The Sports Report

A Statistical Take on Sports and Politics

NBA Version of The Boots

Boot Up: Cleveland Cavaliers – Since it is already mid-December, it clearly means that I have not been dreaming for the last month and a half of the NBA season.  Yes, the Cleveland Cavaliers are currently 20-3 and are a half-game back of the Boston Celtics for the best record in the Eastern Conference , and are a half game ahead of the LA Lakers in the West. The Cavaliers have made the the NBA a clear race between the top three in 2009, and are currently riding a franchise best eleven-game winning streak. This winning streak has already made history in several different ways (blowouts, Z and LeBron) and there are only four more months left in the regular season for the Cavaliers as they look to set all-time franchise records in wins and points (currently fourth in points scored and first in defense and “DIFF” per game according to ESPN).

I read a fantastic article recently by Dave Berri about the reason for the Cavaliers success recently. He pointed out that it is not really the acquisition of Maurice Williams, or the more inspired play of LeBron James that is leading to such blow-out victories. He argues that it is the more efficient rotation and healthy bench, resulting in more minutes for productive players like Anderson Varejao and Delonte West. He notes that using the rotation we have used thus far this season, and the production that is established for all of our personnel, we could have easily expected about 62 wins from this team in 2008-2009. 62 WINS! Who would have guessed earlier this year that this team ever would have been capable of winning this many games??? Not anyone, or at least certainly not anyone from pessimistic ol’ Northeast Ohio.

I had the Cavaliers down for about 48 wins in my mid-summer NBA predictions and they have exceeded all of my wildest expectations through 23 games this season. I can only hope and pray, as someone born and raised in the Northeast Ohio area, that this team does not let us down from here. Right now, the team must make the Eastern Conference finals this season or possibly face dire consequences from LeBron himself in the summer of 2010. From there, the Cavaliers desperately need to compete with the Boston Celtics like they did in the Eastern Conference Quarterfinals last season. Last year, however, I never truly imagined the Cavs could possibly beat the Celtics in that series, while in a similar matchup this season who knows who will have the edge. I just hope that April comes soon, and that in those first few days of the playoffs I still feel optimistic about the great potential for this team.

Boot Down: Crazy NBA Stories – At the beginning of the NBA season, I made a handful of bold predictions about different storylines that would unfold in the league this year. Here is a look back at what I said, and whether I was on the mark with all these predictions:

Most Outrageous Western Predictions: Houston at 2, Portland at 6, Minnesota at 9, and Denver at 11. Houston currently sits at third in the West, with a 15-8 record and they are 4.5 games back of the Lakers. Portland is 15-10 and seventh in the West after a three game losing streak, but had been second in the conference just a few days ago. Minnesota is 4-18 and second to last in the conference, and thus my early season hopes for the young Wolves roster are definitely way too early. Denver is second in the West at 15-7, and an incredible 11-4 since acquiring Chauncey Billups for Allen Iverson. Watch out for the Nuggets however, as they play Dallas, Phoenix, Cleveland, Houston and Portland (twice) all in the next two weeks.

Story: The LA Lakers are the top team in the NBA without a doubt. Not so much anymore as the Lakers and the Cavaliers have entered the fray and it is already looking like the NBA Finals race is down to these three teams. I do not see any other team seriously competing with the Lakers in the West come playoff time, and thus the only entertaining thing to watch in the playoffs besides the Finals will be the eventual Eastern Conference Championship between Cleveland and Boston.

Story: The Mavericks, Suns, and Warriors are all fading and there is a distinct chance that none of these three may make the playoffs this season. These are all true to a certain extent, but Dallas has managed to stick around for the time being, and the big Raja Bell/Boris Diaw trade for Jason Richardson might just help the Suns… I am right about this predicition, but I sitll might be a year or so off before all three of these teams miss the playoffs. Golden State will not come close this year as they are already 7-16 and six and a half games back of 8th place in the West. Dallas is currently eight, and Phoenix nine, and thus it is unlikely for now that all three miss out on the second season.

Story: The Blazers are here to stay, and the Minnesota Timberwolves might not be that bad. The Blazers are for real, and as I mentioned above if it weren’t for a current three-game losing streak they would still be at the very top of the Western Conference. After the Lakers at the #1 spot, the next eight teams are separated by only 2.5 games. Memphis, the #10 seed, is then five whole games back of #9 Dallas. This shows how the Western Conference playoff race is pretty much down to nine teams, and the Minnesota Timberwolves certainly are not one of them. Although Al Jefferson looks tremendous yet again, nobody else has showed up thus far for this team and they look as bad as ever.

Most Outrageous Eastern Predictions: Philadelphia at 4, Detroit at 5, Miami at 8 and Washington at 13. Philadelphia is a very sad 9-14 and eleventh in the Eastern Conference after losing 8 out 10 and just today firing their Coach Maurice Cheeks. Detroit is 12-9 and fifth in the Eastern Conference, and it looks very much like my pessimistic prediction for the Pistons will come true this year as Allen Iverson helps nothing. Miami is 12-10 and actually sixth in the Eastern Conference, and could be on pace to have quite a turnaround year, although nowhere near the NBA records Boston set last season. Washington is 4-16 and dead-last in the Eastern Conference, and it looks like after more than a year and a half of calling the demise of the Wizards success, it has finally arrived in 2008-2009.

Story: The Celtics will remain the best in the East, but certainly not the best in the NBA. This storyline has yet to truly unfold, as the Celtics are currently 22-2, riding a thirteen game winning streak, and are looking as good as ever thanks to the other worldly play of point guard Rajon Rondo. They might be beatable in their own conference, unlike what I though at the beginning of the season, but there is certainly no doubt that as the defending champions they are the team to beat in the playoffs.

Story: Orlando in adding Courtney Lee and Mickael Pietrus, is not at all fading from the picture, despite the addition of Elton Brand to the Philadelphia 76ers and the addition of Mo Williams to the Cavaliers. This is definitely true, as not only is Philadelphia completely out of the race for the best teams in the East, but Orlando looks like the fourth best team in the NBA right now. Outside of Boston, LA and Cleveland, there seems to be a huge gap among all NBA teams, but Orlando made a definitive statement on the road in Portland on Tuesday, despite losing last night in Phoenix for Jason Richardson’s debut. Orlando is very, very good this season, and whoever is the #2 seed in the Eastern Conference will have the distinct honor of having to go through them in the playoffs.

Story: Chicago, Indiana, Miami, and Charlotte will all be better than last year. I am pretty sure I got this one right for Miami and Chicago, as their winning percentages have drastically improved after selecting 1-2 in the NBA Draft in June. Miami looks headed for a .500 season and a playoff berth, while Chicago will be fighting for the rest of the year along with New Jersey, Toronto and even New York for the final spot or two. Charlotte, on the other hand, just made a big trade and brought in Raja Bell and Boris Diaw, and that will certainly help out this team later on this year. I think that the Wallace/Richardson duo has doomed to fail eventually, and it looks like the Bobcats franchise was tired of not improving. Indiana, on the other hand, might just be the most unlucky franchise in the league, as they are much better than their current 7-15 record indicates. Danny Granger has blossomed into one of the best pure scorers in the league, but their 2-10 record in games decided by ten points or less shows how they are just on the cusp of being in the playoff mix.

Boot Up: Surprising Stars – In my analysis of the story lines, I made a point of writing about a few players that have been surprisingly successful this season, and with the help of my spreadsheets I will look at those players now. This was a much harder choice to break down these five players, than the disappointing players below, just because there have been so many surprise stories this year. Here is a brief synopsis of snub list from my surprising stars:

PG Tony Parker – Led the Spurs at the beginning of the season before getting hurt, much more efficient than normal
PG Rajon Rondo – Establishing himself as the second best player on the Celtics
, and one of best PG’s in the NBA
SG Anthony Morrow – Just because you have never heard of this Golden State undrafted free agent
SG Brandon Roy – He has made the next step into perennial All-Star range for Portland
SF Trevor Ariza  – Mr. Do It All off the bench for the Lakers these days, extraordinary potential
SF Wilson Chandler – Making big strides offensively in his second year for the Knicks under Coach D’Antoni
PF Paul Millsap – The Louisiana Tech product is stepping up big-time in Boozer’s absence in Utah
PF Matt Bonner – Making his presence felt in extended minutes for the Spurs this season
C Joel Przybilla – Shooting 65-80 on field goals helps him keep his minutes with Oden in Portland these days
C Spencer Hawes – His inside game is really starting to develop in his second year for the Kings

Now on to the meat of my surprising stars list. These players have truly elevated their games to new levels this season, and are now deserving of being mentioned of being the best players at their position in their respective conferences. The rankings I give below for Game Score, Jrating and FIC48 are out of the 195 qualified players that have ranked in the top 275 in all three categories over the last two seasons:

PG Devin Harris, New Jersey Nets – Jumped up from 93 in FIC48, 73 in Jrating and 51 in Game Score to 17/10/5 respectively. He averaged 22.457 points per 48 minutes last season on 1.007 points per field goal attempt. Now averaging Now up to 32.457 points per 48 minutes on 1.030 points per field goal attempt. Assist to turnover ratio also increased slightly from 2.292 to 2.500.

SG Dwayne Wade, Miami Heat – Jumped up from 44 in FIC48, 17 in Jrating and 21 in Game Score to 4/2/3 respectively. Now has joined an elite group of players to rank in the top ten in all three categories, as LeBron, Boozer, Duncan, Kobe, CP3 and Howard are the other six. Points (30.805 to 38.020) rebounds (5.257 to 6.772) and assists (8.696 to 9.505) per 48 minutes are all up after injury plagued 2007-2008.

SF Danny Granger, Indiana Pacers  Jumped up from 97 in FIC48, 57 in Jrating and 58 in Game Score to 76/23/42 respectively. Although his rebounding is down slightly (8.111 to 6.545), his points (26.153 to 31.356) and assists (2.771 to 3.927) per 48 minutes are way up. Becoming one of the elite scorers in the NBA as he has maintained his efficient points per shot ratio over the last two seasons (1.033 to 1.041) despite the increase in shots per game.

PF Charlie Villanueva, Milwaukee Bucks – Points (23.252 to 26.771) and rebounds (12.23 to 14.85) are up tremendously from last year and he is starting to truly blossom as a power forward alongside Andrew Bogut. His combined average of FIC48, Jrating and Game Score jumped up from 120 to 76 this season, the 25th highest jump among the 195 qualified players. Still only 24 years old, and thus has a lot of room to grow in terms of shooting efficiency (0.880 points per shot this year).

C Nene Hilario, Denver Nuggets  – Getting the most playing time since his second year in the league in 2003-2004, he has responded with an impressive development of his offensive game. Is currently producing 1.254 points per field goal attempt, which is perfect for the more efficient offense that Chauncey Billups is running in Denver these days despite his decrease in rebounding (12.987 last two seasons to 10.674 this season). He hasn’t played more than 65 games in a season since his second year, and thus he is still a long ways away from actually averaging 14.4 points per game for an entire season.

Boot Down: Disappointing Minute Eaters – Following up the list of improved players for this season, here is the list of players that have taken a major step down in their career paths this year. These are a pretty random assortment of players, as I focused on just those that looked really bad compared to different points in their career:

PG T.J. Ford, Indiana Pacers – Was incredibly efficient in the 51 games he played for Toronto last year, averaging 24.701 points, and 12.530 assists per 48 minutes with 0.968 points per shot. This year, as the lead point guard for Indiana away from Jose Calderon, all those numbers have gone down to totals of 20.022, 7.890 and 0.890. Still an above average point guard, but I thought better things would happen for him as the starting point guard.

SG Anthony Parker, Toronto Raptors – Points per shot have dropped drastically this season (1.16 to 1.03) and his disappointing play (13.36 FIC 48 last season, now 10.24) has caused some of the drop-off for the Raptors this season. Among players with at least 600 minutes played, he has the second worst Jrating per 48 minutes, only slightly ahead of new Charlotte Bobcat Raja Bell.

SF Luol Deng, Chicago Bulls – His points per shot have now dropped for the third year in a row (1.120 to 1.056 to 0.988) along with his rebounding per 48 minutes (9.050 to 8.887 to 6.868). His defense may finally be getting better, but a very promising career has taken a turn for the worst over the last two years and keeps getting worse.

PF LaMarcus Aldridge, Portland Trail Blazers – His points per shot have now dropped in all three of his NBA seasons (1.066 to 1.044 to 1.006), and he is averaging 9.119 rebounds per 48 minutes this season. Last year he pulled in 10.473 rebounds per 48 minutes, and out of the 101 F/C’s taller than or just around his height last season, the rebounding average per 48 minutes was 11.828.

C Tyson Chandler, New Orleans Hornets – Missed four games due to a stiff neck, sprained ankle and wife’s childbirth. He is averaging 12.178 rebounds and 5.48 fouls per 48 minutes this year. In the last two seasons, he had averaged a combined 16.567 rebounds and 4.40 fouls per 48 minutes, and thus something definitely seems off this season.

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December 12, 2008 - Posted by | The Boots | , , ,

1 Comment »

  1. I was on Yahoo and found your blog. Read a few of your other posts. Good work. I am looking forward to reading more from you in the future.

    Tom Stanley

    Comment by Tom Stanley | December 14, 2008 | Reply


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