The NBA's scheduling methodology has become so perfected that even 70 days of down time in late summer leaves the consumer starving for more. It's not at the level of the National Football League, of course, where a six- or seven-month offseason somehow only creates more interest in the product by feeding information intravenously through the veins of ESPN's viewership, but nevertheless, the NBA's annual footprint is becoming larger and larger.
Still, we can't take the down time. Without fresh material, blogs everywhere write the same stories told three different ways. It's necessary to maintain traffic, but it's also evidence of how difficult it is to find new and unique perspectives on NBA topics without personal team access. August is when all the league's professional scribes go on vacation, and those who are working generally show why they're paid to do so with clever and creative material. But all the work done by writers at places like Pounding the Rock is paying off, and it's taking this medium to new heights. August of 2013 saw about two and a half times the site traffic that was pulled in just one year ago here at PtR, and the overall growth is indication that people are using blogs more and more for analysis and storylines. It's a great thing.
So here we are with only about a month of dead time remaining before NBA training camps open up, and by now many of the previews and predictions have been written and recorded. But let's try something a little different. If there's ever a time of the year to have some fun, it's now. Over the next month I'm going to be making some off-the-wall predictions for each team. The probability of them actually occurring will be fairly low, but I'm going to hold myself accountable for each and every one. I expect you'll help me out along the way.
Anyway, without further ado, the beginning of a month-long series here at PtR: 30 teams, 30 off-the-wall predictions. And really, some of these will be more "off the wall" than others. My goal is to be correct.
Just FYI, the Spurs will be last. Think of it like No. 1 on a Bleacher Report list, except without the part where you hate it ... I hope.
The New York Knicks
Prediction: Andrea Bargnani will average the third most points on the team, and the Knicks will repeat as Atlantic Division champs.
The trade that spun twitter right round wasn't nearly as bad as the social media outlet would've led you to believe. Granted, half of basketball twitter is comprised of Knicks fans that reside in Brooklyn, so the reaction was understandable. But the uproar over the deal that sent Bargnani packing to resume his career in the Big Apple was likely an overreaction considering the return value — Marcus Camby, Steve Novak, Quentin Richardson, a 2016 first-round pick and a couple of second-rounders (2014, 2017) — was a handful of nothing, at least from a Knicks perspective.*
*I get the why Knicks fans that didn't like the move felt the way they did. New York was the oldest team in the NBA last season, and most of its loyal following is sick of watching trade picks fly out the door with the frequency of a subway train arriving in Times Square. But this is the Knickerbocker identity, and with the history of draft success this team possesses — Iman Shumpert is the only player drafted by the Knicks in the last decade to still be on the team (Tim Hardaway, Jr., was drafted this summer) — the franchise has shown it'd much rather spend money than draft to achieve success. Obviously, there are extenuating circumstances they've had to deal with in terms of past front office competency, but the fact that this team plays in a glamor market will never do anything to hurt its confidence in being able to lure free agents. Also because James Dolan.
On the flip side, Masai Ujiri made a hell of a splash upon his re-entry into Canada. Getting rid of a disgruntled Bargnani for a few pieces and multiple draft picks was as good an introductory move as the Raptors could've hoped for in the general manager's second stint with the organization. (Remember, Ujiri was Toronto's assistant
to the regional general manager prior to his hiring as GM in Denver three years ago.)
But these picks are more valuable to the Raptors than they are to the Knicks. And given the price New York paid for the 27-year-old former No. 1 overall pick, it should leave fans of the team feeling like they stole Bargnani from Toronto.
Unless, that is, they think he's terrible.
Over the past two seasons, Bargnani has been just that. The 7-footer shot less than 40 percent from the floor in 2012-13. Not the 3-point line, the entire floor. He scored at less than a 48-percent clip around the rim — which is nearly 9 percent worse than the league average at that range — and he struggled to keep his percentage from above the arc over 30 percent.
The 2011-12 season wasn't much better for the big Italian, despite averaging 19.5 points per game. His 43 percent from the floor and 29 percent from the 3-point line were bad omens for the most recent season, when he really went in the tank. For someone who's averaged about 3.6 three-point attempts per game over the last two seasons, these numbers are no good.
But it's important to keep things in perspective: Bargnani has played in only 66 games over the last two seasons COMBINED. On top of several injuries, the narrative of displeasure in the big man's existence in Toronto was well-covered, and the expeditiousness of this transaction reinforced the extent of the situation that was playing out with the Raptors and their 2006 draft pick.
Before there was bad Bargnani, good Bargnani** was something pretty fun to watch — and worth a whole hell of a lot more than what Toronto received from New York in the deal.
**Let's be clear: When I say good Bargnani, I'm almost completely removing the defensive side of the ball. Yes, you can do that when you're trying to skew statistics to support a point.
The last time he played more than 66 games in a single year was during the 2009-10 season, when he started 80 games. It was his fourth year in the league, months removed from his breakout third season, and the big man put up 17.2 points per game with a true-shooting percentage of more than 55 percent and a 109 offensive-efficiency rating. The potential had finally manifested itself, and he seemed to be proving his worth as a top pick, or close to it.
Then came the three-year decline. His numbers have dropped precipitously since 2009-10, and even in his 2010-11 season — when he averaged 21.4 points per game — he exhibited very poor scoring efficiency. Whether that was a result of his ability and the league adjusting to him or a product of the internal situation in Toronto, the drop-off was pretty staggering.
But we've seen what a change of scenery can do for some players, and as long as his talent hasn't dissipated before our eyes, New York could be a very strong fit.
In the isolation- and 3-point-heavy system the Knicks run through Carmelo Anthony and friends, the first instinct is to assume the value of spot-up shooters. Bargnani entered the league with the skill set and reputation of a shooter, so the idea of him playing this role in New York feels natural. The problem is he's been a terrible spot-up shooter over the last several years. Ever since the 2009-10 season, when he shot 46.3 percent in spot-up situations — including 42 percent from downtown — his percentages have fallen off a cliff. Over the last three years those spot-up numbers are atrocious: 39.2 percent in 2010-11, 44.3 percent in 2011-12 (28.9 percent from three and only 31 games played) and 36.7 percent in a 2012-13 season that saw him play only 35 games.
But with more talent in tow and a superstar teammate for the first time in his career (unless you count Chris Bosh in Toronto as a "superstar"), I'd expect the opportunities will come a bit easier for Bargnani. If the relationship between the player and team was as rough as it seemed from the outside, then this move might be just what he needed. And in terms of fit: while it may be funny to envision the defensive lapses a lineup consisting of Bargnani, 'Melo and Amar'e Stoudemire will display, the offense could be explosive.
There could also be other factors that play into Barg's success, though. This from my Posting and Toasting bro, Seth Rosenthal (Keep in mind, Seth hates knees and is currently researching ways to remove them from the game and prevent knee injuries forever):
I don't think Bargnani joining the top three in scoring is so improbable. I figure knees factor into that possibility somewhat.
Amar'e Stoudemire, last year's third leading scorer and Bargnani's depth chart-mate, will reportedly play within restrictions this season-- beneath a minutes limit and perhaps not in back-to-backs. Looking squarely at points per game: If Amar'e plays 20ish or fewer minutes a night and doesn't produce as (very) efficiently as he did last season, his share of points could diminish.
J.R. Smith, last year's second leading scorer, could miss some early games after surgery and his knees might also deserve a bit less burn. An absent J.R. would free up some outside looks within multiple units, and Bargnani seems like a viable candidate to inherit those looks, even from a different position. I do mean absent, though. I wouldn't expect an active J.R. to forfeit any shots on account of rustiness, at least unless Bargnani can enchant him with a Steve Novak impersonation.
Of course, it could be much simpler. There must be soooome chance for Andrea Bargnani to just play well in New York, right? Injuries or not, if Bargnani can find some touch on offense, develop rapport with his guards, and defend his position passably enough to avoid Mike Woodson's wrath, he might climb right into a role as a top scoring option. It's not like the Knicks have some fixed hierarchy below Carmelo Anthony. I hope New York won't depend on leaderboard production from Bargnani, but I expect they'll at least give him some opportunities.
The thing about Bargnani is he's far from your typical big man. When he's at his best (I'm going to keep using 2009-10 as an example) he's effective from nearly anywhere on the floor: in the post, from the perimeter and out of the pick and roll. And in a lineup that features an isolated ball-stopper in Anthony who likes to operate in the mid-range, the Knicks won't ever have to worry about Bargnani stuffing up the paint.
He's happy to float around, offensively (I mean, like, SO happy), and New York will be more than willing to let him shoot from deep. The Knicks set an NBA single-season record in 2012-13 with 891 threes made, so replacing a guy like Novak with Bargnani certainly won't cause them to shy away from the strategy.
But on top of that, Bargnani has the ability to be effective as a post-up player when the situation calls for it. Now, it will be interesting to see how Mike Woodson plays his lineup card on a nightly basis, but the team's newest acquisition has shown in the past that success is possible from anywhere.
In 2009-10, Bargnani averaged .91 points per possession on 45.2 percent shooting on 80 post-up plays (That's only one post-up play per game for that season that ends up in a field-goal attempt, turnover or free throws). I know it's a small sample size, but sometimes it's about picking and choosing the right situations. With Stoudemire and Anthony, the Knicks won't need many post-ups from Bargnani. He'll likely be primarily used as a spot-up shooter and a pick-and-roll partner in this offense. But given the combination of his skill and size, there will be opportunities to take advantage of mismatches along the way.
For an in-depth look at how the Knicks might use Bargnani, check out Dylan Murphy's piece at Posting and Toasting.
For a team that won 54 games last season, I believe the addition of Bargnani will only help. This wasn't a top-level defensive team to begin with after down years from Shumpert (in his recovery from an ACL tear) and Tyson Chandler, but if the Knicks' best defenders can return to form and stay healthy, it's not like they're not already used to having to cover for defensively insufficient teammates (See: Stoudemire, Anthony).
Even with all the additions the Brooklyn Nets made, I still see New York winning the division. The playoffs might be a different story, but there's an acclimation process involved in a situation like the one the Nets are encountering, where there's a large roster overhaul that consists of some very tenured veterans. The time-restrictions on Stoudemire and the recovery of J.R. Smith are major factors here, but it's not crazy to expect they'll coincide with a Nets adjustment timeframe that could last for much of the season.
More from your friendly neighborhood Rosenthal:
As far as the Knicks winning the division goes-- why not? I'm sure at least one of Boston, Philadelphia, and Toronto will test the Knicks head-to-head, but I don't foresee any threat in the standings from those three. That leaves the Nets. The Nets look quite good. The Knicks were quite good last season, and look like they've improved, at least to my eye. I haven't a clue who'll be quiter good, but if I forced to bet on it, I'd pick the Knicks. Now, you're talking to a person who regularly flicks the the Deron Williams poster in the subway in its stupid smug little fart farty fart face, so my bets might not be the soundest.
Having read and said all the above, I fully expect Andrea Bargnani to lead the last-place 2013-2014 Knicks in scoring.
Nobody likes smug little fart farty fart faces. Not one single person. We'll be keeping tabs.
Stats courtesy of NBA.com and mySynergySports.com.