three this well.  Miami is still poised to have the edge in the matchup, but the Bulls have to be encouraged by how they did in their strength areas.  EDGE: Heat

Two Keys to the Series:

  1. Heat: They have the two best players in the world (or at least the two best wings).  Both were mediocre in the first game, and Luol Deng against LeBron will be a big key.  If the games are close and execution related, the Heat HAVE to feel good that they can run two man game with them.  In the playoffs the top of the depth chart matters more than the bottom.  IF Chris Bosh fills his 3rd man role, the Heat’s top end guys are still 3 of the 4 best players on the floor.
  2. Bulls: It is all about quantity.  It is about preventing shots, generating shots.  They win with Derrick Rose, yes, but also phenomenal bench play, especially defensively.  Taj Gibson, Omer Asik, Ronnie Brewer and the ever present Luol Deng (who just plays every minute) have been nightmares to score on.  The Bulls will not outshoot Miami, but they can outgenerate Miami like they did in Game 1.  If they manage the turnovers like they did in Gamer 1, they are going to give themselves a ton of chances to win.

These teams are very close, and in a close series I lean towards the team with the best player.  However the Bulls have very serious edges here, and my pick of Heat in 6 is very very reluctant.

2011 NBA Preview – The Dirty Dozen

Six hours and 10 minutes to go before the store opens for the 2011 season.  12 teams left to countdown.  At this point, we are left with all teams that have a more than theoretical chance to win it all, although certainly a lot has to go right for some of the entries.  The flotsam, is passed:

12. Houston Rockets (16th overall in 2010, 19th offense, 17th defense)

Yao is back, albeit in a highly controlled role.  Kevin Martin, almost as brittle, gives them the best shooting guard they’ve had since Tracy McGrady was still alive.  Last year Rick Adelman used smoke and mirrors to keep them in the playoffs.  Luis Scola is a very good complimentary player – they have a very deep lineup.  Really, this is a team that could make a huge run, if Yao can hold up and if he can become a serious contributor late in the season.  Big ifs, so I will leave them here out of respect for Adelman and the talent Darryl Morey has assembled.

CAN WIN THE TITLE IF: Yao and Kevin Martin give them the dynamic duo – and a healthy dynamic duo at that.

11. Milwaukee Bucks (15th overall in 2010, 23rd offense, 3rd defense)

They won last year with Brandon Jennings youth, Andrew Bogut making a mini-Leap, and the 3rd best defense in the league.  In particular, they forced turnovers at a high rate while being the best team in the league at not committing fouls.  This elevated them from their good but not awesome first shot defense into elite territory.  But their 23rd ranked offense needs to improve.  Enter Drew Gooden and Corey Maggette, offensively gifted forwards.  Chris Douglas-Roberts gives some wing options to that end.

CAN WIN THE TITLE IF: Brandon Jennings is as good as his first season hinted, Andrew Bogut is healthy, their defense stays strong while Maggette, one of the game’s most efficient scorers, can bring their offense up.

10. Chicago Bulls (18th overall in 2010, 28th offense, 11th defense)

He will not be healthy to start the season, but Carlos Boozer portends to give the Bulls the low post scorer they have yearned for.  With him and Joakim Noah, they now have a frontcourt to compete with the East’s best.  Derrick Rose is growing, and his work for Team USA portended well.  This was a bad offensive team, particularly deficient at just shooting the ball.  Carlos Boozer will help this along – even if the Bulls were aiming for a bigger prize.

CAN WIN THE TITLE IF: Their defense is as solid as it was by the end of last year, Derrick Rose makes the leap and Carlos Boozer provides that post presence they need to win playoff games.

9. Dallas Mavericks (12th overall in 2010, 10th offense, 12th defense)

It feels like we could write the same blurb about this team for the last 5 years.  Dirk is a GREAT player, and his cast is solid but old.  They are coached well largely, though it has not always manifested in the playoffs.  It feels like this lineup has a finite amount of time together.  All of these sentences applied in 2007, 2008 and apply today.  Rodrique Beaubois could be a terrific spark as a combo guard, and Tyson Chandler is a terrific pickup as a defensive big and usable contract.  But really where is the upside here?

CAN WIN THE TITLE IF: Dirk is 2006-2007 Dirk, Caron Butler is 2008 Caron Butler and Jason Kidd in 2003 Jason Kidd.  Honestly this seems like a stuck outfit.

8. Oklahoma City Thunder (6th overall in 2010, 11th offense, 7th defense)

What???  America’s sweethearts are all the way down here?  Let’s be real.  They were abnormally healthy a year ago.  They play in a brutal division.  The question is whether they make the elite leap now or next year.  Honestly, this is guessing.  Durant is going to be an MVP favorite as he should be, and Russell Westbrook is fringe all-NBA.  That is real.  They will be better than they were last year, but it might not reflect in the standings.  This is a fascinating division.

CAN WIN THE TITLE IF: Durant and the kiddies are all growns up!

7.  Portland TrailBlazers (11th overall in 2010, 7th offense, 13th defense)

This is a very interesting team.  The Thunder burst into our consciousness last season.  The Blazers, with a similar assemblage of talent and growth curve, suffered a comically rash level of injury yet won 50 games.  They have the sheer amount of size to give the Lakers trouble – the length the Jazz lacked.  However, is the health just a glitch or a real problem?  They spent too much money on Wesley Matthews, although he is a fit for what they want to do.  This might be the season for them to make The Leap.  Andre Miller is a good trade asset, as he and Roy are a poor basketball fit.

CAN WIN THE TITLE IF: Greg Oden gets healthy and develops.  Brandon Roy stays healthy.  The young talent just grows up.

6. Utah Jazz (5th overall in 2010, 8th offense, 10th defense)

The Jazz cannot beat the Lakers.  They were not long enough last year.  They aren’t long enough now.  They lost Boozer, but fleeced Minnesota for Al Jefferson who is a more than capable replacement.  They lost Wesley Matthews and Kyle Korver, but Gordon Hayward might be better than either by the end of the season.  Deron Williams is a great PG and Jerry Sloan is a great coach.  This team cannot beat the Lakers but they can beat anybody else.

CAN WIN THE TITLE IF: The Lakers suffer a fatal incommunicable illness.

5. San Antonio Spurs (4th overall in 2010, 9th offense, 9th defense)

The Spurs are on the downside.  But Manu Ginobli had a career year of sorts, and Tony Parker is playing for a contract.  Tiago Splitter and DeJuan Blair give them a real chance to keep Duncan’s minutes even more controlled.  The pieces are there for another big run – though it will take some help.  After all, they finished 4th last year!  The problem though is that their defense has slipped from the elite levels of their title years, and their offense is a little less efficient than it used to be.

CAN WIN THE TITLE IF: Duncan, Ginobli and Parker go in the wayback machine a little bit … and their defense gets back towards the 2007 standard.

4. Miami Heat (13th overall in 2010, 18th offense, 4th defense)

Obviously they will be better – I don’t think we need to go over why.  In fact on the wing they will be magical, and Chris Bosh is an elite big, although not a great strength big.  They have a lot of bigs – but very little quality outside of Bosh, though Udonis Haslem and Joel Anthony are good team sorts.  They will have trouble defending elite size, and teams that have that can beat them in a short series.  They might win the regular season derby – but teams that can pound them inside could very well beat them.

CAN WIN THE TITLE IF: They can defend real size.

3. Orlando Magic (1st overall in 2010, 2nd offense, 1st defense)

HERE is real size.  The Magic are a great defensive team.  Their depth is spectacular with a second five (Duhon, Anderson, Bass, Gortat, Williams) that could win 20 game in the NBA.  Their size on the wings can at least present some resistance against the Heat’s wing elegance.  If a team cannot handle Dwight Howard with single coverage, that opens up their 3 point attack and they become very very hard to stop.  But if Howard is defended 1 on 1, look out.  They will be active looking for an impact guy via trade.

CAN WIN THE TITLE IF: Dwight Howard becomes seriously unguardable.

2. Boston Celtics (9th overall in 2010, 12th offense, 6th defense)

The Celtics can guard Howard 1 on 1.  That has driven the Magic crazy matchup-wise.  The Celtics rank was low in 2010, but they took care to avoid injury and sacrified playoff positions.  But their defense is elite, and with Garnett being healthier, and all the size they signed in the offseason the Celtics have the chance to be much more rugged than they were last year.  Rondo made The Leap last year, this team just has to manage minutes and be strong.  They might not beat the Heat or Magic, but there is no reason to start with that assumption.

CAN WIN THE TITLE IF: They win one more game.

Los Angeles Lakers (7th overall in 2010, 13th offense, 5th defense)

The Lakers won the title last year, with so much wrong.  Andrew Bynum was hurt so much (as usual), Derek Fisher was HORRIBLE at the point and Kobe Bryant was ailing.  Like the Celtics, the Lakers bet on health over wins in the second half of the year and it worked.  The West has a lot of good teams, but none remotely as good.  This breaks my heart to type, I cannot emphasize enough.  No team can match up with so many styles, and the length they have up front makes them an elite team.  They are a rugged strength team and it is hard to envision a team overpowering them.  Witness the Celtics’ moves in the offseason – it was clearly with this in mind.



 

Dare to Be Stupid – NBA Free Agency, LeBron Today

FINALLY, some news!

Orlando Magic sign Chris Duhon for 4 years, $15 million: Chris Duhon once had a 20 assist game.  He actually did a fairly good job running the Knicks D’Antoni attack until the sheer volume of minutes killed him.  He is not a starter for a good NBA team – but can he be a backup for a great one?  Absolutely.  He defends, he is not a penetrator – and while he is only a league average 3-point shooter, he can make it enough to space the floor the way the Magic want.  At the price, a totally reasonable signing – though the years are more than I would give a backup.

Boston Celtics re-sign Ray Allen for 2 years, $20 million: This deal puts Ray and KG on the same contract schedule.  When the Celtics re-signed Paul Pierce, they declared they would ride these guys out as long as is feasible.  While there is some risk there – honestly it was not a bad option.  They could have let Pierce and Allen walk and be under the cap and in the position to get a big name – but there was no guarantee it would work.  If Chicago – which offered a great scenario for the Big 3 free agents – end up with none of them, how can Boston?  I guess people are afraid of the cold.  As such, Ray Allen is paid well reasonably here – and the years are there.  The 2nd year is his option.

Chicago Bulls sign Carlos Boozer for 5 years, $80 million: Boozer has a history of missed games.  That is a problem.  If he is injured through the life of this contract – don’t say I didn’t warn you.  That said, in THIS insane market, the Bulls got a screaming bargain – if you just look at productivity and not durability.  The Bulls have needed a post scorer – they have one.  They needed someone who can work a pick and roll with a dynamic point guard – they have one.  Boozer looked bad against the Lakers because of his lack of length – but there are 28 other teams in the league where it is not such a latent problem.  The Bulls with a couple more smaller moves could set up to be a Top 4 team in the East.

Miami Heat sign Dwayne Wade and Chris Bosh for some amount of American dollars: I was surprised they did not ride in on a tandem bicycle for their interview.  What sort of analysis is necessary here?  This is a great move for the Heat.  That said, without some heft on the bench – this is not enough to break into the Orlando-Boston tier in the East.  Right now it is a 2.5 person team.  Now with these guys they could attract some people to join them in tax free Florida – but they haven’t yet.  However, if they add that LeBron dude – all bets are off.

Now, as for what LeBron should do?  There was word of him going to the Heat – at this point it’s all speculation.  Frankly, I think for the league and for the sport – and for whatever his legacy is – it is probably the stupidest option:

  1. Dwayne Wade has already won a title.  Does LeBron need to ride his coattails in Miami to win another?  Does LeBron need to be a final piece to some other team’s puzzle?  I know I am being unfair, but that is the perception he will have to deal with.
  2. Was there really this clamoring for a dream team?  I mean these guys won a gold medal.  We know they are good.  The Chicago Bulls 72 win team was awe inspiring – but it was the culmination (largely) of a 10 year run.  The essential pieces stayed true – and were Bulls the entire time.  This is much more of a mercenary soldiers-for-hire sort of thing.  Not exactly inspiring.
  3. The Really Big Three set themselves up to be regarded like the 2003 Real Madrid side or any Chelsea football team of yore.  The pressure will be incalculable and perhaps the joy will be minimal.  Granted, the 2009 Yankees seemed to enjoy it – and the 2008 Boston Celtics were composed in a somewhat similar manner, but the Celtics were not sure if their moves would win a title.  This just does not seem like something a true competitor would do.  Indeed, Kobe’s legacy will be secure.

The special is being aired from the Greenwich, Connecticut Boys and Girls Club – near where the Knicks practice.  Is that a better indicator?  Maybe.  The Knicks make much more sense on a different level.  With Stoudemire as a #2, that is good enough to win a title with some smart filling in on the edges.  The Nets have enough young talent that LeBron could be the straw that stirs the drink.  Chicago has always been a great bet to turn it around quickly too.  Dallas would have been the most fun choice for him – but I am surprised neither side looked at each other harder.

2010 NBA Draft: Trades and More

Well, so much for the wisdom of my mock draft notions.  However, the trades continue – and almost all of them were driven by money.  We saw Chicago and Miami seriously clear the deck to possibly add one of the monster free agents.   We also saw a smaller, leaner team like Oklahoma City take advantage of the financial aid.  So let’s go through the trades and where we end up.  We discussed some of them previously, but now for draft night itself.

Chicago Bulls send Kirk Hinrich and the 17th pick (Kevin Serraphin) to the Washington Wizards for a future 2nd round pick: In other words, the Bulls drove Kirk Hinrich to O’Hare in order to get themselves a chance to get 2 of the big kahuna free agents.  Obviously if this nets Lebron and Chris Bosh, this is a major win.  That said, the Wizards did pretty well.  One can quibble on the cash, but the Wizards got a young raw body in Serraphin they could try to develop or stuff overseas – and Hinrich is a very useful 3rd guard to go with Arenas and Wall.  The Wizards might suck next year, but there will be hope and interest.

New Orleans Hornets trade the 11th pick (Cole Aldrich) and Morris Peterson to the Oklahoma City Thunder for the 21st pick (Craig Brackins) and the 26th pick (Quincy Pondexter): The Hornets were up against the luxury tax – and these problems endangered the ability to keep the team together, and perhaps made a previously unfathomable Chris Paul trade even theoretically possible.  Fortunately for real NBA fans this might have been averted.  Of course count on the Oklahoma City Thunder and Sam Presti to pounce on the chance to play the draft game.  The Thunder need more bench scoring and more size – Peterson can supply the former.  Cole Aldrich is not a star – but he is one of the surest things in the draft.  He is a rotation player.  The Hornets with Pondexter get an elite athlete and defender, and Craig Brackins has the inside-outside potential to be a good stretch-4 in the league.  Considering they did this deal for financial reasons – they got a solid talent haul.

Oklahoma City Thunder send the 18th pick (Eric Bledsoe) to the Los Angeles Clippers for a lottery protected future #1: Bill Belichick would have wept with joy at this trade.  The Thunder, seeing limited possibilities in this draft, end up spinning Bledsoe to the Clippers for a protected pick.  This keeps them with future draft assets, and if the Clippers make the playoffs it will be as a low seed so what the hell.  For the Clippers, they do get a talented guy who can possibly spell Baron Davis.

Dallas Mavericks trade cash to the Memphis Grizzlies for the 25th pick (Dominique Jones): The Grizzlies had a bunch of picks – they did not want to pay them all, so this made sense – though an international stash might have been better in a stronger international year.  Why the Mavericks moved up to get a guy who replicates what Jason Terry and Rodrique Beaubois do?  Hey, it’s Cuban’s money.

Dallas Mavericks trade the 50th pick (Solomon Alabi) to the Toronto Raptors for a future 2nd round pick and cash: Another roster spot the Mavs did not want to pay.  For the Raptors, who are so size deprived, this was a no brainer.  It’s a shot in the dark – but unlike a first rounder there is no onerous contract to worry about.

Atlanta Hawks trade the 24th pick (Damion James) to the New Jersey Nets for the 27th pick (Jordan Crawford) and the 31st pick (Tibor Pleiss) –  the Hawks spin the 31st pick to the Oklahoma City Thunder for cash: Damion James is a nice player – one of the most NBA ready guys, though his upside is limited.  What is hard to understand is why the Nets dealt a valuable pick (#31) to move up 3 spots in the draft.  The marginal value of the move up is nil.  Jordan Crawford has much more upside than James does.  The Hawks wanted cash more than another player, so of course the Thunder swoop in to clean up the mess and collect another asset to stash overseas.

Minnesota Timberwolves trade the 16th pick (Luke Babbitt) and Ryan Gomes to the Portland TrailBlazers for Martell Webster: This is another curious deal.  Gomes is a useful and only partially guaranteed deal.  Luke Babbitt has as much upside as any wing in the draft.  Martell Webster is a promising young player – but has not really shown that wow.  How this is a fair match I don’t know.  Given that Blazers GM Kevin Pritchard was doing this after being told he would be canned – this is a much better deal than his employers deserve.

Minnesota Timberwolves trade the 23rd pick (Trevor Booker) and the 56th pick (Hamadi Ndiaye) to the Washington Wizards for the 30th pick (Lazar Hayward) and 35th pick (Nemanja Bjeilca): I have no opinion on this.  Booker can play – but I was surprised the Wizards agreed so much.

Indiana Pacers trade the 57th pick (Ryan Reid) and cash to the Oklahoma City Thunder for the 51st pick (Magnum Rolle): Rolle is 24, but athletic and tall.  Pacers need that.  I have no idea who Reid is.  

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Overall, the Blazers, Thunder and Celtics (who got Avery Bradley – a Monta Ellis talent – with more defense – and Luke Harangody who profiles as the type of player NBA types undervalue) managed the exercise nicely.  The Timberwolves were full of sound and fury – but not sure where it took them.  And then there are the pants (h/t Esquire):

The Final Power Rankings and First Round Picks

Process here. Rankings there:

Rank Team W L Off Def Road SOS Rating
1 Magic 59 23 104.631 (2) 96.214 (1) 1.75 3.166 (30) 13.333
2 Cavaliers 61 21 104.39 (3) 97.272 (8) 1.75 3.173 (29) 12.041
3 Suns 54 28 107.908 (1) 102.168 (19) 1.75 3.276 (25) 10.766
4 Spurs 50 32 102.717 (9) 97.59 (9) 1.75 3.532 (17) 10.41
5 Jazz 53 29 103.122 (8) 98.527 (10) 1.75 3.586 (13) 9.93
6 Thunder 50 32 101.459 (11) 97.188 (7) 1.75 3.584 (14) 9.604
7 Lakers 57 25 101.152 (13) 97.091 (5) 1.75 3.658 (10) 9.47
8 Hawks 53 29 104.132 (4) 100.085 (15) 1.75 3.381 (23) 9.178
9 Nuggets 53 29 103.777 (6) 100.105 (16) 1.75 3.63 (12) 9.051
10 Celtics 50 32 101.165 (12) 97.178 (6) 1.75 3.258 (27) 8.995
11 Blazers 50 32 103.569 (7) 99.894 (13) 1.75 3.415 (21) 8.84
12 Mavericks 55 27 102.457 (10) 98.973 (12) 1.75 3.472 (20) 8.706
13 Heat 47 35 100.305 (18) 96.849 (4) 1.75 3.219 (28) 8.426
14 Bobcats 44 38 97.408 (24) 96.389 (2) 1.75 3.411 (22) 6.18
15 Bucks 46 36 97.553 (23) 96.462 (3) 1.75 3.258 (26) 6.098
16 Rockets 42 40 100.13 (19) 100.907 (17) 1.75 3.928 (2) 4.901
17 Raptors 40 42 103.869 (5) 104.906 (30) 1.75 3.499 (18) 4.211
18 Bulls 41 41 96.563 (28) 98.573 (11) 1.75 3.568 (15) 3.308
19 Hornets 37 45 100.59 (16) 102.895 (22) 1.75 3.741 (7) 3.187
20 Grizzlies 40 42 100.398 (17) 102.932 (23) 1.75 3.739 (8) 2.955
21 Pacers 32 50 97.062 (26) 99.996 (14) 1.75 3.473 (19) 2.288
22 Warriors 26 56 100.65 (14) 104.321 (28) 1.75 3.897 (3) 1.977
23 Kings 25 57 98.103 (22) 102.032 (18) 1.75 3.868 (4) 1.689
24 Knicks 29 53 100.646 (15) 104.386 (29) 1.75 3.346 (24) 1.355
25 Sixers 27 55 99.066 (20) 103.097 (24) 1.75 3.546 (16) 1.265
26 Wizards 26 56 97.101 (25) 102.302 (20) 1.75 3.633 (11) 0.183
27 Clippers 29 53 96.693 (27) 102.357 (21) 1.75 3.866 (5) -0.048
28 Pistons 27 55 98.198 (21) 104.067 (26) 1.75 3.68 (9) -0.439
29 Timberwolves 15 67 94.652 (29) 104.233 (27) 1.75 4.111 (1) -3.719
30 Nets 12 70 94.115 (30) 103.745 (25) 1.75 3.786 (6) -4.094

A key caveat: With the last month being tanking/amateur hour and good teams being judicious with managing players – I suspect the Lakers and Cavaliers are undervalued. That said, still revealing as we get to the end:

  • The Magic have been the best team the second half of the year.  Took the season for Vince Carter to get integrated, and their defense was lazy earlier in the season.  However, back at #1, just like last year.  Their #2 offense is hard to say has dropped off at all.
  • The Cavaliers got off slow too, but rolled down the stretch save for preserving LeBron a bit.
  • Lakers really staggered to the finish.  They seemed to be shoo-ins for the best record for a while.  They can still right the ship, but with a scant 9 games separating the #1 and $#8 seed in the West who knows?

Now for some quick picks for the first round (power ranking in parens) …

EAST:

Cavaliers (2) vs Bulls (18): Bulls played hard down the stretch, Rose is a terrific PG.  But Cavs defend the position well, and there is LeBron.  Cavs in 5

Celtics (10) vs Heat (13): Celtics after a 27-5 start, are a 23-27 team.  This is not a good team right now, though they have played in stretches.  Wade the best player on the floor.  Heat playing better D than Boston, but it’s a toss up.  Celtics in 7

Magic (1) vs Bobcats (14): Top 2 defenses in the league.  Alas the Magic have offensive skill.  Magic in 5.

Hawks (8) vs Bucks (15):  Hawks have been metsa metsa since a fast start.  However, their efficient size-based offense has been there all year.  Bucks are scrappy, tough defensively, but without Bogut the size match is too problematic.  Hawks in 6

WEST:

Lakers (7) vs Thunder (6): You read that right.  Thunder have the better body of work in terms of indicators even with 9 less wins.  Durant is a prime time scorer.  They are a good defensive club (7th).  The Lakers were the top defensive team when healthy though, and the wins and home court count for something.  If Kobe is ready and effective, they should advance.  But the Thunder will not be pushovers.  Lakers in 6

Nuggets (9) vs Jazz (5): Another upside down series.  Jazz hurt themselves badly slipping out of the home court position by getting whomped by Phoenix.  They have played better basketball than Denver all season, but Denver is still better against good teams (5th, Utah 11th).  And with home court, and Utah with an iffy Boozer, they get the edge despite their own myriad of issues.  Nuggets in 7

Mavericks (12) vs Spurs (4): Mavericks have been close game kings all season.  The Spurs have outpaced them in fundamentals most of the season.  Does this mean they will win?  Not sure.  Dallas won in 5 last year and the matchups favor them in a lot of places.  That said Manu is healthy, and we have not had that for a while.  Spurs in 6

Suns (3) vs Blazers (11):  Love this series.  Lots of matchups up front (Amare vs Aldridge), at the point (Nash vs Miller), subplots (Suns vs the slowest paced team in the game … will Roy be effective).  Suns have been the big overachievers in the league this season – their last two wins have been special.  They are as good offensively as ever.  Can they defend the paint though.  This could go any direction, but I just don’t think the Blazers have the offense without Roy at 90%.  Suns in 7