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January 12, 2010
Prospectus Hoops List
2009-10 Premier Edition

by Bradford Doolittle

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Who is what we thought they were ... and who is somebody else?

We begin our Hoops List series for the 2009-10 series with that simple but grammatically perplexing question, and by the end of the piece, hopefully will have answered it for every team. First, let's have a word about what we're doing here and what has changed since last season.

Teams are ranked according to our version of power ranking, cleverly abbreviated as POW. The components and formulas for POW are outlined in the 'Definitions' section at the end of the story, as they will be each week. In addition to a snapshot of the key indicators for the teams, we'll also have commentary for each team. On occasion, these comments might be guided by a theme for the week, as they are today. Generally, however, they'll simply touch upon the hot button issue surrounding each team, or one or more of its players.

In Pro Basketball Prospectus 2009-10, we introduced a system of Skill Ratings in our player tables to provide an easily glimpsed breakdown of a players strengths and weaknesses to augment our more sophisticated metrics in the main body of the tables. These ratings will be referred to liberally when writing about players in the Hoops List this season and are described in the 'Definitions' section. In a nutshell, players are assigned an integral rating from +5 to -5 in each skill category. The distribution of the ratings is according to a Bell curve, so there are more ratings clustered in the middle than there are at the ends. So if we refer to a player as a "+5 defender", then we are suggesting he is among the league's elite in that category. If he's rated "0" then he's in the middle of the pack.

Also, there is one addition to the array of team indicators for each team. After the POW rating follows a percentage. This is the team's Championship Probablity (CHAM). Before spitting out the new rankings each week, the POW ratings are plugged into an NBA playoff simulator, which is in turn ran 10,000 times. CHAM indicates the percentage of those 10,000 simulations in which the team won the title. Teams that do not currently slot as playoff teams are automatically assigned a CHAM of 0%.

So what have we missed? Here is the week-by-week ranking for each team as of each Monday morning since the season began. Also included are the preseason rankings projected by NBAPET (my system, denoted by PET) and SCHOENE (Kevin Pelton's state-of-the-art projection system, denoted by SCH).

Team....................  PET  SCH  1116  1123  1130  1207  1214  1221  1228  0104
Atlanta Hawks...........  26    16     1     2     1     2     2     2     2     3
Boston Celtics..........   2     7     5     5     6     3     3     6     5     6
Charlotte Bobcats.......  11    27    26    21    15    20    20    22    20    16
Chicago Bulls...........  10    21    14    18    19    23    27    25    25    23
Cleveland Cavaliers.....   3     1    11    15     9     5     6     8     3     2
Dallas Mavericks........   6     9     9     9     4    10     7     4     6     4
Denver Nuggets..........  15     8     2     4    12     8    10     9     9    11
Detroit Pistons.........  14    24    17    11    20    16    14    18    22    25
Golden State Warriors...  21    12    23    24    22    24    23    28    26    27
Houston Rockets.........   7    17     3     8     8     7     9     7    10     9
Indiana Pacers..........  19    29    15    17    24    27    26    26    27    28
Los Angeles Clippers....  28    13    25    25    23    21    24    21    21    22
Los Angeles Lakers......   5     3     6     1     2     1     1     1     1     1
Memphis Grizzlies.......  25    11    27    28    26    22    21    16    16    15
Miami Heat..............  12    19     8    12    14    13    15    14    14    14
Milwaukee Bucks.........  29    22    16    19    18    19    16    17    19    21
Minnesota Timberwolves..  22    25    29    29    29    29    29    29    29    29
New Jersey Nets.........  17    28    30    30    30    30    30    30    30    30
New Orleans Hornets.....  13     5    22    14    16    17    18    15    17    18
New York Knicks.........  24    18    28    23    28    26    22    23    23    20
Oklahoma City Thunder...  23    23    10     6     7     9    12    13    13    12
Orlando Magic...........   9     2    12     7     5     6     5     5     4     5
Philadelphia 76ers......  16    14    24    26    27    28    28    27    28    24
Phoenix Suns............  18    15     4     3     3     4     4     3     7     7
Portland Trail Blazers..   8     6     7    13    13    12    13    12     8    10
Sacramento Kings........  27    30    20    22    21    18    19    20    18    19
San Antonio Spurs.......   1     4    18    20    10    14    11    10    11     8
Toronto Raptors.........  20    26    13    10    17    15    17    19    15    17
Utah Jazz...............   4    10    19    16    11    11     8    11    12    13
Washington Wizards......  30    20    21    27    25    25    25    24    24    26
corr w/ current >>       .53   .70   .75   .77   .91   .93   .92   .95   .97   .98

Armed with these rankings going back to the preseason, we can now address today's question at hand for each team: Who is what we thought they were ... and who is not?

(Statistics through Jan. 10)

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

1. (5) Los Angeles Lakers (59.6 / 25.9%) [ 64 / 59 / 53 ]
Rankings: NET: 4; OFF: 13; DEF: 2; PACE: 7

The Lakers are still the team to beat in this year's title chase, but they aren't yet what they were last season. Phil Jackson could get them there, though, if the offensive efficiency catches up with his vastly-improved defense. If he can keep Pau Gasol healthy, that could happen sooner rather than later. Meanwhile, Kobe Bryant has helped make the Lakers appear to be a tad bit lucky on paper because of a slew of buzzer beaters, a special event in basketball that he seems to have made a matter of routine. He's now played 15 games since breaking the index finger on his shooting hand, so it's a good time to inspect for cracks in his game. His shooting has decreased (50.3 eFG% before the injury; 47.5 since) but not enough to cause alarm or even prove anything. He's had some big turnover games and has been especially vulnerable to having the ball stripped when he makes his spin move. Even if you accept these things as true, it wouldn't be wise to consider these things signs of weakness ... Kobe will get you if you do. No, Gasol's body and Ron Artest's head are bigger areas of concern for Jackson, but L.A. is in a good spot--comfortably atop the West with no clear-cut challenger impinging upon the Lakers' superiority. Laker fans have to be concerned about the steep decline in Derek Fisher's performance, which has dropped to below replacement level. Heck, my style of basketball might fit in well with Kobe and the Triangle Offense, but my lack of ability is still going to make the Lakers vulnerable. Fisher might still be able to contribute in a bit role, but Jackson is still giving him 55 percent of the point guard minutes. Fisher is sporting a -13.3 SPM--that's a lot of points to make up.

2. (3) Cleveland Cavaliers (58.7 / 25.4%) [ 60 / 59 / 54 ]
Rankings: NET: 2; OFF: 4; DEF: 4; PACE: 28

When last we Hoops Listed, the Cavaliers sat comfortably atop the heap and sported a sterling championship probability percentage based on the eighth-best POW of 870 teams since the ABA-NBA merger. Eight of the 10 teams with a POW of 65 or better won championships. As we now know, one of the two exceptions turned out to be Cleveland. (The other was the '06 Mavericks 66-win juggernaut that was knocked off its perch by the sharpshooting ways of Don Nelson's Warriors in the first round of the playoffs that season.) While the Cavs start the '09-10 season as the best Eastern team on the first official list, the actual season has not been entirely milk and honey. There were early problems on offense and questions about how Shaquille O'Neal fit into the mix. There were concerns that it could be a lost season for troubled Dolente West, and a few too many questions about LeBron James' future career plans. Here we are in January, though, and it seems like the same old same old for LBJ and Cavalier teammates. Cleveland's Offensive Rating has risen to fourth, matching that of the still-stingy defense. Questions remain: What is the best big man tandem on the current roster and why? With Shaq back in the lineup, J.J. Hickson's time is slashed and when he's on the court with Shaq, he has trouble find his shot. But when Shaq's out, he and James have become wonderfully simpatico. Not to dismiss these concerns, but the Cavaliers are in the exact same situation they were last year, facing down the Celtics for the top seed in the East and stirring the imaginations of television executives wetting themselves over the prospect of a Kobe-LeBron showdown in the Finals. Cleveland can win the title this season, but it's not really going to be able to redeem itself until June. Till then, we sit tight.

3. (2) Boston Celtics (56.5 / 17.1%) [ 60 / 60 / 56 ]
Rankings: NET: 1; OFF: 8; DEF: 1; PACE: 22

After starting the season 6-0, the Celtics dropped four of seven before rallying to win four straight. Some early blowouts were propping up Boston's initial POW rating, but the Celtics have settled in just below the upper crust of the league. Early on, Boston coach Doc Rivers lost his patience with the high-volume, low-percentage three-point antics of Rasheed Wallace. Periodic lack of offensive balance has indeed contributed to the Celtics' mediocre stretches, as has Boston's battle to get healthy. On the latter front, the C's free-throw rate has been climbing. The overall offensive efficiency (eighth in the NBA) is solid enough, but Boston has still been a inconsistent of that end of the floor. Matters have been helped by the triumphant return of Ray Allen's shooting eye. After shooting barely 30 percent from three-point range through 17 games, Allen's success rate has since moved inexorably towards his career mark of nearly 40 percent. Meanwhile, Boston's defense is once again the best in the league and the Celtics sport the NBA's top point differential. The Celtics still need to get healthy and Rivers will have to position his aging roster so it's as fresh as is possible for the postseason, but do so he may have to choose between resting his regulars and going after the Cavaliers for the East's top seed. Either way, it's safe to say that the Celtics are precisely what we thought they'd be.

4. (26) Atlanta Hawks (54.7 / 7.4%) [ 52 / 56 / 30 ]
Rankings: NET: 6; OFF: 2; DEF: 14; PACE: 23

The Hawks claimed first place in the initial in-season Hoops List last season, and could have repeated if I'd unveiled this year's series in either of the two weeks they led back in November. Atlanta has had a lot more staying power this time around, but a recent 4-7 stretch has led to some hand-wringing down in Dixie. The Hawks' big improvement this season has been on the offensive end, as they've jumped from 11th to second in Offensive Rating. That's come on the strength of good shooting, rebounding and the league's best turnover percentage. While newcomers Jamal Crawford and Joe Smith have fit in very well, the growth has come from within, just as Hawks general manager Rick Sund suggested it would. Much has been made about the amazing improvement in shot selection by Josh Smith. Deservedly so, but don't overlook Smith's assist rate, which is the best of his career. I wrote in the Hawks' chapter of Pro Basketball Prospectus 2009-10 that Atlanta's best shot at becoming a championship team was for Smith to become a championship player. That's exactly what he has been in the early going of the season. However, don't discount the ever-growing contributions of Atlanta's premier player, Joe Johnson. Despite the dual role of primary playmaker and scorer, Johnson has remained efficient and deserves a lot of the credit for the Hawks' low turnover rate. And, no, the Hawks aren't what I thought they were before the season started. They are way, way better.

5. (18) Phoenix Suns (54.3 / 6.5%) [ 50 / 49 / 38 ]
Rankings: NET: 8; OFF: 1; DEF: 26; PACE: 4

Again the league's best offensive team, the Suns aren't rated nearly so high on the defensive end of the floor. That said, Phoenix does take away certain things from its opponents. The Suns don't foul a lot (neither does a mannequin) and is fourth in the NBA in shot-blocking percentage. Guarding the three-point line has been an issue, but the Suns held the good-shooting Raptors to a 1-of-20 performance from beyond the arc earlier this season, so it can be done. Add it all up and you have a winning formula. The Suns got off to a franchise-best 14-3 start but have since leveled off, going 9-11 over their last 20 games. Phoenix played a fairly soft group of opponents early in the season, but that changed. Phoenix's strength of schedule now ranks as the third-most difficult in the league. The Phoenix bench has been buoyed by the emergence of Jared Dudley as a shooting specialist who can also play a little defense and Goran Dragic, who has matured into a serviceable caddie to Steve Nash. The Suns aren't as old as they were the last few seasons, but with 36-year-old Nash and 38-year-old Grant Hill holding down featured roles (indeed, Nash has been one of the league's best players in the first half of the campaign), Phoenix could use an infusion of youth. That infusion could be more playing time for Earl Clark, if he can earn it. Clark has struggled with his shot and hasn't really earned a big chunk of court time as yet, but the Suns like him and his ranginess and athleticism could boost the perimeter defense. And he's more than capable of accepting passes from Nash for uncontested dunks.

6. (6) Dallas Mavericks (53.7 / 6.5%) [ 55 / 49 / 50 ]
Rankings: NET: 7; OFF: 11; DEF: 9; PACE: 18

The Mavericks are the oldest team in the league and they play like it. I mean that in a good way. Dallas has forged the second-best record in the West because of consistent execution of fundamental basketball, something you'd expect from such a veteran-laden squad. The Mavericks do the things that coaches love. They don't foul on defense, they don't turn the ball over on offense and they make their free throws. Perhaps that's why Dallas is a sterling 10-3 in close games. Or maybe the Mavs have been lucky. The second half will inform that supposition, but the Mavs aren't wildly exceeding their preseason projection so there is no reason to expect a severe drop-off. In fact, if Josh Howard can return to his form of a couple of years ago, Dallas could get even better. Howard gives Rick Carlisle a lot more lineup diversity than he's enjoyed so far. He can go with a big lineup in which Howard plays the two, something that hasn't happened often this season, to combat teams with long wing players. He can also go small, with Dirk Nowitzki sliding to center and Shawn Marion playing the four. These are also configurations that Carlisle hasn't used much this season. Given Dallas' collective age and the amount of playing time that's gone to defensively-challenged J.J. Barea, the Mavericks' Defensive Rating is a surprisingly strong 106.5, good for ninth the league. Marion and Nowitzki in particular have outstanding defensive indicators. Adding a full-strength Howard to that mix could make Dallas a tough matchup come playoff time.

7. (9) Orlando Magic (52.9 / 4.1%) [ 55 / 56 / 49 ]
Rankings: NET: 5; OFF: 9; DEF: 5; PACE: 14

I have never been a big fan of Vince Carter's game. I think he accumulates his considerable production at the expense of offensive efficiency and does little to really make those around him better. His defense is lacking and his effort is inconsistent. For these reasons, I was not enthralled with Otis Smith's acquisition of Vincesanity last summer, though I was thumbs-up that Smith got Ryan Anderson to come along for the ride. Carter's numbers for the Magic this season have been pretty good. He's got a Statistical Plus-Minus of +7.5 and his defensive metrics are decent enough. Carter made noises about 'just fitting in' but, in reality, his usage rate is higher than it was his last two years in New Jersey. Meanwhile, the usage rates of Rashard Lewis and, especially, Dwight Howard have fallen. It's possible I'm letting my past distaste for Carter (the player, not the person) color my perception of his performance this season. The Magic offense is exactly as efficient as it was last season, after all, and the drop in defense isn't severe and can't necessarily be attributed to Carter's presence. I could muse about the persistent "inconsistent energy" issues that Stan Van Gundy harps about and hang that to Carter, and I guess I just did, but I can't really back it up. We just have to see how it works out at playoff time. Carter could come up big. Orlando has split its last 16 game, but hammered Atlanta by 32 points in its last contest. SVG needs to right his ship or else the Cavs could run away from them for the top seed, not that that mattered last season.

8. (7) Houston Rockets (51.0 / 1.7%) [ 46 / 42 / 50 ]
Rankings: NET: 14; OFF: 18; DEF: 15; PACE: 11

The Rockets' point differential doesn't support their won-loss record, but they've played the toughest schedule in the league so far this season and have played 22 of 37 on the road. The end result is a POW of 51.0, which more than supports Houston's 47-win pace, not to mention my preseason projection of 50 wins, thank you very much. Houston's defense hasn't been as good as I thought it'd be. As I wrote in the annual, it would be interesting to see how the Rockets' excellent individual defensive ratings were affected by the lack of Yao Ming's shot-blocking behind them. I think we've seen that the effect is pronounced, but the Rockets still play solid defense. Plaguing the team, and friend of BBP Daryl Morey, is the Tracy McGrady question. There is little doubt that McGrady should be moved if a taker can be found. He's gone anyway and why not see if you can yield a prospect or two as long as it doesn't encroach upon your offseason cap space? What is a more interesting question is whether there is an element that can be added to help this year's team. The Rockets could stand to improve on offense, with a foul-drawing wing player at the top of the list. (Sounds kind of like McGrady, but that's water under the bridge.) It's doubtful a McGrady deal would yield this player because, again, that's the type of performer McGrady already is and why trade for what you already have only with a big injury question mark attached? The next item on the checklist would be the aforementioned shot-blocking big man. Most likely, to improve this year's team, Kyle Lowry needs to step up his play off the bench and Trevor Ariza needs to be less of a jump shooter. If those things happen against the weaker competition to come, the Rockets may hit 50 wins for the fourth straight season.

9. (1) San Antonio Spurs (50.4 / 1.3%) [ 51 / 58 / 57 ]
Rankings: NET: 3; OFF: 3; DEF: 7; PACE: 24

This theme of 'what we thought they were' was largely spurred by the Spurs, who have been quietly moving into position as the prime challenger to the Lakers in this year's Western Conference. In the preseason, NBAPET foresaw Gregg Popovich's revamped roster winning 57 games and cast San Antonio in the favorite's role for this year's title chase. I didn't quite believe it--projection systems (mine anyway) tend to favor veteran teams with established track records--but I thought the Spurs would definitely be in the mix. They may get there yet. Right now, San Antonio is on pace to win 52 games and even that total isn't quite supported but the Spurs' POW. San Antonio has won 13 of 17, but the schedule from here on out (.525 future opponents' winning percentage) is tougher than the season to date (.473). Plus the Spurs have played 22 of 35 at home and face their dreaded rodeo trip--an eight-game road trip coming up next month. Still, this is the time of year that Popovich's teams generally get it together, so it will be interesting to see what San Antonio does over the next month. While the Spurs' Defensive Rating continues to climb the ladder, it's still the Offensive Rating that stands out--third in the league. Their ORTG of 114.0 is 3.4 points better than last season and is at the highest its been in five-plus years. The improvement is almost across-the-board, but what really stands out is the leap from 30th to 15th in offensive rebound percentage. This from a team that doesn't like to send guys to the offensive glass. The key? DeJuan Blair, of course. Blair's 67 offensive rebounds in just 35 games is already more than all but three Spurs put up all of last season--and he's only played 16.5 minutes per game.

10. (15) Denver Nuggets (49.6 / 2.0%) [ 50 / 53 / 43 ]
Rankings: NET: 9; OFF: 5; DEF: 18; PACE: 5

The Nuggets are a little off their pace from last season, but that'll happen when you've gone through a 4-7 stretch. Carmelo Anthony has missed five of those games. Chauncey Billups has missed seven. So you don't want to extrapolate too much from Denver's recent performance. They've struggled without two of their three best players. Go figure. Injuries are particularly noxious for the Nuggets as George Karl's roster really only goes eight deep. That means that Mark Warkentien needs to be banging the phones, looking for missing pieces. Indiana's Jeff Foster has been mentioned and I can see that as a fit as the Nuggets are languishing in 18th place in Defensive Rating. However, as Jeff Van Gundy pointed out in a recent broadcast, the Nuggets really miss Linas Kleiza's presence as a floor-spacing power foward. Whether it's a four man or not, the Nuggets could used another bench scorer and/or shooter. The name Wally Szczerbiak leaps to mind as a cheap alternative and there was speculation that he flirted with Denver last offseason. Makes sense to me. Denver has two open roster spots and, yeah, every addition Denver makes costs double because of the luxury tax. But, hey, it's not my money and this window ain't staying open forever. As currently constituted, I think Denver is closer to Phoenix, Dallas and Portland than it is to the Lakers and Spurs, so there is a gap to be closed.

11. (8) Portland Trail Blazers (48.3 / 1.4%) [ 48 / 49 / 50 ]
Rankings: NET: 10; OFF: 7; DEF: 16; PACE: 30

Before the season, I would have pointed to the Blazers as the one team that could improve from good to great and potentially win a championship. About 143 injuries later, I think we can table that discussion until the offseason, as Kevin Pritchard has resorted to petitioning the league for a roster exemption that allows him to suit up enough healthy bodies to actually get through the season. Depleted as they are, the Blazers are still a very good team, with Brandon Roy emerging as one of the five or six best players in the NBA. Pritchard and Nate McMillan also have to be thrilled with the improvement of Jerryd Bayless. With that development comes a modicrum of trouble in the person of Andre Miller. Whether or not rumors of dissension between Miller and McMillan are true, it'd be hard to deny that the on-court fit between Roy and MIller has been awkward and that Bayless' rise renders Miller's presence on the team superfluous. The upside of the Blazers is limited by the season-ending injuries to center Greg Oden and Joel Pryzbilla. They could knock off someone they shouldn't in the playoffs, or they could go down in the first round. Either way, it's hard to see the Blazers getting by the Lakers or Spurs. Going forward, someone is going to have to figure out if Miller really serves a purpose on this roster. Heck, even the option of small lineups has been rendered less appealing due to the excellent work of small forward Martell Webster. While McMillan is short a few pieces, he needs to makes sense of those he already has.

12. (23) Oklahoma City Thunder (48.0 / 0.7%) [ 45 / 47 / 32 ]
Rankings: NET: 11; OFF: 20; DEF: 6; PACE: 17

Thunder general manager Sam Presti is sitting in the fabled catbird's seat, to paraphrase Gail from "Raising Arizona'. Oklahoma City is in such a strong financial position that Presti can absorb another team's dead-weight contract (Matt Harpring) in order to exact a young point guard (Eric Maynor). He can add another piece this season, providing he can work it under the cap, if he so desires, and still not sniff the luxury tax threshhold. The contracts that are up after the season are largely expendable and there will be plenty of cap space to make a splash this summer if, again, he so desires. Avoiding the temptation to make a splash has been a hallmark of Presti's reclamation project that began in Seattle. That and the stockpiling of raw core talent, which this season is coalescing into a heck of a basketball team. Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook, Jeff Green and James Harden are a young core with a tremendous ceiling, good enough to win now and wonderfully complementary skills. Serge Ibaka has emerged to fill a key defensive role. Maynor could be a key bench contributor going forward, both as a reserve for Westbrook and as a complement playing alongside him in a small-ball configuration. The speed with which this has come together has thankfully quelled any talk that Durant is a possession-sucking vortex who drains the productivity of those around him. Durant is having a superstar season. The ceiling for this group is considerable and is not yet close to being realized. Yet, even now, OKC sports a championship probablity that is better than zero, something only 12 NBA teams can currently say. As much as we've liked what Presti has been doing these last few years, it's safe to say that this season's success is a surprise which screams that Presti's plan is working ... and is well ahead of schedule.

13. (4) Utah Jazz (47.7 / 0.0%) [ 44 / 48 / 53 ]
Rankings: NET: 12; OFF: 14; DEF: 12; PACE: 16

With Carlos Boozer's recent resurgence and rediscovery of his jump shot, plus the return to form of Kyle Korver, the Jazz offense appears to be on the verge of returning to its former levels of efficiency. The Jazz have made strides since last year on the defensive end. With the lack of shot-blocking on the roster, you could expect some inconsistency and probably even a high opposing two-point percentage. When you watch the Jazz play, you see far too many defensive breakdowns, with an opposing player coming free at the rim for an uncontested layup or dunk. This is of course what Utah's offense has been doing to teams for years, so it's fairly amazing that they haven't learned to plug those holes from simply having to practice against each other. Despite the visual evidence, Utah's Defensive Rating has held steady, falling from 11th to 12th since last season, depending upon which day you check. Even so, the Jazz are on pace to fall well short of its 53-win projection. As such, it makes their firm standing as a luxury tax payer that much more difficult to swallow. This is largely the same team that was considered a title contender heading into the last two seasons. As a collection, this roster still isn't old. Yet, something is not working. Kevin O'Conner should use the financial necessity of trimming payroll to remake the team from a talent standpoint. He's already been compelled to give away--almost literally--a useful rookie in Eric Maynor. Let's hope he doesn't have to send away any more long-term answers before he can let Boozer walk this offseason and catch his breath.

14. (12) Miami Heat (42.9 / 0.0%) [ 42 / 41 / 44 ]
Rankings: NET: 13; OFF: 16; DEF: 11; PACE: 26

Pat Riley has been making noise lately about avoiding the luxury tax line and it's easy to understand why he'd like to do so. Why pay the tax on a team as average as the Heat? Remember when Miami was 6-1? Those were the days; the Heat is 12-16 since. When you put two and two together, Dorell Wright appears to be the most likely candidate to be shipped away for tax-eluding purposes. For all his length and athleticism, Wright just hasn't developed. You can't get much mileage out of wing players with 15 percent usage unless they are defensive stoppers. Wright isn't. However, Wright's modest deal is up after season and he has more than enough raw ability to warrant a low-cost look-see for a team not walking the luxury tax tightrope. After that little bit of business, Riley will sit back and watch his team play out the string, hoping Mario Chalmers can re-discover his game and Michael Beasley continues to improve. Miami will probably squeeze into the playoffs. Given the four heavies on top of the East, another first round exit is likely, which should put the recently cranky Dwyane Wade in even more of a foul mood. Such is life in the year of limbo. There is nothing surprising about the Heat. It projected to win 44 games, it's on pace to win 42, its point differential marks them as a 42-win team, its POW suggests they ought to win 43 ... yawn, yawn, yawn. Miami is what we figured it to be and if you really think about it, that's potentially bad news for Riley, who could have used a little overachievement to dazzle free-agent-to-be Wade.

15. (13) New Orleans Hornets (41.2 / 0.0%) [ 44 / 35 / 44 ]
Rankings: NET: 22; OFF: 19; DEF: 20; PACE: 20

The Hornets are on pace to win 45 games, one more than projected, so you have to put them into the category of 'what we thought they were'. Looking closer at this team which is trying to give away half its roster to appease the accountants, you see that the Hornets' 10-2 record in close games is propping up their already-mediocre record, a fact reflected in the team's POW. If head coach / general manager Jeff Bower is successful in sending away the likes of Devin West and perhaps even David West, who would join recently traded center Hilton Armstrong and former wing man Rasual Butler in the ex-Hornets club, there is the possibility for a second-half implosion from this team. As it stands, the upside of this year's Hornets appears to be a low seed and first-round exit in the postseason. What, if anything has changed since Bower took over for Byron Scott after nine games? Insofar as you can compare nine games against 26, you can see that the Hornets are playing at exactly the same pace, with more offensive efficiency but a significantly worse Defensive Rating. At some point, Bower will need to commit more playing time to the young players on his roster, which now includes the small group of Julian Wright and Marcus Thornton, but perhaps not Darren Collison who can get only so much run behind and beside Chris Paul. Wright in particular may be a lost cause and Bower has another season after this one to decide whether to keep Wright around, but there is little reason not to give him more than the 12 minutes he's been getting. And Thornton is flat-out better than Devin Brown, though he might be less compatible with Paul. On the other hand, Bower may feel the need to showcase Devin Brown and James Posey, among others, for trade suitors. One player Bower won't have to find more time for is Armstrong, whose development stalled in two-plus years under Scott and who would have better off being drafted by another team. He, too, may be a lost cause but he'll have a better chance at realizing his potential with the exciting group of young talent in Sacramento.

16. (25) Memphis Grizzlies (41.1 / 0.0%) [ 41 / 38 / 30 ]
Rankings: NET: 18; OFF: 10; DEF: 27; PACE: 9

I had the Grizzlies projected for 30 wins; SCHOENE came up with 45, tabbing Memphis as this season's biggest surprise. Well, the Grizz are on pace to win 41, which is what their POW proclaims they should win and Memphis is getting better, going 17-10 after 1-8 start. Score one for SCHOENE. The Grizzlies have been a great story and a fun team to watch, even though they remain the league's worst-passing team. Not to go negative, but you can't help but to want to revisit the No. 2 pick of the last draft. This is merely dreaming, not criticizing, as I advocated Chris Wallace using the pick to take Hasheem Thabeet. The thinking at that point was that with Mike Conley, O.J. Mayo, Rudy Gay and Darrell Arthur on hand, Memphis was but a center away from a complete set of young, talented, upside players. This notion of course sold Marc Gasol way short, as it turns out. Gasol is one of the league's most-improved players and looks very much like a long-term solution in the pivot. Thabeet, meanwhile, looks like he faces a long developmental road. He's already got the intimidation factor, sporting a +5 skill rating in BPS (that is, blocks plus steals or, as I like to call it, defensive swag. In Thabeet's case, the +5 is entirely due to blocked shots). Despite that, When you look at Memphis' point guard play, you can't help but dream about the Grizz calling Ricky Rubio's name on draft night. When Memphis has struggled this season, it's usually been because of lack of ball movement, as the offense breaks down into its component parts. In his third season, Conley doesn't really show any signs of getting it, especially on the defensive end. The low-usage, pass-happy ways of Rubio--who might have been convinced to jump from Europe by Gasol, or else dissuaded from doing so by Pau Gasol or Juan Carlos Navarros-- would be such a sweet fit for this group, and would remain so even after Randolph presumably moves on after his contract is up after next season. What's that they say about hindsight?

17. (20) Toronto Raptors (40.3 / 0.0%) [ 41 / 35 / 38 ]
Rankings: NET: 20; OFF: 6; DEF: 30; PACE: 13

The Raptors have played the league's fifth-toughest schedule, with an opponent winning percentage of .519 and 20 of 38 games on the road. The load has lightened as of late, and Toronto has responded with an inspired brand of basketball. The Raps have gone 12-6 since Dec. 4, beating solid playoff teams Houston, San Antonio and Orlando along the way. Nevertheless, Toronto's point differential marks them as a team that will struggle to maintain .500 as the schedule advances. Toronto's overarching concern is of course a defensive rating (115.6, 30th in the NBA) was threatening to make the history books and may do so yet. When Bryan Colangelo re-made the roster in the offseason, jettisoning 57 percent of the team's minutes from last year, he failed to address the Raptors' burning need for a defensively-oriented wing player. As it is, Jay Triano is stuck with the likes of DeMar DeRozan, Marco Belinelli, Sonny Weems, Hedo Turkoglu and Antoine Wright. All (well, most) of these players have their virtues and strengths. On-ball defense is not one of them, though DeRozan certainly has the talent to develop as a plus defender. With no other options available, Toronto needs DeRozan to grow up quickly if it is to rise above the level of a team that struggles escape the lower end of the Eastern Conference playoff bracket. A Chris Bosh trade could wipe out any hope Toronto fans have left about this season.

18. (11) Charlotte Bobcats (37.9 / 0.0%) [ 37 / 40 / 45 ]
Rankings: NET: 15; OFF: 26; DEF: 3; PACE: 27

The Bobcats are enjoying their best season ever and while their big-picture outlook remains murky, Charlotte fans have an excellent chance of rooting for their first playoff team since the Hornets left town. At root of the recent success has been athletic marvel Gerald Wallace, who playing the best basketball of his career. However, it was the arrival of Stephen Jackson from Golden State that really bolstered the Charlotte lineup and helped me save some face from my offseason optimism about the Bobcats. Not completely, though. I thought that Charlotte was really going to make out well in the deal that sent franchise face Emeka Okafor to New Orleans for Tyson Chandler. In reality, Chandler has been pretty bad in the games he's managed to play. Most who care to analyze will point to the absence of Chris Paul to play LaVerne DeFazio to Chandler's Shirley Feeney. I just don't think he's healthy and perhaps he'll never get back to the point he was at before last season. Fortunately for Bobcats coach Larry Brown, Nazr Mohammed has stepped in to salvage the Bobcats' s center position with a resurgent season. He's posted a team-best +7.3 Statistical Plus Minus, which is a measure of a player's net effect per 100 possessions. Still, Brown has given Mohammed only 30 percent of the minutes at center. Brown has also gotten an unheralded season from Flip Murray, who I still maintain could be giving the Hawks most, if not all, what they've been getting from Jamal Crawford. So the Bobcats are what I thought they'd be, just not for the exact reasons I foresaw.

19. (28) Los Angeles Clippers (36.6 / 0.0%) [ 39 / 35 / 27 ]
Rankings: NET: 16; OFF: 22; DEF: 13; PACE: 21

The Clippers have become entertaining to watch and, for once, it's mostly for all the right reasons. The Clips have always been fun to bring up on League Pass because of their announcing teams, first Ralph Lawler and Bill Walton and, later, Lawler and Michael Smith. This season, the latter pair have made headlines for all the wrong reasons, but they still call a pretty good game. This season, they've had some really good games to call. The Clippers haven't been quite up to playoff snuff over their first 35 games, but they are also the one team in the league assured of an influx of impact talent. The talent in question is of course named Blake Griffin. Will Griffin lift LA into the playoffs? The question alone is enough of a reason to stay up late to catch those West Coast games off the dish. The other development for the Clippers this season has been the play of center Chris Kaman. Kaman has boosted his scoring average by more nearly five points per game over two seasons ago, when he played a similar number of minutes. His usage rate is the highest of all centers and is really kind of a throwback. An actual post-up, inside-out offense in the NBA? Break out the grainy, black-and-white footage. It's been working though well enough. The Clippers' Offensive Rating (22nd) is subpar, but it more because of the perimeter shooting than it is because of Kaman. At the same time, it will very interesting to see what happens to Kaman's production once Griffin gets up to speed. The last draft's top pick is targeting Jan. 20 to make his NBA regular-season debut.

20. (29) Milwaukee Bucks (35.5 / 0.0%) [ 36 / 38 / 26 ]
Rankings: NET: 21; OFF: 25; DEF: 8; PACE: 12

It was a sad Monday for the Bucks fans, as an early Renaissance has been clipped by a string of misfortune. Head coach Scott Skiles was taken to a hospital in Phoenix on Monday because of a flicker in his ticker. (I put it in that flippant way because I suffered from the same problem for several years and, if attended to, it's not necessarily a big deal, but it is scary as hell. In Skiles' case, we didn't know the results of his tests at the time I write this, but his hospital trip was for "precautionary reasons" as so labeled by the team. I'm keeping my fingers crossed that everything is OK.) Earlier on Monday, the Bucks announced that Michael Redd would miss the rest of the season because of another major injury to his left knee. This is sad because Redd is fun to watch, is a really nice guy and the Bucks were just starting to play well again. It's also unfortunate for Milwaukee manager John Hammond because Redd's injury almost certainly ensures that his contract will hold the Bucks hostage for another season. Redd holds an $18.3 million player option for next season, and I've calculated the likelihood of him exercising that option at approximately 914.7 percent. With shooting always at a premium in the NBA, Redd might have been an attractive trade option this summer--or even next month--had he stayed healthy. Now, though, you have to think that $18.3 million is an awfully big nut for a team to absorb for a player that might not be able to play.

21. (24) New York Knicks (34.4 / 0.0%) [ 34 / 38 / 31 ]
Rankings: NET: 17; OFF: 15; DEF: 19; PACE: 10

Things have picked up lately for the Knicks, who have not only been winning, but have done so against some pretty good teams. That's the good news. The bad news is that Knicks coach Mike D'Antoni has adopted a short-term approach to managing his lineup. His rotation of late has featured Jared Jeffries and he recently turned to low-upside rookie Marcus Landry to get minutes at the four position at the expense of lottery pick Jordan Hill. The month-long benching of Nate Robinson was neither here nor there, as Robinson is gone after this season anyway. D'Antoni will get more bang out of his long-term buck by playing rookie point guard Toney Douglas and Hill. Previously, D'Antoni had been starting Al Harrington ahead of Danilo Galinari, but even that was defensible as long as the former was being showcased for a trade and the latter is still getting plenty of run. More troubling is the lack of court time for Hill. Hill, the eighth pick of the most recent draft, has played just 5 percent of available minutes despite putting up not-terrible offensive numbers and demonstrating some tantalizing athletic indicators. The Knicks are the league's fourth-worst rebounding team and have the league's second-worst interior defense. Hill could help them, now and the future, and it's difficult to understand how the drive for 35 wins justifies leaving Hill to rot.

22. (27) Sacramento Kings (34.2 / 0.0%) [ 34 / 36 / 30 ]
Rankings: NET: 19; OFF: 12; DEF: 25; PACE: 6

Kings guru Geoff Petrie has assembled an orgy of young talent and the results are encouraging. As a result, Petrie was awarded with an extension. That was well-deserved, but let's not get ahead of ourselves. The Kings projected to win 30 games. If I could have written it into my projection system, I would have termed it "30 wins, with a bullet". They are on pace to win 34, but those mere facts don't begin to tell the story of renewal taking place in Sacramento. Tyreke Evans, Jason Thompson, Spencer Hawes, Omar Casspi, Donte Green, Kevin Martin, Francisco Garcia, Jon Brockman, Sergio Rodriguez, Beno Udrih, maybe even newly-acquired Hilton Armstrong--this is a roster be excited about, and there will be plenty of money available to augment it next summer. One issue is what to do with Evans, who has played so well since Martin got hurt. His improved recent play suggests that long term, the Kings may be better off with a Portland-type backcourt where Tyreke Evans plays the two, but is a two that handles the ball a great deal and often initiates the offense. He is paired with a good-shooting point that can operate as a spot-up shooter, something which kind of describes Udrih. As for Martin .... he's a heckuva player, so you have to figure out where he fits in. Perhaps as a bench scorer, if he is willing to expect such a mission. We're talking long term, mind you. This season, the Kings still have to figure out if an Evans/Martin pairing works on a full-time basis. I fear it won't because while Evans can defend either position, Martin really can't defend anyone. Despite Martin's absence, the Kings rank 25th in Defensive Rating, so he's not going to hurt anyone when he returns.

23. (10) Chicago Bulls (30.4 / 0.0%) [ 35 / 27 / 45 ]
Rankings: NET: 25; OFF: 29; DEF: 10; PACE: 15

The Bulls are one of the more enigmatic teams in the league, or maybe I just think so because they are the team I've spend the most time trying to figure out. I think they've underachieved and the degree to which they've struggled can be traced to Vinny Del Negro's learning curve and a plentitude of injuries. Chicago is now as healthy as they've been all season and the play of late has perked up. Still, signs of mediocrity, or worse, are everywhere. The Bulls are 3-13 on the road and have played three more games at home than away. The point differential is a troubling -4.7, which should have Chicago in the group of dregs above New Jersey in the East pecking order, rather than battling for one of the last three or four East playoff slots. Only the Hornets have been luckier and New Orleans has been boosted by its 10-2 record in close games. Chicago is a more reasonable 5-6 in nailbiters, but has been on the wrong end of more than its share of blowout losses. Moving forward, the Bulls have to figure out how to best position themselves for the Summer of (Free Agent) Love. They have a favorable cap position, but one that could be considerably strengthened by the unloading of John Salmons, who is sitting on a $5.8 million player option for next season that he'd be crazy to turn down. Otherwise, the Bulls will have to let go of a nice talent/upside combo in Tyrus Thomas if they are going to attract one of the free agent biggies.

24. (30) Washington Wizards (29.4 / 0.0%) [ 28 / 30 / 26 ]
Rankings: NET: 24; OFF: 23; DEF: 21; PACE: 8

There is a certain basketball scribe that I see at the United Center that was effusive about the Wizards in the preseason. It's easy for me to look at him now and think about stuffing a copy of PBP '09-10 in his computer bag, but, really, what purpose would that serve? This was never really going to work, no matter who you bring in to coach. You can't cram together a lot of low efficiency players that don't play very good defense and have them be orchestrated by one of the more selfish point guards in the league and expect the wins to flow. Sometimes in the darkness, comes the light. The recent controversy around Gilbert Arenas' gun play could really pay off in the long run. Let's face it, the $80 million or so Arenas has left on his current deal is the biggest contractual albatross in the league. His recent behavior may give the Wizards a chance at mulligan. However, consider this: It was Ernie Grunfeld that signed Arenas to that contract. It was Ernie Grunfeld that assembled the current misfiring roster. It was Ernie Grunfeld that stood before the media before the season and blamed last season's shameful mail-it-in performance on injuries. It was Ernie Grunfeld that brought in a good coach in Flip Sanders that seemingly can't get anybody to listen to him. Late owner Abe Pollin was known for unfailing loyalty. It's an admirable trait, to be sure, but perhaps not always the best course of action in modern professional sports. Loyalty is good; stagnation is not. The Wizards may have a chance at a fresh start after the season and the changes don't necessarily need to start with the playing roster. Trading Kwame Brown for Caron Butler can earn you only so much swag.

25. (21) Golden State Warriors (29.2 / 0.0%) [ 25 / 29 / 35 ]
Rankings: NET: 26; OFF: 21; DEF: 28; PACE: 1

The Warriors are playing fast, as per usual, and sport the fastest pace in the league. That inflates their superficial scoring numbers, leading the underinformed to exalt upon Golden State's explosiveness. In fact, the Warriors rank 21st in points per possession. While Golden State shoots the ball well (eighth in effective field-goal percentage) and get to the line (eighth), the Warriors are the league's worst offensive rebounding team and also commit far too many turnovers. Through Sunday, Anthony Randolph had played 44 percent of available minutes despite the lack of warm bodies on the Warriors' bench. Randolph has the potential to be proficient in the most crucial areas in which the Warriors are deficient. He is +4 in drawing fouls and +4 as a rebounder. In the game's I've seen, Golden State's best lineup has been with Randolph playing the five alongside Vladimir Radmanovic and sharp-shooting Anthony Morrow in the frontcourt. According to 82games.com, that configuration has been the best Warriors lineup this season on both ends of the court. But forget about seeing more of that lineup--Randolph is done for at least two months with torn ligaments in his left ankle. Meanwhile, we have to go back to digging the terrific season being put up by Corey Maggette, who has become an marvel of offensive efficiency, ranking fifth in True Shooting Percentage. Just something to bide your time in between Monta Ellis jump shots and while waiting for Don Nelson to finally call it quits.

26. (16) Philadelphia 76ers (29.1 / 0.0%) [ 25 / 30 / 40 ]
Rankings: NET: 23; OFF: 17; DEF: 29; PACE: 25

The Sixers are closer to average than they are terrible, but nevertheless Philadelphia is perhaps the most disappointing team in the league this season. There are good pieces here, but Eddie Jordan has been unable to fit them together into anything resembling a high-functioning mechanism. There is far too much talent on this team for this to be happening and the finger has to be squarely pointed in the direction of Jordan, and perhaps Philly general manager Ed Stefanski behind him for hiring Jordan in the first place. If Philly has been slow to adapt to the Princeton offense, that's one thing. More incriminating is the 76ers' precipitous drop on the defensive end of the floor. Philadelphia ranks 29th in defensive rating after finishing eighth and 11th the last two seasons. After five straight seasons as one of the NBA's five-best teams in forcing turnovers, the Sixers have risen to sixth in that category over the last month. Yet the Sixers are allowing the second-worst eFG% in the league--not a happenstance which can be attributed to the loss of Andre Miller. They are poor against two-point shots (21st) despite a couple of good interior defenders in Samuel Dalembert and Elton Brand on the roster and are dead last against the three-point shot. Until Jordan fixes the Sixers' defense, any offensive gains from adding Allen Iverson won't matter. Since Jordan never fielded even an average defensive team during his tenure in Washington, Philly fans would do best not to get their hopes up. Given Stefanski's recent comments, the next Sixer losing streak could cost Jordan his job.

27. (14) Detroit Pistons (26.6 / 0.0%) [ 25 / 26 / 44 ]
Rankings: NET: 28; OFF: 24; DEF: 22; PACE: 29

Desperate times in Detroit? First-year head coach John Kuester, who oozes of competence and experience, has lorded over the Pistons' longest stretch of losing in 17 years. He's shaken up the lineup several times, but mostly has acted as a switchboard operator, plugging in healthy or semi-healthy bodies for frontline players that have gone down with injuries at a dizzying pace. Player availability issues don't explain everything that is going on in Detroit, however. The questions I had about this team entering the season remain unanswered. What is the plan here? What kind of team is Joe Dumars crafting? Where does Rip Hamilton end and Ben Gordon begin? Does Tayshaun Prince walk into the locker room and jump with fright at the sight of his doppelgänger, Austin Daye? Just what exactly has been accomplished by the Ben Wallace farewell tour in the Motor City? Why was Charlie Villanueva such a free agent get when the Bucks didn't even see fit to extend a qualifying offer to the jump-shooting big man? I could go on all day with the questions (Is Rodney Stuckey really a point guard?), but you get the idea. Dumars has until the trade deadline to make some sense of all this and I'm sure he knows what he's doing. Doesn't he?

28. (19) Indiana Pacers (23.4 / 0.0%) [ 25 / 25 / 38 ]
Rankings: NET: 27; OFF: 27; DEF: 17; PACE: 2

Do the Pacers even realize how bad of an offensive team they are? I love up-tempo basketball because I think, in a vacuum, that it leads to a more efficient and, yes, aesthetic brand of hoops. What is there to say then about Jim O'Brien's brick-laying Indiana Pacers, who play at the second-fastest tempo in the NBA, yet rank 27th with a paltry 103.2 Offensive Rating. The Pacers have become more adept at getting to the line this season, though their ranking in that area slips with each passing game, but still rank 24th or worse in True Shooting Percentage, Effective Field-Goal Percentage, two-point field-goal percentage and, yes, three-point field-goal percentage. How could a roster be constructed that is so bad at playing the type of basketball that O'Brien has been coaching for eons? Huh, Larry Legend? No, Danny Granger's injury didn't help matters, nor has the lack of development of Brandon Rush and the befuddling breakdown of T.J. Ford's game. The starting lineups of late have been depressing to look at, being that the upside I pegged for this year's Pacers was for a young core to emerge in Ford, Granger, Rush, Roy Hibbert and Tyler Hansbrough. Lately, O'Brien has trotted out Earl Watson and Luther Head on a nightly basis and has started to prep Ford for the Jamaal Tinsley treatment. Something here just isn't right.

29. (22) Minnesota Timberwolves (17.1 / 0.0%) [ 17 / 17 / 32 ]
Rankings: NET: 29; OFF: 28; DEF: 23; PACE: 3

The rumor mill is flying! ... This just in: Minnesota has offered Al Jefferson to Indiana for Danny Granger. Why? Jefferson does not mesh with second-year forward Kevin Love. This combination will never work. The foundation of the Timberwolves is crumbling ... Of course, the rumor mill is talking out its rear end, if I may mismatch a couple of images there. Minnesota general manager David Kahn is adamant that Jefferson won't be traded this season. Jefferson and Love professed their undying affection for each other. So we can move on to other things more literary. Buried beneath the surface of this hub-bub is a genuine basketball issue. Can a team whose best players are a traditional set of big men win in today's NBA? Perhaps not, but I also don't think this is a traditional big man duo. Jefferson, first of all, is not really best suited to play center. While his post skills on the offensive end will play anywhere, his relatively short arms will always render him a defensive liability at the center position. On the other hand, Love has developed the full range of offensive skills to flourish as a modern day power forward. Unfortunately, he is also not a great defender. Jefferson and Love have wonderfully complementary skills but also share the same weakness. As a result, the Timberwolves are always going to be soft defensively in the middle as long as those two play together. That's underscored by Minny's bottom-five ranking in opponent two-point percentage and blocked shot percentage. I do think that Love could be defensively adequate if he played alongside a better defensive center. Since Love is blossoming and is already the game's best rebounder, I could see Jefferson ultimately being moved during the summer. Given the paucity of quality post play in the NBA, Minny should get plenty of offers. By the way, if that eventually comes to pass, it does not validate the rumor mill.

30. (17) New Jersey Nets (9.8 / 0.0%) [ 6 / 13 / 40 ]
Rankings: NET: 30; OFF: 30; DEF: 24; PACE: 19

These things even out. The Nets followed their Icelandic 0-18 start with a Fijian 3-16 sprint. On second thought, perhaps things don't even out as much as I'd like to think. The Nets are bad. No, really. Take my word for it. At the same time, and I feel that I have to put this as gingerly as possible, the Nets are not 3-34 bad. At least they shouldn't be. I am willing to acknowledge that my preseason projection for 40 wins from this bunch may have led to a nearly six-week disconnect from reality that I suffered in November and December. With childlike trepidation, I pulled up my offseason worksheets to see what could have led to such folly. I see that I forecast the Nets to finish 27th in Offensive Rating. Through Sunday, Jersey is deep in the Mersey, ranking dead last on the offensive end of the floor. So that wasn't so bad. As it is with my other wildly-inaccurate projections, the difference is on the defensive end, which of course suggests something systematic. Measuring defense is tough enough. Projecting it is ... a work in progress. There are some tangible reasons for the Nets' shortcomings on defense, plus the intangible possibility that an 0-18 start sucked the "can-do" right out of the team's will to compete. Courtney Lee may not be the perimeter stopper that he appeared to be with Dwight Howard playing behind him. Terrence Williams has some growing up to do to fulfill his defensive potential. All this aside, I still maintain that there was no way to see the Nets giving the '72-73 Sixers a run for their ill-begotten money, and I think they'll get to 15 wins yet.

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 intergral 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 follow Bradford on Twitter at @bdoolittle.

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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