The Suns project to be our worst team in the Western Conference and after the trade of Marcin Gortat, possibly the worst team in the entire league. In the bid to capture the top odds for the 2014 draft’s first overall selection, the dumping of Marcin Gortat for Emeka Okafor’s contract and an additional 2014 first round pick represents a bit of a coup for the Suns. They were not going to be good this year, no matter what, but Gortat is an above average NBA center who figured to play a starter’s load of minutes for Phoenix. Instead, the Suns have traded him away for a player unlikely to play at all this year due to a scary neck injury and a possible second lottery pick in the best draft in ages. Great work by Phoenix GM Ryan McDonough. So how bad should the Suns be?
The Suns, with their old roster when I first ran these numbers, looked to be a 29 win club, adjusted for league average to a 26 win team. That projection, though, was with Marcin Gortat, Caron Butler, Kendall Marshall, and Malcolm Lee on the team. All of those players have been sent away with nary an NBA player brought in to replace a one of them. That’s roughly 4 to 4.5 wins lost, by our estimation here. So look for the Suns to hover right around 21–22 wins- unless, of course, they go even more totally all-in on the tank and dump Goran Dragic in a deal for further future assets. Such a trade seems at least a 50/50 proposition and probably more likely than that to occur. McDonough has shown no interest in winning too many games this year and damaging his odds at maximum ping-pong balls in May’s draft lottery. It’s a strategy that seems fairly sound given the talent that is available in the top 5 picks of this year’s draft. Of course, there’s no way of knowing whether it will work out, but the logic is sound and the plan has been well executed and that’s really all you can ask for from your team’s executives.
With just five players on the court at all times for each team, perhaps the toughest thing to predict will be how a player will handle a huge increase in minutes. As the 2013–2014 season approaches, both fans of specific teams and fantasy basketball owners are trying to determine who might be ready to turn the corner. According to statistics, new teammates and a better opportunity, here are three players ready to make a leap.
No one has ever doubted that Andre Drummond is one of the most gifted basketball talents to come along in quite some time, but there were some intangible question marks surrounding the rookie last season. Fantasy basketball owners were scared off by his perceptions about his work ethic, his toughness and his lack of a shooting touch. He still can’t make free throws, but his value in limited action last season was superb. If the Pistons really want to make the playoffs, Drummond will have to play more than 20 minutes a game. If he can keep up his 21.6 PER with more minutes, it could be a great sophomore season for the big man.
Butler is the perfect example of the new age 3 and D type of player ever NBA team is looking for. He can knock down the 3-point shot (especially from the corner), and he is an excellent defender at multiple positions. He and Luol Deng can be matchup nightmares for opposing teams, especially as they play together more often in 2013–2014. Year two he made a pretty big leap, but now that he will likely start the majority of the games this season, he could be ready to fully emerge as a true talent.
Most people have already counted out the Phoenix Suns this season, and on paper, they appear to just not have enough talent for the playoffs. However, one bright spot for them heading into the season is their new point guard Eric Bledsoe. After being stuck in the shadows of Chris Paul in Los Angeles, the athletic point guard gets a chance to play some major minutes for a rebuilding club. He is coming off an extremely efficient season, despite hovering around just 20 minutes a game. Expect outstanding offensive and defensive numbers out of him in fantasy basketball this season.
So, the Clippers. What an offseason, huh? The Clippers had arguably the best offseason in the league this year, save what Brooklyn was able to cook up 3,000 miles away on the opposite coast. To recap: they were able to acquire two capable wing players (Jared Dudley, J.J. Redick) in exchange for a player (Eric Bledsoe) who, despite his massive potential and above average production, simply didn’t figure to play enough to justify what he’ll need to be paid, because of the top 3 player in the NBA playing in front of him (that’s Chris Paul, you guys). They replaced that potential with the less talented, but still capable Darren Collison, the once and future CP3 understudy. They retained Matt Barnes and drafted another 3 and D wing in Reggie Bullock. They’re flush with those types between Redick, Dudley, and now Bullock. Maybe too much so. But, on the plus side, they acquired Doc Rivers to manage all those wings and fix a rotation that works, for the relatively piddling price of a late first round pick. Oh, Byron Mullens is along for the ride, too, but he’s not very good at much besides taking and missing a lot of jump shots while simultaneously being tall. So, really, who cares about Byron? What do the numbers have to say about what we can expect from the Clippers after their offseason to remember?
57 wins. That’s improvement over this year’s 56 wins, but not much. Why don’t the Clippers look better? Well, they lost Eric Bledsoe who, as it turns out, was a +1.61 player in xRAPM and played 1500+ minutes for them last year. Jared Dudley and J.J. Redick had lower xRAPMs than Bledsoe, as did Darren Collison. Additionally, the Clips lost Lamar Odom who was a +.82 xRAPM and replaced his 1600+ minutes with the terrible Byron Mullens and a combination of wings who will likely be worse than Odom was last year, at least by xRAPM. Plus, Jamal Crawford and Matt Barnes project to decline relatively significantly, while Blake Griffin somewhat offsets that with a pretty significant improvement, as he climbs towards his peak years. Subjectively, this prediction seems like it could be a bit low, as the Clips had the MOV of a 59 win team and most NBA heads had them improving this offseason. Plus, Doc Rivers is in a different class as a coach than Vinny Del Negro. But I present the numbers here for you, dear reader, to ponder over.
Sidenote: At the end of all this projectin’ I will try (if I have time) to incorporate the schedules of the teams, the strength in projected MOV of each team, and the value of home court advantage for each team (as determined by Evan Z over at The City) in order to come up with the most accurate predictions that I can. Also, you should check out the ESPN NBA Forecasts, as they are going up over the next few days. Lots of smart people’s thoughts aggregated together = wisdom of crowds = awesome analysis.
The Los Angeles Clippers, yes those Los Angeles Clippers, have had perhaps the NBA’s best offseason thus far. The Clippers landed on the league’s top coaches by prying Doc Rivers from the Celtics (a massive upgrade from the “coaching” provided last year by Vinny Del Negro) and reached an agreement on a maximum contract extension with one of the league’s very best players, point guard Chris Paul. Today, they gave Doc more talent to shape and CP3 a better supporting cast with which to work. In a blockbuster three team deal, the Clippers agreed to trade promising guard, Eric Bledsoe and aging small forward Caron Butler to the Phoenix Suns in exchange for 3 and D swingman Jared Dudley, while simultaneously sending a second round pick to the Milwaukee Bucks in a sign and trade for shooting guard J.J. Redick. The Bucks will also receive a second round pick from the Suns for their trouble.*
Redick’s new deal is reportedly for 4 years, $27 million, which feels right for a floor-spacing shooting guard who does a little bit of everything while shooting very well from deep (39% for his career). Redick’s numbers did slip overall last year, but it was primarily due to the pretty miserable situation in Milwaukee into which he was traded. J.J. Redick things are meant to be done for a smart team with smart teammates, and well, Brandon Jennings and Monta Ellis are not smart basketball players. They make lots of bad decisions and take bad shots and waste opportunities created by the off-ball movement of a player like Redick. That should change in L.A. where Redick will be playing for a great coach and with one of the league’s smartest players in CP3, Redick should see many more open looks and should really shine for the Clippers. It is worth noting, though, that Redick’s production did slip this year, as he will be 29 in the first year of this new deal and many a shooting guard has seen his production slip starting at around age 30. Should Redick follow that path, the numbers on this deal might end up seeming a bit bloated, but for a team that is clearly all in and going for it with superstar Chris Paul, this is a minor worry. In addition to shoring up the shooting guard position, the Clippers are getting an upgrade at small forward swapping out the declining 34 year old Caron Butler for career 40.5% 3 point shooter and solid defender, Jared Dudley. Dudley doesn’t have the ball-handling or penetration skills of Butler, but he’s younger, on a very friendly deal, and will be a great offensive fit with CP3 dribble drives and pick-and-roll dives to rim by DeAndre Jordan and Blake Griffin resulting in the collapse of the opposing team’s defense inside freeing Dudley for open looks in the corners. This trade is a big win for the Clips.
For the Suns, the deal is an opportunity to rebuild, yet again. This time they’re betting on Eric Bledsoe to be a star. Bledsoe has certainly shown flashes that he could be that guy. Bledsoe is an athletic freak, who can do things like this:
And perhaps more impressively, he did this to Dwyane Wade:
Phoenix, and its new GM Ryan McDonough, are hoping that Bledsoe can develop into the next Russell Westbrook: an incredible athlete who is a terror on both ends with whom opposing point guards must deal. At just 23 years old, Bledsoe has shown improvement in leaps and bounds and this year posted a solid 17+ PER while also becoming a terror on the defensive end. The Clippers were nearly 5 points per 100 possessions better on defense with Bledsoe on the floor versus when he sat, which is doubly impressive when you realize that the player he was usually replacing was CP3, who made the NBA’s All-Defensive Team this year. This is a smart move by the Suns, as they sacrificed relatively little (Jared Dudley’s talents are mostly wasted on a bad team like the Suns and taking on Caron Butler’s deal is not that onerous) in order to acquire a guy who has the potential to be an impact player on both ends of the court. Bledsoe is the sort of talent you bet on. Good job by Mr. McDonough.
*The Bucks have to be disappointed to receive just two second round picks for Redick after giving up promising rookie combo-forward Tobias Harris to acquire Redick for just the back half of this past season, especially given how well Harris played in Orlando following the trade. On a brighter note, Redick was going to leave the Bucks either way so prying two second round picks out of the process is not nothing, but it probably feels pretty close to Bucks’ fans right now.