Thursday, October 25, 2012

The NBA's Overrated Teams

In Part I, I outlined the six worst teams in the league. In Part II, I’m breaking down six teams that aren’t as good as it seems some people think they are. Let’s start here:

Brooklyn Nets

2012 Record: 22-44
2012 Prorated Record: 27-55
2012 Scoring Margin: -5.98
2012 Pythagorean Record: 19-47
2012 Pythagorean Prorated: 24-58

Expected Rotation: Deron Williams, Joe Johnson, Gerald Wallace, Kris Humphries, Brook Lopez (starters); MarShon Brooks, Mirza Teletovic, C.J. Watson, Andray Blatche, Josh Childress, Reggie Evans, Keith Bogans

On paper, it looks like Brooklyn “won” the offseason in the Eastern Conference, trading mostly spare parts for Joe Johnson, re-signing Deron Williams, locking up a now-healthy Brook Lopez to a contract extension, and moving to a new arena in Brooklyn.

However, basketball games aren’t played on paper. They’re played by the little men that live inside our television sets.

The more I look at this roster, the more trouble I have identifying anything that they’ll do particularly well. Yes, they have a very talented starting unit, but that doesn’t really matter unless they can fit that talent into a system that works. Deron Williams is a screen-roll point guard, but neither Kris Humphries nor Brook Lopez is really a screen-roll big man. Gerald Wallace is a decent all-around player, but he doesn’t exactly space the floor for Brooklyn’s isolation scorers (Johnson and Lopez).

Defensively, they should be a train wreck. Lopez is about as mobile as Mitt Romney’s hair, and Kris Humphries wouldn’t know good weak-side defense if it dressed up as Kim Kardashian and served him with divorce papers. They have size on the wings with Johnson and Wallace, which should occasionally force opponents into sub-optimal shots, but there’s still nothing to stop smart teams from putting Lopez in screen-roll situations every time down the court.

On top of all of this, they have little to no depth. MarShon Brooks had a half-decent rookie season, and he should provide a decent scoring punch off the bench, but other than that, they’re relying on re-treads like C.J. Watson, Josh Childress, Reggie Evans, and Keith Bogans. European import Mirza Teletovic should provide some floor spacing, but he isn’t particularly good at things like playing defense or securing rebounds. Playing him next to Brook Lopez will be quite an adventure.

They’ll certainly be a playoff team, but people that are expecting them to compete with Miami at the top of the conference are being a bit too optimistic for the inaugural season in Brooklyn.

Prediction: 48-34, 6th in Eastern Conference

Dallas Mavericks

2012 Record: 36-30
2012 Prorated Record: 45-37
2012 Scoring Margin: 0.95
2012 Pythagorean Record: 35-31
2012 Pythagorean Prorated: 43-39

Expected Rotation: Darren Collison, O.J. Mayo, Shawn Marion, Dirk Nowitzki, Chris Kaman (starters); Vince Carter, Elton Brand, Brandan Wright, Delonte West, Rodrigue Beaubois, Dahntay Jones, Dominique Jones (bench)

I was pegging Dallas to struggle this season even before Dirk got hurt, now I think they’re in some pretty serious trouble.

For the first time in a long, long time, Dallas had serious problems scoring the ball last season. They finished 22nd in offensive efficiency, below such offensive juggernauts as Philadelphia and Sacramento. Two of the things that held them back were their low offensive rebound rate, just 28th in the league at 23.4%, and their low foul rate, 25th in the league at .190 FTA/FGA.

They saw a fair amount of roster turnover, but the problem is they didn’t really address either of those weaknesses. They brought in Elton Brand and Chris Kaman to replace Brendan Haywood, Ian Mahinmi, and Lamar Odom, but neither of those guys present an upgrade on the offensive glass or through drawing fouls, as both of them spend most of their time spotting up from the mid-range. They lost Jason Kidd and Jason Terry, their two primary ballhandlers and initiators of the offense, and replaced them with Darren Collison and O.J. Mayo, who are decent scorers but poor distributors.

During their 2011 Playoff run, they carved teams up in the screen-roll game, but all of those perimeter players (Barea, Kidd, Terry) have left over the last two years. A lot of their offense this year is going to be dependent on Darren Collison and O.J. Mayo to be the main creators, but the evidence of their respective careers to date don’t suggest that they can do much more in that regard than dribble the air out of the ball.

My projections had them on the cusp of missing the playoffs to begin with, and now that Dirk is expected to miss close to a month, that should send their offense into a tailspin. They’ll start the year slowly, and won’t have enough time to make up enough ground.

Prediction: 40-42, 9th in Western Conference

New York Knicks

2012 Record: 36-30
2012 Prorated Record: 45-37
2012 Scoring Margin: 3.20
2012 Pythagorean Record: 41-25
2012 Pythagorean Prorated: 51-31

Expected Rotation: Raymond Felton, Ronnie Brewer, Carmelo Anthony, Amar’e Stoudemire, Tyson Chandler (starters); J.R. Smith, Jason Kidd, Steve Novak, Kurt Thomas, Marcus Camby, Pablo Prigioni, James White, Chris Copeland (bench)

I would be a lot more excited for the Knicks if it were 2008. Carmelo, Amar’e, Tyson Chandler, Jason Kidd, Marcus Camby, Ronnie Brewer, J.R. Smith, and Kurt Thomas? That’s a murderers row in 2008. In 2013? Not so much.

The biggest problem with this Knicks team is that the pieces don’t fit. Carmelo Anthony is a fine player, as are Amar’e Stoudemire and Tyson Chandler, but when all three are on the floor together, it’s a bit of a disaster. The most glaring problem is the Amar’e when he’s sharing the floor with either or both of the Knicks other two stars.

Since Carmelo came to New York, the two have been on the floor for 1880 minutes together, and in those minutes, they’ve been outscored by 123 points. That’s only 3.14 points per 48 minutes, but the point here is that it’s a NEGATIVE number, as opposed to, say, the +373 that LeBron and Wade had in 1300 minutes last year (+13.0 per 48 minutes), or the +301 that Chris Paul and Blake Griffin had in 1860 minute last season (+7.7 per 48 minutes).

It’s pretty hard to justify starting Carmelo and Amar’e next to each other when the evidence pretty clearly shows that both the players and the team don’t perform as well as they do otherwise. In 2012, when Carmelo was on the floor with Amar’e, he scored 20.3 points per 36 minutes on 41% shooting, and the Knicks were outscored by 2.4 points per 48 minutes. With Carmelo on the floor, but Amar’e on the bench, Carmelo scored 27.8 points per 36 minutes, on 45% shooting, while also sporting a significantly higher foul rate (.30 FTA/FGA with Amar’e, .42 FTA/FGA without him), and the Knicks outscored their opponents by 8.4 points per 48 minutes.

The same thing happens when you look at what happens when Amar’e and Chandler share the floor together. Amar’e scores 16.7 points per 36 minutes when Chandler is on the floor, 23.7 points per 36 minutes when Chandler isn’t. The Knicks are outscored by 2.1 points per 48 minutes when they’re both on the floor, as opposed to treading water with just Amar’e (+0.1 points per 48 minutes), or excelling with just Chandler (+7.6 points per 48 minutes).

When you look at the on/off stats in relation to Carmelo and Chandler, you see more predictable results (The Knicks are in the black with both on the floor, in the red with one and not the other).

All of this leads to a pretty obvious conclusion: Amar’e Stoudemire just doesn’t help the Knicks win basketball games. But the most obvious short-term fix (moving Stoudemire to the bench and playing Carmelo Anthony at power forward) doesn’t seem to be in the cards, because, well, I don’t know why. Probably because that would make way too much sense.

Prediction: 46-36, 7th in Western Conference

Los Angeles Clippers

2012 Record: 40-26
2012 Prorated Record: 50-32
2012 Scoring Margin: 2.56
2012 Pythagorean Record: 39-27
2012 Pythagorean Prorated: 48-34

Expected Rotation: Chris Paul, Chauncey Billups, Caron Butler, Blake Griffin, DeAndre Jordan (starters); Jamal Crawford, Eric Bledsoe, Lamar Odom, Grant Hill, Matt Barnes, Ronny Turiaf, Trey Thompkins (bench)

I’ve heard some chatter about the Clippers making a push towards the upper echelon of the Western Conference, but I’m not quite sure I see it. There are certainly arguments to be made that the team will be better, but there are also arguments to be made that the team will regress.

First, the reasons why they might improve – DeAndre Jordan and Eric Bledsoe will each have another year under their respective belts, and they brought in Lamar Odom, Grant Hill, Matt Barnes, and Ronny Turiaf (all plus defenders). They dumped Nick Young and replaced him with Jamal Crawford, who is slightly more judicious with his shot selection (although I’ll concede that’s kind of like saying something is slightly less preachy than Season 1 of The Newsroom), they’ll have a full season of Chauncey Billups, and the rest of the roster will have more experience playing with Chris Paul (which can only be seen as a positive).

Here’s the flipside though – are we sure that any of the guys they’re bringing in are any good? Let’s be honest here, Grant Hill just turned 40 and saw a noticeable decline last year. Billups is 36 and is coming off an Achilles injury that ended his least-productive season since 2001. For all we know, Odom could be completely washed up and last season in Dallas wasn’t a fluke. Caron Butler just had the worst season of his career, and Jamal Crawford saw a noticeable decline in his scoring efficiency.

Their new wing players certainly offer more size than Randy Foye and Mo Williams, which will help defensively, but offensively, they're inferior shooters. Foye and Williams combined to shoot 568 threes last year, and made almost 39% of them. Hill, Crawford, and Butler aren’t going to be able to replicate that.

The Clippers best bet for definitive improvement is dumping the minutes that went to riff-raff like Ryan Gomes and Bobby Simmons and giving it to guys like Hill and Crawford. But that only represents about 800 minutes from last season, or about 12 minutes per game. In other words, they’re upgrading one spot on the floor for one quarter of the game. That’s certainly a good thing, but not enough to see a drastic improvement over the course of the season.

Prediction: 50-32, 5th in Western Conference

Portland Trail Blazers

2012 Record: 28-38
2012 Prorated Record: 35-47
2012 Scoring Margin: -0.62
2012 Pythagorean Record: 32-34
2012 Pythagorean Prorated: 40-42

Expected Rotation: Damian Lillard, Wesley Johnson, Nic Batum, LaMarcus Aldridge, Meyers Leonard (starters), Joel Freeland, Victor Claver, Luke Babbitt, J.J. Hickson, Elliot Williams, Nolan Smith, Ronnie Price (bench)

Okay, so I get that nobody is exactly expecting Portland to make the playoffs this year, but I don’t think people many people realize exactly how long a fall the Blazers are in for.

I’ve talked to a few people that act as if Portland is re-tooling, not re-building, but the facts don’t line up with that argument. They traded Gerald Wallace (and miraculously got a lottery pick for him), traded Marcus Camby for trial runs of Jonny Flynn and Hasheem Thabeet (neither are still with the team), and dumped Ray Felton and Jamal Crawford. They re-signed Nic Batum, but considering he’s only 23, it’s pretty obvious that he’s part of their re-building plan as well.

The team this year is going to consist of the three guys they’re going to re-build around – Aldridge, Batum, and Matthews, and they’ve surrounded them with young players they can grow old with. But for right now, those young players are going to take a lot of lumps. Damian Lillard projects to be a good player, but rookie point guards that aren’t named Magic Johnson, Chris Paul, or Kyrie Irving generally tend to have forgettable seasons. Meyers Leonard is a big, mobile center with decent shooting touch, but big guys taken at the back end of the lottery don’t have great track records (Cole Aldrich, Robin Lopez, Hilton Armstrong, or Patrick O’Bryant, anyone?). Portland also brought Joel Freeland and Victor Claver across the pond, and while both are 25 or younger, neither projects to be anything more than a bench player in the NBA.

Their future is bright, but right now is not the future

Prediction: 31-51, 12th in Western Conference

Philadelphia 76ers

2012 Record: 35-31
2012 Prorated Record: 43-39
2012 Scoring Margin: 4.24
2012 Pythagorean Record: 43-23
2012 Pythagorean Prorated: 53-29

Expected Rotation: Jrue Holiday, Jason Richardson, Evan Turner, Spencer Hawes, Andrew Bynum (starters), Thaddeus Young, Dorrell Wright, Nick Young, Lavoy Allen, Arnett Moultrie, Kwame Brown, Royal Ivey (bench)

I wrote about this right after the trade, but I don’t think this team fits together very well. When they lost Iguodala and Lou Williams, they effectively handed the reigns over to Evan Turner, which I’m rather dubious about. He’s an inefficient scorer, and his assist-turnover ratio hovers below 2:1.

The Sixers’ offense was at its best last year at the beginning of the season, when a lot of the offense ran through Spencer Hawes out of the high post, where he would hit cutters diving to the rim. That model likely won’t work this year, as Andrew Bynum will be taking up space on the low block. It will open up a bit of a hi-lo game, but that neutralizes the strengths of players like Thaddeus Young and Evan Turner, both of whom work better in motion offenses and don’t space the floor effectively.

The underrated part of Philly’s offseason was improving their three-point shooting. They were a pretty good three-point shooting team last season, ranking 8th in the league at 36.2%, but the impact was limited, considering they attempted the 6th-fewest triples. As a result, their weighted shooting efficiency actually dropped, going from 15th in the league in FG% to 19th in the league in eFG%.

Their new additions should provide them a more efficient allocation of shots. Jason Richardson was an afterthought in the Bynum trade, but he’ll likely start at shooting guard and can make open shots. They also obtained Dorrell Wright for, well, effectively nothing, giving Golden State the rights to Edin Bavcic in exchange. Don’t bother remembering the name, he was drafted in 2006 and his NBA future is about as bright as mine is. They brought in Nick Young as well, and while they paid a stupefying price tag to get him, he’ll provide them with shooting on the wing. 

Overall, it’s a rather perplexing team. They have a legitimate post threat in Bynum to pair with shooting on the wing and a good passing big man, but it’s unclear how Holiday, Turner, and Young fit into that model. Holiday, Turner, and Young would all thrive in an offense similar to the one last year (lots of weakside action, very little isolation or post-up), but then the rest of the team wouldn’t fit. There’s going to be some friction while these kinks get worked out, and if Bynum’s knee starts acting up again, Philly could tumble out of the playoff picture.

Prediction: 48-34, 5th in Eastern Conference

No comments :