Tuesday, February 28, 2012

2012 NBA Power Poll 1.0

By Jeremy Conlin

The All-Star break has come and gone. With the crazy scheduling, it was just too difficult to get a grasp on teams 15-20 games into the season, so I decided to wait until we had a full half-season sample before busting out my comprehensive review of each team. So here we go. All statistics are through Monday, February 27.

The Isiah Thomas Division

30. Charlotte Bobcats 

Let's break down exactly how bad the Bobcats are - they're dead last in SRS1, they're dead last in efficiency margin2 , they don't have a single player with a PER over 15.5 (every other team in the league has at least two), they have one double-digit win and 19 double-digit losses. Their best player is D.J. Augustin, who, by my estimation, isn't even a top-15 player at his own position.3 Sooo, yeahhh....

29. Washington Wizards 

Yeah, so they only have seven wins, but two of them are over Oklahoma City and Portland, so that has to count for something, right? Right?

28. Detroit Pistons 

Umm, so Greg Monroe is having a pretty good season, I guess.

27. Sacramento Kings 

The Jimmer/Tyreke Evans backcourt combo failed pretty spectacularly. Jimmer has gotten benched in favor of Isaiah Thomas, who was drafted 50 spots after him. Oomph.

You really can't win in today's NBA unless you have SOMEONE that can effectively run your offense (it doesn't really matter what position he plays - LeBron and Wade seem to do okay). Team defenses are too good. Unless you have a player that can get everyone in the right place and then create, your offense will fail. Evans is capable of turning into LeBron-Lite and just turning the game into a layup line, but he's hopeless at really doing anything other than attacking the basket, and he's not good enough to just get to the rim whenever he feels like it.

The Mike Dunleavy Division 

26. New Jersey Nets 

Deron Williams is finally playing well (or, at least closer to his own standard), but the rest of their roster is so laughably bad that it doesn't seem to matter. Still, I can't shake the feeling that a Dwight Howard trade is still in this team's future. The only problem is, it would be stupid to do it mid-season when they can just sign him outright or acquire him through a sign-and-trade this summer. If they trade for him now, they'll be better, and it will send them further down in the draft. Wouldn't it be better to hold off, grab someone like Jared Sullinger or Thomas Robinson in the draft, then pair him with Howard this summer? Right now they have the fourth-best odds to win the lottery, so the likelihood of them ending up with one of the top 4 bigs4 is exceedingly high. I'd suggest for them to wait.

25. New Orleans Hornets 

Let's break down the Chris Paul trade, 33 games into the season:

1. They got Eric Gordon, who has played in two games for a total of 78 minutes, and is a restricted free agent this summer.
2. They got Chris Kaman, who sucks. No other way to put it.
3. They got an unprotected No. 1 from Minnesota, which turns out not to be that great, because Minnesota is actually good.
4. They got Al-Farouq Aminu, who has the potential to be a really good player, so long as you don't ask him to do anything that involves dribbling or shooting.

Who wants a do-over on that one?

24. Toronto Raptors 

Andrea Bargnani was having his best season ever and became a legitimately effective offensive player, so naturally he gets hurt. He's no longer just a guy that puts up points because he takes a ton of shots for a bad team - he has a career high in True Shooting % thanks to a career-best foul rate. However, Ed Davis has regressed basically across the board (especially in offensive rebounding and turnovers), as has DeMar DeRozan. Right now, it seems like the only real keepers on this Toronto team are Bargnani and Calderon, but they aren't guys that can be anything more than fringe starters surrounding a superstar or two.

The Good Bad Teams 

23. Phoenix Suns 


22. Cleveland Cavaliers 

It's hard to imagine a rookie point guard having a better season than Kyrie Irving is having – only Chris Paul in 2006 had a higher PER as a rookie.5 Cleveland has jumped from 29th in Offensive Efficiency last season to 22rd this season, and if the season ended today. Cleveland would be just 1.5 games out of a playoff spot.

21. Milwaukee Bucks 

The law of 3rd-year point guards has given Brandon Jennings a bit of a leap, but still not enough to offset the suckitude of the rest of the team. Somehow this team gives Miami fits, which makes absolutely no sense to me, but I just accept it as a fact of life.

20. Golden State Warriors

 Stephen Curry's ankle injury really hampered them to start the season, but now he's back and playing as good (or better) than he ever has. His foul rate has dropped,6 which is a bit perplexing, but that could be explained by him playing more tentatively with the sore ankle. Otherwise, all of his other numbers are up (rebound, assist, and steal rates are all at or near career-highs), and he's scoring at incredible rates both as a screen-roll ballhandler and using off-ball screens (top 10 in scoring efficiency in each category).

Unfortunately, their defense is atrocious, possibly because of Mark Jackson's peculiar aversion to playing Andris Biedrins. Ekpe Udoh has played more minutes than Biedrins has this season, which is a bit peculiar because the only thing that Udoh does better than Biedrins is shoot free throws.


19. Boston Celtics 

Defensively, they're still elite – 4th in the league in defensive efficiency. Unfortunately, they labor to score because they're dreadful in several important offensive categories.

First, they're dead last in the league in offensive rebounding percentage,7 while also being a poor defensive rebounding team. They're also 3rd-worst in offensive turnover rate, while only being in the middle of the pack in forcing turnovers. This results in a disparity in the number of possessions, so it becomes almost a wash with their great defensive efficiency. They do a great job of limiting scoring on a per-possession basis, but they surrender so many extra possessions through turnovers and offensive rebounds that it ultimately doesn't matter.

The Western Fustercluck, Part I 

18. Utah Jazz 
17. Minnesota Timberwolves 
16. Memphis Grizzlies 
15. Denver Nuggets 
14. Portland Trail Blazers 

Don’t even ask me what’s going on here, because I have no idea. Utah looks good until you realize that nobody can shoot (dead last in 3PT%). Minnesota is just exceptionally mediocre across the board. So is Memphis. Denver looked like a potential #1 seed until half their team got injured, now they might not even make the playoffs. And Portland has had a ton of dumb luck in close games (they’re 18-16, but have the scoring differential of a 23-11 team).

What In Holy Hell Is Going On? 

13. New York Knicks 

I really don’t have anything to say here about Jeremy Lin that hasn’t already been said multiple times by countless people. What I am here to say, is that Tyson Chandler has been the 2nd-best center in the league this season, only nobody seems to notice or care. He’s currently 7th in the league among centers in Value Added,8 but defensively, he’s better than everyone above him save for Dwight Howard. The Knicks are 5th in the league in defensive efficiency – last season they were 22nd. They’re 4th in the league in defensive rebound rate9 – last season they were 26th. They’re 5th in the league in defending opponent’s isolation plays - last season they were 21st. If the season ended today, he would break the NBA record for True Shooting Percentage, and he’d break it by over 3%. Yet because the Knicks’ offense has been so bad (at least until Jeremy Lin showed up), people seem to just gloss over Chandler’s unbelievable season.

For The Love Of God, Please, Not Again 

12. Atlanta Hawks 
11. Orlando Magic 

If these two teams meet in the playoffs again, I'm just going to kill myself. I'll have no other option.

The Bad Good Teams 

10. Indiana Pacers

This is the classic team that does everything well, nothing poorly, and nothing spectacularly. They’re 13th in offensive efficiency, 10th in defensive efficiency, 8th in efficiency differential, 8th in rebound rate, 11th in committing turnovers, and 7th in forcing turnovers. Even more than the next team, they’re the type of team that will succeed in the regular season but get run over in the postseason.

9. Philadelphia 76ers

Philly has cooled off considerably after their torrid start, but they’re still 3rd in the league in efficiency differential and 4th in SRS. They’re a team that will probably struggle in the playoffs (because their depth becomes less valuable when rotations shorten), but for some reason, they create insane matchup problems for Chicago. They beat them by 16 in the beginning of February, and even going back to last season, they took two out of three from Chicago, including a 12-point win in Chicago at the end of March. Similarly to Miami, they cover a lot of ground defensively, which allows them to force Derrick Rose towards the sidelines and keep him out of the middle of the floor where he’s most dangerous, and they attacked him in pick-and-rolls.

Furthermore, they barely ever turn the ball over, which limits transition opportunities. They turn the ball over on just 10.3% of possessions, first in the league. They’re so far ahead of everyone else in this category that there is a bigger gap between 1st and 2nd (San Antonio at 12.7%) than between 2nd place and 27th place (New Orleans at 15.0%). Any team that limits turnovers to that degree will be able to stay in games because they won’t have empty possessions.

The Western Fustercluck, Part II

8. Los Angeles Lakers

Kobe is still shooting nearly as much as Gasol and Bynum combined despite being the least efficient scorer of those three guys. I’m still waiting for an explanation for why it’s a good idea for Kobe to be shooting the ball at a rate higher than any season of his career other than 2006, while scoring less efficiently than he ever has in his entire career.

7. Houston Rockets 

They started 3-7, they’ve gone 17-7 since. This is weird, considering Kevin Martin is having a season almost as bad as he did in 2010, when he was hurt all year and traded mid-season, and Luis Scola has taken steps back in just about every measurable category. Their depth, along with Kyle Lowry’s inspired play has kept them afloat, but Kevin Martin will need to play better (his career-worst foul rate is a primary culprit) if Houston wants to make the playoffs. Right now they appear safe, but once Denver gets healthy, they should make a strong push.

6. Los Angeles Clippers

Lob City has been as good as advertised – the Clippers are 4th in the league in offensive efficiency. However, they appear to have some serious flaws for when the playoffs role around. First of all, they aren’t good enough defensively, they rank just 20th in defensive efficiency, mostly because they do a poor job defending the three point line (6th-worst in the league in opponents 3PT%), their foul rate is terrible (3rd-worst in opponents FT/FGA), and they don’t force turnovers (6th-worst in opponents TOV%).

Matchup-wise, basically any elite Western team will give them fits because they don’t have a 2-guard with size to defend guys like Kobe, Kevin Martin, Ginobili, or James Harden. Any of those guys would simply eat the Clippers alive in a playoff series, which is why I’m not taking the Clippers particularly seriously.

5. Dallas Mavericks 

If the Mavs win the West after effectively giving up on their title defense before it even started by dumping Tyson Chandler and fighting through Dirk’s worst season ever, and Rick Carlisle DOESN’T win the Coach of The Year Award, we should just give up and not hand out that award anymore.

4. San Antonio Spurs

They’re 6th in efficiency differential and scoring margin, but doing so while playing the 4th-hardest schedule and just 14 of 34 games at home. And they’re doing all of this without Manu Ginobili. When Ginobili gets healthy and their schedule gets easier, they become the only team that can really challenge the only Western team we haven’t covered yet for the #1 seed.

The Contending Contenders 

3. Chicago Bulls 

The numbers say that Chicago is just as good, if not better than Miami, but until the numbers lead to a result that’s any different than what we saw last May, Chicago is only 2nd-best in the East. They’re still way too predictable offensively to be taken seriously against any moderately good defensive team. Everything is built on top of a high screen with Rose and Noah or Rose and Boozer. They still don’t have anyone else that can create offense, and the same guy creating every shot is a model that has never worked.

2. Oklahoma City Thunder

People that are saying the West is wide open aren’t in touch with reality. People who are saying OKC needs another scorer aren’t in touch with reality. Their foul rate is incredible; they take .278 free throws for every field goal attempt. To put that in context, the next-highest team is Miami (with .26 FT/FGA), and the 8th-place team, Cleveland (.221), is closer to last (Philly at .165) than they are to first. And when they get to the foul line, they make them at a league-best clip (79.6%).

As a result, they’re 2nd in the league in offensive efficiency, behind only Miami. When Westbrook, Harden, and Durant are on the floor together, their offensive efficiency spikes even higher – the 5-man unit of Westbrook, Harden, Durant, Ibaka, and Collison scores over 130 points per 100 possessions. No unit with over 50 minutes of floor time together this season even approaches that number.

Don’t let anyone tell you differently, there’s a clear favorite to come out of the Western Conference. It will be an enormous upset if anyone else in the West beats the Thunder this spring.

The Prohibitive Favorite

1. Miami Heat 

Were you expecting someone else?


1. A combination of scoring margin and strength of schedule.
2. Net points per 100 possessions.
3. Paul, Rose, Williams, Nash, Westbrook, Rondo, Lawson, Lowry, Parker, Irving, Lin, Rubio, Jennings, Holiday, Curry, and Wall are all better.
4. Anthony Davis, Andre Drummond, Robinson, Sullinger.
5. 22.1 for Paul, 20.7 for Irving.
6. 3.3 FTA per 36 minutes last year, just 2.5 FTA/36 this year.
7. Percentage of their own missed shots they rebound.
8. Based on PER and adjusted for minutes played – for example, Tim Duncan has a higher PER than Chandler does, but Chandler’s VA is higher because he’s played nearly 300 more minutes over the course of the season.
9. Percentage of available defensive rebounds they grab.

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