Friday, November 2, 2007

Rockets v. Lakers- An early season look

On the first night of the regular season, the LA Lakers played the Houston Rockets. (San Antonio also played Portland, and Utah played Golden State, but let's ignore that for a minute.)

The game turned out to be a nailbiter-- the Lakers staged a furious comeback, tying the game on a Derek Fisher 2-pointer, only to see the Rockets regain the lead seconds later on a contested 3-pointer from Shane Battier. A foul to put Kobe on the line, an intentionally missed free throw, and a scrum for the ball later, the Rockets left LA with a 95-93 victory.

I didn't watch the entire game, but I did get to see a good portion of it. I watched the entire first half at home before leaving to do some errands. After the errands, I headed to the gym and watched most of the fourth quarter while running on the treadmill (well, mostly running--some walking might also have been involved).

The game looked like a defensive struggle from what I could tell, with both teams contesting shots and generally making life miserable for the other side. Ronny Turiaf, playing big minutes with Lamar Odom injured, looked particularly active and energetic on the defensive end. That said, the number of free throws that Kobe took (he was 18-27 from the charity stripe-- actually a bad night for him, percentage-wise) made me think that I might have been confusing good defense with a propensity to foul.

Well, was it good defense? Over the summer, I looked at how forced turnover rate, opponents true shooting percentage, and defensive rebound rate were the main contributors to good team defense (or defensive efficiency, defined as points given up per 100 possession). So I decided to look at the statistics from the game and see what information I could tease out.

I was particularly interested to see what these numbers told me for two contrasting reasons: (1) Last year, the Lakers were a very good offensive team, but a very poor defensive team. A strong defensive showing could give hope for a more successful season. (2) Last year, the Rockets were one of the top defensive teams in the league. They replaced Jeff Van Gundy, a defensive minded coach, with Rick Adelman, an offensive minded coach. A good defensive showing might indicate that they are likely to retain their stellar defensive play while integrating an improved offensive.

Of course, this was just one game, so the results might just as easily tell us nothing of lasting importance (Hey, I'm a blogger. That means I want instant satisfaction. No time for reasoned analysis here...).

First step was to take the information from the box score and convert it into the numbers that I needed.

[pause while I go and do this...]

Before sharing the numbers with you, I just want to put them in some perspective. Last year, the league average defensive efficiency (according to my unofficial numbers) was 103.85, average forced turnover percentage was 15.92%, average opponents TS% was 54.15%, and average defensive rebound rate was 72.91%.

And now the show... (boy, this post has already gotten long)

Last night, Houston (last year's numbers in parentheses) had a defensive efficiency rating of 96.25 (97.64) with a forced TO rate of 12.42% (15.03%), an opponent's TS% of 48.54% (51.16%), and a defensive rebound rate of 77.08% (76.97%). Last year Houston had a great defensive by playing stay at home basketball (i.e. not going for steals), forcing bad shots, and cleaning up the defensive glass. Based on their first game, it sure looks like Houston is going to feature the same sort of defensive again this year. And based on their personnel, I'm not surprised. Yao Ming is so big that his mere presence in the lane alters just about every shot in his vicinity. Obviously the Lakers offense suffered without the presence of Lamar Odom, but such an impressive performance still bodes well for Houston's ability to maintain their defensive efficiency this season under Rick Adelman.

The Lakers (last year's numbers in parentheses) had a defensive efficiency rating of 101.59 (106.22) with a forced TO rate of 19.25% (15.13%), an opponent's TS% of 54.20% (54.78%), and a defensive rebound rate of 68.42% (73.32%). Overall, the Lakers defense seemed to improve, but I think it really was about the same. The high TO rate is a bit of a mirage--it fueled their late comeback the other night, but last season the Warriors had the highest forced TO rate at 18.21%. Only the Warriors and Bulls had DTOR greater than 18% last season, and no other team cracked the 17% barrier. (If you assume the Lakers had slightly above a 15% DTOR, then defensive efficiency goes up to over 106) I was surprised that the Lakers didn't do better on the boards-- Odom is a good rebounder, but I assumed Turiaf and the other subs would fill in ably for him in that department. The Lakers were helped by Houston's inability to hit its free throws (they shot 21-31, last year Lakers' opponents shot 76% from the line), but even an average showing by Houston would only have added about 2 points to the Lakers' defensive efficiency. All in all, the Lakers had a good defensive showing, but I think its dependence on the turnovers makes that result a bit of a mirage. If the Lakers want to be a good defensive team, they're going to need some work (especially on defensive rebounding).

So I wasn't wrong-- the game was a defensive struggle. And the (very) early results are that both Houston and the Lakers are likely to replicate their defensive success (or failure) from a year ago.

[Don't worry, I haven't forgotten about the Sixers. I'll try and do a similar analysis for the Sixers after every five games or so. But compiling the stats takes time, so I won't always be able to do it.]

Thursday, November 1, 2007

One more set of predictions

[oops- meant to post this a few days ago. Season's started already, but these predictions are still worth looking at.]

As a complement to the predictions he made for Sports Illustrated, Ian Thomsen also convinced the scouts he talked with to make predictions for the year. I'd say the predictions from the scouts are pretty standard (that is, they think the Sixers will be bad-- 14th in the East), and they definitely rely heavily on what happened last year. In aggregate, they bump Orlando out of the playoffs because they move Boston to the head of the pack in the Eastern conference, but other than that they predict all the same teams to make the playoffs this year as made it last year (for both conferences). I don't think there will be much movement either (I only predict the Nets and the Warriors to drop out of the playoffs), but it's striking how little movement they expect there to be.

If I have the time, I'll try and put all the different predictions I've found into a spreadsheet so at the end of the season it'll be easy to compare how everyone did (including myself).

[Update: Make that two. The Wages of Wins predicts the Eastern Conference here, and the Western Conference here.]

[Update 2: Okay, there are tons of other predictions and previews out there, but I'm done tracking them down! You'll need to fend for yourself.]

Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Disaster strikes!

Okay, disaster didn't actually strike, but the Sixers did lose their season opener to the Toronto Raptors. Since I assume the Sixers are going to finish the season behind the Raptors in the standings, I guess I can't be too surprised they lost to them. Still, stealing a few games against mid-tier teams like the Raptors will go a long way towards boosting the Sixers playoff chances.

Much to my chagrin, I can tell from looking at the box score that a few things happened in today's game that I really wished hadn't happened:

(1) Mo Cheeks played a small line-up. How do I know? Well, our centers and power forwards (Dalembert, Evans, Smith, and Booth) played only 64 out of the 96 minutes available for the two big man positions. I understand Dalembert only playing 25 minutes-- he's coming back from injury so maybe his conditioning and timing isn't that good (he picked up 4 fouls in 25 minutes which could be a sign of rust)-- but why did Reggie Evans only play 22 minutes? In that time period he had fifteen rebounds! The man is a machine on the glass, and he should be playing more even if he isn't doing anything else.

(2) Willie Green played big minutes, and so did Rodney Carney. Cheeks played Green for 33 minutes and Carney for 16 minutes. You know my opinion of the two of them, so as far as I'm concerned we effectively conceded the shooting guard position to the other team for the full game. To be fair, it doesn't look like either player was that bad tonight, but based on their playing time it's clear that Mo Cheeks and I don't see eye-to-eye on this issue.

[note: ESPN's box score only accounts for 229 out of the 240 minutes played by the Sixers. I'm assuming this is the result of the way they rounded minutes played, but it means my discussion of everyone's minutes might be a tad off.]

The good news is that for the most part it seems like the Sixers played the Raptors pretty tough. Most nights Igoudala isn't going to cough up 6 turnovers, and assuming a slightly better showing from AI2 the Sixers would have had a real shot at victory. And Dalembert will hopefully play more minutes as he gets healthier.

All in all, a mixed bag, but not a bad start to the season (although a loss is still a loss...).

Current Record: 0-1

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Western Conference Predictions

The Real Deal Holyfield (Toss a Coin)

(1) San Antonio- Tim Duncan. Manu Ginobili. Tony Parker. Bruce Bown. The random guy they’re playing at center this year. Best team in basketball. Do I really need to say anything more? They led the league with a +8.4 point differential last year—more than a full point higher than the next closest team (Phoenix). I love watching them play, but I understand why people don’t find them interesting—there’s nothing new to say, and no drama surrounding them. Maybe Duncan should grow his hair out and dye it green just to see how the media reacts. They just play top-flight, winning basketball. I’d actually be surprised if they end up with the best record (since it doesn’t seem to be a priority for them), but I just can’t see a reason not to pick them to finish first. [58 wins]

(2) Houston- I’m weighing the continued maturation of Yao, the splendor of McGrady, the theft of Luis Scola from the Spurs, the defense of Shane Battier, and the re-acquisition of Mike James and Steve Fancis against the loss of the miracle worker Jeff Van Gundy. Rick Adelman’s teams generally perform very well in the regular season, but Houston’s success last year was based on being one of the very best defensive teams in the league and the loss of JVG is definitely going to hurt them in this area (just remember how badly the Knicks fell apart a few years ago when JVG left them mid-season). Still, the Rockets are loaded. [58 wins]

(3) Phoenix- It’s hard to top Phoenix’s Big 3 of Nash, Stoudemire, and Marion. I’m not a huge Amare fan, but there’s no doubt that his hands and finishing ability are a great fit with Nash. And Marion is a great fit anywhere (as long as his pouting over not being “The Man” doesn’t interfere with his fantastic play). It’s also hard to keep playing your top players the number of minutes that Phoenix’s top guns have been playing the last few seasons. They have arguably even less depth this year than the previous two years, so we’ll see if they can continue to log the heavy minutes without breaking down. They remain a running team with the addition of Grant Hill, but I’m not sure I’d still consider them a team of 3-point shooters. It sounds like all I’m doing is bad-mouthing the Suns, but you know what? They’re still going to win close to 60 games this season. [58 wins]

(4) Dallas- I don’t think they’re going to have any problem bouncing back from last year’s crushing playoff loss to the Golden State Warriors. They have one of the league’s most efficient offenses as well as one of the five best defenses in the league. They had the third best point differential last season (+7.2), and they basically return the same group. They’ll be fine. The 67 wins last season were a bit of a fluke based on their point differential, so don’t be surprised if their win total drops by a decent chunk even though they’ll probably be basically as good as last year. [58 wins]

So Close and yet So Far

(5) Utah- It isn’t Utah’s fault that they’ve become good at the same time that the league is boasting four teams that have the potential to be juggernauts (just like it wasn’t Stockton and Malone’s fault that their Utah Jazz teams peaked at the same time Michael Jordan’s Bulls were peaking). They’re probably as good as the top three teams in the Eastern Conference (maybe even better), but they just aren’t in the same tier as the top four teams in the West. Maybe Deron Williams makes “the Leap” this year, maybe Andrei Kirilenko figures out a way to better fit in with the team as a small forward, and maybe someone fills the void left by Derek Fischer’s departure to give the Jazz a top quality shooting guard. It will probably take all three happening to boost the Jazz into the top ranks of the Western Conference. More likely, one of the three happens and the Jazz have the “misfortune” of being a really good team and racking up a whole bunch of wins, but then needing to play a really, really good team and getting bounced from the playoffs in the first round. Sorry, Utah. [52 wins]

What about us?

(6) Memphis- Last year, Memphis was absolutely horrible, losing a league worst 60 games with a -5.1 point differential. But the season started with Gasol injured, and by the time he returned to the line-up the Grizzlies had already dug themselves a hole from which they couldn’t get out. Two years ago, Memphis was the fourth best team in the Western Conference, winning 49 games with a +3.7 point differential. The off-season acquisitions of Mike Conley, Juan Carlos Navarro, and Darko Milicic, plus the services of Gasol (and Mike Miller) for the entire season make me expect that last season is going to become a fading memory in Memphis very quickly. [47 wins]

(7) Denver- They score a lot of points, but I don’t think they really worry any of the top teams. No one would be surprised if this was the year Iverson’s body finally broke down or if Camby misses significant time with an injury. Barring that, Denver will be again what they’ve been the last two seasons—a fun team to watch that squeaks its way into the Western Conference playoffs. It’s possible that Carmelo becomes the efficient scorer for the Nuggets that he is with Team USA, but somehow I doubt it. [45 wins, again] [After writing this prediction, it came to my attention that Kenyon Martin is apparently healthy again. If he regains his pre-injury form (from back when he was with the Nets), then I'd bump Denver up to Utah's level. Also, Chucky Atkins got hurt, but I didn't think he was that good so I don't think his injury matters.]

(8) LA Lakers- If Kobe gets traded, then all bets are obviously off and we can forget that I ever made a prediction for the Lakers. If he isn’t traded, then I think the Lakers will find their way into the playoffs again. And, with Kobe on the team, they’ll be the team that no one wants to face in the first round because of Kobe’s potential to explode. That said, the Lakers big issue will be defense. They actually had one of the most efficient offenses in the league last year, but they couldn’t have stopped a high school JV squad (well, maybe a bad one). You’ll laugh, but having a healthy Kwame Brown and Chris Mihm (along with a slightly more mature Andrew Bynum) should actually make a big difference here. On the other hand, Odom’s lingering shoulder trouble could make a big difference in the opposite direction. The Lakers could implode and find themselves out of the playoffs, or they could bring it defensively and find themselves just a hair below Utah. I’ll split the difference. [42 wins]

(9) New Orleans- They’ve been on the verge of the playoffs the last two seasons, and it looks like they’ll be on the verge of the playoffs again this year. I haven’t really seen them play, so it’s hard for me to comment on them. Tyson Chandler anchors them defensively, and he had a very solid summer with Team USA. Plus, a few of their key players will hopefully be healthier this season (Chris Paul, Peja Stojakavic). Add it all together, and you have another season where they’ll be in the mix right to the final whistle. But I can’t pick everyone to make the playoffs, and they’re the odd men out. [41 wins]

(10) Sacramento- Two years ago, they were a solid 8th seed with 44 wins and a +1.5 point differential. Last season, they were pretty bad—winning only 33 games. What happened? Well, Bibby and Miller had bad seasons. Just as importantly, they had some bad luck—despite a point differential of -1.8, they lost 6 more games than New Orleans which had a -1.6 point differential (and they only won 1 more game than Portland which had a -4.3 point differential). I expect Bibby and Miller to bounce back (although I’ve never really been a big Bibby fan), and I expect the odds to at least even out a little bit. Unfortunately for them, the top of the Western Conference is loaded, and even a .500 record won’t get them into the playoffs. [41 wins] [Bibby is now expected to be out for the first two months of the season with a hand injury. I don't think it's a devastating blow since I've tended to think Bibby was overrated, but it might be enough of a blow to eliminate their chances at the post-season.]

It was nice while it lasted

(11) Golden State- Sam, weren’t you paying attention last year? Didn’t you see us knock off Dallas in the playoffs? Yes, I did. Then I watched Utah crush Golden State in the second round. And then in the off-season I watched Golden State trade away Jason Richardson for 10 cents on the dollar. The Warriors are really going to miss Richardson. And they’re also really going to be hurt by all the coaches in the league having had a chance to watch the playoff series against the Jazz. Everyone learned that if you slow the tempo down against Golden State, your big men will be able to abuse Golden State on the offensive glass. By mid-season, whichever small player is playing the bulk of his minutes at power forward in Nellie’s small ball offense is going to be incredibly sore. [35 wins]

I’ve heard the NBDL is looking for some teams

(12) Minnesota- Celtics West takes the floor in Minnesota this season, and it’s going to be a bit rough. That said, I’m probably a little bit higher on their prospects than most people, but most likely because I became invested in a number of these players from watching so many of their games the last few years in Boston. Al Jefferson is very, very good—an all-star if he had remained in the East, but probably destined to be overlooked in the West this season. I’m also much higher on Telfair than just about anyone else I know or have heard discuss him. With the players on the Timberwolves’ roster, I’d put the ball in Telfair’s hands and tell him to push it and get his teammates open looks in transition. Go small with Telfair, Foye, Green, Smith, and Jefferson (with Brewer coming off the bench), and see what you can create. You won’t get many (any?) defensive stops, but you’ll be fun to watch! I’m higher on this team than most, but I’m not crazy. [25 wins] [Since I made my prediction, the Timberwolves have traded Ricky Davis and Mark Blount for Antoine Walker, etc. I don't think this trade really matters for their record this year, and I also don't think Walker is going to be with the team in a few weeks. So what does that all mean for this prediction? Who knows!]

(13) Portland- The difference between this year’s team and last year’s 32 win (-4.3 point differential) team? They traded away Zach Randolph. Oh, and they reacquired Steve Blake. The trade of Randolph made sense with the expected arrival of Oden, but now that Oden is injured the Trailblazers are going to be in serious trouble. The only way they don’t drop in the standings is if all of their young players take big steps forward. I’m not saying it won’t happen with Aldridge and Roy, but I’m not sure which other young players are going to step up with them. This year will be a step backwards, but that will just set them up to take two huge strides forward next season. [23 wins]

(14) Seattle- Sam Presti, the Sonics new GM, comes from the Spurs so he gets the benefit of the doubt, but I have no idea what he was thinking this offseason. They lost Rashard Lewis and Ray Allen for basically nothing (sorry, I don’t think Jeff Green will be a difference maker in the pros). Durant will score a bunch of points this year, but I expect his shooting percentage to be in the low 40s because there won’t be anyone to take the pressure off of him. Plus, the looming specter of the move to Oklahoma City (if it isn’t thwarted by a pending lawsuit) means that the team is probably going to be playing a lot of home games in a mostly empty arena. I think it’ll be a long year in the Emerald City. One bright spot? I like the Kurt Thomas signing (I guess I should say trade), but I’m not sure what he’s doing on this team other than serving as trade bait when the trade deadline approaches. [22 wins]

(15) LA Clippers- Chris Kaman was the fifth best starter on the Clippers when they had their successful season two years ago, and he’s a really good player for your fifth spot. This year, he projects to be their second best player (assuming he bounces back from his poor performance last year). That is not a good sign if you’re a Clippers fan. Cassell and Mobley are old, Shaun Livingston still isn’t back from injury, and I don’t even want to talk about the injury to Elton Brand, which just seemed arbitrarily cruel on the part of the sports gods. The Clippers are going to be the Corey Maggette and Chris Kaman show, and that means it’ll be a long year for L.A.’s “other” team. [20 wins] [I stand by my prediction, but I came across this post over at Clips Nation which makes a strong argument that the Clippers don't deserve to be ranked 15th in the Western Conference (the writer suggests a ranking of 12th would be much more realistic). I think he makes some good points, so go read it.]

Monday, October 29, 2007

Eastern Conference Predictions

Cream of the Crop

(1) Chicago- They led the conference with a +5.0 point differential last season, and during the off-season they replaced P.J. Brown with Joe Smith (call it even) and added Joakim Noah. Add in a little more seasoning for Tyrus Thomas, and you have probably the best team in the conference over the course of this regular season. What’s not to like? [50 wins]

(2) Detroit- Moving McDyess to the starting line-up makes the first five even tougher, but puts a lot of pressure on the bench players. Assuming they’re given a chance to play with a little leeway, the bench might struggle a bit early in the season and cost Detroit some wins, but it’ll help them in the long-run. This might be the year Rasheed blows up and takes the team down with him, but I’m a Wallace fan and think he’ll keep it in check. [49 wins]

(3) Boston- Call them the C’eatles (per Garnett) or the GAP kids (per me), but don’t call them pretenders. They’ll be for real. All the changes to their roster makes looking at last year’s results completely worthless. With three locks for the Eastern Conference all-star game on the roster, Boston has the Eastern Conference’s equivalent of the Suns’ Big 3 (only slower paced and playing in an area with much more snow...). If Doc Rivers is smart enough to not play his stars huge minutes during the regular season, it’ll cost them some wins during the regular season but help them in the long-run. Save the 40+ minute games by the Big 3 for the playoffs, and the Celtics will be heading all the way to the NBA Finals. [48 wins]

You need a Crystal Ball for these Guys

(4) Cleveland- They represented the Eastern Conference in the Finals last year. They had one of the best defenses in the league, and they had the third best point differential in the conference behind Chicago and Detroit (+3.8). Lebron has another year of experience. They basically stood-pat, which means placing them fourth seems appropriate (bumping Boston in front of them). On the other hand, if they don’t get the contract situation with Varejao straightened out (he’s currently home in Brazil) I think they could be fighting for their play-off lives—he’s a huge part of what they do defensively. [47 wins, but with a huge Varejao asterisk]

(5) Washington- They finished last season as a .500 team with a negative point differential (-0.5). On the other hand, they were ravaged with injuries to star players (most notably Gilbert Arenas) and were doing really well before everyone got hurt. I’m tempted to think they’ll do really well this year with their stars back from injury, but then comes the news that Etan Thomas needed heart surgery. He’s not a star, but he did a bunch of the dirty work for them. Plus, who do I put them in front of? They could be a 50 win team or they could be a 40 win team, and neither would surprise me. I’ll split the difference and put them here. [45 wins, with another big asterisk]

(6) Miami- If I had any guts I’d predict them to miss the playoffs, but I think I’m too scared because of the big names. (Shaq! Wade! It’s the NBA playoffs!) They had a negative point differential last year (-0.9) yet somehow managed to grab 44 wins. They were also plagued by injuries, and I don’t see this year being any different. They didn’t get any younger. Wade is going to miss a chunk of games at the beginning of the season. We know Shaq is going to miss games at some point. They lost quality wing players in Kapono and Posey, and an out-of-retirement Penny Hardaway isn’t going to be the answer. Yet I still can’t bring myself to put them below any of the remaining teams. I’m a wuss. [43 wins, with two asterisks!!!]

Two of these Things are going to Belong

(7) Toronto- Last year was a break-out year for the Raptors, and I think the run continues. John Hollinger predicts a drop-off because so many Raptor players had career-best years last season, but I think that was more a function of their new style of play. Plus, as one of just five teams in the Eastern Conference who had a positive point differential last year, I think they can decline a little and still make the playoffs. There are some lingering injury problems (Bosh, etc.) that will probably slow them down to start the year, but I think they don’t drop any lower than the seventh seed. [43 wins]

(8) Orlando- Change the name—they should be called the Stan Van Gundy Magic, rather than the Orlando Magic. I wasn’t a huge fan of the roster moves they made this summer (letting Milicic walk, signing Lewis to a contract way above market value), but I am a huge fan of SVG. He’s a miracle worker (as is his brother for that matter) who was absolutely knee-capped by Riley in Miami. If Orlando hadn’t changed coaches over the summer I’d be picking them to drop out of the playoffs, but not with SVG at the helm. Plus, I was surprised to learn that they had a positive point differential (+0.8) last season despite having a sub-.500 record. I don’t know how SVG is going to make Adonal Foyle a prime-time player, but he will. [42 wins]

(9) Indiana- Jim O’Brien is another coach that I consider a miracle worker. Remember, the Sixers were 43-39 in 2004-05 under him before falling back to 38-44 the next year under Mo Cheeks with basically the same roster (not to mention his work with the Pierce/Walker Celtics before that). His presence on the Indiana sideline is probably good for at least five wins. I also think his preference for fronting post-players will cover up some of Troy Murphy’s defensive shortcomings by allowing Jermaine O’Neal to cover up things with his over-the-top help defense, while at the same time allowing Murphy to concentrate on his offensive strengths—the outside jumper which also happens to be a JOB favorite. [41 wins]

(10) Philadelphia- The Sixers were 26-21 over the last 47 games of last season. I think being above .500 for that much of the season is a good sign, even if it might be a bit overstated because of some “cheap” wins racked up over the last month. They replaced Joe Smith with Reggie Evans, but other than that they pretty much stayed still. And as a result, I’m putting them slightly above .500 for the upcoming season. [41 wins]

(11) New Jersey- Um, Sam, you do realize that New Jersey has Jason Kidd, Vince Carter, and Richard Jefferson? Yup, but I also realize that they basically have nothing else. Possibly Krstic’s return from injury or their pick-up of Jamal Magloire will make the difference, but last year NJ was a .500 ball-club with a negative point differential (-0.8). Not enough has changed, so I think this is the year they fall out of the playoffs. But it’ll be close. [40 wins]

(12) New York- The interior pairing of Curry and Randolph will be poor defensively, but effective offensively. People keep talking about them as two low-post players, but my impression of Randolph is that he was more of a high-post player. The big keys will be whether the guards get them the ball, Quentin Richardson stays healthy, and they find a way to get David Lee on the floor. Oh, and making sure that Isiah Thomas doesn’t harass anyone on the way to the arena (yes, that was a low blow, but not an undeserved one). They have talent (and they should with their payroll), but the key will be how they mesh that talent. [40 wins]

Wait, you’re telling me that you’re a Professional basketball team?

(13) Charlotte- They have a killer line-up of players at the swing positions (Gerald Wallace, Jason Richardson, Walter Herrmann, Matt Carroll, and Derek Anderson, and that isn’t even counting Adam Morrison, who isn’t good [update: and is now injured--which might add a few wins to their total], and Jared Dudley, a rookie). Unfortunately, they’re pretty thin everywhere else, especially with the injury to Sean May. Still, I don’t see them being any worse than last year, and they might even be a few games better because of the addition of Richardson, but another injury to a front court player (I’m looking at you, Mr. Okafor) would be devastating. [36 wins]

(14) Atlanta- They’re another team with a strong contingent of wing players, although not quite as deep at the position as Charlotte (Joe Johnson, Josh Smith, Josh Childress, and Marvin Williams should take all the minutes). But they’re also another team that’s pretty thin everywhere else. Al Horford helps, particularly as a presence on the boards and on the defensive end, but he isn’t enough to vault them into playoff contention. Maybe Acie Law IV is the answer at point guard, but I doubt it. They’ll have a better year than last year, but not by much. [34 wins]

(15) Milwaukee- I like Michael Redd (and really liked him on Team USA this summer), but I don’t like anything else on this squad. For the life of me, I don’t understand why they were so insistent on bringing back Mo Williams and Charlie Bell—I don’t think either of them is really going to help the Bucks win. Yi isn’t going to be a difference maker this year, and I just don’t see a whole bunch on the roster to get me excited. [27 wins]

Sunday, October 28, 2007

League overview

I went and predicted results for every team in the league, and I'll share those predictions with you over the next few days (one day for the Eastern Conference, one day for the Western Conference). For now, I just wanted to share a few general thoughts I had about those predictions.

First, I made my predictions by thinking about each team, their finish last season, and the moves they made in the offseason, and then making an educated guess about how many games they would win. If someone is anal enough to go through and add up all the projected wins, that person will notice that I've predicted too many wins. Since one team needs to lose each game, the overall record of the league at the end of the regular season is always 1230-1230. My predictions give the league an overall record of 1251-1209 (626-604 Eastern Conference, 625-605 Western Conference). Clearly not actually possible. So sue me. It's the preseason--you're supposed to be overly optimistic for all the teams. (I was actually even more optimistic at first, but then I tried to adjust the numbers once I realized what I had done...and then I decided it wasn't worth the effort)

With that book-keeping out of the way, what insights do I think I gleaned from my look around the league?

1. The top teams are in the West. The top teams have been in the Western Conference for the last few years, so this observation wasn't exactly a revelation. This year I think the top five regular season teams will be in the West-- San Antonio, Dallas, Phoenix, Houston, and Utah. Those first four teams are the class of the league, and I think they'll all challenge the 60 win mark. While Utah is a step below, the Jazz are still as good as the top teams in the East over the course of the regular season (Chicago, Detroit, Boston).

2. Boston is the wild card. I don't expect Boston to be amazing over the course of the regular season because of the lack of depth, but the post-season will be a different story. Assuming the Big 3 (Garnett, Allen, Pierce) are healthy, they can play 40+ minutes a night in the post-season, making Boston's lack of depth a much less signficant factor. So don't judge Boston's title chances on their regular season record.

3. The top teams are in the West, but so are the worst teams. In predicting team records, I thought the top teams in the West would win close to 60 games while the worst teams in the West would win close to 20 games-- a 40 game spread. In the East, I thought the top teams would win close to 50 games while the worst teams would win close to 30 games-- a 20 game spread. Teams like Minnesota, Portland, Seattle, and the LA Clippers have no chance of even getting near the playoffs. In the East, I think Atlanta and Milwaukee are the only ones without a realistic chance of getting to the playoffs, and they'll still be closer than those teams from the West I just mentioned.

4. If you don't have a .500 record this season, you aren't getting into the playoffs. I think this year there are at least 10 teams in each conference that can legitimately claim a shot at having a .500 record. Maybe this is just a result of my total predicted wins being too high, but I do think that at least 8 teams in each conference will end up reaching that mark. No patsies in the playoffs this year.

5. The middle tier teams in the Eastern Conference are impossible to predict. Miami has injuries. Cleveland might be dealing with the absence of Varejao if his contract situation isn't resolved. Washington has players returning from injury, making it hard to figure out what last year's performance really means. I think one of these teams is likely to drop out of the playoffs, but I can't predict which one and I was too much of a pansy to actually make a prediction that included this belief.

6. Everyone' s favorite Cinderella team from last season, Golden State, is going to discover that the clock has hit midnight. They lost Jason Richardson and didn't really get anything in return. I don't see how they recover from that decision.

One final note-- Since I made my predictions last week, there have been a few trades (Antoine Walker to the Timberwolves) and injuries (Mike Bibby, Chucky Atkins) that probably would have impacted my predictions. I decided not to redo my predictions, but in a few cases I mention "major" events that have occurred since I made my initial predictions.

This scout stopped watching games five years ago

Sometimes I'm not sure about NBA scouts...

Reading the scout's comments on the Dallas Mavericks over at, I noticed this statement:
The key for Dallas is that when you get into the playoffs and people are stopping your transition game by getting back on defense, you've got to be able to run the half-court offense. The Mavericks struggle in the half-court when they have to play there on a consistent basis.
If he was talking about the Mavericks of five years ago, I'd say "Right on!" But we're not. Last season Dallas was 28th in the league in pace factor--only two teams in the league averaged fewer possession per game than Dallas. Dallas was almost exclusively a half-court team last year, and playing that style they had the second most efficient offense (points per 100 possessions) in the league (to go with the league's fifth best defensive efficiency rating).

The Mavericks don't generally struggle in the half-court; they excel at it. Obviously not the case in last year's playoffs, but generally so.

That said, this Mavericks blogger thinks the scout was dead-on with his observation. I think the blogger was mostly agreeing with the second half of the scout's discussion (not included in the quote above) in which the scout talks about Dallas' failure to make adjustments in the series and create mismatches, but it's hard to be sure.

But what do I know, I'm not a professional...(not that my amateur status is going to keep my from playing a professional on my blog!)