Tuesday, April 06, 2010

NBA Playoff Contenders: Western Conference

Predictions, even NBA predictions, much like eating KFC's Double Down (for those wondering yes that is a bacon egg sandwich but instead of bread it's two pieces of fried chicken) is a dangerous, fool hearty, and ultimately suicidal endeavor. But here at the BSD I suppose that's our motto. The best predictor of playoff success in the NBA is points/efficiency (pts per possession) differences (offense minus defense) NOT record. Most of the time a team is about as good as its record but not always. So without further ado my ranking of the chances for a team to win the Western Conference. Numbers in parentheses are the difference in points per game and the difference in offensive and defensive efficiency) . All other numbers are completely made up.

No Chance (less than 1%)

8. Portland (+3.4 PPG, +4.1 Diff)

Frankly it's amazing that Portland even made the playoffs given all of their injuries. Its a testament to Brandon Roy as well as their style of play (never turning over the ball). However with no size they can't rebound which means they can't win in the playoffs.

Spoilers (1-10%)

7. Oklahoma City (+3.8 PPG, +4.3 Diff)
The young ex-Sonics are starting to show their muscle. While Durant gets much of the attention their improvement in defense is a bigger reason why they made the playoffs this year. However turnovers, specifically at the PG position, coupled with youth means wait another year.

6. Phoenix (+4.6 PPG, +5.1 Diff)
Phoenix has been the hottest team (no pun intended) in the West since the trading deadline. Amare is playing out of his mind. None of it matter though. Phoenix has the worst defense of any team headed to the playoffs and is second worse at limiting offensive rebounds in the entire league. They have a puncher's chance at knocking someone out but nothing more.

Contenders (10-20%)

5. Dallas (+1.8, +3.1 Diff)
Dallas is an enigma. In the West they have the second best record but statistically are the worst of any of the playoff teams. They get out rebounded, turn the ball over more, and are mediocre at shooting/defense. Which is short hand for while they keep eking out close victories their luck should run out in the playoffs. HOWEVER Dallas hasn't played very long/at all with this new lineup. If everyone can meld, Dallas could be formidable but so far they haven't demonstrated that capacity.

4. Denver (+4.5, +4.4 Diff)
Last season's runner up seemed to be in a good position for most of the year. However Kenyon Martin's injury has severely hampered Denver's chances. Denver is the second worst defensive team in the playoffs in the West (next to Phoenix) and is particularly poor at rebounding and keeping opponents away from the free throw line. Martin's injury exacerbates this weakness as they have no one behind him. If Martin can't go push Denver down far further on this list.

3. San Antonio (+5.0, +4.9 Diff)
Ah old semi-reliable. The San Antonio Spurs. The same formula year after year. Great defense (specifically limiting opponents FG%) and efficient offensive execution. Manu Ginobilli has been the best player in the West since Parker's injury but without Parker the Spurs no longer have the capacity to reliably beat good teams (their winning % versus teams over .500 is awful). If Parker is healthy the Spurs can contend. Heck maybe without. It's not like anyone out West fits the "reliable" moniker.

2. Utah (+5.8 PPG, + 5.3 Diff)
The Jazz somehow have cobbled together a very good team. Offensively they are as efficient as anybody - which is not surprising given that Deron Williams is as good as any point guard not named Chris Paul. The problem is that they lack size. They have two undersized power forwards and 1 undersized center and nothing else (you can see how size hurts them as they send people to the free throw line more than any other team in the playoffs). In the NBA Playoffs lack of size can be killer.

Favorites (+20%)

1. LA Lakers (5.5, +6.0 Diff)
The positives of the defending champs are pretty well known. They have Kobe Bryant and skilled Big Men. However recently the Laker's haven't nearly as mighty as they were earlier in the year, let alone last year (that's why Hollinger ranks them so low). It might very well be a great team waiting for the playoffs before they turn it on but let me lay out a few reasons that the Lakers aren't as good as they were last year.
A) Kobe - Kobe is, efficiency wise, having the worst season he's had since 2006. He's shooting more to compensate for his lower field goal percentage - which means less touches for Gasol. None of that can be considered "good".

B) Lack Of Bench - Especially without Bynum (i.e., Odom in starting lineup) and Walton the second unit has been awful. They are consistently and constantly outscored. Now maybe Bynum and Walton will get healthy and bolster the bench but come playoff time you can't get outscored by 10 every time Kobe sits

C) Age - It's easy to point at the Celtics and Spurs as being over the top but check out the core players of the Lakers...all are over 30. Derick Fisher is particularly showing his age and he's been awful this year and the Lakers have no one to replace him.

Now I still have the Lakers as my favorites to win the West for a third straight year. However the Lakers are looking shaky and unless someone improves their play like last year (ala Ariza's randomly finding his shooting prowess) don't be shocked if the Lakers get tripped up.


MJ said...

"Amare is playing out of his mind."

"Phoenix has the worst defense of any team headed to the playoffs and is second worse at limiting offensive rebounds in the entire league."

Those two quotes, pulled from the same paragraph are exactly why I think Amare Stoudemire is one of the most overrated players in the NBA and why any team that offers him a max contract should immediately be disbanded and kicked out of the league.

Amare sucks. He's a gunner. He plays no defense. For a man his size, with his athleticism, there is no excuse for him not being a better rebounder or better at preventing offensive rebounds. Without Steve Nash to make him look good on offense, Stoudemire will end up being the NBA's biggest max-contract disappointment since Juwon Howard back in 1995.

MJ said...

PS - I'd be willing to try that KFC sandwich. It would probably kill me but I'm a sucker for anything that has bacon in it.

Mighty Mike said...

The reason why I put Amare playing out of his mind is since the trade deadline is not only is he shooting efficiently (.570) but he has been (finally) rebounding (he's averaging nearly 10 rebounds a game in March/April). Also oddly he's been defending on pick and rolls. This improvement in Amare is probably related to Phoenix's recent winning streak.

As a team Phoenix still generally sucks at defense and I would have been remiss to ignore the entire season as to how bad Phoenix has been defensively. Nonetheless both statements are factually accurate and generally unrelated to Amare's over-ratedness (which I tend to agree with).

I wonder if you have sign a waiver before eating that sandwich....

Mighty Mike said...

I should add it's my bad for not being more clear on the time frame. Amare has been good was a comment pertaining to the time since the trade deadline. Phoenix bad defense/rebounding is a comment about the entire year...

Gutsy Goldberg said...

1) excellent analysis all the way around. fantastic article!

2) I still find Dallas really intriguing since they've had such little time together. The numbers are screwy indeed with them but it seems like they could matchup with the lakers and do quite well, if everyone's healthy and jelling.

3) Derek Fisher is absolutely awful, especially defensively. He resorts to being a thug and can't guard anyone with any amount of speed. For further proof, see Aaron Brooks' performance last year for Houston.

4) sadly, even though the lakers are worse this year, i'm not overly excited about the other teams either. last year was more exciting when houston had yao and portland had all of their bigs. i also don't see utah breaking through.
5) i'll be cheering for ok city to pull off some upsets!