Boston Celtics: As Boston continues to lose their non-Big Four core (Glen Davis signed in Orlando), you have got to wonder how much they still have as a team and if this really is the final hurrah. The only contributors of any kind signed past this season are Pierce (currently 34) and Rondo (currently not wanted), and Jeff Green is out for the season with a serious heart ailment, so enjoy this group while they last. Now we already know from the past few years that Doc Rivers will gladly rest his core during the regular season—especially Kevin Garnett—so that they’re ready for a post-season run, so don’t expect them to compete for the regular season conference crown. Their eyes are on the bigger prize, and again they’ve kinda sneakily put together a decent group of role players to follow Garnett’s emotional lead: C Jermaine O’Neal still provides interior defense, versatile G Marquis Daniels has had some great moments, F Brandon Bass goes hard, G Keyon Dooling doesn’t turn the ball over and can hit 3’s, F Chris Wilcox will be a good backup if Garnett’s intensity gets through to him, and rookie SG E’Twaun Moore was one of the steals of the draft with his great attitude and near-ready game. Not the greatest group of role players on paper, but the C’s trio of unselfish HOFers and Rivers’ masterful orchestrating of personalities could turn it into yet another big plus on their final banner quest for a while. Expect a half-hearted journey to the 3 seed, a spirited blowout series in the first-round, and a big-time throwdown with Miami or Chicago in Round Two that will again be must-watch TV. If everyone stays healthy and Chicago falls to the 2 spot, the Celtics might be the big story of the post-season as they advance to the Eastern Finals for the final time together, but expect Miami to again be the end of the road.
Could Make the Playoffs (in order of likelihood)
New York Knicks: In case you forgot and are getting too excited by what the Knicks might do this year, they went 14-14 with both Carmelo and Amar’e on the team last year before getting swept by the Celtics in Round One. The often-injured Tyson Chandler certainly improves their chances of playing some defense, Landry Fields should only get better in his role as a do-everything wing, and PG Toney Douglas has some big-time onions, but any club that has to follow the lead of Melo and Amar’e will underperform. Fans are getting a little too excited about rookie G Iman Shumpert after his big preseason game against the Nets, but rest assured that he doesn’t know what he’s doing on offense…at all. So really what you have with New York is two stars who are only average scorers efficiency-wise surrounded by some guys who will play solid D, meaning team defense will get better which should improve the W’s, but I’m not sure people understand how overrated and un-leader-like their two “leaders” really are. The Knicks frankly have no chance of moving into the East’s top three until the Celtics blow up next summer, but in the meantime they have to keep an eye on Indy, Milwaukee, Atlanta, and whoever has Dwight Howard (Orlando? NJ?) in the rearview.
Philadelphia 76ers: Almost everything is exactly the same about this club from last year. They play decent but unspectacular defense. They have numerous above-average yet inconsistent players. Sometimes their PG tandem of Jrue Holiday and Louis Williams looks awesome, sometimes they simply look young. Marreese Speights will again try to take that step up to replace Dalembert. Elton Brand continues to get old and cost a lot of money, but occasionally will put up a 20-15 game. Andre Iguodala and Thaddeus Young will be both under- and over-appreciated at the same time while a zillion rumors whirl about their impending departures.
Here’s what could change: Evan Turner will improve his hard-to-define-or-quantify game, Jodie Meeks will quietly become one of the league’s top 3-point threats, the PG’s should improve somewhat, Brand will continue to slide while Young gets labeled as past-his-prime at 23 years old by at least one reporter discussing a possible trade, Iggy will likely play a full season again because that’s what he normally does, and rookie finesse C Nikola Vucevic will flash his solid second-team potential. All in all, I’m seeing a club that does about the same as last year, and everyone will again wonder when the real rebuilding begins.
New Jersey Nets: The Nets continue their return to respectability after doubling 2009-10’s horrendous 12 wins with 24 last season. Now they have elite PG Derron Williams for an entire year, more shots for best-3-point-shooter-of-all-time Anthony Morrow with Travis Outlaw having been amnestied, defensive workhorse Shawne Williams (if he can keep his head together), energetic SF Damion James ready to take a step up in his second season, and Brook Lopez back to averaging nearly 10 rpg with Kris Humpries likely leaving town. That’s not a great group, and the rest of the squad isn’t worth mentioning at all, but we all know that if they can trade the farm for Dwight Howard, great things will happen and they'll make the playoffs. And not a moment too soon with a so-so defense and few players capable of making shots with any regularity.
Toronto Raptors: You don’t care and neither do I, so I’ll take this time to discuss PG Jose Calderon, one of the most overlooked players of the past 20 years. First I’ll lay out the career stats (per 36 minutes) of Calderon up against those of two of the most efficient and productive PG’s of all time: Chris Paul and Steve Nash.
Player 1: 13 ppg, 49% FG, 38% 3FG, 53% eFG, 9.0 apg, 2.2 to (4.1 ratio), 1.2 spg
Player 2: 15 ppg, 49% FG, 43% 3FG, 56% eFG, 8.5 apg, 2.8 to (3.0 ratio), 0.8 spg
Player 3: 18 ppg, 47% FG, 36% 3FG, 51% eFG, 9.7 apg, 2.4 to (4.0 ratio), 2.4 spg
Remembering that these stats are adjusted for minutes played, can you say you definitely know which line belongs to Calderon because it doesn’t fit in? Aren’t there an awful lot of similarities for two of them to be sure-fire Hall of Famers and the other to be an afterthought who will never play in an All-Star Game (1.Jose, 2.Nash, 3.CP3)? Take a look at some of his historically amazing efficiency numbers:
-His 8.3/1.5 Ast/TO rate (5.53) in ’07-08 is the second best single-season ratio ever (Bogues in '89-90).
-His 7.0/1.7 Ast/TO rate (4.08) is the second best career ratio ever (Bogues).
-His 98.1% FT% in ’08-09 is the greatest single-season % ever.
-He’s one of only 6 starters ever to post a .400-.500-.900 season (3FG%, FG%, FT%), having done it in ’07-08 — the others were Bird, Price, Nash, Reggie, and Dirk.
Consider that he’s done all this with rather abysmal surrounding talent and a team that runs at an average pace, and you can see that Calderon has played in a very bad situation to rack up stats. Plus he didn't even come to the NBA until age 24 since he spent 6 years playing professionally in Spain, a country he earned an Olympic Silver with in 2008 (starting over Ricky Rubio) and a FIBA World Championship Gold with in 2006. Sure his defense is no good, but so is Nash’s. I’m not arguing he’s one of the 5 greatest PG’s of all-time, just that it’s time he got some credit for being one of the best ever at getting teammates the ball in ideal situations (think Jason Kidd with less turnovers) while picking his own spots for shooting (think Nash with less shots), all while in a far less than ideal situation. He truly is being wasted in Toronto and deserves better. Hopefully someday soon others will realize it.
Top 5 Players:
F: Kevin Garnett, Boston Celtics
F: Paul Pierce, Boston Celtics
F/G: Andre Iguodala, Philadelphia 76ers
G: Rajon Rondo, Boston Celtics
G: Derron Williams, New Jersey Nets