Week in Review

The first week of the NBA season has wrapped up, so let’s look through it.

  • One, James Harden (aka the Bearded One) is looking like every bit of a max player, living up to his contract by averaging 35/6/6 with ridiculous efficiency. Him, Jeremy Lin, and Omer Asik have given Houston hope for reaching the playoffs for the first time since 2009.
  • Two, the Knicks look genuinely good. Led by Carmelo Anthony playing at power forward, a position in which  he excels greatly,  the Knicks have started the season 3-0. They’re first in the league in threes made, second in offensive rating, and second in defensive rating. Oh, and Carmelo actually looks like he is trying on defense this year.
  • The Lakers have begun the season by going 1-3, and although they have struggled to run the newly implemented Princeton offense, the defense looks to be an even bigger problem. Dwight’s rotations are snail-like slow, perhaps a side effect of his off season surgery and the reason for the Lakers ranking 26th in defensive rating.
  • Damian Lillard is as advertised. Averaging 19 and 8, and getting to the line about five times a game (where he shoots 94.7%) make him the early front-runner for rookie of the year.
  • Brandon Jennings leads the league in steals and assists per game, and is shooting efficiently for the first time in his career. He also had a game winning three at the buzzer to beat the Cavaliers.
  • Glen “Big Baby” Davis is tied for first in the league in usage percentage, and fourth in the league in points per game. Wait, what?

Western Conference Player of the Week: James Harden

Eastern Conference Player of the Week: Kyle Lowry

Rookie of the Week: Damian Lillard

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Memphis Grizzlies Season Preview: Almost There

Team Capsule 

Last year, the Memphis Grizzlies lost to the L.A. Clippers in the first round of the playoffs in a series that went seven games. It seemed like another year that the Grizzlies, while a good team, just weren’t good enough. Picked often by many people as a dark horse title contender for the past two seasons, the Grizzlies have come up short both times. This year, Memphis gets the return of Zach Randolph from injury, who only played in 28 games last year (started only 8 of them), to combine with center Marc Gasol as one of the best PF-C duos in the league.

Rudy Gay is an interesting player. Year after year, he produces good scoring stats, around 19 ppg the last few years. However, he has been slightly inefficient while scoring. He has never had a season with a TS% above 54.8%, and last year finished only with a FG% of 45.5. Despite being well known for having a good mid-range jump shot , he only shot 34% from 16-23 feet last year, despite taking over four of them a game. A hopefully improved Rudy Gay will be key to this season’s Grizzlies team. It will be interesting to see if an improved Rudy Gay and getting Randolph back will vault the Grizzlies from championship hopeful’s to serious championship contenders.

Biggest Strength: Defense

The Grizzlies finished seventh in defensive efficiency (98.9), were first in the league in Opponent turnover rate (16.30), and were  seventh in the league in defensive rating (101.8). A large part of this defensive success is because of Tony Allen, Marc Gasol, and Mike Conley. Tony Allen is a great defender at the wing position capable of shutting down the other teams best scoring options and being a general pest on defense. Marc Gasol, while not a great individual defender, is a huge man that clogs the lane for opposing players and blocks a lot of shots (fifth last year in number blocked shots). Finally, Mike Conley was a big part of why the Grizzlies forced a lot of turnovers last year as he was second in the league in number of steals at 136.

Biggest Weakness: Shooting

They were 24th in TS% last year at only 51.5% and 26th in three point shooting hitting only 32.6%. Just two players on last years Grizzlies team shot over 5o%, Hamed Haddadi and Dante Cunningham, neither of whom got much playing time. This team might have only one true three point threat with the loss of OJ Mayo this off season, Mike Conley. At the trade deadline or next years off season, it would be wise for them to sign a shooter to help bolster the great interior play of Z-Bo and Marc.

Player to Watch: Rudy Gay

As I mentioned above, an improved Rudy Gay would do wonders for this team. They already have a great interior presence with Randolph and Gasol, two good guards who both play good defense, Conley and Allen, so maybe a rise in efficiency in Rudy’s game would lift this team to serious title contenders.

Coach: Lionel Hollins

2011-12 record: 41-25

Key Additions: Jerryd Bayless and Tony Wroten

The Grizzlies largely stayed put this off season, only signing a young journeyman, Jerryd Bayless. Bayless is expected to backup Conley and play alongside him in stretches. He is a capable three point shooter, though he is very streaky. He has never lived up to his draft status, but perhaps can play well in Memphis. They also drafted 6’6″ point guard, Tony Wroten, out of Washington. While he won’t get that much playing time this year, he is a good defender and has been compared to Rajon Rondo. He should be a valuable player for the future.

Key Subtractions: O.J. Mayo

The Dallas Mavericks signed the disappointing shooting guard Mayo this off season. He looked like he could turn into a star after his first season in the league, but unfortunately his play has fallen off the past three years and he has regressed.

Team Trajectory: Flat 

Projected Record: 50-32

Dallas Mavericks Season Preview: New Faces

Team Capsule 

After getting swept by the Oklahoma City Thunder in the first round of the playoffs last season, it was clear to both the Mavericks and everyone else that they needed something new, possibly another star player. Last year was largely looked at as a holdover year, as they didn’t resign center Tyson Chandler in an effort to have enough cap space to acquire Deron Williams and/or Dwight Howard. Unfortunately for them, they didn’t get either. However, they did have a sneaky good off season, signing guys like Darren Collison and O.J. Mayo to help inject some much needed youth and energy to this team.

Dirk Nowitzki has recently undergone arthroscopic surgery on his right knee, and while originally prognosticated to be out for six weeks, it is actually closer to three weeks according to  http://espn.go.com/dallas/nba/story/_/id/8535277/sources-dallas-mavericks-hope-dirk-nowitzki-return-closer-3-weeks-surgery. Dirk’s health will be critical to this teams success. In what looks like will be a tough race for a playoff spot in the west, the difference between Dirk missing only two weeks of the regular season as opposed to five, is huge.

Biggest Strength: Dirk

Although usually I would try and come up with this part of the preview using a statistical analysis of what the team as a whole does well, this one was different. Dirk has a very high usage rate (29.2%), and that should only go up with the loss of Jason Terry to the Celtics. The offense flows through him and falls upon the shoulders of his big German frame. He is the difference between this team making the playoffs or getting a possible top five draft pick.

Biggest Weakness: Offense

They finished last year 20th in offensive efficiency, 22nd in Offensive Rating, and were just average shooting the ball (15th in TS%). With only a few legit scoring options on the team last year, the offense often times struggled to create points and thus created the inefficiency.

Player to Watch: Dirk Nowitzki

I have talked a lot about Dirk in this article, including how his health will determine the Mavs’ season. It will be interesting to see how he returns from surgery.

2011-12 Record: 36-30

Coach: Rick Carlisle

Key Additions: O.J. Mayo, Darren Collison, Elton Brand, Chris Kaman, Jae Crowder

Mayo is a solid pickup for the Mavs because he can shoot and brings athleticism and youth to the team. Even though he only shot 40.8% from the floor last year, he is a solid three point shooter hitting in the upper 30%s for his career. Darren Collison replaces veteran point guard Jason Kidd, who signed with the Knicks this off season, and brings okay play-making and solid shooting to the table. Elton is a veteran big who will be used off the bench, not so much an offensive player anymore, but still the best defensive big on the team. Chris Kaman will start next to Dirk this year creating a really white good offensive front court. Kaman is a good scoring option out of the post. Jae Crowder is a rookie SF that plays like the energizer bunny with a three point shot. He is expected to see okay playing time this year. (@Ian_Segovia) compared him to a more sane Metta World Peace, so there’s that.

Key Subtractions: Jason Terry, Jason Kidd, Ian Mahinmi, Lamar Odom(?)

The Celtics signed the former 6th man of the year to a multi year deal that will take away a big part of the Mavs’ offense. JET did so many things for them, including providing a lot of fourth quarter scoring. He was one of their only offensive creators last year aside from Dirk, so it will be interesting to see if O.J. Mayo can provide that sort of play. Jason Kidd is both declining and aging fast so him leaving isn’t really all that big of a deal, especially with the signing of Darren Collison. Ian Mahinmi was a backup big that provided good defense off the bench, but was replaced with Elton Brand. I threw Lamar in there for his name only, as he was terrible last year.

Team Trajectory: Flat 

With so many new faces, and it being unclear how they will mesh and how Dirk returns from injury, we really don’t know if they will improve or decline, so how about some place in the middle. 

Projected Record: 44-38

Miami Heat Season Preview: Defending Champs Edition

Team Capsule

Last year was a magical year for the Heat and Heat fans. Lebron James had another wonderful season that resulted in him winning his third regular season MVP trophy to go along with a finals MVP and championship ring. Although he was always heavily criticized for not being “clutch” or coming up big in big moments, Lebron James certainly did come up big in last year’s playoffs. This year, him and the Miami Heat are looking to repeat as champions of the NBA.

The Heat are known as a very fast team that likes to run teams out of the gym, and while they do that from time to time, they ranked only 16th in pace (which is an estimate of the number of possessions per 48 minutes by a team) at 91.2 possessions a game.  This team is smothering defensively, which often causes many turnovers from the opposition, and when that happens they get out and run being led by Freight Train James in transition. Although certainly more star studded than the late 1990s Pat Riley teams, they still have a lot of the same philosophies as those teams: be great defensively and hustle hard. They were fourth in defensive rating last year (100.2) and 4th in defensive efficiency.

The Heat, as Erik Spoelstra refers to them, are a “position-less” team. That is because of the great versatility of the team. Lebron James can play all five positions, Chris Bosh is can play both PF and C. There are many wings on the team like Mike Miller, Shane Battier, and Ray Allen that can play multiple positions as well. Supposedly, a faster offense is being implemented, much like the one seen at the beginning of last year’s regular season. Last year’s wasn’t sustained partly because of a shortened season and lack of practice time.

Biggest Strength: Defense and Transition offense.

The Heat were fourth in defensive rating, fourth in defensive efficiency, eighth in opponent eFG%,  and third in OTOR (opponent turnover rate). All this led to them forcing turnovers and subsequently, being one of the best transition teams in the league.

Biggest Weakness: Defending the three point shot.

They were 25th in the league in O3P% (opponent three point percentage), with 36.3 % of all of their opponents’ three point shots going in. Despite being a great defensive team, their aggressive and gambling attitude while playing defense often leaves players wide open on the perimeter.

Player to Watch:  Dwyane Wade.

After playing all of the postseason with a bad knee, Dwyane Wade actually looked mortal. He didn’t have the same explosiveness that he usually has and generally didn’t look like himself. After getting knee surgery this off season, it will be interesting to see how the 6’4″ guard recovers from it. I believe the reports of his demise because of his postseason play last year are extremely overblown, and apparently, so does Dwyane http://www.sun-sentinel.com/sports/miami-heat/fl-miami-heat-main-dwyane-wade-1007-20121006,0,7842152.story.

Best Addition: Ray Allen.

They signed the sharpshooting shooting guard (say that 10 times fast) from Boston to a two year deal this off season. He shot 45.3% from long range last season, with just over five attempts per game. His true shooting percentage was really high as well, at 60.7%. He gives this team another shooter and a capable ball handler who can run point guard from time to time as seen in the Heat’s first preseason game against the Atlanta Hawks.

Key Subtractions: None, unless you think losing Ronnie Turiaf was a key loss.

Projected Record for 2012-13: 62-20