Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Your NBA Team Sucks - A Glass Half-Empty Season Preview (Part II)

Uh-oh. Not again.
By Jeremy Conlin (@jeremy_conlin)

Welcome to Part II of Your Team Sucks - explanations for why each team in the league is comically worse than you think they are. If you missed Part I yesterday, you can find it here.

Part I covered the 10 worst teams in the league last year (save for Cleveland, who we'll save for Part III tomorrow), so this will cover the 10 teams in the middle, including our first batch of playoff teams from a year ago. But we start with a few more lottery teams first.

New York Knicks

They were 24th in defensive efficiency last season. In order to improve this, they traded Ray Felton for the one point guard in the league who might actually be worse defensively - Jose Calderon. They also dealt their only serviceable defensive player in the same deal - Tyson Chandler went back to Dallas and all they got in return was Samuel Dalembert. This means that New York’s big man rotation is Dalembert, Amar’e Stoudemire, and Andrea Bargnani. There’s no possible way that they improve defensively.

Offensively, Chandler was the only big man capable of attracting defenses on rolls to the rim following high screens, and they still don’t have any guards who can really warp a defense with dribble penetration. That means that the open looks from three that kept their offense afloat last year probably won’t exist.

Worst-Case Scenario: The defense falls apart even worse without Chandler. The offense falls apart to a slightly smaller degree, and Carmelo Anthony has his worst season since 2009. The Knicks miss the playoffs again and Phil Jackson resigns.

Atlanta Hawks

Al Horford has only played in 114 of a possible 230 games over the last three years, and he’ll probably miss a few games this year as well. The Horford/Millsap combination as is might be a bit small to defend the rim effectively, and with Horford and Millsap both in the lineup, Atlanta can’t run the five-out schemes that they did down the stretch last season, including the playoffs when they nearly upset No. 1 seed Indiana. They also lost Shelvin Mack and Lou Williams, leaving them desperately thin on the wings, somewhat ironic for a team named after a bird of prey.

Worst-Case Scenario: Yet another season of mediocrity. The Hawks win between 36-44 games, finish between 7th and 10th in the East, and again fail to land a blue-chip player in the draft.

Minnesota Timberwolves

Trading away your best player and only legitimate star usually isn’t a positive sign. They picked up Andrew Wiggins, the No. 1 overall pick in the most heralded draft class in a decade, but that won’t matter at all this season - rookies take their lumps. Always. Just ask Anthony Bennett, who they also acquired in the trade.

The team is littered with young players with raw talent and athleticism. That’s fantastic, but it’s mostly a recipe for losing basketball games. The only player on the roster that can actually shoot is Kevin Martin, and he turns 32 this season. And is probably the worst defensive player in the league. A team that was unlucky to miss the playoffs last year will be lucky to win 30 games this year.

Worst-Case Scenario: Anthony Bennett’s rookie season was not a fluke. He’s a total stiff. Andrew Wiggins turns out not to be the great can’t-miss savior that everyone assumes. He’s Marvin Williams 2.0. Zach LaVine proves to be a phenomenal athlete that isn’t particularly good at actually playing basketball. Nikola Pekovic becomes angry and eats J.J. Barea.

Charlotte Hornets

Do you have a young, up-and-coming team that’s looking to make a leap? Then you might want to add a few veteran players who can stabilize the locker room and make sure expectations don’t run amok.

Charlotte signed Lance Stephenson. Just the calm, soothing presence they need.

Worst-Case Scenario: Stephenson butts heads with everyone. Al Jefferson reverts back to Utah/Minnesota form defensively, and Charlotte’s top-10 outfit on that end from a year ago plummets to below 20th. The losses of Josh McRoberts, Anthony Tolliver, and Chris Douglas-Roberts (their three best three-point shooters from a year ago) destroy their offensive spacing and a violently regressing offense drags them short of the playoffs.

Washington Wizards

When a young team beats a totally overmatched opponent in Round 1 of the playoffs then steals a few games against a supposed juggernaut in Round 2, their following season always goes just perfect. There are really no exceptions. It’s not like accelerated expectations would ever lead to those young players to being pressing under greater scrutiny, or for those young players to start to squabble over who deserves the lion’s share of the credit (or money, or touches, or shots, or…). No, surely that has never happened in the history of the league. Surely last spring was a sure-fire springboard towards 55 wins and an appearance in the Eastern Conference Finals. No doubt.

Worst-Case Scenario: The worst parts of the 2008 Warriors, 2009 Hornets, 2010 Nuggets, 2012 Grizzlies, and the second half of the season for the 2014 Pacers all rolled into one.

Brooklyn Nets

They were the third-oldest and most expensive team in the league by a hilarious margin, and they only went 44-38. Two of their more reliable veterans, swingmen Paul Pierce and Shaun Livingston, have ditched for greener pastures. They’ve been replaced by possibly washed-up Jarrett Jack (who got salary dumped) and unproven Bojan Bogdanovic (not to be confused with Bogdan Bogdanovic, which apparently is, in fact, a different person, and is, in fact, that different person’s real name). Kevin Garnett is a year older (and may be actually aging in dog years at this point). Deron Williams is a year older (he’s thirty!) and hasn’t been actually good since 2011. Brook Lopez will find a new, creative way to injure his feet this year, and Joe Johnson will be left with the knowledge that he’s not good enough (and never has been) to carry a team by himself.

Worst-Case Scenario: Death finally comes to take Kevin Garnett on a journey down the River Styx. Assuming that they’re going to a rock concert, Brook Lopez is duped into joining them. The defense drops off without Livingston attacking passing lanes in the backcourt - Jarrett Jack tries to replace “longball” with “roley-poley-ball,” which doesn’t work out. The Nets miss the playoffs and Mikhail Prokhorov silently plots for the team to “disappear.”

Toronto Raptors

The team turned around last season after they traded Rudy Gay, but the bad news is, they don’t have Rudy Gay any more, so how are they supposed to turn around this season? They can’t trade him again. Save for Cleveland and (probably) Chicago, the Eastern Conference is still going to suck. That means that just about any team is ripe for a disaster year in which they lose 30 games more than they did last year. And considering Toronto did nothing to improve the team right away (congratulations, you signed Greg Steimsma and Lou Williams), including wasting their first-round pick on Bruno Caboclo, who I still haven’t actually heard of despite him being drafted six months ago.

Worst-Case Scenario: DeMar DeRozan regresses back to his 2013-and-before form. Jonas Valanciunas remains another year away from really pushing people around, and Dwayne Casey’s overly simplistic offense is figured out by the rest of the league. Without any fresh blood to pull them out of a rut, the Raptors fall below .500 and never recover, dropping them back into the lottery.

Chicago Bulls

The defense is counting on two rookies to pick up on Tom Thibodeau’s schemes right away and the offense is counting on Derrick Rose to be healthy.

Worst-Case Scenario: Well, you know.

Phoenix Suns

Prior to last season, everyone expected Phoenix to finish near the bottom of the Western Conference, only for them to surprise everyone and nearly make the playoffs at 48-34.

So, wouldn’t it stand to reason that in the year when everyone assumes they’ll be just as good or better than last year, they’ll regress and lose 60 games? Their model from last year isn’t sustainable, and we were all right all along - this team just isn’t very good. Last season was a seven-month fluke.

Worst-Case Scenario: Alex Len, now healthy, turns out to suck. Having two sets of brothers on the team (Marcus and Markieff Morris, Goran and Zoran Dragic) turn the locker room into a den of pillow fights and wrestling, completing undermining team preparation and coaches’ meetings. After a year of wildly exceeding expectations, the Suns wildly underperform, finishing 26-56.

Dallas Mavericks

The Mavericks were the worst defensive team in a decade to make the playoffs last year and might have gotten worse. Above, I mentioned that Jose Calderon might be worse defensively than Ray Felton, but that assumes that Ray Felton keeps his weight down to a reasonable level, which certainly won’t be happening with Texas Barbecue available to him. And big acquisition Chandler Parsons, for all his offensive skills, is a decidedly poor defensive player.

The Mavericks are going to be impossibly thin up front. They’ll start Dirk, who is now 36 years old, and Tyson Chandler, who is 32 and missed more than 20 games last year with a fractured fibula. Backing them up will be Greg Smith, who only played in 10 games last season with a variety of knee injuries, Rashard Lewis, who entered the league when Bill Clinton was still president, and Brandan Wright, who is only effective catching the ball in wide-open space around the basket. An injury to Chandler would knock them out of playoff contention. An injury to Dirk knock them out of NBA-team-status contention.

Worst-Case Scenario: Age finally betrays the Mavericks. Dirk, Chandler, Monta Ellis, Felton, and Jameer Nelson all break down to various degrees. Chandler Parsons gets fat and happy with his fancy new contract and shows up out of shape and not ready to play. The offense collapses and there’s no defense to speak of to pick up the slack, and Dallas misses the playoffs by a country mile. 

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