A Substitute for War

Basketball philosophy

33pt Thursday: Team Rankings/Predictions for the Eastern Conference (NBA 2012-2013) (+ Question and Answer)

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LeBron James

LeBron James (Photo credit: Keith Allison)

Before getting to Eastern Conference rankings, answering a question

Q:   Was wondering if sometime you could post about player development, and which of your 3 areas a deficiency is hardest to overcome. If you were drafting and it was an either/or situation, would you prefer  a player with the elite physical tools, elite skill, or elite feel for the game.(Assuming relatively poor ratings in the other 2 categories) (- Michael Smith)

A: Hi Michael and thanks for the question. Player development is definitely something I wondered in regards to the 33pt theory. The one that seems most difficult for a player to change to me, is feel for the game. A players’ instinct level and what’s in their head, is something practice isn’t going to change.  The players who have elite feel for the game make it very clear in college and high school and the ones who don’t, stay that way.

So that leaves skill and physical tools. The initial instinct is to say skill is the easiest to change. Players can definitely improve their jumpshot and perimeter games. Players like Jason Richardson, Amar’e Stoudemire, Karl Malone are examples of players who’s skill games developed greatly past what they showed in college or high school. On the other hand, physical impact is improvable because of the role of ballhandling in how I score it. A perimeter player who improves his ability to handle, may have more success driving to the rim, which is the key factor for a high physical score for perimeter players. Danny Granger is a great recent example of a player who’s become better at driving over the years thanks to improved ballhandling. Physical impact can also change by a player simply changing his style of play. For example Lamarcus Aldridge moved to a post orientated game in his 5th season (2010-2011), which made him a more physically relevant player. Another example, Harrison Barnes has been playing in the post so far in preseason more than he did in the NCAA, becoming a post player instead of a dribble drive one if he keeps it, would give him a higher upside in the physical tools category as it could play to his muscular strength and away from his lack of speed.

But I would say skill is the one easiest for a player to make large leaps in, due to the learn-ability of jump-shooting. It’s also the category I feel least confident in projecting players with. Because for many players, I have to make an assumption of development in an area. Bradley Beal wasn’t an elite shooter in college statistically, but with his age and shooting form, I assume he will become a great shooter. But if he didn’t, his score would be worse in the skill score. Ultimately, the 33pt method is greatly on the side of nature instead of nurture in regards to talent and ability, but the nurture side of success still exists and is important. In regards to which I would rather draft between physical tools and feel for the game, it ultimately depends on the player, but I do believe for the center position, I would take elite physical talent due to the impact of shotblocking centers defensively. At a point guard, feel for the game may have the greatest impact. In a vacuum, feel for the game would likely be my choice between the 3, only if it’s accepted the other can be improved upon easier.

My Western Conference rankings and an explanation for how I evaluate teams can be found here

Eastern Conference

1. Miami Heat

Physical impact: 9 (22 Ws), Skill: 8.5 (21 Ws), Feel for the Game: 9.5 (24 Ws). Total record: 67-15 (vs Vegas Over/Under: +6.5)

The dominant team in the East looks to finally take the #1 seed, with the Bulls being a cinch to fall off that perch this year. This team is all around greatness. Lebron James and Dwyane Wade’s supernatural combination of physical impact and feel for the game anchor those scores. Shooters like Ray Allen, Shane Battier, Mike Miller, Rashard load up the skill score in a way the Lebron era Heat hasn’t seen. Chris Bosh adds elite feel and skill, Mario Chalmers and Udonis Haslem great feel, Joel Anthony physical impact as a shotblocker. As a whole, this team has a monstrous combination of tools in the 3 categories. If Lebron’s Heat have a signature season like 1986 was for Larry Bird’s Celtics or 1987 was for Magic Johnson’s Lakers, this is the year to do it.

2. Chicago Bulls

Physical impact: 7.5 (19 Ws), Skill: 5.5 (14 Ws), Feel for the Game: 9 (22 Ws). Total record: 55-27 (*Real prediction of 45-37 – vs Over/Under: -2.5)

If this seems high, remember that this is ranking the teams when healthy. The Bulls likely won’t get this high without Derrick Rose, but if he comes back healthy can be an elite team in the East. Rose, Luol Deng, Joakim Noah and an overall tenacious, hard playing team, help anchor a team that’s physically beat up opponents the last few years. All 3 have great feel for the game, as does Taj Gibson, Kirk Hinrich, Carlos Boozer, Rip Hamilton. Skill remains a concern. The team has never had a ton of consistent outside shooting or scoring from its frontcourt. Boozer and Rip stepping up in this category could help the Bulls. The Bulls are as a whole, a very well rounded team. Without Rose I have the Bulls at about a 43 W caliber team, therefore assuming he misses 80% of the season, a record around 45-37 this year seems in order.

3. Indiana Pacers

Physical impact: 4 (10 Ws), Skill: 8.5 (21 Ws), Feel for the Game: 9 (22 Ws). Total record: 53-29 (vs Over/Under: +2.5)

The Pacers’ success is built on their skill and feel for the game. They have an excellent combination of big men who can score in the post and shoot in David West and Roy Hibbert, beside two strong perimeter shooters in Paul George and Danny Granger. All 4 have superb feel for the game. Players like DJ Augustin, Tyler Hansbrough, Ian Mahimni also add to the skill and feel for the game. The problem for the Pacers is their physical impact. Their bigs do not dominate the game athletically and their perimeter players are shooters, rather than ones who excel at attacking the basket and rim.

4. Boston Celtics

Physical impact: 5 (12 Ws), Skill: 6.5 (16 Ws), Feel for the Game: 9.5 (24 Ws). Total record: 52-30 (vs Over/Under: +0.5)

The Celtics’ feel for the game is one of the best in the league. Kevin Garnett anchors the team’s feel defensively, with Rajon Rondo, Avery Bradley, Jason Terry, Paul Pierce, Jared Sullinger, Jeff Green among the standouts in feel. In skill, they have a multitude of scoring forwards, but a lack of range in the Rondo-Bradley combination slightly hurts their score. Physical impact is their weakest category. Age has caught up to Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce physically and players like Green, Sullinger, Terry, Courtney Lee are small for their position. Rondo, Bradley and the athletic Brandon Bass help their physical score, however.

5. New York Knicks

Physical impact: 7.5 (19 Ws), Skill: 5 (12 Ws), Feel for the Game: 6 (15 Ws). Total record: 46-36 (vs Over/Under: +0.5)

The Knicks have a strong all around team. Physically they boast an extremely strong group of athletes. Carmelo Anthony and Amar’e Stoudemire can attack the basket offensively while Tyson Chandler and Marcus Camby protect the rim, while Ronnie Brewer, JR Smith and Iman Shumpert all physically impact the game at SG. The feel for the game of Chandler, Stoudemire, Anthony, Brewer, Felton is all strong. Their weakness is skill. The backcourt still doesn’t score much to compliment Carmelo and frontcourt scoring will only go as far as Amar’e does. Carmelo will have to do heavy lifting on the skill end, but overall the Knicks do enough in the other categories to rank well in the East.

6. Brooklyn Nets

Physical impact: 3.5 (9 Ws), Skill: 9 (22 Ws), Feel for the Game: 6 (15 Ws). Total record: 46-36 (vs Over/Under: +2.5)

The Nets strength is skill. Deron Williams, Joe Johnson, Marshon Brooks is one of the most skilled backcourts in the league and Brook Lopez, Kris Humphries, Mirza Teletovic can also score. Their feel for the game is excellent on the perimeter with Gerald Wallace adding to that group of guards, but lacking up front in the Humphries and Lopez combo. Their weakness is physical impact. They are a mix of jumpshot orientated guards and bigs that don’t physically impact the game on the defensive end.

7. Philadelphia 76ers

Physical impact: 7 (17 Ws), Skill: 5 (12 Ws), Feel for the Game: 5.5 (14 Ws). Total record: 43-39 (vs Over/Under: -4.5)

The acquisition of Andrew Bynum is felt most in the physical score, as the Sixers will have rare power down low making up other perimeter orientated big men like Thaddeus Young, Arnett Moultrie and Spencer Hawes and shooting forwards like Jason Richardson, Nick Young. In Skill however, these players help the Sixers, but the Jrue Holliday-Evan Turner backcourt is weak in skill. The Sixers feel for the game is respectable thanks to players like Holliday, Turner and Young, though nothing spectacular as a whole. While adding Bynum helped the Sixers, losing Lou Williams’ skill and speed and Elton Brand’s skill and feel for the game, hurt the team’s scores.

8. Orlando Magic

Physical impact: 1 (2 Ws), Skill: 9.5 (24 Ws), Feel for the Game: 6 (15 Ws). Total record: 41-41 (vs Over/Under: +16.5)

The Magic are one of the most uniquely constructed teams in the league. Their obvious weakness is physical impact, as a team full of jumpshooters and lacking any physical presence in the frontcourt, they easily rank the worst in the league in the category. But they are one of the most skilled at the same time. Jameer Nelson, Arron Afflalo, JJ Redick, Hedo Turkoglu are all among the most skilled PG-SG-SFs in the league. They are also loaded with bigs with range and skill such as Al Harrington, Big Baby Davis, Nikola Vucevic, Andrew Nicholson. Compared to their positions, their team is loaded with skill at nearly every spot. They also have a series of smart, smooth veterans, helping their feel for the game to respectability. Watch out for the Magic.

9. Atlanta Hawks

Physical impact: 4.5 (11 Ws), Skill: 5 (12 Ws), Feel for the Game: 5.5 (14 Ws). Total record: 37-45 (vs Over/Under: -6.5)

In the post Joe Johnson/Marvin Williams era, the Hawks are left somewhat with an identity or true strength in any of the 3 categories. They replaced Johnson’s skill level well with Lou Williams and Kyle Korver and replaced size of Johnson and Williams with the speed of Devin Harris and Williams. But in the process, they now have a very physically meek perimeter. The combination of Harris, Teague, Williams, Morrow, Korver is as a whole, perimeter orientated and small. Despite Josh Smith’s shotblocking, I can’t give them a high score physically as a result. Al Horford helps their feel for the game and skill, but I don’t believe it’s enough to carry them above mediocrity.

10. Detroit Pistons

Physical impact: 8 (20 Ws), Skill: 2.5 (6 Ws), Feel for the Game: 3.5 (9 Ws). Total score: 35-47 (vs Over/Under: +2.5)

The Pistons have turned themselves into a tremendous physical impact game. The backcourt of Brandon Knight and Rodney Stuckey is big and strong, Corey Maggette attacks the basket and Andre Drummond is a monster physically up front. But in terms of skill and feel for the game, Greg Monroe is on an island providing in those categories. The perimeter of Knight, Stuckey, Tayshaun Prince, Maggette has a brutal skill level compared to the league’s norm and feel for the game outside of Monroe and Prince is very weak. Nonetheless, the Pistons are not far away.

11. Washington Wizards

Physical impact: 7 (17 Ws), Skill: 1.5 (4 Ws), Feel for the Game: 5 (12 Ws). Total score: 33-49 (vs Over/Under: +1.5)

The Wizards have done a very good job boosting their athleticism and feel for the game with players like Nene, Okafor and Bradley Beal beside John Wall. However , their big weakness remains skill. They simply lack outside shooting and polish, or volume post scoring. Until they fix their skill issues they will remain out of the playoffs.

12. Toronto Raptors

Physical impact: 4.5 (11 Ws), Skill: 3 (7 Ws), Feel for the Game: 6 (15 Ws). Total score: 33-49 (vs Over/Under: +1.5)

The Raptors have a nice physical impact backcourt between Kyle Lowry and Demar Derozan. However with Landry Fields, Andrea Bargnani and Jonas Valanciunas filling out the rest of the starting lineup and other players like Jose Calderon, Terrence Ross, Linas Kleiza in the rotation, they lack physical support. Feel for the game is their biggest strength between Lowry, Derozan, Ross, Fields and Amir Johnson but also have weak feel players like Ed Davis and rookie Valanciunas and Bargnani on the defensive end. The Raptors have improved, but aren’t strong enough in any of the categories.

13. Cleveland Cavaliers

Physical impact: 5 (12 Ws), Skill: 3 (8 Ws), Feel for the Game: 5 (12 Ws). Total score: 32-50 (vs Over/Under: -0.5)

The Cavaliers have a star in all 3 categories in Kyrie Irving, but are a mess elsewhere. Dion Waiters, Alonzo Gee are an unskilled SG/SF combination and Tristan Thompson, Anderson Varejao, Tyler Zeller don’t provide a lot of scoring up front.  Irving and Varejao’s feel for the game help that score, but ultimately they are too young to get a great score in it. Physically they are decently off with the penetration ability of Irving, Waiters, Gee and athleticism of Thompson.

14. Milwaukee Bucks

Physical impact: 6 (15 Ws), Skill: 2.5 (6 Ws), Feel for the Game: 3 (8 Ws). Total record: 29-53 (vs Over/Under: -7.5)

The Bucks have decent physical impact due to shotblockers Samuel Dalembert and John Henson and while their Brandon Jennings-Monta Ellis backcourt is small, it’s fast which counts into physical. Skill and feel for the game is a weakness however. Other than Ersan Ilyasova they don’t have noteable skill players for their position and Ilyasova and Tobias Harris are lone standouts for feel for the game.

15. Charlotte Bobcats

Physical impact: 6.5 (16 Ws), Skill: 1.5 (4 Ws), Feel for the Game: 3 (8 Ws). Total score: 28-54 (vs Over/Under: +6.5)

The Bobcats made improvements to their team from last year, but are still sitting at the bottom. Their closest thing to a strength is physical, with Bismack Biyombo and Tyrus Thomas’ shotblocking up front and a very athletic combination of Gerald Henderson and Michael Kidd-Gilchrist. A small backcourt of Kemba Walker, Ben Gordon, Ramon Sessions however slightly hurts their score. As with last year, their skill is atrocious, even when adding Sessions and Gordon. They have no scoring from the frontcourt at all outside of BJ Mullens. Tyrus Thomas, Bismack Biyombo, Brendan Haywood are among the worst scorers in the league. Feel for the game has improved with Sessions, Gordon, Haywood, Kidd-Gilchrist, but still remains poor as a whole.

By Julien Rodger

Twitter: @ASFW_jrodger

Email: @julienrodger (Send me a question, if I get enough I’ll do a mailbag)

Written by jr.

October 18, 2012 at 11:01 pm

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