Apr 23 2015

2015 NBA Playoffs: The Bandwagon Report (Adjusted!)

The lottery teams have been determined, and the playoffs have been underway for a week. As most of you know, I’m helping the coverage over at ESPN TrueHoop’s ClipperBlog. But I wanted to give the seven people on the site something to ogle, so I got you here!

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Now, when the NBA season began, I had this article out to preview the season. In the West, I missed on having the Thunder (Russell Westbrook be damned, time to eat crow) and Suns (blew up team midseason and proceeded to melt down again) in the playoffs; the Rockets and Grizzlies made it in.  In the East, I missed on having the Heat (Mario Chalmers and Luol Deng were the only players to make it to 2,000 minutes in Miami) and Hornets (once again, Lance Stephenson BLOWS) in the playoffs; the Bucks and Nets made it in.

After one week ... (PC:

After one week … (PC:

Now, you all know how I roll. I could go deeper than Randy Moss. But we’re not going to go as stat-heavy as past years. After all, the playoffs have already started. No team is really out of it at this point (well, no teams based in the United States of America), so let’s check in on the bandwagons:

Not pictured: Kentucky before the Final Four.

Not pictured: Kentucky before the Final Four.


#1 – Golden State Warriors (14-2, 13-3, 12-4, 12-4, 14-2, +2)

With a record like that, the Warriors bandwagon shall overflow! Of course, if you’re still hesitant to get on with the Bay Area, I get it. The Warriors have won three playoff series in the last 25 years. The Splash Brothers of Steph Curry and Klay Thompson are legit, while PF Draymond Green gave new head coach Steve Kerr a two-way asset. Those three players combined to score over 4,000 points, one of only five top-scoring trios in the NBA to accomplish that feat. The Warriors also had the best defense in the NBA and the second-best offense, leading the league in FG% on both ends of the floor. They don’t get to the free throw line often, and their best player is a PG, but if the Spurs could win the title last year, so can Golden State. It just won’t be a cupcake like they made the regular season.

#8 – New Orleans Pelicans (8-8, 8-8, 10-6, 9-7, 8-8, +2)

Nothing like being a bandwagon fan to counter the hottest bandwagon! The Pelicans offer Anthony Davis, who should at the least be the highest-rising bandwagon player in the first round of the playoffs. New Orleans doesn’t defend well enough to advance this year, and that’s with Davis becoming the first player in seven seasons to get 100 steals and 200 blocks in the same season. Davis also gives you an efficient 24 points and 10 rebounds per game, setting the record for fewest turnovers per game (1.4) for a 24-points per game season. The wild cards for the Pelicans will be Tyreke Evans, Jrue Holiday and Eric Gordon to play well at the same time.

#4 – Portland Trail Blazers (12-4, 13-3, 7-9, 12-4, 7-9, +0)

Damn, folks are jumping ship with the quickness! The Trail Blazers lost third-leading scorer SG Wesley Matthews in the 60th game of the season due to a torn Achilles. But while the Blazers finished 10-12, it was the defense that fell off, as teams hit 39 percent from three against Portland after Matthews went down. The Trail Blazers still have two 20+ PPG scorers in PF LaMarcus Aldridge and PG Damian Lillard. But this is a team that is running on fumes at the wrong time.

#5 – Memphis Grizzlies (14-2, 10-6, 12-4, 9-7, 9-7, +1)

This fellow has the right idea, and the Grizzlies got themselves the right team to go up against. Memphis swept Portland during the regular season, and they take a 2-0 lead into Oregon now. The Grizzlies weren’t as impressive after the All-Star break as they were to start the season, but they have a clear identity after making the postseason for five seasons in a row. The Grizzlies take their time, they don’t shoot threes, and they beat you up and grind you out – without fouling. PG Mike Conley and SF Tony Allen aren’t close to 100 percent, but they are both irritants defensively, while Conley has now made 100+ threes in each of the last three seasons. All-Star C Marc Gasol took more control of the offense in a contract year, leading the team with 17.4 points per game, while PF Zach Randolph averaged a double-double for the eighth time in nine seasons. If you don’t care about three-pointers, this is your team!

#2 – Houston Rockets (12-4, 10-6, 11-5, 10-6, 11-5, +2)

The Rockets finally won their division for the first time since Hakeem Olajuwon won the MVP award in 1993-1994, Houston’s first title. I was surprised at the consistency of Houston’s season, and they were a top-ten defense with C Dwight Howard missing half of the season. James Harden became the first player since Bob Pettit in 1958-1959 to be the NBA’s lone 2,000-point scorer in a season, and he and SF Trevor Ariza both had more than 150 steals. Harden is my MVP pick for leading Houston to such a high seed with Howard, PG Patrick Beverley, PF Terrence Jones and C Donatas Motiejunas missing significant parts of the season. Now, if you think Harden and Howard are about to play their best basketball, then this is about as sneaky a bandwagon can get when seeded this high. Sure, Motiejunas and Beverley aren’t coming back, and almost half of Houston’s rotation holds their breath at the stripe. But the Rockets are a predictable, yet potent squad.

#7 – Dallas Mavericks (11-5, 11-5, 9-7, 9-7, 9-7, +1)

The Mavericks were quite an average team after trading for Rajon Rondo, and his issues with head coach Rick Carlisle is expected to prematurely end his time in Dallas. The Mavericks also lost SF Chandler Parsons to a knee injury. Needless to say, it’s going to be hard for Mark Cuban to back up his boasts, and it’s going to be hard to convince anyone to hop on this bandwagon. The only thing I like about Dallas is that Dirk Nowitzki and Monta Ellis are still here to score. But the intangibles in Dallas are close to where they were in 2012, when Dallas had to banish Lamar Odom. They were swept that year by James Harden’s (old) team.

#3 – Los Angeles Clippers (11-5, 10-6, 12-4, 8-8, 13-3, +2)

For the second straight season, the Clippers had the league’s most efficient offense, led by All-Stars PF Blake Griffin and PG Chris Paul. For the most part, the Clippers take excellent care of the ball and get great shots, while SG J.J. Redick bagged 200 threes and helped the Clippers get to the 4,000-Club. C DeAndre Jordan also had the most rebounds in a season in over 20 years, while Jamal Crawford scored another 1,000 points off the bench. Unfortunately, it’s going to take a leap of faith to hang with a Clippers team that experiences major dropoffs in performance anytime a starter not named Matt Barnes sits.

#6 – San Antonio Spurs (12-4, 7-9, 11-5, 10-6, 14-2, +1)

The Spurs are the defending champions, arguably the best sixth seed since the 1994-1995 defending champion Houston Rockets. That Rockets team had to go through hell to repeat, and it doesn’t get much easier for this San Antonio team. But hey, at least they aren’t the other three Conference Finalists from last year – the Thunder, Heat and Pacers all missed the playoffs. This year was the first time only one of four Conference Finalists made the playoffs the following season. Don’t feel bad for San Antonio – if they win Game 82 or perform better in December, then they’re division champs. For now, San Antonio will hang their hat on eternal force PF Tim Duncan, 2014 Finals MVP SF Kawhi Leonard, and a team that returns their entire playoff rotation from last season.


#1 – Atlanta Hawks (10-6, 14-2, 16-0, 10-6, 10-6, +0)

The Hawks are a longtime target in the NBA Bandwagon Report for their fair-weather feather fans. And then the owner referred to it in an e-mail, and GM Danny Ferry went into exile for messing around on a scouting report. Who would have thought – Atlanta went on to win a franchise-record 60 games this year, putting that “Spurs East” into action as they racked up victory after victory. The Hawks were the only Eastern Conference team to finish in the top-ten in offensive and defensive efficiency this season, and the only starter not to make the All-Star team was SF DeMarre Carroll, who made 120 threes this season. All-Stars PG Jeff Teague (assists), SG Kyle Korver (threes), PF Paul Millsap (points/rebounds) and C Al Horford (blocks) all led the Hawks in important categories. There are only two concerns here: a) Atlanta may have peaked too soon, b) bench defender Thabo Sefolosha had his season ended by the NYPD. But, at least the Hawks won’t have weak fans while they have homecourt advantage, right? Right???

#8 – Brooklyn Nets (7-9, 9-7, 4-12, 6-10, 11-5, +1)

The Nets beat the Pacers twice in March, and won the games they needed to win down the stretch, so here they are. There are still expensive players on the payroll, and they still can’t defend the perimeter. But their offense clicked down the stretch as they featured C Brook Lopez, who averaged an impressive 19.7 points per game and 9.7 rebounds per game after the All-Star Break. The addition of PF Thaddeus Young gave Lopez a decent complement up front. Former All-Stars PG Deron Williams and SF Joe Johnson are supposed to be big factors, but they are coming off a season where they combined to average more millions of dollars in salary ($43.0) than points per game (27.4).

#4 – Toronto Raptors (13-3, 11-5, 9-7, 5-11, 10-6, +1)

Damn the north. They get off to a hot start, Kyle Lowry becomes an All-Star PG, they sweep the team that they wind up drawing in round one, they win their division with a franchise-best win total … and they drop the first two games at home. It was exciting while it lasted, Toronto. Maybe SG DeMar DeRozan adds another tool to his game (RE: fixing that 41 percent FG mark, especially considering he’s not shooting many threes). But let this be a lesson to Toronto – no one cares how many threes you make (franchise record 8.9 per game, NBA-high five players with over 100 makes), you can’t drop off defensively from 10th last season to 23rd this season.

#5 – Washington Wizards (11-5, 11-5, 9-7, 5-11, 10-6, +0)

Like the Raptors, the Wizards had an uneven post-break period despite having an All-Star PG in John Wall. Unlike the Raptors, the Wizards have players who have experienced a modicum of postseason success. And unlike the Raptors, Washington defends at the critical top-ten level, anchored by C Marcin Gortat. Wall is a good scorer who averaged ten assists per game, but Washington’s offense suffers when Wall has to do too much. SG Bradley Beal is an outstanding three-point shooter, but is underwhelming inside the arc. And veteran forwards Paul Pierce and Nene have to add consistent production, not just a locker-room presence.

#2 – Cleveland Cavaliers (9-7, 9-7, 10-6, 11-5, 12-4, +2)

This bandwagon is all about SF LeBron James. LeBron giveth, he taketh away, and he giveth again unto Cleveland. James missed 13 games this season, the first time he sat out more than seven games in any season. But since James returned from an extended absence in early January, the Cavaliers went 34-10, bolstered by trades that landed SG J.R. Smith, C Timofey Mozgov and bench wing Iman Shumpert. With James, All-Star PG Kyrie Irving and PF Kevin Love, the Cavaliers were the only team in the Eastern Conference with three players who combined for 4,000 total points this season. The concerns? Well, Love doesn’t get nearly as many inside touches as he was used to in Minnesota, as new head coach David Blatt parks him behind the three-point line. But the main issue for Cleveland’s championship hopes is the fact that this is the worst defensive team James has played on since his rookie season. That issue may show up after round one.

#7 – Boston Celtics (5-11, 6-10, 7-9, 10-6, 10-6, +2)

A lot of folks like to praise head coach Brad Stevens while selling Boston’s talent short. I had the Celtics in the playoffs in October, so the fact that the team improved once Rondo left in December and PG Isaiah Thomas arrived in February doesn’t surprise me. Thomas averaged 6.5 free throws per game in his 21 appearances for the Celtics, a total of 137 attempts. Starting SG Avery Bradley attempted 100 free throws in 77 games for Boston, so you can see how Thomas was needed to complement the defensive-minded starters. The Celtics improved steadily all season, with Bradley and rookie PG Marcus Smart leading a defense that started forcing a lot of turnovers after the All-Star break. No matter what Stevens draws up, the Celtics still rely on too many bad threes (27th in percentage) while no one gets to the line consistently outside of Thomas.

#3 – Chicago Bulls (10-6, 12-4, 8-8, 9-7, 9-7, +2)

I guess the ladies like the Bulls? I’m tired of people making excuses for Tom Thibodeau’s team in the playoffs, and hopefully I won’t have to deal with that nonsense since All-Star SG Jimmy Butler and former MVP PG Derrick Rose got their injuries out of the way before the postseason this time around. Overall for the season, this was Thibodeau’s worst defense, as they ranked 11th in efficiency. I value a top-ten defense more than anything else in The Formula, so I was about to change up my Finals pick of Chicago over San Antonio in Game 7. But I was encouraged by Chicago playing top-4 defense over the last month of the season, allowing the lowest FG% in the league in that span. So I’m back on the bandwagon! Thibodeau needs to make sure Butler stays aggressive with Rose on the floor, and he needs to find the appropriate minutes for talented big men Pau Gasol, Joakim Noah, Taj Gibson and Nikola Mirotic.

#6 – Milwaukee Bucks (9-7, 7-9, 10-6, 8-8, 6-10, +1)

Fear the deer! The Bucks had the worst record in the NBA last season, lottery pick Jabari PF Parker tore his ACL in December, C Larry Sanders left the team midseason, and leading scorer PG Brandon Knight was traded at the deadline. But head coach Jason Kidd helped lead Milwaukee to a .500 record, while the defense went from the 2nd-worst in the league in 2013-2014 to the 2nd-best, leading the NBA in steals and forced turnovers. Now, the bandwagon isn’t all roses, as the Bucks had the worst finish to the season of any playoff team. PG Michael Carter-Williams forces turnovers, but he’s a terrible shooter with an unimpressive assists per turnover ratio. The Bucks have the worst offense of any playoff team, with turnovers and a lack of a go-to scorer being the main issue. But this team is so long. Carter-Williams is 6’6″. SG Khris Middleton, the best shooter, is 6’7″. SF Giannis Antetokounmpo is 6’11” – they don’t call him the Greek Freak for nothing. Reserve big man John Henson 135 blocked shots in 1,228 minutes, the most blocked shots in under 1,300 minutes in 16 seasons. This is a crazy team, so that may be enough for you to ride what should be a short-lived bandwagon. After all…

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  1. 2015 NBA Offseason Maintenance Report »

    […] THE OTHERS (also see The Bandwagon Report) […]

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