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Sunday, February 22, 2015

SDH's 2014/2015 Worst to First Countdown for the First "Slap-mester" (Oct/Nov/Dec): 21. Orlando Magic


Win/Loss Record as of December 31st, 2014:  13-22, fourth place Southeast Division, 9th Place Eastern Conference


Projected 2014/2015 Finish
Current Rank as of December 31st

21
Team Statistics and League Rank as of December 31st,  2014: 

  • Points Scored: 94.2 (29th)
  • Points Allowed: 99.1 (12th)
  • Team FG%: .458 (15th)
  • Opponent’s FG%: .458 (19th)
  • Team FT%: .722 (26th)
  • Team Three Point FG%: .374 (5th)
  • Rebounds per game: 40.9 (24th)
  • Opponents rebounds per game: 42.8 (16th)
  • Turnovers per game: 14.4 (22nd)
  • Opponents turnovers per game: 12.4 (25th)



Individual Statistical Leaders as of December 31st, 2014:



Worst of the Class: Andrew Nicholson

Two years ago he had a surprising rookie performance as he averaged eight points and three rebounds in just under 17 minutes per game while shooting .527 from the field.  With such an impressive rookie performance to go along with  his balanced mix of size, skills and athleticism, Nicholson looked as if he had the potential to be an elite player for years come.  Unfortunately, that all changed the following year when he followed up his inspiring rookie campaign with a less than stellar sophomore effort where his numbers and efficiency dropped across the board as this supposed shooting star suddenly has fizzled away. Now in his third season, he has both fallen out of favor with the coach Jacque Vaughn as well as out of the rotation with the off season acquisitions of Channing Frye and Aaron Gordon.  Now he has went from becoming a up and coming player who could of been a piece of Orlando's puzzle to becoming dead weight looking to be cut off.


First of the Class: Evan Fournier


It seems as if the Magic has cornered the market in the "diamonds in the rough" department picking up players who had been discarded by their previous teams only to become major contributors as in the cases of Tobias Harris and Nikola Vucevic. Nonetheless, the Magic seemed to have found another hidden gem in Evan Fournier, a player who could find a place on the +Denver Nuggets roster, acquiring him in an off season deal in which Orlando sent veteran swing man +Arron Afflalo in return.  In what looked like a rather one sided deal that favored Denver, it would be the Magic that would get the better of the deal as the young Frenchman exploded as he started the season posting a career high of  15.4 points per game while shooting a scintillating .414 from behind the arc at the end of November.  He certainly proved to be a better acquisition than Afflalo, who stumbled out of the gates and has struggled with his offense while playing for Denver thus far.  It only goes to show that you never know what you have until you throw it away and both the coaching staff as well the front office of the Nuggets must be kicking themselves the same way that the +Philadelphia 76ers and +Los Angeles Lakers did in that whole +Dwight Howard debacle.


Two years after the monumental trade that bid farewell to their one time franchise player Dwight Howard, the Orlando Magic continue to remain at the bottom of the +NBA totem pole; however, they are in far better shape than the three other teams that took part in that infamous deal.  Both the Lakers and Sixers were expected to benefit the most from the deal with LA. acquiring Howard and Philly picking up another all star big man in +Andrew Bynum; however both have been reduced to rubble as Howard fled the Hollywood spotlight for the Texas sun while Bynum became a complete non-factor and is no longer playing.  The third team that was involved in that ill-fated deal, the Denver Nuggets, was the least scarred as they would part with Arron Afflalo, a player who would soon later emerge as Orlando's leading scorer and a potential All Star candidate. Nonetheless, they would end up getting bitten in the real when they brought him back to the fold and watch as the player they simply discarded for him exploded for a career season while they watched Afflalo falter in his return to the Mile High City.  Now Orlando stands the tallest among the fray as they not only have one of the most promising young teams in the league, but also have not just one, or two, but three All Star talents to build their franchise around.

Upon arriving in Central Florida, no one expected Nikola Vucevic--a player that was picked very late in the first round four years ago--to become anything more than being a solid role player off the bench which was why Philly was so willing to part with him for the the more recognizable Bynum; however, the Sixers now rue the day that they ever underestimated the Serbian big man.  Now three years and two double-double seasons later, Vucevic has emerged as one of the top centers in the league and almost certain candidate for the Eastern Conference All Star team averaging 19 points and 12 rebounds per game coming into 2015. Similar to Vucevic, Tobias Harris was another young player who was cruelly discarded by his former team, the +Milwaukee Bucks, who certainly did not know what they had nor did they care to find out; however, now he has emerged alongside Vucevic as not only a candidate for the All Star team, but also for the Most Improved Player of the Year. The 6'9" swing man has lead his team in scoring averaging nearly 19 points per game, along with grabbing seven boards and shooting at a rather impressing .380 from beyond the three point line thus making him one of the league's bright up and coming young player alongside Vucevic--who happens to be his teammate as well.  Add Even Fournier into the mix, who was also considerably underestimated by his former team, the Nuggets, and you have a very scary three headed monster capable of putting up potentially 55 points per game thus rivaling any three man combo in the NBA.

Although it has not shown in their 13-22 record, with three potential All Stars in its possession along with one of the deepest treasure troves of young talent in the NBA, the Magic are on the cusp of something great and are basically one player away from becoming a contender for not only the playoffs, but possibly winning the Eastern Conference one day.  Here is a team whom despite its youth and inexperience has chemistry which rivals even the most seasoned of NBA veteran clubs as it ranks among the best in the league in team field goal percentage and three point field goal percentage as well as being among the best in keeping their opponents scoring as well.  Although they may rank near at the bottom in the league in rebounds and turnovers per game, that can explained by primarily their impressive field goal accuracy which diminishes the availability of potential rebounds; plus, their turnovers are not as bad a they seem considering the fact that their 14 per game basically mirrors almost half of the league.   If this talented group of youngsters only had a veteran superstar to rally around and run the show while at the same time providing the necessary leadership to take it to the next level the same way that +Chris Paul has done with the +Los Angeles Clippers, the Magic would simply be unstoppable.  And it does not even to be an established star such as Paul either, but simply a player who has shown the potential to become not only a great passer, scorer and defender as Paul, but also have the personality and the charisma to lead his teammates by both example and the word.

The Magic has certainly plenty going for it with its wealth of size, youth, athleticism and talent; however without the right player to bring all their strengths together, then whatever, if any, potential they have in becoming a true contender in the East will all but evaporate.  Right now there are such players whose names are being circulated in trade rumors whom although may not have the name recognition as the more established point guards in the league, still have the potential to rise above their ranks and become that player of the future.  One such player is Reggie Jackson of the +Oklahoma City Thunder, who after posting All Star like numbers that rivaled his teammate +Russell Westbrook in the month of November may want the chance to lead his own team instead of providing support for another All Star.  Jackson might consider changing addresses as he will be a restricted free agent come the end of the season and with a wealth of cap space that the Magic have gathered over the last few years, they might just be able to outbid OKC for his services even though the Thunder will have the right to match any salary that any team offers him.  Another option is the +Phoenix Suns' +Goran Dragic, who is also coming off another exceptional season, but with his impending free agency and the fact that he has been playing in a rather crowded backcourt sharing the ball handling duties with teammates +Eric Bledsoe  and Isaiah Thomas, he may also be ripe for the picking as well for Orlando.

Perhaps the best option to go for in free agency is +Rajon Rondo--a player who can dominate a game without scoring one basket and who passing skills and leadership on both ends of the floor can quickly make this young Orlando team jump from lottery lingerer to playoff contender.  Rondo would certainly be the best fit on the team as he is a player who has the innate ability to get the best out of his teammates and unlike most of the other top point guards in the league, will not dominate the ball on offense taking away much needed touches from his teammates.  His accolades and credentials both on and off the court would serve as an excellent example to all the younger players, and will prove to be an excellent mentor to rookie Elfrid Payton and +Victor Oladipo--two players whom the franchise plans to be the back court of the future.  Regardless, whoever they decide to get, the Magic need to strike while the iron is hot or they will have to settle with another sub-par season once again returning to the lottery and that will not bode well for the team's head coach, Jacque Vaughn.  Although he deserves a majority of the credit for the team's solid disciplined play, excellent chemistry as well as its rather swift maturity, after three straight losing seasons, he may just find himself without a job if he continues this losing trend.

Nonetheless, despite the team's rosy outlook and the assets at its disposal in terms of players as well as cap space, the Magic are still a work in progress and will remain so unless something major happens--which will most likely happen in the off season.  Having three off their players with breakout seasons will certainly help fans remain optimistic for the time being, but there is still much more work to be done until this band of young talents are able to rise to the occasion. Fortunately for the Magic, unlike the rather repressive Western Conference where opportunity to advance anywhere but the eighth playoff spot is fleeting at best, the Eastern Conference is pretty wide open and they have the ability to make a run late in the season for a potential post season run. Right now they are in ninth place, but regardless of whether or not they are able to make the playoffs this season, one thing remains certain: for a team that was expected to be in shambles for years to come, the Orlando Magic still remain a head above the rest of the teams that were supposed to be contenders after the infamous deal that sent their disgruntled superstar packing.
   

Thursday, February 12, 2015

SDH's 2014/2015 Worst to First Countdown for the First "Slap-mester" (Oct/Nov/Dec): 22. Boston Celtics


Win/Loss Record as of December 31st, 2014:  10-18, third place Atlantic Division, 10th Place Eastern Conference


Projected 2014/2015 Finish
Current Rank as of December 31st

22
Team Statistics and League Rank as of December 31st,  2014: 

  • Points Scored: 103.3 (7th)
  • Points Allowed: 104.4 (28th)
  • Team FG%: .460 (13th)
  • Opponent’s FG%: .459 (20th)
  • Team FT%: .756 (15th)
  • Team Three Point FG%: .324 (26th)
  • Rebounds per game: 43.5 (11th)
  • Opponents rebounds per game: 42.8 (17th)
  • Turnovers per game: 14.8 (25th)
  • Opponents turnovers per game: 14.2 (13th)



Individual Statistical Leaders as of December 31st, 2014:


Worst of the Class: Brandon Bass
It has become painfully aware to everyone how badly Brandon Bass has stuck out like a sore thumb over the past couple of years in the Celtics.  He was originally signed as a complementary role player to +Paul Pierce+Kevin Garnett+Ray Allen and +Rajon Rondo during the Celtics' last golden age; however, now with that era over, he seems out of place on a team that is looking to forge a new identity.  Instead of playing a vital role on his team, he now acts as an impediment to his teammates development taking away minutes that would otherwise go to a younger player.  With his experience, knowing what he brings to an NBA team, and his expiring contract, it is surprising that Boston has not been able to unload him or found a viable trade partner.  Perhaps the Celtics should do the right thing, waive him, and allow him a chance to play with a winning team while he still has some value left; otherwise it does not do neither himself or the Celtics any good to remain together.


First of the Class: Brad Stevens
For a guy who was supposed to just oversee the collapse, demise and eventual rebuilding of this team, Brad Steven's has done an excellent job despite him coming into the league with literally no experience or credentials to be an NBA head coach.  So far Stevens has had his team surpass their rather meager expectations put upon them as the Celtics currently sit at third place in the Atlantic Division.  Not only that, but instead of wallowing at the bottom of the barrel as everyone expected, the Celtics actually have an outside chance of actually making the playoffs just being a couple of games away from the final spot in the East. Add the fact that the team consists of a hodgepodge of rejects, journeymen, and primarily discarded pieces and it makes Stevens' job as coach even more impressive considering that this may be not only the first, but maybe also last time that his players will ever play together.  He may not deserve the Coach of the Year Award, but Steven certainly deserve recognition and credit for taking a team that no one expected anything from and turning it into a respectable competitor.        

It has been one of the biggest shocks of the 2014/2015 +NBA Season and no one has even taken time to take notice primarily because the entire league has experienced a monumental shift in the balance of power with the emergence of two unlikely heroes--the +Atlanta Hawks and +Golden State Warriors--to the top of their respective conferences.  Nonetheless, although they have been completely ignored by the mainstream sports media, the Boston Celtics have certainly surpassed the meager expectation of both the media and its fan base with its current third place standing in the Atlantic Division as well as being just two or three games from the eighth and final playoff spot.  The Celtics certainly have not been playing like a team that many expected to be the perennial whipping boy of the league just falling short of the +Philadelphia 76ers for the title of "worst team in basketball."  Instead the team has been rather competitive in spite of its record as it ranks among the top teams in the league in scoring, rebounds and field goal percentage as well as keeping pace with their opponents almost matching their output.  By the end of 2014, the Celtics had finished the year losing by an average margin of 1.1 points per game, while at the same time almost matching their opponents shot for shot by a slim margin of -.001, rebound for rebound by a margin of +0.07 per game, and turnover for turnover by a margin of -0.6.

Those numbers are even more impressive considering the numerous disadvantages that Celtics possess in terms of the strength, quality and overall experience of its roster as the team primarily consists of castaways, rejects, untested rookies and players on expiring contracts.  All of these players were essentially thrown together in a messy hodgepodge of odd, out of place and disjointed pieces which other teams neither wanted or needed; yet, this band of vagabonds have managed to play not only cohesively, but also rather disciplined considering their circumstances.  In the ten games that they have won, they beat such heavy hitters as the Central Division's first place +Chicago Bulls (11/8/2014), and the Eastern Conference's third place +Washington Wizards (12/7/2014) while at the same time giving some of the top teams in the league a run for their money.  Some of the league's best including perennial playoff contending +Dallas Mavericks (11/3/2014), the Eastern Conference leading +Toronto Raptors (11/5/2014), the +LeBron James led +Cleveland Cavaliers (11/14/2014), and Northwest Division leading +Portland Trail Blazers (11/23/2014)  barely managed to best the Celtics winning by a slim margin of less than four points.   The Bulls, Hawks, and Wizards also had very close scrapes against Boston with Chicago winning by just seven points (11/28/2014), the Hawks by just four (12/2/2014) and Washington not only needed overtime  to beat the Celtics, but also had to score a whopping 133 points just to best them by one point (12/8/2014).

No one would have even contemplated seeing the Celtics win ten games let alone put forth such a strong and consistent effort which they fans have to be quite proud, especially since neither they or the rest to the basketball viewing world expected much from them in the first place.  Although their defense can be rated as dirt poor to say the least, the Celtics have still managed to keep up with opposing teams on both ends of the floor putting up as many shots, forcing as many turnovers, and grabbing as many boards as they do.  Eleven of the team's 18 losses were in the single digits with eight of being under five points; however, upon looking at their progress over the the first two months of the season, playing catch up with their opponents has certainly taken its toll on them.  In the 28 games that they have played, the Celtics have only held the opponents from scoring 100 points just ten times--nine of which they won; on the other hand, Boston has allowed opponents to score 100 or more points in which they had managed to win only one of them.  Nonetheless, at least Celtics fans can hold their heads high knowing that at least in their 18 losses, despite their team's horrid defense, Boston still managed to be blown out, that is lose by 15 or more points, only twice--against the +Memphis Grizzlies and +Miami HEAT.

 Much of the team's excellent offensive execution probably had much to due with the past rather than the future as it was run by +Rajon Rondo, the last remnant of the Celtics past glory years; however, by the end of December, the Celtics finally cut their final ties with the past and parted ways with their long time veteran sending him to the +Dallas Mavericks. In return, the Celtics received a bunch of discarded spare parts in +Brandan Wright+Jae Crowder, and +Jameer Nelson--players who would more than likely be waived as neither one of them fit in Boston's long term plan--along with draft picks and a huge trade exemption.   Upon the start of 2015, the Celtics continued its march toward the future as they parted ways with another player who was not essentially a link to the past, but more of a bridge between the past, present and future in Jeff Green, sending him to Memphis for +Tayshaun Prince, another first round pick, and ironically the son of former Celtics Coach +Doc Rivers, Austin. In another ironic twist, almost immediately after acquiring him the Celtics would later send +Austin Rivers to play for his father in Los Angeles in another trade with both the +Phoenix Suns and +Los Angeles Clippers where Boston would receive yet another draft pick, as well as an additional trade exemption plus another little used leftover in +Shavlik Randolph--a player who will most likely be let go at the end of the season.

So as they march into 2015 to finish the regular season, the Celtics now have a completely different team than which they started with as they bid farewell to the two key players who kept them in respectability in Rondo and Green, leaving the team to be led by guys who no one would recognize on the street let alone anywhere else.  Save for +Marcus Smart, who was selected 6th overall by the Celtics in last years NBA Draft, and Evan Turner, who was selected second overall in the draft five years ago but failed to live up to expectation, there are no other Celtics player that had been drafted in the top ten.    Most of the roster currently consists of either of players who were picked very low in the first round, fell to the second, or were not even drafted to begin with thus giving the Celtics a team with a team filled with a glorious list of the "who's who of who cares;" however, in spite of their less than stellar roster, there have been some hidden gems who have used their anonymity as an advantage to surprise not only their opponents, but also step out in the spotlight.  One of these players is Tyler Zeller, a player who was essentially given up on by his former team, the Cavs, while at the same had failed to live up to the promise that he had shown while playing for the +North Carolina Tar Heels in the +NCAA.  Since arriving at Boston, Zeller has made an immediate impact for Team Green as he not only leads the Celtics in field goal percentage, but also posts per 40 minutes numbers of 19.6 points, 11.0 rebounds, and 1.7 blocks per game; however, he is not the only player that has risen from obscurity.

Along with Zeller, there have been other players who have had an immediate jump start on their career after falling short of expectations in their previous locales and used their opportunities to not only reignite their career, but have also brought up their team along with them.  One of them is Marcus Thornton, whom after posting a career high 19 points per game and was considered an up an coming young star dropped off the radar the next few years afterwards thus resulting him being sent off to Boston to let his rather lucrative contract run its course; however, instead of just remaining a stain waiting to be rubbed out, Thornton used his time in Boston to reinvent himself and become a key contributor in the Celtics' unexpectedly impressive season.  Coming off the bench, Thornton has been quite the vital contributor to this team as he averaged nine points per game in just fifteen minutes of playing time, while at the same time has been leading the team in three point field goal percentage as well.  Evan Turner was also at one time considered as an outcast having not only failed to live up to the high expectations of being the second  overall pick in the 2010 NBA Draft, but was essentially ignored in free agency after posting a career season the previous year.  Nonetheless, despite being snubbed by every NBA team and having to settle with a low-ball offer from Boston, he has still made his presence felt on the court coming off the bench to average eight points, five rebounds and five assists per game in under 30 minutes of playing time.

Both Thornton and Turner have made themselves integral to fortunes of this rebuilding Boston franchise this season--so much so that the team's front office were willing to part ways with Jeff Green who had led the team in scoring before being shipped off to the Grizzlies.  Although he may not be considered as part of the Celtics future plans, Thornton has certainly shown that he is still capable of bringing a positive impact on a prospective NBA team while Turner, despite his spotty shooting, has a well developed all around game with his passing and rebounding to compensate for his offensive shortcomings.  In fact, given the minutes and shot attempts, Turner might just possibly prove far more valuable that the piddling two year seven million contract that he was forced to accept and may just find himself in Celtics green for years to come because he offers so many intangibles that make his teammates better.   Combine him with two up and coming big men in Zeller, Jared Sullinger and Kelly Olynyk, along with a talented backcourt that consists of rookie point guard  Smart and Avery Bradley who had signed a four year 32$ million deal in the off season, the Celtics have a rather promising core of young players to develop for years to come.  They may not sound like much, but considering the the Atlanta Hawks have virtually no one to really speak yet stand on top of the Eastern Conference is evidence enough that an NBA team does not need a marquee name to set itself apart from its opponents.

Perhaps Boston might just be the next Atlanta Hawks within the next couple of years; however, right now the Celtics' prospects of that happening range from slim to none.  Nonetheless, despite their rather makeshift roster, Boston still has an outside chance to make the post season, but with the recent trades of Green and Rondo, it looks as if the Celtics are looking to intentionally heading to the other direction, which is quite a pity.  Boston has the potential to be one of the surprise teams in the league as the Eastern Conference remaining rather wide open with virtually three playoff spots and fifty games left in the season, but it looks as if the Celtics plan to sit this dance out as they look to use this season to free up cap space as well as gather picks for the next one.  Regardless, with the way that the Celtics have been playing matching their opponents point for point while showing the offensive execution of a seasoned veteran team is welcomed enough by their fans.  It may not look it, but the future is bright in Bean Town and the question will be not a matter of "if," but "when" for the Boston Celtics to return to respectability.   

Monday, February 2, 2015

SDH's 2014/2015 Worst to First Countdown for the First "Slap-mester" (Oct/Nov/Dec): 23. Indiana Pacers

Win/Loss Record as of December 31st, 2014:  11-21, fourth place Central Division, 11th Place Eastern Conference


Projected 2014/2015 Finish
Current Rank as of December 31st

23
Team Statistics and League Rank as of December 31st,  2014: 

  • Points Scored: 94.5 (28th)
  • Points Allowed: 96.3 (2nd)
  • Team FG%: .431 (25th)
  • Opponent’s FG%: .443 (8th)
  • Team FT%: .729 (25th)
  • Team Three Point FG%: .335 (24th)
  • Rebounds per game: 45.3  (5th)
  • Opponents rebounds per game: 42.8 (15th)
  • Turnovers per game: 13.6 (11th)
  • Opponents turnovers per game: 12.0 (27th)



Individual Statistical Leaders as of December 31st, 2014:

  • Scoring (ppg): David West (12.5)
  • Rebounds per game:  Lavoy Allen (7.5)
  • Minutes per game: Solomon Hill (32.0)
  • Assists per game:  Donald Sloan (4.5)
  • Field Goal Percentage: Ian Mahinimi (.611)
  • Free Throw Percentage:  CJ Watson (.830)
  • Three Point FG Percentage: CJ Watson (.383)
  • Steals per game: CJ Watson (1.0)
  • Blocked Shots per game: Roy Hibbert (2.0)
Worst of the Class: +Larry Bird 
If you want to know who to blame for the current sad state of the Indiana Pacers, one needs not to look any further than the team's head of operations, Larry Bird.  Not only did not he not bring back a key member of last season's team that not only finished first place in the Eastern Conference, but also helped lead the team against the +Miami HEAT in the conference finals. Bird thought that signing cheaper knock offs instead of paying Lance Stephenson, who is now with the +Charlotte Hornets, what he deserved was a better alternative; however, he has paid for his arrogance and that was not his only misstep.  Larry Bird did not hurt the team with his actions, but mostly with his in-actions as he essentially kept an aging team that had virtually no competition last year while his division rivals upgraded their rosters significantly resulting in his team's disgrace.  Even if Paul George had not broken his leg in the summer and was able to play, the Pacer probably would be in the same predicament because he simply would not have the support as he did with Stephenson and he too would have questioned the wisdom of signing that lucrative deal to stay in Indy. 



First of the Class: Frank Vogel
Give Vogel credit where it is due as he has essentially kept a team that has been held together my glue and matchsticks and has got them playing rather decently despite just winning a third of its games.  With the departure of Lance Stephenson in free agency along with the tragic loss of the team's star player, Paul George, for the entire season, Vogel was left with a roster of nobodies, over the hill has-beens, broken down veterans and discarded trash; however, he still managed to keep this team focused enough to remain one of the league's top defensive teams.  Sure, he has no one capable of putting up big scoring numbers such as George, while at the same time started the season with three of his key returning players on the injured list; Yet, he has certainly managed managed to turn the lemons he started out with into lemonade.  Even through the adversity he has kept his team playing hard and fighting for every game  whether it wins or loses, but even the most optimistic of Pacers fans realize that sooner or later this ragtag group of misfits will soon fall apart and not even all the grittiness in the world can prevent Indy to fall out of the playoff chase.  Nonetheless, in spite of their dire situation, it has never stopped Vogel from demanding the best out of his players nor has it allowed his players to simply throw their hands up and quit.   

No one expected for the Pacers to finish first place in their division for the third straight year due to the missteps of their front office during the off season and the tragic accident of their star player; however, no one expected them to fall near rock bottom as they have so far.  Indy started the regular season stumbling out the gates and crashed into a wall as they lost six of its first seven games before bouncing back and finished November winning six of their next games.  Unfortunately, they would fall on hard times once again in December as they lost eight straight to start the month, but finished 2014 in style winning five of their last nine games and despite their rather uncharacteristic slow start, they have still shown signs that they can still pull the season out and possibly make a run for the post season.  Unlike the oppressive state of affairs that is currently occurring in the Western Conference where seven of their eight playoff spots have already been spoken for, the East remains considerably open with just the top three seeds secure thus far. With fifty games left in the regular season, there is still plenty of time to turn their season around; however, perhaps this is not the most prudent course of action as the best that Indiana can possibly do is claim the East final playoff spot and possibly get ousted in the first round as quickly as they entered it.

Would it not be much better to simply chalk the season up for a loss in order to vie for a very high draft pick instead of pushing for a playoff spot that may or may not be there at the end of the regular season?  Although there is still an outside chance of making the playoffs, there are no guarantee that the Pacers will be able to do it; plus, if they choose to fight to the very end and not make the post season, they best they can look forward to is a low first round pick.  Indiana right now has the perfect opportunity to attain the first overall pick in the draft as it currently rest near the bottom of the league along with the +Philadelphia 76ers+New York Knicks+Los Angeles Lakers and the +Detroit Pistons; plus, with their aging roster that is in severe decline, the Pacers will have no choice but to start the rebuild as soon as possible.  Unfortunately, that does not look like that is going to happen as the players, coaching staff, the team's front office as well as the fans have far too much pride to simply throw in the towel and that stubbornness will lead to their ultimate downfall.  As a result, the Pacers will find themselves continuing to slip out of relevance and respectability as their team has become outdated and over the hill while both their divisional and conference rivals have already began to separate themselves even further turning Indy from a once proud winning franchise to a laughing stock in the span of just one season.

Both the +Chicago Bulls and the +Cleveland Cavaliers have made significant strides to not only surpass Indiana, but to ensure that even with the return of their star player Paul George next season, will not even have a chance to ever return to the top of the Central Division. Despite of the team's rather slow start, the return of +LeBron James to his home state plus the addition of +Kevin Love have not only turned the Cavs into championship contenders, but has also assured that they remain at the top of both the Central Division and the Eastern Conference for years to come.  The Bulls have also made themselves a significant obstacle to Indiana's plans thanks not only the return of MVP +Derrick Rose, but also the addition of a revitalized +Pau Gasol and the unforeseen emergence of role player turned superstar in Jimmy Butler.  Even the often ignored +Milwaukee Bucks have risen out of obscurity to upstage the Pacers thanks to the arrival of their new head coach +Jason Kidd who turned a team that had won just seventeen games before into one of the league's up and coming teams.  Now Indy finds itself not only shamefully knocked off their pedestal, but also wallowing near rock bottom with only the Pistons underneath to keep them from actually touching the cold hard floor.

Blame the actions of the team's president of operations Larry Bird for the sad state of of affairs due to his shortsightedness, poor draft picks, and complete lack of initiative when it came to assuring that his team stayed at the top.  Instead of looking for ways to improve the team, he simply settled with leaving well enough alone as he chose to leave the future of the team in the hands of aging and declining players such as David West and +Luis Scola, instead of looking to infuse the team with young talent.  The decision to attempt to shortchange Lance Stephenson instead of making every attempt to secure him long term was another sign of Bird inability to follow the times losing the talented, although mercurial Stephenson to the +Charlotte Hornets and filling the immense void he left behind with cheap knock offs in C.J Miles and +Rodney Stuckey.  Neither Miles or Stuckey have been able to fill in and replace the massive impact and impression that Stephenson left on the Pacers--not just in terms of his production and output, but all in terms of his energy and savvy that he also brought onto the court.  Many in Indiana applauded Bird for not ponying up the dough to keep Stephenson claiming that he was neither mature or professional enough to represent their team; however, Stephenson's absence has certainly been quite apparent when looking at the rather pathetic state of the team's offensive execution.

Instead of having Stephenson's ability to not only score, but also to manage the team's offense and help push the tempo with his speed and athleticism, the team had to rely on a committee of point guards consisting of perennial scrubs CJ Watson and Donald Sloan.  The team's incumbent starting point guard, George Hill, has been a complete no show sitting out much of the season due to injuries; however, in his time in Indiana he has not shown an ability of being even a somewhat decent play maker nor the ability to get anyone but himself involved in the team's offense. Sure, Stephenson has yet to light in up in Charlotte the same way he did in Indiana which give the thickheaded Pacer fan base to think that they are better off without him; however, considering that he would have been better acclimated to the Pacers' way of doing things instead of forcing to readjust to a new system in Charlotte, he probably would have performed far better had he stayed. Not only that, but he also could have been Indy's primary scoring option giving the team a focal point to rally to instead of the hodgepodge mess that fans are forced to witness as none of their team's players have neither the ability nor the skills to force opposing defenses to concentrate upon.
Even if Paul George had not suffered that gruesome injury in the summer forcing him to sit out the entire season, it is doubtful that the Pacers' fortunes as Stephenson's departure would have made it even more difficult for him because there is virtually no one else to help shoulder the offensive load the way that Stephenson did.

Both David West and Luis Scola have shown that they are no longer capable to put up the big numbers that they used to as both their abilities and their sustainability on their court have severely declined, while +Roy Hibbert continues to gain the ire of his fans will his declining production despite his supposedly exceptional gifts that should make him a superstar.  George would have probably have had to carry the team himself with little or no help whatsoever possibly leading him to succumb to the physical strain and lead him to be injured for the season thus leaving Indiana in the same predicament that it currently faces.  In spite of his warts, Stephenson, in essence, complemented George in every way by not only taking a load off his shoulder with scoring, but also did so without taking too much of the spotlight--the same way how +Scottie Pippen provided the same support for +Michael Jordan by not only with his hall of fame presence, but also staying in the background enough to allow Jordan to shine in those Bulls championship years during the 1990s.  Such a player that provides the best of both worlds is almost impossible to find in today's NBA, but Bird had such a player in Stephenson, but foolishly chose to diminish his role by offering a less than desirable offer to someone of his talents forcing him to leave in anger to another team for the same money.

Now after all that effort and energy to climb to the top of the Eastern Conference Mountain. the Pacers find themselves slipping and falling of a high cliff and once they crash to the bottom, they may not be able to pick themselves back up again; however, it almost seemed as if it was almost inevitable that this would happen.  Despite its winning record, the Pacers never proved that they had what it took to be a true championship contender because their management never took the initiative to show that it was willing to do what it took to win an NBA title at any cost.  Instead, it seemed as it was happy remaining at the status quot taking the opponents in their conference for granted not thinking for one second that the good times will ever stop; but now they have, and the Pacers are left with the unsavory prospect of having to start over from scratch once again.  If that   happens, there needs to be a complete house cleaning from top top down starting with Larry Bird stepping down as head of basketball operations because it has painfully obvious that not only is he behind the times, but simply out of touch with today's NBA.   Unless he decides to do the right thing and walk away, then Indiana will continue its decent into obscurity as their star Paul George wastes his prime years on a team going nowhere fast.
        

Friday, January 30, 2015

SDH's 2014/2015 Worst to First Countdown for the First "Slap-mester" (Oct/Nov/Dec): 24. Utah Jazz

Win/Loss Record as of December 31st, 2014:  11-21, fourth place Northwest Division, 13th Place Western Conference


Projected 2014/2015 Finish
Current Rank as of December 31st

24
Team Statistics and League Rank as of December 31st,  2014: 

  • Points Scored: 96.1 (23rd)
  • Points Allowed: 100.2 (17th)
  • Team FG%: .454 (19th)
  • Opponent’s FG%: .472 (27th)
  • Team FT%: .744 (19th)
  • Team Three Point FG%: .334 (25th)
  • Rebounds per game: 41.9 (19th)
  • Opponents rebounds per game: 39.1 (2nd)
  • Turnovers per game: 14.0 (17th)
  • Opponents turnovers per game: 11.4 (29th)



Individual Statistical Leaders as of December 31st, 2014:


  • Scoring (ppg): Gordon Hayward (19.2)
  • Rebounds per game:  Derrick Favors (8.3)
  • Minutes per game: Gordon Hayward (35.3)
  • Assists per game:  Trey Burke (5.1)
  • Field Goal Percentage: Rudy Gobert (.619)
  • Free Throw Percentage:  Alec Burks (.820)
  • Three Point FG Percentage: Gordon Hayward (.458)
  • Steals per game: Gordon Hayward (1.3)
  • Blocked Shots per game: Rudy Gobert (1.7)

Worst of the Class: +Dante Exum 
Some may consider this unfair to call him a flop considering he is just 19 years old; however, after being selected fourth overall in the 2014 NBA Draft, people were correct to expect far more than Dante Exum has given up to now.  This guy was touted as the next great player of his generation along with +Andrew Wiggins and +Jabari Parker, but thus far he along with all the other so called superstar prospects have far from lived up to their expectations.  After all, wasn't this supposed to be one of the deepest and most talented draft in NBA history?  Unfortunately, so far these rookies have been a complete letdown save for a few exemptions as none of the top picks have made their projected impact.  Hopefully Exum in time will live up to the hype that came with him upon entering the league because he certainly has the tools to be a star with his size, skill set and athleticism; however, right now he has made numerous Utah Jazz fan scratching their head wondering if their team made a mistake in picking him so high.      



First of the Class: Gordon Hayward
For those who thought that signing Gordon Hayward a max level contract was a bad idea, they certainly must be eating their words, as Hayward has proven thus far that he is well worth the money.  Along with leading his team in scoring, Hayward also has proven to be an excellent all around player showing leadership on the offensive not only putting points on the board, but also getting his teammates involved with his nearly five assists per game.  Defensively, he has also stepped in front of the line leading his team in steals per game, while providing a solid presence on the boards averaging five rebounds per game as well.  To think that some people even questioned the idea that he belonged in Utah, even going as far to allow him to head off to the +Charlotte Hornets before the Jazz stepped up to match the offer sheet he signed with them.  Not only has he proven to be well worth the money and the length of his deal, but with his current play, he has proven himself worthy of being the face, heart and soul of this franchise for years to come.  

Although they currently rest at the bottom of the Western Conference standings and they may not see the post season for quite a few years, who cannot love the Utah Jazz?  Despite their rather grim outlook as they take their first steps out of the Jerry Sloan era with a new head coach and a roster than can be considered more of a daycare than an actual basketball team, there is still plenty to be excited about.  Here is a team that has arguably one of the deepest treasure troves of young talent in the NBA and so far in spite of their record, they have still been quite entertaining to watch. Even those they have won just a third of their games, they have keep all their games rather close falling by an average of four points while at the same time have played rather disciplined and efficient basketball in spite of having such a young and inexperienced team.   Their defense leaves little to be desired, but much of that has to do with the previously mentioned immaturity and lack of experience; plus, their defensive woes have been compensated in some regard by their rather impressive offensive execution that can rival even the most seasoned veteran team in the league.

Much of the credit has to go to the team's rookie head coach Quin Snyder who took a team in which the majority of players have yet to reach the age of 25 and turned it into a rather cohesive unit in spite of the trappings in which numerous young team's fall into.  With a young team consisting of primarily top 10 draft picks, there may be a case for conflict as each of these players share not only the same age, but also the desire to be the one in charge forsaking the team and focus on their individual statistics.  Yet, upon looking at the statistics, there seems to none of that as the team's overall field goal percentage is rather high while their field goal attempts per games rank among the lowest in the league thus giving the assumption that the Jazz as a whole are not only very selective, but also very responsible with the shots they take.  On the flip side, Utah, in spite of allowing their opponents to shoot better than .470 from the field, have also been able to limit the amount of shot attempts that they take as the Jazz rank fourth overall in the league in opponents' field goal attempts per game.  Overall, Snyder has had this team running in sync and efficiently like a well oil machine assuring that every shot attempt taken is a quality shot and that every possession is utilized to its potential for the best result.

In terms of offensive execution, it should also be noted that for such a young team as the Jazz, they have managed to keep their turnovers in check falling in the middle of the pack among the lead leaders in turnovers per game at around 14 per game.  That seems to be the median amount of turnovers in the league as they range between 14 and 15 per game which puts Utah in the same company such as +Brooklyn Nets, +Washington Wizards+Phoenix Suns and +Golden State Warriors--teams who, unlike the Jazz, are currently in the midst of the playoff hunt in their respective conferences.  In an ironic twist, there is also a intriguing contradiction that despite it ranking near the bottom of the league in opponents' field goal percentage, they rank among the top teams in blocked shots per game, so they do in some respect provide a strong presence at the rim regardless of what the numbers say.  Their top ten ranking in blocked shots per game certainly shows that defense is certainly a priority regardless of what the statistics say, although it does still has quite a ways to go until it reaches at the same level with their already impressive offensive execution.  All sign points to the Utah Jazz heading in the right direction in terms of developing their young players and returning themselves to playoff contention one day; however, that is easier said than done as they find themselves in a rather oppressive Western Conference.

In a conference where seven of the eight playoff spots have been spoken for essentially for the past five or so years, it leaves a young aspiring team like the Jazz with little or no chance to climb up the ladder with little or no room to maneuver.  Already, all eight spots have been taken up with four of those teams coming from the same division--namely the +San Antonio Spurs+Houston Rockets+Dallas Mavericks and +Memphis Grizzlies of the Southwest Division--with two more being held by the Pacific Division leading Warriors and +Los Angeles Clippers.   Other than the +Portland Trail Blazers, who currently have a lock on first place in their division and one of the top four records in the West, the entire Northwest Division has essentially been blocked out of having any chance of making the playoffs.  Even the +Oklahoma City Thunder, a Northwest Division team that has seen plenty of playoff success for the last four or five years is on the outside looking in as it is one of three teams which not only include the Suns, but an upstart +New Orleans Pelicans team that are fighting tooth and nail for the eighth and final available playoff spot.   Such a prospect of having little to look forward to being stuck in such a cold and repressive system such as the Western Conference is certainly not very motivating considering that the Jazz may be resting at the bottom on the pack for quite some time; however, with every dark cloud there is a silver lining and for the Jazz, their silver lining probably shines the brightest.

Thanks to the wealth of young talent--many of which have not reached the age of 25, the Jazz can simply wait for father time to slowly deteriorate their foes while their rather green roster continue to gel and grow stronger with each passing season.  As these young guns grow older and continue to improve their feel for their game, they will improve incrementally with every losing season building on an already solid foundation based on smooth, efficient offensive execution and a developing defensive game.  Utah already has a core of three all star caliber talent in Gordon Hayward, Derrick Favors, and +Enes Kanter  to build upon and right now they sort of resemble a the greatest front court tandem of all time--one that not only sported three hall of famers, but had also made five NBA Finals appearances winning three NBA Championships.   Gordon Hayward has already shown signs into developing into a near facsimile of +Boston Celtics  legend +Larry Bird with not only his scoring ability, but his rebounding, passing and overall basketball IQ while his two front court mates look to emerge as future superstars themselves. Since being drafted at the age of 19 years old, Derrick Favors has slowly been developing into one of the league's top big men while Kanter, who has been often overlooked, has been silently putting up strong numbers which have continued to improve with each passing season.

Together Hayward, Kanter and Favors have the potential to become this generation's Bird, Parish and McHale; Plus add along complementary pieces such as the super athletic Alec Burks, as well as a sharpshooting Trey Burke in the back court, the Jazz have the makings of probably the most dangerous starting five than has ever been seen in the NBA.  One can argue that this starting five have the potential to possibly eclipse the starting lineups led by the historic dynamic duo of John Stockton and Karl Malone because unlike the Stockton and Malone duo where the offense focused primarily on them, this current incarnation of the Jazz have five devastating weapons instead of just two.  Right now all the pieces seem to fit well together with Burke and Hayward facilitating the offense by not only scoring, but also getting the ball to either Kanter or Favors in the paint while finding a slashing Alec Burks either heading  to the basket or waiting at the corner to shoot the three.  Add the fact that along with an iron clad starting five, the Jazz also boast an exceptional supporting cast consisting of players who would more of less start for any NBA team had they not been previously picked up by the Jazz.

Backing up Gordon Hayward is the high flying Jeremy Evans who with his athleticism and physical style of play reminds many of a young Gerald Wallace, a player that went from being a mere role player on the bench of an extremely deep +Sacramento Kings team to becoming one of the premier rebounding small forwards in the NBA.   Evans is followed by another blue collar big in Trevor Booker, who has built a sterling reputation as a bruiser in paint while playing for the Wizards and has spent the season being the primary backup of both Kanter and Favors.  Despite coming off the bench in limited minutes, Rudy Gobert has proven himself to be quite a presence in the paint as he is fifth in the league in blocked shots per game while at the same time leads the Jazz in field goal percentage and is the third best rebounder on the team behind Favors and Kanter averaging over seven per game.  Last and certainly not the least are two young rookies who have been touted as future stars in Rodney Hood and fourth overall pick Dante Exum, who at 22 and 19 years old respectably have plenty of years ahead of them and might just live up to the expectations tagged upon them.   Altogether the Jazz look to be a roster that is more than ten players deep and the question will no longer be whether or not Utah will make the playoffs sooner or later, but whether or not the front office will be able to keep such a young and talented team together.

Although they already have Favors and Hayward locked down for the next our to five years, both Gobert and Kanter will be in high demand once they become free agents and they both will command very high pay raises with their size, skills and potential.  It is a shame that Utah may have to make a choice between keeping a physical shot blocking blue collar beast in the paint or the multifaceted Kanter who can basically score from anywhere one the court and at just 22 years old has a limitless ceiling. Nonetheless, there is plenty of talent to be had and very few teams have the luxury to have so many players who are not only young, but also have limitless upside and give them a few years together, they will certainly emerge into something special; however, as it stands now, they will have to settle with being on the outside looking in for quite some time.  Nonetheless, if they continue to maintain their solid and efficient offensive execution and continue to develop their defense which is strong in rim protection, but lacks a strong perimeter presence, the Jazz might just surprise us all and emerge as a playoff contender far earlier.  For now however, all anyone who is loyal to the Jazz can do is just enjoy the effort that their exciting young team has given them thus far, win or lose.