Northwest Division Preview


I have been doing a preview of every division for Blogabull, but I post here almost as often these days so I thought I would put this up. Enjoy (hopefully).

This year I would like to do a set of previews. There will be six previews covering every team division by division. The basic idea is I write a blurb about each team hitting an angle I find interesting or especially relevant or under-reported. For each team I mention the major moves made this summer and a win total prediction based on a stat blend I put together.

I also use the results of this stat blend to evaluate four contracts from each team: best and worst value large contract; best and worst value small contract. The average NBA salary this year is approximately $5.1M, so I am going to call all contracts less than or equal to $5.1M a small contract, while anything above $5.1M will be a large contract. Contracts are said to be good or bad based on their price divided by the number of wins I project the player to add this year.

The flaws of looking at contracts this way appear immediately. A player like Asik whose situation will depress his minutes is going to look much worse than he is. Likewise for players who have injuries to heal from like Kobe or Rondo.

Additionally, there is no one in the world who would say that a $25M player who gives you 20 wins is a lesser value contract as a $6M player who gives you 6 wins. I think this example shows that what I am measuring is something like the "value efficiency" of a contract; it is an imperfect metric but I think it gives us an interesting look at roster construction.


55 Wins

Notables In:


Notables Out:

Kevin Martin

Best Value Large Contract:

Kevin Durant ($1,065,540 per Win)

Worst Value Large Contract:

Kendrick Perkins ($7,354,819 per Win)

Best Value Small Contract:

Reggie Jackson ($494,055 per Win)

Worst Value Small Contract:

Jeremy Lamb should only be compensated in negative dollars

I recently watched an interview with Brian De Palma from the bonus features of his 1981 film Blow Out, starring John Travolta and Nancy Allen. At one point De Palma started talking about how in the old days lots of actors were first trained as dancers, and this gave them an advantage over similarly skilled thespians who lacked a dancing background because the viewer is attracted to the way the dancer/actor's body moves before he even says his first line.

I mention this because I have often wondered why to my mind Kevin Durant's value to winning games so outstrips his entertainment value, and I think the answer is that while Kevin Durant is a very great player, I do not think he is a great dancer. His body does not move in very interesting or pleasing ways to me. Which is weird because his is such an unusual one.

Kevin Durant is mainly so great because he is perhaps the best shooter in the league and no one who can stick with him is long enough to contest his shots. So it is kind of like he is shooting in a gym by himself even when he is playing in a game. This is not especially fun to watch. And because he doesn't have to work that hard to get an open shot-- since no perimeter player can get a hand anywhere near the release point-- most of Durant's moves have a kind of compactness and efficiency about them that I find-- I don't know, undramatic?

Building on that last point, I don't think Durants quick flick jumpshot is very interesting to look at. Nor do I think his ball skills-- high dribble with a crossover as pretty much the only arrow in his quiver-- add any spice to the visual experience. If you have forgotten how awesome Durant is there is a 5 or 6 part highlight video on YouTubedocumenting just how many great things he did last year. Watching that was less fun that it should be though. It's like his game has no face.

I haven't felt this unmoved by a player who is so clearly awesome since Karl Malone. So he's great, alright. I just don't find him very entertaining compared to most superstars.

That other guy on the Thunder, Russell Westbrook, is also a really good basketball player. I cannot possibly call him underrated, but I think he maybe people do not discuss enough how good he makes Kevin Durant look.

Here is one example of what I am talking about. This is a Kevin Durant shot chart from the regular season via It shows the number of points per shot from various spots on the floor and also color codes those spots depending on how the performance ranks against league average:


Unreal. And here is Durant's chart from the playoffs, where Westbrook missed all but two games:


That is a considerable difference. I am not saying this is all Westbrook, but there is no doubt in my mind that Durant would not have put up one of the best scoring seasons in league history if Westbrook had not been there to make his life a lot easier. If you are one of those people that thinks Durant is easily the second best player in the NBA (I am not) and is sitting in King James' rear view mirror (I am not), then I think you really have to respect Westbrook's accomplishments (I do).


45 Wins

Notables In:

Kevin Martin, Corey Brewer, Ronny Turiaf

Notables Out:

Andrei Kirilenko, Greg Stiemsma

Best Value Large Contract:

Kevin Martin ($1,176,534 per Win)

Worst Value Large Contract:

Nikola Pekovic ($1,718,420 per Win)

Best Value Small Contract:

Ricky Rubio ($524,678 per Win)

Worst Value Small Contract:

Derrick Williams ($3,821,664 per Win)

How good a player is Nikola Pekovic? Depending on which metric you use, Pekovic is either a really good player or a solid one. Those based on or at least influenced by boxscore stats tend to view Pekovic as a really good player, while the plus-minusy statistics tend to see him as more of an average sort.

The first thing you notice about Pekovic's impact on the game is that he really gets a lot of opportunities near the basket. The on/off data shows that when Pekovic is on the floor, 28.2% of Minnesota's FGAs are layups versus 23% when Pekovic sits. Similarly, when Pekovic is on the floor, 37.9% of the Wolves' FGAs occur between 0-3 feet from the rim against only 31.6% when he sits.

I think most of this is attributable to Pekovic's post scoring (40.9% of his offense comes from that) and his efforts on the offensive glass. When Pekovic is on the floor the Timberwolves become an elite offensive rebounding unit; when he sits the Wolves drop to below average.

While I am pretty sure Pekovic helps his team by being productive around the basket, I do not think he helps his teammates very much. The on/off numbers show that Pekovic has a very neutral effect on the other players with whom he shares the court, probably because he is not a passer and he is not dangerous enough to draw consistent hard double teams in the manner of Orlando era Dwight Howard. In fact, given that his scoring efficiency is unaffected by either the presence or absence of Ricky Rubio's fine passing skills (Pekovic scores 1.13 PPP with or without Rubio), one almost gets the impression that Pekovic interacts very little with his teammates on offense.

Except Kevin Love. Even with an obviously diminished version of Kevin Love in 2012-13 this duo was able to lead their team to an OREB% of 34.8 when they were on the court. This translated into 28.4% of Minnesota's shots coming from layups and 39.3% of their shots coming between 0-3 feet. I would look for those two to synergize quite nicely on offense this year.


41 Wins

Notables In:

J.J. Hickson, Nate Robinson, Darrell Arthur

Notables Out:

Andre Iguodala, Kosta Koufos, Corey Brewer

Best Value Large Contract:

J.J. Hickson ($1,022,239 per Win)

Worst Value Large Contract:

JaVale McGee ($2,801,510 per Win)

Best Value Small Contract:

Kenneth Faried ($189,032 per Win)

Worst Value Small Contract:

Timofey Mozgov ($17,255,848 per Win)

New coach Brian Shaw wants the Nuggets to become a more boring half court oriented team with an emphasis on the defensive side of things. To that end they have sent out Andre Iguodala and brought in J.J. Hickson, Randy Foyeand Nate Robinson......

Does all this remind anyone a bit of the Steve Kerr regime in Phoenix? Perennially successful team with a fast, fun personality doesn't quite live up to the expectations set by their regular season record; new brass with connections to PJ comes in without the courage or vision to recognize the bad luck their team has encountered in the past; tears the team apart to fit a more stolid, supposedly playoff proven style; builds a team that clearly looks worse than what they had before; and a handful of largely joyless years later they're tanking their ass off in a punted season. I guess that last part remain to be seen*, but I would not be very happy if I were a Nuggets fan.

*Of course the Suns had a bounce back year in 2010 when they made the Western Conference Finals, but this only happened when the Suns got back to the style pioneered by the reviled Mike D'Antoni (4th in pace, 1st in ORtg, 23rd in DRtg, Channing Frye at center).


39 Wins

Notables In:

Dorrell Wright, Mo Williams, Robin Lopez

Notables Out:

J.J. Hickson

Best Value Large Contract:

Robin Lopez ($1,108.835 per Win)

Worst Value Large Contract:

Nicolas Batum ($1,877,803 per Win)

Best Value Small Contract:

Damien Lillard ($470,392 per Win)

Worst Value Small Contract:

Joel Freeland has been a large disappointment

In the Indiana preview I suggested that the Pacers' bench additions would have only a minor effect on their win total because they were not going to play a ton of minutes and because they were not that much better than their predecessors. This is not the case with the Trailblazers, whose previous bench was so terrible they were actually foretold in the following Nostradamus quatrian:

French king, beware of your nephew

who will do so much that your only son

will be murdered while making his vows to Venus;

accompanied at night by three and six.


French King= Batum

Nephew= Will Barton

Son= Damien Lillard

Venus= Hot Paul Allen

Three= Sasha Pavlovic's number

Six= times 3 (Sasha's number) equals 18 (Victor Claver's number)

Damien Lillard should improve a little and the Northwest Division definitely got worse, so that helps, but I still do not see this as a playoff team unless something bad happens to a couple of other teams. Something so horrible it may have been foretold in the following Nostradamus quatrain:

Between Bayonne and St. Jean de Luz

will be placed the promontory of Mars.

To the Hanix of the North, Nanar will remove the light,

then suffocate in bed without assistance.


32 Wins

Notables In:

Richard Jefferson, Brandon Rush

Notables Out:

Mo Williams, Al Jefferson, Paul Millsap

Best Value Large Contract:

Derrick Favors ($888,689 per Win)

Worst Value Large Contract:

Andris Biedrins ($12,151,826 per Win)

Best Value Small Contract:

Gordon Hayward ($614,583 per Win)

Worst Value Small Contract:

John Lucas ($2,414,630 per Win)

Last year the Jazz ran an enormous proportion of their offense through the starting bigs, Millsap and Jefferson. Sort of like what Memphis would do if their starting point guard were Pablo Prigioni. Now that the frontcourt is gone who is running that offense? Rookie Trey Burke? Given how Burke looked in Summer League that sounds like a tanking strategy if I have ever heard one.

Maybe the Jazz will try to use Gordon Hayward more like a Joe Johnson style wing player. Haywood's handle is not quite on par with Johnson's but it is very good, and like Johnson he also has excellent court vision and the height to see over defenses. I expect the Jazz to be pretty bad this year, but it might be a breakout season for Hayward statistically.

Stats courtesy of:

Basketball Reference


Hickory High

Team Rankings




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