Coming in to the 2013-14 season, we all knew the Eastern Conference would be bad. But no one could have predicted this.
The Conference was expected to have two title contenders (Miami and Indiana), three other playoff locks (Bulls, Knicks, Nets), a few other intriguing teams (Wizards, Cavs, Pistons, Hawks) and then a whole bunch of crap. The only thing is: only the title contenders are pulling their weight. Chicago is just below .500 and without Derrick Rose - again. And the Nets are somehow the better New York team, this despite a coach making the headlines for all the wrong reasons, a crazy list of injuries, and a winning percentage of .294.
So instead of a run of the mill bad Conference, we are heading towards quite possibly the worst Conference in NBA history. At the moment only the Heat and Pacers are above .500, and the Atlantic Division in particular is so heinous that the 3-13 Knicks are only 3 games out of 1st place.
What does this mean for Wiggins Watch? Well to put it gently: it means chaos. There is not one team outside of Miami and Indiana that is locked into a playoff spot, and therefore all 13 of the other clubs are theoretically in the lottery race. We have teams, like the Celtics, who find themselves within a two game winning streak of a top-4 playoff seed, and within a two game losing streak of being in top-3 lottery position. It's crazy and it's insane and I don't know what to make of it. But we'll get to the teams in a minute.
Let's start off by giving an update on the projected top three picks in the 2014 draft.
Andrew Wiggins, Kansas: 14.3 PPG, 5.6 RPG, 1.6 APG, 1.3 SPG, 49% FG, 33% 3 PT
Jabari Parker, Duke: 23 PPG, 8 RPG, 2 APG, 1.8 BPG, 1.3 SPG, 55% FG, 50% 3 PT
Julius Randle, Kentucky: 18.1 PPG, 12.5 RPG, 2.1 APG, 54% FG
So at what point does this change to Parker Watch or Randle Watch? Answer: Never. Because those names suck. But Wiggins is clearly a step behind at this point, even if his skill-set is still the best.
On to the teams contending for their services.
The Top 3:
1. Jazz, 3-15
2. Bucks, 3-13
3. Knicks, 3-13
He's cut! The Russian is cut! The Jazz tripled their win total this week by picking up their 2nd and 3rd wins of the season, including their very first road win (against Phoenix). Utah has now pulled even with the 2nd and 3rd place lottery teams in the win column, but has an absolutely brutal schedule this week as they match up with the Rockets, Pacers, Blazers and then Kings. Don't expect this whole "winning" thing to continue.
As for the Bucks, they are now 2-0 vs the Celtics and 1-13 vs the rest of the NBA after their win over Boston on Saturday night. Milwaukee is currently without both starting big men (Larry Sanders and Ersan Ilyasova) plus sixth man Caron Butler, so it's unlikely that they build upon that win over the Cs. A recent run of blowout losses also helped the Bucks close the gap with the Jazz in scoring differential to just 0.1 (Utah is -9.7 PPG this season, Milwaukee -9.6). I guess the moral of the story is don't sleep on the Bucks. They're injured, terrible and can only beat the Celtics.
How bad is it for the Knicks? Well in a city where the Jets, Giants, Islanders and Nets are all floundering - they are currently the worst of them all. The Knickerbockers are on a nine game losing streak and are just 1-10 since J.R. Smith returned from suspension. Smith has quite possibly been the worst player in basketball this season since coming back, putting up 13 shots a game at a 33% success rate and currently sporting a 9.2 PER. Carmelo is pouting, their coach is on the hot seat, and in general..things are unraveling for the Knicks. And on Thursday night the biggest train wreck in New York takes on the second biggest on a national stage, as the Knicks play the Nets on TNT. Get your popcorn ready.
Plus, on top of all of the horrific stuff going on with the team - there's also the fact that even if New York does get the #1 pick in the draft, it goes to Denver (the Carmelo trade). So it's possible (unlikely, but possible), that Carmelo walks this summer while the Nuggets select one of the Wiggins/Parker/Randle triumvirate. And Knicks fans thought the Isiah era was bad?
Additional Wiggins Contenders:
Kings, 4-11 - As bad as the East is, this is how tough the West is. The Kings are only 4-11 this season, but a lot of that can be pinned on a ridiculous schedule (their .543 opponents winning % is #1 in basketball). The thing is though: that's not changing any time soon. Sacramento has some young talent and will win their fair share of games at home, but they seem likely to be ticketed for the #14 spot out West and a solid lottery pick.
Nets, 5-12 - Well on the bright side for the Nets, Brook Lopez is back on the court after missing seven games with injury. On the not-so-bright side: everything else. The team is 5-12 despite playing a very average schedule (17th toughest according to ESPN), Paul Pierce just broke his hand, Deron Williams remains out with an ankle injury, Andrei Kirilenko and Jason Terry are both on the shelf as well, KG just doesn't seem comfortable, and their coach is somewhat of a laughingstock. If (big if) this team ever gets healthy, I still think they're the team to beat in the Atlantic. They have buckets of talent and their awful start has only caused them to fall 1.5 games behind Toronto. But with four key players currently injured, it's fair to doubt their ability to ever field a complete team.
Cavs, 5-12 - My god I don't know if I've ever seen a more pathetic display of basketball than what the Cavs offered up Friday night in Boston. Andrew Bynum moves around like he's in his late 70s, and Anthony Bennett is a startling combination of overweight, under-skilled and scared. Throw in the Kyrie Irving-Dion Waiters feud and Mike Brown being Mike Brown..and this could get ugly fast.
Sixers, 6-12 - For weeks the Sixers 3-0 start has been buoying them up above the rest of the Atlantic Division despite the fact that they began crashing back to Earth in Game #4. But after an 0-3 run this past week, Philly finally dropped out of the playoff picture. The Sixers are now 3-12 in their past 15 games while being outscored by an average of 9.5 PPG in that run. Overall the Sixers are currently the 22nd ranked team in offensive efficiency and the 27th ranked team defensively, a combination sure to keep them among the worst teams in basketball the rest of the way.
Celtics, 7-12 - Just how fickle is the balance between making the playoffs and having a good draft pick at this point of the season? Well, if the Celtics win tomorrow night vs the Bucks while Toronto loses in Golden State (likely), Boston will be in 1st place in the Atlantic at 8-12, and be proud owners of the 19th pick in the draft. But if they were to lose they would be somewhere between 6th and 8th in the lottery, and be a mere game and a half from a top-3 position. That's where we stand at this point. Of course, Rajon Rondo will eventually return and make the team better, but I think that a lot of people are jumping the gun a bit on just how much better this team will be. The Celtics have played the 10th easiest schedule in basketball this season (a number that will go up after playing the 3-13 Bucks tomorrow), and the schedule eventually gets a lot tougher (specifically after December wraps up). There's also the matter of health, where the Celts have been missing Rondo, but have seen Jeff Green, Avery Bradley, Jared Sullinger and Brandon Bass (the next four best players in my opinion) miss a combined one game due to injury. Of course it's possible this is the season where everyone stays healthy - but that doesn't seem like a safe bet. So for now, the Celts continue in no mans land with just about every other Eastern Conference team. They may be the Atlantic Division winners or they may in the running for one of the top picks. While "it's still early" is undoubtedly still true, it gets later every day. We are approaching the 1/4 mark of the NBA season, and thanks to the awfulness of the East, we have no idea what the rest of the season entails for Boston. And in a way, that's pretty fun.
Other Teams to Keep an Eye on:
Legitimately every other team in the East not named Indiana or Miami - You name 'em and they are worth keeping an eye on. Atlanta is probably the safest bet to grab the 3-seed, but everybody else is about a 50/50 proposition to make the playoffs or come crashing back to the bottom. If I'm making predictions right now, I'd say the most likely Eastern Conference order of finish is:
4. Brooklyn (as I said before, I think they have a run in them)
5. Washington (John Wall making the leap, plus Beal + two solid bigs)
6. Detroit (Can't shoot but a lot of talent here, Drummond becoming a man)
7-15. I have no clue.
Can Chicago pull off what they did last year? I'm skeptical. Can Charlotte hang around all-season? I'm doubtful. Will Toronto sell off Gay? Will Boston sell off Rondo? Are the Knicks this bad? All of these questions need answers and I'm not smart enough to answer them. But one thing I am certain of is that the 1986 Bulls "record" of making the playoffs at 30-52 has a shot to be broken (and that was when 16/23 teams made the playoffs). As always, stay tuned.
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For more of my articles, click here Michael Dyer 12/02/2013 02:18:00 PM Tweet