You’ll find few folks more excited the Association is back than myself. If you think I’m over LeBron James crushing my soul a season ago in the Eastern Conference Semi’s, well you are wrong. That Game 4 buzzer-beater over Jimmy Butler at the United Center practically sent the Cavs to the Finals.
I digress. October 27th is close enough, and they’re other things to talk about than the Chicago Bulls, I’ll get to them in length soon.
With training camp and preseason games kicked off all around the country, as well as the world, it’s time to get caught up on all the facts and storylines heading into the season. Starting off with the Eastern Conference, which has been the substantially weaker of the two conferences in the NBA, has a few newcomers from Milwaukee along with the return of Paul George in Indiana and Chris Bosh down in South Beach.
Although the Tristan Thompson drama continues in Cleveland, they are the heavy favorite to head back to the Finals, with the question being, who, if anyone, can stop them? Let’s take a look back at some of the most glaring statistics from the Eastern Conference teams a season ago, as we kick-off our 2015 NBA Preview.
Note: The Western Conference analysis will be up next week
*All the records are from the 2014-15 season.
New York Knicks (17-65)
Oh boy. Where do you start for Phil Jackson’s Knickerbockers? According to Hollinger Advance Statistics on ESPN.com, the Knicks ranked 2nd worst in offensive efficiency (97.1), and 3rd worst on defense (107.2). Is ‘Zinger the answer, or just another disaster waiting to happen? You could be the Sixers after all, Knicks fans.
Toronto Raptors (49-33)
4-years, $60 million. That was a contract for a player who averaged 12.6 PPG. (along with stellar defense no less) and that player was former Atlanta Hawk, DeMarre Carroll. Granted the “Junkyard dog” is coming off a career season, and he was vital (evident when he was playing on one ankle and couldn’t stop LBJ in the Eastern Conference Finals) to Atlanta’s franchise record setting season.
But $60 million for DeMarre, Toronto? We’ll see if the return is worth the investment.
Brooklyn Nets (38-44)
This stat literally describes the Nets perfectly right now.
They were ranked between 18-22 in the NBA in points, rebounds, assists and points allowed per game. What to take away from this: the Nets are boring, old and average. In the meantime, keep cashing those checks Joe.
Boston Celtics (40-42)
The Celtics were not predicated to be a playoff team, nor did they look like one at the All-Star break. After? The magic of Brad Stevens happened. The C’s went on a 20-11 run to end the season and snatched the 7th seed for an unexpected first postseason birth since the Big 3.
Philadelphia 76ers (18-64)
#TrustTheProcess. Since GM Sam Hinkie has taken over, the 76ers are 37-127 and own half the 2nd round draft picks till 2020. Hinkie is trusting analytical process, but constantly acquiring draft picks in the hopes of landing a superstar.
They drafted C Jahlil Okafor after news broke that C Joel Embiid (3rd overall in ’14) had suffered another setback with his foot and will likely miss all of this season as well. They also own the Lakers To-3 protected pick, and Kobe won’t let them finish like they did last season, so that pick looks to be heading to Philly for the upcoming draft in June.
Eventually, the Sixers will be legit. Have your doubts? Look at Houston and what Daryl Morrey (Hinkie came from his school of thought) have done. #TrustTheProcess
Chicago Bulls (50-32)
According to Sports Illustrated annual Player Rankings, Derrick Rose is the 60th best player in the NBA. Whether you believe in Rose, like him or not, his fall from the pedestal has been one of sorrow. The guy can’t catch a break when it comes to being healthy, evident when he took an elbow on the first day of practice and had surgery on an orbital fracture.
He’s expected to be back during the preseason, coming off a postseason and offseason where his game saw significant improvements ( 21.7 PPG. / 5.3 RPG. / 6.5 APG. vs. Cavs) the biggest question will be how much of an impact will a healthy offseason for the first time in three summers have on Rose’s game in ’15-’16?
Cleveland Cavaliers (53-29)
LeBron James, NBA Finals: 34.2 PPG. / 14.4 RPG. / 9.4 APG. One of the greatest one-man performances in a Finals ever, and it was in a losing effort. Even when LeBron came back to Cleveland in search for more youthful and talented supporting cast, he ironically ended up having to try and do it on his own, again.
This entire offseason LeBron has been talking about how furious he is with the Finals lost (they were up 2-1 remember) and how this season will be strictly business. Not good news for anyone in the league, especially the team above. At least this year we won’t have to wonder if LeBron is still the best player in the world. It’s without question.
Detroit Pistons (32-50)
One of the more interesting statistics of 2015. The Pistons were looking like a surprise playoff team, when they went on a 12-3 run midseason, until it abruptly ended when lead man PG Brandon Jennings tore his Achilles, ending his season, and Detroit’s as well.
Indiana Pacers (38-44)
In 2013-14, Paul George averaged 21.7 PPG., 6.8 RPG. and shot 42% from the field and missed all of two games in route to taking LBJ’s Heat squad to 7 games in the Eastern Conference Finals. Now working back from a horrific leg injury, George is the heartbeat of a Pacers team revamped around their main man, who will be playing quite a bit of power forward this season, to his liking or not.
Milwaukee Bucks (41-41)
The projected starting five for the Bucks is Michael Carter-Williams-Jabari Parker (when healthy)-Greg Monroe- Khris Middleton-Greek Freak. Their average age? 22.4 years-old. They are extremely young, talented, defensively gifted and are well coached by Jason Kidd.
They could surprise more than just a few this season, your sneaky three-seed pick is a serious possibility.
Atlanta Hawks (60-22)
What a season for the 2014-15 Atlanta Hawks, about which I wrote extensively. They averaged 25.7 assists per game, good for 2nd in the NBA. Much of their success was credited to mesmerizing ball movement, as coach Mike Budenholzer (Coach of the Year) turned this team into the #1 seed and an eye-opening 35-6 at home.
Do they take a step back, or continue the dominance?
Charlotte Hornets (33-49)
A quick story. So as I was doing research on each team, and came across the Charlotte Hornets, for whom I had high hopes a season ago, I discovered a stat that I just cannot get over. Marvin Williams makes $7 million a year. Even a knowledgable NBA fan doesn’t know who Marvin Williams even is.
A career 7.4 PPG. / 4.9 RBG. / 11.79 PER, Williams makes well above the league average, and he’s a subpar bench player. As we always say, keep cashin’ them checks, Marvin!
Miami Heat (37-45)
Many expect the Heat to be contenders this season. With a predicted starting lineup of Dragic-Wade-Deng-Bosh-Whiteside, and 10th overall pick from Duke, Justice Winslow off the bench, there’s good reason for the optimism.
So team president Pat Riley moved his chips to the middle of the table, inking PG Goran Dragic to a 5-year max deal of up to $90 million, along with a 1-year, $20 million deal for Dwayne Wade, the Heat now have a the 3rd highest team salary in the league.
South Beach moved on from LBJ much better than Cleveland, as the pressure to contend once again is real in Miami. Also, they’re going to be a joy to watch.
Orlando Magic (27-57)
The best backcourts in the NBA discussion is a crowded one. If we’re talking about the most unique, Orlando’s duo of Victor Oladipo and Elfrid Payton are most noteworthy.
Post All-Star break, Oladipo lead the Magic in scoring (20.3 PPG.) while averaging 1.81 steals per game. Payton (a rookie a season ago) continued to improve as the season when on, averaging 11.1 PPG. and lead the team in assists (8.3) and steals (2.1).
Aside from being a havoc on defense, Oladipo and Payton get their majority of their points in the paint and in the mid-range, trending in the opposite direction of the rest of the league and backcourts. It’ll be interesting to see if they both can improve on their 33% shooting from the arc in ’15-’16.
Washington Wizards (46-36)
Although they swept Toronto in the playoffs, Washington played some of the most uninspiring basketball in the second half of the season. A stretch that saw the Wizards lose 13 of 17 at one point, many Washington fans thought it was time to relinquish Randy Witman of his head coach duties.
Witman is back, and thankfully John Wall is too. Wall averaged a double-double (17.6 PPG. / 10.0 APG.) and missed only three games all season. Depth is a key issue for Washington, meaning Wall will have to be just as spectacular as he was in his breakout ’14-’15 season.