NBA Preview 2023-24

Another season is upon us so it’s time to go on the record with some pre-season predictions.  There is no prohibitive favorite but there is a big three: Boston, Milwaukee, and Denver and Phoenix is a close fourth (with a few other teams near the Suns).  Let’s run through a few of the burning questions:

Was the Dame/Jrue trade worth it for Milwaukee?

Definitely.  Giannis Antetokounmpo clearly wanted the deal and immediately signed an extension thereafter.  On that basis alone the Bucks had to make the deal.  Putting aside keeping Giannis happy, though, do the numbers bear out the deal?

Both Lillard and Jrue Holiday are All-Star level 33-year old point guards but they add value quite differently.  Pure numbers comparisons are two-dimensional but definitely provide a nice ballpark for the players as of the end of the 2022-23 season:

-Holiday: 32.6 mpg, 2,183 minutes, 19.3 ppg, .586 TS%, 5.1 rpg, 7.4 apg, 1.2 spg, 19.2 PER, .148 WS48, 3.1 BPM (0.1 DBPM), 2.8 VORP

-Dame: 36.3 mpg, 2,107 minutes, 32.2 ppg, .645 TS%, 4.8 rpg, 7.3 apg, 0.9 spg, 26.7 PER, .205 WS48, 7.1 BPM (-1.2 DBPM), 4.9 VORP

Two great players and the stats reflect their differences better than I thought they would.  Dame is transcendent offensively and a negative on defense and Jrue is a more balanced player.  Lillard’s usage was a career high 33.8% and you have to think that will tamp down slightly on a better team.

Dame’s real utility will come, however, in the playoff slog where the Bucks’ offense has sputtered at times and Jrue had issues in that same slog.

Here are the Bucks’ offensive ratings by series since Jrue came to town compared with their regular season numbers:

2020-21, regular season offense, 117.2 (6th)

2020-21, first round versus Miami, 117.2

2020-21, second round versus Brooklyn, 105.0

2020-21, ECF versus Atlanta, 117.6

2020-21, Finals versus Phoenix, 111.7

2021-22, regular season offense, 115.1 (3rd)

2021-22, first round versus Chicago, 109.8

2021-22, second round versus Boston, 97.7

2022-23, regular season offense, 115.4 (12th)

2022-23, first round versus Miami, 118.8

First, the ironic point is that the loss to Miami was the impetus for this trade but the Bucks’ scored better in that series, they just couldn’t stop the Heat.  Still, the prior playoffs do show playoff offense drop off.  Overall, the Bucks have been a tick below regular season efficiency (which is somewhat normal) but had some noteworthy bad scoring spots: Brooklyn 2021 and Boston 2022.   There are mitigating factors for these bad outcomes (Khris Middleton was hampered against Boston last year) but Jrue shot 36% in each of those series (and against Phoenix in the 2021 Finals).

In fact, here are Jrue’s overall regular season stats as a Buck versus his playoffs stats:

-Reg. Season: 32.6 mpg, 18.5 ppg, .590 TS%, .395 3FG%, 4.7 rpg, 6.8 apg, 2.6 topg, 19.7 PER, .154 WS48, 3.2 BPM

-Playoffs: 39.2 mpg, 17.9 ppg, .476 TS%, .304 3FG%, 5.8 rpg, 7.9 apg, 2.6 topg, 14.6 PER, .087, 1.7 BPM

Jrue is an effective in non-scoring stats in the playoffs but his three-point shooting has been miserable (on about the same rate of frequency as he takes them in the regular season). But wait there’s more….Jrue’s bad shooting also extends to two-pointers.  Here are his shooting splits by distance:

0-3 feet: .694% regular season, .610% playoffs

3-10 feet: .452% regular season, .388% playoffs

10-16 feet: .511% regular season, .408% playoffs

16-3 point: .459% regular season, .324% playoffs

3 pointers: .395% regular season, .304% playoffs

Holiday still passes well in the playoffs but there’s only so much he can help on offense if he is a quasi-non-shooter in the playoffs.  Just for some comparison, here are Dame’s career regular season and playoff numbers:

-Reg. Season: 36.3 mpg, 25.2 ppg, .588 TS%, .372 3FG%, 4.2 rpg, 6.7 apg, 2.8 topg, 22.5 PER, .177 WS48, 4.9 BPM

-Playoffs: 40.3 mpg, 25.7 ppg, .561 TS%, .369 3FG%, 4.5 rpg, 6.2 apg, 3.1 topg, 19.8 PER, .114 WS48, 4.3 BPM

0-3 feet: .583% regular season, .573% playoffs

3-10 feet: .346% regular season, .373% playoffs

10-16 feet: .428% regular season, .278% playoffs

16-3 point: .443% regular season, .324% playoffs

3 pointers: .372% regular season, .369% playoffs

Dame has almost no playoff drop off in the playoffs, which is amazing.  There is the disclaimer that Dame hasn’t played a playoff game since 2021 but that is countered by the fact that Dame hasn’t dropped off in the regular season either.  In short, it seems that Dame could be such an offensive boost over Jrue you have to think this will be an overall improvement to the team.  Milwaukee will need another perimeter defender to call on but, assuming health, the Bucks look much more dangerous in the playoffs.

What about Boston?

The Celtics take the consolation prize by nabbing Jrue to replace Malcolm Brogdon/Marcus Smart and betting that Kristaps Porzingis will stay healthy.  It will be tough to improve on last year’s regular season but this squad should be at the top of the conference.  The only question is whether they can create enough offensively deep in the playoffs.  The last two years, the offense stalled out in the playoffs when Jayson Tatum wasn’t hitting shots.  The Celtics are co-favorites to win the title but I’m guessing that they can’t overcome the Bucks in the playoffs.

Denver versus the field

The Nuggets are younger and better than the Suns, Lakers, Clippers, and Warriors.  Nikola Jokic is still the best player in the NBA and each of these other teams have age issues that make it hard for me to believe they will beat Denver.  As for LeBron James, his longevity has been amazing but there is not a single NBA player who was MVP-level effective at age-39.  He can still be an All-Star but we should see more regression and that’s enough to make the Lakers fringe contenders at best.

Eastern Conference Predictions

1. Boston Celtics

2.  Milwaukee Bucks

3.  Cleveland Cavaliers

4.  Philadelphia 76ers

5.  New York Knicks

6.  Miami Heat

7.  Atlanta Hawks

8.  Indiana Pacers

(Play-in Losers)

9.  Chicago Bulls

10.  Toronto Raptors

Western Conference Predictions

1. Denver Nuggets

2.  Phoenix Suns

3.  Los Angeles Lakers

4.  Memphis Grizzlies

5.  Minnesota Timberwolves

6. Golden State Warriors

7. Sacramento Kings

8.  Los Angeles Clippers

(Play-in Losers)

9.  Dallas Mavericks

10.  OKC Thunder


Eastern Conference Finals

Bucks beat Celtics 4-2

Western Conference Finals

Nuggets beat Suns 4-1


Bucks beat Nuggets 4-3


MVP: Nikola Jokic

ROY: Victor Wembanyama

COY:  Joe Mazzulla