Yea, it's as depressing as the title sounds.
Listen, Rajon Rondo getting back to 100% is an awesome thing for next season, no one would argue otherwise. And I think after last night's 18 assist, zero turnover performance, it's safe to say that Rondo is just about 100% (only exception is his ability to finish at the rim, but that will come in time). When you figure in his improved shooting, I think it's completely possible that the Rondo we see next season will be the best Rondo we've ever seen. And that's incredibly exciting for 2014-15.
But in the meantime, he's messing everything up.
Ok, that's a slight exaggeration, but Rondo's renaissance is not coming at a very good time in terms of draft lottery positioning. While other teams are sinking, the Celtics appear on the verge of heating up. Not enough to make the playoffs, but enough to do significant damage to their draft spot. Their two wins over the weekend are the difference between them currently being the #4 lottery team, and now being in a three-way tie for fifth. Just to put that in perspective, the #4 team has an 11.9% chance of landing the first pick, and a 37.8% chance at grabbing a top-three pick (critical in this draft), while a team in a three-way tie for the #5 spot has a 6.5% chance at the first pick and a 21.9% chance at being in the top-three. That's a huge difference, and one created by a simple two game winning streak.
Making matters worse, Andrew Wiggins and Jabari Parker went OFF on Saturday, raising their stock even higher. Let's break down the week that was for the top five college players.
Andrew Wiggins, Kansas: 16.8 PPG, 5.9 RPG, 1.6 APG, 1.2 SPG, 0.9 BPG, 45% FG, 35% 3 PT
Jabari Parker, Duke: 19.2 PPG, 9 RPG, 1.4 BPG, 1.3 APG, 1 SPG, 49% FG, 37% 3 PT
Joel Embiid, Kansas: 11.2 PPG, 8.1 RPG, 2.6 BPG, 1.4 APG, 0.9 SPG, 63% FG, 69% FT
Julius Randle, Kentucky: 15.4 PPG, 10.5 RPG, 1.4 APG, 0.8 BPG, 0.5 SPG, 52% FG, 72% FT
Marcus Smart, OK State: 17.9 PPG, 5.6 RPG, 4.7 APG, 2.7 SPG, 0.6 BPG, 43% FG, 30% 3 PT
If Wiggins' 41 point, 8 rebound, 5 steal, 4 block performance on Saturday doesn't have you salivating, check your pulse. Yes, Wiggins is still inconsistent. And yes, his overall stat line is still disappointing for the season when you consider his Durant/Melo like hype. But man, this kid is insanely skilled. He has all of the physical tools to be a great defender and all of the offensive skills necessary to dominate at the NBA level. Once he finds a way to channel that game in and game out..look out. And keep in mind, the fact that he isn't quite able to find that switch every night at age 19 (18 for most of the season) is not rare. I've mentioned this before, but Wiggins' Freshmen numbers are better or at least comparable to what guys like Dwyane Wade, Paul George and Paul Pierce did as Freshmen. That's why the INSANE Jeff Green comparisons drive me wild. Kid is crazy skilled but hasn't quite become the night in, night out killer that he has the potential to be. That doesn't mean he won't be able to do that when he's 25 (or even 21).
As for Parker, what else is there to say? On Saturday he became only the fifth player ever to drop 30 & 10 in a Duke/UNC game, further proof that you could plug him on to an NBA team right now, tonight, and he'd score 17+ per game. He's polished and will make an All-Star team within his first three NBA seasons barring injury. Sure, his lack of athleticism will hurt on the defensive end, but he has a high basketball IQ and great character, so don't count out him becoming decent on that end of the floor despite his deficiencies. We saw that happen with Pierce eventually, and Parker surely has the ability to get better.
It was also a great week for Smart, who has just been fantastic since returning from his suspension five games ago. His stats since: 19.8 PPG, 6.4 APG, 5.2 RPG, 4.4 SPG, 1 BPG, 44% FG, 38% 3 PT, and he's helped OK State go 4-1 and solidify their NCAA tournament standing. Look at those numbers again and tell me this kid doesn't have a Westbrook-like skill set and energy? Yea the shooting is on/off from game to game, but the intensity level and ability to impact the game on both ends never varies. Kid is fun to watch, and I'm not sure who came up with the Terrence Williams comparison (seen it in the comment section a few times), but in terms of style of play they could not be more different. Williams was never the scorer or energy guy Smart currently is (not to mention their position difference), even if their abilities to throw up balanced stat lines were similar.
As for our bigs, Randle's Kentucky team got blown out by Florida on Saturday, but Randle picked up double-doubles in both of his games this week (make that 18 in 31 games this season), as he continues to produce at a high level despite Kentucky's collapse.
Things aren't looking so hot for Embiid, who missed both of Kansas' games with a back injury, and is now flying to California to meet with a specialist. Bill Self went as far as to say that Embiid's issues are "more significant than a strain". If there's anything that could scare off NBA teams from a crazy talented 7-footer, it's back or knee issues. And Embiid currently has both just a few years after picking up the game. While he is still a lock to go in the top-three at the moment, how could teams not be nervous about his health?
Alright, that's the player update, now lets get to tankapalooza 2014.
Note: The rankings are in terms of record, but I also will list the Hollinger lottery odds, former ESPN columnist (and current Grizzlies front office executive) John Hollinger's simulation system which predicts teams records based on their season thus far and upcoming schedule. The number you see after the Hollinger lottery odds is what place they rank in his system.
1. Bucks, 12-50 (Hollinger lottery odds: 22.3% - 2nd)
Don't count out the Bucks just yet in the race for the #1 spot. Sure, Philly is a tank machine right now, having lost 16 in a row by an average of 19 per game, but the Bucks continue to hold the Sixers at arms length, maintaining their three game lead with only 20 games left. And while they aren't quite at the Sixers level of suck of late, they aren't exactly on fire, having posted a 5-26 record in 2014.
It's just a damn shame that the NBA can't schedule one more Bucks-Sixers game on the last night of the season. It would be a strangely beautiful thing to see, but unfortunately it's not in the cards.
2. 76ers, 15-47 (HLO: 22.9% - 1st)
Ok, I'll admit it, I'm kind of obsessed with the Sixers. I find it oddly transfixing to watch a pro sports team try so very hard to lose, with the added bonus of watching Vegas squirm as they just can't set the lines high enough. In this weeks edition, Philadelphia was a 21-point underdog against the Thunder (the second biggest line since 1995), yet lost by 32. And then on Saturday they were an eight point underdog at home to a 21-41 Jazz team that had just lost five in a row and were playing the second night of a back-to-back on the road. Philly lost by 12 (despite being tied with 2:30 left). It really is incredible to see this level of suck at the NBA level.
However, no matter how many games the Sixers lose, the Bucks still hold the chips. If Milwaukee can go 2-18 or worse, Philly can't catch them, and if they go 3-17, the Sixers can only tie even if they do finish the season on an unprecedented 36-game losing streak.
One other fun Sixers betting storyline to watch: Philly's over/under on total season wins was 15.5, meaning they are one win away from going over. Imagine betting the over, seeing them start 15-31, and then watching them lose 36 straight to lose you the bet? Or on the flip side, betting the under, thinking your bet had no chance, and then watching it slowly rise from the dead as the losses mounted.
Alright, maybe I'm the only one who finds this stuff interesting. Still, one thing is for certain: the current edition of the Sixers (post trade deadline) is one of, if not the worst collection of talent in NBA history. They are spectacularly bad.
3. Magic, 19-45 (HLO: 12.8% - 3rd)
Orlando is on an island. Three games worse than the Sixers, three games better than the Lakers, seemingly on a collision course with the #3 lottery position. While the Magic have enough young talent to possibly win a few games down the stretch, their difficult closing schedule (13 of their final 18 against playoff or above .500 teams) will make that hard to accomplish.
While we know very little about how the lottery standings will turn out, count on Orlando being in that three-spot.
4. Lakers, 22-42 (HLO: 9.7% - 4th)
Since the last Wiggins Watch was posted, the Lakers have beaten the Blazers (on the road) and the Thunder. They've also lost to the Pelicans, Nuggets and Clippers, allowing 132+ points in all three games, with the Clippers loss being by a franchise record 48 points.
Bottom line: it was a weird week.
For those locking the Lakers into the #4 spot, I advise caution. As terrible as their defense is (and it's historically bad), LA is playing at a pace that is giving teams issues. That's how they beat two of the better teams in the league, and that's how they were close down the stretch vs both New Orleans and Denver. The Lakers are also running a line-up of guys out there who's deals expire this summer, meaning they have a lot of hungry players fighting for minutes in a system that will pad their stats.
Will that equal a bunch of wins down the stretch? Nope. But they aren't quite as terrible as you may think, and the #4 spot is still very much up for grabs.
T-5. Jazz, 22-41 (HLO: 7.4% - 5th)
The Jazz just wrapped up a woeful 1-5 road trip (the only win was in Philly), but there are reasons for optimism that they will finish the season off a little better than what they've shown lately.
#1: They have 11 home games remaining compared to 8 road games. Utah has been solid at home this season (14-16), and horrible on the road (8-25), so this should lead to a few more wins.
#2: 8 of their remaining 19 games are against teams currently nine games below .500 or worse (Atlanta, New York, New Orleans (2x), LA, Orlando, Denver, Detroit), with six such games at home. That's about as weak a schedule as you'll see in the loaded West.
#3 After battling injuries for the past month, Derrick Favors is finally looking healthy again. That's huge when you consider Utah is 0-9 without him this season, and looked terrible when he was playing limited minutes as well.
Hopefully returning from a long trip out East helps the Jazz as they open a three-game home stand tonight against the Hawks.
T-5. Kings, 22-41 (HLO: 5.3% - 6th)
If the Kings are going to win any games down the stretch, they should make it happen now, as six of their next 12 games come against the so called "bad teams" (nine or more games below .500), including match-ups with both Milwaukee and Philadelphia this week.
Because once April comes around, things get brutal for Sacramento as they play their final seven games against Western Conference playoff contenders. Making things even trickier, DeMarcus Cousins is now at the technical foul limit (15), meaning every time he gets a T from here on out he misses a game. So look for him to miss a few of those games vs contenders down the stretch.
T-5. Celtics, 22-41 (HLO: 5.2% - 7th)
As we mentioned in the intro, the Celtics have looked pretty damn good the last two games. And with Rondo back at full speed, they are certainly better than a good number of teams on this list. With that said, don't lose all hope that they can maintain their very loose grip on a top-five spot.
As bleak as things may look, keep in mind that the Celtics play 11 of their remaining 19 games away from home, and they've been pretty terrible on the road this year (8-22). They also play 13 of their remaining 19 against teams currently holding on to playoff spots, another situation that they've been horrible in this season (7-27 if you count both Phoenix and Memphis as playoff teams (they're currently tied for the last spot)).
Another possible reason for optimism: the Celtics play five more back-to-backs this season, and just last night Rondo said that he's still not ready to play consecutive days. That means that Rondo could possibly miss a whopping 26% of the Cs remaining games (vs Knicks, @ Dallas, @ Chicago, @ Detroit, @ Cleveland). You're telling me his absence won't significantly impact the results of those games? Of course it will.
So don't lose the faith yet, but it's completely fair to be nervous. The Celtics have more talent and better coaching than a good number of teams on this list, which is a scary thought as we finish off the season.
T-8. Nuggets, 27-35 (also own the 24-40 Knicks' pick) (HLO: 4.0% - 8th)
Hey Knicks, stop playing with Nuggets fans' hearts! Just when the Knicks looked like they may vault into the top five on this list they pull off a three game winning streak, pushing them back into a tie for eighth with the plummeting Cavaliers.
And I'll be honest - I have no idea what the hell is going to happen with New York the rest of the way. They could go 3-15 and fall into the bottom-five (we've seen them go through stretches like that this season), or they could go 10-8 and somehow make the playoffs if the Hawks continue their collapse. New York is amazingly only 1.5 games back of the top-five in this ranking, and only 2.5 games back of the eight-seed. With only 18 games remaining, that's pretty outrageous. And also I'd imagine very stressful for the Nuggets, who have no idea if their draft pick will be first overall or 15th.
T-8. Cavs, 24-40 (HLO: 3.9% - 9th)
I feel like the Cavs horrible season is flying under the radar thanks to teams like the Knicks and Sixers, but let's recap:
- They re-hired Mike Brown
- They won the lottery for a second time in three seasons, only to draft the rookie with the worst PER of any #1 pick ever in his debut season
- They signed Andrew Bynum
- They traded for Luol Deng, only to fail to move him at the deadline to try and recoup their losses
- They may have alienated Kyrie Irving to the point where he considers moving next summer
So yea, it's been pretty bad. Poor Cleveland.
10. Pistons, 24-39 (HLO: 3.4% - 10th)
Oh should be do the same thing for the Pistons? Sure let's do it!
- They hired Mo Cheeks
- They traded a young, cheap point guard in Brandon Knight for a more expensive point guard in Brandon Jennings. Even though Knight is likely a better player.
- They gave Josh Smith a four year deal, only to let him launch 250 threes and play him out of position
- They fired Mo Cheeks
- They're likely going to miss the playoffs for a fifth consecutive season, but also are unlikely to climb into the top eight in the draft, therefore they'll send their draft pick to Charlotte.
Man, sorting through the bottom of the Eastern Conference is like wading through a murky puddle of broken dreams. Depressing stuff.
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For more of my articles, click here Michael Dyer 3/10/2014 04:24:00 PM Tweet Edit