Meadow Muffins of the Mind

The droppings of some guy's imagination.

Tag: Hawks

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 Power Rankings – Week 18

It’s Tuesday, so it must mean new rankings are here – and this represents a break of sorts with the trade deadline occurring last Thursday.  As usual, the methodology is here.

Rank Team W L Off Def Road SOS Rating
1 Heat 44 17 103.619 (4) 95.452 (4) 1.836 1.195 (29) 11.198
2 Spurs 49 10 103.89 (2) 96.184 (7) 1.72 1.703 (18) 11.129
3 Celtics 43 15 99.955 (13) 93.129 (2) 1.69 1.595 (23) 10.11
4 Lakers 42 19 103.701 (3) 97.135 (9) 1.836 1.403 (27) 9.804
5 Bulls 41 17 99.317 (16) 92.857 (1) 1.69 1.445 (26) 9.594
6 Magic 37 22 101.053 (10) 95.469 (5) 1.661 1.502 (25) 8.747
7 Mavericks 43 16 102.568 (7) 98.254 (13) 1.72 1.9 (12) 7.935
8 Hornets 35 26 98.711 (18) 95.736 (6) 1.779 1.947 (11) 6.701
9 Nuggets 35 26 104.295 (1) 101.81 (21) 1.664 1.981 (10) 6.131
10 Thunder 36 22 102.701 (5) 100.767 (16) 1.75 2.353 (2) 6.037
11 Sixers 30 29 99.496 (15) 97.106 (8) 1.839 1.28 (28) 5.509
12 Knicks 30 27 102.414 (9) 101.167 (19) 1.781 1.631 (22) 4.659
13 Grizzlies 33 28 98.472 (20) 97.662 (10) 1.893 1.646 (19) 4.35
14 Rockets 30 31 102.551 (8) 102.018 (23) 1.836 1.838 (13) 4.207
15 Suns 31 27 102.652 (6) 102.028 (24) 1.69 1.639 (21) 3.952
16 Blazers 33 26 99.629 (14) 99.293 (15) 1.78 1.716 (16) 3.832
17 Hawks 36 24 99.07 (17) 98.221 (12) 1.983 0.868 (30) 3.7
18 Jazz 32 29 100.36 (12) 100.961 (18) 1.721 1.744 (15) 2.864
19 Pacers 26 32 97.267 (22) 98.03 (11) 1.69 1.547 (24) 2.474
20 Bucks 22 36 93.83 (30) 95.273 (3) 1.81 1.995 (9) 2.363
21 Bobcats 26 33 96.627 (25) 98.485 (14) 1.72 1.645 (20) 1.507
22 Warriors 26 32 100.396 (11) 103.067 (28) 1.569 2.178 (6) 1.076
23 Clippers 21 40 97.247 (23) 101.845 (22) 1.721 2.196 (4) -0.68
24 Pistons 22 39 98.534 (19) 103.013 (27) 1.721 2.045 (8) -0.712
25 Kings 15 43 95.451 (26) 100.954 (17) 1.69 1.704 (17) -2.11
26 Timberwolves 14 46 96.697 (24) 102.305 (25) 1.692 1.744 (14) -2.172
27 Raptors 16 44 98.065 (21) 104.281 (29) 1.692 2.178 (5) -2.346
28 Nets 17 43 94.859 (27) 101.574 (20) 1.808 2.08 (7) -2.827
29 Wizards 15 44 94.599 (28) 102.513 (26) 1.72 2.507 (1) -3.687
30 Cavaliers 11 48 94.45 (29) 104.904 (30) 1.78 2.228 (3) -6.446

This week’s observations revolve around the context of some of the big deals and what to look at going forward. In particular:

  • The Celtics moving Perkins would seem to reduce their effectiveness defending the inside.  Meanwhile Green gives them some different skills, and Troy Murphy gives them some offensive firepower.  Will their 13th ranked offense compensate for the perceived defensive dropoff?
  • The Thunder by adding Perk and Mohammed, got bigger and tougher inside.  Also moving Serge Ibaka into the starting lineup should improve their defense.  Will their mediocre 16th ranked defense improve significantly?
  • The Hawks added Kirk Hinrich because they did not want a human traffic cone to be their point guard.  Will their 12th ranked defense improve enough to really make them more than just a no-man’s land team in the East?
  • The Knicks made the highest profile moves of anybody.  The Knicks have been 9th in offense, 19th in defense.  One suspects Melo will add little value to the latter – but can the team’s offense rise up to REALLY make them interesting?

Dare to be Stupid – The Hawks Try to Break the Glass Ceiling

We have discussed in earlier posts about how the East is basically a four team oligopoly.  Indeed the rankings bear this out.  Four of the top six teams are in the East, while … all the way at #15 are the lonely overachieving (frankly, lucky) Atlanta Hawks.  The Hawks seem firmly in the #5 position, but with the Knicks landing some player or another, could Atlanta be looking behind itself a touch?

Hawks receive Kirk Hinrich and Hilton Armstrong

Wizards receive Mike Bibby, Jordan Crawford and Maurice Evans and Atlanta’s 2011 first round pick

Hilton Armstrong is another frontcourt big for the Hawks – but really flotsam.  The story is Hinrich and whether he is an improvement on Bibby.  Defensively, this is beyond reproach.  Hinrich is one of the league’s better defensive point guards, while Bibby was among its very worst.  Offensively – it is a wash.  Hinrich is more versatile and still quicker, but he is a terrible shooter and always has been (there is a meme that he is a good shooter – probably because he is white).  Bibby can still space the floor, and that skill never goes away.  This though on whole improves the Hawks – at least enough to remain locked in the #5 spot.

For the Wizards, they unload an albatross contract in exchange for lesser ones.  Bibby is a nice player even as a fossil.  Maurice Evans is expiring and Jordan Crawford is young and showed at Xavier that he could be a gunner.  They also get the Hawks first rounder, which in this draft seems highly speculative.  The Wizards really are getting a look at whether Jordan Crawford can be a Juan Dixon 2.0.  Hey, it ain’t much – but then neither is being a Wizards follower these days.


2011 NBA Power Rankings – Week 2

Wow, is it ever a long season.  It is hard to reasonably say that the season is taking shape, but we can draw some trends from the first couple of weeks.  The methodology is outlined here:

Rank Team W L Off Def Road SOS Rating
1 Heat 5 2 104.681 (4) 91.061 (2) 2 4.42 (5) 20.039
2 Lakers 7 0 111.797 (1) 98.553 (10) 1 2.285 (14) 16.529
3 Hornets 6 0 102.624 (11) 94.345 (5) 1.75 6.047 (1) 16.076
4 Nuggets 4 3 103.214 (8) 96.771 (7) 2 5.406 (3) 13.849
5 Magic 5 1 102.206 (12) 90.265 (1) 1.167 0.188 (22) 13.296
6 Celtics 6 2 100.549 (15) 93.642 (3) 1.75 2.796 (11) 11.453
7 Mavericks 4 2 99.547 (18) 94.062 (4) 1.167 3.504 (8) 10.156
8 Hawks 6 2 107.564 (2) 101.264 (18) 2.188 -1.105 (29) 7.384
9 Knicks 3 3 101.418 (13) 99.101 (11) 1.75 2.151 (15) 6.217
10 Suns 3 4 105.156 (3) 107.06 (28) 2 5.742 (2) 5.837
11 Sixers 2 5 100.832 (14) 98.253 (9) 1.5 1.712 (17) 5.79
12 Blazers 5 3 104.105 (6) 101.59 (19) 2.188 0.912 (20) 5.614
13 Warriors 5 2 102.793 (10) 100.653 (14) 1.5 1.27 (19) 4.91
14 Bulls 3 3 99.388 (19) 99.357 (12) 1.167 3.104 (9) 4.301
15 Rockets 1 5 104.175 (5) 106.129 (27) 1.75 3.968 (6) 3.764
16 Grizzlies 4 4 99.935 (17) 100.831 (16) 2.188 2.362 (13) 3.653
17 Spurs 5 1 103.004 (9) 100.622 (13) 1.75 -0.902 (28) 3.23
18 Jazz 3 3 99.042 (20) 97.455 (8) 1.75 -0.424 (24) 2.912
19 Raptors 1 6 98.651 (21) 102.285 (20) 2 2.688 (12) 1.054
20 Bucks 2 5 91.424 (29) 95.098 (6) 2 1.359 (18) -0.316
21 Cavaliers 3 3 100.031 (16) 104.17 (23) 1.75 0.283 (21) -2.107
22 Nets 2 4 96.117 (25) 105.029 (25) 1.167 4.755 (4) -2.99
23 Bobcats 1 6 96.651 (24) 101.095 (17) 2 -0.742 (27) -3.186
24 Pistons 2 5 98.574 (23) 104.059 (22) 1.5 0.017 (23) -3.968
25 Clippers 1 6 94.551 (26) 103.414 (21) 1.5 2.933 (10) -4.43
26 Wizards 1 4 94.029 (27) 105.076 (26) 2.1 3.93 (7) -5.017
27 Thunder 3 3 98.579 (22) 104.919 (24) 1.75 -0.523 (26) -5.113
28 Kings 3 3 103.319 (7) 108.112 (30) 1.75 -3.14 (30) -6.183
29 Pacers 2 3 92.889 (28) 100.71 (15) 2.1 -0.486 (25) -6.207
30 Timberwolves 1 6 91.059 (30) 107.777 (29) 2 2.147 (16) -12.57

As we know, the rankings are based on normalizing offensive efficiency based on possessions.  Using a possession view, one way we can look at any offensive possession is that all possessions result in two outcomes – either a possession gives a team at least one chance to score (a FT trip/FGA) or a team turns it over.  It follows that teams that covert lots of scoring chances and/or GENERATES a lot of scoring chances can be successful.  How do you generate scoring chances (in my best Hubie Brown voice)?  By grabbing missed shots or by not turning the ball over.

Obviously most great offenses succeed with a combination of both quality and quantity.  The Suns last year led the league in offense and true shooting percentage (essentially shooting percentage counting threes and free throws), the Magic as the #2 offense was 2nd in TS%, the 3rd rated offense was Cleveland with a TS% that was 3rd in the league.  But 4th in offense was the Hawks, which was an ordinary 14th in TS%.  They were not efficient at converting shots relative to other great offenses, but the Hawks were the best show generating team in the league.  Last year, the Hawks were 4th in offensive rebounding and the best at not turning the ball over.  Their playoff failures showed that maybe this was not the best way to deal with really good teams – that shot selection might take on a premium.  But their method in the long run was very solid.

Once again this year, the Hawks are still elite offensively, but doing it in a nearly upside down way compared to a year ago.  This year the Hawks (granted against a not at all inspired schedule to date) are actually making shots, leading the league in true shooting percentage.  In contrast, they have slipped noticeably in their shot quantity stats, dropping from 4th to 15th in offensive rebounding and from 1st to 14th in turnover rate.  What is particularly notable is that the team is virtually identical to last year – the only change was Larry Drew taking over as coach, and he was a holdover assistant.  Much has been made of the Hawks change of offense to a more motion and passing oriented attack and less of an isolation one.  The change of their offensive composition seems to point to a chance in underlying philosophy – I’d be interested to see for myself.

On the other side of the scale are the Washington Wizards and their 27th ranked offensive attack.  We all know that their team this year lacks many nuclear physicists with the likes of Andray Blatche, Nick Young, Gil Arenas and Javale McGee.  John Wall is going to be a megastar, but we know rookies are full of turnovers.  What is interesting is that usually efficient offenses are a hallmark of Flip Saunders coached teams.  However, this team is different.  First, there is the 20th ranked true shooting – which is not good, but at least in the ballpark of average – it could be redeemed with quantity.  However, the Wizards offense has really been plagued by a simple inability to get shots up, good or bad.  The Wizards have been the worst offensive rebounding team in the league, and are 28th in the league in turnover rate.  Put simply, they cannot afford bad shooting nights, the marginal value of each shot is too precious.

2011 NBA Preview: Teams 18-13

Before we get to the meat, a side note:

  • I only managed to catch the final two fights on UFC 121.  I am normally not a huge MMA guy, but when the top needle mover in the sport is going, I am up for it.  Brock Lesnar since coming over from fake sports (I knew him from WWE) has been a force of nature unlike anything MMA has seen before.  However, Cain Velasquez was the first guy he faced who was legitimately faster than him.  Lesnar came out hot but Velasquez was ready for it and after the initial rush Velasquez beat the living crap out of Lesnar.  What a performance!  Lesnar needs to figure out how to defend himself when he gets sent down – this almost killed him against Carwin.  Also, sadly, Jake Shields sucked – gave me no reason to think that John Fitch does not deserve to UFC’s #1 contender for GSP – as horrible as that sounds.
  • Wow is Lesnar’s chin awful or what?

Now, back to basketball.

As we rise up the rankings, we have passed bad teams, interesting but unripe teams, uninteresting but skilled teams … now we start getting into fringy playoff sides.

18. Indiana Pacers (21st overall in 2010, 26th offense, 14th defense)

Really the Charlotte Bobcats forecast in our previous entry and the next two entries might qualify for the least interesting teams in the league for this season.  They aren’t bad in any sort of customary way, they might even make the playoffs to be a punching bag for a really good side – but I don’t see much sizzle here.  Danny Granger is a terrific player, but clearly more of a #2 than a #1.  Darren Collison is an excellent point guard prospect, and unlike TJ Ford seems to know that passing is a good idea.  Still, is he going to be on the Rose-Rondo-Deron-CP3 sort of future short list?  But then: Brandon Rush, Tyler Hansbrough, Dontae Jones, Roy Hibbert, Mike Dunleavy.  There are a lot of decent players here, but decent is it.  To his credit, Larry Bird recognized the stasis and went for some high ceiling low probability guys in Paul George and Lance Stephenson in the draft.  If some of that works, maybe this is a playoff team and attractive to a free agent with the cap room they have.  But I don’t know.

CAN WIN THE TITLE IF: Paul George reaches his ceiling and Darren Collison is a lot better than I think (and I respect him a lot), while Granger remains a high efficiency scorer.  Really, they might have to join the NBDL too.  This is a potential playoff team, but I don’t see what that potential means.

17. New Orleans Hornets (19th overall in 2010, 16th offense, 22nd defense)

Much drama was had regarding Chris Paul’s flailing about and tacit demanding of a trade.  Really it was part of a very eventful offseason.  Jeff Bower, the GM and interim coach left, the Hornets got someone from the Spurs (always a decent idea) and hired Monte Williams as coach, a lauded assistant I know nothing about.  They traded for Trevor Ariza to give some athleticism and drafted Quincy Pondexter for even more.  The team has some talent, but really they are the West’s Washington Wizards, who placed a lot of high value bets on decent players who did not deserve such faith.  One man’s Caron Butler, put simply, is another’s Peja Stojakovic.  Fortunately for the Hornets, they have some cap room next year, but will they fulfill Chris Paul’s wishes to have a chance to win without him making a pinkie swear promise with somebody?

CAN WIN THE TITLE IF: NBA teams are only allowed to play one point guard on the floor with no other players.

16. Phoenix Suns (3rd overall in 2010, 1st offense, 19th defense)

So THIS is the fallout from one of the most joyous seasons in Suns history.  Sure they lost a tough series to the Lakers, but the season was such found money that it is hard to argue the season was nothing but a screaming success.  So they celebrated by losing Amare Stoudemire to the Knicks, bungling the situation so they could not get a giant cap exception.  They then signed Hakim Warrick, traded for Josh Childress and traded for Hedo Turkoglu, one of the ghastliest contracts in the NBA.   Louis Amundsen, their energy big man off their remarkable bench left for Golden State.  The end result is Steve Nash is surrounded by a bevy of small forwards, and a couple of VERY soft big men.  Also gone is the shooting prowess of Leandro Barbosa.  Honestly, I am not sure besides Steve Nash, Jason Richardson and Channing Frye, where the firepower is coming from outside.  Can they play the breakneck pace they always do and shoot well?  Sure.  But their defense, not a strength a year ago (and it actually WAS a strength under D’Antoni) could be earth shatteringly bad.

CAN WIN THE TITLE IF: They somehow match last year’s true shooting percentage and offensive efficiency while Robin Lopez turns into Marcus Camby.  They need to defend marginally well and rebound.  They could majorly overachieve again, but I don’t expect any team that scares away a guy like Steve Kerr to be achieving much of anything.

15. New York Knicks

In a fun coincidence, we follow Mike D’Antoni’s old team with his current one.  On the bad side, the Knicks plan to get LeBron James as a colossal failure.  They had no way of knowing about the pinky swear promise, and as such they built up their fans’ hopes for nothing.  Some have called the offseason an unmitigated disaster.  I am inclined to empathize, but given this – their offseason was actually pretty good.  They signed Amare Stoudemire.  Sure he has no partner in crime, but by not splurging otherwise, there is some possibility to get that guy.  They fleeced Golden State trading David Lee’s one dimensional ass for Anthony Randolph who has Shawn Marion sort of ability dripping off of him.  They signed Raymond Felton to one of the smartest deals of the offseason – while that might not be a perfect fit on the court, he was a great value.  There is not the three point gunning in this lineup to satisfy D’Antoni, but there are the athletes to run, run, run.  The Knicks have the talent to get back into the playoffs at least.

CAN WIN THE TITLE IF: If the 2005 Suns magic strikes again and these guys all DO become great 3 point gunners.  There are a lot of 129-122 results in this team’s future.  There is no real title hope here, but the entertainment value will be there.

14. Atlanta Hawks (8th overall in 2010, 4th offense, 15th defense)

What is interesting about the Hawks offense is that they basically succeeded by not passing.  Their noted isolation heavy attack relied on shooting a lot and rebounding misses.  They led the league in lowest turnover rate because guys just shot it when they had it.  Their 4th ranked offensive rebounding stat shows how they were efficient.  They did a great job at making sure stuff was heading to the basket, such a great job that they had some slack when the ball did not go in.  That said, this team had great health and a great season off the bench for Jamal Crawford, and Josh Smith is one of the covert best players in the NBA.  Really this is the most predictable outfit in the league.  They are good and durable and playoff caliber.  But they just aren’t good enough to beat top teams in the postseason.  This has shown the last two years with their drubbings in the second round – their isolation offense gets exposed and they have no plan B.  If individual talent fails, what to do?  Allegedly new coach Larry Drew is trying to add some motion, but it’s hard to see them changing much.

CAN WIN THE TITLE IF: The United States east of Atlanta crumbles and falls into the sea.

13. Denver Nuggets (10th overall in 2010, 6th offense, 16th defense)

Denver is in a weird place in their development.  10th a year ago, some of that can be attributed to George Karl’s bout with cancer.  Really, this side is not significantly different from the team that outplayed the Lakers for five games in 2009 – and is the best foul drawing team in recent history.  However, health, status all of that is in flux.  Does Carmelo Anthony want out?  He has been heard making noises about a pinkie swear promise with Chris Paul, or Meg Ryan or Amy Adams, I don’t know.  But there is some evidence of unrest.  Their desperately thin frontcourt is in even more peril as Kenyon Martin and Chris Andersen have significant knee issues.  While Al Harrington (a good pickup) gives them some floor spacing, he hurts their already meh defense.  The team can shoot though, especially if JR Smith can stay more consistent than he has been, and Ty Lawson has all the makings of a star just waiting to escape the cage his coaches have put him in.  Denver could win the title – the talent is there, but this is very much like what a football preview writer might have said about the Minnesota Vikings.  This could REALLY go in any direction.

CAN WIN THE TITLE IF: Carmelo Anthony stops making doe eyes at the East Coast and plays the basketball he is capable of, their thin big rotation stays healthy and Ty Lawson and JR Smith give them a true energizer dream backcourt to supplement what the old hand of Chauncey Billups can offer.  Denver could win 55 games, they could win 35 … I am totally flummoxed.

 

Dare to be Stupid – More NBA Free Agency

The reporting has been a little slow lately.  Maybe it’s the Independence Day holiday – maybe just the nature of the beast and everyone waiting for LeBron.  But a couple more moves:

Atlanta Hawks sign Joe Johnson for 6 years $120 million: I wrote about this already. This is a mind bendingly stupid deal by the Hawks.  It’s not like they sell out the building – the Hawks have always been a tough draw, and Atlanta is probably the worst pro sports market in the United States anyway.  The Hawks are a good team – good enough to make the 2nd round in each of the last two playoffs.  However, they lost 8 straight in that round by double figures.  As constituted, this team cannot make the leap.  But what have they done?  Replaced Mike Woodson with his assistant who might keep their system – which is good but also has bogged down in the playoffs.  Then they re-sign their money man without any sort of hometown discount.  Basically Johnson is back solely for the coin.  And one can easily argue Josh Smith is their best player – and will be in the future.  The Hawks have doomed themselves to a very limited ceiling for the foreseeable future.

New York Knicks sign Amare Stoudemire for 5 years, $100 million: On some basic level the Knicks overpaid for Amare here.  Amare is a poor defender, and showed some low effort in the Lakers series.  He could be taken out of games at times.  But he is a prodigious inside scorer, and is returning to the system where he became a household name.  In addition, the Knicks HAD to land a big fish.  Given how they have sold this strategy to their fans, and given how little hope Knicks fans have felt for years – they NEEDED to get a big catch this offseason.  Stoudemire certainly qualifies, and will probably justify his deal.  There is also some room for the Knicks to go get someone else.  This move does not make the Knicks a title contender – but now they have a chance to put that sort of team out there – whether it be with the rest of this offseason or next year.

Boston Celtics re-sign Paul Pierce for 4 years $60 million: The haggling on the fourth year was about how guaranteed it would be.  The details when they come out will be interesting.  That said, Pierce has gone through a lot.  He survived a stabbing, and never asked to leave Boston.  And while he is not the player he was, his virtues (size and shooting ability) are durable and his secondary skills offer value.  This is an old team – but torching it was not a viable cap option – not with Garnett being unmovable through 2012.  So the Celtics and Pierce got a mutually beneficial agreement, and the Celtics have a chance to do some rebuilding on the fly with Rasheed’s contract hopefully.

Dallas Mavericks re-sign Dirk Nowitzki for 4 years $80 million: Dirk is one of the ten best players in the league, and his biggest skills (shooting, rebounding, being tall) assure he will be a viable player for far beyond this deal.  Mavericks and he also good mutual agreement.  In addition, if Dallas wanted to take a long odds stab at LeBron – they have a lot of enticing pieces to offer.

Dare to Be Stupid – NBA Free Agency, Initial Notions

New Jersey Nets trade Yi Jianlian to the Washington Wizards for cash: Another straight salary dump.  The Nets are positioning themselves to make the biggest splash possible.  With Ivan Drago seeming wanting to put his stamp on the team as soon as possible, this makes sense.  For the Wizards, Yi has a measure of upside, and Andray Blatche has a broken ankle.  Nobody gets hurt here.

So, armed with cash and cap space, we see teams gunning for this unmatched Class of 2010.  LeBron James, Dwayne Wade, Amare Stoudemire, Chris Bosh, Paul Pierce, Ray Allen, Dirk Nowitzki – just a total who’s who of star NBA players of the last decade – and they are all free agents.  So the anticipation for today’s first day to talk to free agents has been palpable.  Add to it the backdrop of a lockout and drastically changed salary structure next offseason – and for a lot of guys this is the last chance for life changing money.  None of the huge chess pieces have moved yet.  However, a few deals have been struck, and guess what?  NBA GMs are like stupid drunk bachelors at the Cheetah Club, just waving money at any scantily clad FA walking their way.  To wit:

Hawks offer Joe Johnson 6 years, $119 million: The Hawks by maxing out Joe Johnson have just tied up their cap, gone up against the luxury tax threshold and have pinned their hopes to a 29 year old who was good enough to lead the Hawks to 8 straight double digit losses in the second round of playoffs.  As Charles Barkley would say, turrble … and this was just the beginning.

Milwaukee Bucks sign Drew Gooden for 5 years, $32 million: Gooden for the full midlevel??  Milwaukee needs size, but did they need it this badly?  John Hammond is a very smart GM considering the shrewd moves he made last year to get the Bucks to be a legitimately sexy team.  Drew Gooden gets a full five year deal – the Drew Gooden who is notorious for forgetting plays – the Drew Gooden who will be on his 9th team in his 9th season in the league??  Him?!!

Minnesota Timberwolves sign Darko Milicic for 4 years $20 million (final year partially guaranteed): Even with the partially guaranteed fourth year, this is an amazing deal for Darko to land – not so much in dollars but in job security.  For a guy who had one good half season (and only by his low standards) in Minnesota to suddenly warrant 4 years of job security is amazing.  Considering he has been accused of lacking passion for basketball – even worse.  Of course this is the team that drafted 18 small forwards last week.

Memphis Grizzlies decline tender on Ronnie Brewer: A starting caliber ace defending two guard can be locked up for a modest league average sort of wage – forcing teams to spend a 1st round pick to sign him … and Memphis let him go why?  It is easy to blame Chris Wallace, but petty clearly someone else is doing this.

OK, one piece of good news …

Minnesota Timberwolves sign Nikova Pekovic for 3 years, $13 million: apparently very good in Europe, a former 2nd round pick draft and stash.  Good value here.  I mean even if he is average, $4.3 million is a good price for average.

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.  

********************************************************************************************

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):

NBA Playoffs Round 2 Picks

Well, this is hardly revelation. Indeed, two of the series are already underway with the Lakers and the Cavaliers each taking 1-0 leads. Fortunately I was not picking the Celtics or the Jazz to sweep, so no biggie. So the series (rankings based on final rankings):

Cavaliers (2) vs Celtics (10):  To their credit, the Celtics will not be scared.  Of course this is a rematch of a 2nd round series from 2007-2008 when the Celtics beat the Cavs in a series where nobody won on the road.  This time, the Celtics NEED to win in Cleveland.  Alas, they have blown leads all season and their defense, 6th in the league, has wavered at times when they’ve needed big results.  Cavs athleticism is a real problem.  Celts must stop the Cavs 3 – and Rondo has to dominate.  Cavs in 5

Magic (1) vs Hawks (8): In Round 1, Magic played the Bobcats – 2 stout defenses with only one good offensive team – hence a Magic sweep.  Now, two of the league’s best offenses but this time the Magic have the far superior defense.  The Hawks have struggled in head to head matchups, and the Magic depth and quality is hard to top.  Both teams are very efficient on offense without being great assist teams – Magic take high level shots, Hawks offensively rebound.  Really I don’t see how the Hawks win.  Magic in 5

Lakers (7) vs Jazz (5):  Kirilenko has to play.  The Jazz showed to be a lousy defense in round 1 against Denver.  However, Denver was lousier and the Jazz scored at will.  The Lakers size and length are a tough matchup for the Jazz’ bigs.  Without Kirilenko the Jazz must win this on offense, which they are solid at.  However, the Lakers defense, with Bynum is outstanding.  There is a reason the Jazz have had trouble winning.  However, the Lakers did not look great against the Thunder.  They really are vulnerable.  The offense has been pedestrian, or streaky at the very least.  This could be a good series.  Lakers in 7

Suns (3) vs Spurs (4):  What a history these teams have.  Granted, the Spurs have had the better of it, but such a style matchup.  The Spurs are much more offensive minded now than back in the day.  I mean then the offense was efficient, but now their offense is more important, as their defense is not “great” anymore at a mere 9th.  The Suns are wonderful offensively, and they did very well in head to head this season.  They came off of a good series against a feisty Portland team, giving them 3 of their 4 worst losses of the season.  If Suns can manage the size, they should finally break through this time.  Suns in 6

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