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March 25, 2010
Prospectus Hoops List
Week Ending March 21, 2010

by Bradford Doolittle

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If you've been reading along with us at Basketball Prospectus over the last three years, you know that we're about more than numbers. In addition to all the work we do measuring that which is measurable and estimating that which is not, we watch a lot of basketball. A LOT. You'd think that would go without saying, but there persists an idea that numbers-friendly analysts spent most of their time in front of a spreadsheet. In fact, we spend most of our time actually watching the games, then we go scurrying for our spreadsheets to make sense of what we've seen.

With all this effort at deepening our understanding of the game, and armed with data to support any supposition we put forth, we're perhaps a little less prone to making silly statements than other sports commentators you might come across. We try, anyway. But we're far from exempt when it comes to mapping the future. Sometimes, we end up off course. With that in mind, I've targeted the comments for today's Hoops List at ourselves. I've pulled out a copy of Pro Basketball Prospectus 2009-10, and extracted one comment for each team that was off the mark. I'll then very briefly try to explain the thinking behind the statement.

I've limited myself to things I wrote. I'm not about to go picking apart the work of my esteemed colleague, Kevin Pelton, who doesn't really write many silly things to begin with. Since I only wrote half the book, that lessens my pool of text to choose from for 15 teams, but I wrote something on everyone and surely was wrong about at least one thing for each team. Right Hawks fans?

So why pick on myself? Am I that much of a masochist? Perhaps, but I also want to demonstrate just how much uncertainty exists when peering into the future of a sports campaign. Not just demonstrate it--I want to celebrate it. By being wrong about these statements, I've been surprised by the circumstances of them all, and I've learned more about a game that I love. And, hey, that's why they play the games, right?

(Statistics through March 21)

Rank. (Last week) Team (Power rating / Championship probability) [Win pace / Pythagorean win pace / Preseason projection ]

1. (1) Cleveland Cavaliers (60.5 / 33.2%) [ 64 / 60 / 54 ]
Rankings: NET: 2; OFF: 3; DEF: 7; PACE: 25

"Danny Ferry has got to find a way to improve the four position and has limited resources to do so."
Off to a bad start. I couldn't actually find anything ridiculous that I wrote about the Cavs in the preseason, so I had to stretch and pull this out of my draft preview last June. The only thing that marks this as sort of silly is that since then, the Cavaliers have accumulated so many big men that I'm having a hard time figuring out how they're going to play them all. Ferry found the resources to improve the position to the point of excess.

2. (2) Los Angeles Lakers (59.4 / 23.6%) [ 60 / 57 / 53 ]
Rankings: NET: 3; OFF: 11; DEF: 4; PACE: 10

"NBAPET does not like the Ron Artest addition for the Lakers much at all, with a surprisingly negative effect on L.A.'s Defensive Rating."
Another team I didn't write much about in the book, so this doozy is from the piece where Kevin and I ran our updated projections just before the season kicked off. The defensive drop I predicted wasn't really because of Artest, though I did have Trevor Ariza rated a superior defender. It was more because of anticipated regression elsewhere on L.A.'s roster. Either way, I was wrong, wrong, wrong. The Lakers have actually improved by one spot in Defensive Rating, but have dropped eight spots on the other end.

3. (3) Orlando Magic (57.8 / 16.3%) [ 57 / 59 / 49 ]
Rankings: NET: 1; OFF: 6; DEF: 2; PACE: 19

"I'm done picking against the Magic. I've been waiting for the other shoe to drop on them for about a month now. Of the top-tier teams, Orlando has been the overlooked squad all season."
This dates to to the back-and-forth we had before last summer's NBA Finals. I haven't written a whole lot on the Magic since then, probably because I always have such a hard time getting a read on this team, which I think is in the same position it was last year--seemingly just a notch below the Cavs and Lakers, but with the ability to run the table.

4. (4) Utah Jazz (56.0 / 4.7%) [ 52 / 56 / 53 ]
Rankings: NET: 6; OFF: 7; DEF: 10; PACE: 14

"(Eric) Maynor, along with Wake Forest’s Jeff Teague, slid on draft night because of the number of high-quality point guard prospects available this year, but he could well turn out to be just as valuable as the likes of Jonny Flynn, Brandon Jennings and Jrue Holiday."
Not. Maynor has been solid in flashes, but Jennings is a Rookie of the Year candidate, while Flynn and Holiday have both logged heavy minutes for their respective teams. There is also the fact that Maynor made it less than half way through his first season as a member of the Jazz. He was dealt to Oklahoma City as enticement to get the Thunder to take on Matt Harpring's contract. Frankly, with the play of Ronnie Price and Sundiata Gaines, Utah hasn't missed Maynor at all. I had seen the selection of Mayor as an important upgrade for the Jazz but, in retrospect, Utah should have taken Omar Casspi, who would have given Utah an eventual replacement for Andrei Kirilenko.

5. (5) Denver Nuggets (54.4 / 7.4%) [ 55 / 54 / 43 ]
Rankings: NET: 7; OFF: 2; DEF: 15; PACE: 5

"If he’s just the same old ‘Melo, then the next step the Nuggets take will probably be in the wrong direction."
In a sense, I was right. Anthony is having his best season and the Nuggets are better than they were last year. However, Anthony isn't that much better and neither are the Nuggets. Anthony is playing more minutes and using even more possessions than in the past. He's been getting to the line more and is shooting a better percentage from the charity stripe. His two-point percentage is up, perhaps due to better shot selection, but the improvements have been somewhat mitigated by drops in three-point accuracy and assist rate. So, in a sense, you could say that he's been the same old 'Melo. The Nuggets haven't taken a step back, though. Denver is on pace to win 54 games--exactly what it won last year. However, the Nuggets' point differential actually supports their record this time around.

6. (7) San Antonio Spurs (52.4 / 2.4%) [ 49 / 54 / 57 ]
Rankings: NET: 5; OFF: 9; DEF: 9; PACE: 23

"When you’ve got a foundation of Tim Duncan, Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili, sprucing up is a lot simpler."
The insinuation here is that the Spurs had boosted themselves back to championship level, as my projections suggested they had done. As it turns out, that task hasn't been simple at all. Parker hasn't been healthy and his production has dropped and the trade for Richard Jefferson hasn't been the panacea that I thought it would be.

7. (6) Atlanta Hawks (52.3 / 2.5%) [ 53 / 54 / 30 ]
Rankings: NET: 8; OFF: 4; DEF: 14; PACE: 26

Take your pick.
There are a lot of off-base comments I could choose from in regards to the Hawks. My system simply missed on them and, in the early going, I doggedly stuck by NBAPET's output. The upside is that the Hawks' continued improvement this year is No. 1 on my research list so this summer--hopefully--NBAPET will be improved, though it should be noted that some elements of the Hawks' rise simply could not have been projected.

8. (8) Phoenix Suns (52.3 / 2.1%) [ 51 / 51 / 38 ]
Rankings: NET: 9; OFF: 1; DEF: 24; PACE: 4

"The Suns may not win at the level of the Mike D’Antoni days, but at least they’ll be fun to watch again."
Not the worst observation in the world. In fact, it's right on--the Suns are fun to watch. And even though Phoenix is on pace to win 51 games, that's well below the 58 wins the Suns averaged in D'Antoni's four full seasons. Nevertheless, the Suns have exceeded my expectations.

9. (10) Boston Celtics (51.9 / 3.3%) [ 53 / 54 / 56 ]
Rankings: NET: 4; OFF: 13; DEF: 1; PACE: 22

"What seems certain is that the fiery combination of Wallace, Garnett and Paul Pierce should ensure that the Celtics stay at an emotional fever pitch for most of the season."
Made sense when I wrote it, but that's not what we've seen from Boston. The biggest issues for the Celtics this year have been injuries and age-related declines. However, those issues have been exacerbated by a surprisingly lax attitude by Doc Rivers' squad for large chunks of the campaign. The Celtics do seem to be kicking it into high hear as of late.

10. (9) Oklahoma City Thunder (50.4 / 1.3%) [ 50 / 50 / 32 ]
Rankings: NET: 11; OFF: 15; DEF: 6; PACE: 13

"SCHOENE sees incremental improvement for the Thunder, and that’s certainly the most probable outcome for the season."
Wrong! The Thunder has made a quantum leap this season. OKC has gotten better, faster, than any reasonable projection system could have possibly foreseen.

11. (11) Dallas Mavericks (50.1 / 2.1%) [ 54 / 46 / 50 ]
Rankings: NET: 12; OFF: 10; DEF: 12; PACE: 18

"However, to start a fast break, you’ve got to get stops, and that’s where Rick Carlisle will have his work cut out for him given the paucity of young legs in Dallas."
In fact, the Mavericks have improved by three spots in Defensive Rating (up to 13th), and that facet of their game has ratcheted up since the trade with the Wizards that brought in Caron Butler, DeShawn Stevenson and Brendan Haywood. The offense has actually fallen four spots over last year.

12. (12) Portland Trail Blazers (48.7 / 0.5%) [ 48 / 49 / 50 ]
Rankings: NET: 10; OFF: 8; DEF: 13; PACE: 30

"If you’re looking for one team that is the most likely candidate to go from good to great, let your search stop in Rip City."
No, still just good. Injuries have played a huge part in keeping the Blazers down, but I'm still not sure that even with full health, this was ready to be a great roster.

13. (15) Milwaukee Bucks (44.9 / 0.1%) [ 45 / 46 / 26 ]
Rankings: NET: 14; OFF: 22; DEF: 5; PACE: 17

"The move also clears court time for Alexander, whom the Bucks still hope can become a core player."
I was still treating Joe Alexander like a legitimate prospect last summer. Injuries kept him from ever getting a start this season, but he's shown nothing to indicate he's an NBA player. The Bucks clearly never had him in their plans in the first place. Alexander has scored more than 500 points fewer than any other lottery pick from the 2008 draft.

14. (14) Charlotte Bobcats (44.2 / 0.1%) [ 41 / 44 / 45 ]
Rankings: NET: 15; OFF: 26; DEF: 3; PACE: 27

"If the latter happens and the new ownership decides that Carolina legend and Bobcats honcho Michael Jordan is extraneous, then Brown may well pack up and march off into retirement."
I'd never want to predict what Larry Brown is going to do, but it's safe to say that the Bobcats' new owner has a high opinion of Michael Jordan.

15. (13) Miami Heat (44.0 / 0.4%) [ 42 / 44 / 44 ]
Rankings: NET: 13; OFF: 19; DEF: 8; PACE: 28

"Also, because of Chalmers’ ability to play off the ball without demanding a large number of possessions, he proved to be ideal backcourt partner for Wade. Going forward, if he can up his three-point shooting over 40 percent and cut his own turnovers, he’ll be a fixture in the Miami lineup."
Chalmers has regressed in his second season. His shooting percentages have dropped and he's started just 23 games.

16. (16) Houston Rockets (43.6 / 0.0%) [ 43 / 42 / 50 ]
Rankings: NET: 16; OFF: 17; DEF: 16; PACE: 7

"Given the Rockets’ need for scoring and likely style of play, Ariza should emerge as an All-Star candidate this season."
It just hasn't happened. Ariza will still be a valuable piece for the Rockets during the length of the free-agent contract he signed last summer. However, he has not been able to become the featured performer that I thought he could be. He's just a very good role player.

17. (17) Memphis Grizzlies (40.9 / 0.0%) [ 43 / 39 / 30 ]
Rankings: NET: 17; OFF: 12; DEF: 23; PACE: 11

"Memphis certainly needs an interior scorer and Randolph fits that bill. However, he’s got a history of compiling superficially impressive per-game averages while burning through possessions at an alarming rate."
Randolph has actually let his usage rate slide, while he focuses on becoming one of the league's best offensive rebounders. He hasn't played this well in years, perhaps ever.

18. (18) Toronto Raptors (37.9 / 0.0%) [ 41 / 35 / 38 ]
Rankings: NET: 18; OFF: 5; DEF: 30; PACE: 12

"I have a nagging feeling, though, that the Raptors are going to spit the bit with this pick."
In my draft preview, I predicted the Raptors would draft DeMar DeRozan. I didn't like the pick then and I don't like it now. I really can't find anything I've written about the Raptors that wasn't more or less correct. Sorry.

19. (19) New Orleans Hornets (36.9 / 0.0%) [ 38 / 33 / 44 ]
Rankings: NET: 19; OFF: 18; DEF: 21; PACE: 15

"If New Orleans was going to break through in the loaded West, it had to shake things up. Mission accomplished."
That statement wasn't entirely meant to be positive, but it does give us a reason to think back to the varying opinions on New Orleans' acquisition of Emeka Okafor. It hasn't been Okafor's fault, but this year's Hornets have had a much different season than we anticipated. The team's decline has been accelerated by injuries but, at the same time, the Hornets have uncovered a couple of rookie assets that makes the long-term prospects for New Orleans a little brighter than they were a few months ago.

20. (20) Chicago Bulls (36.4 / 0.0%) [ 38 / 33 / 45 ]
Rankings: NET: 20; OFF: 28; DEF: 11; PACE: 9

"With that pick, Chicago picked up USC’s Taj Gibson, a shot blocker and athletic floor runner with limited offensive skills, descriptions that make him a lesser version of players already on Chicago’s roster."
I don't know that that statement is entirely off-base, but Gibson has been much more NBA-ready than anyone could have expected. There were much worse first-round picks in the last draft.

21. (22) New York Knicks (29.6 / 0.0%) [ 29 / 32 / 31 ]
Rankings: NET: 21; OFF: 16; DEF: 25; PACE: 8

"When will the fun return to Madison Square Garden? We’ll know a lot more about that answer this time next year."
The 'this time next year' part refers to this coming September. By then, we'll know the destinies of the key characters from the 2010 free-agent show. However, Donnie Walsh hedged a bit this week, saying the Knicks may elect to simply roll over their cap space for the future if he doesn't like the options left on the market. Smart, but that means my statement above needs the word "might" inserted in there somewhere.

22. (21) Philadelphia 76ers (28.9 / 0.0%) [ 28 / 30 / 40 ]
Rankings: NET: 22; OFF: 21; DEF: 18; PACE: 21

"It’s unclear whether that is an ideal fit for the Sixers’ current roster, but that doesn’t mean that it can’t work."
This is referring to Eddie Jordan's Princeton offense. We now know that it can't work with the Sixers' current roster and the whole idea was absurd to begin with.

23. (23) Sacramento Kings (28.6 / 0.0%) [ 28 / 30 / 30 ]
Rankings: NET: 23; OFF: 20; DEF: 22; PACE: 6

"If you throw in talented but somewhat clueless Greene, or possibly the very raw Casspi, you have a young player with a high ceiling at every position in the lineup."
There are a lot of reasons to like what Geoff Petrie has done in Sacramento and at some levels, what I wrote about the Kings' young talent still rings true. However, I'm not sure I view Spencer Hawes and Jason Thompson with quite the same degree of optimism as I did last summer.

24. (28) Indiana Pacers (28.0 / 0.0%) [ 28 / 28 / 38 ]
Rankings: NET: 25; OFF: 27; DEF: 17; PACE: 2

"Despite an uneven five years as a pro, it’s not too late for Ford to develop the consistency he needs to become an All-Star-caliber point guard."
After another disappointing campaign, I think our view of T.J. Ford's ceiling needs to be revised downwards.

25. (24) Los Angeles Clippers (27.9 / 0.0%) [ 30 / 24 / 27 ]
Rankings: NET: 27; OFF: 25; DEF: 19; PACE: 16

"The immediate challenge for Mike Dunleavy will be to get something close to maximum effort from his veterans while still developing a potentially nice young core of Griffin, Al Thornton and Eric Gordon."
The immediate challenge for Dunleavy was keeping his jobs.

26. (26) Washington Wizards (26.5 / 0.0%) [ 25 / 27 / 26 ]
Rankings: NET: 26; OFF: 24; DEF: 20; PACE: 20

"Returns to health from Washington’s prime contributors, along with the additions of a couple of former Timberwolves, have the Wizards talking title."
That was of course simply referring to what the Wizards thought about themselves. Washington is as bad as I thought they'd be.

27. (27) Golden State Warriors (26.4 / 0.0%) [ 22 / 30 / 35 ]
Rankings: NET: 24; OFF: 14; DEF: 29; PACE: 1

"Monta Ellis threw the first salvo on media day by declaring that he could not, under any circumstances, share a backcourt with first-round pick Stephen Curry."
Again, that's not my sentiment, but it bears repeating. As it turns out, it wasn't Ellis unable to share the backcourt with Curry, it was the other way around.

28. (25) Detroit Pistons (26.2 / 0.0%) [ 26 / 26 / 44 ]
Rankings: NET: 28; OFF: 23; DEF: 26; PACE: 29

"Is it possible to rebuild without tearing down?"
That was the question with which I opened the Pistons' chapter in the book. This year, the Pistons have clearly answered that question in the negative.

29. (29) Minnesota Timberwolves (17.2 / 0.0%) [ 16 / 17 / 32 ]
Rankings: NET: 29; OFF: 29; DEF: 28; PACE: 3

"Kahn also brought in Kurt Rambis to coach because of a firm belief in up-tempo basketball. You have to like his philosophy."
The jury is still out on Wolves general manager David Kahn but, at this point, I'm not sure what Kahn's philosophy is.

30. (30) New Jersey Nets (12.3 / 0.0%) [ 8 / 14 / 40 ]
Rankings: NET: 30; OFF: 30; DEF: 27; PACE: 24

"New Jersey has an intriguing mix of young players and the potential to outperform SCHOENE’s forecast is high."
Uh, yeah.

Definitions:

RANKINGS: NET = net efficiency ratio; OFF - offensive efficiency; DEF - defensive efficiency; PACE: average possessions per game

Adjusted winning percentage (AWP) = ((home wins x 0.6)+(road wins x 1.4)) / (((home wins x 0.6)+(road wins x 1.4)) + ((home losses x .1.4)+(road losses x 0.6)))

Championship probability (CHAM) = percent of championships won out of 10,000 simulations of the "as of today" playoff bracket, based on each team's POW

Opponents winning percentage (OWP) = aggregate percentage of games won for each team's opponents, based on the number of times the team has faced that opponent.

Playoff Potential (POT) = suggests the highest likely postseason round a team might advance to, based on comparing its POW to other teams in our database

Power rating (POW) = (((PYTH + AWP)/2)*(OWP/.500)) x 82

Pythagorean winning percentage (PYTH) = uses the basketball-reference formula of Games x (Points scored^14) / ((Points scored^14) + (Points allowed^14))

WP82 = wins produced per 82 games, adjusted for playing time

WP3K = wins produced per 3,000 minutes

SKILL RATINGS: player performance is quantitatively tracked in a variety of categories that represent a cross-section of basketball skills; in each category, the player's performance is measured against others at his position, then slotted in a league-wide percentile ranking. The percentile ranking is converted to an integral rating between +5 and -5, with 0 being average. Skill ratings are tracked for overall production (TOT), offensive production (OFF), on-ball defensive ability (DEF), overall rebounding (REB), passing (PAS), ballhandling (HND), shooting (SHT), athleticism (ATH), foul-drawing (FOU), blocks-plus-steals (BPS).

Statistical Plus Minus (SPM): measures a players net effect in points per 100 team possessions.

You can find more ridiculous statements in Bradford's Twitter feed at twitter.com/@bbdoolittle.

Bradford Doolittle is an author of Basketball Prospectus. You can contact Bradford by clicking here or click here to see Bradford's other articles.

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