D. Clarke Evans/NBAE via Getty Images

Why the 2015 NBA playoffs feel wide open – but probably shouldn’t

6 Comments

The Golden State Warriors just completed one of the best regular seasons of all-time.

They went 67-15, posting the NBA’s best defense and second-best offense. They won their six fastest-paced games of the year and their six slowest-paced. They have two All-Stars (Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson), a probable MVP (Curry), a probable Defensive Player of the Year (Draymond Green), someone who might be even better defensively (Andrew Bogut), a possible Sixth Man of the Year (Andre Iguodala) and a possible Coach of the Year (Steve Kerr). They project to get substantially better once they narrow their playoff rotation.

Of the 16 teams to win 65 games in a season, 13 won the title.

So why aren’t the Warriors treated as overwhelming favorites to win the 2015 championship?

I suspect it’s because they didn’t win a playoff series last season.

There’s comfort in familiarity, and this year, there’s little familiarity with the NBA’s top regular-season teams performing well in the postseason. The Warriors haven’t played a series as the higher seed since 1992 or won a series as the higher seed since 1977. The Cavaliers had been miserable for the last four years. Neither the Hawks nor Clippers have ever made the conference finals (though Atlanta reached what was then called the division finals). The Rockets have won only one playoff series since 1997.

That’s why so many people are clinging to the sixth-seeded Spurs, who are the defending champions, have reached the last two NBA Finals and have made 18 straight postseasons.

San Antonio is really the only familiar contender in the field. Last year’s other conference-finalists – the Thunder, Heat and Pacers – missed the playoffs entirely.

Since the NBA went to a 16-team playoff format in 1984, just nine conference-finalists missed the playoffs the following year – 2010 Suns, 2004 Lakers, 2004 Timberwolves, 2001 Bucks, 1998 Bulls and 1988 Mavericks and a whopping three from last season.

Most years, there are more returning conference-finalists as No. 1 seeds than there are returning conference-finalists in the entire 2014 postseason at any seed. Every single year, there had been a returning conference-finalist in a top-two seed.

This year, it’s the sixth-seeded Spurs, and that’s it.

Here’s each postseason in the current format and the seeds held by returning conference-finalists:

  • 2015: 6, X, X, X (SAS, IND, MIA, OKC)
  • 2014: 1, 1, 2, 7 (IND, SAS, MIA, MEM)
  • 2013: 1, 1, 2, 7 (MIA, OKC, SAS, BOS)
  • 2012: 1, 2, 2, 7 (CHI, MIA, OKC, DAL)
  • 2011: 2, 3, 4, X (LAL, BOS, ORL, PHO)
  • 2010: 1, 1, 2, 4 (CLE, LAL, ORL, DEN)
  • 2009: 1, 2, 3, 8 (LAL, BOS, SAS, DET)
  • 2008: 2, 3, 4, 4 (DET, SAS, CLE, UTA)
  • 2007: 1, 1, 2, 4 (DAL, DET, PHO, MIA)
  • 2006: 1, 1, 2, 2 (DET, SAS, MIA, PHO)
  • 2005: 2, 6, X, X (DET, IND, LAL, MIN)
  • 2004: 2, 3, 3, 5 (NJN, SAS, DET, DAL)
  • 2003: 2, 2, 5, 6 (SAC, NJN, LAL, BOS)
  • 2002: 2, 3, 6, X (SAS, LAL, PHI, MIL)
  • 2001: 2, 4, 7, 8 (LAL, NYK, POR, IND)
  • 2000: 1, 3, 3, 4 (IND, NYK, POR, SAS)
  • 1999: 2, 3, 4, X (IND, UTA, LAL, CHI)
  • 1998: 1, 1, 2, 8 (UTA, CHI, MIA, HOU)
  • 1997: 1, 1, 2, 7 (UTA, CHI, SEA, ORL)
  • 1996: 2, 2, 3, 5 (ORL, SAS, IND, HOU)
  • 1995: 2, 3, 3, 6 (IND, NYK, UTA, HOU)
  • 1994: 1, 2, 3, 3 (SEA, NYK, PHO, CHI)
  • 1993: 2, 3, 4, 6 (CHI, CLE, POR, UTA)
  • 1992: 1, 1, 5, 8 (POR, CHI, DET, LAL)
  • 1991: 1, 1, 3, 4 (CHI, POR, DET, PHO)
  • 1990: 1, 1, 3, 5 (DET, LAL, CHI, PHO)
  • 1989: 1, 1, 8, X (LAL, DET, BOS, DAL)
  • 1988: 1, 1, 2, 7 (BOS, LAL, DET, SEA)
  • 1987: 1, 1, 4, 6 (LAL, BOS, MIL, HOU)
  • 1986: 1, 1, 3, 3 (BOS, LAL, DEN, PHI)
  • 1985: 1, 1, 2, 8 (LAL, BOS, MIL, PHO)

It’s jarring how much 2015 sticks out, and I think this has created a false sense of parity.

But everything we know about the Warriors suggests they have filled the vacuum created when LeBron James left the Heat, Paul George got hurt and Kevin Durant got hurt.

The Warriors might not win the title (the field is always a safe bet). But if you don’t consider them clear favorites – especially if you’re picking the Spurs – consider whether you’re leaning too much on comfort rather than a sober view of the season.

French point guard Theo Maledon declares for NBA draft

(Photo by Ivan Korzhenevskiy/Euroleague Basketball via Getty Images)
Leave a comment

French point guard Theo Maledon has declared for the 2020 NBA Draft:

The six-foot-five Maledon is declaring as an Early Entry candidate from the international ranks. International players who do not turn 22 in the calendar year of the draft can declare as Early Entry players.

At 18 years old, Maledon was a part-time starter for ASVEL Basket in France in the French Pro A League. ASVEL Basket is owned in part by former NBA player Tony Park, who also serves as the club’s president. Maleon started in 23 of the 46 games he played for ASVEL Basket this season.

In 46 games with ASVEL, Maledon averaged 7.3 points per game. He shot 42.1% from the floor, including 33.3% on three-pointers. He also averaged 2.7 assists per game. In mid-January, against former NBA player Shane Larkin and Turkish club Anadolu Efes, Maledon started and dished out 10 assists, while scoring five points and grabbing six rebounds.

In part due to his size for the point guard position, and his excellent play on the youth level, ESPN has Maledon ranked 15th in their top-100 prospects. He’s widely expected to be in the mix to be a lottery pick.

Players have until Sunday, April 26 to declare as Early Entry candidates. The deadline to withdraw as an Early Entry candidate is Monday, June 15. The 2020 NBA Draft is currently scheduled to be held on Thursday, June 25.

Report: Pacers GM Chad Buchanan turns down interview with Bulls

(Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images)
Leave a comment

Indiana Pacers general manager Chad Buchanan has reportedly declined an opportunity to interview for a front office job with the Chicago Bulls.

Buchanan joined the Pacers in 2017 as their general manager under President of Basketball Operations Kevin Pritchard. Prior to moving to Indiana, Buchanan was the assistant general manager with the Charlotte Hornets.

In turning down the Bulls opportunity, Buchanan cited how well he and his family have been treated in Indiana. Buchanan had previously worked with Pritchard when both were members of the Portland Trail Blazers front office.

Chicago is replacing John Paxson and Gar Forman at the top of their front office structure. Paxson and Forman have led the Bulls basketball operations together since 2009. Chicago’s search will now reportedly focus on Arturas Karnisovas of the Denver Nuggets, Adam Simon of the Miami Heat and Bobby Webster of the Toronto Raptors.

This Day in NBA History: Kareem Abdul-Jabbar becomes NBA’s all-time scoring leader

Leave a comment

It was fitting he did it with a skyhook.

On April 5, 1984, in a game against the Utah Jazz (played in a sold-out Thomas & Mack Center in Las Vegas), Kareem Abdul-Jabbar took a pass from Magic Johnson, swung left, and drained a hook shot that gave him career point No. 31,420, moving him past Wilt Chamberlain to become the NBA’s all-time leading scorer.

The game stopped as the celebration ensued as Kareem’s teammates swarmed the captain. He was taken out of the game at that point, done for the night.

Abdul-Jabbar wasn’t done scoring, however. H retired five seasons later with 38,387 points, a record that stands to this day.

Giannis Antetokounmpo doesn’t have home court, players forced to workout with what they have

Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images
Leave a comment

MILWAUKEE — Giannis Antetokounmpo is spending much of his time during the coronavirus-imposed hiatus working out, helping care for his newborn son and playing occasional video games.

What the reigning MVP isn’t doing very often is shooting baskets since the NBA has closed team practice facilities.

“I don’t have access to a hoop,” the Milwaukee Bucks forward said Friday during a conference call. “A lot of NBA players might have a court in their house or something, I don’t know, but now I just get my home workouts, (go) on the bike, treadmill, lift weights, stay sharp that way.”

The hiatus is forcing thousands of athletes, pro and otherwise, to work out from home as they try to keep in shape. Equipment varies from player to player, too.

“It all comes down to what they have and what they’re capable of doing,” Atlanta Hawks coach Lloyd Pierce said. “We can do a lot of body weight stuff. That’s how they stay ready. That’s the most I can offer as a coach for them to stay ready. I can’t say ‘Hey, can you find access to a gym?’ That would be bad management on my part.”

For instance, Pierce said Hawks guard Kevin Huerter has access to a gym in New York and guard Jeff Teague owns a gym in Indiana.

Other players face different situations.

“I’ve seen LeBron’s Instagram,” Pierce said of Los Angeles Lakers superstar LeBron James. “LeBron has a house with a full weight room and he has an outdoor court. He’s got a different reality right now that gives him a little more access to continue the normal. (Hawks rookie) Cam Reddish lives in an apartment and it’s probably a two-bedroom apartment. He can’t go in the apartment weight room because it’s a public facility. So he’s limited in all things.”

Bucks coach Mike Budenhlolzer said he wanted his players to focus on keeping their bodies in shape and conceded that logistics surrounding the pandemic would make it tougher for them to do any basketball-specific activities.

The Bucks are still finding ways to stay sharp.

Bucks players said team officials have made sure they all have the necessary exercise equipment. Antetokounmpo noted the Bucks also had a catering company bring food to make sure they maintain a proper diet. Center Brook Lopez said workout plans have been sent to them via a phone app.

“They’ve done a really good job of getting everything taken care of and still having tailored workouts for each individual player despite the situation,” Lopez said.

But it’s difficult for them to work on their shooting without access to a court.

“Since the practice facility is closed down, I don’t have any access to a basketball goal unless I go to one of my neighbors’ houses and shoot outside,” Bucks forward Khris Middleton said. “There’s really no basketball for me. It’s basically like Giannis said. Treadmill, jump rope, some weights and that’s it. I have a couple of basketballs I can dribble in my house or outside, but no actual goal to shoot on.”

Pierce noted that Huerter recently asked him when players would be able to get back into the Hawks’ practice facility.

“I told him, ‘I’ll tell you when we won’t,” Pierce said. “We won’t in April.”