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Best and worst contenders in January

Posted on: February 1, 2010 4:34 pm
Edited on: February 1, 2010 4:37 pm
January is the month when NBA teams start figuring out what they are. The feeling-out period of November and December gives way a time when night-to-night performance dictates the tweaks that are needed at the trade deadline.

Based on the standings as we sit here on Feb. 1, there are nine teams legitimately in the Eastern Conference playoff picture (the line is drawn at the Knicks, who enter the month six games out of the eighth spot). In the West, 11 teams are strong playoff contenders (drawing the line at the Clippers, who are six games out of eighth). Of those 20 teams, which ones performed the best and the worst in the month of January, and why?

The “who” is easy. For the “why,” we need some statistical analysis. And for that, we turn to adjusted plus/minus expert Wayne Winston. In his blog, Winston opines on all 30 teams and why they performed the way they did in the month of January. Let’s break out Winston’s analysis of the playoff contenders with the five best and five worst records last month:

(To review, adjusted plus/minus tells you how many points better or worse a team would perform if a given player were paired with four average players against five average players. For example, LeBron James’ was plus-21 in January, meaning his team was 21 points better than average when adjusted for whom LeBron was playing with and against.)

Five Best

1. Cleveland (12-3): It’s all about Shaquille O’Neal, whose adjusted plus/minus through December was minus-4 but in January was plus-4.
1. (t)Denver (12-3): Carmelo Anthony and Chauncey Billups are overrated, according to Winston. Nene and Chris “Birdman” Andersen each had a plus-23 rating in January.
3. Charlotte (12-4): The Bobcats’ success can be attributed to Gerald Wallace (plus-15), Flip Murray (plus-11), and Stephen Jackson (plus-8).
4. Utah (10-4): Deron Williams registered a plus-17, but Andre Kirilenko, Carlos Boozer, and Kyle Korver all were plus-10 or better, too.
5. New Orleans (12-5): Chris Paul (plus-8) and Marcus Thornton (plus-9) combined to form an effective starting backcourt – a plan that will have to be adjusted with Paul out indefinitely due to a left knee injury requiring surgery. Darren Collison, you’re up ...
5. (t) Lakers (12-5): Winston says Ron Artest (minus-1) has been fading steadily since his Christmas night fall and unrelated foot ailments. Remarkably, his system credits Sasha Vujacic with a plus-16 – same as Kobe.

Five Worst

1. Houston (5-9): David Andersen (plus-7) has been helpful. Chuck Hayes (minus-9), not so much.
2. Boston (6-8): The main culprit, as you might expect, has been Kevin Garnett (minus-11), whose offensive rating was even worse than his overall adjusted plus/minus (minus-21). Glen “Don’t Call Me Big Baby” Davis also struggled (minus-14).
3. Phoenix (7-9): Channing Frye’s rating went from plus-13 through December to plus-2 in January. Amar’e Stoudemire, Jason Richardson, Grant Hill, Goran Dragic, and Louis Amundson all hovered between minus-9 and minus-11. Robin Lopez was plus-9.
4. Portland (7-8): Nicolas Batum (plus-16), Andre Miller (plus-13), Martell Webster (plus-13), and Jerryd Bayless (plus-10) kept the Blazers afloat. But they need a big man in the worst way, as Juwan Howard (minus-18) and Jeff Pendergraph (minus-14) killed them.
5. Miami (8-9): Rafer Alston (minus-14) hasn’t solved the Heat’s point guard woes. Dorell Wright (plus-11) was solid.

No single statistical method is the be-all, end-all for evaluating a team’s performance. Depending on which front office you’re talking to, you’ll get different accounts of which data are most meaningful. But these numbers shed some light on some common beliefs about what certain contenders need to add or subtract before the Feb. 18 trade deadline. In Denver’s case, the performance of Nene and Birdman seemed to debunk the notion that the Nuggets desperately need to acquire a big man. In Portland’s case, the data proves that the Blazers need an upgrade in the frontcourt.

The Celtics? They need Garnett to be as healthy and dominant as he was two years ago. (Don’t hold your breath.) Do the Jazz need to trade Boozer? If they want to get under the luxury tax they do, but not if they want to continue playing their best basketball of the season.

Which team that’s currently a long shot to make the playoffs had the best January? That would be the Bucks, who went 8-7 in January – better than six teams currently in the hunt. The Bucks are an aberration to Winston, as well, because all he could come up with to explain their success was Charlie Bell’s plus-10 rating in January. It’s an imperfect system that nonetheless provides some interesting stuff to think about as we close in on Feb. 18.


Since: Sep 1, 2006
Posted on: February 3, 2010 1:32 am

Best and worst contenders in January

I would pick BOston the worst

Since: Oct 14, 2009
Posted on: February 2, 2010 11:53 pm

Best and worst contenders in January

Chauncy Billips overrated?

He is the essence of a team player and is the glue that keeps together the Denver Nuggets. Nene and Chris “Birdman” Andersen each had a plus-23 rating in January in many ways because of the play of Chauncy.

Get out of town. A big man would be a great need for down the stretch and help rest our other big men.

This guy is nuts!

Since: Dec 20, 2009
Posted on: February 2, 2010 10:21 pm

Best and worst contenders in January

I agree housemusic, billups just had the best month of his very fine career and is the glue that holds that team together. melo is leading the league in scoring and is one of the toughest guys in the league to defend when he is 100%. birb is bird....superb energy and effort every night but he is a nice role player, not a star. nene ought to borrow some of birds passion on given nights, he can be standing 2 feet from the rim and not convert. this new age of useless stats has clouded what true sports is, exceptional effort and winning as a team

Since: Jun 19, 2008
Posted on: February 2, 2010 3:24 pm


These stats are awful. They require that some players have a negative impact, when that isn't necessarily the case. You realize that I can count 4 games the Blazers would have definitely lost without the help of Juwan Howard? And do you realize that Pendegraph is a second round rookie who's already had a start under his belt?

It's like they are punishing the role players more because the team as a whole is doing so well.

Since: Feb 1, 2010
Posted on: February 2, 2010 12:28 pm

Best and worst contenders in January

Stats to prove everything or in this case anything. To say that Billups and Anthony are the "weak links " and that the birdman and nene are just fine is proof that with enough hard work and manipulation of stats u can make the numbers say anything. Don't get me wrong both are good players on a good team but really they need a legitimate big man to compete with the Lakers. I mean put a Bosh or Gasol in thier line up and wow it is a much harder team to play and one the Lakers would have a hard time beating in a playoff series. However according to these fantasy stats and I do mean fantasy The Nuggets should go find a guard or small forward and trade one of Anthony or Billups. What a JOKE

Since: Sep 9, 2009
Posted on: February 2, 2010 11:53 am

Best and worst contenders in January

Man they could use a big man in a big way, but they will contend.  They have heart and when they are firing on all cylinders they can beat anyone, ask the Lakers.  Thats more than a lot of NBA teams can say. 

Since: Oct 13, 2007
Posted on: February 2, 2010 10:31 am

Best and worst contenders in January

"4. Portland (7-8): (plus-16), (plus-13), (plus-13), and (plus-10) kept the Blazers afloat. But they need a big man in the worst way, as (minus-18) and (minus-14) killed them. "

This writer is such a nimrod...:K:K:K

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