Sunday, March 26, 2017

2017 NBA Home Stretch Power Rankings

Now that I can breathe again after that incredible Elite Eight win by North Carolina over Kentucky, I wanted to take a temperature check of the pros as we approach the final 7-10 games before the end of the regular season. These will be quick hitters since I just went in depth after the Trade Deadline, and as always, I'm using their overall point differential along with offensive and defensive efficiency numbers from NBA.com.

1. Golden State Warriors (1st in the West) 59-14 (35 H, 38 R)
Point Differential: +11.6 (1st), Offense: 113.0 (1st), Defense: 101.0 (T-1st)

Since losing 5 of 7 after Kevin Durant suffered a sprained MCL and tibial bone bruise during that arduous part of the schedule, they've won 7 straight thanks to Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson busting out of their shooting slumps during that stretch. They've had the best defense since the All-Star Break at 99.1 despite their defensive rebounding percentage going from 75.8% before Durant went down to 73.6% after, which would be the worst in the league. If that overall rating keeps up, Draymond Green needs to be holding the Defensive Player of the Year award at season's end.

2.  San Antonio Spurs (2nd in the West) 56-16 (35 H, 37 R)
Point Differential: +7.9 (2nd), Offense: 109.5 (6th), Defense: 101.0 (T-1st)

That slight shooting slump I mentioned for Kawhi Leonard last month has manifested itself in 47.7/32.5/83.6 percentages since the Break compared to 48.8/39.6/89.9 prior as he's made just 26 of his last 80 3's, but that hasn't stopped him from still doing it all for this team as he's scoring 26.4 with 4.0 assists compared to 25.9 and 3.3 beforehand. Combine that with his usual amazing defense, and he just might be my MVP.

3. Houston Rockets (3rd in the West) 51-22 (37 H, 36 R)
Point Differential: +7.0 (3rd), Offense: 112.5 (2nd), Defense: 105.9 (T-16th)

James Harden obviously has his own case for MVP along with Mike D'Antoni for Coach of the Year as this team already has 10 more wins than all of last year. They're 11-4 since the Break with the best offensive rating at 116.1 leading to the best point differential at +8.9, but a team that was already going small with Harden and Ariza at the forward spots often due to Lou Williams' arrival will be pushed further with Ryan Anderson's new ankle injury sidelining him for a bit. Sam Dekker has been a useful bench piece in what is essentially his rookie season after back surgery last year, but they're thin at that spot overall.

4. Cleveland Cavaliers (1st in the East) 47-25 (36 H, 36 R)
Point Differential: +3.7 (5th), Offense: 111.4 (3rd), Defense: 108.1 (23rd)

There's a certain understanding with a defending champ coasting a bit, but they're only 8-9 since the Break and are just barely ahead of the Lakers for the worst defense in the league during that stretch. Usually you need to be in the top-10 on that end to win the title, with the lone exceptions being title defenders, as John Schumann pointed out. However, is it really coasting when Lebron James is pushing for the lead league in minutes per game (in another MVP-caliber campaign)?

5.  Boston Celtics (2nd in the East) 48-26 (36 H, 38 R)
Point Differential: +2.7 (8th), Offense: 108.5 (8th), Defense: 105.4 (T-10th)

A 102.7 defensive rating that's good for 5th best since the Break has pushed them up and into a tie the Cavs for the #1 seed. They're struggling a bit on the road with bad losses in Phoenix, Denver, and Philadelphia while barely hanging onto a win in Brooklyn, but the good news is that 5 of their last 8 are in Boston to help them potentially win home-court throughout the East.

6. Toronto Raptors (3rd in the East) 44-29 (36 H, 37 R)
Point Differential: +4.1 (4th), Offense: 109.7 (5th), Defense: 104.9 (8th)

I would've kept them at 5th like in the last rankings if there was some certainty around Kyle Lowry's health since they've been a bit up and down without him: winning their first 3 and then dropping 4 of 6 before their current 5 game winning streak. That being said, the additions of forwards Serge Ibaka and P.J. Tucker have improved the defense as expected with a rating of just 100.9 since the Break, 2nd best in the league behind the Warriors and just above the Spurs.

7.  Washington Wizards (4th in the East) 45-28 (39 H, 34 R)
Point Differential: +2.4 (9th), Offense: 108.4 (9th), Defense: 106.1 (19th)

Trade addition Bojan Bogdanovic has been a flamethrower for them, averaging 14.8 points in 24.4 minutes on 47.3/40.5/93.7 shooting, but their defensive rating has dropped to 109.4 since the Break, 24th in the league over that span. The small lineups with him and Otto Porter Jr. as the forwards have gotten mostly torched for points, so they may need to save those looks for just Kelly Oubre Jr., who has come back on strong over their last 6 games after initially losing minutes after the trade.

8. Utah Jazz (4th in the West) 44-29 (36 H, 37 R)
Point Differential: +3.6 (6th), Offense: 106.9 (13th), Defense: 102.5 (3rd)

They've struggled of late with just a 9-7 record since the Break, including a 3 game losing streak to end their East coast trip, but the peripheral signs are still strong. They're still likely to stay in the 4-5 matchup for the playoffs, so they'll have to play like they did in their March 13th win against the Clippers rather than how they did yesterday and in 17 of the last 18 matchups between the two before this month.

9. Los Angeles Clippers (5th in the West) 44-31 (36 H, 39 R)
Point Differential: +3.4 (7th), Offense: 109.3 (7th), Defense: 105.9 (T-16th)

It's hard to describe how bad today's loss to the Kings was since they blew an 18 point lead with just 5:16 left at home, but in their defense, they did just play the aforementioned tough game against the Jazz yesterday. Maybe a home-heavy schedule the rest of the way will wake them up from their 9-10 malaise that includes just the 22nd ranked defense since the Break at 108.6.

10. Oklahoma City Thunder (6th in the West) 41-31 (37 H, 35 R)
Point Differential: +0.8 (11th), Offense: 105.4 (15th), Defense: 105.5 (12th)

The additions of Taj Gibson and Doug McDermott have bumped their offense up from a 104.0 rating to 110.8 along with their opponents, from 105.0 to 107.4, since the Break, with the new numbers ranking 4th and 18th over the span, respectively. They've gone 9-6 to push them into the conversation for the 4-5 side of the playoff bracket, but 6 of their last 10 are on the road, where they're just 14-21.

11. Memphis Grizzlies (7th in the West) 40-33 (35 H, 38 R)
Point Differential: +0.5 (13th), Offense: 104.7 (19th), Defense: 104.3 (7th)

They broke their 5 game skid with a 4 game winning streak, but now they've lost all 3 games on their current road trip. After all sorts of lineup experimentation during that losing streak, they seem to have settled on their current unit with Vince Carter shooting well as a starter, due in part to Chandler Parsons finally being shut down due to a partial meniscus tear in his left knee. This is likely a short-term upgrade since Parsons was struggling mightily, but it's not a good sign in the first year of his four year max-deal.

12. Milwaukee Bucks (5th in the East) 37-36 (38 H, 35 R)
Point Differential: +0.3 (T-14th), Offense: 107.5 (T-11th), Defense: 106.6 (20th)

Before today's killer loss at home to Chicago, they had been 12-2 with Khris Middleton healthy and back in the starting lineup. They do have a tough schedule remaining that's road-heavy, but with him and Tony Snell as versatile wing defenders next to Giannis Antetokounmpo at point forward and possible Rookie of the Year Malcolm Brogdon as a 3-and-D combo, #FearTheDear may be back.

13. Miami Heat (6th in the East) 35-38 (37 H, 36 R)
Point Differential: +0.7 (12th), Offense: 104.9 (17th), Defense: 104.1 (6th)

The Dion Waiters injury is cause for concern, but they have the 8th best record since the Break with the 3rd best point differential and 6th best offensive rating to go with the 6th best defense. They have a tough end to the schedule, but getting the Pistons during their rough patch and a home and home with the Knicks should give them a little breathing room.

14. Indiana Pacers (7th in the East) 37-36 (37 H, 36 R)
Point Differential: -0.9 (T-16th), Offense: 105.3 (16th), Defense: 105.9 (T-16th)

They alternated between a win and loss every game since the Break before back to back losses this past week. Monta Ellis was inserted back into the starting lineup in today's win and was a +12, but as Zach Lowe pointed out, the lineups with either C.J. Miles or Glenn Robinson III in his place have done much better. That could be something to watch in the playoffs as their spot is likely safe with just 5 of their remaining games on the road, where they're 11-25.

15. Portland Trail Blazers (8th in the West) 35-38 (34 H, 39 R)
Point Differential: -1.0 (19th), Offense: 107.5 (T-11th), Defense: 108.0 (22nd)

You can't overstate how important Tuesday's home matchup with the Nuggets is since they're tied in the standings and a win would clinch the tiebreaker for the Blazers, 3-1. They would appear to be in the driver's seat for that last playoff spot anyway with the more favorable schedule and former Denver center Jusuf Nurkic looking reborn in Rip City to help drive a 12-5 record since the Break with the #5 offense (110.6) and #10 defense (104.9).

16. Denver Nuggets (9th in the West) 35-38 (39 H, 34 R)
Point Differential: +0.3 (T-14th), Offense: 109.9 (4th), Defense: 110.7 (29th)

Considering that they're just 14-20 away from home, it doesn't bode well for them that they only have 2 games left in the Pepsi Center. Even if they win Tuesday's big game in Portland, the next tiebreaker is division record, which they would still trail 6-8 to 8-4 with the Blazers getting the struggling Timberwolves two more times, so the Nuggets need to actually finish ahead of them. The good news is that Gary Harris is averaging 17.1 points on 53.4/44.0/89.2 since the Break, and with rookie Jamal Murray playing well enough to be the third guard behind him and new starting point guard Jameer Nelson since Emmanuel Mudiay has been benched by Mike Malone.

17. Atlanta Hawks (8th in the East) 37-36 (37 H, 36 R)
Point Differential: -1.4 (21st), Offense: 102.3 (27th), Defense: 103.6 (4th)


18. Charlotte Hornets (9th in the East) 33-40 (37 H, 36 R)
Point Differential: +0.9 (10th), Offense: 106.2 (14th), Defense: 105.2 (9th)

19. Chicago Bulls (10th in the st) 35-39 (37 H, 37 R)
Point Differential: -0.9 (T-16th), Offense: 104.4 (T-20th), Defense: 105.7 (T-13th)

20. Detroit Pistons (11th in the East) 34-39 (37 H, 36 R)
Point Differential: -1.1 (20th), Offense: 103.3 (24th), Defense: 105.4 (T-10th)


21. New Orleans Pelicans (10th in the West) 31-42 (37 H, 36 R)
Point Differential: -1.9 (22nd), Offense: 102.6 (26th), Defense: 104.0 (5th)

22. Dallas Mavericks (11th in the West) 31-41 (38 H, 34 R)
Point Differential: -2.4 (23rd), Offense: 103.7 (22nd), Defense: 105.7 (T-13th)


23. Minnesota Timberwolves (12th in the West) 28-44 (37 H, 35 R)
Point Differential: -0.9 (T-16th), Offense: 107.7 (10th), Defense: 108.2 (24th)

24. Philadelphia 76ers (12th in the East) 27-46 (36 H, 37 R)
Point Differential: -5.3 (26th), Offense: 100.4 (30th), Defense: 105.7 (T-13th)


25. New York Knicks (13th in the East) 27-46 (34 H, 39 R)
Point Differential: -3.7 (T-24th), Offense: 104.8 (18th), Defense: 108.8 (26th)


26. Orlando Magic (14th in the East) 27-46 (37 H, 36 R)
Point Differential: -5.9 (28th), Offense: 101.0 (29th), Defense: 107.3 (21st)

27. Sacramento Kings (13th in the West) 28-45 (36 H, 37 R)
Point Differential: -3.7 (T-24th), Offense: 104.4 (T-20th), Defense: 109.0 (27th)

28. Phoenix Suns 22-52 (14th in the West) 22-52 (36 H, 38 R)
Point Differential: -5.8 (27th), Offense: 103.5 (23rd), Defense: 109.1 (29th)

29. Los Angeles Lakers (15th in the West) 21-52 (36 H, 37 R)
Point Differential: -7.4 (30th), Offense: 103.2 (25th), Defense: 111.1 (30th)

30. Brooklyn Nets (15th in the East) 16-57 (37 H, 36 R)
Point Differential: -7.3 (29th), Offense: 102.2 (28th), Defense: 108.7 (25th)

I strongly considered moving them up based on recent play since they're 7-8 this month, but that still only brought their win total to 16. There's some irony to this strong run during March Madness while they have no shot at getting one of the top prospects during the tournament since their pick swap will almost assuredly give the Celtics the best odds at winning the Lottery. At least the Lakers passed them for the worst point differential! You can build on this, Kenny Atkinson!

Thursday, February 23, 2017

2017 NBA Trade Deadline Power Rankings

The trade deadline came up quickly today and passed without too much action even faster. It's the perfect timing for another power rankings review of every team with the All-Star break giving me a chance to catch a temporarily stable set of point differential and offensive and defensive ratings from NBA.com before games resume tonight. I've included a look at any trades that went down the past week and a half with draft pick details from RealGM.com and salary data from BasketballInsiders.com, although I use blue for player options, orange for  team options, and red for years that aren't fully guaranteed.

1. Golden State Warriors (1st in the West) 47-9 (27 H, 29 R) 
Point Differential: +12.8 (1st), Offense: 114.2 (1st), Defense: 101.6 (T-2nd)

With an astonishing 34 wins by double digits, the Kevin Durant fit has been about as seamless as you could have hoped for, and his defense and rebounding has been noticed more thanks to playing so much power forward with bench units, leading to a career high 1.7 blocks per game. His 3 point shooting (37.4% overall) has been a little streaky, but Steve Kerr's ball movement system has made him even deadlier on 2's with a career high 61%. Aside Draymond Green's shooting efficiency going down, the rest of their All-Stars haven't been affected too much by the change, with Stephen Curry back to his 2015 MVP level as expected rather than last year's historic campaign, though his numbers are also typically better after the All-Star break for his career. With the ability to fit in a variety of players in the 5th spot of the lineup at times between Andre Iguodala, Shaun Livingston, Zaza Pachulia, and even JaVale McGee, they have proven to be the team to beat.

2. San Antonio Spurs (2nd in the West) 43-13 (25 H, 31 R)
Point Differential: +8.4 (2nd), Offense: 110.0 (5th), Defense: 101.0 (1st)

Despite their gaudy history, they still seem to be falling under the radar while on pace for 63 wins. Kawhi Leonard has taken his offensive game to another level with an increased workload while maintaining his stunning efficiency; someone who was a "non-shooter" when drafted had been flirting with a 50/40/90 season before a slight February slump. New center Pau Gasol has been out since mid-January with a broken hand but was effective when in, and Dewayne Dedmon has proven to be the steal I expected when filling in for Gasol with better defense. Although LaMarcus Aldridge isn't shooting at his normal clip from the mid-range, they are still elite offensively to go along with their league leading defense, joining the Warriors as the only team in the top-5 on both ends.

Saturday, February 4, 2017

Super Bowl LI

Super Bowl Sunday is just about here at long last, and it should be a fun one with the highest Over/Under in Super Bowl history at 59. I would lean towards the score not hitting that final total with both teams having the extra week to prepare and usual early nerves in the big game, but Atlanta and New England do rank 1st and 2nd, respectively, in Football Outsiders' offensive DVOA. While the Patriots defense only ranks 16th in defensive DVOA due to the weight of a soft schedule, they do hold the title of the #1 scoring defense on the season, and historically, the teams with the fewest points allowed are 6-1 against the top scoring teams in Super Bowl meetings. In recent history, Mike Lombardi notes that the 2009 Saints are the only #1 offense to have won it all since 2000 while the top scoring defense has won it five times in that span. Throw in the fact that the Falcons only rank 27th in both defensive DVOA and scoring defense, and you can see why the Pats are favored by 3 in Houston.
Super Bowl XXXVI is the first one I remember, and it's hard to believe what it would kick off.

Sunday, January 22, 2017

2016 NFL Championship Game Picks

From the best weekend in football to the best Sunday with two games of the highest caliber usually being played.

Packers +4.5 at Falcons

At this point, you almost just expect Aaron Rodgers to do whatever it takes to win. That last play to set up Mason Crosby's incredible second 50+ yard field goal in the final two minutes somehow topped Rodgers' earlier sideline throw and catch to Randall Cobb that already had my jaw on the floor. Now, Matt Ryan and the falcons are playing great ball themselves and rightfully favored, but I don't know how you can feel comfortable laying any points against the best player on the field. The cause for concern is the status of his banged up receiving core and their continued inconsistencies in the secondary, but Julio Jones is still dealing with a nagging foot injury, as well. I think it will come down to a last minute field goal again, so give me the points.
I mean, HOW

Saturday, January 14, 2017

2016 NFL Divisional Round Picks

Every year I say that this is the best weekend in football because you have eight of the best teams in the league going at it on back to back days, and this year has produced some more juicy matchups.

Falcons -5 versus Seahawks

That Week 6 game between these clubs in Seattle was a weird one with the different scoring runs, but a key takeaway is that Atlanta could move the ball well against this defense even on the road. Now they're at home, and their defensive improvement has been incredible despite being without their best defensive back in Desmond Trufant. The second year emergence of Vic Beasley and his 15.5 sacks has a lot to do with it, and I think he could wreck the Seahawks game plan with their league worst offensive line, especially with head coach Dan Quinn coming from Seattle.
Shanahan has schemed up good way to attack this now Earl Thomas-less defense in the past.
Side note: It's a kind of crazy that Seahawks offfensive line coach Tom Cable is under head coaching consideration with the way his unit has performed, and it's even crazier that so many teams have rushed to hire head coaches instead of waiting for the playoff teams to finish. You know, the well-coached teams that are still in contention for the ultimate prize. I understand that there is a bit of an arms race trying to fill out a coaching staff, which fascinates me with how coaches are connected, but Kyle Shanahan and Josh McDaniels have clearly been the top candidates in my eyes. Now due to them being so good at their jobs to contribute to their teams' success, the 49ers position is the only spot still available for just one of them.

Saturday, January 7, 2017

2016 NFL Wild Card Picks

Texans -3.5 versus Raiders

The Raiders might be the better team at full strength, but not having Derek Carr at quarterback changes everything for them. Now fourth round rookie Connor Cook is making his first start in a road playoff game and will be without left tackle Donald Penn against Jadeveon Clowney. That's enough for me even if Brock Osweiler is being pressed back into action at quarterback after getting benched. With Lamar Miller expected back healthy enough to be a workhorse runner, the Bill O'Brien should get his first playoff win at home.
JD Clowney has shown why he was a #1 pick now that he's healthy.

Saturday, December 31, 2016

2016 NFL Week 17 Picks

Week 17 is always a wacky one, and by my count, there are only two early games with any playoff implications, with Tampa barely clinging to even that claim. I'll get back to more detailed picks with the playoffs, but in the mean time, have a safe and happy New Year!

Ravens -2 at Bengals

Cardinals -6.5 at Rams

Chiefs -4 at Chargers

Broncos -1.5 versus Raiders

Packers -3.5 at Lions

Last week: 4-1
Season total: 48-40-3