Posted on: January 18, 2011 11:43 pm
Edited on: January 18, 2011 11:54 pm
Posted by Matt Moore
To go along with our Midseason Progress Reports (Eastern and Western Conferences ), here are our picks for the Midseason awards. You can read Ken Berger's full Midseason Report here.
You'll notice how all four of our MVP picks differ. That's because we're bold. I chose Kevin Garnett not based on stats but based on his rebounding, and defensive impact combined with his impact on the flow of the Celtics offense. Throw in some intangibles, and how the team performed without him, and you've got a pretty solid resume. Blake Griffin sweeps the rookie award, to no surprise.
Royce Young was surprised not at the Cavs being bad, but being this terrible. Jason Terry leads for sixth man, again, according to Ben and Royce, and Thibodeau gets two votes for Coach of the Year.
Going to be a fun second half, people.
Posted on: January 18, 2011 8:30 pm
Edited on: January 19, 2011 8:45 am
Posted by F&R Staff
41 down, 41 to go. Approximately. We're at roughly the halfway mark of the season, one that's been interesting, at least. The Heat have at times severely disappointed, then significantly impressed us. The Celtics have looked invincible when healthy, but haven't stayed healthy. The Lakers have looked dominant when focused, downright silly when not. We've got a long way to go before the second season begins, but already we've had the emergence of Blake Griffin , a massive trade by the Magic to try and prop their window open, the fall of the Suns , and half the Blazers have seemingly been injured. Here then is our progress report for the Eastern Conference at mid-season. All grades are against reasonable preseason expectations for performance. In other words, each team is on its own curve. Tables correspond to our empirical predictions Ben Golliver compiled preseason.
Central DivisionChicago Bulls: Once the Bulls finally get to completely play together, I've got a feeling they're going to be really good. First it was Carlos Boozer who was out with a broken wrist after losing a fight with his gym bag. Now it's Joakim Noah who had to have thumb surgery.
Regardless of battling through major injuries to major pieces, Chicago still sits comfortably atop the Central and is set up to make a strong run to a top four seed in the East. Derrick Rose has back up the MVP candidate talk, Luol Deng is scoring the ball relatively well and Tom Thibadeau is living up to his reputation, installing a swarming, nasty defensive system in Chicago. The Bulls have been pretty good thus far, but once they finally get to play together, they could be really good.
Indiana Pacers: For a time, it was looking like the Pacers were going to become a dark horse team in the East. Much like the Thunder from a year ago, Indiana was defending extremely well and playing behind a rising scorer in Danny Granger.
Then Granger went into a huge funk, the defense slipped and players like Roy Hibbert and Darren Collison stopped playing at a high level. The Pacers are still in the playoff discussion in the East because the conference is so bad in the bottom half that the Wizards are only four and half games out of eighth. Right now, the Pacers hold the spot, but unless they get back to the way they played in November, they'll be slipping back to the lottery for another season.
Milwaukee Bucks: Such high hopes for the Bucks, who surprised people last season with a run to the postseason that made us all Fear the Deer. For the first half of this year, injuries, somewhat inconsistent defense and a horrific offense have doomed the Bucks.
The Bucks are dead last in points per game and 29th in offensive efficiency. They've won the games they have because of a still quality defense, but the Bucks just can't score. With Brandon Jennings being injured and Andrew Bogut not entirely healthy, Milwaukee just doesn't have anyone to turn to for points. They're in the hunt for the postseason, but it was supposed to be about more than that this season. This team had visions of competing for the division, but the first half has been a total disappointment.
Detroit Pistons: The Pistons have been a tough team to figure out halfway through. Some nights, they look like a legitimate playoff team. Other nights, you fear for another Malace at the Palace but this one coming only between the Pistons.
Coach John Kuester is on the verge of losing his team and with trade rumors hanging over the heads of their core players, the Pistons haven't been able to fully commit to a rebuilding youth movement. You can't say the Pistons have disappointed anyone in the first half because there really weren't expectations, but they've played some ugly basketball to this point.
Cleveland Cavaliers: Can I just leave this one blank? The Cavs aren't going to finish with the worst record of all time because they've (somehow) already gotten eight wins. But really, at this point, can you see them winning another game? It's kind of hard to.
After LeBron ravaged them and plundered Cleveland on his way out of town, the Cavs have been dismal. They have a league-worst negative 11.3 point differential. They've dropped 13 straight and 23 of 24. They lost their best player for the season in Anderson Varejao. Their semi-good players have basically quit. They aren't just losing, but they're losing in epic ways. A 55-point loss to the Lakers? A total destruction at the hands of the Nuggets? Something tells me though that we haven't seen the worst yet.
Boston: Often short-handed and forced to mix-and-match the rotation due to so many old parts, Boston’s rock-solid core four ensures that the Celtics remain head and shoulders above the rest of this division. Boston has out-performed expectations even without forward Kevin Garnett for a few weeks and without center Kendrick Perkins for the entire season. The big (only?) question down the stretch: how seamlessly can Perkins be worked back into the rotation and back into playoff shape? Other than that, besides general questions about health, it’s fairly clear sailing. The Celtics look poised for another long playoff run and a much-anticipated collision with the Miami Heat.
New York Knicks: Amar’e Stoudemire gets the headlines and rookie Landry Fields gets the online “underrated” love, but what about Wilson Chandler, who has upped his production this season and provided that much needed complementary threat that keeps opposing defenses working? Chandler, and point guard Raymond Felton, who predictably blossomed once he left the Charlotte Bobcats aka NBA Siberia, give the Knicks a well-rounded feel that wasn’t expected entering the season. They’ll be a really tough playoff out, whether they make a move to bolster their talent base before the trade deadline or not.
Philadelphia: The Sixers have pushed into the playoff picture in recent weeks after a rocky start, owing to nice young pieces like Jrue Holiday and Lou Williams turning it up. This group is at least a year away (maybe five), though, as rookie Evan Turner isn’t providing nearly the lift that was expected and needed. The trade question has hung over Andre Iguodala all season, but Philly can’t move him if they stay on target for the postseason, can they?
Toronto: Well, they’re not as bad as Cleveland, so that’s something. Year one post-Bosh has gone about as well as could have been expected, but it’s still been extremely frustrating. No defense is being played, the young talent on the wings doesn’t complement franchise big man Andrea Bargnani all that well, and injuries up and down the roster have limited the team’s depth. I’m not sure where hope is coming from with this group, and a lottery trip is all but assured. Toronto seems like a likely candidate to be an active trade player come draft season, as they look to find an identity among their mismatched pieces.
New Jersey: The embodiment of desperate, the Nets have hitched their wagon to the hope of landing a mid-tier star in Carmelo Anthony, liquidating Terrence Williams and alienating half their roster in the process. Needless to say, that plan hasn’t turned into wins. If New Jersey is somehow unable to land Anthony they’ll have plenty of flexibility this offseason, but there’s an awful lot of ugly basketball to be played between now and then.
Miami Heat: How does a team win 20 of 22 games, reach the halfway mark only two games back of the top spot in the East, overcome tremendous criticism and still wind up feeling like a disappointment? Easy. They set themselves up with too much talk, too much bluster, too much pyro. You bring that many fireworks you better have the fire to go with that... nevermind. The Heat started out highly mediocre for their talent level, then rebounded significantly, then tailed off again when injuries took their toll. In the middle of that we've had a season full of Heat Stroke, as we've gotten everything from karmic reference to Chris Bosh asking people not to play hard. The Heat are a contender, of that we're sure. But this team was set to reach historic heights. Instead, they seem poised for yet another opportunity for people to cheer their collective failures and throw the word ego around too lightly.
Atlanta Hawks: Almost no one knows the Hawks are currently fourth in the Eastern Conference, on pace to beat their mark of 53 wins last season. The Hawks didn't lose any big components, and questions about Jamal Crawford's contract have faded into the background. Al Horford has been brilliant this season, even moreso than last year when he was an All-Star. Yes, Joe Johnson's contract is a gigantic anchor on their future, and they'll slip underwater eventually. For now, though, the Hawks just keep winning games and flying under the radar.
Orlando Magic: We almost feel like there should be two separate grades for the Magic. One for their original team going into the season, and one for the team after their huge trade in December. Before the trade, the Magic looked like the window had been firmly shut, as Vince Carter was a shell of his former self, Rashard Lewis was creating a logjam at power forward as both Ryan Anderson and Brandon Bass had earned minutes, and their backcourt was too thin. After the trade, they went on a tear, before running into a brick wall against the Celtics. Still, a home win over the C's on Christmas has to give them confidence that they're on the right track back to contender-status. The biggest surprise? Hedo Turkoglu, who's been a huge part of the resurgence. For now, we'll split the difference between the two versions of the Magic.
Charlotte Bobcats: The Bobcats plummeted in the start of the season, as the fragile framework that had held the team together crumbled without Raymond Felton at point. Even with D.J. Augustin playing brilliantly compared to expectations, the Bobcats were terrible, forcing majority owner Michael Jordan to fire Larry Brown and bring in interim coach Paul Silas. Things seemed to be going better for a while, but three straight losses and the Bobcats seem to be on pace again to win fewer than 35 games at least. It's time for a massive rebuilding project in Charlotte, the question is whether Jordan will finally pull the trigger before the deadline.
Washington Wizards: So much for John Wall winning rookie of the year. Gilbert Arenas was moved and Wall seems to be struggling significantly with injuries. Andray Blatche has been a problem, Josh Howard is hurt, again, Yi Jianlian is Yi Jianlian, and the Wizards look a lot like they did last year. But JaVale McGee and the emergence of Nick Young provide hope alongside Wall when healthy. It's a rebuilding year for the Wizards. But they better get to the building part with a little more urgency.
Note : The charts refer to extrapolated wins/losses data for the entire season. If a team is "+2", it is on pace to win 2 more games than the aggregate of six pre-season projection models predicted. If a team is "-5", it is on pace to win 5 less games than the aggregate predicted.
Posted on: January 18, 2011 7:33 pm
Edited on: January 18, 2011 8:48 pm
Posted by F&R Staff
41 down, 41 to go. Approximately. We're at roughly the halfway mark of the season, one that's been interesting, at least. The Heat have at times severely disappointed, then significantly impressed us. The Celtics have looked invincible when healthy, but haven't stayed healthy. The Lakers have looked dominant when focused, downright silly when not. We've got a long way to go before the second season begins, but already we've had the emergence of Blake Griffin, a massive trade by the Magic to try and prop their window open, the fall of the Suns, and half the Blazers have seemingly been injured. Here then is our progress report for the Western Conference at mid-season. Tables correspond to our empirical predictions Ben Golliver compiled preseason.
PACIFIC DIVISIONLos Angeles Lakers: Meet the new Lakers, same as the old Lakers. This L.A. team has shown the same tendencies to completely come apart at the seams and breeze through the motions as they have in seasons past. You'll remember this team from their underwhelming performance against the Rockets in 2009 (which they won), and during long stretches last season (in which they grabbed the number one seed and won the title). No team has perfect focus and intensity for 82 games, it's too much of a grind. But when the Lakers come apart, they melt down in truly disappointing fashion. But when they're on? There isn't a more fearsome team in the West. All signs point towards a return to the Finals for the Lakeshow, but expect there to be some more disappointing performances along the way.
Phoenix Suns: Behold the end of a contender. It happens to every team. It happened to Detroit, it happened to Cleveland, and it's happened to the Suns. Now the talk is all about Steve Nash and his future in Phoenix. No one wants to see Nash spend the end of his career on a non-contender, his talents wasted. Yet the Suns have been adamant about not trading him. With free agent signing Josh Childress a bust, and other signing Hedo Turkoglu shipped off in the Orlando trade for fading Vince Carter (fading more than usual that is), the Suns have little hope for keeping pace in the playoff race. But Alvin Gentry has managed to surprise everyone during his time as coach, and maybe he has enough to make a run in the second half. For now, the Suns have failed expectations.
Golden State Warriors: The Warriors started off looking pretty decent, with Monta Ellis playing at an All-Star level, more efficiently and more in the flow of the offense than in years prior. But the early season success quickly turned into a very Warriors-like season. David Lee suffered a gruesome elbow injury, and the return of the vacant defense that has marked the identity of the squad for years reared its ugly head again. The Warriors sit just four games back of the playoffs, and are on pace for at least a 34-win season, an eight win improvement over last year, but not what the team was hoping for in its first under new owners Joe Lacob and Peter Guber. But hey, at least Andris Biedrins has regressed! Wait, that's not good.
Los Angeles Clippers: What a difference one guy can make. After coming back from a broken patella he suffered in preseason last year, prompting talk of the Clipper curse striking again, Blake Griffin is nothing short of a phenomenon. We feel Griffin is an All-Star , and not just a dunker, but to be clear, he is an amazing dunker. And the mental impact his jams have on the opponents is clear, as more and more teams try and get physical with Griffin to get him off the rim, to no avail. That's the story of the Clippers this season. Eric Bledsoe has been a nice surprise, Al Farouq Aminu looks like a much better pick than people thought initially, DeAndre Jordan looks like a legitimate starting center in this league, and Vinny Del Negro's improved after a horrific start. But folks who claim that Baron Davis can be a difference maker because of a few weeks of solid play need to remain wary. Davis can check out at any point, physically or mentally, and relying on him is not a sound strategy for success. The Clippers are a longshot to make the playoffs, and aren't even on pace to dramatically improve over last year's 29 wins. But they're relevant again, thanks to Griffin. And that's enough to make this season a success.
Sacramento Kings: Yeesh, that went south in a hurry. Tyreke Evans with a heavy regression, Paul Westphal having seemingly lost the club, a dramatic fall across the board on both sides of the ball in terms of production, and serious chemistry issues with the new building block, DeMarcus Cousins. The Kings are arguably the biggest failure in the league this season, and Cleveland has been down by 50 at one point. There's little to salvage of this broken season, and Paul Westphal's job seems like the furthest item on that improbable list. Massive fail. Oh, but at least there's huge turmoil over the future of the team in the city and they have dour prospects at a new arena.
Utah Jazz: The San Antonio Spurs are always considered the model franchise but Utah is right there in so many ways, except the rings. Solid ownership group, solid management, best coach in the league, top-shelf point guard and solid big men. The cast around Deron Williams, Paul Millsap and Al Jefferson doesn’t matter much, and while Jazz fans think their team has left a few wins on the table this season, they’re still sitting pretty at 27-14, in the heart of the chase for homecourt advantage.
Oklahoma City Thunder: When the most talked about deficiency on your team is the loss of an assistant coach, life is pretty good. Boasting the NBA’s most voluminous (and by far the most consistent) scorer in Kevin Durant and one of the most unguardable players in the league in Russell Westbrook, coach Scottie Brooks and company are making due just fine, even if they’ve taken a step back defensively. Look for Durant to turn it up another notch down the stretch this season. They’ll win a playoff series.
Denver Nuggets: What’s better: to have your franchise swiftly beheaded during summer free agency or slowly tortured to death over the course of months of rumors and reported trades? Denver has chosen door No. 2 and it has torpedoed their season, with forward Carmelo Anthony being booed on his homecourt and questions being asked daily about the future of the franchise. To make matters worse, J.R. Smith is waiting in the wings to be the franchise centerpiece when Anthony is finally moved. Good luck with that.
Portland Trail Blazers: No team has had their ceiling cave in faster and harder than the Trail Blazers, who could be legit contenders for a top two playoff seed if Brandon Roy and Greg Oden were healthy. Instead, both went under the knife for knee surgeries yet again this season; Oden is done for the year and Roy is out indefinitely, but hoping for a late-season return. The Blazers will probably resist blowing it up for as long as possible, but that only means they’ll be putting a product on the court that is no better than slightly above average. Big production from LaMarcus Aldridge over the last two months has provided a sliver of hope, but the organization and fanbase aren’t kidding themselves.
Minnesota Timberwolves: They are who we thought they were: terrible, and perhaps the least cohesive team in the league. Kevin Love and Michael Beasley get their numbers, Darko Milicic has progressed some, but this is sort of like an AAU team that went on a European vacation, returning with multiple identities, but, in the end, no real identity. A thin backcourt, lack of potency on the wings, problems limiting turnovers, and non-existent team defense make this project unsalvageable in the short-term. With cap space to spare, the Wolves should considering taking on some money/talent to provide their fans a truly competitive product.
SOUTHWEST DIVISIONDallas Mavericks: All was wonderful in Big D as the Mavericks stormed out to a beautiful 24-5 record. Then Dirk Nowitzki injured his knee against Oklahoma City. Then Caron Butler hurt his against the Raptors. And the Mavs quickly went from Finals contender to a team looking for answers.
The Mavs have gone 2-9 since the injuries struck but more importantly have gone from a major player in the title chase to a major question mark. Things can get straightened out for sure, but at the mid-way point, there's more concern in Dallas than was expected.
San Antonio Spurs: If you ask Gregg Popovich, he'll tell you the Spurs could've and should've been better through the first half of the season. In fact, he would probably zero in on one specific possession from a November game against the Wolves that's still bothering him.
But San Antonio sits atop the league halfway through with a glistening 35-6 record, the best start ever in franchise history. The interesting thing though is that it's not about Tim Duncan. He's third and even fourth fiddle on this team some nights. It's about Manu Ginobili's playmaking, Tony Parker's scoring, Richard Jefferson's shooting and the emergence of stellar role players throughout the roster. So all things considered Coach Pop, 35-6 really isn't all that bad.
Memphis Grizzlies: The past few weeks have kind of saved the Grizzlies from an otherwise disappointing start. Memphis has finally put together a quality three weeks of play and as a result, has launched itself into the race for eighth during the second half of the season.
Not to say a heavy amount of questions don't linger over the team though. There's the thing to be solved about O.J. Mayo, the issue with Tony Allen and Mayo and potentially about the job security of Lionel Hollins. The team is still young and still building, but the second half definitely needs to show some steps forward.
New Orleans Hornets: A hot start that had the Hornets as the best team in basketball, then a major lull that had people wondering if they'd even make the playoffs. Ups and downs for the Hornets is the storyline so far this season.
The team has come together recently, winning five straight. And don't look now, but they're hot on the tail of the Mavericks for second in the division. The Hornets are a team walking a tight rope and appear poised for a drop-off at any moment, but as it stands now, they're in the top half of the West and primed to make a postseason run.
Houston Rockets: If disappointment has a name in the West, it's the Rockets. Injuries to Yao Ming and Aaron Brooks derailed things early, but even when both were healthy Houston got off to a bad 1-6 start. Then as things finally started looking up as Brooks returned and the team got to 16-16, the Rockets immediately lost five straight.
It still seems like this team has the ability to make noise in the playoff chase down the stretch because the players are there. But a disappointing first half to the season may doom them in the end.
Note: The charts refer to extrapolated wins/losses data for the entire season. If a team is "+2", it is on pace to win 2 more games than the aggregate of six pre-season projection models predicted. If a team is "-5", it is on pace to win 5 less games than the aggregate predicted.