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November 7, 2008
Prospectus Hoops List
Week Of November 4, 2008

by Bradford Doolittle

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This season, I'm going to be running my blatant ripoff of Jay Jaffe's Prospectus Hit List, generally on Mondays and Tuesdays. The Hoops List will hopefully serve as a basic snapshot of where each NBA team stands, along with a thumbnail sketch of its most important rankings.

The rankings this week, based on anywhere from two to four games played per team, don't reveal much. Instead of elaborating on them, I'll concentrate on an overall explanation of how my power rating is derived. In the team comments, I'll focus many of on my preseason projections, which need to go on the record anyway.

The Hoops List power rating is more or less exactly like calculating a college team's RPI. You get extra credit for winning on the road. You get penalized more for losing at home. Those adjustments are mashed together, giving you an adjusted winning percentage. That winning percentage is then merged with the combined winning percentage of the opponents each team has played. By the end of the season, this last adjustment will be minimal. Further definitions are listed after the rankings.

Is this the best way to rank NBA teams? Beats me, but there are already ranking systems out there based on point differential. We'll see how this one stacks up in the end. I reserve the right to integrate a point differential factor and other variables down the line. Or even next week.

RANK Team (Power rating) [ WIN PACE / PYTHAGOREAN PACE / PRESEASON PROJECTION ]

1. Atlanta Hawks (71.6) [ 82 / 68 / 38 ]
Rankings: NET: 5; OFF: 10; DEF: 5; PACE: 16

The Hawks project to win one more game than last season, a disappointing figure for a team that is coming off a trip to the playoffs. While young players Josh Smith, Marvin Williams and Al Horford are on the rise, the Hawks lost key role player Josh Childress and NBAPET foresees a bit of a regression for Joe Johnson.

2. Detroit Pistons (71.5) [ 82 / 58 / 55 ]
Rankings: NET: 22; OFF: 2; DEF: 22; PACE: 11

Will new coach Michael Curry have the Pistons playing at a quicker pace this season? So far, that appears to be the case. After ranking 30th in pace factor last year, the Pistons are 11th in the early going. That makes sense. Detroit is one of the league's deeper teams and loaded with young, athletic bench players. It will be interesting to see where the Allen Iverson trade takes them.

3. Toronto Raptors (71.5) [ 82 / 58 / 42 ]
Rankings: NET: 8; OFF: 6; DEF: 8; PACE: 25

The Raptors have been playing well despite key acquisition Jermaine O'Neal, not because of him. Jose Calderon looks like he's going to excel as the full-time starter at point guard. Still, Toronto needs to find a quality backup to run their system effectively and I'm not sure Roko Ukic is the answer.

4. Utah Jazz (71.4) [ 82 / 71 / 50 ]
Rankings: NET: 6; OFF: 5; DEF: 6; PACE: 24

Playing point guard for the Jazz is like playing quarterback for Texas Tech. It's the system. OK, Deron Williams is a whole lot better than a system player, but Utah is doing fine without him. The key to the Jazz improving upon the 54-win season of last year is continued improvement from youngsters Ronnie Brewer, Ronnie Price and C.J. Miles, all of whom will be playing larger roles this season.

5. New Orleans Hornets (71.4) [ 54 / 65 / 45 ]
Rankings: NET: 18; OFF: 3; DEF: 18; PACE: 12

James Posey has already shown his worth in improving the Hornets' poor depth. He could use the help of Hilton Armstrong and Julian Wright in propping up New Orleans' second unit to championship caliber. The Hornets' defense in the early going has suffered from the absence of Tyson Chandler.

6. Los Angeles Lakers (71.3) [ 82 / 78 / 49 ]
Rankings: NET: 1; OFF: 7; DEF: 1; PACE: 4

Sure, I wish NBAPET had projected to Lakers to win more than 49 games. The system is regression-based and, that being the case, projects Andrew Bynum to play about half the number of minutes that he'll actually play if he stays healthy. That one adjustment would have boosted Lakers to second in the West behind...

7. Houston Rockets (71.3) [ 82 / 69 / 61 ]
Rankings: NET: 2; OFF: 16; DEF: 2; PACE: 15

The Rockets are the team to beat in the West. They can play big or small, fast or slow. On paper, Darryl Morey has assembled a powder keg of a basketball team. That could be good or it could go kaboom. The core trio of Yao Ming (his feet), Tracy McGrady (his knees) and Ron Artest (his head) all come with question marks. This is a great challenge for Rick Adelman; the upside for this experiment is considerable.

8. Boston Celtics (51.3) [ 54 / 46 / 63 ]
Rankings: NET: 3; OFF: 29; DEF: 3; PACE: 3

The Celtics have reverted to their first-round version during the early season: Great at home, lousy on the road. Boston is playing surprisingly fast so far, though based on three games that could just as easily be a product of whom they've played. They've also shot the ball dreadfully. It's only a matter of time before Doc Rivers gives rookie Bill Walker a shot at filling Posey's role as a perimeter stopper. Tony Allen has been trying to pick up his slack on the offensive end but all he's done so far is cover for Ray Allen.

9. Chicago Bulls (51.2) [ 54 / 48 / 43 ]
Rankings: NET: 10; OFF: 24; DEF: 10; PACE: 10

A regression-based system is invariably going to foresee a bounceback season for the Bulls. Derrick Rose has been even better than advertised. The Bulls have been less perimeter-oriented in the early going. That's not all good news, though. Tyrus Thomas was 2-of-22 from the field over one two-game stretch.

10. Milwaukee Bucks (46.4) [ 41 / 42 / 31 ]
Rankings: NET: 17; OFF: 21; DEF: 17; PACE: 20

Improving the defense under new coach Scott Skiles is the storyline of the Bucks' season. So far, it's a little better. A big reason for that is UCLA rookie Luc Mbah a Moute, who has contributed much more, much sooner, than anyone could have expected.

11. Phoenix Suns (46.0) [ 54 / 43 / 49 ]
Rankings: NET: 25; OFF: 4; DEF: 25; PACE: 27

The Suns have a new coach, control freak Terry Porter, and he is rendering the Suns somewhat unwatchable. They are the same team--great shooters, shaky defenders--but they're just doing it all at a much slower pace. Who in their right mind would turn Steve Nash into more of a scorer than a passer? He's leading Phoenix in points-per-40 minutes.

12. New Jersey Nets (41.3) [ 41 / 43 / 38 ]
Rankings: NET: 9; OFF: 14; DEF: 9; PACE: 8

The Nets are a team that seems to have a more keen sense of direction this season, even if that direction doesn't ultimately land them in Brooklyn. Kiki Vandeweghe's prized trio of rookies--Brook Lopez, Chris Douglas-Roberts and Ryan Anderson--are all key contributors on the Nets' second unit. Even better, Yi Jianlian seems to be greatly improved in his second season.

13. Charlotte Bobcats (41.2) [ 41 / 34 / 38 ]
Rankings: NET: 23; OFF: 17; DEF: 23; PACE: 30

I don't know how they managed to beat Miami. I watched them against Cleveland, and it was difficult to imagine them beating anybody. Everyone says Larry Brown teams get off to slow starts. Brown is benefiting from what appears to be a much-improved Adam Morrison, who has filled out physically, and a solid start from his key duo of Jason Richardson and Gerald Wallace. However, Ray Felton--as Brown's latest point guard whipping boy--has struggled and the Bobcats are searching for answers at the four-spot.

14. Indiana Pacers (41.2) [ 41 / 55 / 41 ]
Rankings: NET: 4; OFF: 20; DEF: 4; PACE: 5

The Pacers are still playing helter-skelter Jim O'Brien basketball, but so far they're actually getting some stops. Watching Indiana play with Marquis Daniels filling in for injured Mike Dunleavy make you wonder if Dunleavy is really the best fit for what O'Brien is trying to do.

15. Dallas Mavericks (40.6) [ 41 / 41 / 51 ]
Rankings: NET: 19; OFF: 15; DEF: 19; PACE: 9

You get the feeling that you can pencil the Mavs in for around 50 wins, but also that they are no longer a playoff threat. What have they changed from last season that would indicate that things are going to be any better?

16. Denver Nuggets (35.5) [ 27 / 40 / 43 ]
Rankings: NET: 12; OFF: 18; DEF: 12; PACE: 2

Anyone who pays attention to possession-based stats knows that the Nuggets were better on defense than they were given credit for last season. Then they went and traded Marcus Camby. According to the Jazz broadcasters, the thinking in Denver was that Camby was in reality a poor individual defender. That actually jibes with the data in NBAPET. In Camby's place is Nene, who looks faster and much more explosive than the last two years, and Chris Anderson. Meanwhile, J.R. Smith looks terrific and the Nuggets might turn out to be better than anyone thought.

17. Golden State Warriors (35.1) [ 54 / 40 / 35 ]
Rankings: NET: 24; OFF: 9; DEF: 24; PACE: 7

Monta Ellis is suspended. Al Harrington wants to be traded. Baron Davis is with the Clippers. Is this what Don Nelson signed an extension for? Somehow, you know Nellie will make it work. For one, Corey Maggette seems to be thriving in Nelson's system. The point guard situation--currently DeMarcus Nelson and C.J. Watson--is not good, however.

18. Miami Heat (31.2) [ 27 / 48 / 35 ]
Rankings: NET: 16; OFF: 8; DEF: 16; PACE: 6

An excellent start for Miami's starting unit but the Heat look like they'll be awfully thin. The key to a playoff run is Dwyane Wade playing like, well, Dwyane Wade. So far, that seems to be the case.

19. Cleveland Cavaliers (30.9) [ 27 / 41 / 44 ]
Rankings: NET: 15; OFF: 22; DEF: 15; PACE: 23

Cleveland's big offseason acquisition, Mo Williams, has played poorly out of the gate and, in fact, has been considerably outplayed by backup Daniel Gibson. LeBron is off to a slow start and you have to wonder if he was overworked during the summer or if he's rusty from not getting much time in the preseason. A big week will erase any question marks surrounding NBAPET's projected wins-produced leader.

20. Memphis Grizzlies (30.8) [ 27 / 21 / 19 ]
Rankings: NET: 7; OFF: 27; DEF: 7; PACE: 26

I wrote it on Unfiltered and I'll write it again here: The sum total of the ages of the Grizzlies' starting lineup is exactly the same as the projected starting lineup of the North Carolina Tar Heels. This is a fun team. They're headed for another lottery, but they're fun nonetheless.

21. Portland Trail Blazers (30.6) [ 27 / 15 / 38 ]
Rankings: NET: 28; OFF: 13; DEF: 28; PACE: 28

The Blazers had nothing but bad news until San Antonio's Michael Finley rimmed out an open jumper that would have lifted the Spurs over Portland last Thursday. It seems like Nate McMillan is still struggling to get the pieces all working together, a task made all the more difficult by the injuries to Greg Oden and Martell Webster.

22. Orlando Magic (24.9) [ 27 / 42 / 43 ]
Rankings: NET: 20; OFF: 11; DEF: 20; PACE: 22

The Magic should win more than the projection of 43 games, mostly because of Mickael Pietrus usurping many of the minutes that went to Keith Bogans. Orlando is still awfully thin and giving more minutes to J.J. Redick doesn't look like it's going to be the answer.

23. New York Knicks (24.8) [ 27 / 15 / 33 ]
Rankings: NET: 21; OFF: 23; DEF: 21; PACE: 1

They're only beginning the cleanup of Isiah Thomas' mess, but Mike D'Antoni has already given the Knicks an identity. There is no place for Stephon Marbury in this scenario and he looks like he's on his way out of New York, no matter how much of a cap mess it makes for Donnie Walsh. Stabilizing the point guard situation should be D'Antoni's top priority this season. It's magnificently dubious (as Clyde Frazier might say) as to whether Chris Duhon is a legit starting NBA lead guard.

24. Minnesota Timberwolves (24.7) [ 27 / 29 / 26 ]
Rankings: NET: 13; OFF: 26; DEF: 13; PACE: 17

How can Ryan Gomes be getting more run than Kevin Love?

25. Philadelphia 76ers (24.5) [ 27 / 51 / 38 ]
Rankings: NET: 14; OFF: 19; DEF: 14; PACE: 14

The Sixers are still the most inside-oriented team in the league and Kareem Rush is not going to be enough to give the Sixers more balance. Philadelphia has a lot of upside but there is still a missing element: outside shooting.

26. Oklahoma City Thunder (24.2) [ 27 / 20 / 23 ]
Rankings: NET: 11; OFF: 30; DEF: 11; PACE: 18

Kevin Durant is 14th in usage rate and 169th in eFG% so far. Glad to see he's learned from his rookie season.

27. Sacramento Kings (10.8) [ 0 / 8 / 39 ]
Rankings: NET: 27; OFF: 25; DEF: 27; PACE: 13

Reggie Theus showed a lot of promise as an NBA coach last season. Now he goes and leaves Jason Thompson on the bench 55% of the time. Reggie, that's your meal ticket.

28. Washington Wizards (10.5) [ 0 / 18 / 32 ]
Rankings: NET: 26; OFF: 12; DEF: 26; PACE: 19

No Arenas, no Haywood and no Roger Mason. Could be a long season in D.C.

29. Los Angeles Clippers (10.4) [ 0 / 2 / 33 ]
Rankings: NET: 29; OFF: 28; DEF: 29; PACE: 21

Eric Gordon apparently learned about the NBA game by watching a highlight reel of Kevin Durant's rookie season. It'll be hard to get a good read on the Clippers until Marcus Camby and Baron Davis are both healthy at the same time.

30. San Antonio Spurs (10.4) [ 0 / 32 / 55 ]
Rankings: NET: 30; OFF: 1; DEF: 30; PACE: 29

What is going on here? Through two games, they were first in offensive efficiency, last in defensive efficiency. Both were on the road and both were without Manu Ginobili. On the plus side, Roger Mason has been a revelation off the San Antonio bench.

Definitions:

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)))

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.

Power rating = (((3 x AWP) + (OWP))/4) x 82

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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