Saturday, April 15, 2017

Final 2017 NBA Power Rankings

Well, it wasn't exactly the last day of 2015 with most of the playoff proceedings already decided, but there was still some drama to close the season, albeit of the lottery variety. Here's a look at where every team ended up ranking with a little tidbit for each, and I put my first round playoff predictions after the lower seeds.

1. Golden State Warriors (1st in the West) 67-15
Point Differential: +11.6 (1st), Offense: 113.2 (1st), Defense: 101.1 (2nd)

They didn't match last season's record of 73 wins, due in part to a 2-5 stretch when Kevin Durant went down and resting their starters down the stretch of Monday's Jazz game that snapped their 14 game winning streak, but I'd say they're actually better overall than last year's squad that was unbelievably good in close games, including a 6-1 record in overtime games compared to 0-3 this season. In fact, they have a higher point differential this year, and it's the fourth best of all time, which is part of why they are the runaway favorites to reclaim the title, especially with KD back.


2. San Antonio Spurs (2nd in the West) 61-21 
Point Differential: +7.2 (2nd), Offense: 108.8 (7th), Defense: 100.9 (1st)

They lost 4 out of 5 to close the season since they limited the minutes of their key players once it was clear they weren't catching the Warriors for the best record, and yet they still ran away from the rest of the field. You can't really go wrong with any of the MVP candidates, but I would give it to Kawhi Leonard for leading this team into the post-Tim Duncan era without missing a beat despite being their only All-Star (although LaMarcus Aldridge had a case). In addition to being the best perimeter defender in the league, he took on a heavier scoring load to increase his career-high again to 25.5 points per game on an efficient 48.5%/38.1%/88% shooting line for .264 Win Shares per 48 minutes and a 27.5 Player Efficiency Rating.

Monday, April 3, 2017

Setting the Stage for the 2017 NBA Lottery

I have to admit: I have an irrational fascination with the NBA Lottery. It's amazing to me that the team with the worst record did not win the #1 pick in the first 10 years of the current format that has 14 teams in the lottery, but it has now happened in back to back years, with last year being the first time in history that no teams moved up at all. In fact, according to Zach Lowe's amazing recaps from inside the drawing room last year and in 2015, the first ping-pong ball drawn was #1 both times, basically signalling right away that the Sixers and Timberwolves had won since the worst record has 250 of the 286 four number combinations that include #1. I've even used the magical Wayback Machine to pull up his now defunct Point Forward blog that described the scene in the 2012 drawing room because I remember how incredible the emotions were in the Anthony Davis sweepstakes and how it got me hooked on the lottery process.

Thus, I wanted to set the stage for a highly anticipated game of chance and take a look at where things stand for the teams that have been eliminated from the playoffs for these final few games. For starters, here are the past results of the 12 lotteries under the current format with where the teams ranked in terms of how many ball combinations they had and their odds of landing in that spot:
The parenthetical notes indicate that's where the team ranked after a tiebreaker.

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 went in depth before the season and 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 per 100 possessions 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. And there's this to provide optimism for the playoffs:


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% shooting 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.

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 have 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 from 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.