Monday, April 13, 2015

Five points about the NBA's five worst

Knick Fan Sees Truth Always
Thanks to my usual dumpster-diving into the freely available talent in my NBA fantasy league -- honestly, it's a sickness -- I've spent way too much time looking at terrible teams this spring. And it's been wildly enjoyable, kind of the perfect appetizer before one of the most anticipated NBA playoff seasons in recent memory starts up. But before we get into that, one small point.


Seriously, there's been nothing better in recent years than being able to give the early hours short shrift, since they were worse games on the much worse network for hoop. But this year, the World Wide Lemur has gotten wind that the lEast is to be avoided, so they've swapped things up with TNT and gotten the better games. Which means that we won't be able to ignore such luminaries as Mark Jackson, so good that he kept the Warriors from winning 65+ games by doing things like starting David Lee and being surprised that defense was a problem, or thinking that religious discussion was a better idea that, well, offensive playsets, practices, or defensive scouting. Steve Kerr is dunking on six foot rims, people. Doing it beautifully, but still. And thanking the stars above every day that his ownership didn't saddle him with Kevin Love, aka the much more expensive David Lee, instead of getting better all the time Klay Thompson. Crap, Jackson comes tethered to whatever van Gundy isn't employed! And I don't get late night loopiness out of TNT's Atlanta studios? DO. NOT. LIKE...

Anyway. Sorry. Tangent over. Let's get back to the dregs.

New York -- If there was ever a case for relegation, it's the Knicks. They started the year trying to contend by maxing out Carmelo Anthony, then grafted the triangle offense on a collection of "talent" that included no one who would try on defense, shoot for a good percentage, or pass. Shockingly, this didn't work, so they then dragged out Anthony's "injury" for a day after an All-Star Game in the Garden, then abandoned all pretense of playing basketball while bringing in the world's itinerant players to try a little more than the front-line guys. All while more or less selling out one of the most expensive arenas in the world. Nice work if you can get it.

Unlike other clubs (heh heh, see below), the Knicks have discovered nothing -- honestly, not a single asset -- from this exercise. Andrea Bargnani has provided some empty calorie numbers, and Langston Galloway tries real hard, and Alexey Shved might belong on someone's bench for no good reason; eveything else on this roster should be balling overseas. (Yes, not even the D-League.) They'll get a top pick in the lottery, welcome Anthony back for 20-30 games of quasi-effort at full price, and lose 60+ games again next year, when they discover that free agents are not attracted to Manhattan even with Phil Jackson in tow, because Phil Jackson is older than dirt, and works for Jim Dolan, and Jim Dolan is the new Donald Sterling, only worse, because he's not dying or going away.

And here's the best part... the arena will sell out again next year. And the year after that, and the year after that, and...

Minnesota -- The second happiest losers in the league, because man alive, have you seen Andrew Wiggins and Zach LaVine recently? It's kind of like watching Russell Westbrook and Kevin Durant before they were beasts, only Durant in this case is conventionally sized, and Westbrook isn't so combative that he's always shooting his team out of games in an Iversonian assault on sensibilities. The Wolves even have some other pieces, mostly squirreled away on the disabled list, and some other guys who are known, but also not-so-secretly terrible (Kevin Martin, Ricky Rubio).

They are going to have a miserable time trying to attract any free agent of note to the frozen frozens of Minnesota, but playing with Neo Westbrook and Durant might convince someone to take the plunge, and while everyone involved isn't thrilled to watch a team that's going to lose 66 games (likely), the simple swap of Wiggins for depressing FA to be Kevin Love makes the entire year a mulligan. Especially when you add in LaVine, who won the Slam Dunk Championship, and then spent the last two weeks making everyone involved realize that a future Sans Rubio is going to be wildly more encouraging. If they hit on another lottery pick, this could be everyone's favorite 30-win team next year, and then the #8 seed that flat out terrifies a #1 in 2017. It's not that far off, honestly.

Philadelphia -- The poster children for how to dumpster dive, as well as how to move overrated assets, even in a situation where no one should ever be overrated. This year's Sixers have reclaimed and developed a handful of guys who will play for cheap on future good teams, gotten away from a PG (Michael Carter-Williams) that would have doomed them moving forward, developed a PF (Nerlens Noel) who keeps raising the ceiling on what he could develop into, found a benchie three and D guy in Jerami Grant, a benchie scoring point in Isaiah Canaan, willing benchie bangers in Furkan Aldemir and Thomas Robinson, and an honest to God three-point shooter in Robert Covington. And that's not even counting Joel Embiid, Dario Saric, their own damned pick in next year's draft, and the still-to-be calculated goodness from the Laker, Heat and Thunder conditional firsts.

Sure, attendance is still low -- but better than last year -- and TV ratings aren't good. But it's been impossible to hate the product on the floor, or the thought process involved... and if Embiid is anything like Noel next year, this could become a top-5 defensive team, with more blocks and run outs than can be easily imagined. I've enjoyed watching this team more than any Sixer club since the first year of Doug Collins, and agreed with them more than any club since Larry Brown trapped lightning in a bottle and got Iverson and Effort to the Finals. If this works, the Association will never be the same, and will probably be much worse for it, but hey, hate the game, not the player.

Los Angeles -- Want to see what truly horrific hoop really looks like? Turn your eyes to the Lakers, where the fan base is plainly unprepared for a famine that everyone with a pulse and non-purple and gold-tinted glasses could have predicted for years, and, well, did. California will break its drought, maybe with desalinated ocean water, faster than the Lakers will. These clowns weren't tolerable when Kobe Bryant was trying to Westbrook them to wins earlier in the year, and as soon as Bryant's body broke, they've regressed to beyond unwatchable.

The bench is filled with names like Jeremy Lin, Nick Young and Carlos Boozer -- i.e., utterly inept on defense and nothing to write home about on offense, either -- while the starters are either future D-League washouts or other team's failed draft picks. They've found nothing of lasting value, don't play hard, don't have a coach (Byron Scott, the last guy in the NBA to realize that long 2-point shots are a powerful evil) with a clue, and still seem to think that free agents are going to flock to town to play for that magic shirt. It's Knicks West, in other words, and a golden age to hate the Lakers. Any wonder why I've enjoyed this regular season so much?

Orlando -- Looking for a team that should be getting much more grief for being terrible, but flying under the radar with three of the nation's top six media markets in the teens in wins? Then cast your eyes to Orlando, who are my actual choice for Most Likely To Still Be Horrible in 2-3 Years. Nicola Vucevic is the team's best player right now, which is to say a soft 7-footer who racks up popcorn numbers by playing big minutes and never getting blocked shots (aka, the Love Way to Overrated), while the backcourt of Victor Oladipo and Elfrid Payton prove that athleticism without shooting ability is an express route to awful.

The rest of this unit is cover your eyes terrible, with Tobias Harris and Evan Fornier proving that potential doesn't have to be realized, Aaron Gordon and Channing Frye proving that one-way players are death in hoop, and why's he employed guys like Ben Gordon, Willie Green and Luke Ridnour adding to their pensions, and little else. There isn't a single guy on this roster that I'd really want on my team in any role of importance, and the fact that this is where they are while still *winning* the Dwight Howard deal is just kind of jaw-dropping. And the fact that they swapped Payton for Saric and gave up a first round pick in the process? Further proof, not that you needed it, that Sam Hinkie is a Dark Genius. (After the Andrew Bynum fiasco, I'm fine with treating Orlando like a rag doll for a few decades.)

Just one more week until the playoffs, folks. When the best regular season in NBA history flips the page to the best playoff year... if only because we're going to see the feel-good Celtics turned into pudding when they realize that Evan Turner is on the floor, and the world sees true team ball (Atlanta, Golden State, San Antonio) triumph over Star Power (Cleveland, LA Clippers, Houston), in the course correction the NBA has needed since Michael Jordan overcame the Blazers, Sonics and Suns. Stay tuned, or tune in. It's going to be great.


Snd_dsgnr said...

I actually kind of disagree regarding the Lakers. They were awful this year, obviously, but I think the location does matter. They'll have cap space this summer and next summer, Clarkson seems like he can play, they'll have Randle, and a top 5 pick.

That's without even getting into all of the obscenely one-sided trades they've been the beneficiaries of over the years. I just don't know if it's a smart bet that the Lakers will be bad for long.

John F. Kaucher said...

Uh yeah. You just clearly hate the Lakers. Jordan Clarkson deserves 1st team Rookie honors. Julius Randle played 12 minutes this season; he is going to be a beast. They will have a serviceable bench with Ryan Kelly (who is surprisingly competent at the 4, his natural position), Jabari Brown, and Tarik Black, all of whom are on super cheap contracts. And of course Kobe. While the West is STACKED, they have a shot to make the 8th seed next year, and to be young and scary in 2017, assuming the Basketball Gods let them keep their pick this year.

DMtShooter said...

I come by my Laker Hate honestly (i.e., as a child, watching Kareem & Magic end my Sixers), and maybe Clarkson is something more than a guy who puts up numbers in a vacuum... but NBA history is filled with guys who take opportunity in such situations, then can't deliver when scouting reports and the league adjusts to stop them (see, well, Lin).

As for Randle... well, see the above paragraph, but swap in Hurt. His ceiling to me before the year began seemed to be Zach Randolph, and while I love me some Zebo, under the rim guys who are effective are pretty rare, and he's not exactly gaining explosion following a year of rust and hurt.

Kelly had massive shooting problems this year, not exactly a winning point for a guy who looks challenged athletically for NBA 4s on defense. Black's hands did not impress when I saw him this year (and yeah, I saw a lot of the Lakers this year). Jabari Brown and Age Forever Kobe... you do realize the latter isn't playing the full year, or shooting for any kind of percentage, and isn't a plus defensive player at shooting guard any more? And you're going to have a shot at the 8th spot next year over the eight teams that made it, and OKC, and Phoenix?

Well, far be it from me to crap on Hope, but I really like my chances at enjoying my Laker Hate for another 1-3 years.

DMtShooter said...

Oh, and one last thing... every NBA team is going to have more cap room than they know what to do with next year, thanks to the new deals. If this team really wants to go all-in with the best of the 2015-16 free agent class, have fun with Rajon Rondo and Kevin Love to go with Kobe, Clarkson, Black, Randle and Etc. I'll happily take the current West playoff teams over that, plus OKC, plus maybe even Phoenix. This also assumes nothing better from Utah (better than you might think, especially on defense) and Sacramento (full year of George Karl with Boogie Cousins).

Maybe in the East, they get to the playoffs. Never in the West. And again, that assumes two significant FA signings, when recent NBA history says none is a lot more likely. Who's the last truly big-time NBA FA to come sign up for a bottom five team?

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