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Sunday, June 14, 2015

SDH's 2014/2015 NBA End of Season Worst to First Countdown: 17. Oklahoma City Thunder

2014/2015 Projection: 50-32, second place Northwest Division, fifth place Western Conference

Actual Finish: 45-37, second place Northwest Division, ninth place Western Conference

2014/2015 Finish

Actual 2014/2015 Finish

Team Statistics and League Rank

  • Points Scored: 104.0 (5th)
  • Points Allowed: 101.8(24th)
  • Team FG%: .447 (18th)
  • Opponent’s FG%: .440 (9th)
  • Team FT%: .754 (15th)
  • Team Three Point FG%: .339 (23rd)
  • Rebounds per game: 47.5 (1st)
  • Opponents rebounds per game: 42.7 (11th)
  • Turnovers per game: 14.0 (20th)
  • Opponents turnovers per game: 12.9 (21st)

Individual Statistical Leaders

  • Scoring (ppg): Russell Westbrook (28.1)
  • Rebounds per game:  Serge Ibaka (7.8)
  • Minutes per game: Russell Westbrook (34.4)
  • Assists per game:  Russell Westbrook (8.8)
  • Field Goal Percentage: Enes Kanter (.566)
  • Free Throw Percentage:  Jeremy Lamb (.890)
  • Three Point FG Percentage: Anthony Morrow (.434)
  • Steals per game:  Russell Westbrook (2.1)

  • Blocked Shots per game:   Serge Ibaka (2.4)

SDH’s Hero to Honor: +Russell Westbrook

What an absolute shame that the Thunder failed to make the post season, because if it had, this man would have most likely won the title of Most Valuable Player; however, even if he may be overlooked in the MVP race, there is no doubting that Russell Westbrook put forth one of single most impressive athletic performances for not only the year, but possibly in recent history.  This man literally carried the team on his back over the course of the regular season on both ends of the court as he finished it as not only the league's leading scorer, but also fourth in the league in assists with nearly ten per game and second in steals per game.  In addition to ranking in the top five in scoring, assists and steals, Westbrook was a absolute monster on the boards leading all point guards in rebounds averaging more than seven per game thus making him even more statistically intimidating that the king himself, +LeBron James.    Although Westbrook may have earned bragging rights for having the single most impressive season in possibly NBA history, what stings the most is that it was essentially all for naught as his team failed to make the playoffs despite such a mind blowing performance that will probably will never be seen again for quite some time

SDH’s Face to Forget: Scott Brooks

As Westbrook's earth shattering performance and super-heroics feats disappear in the annals of sports history, there will be an equally tragic event for Thunder basketball.  Scott Brooks--the man who led the team to countless division titles, playoff appearances, thus making him one of the sought after coaches in the +NBA--has been let go by the organization due to the team's inability to make the playoffs this season.  What makes this decision so unjust was not the fact that he got fired after just one disappointing finish, but the fact that he kept the team afloat and in the playoff chase despite the obstacles.  For much of the season, he was without +Kevin Durant, Serge Ibaka, and Russell Westbrook, yet still managed to keep the Thunder in striking distance of the post season; yet, through some cruel twist of fate, the team was eliminated out of contention as the +New Orleans Pelicans snatched the tie-breaker away from them leaving the Thunder on the outside looking in for the first time in five years and their now former head coach looking for a job.  Now Brooks will have a chance to prove that he can still coach an NBA team to playoff glory without having his two former anchors in Durant and Westbrook.  It will be interesting to see how he will manage in a new environment, with new personnel and a different front office; however, what will be even more intriguing is who the Thunder chose as his successor and whether or not he will maintain the team the way Brooks had for so long.

Forgive the pun, but to say that the 2015 +NBA Season for the +Oklahoma City Thunder was a "stormy" one would be putting it mildly as the team started it without its two leading scorers +Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook for the first month on the season and stumbled out of the gates with a 5-12 record.  Yet in spite of the odds against them, the Thunder clawed back to respectability thanks to the return of their dynamic duo leading the charge, but by the time the team seemed to get back on track Oklahoma City still faced an uphill battle as they had plenty of ground to return to contention in the rather overwhelming Western Conference.  As if matters were not arduous enough, in their quest for returning to relevancy, the Thunder would receive another harsh blow as Kevin Durant would be lost for the rest of the season after playing just 27 games leaving Westbrook to shoulder the scoring load in the most crucial month of the regular season; nevertheless, Westbrook answered the call as he put up on the single most impressive individual performances in possibly the history of sports and dragged his team to very end battling for the final playoff berth in the West.  His finishing the season not only as the league's top scorer, but one of its top assist men and ball thieves would possibly earned him MVP honors had the Thunder managed to clinch the final playoff spot in the West; however, both Westbrook and his team were cheated as they had been eliminated out of contention at the very last game of the season thanks to the +New Orleans Pelicans--who narrowly passed them thanks to a tie breaking technicality.

Although they finished with the exact same 45-37 record, the upstart Pelicans narrowly edged the more seasoned Thunder thanks to them having a better record in the Western Conference--29-23 compared to OKC's 25-27 finish; however, that should not mar what has been an overall impressive season by a team that had so many odds against it.  Oklahoma City literally took the expression "fighting to the very end," to heart as it virtually brushed off such a horrific start, scratched and clawed through every game winning 40 of their next 65 while undergoing great flux within the organization--not only with the absence of Durant, but also great with upheaval within the roster as well.  Along with Durant, the Thunder also had to endure another significant loss in +Serge Ibaka--the team's leading rebounding and shot blockers as well as its third leading scorer to boot--who had to sit out the season as well for knee surgery and had to deal with an emerging problem heading over the horizon.  During the first month of the season, point guard Reggie Jackson had stepped in to fill the void left by Westbrook's and Durant's absence and posted the best numbers in his career leading the team in points (19.3), assists (7.5) and minutes played, while at the same time grabbed 5.3 rebounds at the same time; however upon Durant's and Westbrook's arrival, both Jackson's minutes and production significantly dropped resulting in him becoming frustrated with his role and demanding a trade.  This resulted in the Thunder pulling off a massive deal involving the +Detroit Pistons and +Utah Jazz that not only cast away a disgruntled player, but also relieved them of a perennial useless dead weight in +Kendrick Perkins--who had worn out his welcome with fans for quite some time--plus gathered pieces to bolster its roster for the final stretch run.

From Detroit, OKC received point guard DJ Augustin and swing man Kyle Singler--two players whose both their ball handling ability and shooting prowess meshed in well with the Thunder's offensive set giving a team a suitable fill in for Durant in Singler while at the same time adding a point guard who did not mind to take a back seat, unlike Jackson; however, they were not the biggest part of the deal.  In a shocking move, the Jazz gave the Thunder rising young big man +Enes Kanter, who had been just coming into his own in the last couple of years and had the makings of a potential All Star down the road; however, similar to the situation with Jackson, Kanter felt uncomfortable with his limited role in Utah and upon arriving to Okay City, he certainly proved himself worthy of All Star consideration with a stellar performance that was only eclipsed by Westbrook's own.   The 23 year old fourth year center from Turkey was unstoppable as he stormed in posting some of the best numbers that has not been seen from an NBA center with averages of 19 points and 11 rebounds per game while shooting an unconscious .566 from the field during the last 26 games of the regular season.   In addition to +Dion Waiters,  whom the team acquired earlier in a trade with the +Cleveland Cavaliers, along with an already solid supporting class of role players from the previous seasons, the Oklahoma City Thunder looked just as strong as it did with both Durant and Ibaka in the roster on both ends of the floor while at the same time provided fans a sneak peak of what might come once they return next season.  Unfortunately, in spite of the rather impressive roster upgrades, it became a case of "too little, too late" for the Thunder as the team's 5-12 start was simply too much of a burden to bear resulting in not only missing the post season, but also falling out of any chance of attaining the number one overall pick in this summer's upcoming draft which is probably worse than simply falling apart and wasting the season away the same way the +New York Knicks, +Los Angeles Lakers , +Philadelphia 76ers and +Minnesota Timberwolves did to the chagrin of many.

Fortunately for the Thunder, they are not in as too bad of a situation as the other teams in the league that fell short to make the playoffs since their fall came due to a series of unfortunate circumstances rather than showing that they are a team in decline or disarray.  Had both Durant and Westbrook been healthy from opening tip off, Oklahoma City would  have won at least 55 to 60 games easy; however, as a result of just sheer bad luck and the even worst misfortune of being in a conference which does not allow any margin of error, the Thunder were forced to play catch up for the majority of the season.  The team will certainly be in better shape with Westbrook, Durant and Ibaka at full strength as they have the entire summer to relax, recuperate and recover from their respective surgeries and hopefully if there are no complications, their restoration period will pass without any complications; however, next season will be bittersweet as they will return without their head coach from the past seven years as it was recently announced that Scott Brooks had been relieved of his post as a result of this off chance season.  The dismissal of Brooks can be considered as both a shame and an injustice since he had led Thunder to stand among the league's elite from the moment he stepped into the coaching seat and it was primarily because of his coaching that the Thunder managed to remain in the playoff chase until the very end; plus, the person who will be replacing him has no experience coaching the NBA and will be expected to return this seasoned veteran team back to the stature that Brooks originally brought it in the first place.  Billy Donovan has been successful in the college ranks leading the +Florida Gators to two straight +NCAA Championship titles plus numerous tournament appearances since then; however, so far no college coach, even the most successful in their respective fields has been able to bring that same success to the pros and he will be expected to coach a team where he will have little or no learning curve and the margin of error is nonexistent.  

The introduction of a new coach could not have come at a worse time as next season will possibly be the most pivotal for the franchise because the contracts of both the team's franchise players will expire at its end and such a crucial time needs a more seasoned professional at the coach's seat rather than one that is learning the ropes.  This past season has made this situation especially rough because it was essentially wasted due to the the injuries of both Durant and Westbrook and the team's failure to make the playoffs thus resulting in this upcoming one possibly being the last hurrah for this small market NBA franchise that has gained such critical acclaim in such a short span of time. Since arriving to Oklahoma City from Seattle, the Thunder went from wallowing at the bottom as a lottery team its first year to winning 50 games and reaching the playoffs in its second to reaching the NBA Finals two years later and has maintained a reputation as one of the league's elite and most successful franchises since then.  Unfortunately, this past season has put all that in jeopardy as it was supposed to be a make or break year to see whether or not it had what it took to at least pull off one last NBA Championship run before everything falls apart and the Thunder would be forced to start back from scratch after such a successful seven year playoff run.   Now Thunder fans will have to painfully endure endless speculation and await this season not with their usual hope and excitement, but with the dread of what may soon come. 




Tuesday, June 9, 2015

SDH's 2014/2015 NBA End of Season Worst to First Countdown: 18. Phoenix Suns

2014/2015 Projection: 34-48, fifth place Pacific Division, thirteenth place Western Conference

Actual Finish: 39-43, third place Pacific Division, tenth place Western Conference

2014/2015 Finish

Actual 2014/2015 Finish

Team Statistics and League Rank

  • Points Scored: 102.4 (11th)
  • Points Allowed: 103.3 (18th)
  • Team FG%: .452 (15th)
  • Opponent’s FG%: .452 (24th)
  • Team FT%: .760(11th)
  • Team Three Point FG%: .341 (21st)
  • Rebounds per game: 43.2 (17th)
  • Opponents rebounds per game: 45.3 (28th)
  • Turnovers per game: 14.5 (26th)
  • Opponents turnovers per game: 15.0 (7th)

Individual Statistical Leaders

  • Scoring (ppg):  Eric Bledsoe (17.0)
  • Rebounds per game:  Alex Len (6.6)
  • Minutes per game: Eric Bledsoe (34.6)
  • Assists per game:  Eric Bledsoe (6.1)
  • Field Goal Percentage: Brandan Wright (.580)
  • Free Throw Percentage: Brandon Knight (.830)
  • Three Point FG Percentage: Marcus Morris (.358)
  • Steals per game: Eric Bledsoe (1.6)
  • Blocked Shots per game:  Alex Len (1.5)

SDH’s Hero to Honor: +Markieff Morris

After three years of staying in the shadows and in relative obscurity, Markieff Morris has finally had his come out party to the world posting career highs in scoring, rebounding, steals, and minutes played.  His 16.2 points per game was second behind leading scorer +Eric Bledsoe and ranked among the top ten in power forwards in the league in scoring as well.  In the 82 games he played for the Suns, he posted 10 double-doubles in points and rebounds while putting up double figures in scoring in all but 17 games while posting 15 or more points in half the games he played.  Unfortunately his efforts were not enough for the Suns as the team fell out of the playoff picture yet for the fifth straight year; yet in spite of that, he still gives Suns fans plenty of hope for the future as he has shown plenty of potential to be one of the upper echelon big men in the league.  Now all that remains to be seen is whether or not his teammate and twin brother, Marcus, will follow in his footsteps as he too posted a respectable season as well with 10.4 points and 4.8 boards per game, but was not nearly of an impact as his brother was.   
SDH’s Face to Forget: +PJ Tucker 

Last season, he was the hidden gem that helped the Suns not only win a shocking 48 games, but within a hair's breath of a playoff berth had it not been for the +Dallas Mavericks slipping past them winning just one game more; however, this season he went from a key contributor to literal dead weight that would soon fall out of the rotation.  PJ Tucker's disappointing downfall started as early as last off season as he was stopped by police for driving WAY above the legally standard blood alcohol level; yet the Suns management still found it prudent to reward him with a lucrative four year 24$ million contract extension.  Sadly, his return did not provide Phoenix with the offensive punch that they expected from him as he would fall out of the starting rotation at the time, his team won nine less game than they did the previous year.  Fortunately for the Suns, PJ's contract is small enough not to hurt their cap situation which can be easily traded if need be and that might be the case as Tucker has become less of strength and more of a liability on a team that suffered from a severe lack of size last season.  More than likely, he will most probably be dealt before next season's trade deadline as the Suns look to recover from what has been a rather disappointing season to say the least.  

The 2015 +NBA Season was an absolute embarrassment for the +Phoenix Suns as not only did they fail to make the playoffs, but they manage to do worse than the previous season.  Last year, the Suns were the surprise team in the league as they far exceeded expectations by winning 45 games, and despite missing the playoffs, gave their fans plenty of hope for the following season; however, instead of building upon where they left off, they actually slipped and fell off a few notches.  The season started well enough as the Suns maintained above .500 throughout the first three months of the season and by the end of January sat firmly with a 28-21 record; however, once February rolled around the Suns only managed to win 11 of their last 33 games thus falling out of playoff contention for the fifth straight year.  It was almost as if the team had suddenly run out of gas as its fast paced run and gun offense ran out of ammunition while their defense, which was nothing to write home about anyways, allowed their opponents to not only catch up with them, but actually outpaced them.  Not only did the Suns allow opposing team to outscore them by 0.9 points, but they also permit them to out rebound them by a +2.1 margin--in spite of them both shooting at the same field goal percentage--and turned the ball over as much as their opponents as well.

One primary reason for this collapse was the sad fact that the Suns were simply out-matched as they were extremely undersized thus unable to prevent their opponents from scoring in the paint and had no real superstar players to rely on, despite handing over franchise player caliber money to +Eric Bledsoe during the off season.   Bledsoe certainly proved that he was worth the five year 70$ million extension the Suns signed him to as he led the team in scoring, assists, steals, and minutes played per games; however, at the same time, he failed to prove that he was capable of carry a team as his numbers never really stood out among the top point guards in the league thus not bringing the superstar presence that the Suns hoped that he would be.   It did not help that the Suns virtually spent the off season acquiring point guards in the off chance that Bledsoe would not re-sign with them resulting in the team having a glut of five point guards playing while at the same time had little or anything to complement them in the front court which had been all but invisible for most of the season.  Markieff Morris was the sole offensive  presence in the front court, but the big man was anything but the "power forward" that he was listed as he spent most of his time circling the perimeter on offense while providing little if anything on the defensive side on the floor which can be seen by his rather poor rebounding numbers of just 6.2 per game.  As for the rest of the big man corps, they had produced rather shamefully altogether as seven players combined for just 34.4 points and 26.6 rebounds per game--which averages to just about 4.9 points and 3.8 rebounds per player--thus leaving the Suns rather weak in the paint allowing opposing teams to simply have their way with them down low.

Upon closer examination, one can certainly determine how the Suns who were doing so well earlier in the season fall so sharply by February--it was simply because the team was just too worn down to keep up with its competition due to its severe lack of a front court presence which primarily provided rim protection, rebounding and overall physical presence in the paint. Despite finishing the season with a rather respectable .452 field goal percentage, much of the Suns' offense came from the perimeter and since there was virtually no one to receive the ball down low and execute in the paint, opposing defenses would simply focus on the Suns' shooters rather than give any attention to anyone below the top of the key. As a result, there was little or no space for attacking the basket since all the lanes were essentially blocked off as there was no one to keep opposing defenses somewhat honest enough to keep an eye on any Phoenix player that happens to be in the paint at any given time.  The lack of front court presence also hurt the Suns in the areas of rebounding and transition defensive because they were simply getting out muscled on the boards and literally had no one to stop the competition from running across the other side of the court and getting easy baskets.  Phoenix's only defensive strategy simply seemed to be outscoring the other team rather than put any defensive pressure on the ball and at least make an effort to try and stop the opposing team from scoring the ball; instead, their plan was to simply out run and out shoot their opponents hoping that the break neck pace would tire them out--a plan that was pretty much doomed to fail because they simply did not have the personnel talented enough to pull it off.

82 games was simply too long of a time span for any team to maintain the break neck run and gun pace that the Suns tried to play, so it was little wonder how they ran out of gas by mid season; plus, it did not help the team's chances if it allowed their opponents to play at the same speed because they will just burn out on both ends of the court.  Sure, what little defense they did show led to finishing seventh in the league in opponents' turnovers, but their efforts were often cancelled out by the team's lack of discipline with the ball which resulted in the Suns committing as many turnovers that the team forced their competition to commit; however, this was not one of the only areas where Phoenix performed well only to shoot themselves in the foot by allowing their opponents to do the same.  Along with finishing with a rather efficient field goal percentage, the Suns also performed well on the offensive boards averaging about eleven per game which allowed them to finish 13th per game; however, their primarily perimeter focused offense and the lack of a presence in the paint led to their opponents being able to grab more rebounds on the defensive end once again cancelling Phoenix's effort on the offensive glass.  To add insult to injury, in spite of their less than stellar defensive effort as can be seen by the points that they allowed along with their opponents' field goal percentage, the Suns did finished a respectable twelfth place in the league in blocked shots per game at 4.7 per game; however, that did not stop their opponents from beating them on the offensive glass and getting put backs into the basket either.  Altogether, it was their lack of size which did them in once the season ended as they literally did not have the presence down low to fight for rebounds as well as produce any scoring in the paint thus one can actually blame the Suns' downfall to the team's front office whose poor decision making left the team undersized and outclassed for the bulk of the regular season.

If Phoenix plans to return to the playoff contender status it enjoyed five years ago, the front office will have to do some major work in the off season to try and attract star quality talent because as it stands now, the Suns have none to speak of and with the team at its current state, there is no way that they will see the post season anytime soon.  With their competitors in the Western Conference vastly surpassing them over the past five years, the Suns have plenty of ground to gain back and their window of opportunity continues to close with each passing season as the overall playoff field has been initially set for the next few years so unless something drastic happens within the next few months, folks in Phoenix will find themselves once again on the outside looking in.  In order to do so, both the coaching staff and the front office have to make drastic changes in not only their roster, but their overall basketball philosophy and culture because it seems as if the team has fallen behind the times remaining with an ineffective style of play while not bringing in players needed to add toughness to a roster that is sorely lacking in it.  Unless that happens Suns fans will continue to find their team hovering around mediocrity not getting any better than a team not good enough to make the playoffs, yet not bad enough to garner a better chance at the number one pick in the draft and no one wants that.  Lets hope that the front office gets its act together because after five straight years with no playoff appearances, the Suns' relevancy in the +NBA looks to be fading with each passing season.       






Wednesday, June 3, 2015

SDH's 2014/2015 NBA End of Season Worst to First Countdown: 19. Indiana Pacers

2014/2015 Projection: 38-44, fifth place Central Division, eleventh place Eastern Conference 

Actual Finish: 38-44, fourth place Central Division, ninth place Eastern Conference 

2014/2015 Finish

Actual 2014/2015 Finish

Team Statistics and League Rank

  • Points Scored: 97.3 (24th)
  • Points Allowed: 97.0 (4th)
  • Team FG%: .439 (23rd)
  • Opponent’s FG%: .435 (3rd)
  • Team FT%: .756 (13th)
  • Team Three Point FG%: .352 (12th)
  • Rebounds per game: 44.9 (5th)
  • Opponents rebounds per game: 42.7 (10th)
  • Turnovers per game: 13.3 (12th)
  • Opponents turnovers per game: 12.1 (26th)

Individual Statistical Leaders

  • Scoring (ppg): George Hill (16.1)
  • Rebounds per game:  Roy Hibbert (7.1)
  • Minutes per game: George Hill (29.5)
  • Assists per game:  George Hill (5.1)
  • Field Goal Percentage: Ian Mahinmi (.552)
  • Free Throw Percentage:  CJ Watson (.830)
  • Three Point FG Percentage: Damjan Rudez (.406)
  • Steals per game: George Hill (1.0)
  • Blocked Shots per game: Roy Hibbert (1.8)

SDH’s Hero to Honor: Frank Vogel

Last season Frank Vogel would have been castigated for the poor utilization of his players and the even more disgraceful anemic offensive production which showed both a lack of creativity or any real thought on his part; however, this season, it was the same weaknesses that he has been chided for that kept his team from becoming a complete disaster and kept Indy in playoff contention until the very end.  The man was left with virtually nothing to start the regular season as his team were without their star player, Paul George, who had suffered a season ending injury during the summer as well as the lack of foresight of his boss, Larry Bird, to allow Lance Stephenson, the Pacers' second best player, to walk away in free agency.  All that remained were a bunch of over the hill veterans in David West, Luis Scola, Roy Hibbert and George Hill who spent much of the season on the injured list along with a list of no names and castaways from other teams.  Instead of throwing his hands up in despair, Vogel managed to take the little he had and still kept the Pacers a rather strong competitive force despite the limited offensive output and complete lack of scoring.  Even in the worst of times when it seemed so bleak that his team would never recover, he still managed to keep his team focused and playing together to the best of its collective ability thus making him the most crucial part of the Pacers' troubled 2015 season.

SDH’s Face to Forget: +Larry Bird 

Pacers fans: want someone to blame for the sad shape your team is in?  
Then look no further than the man you people so reverently worship because it was Larry Bird who chose to cheap out on Lance Stephenson which led him to jump ship to the +Charlotte Hornets.  Stephenson certainly would have been useful considering the loss of Paul George for the season and the fact that he chose to replace him with cheaper and less effective alternatives makes his errors even more grievous.  Instead of finding ways to improve the team in the wake of the reemergence of the +Cleveland Cavaliers and the +Chicago Bulls, he chose to stand pat at with same time of tired, worn out, and over the hill players resulting his team to fall from first place last season to second to last in its own Central Division. To make matters worse, he did not see the writing on the wall choosing to allow the team to make a playoff push instead of scrapping it altogether, tanking, and make a bid for a top three pick the same way the +Los Angeles Lakers and +New York Knicks did. Now not only has Indy missed the playoffs, but at best will have the number 12 pick in this upcoming draft to look forward to.   It just goes to show how Larry Bird is so out of touch with today's NBA and needs to do the right thing and step down because things will not get any better as long as he is at the helm.   

How the mighty have fallen--just a year ago, the +Indiana Pacers had finished the regular season with the best record in the Eastern Conference and had reached as far as the Conference Finals until they were taken down by the +Miami HEAT; however, now all of that glory is gone as the team fell from being the top dog in its division for the past two years to dragging near the bottom of the barrel this season.  Pacers fans would blame their team's sudden crashing downfall to the fact that they missed their star player, Paul George, due to the horrific season ending injury that he suffered during a summer exhibition game; however, even before then there were signs that Indy's ride on top of the wave of the NBA's elite was about to come crashing down.  It first came with the news of +LeBron James returning to the place he once called home signing to the team that originally drafted him, +Cleveland Cavaliers, and the team's acquisition of All Star power forward +Kevin Love from the +Minnesota Timberwolves during the off-season thus completely removing any competitive advantage the Pacers ever had.  Fellow Central Division rival, the +Chicago Bulls also got into the act as they significantly upgrading their roster thanks to the addition of All Star big man and two time +NBA Championship winner +Pau Gasol; nonetheless, that was not the worst of the turmoil as the final blow came from the Pacers' boss, Larry Bird, when he refused to pay Lance Stephenson--the Pacers' third leading scorer who also led the team in rebounds, assists, and field goal percentage--the money that he deserved.  That led to Stephenson, who many arguably considered as the heart and soul of that 2014 Pacers team, to jump ship and sign for less money and a shorter contract to the +Charlotte Hornets as both an act of defiance and disgust towards both Bird and the Pacers organization leaving the team with no real go to guy on offense as well as an excellent passer and lock down defender.    

All that coupled with the fact the Larry Bird did absolutely nothing in terms of improving the team led to Indiana coming into the 2015 regular season with a hodgepodge roster off broken down and over the hill players blended in with a group of rejects and no name garbage players.  Their returning key players were already in bad enough shape with David West, Indy's second leading scorer and rebounder last year, missing the entire month of November due to injury and starting point guard George Hill missing almost half the season as well due to injury; however, that was further amplified by the poor play of +Roy Hibbert, whose game continued to decline and +Luis Scola, whom at 35 years old was initially running on fumes throughout the season.  Despite his near 15$ million price tag and having the opportunity to take a greater role on the team with George and Stephenson no longer there, Hibbert's play was uninspired to say the least as he was barely a factor on the offensive end while his rebounding at just 7.1 per game was not much to write home about either, considering he was the team's primary presence in the paint.  To make matters worse for the Pacers' front court production, upon returning from the injured list, David West would prove to be a shadow of his former self as he finished the season with one his worst performances in his career averaging a paltry 11.7 point per game--down from his near 16.0 points per game that he has produced over the last two years.  And despite putting up rather respectable numbers for a player headed towards the twilight of his career with 9.4 points and 6.8 rebounds while being the sole member of that group to play the entire season, Poor Luis Scola simply could not give any more than the 20.5 minutes he played which left the Pacers struggling to search for ways to put the ball in the basket.

Fortunately, despite their crumbling core of veterans, the Pacers still managed by some miracle to scrape up and pool what very few  resources they had to kick, bite scratch for every single points thanks to the team's scrappy play which actually helped them to outscore their opponents by +0.3 margin as well as out shoot them by an even slimmer +.004 margin; however, what actually kept them in their games was their all out effort on defense and on the glass as they ranked in the top five in the league in points allowed, opponents' field goal percentage and rebounds per game. Give head coach Frank Vogel plenty of credit for motivating his players and encouraging his players to battle the odds and go beyond their limits even if it did not mean winning in the end because it is doubtful that any coach in the NBA would have been able to keep the Pacers treading water until the very end of the season with the little that he had to work with.  With all the injuries and adversity that both he and his team faced throughout the season, Vogel had to scrape way down to the bottom of the roster to find someone ready, willing and able to contribute regardless of the outcome.  Thankfully, he found what he needed from every player on his roster and it was not pretty to say the least with seven players averaging in double figures and six of them putting up more than five points per game; sadly, however, none of the players--save for George Hill, who only played just 43 games--managed to average at least 15 points per game for the season thus showing how the team struggled to find a go to player that the team can count on scoring baskets.

Nevertheless, in spite being unable to find at least one player who can consistently put points up on the scoreboard on a regular basis, Vogel and his crew of misfits managed to keep their opponents scoring low enough for them to at least catch up and have a shot at winning; however, with that style of play being so physically grueling, the Pacers simply could not hold on to grab wins and their inability to score made it even more difficult since they could not score at the other end of the court to save their lives.  Without anyone really capable to execute and be even somewhat offensively efficient, much of the team's defensive effort was often wasted which often resulted in the Pacers to essentially run out of gas thus giving way for their opponents to push past them and worst of all, all the blood sweat and tears that Indy shed means anything as they failed to make the playoffs.  To add insult to injury, not only did all that effort and hard way fail to get them into the post season, but the Pacers have to suffer an even more stinging blow in that their 38-44 record essentially eliminated them from any chance of attaining the number one overall pick in this summer's NBA Draft and the best they can hope for is a pick between the 10 to twelve range.  In hindsight, instead of putting all that effort and suffering the heartbreak of falling barely out of playoff contention, it would have been more advantageous for the Pacers to  simply tank the season and lose enough games to increase their chances of securing at least a top four or five pick; however, that did not happen and fans in Indy will have to grit their teeth and watch teams such as the +Minnesota Timberwolves+Los Angeles Lakers, +Philadelphia 76ers and +New York Knicks walk away with a potential star player while they get left with whatever table scraps that are left behind.  For Pacers fans, that has to hurt the most because just a year before their team was on top of the world and vying for an NBA championship, but now they find themselves wallowing at the bottom with little if anything to look forward to.                        

To say that the future for the Pacers looks bleak is putting it mildly because even with Paul George back in the lineup and at full health, Indy is at at best a marginal playoff team capable of attaining the seventh or possibly the eighth seed which is not necessarily an achievement considering that they are in the Eastern Conference.  With Lebron at the helm, the Cavs, short of an act of God, will most likely hold the Central Division crown for the next five to six years with the Bulls falling shortly behind leaving the Pacers to fight for third place against the +Milwaukee Bucks and the +Detroit Pistons which is not an easy feat to say the least.  Head coach Jason Kidd has turned the Bucks from a team that won just 17 games in 2014 to an immediate playoff contender transforming it into one of the up and coming young teams in the league while Stan Van Gundy's Pistons, although they finished last place, were just six games behind Indiana making them a potential threat next year.  Unless something big happens in the off season, it looks as if the only place that the Pacers will be heading is down and Larry Bird will have no choice but to tear the current team down and rebuild it from scratch; however, will that go well with Paul George--a player who has been tabbed as the face of the franchise and may not be patient to have to look forward to a long and painful rebuild?  Nonetheless, it will be a long off season and there will be plenty of time to prepare until opening tip off in November so hopefully the Pacers can get something done from now to then in order to at least stave of their eventual collapse.    



Monday, June 1, 2015

SDH's 2014/2015 NBA End of Season Worst to First Countdown: 20. Utah Jazz

2014/2015 Projection: 25-57, fourth place Northwest Division, fourteenth place Western Conference

Actual Finish: 38-44, third place Northwest Division, eleventh place Western Conference

2014/2015 Finish

Actual 2014/2015 Finish

Team Statistics and League Rank

  • Points Scored: 95.1 (26th)
  • Points Allowed: 94.9 (1st)
  • Team FG%: .447(19th)
  • Opponent’s FG%: .446 (14th)
  • Team FT%: .721 (26th)
  • Team Three Point FG%: .343 (19th)
  • Rebounds per game: 44.0 (11th)
  • Opponents rebounds per game: 39.2 (1st)
  • Turnovers per game: 14.2 (22nd)
  • Opponents turnovers per game: 12.6 (23rd)

Individual Statistical Leaders

  • Scoring (ppg): Gordon Hayward (19.3)
  • Rebounds per game:  Rudy Gobert (9.5)
  • Minutes per game: Gordon Hayward (34.4)
  • Assists per game:  Trey Burke (4.3)
  • Field Goal Percentage: Rudy Gobert (.604)
  • Free Throw Percentage:   Jeremy Evans (.830)
  • Three Point FG Percentage: Steve Novak (.485)
  • Steals per game: Gordon Hayward (1.4)
  • Blocked Shots per game:  Rudy Gobert (2.3)

SDH’s Hero to Honor: Quin Snyder

Here is a Cinderella story for the ages: a young rookie coach with no prior experience takes a team in which the majority of players have yet to reach their 25th birthdays and despite missing the playoffs, manages to shatter the expectations of not only his fans, but those who had overlooked them.  With the lack of both experience and maturity, the Utah Jazz were not even expect to reach 20 wins, let alone match the 28 they won last season; yet the team still managed to finish ten games ahead of their previous record while at the same time post impressive overall stats that would out-shadow even the most tested of veteran teams.  In spite of finishing with a losing record, the Jazz managed to finish the regular season among the top teams in the league in points and rebounds allowed, while at the same time managed to outscore their opponents, albeit by a rather slim +.02 margin.  Had they been in the Eastern Conference, they would have easily earned the seventh or eighth in the playoffs, but sadly they are in a heavily loaded Western Conference where 45 wins--which would have earned a team fifth place in the East--did not even manage to get in the door.  Regardless, Utah fans must not only be ecstatic about their team's surprising finish, but also jumping out their seats with excitement as this team will only get better in time and if it continues to improve, return to the post season might come sooner rather than later.     

SDH’s Face to Forget: +Dante Exum

So much was said about this young Australian kid that many had him in line to being possibly the next +Kobe Bryant, which ultimately led him to being selected fifth overall in last summer's draft; however, as with the majority of his rookie class, Dante Exum fell well short of expectations.  While many expected him to easily assimilate to the NBA style of plays because of his size, skills and superior basketball IQ, Dante seemed lost like a deer stuck in headlights and was unable to find any sense of rhythm and consistency as can be seen by his .349 field goal percentage.  And it was not as if he was not given an opportunity to succeed as he was able to appear in all 82 games and even managed to play an average 22 minutes per game, which is quite impressive for a player just coming into the league; yet, all he managed to produce a meager 4.8 points and 2.6 assists per game making some speculate whether or not he will even remain in the league let alone become the star that many have anticipated him being.  For now the safest response to Dante's less than earth shattering performance is that he is still a work in progress and at just 19 years old, he has plenty of time to evolve into a pretty decent player.  Fortunately for him, Dante will not have the pressure to shoulder the burden of leading a team as that title has already been given to Gordon Hayward and all he has to do is provide solid role support to assure the Jazz continue to march upward toward legitimacy.

It almost seemed improbable to think that a sports team situated in the middle of nowhere, with little of no access to any media exposure, would end up becoming one of the most successful professional franchises in modern sports history; however, that has been the case for the +Utah Jazz who for more than thirty years have defied all regular conventions and has become a model for building a winning organization.  In spite of not being around a major metropolitan area with little or no access to the mainstream media, the Jazz have garnered as much, if not more exposure and acclaim than team that have such advantages rivaling such storied franchises as the +Los Angeles Lakers+New York Knicks+Chicago Bulls, and +Boston Celtics. When even mentioning the Jazz in conversations, no one even points out that in having had 25 winning seasons in the past 31--16 of which they won 50 or more games and 14 in which they at least advanced past the first round of the playoffs--Utah did so without the good fortune of having the ability of attracting marquee free agents or the fact that two of the greatest players that have ever worn their uniform did not even get drafted in the top ten of their respective draft classes.  Even when the Hall of fame duo of Stockton and Malone bid farewell to Salt Lake City thus ending an glorious era in not only Utah basketball but also in +NBA history, the Jazz still managed to bounce back after a falling out of playoff contention for three years, and rebuilt itself into a contender once again, and used the same formula they did before despite the hurdles they had to overcome; however, that era has proven to be short lived and now the Jazz and their fans find their legacy on the verge of being swallowed into the void of irrelevancy as smaller market teams like themselves are now in threat of being swept under the rug.  2015 was expected to be the end of not only a franchise, but an end of an era where even a small team like the Jazz could make a grand mark on the world stage as it was going to be the first chapter of a once noble franchise's fall to oblivion.

Not many gave the Jazz a chance as the team came into the 2015 regular season with a roster where the majority of the players were under the age of 25 with less than five years of experience and a rookie head coach whom no one had even heard of; however, what was supposed to be a wash of a season ended up to be one of the year's biggest and most pleasant surprises.  Instead of allowing themselves to be rolled over by the rest of the league, this team of young adults actually competed giving even the best teams a run for their money thanks to their surprisingly mature and cohesive style of play as well as an even more remarkable performance on the defensive end that would even put some of the most hardened veteran teams to shame.  Even though they did not make the playoffs, the Jazz, despite all their youth and inexperience, managed to defy all expectations finishing third place in their division behind the +Portland Trail Blazers and +Oklahoma City Thunder and with a record of 38-44, would have earned the team a playoff berth had they been playing in the much weaker Eastern Conference.  What made this season even more amazing was not just their record which blew away possibly even the most optimistic expectations from sports pundits, but the numbers that the team produced as whole where upon seeing them, would make many wonder how they did not manage to have a better record or make the playoffs in the first place.  Not only did the Jazz finish the season among the league's top teams in points, rebounds, and field goal percentage allowed, but they also managed to outscore their opponents--albeit by a rather slim +0.02 margin; yet, in spite of such a strong showing, they neither managed to earn themselves a winning record or come near to making the playoffs.

From watching this team play, no one would have even fathomed that a group of twenty somethings would be able play with such focus and disciplined ball that it held NBA teams down to an average of under 95 points and forty rebounds per game as well as out-rebounding them by a plus five margin and holding them to a field goal percentage of under .450; yet in doing so, Utah proved to not only the league, but the world that news of its demise were completely overblown.  In fact, with such a impressive performance, especially on the defensive end, this team will most certainly bounce back much faster than the majority of basketball fans, media, even the team itself had ever anticipated in their wildest dreams as the Jazz can no longer be considered as a lumbering dinosaur on the verge of extinction, but now can boast of being one of the league's up and coming teams with possibly the deepest treasure trove of under 25 talent in the league. With their young ages and the limitless high ceiling of each Utah Jazz player , given a year or two, they might just upset the balance of power in the Western Conference finally breaking the stranglehold of the few teams that have remained in the Western Conference Playoff picture which can best described as cruelly oppressive for the past few years.  To witness a team so young connect so quickly and execute with such cohesion and discipline on both ends of the floor is almost as mind-boggling as the fact that this is the team who for more than three decade have defied the odds and so openly questioned conventional basketball wisdom where successful teams has to come from large and more lucrative markets.  By putting forth such an impressive performance, Utah has once again put itself in a place where they can bring itself back into the spotlight thus silencing their critics and doubters.

To prove how stacked with young talent this Jazz team is, one can point out how it simply traded away +Enes Kanter, a player that many see to be potentially a future All Star, to the +Oklahoma City Thunder for nothing more than a couple of garbage players, a future first round pick that would at best be in the late twenties, and a veteran in which they later waived.  Kanter was selected third overall in the 2011 NBA Draft and over the past four years had been developing into a rather impressive player as can be seen by the steady improvement of his numbers; however, in spite of that, Kanter's minutes were being squeezed thanks to the presence of equally talented teammates +Derrick Favors and +Rudy Gobert which frustrated him to a point of demanding a trade.  The Jazz were more than happy to oblige with Kanter's demand sending him over to Oklahoma City without a second thought and he would go on to put on a career performance posting an average of 19 points and 11 boards in the 26 games he playing in OKC; however, that did not phase the Jazz one bit as Kanter's replacement in the starting lineup, Rudy Gobert, would go on to finish the regular season with 8 points, nearly 10 rebounds, and over two blocks per game in just over 26 minutes of playing time.  Although many criticized letting go of Kanter for so little in return after finishing so strongly in the Thunder, Gobert might prove to be just as good if not better than Kanter as can be seen by his continual growth over the course of the season to the point where in the last two months he was averaging a double double in points and rebounds while blocking over two shots per game.  That is just one example of how bottomless the depths of the talent in Utah's roster and how limitless high their players' ceilings are and as time passes there will be even more controversies such as the Kanter affair if rookie Dante Exum progresses to develop and take minutes away from +Trey Burke and +Alec Burks, who are currently ahead of him on the roster chart; however, with such a luxury of having such a wealth of talent, do not expect the Jazz's coaching staff or its front office to worry about it.        

With so much talent that has yet to reach its full potential and from what the players have shown thus far with their overall discipline, defensive intensity and solid offensive execution, it will not be a matter of if the Jazz will overtake on of these teams, but only a matter of when as Utah looks to return to prominence once again as on of the Western Conference's elites and that time may come sooner rather than later.  Right now no one has yet to pay attention to the Jazz since most of it has been spent on focusing on teams such as the +Golden State Warriors+Houston Rockets+Los Angeles Clippers+Memphis Grizzlies+Dallas Mavericks+Portland Trail Blazers and +San Antonio Spurs since they currently hold the balance of power in the Western Conference; however, no team can afford to sleep on the Jazz, especially the Blazers and the Thunder--two team who have essentially owned the Northwest Division for the past three or four years. This team is too simply good to be underestimated and it might just pull off an equally implausible performance as the +Atlanta Hawks did this past season; however, unlike Atlanta, Utah has far more talented players who have a far higher upside.  Many had the Jazz pushing up daisies when legendary head coach Jerry Sloan resigned after over a quarter century of service four years ago, but it seems that the team has potentially found a new coaching legend in Quin Snyder--someone who virtually flew under the radar and turned about of raw, green behind the ear whipper snappers into one of the league's fast rising teams.  After this season, the next one will certainly be one of excitement for Jazz fans as they enter a new era with such hope for the future and once again prove to the world that an NBA team does not need to be in a big market of it wants any chance at a championship.