Quick Thoughts

1.    Celts-Cavs: Quite a game Cleveland tonight where we watched the Celts take on another possible playoff contender.  Boston, whose defense has been good so far, struggled to match up with LeBron James (38 pts, 14-15 from the line, and 13 assists).  In the end, the Cavs surged past the Celts to force overtime (after Ray Allen shockingly missed two free throws with the score tied in the last few seconds) and the Celts played their Big Three huge minutes.  Kevin Garnett had 44, Ray Allen 49, and Paul Pierce had 45 (subtract four or five minutes from each total to get a sense of how much they really would’ve played without overtime).    By overtime, the Big Three were gassed and they were relying way too much on Rajon Rondo (1-9  from the field in 44 minutes).

From the Cavs side, we get a sense that LeBron has enough to compete with any team in the East (a big qualifier).  From a Celtic perspective, you have to worry about the heavy minutes.  In fact, this is the fourth time in November that Ray Allen has broken the 45-minute barrier.  While a hot start is nice, the Celts are going to have to tone it down a bit if they want to be intact come April.

2.    Nets  Need More Williams: One of the nice surprises of the early season has been Nets rookie center Sean Williams.  Williams is clearly very raw.  He has only a Yinka Dare-ish 0.1 apg per game (!) but he’s also shown an ability to score on the break and to really block shots (2.2 bpg in only 20 mpg).  It’s not clear where Williams will end up as a player yet but it is clear that he must play more.  The only alternatives at center so far are Jamaal Magloire (who hasn’t been very good) and Jason Collins (unbelievably bad so far).  It’s hard to understate how poor these two have been so far but take a look:

Collins: 17.7 mpg, 0.5 ppg, .250 FG% (3-12 from the field), .100 FT% (1-10 from the line), 2.2 rpg, 0.4 apg, 0.1 bpg, 0.1 spg, 0.3 topg

Magloire: 13.5 mpg, 1.9 ppg, .192 FG% (5-26 from the field), .500 FT%, 4.2 rpg, 0.5 apg, 0.5 bpg, 0.0 spg, 0.3 topg

The other big men haven’t been great either.  Josh Boone, Malik Allen, and Nenad Krstic have all struggled in the 30% range.  But Magloire, and Collins even more, are unacceptable offensively.  Collins has somehow devolved from putrid offensive player to absolutely moribund.  He has literally done nothing well statistically on a basketball court this year.  He can’t score or rebound and the stats don’t indicate that he defends very well either.  Now, Collins does defend decently in the help defense department but he certainly doesn’t help well enough to play 18 mpg and star.  This is also confirmed by the plus/minus data from 82games.com, which has Collins at -19.3 and Magloire at -20.7 and Williams second on the team at +8.1.

It appears that Lawrence Frank has slowly come to realize this fact, limiting to Collins to 8 minutes in Los Angeles and playing Williams down the stretch.  Still, Collins has been something of a security blanket to Frank because he is smart and plays hard (Magloire has already been buried on the bench).  Unless there is an emergency, however, Collins’ game has declined too much to play more than 10 minutes a night.

3.    Offensive Nadas: Putting aside how poorly has played offensively this year, 2006-07 was not exactly great either (2.1 ppg, .364 FG%, 4.0 rpg, and a 3.0 PER in 23.0 mpg).  The question is whether Collins’ 2006-07 is the worst offensive season we’ve seen from a regular player (i.e more than 20 MPG).  While not exhaustive, here is Collins matched up against some of the other offensive ballasts from recent years:

J. Collins NJ 2006-07 23.0 2.1 0.364 4.0 0.6 0.9 3.0
J. Koncak ATL 1990-91 25.1 4.1 0.436 4.9 1.6 0.6 8.4
G. Kite SAC 1989-90 21.3 3.2 0.432 5.3 1.1 1.1 7.0
F. Spencer ORL-GS 1996-97 21.3 5.1 0.489 5.7 0.3 1.2 9.2
M. Brown MIN 1993-94 23.4 3.6 0.427 5.5 0.9 0.9 7.2
L. Williams DAL 1995-96 27.8 3.0 0.407 8.0 1.3 1.2 9.6
H. Catchings MIL 1981-82 20.0 2.9 0.420 4.5 1.2 1.2 8.1
E. Montross DAL-NJ 1996-97 23.4 4.3 0.456 6.6 0.8 1.0 8.8
C. Dudley POR 1996-97 22.7 3.9 0.430 7.3 0.5 1.0 10.1
M. Eaton UTA 1991-92 25.0 3.3 0.446 6.1 0.5 0.7 9.1
M. Bol WAS 1985-86 26.1 3.7 0.460 6.0 0.3 0.8 11.2
T. Rollins ATL 1987-88 23.2 4.4 0.512 6.0 0.3 0.7 10.6
L. Smith HOU 1990-91 23.7 3.3 0.487 8.8 1.1 1.1 10.3

None of the above guys were anywhere near as weak Collins.   A couple were terrible offensive players but none shot under 40% and none rebounded as poorly.  In fact, you could point to the fact that each and every one of these guys did something above-average on the court.  Montross could board and Lorenzo Williams could board and block shots.  As mentioned above, Collins’ stats really don’t reflect his “team helpiness” that has earned him quite a bit of money (he’s due over $12 million the next two season).  A few players not listed might’ve given Collins a run for his money, like the older Danny Schayes or Joe Kleine of latter model, none of them actually broke the 20 MPG mark.

4.    Predictions Revisited: The toughest and perhaps silliest part of the NBA writer/blogger type is to come up with well formulated predictions.  Sure we all know that the Spurs will be really good and that Minnesota will suck but the writer usually wants to cobble something interesting but also full hedges and qualifiers.  Hell, you could go through the archives in this site and find tons of instances where were wrong.  Even where we were right, the basis for our opinions might’ve been totally incorrect, which is as good as being wrong.

Why do I mention all this?  Because I happened upon the Sports Illustrated’s old 1995-96 NBA Preview issue, which is chock full of interesting things, including a section called “10 Fearless Predictions” by Hank Hersch (who is now a senior editor).  So, I gave you that preamble that I don’t revisit these predictions judgmentally but merely as an interested historian who hopes to see how sound these predictions seemed at the time and now 12 years later.

-Prediction 1:  The first to by fired will be M.L. Carr…by M.L. Carr: As a rookie G.M in 1994-95, Carr had put together a mediocre team that squeaked into the playoffs before losing.  The problem was the team played no defense and was built around an older Dominique Wilkins (whom Carr inexplicably gave a big deal to for his clearly rebuilding team) and some middling vets (Sherman Douglas, Dee Brown, Dino Radja, and Eric Montross).  After that season, Carr canned coach Chris Ford and decided he would take over hoping that signing Dana Barros would fix the problems.  SI correctly intuited that Carr’s tenure running the Celts would ended poorly but Carr wasn’t the first coach fired.  Rather, he suffered through a poor season (33-49) and decided to tear it down in 1996-97 to go after the two coveted rookies in the 1997 Draft (i.e. Tim Duncan or Keith Van Horn).  We all remember how that went…Carr couldn’t survive the awful play (even if it was by design) and he was fired for Rick Pitino.  Despite how it worked out, the underlying prediction, that Carr was a poor coach/G.M. was well-founded.

Prediction 2: Toronto will win 12 games; the other expansion franchise, Vancouver, will not: Toronto and Vancouver were debuting as the first expansion teams since 1989-90 and they were supposed to be awful.  In fact, Toronto was a relatively respectable 21-61 and Vancouver, while terrible, did break the 12-win barrier at 15-67.  An odd fact about the Vancouver and Toronto was that they both debuted with a victory.  In fact, the Grizz started out 2-0 before finishing off at 13-67 (pretty close to that 12-win pace).  Oddly enough, Toronto and Vancouver were the first expansion teams to have winning debuts since the Mavericks back in 1980-81.

Prediction 3:  The best grab of another team’s free agent will prove to be Utah’s signing of Chris Morris: The theory here was that the talented Morris would blossom on a good team and would be a nice improvement over incumbent David Benoit.  In fact, Morris was no better than Benoit and lost his job to Bryon Russell by the end of the season.  Mo spent the next two years sulking in Jerry Sloan’s doghouse.  The dicta in this prediction was even more wrong: “The signing will actually make two teams better: New Jersey has smoothly replaced an unhappy camper with businesslike rookie Ed O’Bannon.”

Prediction 4:  Detroit’s draft-day deals will translate into a playoff berth: Detroit had been floundering for several years since the Bad Boy Pistons got old and they hoped to fix things by hiring Doug Collins.  Collins was given complete control and he started by trying to make the team tougher by getting vet Otis Thorpe and rookie Theo Ratliff.  They did, in fact, help the Pistons to a 46-36 team and a playoff birth.  Ratliff was only a part-timer but was effective and Thorpe did well (14 ppg, 8.4 rpg).  Of course, Collins’ own defensive schemes would’ve helped even without Thorpe or Ratliff.  They went from last in the NBA in defense under Don Chaney (112.7 opponent points per 100 possessions in 1994-95) to seventh best in 1995-96 at 104.8 opponents points per 100 possessions.  Knowing how much coaching matters to defense, Collins was also a big factor in the improvement.

Prediction 5: Houston will break its own three-point records: Back then, the Rockets were built to heave threes around Hakeem Olajuwon and Hersch figured that would continue.  In 1994-95, the Rockets made 646 threes on 1,757 attempts (.368%).  The team took slightly more threes in 1995-96 but were slightly off of the 1994-95 pace (637 for 1,761 from three for a .367%).  In fact, a team from Texas that same year obliterated the Rockets’ record.  The Dallas Mavericks shot 735 for 2,039(!) from three (.360%) for a grand total of 25 threes per game.  As for the Mavs’ record, here’s are the other teams that have broken 700 threes in a season (in addition to the 1995-96 Mavs):

1. Phoenix 2005-06: 837 for 2,097 (.399%)

2. Phoenix 2004-05: 796 for 2,206 (361%)

3. Phoenix 2006-07: 785 for 1,965 (.399%)

4. Dallas 1995-96: 735 for 2,039 (.360%)

5. Seattle 2003-04: 723 for 1,936 (.373%)

6. Boston 2002-03: 719 for 2,155 (.334%)

7. Houston Rockets 2006-07: 705 for 1,893 (.372%)

8. Golden State 2006-07: 700 for 1,966 (.356%)

Looks like the Phoenix Suns are blowing away the competition on this one in makes AND accuracy.  But the old Mavs can still hold on to the old non-Nash record.

Prediction 6:  No rookie imported from abroad will have a substantial impact: The assumption back in 1995 was that Euros take a while to develop.  This was based upon a smaller sample size because the only Euros to go by were Drazen Petrovic, Toni Kukoc, Vlade Divac, and Dino Radja and only Radja was good immediately.  As for the Euros in 1995-96, Hersch looked at the three notable rookies and thought that Vincenzo Esposito would have trouble creating his own shot (correct), Sasha Danilovic would have problems getting burn in a crowded Miami backcourt (he did play but injuries knocked him out after only 19 games played), and Arvydas Sabonis was too old and injured to take the NBA grind.  The Sabonis prediction was quite off.  He had a dominant season in limited minutes and actually deserved the Rookie of the Year (14.5 ppg, .545 FG%, 8.1 rpg, 1.8 apg, 24.7 PER in 23.8 mpg) and continued to have impact even as an old fart at age 38 in 2002-03.

Prediction 7: Knicks fans holding $1,000 courtside seats will spend entire games on their cellular phones just to relieve boredom: In logic, this was correct.  New coach Don Nelson started strong but saw the team sleepwalk so much that he was canned with prejudice in January.  But Jeff Van Gundy took over thereafter and the Knicks returned to contention status for the next five years.  So, the prediction was quite correct in the end.

As a side note, were there really that many phones courtside back then?  I didn’t get one for another eight years and I don’t remember anyone ever routinely referring to them as “cellular.”  Man, 1995 was a long time ago….

Prediction 8: Denver’s Bernie Bickerstaff will win the NBA Executive of the Year award–thanks to rookie power forward Antonio McDyess: The hope of young talented teams….Denver was the talk of the NBA back then because they were loaded with McDyess, Dikembe Mutombo, Jalen Rose, Mahmoud Abdul-Rauf, Robert Pack, and Bryant Stith.  McDyess was snagged for cheap in the draft because he refused to sign with the Clippers (who had the third overall pick).  In theory, this might’ve been a very good team but in reality….the team struggled to score and the Nuggets were only 35-47 and the team came apart at the seems:

-McDyess did develop but was traded to Phoenix in 1997 because Denver didn’t think they wanted to pay him big money to re-sign him.  He ended up re-signing with Denver in 1998-99 but the team was mediocre at best and then he blew out his knee and was traded for Marcus Camby and Nene in 2002 (a great deal for Denver).

-Mutombo bolted to Atlanta as a free agent after 1995-96 and he was irreplaceable for the team.

-Abdul-Rauf was dealt after 1995-96 because he refused to stand for the National Anthem on political grounds, which really burned bridges.

-Pack was traded before the 1995-96 season to Washington for Don MacLean and Doug Overton because they wanted to start Rose.  Pack was very good when healthy the next two seasons.

-Rose turned out not to be a point guard and was deemed difficult so they traded after 1995-96 for Mark Jackson.  Rose would develop into a pretty good (if overpaid) scorer.

Bernie Bickerstaff had a nice team in theory but it came apart and he bolted for Washington in mid-1996-97.

Prediction 9: Washington will be the most improved team in the league; Cleveland will have the biggest decline: The Bullets were young and fun.  They added vet point guard Mark Price and had a young core of Chris Webber, Juwan Howard, and rookie Rasheed Wallace.  The season didn’t quite go as planned but the team was much improved.  Price and Webber missed most of the season with injuries and Wallace was raw and really immature before breaking his hand and missing the final few months.  But Howard and Gheorghe Muresan played well and Brent Price and Pack filled in well at the point and the Bullets jumped up to 39 wins from 21 in 1994-95, a nice 18-win jump.  This was tied for second best jump with the Pistons.  The real winner were the other-worldly Bulls who improved from 47 wins to 72-10, which was noticed by a couple of people.

As for Cleveland, they seemed pretty stale with non-descript players.  They also no longer had any of the stars of the old Lenny Wilkens squad of the late 1980s.  But the Cavs miraculously improved by four games from the 1994-95 and going 47-35.  They were powered by Terrell Brandon, solid players (Bobby Phills and Chris Mills) and a really slow, defensive style.

Prediction 10:  The Bulls will defeat the Suns in the NBA Finals: Well, they were half right.  The Bulls dominated the field all season but the Suns were aging quickly and they struggled to make the playoffs all season, going 41-41.  Phoenix was the team with the biggest decline in NBA, as they fell 18 wins from 1994-95.  The team was hurt by injuries and age (Kevin Johnson and Danny Manning) and their front court defense was just putrid (Hot Rod Williams was brought into to shore up that area and he was injured and ineffective).  Phoenix would start over at the end of the year and deal Barkley to Houston.

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