1. No Free Throw Pablo: While the early struggles of the Knicks have been thoroughly discussed, what caught my attention was the play of backup point guard Pablo Prigioni. Prigioni is a solid player (14.1 PER so far this year) and has actually significantly outplayed starter Raymond Felton (whose struggles are a big factor in the Knicks’ terrible start). The interesting thing about Prigioni is that, despite playing 16 minutes a game, he has attempted zero free throws this year. Last year, Prigioni wasn’t exactly a free throw machine, but he did ultimately get to the line 25 times (making 22 of the attempts).
How is this dirth of free throws possible? Now, it is clear that Prigioni’s role is to stay on the perimeter and give spacing to Carmelo in the post. All Pablo has to do is stay outside and move the ball around and hit an occasional three. Prigioni has done this well, shooting .487% from three. But free throws are important. The ability to get to the line for easy buckets helps a player’s scoring efficiency and keeps defenses honest. Prigioni is a very extreme player. He has taken 49 shots and only 10 of them are from two. When you watch Prigioni, he will drive to the lane occasionally only to usually turn around and kick the ball out unless he has a wide open layup. His sports VU shot chart indicates that nine of his ten two pointers were layups (the last was probably a three where he had his foot on the line).
Is this type of extreme player less valuable than a player who puts up similar stats but has a more well-rounded game? My sense is that Prigioni is less valuable because the defense can prepare for such an extreme player and doesn’t have to account for the possibility that Prigioni will do anything other than shoot a three or shoot a point blank layup. But Prigioni is endlessly fascinating. He is a worthwhile player despite his extremes and he was probably really good ten years ago when he was in his prime and his game was a little more diverse.
2. FT Futility: So, Prigioni is on a pace for zero free throw attempts this year. He will likely at least have a few by the end of the year but his lack of attempts got me wondering who the least line happy players ever were. Prigioni plays about 16 minutes per game, so we ran a search of players who played at similar minutes and found the following on the “winners board” (minimum of 40 games played):
-Andris Biedrins, 2011-12: 1-9, .111% (47 games, 739 minutes)
-Troy Murphy, 2011-12: 6-9, .667% (59 games, 956 minutes)
-Kevin Gamble, 1996-97: 7-10, .700% (62 games, 953 minutes)
-Mike Miller, 2012-13: 8-11, .727% (59 games, 900 minutes)
-Larry Smith, 1991-92: 4-11, .364% (45 games, 800 minutes)
-Anthony Carter, 2009-10: 11-13, .846% (54 games, 859 minutes)
-Chris Duhon, 2012-13: 6-13, .462% (46 games, 820 minutes)
-Wesley Person, 2004-05: 9-13, .692% (41 games, 667 minutes)
Five players tied with 14 free throws and several more are tied on each number thereafter. Of course, this doesn’t account for (lack of) productivity by minute, so here are fewest free throws on a per/36 minute rate basis under the same minimum playing criteria:
-Troy Murphy, 2011-12: 0.3
-Andis Biedrins, 2011-12: 0.4
-Keith Bogans, 2012-13: 0.4
-Matt Bonner, 2008-09: 0.4
-Kevin Gamble, 1996-97: 0.4
-Mike Miller, 2012-13: 0.4
Interestingly, a lot of these players never played again or were really close to the end when they posted these weak numbers, supporting the notion that free throw attempts and athletic ability correlate well. While Murphy spent his final season shooting jumpers, Biedrins lack of free throws is really weird. He is a banger and he can’t shoot (he was one for nine from the line in 2011-12!), so one would think he would get more attempts just on intentional fouls when he got a rebound/put back. The low number that season does appear to be a bit flukey though because Biedrins has averaged a free throw per game this seasons (albeit in a small sample size).
But all of the above players were part-timers. Turning to regular players (ie players who averaged over 30 minutes per game), the worst free throw creator was Bruce Bowen back in 2002-03 (0.5 FT/36M). Bowen also came in second (0.6 in 2006-07), third (0.7 in 2005-06 and 2007-08), and fifth (0.9 in 2003-04). While a few other players had as low a rate as 0.6 (Dennis Rodman 1993-94 and Nick Anderson 1996-97), no one else could touch Bowen’s low in 2002-03. In all, Bowen has seven of the 80 lowest free throw rates for regular players.
Is it possible to make so few throws and be a good offensive player? Yes, but it is not easy. Of the bottom free throw shooters I found a few good(ish) offensive players. Notably, Pooh Richardson in 1990-91 was the whole offense for a terrible T-Wolf team and had: 1.0 FT/36M (17.1 ppg, 9.0 apg, 18.1 PER) but somehow, with all the touches, didn’t get to the line much. Even Nick Anderson in his abysmal shooting 1996-97 was close to average with a 13.8 PER.
3. Who Said It?: Charles Barkley is famous for many things, including tons of funny quotes. Early this year, when considering how early is too early to deem a good start for a team reflective of real improvement versus small sample size, an old Barkley quote I remembered popped into my head. To paraphrase, I recalled Barkley stating that he hated playing bad teams early in the year because they didn’t know how bad they actually were.
The quote seemed typical Barkley, silly and possibly profound at the same time. On the one hand, it is somewhat ridiculous to think a bad team would play better than its ability solely because they hadn’t logged enough losses to give up. On the other hand, there is something to the idea that, like the coyote chasing the road runner off the cliff in the old cartoons, gravity won’t kick in until you look down and take in reality that your team sucks. The concepts aside, I got curious and decided to look back and figure out the exact context of Barkley’s statement.
A quick search came up with an article the Tuscon Citizen back in late November 1994. The writer was putting together a bullet point column and the quote is referenced to describe why Arizona Wildcat fans should not be too distressed about an early loss:
“This may not be a college basketball note or quote, but it may offer some insight into why Arizona lost its first-round game to Minnesota in the Great Alaska Shootout. The start of the season is a tough time because the bad teams don’t know they are bad yet,’ said Phoenix forward Charles Barkley after the Suns lost their season opener to Sacramento.”
Here’s the problem: the quote doesn’t appear to be properly attributed to Barkley. The article offers the quote when Barkley was a member of the Suns and talks about a season opener loss to the Kings. At the time of the article, Barkley had played only one full season (1992-93) and about one more month (the first month of the 1993-94 season). Being a dutiful dork, I checked Barkley’s game logs from 1992-93 and 1993-94 and found no evidence of this game. In fact, in 1992-93, the Suns opened against the Clippers and won. They also started pretty strong going 5-1, including a drubbing of the Kings (whom Phoenix went 5-0 against that season). In 1993-94, the Suns did lose their opener but it was against a decent Lakers team (in the second game of the season they drubbed the Kings by 22). Incidentally, the Suns did not lose to any other bad teams in November 1993.
This leaves likely two possibilities: (1) the semi-famous quote is not accurately attributed or (2) Barkley made it after losing to the Lakers in the 1993-94 season opener or after some other random early season game. It seems more likely that the former is true. While the Lakers weren’t great in 1993-94, in the 1992-93 playoffs, they took Barkley’s Suns to the brink and it wouldn’t seem likely that he would dismiss them so quickly after a tough series. Nor could I find any other terrible early losses for the Suns in 1992-93 or November 1993 (as of the date of the article listed above).
In support of the idea of incorrect attribution, my searching yielded an article from only a few weeks earlier than the Tuscon article, this time by Jim Shea of The Courtant. Shea interviewed Hubie Brown for an NBA preview (Brown was promoting that night’s TNT doubleheader which, ironically enough, included the Phoenix-Lakers game discussed above). In addition to discussing the possible teams/stories to watch, Brown told Shea the following: “In early November and December you fear road trips because the bad teams don’t know they are bad yet and they play with great enthusiasm at home. Later in the season those teams know they are bad.”
So there you have it…it seems that the Barkley quote is definitively not Barkley’s (at least in the sense that he could’ve said it as a Suns player). Like many other famous(ish) sayings, this old maxim probably originated long ago and has taken on a life of its own. Perhaps someone with more research capability and time to waste can one day trace this one to its actual origin.
1. Kobe’s Pain: The big story of the last few days is the unfortunate Achilles tear suffered by Kobe Bryant at the end of his Friday game against the Lakers. The injury raised a few questions to examine. Let’s take a look and see if we can answer them.
-Does this injury end the Lakers’ season?
Well the Lakers are in the driver seat to make the eight seed still if they win their remaining games two games. Kobe’s presence would’ve given the Lakers a puncher’s shot of upsetting the Spurs or Thunder but that’s about it. Even with Kobe, the Lakers are a poor defensive team (20th in the NBA) and they have no one to match up with either Russell Westbrook or Tony Parker. The Lakers are 0-2 against the Spurs (with one more game to play) and 1-3 against the Thunder. So, the injury is disappointing on many levels but probably changes nothing for this season.
-Did heavy minutes cause this injury?
There really is no way we can answer this question but we do know that Kobe had averaged a ton of minutes the last few weeks. In the past seven games, Kobe did not play fewer than 41 minutes in any game and hit 47 minutes four times (and would’ve hit that number in the Warrior game if he hadn’t gotten hurt). For the season, Kobe has averaged 38.6 minutes per game, which was basically the same number as last season and fewer than in 2009-10. That sounds like heavy time but Michael Jordan played even more minutes at age 34 than Kobe did (38.8 mpg).
As for Achilles tears, I’m no doctor but WebMD indicates they can be caused by both a single isolated rauma or overuse. So, we can’t preclude the possibility that Kobe’s injury might have have been caused by being run too hard the last few weeks. We will never know the answer unless the Lakers let someone review the MRI of the tear to tell whether they are consistent with a sudden injury or wear and tear. Given all this, I’m agnostic on this question but do come away wondering whether Bryant should’ve been monitored a bit more carefully.
-Can Kobe still be Kobe next year?
Again, I’m no doctor but news reports believe it’ll take 9-12 months to recover and that he could lose a little lift afterwards. The only other big time players I can remember suffering this injury had mixed results.
Dominique Wilkins tore his Achilles on a similar play at age 32 in 1991-92. He returned the following year with no problems at all and even had a better PER. Here are the stats for comparison (on a per-36 minute basis):
-(pre-tear) 1991-92: 9.5 fgs, 20.6 fgas, .464 FG%, .289 3FG%, 7.9 ftas, 6.6 rebs, 3.6 asts, 1.2 stls, 0.5 blks 2.7 tos, 26.5 pts. 22.2 PER
-(post-tear) 1992-93: 10.1 fgs, 21.5 fgas, .468 FG%, .380 3FG%, 8.5 ftas, 6.6 rebs, 3.1 asts, 1.0 stls, 0.4 blks, 2.5 tos, 28.8 pts, 24.3 PER
As can be seen, Wilkins was basically the same player after the tear. His numbers looked better because his three point shooting drastically improved (this was a fluke) but he was still able to get to the line and do all the other athletic things he was able to do before the injury.
The other recent(ish) case of a star player tearing an Achilles was Patrick Ewing during the 1998-99 playoffs (right before the Knicks famously went on a tear to the NBA Finals without him). At the time, Ewing was 36 and really slowing down as a player. He returned for the 1999-00 season and was not quite the same but close (his PER dropped from 19.4 to 16.9 the next season). Of course, Ewing was older and already declining rapidly, so it is hard to say how much of the decline at that age can be attributed to the injury. In any event, the Wilkins and Ewing cases give us optimism for Kobe. If an older and slower Ewing could still play post tear, there is no reason to think Kobe won’t likely have a few good seasons left. The rub, though, is that even if Kobe does come back close to his 2012-13 ability, he won’t be back until January (unless he tries to return insanely early) and there is a shot that the thin Lakers will be so mediocre without him (even assuming that Dwight Howard returns) that they will too far behind in the seedings to make a playoff run.
2. Louisville and the NBA: Louisville recently ran through the NBA tournament with relative ease. Despite this, they don’t have too much NBA talent (Gorgui Deng is the only projected first round right now). Of course, you don’t need an NBA star to win in college if you are as deep as Louisville is. The question I wondered is where each of the NCAA champs ranks in terms of NBA talent. Let’s take a look at all the titlists since the NCAA went to the 64-team tournament back in 1984-85 and assess which title teams had the best NBA talent: Continue reading Quick Thoughts…
1. Heckuva of a Job Brownie!: The big news of this week has come out of Los Angeles where the Lakers have canned Mike Brown and spurned an apparently willing and able Phil Jackson in favor of Mike D’Antoni. There is so much going on here, so let’s break it down piece-by-piece:
-Should Brown have been fired?
Certainly, the early returns were not good but it’s pretty hard to envision a scenario where a team could possibly conclude that a coach is lost after a five-game stretch to open a season. Brown had done some strange offensive things like trying to impose the Princeton offense on a team that would seem to thrive either running with Steve Nash or in isolation for Kobe Bryant. Despite this strange idea, the Lakers’ problem with Brown was not the offense (which was reasonably efficient) but the defense that couldn’t stop anyone. On top of that, Dwight Howard looks a little rusty on defense, so there is every reason to believe the defense would improve under a coach like Brown, who was always more defense focused, once Howard got his sea legs. In addition, a quick firing like this is pretty unprecedented (no coach has been let go so soon after the start the season since Dolph Schayes in 1971), which creates a tumult and sense of directionless that the players will have to deal with.
The Lakers also cut the cord on Brown before some winnable games without a new coach ready to come in his place. In the absence of any identifiably abysmal coaching moves, it seems that Brown must’ve ticked off the wrong guy: either ownership or Kobe, the only parties with the power and the temperament to fire Brown so quickly. Objectively, the firing was clearly too early. Brown is a competent enough coach and the team thought pretty highly of him last year when he was hired. He deserved at least some leash before being fired. This isn’t a supreme injustice (Brown will be paid a lot not to coach) but this seems unfair and such capriciousness is not a good way to run an organization.
-Did the Lakers hire the right guy?
D’Antoni is a pretty good coach but I’m not sure he is the perfect fit either. Remember the problem here was defense and not offense. In his Nash Years and later with the Knicks, D’Antoni teams were almost always much better offensively than defensively except for last year’s Knicks (when D’Antoni was let go in the middle of the year). At least D’Antoni can be expected to establish a smoother offense than Brown had and should figure out how to use Nash with Kobe a little better. We can expect offensive improvement going forward either way but the defense may still be an issue.
Jackson, the best coach of the last 20 years or so, would have been much better here. He has blended stars well in the past and his teams always play a nice defensive system. Of course, the decision is not just who is the better coach in the abstract but also includes what the coaches were demanding in salary and benefits. The word was that Jackson thought he had maximum leverage and put out some huge demands (part ownership, taking off some road games). I don’t know if this is true but you can’t kill the Lakers for wanting to have less onerous contract of D’Antoni, particularly on the ownership demand. If Jackson were the defense between a title and no title, the Lakers should’ve paid him but I don’t see the Lakers winning a title as currently constituted with either coach (they seem a little long in the tooth to beat OKC).
-Did the Lakers treat Phil Jackson poorly in the process?
Jackson and his agent have very publicly let the Lakers know that they feel screwed. Jackson thought he had another day to mull it over and then had the offer pulled off the table. I agree the Lakers seemed to go out of their way to irk Jackson but I can’t say I’m crying for him. Jackson has never been particularly sensitive to the feelings of his own management or other coaches in the past (remember Phil’s quasi-campaign for the Knicks job in 1999 while Jeff Van Gundy was still coaching the team?). The more interesting question is whether Jackson might come back to another team in the future. I don’t see a team built for him now but this could change by the end of the season. Stay tuned…
2. To Foul or Not to Foul: In watching the end of last night’s Nets-Celtics game, I came away questioning Avery Johnson’s tactics on one particular issue. The Nets were up by four with 19 seconds left the Celtics had the ball. Johnson then instructed his team to intentionally foul the Celts to avoid a three-pointer. First, the Nets fouled Paul Pierce near midcourt and he promptly hit two free throws to cut the lead to two. After that, the Nets made two free throws and, with eleven seconds left, the Nets did the same thing to Jason Terry, who promptly missed two free throws and the Nets scored two more free throws to ice the game.
Was this really the best way to end the game? In theory, the strategy worked because Terry missed his shots and the Nets won but this struck me as a really bad path to a win. Pierce is a career 81% from the line and Terry is 85%. From three, Pierce is 37% and Terry is 38%. Aren’t the odds much better that Pierce and/or Terry will miss the threes than the free throws? If Pierce and Terry hit, the Nets must match the free throws (and avoid a potential stupid turnover) or the Celts will get the ball back with a chance to tie or win. I understand the fear of the three when up four but the Nets would still have the ball and the lead. Instead, the Nets stopped the clock and gave the Celts higher percentage shots. Sure, the Nets had a chance to match the free throws but the odds were much better just playing out the game and daring the Celts to hit a three. The intentional foul to take away the three makes much more sense when the clock ticks down closer two five seconds left in the game, thereby eliminating the chance of a tie and giving the Celtics no time left to bring the ball up and shoot a three after the Nets are intentionally fouled and shoot foul shots. Again, Terry missed the free throws here but that is focusing on results and not the process, which seemed quite flawed.
3. What Happened to Dolph?: Finally, the Mike Brown Affair does raise the question of how the heck did Dolph Schayes leave his team after one game back in 1971? Fortunately, the Sports Illustrated Vault is available to give us the answer. Schayes, who was a great player for the Syracuse Nats in the 1950s, first coached the Philadelphia 76ers in 1963-64 and lasted three seasons. The Sixers picked up Wilt Chamberlain under Schayes’ watch and went 55-25 in 1965-66 but lost to Boston 4-1 in the playoffs. Schayes didn’t get along with Wilt and, after the playoff loss, Schayes was bounced for Alex Hannum (who ultimately won a title with Wilt).
Schayes next job was with the 1970-71 Buffalo Braves, an expansion team (that later became the Clippers). Buffalo had no talent and, not surprisingly, went 22-60 during that first season. According to Sports Illustrated, there were player complaints about Schayes’ leadership but he was retained for a second season. In the 1971-72 pre-season, the Braves looked bad and then lost its opening game to Seattle (another expansion team) by 33, after which Schayes was abruptly fired. According to owner Paul Snyder, the terrible showing merited firing: “I wasn’t a little disappointed by last year, I was a lot disappointed. I’m used to running a business and I felt it was the right decision to let Dolph go. So I did it. After the way we played in the first game I felt I would rather sell the franchise than watch another performance like that.”
How did this firing turn out? Schayes was replaced with scout Johnny McCarthy, who promptly led the team to another 22-win season. Neither Schayes nor McCarthy were ever NBA head coaches again after that season.
1. Harden Times: I’ve been away from hoops for a while, unfortunately, but this seems like the perfect time to return. The season is starting, which is good news in itself, and a lot is also going on, most notably, the trade of James Harden to Houston. What to make of this move? Bill Simmons wrote a column taking OKC apart for the trade as a missed opportunity to nurture that third star that most title teams have. I don’t necessarily think that Simmons is wrong but the decision is not quite that simple and it’s hard to state emphatically that trading Harden was a huge mistake.
In order to actually evaluate the trade, though, we should at least set out the facts and see if we can figure out where OKC was coming from here. Now, some might not agree with all these findings but we should at least try to find all the common ground first:
-OKC’s two best players are Russell Westbrook and Kevin Durant: Well, KD is obviously the team’s best player. Westbrook and Harden were pretty close in value last year on a per/minute basis. Westbrook had a PER of 22.9 and Harden had 21.1, which is quite close. Westbrook has the added value that he’s been playing at or near this level for a few years, while this was a new plateau for Harden. Westbrook also played more minutes at a more premium position. So, it’s fair to say Westbrook is better than Harden going forward, even though a strong argument can be made that their value is fairly equal.
-OKC thought Ibaka + Kevin Martin > Harden and no Ibaka: OKC seemed to feel that Harden wasn’t worth the $80 million max he grabbed from Houston but value is relative. Clearly, Houston had the cap room to pay Harden that much, while Harden as a second/third banana in OKC was more replaceable in their lineup and the Thunder lacked the cap room. This raises the interesting question of whether OKC wrongly chose to pay Serge Ibaka instead of Harden. In theory, the Thunder could’ve paid Harden a good salary and kept Ibaka but they would have had to amnesty Kendrick Perkins and his $25 million over the next three seasons. This seems like the easiest path (Perkins can’t score at all anymore and another cheaper big could probably be found most easily) but I guess either OKC decided they wanted to keep his bulk or Harden wouldn’t discount himself at all. Assuming that the Perkins amnesty option was not available (which seems very possible), OKC had to choose between Ibaka and Harden. This is no easy choice…either a 23-year old shot blocker who is playing like a young Marcus Camby or a valuable two guard with ability in all facets of the game like a young Eddie Jones or Manu Ginobili.
I’m sure if OKC’s choice was only between Ibaka and Harden, they probably would’ve taken Harden. Ibaka is a great player but, as a thinner shot blocker, isn’t even always on the floor to end games against the likes of Dwight Howard or Tim Duncan. The Thunder must’ve thought they could get a enough value from Kevin Martin, a young prospect in Jeremy Lamb, and two first-round picks (plus some other trinkets) and the bonus of keeping Ibaka was worth more than retaining Harden and hoping to find another Ibaka-type player. In the short-term, the Thunder shouldn’t feel much drop off (Martin is a very good scorer, but can’t guard/pass like Harden). In the long-term, Martin is a free agent and will probably command less then Harden did but will still be expensive. It’ll be interesting to see if Martin is let go after the season and the Thunder try to go with Lamb. This element of uncertainty at play makes this a hard deal to assess. Assuming Harden/Ibaka was an either or proposition, though, the return here is nice. Martin will help now and Lamb could be a good two guard going forward.
-Houston scored its star, kind of: After years of trying to obtain a few stars to build its team with, Houston finally found one in Harden. Harden projects as a great player but this is not the same as getting Dwight Howard, Yao Ming, or Chris Bosh. Yes, the Rockets had to lock up a young All-Star and a Harden/Jeremy Lin combo is a nice start to a team but there is reason two guards are not usually valued like star big men. Unless Harden turns into a Clyde Drexler-level player or better, the Rockets are not instantly a great team. Harden could turn into that type of player and the Rockets had to grab such a potential player but his presence does not guarantee the playoffs for Houston. While the Rockets still have plenty of cap room to get another star, they are still a work in progress.
-Overall?: Overall, this is a trade that helps both sides but is not totally ideal for either. OKC hedged well enough in recovering some good two guards for Harden (plus picks) but there is a possibility that they will regret letting Harden go (albeit not quite as likely as some would have you believe). For Houston, a nice interim move and nothing more and they may kick themselves if they gave up a ton of assets if a star big man becomes available in trade.
2. Lakers…It’s Over?: It’s way too early to make any conclusions about this season but the Lakers’ bad start (0-2 and outscored by 18 points in two games) has created all sorts of questions about this potential super team. But why worry? Had the Lakers made any free throws, they probably would’ve won at home against Dallas and they always have had problems in Portland in even the best of times. Still, the defense has looked weak (even though Dwight Howard looked good offensively) and Steve Nash and Kobe Bryant do not look like a great mix. If the Lakers wanted a 38-year old spot up shooter who can’t defend, they could’ve kept Derek Fisher. Nash should start blending well here but traditional point guards have never meshed well with Kobe in the past and the Lakers won’t get maximum value from Nash that a team without such a high usage shooting guard might.
3. Quickie Predictions: We’ve already provided an excellent and comprehensive NBA preview the last few weeks but I wanted to give predictions my on the record. I am fully aware that no one (including myself) will remember or care about my picks a week from now but how can I not participate? Anyway, here were go…
- Boston Celtics: Getting older and scoring is becoming an issue but still the best in the division.
- New Jersey Nets: Improved from the limbo years in Newark but this is still just another decent team with no Dwight Howard.
- New York Knicks: As with anything Knicks-Dolan, this team will eventually get ugly but should be in the playoffs again this year.
- Philadelphia 76ers: Took a step back in order to try to get Bynum and then made some weird personnel decision in free agency.
- Toronto Raptors: Some talent has been assembled but no depth. Goal will/should be to develop Jonas Valanciunas not to get to playoffs.
- Indiana Pacers: The Bulls’ loss (Rose, Derrick) is the Pacers’ gain. Have a pretty clean shot at the Conference Finals.
- Chicago Bulls: They aren’t a real threat without Rose but they have as much talent as most of the teams in the East (this is not a compliment to the East).
- Cleveland Cavaliers: Not a ton of good players but Kyrie Irving is enough to be near the playoffs.
- Milwaukee Bucks: Improved the offense last year at the expense of the defense. Won’t be quite as painful to watch as the prior teams but watching Monta Ellis and Brandon Jennings chuck isn’t riveting or a successful strategy.
- Detroit Pistons: Greg Monroe is effective but too many other weak draft picks and signings mean this team is still near its nadir. Joe Dumars may be in trouble with new ownership.
- Miami Heat: Still the class of the East and the NBA. LeBron and company look at least as good as last year.
- Atlanta Hawks: Even without JJ the talent is there to be a second round playoff team but still not a true threat.
- Washington Wizards: I agree with the consensus that Wiz’s off-season moves were bad for the long-term but are better than most of the riff raff for now.
- Orlando Magic: Handled the Dwight Howard affair terribly and are back into rebuild mode.
- Charlotte Bobcats: Cats should be better than the worst team ever this year but not by too much.
- Oklahoma City Thunder: The division has no cupcakes but KD and Russell Westbrook is enough to get a top seed.
- Denver Nuggets: A trendy pick to be really good. I see them as merely good, which is no insult.
- Utah Jazz: Few teams have amassed so many very good forwards. They’ll have to flip one (Al Jefferson?) for another guard.
- Portland Trail Blazers: They could be in the playoffs or could flame out. Success will come down to rookie point Damian Lillard.
- Minnesota Timberwolves: As good as most of the division but the Kevin Love injury will set them back.
- Los Angeles Lakers: Having trouble working out the kinks but they are too good not to win this division.
- Los Angeles Clippers: Clipps are deep and talented. Fun to watch but will need someone to fill the holes at the two guard and small forward to really win big.
- Golden State Warriors: Are trying hard to be taken seriously as a defensive team when the talent is focused with finesse guards Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson.
- Phoenix Suns: Starting over with Goran Dragic and Marcin Gortat.
- Sacramento Kings: There is some talent here but not as much as management thinks. Should reassess where they are headed.
- San Antonio Spurs: This will end sometime soon but not quite yet.
- Memphis Grizzlies: A nice solid playoff team.
- Dallas Mavericks: If Dirk comes back quickly and healthfully, they are a playoff team again.
- Houston Rockets: Lin/Harden will be fun and should be around the playoff race.
- New Orleans Hornets: West is too deep for them to win too much but have great building blocks
- Miami Heat
- Indiana Pacers
- Boston Celtics
- Atlanta Hawks
- New Jersey Nets
- Chicago Bulls
- New York Knicks
- Cleveland Cavaliers
- Oklahoma City Thunder
- San Antonio Spurs
- Los Angeles Lakers
- Los Angeles Clippers
- Denver Nuggets
- Memphis Grizzlies
- Dallas Mavericks
- Utah Jazz
Heat over Pacers, 4-2
Thunder over Lakers, 4-3
Heat over Thunder, 4-3
MVP: LeBron James
Rookie of the Year: Anthony Davis
Coach of the Year: Frank Vogel
1. Tanking: The theme of the final month of the NBA season has been tanking. Namely, that the bad teams have quit trying in an attempt to amass ping pong balls for the NBA Lottery. But is this true? Well, the anecdotal evidence overwhelmingly supports this assertion. Of the 16 teams currently in the NBA playoffs, all are at least 5-5 in their last ten games, except Orlando (which is 4-6 and has been reeling with the injury to Dwight Howard). Of the 14 teams now outside of the playoff picture, only four teams are 5-5 in the past ten games and two of those teams (Phoenix and Milwaukee) are still actively competing for the playoffs. Ten of those 14 teams are 3-7 or worse in their past ten. Of course, one would expect the poor teams to play poor in any random sampling of ten games but the ineptitude is palpable and most of these bad teams have shut down key players already.
Of course, there is little incentive for bad teams to really try to win once they obviously won’t make the playoffs. Indeed, teams get a better chance to win the Lottery with more losses. There is some value to finishing strong, as winning will give the bad team some positive feelings with fans for the next season. But good feelings aren’t going to be too strong enough merely because a team the goes from loser to competitive non-playoff team. Throw in that competing requires risk to your best players for the next season, and the slim benefits of finishing strong are clearly dwarfed by the benefits of losing. So, unless you are on the perimeter of the playoff race, the only real incentive to compete after a team has established itself as bad is where the coach or GM who is at a risk of job loss and hopes to show intra-season improvement sufficient to avoid being fired.
Henry Abbott over at ESPN argued that tanking is deleterious to the NBA and rewards bad decision making and should, therefore, be eliminated. Tanking is not really good for the NBA but it is difficult to think of a system that incentivizes competition over tanking. The concept of the NBA Lottery was invented to limit tanking (particularly after the Rockets were accused of tanking to get the pick that became Hakeem Olajuwon in 1984). The Lottery initially gave all non-playoff teams an equal shot of winning the Lottery and thus a team on the verge of the playoffs had as much of a shot of getting the top pick as the worst teams. The NBA figured that the system wasn’t fair to the really bad teams and could even encourage border line playoff teams to junk a run at a low playoff seed for the shot at the top pick. So, the weighted Lottery system was adopted and being bad became the best way to possibly get a better pick, even if you weren’t sure to have a top three pick.
Is this current system a problem? Well, it isn’t good that bad teams look like even bigger pushovers come April but fixing this only creates more problems. The best idea put forward came from Bill Simmons, who has talked about a tournament between the non-playoff teams, with the winner getting the best pick. This would encourage teams to play harder for better seeding in a theoretical tournament but the incentive still isn’t that great. Playing hard won’t help because the seeding isn’t really that important since none of the really bad teams are usually so good that getting a top seed in a loser’s bracket would be that big a deal. For example, if we were to fictionally create a loser’s tourney right now for 2011-12, the Suns would be the top seed and would have a bye but the third seeded Bucks would draw the Bobcats, not exactly a huge disadvantage for Houston. Also, the moderately bad teams, like the Nets or Raptors probably wouldn’t care which top seed they draw and winning a round in the bad tourney wouldn’t exactly excite the fans. A loser’s tourney has the distinct stench of the NIT, much ado about nothing to the fans. At the end of the day, the Lottery is the best way to balance between making sure the decent teams shoot for the playoffs teams and the bad teams are given a better chance but not a guaranteed shot at the highest picks and no artificial system is really going to fix this. For now, we just have to accept that the bad teams will be worse by the end of the season.
2. Bobcats Are Quite Bad: It may be a shortened season but Charlotte is threatening to have the lowest winning percentage in modern history. At 7-56, the Bobcats are worst offensive and defensive team in the NBA and their expected won-loss doesn’t short change them either, as the point differential projects to the same 7-56 record. It is clear that Charlotte has been managed horribly from day one and it is important for the team to get another win just to avoid another humiliation for the continually alienated local fans. At the end of the day, though, the Bobcats already bottomed out with some terrible drafts and the trading of Tyson Chandler for nothing but financial savings. It seems, though, that the Bobcats have figured this all out and Michael Jordan has finally hired a competent GM in Rich Cho. If Charlotte gets Anthony Davis, Thomas Robinson, or Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, they will have a nice building block. The fans may never feel for the Bobcats like they did for the Hornets but better the Bobcats are doing the right thing in dumping their mediocre vets and starting over. Now they just have to not screw up the coming draft choices.
3. Metta World Elbow: I caught much of the fun Lakers/Thunder game on Sunday. A great game was lost to the side story of Metta World Peace’s hard elbow to the head of James Harden. World Peace was rightfully tossed from the game and has earned a suspension of five games or so. World Peace claimed after the game that the elbow was unintentional and part of his celebration of a made basket. In reviewing the tape, World Peace seemed very much aware of Harden’s presence and meant to shove him off, though he probably didn’t mean to hit him so squarely in the head. The elbow looked very similar to one that World Peace threw at Chris Paul earlier in the season.
While World Peace definitely deserves his punishment, this incident should not be looked at as a back slide to his reckless behavior from many years ago, when he started a brawl in Detroit. The elbow on Harden was vicious but is a part of the game. Being guilty of serial elbow is not a character defect, as Bill Cartwright, Dikembe Mutombo, and Karl Malone can attest.