Wednesday, October 31, 2007

2007-8 Season Preview

Here’s a thought experiment: let’s say you have a gut feeling that something horrible is going to happen—like Christopher Walken in The Dead Zone—except it’s not totally guaranteed, you’re just pretty sure about it. How much would you be willing to pay someone who had the ability to lay down accurate, reliable odds of your fears coming true? I suppose the answer depends on who you are as a person and just how bad the premonitions are.

Anyway, whatever figure you come up with, that’s what I owe’s John Hollinger, who has the gift/curse of quantifying my nightmares. My two biggest dreads this year are Jeff McInnis and Primoz Brezec. I really think they are the primary reasons why the Bobcats have the potential to be bad-to-horrible this year. Anyone who watched those two in “action” last season knows what I mean. But oddly, if you look up their numbers from last year in any traditional stat sheet, there’s nothing really there to justify their sheer hideousness.

Until you check out Hollinger’s profile of each guy.

According to Hollinger, Brezec had the second-highest number of fouls-per-minute in the league, and he ranked 50th out of 62 centers in rebound rate. Oh, and that’s not all: he only made 47.1% of close-in shots in the immediate basket area, down from 61.5% the year before. As for McInnis, he had the second-worst player efficiency rating among point guards, ranked 64th among point guards in steals, and only eight 1’s had a higher rate of fouls-per-minute. More transparently, McInnis had a heinous 39.2% shooting percentage. Ladies and gentlemen, this is our starting center and our backup point guard

Hollinger isn’t a deity, mind you, and I’m not a huge believer in his “Pythagorean Win” theory (especially the ridiculous name—what’s next, "Socratic Shots Blocked"? "Hegelian Turnover Rates"?), but I can’t tell you how cathartic it was to see statistical evidence of what I knew to be rampantly bad play. I almost felt like a character in some crappy thriller who’s trying to “warn the others” about something but nobody believes me or just thinks I’m crazy until in the very end when I prove it. Forget the fact that Primoz missed 24 games and his minutes dropped from 20.8 to 14.5, he was much, much worse than that. But until I saw Hollinger’s profile, I only had anecdotal evidence, like when he lost that jump ball to Earl Boykins or the fact that I stockpiled reserves of “Primoz-fouls-out-again” and “Primoz-misses-from-in-close-again” jokes because I knew I would inevitably need them. The same goes for McInnis, who went Ellisonian invisible out there in his 18 mpg of impactless activity. So thank you, John.

As for the upcoming season...any suggestions? Other than acquiring surplus point guards from Houston or Atlanta (or finding a “Zoltar Speaks” coin machine and having McInnis stand in front of it say, “I wish I were…good”), I would shift ultimate glue-guy Derek Anderson to back up Raymond Felton. DA’s got a pretty decent handle, averaged over a steal a game, can take a charge like it’s nobody’s business, and generally puts a smile on my face. One little caveat to this remedy: Felton needs to raise his mpg from 36.4 to…oh, say, 44. As crucial as Gerald Wallace, Emeka Okafor, and Jason Richardson are, if Felton goes down, we’re getting zipped up in plastic when it happens, that’s it. I don’t care if Felton shoots too much, tries to do too much, or when he steps on stage the girls boo too much, he still averaged 7 assists and 1.5 steals last year, and that was with a woozy Wallace for the first quarter of the year and no Okafor for much of the last quarter (and all of it BR—Before Richardson). And other than Wallace and Richardson, Raymond’s the only one who can create his own shots.

As for center, well, there’s always prayer. We can pray that Brezec returns to the semi-competency of his past, or that mild-mannered Ryan Hollins and Jermareo Davidson both discover they have superpowers. But right now, I don’t even think Vic Mackey could bail us out of this dilemma. The center spot is a gaping hole of horror; it’s like a Sarlacc on Tatooine. Coach Vincent might want to just avoid playing anyone there altogether and run out a small lineup; we simply can’t fight fire-with-fire there against the East’s better centers or it’ll be like fighting fire-with-a-Bic-Lighter.

I’m really not worried about the rest of the lineup, even with no Adam Morrison or Sean May. Richardson and Wallace are capable of taking a game over, and are backed up ably by Matt Carroll and Walter Herrmann. If Jared Dudley does nothing more than grab some rebounds, hit a couple of garbage buckets, and stay mustache-free, I’d call it a success over Morrison. We might as well accept that Okafor will have some sort of back/calf issue at some point, so hopefully a Wallace-Herrmann-Dudley combination can minimize the damage—either that or the FBI will have tracked down Othella Harrington by then.

Because we let Brevin Knight walk and couldn’t find anyone better than newbies Hollins and Davidson for the 5, we’re looking at Brezec and McInnis spending substantial amounts of time on the floor together. And that could get really ugly. I’m talking Willie McGee-ugly. It’ll be like 3 guys playing ball with George and Lennie, and it will be particularly destructive against division rivals Orlando, Miami, and Atlanta, whose bigs are going to clog the key, eat Primoz alive, and force McInnis’s shooting percentage down into the single-digits.

Atlanta’s had a monster preseason and Joe Johnson will be back and healthy. Orlando had a similarly terrific preseason, and did anyone see the Dwight Howard story in Dime magazine? It looked like a Playgirl spread—the guy is ripped. I’m predicting MVP for him. I think the Heat are in for a downfall and so are the Wizards, but you’ve got to pencil in the Nets, Raptors, Celtics, Bulls, Cavaliers, and Pistons in some order for the top six slots. The Bucks will be competitive and—dare I say it—so will the Knicks, so you add it all up and I see another 30-win season and no playoffs--not even really close. Who needs a drink?

No comments: