21. January 2011 00:17
I enjoyed reading the latest from Bill Simmons, regarding how the All-Star game is potentially shaping up as one for the ages. It's funny, because I had been thinking the exact OPPOSITE about how the season was unfolding. Who really matters right now outside of the Lakers, Spurs, Celtics, and Heat? Orlando might, but they have to re-establish that they're going to matter after drifting a bit off the radar. When you crunch the numbers, it's kind of amazing how many of last year's playoff teams have gotten worse.
I went and grabbed final margin differentials from last season and compared them to this season. I'm using point differentials rather than efficiency because impressions of teams are typically based on what we see on the scoreboard rather than how those scores pro-rate to 100 possessions. The Lakers and Spurs are clear favorites right now to win the West come playoff time. Here's how the other six teams from last year's Western brackets have fared...
Utah: +5.3 last year, +2.1 this year (-3.2)
Phoenix: +4.9 last year, -2.3 this year (-7.2)
Denver: +4.1 last year, +3.1 this year (-1.0)
Oklahoma City: +3.5 last year, +1.5 this year (-2.0)
Portland: +3.3 last year, +0.5 this year (-2.8)
Dallas: +2.7 last year, +2.4 this year (-0.3)
All six are worse this year to varying degrees. Dallas may get its head above water if Dirk Nowitzki can stay healthy. But, Oklahoma City lost its defensive mojo and doesn't look like they're going to get it back. Denver doesn't feel like a real threat given "As Carmelo Turns." Utah isn't giving Kobe Bryant nightmares. Phoenix and Portland don't seem to even matter any more given their travails.
Over in the East, it's Boston and Miami who are expected to battle for the conference crown come springtime. Some of their brethren...
Orlando: +7.5 last year, +5.0 this year (-2.5)
Cleveland: +6.5 last year, -11.3 this year (-17.8)
Atlanta: +4.7 last year, +2.8 this year (-1.9)
Milwaukee: +1.7 last year, -1.7 this year (-3.4)
Charlotte: +1.5 last year, -3,4 this year (-4.9)
The other playoff team last year was Chicago, who has made a big step forward this season. Have they stepped up to Boston caliber? No, which means nobody's taking them seriously yet in the championship picture.
Milwaukee was one of the great stories of the 2009-10 campaign. They've disappeared. Atlanta is hanging in there, but seemingly not as scary. Orlando is obviously dangerous. Are they dangerous enough?
There are some teams further down the ladder who are moving in the right direction and creating the potential for compelling storylines. The New York Knicks and Los Angeles Clippers happened to be doing that in major media markets, which is good news for the league. But, it's not like those guys are going to be big stories once the championship is on the line in a few months.
It's a great year if you like watching highlight reel dunks and amazing individual efforts from superstar athletes. That could set up a historic All-Star game. If you're more into studying things from the team level, it feels like four contenders,...maybe eight or nine teams who will represent without embarassment in the playoffs...with everyone else hanging around until the labor situation gets sorted out.
*Dallas fell from 12 of 26 on treys to 7 of 22 while dropping an 82-77 decision in Chicago Thursday Night. Tired legs may have been a problem on the boards. Dallas was outrebounded 51-41 on night two of a back-to-back after beating the Lakers at home Wednesday.
The Bulls won again without Carlos Boozer. And, we saw a great defensive effort again from the team with the top defensive efficiency in the league. It's a Superleague win for Chicago, who moves to 6-8 against the top 12 teams in the league as we identified them a few weeks ago. Dallas falls to 11-7 in that subset.
*D.J. Augustin scored a season-high 31 points to lead Charlotte to a 100-97 win over Philadelphia. The 23-year old point guard from Texas may have benefitted more than anyone from Larry Brown's depature. You're probably aware that Brown can be particularly tough on young players.
Augustin's shot attempts in 7 games before Brown's departure:
6-8-12-8-19-8-8 (median 8)
Augustin's shot attempts since Paul Silas took over:
15-14-12-10-17-11-12-12-11-10-16-13-17 (all double digits)
Augustin's Monthly Averages
November: 12.5 points, 7.7 assists, in 34.1 minutes per game
December: 13.9 points, 4.3 assists, in 33.1 minutes per game
January: 17.8 points, 7.5 assists, in 35.4 minutes per game
Brown left with three games to go in December.
We can't forget that Charlotte has been through a relatively soft schedule recently, which makes it easier to improve your stats. But, Augustin did have 19 points and 6 assists in 31 minutes at Boston back on 1/14. He's only 23...