OK, there were quite a few things said during the McHale/Taylor post season festivities. Out of all the questionable things said during the all-out boobery sessions, there was one piece of poo that stood out above all the rest (and I'll get to the rest in a future post). Before I give you my take on the matter, please take a quick look at what Peter had to say about the subject:
Can we see the problem, and a pattern here? How exactly are the Wolves going to improve by 20 games next year? Significant internal improvement, a killer draft choice, or possibly--but not likely--a trade. That's it. Whatever progress does happen, it will now be judged against the expectation of a 20 win improvement, nothing less. Talking about shooting yourself in the foot.
And the Wolves wonder why fans are so negative in this market, or why a lot of us think McHale is woefully incompetent? Work with us here...we're not all idiots.
At 22-60 the Wolves are a .268 club with a fairly good chance of improving their record in the 2008-09 season. Unfortunately for the Iron Ranger, a 20 win improvement is nearly out of the question.
The probability of a 25-30% club improving their record in the following year is a hefty 73%. With a high draft pick and a full season of Al Jefferson and Randy Foye, the Wolves should be able to, at the very least, match their paltry victory total in 2007-08. Just how much they will improve is the question. The expected change in winning % for a 25-30% club is 9%, or about 7-8 wins (30-52 is a .366%). (Source: Basketball on Paper by Dean Oliver; p.111.)
In order to get to an even .500 (which is just below McHale's lofty projection), the Wolves would have to increase their winning percentage by an amazing 23.2%. As you can see, McHale's high hopes are just an itty-bitty bit off of historical projections for expected changes in win %. Of course, for folks like McHale, improvement is probably all about the appearance of will and effort. I wouldn't expect any less from someone who supported the Mittster. I'd also like to believe that his statement has nothing to do with the fact that his good buddy Danny Ainge's squad just took part in a 42 game improvement, but I wouldn't put it past the Iron Ranger. I can just hear the gears working…”If Danny can do it…”
Anywho, it's not just that McHale's projections aren't even in the same ballpark of even a modestly large improvement in win %, but that his team just happens to be playing in one of the toughest conferences in the history of organized professional basketball. Golden State is in decent financial shape and they missed the playoffs with 48 wins. Portland is the next "worst" Western team with 41 wins, followed by Sacramento with 38. After that is the Elton Brand-less Clips, the Grizz, the Sonics (with Kevin Durant, Jeff Green, and cap room) and the Wolves. Out of whose pocket will the Wovles' wins be picked?
Next year the Portland Trailblazers will not only add Greg Oden and Rudy Fernandez to their roster, but they will also own a pick (likely) in the early to mid teens. CDR? Chase Budinger? Donte Green? Kevin Love? DJ Augustin? Whoever it is, Portland probably isn't going to be the team that foots the Wolves' bill...especially if they make their way up the lotto. The Griz…you know what? I don't think I need to break the competition part of this down any further. The Wolves are in an amazingly tough (and improving) conference that will take up 4 out of every 6 games in their schedule.
Let's give the Wolves the benefit of the doubt that Randy Foye's absence really did hamstring them in the first 40 or so games of the year (more on this later) and take a look at a few of their post All Star Break numbers. After the break the Wolves scored an average of 99.5 ppg (93.3 ppg before) while giving up 104.6 ppg to their opponents (101 ppg before). In other words, post ASB, they lowered their point differential to a not-quite-respectable -5.1 ppg. Looking further into the numbers, the Wolves had a -3.3 point differential in March and a whopping -8.9 one in April. Foye or no Foye, this club had some point differential issues in the latter half of the season that really make one wonder just how much different they are post ASB from the team that won 4 games before the start of the new year.
Efficiency-wise, the differential is even more striking, as the Wolves gave up 113.4 points/100 possessions compared to scoring 104.9 points over the same period. This -8.5 point differential is bested by only the Sonics, Heat, and Knicks. Their off and def marks are both good enough for 27th in the league respectively.
Needless to say, there aren't too many teams in the history of the league to sport such numbers right before a massive turnaround. The closest example I could find is the 97-98 Spurs…or, as the event is otherwise known as, When Duncan Came to Town. Barring the introduction of a historic, game changing rookie, there is nothing in the Wolves stats, roster or schedule to suggest that they are in any way, shape, or form capable of running off an additional 20 wins in the 2008-09 season. Unfortunately, as I have been saying for some time, the sudden appearance of Basketball Jesus appears to be a large part of the Blueprint. And then something magical happened...
Just to give you an idea of how rare a 20 game turnaround is, the 2003-04 Nuggets won 26 more games than the previous season, ending up with a 43-39 record. The reason why? They added Andre Miller, Carmelo Anthony, and Marcus Camby. This is the 8th greatest single-season turnaround in NBA history. (Jason Kidd and the Nets had an equal turnaround in the 2000-01 season.) The 72 win Bulls are also on this list, improving by 25 games from the year before.
In short, not only would the Wolves have to buck historical trends along with beating younger and better teams within their own conference, but they would have to put together a historically significant turnaround in order to make McHale’s wild prediction a reality.
The best part about all of this is that if the Wolves improve to a relatively impressive 33-35 wins, they will likely forfeit their top 2009 Draft selection to the LA Clippers. Translation: According to the team's own words, either they need McHale's craziness to be true or they need to remain in the NBA's cellar for the Let's Build It Blueprint to actually work. Their boobery is so advanced that it almost doubles back on itself in an attempt to make its way out of the rabbit hole.
What is the moral of this story? Once again the Wolves front office has publicly shown themselves to be out of touch with their ballclub's reality. It's one thing to be confident and optimistic (I'm predicting 31 wins if Elton Brand isn't back with the Clips, Sacramento is unable to land a significant free agent, and the Sonics end up picking behind the Wolves in the draft; if those things happen, I'm going with 27 games), it's quite another to be needlessly out of touch. We all understand that McHale has to say nice things about the potential of his club; no one expects otherwise. However, to say something so insane, is…well, insane.
Finally, would it be too much to ask for the team's owner and VP of Basketball Operations to be on the same page?