Assumptions for the 2014-15 NBA Season

The 2014-15 NBA season is fast approaching, and after an exceptionally busy offseason, many things in the league will be unknowns when teams tip off in roughly six weeks. The shift of power away from South Beach and towards northeast Ohio has sent ripples all through the league. Transactions in the NBA do not exist within a vacuum – the same can be said about the Donald Sterling, Bruce Levenson and Danny Ferry’s comments and the subsequent discipline involved in each situation. They do not only effect the LA Clippers and Atlanta Hawks, but the other 28 teams to varying degrees.

With so many unknowns and the potential for an especially unpredictable opening month of the NBA season (discerning fans can learn plenty about a team in 15-18 games), I believe that a useful exercise would be to highlight themes that will most likely play a large part in predicting teams performance accurately. While much has changed, all one has to do to see a good example of things staying the same is to look at the defending champion San Antonio Spurs. They are rolling out for another season with the same coach and the same cast and characters that have won 5 of the last 15 championships. Their brand of basketball will be largely the same, with a few new Pop wrinkles as always, and it will continue to be mimicked by smart minds all over the league (in Atlanta, Philadelphia, and almost certainly Cleveland).

So, what else do we know?

  1. The Eastern Conference is weak, but it will be better than it was last year. It looks to me that the East has improved significantly – shifting some of the balance of power and increasing their odds of producing a collection of strong playoff teams. While Cleveland is easily ahead of all other teams in terms of my projected win totals, Chicago poses a strong case with the additions of Mirotic, Gasol and McDermott, plus the return of Rose. I would project Cleveland to win 62+ games, and Chicago to win 54+. Beyond Chicago and Cleveland, I would peg Charlotte, Washington, Atlanta, Brooklyn and Miami as strong teams capable of winning 45+ games. The bottom of the East will be so bad, with Philadelphia, Orlando and Boston, that the middle teams should see some win inflation. Last year was a banner year for conference disparity, but you can expect to see some correction this year. Remember this when over/under win totals come out – I will likely lay heavy on the middle of the Eastern Conference to go over their projections.
  2. Three pointers will continue to rise league wide, and teams that do it well will continue to reap the benefits. The three-point shot is going nowhere, and teams that create them well and convert them well will benefit. San Antonio’s devastating barrage in the Finals was no surprise to those who watched them all year, and Atlanta, Portland, Dallas and Washington all saw good long distance shooting increase their odds of collecting valuable wins in the playoffs. Remember, though – having good shooting isn’t the first requirement to having a dangerous long distance attack – good ball movement and shot creation is. Teams that are loaded with shooting but don’t create the shots well for themselves can be overvalued – such as Golden State last season. Look for the teams that shoot the most corner threes – the highest valued three-point shot – as one indicator of their ability to create quality distance shots. Of course, in this measure, there is no substitute for watching the games and learning from observation – you still can’t learn everything you need to know from a spreadsheet.
  3. Good defensive teams will likely be undervalued early on. This is because defensive efficiency is harder to project than offensive efficiency when you are working with rosters but no sample data. Good defensive teams, and I mean top 8 defenses, really, will be in every game and will win a lot of games that the casual fan might not pick them to win. Charlotte last season was a great example of this – they consistently outperformed forecasts for their success by playing quality defense and staying close in games. The New Orleans Pelicans, with the development of Anthony Davis and the addition of Omer Asik, look like a great bet to surge as a defensive team. If they can do this, they will likely produce a good return on investment early in the season, until oddsmakers adjust. Last season, oddsmakers didn’t adjust to Charlotte’s real value until very late in the season.
  4. Coaching matters. The style a team plays will have a great impact on their success. I don’t mean this as in “teams that play like the Spurs will succeed more than teams that don’t” or “teams that play the Triangle will perform 5 points per game better than teams that don’t.” Statements like this are meaningless unless you look at the talent of the rosters involved. Philadelphia will lose a LOT of games by a LOT of points. They will also frequently produce a lot of high scoring games, because their pace of play is so fast and there are so many opportunities for both teams involved to score in this scenario. Because their talent level is abysmal compared to their average opponent, over a long enough timeline the fast pace will lead to a larger margin of defeat for the Sixers. While the Houston Rockets also play very fast, they do so because their ability to score points more efficiently than their average opponents creates the opposite effect from Philadelphia. If you have James Harden and Dwight Howard, more possessions can increase your probability of separating yourself from your opponent. Likewise if you have no NBA player with a history of significant success in the league – it just goes in opposite directions. Learning each team’s style of play and how it relates to their talent is hugely important for anyone who wants to successfully forecast on a day-to-day or whole season basis.

There are other assumptions involved here, of course. I will delve into my team-by-team assumptions when the over/under lines come out next month. I already know what ranges I am expecting for each team, and whether I think that team has a realistic chance of making that range or not. I will do an in-depth post for each division when these odds are released. I will also predict the playoff seedings, conference champions and league champions prior to the season start. But for now, these themes and assumptions are part of what I believe you can use to evaluate teams ahead of the start of play. Study the coaches, breakdown the strengths and weaknesses likely to be present on both sides of the ball, and look at last year’s numbers again – were their any anomalies, and if so, what happens if they are corrected this season? Never think that you can’t find something new in old data. There is enough in there to help you form some real opinions about individual teams’ chances of improving or regressing, for sure.

The Most Uncool Teams Going Into the 2014-15 Season

Free agency has pretty much cooled down, and OBB can’t wait to start analyzing how this off-season has shifted the balance of power throughout the league. From monster moves like the LeBron signing to the sneaky low-key deals like Isaiah Thomas to Phoenix, this blog will spend the next three weeks breaking down how that has changed the culture of the league. Which teams are now the “craziest?” What roster is most likely to combust in the locker room mid-season? What team will lead the league in three-point shooting? OBB answers these questions and more in the coming weeks. Today: Which teams have upped their “cool” factors this offseason?

Yesterday, I broke down the coolest teams in the league going into next year, now that the dust has (mostly) settled on this free agency. Today, I want to break down the five LEAST cool teams going into next season.

This list is entirely subjective, and we will start with where the least cool teams ranked at the end of last season.

1. Milwaukee Bucks – Seriously, besides Giannis Alphabet, what did they have going for them last season? Abysmal offense, horrific defense, and no attendance. What’s more, there was little in the way of fun storylines, as Larry Sanders, who was full of potential and “cool” factor just a year ago, suffered through a season from hell. Luckily, that’s all changed now – but what a bad year for them last season.

The Bucks were just very blech last season.

2. Cleveland Cavaliers – This team blew up into a full on disaster, and better men than I publicly speculated about whether or not the Cavs should blow it up and trade Kyrie Irving. Seriously, that happened. Again, like Milwaukee, this all changed in the offseason, and Cleveland will be VERY cool to a lot of people this year. But horribly uncool season from the Cavs in 2013-14.

3. Detroit Pistons – Just a mismanaged mess of a roster that featured too many chefs in the kitchen and too many big men on the court. Josh Smith played exactly how you would expect him to play when you insert him into a lineup with Andre Drummond and Greg Monroe. Drummond, one of the best “upside” guys in the league, showed flashes of brilliance, but this team had little else to be happy about.

4. Boston Celtics – Okay, this hurts me to say, but the Celtics were brutally uncool last year. Their most exciting player oscillated between Jeff Green and Jared Sullinger for most of the season. Rajon Rondo came back and did little to help the team’s dreadful offense. Just not a fun situation there last year.

5. New York Knicks – The only reason they don’t rank higher is that they were an absolute entertainment circus last season and we couldn’t stop talking about them. They were about as uninteresting on the court as they were interesting off of it. The only three times I got excited about the Knicks this year were the two times a player shot an unnecessary three pointer with less than 24 seconds left in a game when they either had a lead or were tied and could have held for the last shot, and that one time that ‘Melo exploded for 63 against the Bobcats. That’s it. Otherwise, it was mostly just watching Raymond Felton and Iman Shumpert make me sad.

Missing a dunk is pretty uncool, Andrea.

Okay, so a pretty robust group of uncool teams right there. But lots has changed since then – it’s a new era in Milwaukee and Cleveland, and Detroit is at least moving in the right direction by making sure the team president, coach and general manager are all on the same page (since now those three positions are held by one person in total).

So, who tops the list now? The countdown from five to one begins now, as it stands today. As always, these rankings are totally subject to change once the games start being played and we get to see what actually goes on ON the court. But for now, this is where we stand.

5. Detroit Pistons – Okay, they moved down a few spots in a good way here by adding Stan Van Gundy to run the show. They still have a crowded front court that decreases the potential success and fun of their team, though, and they just overpaid for a few guys including Jodie Meeks, making basketball nerds everywhere cringe. People are worried about the Pistons, man.

Stan Van hasn’t made the Pistons cool quite yet.

4. Philadelphia 76ers - The only reason they didn’t make the top five for last year is that they played super fast and loose under Brett Brown, which was amusing and led to some strange victories in an otherwise tank-tastic season. This year it gets less amusing, when they sit out two first round picks this time around (Embiid and Saric) and will presumably trot out a mostly D-League worthy roster for the second year in a row. Nerlens Noel returning helps, and Joel Embiid’s Twitter account helps a lot – but this team is not gonna be cool for at least another season or two. Ugh.

3. Houston Rockets – This one has been a bit overblown by Morey haters, but damn – not many people are feeling the Rockets right now. I know a lot of it has to do with them striking out a perfectly reasonable gamble for Chris Bosh, but I’ve heard rumors that solid league intel knew there was “no chance he would move back to Texas” for reasons concerning the mother of his child who lives there. Seriously! That was a thing, and I had heard about it for a while before he announced he was returning to Miami. Also, as Zach Lowe and Bill Simmons have both pointed out, there are some rumblings around the league that maybe Dwight Howard and James Harden aren’t exactly the type of superstars other guys want to play with, for reasons of style of play and personality. Okay then. Sorry Houston, losing Chandler Parsons compounds with all that to make you one of the most uncool teams heading into this season.

Anytime you lose a dude who signs his multi-million dollar contracts IN A NIGHTCLUB, you lose a lot of cool points.

2. Brooklyn Nets – You wanna know how Brooklyn avoided this list last season? Jason Kidd going tie-less and installing a crazy “long ball” lineup that featured Shaun Livingston at the 1 or 2 and Paul Pierce at the 4. You know who doesn’t play in Brooklyn anymore? Shaun Livingston and Paul Pierce. Sure, KG is still around to bark at people and just be generally awesome, but otherwise you’re back to where you were before all those “monster moves” they made last offseason to set them up for a title run. Look how that worked out, and now we’re here – a year older and quite possibly no wiser at all.

1. Los Angeles Lakers – OH how the mighty have fallen. They struck out on Melo/LeBron/everyone else important, and were left to retool by signing Wesley Johnson and Nick “Swaggy P” Young. I’m sorry, but I’m going to enjoy this – the ONLY two cool things about the Lakers for next season are Kobe Bryant and Swaggy P. Last year’s team was awful, but they avoided this list by playing fast and just generally having fun out there, thanks in large part to Mike D’antoni’s system and Swaggy P’s famous, well, swag. This year, the fun stops the second Kobe steps back on the court. Look, I LOVE watching Kobe play, but he’s not exactly known for patience. Coming off two major surgeries, I’m worried that Bryant won’t be the same player. That would make this team just brutal to watch. Sure, Julius Randle could be something special, but I’m not optimistic about his immediate impact on this kind of roster. Signing Carlos Boozer clinched the top spot on the Uncool rankings for this year’s Lakers, at least heading into the season.

Carlos Boozer is bringing his talents – and whatever this is – to Los Angeles.

The Coolest Teams Going into 2014-15 Season

Free agency has pretty much cooled down, and OBB can’t wait to start analyzing how this off-season has shifted the balance of power throughout the league. From monster moves like the LeBron signing to the sneaky low-key deals like Isaiah Thomas to Phoenix, this blog will spend the next three weeks breaking down how that has changed the culture of the league. Which teams are now the “craziest?” What roster is most likely to combust in the locker room mid-season? What team will lead the league in three-point shooting? OBB answers these questions and more in the coming weeks. Today: Which teams have upped their “cool” factors this offseason? 

If I had done a ranking of the “coolest” teams in the NBA to watch and cheer for immediately following the 2013-14 regular season, it would have gone like this:

1. Phoenix – Because no one expected them to even be watchable, and they were not just that – they were good! Like, 48 wins good! And their coach let them play fast and loose, featuring two dynamic ball handlers, one of whom was a tricky smooth guard who made impossible things happen, the other a hyper-athletic mini-LeBron who was relentless on both ends. Plus they have twins.

2. Chicago – I don’t personally find Chicago cool, but fans ate this stuff up last year. Another successful season for the Bulls, with Derrick Rose out for the year and Luol Deng shipped off to Cleveland. Joakim Noah won the hearts of everyone, which was semi-warranted because he’s a great player and competitor, and was semi-stupid because he’s a dick.

3. Portland – Super sweet shooting offense that plays fast and has an underrated superstar (LMA!) and an upcoming superstar (DAME!). Also features some hipster fodder with Nic Batum and Robin Lopez.

damian-lillard-chandler-parsons-nba-playoffs-houston-rockets-portland-trail-blazers2

This blog loves Dame like, a LOT.

4. Toronto – A) They’re Canadian. B) Masai Ujiri. C) They have a player named Patrick Patterson. D) Like, most of the same reasons listed for the Suns, except Vasquez is no Bledsoe. That’s why they fall out of the top three.

5. San Antonio – Winning is pretty fucking cool still.

So, that was our top five at the END of 2013-14. But now, with absolutely zero meaningful basketball having been played, all of this has already been permanently reshuffled, and it’s time for the NBA hipsters to pick a new team for 2014-15. Anyone who joins after August 15 is on the bandwagon. I’m setting that as a rule now – too much time to adjust and not enough time to make outlandish statements about your chosen team. So, if you like to shift your loyalties around every season, or your just waiting for your hometown team to get relevant again, here are you best picks for the 2014-15 season, followed by the worst picks tomorrow.  Enjoy!

5. Portland – All the reasons listed above, plus they are being underrated AGAIN! And they signed Chris Kaman, which is a pretty Portlandia thing to do. Rip City will be fun again, plus Terry Stotts is an awesome basketball nerd.

4. Utah – Okay, so this team probably won’t win a lot, but they will be playing ALL young dudes. Pretty exciting ones, too, in Dante Exum, Trey Burke, Alec Burks, Gordon Hayward and Derrick Favors. Rudy Gobert adds some hipster flavor, and Rodney Hood is a major rookie sleeper. Go Jazz! (Extra points for color scheme and ironic team name).

Dante Exum’s accent alone upped the cool factor in Utah by 10.3%

3. Phoenix – They did most things right this offseason, including making a ridiculous bid for LeBron James in free agency and signing dynamo point guard Isaiah Thomas, a favorite player of this blog. T.J. Warren could be fun immediately in Phoenix, but when the hell will Tyler Ennis play? If this team doesn’t resign Eric Bledsoe they plummet – that dude brings the cool.

Marcin Gortat is the best. He has a pig, and you should like his team.

2. Washington – This team overachieved in the playoffs last year with a great young core, and every smart fan immediately expected their incompetent duo of Ernie Grunfeld and Randy Whitman to muck it all up now that their jobs were safe because of winning a few extra games against a beat-up and exhausted Bulls team. But no! Grunfeld quietly had the best offseason out of anyone not living in Northeast Ohio (which is also now an oft-referenced region somehow) by re-signing Marcin Gortat to a long but reasonable deal, nabbing Paul Pierce(!!!) and Kris Humphries on the cheap, and putting out a summer league team that showcased Glen Rice, Jr. playing like Tracy McGrady in 2003. Couple that with John Wall and Bradley Beal just being SO awesome, and you almost have the coolest team in the league. Except…

1. Charlotte HORNETS – The Buzz is Back, baby! Oh man, I am so excited for Hornets games this year. First of all, best color scheme in the league. Best court design also. Oh, and they signed this dude named Lance Stephenson (not to be confused with his brother, Lantz, which really is his brother’s name). They basically stole the most fun player from the most boring yet good team in the Eastern Conference for nothing. Great signing by the Hornets. Throw in Marvin Williams and the fact that Zach Lowe has officially begun referring to Al Jeff as Professor Al Jefferson, PHD, and you’ve got yourselves a winner. Kemba Walker, MKG, Gerald Henderson, Born Ready/The Eighth Grader/Lance Make ‘em Dance, Professor Al Jefferson, PHD and some dudes named Marvin, Bismack and Cody. Your 2014-15 Coolest Team!

Make them proud, Charlotte.

Where the Contenders Stand Now

Friday: 2-3
Season: 402-386

There has already been numerous posts written today by others discussing what a great first round of the NBA Playoffs we just experienced, and while that sentiment is certainly true, what we’re left with entering the second round today is actually a group of teams that many would have predicted correctly prior to the first round. Sure, Washington provided a somewhat significant surprise in upsetting Chicago, but most analysts have even admitted that they overlooked the facts in handicapping that series: Chicago couldn’t score, and it was a dream match-up for Washington. Brooklyn also beat Toronto, a 6-seed triumphing over a 3-seed, but many predicted that due to Brooklyn’s playoff experience. It was hardly an upset by any standards.

The only other first round victory that can be seen as an upset is Portland over Houston, which was a 5-seed beating a 4-seed – hardly unheard of – and a match-up of two teams that were fairly even to begin with. Houston was picked by more “experts,” but that is probably because of the star power present in James Harden and Dwight Howard more than any other factor. We all saw how much that “star power” meant to Damian Lillard and LaMarcus Aldridge.

So, here we are – a remarkable first round has led to a second round that many could have predicted. But what’s interesting now is the questions that the first round match-ups posed for teams like San Antonio (Can their bench hold the court without hemorrhaging points?), Oklahoma City (Can these team win when Westbrook and Durant aren’t “turnt up?”) and Indiana (Do they even like basketball/each other anymore? At all?). We should see the answers to these questions emphatically in second round series against universally tougher opponents.

So, how do the contenders rank now? Here’s where I stand on the issue today.

1. Miami
2. Oklahoma City
3. San Antonio
4. Los Angeles Clippers
5. Portland
6. Indiana

7. Brooklyn
8. Washington

Again, not much has changed since the last time I did this exercise – the West still outweighs the East heavily at the top, with the exception of Miami – the contender with the easiest path to the NBA Finals by far. Hell, just look at what Oklahoma City, my current #2 contender, would have to go through just for the right to face LeBron and the team that steamrolled them in the Finals two years ago: They just played a smash-mouth series with Memphis that went seven grueling games (including four overtime games), and are rewarded with a series against the Los Angeles Clippers – a team riding a tidal wave of emotion and national goodwill that boasts a duo of superstars in Chris Paul and Blake Griffin that can potentially rival OKC’s Westbrook and Durant.

If that’s not enough, the Thunder would then have to play either the top-seeded Spurs, who they match up well with but who they wouldn’t have home court advantage against, or the Blazers – a 5-seed who is wholly unpredictable because of a) irrational confidence and b) great 3-point shooting. Sure, the Thunder would have home court advantage in that one, but home court doesn’t mean much if Wes Matthews is shooting 6-8 from behind the arc out of the blue in Game 2, which is a real possibility.

And ALL of that would be just for the right to play the Miami Heat in the NBA Finals, albeit with home court advantage. Sounds like a whole lot trouble to go through, doesn’t it?

Meanwhile the Heat should cruise through Brooklyn in 5 or 6, and then hope that the Wizards take out the Pacers. Indiana may have disintegrated lately, but they still might be able to get up for Miami – a prospect LeBron & Co. shouldn’t be too thrilled about, given last season’s battles and the chess match they played in four regular season games this year.

The message here? All Western Conference teams have shots at a title, but it will be more of a grind for them than it will be for the Heat. Miami was the team everyone thought would be too fatigued by the Finals to turn it up one more time, but it’s looking more and more like things have broken their way this time around.

Daily Odds for Friday, May 2

Season: 400-383

Last night, in three first round Game 6’s, all three teams trying to force a Game 7 were successful in doing so. When you think about how this first round has gone, it really makes sense – we could see as many as six Game 7’s this weekend at this point, out of 8 total first round series (and one of the other two was an upset, at that).

Tonight, all three teams facing elimination have a real decent shot of winning. Of the three, only Houston is playing on the road, and they’ve already won one game in Portland in this series. They also were the favorite going into the series, and have more superstar talent at the top of their roster – a typical recipe for playoff success. Brooklyn is playing at home, and they have far more playoff experience on the roster than their Raptor opponents do. Dallas is at home, hosting San Antonio and trying to avoid elimination. They probably will be the hot pick to be eliminated by analysts, and with good reason – San Antonio is a playoff juggernaut, and this is the exact type of game they know how to win better than any other franchise.

No matter what happens tonight, all three of these series have at least met expectations – and you could easily make the case that they’ve all surpassed them. What a start to the NBA playoffs. Enjoy the games.

Toronto (192 o/u) @ Brooklyn (-5)

I don’t know – Brooklyn will be picked up and down to win this game, but after watching Toronto’s Game 5 victory, I came away totally convinced that they are the better team – just not the deeper team. Brooklyn brings in a lot of talent off the bench, and just random useful pieces (Alan Anderson, anybody?) that can have a micro-impact that is enough to swing a game when the teams are this evenly matched. Hell, the Nets almost won Game 5 on a Jonas Valanciunas goal tend on a buzzer beater that was called off because of a backcourt violation following an offensive rebound of a missed free throw. Seriously, anything could happen tonight.

I’m taking the Raptors, because these teams are just very even, and five points seems like more than I would want to put between them.

Pick: Toronto +5

San Antonio (-3) @ Dallas (197 o/u) 

Oh man, that is a ripe over/under number to take! I have to expect more than 197 points between these teams. Both have well-oiled offenses with plenty of star power, and Dallas’ defense is shoddy at best. I like this game to be high scoring for sure.

I also like the Spurs here. Look, I know it’s the boring pick, even when they are on the road, but that’s because they’re just so damn good. No one would find picking them boring if they didn’t win all the time. Come on. I see them moving on tonight in Dallas.

Pick: San Antonio -3 & Over 197

Houston (212.5 o/u) @ Portland (-4)

Wow, okay. I am pulling for Portland here, and I was thrilled when they went up 2-0 (and when they won Game 4, which I didn’t think they would do while watching it) but I really view this game as kind of a pick ‘em. Seriously, do you have any solid feel for one team having the advantage so far in this series? Because I don’t, and I’ve watched every damn minute of it.

So, I can’t very well take Portland at -4, as much as I want them to win this game and think that Wes Matthews is fantastic. Sorry, Rip City – I don’t like this spread for you one bit.

Pick: Houston +4 & Over 212.5

Contender Rankings – Then & Now

Yesterday: 2-1
Season: 400-383

As promised, I’m going to clue you all in today on who I liked as contenders before the playoffs started, and who I am favoring now that we’ve seen more than half of each first round series unfold. Needless to say, my thoughts have already shifted momentously – and they probably will again a few more times before we get to the NBA Finals in June.

Before the Playoffs started, I really thought I knew where I stood on all 16 teams. I ranked my assessment of the teams based on their ability to truly contend for a title as follows:

1. San Antonio
2. Miami
3. Oklahoma City
4. LA Clippers
5. Houston
6. Golden State
7. Indiana
8. Memphis
9. Portland
10. Chicago
11. Brooklyn
12. Dallas
13. Toronto
14. Washington
15. Atlanta
16. Charlotte

After watching (and thoroughly enjoying, may I add) the first round of the playoffs so far, I have changed my thoughts on quite a few of these teams. Here is my new, current assessment:

1. Miami
2. LA Clippers
3. San Antonio
4. Memphis
5. Oklahoma City
6. Portland
7. Golden State
8. Dallas
9. Houston
10. Toronto
11. Brooklyn
12. Washington
13. Indiana
14. Atlanta
15. Chicago
16. Charlotte

As you see, it now goes Miami, then all EIGHT Western Conference Playoff teams in a row. Seriously, though – don’t you feel like even Dallas or Houston could beat the Raptors, Nets, or Pacers right now in a seven game series? The Pacers might seem a bit low at 13 – but the fact is, I wouldn’t favor them over Washington in a series right now – their most likely opponent, should they survive the Hawks here in Round 1.

The toughest parts of this ranking for me were between 4 and 7 and 11 and 14 – thus sections seem fairly muddled – but the top seems pretty defined to me right now. Miami has the easiest path to the Finals, and we know that the Heat in top gear can beat anyone on any given day. Not a good sign for the contenders out West that there is little chance of them being taken out prior to the Finals.

My prediction right now for the NBA Finals? I would personally pick Heat-Clippers right now. That was my pick in mid-March, and I’ve stuck to it as my personal pick for the Finals match-up. Memphis or San Antonio are the most likely spoilers, but how fun would a Memphis-LAC second round series be? Man, I hope we get to see that – and after last night, it looks like we will.