When we think about favorites for the 2010 NBA title our thoughts often turn to the LA Lakers, Boston Celtics, and the team I think is the favorite, the Cleveland Cavaliers. But there is one other – somewhat forgotten – contender.
Orlando was Good and Now is Better
The Orlando Magic eliminated both the Celtics and Cavaliers in the 2009 playoffs before losing to the Lakers in NBA Finals. When we look at Table One – which reports the Wins Produced and WP48 [Wins Produced per 48 minutes] for each player on the Magic last season – we can see that Orlando’s playoffs success was not entirely due to luck.
The Magic in 2008-09 were led by Dwight Howard. Superman, though, was not a one-man team. The remaining players on this roster were able to produce 36.3 wins last season. Leading this supporting cast was Hedo Turkoglu. In the off-season Turkoglu departed for Portland… no, I mean Toronto. In addition, Courtney Lee was traded to New Jersey. The loss of these two players subtracts nearly ten wins from Orlando.
The Lee transaction, though, brought Vince Carter to Orlando. Carter has already played 11 seasons in the NBA, producing 101.1 wins and posting a 0.165 WP48. Last season Carter produced 10.0 wins with a 0.162 WP48. In sum, he’s more productive than both Lee and Turkoglu. Of course, he’s also old. Carter will turn 33 in January, so he’s not a long-term solution. But for the 2009-10 season, Carter should help.
In addition to Carter, the Magic also added Brandon Bass, Ryan Anderson, Matt Barnes, and Jason Williams. The addition of these players gives the Magic the following depth chart:
Potential First String
PG: Jameer Nelson [6.5 Wins Produced, 0.237 WP48]
SG: Vince Carter [10.0 Wins Produced, 0.162 WP48]
SF: Matt Barnes [4.0 Wins Produced, 0.091 WP48]
PF: Rashard Lewis [5.9 Wins Produced, 0.099 WP48]
C: Dwight Howard [22.2 Wins Produced, 0.378 WP48]
Potential Second String
PG: Anthony Johnson [1.6 Wins Produced, 0.052 WP48]
SG: J.J. Redick [1.3 Wins Produced, 0.054 WP48]
SF: Mickael Pietrus [1.4 Wins Produced, 0.051 WP48]
PF: Brandon Bass [0.8 Wins Produced, 0.025 WP48]
C: Marcin Gortat [4.6 Wins Produced, 0.277 WP48]
In addition to these ten players, the Magic also have the following:
PG: Jason Williams [0.084 WP48; for career]
PF: Ryan Anderson [2.2 Wins Produced, 0.082 WP48]
C: Adonal Foyle [0.095 WP48; for career]
An average NBA player has a 0.100 WP48. Of the players listed on the Magic’s first and second string, only four – Nelson, Carter, Howard, and Gortat – were above average last season. To put this in perspective, the potential first and second string of the Lakers also has four above average players. The Celtics, though, currently have six such players, while the Cavaliers have eight above average performers.
So apparently, the Magic – at least when we consider the population of above average performers – are at a disadvantage in the Eastern Conference. This view, though, changes somewhat if we consider the depth chart at ESPN.com. According to ESPN, Rashard Lewis is now the Magic’s small forward. Once upon a time, Lewis was an above average small forward. In 2006-07 Lewis posted a 0.175 WP48 while mostly playing small forward with the Seattle Supersonics.
If we shift our focus to Win Score, we see that Lewis has been very consistent across his career. During his time with Seattle, Lewis posted a 9.8 Win Score per 48 minutes (WS48). His first season in Orlando – where he primarily played power forward – Lewis posted a 9.6 WS48. And last year his mark was 9.8. Such numbers are quite good for a small forward. But as a power forward, Lewis is about average.
With the acquisition of Bass and Anderson, the Magic are now in a position to move Lewis back to small forward. In their first pre-season game, though, the Magic had Lewis starting at power forward. Now the Magic can still challenge Cleveland, Boston, and the Lakers with Lewis at the four spot. But keeping Lewis at small forward – and playing Bass and Anderson at power forward – would appear to make the Magic better (and a more powerful contender).
To summarize… the addition of Carter improves a team that won 59 games last year. Moving Lewis to small forward makes this improved team even better. And teams that move far past 60 wins in a season are definitely title contenders.
The Contender Population
If we focus strictly on the Eastern Conference, the population of title contenders has now been reviewed. Cleveland, Boston, and Orlando are much better than anyone in the East. One of these teams will likely be in the NBA Finals. Of course, at least one of these teams will also fail to make it to the Eastern Conference Finals.
If we think about the West the picture is not as clear. Unless Bynum comes all the way back, the Lakers – with the Artest for Ariza transactions — have probably moved closer to the pack. Consequently, Portland (who I have reviewed) has a chance. And the same might be said for San Antonio (who I have not reviewed). In fact, one could even see a number of other Western Conference teams making noise in the playoffs.
Regardless of how the West shakes out, though, I think Cleveland, Boston, and Orlando are the three best teams in the league. And that means, I think the eventual NBA champion will come from the East (and I tend to think that team will also come from Ohio).
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Our research on the NBA was summarized HERE.
Wins Produced, Win Score, and PAWSmin are also discussed in the following posts:
Finally, A Guide to Evaluating Models contains useful hints on how to interpret and evaluate statistical models.