I Explain Why Every Team Won’t Win The NBA Title

If you’ve read this site over the years you know that we’re huge fans of the National Basketball Association.  On multiple occasions we’ve openly declared it our favorite sport and tried to persuade you to join us on that side of the argument.  It’s with that in mind that I know have a stunning confession to make.  I’ve been cheating on the NBA all year with the National Hockey League, and (!) I haven’t regretted it for a second.

The impulsive decision to partake in this act of sports adultery paid large dividends these past two weeks when the NHL came out firing with the most entertaining first round of playoffs in recent memory.  By my count there have already been 13 first round games that went into overtime.  This included the remarkable Chicago Blackhawks Phoenix Coyotes series that came within last night’s game six of having every single contest go to the extra period.  In addition to that, both Vancouver and Pittsburgh lost in the first round despite being the Vegas favorites to reach the Stanley Cup Finals.  What I’m really trying to say is that the NHL playoffs essentially morphed into a professional sports version of March Madness.  No one has any idea what is going to happen, and like the thrill of attending Mike Tyson’s show in Vegas, it’s fantastic for just that reason.  If the one-two punch of Vancouver/Pittsburgh ever occurred in the NBA, it would be ratings suicide (the equivalent of this would roughly be the Bulls and Thunder both going out in round one).  Instead it’s been a ratings bonanza for Gary Bettman, with the uptick in big hits and fights aiding in hockey’s ratings ascent.

I bring this up because as unpredictable as the NHL playoffs have been thus far, the NBA playoffs are exponentially more difficult to decipher.  It’s the sports version of Lindsay Lohan signing on to play Elizabeth Taylor in the upcoming movie based on the deceased star’s life.  This could be a defining moment for the NBA and Lohan, but nobody has any idea what the final product will look like.  Both are just as liable to pull a John Carter-like flop as they are to produce something iconic.

Consider that LeBron James is about to win his third MVP and has the potential to create an entire new class of NBA underachievement.  Seven people in NBA history have won three or more MVPs.  Every single one of them won at least one NBA title (MJ, Magic, Bird, Moses, Kareem, Wilt, and Russell).  LeBron could become the only person ever to win the award a third time without securing an NBA title and, (gulp), have you seen the Heat play lately?  Not exactly inspiring confidence.

And yet he’s BY FAR the best player in the sport right now.  This is his moment to seize control of the league for the next five years.  There are a number of aging teams that look to be past their championship prime (Mavericks, Lakers, Celtics, and Spurs), a couple of teams that are too young to pull it off just yet (Clippers and Bulls), and a real title contender that just lost maybe it’s most important player to a Ron Artest elbow (Thunder).  The Heat should conceivably have no problem winning.  After all, LeBron’s in the middle of one of the best NBA seasons ever by a player and yet we’re still waffling on his MVP candidacy.  The NBA in 2012, everybody!

It’s with this in mind that I present Gen Y’s official Hater’s Guide to the 2012 NBA Playoffs in which I tell you exactly why each team isn’t going to win the NBA title.  I’ve taken the liberty of ranking them in descending order from the percentage surety we have that the team won’t win it this year.

17. Phoenix Suns

Stereotype: Without Steve Nash, this team would be battling the Bobcats for the rights to the unibrow!

Telling stat: 71.68% defensive rebound rate, by far the worst of any playoff team.  It means just what it says. The Suns don’t rebound well and give opponents way too many second chances on offense.

Why they won’t win: Seriously, the Suns would be nowhere without the Herculean efforts of Nash this year, who deserves a top five spot in the MVP vote if they make the playoffs.

16. Philadelphia 76ers

Stereotype: No star player, no primary scorer!

Telling stat: 51% true shooting percentage, easily the worst of any playoff team.  Their first round opponent will be either Chicago or Miami, the two toughest defenses in the league.

Why they won’t win: Look, the Sixers just won’t be able to score enough points to win a playoff series.  There’s a lot of hope and promise in Philly right now, what with Doug Collins teaching the importance of team play and defense to his young guys, but a historic upset you will not see.

15. Utah Jazz

Stereotype: They still have professional basketball in Utah??!?

Telling stat: 66.6% Field Goal Percentage at the rim, good for second best in the NBA.  The problem? Those points disappear in the playoffs when defenses ratchet up and protect the basket and the referees refuse to give them calls. 

Why they won’t win: While the Jazz do have the potential for a first round upset of the Spurs (they’re curiously built in much the same way the Grizzlies were last year when they upset San Antonio), there is no way they could get past the second round.  Also: they’re not getting past the first either. 

14. Atlanta Hawks

Stereotype: Exactly where you don’t want to be as a franchise!

Telling stat: 0-2, their record this year against first-round opponent Boston when any of the following gentlemen recorded a single minute of playing time: Rajon Rondo, Paul Pierce, Ray Allen, Kevin Garnett.

Why they won’t win: Something just doesn’t add up with this team and they’re not going to suddenly figure out the equation against the Celtics. This is a team that should have been blown up a long time ago.

13. Orlando Magic

Stereotype: Absolute train wreck!

Telling stat: Magic players not active for this year’s playoffs = Dwight Howard.

Why they won’t win: There is some incredible Ewing Theory potential with Orlando now that Dwight put the finishing touches on one of the all-time worst PR moves by any athlete in the history of sports.  While the possibility does exist that the Magic “upset” the Pacers in round one, Miami will promptly sweep them in round two.

12. Denver Nuggets

Stereotype: All offense, no defense!

Telling stat: 101.5 opponent’s points per game, by far the worst of any playoff team.

Why they won’t win: The Nuggets can’t get a stop to save their lives.  Throw in the added curse of having no players with a “reputation” as a good NBA defender and it leads to a disaster in the NBA playoffs when the referees look for any excuse whatsoever to whistle teams out of games.  The Nuggets win the award as the by far the most entertaining team of the year, but the best they can hope for is to advance to the second round.  That’s entirely possible though, oh by the way.

11. Dallas Mavericks

Stereotype: They won the title last year!

Telling stat: 95.2 points per game average.  So the Mavericks play slow, no big deal in the playoffs, right? Wrong.  Likely first round opponent OKC averages about 103.1 per contest.

Why they won’t win: We all know this was an intentionally planned off-year by Cuban and the Mavs.  They’re going to try to get Deron or Dwight or both.  I’ve seen the Mavs twice in person this year and the only take I can offer is that they execute horribly, which was their biggest strength in last year’s playoffs (and the key to beating the Heat, hint hint hint).

10. Indiana Pacers

Stereotype: They’re getting overlooked!  They’re total sleepers!

Telling stat: 32.4 free throw rate, good for third best in the league.  Indiana gets to the line, a lot, which is great.  Except when it’s not.  The Pacers are not going to get the calls they’ll need to defeat Miami, Chicago, or Boston in a 7-game series.  They’re just not.  When their primary scoring option is taken away like that, they’ll struggle to execute for points from the field.

Why they won’t win: In the last 20 years, the only NBA team to win a championship without at least one sure thing hall of fame player on the roster was the 2004 Detroit Pistons (and Chauncey & Rasheed are borderline HOFers).  The Pacers have a lot of good players, but no great ones.

9. LA Clippers

Stereotype: Lob City!

Telling stat: 52.2% free throw percentage for Blake Griffin this season.

Why they won’t win: The Clippers have little chance at bringing home the title.  They’re still too immature, rely too heavily on Paul, and have Vinny Del Negro as their head coach.  Look for teams to employ a hack-a-Blake strategy during the playoffs which is going to fluster the young dunker and disrupt the flow of their offense.

8. New York Knicks

Stereotype: This is Amare’s, Jeremy Lin’s, Carmelo’s team!

Telling stat: 16-6, the Knicks record since Mike D’Antoni resigned as head coach

Why they won’t win: Despite boasting one of the best rotations of any playoff team, the Knicks would have to likely defeat Chicago, Boston, and Miami in succession to reach the finals.  As good as Carmelo Anthony is in isolation, as confident as he is against the game’s best, he still has failed to make it out of the first round in all but one year in his career.  Beating three of the NBA’s five best teams to make the finals is about as likely as Jesse Jackson coming out in defense of George Zimmerman.

7. LA Lakers

Stereotype: Kobe shoots too much!

Telling stat: All of Pau Gasol’s declining shooting stats.  There are too many to list here in this space but suffice it to say, Gasol is becoming less and less of a threat with the ball in his hands and he’s moving further and further away from the basket as a shooter.  This could indicate any number of things such as: his shot is now flat, he’s definitively the number three option in Mike Brown’s eyes, his decline is happening faster than we think, etc.

Why they won’t win: When you watch the Lakers play, does it look like Kobe Bryant trusts any one of his teammates enough to defer the necessary amount it will take for LA to win the title?  No way.  Bynum, despite having his best-ever season still has nagging immaturity issues.  With Gasol’s rapid decline, the Lakers could be prime for a first-round upset to the Nuggets.

6. Memphis Grizzlies

Stereotype: The Grizzlies are so sexy!

Telling stat: 16.15 opponents turnover rate, which led the NBA.  On the surface this seems like a great stat to the lead the NBA in, but what it tells me is that the Grizzlies defense relies heavily on a lot of risk-taking.  I’m the first to admit that this can be effective, but in the playoffs all it will take is a whistle-prone ref to ruin the strategy and send this team into foul trouble.

Why they won’t win: Definitely in the battle for best overall rotation in the NBA.  But, do you really think David Stern is going to let a team from Memphis, Tennessee win the NBA title?  Me either.

5. Chicago Bulls

Stereotype: Derrick Rose is great!

Telling stat: 72.2% team free throw percentage, the worst of any playoff team that didn’t have Blake Griffin (52.2%) or Dwight Howard (49.1%) on the roster this season.

Why they won’t win: Proven themes on championship teams: superstars, great defense, and great execution.  The Bulls have those first two ideas down, but I still don’t trust the supporting cast enough to get past a Miami.  Do we even know who their crunch-time five are yet?  I trust Carlos Boozer in the playoffs the way I trust Kim Kardashian to to avoid publicity.  I’m a huge Derrick Rose supporter and adore his approach to the game, it’s all the others that worry me.

4. Boston Celtics

Stereotype: The Celtics keep defying all their critics!

Telling stat: 98.6 points per 100 possessions, the worst offensive efficiency of any playoff team.

Why they won’t win: It’s no secret that the Celtics rely heavily on their all-universe defense.  Count me among the critics who believe that they just don’t have the talent to hang with Miami or Chicago when they’re clicking.  In order for Boston to prove everyone wrong again, it’s going to take some minor miracles like when LeBron quit on his team in Cleveland (entire possibly, by the way).  For the sake of not having to listen to ESPN felate the Celtics all postseason, pray the Celtics go out quietly in the second round.

3. OKC Thunder

Stereotype: The anti-Heat!

Telling stat: Official medical status for James Harden’s head = “Uncertain”

Why they won’t win:  Look, Kevin Durant is the best player on the Thunder, but no player may have been more important to them than James Harden.  He plays a role similar to the one Lamar Odom used to do with the Lakers in that he’s talented enough to facilitate the offense while the stars rested and comfortable enough with his role not to ruin team chemistry.  The comparisons to Manu Ginobli are also spot on.  Harden is an advanced stats freak and one of the best executors of offense in the league.  His injury cannot be overstated.  The Thunder would be number one on this list if that hadn’t happened.

2. San Antonio Spurs

Stereotype: This is the last chance at a title for the Spurs big three!

Telling stat: 90%, chance that Tony Parker or Manu Ginobli gets hurt, again sabotaging a Spurs playoff run.

Why they won’t win:  The Spurs completed yet another remarkable season in which they finished with the number one seed in the Western Conference, despite every writer ever deciding they were past their prime.  To win the NBA title though they’re going to have to get past Memphis in the second round which everyone seems to agree is the only team in the NBA that can beat them in a seven game series.  All of this while somehow going the entire playoffs without the glass bodies of Parker and Ginobli getting hurt.  But if they somehow avoid all that, they’ll be fine!  No really.

1. Miami Heat

Stereotype: LeBron can’t win the big one! The Heat don’t have a go-to guy in crunch time!

Telling stat: 0, the number of NBA championship rings LeBron James owns.

Why they won’t win: The burden of winning this elusive title might just break LeBron James.  He did nothing to inspire us to believe that he’s suddenly going to put it together in close games (the NBA All-Star Game pass off comes to mind).  As much praise as we can heap on him, he has to win the NBA title this year, but he won’t.  The Heat’s rotation is somehow playing worse than last year and that’s horrible news when you don’t roll very deep beyond the big three.  Look for LeBron’s teammates to let him down and look for the Heat to head home disappointed…again.

Happy trolling, you guys.

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Nick Collison Is Awesome, And We Have The Proof

Go read his blog on GQ right now, where he talks about his nicknames for teammates. A small sample:

I get really into the nickname game and do my best to come up with names for everyone. Some guys already have nicknames they bring with them, earned years earlier in high school or college. Some get a new nickname when they join a team. Some names stick, some don’t. Nearly every guy on our team has some sort of nickname. Some are recognized by everyone. Some are names I’ve attempted to coin but, for whatever reason, never got any traction. For instance, I tried to get people to call Serge Ibaka “Chewy,” as in “Chewbacca” from Star Wars. That would be an incredible nickname for a basketball player. Can you imagine if a player named after Chewbacca could imitate his scream after a blocked shot or a dunk? Or what if that sound were played over the PA system each time? For whatever reason, it didn’t really stick, and people mostly just call him Serge. Lame, right?

Some names stick even though the origin doesn’t really make sense. For example, some guys call me “Los.” This comes from our center Kendrick Perkins, who found out my full first name is Nicholas and tried to tag me as “Las” (because of the last syllable from “Nicholas”). He quickly realized this was pretty weak, and he switched it to “Los” because he liked it better. I think this has stuck because “Los” is usually short for Carlos, and my name is not Carlos, which makes no sense, which means it makes perfect sense.

It gets WAY better.

[GQ]

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Blake Griffin Reveals The Real Reason Stars Don’t Do The Dunk Contest

I had no idea.  This must be fixed, to save the contest.  From ESPN LA:

How can the NBA entice superstar players to compete in the slam dunk contest?

Maybe all they need to do is simply ease up on all the league-mandated requirements currently attached to it, said Los Angeles Clippers forward Blake Griffin.

“It’s an all-day deal Friday and its most of the day on Saturday and you’re there all night,” Griffin said. “You have to leave the hotel 3-4 hours before and you’re taking pictures and doing all this stuff and guys just want and need a break. It would be great if you could just go out there and [dunk] but that’s not the case. You don’t see all the behind the scenes stuff.”

Griffin said he would be open to competing in the slam dunk contest next year and in the future if that was the only requirement attached to the event so he could also enjoy the rest of the all-star break with his family and friends.

“I would suggest not making it so demanding,” Griffin said. “People think it’s just the dunk contest and you just go out there and dunk but that’s not the case. You have to do the practice Thursday night and Friday and all this stuff.”

Griffin actually said he might have competed in the slam dunk contest had it not been for a condensed schedule and the fact that he was also playing in Friday night’s Rising Stars Challenge.

Do the right thing, Commissioner Stern.

[ESPN LA]

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What In The World Happened To Pau Gasol?

Like I said earlier, these posts will be a bit shorter than I normally devote to a topic like this, so I apologize if the argument comes off as being too brief.  But seriously, what happened to Pau Gasol?  This was a player who, before last season’s shocking exit to the Mavs, had made the NBA Finals every year since joining the Lakers.  A guy who was a perennial candidate for first half MVP honors.  A beast who probably should have won the 2009-2010 NBA Finals MVP over Kobe Bryant.

Now he just seems to be an above average power foward.  And for some reason that seems like the biggest slap in the face ever, considering what he’s accomplished in his career.  What makes it all the more confounding is that there appear to be no rumors of injury or a changing of his role on the team.

For anyone who has watched the Lakers since last year’s playoffs though, there is something noticeably different about him.  He’s not quite as aggressive around the hoop.  He’s not quite as deadly with his jumpshot.  He’s not quite as…Pau Gasolish.

The slight difference has taken the Lakers from the annual favorite to win the Western Conference to a middle-of-the-pack playoff contender who nobody expects to really threaten for the title.  I have no idea if his confidence was actually broken by an alleged affair between his fiancee and former teammate Shannon Brown last year.  It’s funny to joke about, but it doesn’t really offer anything in the way of tangible analysis.

Here are the undisputable facts:

-Pau Gasol was one of the most consistently productive players in the game from a basic stats standpoint.  Between 2008-2011 he averaged 18.9, 18.9, 18.3, and 18.8 points per game, respectively.  He is now averaging a career low 15.9 despite the loss of teammate Lamar Odom, a player who took away minutes and shot attempts from him at power forward.  During last year’s playoffs he averaged a pedestrian 13.1 when he had averaged 16.9, 18.3, and 19.6 during the 2008-2010 postseasons, respectively.

-To get more advanced stats-y on you, consider his PER, an all encompassing stat created by ESPN’s John Hollinger.  It’s way too complex to even begin to describe, but basically it measures every aspect of a player’s game and spits out a number.  The higher the number, the better player you are.  During his time with the Lakers, Pau Gasol’s PER was the following from 2008-2011, respectively: 24.06, 22.2, 22.86, 23.28.  Now?  It’s 17.89 through this young season, a considerable drop.   While he obviously has time to improve upon this, I must note that Gasol is usually notorious for fast starts to the season with drop offs in production as the year goes on.

-He’s posting a five-year low true shooting percentage of 56.3.  This measures every shot a player takes on the floor, including free throws, while adjusting for the different point values of a three pointer or a free throw attempt.  From 2008-2011 with the Lakers he shot 63.9, 61.7, 59.3, 58.9, respectively

-Another telling stat is that his percent of field goals assisted has increased dramatically this year.  This stat indicates exactly what it says: it counts the percentage of converted field goals that came as the result of an assist (as opposed to say, an isolation basket).  From 2009-2011 it was 57.4%, 57.1%, and 57.5%, respectively.  This year it’s 66.7%.  What this indicates to me is either that Mike Brown’s offense is asking him to do something incredibly different than Phil Jackson’s (likely).  From a more cynical standpoint though, this might indicate that Gasol is losing or lost the ability to score in a one-on-one situation, a.k.a. he cant create shots for himself anymore.

-A stat that backs up my claim to his being less agressive is his offensive rebounding percentage which has also experienced a remarkable drop off this season.  From 2009-2011 his numbers were 10%, 11.4%, and 10.3%, respectively.  This year it’s 7.2%.  Again, this might be explained by the head coaching change and that Mike Brown seems to emphasize getting back and playing good defense.  It’s still a 25% reduction in offensive rebounding percentage though.

So, whether you believe the whole locker room scandal story or not, what’s indisputable is that Pau Gasol’s production has dropped off considerably since last year’s miserable playoff run.  Is it time for the Lakers to ship him off elsewhere?  Is he playing with injury?  Is Mike Brown under direct orders from management to build this team through Bynum thereby directly affecting Gasol’s production?

We don’t know the answer.

I say trade him and Bynum for Dwight Howard right now though, then get Deron Williams in free agency.

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Good Morning Generation

We now live in a world where the best basketball on the planet is deathly afraid of high pressure situations, where the best center in the world (and probably second best player) would rather expand his shoe brand than pursue championships with the reigning MVP, and where the best player of the last decade is intent on following Allen Iverson’s career path, if only to prove he’s deserving of a higher ranking than the “seventh best player” in ESPN’s power rankings.  What the hell is going on in the NBA?

If you fell asleep early last night and don’t know yet, LeBron James polished off one of his signature “I-can’t-close-down-a-basketball-game-because-of-an-alarming-lack-of-self-confidence” performances last night.  The former MVP went 9 of 17 from the free throw line in a game that was undecided until the last minute of overtime.  In the final 1:21 of the fourth quarter, he went 3-6 from the stripe, any one of which would have proven to be the game-winner.  Those last couple minutes also included a disastrous stretch where LeBron committed an offensive foul on Blake Griffin as well as a inexplicable foul on a Chauncey Billups three-pointer that allowed the Clippers to take a late lead.

He then went 0-3 from the field in overtime and committed a turnover.  The Clippers would eventually prevail, but only because the Heat so overwhelmingly lost the game.

I have no idea anymore how to explain LeBron James in rational terms.  He’s averaging a 30-8-8 and yet he’s somehow still falling incredibly short of our expectations for him as a player.  Even last night, a game in which he was atrocious down the stretch, he still finished with a ridiculous 23-13-7.  Every year I fall into the same trap.  “This is finally the year he does it,” I tell myself.  And then this happens.  And Golden State happens the night before (the Heat choked away a 17-point lead and James didn’t take a shot the entire fourth quarter).  Or the collapse against the Mavericks in last year’s Finals.

I do believe, at some point, LeBron James will win an NBA championship.  I’d be willing to argue that there’s probably some statistical model whereby he has to win, simply because he’s such an overwhelming force of nature.  The reason he’ll eventually win a title is the same reason that Heat team rolled through the Eastern Conference last year.  They’re far too talented, far too athletic, far too disciplined not to win.  They’ll win if only for the reason that it’s impossible to build a team to compete with them in the post-lockout NBA. 

The grandfathered future champion.

The tragedy is that when he wins, it won’t be memorable in any fashion.  It will be an ugly series lacking for any drama