Tag: 2011 Preview

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.



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.


2011 NBA Preview: Teams 24-19

This is the third entry in our NBA preview series.  In the prior installment we unearthed our picks for the six worst teams in the NBA.  Now we rise up from badness to mere irrelevance:

24. Sacramento Kings (23rd overall in 2010, 22nd offense, 18th defense)

After much of the walking disasters in the previous section, the teams here seem to either be just unappealing in a boring, non transcendental way, or they are teams like the Sacramento Kings – a team with a lot of raw materials, but without a discernible near term recipe to put the flavors together.  Tyreke Evans, while playing wildly out of position as a lead guard, is one of the most impressive physical forces in the NBA, a pocket version of the LeBron James wing player as-linebacker.  Jason Thompson is an interesting forward, Carl Landry has always been a super productive forward for his pedigree, and Beno Udrih seems like he might be a competent point guard.  DeMarcus Cousins, entering as the #5 pick, is certifiably crazy.  But he is also the single best talent to enter the draft, a big man with soft hands, amazing rebounding instincts and the ability to go for 20-20 any night.  There are going to be some nights where they could crush a team like the Lakers or Celtics on the second night of a back to back.  They will also pile up a lot of losses while trying to put this chemistry experiment together.

CAN WIN THE TITLE IF: Tyreke Evans morphs into the junior Oscar Robertson his talent tracks with.  DeMarcus Cousins IS the best big man rookie since Dwight Howard and Paul Westphal learns how to coach defense.

23. Washington Wizards (26th overall in 2010, 25th offense, 20th defense)

After the colossal disaster of a season ago, the Wizards seemed without hope – sure they had cap space, but who would buy, especially when the three top free agents were making a pinkie swear promise?  Flip Saunders did a decent job defensively – 20th is no great shakes, but at least they gave a shit compared to what Eddie Jordan wheeled out there.  However, his offense predicated on smart reads and cuts was dependent on the basketball acumen of people like Nick Young and Javale McGee.  Oops.  This is not to say these are bad players, but “heady” is not a popular descriptor.  But alas, there is hope with Ted Leonsis owning the team and John Wall landing in their laps as the #1 overall pick.  Wall is the first true facilitator the Wizards have had since Rod Strickland, and if Gilbert Arenas can handle playing shooting guard competently, they could be entertaining pretty quickly.  While the albatross of Kirk Hinrich’s deal is not great, at least he can play basketball and not just run and dunk and shoot wantonly.  Wall, Arenas’ return and the growth of Aundray Blatche could keep things interesting for a couple of months.  Really this is a step in a solid rebuilding process.

CAN WIN THE TITLE IF: Wall is even better than I think he will be (and that’s saying a lot), Gilbert becomes an efficient shooter and Blatche emerges as one of the East’s top power forwards.  The team learns Saunders’ defensive schemes more and become a tough team to score on.

22. Memphis Grizzlies (20th overall in 2010, 17th offense, 23rd defense)

The Grizzlies are the first (ok I forgot the Cavs) 40 win team from a year ago to be on this list.  How they did it though was a bit lucky.  First of all, they were among the healthiest teams in the league.  It is hard to remember any of their core guys, Rudy Gay, OJ Mayo, Zach Randolph missing any significant action.  The Grizzlies were an athletic team that relied on volume to account for relative inaccuracy.  So while their shooting percentage (true shooting) was merely 21st, their league leading offensive rebounding pushed them up in efficiency.  That said, their defense was bad and their bench was worse.  The bench will improve as Hasheem Thabeet might be a bust at the 2nd overall pick, but should be improved as a backup center.  Also the drafting of Xavier Henry gives them some more depth in the wing.  That said, the extension for Rudy Gay was nonsensical, and the odds of human carcinogen Zach Randolph staying engaged again is low.

CAN WIN THE TITLE IF: They played in the NBDL.  Their starting five stays as healthy and focused as they did last year and Xavier Henry plays like the guy who the college basketball experts thought Kansas was getting and not the one dimensional wimp who actually played for them.  But there is just not much ceiling here – considering what a best case scenario last year’s 40-42 was.

21. Los Angeles Clippers (27th overall in 2010, 27th on offense, 21st on defense)

This is one of the first solid upside plays we have in this list.  I could see this team making the playoffs in an everything goes right sort of way.  The key is Blake Griffin.  After missing his entire rookie season, the slam dunk #1 pick of last season shows signs of being that sort of guy this year.  If he is the real thing, then the notoriously unfocused Baron Davis could match it also.  Even as he has gotten older, Davis to me is the best package of pure point guard skills in the game.  When he focuses and stops launching 3s, he dominates games like no other point can.  But he does it so rarely that we are staring a 21st ranked team.  There is a decent amount to like even if they ARE a laughingstock franchise and hiring a crappy coach like Vinny Del Negro.  Griffin and Eric Gordon are building blocks, Al-Farooq Aminu is one of the most talented guys in this draft class (raw but a great homerun swing) and Eric Bledsoe could be a great combination guard.  But it comes down to Baron.

CAN WIN THE TITLE IF: If Blake Griffin is the type of superstar that can get Baron Davis to be a superstar like he can be too.  This team has the parts of a dangerous playoff team … but bet on any Clippers team at your peril.

20. Philadelphia 76ers (25th overall in 2010, 20th offense, 24th defense)

It is funny what coaching can do.  Under Maurice Cheeks, this team was young, fast and energetic.  Sure they couldn’t shoot, but they could defend and out-athlete more veteran opponents.  But their offense lacked, so the management picks up Eddie Jordan.  But the management forgot Eddie Jordan has no concept of coaching defense.  The accountability was gone and these guys fell like a rock.  Enter Doug Collins.  Collins, ever the ambulance chaser, comes out of his cushy TNT gig to try to rescue the team he played for.  Collins is a great rebuilder, but notoriously bad with young players.  Jrue Holliday is the youngest, and Evan Turner, the 2nd overall pick this year is no grizzled vet either.  Will Collins tear them a new Kwame Brown?  One hopes not, because if their confidence is not shattered (and Evan Turner is a legitimate solid fringe all-star sort as he seems to profile), they have pieces.  Andre Iguodala is a terrific glue guy, Louis Williams is a solid combo guard, Maresse Speights is a terrific post scorer.  The players under Collins will be accountable, and he has always been able to develop underachieving veterans (witness his tour in Detroit).  This team will be better just by having defensive accountability.  That said, I am not sure if they have solved their shooting problems which is years old now.  The Sixers were the 22nd ranked TS% team, and while they might get to the line more now (only 2 teams went less), they still do not have much shooting.

CAN WIN THE TITLE IF: Thaddeus Young or Jrue Holliday make the leap based on their talent, Elton Brand steps in the way back machine and Doug Collins works his Doug Collins miracle while not turning Holliday or Evan Turner into a fetal puddle of goo.  Evan Turner also has to be that point forward/Brandon Roy type and not an overrated non athlete who succeeded due to being in a non athletic Big Ten.  Someone needs to shoot the ball too.  

19. Charlotte Bobcats (14th overall in 2010, 24th offense, 2nd defense)

This is the team I am most confident that I will underestimate.  If Doug Collins in an ambulance chasing miracle worker, Larry Brown positively has healing hands.  Look at that roster.  When Gerald Wallace or Stephen Jackson is your best player, this is not the stuff of a title winner.  There is still a lack of wow on this team, even if they were the first team to really tap into the physical gifts of Tyrus Thomas.  Out is Raymond Felton at the point and in is the oft-injured Shawn Livingston.  Livingston has the talent to be a terrific big point guard, but his lack of shooting ability limits his ceiling.  Besides that, with no first rounder infused into the team, only Thomas’ improvement provides hope offensively – that and cutting down their league worst turnover rate.  Owner Michael Jordan could suit up again and be a net positive with this bunch (it’d better than him as a General Manager).  But somehow Larry Brown persists, and he makes this mishmash competitive by using good position defense that does a good job defending (3rd best forced turnover rate) without fouling.  (lowest FT rate allowed in the league and 2nd at defending 3 pointers). 

CAN WIN THE TITLE IF: They could let the 2010 Phoenix Suns play offense for them.  This is such a weird mishmash of mediocre talent and unproven upside that Larry Brown getting them 44 wins a year ago is a major league miracle.  He might get 50 wins this year with his skill for all I know.  But this is not the roster with that sort of ceiling, and given Michael Jordan’s work as a GM both here and in Washington, he is not someone you can immediately assume will identify that ceiling. (Adam Morrison, cough cough)

2011 NBA Preview: Teams 30-25

The first part of our 2011 NBA Preview started with last year’s rankings recapped.  But of course, that was LAST year.  What about this year – and shouldn’t an NBA preview feature wanton, almost certainly incorrect assessments about who is most likely to raise the banner next season?  But of course!  But to reach the top, we start at the bottom, so we count down the teams to the favorite to take home the gold.

30. Minnesota Timberwolves (29th ranked in 2010, 29th offense, 27th defense)

After a season where GM David Kahn decided to stockpile point guards – we now have a situation where he decided to stockpile small forwards.  We have #4 overall pick Wesley Johnson – who has NBA talent but is 23, so one wonders if he has any star future – we have the highly fungible Martell Webster, Corey Brewer – a glue guy on a team desperate for stuff to glue together, and Michael Beasley – who really should be playing power forward.  Alas, Kevin Love is occupying that spot because Kahn has been seduced by Darko Milicic as a center with a pulse.  The team has a lot of depth, but I am not sure any of them besides Love are any good at all.  They are horrid on both ends of the floor and there is not a lot in their offseason that offers evidence of change.  Kurt Rambis’ attempts to fit these guys into the triangle also showed real questions about his ability to coach a CYO team.

CAN WIN THE TITLE IF: A Godzilla like space creature comes in and marauds every other city in the country but, due to a fear of Prince music, leaves Minneapolis untouched.

29. Toronto Raptors (17th overall in 2010, 5th offense, 30th defense)

The Raptors, like many of the teams in the toilet bowl section of this preview, are a series of complimentary players waiting for a superstar to save them.  Of course Chris Bosh, their best player, walked out the door to fulfill a pinky swear promise with Wade and LeBron, and left this Charmin-soft band of misfits behind.  Props to Brian Colangelo for foisting Hedo Turkoglu’s deal on the unsuspecting Phoenix Suns, but what is left here might be the single least intimidating team in NBA history.  With Jose Calderon, Andrea Bargnani, Linus Kleiza, Leandro Barbosa – they can score and shoot well.  They were the 5th best offense a year ago, and that will suffer with Bosh’s absence – though they should still be middle of the pack.  However, their appalling defense of a year ago (not just 30th, but 30th by a larger margin than the difference between 29th and 25th) figures to be even worse too.

CAN WIN THE TITLE IF: The NBA changes its rules to allow all games played in Canada to be decided by a game of 21 or Knockout.

28. Detroit Pistons (28th overall in 2010, 21st in offense, 26th in defense)

The real surprise over the years as the Pistons have fallen apart from their 2003-2008 heyday is how they still play a molasses slow pace, but are now incredibly easy to play against.  26th in defense!  How?  After losing Flip Saunders, their offense faded from super efficient to pretty shaky, but the defense has slid too.  We know Charlie Villanueva and Ben Gordon are not defensive aces, but Tayshaun Prince (when healthy), Richard Hamilton, Ben Wallace (who to be fair, had a good season) – where is the accountability?  Really there feels like there is just a depression over the franchise – this has not been a crash, but a gradual descent into irrelevance, kind of incredible given that they were in the semifinals as recently as 2008.  The ownership change to Mike Ilitch, who knows winning with the Red Wings and Tigers, will help – but not yet.

CAN WIN THE TITLE IF: The clock turns back to 2004.

27. Cleveland Cavaliers (1st overall in 2010, 3rd offense, 8th defense)

The #1 team of last year is 27?  How?  Ummm … I don’t know.  Seriously, what LeBron’s loss will do for their previously 3rd ranked offense cannot be overstated.  Their offense relied on having lots of good shooters and LeBron to slice them up.  Now?  Well Ramon Sessions is a good pick and roll point guard, but nobody would call him a LeBron playmaker.  Actually the cupboard is not that bare on some level, Hickson and Varajeao could be a very good frontcourt and they did defend well in the past.  I would not be surprised if they did better, but I am not sure where the offense comes from.

CAN WIN THE TITLE IF:  They trade for Antawn Jamison to give LeBron that help … oh wait a minute.

26. New Jersey Nets (30th overall in 2010, 30th offense, 25th defense)

The 12-70 Nets can’t get a whole lot worse than last year.  Considering this team flirted with East postseasondom in 2009, and Devin Harris and Brook Lopez have all star ability in them, there are some raw materials.  I loved the pickup of Anthony Morrow, who is one dimensional, but elite at that dimension (shooting the rock).  If they surprise me, they have the pieces to do so.  That said, their first round pick, Derrick Favors, is more a guy to dream on in the future than the present.  Their coaching will be somewhat improved with Avery Johnson (since Kiki Vandeweghe was just a sacrificial lamb) although Lawrence Frank is not at all a bad coach – the marginal improvement from the beginning of last season to this year is pretty small.  Really I just don’t see how they got THAT much better despite all their claims about cap space.  Travis Outlaw does not an offseason make.

CAN WIN THE TITLE IF: Well, they add Carmelo Anthony without seriously injuring the core i.e. just moving Favors, they start becoming interesting.  They have the cap room and assets to make a big move, so on some level this is a team that can at least dream – just not with this roster.

25. Golden State Warriors (22nd overall in 2010, 14th offense, 28th defense)

The best thing that happened to them is that Chris Cohan sold his team.  I know nothing about the new owners, but if they are just adequate that will be plenty.  This year’s team will not bear the fruit of this infusion of competence, but still one of the best markets in the league has hope again.  The team will be fun. Stephon Curry is one of my favorite players in the league, though he is paired with one of my least favorites in Monta Ellis.  They will run and score – their pace last year was the fastest in the league by a wide margin.  They will not defend – and getting David Lee in the offseason only makes that worse – although new coach Keith Smart might at least pretend since unlike Don Nelson, he will give a shit.  Also unlike Don Nelson, Smart might play Brandan Wright, who has been either injured or treated unconscionably by Nelson in the past.  There is talent even if they can’t guard a traffic cone.

CAN WIN THE TITLE IF: The playoffs occur at Rucker Park.  Really at least the last three teams in this section still have some ceiling – maybe not title ceiling, but could at least keep their fans flipping the sports pages until March.  The Warriors will be zany, and they will unearth good NBDL talent – but this is still a year or two away from being really somebody.

2011 NBA Preview: The Set Up

With a week to go before the NBA season starts, a time for a season preview, or at least the start of one seems natural.  So, did anything happen since the Lakers beat the CelticsAnything?  This season portends to be the most fascinating in recent memory, with the Sisterhood of the Traveling Gym Shorts thing taking place in Miami, Boston cleverly loading up on a two year run before having a real chance to start over again, Oklahoma City and Portland maybe well positioned to rise, and the Lakers still the cream of the West.  Like last year, we do the rankings again, though a couple small changes.

  • The Strength of Schedule is simplified.  It is simply an aggregation of a team’s opponent’s adjusted scoring margin against other teams.  So the Lakers SoS increased to 2nd in the league, while the Timberwolves slipped from #1 to #3.  This way strength of schedule does not include double counting.
  • The second degree strength of schedule (opponents’ opponents) is gone.  Ultimately it did not explain enough.

So how does the methodology work?

  1. We are looking for the best true scoring margin – normalized for pace, and normalized for fouling.  The fundamental job is to score and prevent scoring.  This is what it measures.
  2. Points are points.  Possessions is the number of field goal attempts plus 0.44 times number of free throw attempts (slightly less than 2 shots per trip to the line due to effect of and-1s) plus turnovers (wasted possessions) less offensive rebounds (saving possessions).
  3. Points/possession are calculated for each team, what they score, and what they allow.  However, the team’s defensive points allowed replaces FTs against with the league FT% times FTAs allowed.  Thus, we remove the luck of an opponent who can’t shoot foul shots.
  4. The points per possession are inflated using the league average number of possessions per game.  So we then get a “real offense” indicator, how many points a team scores in a league average paced game.
  5. We assume a 3.5 point home court, so the road team gets 3.5 points times the percentage of road games they have played to date.
  6. The team rating then becomes Real Offense – Real Defense + 3.5*RoadPct + Strength of Schedule Rating

Superimposing this slightly tweaked methodology on last year’s final numbers, how are we starting this season?

Rank Team W L Off Def Road SOS Rating
1 Magic 59 23 104.631 (2) 96.214 (1) 1.75 1.77 (15) 11.937
2 Cavaliers 61 21 104.39 (3) 97.272 (8) 1.75 1.709 (20) 10.577
3 Suns 54 28 107.908 (1) 102.168 (19) 1.75 1.658 (25) 9.148
4 Spurs 50 32 102.717 (9) 97.59 (9) 1.75 1.934 (7) 8.811
5 Jazz 53 29 103.122 (8) 98.527 (10) 1.75 1.957 (5) 8.301
6 Thunder 50 32 101.459 (11) 97.188 (7) 1.75 1.87 (9) 7.89
7 Lakers 57 25 101.152 (13) 97.091 (5) 1.75 2.028 (2) 7.84
8 Hawks 53 29 104.132 (4) 100.085 (15) 1.75 1.785 (13) 7.582
9 Celtics 50 32 101.165 (12) 97.178 (6) 1.75 1.675 (24) 7.412
10 Nuggets 53 29 103.777 (6) 100.105 (16) 1.75 1.961 (4) 7.383
11 Blazers 50 32 103.569 (7) 99.894 (13) 1.75 1.69 (21) 7.115
12 Mavericks 55 27 102.457 (10) 98.973 (12) 1.75 1.719 (18) 6.953
13 Heat 47 35 100.305 (18) 96.849 (4) 1.75 1.607 (27) 6.814
14 Bobcats 44 38 97.408 (24) 96.389 (2) 1.75 1.722 (17) 4.491
15 Bucks 46 36 97.553 (23) 96.462 (3) 1.75 1.517 (29) 4.358
16 Rockets 42 40 100.13 (19) 100.907 (17) 1.75 2.144 (1) 3.117
17 Raptors 40 42 103.869 (5) 104.906 (30) 1.75 1.712 (19) 2.425
18 Bulls 41 41 96.563 (28) 98.573 (11) 1.75 1.782 (14) 1.522
19 Hornets 37 45 100.59 (16) 102.895 (22) 1.75 1.861 (10) 1.307
20 Grizzlies 40 42 100.398 (17) 102.932 (23) 1.75 1.854 (12) 1.07
21 Pacers 32 50 97.062 (26) 99.996 (14) 1.75 1.581 (28) 0.397
22 Warriors 26 56 100.65 (14) 104.321 (28) 1.75 1.921 (8) 0.001
23 Kings 25 57 98.103 (22) 102.032 (18) 1.75 1.949 (6) -0.23
24 Knicks 29 53 100.646 (15) 104.386 (29) 1.75 1.42 (30) -0.57
25 Sixers 27 55 99.066 (20) 103.097 (24) 1.75 1.614 (26) -0.667
26 Wizards 26 56 97.101 (25) 102.302 (20) 1.75 1.681 (22) -1.77
27 Clippers 29 53 96.693 (27) 102.357 (21) 1.75 1.855 (11) -2.059
28 Pistons 27 55 98.198 (21) 104.067 (26) 1.75 1.733 (16) -2.386
29 Timberwolves 15 67 94.652 (29) 104.233 (27) 1.75 1.962 (3) -5.868
30 Nets 12 70 94.115 (30) 103.745 (25) 1.75 1.679 (23) -6.201

In a way, Orlando has been the most undersold team of the offseason.  With Miami’s offseason maneuverings and Boston’s big name bench pickups, Orlando’s quiet offseason left them lying in the weeds.  The way Boston squashed them in the Eastern Conference finals leaves an impression that the facts do not support.  The Magic at the end of last season were kicking the living crap out of opponents – the most complete team in basketball.  However, they have one flaw – if a team can single cover Dwight Howard, the Magic become very ordinary.  However, very few teams can do that – and teams that cannot open up everything Orlando can do.

But I digress, we’ll use last year’s ending table to start previewing teams.  The first six teams – in another post.