Welcome to Part Three of the NBA Fan Confidence Rankings! If you missed the first two parts of this series, want relive my attempts at humor, or just want to increase Warriors World’s ad revenue, click here for Part One of the series and here for Part Two.
Today, I’ll explore tiers four and five of my completely arbitrary NBA Fan Confidence Rankings.
- Team Apocalypse
- Team Do Not Renew the Season Tickets
- Team At Least We’ve Got This One Thing
- Team Future
- Team Only A Couple Moves Away
- Team Contender
Degree #4: Team Future
Symptoms: The hope is palpable. There are a couple core players that you think will be there for the long-term. You are even contemplating buying one of their jerseys. Having tickets to their home games has increased your hipster rating among your friends by a solid 25%. NBA nerds everywhere, whether it be within the depths of Reddit or Twitter conversations 60 tweets long, are fascinated by your team. Your team’s in the NBA equivalent of the honeymoon period for Presidents: all missteps are forgivable, you are just happy with the hope they are providing.
Boston Celtics: 20 Wins – 19 Losses
Scouting Report: The Celtics are bursting with assets. Combing through their roster is like reading a list titled “Players Contending Teams Should Trade For.” Marcus Smart and Avery Bradley are two of the best perimeter defenders in the league- NBA bloodhounds. Stretch bigs Jared Sullinger and Kelly Olynck have “future Spurs role player” written all over them. Isaiah Thomas is the ultimate plug-and-score player and wing Jae Crowder fits the position-less NBA incredibly well. Not to mention, Boston has rights to Brooklyn’s first round pick in 2016, 2017 (via a pick swap) and 2018. Brooklyn’s current situation might be the worst in the history of the league, seriously, and those picks are going to be nice. [Editor’s Note: Check out the Cavs under Ted Stepien, the owner whose conduct brought about the rules limiting how teams can trade first round picks. It gets rough. -DL]
TV Viewing Tip: Celtics coach Brad Stevens has quietly become a top five coach in the NBA. Pay close attention to his plays coming out of timeouts, they are often masterpieces. Fun Brad Stevens fact: Tim Duncan is older than Brad Stevens. Timmaaaaaaaay!!!
Big Question: The Celtics have completed all the prerequisites to be a real player in any NBA transaction. If Demarcus Cousins demands out of Sacramento (which let’s be honest, he probably should), will the Celtics sacrifice their valuable picks in a blockbuster trade?
Orlando Magic: 20 Wins – 18 Losses
Scouting Report: The Magic are a funky team, an acquired taste. Their foundational guard duo of Victor Oladipo (2nd overall pick in 2013) and Elfrid Payton (10th overall in 2014) essentially says “FU” to the analytics that mandate guards must be able to shoot. Oladipo and Payton have what my high school coach would call good “floor games” meaning they influence every component of the game. Speaking of school that is not college, I was lucky enough (or unlucky, depends on your perspective) to guard current Magic wing Aaron Gordon every day during middle school basketball practice and once a year during high school games. Here is my completely biased case on why the Magic need to play Gordon more: the NBA is trending towards position-less players. Guys that can switch on defense, exploit weird match-ups on offense and give their coach maximum flexibility. This movement is undeniable. Gordon is the perfect fit for this. When combining Gordon with wing Tobias Harris, the Magic have a set of hybrid forwards with games that complement each other (Gordon making up for Harris’ defensive struggles and vice-versa). Give me more Gordon!
TV Viewing Tip: Discover the YouTube gold-mine that is Magic rookie Mario Hezonja. Coming out of the draft he was described as the “European JR Smith” which is the most exciting rookie description I have ever heard. [Editor’s note: It just so happens that the editor of Warriors World is the Archbishop of the Church of Hezonja and the sponsor of his Basketball-Reference page. -DL]
Big Question: Hezonja and current starting shooting guard Even Fournier are somewhat redundant as players. Will the Magic move on from Fournier after this season?
Detroit Pistons: 21 Wins – 17 Losses & Utah Jazz: 17 Wins – 21 Losses
Scouting Reports: I paired these two not only because I am attempting to keep this under 2,000 words and because they have inverse records but because both have centers (Andre Drummond in Detroit and Rudy Gobert in Utah) who genuinely dictate how the game is played around them. Detroit is developing a real core with Drummond, Reggie Jackson, Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, Marcus Morris, and Stanley Johnson. Meanwhile, Utah treated the first half of last season as a laboratory to understand their style, and ever since they’ve been systemizing it to the tune of sustainable results. Both have huge upsides.
TV Viewing Tip: If you are interested in diving deeper into in-game strategy, watch how Pistons point guard Reggie Jackson uses screens on offense. Since Jackson is not an overly terrifying three-point shooter, defenders go under screens* that are set for him. To counter this, Jackson reverses direction and runs his defender back through the same screen, just going the other direction. This is both highly effective and fun to look for during Pistons games.
*Going under a screen means looping beneath the screen, instead of following the player over the top of the screen. To put this in a Warriors lens, going under on an on-ball screen set for Steph Curry is often times a recipe for three points for the Warriors.
Big Question: The size of a team’s market has progressively become less and less of a deciding factor in free agency. Heck, last off-season Greg Monroe chose Milwaukee (Milwaukee!) over the Knicks and Lakers. Can Utah, one of the league’s smallest markets, attract a free agent?
Indiana Pacers: 22 Wins – 17 Losses
Scouting Report: Two years ago, the Pacers took the LeBron Heat to six games in the Eastern Conference Finals by playing bully-ball with Paul George playing as a shooting guard / small forward hybrid. Possessions were walked up the court and wins were grinded out. Two years later, the Pacers are playing at the league’s seventh=fastest pace and have Paul George playing some power forward. The Pacers have completely evolved and it is working! The difficulty of this change cannot be overstated enough. The Washington Wizards tried to do the same thing this season and their defense rank plunged from fifth to eighteenth. The Pacers are playing faster and their defense has gotten better as they are currently second in points allowed per 100 possessions.
TV Viewing Tip: Love the movie Hoosiers? Every once in a while, the Pacers wear the famous Hickory uniforms. Nostalgia!
Big Question: At one point, the Pacers had Paul George and Kawhi Leonard on their roster. Leonard was then traded for current Pacers point guard George Hill. What could have been, if the Pacers kept George and Leonard -both MVP candidates and absolute destroyers on defense- on the same team?
Milwaukee Bucks: 16 Wins – 25 Losses & Minnesotta Timberwolves: 12 Wins – 28 Losses
Scouting Reports: Opinions on the Bucks are like opinions on Twitter’s stock price: there is no middle ground. You are either incredibly bullish or convinced that the growth everyone talks about just will not materialize. Being bullish on the Bucks (which sounds like the domain name of a fan website) means believing in Giannis Antetokounmpo’s (AKA the Greek Freak) raw athleticism, the Bucks’ over-caffeinated version of the Warriors’ switch everything defense and Jabari Parker’s ability to develop a three-pointer. The pessimistic side will argue that the Bucks are the ultimate “go under the screen team” because nobody besides Khris Middleton can shoot and that point guard Michael Carter-Williams cannot run the offense for a team who hopes to make it to the playoffs. The Timberwolves are equally young but a lot less controversial in their trajectory. To continue the tech analogy, they are like Airbnb. Karl Anthony-Towns and Andrew Wiggins might be two of the most untouchable players in the league right now.
TV Viewing Tip: Give the Bucks a chance. When they are humming, their interchangeable pieces of defense (starting with Carter-Williams, who’s a 6’6” point guard) are thrilling. This and the sheer excitement of Giannis (who has a 7’5” wingspan!) have made the Bucks the official second favorite team of my college apartment.
Big Question: Will the T-Wolves fire coach Sam Mitchell? Most people agree that he is both beloved by the organization and not their coach of the future. Can the T-Wolves make the tough decision?
Degree #5: Team Only A Couple Moves Away
Symptoms: You have been to the playoffs but are missing something. You are worried your opportunity may fade. It is agonizing. You feel like the person voted off one episode before the season finale of Survivor. You know that as Houston Rockets GM Daryl Morey’s Twitter bio reads, “Opportunity is not a lengthy visitor.”
Miami Heat: 22 Wins – 17 Losses & Chicago Bulls: 22 Wins – 15 Losses
Scouting Report: I find the Heat and Bulls to be in remarkably similar situations. Both have multiple huge question marks going into the off-season: Dwayne Wade and Hassan Whiteside are both free agents in Miami and Joakim Noah and Derrick Rose might not be on next year’s Bulls. Both have stable franchise cornerstones in Chris Bosh and Jimmy Butler. Both have young players slowly stealing minutes from veterans: rookie Justice Winslow (just 19 years old!) and Tyler Johnson (Bay Area native!) in Miami and the quartet of Bobby Portis, Doug McDermott, Nikola Mirotic and Tony Snell in Chicago. Neither are contenders but I am not sure either team fully grasps that reality yet. These two, especially Chicago, will be two of the NBA’s most fascinating and active trade deadline teams.
TV Viewing Tip: Try to figure out what Heat wing Justice Winslow will be in five years, because I sure can’t. Some games Winslow looks like the next Kawhi Leonard, and other nights he looks like a role-player who specializes in defense.
Big Question: Will Heat orchestrater Pat Riley put Winslow on the trading block in attempt to acquire another star? Will Chicago give up on the Rose era and trade their hometown hero? Will Bulls rookie head coach Fred Holberg figure out how to allocate playing team among his team that in many ways is positionally redundant? The questions are endless with these two!
Atlanta Hawks: 23 Wins – 16 Losses
Scouting Report: The Hawks specialize in what I affectionally call “open source basketball.” No player is irreplaceable. The system is the driver of success. The Hawks are highly efficient on offense: third in assists per game (only trailing the Warriors and Spurs), and fourth in true shooting percentage*. Their success seems incredibly sustainable. Think of them as the southeast, less talented version of the Spurs.
*True shooting percentage is shooting percentage adjusted for the value of three-pointers and free throws.
TV Viewing Tip: Decide for yourself whether Atlanta’s logo looks more like the character from Pac-Man or an actual Hawk. I vote Pac-Man.
Big Question: Hawks backup point guard Dennis Schröder has many things going for him: an umlaut in his name, a system that fits his game uniquely well and the third best plus-minus rating on the team. Yet, he’s still the backup point guard behind Jeff Teague; Teague sports the team’s third worst plus-minus rating. How will Atlanta handle this situation? Will the play the two together more, explore trading one of the two, or just keep the status?
Check back next week for the conclusion to this series. Thanks for reading!