Friday, August 6, 2010

Most Improved Teams

The life of a sports fan is a roller coaster of emotions. You go from delirious highs to gut-wrenching lows over the course of a season, a game or even a few seconds.

We love our sports, and we love our teams and our players.

They may never win a championship or even come close, but we still love them for trying.

When you really think about it, all you can ask from a team is that they do their best and try to get better every year in hopes of winning a championship.

No fan of any team in any sport should have to suffer supporting a team which never improves and remains hopelessly stuck in the land of mediocrity, or even worse, atrocity.

Looking at this off-season in the NBA, it is safe to say that everybody knows teams like the Miami Heat and Chicago Bulls got better, and the Milwaukee Bucks have received recognition for their improvement as well, although I may have been the first to give them their due.

At the same time, there are other improved teams which for one reason or another haven't received the same publicity for their key additions and other moves which will make them better next season.

Before we get started, it should be pointed out that teams which decide to play lottery-ball instead of basketball can't be accounted for.

"Lottery-ball" is the term made up here to describe teams which play to win next season's NBA Draft Lottery rather than this season's schedule of games.

It is a phenomenon in the NBA which happens almost every year, especially when there is a can't-miss, franchise player available.

Bill Simmons has written about it, and here is a Dime Magazine summary of a Chris Tomasson piece quoting John Lucas and his description of how Cleveland sabotaged their 2002-03 season to win the right to draft LeBron James, a charge former Cavaliers owner Gordon Gund denies.

This phenomenon goes all the way back to the days before the NBA Draft Lottery, and it is why the league felt it had to input the lottery to begin with, although some people will tell you it was put in place in 1985 so the NBA could put Patrick Ewing on the New York Knicks by fixing the lottery.

Injuries are another thing which can't be accounted for, so this list is put in place assuming the teams (1) will remain relatively healthy and (2) will try their best to win as many games as possible.

(1) Detroit Pistons

One way to spot a team destined to improve is to look at teams who lost a lot of minutes from their best player(s).

This causes them to lose a lot of games, many more than they would have with the player(s) available.

They then end up in the lottery and get a player they never would have gotten with a healthy team.

The best player(s) come back joined by the lottery pick and poof!

Instant improvement.

Last year, Richard Hamilton and Tayshaun Prince, probably Detroit's best two players, both missed about half of the season.

The Pistons were able to parlay that misery into No. 7 overall pick Greg Monroe.

Hamilton and Prince returning and teaming up with high draft pick Monroe puts Detroit in prime position to improve its win total from last season.

Those injuries also allowed young players like Jonas Jerebko, Will Bynum and Austin Daye to gain valuable experience which will help the team.

Detroit has a deep team with many talented players whose skills go together. They should be much better than they were last year.

(2) Minnesota Timberwolves

The biggest reason Minnesota will be better this year is that they were so far down to begin with. With only 15 wins, there is almost no other way to go but up.

Thankfully, for the team's fans and fans of good basketball, general manager David Kahn and coach Kurt Rambis did much to improve the team after the end of last season.

The talent upgrade alone should double their win total, and they could finish around .500 or better with intangibles like team chemistry breaking their way.

In a trade with the Miami Heat, Minnesota picked up Michael Beasley. We must remind ourselves how great Michael Beasley was in his one season at Kansas State.

Here is some footage from that season.

Without Beasley having issues, there is no way Minnesota gets him as cheaply as they did or even at all. Beasley is an all-world talent who can take Minnesota wherever they want to go.

He just has to get himself together and on the right path and also learn how to pass the basketball (10.9:1 career FGA:A ratio).

Minnesota also added Wesley Johnson, Luke Ridnour, Sebastian Telfair and Martell Webster to go along with Corey Brewer, Jonny Flynn, Kevin Love, Darko Milicic and Wayne Ellington.

That is a very nice group of players.

They still need a rebounder/shot-blocker to become a real threat, but that player can be picked up next season.

For now, fans should be thrilled with the prospects of the current team.

(3) Los Angeles Clippers

No. 1 overall pick Blake Griffin missed the entire season last year. The Clippers drafted Al-Farouq Aminu No. 8 in the draft, so the Clippers will be adding two top-eight picks to their team from last season.

Griffin is another all-world talent.

The NBA has never before seen a power forward like him.

Here he is at Oklahoma, like Beasley, just incredible footage.

Another thing to look for is a team with a good backup point guard. Teams with good number-two point guards tend to do well because they allow teams to sustain their offenses for the full 48 minutes.

Like the Timberwolves with Ridnour and Telfair, the Clippers have Randy Foye. This was an excellent and underrated signing which will greatly help Los Angeles.

The Clips also have Chris Kaman and Baron Davis, two of the best players in the league at their positions. They have made significant roster upgrades and actually look like they are trying to win.

Coach Vinny Del Negro did an excellent job in Chicago last year, finishing 6-2 down the stretch to eke into the playoffs and making a great showing in the playoffs.

He did this while battling the adversity of having team executive John Paxson assault him in his office and the team suffering a 10-game losing streak when center Joakim Noah sat out with an injury.

The Clippers could make the playoffs this season.

(4) Indiana Pacers

Danny Granger missed 20 games last season, and TJ Ford missed 35. Indiana played Roy Hibbert only 25 minutes per game.

Neither of these three players played the most minutes (scroll down to "TOTALS" and click "MP") for the Pacers last year.

That honor belongs to Brandon Rush, followed by Troy Murphy and Earl Watson, not exactly the Super Friends.

That alone explains why Indiana won only 32 games. No team is going to win many games with those three players playing the most minutes.

Now that they drafted Paul George, maybe Indiana can start playing its best players again.

They have a deep and talented team and a championship core: Ford, George, Granger, Hibbert. These four players playing the most minutes will no doubt take the Pacers back to the playoffs.

The Pacers need a rebounder/shot-blocker at power forward and maybe a better backup point guard to compete for a championship, but we'll see how the team plays together and make that call later in the year.

(5) Golden State Warriors

Golden State was already covered here with their signing of Jeremy Lin.

We'll have to wait until Ekpe Udoh comes back from wrist surgery to fully evaluate them because along with Andris Biedrins, who missed 49 games last year, he gives them the ability to defend the paint, the most important thing a basketball team must do to win and a weakness of the Warriors since forever.

Look at who played the most minutes for Golden State last year.

Their only shot-blockers were Ronny Turiaf, Biedrins and Anthony Randolph; and they played in 42, 33 and 33 games.

That explains why Golden State allowed the most points in the league and had the second-worst field goal percentage defense.

Of the five players who played the most minutes, Corey Maggette was the tallest at 6-6; and Monta Ellis, at all of 6-3, led those five players with 25 blocks (.4 per game).

Nothing more needs to be said.

The Warriors will have to hold down the fort until Udoh comes back then try to make a run late in the season to make the playoffs.

Even without Udoh they should be drastically improved.

No comments:

Post a Comment