NBA Playoff Projections Watch: January 30

Rookie Harrison Barnes' defense might just be the key to have helped Golden State essentially lock up a playoff bid.

Editor's Note: This article will begin running on Fridays rather than Wednesdays starting next week.

NBA All-Star teams were officially finalized last week - both by the NBA's official roster and our own Eastern Conference and Western Conference rosters of perfection (by the numbers, of course).

But know what's not perfect? All-Star weekend. Sure, the Slam Dunk competition has the potential to be awesome, and I'm a sucker for the Rising Stars game. But everything else, meh. I mean, who doesn't want to see Omri Casspi playing H-O-R-S-E, right?

So for this week's playoff predictor article, let's break it down All-Star Style, from the worst current All-Star Weekend events to the best. Because some teams in the NBA are in the actual game, while others are better left trying to make half-court shots with 50-year old men and WNBA players.

The Shooting Stars Competition Category

30. Charlotte Bobcats: 0.0% Playoff Chance
29. Cleveland Cavaliers: 0.0%
28. Washington Wizards: 0.0%
27. New Orleans Hornets: 0.1%
26. Sacramento Kings: 0.2%
25. Phoenix Suns: 0.2%

Remember that competition with a current NBA player, a WNBA player, and an old-timey veteran? You know, the one where the second place finisher last year was "Texas" because they couldn't get enough people from one city who cared? You don't? Welcome to the club.

Despite the fact that New Orleans has risen from a 0.0 percent chance of making the playoffs to a 0.1 percent chance (sound the alarms, the Pelicans are running wild!), there isn't much left to be said about these teams. Time to start scouting Alex Len, Cleveland.

Strangely enough, the 17-29 Sacramento Kings have a better record than the Toronto Raptors, but by virtue of being in the Western Conference, their playoff odds drop all the way from Toronto's 6.2 percent to 0.2 percent. Not that there would be much hope for Sacramento anyway - they're dead last with a 111.1 defensive rating (points allowed per 100 possessions) and 17th with a 104.4 offensive rating. That defensive rating, by the way, would also be worse than Charlotte's 110.4 NBA-worst mark from last season.

The D-League All-Star Game Category

24. Orlando Magic: 1.3% Playoff Chance
23. Toronto Raptors: 6.2%
22. Dallas Mavericks: 9.5%
20. Minnesota Timberwolves: 12.4%

Sure it can be exciting, but who's watching? Unless you're Pops Mensah-Bonsu's parents, probably not you. And although each of these teams can be exciting at teams, there's a good chance that it'll ultimately lead to nothing.

But that doesn't mean that there's not some movement in this group. The Orlando Magic dropped five percent off their playoff chances over the past a victim of their current six game losing streak (and three defeats to the Toronto and Detroit teams they're fighting with for position). The main issue here for Orlando is that their strong shooting has seemingly disappeared: despite shooting a .497 effective field goal percentage (eFG%) on the season, they were outshot by the competition in each of their past four games.

The T'Wolves are in the same position, with their playoff odds dropping 3.3 percent in the past week and still decreasing. That's what happens when your main strength goes away: in Minnesota's most recent loss (their fourth straight) to Charlotte, the Bobcats and their 17th ranked offensive rebounding percentage grabbed seven percent more available offensive boards than Minnesota and won by one.

Dallas, meanwhile, is going the opposite direction, having won six of eight before losing to Portland last night by two. The main key for Dallas will be continuing to win the turnover battle. They're have a -0.2 percent turnover ratio on the season when compared with what they're taking from opponents, but in recent wins against Orlando and Phoenix, they had a five percent lower turnover rate in each game.

The Celebrity Game Category

21. Detroit Pistons: 11.9% Playoff Chance
19. Philadelphia 76ers: 14.1%

That's what it feels like some times watching the Celebrity Game: I respect you for trying Arne Duncan, but really now? But then every once in a while, you'll be thrown a life line. That might be in the form of Kevin Hart winning the 2012 MVP, or it might be Rajon Rondo going out for the year, giving these Eastern Conference teams a chance.

But in order for each team to make a run, they're going to need a supposed major contributor to actually make the leap that many were expecting. For Philadelphia, it's Evan Turner. His 99 offensive rating still sits as the worst on the team and equals his rookie year effectiveness total, while his 106 defensive rating is the worst of his career and right in line with the 19th-place team DRtg of 106.2.

In Detroit, the man under close watch is Brandon Knight. His offensive rating might have risen four points (to a still team-worst 101) and his assist rate may be up two percent, but his turnover rate has risen 1.5 percent as well since his rookie year, and his 109 defensive rating is only better than recently-benched Rodney Stuckey's.

The Rising Stars Game Category

18. Portland Trail Blazers: 21.3% Playoff Chance
17. Los Angeles Lakers: 29.5%

Maybe it'll get there. And it'll be entertaining with not much defense played. But at times... it can just be so... ugly. Undisciplined. Out of sorts. And I'm not only talking about Steve Nash's hair.

The Trail Blazers and the Lakers represent the best chance for someone not currently one of the West's top eight seeds to make the playoffs, but right now, neither one can be considered a particularly strong chance to get there.

When you get a chance, take a look at Portland's offensive Four Factors. It's absolutely fascinating. None of the four have the Blazers in the top 15 in the league... but none of them are below 18th as well. It's just a complete hotbed of mediocrity. When looking at the team's Player Efficiency Rating (PER) by position, no single position has a net PER of below -2.8 PER (not statistically significant) or above +1.5 PER (not statistically significant). It's the Willie Green of teams - what exactly is there to say about them?

As for the Lakers, well, there's been too much said about them already. So for the sake of my sanity, I'll just leave these numbers here: 12.2 percent defensive turnover rate (29th), 73.2 percent defensive rebound rate (15th), and 106.7 defensive rating (20th).

The Three Point Contest Category

16. Houston Rockets: 54.3% Playoff Chance
14. Utah Jazz: 76.2%

Sure, the Three Point Contest isn't going to be kicked out of the Saturday night All-Star lineup without a major shakeup, but of the weekend specialties, there's little doubt that it's one of the weakest. Same with these two teams: they currently have better than 50 percent odds of making the playoffs, but I don't see many people rushing to Vegas to place NBA Title bets on Houston or Utah.

The Rockets might not seem threatened by Portland and the Lakers right now, but perhaps they should be. They have an 0-2 record against Portland this year and a 2-1 record against L.A., and they had a lower eFG% than their opponent in each one of those games. That mirrors Houston's main problem on the season: they can shoot the lights out with a .517 eFG% (fifth), but they can't prevent their opponents from doing the same. Their 105.9 defensive rating is 16th in the league, and their .503 defensive eFG% is 23rd.

Utah, meanwhile, had the world in their hands... until it all came crashing down in the form of a 45 point loss to Houston on Monday. In that game, they forced Houston to turn the ball over only 4.9 percent of their possessions - a far cry from the Rockets' league-worst 14.9 percent turnover rate on the season. That better not become a trend if Utah looks to stay squarely in the playoff picture. They are 12th in offensive turnover rate and 14th in defensive turnover rate on the season.

The Skills Challenge Category

15. Boston Celtics: 75.2% Playoff Chance

Ah, what to do with Boston? It's going to be a challenge of their skills (OK, maybe I'm stretching a bit) to continue on minus Rajon Rondo and plus increased minutes for Avery Bradley.

Just for kicks, I decided to do a side-by-side comparison of Rondo and Bradley's main percentages, and the results aren't pretty.

eFG%Assist %Steal %TOV %ORtgDRtgPER

To be fair, those assist percentage and turnover percentage numbers are supposed to be out-of-whack; Bradley has played about 70 percent of his minutes at shooting guard this season. The assists and turnovers will both go up at point guard. However, that absurdly low offensive rating would scare me to death if I was a Celtics fan: Bradley simply can't put the ball in the bucket the way that Rondo could.

And that's why, despite a 75.2 percent playoff chance and weak competition, I'm not throwing the Celtics into the playoffs quite yet.

The Slam Dunk Competition Category

13. Milwaukee Bucks: 94.6% Playoff Chance
12. Golden State Warriors: 97.3%
11. Atlanta Hawks: 98.0%
10. Brooklyn Nets: 99.2%
9. Denver Nuggets: 99.3%
8. Indiana Pacers: 99.6%
7. Chicago Bulls: 99.8%
6. Memphis Grizzlies: 99.9%

This secondary tier list is starting to get a bit long, don't you think? It seems odd to me that we're barely past halfway in the season and 13 of the 16 possible playoff teams have 94 percent playoff odds or above, but there really is that much of a difference between the haves and have nots this year. It's like if someone tells you that they're watching All-Star Saturday for something other than the Slam Dunk contest: come on now, you can't really tell me that anything below this point is better.

The two interesting teams to me in this group this week are the Warriors and Bucks, both of whom were sitting below 90 percent playoff odds just last week.

The Bucks are an odd team to figure out: in the past week they've beaten the Warriors and 76ers but lost to the Cavs. They're 24th in offensive rating but eighth in defensive rating. And they're 23rd in offensive eFG% but sixth in opponents' eFG% this season as well. They have very specific parts of their game that they do correctly, and if even one fails (Cleveland shot .553 eFG% against them), chances are it will be tough for Milwaukee to win. That places them in a tough spot when potentially matched up against the Knicks or Heat in the first round of the playoffs, but they have more than enough to keep Philly and Detroit in their rear-view mirror.

The Warriors, meanwhile, are starting to slow down just a bit offensively, but their defense is strong enough to keep them at the top of the league. Over the past week, Golden State went 2-2, with wins over OKC and Toronto but losses to Indiana and Chicago. In three of those games (all but Toronto), the Warriors shot under .500 eFG% from the field. But they also kept opponents from shooting .500 eFG% in three of those four of those games as well, leading to the OKC victory and the close loss to Indiana.

But is it sustainable for Golden State? I'm not so sure - despite being seventh in defensive eFG%, the Warriors are 13th in defensive rating and are giving up a good deal of points due to their fast pace. But the main defensive strength is coming from small forward, where opponents are shooting .440 eFG% against them on the season. And there, it's rookies Harrison Barnes and Draymond Green leading the way, both of whom you'd expect to only increase their defensive prowess as the season progresses.

The All-Star Game Category

5. New York Knicks: 100.0% Playoff Chance
4. Miami Heat: 100.0%
3. San Antonio Spurs: 100.0%
2. Oklahoma City Thunder: 100.0%
1. Los Angeles Clippers: 100.0%

Once again, the top five remain the same five teams from the first three editions of this playoff projections watch. The Knicks, Heat, Thunder, Clippers, and Spurs aren't going anywhere. They're the main attraction, and anybody wanting to knock them off is going to need to do something extraordinary.

I do find it interesting, though, that the order hasn't changed at all either. You're essentially grasping for straws at who's best at this point, but I feel like my trusty little bullet point friends could make a solid case for San Antonio to be higher than No. 3:

  • They have the best record in the league. (Duh.)
  • They're one of only two teams (the Clippers) to be in the top five of both offensive and defensive rating.
  • Dean Oliver of Four Factors fame estimates that effective field goal percentage is 40 percent of the winning formula. San Antonio is second in offensive eFG% and third in defensive eFG%.
  • They're well-rounded. Power forward is the only position to have a negative net PER when compared with opponents, and even that is a small -2.0 differential.
  • Tim Duncan.

It looks to be a three-way race heading down the stretch for the best team in the NBA, but playoff positioning is not one thing that these teams have to worry about.