The Best and Worst Franchises in the NBA

The Best Franchise in the NBA: San Antonio Spurs

- 4 NBA Championships (since 1999)

- 11 Division Titles (since 1999)

- 17 consecutive playoff appearances

- Above .500 in 24 of last 25 seasons.

The Spurs are always a factor deep into the playoffs, they consistently win 55+ games a season, and are led by one of the NBA’s all-time greatest coaches… but you’ll very rarely see them as someone’s preseason pick to win the title. The Spurs don’t have the pizzazz, the big-free agent signing, or the guy that will drop 35+ on any given night. San Antonio has made the most out of the draft, has kept its core intact, and has kept the same man in charge for the last 18 years.  By comparison, the second-longest tenured coach in the NBA right now is Erik Speolstra, who was hired by the Heat 6 years ago.

Tim Duncan, 3-time Finals MVP and 14x All-Star

The team’s general manager is R.C. Buford, who was hired as head scout for the team in 1994 by then-GM Greg Popovich. Two years later, Popovich fired Spurs head coach Bob Hill and named himself coach. Injuries decimated the Spurs roster that season and they won only 20 games. The silver lining of that situation was a #1 pick in the NBA draft, which they used on a lanky power forward out of Wake Forest – Tim Duncan. The only other time the Spurs had a #1 pick was in 1987, which was used to draft Hall of Famer David Robinson. Popovich also had hugely successful drafts after taking over as head coach, picking up Tony Parker with the 28th pick of the 2001 draft, as well as Manu Ginobili with the second-to-last pick in 1999. Buford became general manager in 2002, and continued the Spurs penchant for drafting foreign players. The best move thus far since Buford took over was likely the draft-day trade for Kawhi Leonard, who has become one of the up-and-coming stars in the NBA.

The Spurs were mere seconds away from a fifth NBA title last season, and they will go into the 2014 playoffs as the #1 seed in the Western Conference. Label the Spurs boring, call them old, say they won’t do it again – and then watch them win another 60+ games. Duncan will go down as one of the game’s greatest players, Popovich as one of the game’s greatest coaches, and the entire team as one of the NBA’s best dynasties, and it’s because the made the most out of every opportunity. The same can’t be said for the next ball club I’ll discuss.

The Worst Franchise in the NBA: Minnesota Timberwolves

- Losing record each of the last 8 seasons

- Averaged only 22 wins from 2007-2013

- Worst record in Western Conference in 2009-10 (15-67)

- Worst record in NBA in 2010-11 (17-65)

- Lost in first round of playoffs every year for 7 consecutive seasons (1997-2003)

The Timberwolves were once a solid team, reaching the playoffs in eight consecutive seasons culminating in a #1 seed in the 2004 playoffs. That season ended in a 4-2 loss in the Western Conference Finals to the Lakers, and Minnesota hasn’t been back to the playoffs since. A combination of terrible drafts, mismanagement of coaches, and a bevy of other bad choices by general manager David Kahn put the T’Wolves in the midst of a 10-year postseason dry spell – the fourth longest in NBA history and longest current active streak.

Minnesota’s best management move was in 1995, when they took high school big man Kevin Garnett with the #5 overall pick. Garnett went on to win an MVP in Minnesota, as well as countless of other accolades. The problem was that GM Kevin McHale couldn’t seem to find any pieces to put around him. McHale made a secret deal with free agent Joe Smith to circumvent salary cap rules, and the Wolves were subsequently stripped of their next five first-round draft picks (later reduced to three). While Minnesota found some success with Flip Saunders at the helm, McHale fired him during the 2005 season, which is the last time Minnesota had a winning record.

McHale’s backroom dealing damaged Minnesota for the long haul

Garnett, who at the time had spent more seasons with one team than any other active player (12), was eventually traded to the Celtics for five players and two draft picks. Garnett went on to win a championship with the Celtics and the T’Wolves continued to fall down the standings in the years to come. The only player Minnesota got back that was of any use was Al Jefferson, who was eventually traded to the Jazz.

While the Garnett deal is the most high-profile trade Minnesota ever made , it’s the moves the Timberwolves front office has made over the last five years that were the most damaging. David Kahn was hired in 2009, and in his first draft used the first three of Minnesota’s four first-round picks on point guards. Ricky Rubio was picked #5 overall, but decided to continue playing in Spain for the next two years. Jonny Flynn was selected #6 overall and played in Minnesota for only two seasons before being traded to Houston, and now currently plays in Australia. The point guard that was picked immediately after Rubio and Flynn:  Stephen Curry.

The bad draft picks continued with drafting Wesley Johnson #4 overall in 2010, who played for the Wolves for only two seasons before being traded to the Suns. The next year, Minnesota drafted Derrick Williams out of Arizona with the #2 overall pick. Williams was also traded after two seasons. With all the bad decisions on draft day, the worst move still might be refusing to offer Kevin Love a max-year deal.  Love, one of Minnesota’s few success stories, has become one of the best players in the NBA. Kahn refused to extend Love’s deal to five years, instead giving the max deal to Rubio. Now Love will likely leave for greener pastures at the end of the 2014-15 season, likely leaving Minnesota to fall back down into the cellar of the Western Conference.

Today Minnesota sits one win away from its first .500 season since 2005. Rick Adelman has done a decent job as head coach, but with both he and Love likely departing soon, the Wolves might have missed their small window at a playoff run. If Love does head off to bigger and better things after next season, Minnesota might just break that 14-year postseason drought record after all.

Oh, and Darko Miličić.

Durant’s Time is Now

The King is in blue.

Much has been said and written about Kevin Durant’s outstanding 2013-14 season, including his “dethroning” of LeBron James as the league’s best player. This season has been Durant’s best since coming into the NBA in 2007, averaging 32.2 points and 5.6 assists per game – both career highs. Durant is versatile – shooting over 50% from the field and over 40% from the arc while being an inside presence when he needs to be. There’s nothing to dislike about his game, much like LeBron’s – but it’s the distance he’s put between himself and the rest of the league this year that is truly fascinating.

Since being drafted by the Sonics, Durant has made his aspirations to be the best player in the NBA no secret. Unfortunately for the former Longhorn, he had to live in the shadow of a player that could end up going down as one of the best to ever play the sport. By the time Durant was a rookie, James was playing in his fourth All-Star game, had made the All-NBA First Team, and had just come off a run to the NBA Finals. While LeBron’s high school games could sometimes be found on ESPN, Durant was relatively unknown until he burst into the national spotlight in Austin his freshman year. Being as good as LeBron for a year or two was never going to make fans think he was the best player in the league – he had to make sure there was no question about it.

At this point in the season, Durant has scored over 300 more points than the next best player. He’s made 53 more field goals while attempting 52 less shots than Carmelo Anthony (James is currently third in total points scored). While Durant is usually near the top of the free throw leaderboard every season, he currently has 157 more free throws than any other player in the league. It’s not just scoring where Durant has taken a step forward, as only he and James sit in the Top 20 in assists without being point guards.

The advanced statistics support the theory that Durant has taken the leap over James and the rest of the NBA as well:

Player Efficiency Rating:

  1. Kevin Durant – 30.4
  2. LeBron James – 29.1
  3. Kevin Love – 27.7

Offensive Win Shares

  1. Kevin Durant – 13.3
  2. LeBron James – 10.8
  3. Kevin Love – 9.9

Defensive Win Shares

1. Paul George –  5.9

8. Kevin Durant – 4.0

(LeBron James not in Top 20)

Total Win Shares

  1. Kevin Durant – 17.4
  2. LeBron James – 13.8
  3. Kevin Love – 13.3

Here’s a guide to exactly what Win Shares are if the stat is new to you.

Aside from now being sure that Love has been the third most productive man in the NBA this season, Kevin Durant is clearly the best player in the world at the moment.  Part of LeBron’s problem (if you dare to say he has one) is that he seemed to go through a few lulls throughout the course of the season, while Durant was electric the entire way through. The forward has put up over 40 points 13 times this season, as well as going over 50 twice in the last two months. On the other hand, James has reached 40 only three times this season, and has been under 20 points 13 times (Durant has scored under 20 only four times).

As for what Durant himself thinks about this season, you can bet he’ll hold off judgment until the Thunder are either eliminated from the postseason or he’s holding an NBA Finals trophy. Anything but a championship is looked upon as failure by the fans and media, and soon Durant could be getting the treatment that James got for so many years before the move to Miami. A good month of playoff basketball could help the world of basketball see that there’s a new king in town.

NBA Playoff Predictor: Charlotte Bobcats

Al Jefferson is one of the best players that you’ve never heard of

The Charlotte Bobcats have been down in the dumps for a while, and some poor draft choices may be to blame. A flub on #3 overall pick Adam Morrison is the most glaring one, but the franchise as a whole has been mismanaged for many years. Michael Jordan took the reigns in 2010, and this season is the first time that the Bobcats have a legitimate shot at the postseason. With a core of Al Jefferson, Kemba Walker, Josh McRoberts and Bismark Biyombo, they look like a team that could be one of the East’s top 8 — whatever that may mean to you. Let’s look a little closer at the numbers:

  • Jefferson leads the team in points per game (20.1), rebounds per game (10.5) and blocks per game (1.2).
  • 26th in points per game
  • 5th in points allowed per game
  • Hollinger Playoff Odds: 68.5%
  • Allowed under 90 points 16 times so far this season

Charlotte has all the makings of a fringe playoff team, but the Eastern Conference is so bad, they almost have to make it in. Even at 23-30, they’re currently in the 8th spot — as well as only three games behind #5 Atlanta and 1.5 games above Detroit in 9th. I’ll give this young team a 55% chance of making the postseason. I think that’s fair, especially since it would be 0% if they were in the West.

 

All-Star Weekend, Soccer, and More!

Oklahoma City Thunder vs. Portland Trail Blazers
Tuesday, 7 PM @ Rose Quarter, Portland, OR

Can the Trail Blazer slow down the frontrunner for MVP?

The Thunder are looking like the league’s best team, leading the NBA with 41 wins and a .774 win percentage, so they’ll give Portland all it can handle in this match up. However, OKC has stumbled away from home, going 18-9 compared to 23-3 at home. The Trail Blazers look to be what the Thunder were a couple years ago — a young team that came out of nowhere to eventually become the best in the West. Led by Damien Lillard and LaMarcus Aldridge, the Trail Blazers will look to bridge the 4-game gap between them and the #1 Thunder.

#1 Syracuse vs. #25 Pitt
Wednesday, 7 PM @ Peterson Events Center, Pittsburgh, PA

Pitt will try to handle Cuse its first loss

Even with contests like Duke-North Carolina, Heat vs. Warriors, and Canadiens vs. Red Wings happening on the same day, this is the game you want to see. Syracuse is the unanimous #1 team in the country in both the AP and Coaches polls, but they’ll be at the Peterson Events Center in Pittsburgh for this one. Pitt has slipped a little recently after starting the season 16-1, losing 3 of their last 6 — including a 59-54 loss at Syracuse. The home-court advantage could be exactly the lift the Panthers need to get over the hump and hand the Orange their first loss of the season.

NBA Slam-Dunk Contest
Saturday, 7 PM @ Smoothie King Center, New Orleans, LA

John Wall will look to bring some new energy to the contest

The lineup has been OK at best for this event over the last few years, but in 2014 the NBA attracted some of the best. Paul George, Damien Lillard and John Wall are a few of the competitors looking to take down reigning champion Terrence Ross. Between jumping over cars and 360-windmills, we’re sure to get a show at the New Orleans Arena. Say what you will about the non-compeiative nature of the All-Star Game on Sunday, these guys want to win.

Arsenal vs. Liverpool, FA Cup Quarterfinals
Sunday, 4 PM @ Emirates Stadium, London, UK

Will Liverpool trounce Arsenal for the second time in a week?

A rematch of the 5-1 thrashing Liverpool just gave the Gunners in the Premier League on Saturday, this is a great contest between two of soccer’s best clubs. We are unlikely to see another instance of Arsenal giving up four goals in the first 20 minutes, but Liverpool’s attacking play is hard  to stop. Whether it’s Luis Suarez, Daniel Sturridge or Raheem Sterling, the Reds offense is set to send them back to the UEFA Champions League for the first time since the 2008-09 season. Arsenal looks to be headed back to Europe as well, but the club hasn’t won a trophy since the 2005 F.A. Cup. Lots on the line here.

 

 

Basketball, Basketball, Basketball…. and Hockey

It’s time for the NBA to shine, now that the Super Bowl has come, gone, and disappointed most of us. Bring on another 7-game NBA Finals to get us out of this funk, basketball. This week has a slew of good match ups, but not ones you would have been excited about before this year. With the emergence of the Pacers as the NBA’s best team (by record, at least) and the Trail Blazers, Rockets and Suns heading for the playoffs, we’re getting some exciting non-traditionally contests.

Oh, and there’s quite a bit of good hockey this week as well.

Boston Bruins vs. Vancouver Canucks
Tuesday, 7PM @ TD Garden, Boston, MA

These two teams still don’t like each other

It’s been a couple years since the fantastic Canucks/Bruins Stanley Cup Finals, eventually won by Boston, but the there’s still no love lost here. While Vancouver is fighting for one of the last playoff spots in the West, the Bruins are cruising with the second best point total in their conference. A loss at home for Boston would be a bit embarrassing, while the Canucks need something to get them going.

Portland Trail Blazers vs. Indiana Pacers
Friday, 7PM @ Bankers Life Fieldhouse, Indianapolis, IN

Two of the new titans of basketball

The Trail Blazers and Pacers have become two of the best teams in the NBA, led by some young stars that could be the faces of the league sooner rather than later. Paul George (pictured above) burst onto the national scene during last year’s playoffs, when he went basket-for-basket with Lebron James. Damian Lillard was named NBA Rookie of the Year in 2013 after putting up 19 ppg while never missing a game. Lamarcus Aldridge, Roy Hibbert, Nick Batum… you’ve got to believe these two teams could be taking the torch from the Heat and Spurs very soon, if they haven’t already.

Michigan Wolverines vs. Iowa Hawkeyes
Saturday, 2 PM @ Carver-Hawkeye Arena, Iowa City, IA

Can Michigan rebound from a loss to Indiana?

It’s the best college basketball matchup of the weekend, as #10 Michigan takes on #17 Iowa in Iowa City. The Wolverines took a beating from Indiana recently, but were about to best the Hawkeyes a few weeks ago in Ann Arbor. Iowa lost an overtime thriller to Michigan State, but have gotten back on track with a 81-74 win over the Illini. This game could have Big Ten title implications, and a win for the Wolverines will set the stage for a huge contest with the Spartans on March 6.