Over/Unders: Southwest Division

The champs are here! As we continue our exploration of NBA over/unders and projected records for all 30 NBA teams, we have arrived upon the best division in basketball. The Southwest features four teams that made the playoffs last season, while the fifth team has Anthony Davis, the most electrifying young player in the game. This division is STACKED. Let’s get into it.

San Antonio Spurs, 56.5 – OVER, 60-22
56.5 is such a laughably low number for this team. They won 62 games last year, 58 in 2012 and went 50-16 in the lockout shortened season of 2011. The only possible argument here is that they’ve gotten a year older, except every time that anyone has used that argument, the Spurs have made an adjustment and finessed their way back to the top.

There is no professional sports franchise that I respect more than the Spurs. The way that they think creatively about the game and seek out the best talent no matter the barriers has shown us a new world in terms of what an NBA team can do. They seem to have a pipeline of international talent that compliments their absurd ability to pluck just about any player off the NBA’s scrap heap, brush the dust off and have them hitting clutch threes in the playoffs four months later. It’s just incredible.

I could write 3,000 words about the Spurs. The respect I have for Duncan, Parker, Ginobili, Kawhi Leonard, Greg Popovich, R.C. Buford, and virtually everyone else who allows them to be this fun, creative juggernaut that I look forward to seeing every year. This year, they take the floor with Becky Hammon as an assistant coach, the first full-time female assistant coach in NBA history. Do I think they care about that distinction? Not at all. I think they probably think the other 29 NBA teams are stupid for under valuing Hammon’s potential contribution, though.

Preseason is a world where you have to evaluate all the potential branches of the season, and, if you run a blog like this one, analyze where the most potential branches may lead. The Western Conference is very, very tough – the Thunder and Clippers are sure to be excellent again, and there are literally five other teams that could contend for a title if things break their way in the West. But no matter how I slice it, I see the Spurs as the favorite to win the Western Conference in 2014-15.

Houston Rockets, 49.5 – OVER, 54-28
The Rockets had what some people would call a disastrous offseason, but those people are overreacting. Let’s look at what really happened here – they whiffed on Chris Bosh, a move that would have catapulted them into the top tier of title discussion, they allowed Chandler Parsons to walk, they jettisoned Omer Asik (who was basically not on their team last year anyway) and Jeremy Lin. In turn, they signed Trevor Ariza, who fills in a solid amount of Chandler Parsons offensive production while providing signfiicantly better defense, and cleared playing time for Isaiah Canaan.

Personally, I like those trade-offs. The Rockets had zero perimeter defense last season, and Ariza improves that at least slightly. If they have a starting five with Patrick Beverly, James Harden, Ariza, Terence Jones and Dwight Howard? That’s not a terrible defensive unit at all. It would be nice if James Harden cared at least .01% on defense, but he’s one of the best five offensive players in the league, so it’s actually forgivable if he asks the other guys to make up for his mistakes, really.

At the end of the day, my pick on this team is based on their talent. I have concerns about McHale as a coach, but Howard and Harden are elite, and that means something in this league. I hated what they both said about being the “only two players who mattered” on the team in spirit, but there’s some truth in the sentiment as well. Chandler Parsons was a very good player the past few seasons, but he wasn’t irreplaceable by any stretch of the imagination. I think this team continues to improve and is tough to beat yet again.

Memphis Grizzlies, 48.5 – OVER, 52-30
This division is freakin’ ridiculous. Memphis is so undervalued at 48.5 I don’t even know where to begin. In fact, I’m seriously worried I’m undervaluing them at 52! If the mid and bottom-tier Western conference teams aren’t as competitive as I think they will be, then the Grizz will blow this number away. Think about this – they won 50 games last year with Marc Gasol missing significant time, Quincy Pondexter missing basically the whole season, and while playing for the first year under a new coach who was clearly getting his footing the first two months. Oh, and they signed Vince Carter, who is one of my favorite role players in the league after his most recent reinvention.

This team is going to be very, very good. Mike Conley is one of the best two-way point guards in the league, and the addition of Jordan Adams to learn under Tony Allen actually makes a lot of sense. If Pondexter and Carter have good shooting seasons, then watch out. They will grit’n’grind their way into almost every game.

Dallas Mavericks, 49.5 – OVER, 50-32
I pick the over and still feel like I’m being disrespectful to Dirk and Rick Carlisle. Hell, even Monta. This team is also going to be very good. How is this one division?

The reason I’m lower on this team than I am on Houston or Memphis is an issue of depth and defense. I don’t see any of these three teams being deep enough to be a title contender, but Dallas has a mismatched bench squad full of guys who have never been good enough to get real NBA minutes before and guys who are well past the point of where they should get any real NBA minutes again.

That I could live with, because this starting unit is so strong, but the defense to me is unforgivable. The major improvement they made, slotting Tyson Chandler in at center, doesn’t actually impress me all that much. Chandler is not the player he was when he anchored Dallas’ championship defense, and honestly, it would probably take a player like that just to get this unit to league average in that category.

Last season they went with the strategy of just trying to outscore everybody – and it worked! They won 49 games! I see them improving on that mark but only slightly, as their main concern was only addressed to an extent.

New Orleans Pelicans, 41.5 – UNDER, 37-45
This was one of the easiest calls for me. This Pelicans team has talent, but I don’t see that talent fitting together well enough to win more than half of their games yet. Plus, Monty Williams is near the bottom of my NBA coach rankings, and I don’t see him finding a way to make this group gel.

But, on to the fun part: This team is going to be crazy to watch!!! Anthony Davis is now paired with Omer Asik, a rim-protecting, paint-patrolling center. This will allow Davis to go full-on nutso gadget arms all over the court on defense. They also should get Jrue Holiday and Ryan Anderson back. Having Anderson will open up all kinds of space on the floor, allowing them to run ~50 Holiday-Davis pick and rolls a game, which is obviously the ideal scenario for this team and every fan anywhere.

I’m excited about this team. I think they could be really, REALLY good in a few years, and that they have the right idea with a Davis-Asik-Holiday core. Even Tyreke Evans might work in there (and he’ll have to, since they signed him for like, literally ever). The piece that is really gumming things up right now, besides Monty, is Eric Gordon. His massive contract coupled with the fact that he is basically always injured puts a huge drain on their cap sheet and immediate opportunities. Hopefully they will sort it out while they have this core in place, because that would be something really cool to see.

Over/Unders: Southeast Division

Much like the Central Division that we previewed on Thursday, the Southeast Division starts 2014-15 with a drastically altered landscape. Falling on the other side of the massive power shift that LeBron’s free agency created, the Southeast has still quietly set itself up to be one of the most competitive in the NBA this season. The division features four teams that are looking to make a playoff push, and that I think should be favored to do so.

So how will this division shake out? Let’s take a look at where these five teams stand going into the season, and where we think they will end up.

Washington Wizards, 49.5 – UNDER, 47-35
EDIT: 
The Bradley Beal injury just effs this team up enough to drop them out of my #3 spot in the Eastern Conference. Damn, I was really excited to see this team really get it together this year with Beal, John Wall, Gortat and Paul Pierce, who has looked crafty as ever early in the preseason. Pour one out for the Wizards man, and toss one of their wins over to the Raptors and one over to the Cavs. All other Southeast teams projections remain unchanged for me.

The Wizards are rolling into the season with the most momentum I can ever remember this franchise having. John Wall morphed into a bonafide star last season, and Bradley Beal has shown tremendous potential in his young career. They took a surprise trip to the second round of the playoffs last year, and parlayed that success into free agency by landing Paul Pierce to fill the whole left by Trevor Ariza’s departure. They were also able to re-sign Marcin Gortat, who was a major factor last season as well.

Their front court is surprisingly deep and experienced, featuring DeJuan Blair and Kris Humphries as new additions alongside Nene and Gortat. Beyond that quartet, they still have Drew Gooden and Kevin Seraphin. Backing up Pierce, they have Martell Webster and Otto Porter, Jr. They even still have Andre Miller behind John Wall, a savvy vet who has seen about all the NBA has to offer in his career – except for a truly deep playoff run.

Basically, Washington has a lot to be excited about. They should win this division, and the future is bright here. The only downside? Their coach is just not very good, and they just extended him because of last year’s unexpected playoff success. I’m all for rewarding results, but I just can’t help but wonder what this team would look like with a top tier coach. Even so, I have the Wiz projected at #3 in the East and another trip to the second round of the Eastern Conference playoffs.

Miami Heat, 43.5 – OVER, 47-35
This one is easy to call for those who truly respect Chris Bosh, Dwyane Wade and Eric Spoelstra. Look, nobody believes that Dwyane will be “Flash” again now that LeBron is gone. He’s obviously not the player he was at his peak, but he is still a player who can have a major impact on a game, especially in short bursts with his scoring ability. He had his most efficient regular season ever last year, albeit in only 54 games out of the 82 game schedule.

The reason for that efficiency is his coach, Eric Spoelstra, who I would honestly put in the top five in the league. The fact that he gained notoriety while coaching the self-proclaimed Heatles over the past four years definitely hurt Coach Spo’s street cred with the average fan, but he helped create one of the most exciting and innovative offenses ever in Miami, all whil emaintaining a strong and successful defensive identity.

Chris Bosh also has a lot to prove this year. This is a guy who is still one of the best players in the league, but hasn’t been an alpha dog in five years now. He will have to reclaim that role for the Heat this season to open up opportunities for Wade and set the pace for this team.

The supporting cast here, headlined by Luol Deng, Mario Chalmers and Josh McRoberts, is battle tested and should work together well. This team can still pace and space the Spoelstra way, and if they do so, this should be another successful year in South Beach.

Just don’t expect a fifth straight trip to the Finals.

OBB is very high on these Hawks.

Atlanta Hawks, 40.5 – OVER, 45-37
These Southeast teams get no respect. Does anyone know how good Al Horford and Paul Millsap are? Did no one watch Jeff Teague in the playoffs last year? Do people realize that Mike Budenholzer was Greg Popavich’s right hand man for many years?

Whatever. I think these Hawks are going to be thrilling and very, very good. They are deep and feature a glut of long distance shooters, a commodity that this blog values very highly. They should kill the over on their odds with ease.

I can’t wait to watch this team, and think they will have a great year. I believe in you, Al.

Charlotte Hornets, 45.5 – UNDER, 45-37
Another team featuring a big guy named Al at center, huh? The Hornets are another team that, like the Wizards, is riding all sorts of momentum that is brand new for the franchise. Last year’s playoff appearance and the signing of Lance Stephenson, along with the return to the beloved Hornets moniker, has excited fans all over. They feature a very good coach in Steve Clifford, who turned this team into an excellent defensive unit a year ago.

However the two downsides I see with this team are depth and spacing. Jefferson and Stephenson are rare offensive talents that can somehow score without proper spacing, but that oddly enough doesn’t bode well for units that feature both of them. They have a lack of true three-point shooting threats, and the trio of Bismack Biyombo, Cody Zeller and Marvin Williams will be expected to fill major minutes in the frontcourt. On the guard side, Brian Roberts and Gary Neal will probably have to see some real minutes, which doesn’t exactly encourage confidence either.

I see this team ending up right around 43-45 wins, but will give them the high end of that in this projection, because teams that defend well are generally a good bet to outperform your median expectations. Book them at the under for me, but just barely.

Oddball Baskets likes all three of these guys, but doesn’t see how they get the Magic above 28 wins this season…

Orlando Magic, 28.5 – UNDER, 25-57
I don’t really see what the Magic are going for, here. Well, I do, but I don’t like it a whole heck of a lot. The athleticism of a Aaron Gordon-Victor Oladipo core is intriguing, and Nik Vucevic is a nice player at a great value in Orlando. Elfrid Payton is someone that a lot of very smart scouts think very highly of, so I’m on board with that pick as well. I just don’t see how the pieces fit together when they are so young and inexperienced.

It reminds me of their trio of Mo Harkless, Andrew Nicholson and Tobias Harris – three players that I actually like a lot, but who should never all be on one team together. It’s hard to know how good any of those three could be when all three are on the same roster, competing for the same limited number of minutes.

The Channing Frye signing further confused me. I love him as a player, but I have trouble understanding why the Magic valued him as highly as a contending team would. He fits much better on a roster like Houston, Dallas, Oklahoma City or the LA Clippers, in my opinion, where his impact would create space for players that actually know how to use it.

Basically, I feel the same way about this Orlando Magic team that a lot of people feel about the Sacramento Kings.

That being said, there is value in allowing players to develop. I just think that there aren’t a lot of wins involved in that, and it will probably cost the Magic any chance of a successful season this year. It will also likely cost Jacque Vaughn his job.

Over/Unders: Central Division

We are in the final countdown to the 2014-15 NBA season, and it’s time to start some forecasting and projections. With over/unders out for all 30 NBA teams, Oddball Baskets is preparing you for the NBA season with a division-by-division breakdown of every team, including projected records. Yesterday, we previewed the Atlantic Division. Today, we check out the Central Division.

Cleveland Cavaliers, 58.5 – OVER, 60-22
Matt Moore, over at the Eye on Basketball Blog at CBS Sports, says that he sees this as a big time price-up due to the huge interest and fascination with this new super team. He’s probably right about that, but I still think that they are a very smart bet to surpass 58 wins. When it all comes down to it, this division, and ultimately this league, centers around LeBron James and his massive gravitational pull.

This roster is crazy talented, and despite some defensive limitations, they will make an immediate mark on the league. A starting line up of Kyrie Irving, Dion Waiters, LeBron James, Kevin Love and Anderson Varejao is going to be a juggernaut offensively, creating all sorts of space for these very talented players to operate within. David Blatt is a very, very smart coach, especially offensively, and I can’t wait to watch this team on that side of the ball. It should be electrifying.

There are bound to be challenges. That’s inevitable whenever a “super team” forms. But LeBron turned into one of the league’s best leaders during his time in Miami, showing a maturity and ability to unite teammates that was lacking earlier in his career. The way that he has evolved as a player is incredible, but the way he has grown as a person from 2010 to now might be the key to helping this team gel as quickly as possible.

Chicago Bulls, 55.5 – OVER, 57-25
I am not as crazy about this Bulls team as everyone else is. I find them fascinating, and I like everyone involved well enough. Tom Thibodeau is objectively a great coach, Derrick Rose is one of the easiest players to route for, Pau Gasol is finally free from Laker purgatory, and Joakim Noah plays some of the most fun, energetic basketball in the world. I mean come on, Nikola Mirotic is going to be VERY interesting to watch this season, too!

But I have a fundamental disagreement with Thibodeau’s coaching style over one major issue: minutes. He has run his best players into the ground, and I seriously don’t believe that the way he coaches is conducive to long term sustained success, especially in the playoffs. Of course, that coaching style should be something that helps this team win more regular season games, so I love the over here.

Thibs lack of concern for rest almost guarantees a pile up of regular season victories, and if Rose is even somewhat his old self then this team should easily hit 56 wins. I don’t see this team as a true title contender, not until I watch Rose and Pau perform at a high level again in real NBA games, and not until Nikola Mirotic proves he is for real. Most of all, though, until Thibs can guide a team to the Finals, I will continue to believe that his coaching style is antithetical to playoff success in the modern NBA. Just look at the Spurs.

Detroit Pistons, 36.5 – UNDER, 34-48
DEE-TROIT BASKET-BALL! Stan Van is bringing the music back to Motown, and the thought of him coaching another crazy athletic center in Andre Drummond is very exciting.

The problem? When you start digging deeper, this team lacks shooting in a major way. In today’s NBA, the importance of the long range shot looms larger than ever, and the Pistons are largely going to be a non-factor in this area. They ranked 29th in True Shooting % last season, per NBA.com/stats, and 24th in Effective Field Goal %. The teams at the top of those lists? The Miami Heat, San Antonio Spurs, Los Angeles Clippers, Houston Rockets and Oklahoma City Thunder. That’s a list I’d say you want to be on, rather than existing on the opposite end of.

Stan Van Gundy did such a great job of setting up Dwight Howard to succeed in Orlando, but key to that was the ability of the other four players on the court to serve as true threats from long distance. Brandon Jennings, Josh Smith and Will Bynum can not provide that for you. This is one of the reasons I shrugged off the Jodie Meeks contract that everybody flipped out about – the Pistons needed shooting, and it’s smart to pay for something if you truly do need it.

If Josh Smith can lay off the jumpers, Greg Monroe can stop pouting and Caron Butler can play like he did in OKC last season, this team has a chance of making the playoffs. They have a better team than last season and a far better coach. However they still built a roster that has a major foundational flaw, and it happens to be exactly what the best teams in the NBA excel at. For that reason, I’m betting the under here and I feel pretty good about it.

Indiana Pacers, 32.5 – UNDER, 30-52
The Pacers are a sad, startling example of how quickly an NBA title window can close. On January 1, 2014, I would have listed them right at the top of the championship contenders and gushed about the potential future of that young, talented, cohesive roster. But things move fast in the NBA, and a midst a sea of rumors, injuries and contract negotiations gone sour, the Pacers window has slammed shut, at least for now.

This team has some real talent ready to suit up, though. David West is one of my favorite players in the league, just a true old school power forward who plays the right way and knows how to lead. I am saddest for him out of anyone in the NBA going into this year.

Roy Hibbert is still a transformative defender, and this team should still rank very well in terms of defensive rating. The problem is that they don’t have an offense. In fact, they didn’t have one last year either, but they had two offensive weapons in Paul George and Lance Stephenson that could create offense out of thin air. This year, that is being tasked to George Hill and Rodney Stuckey. Starting to see why I took the under here?

If I’m worried about the Pistons ability to form a structurally sound offensive identity, imagine how I feel about these Pacers. Yuck. Despite David X. West’s presence, I won’t be DVRing many Pacer games this year.

Milwaukee Bucks, 24.5 – UNDER, 20-62
People are totally going to read this and think that I’m being unfair to Milwaukee, but hear me out: this team won 15 games last year! 5 more wins is actually a pretty big jump – the kind that contenders would kill for. I honestly think that 24.5 is way too high for this roster, given the inexperience and challenges at hand.

Besides, is Jason Kidd a very good coach? He had a good turnaround last year in Brooklyn, but that was more based on his use of the personnel at hand than anything involving game strategy. Paul Pierce and Shaun Livingston turned that season around – all Kidd did was smartly trust them to do so.

Does he have the same kind of roster in Milwaukee to work with? Well, maybe. A lineup of say, John Henson, Larry Sanders, Giannis Antetokounmpo, Khris Middleton and Brandon Knight is actually really intriguing. Length and athleticism abound there.

But will Kidd go that route in this job? In Brooklyn, the conventional strategies had to fail before Kidd switched things up. Also, the expectations demanded that shake up – losing was unacceptable there. In Milwaukee, it is at least semi-expected for the next year or two. Teams built this way don’t make the playoffs, so there is no immediate pressure. That means a double digit win increase, which would be necessary for them to best the over here, is probably unlikely. Take the under, but keep an eye on this team – they have some talented kids and a bright future.

Over/Unders: Atlantic Division

One of the most exciting days of the year for me is when NBA over/unders come out, finally giving us a benchmark by which we can judge teams compared to each other going into the season. While it is an imperfect benchmark, at least we can start to sort teams into tiers and start figuring out how we see them compared to how others see them. For instance, last season I was very bullish on the Detroit Pistons compared to others, excited by Andre Drummond’s potential and what I thought was an intriguing lineup. As it turns out, the Pistons were largely a disaster outside of Drummond’s production. Score one for consensus thinking.

But then again, just about everyone was wrong about the Suns last season, and nobody thought the Blazers would have the type of success that they did. The Bucks plummeted far further than anyone thought they would, even though that seems like it should have been obvious now.

Over the next six days, we are going to dig into the 2014-15 Over/Unders by division and give Oddball Baskets projected 2014-15 records for all 30 NBA teams, starting on the East Coast in the Atlantic Division.

Toronto Raptors, 49.5 – UNDER, 49-33
Okay, so I’m calling this one as close as it gets. The Raptors finished last season 48-34 after a ridiculously strong second half. Along with division rival and eventual playoff foe Brooklyn, T-Dot was one of the best teams in the Eastern Conference after January 1. Keep in mind that during that same time period, both Miami and Indiana seemed to implode.

They bring back largely the same roster – young, talented, hungry for respect, and led by Kyle Lowry, the pitbull point guard who invigorated the team last year into a tough new identity. DeMar DeRozan has really blossomed into a very good player, and I think he is still somewhat underrated by fans. Jonas Valanciunas should only continue to develop, especially defensively.

However despite all those positives, I still see this team struggling to crack 50 wins. This is a good roster, but not a great one, and despite major improvements, Dwayne Casey still has a lot to prove as a coach. Both the Raptors and Wizards are listed at 49.5, and the Wizards have the bigger star in John Wall, the more experienced supporting cast in Paul Pierce, Marcin Gortat, Kris Humphries and DeJuan Blair, and coming off last year’s surprise playoff run and a strong showing in free agency, more momentum. If both teams are healthy and there are no major chemistry issues on either side, I see the Wizards being a better bet to surpass 49.5 this season. And I’m still taking the under on them.

I am worried about this last part coming back to haunt me, as the Raptors thrived in terms of chemistry last year. Either way, I still see them winning this division comfortably and positioning themselves for a postseason run in 2015.

Brooklyn Nets, 41.5 – OVER, 43-39
I was shocked that this number for Brooklyn was so low. True, they struggled mightily for long stretches of last season, and their late season turnaround was largely the work of two players who are no longer here (Shaun Livingston and Paul Pierce), but Lionel Hollins should be at least somewhat of an upgrade as coach, and Brook Lopez returning healthy is a major plus. People forget this, but Brook is possibly the best offensive center in the game.

Joe Johnson, despite catching constant flack for things that have nothing to do with basketball, had a good season last year and will have a good one again this year. Deron Williams in the major question mark here, as his contract begins to look like the worst in basketball due to its size and length. Was he even a top 10 point guard last year? I don’t think so, really.

If Hollins can adapt some new basketball ideas into his coaching, then it will certainly be for the better, but already having him on the sidelines and Lopez on the court should help this team avoid the kind of disastrous start they had last season. I see them slotting into the playoffs for sure.

New York Knicks, 40.5 – UNDER, 35-47
I am about as bearish as anyone on the New York Knicks for this season. Carmelo Anthony gets you 30 wins on his own, so how is my projection so awful for them?

Easy – I hate this roster. Derek Fisher should be a decent head coach, but as we’ve seen with players who make this quick transition, there is likely going to be an adjustment period at the start. This is a team that cannot afford a slow start, given it’s structural limitations. Defense is going to be a gigantic problem for any lineup they roll out, and Jose Calderon is probably their second best player.

If Amar’e can come back strong, as he has said he will, then this could look very stupid very fast. But I just don’t see that as a realistic outcome, given the track record of players who have had a similar injury history. My only hope for this Knicks season is to see lots of Tim Hardaway, Jr. and Cleanthony Early. That would be pretty cool.

Boston Celtics, 26.5 – Under, 26-56
My beloved Celtics enter the season just full of question marks. They still maintain that they are not looking to trade Rajon Rondo, but seriously, nothing else makes sense at this point. This roster doesn’t fit his skill set very well, while plenty of teams around the league do and have a better chance at winning while Rondo is still in his prime. The youth movement in Boston is stuck in limbo because of one polarizing player, who also happened to be one of the best players in the world the last time he played a full healthy season.

That being said, if they do keep Rondo for the full season than my projection is going to look really stupid. A backcourt rotation of Rondo, Avery Bradley, and Marcus Smart is just monstrous defensively. Good luck dealing with that. I’m far less thrilled with the front court, though. Jared Sullinger had a nice season last year, but I still can’t help but see huge limitations for him going forward. I just don’t think his ceiling is much higher than what he showed us last year. Kelly Olynyk is a guy that I like to watch but I just don’t see developing into any sort of a force on either side of the ball. Brandon Bass should have been gone a year ago, and Jeff Green is a nice player but shouldn’t be the most talented offensive player on a real NBA roster.

I see another long season with losses piling up for the Celtics. I’ve tried to see another reality, but it just doesn’t seem possible with this current roster.

Philadelphia 76ers, 15.5 – UNDER 14-68
I feel pretty confident about this one, but it’s really hard to lose more than 66 games in an NBA season. I mean, just really really difficult to do. If Brett Brown was going to play the same exact style as last season, with crazy exaggerated pace, I would peg this team at 11 or 12 wins. But Brown has said they are going to slow it down and focus more on execution than pace. That’s bad news for people who are expecting to see an epic tank job – last year might have been Sam Hinkie’s Mona Lisa in that regard.

Still, though – there is almost zero proven NBA talent on this roster. They have three players on the roster with 5 or more years of NBA experience: Luc Richard Mbah a Moute, Jason Richardson (RIP) and Keith Bogans. Two of those three players essentially didn’t play last year.

Their best two players are a rookie who sat out last year due to injury and a second year point guard who will probably lead the league in turnovers.

But honestly, I envy anyone who sticks with the Sixers over the next five to ten years. If this core can stick together and grow together, with Joel Embiid, Nerlens Noel, Michael Carter-Williams and Dario Saric, then it’s going to be a hell of a ride.

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.