Season Preview: Southwest Division
By Jay Cipoleti
The Mavericks and their beards fell four games short of the last playoff spot in April, ending the season an aggregate -49 in scoring for a Net Margin deficit of just -0.4. Consider Milwaukee earned the eighth spot in the East with a Net Margin deficit of -1.4, while in the West the Warriors held the smallest Net Margin among playoff teams at 1.7, and the conclusion is that Dallas is only a few minor tweaks away from playoff contention this year.
However, owner Mark Cuban's style has never been marked by minor or incremental changes, so the Mavericks enter this season with a revamped roster that on one hand seems designed to play more like their Southwest division foes Houston and San Antonio ... and on the other hand, Monta Ellis.
By adding Jose Calderon, the Mavericks get the best Above the Break 3-point shooter in the League last year, his 47.3% make rate (114 of 241) was one of the top marks over the last several years. In Devin Harris, Dallas gets a rim attacking (nearly 30% of shots in Restricted Area) guard who finishes well, his 66.7% RA make rate is more in line with a forward's.
Then there is Ellis, whose ability to get any shot he wants far exceeds his ability to make said shots. Edging out Kevin Durant for fourth in FGA, Ellis shot below the League average from every zone on the floor, missing 134 more shots than Durant.
|Ellis vs The League||League Average||Ellis||Durant|
|In The Paint||38.9%||35.8%||47.1%|
|Above Break 3||35.1%||27.3%||41.7%|
No team that shot 24+ Mid-Range jumpers per game outscored the Mavericks' 103.6 Offensive Rating last season. In order for them to push that number above the 105.0 threshold that marks the average playoff team, Dallas will need Calderon to continue his effectiveness from up top and for Ellis to find a spot where he can score effectively.
The analytically driven Rockets attempted more high-value field goals -- Restricted Area shots and Corner 3s -- than any team but Denver last season, got 600 more good looks than third-ranked Miami. A certain offseason free agent signing ensures that won't change this season.
Only three players with at least 500 FGAs attempted a higher percentage of shots in the lane than Dwight Howard in 2012-13 -- Rockets teammate Omer Asik and fellow Southwest Division bigs Kosta Koufos and Tiago Splitter. While Asik's RA make rate of 57.7% trailed the 59.4% League average, Howard shot 68.8% in the Restricted Area. With that concentration of shots in close, Howard and Asik ranked second and 12th, respectively, in FG Made within five feet.
That ensures two things for this year's Rockets: they will score even more effectively at the rim than last year's sixth-rated offense (106.7 OffRtg); and they will get even more open looks for their stable of C3 specialists due to the attention paid to Dwight.
That isn't why teams courted Dwight this summer, however. It is his propensity to erase shot attempts at the rim ... not block them, eliminate them ... that makes him an elite rim protector.
Superman. The Beard. Linsanity. And Chandler Parsons camped out in the corner, waiting for his next wide-open look. It will be a fun season in Houston.
All but two teams, the Bobcats and Bulls, topped the Grizzlies' 47.3% eFG last season. Only one team, the Pacers, defended better than the 97.4 DefRtg Memphis posted. It is clear which end of the floor the Grizzlies needed to improve in the offseason.
Adding Mike Miller was a positive step -- only the Bobcats and Nuggets were outscored by more than the Grizzlies beyond the arc. The 3-point specialist attempted as many Corner 3s as shots inside the 3-point line with Miami last season (56 of each), in addition to the 119 Above the Break 3s he tried, converting them at 43.7%. Whether the 13-year veteran can provide quality minutes over the course of 82 games or will be kept fresh for a playoff run remains to be seen.
Former Nuggets center Kosta Koufos could have the biggest impact this season. Memphis took 2,278 Restricted Area shots, fourth most among playoff teams. That they only made 56.1% of those tries, well below the playoff average of 60.4%, is the primary reason their 101.7 Offensive Rating ranked last among Western Conference playoff teams. Enter Koufos, who converted 65.8% of his RA attempts (242 of 368), ranking him 20th among players who took a minimum of four RA shots per game.
Opposing teams will still be entering the Grindhouse when they visit Memphis, but they may notice a little less grit and grind from the Grizzlies offense this season.
In acquiring All-Star point guard Jrue Holiday, the Pelicans got what they needed ... and took on something they don't.
In his 2,925 minutes on the floor last season, the Sixers posted a 102.0 Defensive Rating, less than a point per possession above the Playoff team average of 101.1 and better than seven playoff teams. With Holiday out of the game, Philadelphia's DefRtg rose to 105.8, worse than both the League average of 103.1 and higher than every playoff team.
No team forced fewer combined In The Paint/Mid-Range attempts than New Orleans last season, while only three teams allowed a higher combination of Restricted Area/Corner 3 shots. With rim protector Anthony Davis teaming with Holiday out front, the Pelicans now have the foundation in place to improve upon their 28th-ranked Defensive Rating.
Provided Holiday's affinity for the Mid-Range jumper (442 of 1288 FGAs in '12-'13) doesn't negatively impact New Orleans' Offensive Rating (102.7 last season), the Pelicans could approach a positive Net Margin this season.
The Spurs led the West in eFG% at 53.1%, second in the League to ... nevermind.
In our Oklahoma City preview we looked at the aging factor on the Big 3s of several championship contenders. No team deserves a revisit of that more than the Spurs.
Age of Big 3
|Durant 25||James 28||Duncan 37||George 23||Gasol 28|
|Westbrook 24||Wade 31||Parker 31||Hibbert 26||Conley 26|
|Ibaka 24||Bosh 29||Ginobli 36||Hill 27||Randolph 32|
|Green 26||Stephenson 23|
|Leonard 22||Granger 30|
As this Neil Paine study asserts, NBA player performance peaks at 27, declines steadily through their early 30s, then drops off a cliff in their mid 30s. It also shows that point guards can extend their peak performance into their early 30s (read: Parker, Tony).
The questions surrounding the Spurs are not how they will play or how they will allocate shots -- they will seemingly always make the extra pass and take a preponderance of high value shots as long as Pop is on the sideline.
The question for the Spurs entering the season is this -- Who makes up their Big 3?
Duncan showed no signs of slowing down in the Playoffs, posting a PIE of 15.3% on a 25.9% Usage Rate in 35 minutes per game. If Parker is indeed a late bloomer and Duncan has extended his cliff a couple years, the Spurs need only one of their Next 3 to slide into an every night role to keep the machine running smoothly and allow Ginobili a more complementary role. If the Finals were any indication, both Leonard and Green look ready to take that step.