NBA Trade Deadline: Winners and Losers

At 3:00 PM eastern time on February 21, the trade deadline for the 2012-13 NBA season halted all transactions between teams until the summer. Basketball fans were on the edge of their seats all day, just waiting for a “Woj Bomb” (a tweet by Yahoo basketball reporter Adrian Wojnarowski) that rocks the basketball world. Let’s dive into what the biggest winners and losers of the trade deadline were.

Winners: 

Houston Rockets: General manager Daryl Morey is at it again. One of the earliest trades of the deadline sent Patrick Patterson, Cole Aldrich, and Toney Douglas to the Sacramento Kings and sent young forward Marcus Morris to the Phoenix Suns. The good news? They were able to bring in Thomas Robinson, the strong and athletic rookie from Kansas University who was drafted fifth overall in the draft last summer. Robinson hasn’t earned the opportunity he deserves in Sacramento, and with Patterson and Morris moving out, he’ll have a great chance to shine in Houston. As a Kansas Jayhawk, Thomas Robinson averaged 18-12 on 51% shooting. Although he doesn’t have elite length, he’s able to succeed under the basket as an excellent rebounder due to his strength and fundamentally-correct rebounding techniques. In this trade, the Rockets also brought in Francisco Garcia, yet another player that specializes in three-pointers and defense that fits perfectly in the Rockets system. Also acquired by Houston in this deal is Jimmer Fredette’s bench buddy, Tyler Honeycutt. That’s pretty sad, I guess, but the rest of the trade was exciting from Houston’s perspective.

Los Angeles Lakers: As a Lakers fan, I actually approve of the lack of moves on their part. Dwight Howard is still only 27 years old. Despite being banged up with injuries this season, he’s put up numbers that for anyone else in the NBA, you’d go, “_______ is really having a productive season. He’s scoring efficiently and rebounding at a high rate.” Howard has higher expectations, but hasn’t really fallen too far short of them, except on the defensive end, where he’s improved in the last few games. I also feel like the Pau Gasol injury may have been a blessing in disguise for the Lakers, who would have contemplated dealing him had he remained healthy. If there had been a trade for Gasol, given his recent play this year, the Lakers wouldn’t have received a return package of the same value as Gasol. It’s almost never a good idea to seek a trade when a player’s stock is that low.

Milwaukee Bucks: The Bucks were able to land the biggest name of the day in J.J. Redick without giving up any important assets. In a trade that sent Tobias Harris, Doron Lamb, and Beno Udrih to Orlando, the Bucks bring in Redick, the shooting guard out of Duke known for his shooting. This mostly helps to right the terrible balance of the Milwaukee offense that sees Brandon Jennings and Monta Ellis shoot an insane amount of inefficient shots. Consider these three shot distribution markers:

monta jennings redick

You can click on the images to view them closer, but if you had to choose one, I’m sure that you would choose the one furthest to the right. The one furthest to the left is the shot distribution of Monta Ellis, who currently takes the MOST shots on the Milwaukee Bucks. The one in the middle is the shot distribution of Brandon Jennings. It doesn’t seem too bad at all, until you zoom up and see that he is shooting 43.5% from under the basket, good enough for last among qualified players from inside 9 feet. And the one on the right is the newcomer. JJ Redick. Do you see why it is so important that he takes shots away from these two ball-hogs? Assuming that it helps their team’s putrid balance, this is a great move for the Bucks.

Boston Celtics: The Celtics have been imitating the Portland Trail Blazers the last few weeks. Rajon Rondo and Leonardo Barbosa both were lost for the season with ACL tears. Their back-court was left in shambles. the Lakers on Wednesday, the Celtics were depleted at the guard position so badly that they were left with three guards on their line-up. Jason Terry, Courtney Lee, and Avery Bradley. So when the Celtics went out and were able to acquire Jordan Crawford for just the price of the injured Barbosa’s expiring contract and the little-used Jason Collins, it seemed like a no-brainer. Crawford is known for taking too many shots and is much criticized for his decision-making. Hopefully for Boston, the veteran leadership will be able to guide him to a wiser overall game. I believe he’s talented enough to make a major contribution to this team if he’s able to do these things.

Portland Trail Blazers: The Trail Blazers agreed to a deal with the Oklahoma City Thunder that brought in point guard Eric Maynor for a second-round draft pick. Maynor, a fourth-year player out of VCU had rarely been used in OKC this season after missing the entire previous season with a knee injury. In his first two seasons, Maynor showed tremendous promise. He was a solid three-point shooter and a tremendous passer. In his college days at Virginia Commonwealth, Maynor was a ball of excitement in the Colonial Conference. The last couple minutes of one of the VCU Rams games with George Mason may have been the greatest thing ever. For a Portland bench that scores 9.2 points fewer per game than any other team and are the only team since the 1997-98 season (the limits of my source) to score less than 17 points per game, this move makes a lot of sense. Maynor is able to create for himself a little bit, but specializes as a floor general and will be able to create for others when he is out there. The only concern with this move is that Maynor is coming off of an ACL tear, something that Blazer players have become almost synonymous with.

Losers:

Sacramento Kings: The Kings were sitting at the bottom of the Mariana Trench, the lowest abyss in any ocean. So many bad situations have put this franchise into a situation where you wonder if they can go any lower. Suddenly, whilst sitting at the bottom of the lowest trench in the world, the ocean floor crumbled beneath them and they fell another 5,000 feet nowhere and unable to see any sign of daylight anywhere. While I’m not sure whether or not that metaphor came across or not, the point is this. The Sacramento Kings are a freaking disaster. Dysfunctional ownership has left the team in a scramble to harvest all possible cash to prevent the franchise from relocating to Seattle. At the trade deadline, the starve for money led to the team trading away their fifth overall pick and their future, Thomas Robinson. I understand that it saved them $3.1 million in a time where they need to accumulate cash, but still. In the long run, this will likely make them more bankrupt. Although they earn money in the trade, they lose money in advertising, ticket sales, and merchandise sales. What fan wants to stand by an organization that just admitted to throwing away their future? They hardly got any value at all in return. Toney Douglas is  basically a twelfth man. Cole Aldrich, too. Patrick Patterson is a rotational player and has probably already peaked. He’s far less valuable than Thomas Robinson’s immense amount of potential. The Maloof family should be embarrassed to own a franchise this way.

Utah Jazz: None of the other “losers” of the deadline can quite compare to the atrocity of the Sacramento Kings, but the Utah Jazz certainly did themselves a disservice. The Jazz needed to make a deal. They’re sitting at the seventh spot in the west, with the talent-filled Lakers occupying the ninth spot, eyeing their playoff spot. Paul Millsap and Al Jefferson are both on expiring contracts and both valuable. The Jazz have a notable weak spot at the point guard position and talent like Eric Bledsoe was on the market. Their front-office has a long history of making the right decision, but at this trade deadline, I feel like they made the wrong one. Salt Lake City isn’t always a desirable place to spend a winter and they had a golden opportunity to get talent in return for one of their big men before they may walk during the free agency period this summer.

Atlanta Hawks: THEY HAD TO TRADE JOSH SMITH. He may have a problem with heaving too many jumpers and sometimes he may not seem like he’s totally “in” the game, but he still is a very athletic tweener forward that has value on many teams. I think he will walk away this summer anyways. Take it from the Cavaliers. It isn’t fun when you watch a star player walk away with your team getting nothing in return. Don’t get me wrong–Josh Smith isn’t nearly the player Lebron James is–but the two situations are relatively similar. They could have sent Smith to San Antonio and received Dejuan Blair and Stephen Jackson in return. Maybe they could have also been able to pry Bledsoe away from the Clippers and fill the void left on the bench when Lou Williams went down. Maybe even the Lakers would have bitten if they tried hard enough to get Dwight Howard. The Hawks intend on making an effort to draw in Howard, who grew up near Atlanta, during the summer. It would have gone a long way towards completing that signing if they could have made him a Hawk now and familiarized him with his teammates and the organization.

You can follow Skyler Gilbert on twitter at @skylerjgilbert.

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Just How Good is Kyrie Irving?

kyrie-irving-cavs

I’ll be honest, and I’m pretty ashamed of this at this point. Before the 2011 NBA draft, I was arguing that Derrick Williams should have been the first overall pick in the draft. I doubted Kyrie Irving’s athleticism, defense, and I feared that he was bound for an injury-plagued career after his only year of college at Duke University lasted only nine games due to an injured ligament in his toe. My doubts were actually accurate and inaccurate at the same time. Kyrie Irving isn’t a great on-ball defender, albeit he is improving. Irving did sprain his shoulder towards the end of his rookie season, along with a finger injury in the beginning of the current season that sidelined him for a few weeks. Lastly, Kyrie Irving can’t throw down monster jams like Russell Westbrook or Derrick Rose can. He can’t run the floor with the speed and quickness of Rajon Rondo or Chris Paul. So, as you can see, my pre-draft concerns were legitimate. The problem with that evaluation of Kyrie Irving is that I didn’t account for just HOW GOOD he is at everything else.

Leadership: When Lebron James left Cleveland before the 2010-11 season, the Cleveland Cavaliers were left with a dismal roster with no promising young talent besides Anderson Varejao, and a team that was simply incapable of being competitive. During the middle of that season, the Cleveland Cavaliers reached a level of horribleness that was previously unseen in the NBA. Between the dates of November 30 and February 9, the squad posted a record of 1-36, including an NBA-record of 39 consecutive games without winning in regulation. Many of these games were blow-outs, including a 55 point loss to the Lakers in Staples Center. Let’s just say they were bad. On May 17, 2011, in Secaucus, New Jersey, the tide finally turned in favor of the Cavaliers. They won the NBA draft lottery, which meant the rights to draft Kyrie Irving. Irving had to wait longer than most NBA rookies do to begin what he had already waited his whole life for, due to the 2011 NBA lock-out.

Once the season finally began, Kyrie was a clear leader of the franchise. Despite being just 19 years old, he was the one that took the shots at the end of the game. He was the one that led the team in scoring and usage %. He was the one that rallied the troops in the locker room to prepare for a big home game. Quite a responsibility for a teenager. This season, now 20, Kyrie Irving has evolved as a player, into an all-star. He has also further evolved in his leadership abilities. Cavaliers coach Byron Scott said that Irving  is “understanding what it takes to be a leader as far as communicating with his teammates and making his teammates better. That’s the next level for him … [and] he’s well on his way”.

Shooting Ability: One of the parts of Kyrie Irving’s game that is unexpectedly elite, based on evidence from high school and college, is his three point shooting. Only two starting point guards in the NBA have shot the long ball at a more efficient clip than Irving’s 42.9%. Their names are Stephen Curry and Jose Calderon. Unlike Kyrie Irving, Curry and Calderon shoot many of their threes directly off someone else’s pass. A catch-and-shoot three-pointer is much easier than one off the dribble. Just look at these numbers comparing Kyrie Irving to Stephen Curry.

Kyrie Irving: 3PT% (spot-up): .543. 3PT% (isolation): .448

Stephen Curry: 3PT% (spot-up): .532. 3PT% (isolation): .400

Stephen Curry is better than Irving in other kinds of shots, such as in transition or as the pick-and-roll ball handler, but I doubt most of you expected Kyrie Irving to be a better spot-up shooter than Stephen Curry.

Although the three-point shootout at the All-Star Saturday Night festivities is generally viewed as something that is just for fun and unimportant, it is a good indicator of a player’s pure shooting ability. Kyrie Irving was the second point guard ever to win, along with Mark Price, who may be the greatest shooter to have ever played. Just watch.

Scoring Ability:

Being able to shoot the ball is nice, but it is far from the only thing necessary to be a great scorer in the NBA. Just look at Michael Jordan, probably the greatest scorer of all-time. What set him apart from all of the rest? He wasn’t an elite scorer. Heck, when he did the three-point shoot-out he scored all of 6 points. Jordan was the greatest of all-time in being able to create shots. If you give a contested fall-away jumper to prime Michael Jordan and to prime Kobe Bryant, Kobe would have been much more likely to make it. That wasn’t MJ’s style, though. He could get himself open with ease and knock down an easier shot attempt.

Kyrie Irving is more of a Michael Jordan-type scorer. His elite ball handling enables him to get himself in a good position to knock down a jumper. Consider this sequence in a recent game against the Minnesota Timberwolves:

Screenshot (2)

Kyrie Irving gets the ball in the post from teammate Alonzo Gee, just five seconds remaining on the shot clock, with Luke Ridnour at his back.

Screenshot (3)

Here we are about a second later in the play. Kyrie is now isolated on the right side of the floor with Luke Ridnour still guarding him. He has turned from the post to face the basket, and throws a jab step to the right towards the baseline.

Screenshot (4)

Kyrie is now penetrating through the lane to his left, setting up an easy lay-in. This play doesn’t seem like much, but it certainly displays some basketball maturity. Most young players don’t really understand that 5 seconds is plenty of time to still make a play and set up a score. Many players put in Kyrie’s situation, which came at the end of a broken play, would have tried some turn-around fade-away jumper that is certainly less likely to fall than this one. Also noteworthy in this play was the little jab step he used to get Luke Ridnour off-balance. NBA defenders are taught to key the ball handler at the waist. Your waist doesn’t move on head fakes, but it will on jab steps like this one.

Here is a second example of Kyrie’s scoring ability, taken from a big win against the Oklahoma City Thunder a couple of weeks ago:

Screenshot (5)

Game is on the line. Cavs up 113-110 with :23 left on the game clock and :09 left on the shot clock. OKC needs to stop the Cavs here to give themselves a chance. Luckily for us, we get to watch Kyrie Irving on an isolation with Russell Westbrook guarding him.

Screenshot (6)

Here we have another example of Kyrie’s elite ball handling skills. I’m not sure if you saw him break Brandon Knight’s ankles at the Young Stars Game last Friday, but it was something special. In this play, Kyrie puts a quick double crossover on Westbrook and drives to his left.

Screenshot (7)   Screenshot (8)

Kyrie pulls up from about 10 feet from the hoop and pump-fakes hard and quick. Russell Westbrook and Serge Ibaka, who came over to help, are both fooled and go airborne. Kyrie waits for the bodies to pass and throws up a jumper in traffic.

Screenshot (9)

Drains it. The shot, although you can’t tell based on this, was a bank-shot. It was the end of a big home win against an elite team. Kyrie Irving put the Cavaliers on his back down the stretch in that game.

Kyrie Irving is 2nd in the NBA among all qualified players in isolation PPP. By comparison, Lebron James ranks 4th in the league and Kevin Durant ranks 13th. Irving is able to do most of this with his elite ball handling and remarkable maturity for a player who still isn’t even old enough to legally drink alcohol.

Where Do We Rank Him?

Here are some numbers comparing Kyrie Irving to other top-tier PG’s in the NBA this season. Not included among elite point guards are Rajon Rondo and Derrick Rose, both of whom are presently injured. These numbers are per 36 minutes played.

Player              Age  G  FG  FGA  FG%  3P 3PA  3P%  FT FTA  FT% TRB  AST STL TOV  PTS
Stephen Curry        24 49 7.1 16.4 .437 3.0 6.7 .447 3.0 3.3 .905 3.9  6.3 1.5 2.7 20.3
Jrue Holiday         22 47 7.3 16.1 .452 1.0 2.8 .353 2.3 3.0 .775 3.9  8.4 1.4 3.8 17.9
Kyrie Irving         20 42 8.8 18.8 .466 2.0 4.7 .425 4.3 5.1 .848 3.7  5.7 1.7 3.3 23.9
Tony Parker          30 52 9.0 16.9 .535 0.5 1.2 .386 4.4 5.3 .830 3.3  8.4 1.0 2.8 22.9
Chris Paul           27 44 6.4 13.2 .482 1.3 3.8 .353 4.2 4.7 .884 3.7 10.5 2.8 2.3 18.3
Russell Westbrook    24 53 8.0 18.8 .426 1.3 3.9 .328 5.5 6.9 .795 5.2  8.1 2.0 3.6 22.8

A couple things are apparent just with these basic measures. Kyrie Irving scores at a higher rate than any other point guard. On the downside for Irving, the point guard’s role is normally as a facilitator and he has assist numbers that pale in comparison to Chris Paul or Tony Parker. Some of this can be attributed to having poor teammates, but let’s not forget that Steve Nash was able to accumulate over a dozen assists per 36 minutes in each of his last three seasons in Phoenix. His teammates were also poor, but the best passing point guards are able to set up teammates at a high clip even if they aren’t All-star caliber players. It’s difficult to accurately see who is the most efficient without looking at more advanced metrics such as true shooting % or effective shooting percentage, so let’s lay down the red carpet and bring in advanced numbers as well.

Player              Age  G  PER  TS% eFG% TRB% AST% STL% TOV% USG% ORtg DRtg WS/48

Stephen Curry        24 49 19.9 .569 .528  6.0 29.6  2.1 13.3 25.6  112  108  .152
Jrue Holiday         22 47 18.2 .512 .482  6.2 40.9  2.0 17.7 27.3  101  106  .078
Kyrie Irving         20 42 22.3 .567 .519  6.0 30.7  2.4 13.7 30.0  110  109  .143
Tony Parker          30 52 24.5 .597 .549  5.4 41.4  1.4 12.8 28.2  118  105  .233
Chris Paul           27 44 26.8 .597 .533  6.1 47.3  4.1 13.3 22.2  128  101  .297
Russell Westbrook    24 53 23.0 .522 .459  8.3 40.0  2.8 14.1 32.1  109  104  .177

As far as PER goes, Kyrie Irving is better than Curry or Holiday but trails Westbrook, Paul, and Parker. Irving’s AST% is actually better than that of Stephen Curry despite not having the offensive weapons and shooters Curry has. His defensive rating of 109 is a bit disconcerting, and Irving has been much criticized of his defense. However, offensive and defensive ratings are in many ways, team statistics, and are difficult to pin on a single player. I mean, Derek Fisher once had an offensive rating of 117 despite shooting 42% from the field and putting up 3.2 APG. It may have had more to do with the fact that he was on the floor with Kobe Bryant, Pau Gasol, Andrew Bynum, and Lamar Odom that season. Kyrie Irving may not be the best defender in basketball, but I believe he’s much better than this stat claims.

Based on Synergy Sports Technology, which analyzes a player’s ability in every play type, offense or defense, Kyrie Irving allows only 0.57 points per possession on isolation plays against him. Let’s compare that to Chris Paul, known league-wide as an elite perimeter defender. Paul’s success on isolation isn’t nearly as good as Kyrie’s. He allows 0.96 points per possession on isolation plays. Irving even leads CP3 in overall defense (0.83 PPP to 0.84 PPP). I wouldn’t go so far as to claim that Irving is a better defender than Chris Paul, due to other variables involved that include defensive help on isolation plays and the fact that Irving sometimes doesn’t guard the opposing team’s best perimeter player, but I think it provides sufficient evidence to say that he’s not terrible on defense.

Kyrie Irving isn’t the best healthy NBA point guard. Chris Paul is better. So is Tony Parker. Russell Westbrook might even be better too. That’s besides the point. He’s an elite player, a leader to his team, one of the best shooters in basketball, an unbelievable shot creator (especially for someone with so little experience), and a vastly underrated defensive game. AND HE’S TWENTY YEARS OLD. It’s exciting to root for a player with as much youth and potential as Kyrie Irving has. There hasn’t been a twenty year old in the NBA playing as well as Kyrie Irving since Lebron James, the man that he was drafted to replace. What a beautiful irony.

Skyler Gilbert is a contributor for Hoop City Blog. He’d like to thank 82games.com, mysynergysports.com hoopdata.com, and basketball-reference.com for helping him compile the statistics used in the article. You can follow him at @skylerjgilbert. Also, it’s weird for him to be referring to himself in the third person so he’s going to conclude this article. He’s also adding this final sentence so the word count passes 2000.

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Yes, Nate Robinson Really Won A Player Of The Week Award

Nate Robinson won the Eastern Conference Player of the Week award for this past week (1/28 – 2/3).

I could only imagine this is a joke, because while Nate Robinson is better at basketball than 99.9% of people who happen to be roughly 5 inches shorter than me, he’s not good relative to people who are mostly taller than me who also happen to be really, really good at NBA basketball. He had a good week, although a 4-16 performance in a loss in Brooklyn doesn’t help his case.  And he did average nearly 18 points per game and started 2 games, nearly leading the conference in steals and assists for the week.

But you could argue (and I will, just because) that no fewer than 3 teammates (specifically Luol Deng, Jimmy Butler and Taj Gibson) actually had a more productive week. Taj Gibson played an entire game one night and played 45 minutes the next AND put up monster stats. Jimmy Butler continues to make an impact both as a starter and as a reserve. And Luol Deng still manages to be standing, so I’m fine with any recognition he receives in the meantime.

Anyway, this is all seemingly harmless because no one actually cares about player of the week awards. But this one particularly bothers me, because Nate Robinson continues to win awards he has no business winning. Mainly: he’s the only 3 time slam dunk award winner in NBA history, despite deserving *maybe* one of those awards (this is personal for me – I was so crushed when Iguodala lost that one contest). So maybe I’m a bit bitter. David Lee won for the Western Conference. Related: these two were teammates in both Golden State and New York.

Anyway, I felt that the collective surprise from the announcement was enough to put up this post, since I wasn’t doing anything and thought it to be a momentous occasion. For now, I leave you with twitter’s response to the news:

Bobcats Let Them Shoot

After reading a post on Queen City Hoops (a name eerily similar to ours) about the Bobcats letting the Pacers shoot threes, I went to check if the Bobcats let the Rockets do that to them today.

Oh, yes they did.

Screen Shot 2013-01-21 at 5.40.18 PM Screen Shot 2013-01-21 at 5.43.13 PM Screen Shot 2013-01-21 at 5.43.41 PM Screen Shot 2013-01-21 at 5.45.20 PM Screen Shot 2013-01-21 at 5.46.48 PM

These are all screenshots (thanks to NBA.com/Stats) of different looks the Rockets got. Look! I stopped screenshotting with 8 minutes still remaining in the first half! I already had got my point across.

ALL OF TEH OPEN THREES

The Sad Case Of The Detroit Pistons

The Detroit Pistons. 2004 NBA Champions. 2012 NBA laughing stock.

The Pistons came into the season looking like a team on the rise that had a small chance of making the playoffs in the Eastern Conference. They had a mediocre defense with an improving offense, and a star in Greg Monroe. This was looking, to Pistons fan, like the most exciting season since 2007.

The Pistons started the season off with a close loss to the Houston Rockets. It wasn’t too big of a downer, as James Harden dropped 37 points and the Pistons stuck with Houston until late in the 4th quarter.

But it just went downhill from there. The Pistons followed up that game with a disappointing loss to the new-look Phoenix Suns, followed by crushing 108-79 loss to the then-winless Los Angeles Lakers. After that game, the Pistons looked to rebound against the 0-3 Denver Nuggets, only to lose 109-97 in which six of Denver’s players racked up double-digit scoring.

Now 0-4, the Pistons are NOT where they wanted to be. They don’t want to repeat last season’s opening woes (started 4-21), but are already on their way to repeating that feat.

Detroit’s next game is against the 1-3 Sacramento Kings in Sacramento, hoping to notch their first win of the year.

Philadelphia 76ers Season Preview: Where There’s a Bynum, There’s A Way

Team Capsule

The Sixers finally decided that being average wasn’t good enough. They finally decided to (try to) get better.

Originally, it looked as if the Sixers decided to gut themselves and head in the other direction. The series of moves that kicked off their offseason were puzzling at best, flat-out incompetent at worst. Drafting two players late who would not compete for any open positions nor provide the team with things they didn’t already have started what seemed to be a path to tanking. Letting two of their four best players from last season go to sign Nick Young and Kwame Brown, re-sign Lavoy Allen, and trade for Dorell Wright while paying $10 million along the way seemed like a bold strategy that wouldn’t pay off for them.

They also re-signed Spencer Hawes because he was apparently an integral part of this team’s future and decided starting Hawes alongside Kwame Brown was a fantastic idea. Upon learning this, I gave up on the season, especially when Collins indicated that the team may be done making moves this summer.

But then a gigantic, unexpected bomb dropped that salvaged their offseason and moved the team into a new era. Acquiring a good player for Andre Iguodala was going to be difficult, I believed. For one, Iguodala was a very good but expensive player. In order for the team to rebuild, as has been speculated, the Sixers needed either to acquire expiring contracts or sell Iguodala off in a salary dump. Few expected to get another great player. Even fewer expected a player with the youth and star-power of Andrew Bynum. Even in the weeks leading up to the trade, most expected Pau Gasol to be a more likely trade target.

So to get Bynum and cap filler (Jason Richardson) for Iguodala and 3 first rounders (2nd year player Vucevic, rookie Maurice Harkless – HOW COULD YOU TRADE MOE HARKLESS?! – and a future pick), the Sixers did fairly well for themselves. While this could blow up in the franchise’s face if Bynum skips town, the shot at a franchise center was just too much to pass up. And as it turned out, a lot (but not all) of the previous moves make much more sense in the team’s new context.

The new context? One where each core player, and most of the peripheral players, is 24 years old or younger*. One with an established offensive centerpiece. One with a coach who typically burns out in year 3, but with almost an entirely new roster to buffer against that. And one with a significantly brighter future than it had just 5 months ago.

*This includes Thaddeus Young. Sidenote: how is Thaddeus Young only 24?

But with this new context comes new expectations, new roles, and new pressures. Andrew Bynum gets to be “THE” guy, so to speak. His aloof attitude toward pretty much everything in life will be challenged by his abrasive coach. And his team expects him to show up every night, an expectation he never met in Los Angeles. Jrue Holiday and Evan Turner have run out of excuses. The rest of the roster needs to prove they can be more than just highly limited role players. And Collins needs to prove he can put it all together without making the team turn on him.

The new Sixers have a lot of questions waiting to be solved, but they undoubtedly have taken a step in the right direction. Which is as good of a thing that could really be said about this franchise in a while.

Biggest Strength: Andrew Bynum

Having Bynum makes the rest of the squad seem like it fits. The Sixers have a good amount of shooting

Biggest Weakness: The Turner/Hawes alignment

In last year’s playoffs, the Sixers would have made the East finals had it not been for these two playing obnoxious amounts of time together. The results were disastrous: the Celtics starting five routinely built up huge leads for their team before one of Hawes or Turner fell out of the lineup. Because Hawes had exactly one more good playoff game than Turner, ET got most of the blame. But separate, neither was completely awful. Considering Collins plans to start the two together again, I’m not sure he has learned from their playoff crap-dumping.

Specifically, since he plans to play them alongside Bynum, combined they really clog the spacing on the floor. Since Lavoy Allen isn’t mobile enough to really play the 4 full-time, I don’t see a clear solution here. It should be a problem all season.

Player to Watch: Jrue Holiday

Holiday may be entering his fourth year in the league, but he’s only 22 years old. However, if the Sixers want to compete in any way this season, they’ll need him to play much better than he did last season. While his defense improved from “toolsy but below-average” to a bit above average, his offense took a step back. Mainly, whenever he was given significant play-making responsibility, Collins reigned him in because he committed obscene amounts of dumb turnovers. Unfortunately, because the Sixers were going for wins, Holiday hasn’t been afforded the opportunity to make mistakes and test his strengths. His development stalled out, I believe, because of that.

But this year? Collins may have no choice but to let Jrue do Jrue. Royal Ivey is a wonderful guy, but even Collins should know relying on the Chemist means you’re not going anywhere. The oddly spelled Maalik Wayns should have similar problems to Holiday. Evan Turner makes too many dumb plays himself. Thus Jrue should get ample opportunity to be a primary play-maker. While I think he’ll create more for himself than others, this is a prime opportunity to make a leap.

Coach: Doug Collins (408-359 career)

2011-12 record: 35-31

Key Additions: Andrew Bynum, Jason Richardson, Nick Young, Dorell Wright, Kwame Brown

The Sixers had too many changes to count. The key one is obviously Bynum, but the next three on the list all provide something the Sixers desperately need last year: shooting. While none are lights-out shooters, all have historically been above-average. Richardson can really only shoot these days. All Nick Young ever did was call his number. Dorell Wright, meanwhile, is significantly better than both Swaggy and J-Rich and may see time as an undersized 4.

Meanwhile, Kwame Brown got a player option. ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

Key Subtractions: Andre Iguodala, Elton Brand, Lou Williams, Jodie Meeks

The first three players were three of the four best on the team last year, although somehow everyone missed this during the whole Bynum news thing. Iguodala’s going to scorch the earth in Denver, Brand will surprise in Dallas, and Lou Williams will be Lou Williams in Atlanta. And also, I expect the Lakers will realize sooner rather than later that Jodie Meeks shoots threes from the elbows well but not the corners.

Team Trajectory: Rising

The new context the Sixers have came at a cost. The Sixers lost 3 recent first round draft picks in the Bynum trade, plus they gave one up for Arnett Moutrie. Combined with a lack of cap flexibility, the Sixers have what they can work with for the foreseeable future. Despite that, what they have now puts them in such a strong position going forward that the franchise seriously looks to be moving on up the ranks. After years of stagnation, it’s a refreshing sight, even if the results this year won’t change much.

Projected Record: 45-37

Brooklyn Nets Season Preview: Starting Fresh

Team Capsule

The New Jersey Nets have been the scapegoat of the NBA for most of the past decade or so, with a few exceptions. The idea was tossed around a few times to move the team elsewhere, but the decision finally was made to give the Nets a total makeover and move them to Brooklyn to play in the Barclays Center.

Ladies and gentlemen, let’s all welcome your Brooklyn Nets.

The Nets are starting a new season and have a whole new look, and with new players such as Joe Johnson and CJ Watson, the Nets are ready to turn the page.

Biggest Strength: Offense

First, the Nets will have one of the most prolific backcourts in the league with Deron Williams and Joe Johnson. Add in Brook Lopez, Gerald Wallace and Kris Humphries, and you have yourself a great scoring team. Not to mention the high-powered bench scoring; CJ Watson, Mirza Teletovic, Andray Blatche and Marshon Brooks will provide much of that. Add that formula all together, and the sum is a high-powered scoring offense. What a relief for Nets fans.

Biggest Weakness: Defense

While Joe Johnson is a good defensive player, the rest of the Nets are a different story. Lopez, Teletovic, Blatche and Humphries all are less than desirable on defense. No one at center is taller than 6’9, so that poses a big problem. Brooklyn’s games this year will be high-scoring.

Player to Watch: Mirza Teletovic

Teletovic isn’t getting much publicity due to the other blockbuster moves that the Nets are making, but this guy’s shooting ability is definitely a force to be reckoned with. The best part? A lot of teams might not pay attention to the skills of Teletovic.

2011-2012 record: (22-44)

Coach: Avery Johnson (240-172)

Key Additions: Andray Blatche, Joe Johnson, Josh Childress, CJ Watson, Mirza Teletovic

The Nets made a lot of big moves this offseason. The biggest, obviously, was acquiring Joe Johnson from the Hawks, a player that will surely make the Nets better this season. Some may forget, however, that Blatche, Childress, Watson and Teletovic are pretty good additions too.

Key Subtractions: Anthony Morrow, Jordan Farmar, Johan Petro

In my Atlanta Hawks Season Preview, I raved about the addition of former Nets player Anthony Morrow. While he’s better than people think, he is still nowhere near Joe Johnson.

Team Trajectory: Rising

The Nets organization wants more than an embarrassing team. They made big acquisitions this offseason that will result in a much better team, and will most likely keep moving forward and ultimately try to reach the final destination: an NBA Championship. However, they don’t want to get too far ahead of themselves yet. Right now, they’re playoff bound, maybe not much farther.

Projected Record: 47-35

 

Boston Celtics Season Preview: New Team, Same Goals

Team Capsule

Last year, the Boston Celtics, led by Rajon Rondo, Ray Allen and Paul Pierce lost in the Eastern Conference Finals to the Miami Heat in 7 games in a gut-wrenching fashion. That also marked the end of the “Big 3” era of Pierce, Allen and Kevin Garnett. Ray Allen left to join the Miami Heat.

Although the Celtics missed their goal last year of obtaining a Championship, they have re-tooled their roster and are ready for another shot at it. The only question: Will they succeed?

Biggest Strength: Depth

Last year, the Celtics had a pretty bad bench, but the additions of Jason Terry, Fab Melo, and- eeeek- I hate saying this as a Michigan State fan, but former Ohio State player Jared Sullinger add to the bench’s strength, and now with Jeff Green coming back, he’ll be a force off of the bench.

Biggest Weakness: Age

The Celtics are a bunch of old guys out on the court. Jason Terry and Paul Pierce are 35, and Kevin Garnett is 36. The biggest problem might be Kevin Garnett, because he’s prone to injuries, and the depth behind him isn’t so strong (I mean, DARKO MILICIC).

Player to Watch: Jeff Green

Jeff Green missed all of last season with an aortic aneurysm in his heart, but is back this season. He could become a huge asset to the team behind starter Paul Pierce, as Pierce is aging and Green is really skilled with a good basketball IQ.

2011-2012 record: 39-27

Coach: Doc Rivers (546-433)

Key Additions: Jeff Green (kind of), Jason Terry, Courtney Lee

Jeff Green, although this is his second year as a Celtic, is in his first PLAYING season with them, and could be a huge asset. Lee and Terry both are good replacements for the absent Ray Allen, who is now playing for the Miami Heat.

Key Subtractions: Ray Allen, JaJuan Johnson

Allen, the best three-point shooter in NBA history, is a big loss to the team and his hard to replace. Also, JaJuan Johnson was Brandon Bass’ backup, and it’ll be difficult for Jared Sullinger to appropriately fill the role of backup power forward in his first year in the NBA.

Team Trajectory: Flat

The team is having troubles making up for Ray Allen, plus, the missing pieces aren’t there for them to make it all the way to the championship with the Heat as a roadblock. They’re going to need Courtney Lee and Jason Terry to do better than expected if they want to go any deeper into the playoffs.

Projected Record: 55-27

Milwaukee Bucks Season Preview: Stuck on the Treadmill of Mediocrity

Team Capsule

This year’s Bucks team fascinates me in a weird way. It’s not going to be a particularly good team, although I look at that team compared to the middle ground in the Eastern Conference and actually think that’s a playoff roster. It’s the decisions with lineups and playing time splits from Scott Skiles  that will make or break this team, and the intriguing part to me is that the team has 13 legitimate rotation players to split time amongst.

So as Zach Lowe pointed out on his season preview extravaganza on Grantland, the Bucks are a strong trade candidate. Specifically, Larry Sanders looks especially expendable, and if the hype around Tobias Harris turns into more than just that one of Milwaukee’s 3-4 players should also be moved. The current roster may undergo some change before the end of the season.

But while the Bucks have made trades previously, they’ve all been done with the same, seemingly innocuous purpose: making the playoffs. But the goal of making the playoffs and the goal of winning a championship are two totally different things; the Bucks seem to be building just to make the playoffs and not the title. For owner Herb Kohl,  and for others in that organization who rely upon the organization for their livelihood, that must be okay.

If I were a Bucks fan, however, I’d wonder if topping off as a low-seeded playoff team were worth it. While there’s probably still some room to grow there, it’s not worth it when the team’s peak is as a 4/5, the high point for a roster that’s just not a true contender. But this wouldn’t be much of a change over recent years for Bucks fans. The team hasn’t advanced past the first round of the playoffs in over 10 years. In that time the Bucks have had two winning seasons, two .500 seasons, and only 2 truly bad seasons (and in one they were fortunate enough to win the lottery), and have still made no progress toward title contention. They’ve cycled and recycled coaches and players and nothing has come of it.

The phenomenon introduced above, the constant average-ness cycle that mid-tier NBA teams seem to go through for years at a time, was first coined by Kevin Pritchard as the “mediocrity treadmill” and was anglicized by the Wages of Wins guys as “the treadmill of mediocrity.” The idea is that NBA teams should avoid, if possible, the middle ground in the league. Building a team from nothing is easier to do than starting in the middle and trying to make incremental improvements to get to the top, since drafting a superstar with a top pick occurs much more often than it does in, say, the, 12th-18th spots. Furthermore, teams in the middle generally have little cap flexibility and cannot sign superstars to free agent contracts. And teams that are solid often delude themselves that all they need is a bit extra to contend when multiple superstars are generally needed for that. A couple of teams – my Sixers and the Atlanta Hawks, for instance – made moves this summer to at least try and get off the proverbial treadmill. While their records might not change much, if at all, the teams have created cap flexibility and a new direction. The Bucks, through trading their old franchise centerpiece for another supposed one, made moves to stay on board. The Bucks are no closer to contending other than through the passage of time, but the moves they’ve made may have pushed that time further and further away.

In all actuality, the treadmill is more like a hamster wheel of mediocrity. At least with a treadmill, you can kind of get pushed off. It seems that, more often, the teams must get tired of being mediocre. Teams need to stop pushing the wheel; instead, they need to stop themselves and fall flat on their faces. The Bucks need to get tired of being merely average.

In the meantime, we should enjoy the roster they have and the lineup possibilities they can produce.  Essentially, they have a bunch of offense-only and defense-only players and have to mix and match them for ultimate effect. The only real two-way player they have is Brandon Jennings, and even he is undersized for his spot and needs some support. The others? Ellis, Ilyasova, Gooden, Dunleavy, Harris, Lamb, and Udrih are significantly better offensive players than defensive. Dalembert, Udoh, Sanders, Henson, and LRMAM are all significantly better defenders than offenders. How well the roster meshes will determine their record, but ultimately something needs to be done to stop the hamster wheel, or otherwise they’re doomed to mediocrity.

Biggest Strength: Cloning Waves of Frontcourt Depth

The Bucks have a ton of depth in the middle, between Dalembert, Udoh, Henson, and Sanders (with Joel Przybilla as the backup’s backup’s backup’s backup). They have Ilyasova, Gooden, Tobias Harris, and possibly Mbah a Moute at the 4. The 7 guys not in parentheses have the talent to land in an NBA rotation, with Ilyasova and Dalembert as legitimate starters. The Bucks need a lot of help in the frontcourt to cover up for the mistakes on the perimeter, but this seems like too much. But the players they have here are all useful, and I wonder which will end up sitting on the pine (my guess is Henson and Sanders fall out of the rotation early).

Biggest Weakness: Guard Defense

Jennings and Ellis are each undersized for their positions. While Brandon makes up for his height disadvantage through smart, sometimes aggressive defense, Ellis exacerbates his defensive problems by taking plays off and gambling unnecessarily too often.

Player to Watch: Ersan Ilyasova

I was tempted to put Brandon Jennings here, but Ilyasova’s offensive explosion last season turned a lot of heads, and the follow-up to a completely unexpected breakout campaign just offers more things to watch than for Jennings, who could be the subject of trade rumors in addition to the previously mentioned trade candidates. In case you missed it (that is, if you didn’t play fantasy basketball or weren’t a Bucks fan), Ilyasova averaged 17-11 per-36 with a 45% three point percentage and a 49% overall percentage. The numbers, combining the volume and efficiency, pegged him as a legitimate number two offensive option. But you have to wonder whether or not the explosion was nothing more than a fluke: Ilyasova never shot nearly this well before from any range other than the foul line, and he never rebounded quite this well either. Furthermore, his contract expired at the end of the season – the timing was impeccable. And with Dalembert and Henson coming in, Ilyasova’s rebounding numbers sure seem to be vulnerable.

So in total, Ilyasova had a breakout at a convenient time for a team in flux, with numbers that he’s never put up before. How much he regresses – if at all – could be the difference between making and missing the playoffs.

2011-12 record: 31-35

Coach: Scott Skiles

Key Additions: Samuel Dalembert, John Henson, Doron Lamb

Dalembert can be horribly frustrating to root for (trust me, I have 8 years of experience) but as a stop gap, you could do much worse. He’ll rebound and block shots at strong rates and goaltend way too often. He will also hit some midrange shots and a pretty good amount of his free throws. While I don’t like the trade for Milwaukee, I understand it.

They got a coup in Henson and Lamb, two future contributors, in the draft, while Przybilla and Daniels are end-of-bench fodder.

Key Subtractions: Carlos Delfino, Jon Leuer, Shaun Livingston

None of the losses was significant either, which I guess is part of the underlying problem in Milwaukee, that they’ve been stuck in neutral talent-wise for a while. I really like Leuer, though.

Team Trajectory: Flat

The Bucks could have a better record than last season, but the maximum height this team can reach seems to be clearly short of title contention. For that, even with my projected progress, this team still has lots of work to do.

Projected Record: 42-40