With roughly 36 percent of the 2013-14 NBA season now in the books, it's fairly safe to say the Milwaukee Bucks, Utah Jazz and Philadelphia 76ers will wind up with a quality lottery pick in the 2014 NBA Draft. Each team in that trio has earned its spot at the bottom of the NBA Power Rankings.
The Bucks own the worst offense in the league (95.7 pts / 100 poss), the Jazz sport the worst defense (108.2 pts / 100 poss) and the Sixers allow opponents to hoist up the highest percentage of three-point shots (31.1% of total attempts) and also give up the fourth-highest conversion rate on threes (37.8%). Those are recipes for failure in any context, which is why they are the only teams with net efficiency ratings of -9 pts / 100 poss or worse, and why their combined playoff odds are 0.3%.
Larry Sanders is finally back in the lineup, and he may help improve Milwaukee's defense and rebounding, but the real problem lies on offense. I don't think he's going to make much of an impact on that end, and I'm not sure the Bucks can do much to improve their offense going forward. I mean, it's even hard to shoot more threes if Gary Neal can't play, Ersan Ilyasova can't shoot, O.J. Mayo can't earn more minutes, and Luke Ridnour can't be found.
In repsonse to the situation, Giannis Antetokounmpo is getting more minutes, Khris Middleton is making the most of his opportunity, and Brandon Knight is experimenting with his playmaking skills. All signs point to the Bucks prioritizing player development over wins for the remainder of the year, which would represent a welcome change in approach for the franchise.
Here's a look at the NBA landscape through the lens of advanced stats:
When it comes to projecting tiers in the NBA, I see things like this:
- Pacers -- They are the best defensive team in the NBA by leaps and bounds, and their offense may finally be good enough to give them a stable edge over the Heat in a seven-game series.
- Thunder -- Without Russell Westbrook the pressure will be on Reggie Jackson to carry more of load. He's been good this season, but expect OKC's offense to suffer a bit while Jackson's length and versatility help improve the defense. If Westbrook can round back into form for the playoffs the Thunder will be in good shape.
- Heat -- LeBron James is shooting a career-high 59.2% from the field and 40.2% from beyond the arc. He's scoring 25.4 points per game on a career-high 67.3% true shooting. Dwyane Wade is also scoring very efficiently despite a drop in free throw rate. As always, offensive rebounding and opponent three-point shooting appear to be weaknesses, but Miami ratchets things up when the playoffs roll around.
- Spurs -- There's no sense in doubting San Antonio. It's futile.
- Rockets -- The Rockets shoot a ton of threes, get to the line like crazy, and take a staggeringly small percentage of toxic mid-range jumpers. They're still sitting on a quality trade chip in Omer Asik, and the composition of the team is already pretty good.
- Clippers -- The Clippers haven't played up to their potential so far this season, so the fact that they have still the fourth-best record in the rugged Western Conference probably bodes well for them going forward. Why are opponents taking so few threes against Portland (see the table below)? It may be a systematic thing on defense, but my bet is that a clearly below-average defense isn't in complete control of something that important.
Really Good But Not Championship Caliber
- Trail Blazers -- Wes Matthews is playing insanely well. Probably too well. The Blazers do an excellent job on defense of limiting three-point attempts by never doubling the post and only commiting two men to defend the pick-and-roll. They get killed in the paint and their overall defense is below-average (basically on par with the Bucks sans Sanders), but so far the scheme is working well enough. Smart playoff teams with the talent to score inside will find ways to crack the code, but for now the Blazers are a fun story with an interesting defensive approach. I'm not sure Asik would even be enough to tip the scales.
- Warriors -- I want to elevate the Warriors, but I just can't bring myself to do it. I expected their offense to be better than it is right now. It's interesting to visualize the unit based on Synergy numbers. Can Curry and Bogut stay healthy? Can David Lee and Harrison Barnes do enough to make a difference? Are Draymond Green and Andre Iguodala the secret answer to the previous question?
Filler Teams That Probably Don't Matter One Way Or The Other (I'm Glad This Tier Doesn't Include The Bucks For The First Time In Forever)
- Every other team not included above or below this tier
Teams Carefully Managing Their 2014 NBA Draft Lottery Odds
Keep in mind that the benefits of finishing the season at the bottom of the standings are obvious:
|NBA Lottery Odds|