Wages of Wins 5 on 5: Around the NBA Edition

Kobe Bryant And Phil Jackson Address The Media

Each week, five of the Wages of Wins contributors will answer five contemporary questions about the NBA (yes these discussions will probably turn into arguments at some point). 

Have any suggestions for questions you want us to answer? Leave them in the comments section below! Also, for fun, tell us who you think made the best arguments. 

1. We’re only about a third of the way through the season, but who gets your vote for Most Improved Player thus far?

Patrick MintonJJ Hickson and this nowhere near close. He’s setting career highs in shooting, rebounding, and turnovers. He’s gone from average-ish to 5th in the league among qualifying players in rebounding. He obviously will be ignored by the media in favor of players who have not actually improved but have gotten more minutes, like James Harden.Honorable Mentions: Kevin Durant (which is just…wow), Anderson Varejao (always good but now, holy cow)

Arturo Galletti: Kobe Jellybean Bryant. After giving a craptastic performance last year, he’s having a masterful year on the court and off (his twitter account is days old and already classic). Sad that it’s being wasted.

Andres Alvarez (Dre): Easily J.J. Hickson. He’s gone from essentially terrible to star. Close second in Lance Stephenson and bringing up 3rd is Larry Sanders.

Jeremy Britton: David Lee, who’s WP48 is up .141 (PoP up 4.4) thanks to improved defensive rebounding and shooting. Runner up is Tim Duncan, who at 36 years old is reversing the aging trend by learning to shoot free throws and steal the ball (WP48 is up .122; PoP up 3.8).

Vivek Netrakanti: Just like Jeremy, I’ll probably end up having some bias towards my home team. I’ll give the Most Improved award to Andray Blatche. In the 626 minutes he played last season, he was one of the worst rotation players in the league and is now playing at a star-like level of productivity for the Nets. I will say that JJ Hickson, Kobe Bryant, Larry Sanders, Brook Lopez, and Kevin Durant all are on my honorary mentions.

2. Keeping with that trend, who gets your vote for Coach of the Year? 

Patrick: Rick Adelman. .500 ball without Love (even when he was back, he wasn’t really ‘back’), Budinger, Pek’s rolled ankle, etc, is remarkable. If it were just Love I’d have kind of expected them to do so well. Coaching only matters in defense and minute allocation, and RA is pretty good at both (like how he instantly recognized the Stiemsma isn’t as good as we thought and upped Cunningham’s minutes).

Arturo: Mike Woodson has managed to get Carmelo to play unselfish ball. The coach of the year seems like it might not actually be enough. (see Dre’s response here)

Dre: Popovich, not even a question. No other coach manages to get players to work in a system, win games and manage minutes. Bonus points for ticking off Stern.

Jeremy: Mark Jackson. The Warriors are playing more productively this season, and Jackson seems to have had a role in improving the efficiency of his players (i.e. David Lee).

Vivek: I’ll be unoriginal and give it to Gregg Popovich. You could argue that he deserves this award every year, but this year in particular, he has Tim Duncan playing his best since the 06-07 season and has Tony Parker playing the best basketball of his career. A 27-10 record doesn’t exactly hurt either.

3. If Phil Jackson coaches the Nets, do you think they become significantly better?

Patrick: I think they become a tiny bit better. But if the 2009-10 Deron Williams isn’t walking through that door, this franchise isn’t going anywhere.

Arturo: Yes, he’s Phil Jackson.

Dre: No. Part of the reason is that most of the Nets “are who they are”, Joe Johnson and Gerald Wallace aren’t getting any younger. Humphries is already good and who knows on Lopez. He improves the team but they’ve completely stuck themselves cap wise. Phil could make them a 2nd round playoff team, maybe conference finals out East, but not  a contender.

Jeremy: Yes, Phil Jackson dramatically improves the Nets. He has been shown to cause an estimated 17.1 increase in wins. (See footnote 12 of Chapter 8 in Stumbling On Wins.)

Vivek: Yes. I agree with Patrick that the Nets need the 09-10 Deron Williams to contend, but I think if there is a coach that can  bring him back to that level, it is Phil Jackson. Jackson is shown to significantly improve the performance of his players in each of his first three seasons with a team, including Kobe Bryant when he took over for Rudy Tomjanovich. I don’t think it is out of the range of possibilities that Jackson could rejuvenate Joe Johnson as well, considering his work with Kobe.

4. Do you see the Lakers making the playoffs? If not, what would you change with the team?

Patrick: They’ll eek into the playoffs. If they don’t, I would blow it up (except for Dwight). But blowing it up would require amnestying Kobe, which they will never do. So, basically, I don’t think anything significant changes until summer of 2014.  But as far as role players go, they keep signing the wrong ones. I’d dump Morris, Jamison, Blake, Clark, Ebanks, Johnson-Odom and Meeks. I’d sign Josh Childress, I’d give Hill all of Jamison’s minutes, and I would try really hard to trade Pau for a guy like Ryan Anderson.

Furthermore, stop posting up Dwight. Just because he finishes well around the basket well does not mean that he’s a good post-up player. He’s got mediocre footwork, catches the ball too far from the hoop (he lets defenders shove him away before the catch a lot), and is easy to foul without giving him an AND-1 when you post him up (as opposed to when he is getting the ball cutting or rolling). In that sense he’s a lot like David Robinson, who was an absolute terror catching the ball on the run but was pretty mediocre if you just posted him up in the half court.

Arturo: They’re currently in a dogfight for the eight seed. Luckily for them Eduardo the injury fairy seems to have moved from Portland to Minnesota this year. Unluckily, he took a detour thru the Staples center to elbow Pau in the head and attack Howard’s shoulder. They need to move Pau and get multiple pieces to match D’Antoni’s system and shore up the bench. Here’s some ideas:
Trade 1: Eric Gordon and Ryan Anderson for Pau http://espn.go.com/nba/tradeMachine?tradeId=bqowuv9
Love Ryan Anderson for D’antoni’s system.
Trade 2: Bosh,Miller and Rashard Lewis for Pau and MWP http://espn.go.com/nba/tradeMachine?tradeId=b2l7bf
Shooters and Bosh are a better fit for LA. Pau would be scary in Miami. Panic trade for Miami and not very likely.
Trade 3: Amare,Brewer and Shump for Pau http://espn.go.com/nba/tradeMachine?tradeId=bd2m7uu
I like this one for both teams. Brewer and Shump shore up the guard situation in LA on offense and defense. Amare and Nash can just run their old playbook. Giving Pau to Kidd is almost unfair.

Dre: Yup. Thanks to Love’s injury they still should. However, with Howard’s injury, it will be rough. As for improving the Lakers? Well at this point Gasol is really hurting them. If they could do another Kwame/Gasol like trade for an upgrade, that would help. And oh yeah, get a better bench.

Jeremy: Yes, the Lakers make the playoffs. Right now they look to squeeze in as 8th seed, but there is the potential for the to improve significantly if Howard, Gasol, and Nash return to health and older form. (Citing/deferring to Arturo’s masterful Power Ranking, Vol. 3).

Vivek: The Lakers have an average team WP48 of .702, which would normally put them on pace to win 49 games. They’ve lost tons of close games and have, in actuality, played like a 19-14 team this year. As awesome as it would be for them to miss the playoffs, they are only 3.5 games out. Factor in that Kevin Love is hurt, and that the Blazers can’t possibly keep this up (do we trust JJ Hickson to maintain this level of play?), and I think, yes, the Lakers do make the playoffs. Chances are they won’t get very far, though.
However, it’s tough to decide how one would fix this team. I would try and get value for Pau Gasol and see if you can find a player that fits D’Antoni’s system to replace him; he’s really their only movable asset (aside from the stars). Ultimately, I just hope they panic and send Dwight to the Nets for Brook Lopez (yes I still have hope!)

5. Which team has been the biggest disappointment to you this season? 

Patrick: 
I thought the Lakers would be much better. And given how amazing Kobe has been, Their record is a shocker. But Dwight clearly has some lingering post-injury issues going on. And Pau isn’t making the recovery from last year that I thought he would. And of course, the injury to Nash…sigh. I’m obviously disappointed at the crazy injury stuff that has happened to Minnesota too. Lastly, I think the Nuggets are a much better team than their record. Some of that is the crazy schedule, but most of it is just George Karl rolling out tons of fourth quarter lineups with no center. I guess I predicted that Karl would find a way to play crazy lineups but this is kind of crazy. I always envision Masai Ujiri in a back office throwing chairs at the wall like Billy Bean in Moneyball. Or this:

Masai Ujiri: George, you got a minute?
George Karl: Yeah. Take a seat.
Masai Ujiri: You can’t start Al Harrington at PF tonight. You’ll have to start Faried.
George Karl: Yeah, I don’t want to go fifteen rounds, Masai. The lineup card is mine, and that’s all.
Masai Ujiri: That lineup card is definitely yours. I’m just saying you can’t start Al at PF.
George Karl: Well, I am starting him at PF.
Masai Ujiri: I don’t think so. He plays for Orlando now.
George Karl: You *traded* Al Harrington?
Masai Ujiri: Yeah. And Afflalo.
George Karl: You are outside your mind.
Masai Ujiri: Yeah. Cuckoo.
Al Harrington: [knocking on door] You wanted to see me?
Masai Ujiri: Yeah, Al, grab a seat.
[Al sits down]
Masai Ujiri: Al, you’ve been traded to the Magic. This is Rob Hennigan’s number. He’s a good guy, he’s the GM. He’s expecting your call. Buddy will help you with the plane flight. You’re a good ballplayer, Al, and we wish you the best.
[Al sighs, and exits]
George Karl: [shaking his head in disbelief] You’re killing this team.
http://www.imdb.com/title/tt1210166/quotes?qt=qt1620644

Arturo:  I was looking forward to the Wiz being decent. To be fair, that team is currently a MASH unit.

Dre: Minnesota due to injury. People don’t realize JUST how good this squad is. They’ve stayed in the playoff hunt despite losing Love (repeatedly), Rubio, Budinger. It’s so sad to see Minnesota finally construct a good team and not compete.

Jeremy: The Lakers are most disappointing. They had the hype. They had multiple star-level players. All they had to do was surround four great players with half of the supporting cast San Antonio does or rehire Phil. They blew it.

Vivek: The Denver Nuggets were a team that I expected to be at the top of the Western Conference this season. They are 20-16 right now and are hanging on to the 8th spot. Yes, Denver has had the 5th hardest schedule in the league, and yes they also have George Karl. However, it’s tough to pin all of this on Karl. Andre Iguodala, to this point, has fallen from the 3rd best SF in the league to just an above average one. Ty Lawson, after his breakthrough season, has a 49 TS% and has regressed to an inefficient below average guard. Until the players that Denver expected to be its’ stars start to perform that way, they won’t be able to contend for anything. That being said, if the Nuggets pick it up by the end of the season, they can still be a dangerous lower seed team. Honorable mentions include the Lakers and the Wizards. Minnesota is disappointing, but only due to circumstances out of their control, so they get a pass.

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