NBA Playoff Projections Watch: February 9
Reading this under a foot of snow right now? From my perch in Chicago, I offer exactly zero sympathy. Snow's a fact of life; I've become well acquainted with salt on the sidewalks and digging out my car in the morning.
I'm actually surprised more basketball games aren't canceled because of snow. I figure that it would be a regular occurrence in Minnesota or Milwaukee or Boston, but other than the Bulls/Pacers game that was just made up earlier this week, I don't know the last time I heard of a snow-out. In fact, snowstorms might make the NBA even cooler: you can stay inside with some hot chocolate and watch basketball until your heart's content.
That's what makes snowstorms one of the best natural disasters. But it is the best natural disaster? For this week's Playoff Predictor, I rank the NBA's teams, natural disaster style.
The Hurricane Category
30. Charlotte Bobcats: 0.0% Playoff Chance
29. Sacramento Kings: 0.0%
28. Cleveland Cavaliers: 0.0%
27. New Orleans Hornets: 0.0%
26. Orlando Magic: 0.0%
25. Washington Wizards: 0.0%
24. Phoenix Suns: 0.0%
What good has ever come from a hurricane? From my vantage point, all I see is widespread destruction. I suppose that you could obtusely argue that it provides water, but we'll call that the Kyrie Irving of arguments (i.e. a gem in a whole pile of crap).
We're not even to the halfway point of the season, but already, there are seven teams with exactly zero percent playoff odds. That's actually quite a feat, especially considering that it would take beating either a team without its best player (Boston) or a team that already fired its coach (Milwaukee) to make it in the East.
The most disappointing of the disappointments may be the Orlando Magic, who held a slim, but still something 1.3 percent chance just two weeks ago. But I suppose an 11 game losing streak will rid you of delusions of grandeur right quick: six of their 11 losses came against teams in places seven through eleven in the Eastern Conference playoff race. Not that the failure was unexpected, though, as the Magic are now 27th overall in offensive rating on the season and 25th in defensive rating.
The Tornado Category
23. Minnesota Timberwolves: 0.8% Playoff Chance
22. Toronto Raptors: 1.6%
21. Detroit Pistons: 2.3%
20. Dallas Mavericks: 3.3%
Sure, they're destructive and dangerous and no good actually comes from them. But there's a reason that those crazy people out there chase tornadoes: they're a lot of fun to watch.
Hello, all you Toronto fans that believe Rudy Gay will lead you to the playoffs. I hope those delusions are nice. But in the real world, Gay has been highly inefficient this season. He allows more points (103 per 100 possessions) than he scores (102 per 100 possessions), and only sits as the No. 100 player on our power rankings with a negative nERD score (meaning that he's worse than the league-average player). He's not the key to increasing Toronto's miniscule playoff chances this season anyway.
Perhaps the biggest surprise in this group, though, is how Detroit's playoff odds have taken a dive in the past two weeks. Despite only sitting 10th in the East, Dorothy had a better chance of surviving her Kansas tornado than the Pistons do of making the playoffs. Sure, the 19th offensive effective field goal percentage (eFG%) and 27th turnover-producing defense are easy places to turn to. Every team has a few holes, though.
But how about a supposed strength for this team: rebounding with Greg Monroe and everybody-loves-him Andre Drummond down low? The Pistons may be seventh in offensive rebounding percentage, but they're 25th in defensive rebounding percentage, allowing opponents to get just as many second-chance points. With big men the center of your team, that can't happen.
The Drought Category
19. Portland Trail Blazers: 17.9% Playoff Chance
18. Philadelphia 76ers: 18.0%
You start out with hope. "Oh, it's just been hot for a while!" But then the help doesn't come. The Rain God doesn't answer your prayer; Andrew Bynum just can't seem to get healthy. And slowly, the hope starts to fade away, with a whimper rather than a bang. At the end, you're left saying, "Wait, what was that?" That's the drought category, and it's possibly the least fun category to be in because of the slow, agonizing fall from grace.
The Blazers had hope once upon a time. For some pockets of the population, they still do: 25-24 records will do that for you. But this isn't the Eastern Conference, and that record has Portland sitting squarely in ninth. Not that ninth would be a problem if, you know, the Blazers did anything at all extraordinary. Using Dean Oliver's Four Factors as a guideline, the Blazers are in the top ten in exactly two of the eight (four offensive and four defensive) categories: defense rebounding and defensive free throw factor. Aka, two of the most useless ones. In every other factor, the Blazers are 14th or below.
The Sixers had hope once upon a time. For some pockets of the population, they still do: they're only ninth in the Eastern Conference. But man, is that offense inefficient. The Sixers are second-to-last in the NBA with a 101.2 offensive rating (points per 100 possessions) this season, a stat that not even their 11th-best defensive rating can prop up. And now without Thaddeus Young for three weeks - aka their only player above a 106 offensive rating - help isn't coming any time soon.
The Volcanoes Category
17. Los Angeles Lakers: 45.2% Playoff Chance
16. Utah Jazz: 68.4%
15. Houston Rockets: 71.6%
Volcanoes provide tourism. They provide fertile farming ground. And every once in a while, a Dwight Howard injury or a lack of a point guard or Jeremy Lin trying to shoot every possession will happen, and everything you thought you had will be destroyed.
Think about it this way: there's a solid chance that two of these three teams will make the playoffs. But which two will it be? I can make a case for all of them, but I can also say why all of them won't as well.
The Lakers are actually the most efficient of the three according to our nERD rankings (eighth place overall), but they may already be in too deep of a hole, and other external factors that the stats don't take into account may be in play here.
The Jazz already have the best record in this group and don't have many weaknesses, with only two of the eight Four Factors (defensive rebounding and defensive FT Factor) sitting in the bottom third of the league. But overall, they're the least efficient of the three teams and sit in 17th of our power rankings.
The Rockets have the single best unit of the group, with the fifth-ranked offensive rating in the NBA and fourth-best offensive effective field goal percentage. But a dead-last turnover rate (14.8 percent of possessions) could keep them down when the games get tougher down the stretch.
The Snow Storm Category
14. Boston Celtics: 88.9% Playoff Chance
13. Milwaukee Bucks: 92.1%
I'll admit it, I like the snow. The cold doesn't bother me, and it's fun to play in if you have the right attitude. But there are always the unlucky few that the snowstorm actually hurts...
The Celtics and the Bucks are trying not to be the unlucky few. They are fairly secure in their playoff chances, but if the Sixers (or the Pistons or Raptors, for that matter) are to pass somebody, it's going to likely come at the expense of one of these two teams.
Could it be that Rajon Rondo was holding the Celtics back? No, no it couldn't: that's stupid. But I do find it interesting that the Celtics are now 6-0 with Avery Bradley starting in his place, pulling up their playoff odds by about 20 percent in two weeks. One key is plain ole shooting: the Celtics have had a better eFG% than their opponents in all six wins. But Bradley's 11 percent lower turnover rate has to be a key as well; the Celtics have won the turnover battle in five of the six victories, while losing it in each of the preceding three losses with Rondo.
The Bucks are actually headed the other direction; they were in the almost-assured category just a week ago. But losing four of five can do some funny things. And grabbing no more than 67 percent of available offensive rebounds in each of your past five games is even worse. That drags Milwaukee's already low defensive rebounding percentage down to a 28th-ranked 70.0 percent on the year. If Milwaukee wants to wrap up a bid, their big men are going to have to step up their rebounding game, and fast.
The Downpour Category
12. Golden State Warriors: 94.6% Playoff Chance
11. Atlanta Hawks: 97.9%
10. Memphis Grizzlies: 98.4%
9. Brooklyn Nets: 99.4%
8. Denver Nuggets: 99.8%
7. Chicago Bulls: 99.9%
6. Indiana Pacers: 100.0%
It's all about context. Are you late for work? Downpours are absolutely pitiful. But are you sitting at your window, thinking about life? Or are you outside with friends or kids, playing in the rain? Then that storm looks about ten times better.
Similarly, how you view these teams simply depends on the context in which you view them. Against the Heat or Thunder? Then I wouldn't want to be saddled betting on these particular teams. But against the lower class of the NBA, who is all they have to beat in order to make the playoffs? I'd take them 11 times out of 10.
The main team to watch in this group for this week is the Memphis Grizzlies, who were up in sixth overall the last time this Projections Watch was published. Their third-ranked defensive rating (100.3) is still going to win them some games, but without the corresponding offense, they're running in neutral. That 103.7 offensive rating sits 20th in the NBA. That's not bad in itself, but it is when you realize that it's the dead last offensive rating among the top ten teams in the Western Conference. Among numberFire's current projected West playoff teams, the Grizzlies are 2.7 points per 100 possessions behind the next closest squad (Utah, 11th overall).
The Perfect Weather Category
5. New York Knicks: 100.0% Playoff Chance
4. Los Angeles Clippers: 100.0%
3. Miami Heat: 100.0%
2. San Antonio Spurs: 100.0%
1. Oklahoma City Thunder: 100.0%
Full steam ahead, all is good in Top Team Land. And on this bright, sunny day, there's very little that can knock them off course.
The top five has gotten reshuffled a bit, with the Thunder, Spurs, and Heat all jumping the Chris Paul-less Clippers. But it's that team down at number five that I find interesting: the New York Knicks.
I wrote an article on Thursday about why the Nuggets might be the NBA's most well-rounded team. But almost as interesting as Denver's results to me were the Knicks' results. While the top four teams in our power rankings all have positive Net PERs at four positions and could easily cover up a fifth, the Knicks have a negative Net PER at both point guard and small forward. How are they up so high in the standings with two glaring weaknesses?
But Eric Mayo's excellent Knicks piece from yesterday answered a lot of those questions. There are two sides to the coin of what Mayo's saying there. Yes, the Knicks play down to their weak opponents. But they also play up to their strong opponents, causing that random variability, even with recent dominating wins against weak teams.
On the season, the Knicks are 2-0 against Miami (average margin of victory: 18), 2-0 against San Antonio (average margin of victory: 10.5), and have not yet played the Clippers or Thunder. But it's those dominating victories against the best of the best that should have Knicks fans holding out some hope of a parade through Manhattan next summer.