The Spurs: Not So Far Behind

Though it’s finally over, the Golden State Warriors’ winning streak was the talk of the NBA during its run, and why not? The dominance of the Warriors has been more than apparent this season. Their already-defending-MVP Stephen Curry has been by far the best player in the Association this season, contributing over 1.5 wins more than the next best player in our WAR rankings. Golden State is 24-1 with an average point differential of +13.1, and there’s no doubting the already-defending-champions have been the NBA’s best team, but by how much?

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Why the Knicks Needn’t Fret at their Lottery Misfortune

Tuesday night, Knicks fans across America sighed (or screamed) at the same time, when it was announced their projected-2nd draft pick would actually be 4th – making them the only team in the lottery to actually lose ground. Missing out on the two consensus top-pick big men in Karl-Anthony Towns and Jahlil Okafor is a tough pill to swallow, especially when the Knicks won’t get their first choice of a consolation prize, but there is plenty of reason for looking up in New York this offseason.

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Race for the MVP

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.

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Does Tanking Really Work?

Since the race for once-in-a-lifetime prospect Anthony Davis, tanking has been one of the most controversial topics in NBA conversation. The then-Bobcats aggressively lost games to put themselves in position to get the Brow, leading them to the worst winning percentage in the history of the league.

The biggest argument about tanking is usually regarding its morality, and whether a team and its fans should root for failure in order to find long term success. The league is also split on whether tanking is good for the NBA and its franchises, as shown by the failed “anti-tanking” vote that would’ve revolutionized the lottery system. However, for most NBA fans, there is little doubt that tanking is a “smart” plan. But is tanking really smart? Does it often work?

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Right Triangle? On the Knicks’ Struggles and Whether They’ll Continue

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?

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The Comprehensive 2014-2015 NBA Preview: Western Conference

After an amazing 2013-2014 season, the unbearably long offseason is finally coming to a close. There’s a lot to look forward to this year in the NBA, with superstars on new teams, contenders adding pieces, and more squads than ever with a chance to make noise. Let’s continue with my projected standings for the Western Conference, and analysis for the teams in it:

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Who has the Best Backcourt in the NBA? Part 1

Recently there has been a lot of talk about which team has the best backcourt in the league. This began with Dion Waiters stating that he and Kyrie Irving own the title. Next, John Wall stepped up and said that he and Bradley Beal gave the Wizards the best backcourt in the league.  In preparation for the Corner Three Positional Rankings and the Corner Three Top 100, we decided to tackle the backcourt argument using stats.

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All You Need to Know About the Conference Finals

Well, we’re here. After a very exciting first couple rounds of the playoffs, the Conference Finals have arrived. This season, the NBA again showed that there is little parity in its ranks, and multiple seven-game series usually weed out potential upsets. Accordingly, in both conferences, the only teams remaining are seeds 1 and 2. Both of these matchups, though, are sure to be classics. Let’s take a closer look:

San Antonio (1) vs. Oklahoma City (2)

Considered by many to be the West’s two true heavyweights, the Spurs and Thunder meet in the Western Conference Finals for the second time in three years. Where the Thunder won that matchup, they were not present last season when the Spurs swept the Grizzlies out of this round to advance to the Finals themselves. This year’s series will be must-see TV.

Last Round

San Antonio: Won in 5 (TeamRankings’ most likely outcome: win in 5, CornerThree prediction: win in 7)

Oklahoma City: Won in 6 (most likely outcome: win in 7, prediction: lose in 6)

Key Stats

Overall ranking (TeamRankings): San Antonio 1st, Oklahoma City 2nd

Last 10 games ranking (TeamRankings): San Antonio 1st, Oklahoma City 2nd

Shooting efficiency (TeamRankings): San Antonio 2nd offensive, Oklahoma City 4th defensive

Free throws made per game (TeamRankings): San Antonio 4th defensive, Oklahoma City 5th offensive

Effective field goal percentage (TeamRankings): San Antonio 4th defensive, Oklahoma City 7th offensive

Starting Lineups

Spurs:

Pos Player  CornerThree WAR ranking ESPN WAR ranking
PG Tony Parker 157th 51st
SG Danny Green 60th 63rd
SF Kawhi Leonard 24th 66th
PF Tim Duncan 23rd 17th
C Tiago Splitter 187th 87th

Thunder:

Pos Player  CornerThree WAR ranking ESPN WAR ranking
PG Russell Westbrook 53rd 59th
SG Thabo Sefolosha 97th 111th
SF Kevin Durant 1st 2nd
PF Serge Ibaka 26th 15th
C Kendrick Perkins 476th 415th

Matchup Advantages

PG: Thunder (Westbrook)

SG: Spurs (Green)

SF: Thunder (Durant)

PF: No clear favorite

C:  Spurs (Splitter)

Bench: Spurs

Coach: Spurs (Popovich)

Regular Season Series Results

Oklahoma City 4, San Antonio 0

The Thunder swept the Spurs impressively this regular season, but don’t put too much weight on these games: after being swept by the Nets in the regular season, the Heat went on to win four out of five against them last round. Both the Spurs and Heat are notoriously for taking the regular season slowly.

Odds (TeamRankings)

TeamRankings’ models clearly favor the Spurs here: San Antonio in 7, 6, and 5 are all more likely than the most probably OKC outcome.

Keys For Each Team

San Antonio: Can Kawhi Leonard, a defensive stalwart, slow down Kevin Durant without constant double teams? Can Tony Parker stay in front of Russell Westbrook? Can Tim Duncan get the shots he wants against tough post defenders in Serge Ibaka and Nick Collison?

Oklahoma City: Can secondary offensive contributors like Reggie Jackson and Ibaka make enough of an impact? Can they avoid stagnant offense late in games? Can they keep all of San Antonio’s shooters in check while denying Parker penetration? Will Scott Brooks utilize Collison and Steven Adams more, as opposed to the dreadful Perkins, as he did last round?

Prediction

Both of these squads, after looking surprisingly shaky in round one (both fell behind in their series before winning in seven games), are coming off very impressive wins against worthy teams in round two. The teams know each other well, but after a long enough series, better coaching, more consistency, and a powerful home-court advantage will send the Spurs back to the Finals.

San Antonio in 7

Indiana (1) vs. Miami (2)

After a very scary start to these playoffs, the Pacers are back on track and appear ready to compete in a rematch of last year’s seven-game Eastern Conference Finals. LeBron vs. George. Wade vs. Stephenson. Bosh vs. Hibbert. This series will be both physical and emotional, and will test both the ability and the resolve of both teams.

Last Round

Indiana: Won in 6 (most likely outcome: win in 7, prediction: lose in 6)

Miami: Won in 5 (most likely outcome: win in 5, prediction: win in 6)

Key Stats

Overall ranking: Miami 5th, Indiana 10th

Last 10 games ranking: Miami 4th, Indiana 7th

Assist-turnover ratio (TeamRankings): Miami 1st defensive, Indiana 26th offensive

Effective field goal percentage: Indiana 1st defensive, Miami 1st offensive

Rebounds per game (TeamRankings): Indiana 11th, Miami 30th

Starting Lineups

Pacers:

Pos Player  CornerThree WAR ranking ESPN WAR ranking
PG George Hill 121st 43rd
SG Lance Stephenson 72nd 75th
SF Paul George 14th 29th
PF David West 77th 31st
C Roy Hibbert 96th 40th

Heat:

Pos Player  CornerThree WAR ranking ESPN WAR ranking
PG Mario Chalmers 101st 76th
SG Dwyane Wade 30th 85th
SF LeBron James 4th 1st
PF Udonis Haslem 447th 329th
C Chris Bosh 64th 22nd

Matchup Advantages

PG: No clear favorite

SG: No clear favorite

SF: Heat (James)

PF: Pacers (West)

C:  Heat (Bosh)

Bench: Heat

Coach: No clear favorite

Regular Season Series Results

Indiana 2, Miami 2

The Pacers and Heat showed their matchup equality during the regular season this year, with the home team winning every game.  The scoring differential over the four games combined was just +8 in favor of Miami.

Odds

There looks to be a good chance of this series going to seven games, but if it doesn’t, these models definitely prefer Miami. According to Bayes’ Theorem of conditional probability, if the series doesn’t make it to seven games, the Heat’s chances of winning go up from 60.9% to 66%.

Keys For Each Team

Miami: Can they overcome their size and rebounding deficiencies with enough fastbreak points and outside shooting? Can Chris Bosh consistently keep Roy Hibbert far enough outside the paint? How big of a factor will Dwyane Wade be?

Indiana: Can Paul George play up to LeBron’s level? Will Hibbert find any sort of consistency and follow up last year’s huge performance in this matchup? Can the Pacers find enough offense to keep up with the Heat?

Prediction

Indiana will be plenty motivated, and won’t lay down in this series. With some minor changes, these rosters look almost identical to how they looked last year at thistime, and with luck, this time around will be just as enthralling. However, with Wade looking healthier and the Pacers definitely shakier, Miami will have enough firepower to hold off Indiana just enough to prevent a trip back to Indy for game seven.

Miami in 6

by Derek Reifer, Northwestern University

A Quick Who, When, and Why for the First Round in the West

San Antonio (1) vs. Dallas (8)

You know how I feel about the Spurs, and nothing’s changed. This will be a fun series, as proven playoff performer Dirk Nowiztki and new running mate Monta Ellis look to keep up the scoring pace with the old men from Texas.

Key Stats

Overall ranking (TeamRankings): San Antonio 1st, Dallas 10th

Last 10 games ranking (TeamRankings): San Antonio 6th, Dallas 9th

Shooting efficiency (TeamRankings): San Antonio 2nd offensive, Dallas 26th defensive

Three point percentage (TeamRankings): Dallas 2nd offensive, San Antonio 10th defensive

Key Players

Tim Duncan (23rd CornerThree WAR, 17th ESPN WAR) vs. Dirk Nowitzki (39th CornerThree, 4th ESPN)

Regular Season Series Results

San Antonio 4, Dallas 0

Odds (TeamRankings)

Prediction

The Spurs simply aren’t an ideal matchup for Dallas, as the Mavs have been swept by Gregg Popovich’s squad in each of the past two regular seasons. While Dallas can put up the points, their mediocre defense will be wheezing and panting trying to cover the NBA’s best offense. In what could conceivably be their last matchup, Duncan will get the better of fellow all-time great power forward Dirk in a quick series.

San Antonio in 4

Oklahoma City (2) vs. Memphis (7)

Last season, with Russell Westbrook out, the Grizzlies made round 2 a living hell for Kevin Durant, triple teaming him all over the court and effectively ignoring half of Oklahoma City’s roster. They’ll go with a similar strategy this time around, and the Thunder hope Durant’s improved passing ability, alongside a second star in Westbrook, will paint a different picture.

Key Stats

Overall ranking: Oklahoma City 2nd, Memphis 8th

Last 10 games ranking: Memphis 5th, Oklahoma City 7th

Free throws made per game (TeamRankings): Oklahoma City 5th offensive, Memphis 5th defensive

Offensive rebound percentage (TeamRankings): Memphis 2nd offensive, Oklahoma City 9th defensive

Key Players

Kevin Durant (1st CornerThree WAR, 2nd ESPN WAR) vs. Mike Conley (35th CornerThree, 16th ESPN)

Regular Season Series Results

Oklahoma City 3, Memphis 1

Odds

Prediction

The Thunder shouldn’t take Memphis lightly – they play excellent team defense, including one of the best point guard defenders in the league in Mike Conley to throw onto Westbrook. Regardless, this season’s all-but-MVP of the regular season will continue his incredible play and will be a huge part of his team’s overcoming the Grizzlies in round 1.

Oklahoma City in 6

Los Angeles (3) vs. Golden State (6)

As I wrote a couple weeks ago, the Clippers are one of my favorites for this season’s title. With one of the best big threes of all time, they’ll be a lot for the Warriors to handle. Steph Curry will have his hands full defensively and will be hounded by Chris Paul on the other end for the entire series. However, Curry seems to like making magic in the playoffs, and with an improved Klay Thompson and the addition of one of the best defensive players, if not the best, in the entire NBA in Andre Iguodala, this series figures to be an exciting one. With well-established bad blood between these two teams, it might be the best show of the first round.

Key Stats

Overall ranking: Los Angeles 3rd, Golden State 6th

Last 10 games ranking: Los Angeles 2nd, Golden State 10th

Ranking in Los Angeles (TeamRankings): Los Angeles 1st home, Golden State 3rd away

Three pointers made per game (TeamRankings): Golden State 2nd offensive, Los Angeles 9th defensive

Key Players

Chris Paul (3rd CornerThree WAR, 6th ESPN WAR) vs. Stephen Curry (18th CornerThree, 3rd ESPN)

Regular Season Series Results

Los Angeles 2, Golden State 2

Odds

Prediction

The Dubs will give the Clips a great fight (perhaps even literally), but without Andrew Bogut (out for the series) to check one of the Clippers’ two elite big men, the Warriors will likely have to match up two of David Lee / Jermaine O’Neal / Draymond Green / Harrison Barnes, all below-average low post defenders, against Blake and DeAndre. With the Clippers finally healthy with JJ Redick in the starting lineup and a scary-deep bench mob, all-time great playoff coach Doc Rivers will have no shortage of options to eventually overcome the exciting splash brothers.

Los Angeles in 6

Houston (4) vs. Portland (5)

Harden and Lillard going at it. Dwight and Aldridge going at it. Two teams that are relatively new on the Western Conference playoff scene will battle it out in a series that could go either way, and in exciting fashion. Both squads love to run, move the ball, fire away on threes, and crash the glass hard. Let’s take a deeper look to see which team will come out on top:

Key Stats

Overall ranking: Houston 4th, Portland 5th

Last 10 games ranking: Portland 1st, Houston 15th

Shooting efficiency: Houston 3rd offensive, Portland 5th defensive

Total rebounds per game (TeamRankings): Houston 1st, Portland 4th

Key Players

James Harden (17th CornerThree WAR, 20th ESPN WAR) vs. LaMarcus Aldridge (19th CornerThree, 10th ESPN)

Regular Season Series Results

Houston 3, Portland 1

Odds

Prediction

This is the toughest series for me to pick. The teams are definitely equally matched, and will each win multiple games for their home fans. For Houston to cool off the Blazers, who have been on a tear the last couple weeks, they’ll need great defense on LaMarcus Aldridge and Damian Lillard. If Terrence Jones guards Aldridge, he’ll likely have a field day, whereas if Dwight Howard guards him, one of the league’s best defensive centers will be pulled away from the paint (Aldridge shoots an almost innumerable amount of long mid-range jumpers). Lillard’s situation is more simple: Patrick Beverley is one of the league’s most aggressive and successful defenders at the point guard position, and could be this series’ X-factor.  However, he’s just coming back from injury. If Beverley’s not healthy, Lillard will be hard for Houston’s weak defensive guards to slow down, and I’ll quickly regret the following prediction.

Houston in 7

Find the corresponding Eastern Conference breakdown here.

by Derek Reifer, Northwestern University