We are now a little over three full months into the 2012-13 NBA season, so let’s check in on some of the season’s biggest underachievers and overachievers.
Before the season commenced, various casinos projected each team’s win totals. For the sake of consistency, I’ve chosen Bet Online’s numbers. I’ve also referenced Basketball Reference’s forecast tool, which has been projecting and updating each team’s win totals throughout the year.
For the most part, Bet Online was on target with 21 of the 30 teams, coming within five wins of their projected totals. Most notably, they nailed it with Toronto (33 wins) and Washington (29) – pan the camera over to Raptors and Wizards fans nodding and sobbing.
Counting down the NBA’s worst underachievers, you can cite several reasons for why each team has not met their pre-season expectations, but, on the bright side, most are still in the playoff race.
Minnesota Timberwolves (18-28)
Pre-Season Projection: 40.5
Forecasted Wins: 34.1
The T-Wolves have been absolutely ravaged by injuries, which is quite a shame since they (along with the Nets) were the popular pre-season sleeper picks. Ricky Rubio missed the first 20 games of the season recovering from an ACL injury that’s also caused him to miss an additional five games. All-Star forward Kevin Love has only played 18 games this season and is expected to be out until March with a finger injury. If you had to predict one person to go on the injured list this year, your money likely would have been on Brandon Roy. He’s currently missed all but five games, yet is resisting the thought of retirement. Chase Budinger (remember him?) has missed 87% of the season. By the time he returns, it may be too late for a realistic playoff run. Added to all of this is the news of Rick Adelman missing three weeks to help tend to his ill wife. It’s a testament to David Kahn that he’s built a team that’s even remotely competitive in the big, bad, Western Conference.
Miami Heat (32-14)
Pre-Season Projection: 61.5
Forecasted Wins: 55.2
The term “underachiever” is used pretty loosely in this column. While the Heat are projected to finish seven games worse than expected, as long as they’re healthy and clicking on all cylinders by April, their regular season will be considered a success. That being said, there is still some concern about their performance to date. Miami is dead last in offensive rebounding and total rebounding. Small-ball is the name of the game in this new NBA, but the Heat’s rebounding numbers are still down by almost three per game (41.6 to 38.9). Another concern is the improved competition in the East. Miami has lost all games played thus far against the Knicks, Pacers, and Bulls. Chicago should be an even more formidable foe when their MVP, Derrick Rose, returns to the lineup next week. Finally, a staple of the Heat’s championship run last season was their defense. Miami’s overall defensive rating and opponent’s points allowed have both dropped from 4th to 12th this season. They’re giving up four more points per game (92.5 to 96.5). It’s been said that a title is much harder to defend because the bulls-eye is on your back. That’s never been truer than with the Miami Heat.
Boston Celtics (26-23)
Pre-Season Projection: 51.0
Forecasted Wins: 40.9
Is this the end of an era in Boston? When Kevin Garnett was brought in with Ray Allen in 2007 to form the Big Three with Paul Pierce, the Celtics have been NBA champs, NBA finalists, and Eastern Conference finalists – all because of their defense. Check out the numbers:
2008: 90.3 opponents points per game (rank 2nd), 98.9 defensive rating (rank 1st)
2009: 93.4 opp. ppg (3rd), 102.3 def. rating (2nd)
2010: 95.6 opp. ppg (5th), 103.8 def. rating (5th)
2011: 91.1 opp. ppg (1st), 100.3 def. rating (2nd)
2012: 89.3 opp. ppg (2nd), 98.2 def. rating (1st)
2013: 96.0 opp. ppg (10th), 102.7 def. rating (7th)
So, the Celtics have dropped from a top-two defense in four of the last five years, to just an above average defense. Mind you, these numbers do not show the impact of Rajon Rondo‘s season-ending injury. Boston has shown great teamwork in winning their first five games without Rondo. However, four of those games were against Sacramento, Orlando, Toronto, and a Clipper team without Chris Paul. With Garnett and Pierce on the wrong side of 35, the title window is very close to shutting.
Philadelphia 76ers (21-27)
Pre-Season Projection: 48.0
Forecasted Wins: 36.1
While Jrue Holiday‘s All-Star selection is both deserving and well-earned, that seems to be the lone bright spot on this disappointing season. Andrew Bynum‘s only contribution to the Sixers organization has been perm-related. Predicting a 48-win season (or 58.5% winning percentage) for a team that had a 53.5% winning percentage last season was pretty bold considering a) they lost their two defensive anchors in Andre Iguodala and Elton Brand, b) they lost their top scorer in Lou Williams and c) they were pinning their hopes on an injury-prone, seven-footer who’s missed an average of 24 games per season. Suffice to say this was a losing bet from the outset. Philly’s defensive numbers have plummeted without Brand manning the middle and Iguodala guarding the Durants and James’ of the NBA. The league’s 3rd ranked defense last year has now dropped to 11th. Philadelphia was 3rd in opponents FG% and 3-PT FG%. This year, they are 16th and 10th, respectively. With no guarantees on when Bynum will return, Thaddeus Young missing the next three weeks (strained left hamstring), and Jason Richardson done for the season (left knee), Doug Collins may be the scapegoat for a failed Sixer season.
Los Angeles Lakers
Pre-Season Projection: 59.0
Forecasted Wins: 41.7
What can I say that hasn’t already been said about the Titanic (the movie) – it’s terrifying for those who were involved, but it’s still great entertainment for everyone else.
The Lakers’ downfall is a two-part article all on its own.
A picture may be worth a thousand words and the one below only begins to explain what’s happened in Lakerland.