It’s official. After months of drama and speculation, Kawhi Leonard reportedly wants out of San Antonio.
The Toronto Raptors have won at least 48 games in each of the past four seasons, and barring catastrophe, this will be their fifth. They currently hold the top spot in the Eastern Conference, sitting 2 games above the second-place Celtics and a whopping 9 games above the third-place Cavaliers. They’re 9-1 in their past 10 games. Despite all of these easy to access, and perhaps even well-known, facts, they are not taken seriously. Why?
The conversation’s been heating up over the past couple of weeks – who is this year’s NBA MVP? The four top candidates seem to be Russell Westbrook, James Harden, Kawhi Leonard, and LeBron James, and each has their own defining claim to the trophy. Westbrook is putting up the best box score stats of anyone in the modern era. Harden probably has the next-best box score stats but has a better record. Kawhi is the best defensive player of the bunch and his team has the best record of the bunch. LeBron is probably still the “best player in the NBA” if you ask players or coaches. So who will take the crown?
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?
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.
“If anybody else gets that award, we need to have an investigation.”
Clippers coach Doc Rivers clearly thinks his center, DeAndre Jordan, is the favorite for defensive player of the year. Averaging ridiculous rebound and block totals, Jordan has a good shot, but is far from the favorite, as other candidates – both at the rim and on the perimeter – have (probably more) compelling cases. Doc, consider this the investigation.
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 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:
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 get started with my projected standings for the Eastern Conference, and analysis for the teams in it:
Parker’s ridiculous game 1 buzzer beater. LeBron’s block on Splitter. Danny Green’s unbelievable shooting run. Ray Allen’s immortal corner three in game 6. The series lasted seven games, but fans were hungry for seven more. A year later, that wish may come to fruition. Through their all-playoff-long dominance, the Heat and Spurs seemed destined to meet again in this year’s Finals. With teams this great, a lot of information is needed to make a well-educated prediction on the series’ winner. Let’s take a look:
San Antonio: Won in 6 (TeamRankings’ most likely outcome: win in 7, CornerThree prediction: win in 7)
Miami: Won in 6 (most likely outcome: win in 6, prediction: win in 6)
Both teams were able to end their series relatively early, with Miami in full control the entire series, and San Antonio looking dominant other than their hiccups in games 3 and 4. It was clear that the better team moved on in both conferences.
Overall ranking (TeamRankings): San Antonio 1st, Miami 4th
Last 10 games ranking (TeamRankings): San Antonio 1st, Miami 4th
Shooting efficiency (TeamRankings): San Antonio 2nd offensive, Miami 22nd defensive
Points in the paint per game (TeamRankings): San Antonio 7th offensive, Miami 8th defensive
Effective field goal percentage (TeamRankings): Miami 1st offensive, San Antonio 4th defensive
In terms of overall ranking, Miami is a weaker opponent than San Antonio faced last round in Oklahoma City, but with Miami coasting to the second seed during the regular season, that stat could be a bit skewed… These two teams boast the two best offenses in the league, ranking first and second on the offensive side in both shooting efficiency and effective field goal percentage. The Spurs’ defense, however, looks to be more up to the challenge than is Miami’s… Chris Bosh and co. will have to do their best to shut down the paint against San Antonio’s common two-big lineups, but their ranking defensively in the paint suggests they’ll be up for the challenge.
|Pos||Player ▴||CornerThree WAR ranking||ESPN WAR ranking|
|Pos||Player ▴||CornerThree WAR ranking||ESPN WAR ranking|
PG: Spurs (Parker)
SG: No clear favorite
SF: Heat (James)
PF: Spurs (Duncan)
C: Heat (Bosh)
Coach: Spurs (Popovich)
The WAR rankings show the matchup between Parker and Chalmers is closer than conventional wisdom would suggest… Despite Dwyane Wade’s health, his matchup with Danny Green is more of a wash than you may think, with Green’s analytic-friendly ability to spread the floor and allow the offense more operating room, alongside superior defensive ability. Although it might be easy to assume that his proximity to Wade in the WAR rankings is partially because of Wade’s dearth of minutes this season, Green’s RPM (ESPN stat that doesn’t account for total minutes played) is far superior to Wade’s – 22nd to 77th… Though LeBron is the world’s best player, Kawhi Leonard will be able to give him the same headaches he gave Kevin Durant with his combination of length and strength, alongside a scrappy style that can frustrate his matchup. As I’ve brought up before, LeBron has already showed us his feelings on Kawhi Leonard:
… Erik Spoelstra has showed multiple different looks at the power forward position this postseason, from Shane Battier to Udonis Haslem to Lewis. It will be interesting to see if Spo is willing to give up Lewis’ offense in order to have a better shot defensively, or if he elects to hide Lewis on Tiago Splitter and force the Spurs to go to him offensively… Chris Bosh will continue to be one of the league’s true top big men, boasting one of the league’s best mid-range shots (courtesy of NBA.com):
His pick-and-roll defensive ability will invaluable against players like Parker and Ginobili as well, and as I recently suggested, he may be called upon to guard Tim Duncan in the post as well. Bosh is of huge importance on both ends of the court in this matchup… The Heat have a solid bench, especially when Ray Allen is hot, but the Spurs can come from all angles, with Ginobili looking to erase his dreadful performance in last years’ Finals, and Boris Diaw becoming a huge contributor for the Spurs’ offense as the playoffs have gone along – his passing, post play, and three-point range make him both a matchup nightmare and an excellent facilitator of offense.
Regular Season Series Results
San Antonio 1, Miami 1
TeamRankings’ models overwhelmingly favor the Spurs, with each San Antonio winning outcome more probable than the most probable Miami outcome. I doubt the series will be this lopsided, but be careful not to simply disregard the graph because of conventional opinions – TeamRankings’ projections have correctly picked the winner of 11 of the 14 playoff series so far.
Keys For Each Team
San Antonio: Can they limit their turnovers and prevent Miami from getting into transition? Can Kawhi Leonard play well enough against LeBron to warrant consistent single coverage? Who will provide the offensive spark that Danny Green set off in last year’s matchup?
Miami: Can non-big 3 members provide enough offense? Will Miami’s ball-rushing, double teaming defensive scheme be torn apart by San Antonio’s ball movement offense? Can Dwyane Wade play up to his reputation?
We already know how Gregg Popovich likes to play LeBron and Wade – force jumpshots. However, in last year’s matchup, LeBron his enough from the outside to bring the trophy to Miami. Will Pop change his approach? Either way, the bottom line is Miami is just as good as the team that won the Finals last year, but San Antonio’s gotten better. Depth, shooting, coaching, and a defensive edge will be enough to get the Spurs their revenge, and perhaps give Duncan, Popovich, and Ginobili chances to retire on top.
San Antonio in 6
by Derek Reifer, Northwestern University