Welcome to the second of the Corner Three 2019-2020 NBA division-by-division season previews. In each of these previews, we use RJ Garcia’s player-by-player ratings (based on on/off metrics and career trajectory) and per-game minutes projections (taking into account potential minutes lost to injury) to project overall team quality for the upcoming season. RJ and Derek Reifer also provide their own analyses and commentary to provide any context and additional insights. See our Northwest breakdown here. We continue with the Southwest Division:
The American Sports Landscape
On May 14th, 2019, fans of the New York Knicks, the basketball franchise in the global financial center of the world, will be packed around their televisions. No, the Knicks won’t be playing in the second round of the NBA playoffs, which will be occurring at this time – these fans will be watching the NBA Draft lottery, which will determine the order of selection for the 2019 NBA Draft.
On July 2nd, the NBA world was shaken by the addition of DeMarcus Cousins to the Warriors for the taxpayer mid-level exception, $5.3 million. Fans of the league were rattled by the idea that the player some deem to be the best center in the league is joining what is already a dynasty in Golden State. Cousins told Marc Spears of The Undefeated that no other teams had made him an offer – this statement was disputed by some members of the Pelicans’ media, but it seems that regardless of where in the middle the truth lies, there was no big offer out there for Boogie. So instead of taking the non-taxpayer mid-level exception, or some other deal that he deemed to be below his true value, Cousins decided to give up money to join the best team in the league.
Around the midpoint of another exciting NBA season, there’s already buzz about candidates for the league’s most valuable player, and why not: for only the second time since 2009 (Derrick Rose, though he probably didn’t deserve it), the winner is likely to be someone not named LeBron James or Kevin Durant. With injury problems for both superstars alongside disappointing records (though the Cavs have turned things around of late), other, younger stars have entered the spotlight in bidding to be recognized with the NBA’s most prestigious individual award. Let’s break down how the top candidates stack up, and take a look at who’s most deserving of the award as of this point in the season.
The Western Conference has been dominant this season. With at least ten playoff-caliber teams and eight legitimate championship contenders – yes, eight (compared to probably two or three in the East) – the disparity between the two conferences may be as large as ever. Three of the most reliable analytics-based power rankings, Hollinger’s, NumberFire’s, and TeamRankings‘, all rank ten Western teams in the NBA’s top fifteen.
It seems the rich are getting richer: in the past week, two of the East’s most talented players in Rajon Rondo and Josh Smith left the Northeast for Texas. Nothing’s for certain, though, as both players have been centers of controversy over the past couple seasons, especially in analytical circles. While both are very skilled, they have the potential to be poor fits for any team, including their new respective squads. Let’s take a look at the possible pros and cons in each situation.
After a terrible year in 2013-2014, the Knicks made some big changes this offseason, all stemming from the hire of Phil “Zen Master” Jackson as team president. Jackson is considered by many to be the greatest basketball genius on the planet, with 13 championship rings – 2 as a Knicks player, 6 as coach of the Bulls, and 5 as coach of the Lakers – to his name. One of Jackson’s self-proclaimed biggest reasons for success is the triangle offense, a system that has taken on a sort of legendary aura over the years. The Zen Master brought his protege Derek Fisher on board to become Knicks head coach and teach the team this art, which is assumed to be the offensive philosophy New York will employ for as long as Jackson remains team president. However, the Knicks haven’t started so hot this season – they’re currently 2-6 and already falling well behind divisional rivals like 7-1 Toronto. Is the slow start due to slow chemistry building and system learning among players, or could New York have a real long-term problem?