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Da_Eggman

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Overview

They did it. And now the rest of the league is scared.

More than the fact that the Heat won a championship with their three-man core of LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh was how they won it. Over the course of three weeks at the end of the playoffs, Miami figured out a lot of the things it had been tripping over for most of the past two years.

Better late than never, right? In particular, the Heat finally figured out the benefits of spacing the floor and allowing James and Wade to have more room to do their thing. Meanwhile, James and Wade figured out that more quick-hitting plays were better than the your-turn, my-turn isos that had plagued them for much of their first two seasons together.

Organizationally, Miami had been committed to a more traditional mindset of playing with two conventional big men, committing to a five-year deal to Joel Anthony and bringing in assorted other veteran deadwood to serve as its rotating center committee. It's instructive to note that these guys hardy played in the postseason after Bosh returned in Game 6 of the Boston series -- Anthony, for instance, played six minutes in the final seven playoff games. From that point forward, using Bosh as a center and Shane Battier as the starting power forward, the Heat were nigh unbeatable.

HOLLINGER'S PLAYER PROFILES

Check out Hollinger's player scouting reports and '12-13 stat projections for the Heat's roster. Player Profiles Insider

Such was the irony of the NBA Finals: The Heat made the young, up-and-coming Thunder look like the dinosaurs, spacing the floor and taking advantage of Oklahoma City's commitment to playing with two traditional big men.

Of course, all of this is much easier when you have the best player in the league at your disposal. And with James having shaken off that giant monkey on his back, things seemingly will only get easier from here.

Yet the Bosh injury also pointed out the frailty of Miami's pursuit. This team still has precious little depth or talent aside from its top three players, and losing just one of them puts this team at a severe disadvantage. Given the injury histories of Bosh and Wade in particular, that's enough to give anyone pause before launching into dynasty talk.

Finances are another concern. Miami already has $87 million committed in 2013-14 salary, the first season the more draconian luxury tax kicks in, and despite what some may think this is not a particularly great market revenue-wise. It's quite possible the Heat will have to shed talent next summer -- amnestying Mike Miller, cutting the non-guaranteed Mario Chalmers, letting Ray Allen walk, etc. -- in order to keep their financial house in order.

But for now, they're back, and looking better than ever.



2011-12 Recap

Wade, James, BoshJoe Murphy/NBAE/Getty ImagesAfter clearing a few hurdles, Miami's season ended with its first championship of the Big Three era.

It's easy to forget now, but Miami's march to the title wasn't exactly preordained. Does the phrase "good job, good effort" ring a bell? The Heat finished just 46-20, five games behind top-seeded Chicago, had to win a road elimination game in Boston, and trailed each of their final three playoff opponents before rallying.

As noted above, Miami's commitment to playing with a traditional center was a big part of the Heat's regular-season strategy before they chucked it late in the playoffs. Anthony and assorted castoffs such as Dexter Pittman, Juwan Howard, Eddy Curry and Ronny Turiaf combined to play over 2,000 minutes -- more minutes than Bosh -- and Pittman even started a playoff game. This strategy proved counteractive on two levels, both producing a suboptimal lineup and committing several roster spots that could have been used on developing younger players.

HOLLINGER'S '11-12 STATS

W-L: 46-20 (Pythagorean W-L: 49-17)
Offensive Efficiency: 104.3 (6th)
Defensive Efficiency: 97.1 (4th)
Pace Factor: 93.7 (14th)
Highest PER: LeBron James (30.80)

It helps when you have LeBron and Wade, though. And for all its talent, Miami also worked very hard at the defensive end. The Heat finished fourth in defensive efficiency and, unlike some teams, their stars were a huge factor in their success. Their one weakness was defending the 3-point line, which gave them particular trouble early in the season before some adjustments cooled off the opposition. Heat opponents shot 36.3 percent on 3s and took a quarter of their shots from that distance; Miami was 26th in opponent percentage and 27th in opponent frequency.

The tradeoff was that the Heat were third in forcing turnovers, with miscues on 17.6 percent of opponent possessions. This had a nice secondary effect, as turnovers generally led to highlight-reel dunks because of Wade and James' dominance in transition.

Offensively, though it's hard to believe after what happened in the Finals, the Heat were one of the league's least-frequent 3-point shooters. Wade all but abandoned the shot and James didn't take it a lot either, plus the Heat gave a lot of regular-season minutes to role players who couldn't shoot. Only 19.8 percent of their shots were 3s, ranking Miami 22nd in the league.

The Heat were the league's fourth-best team at shooting inside the arc, helped by all the layups from James and Wade, but were plagued by turnovers. Miami had the league's ninth-worst turnover rate, giving it away on 16.1 percent of its trips, and that's far too high for a team with star players who can create their shot so easily.

Again, all of this improved in the postseason, especially after Bosh returned and the Heat opened up the floor. Miami was a close third behind the Spurs and Thunder in both playoff offensive efficiency and playoff true shooting percentage; no other Eastern team was in the top eight in efficiency. More than a quarter of the Heat's playoff attempts were 3s, and their turnover rate dropped to near the league average.



Offseason Moves

Pat Riley, Ray Allen, Erik SpoelstraAP Photo/Lynne SladkyDuring the offseason, Pat Riley and the Heat snatched up Ray Allen from their bitter rivals in Boston.

As I said, they figured it out. And in the offseason, Miami doubled down on its bet. The Heat let all the veteran backup centers go and didn't bother chasing any new ones this time around. Instead, Miami's offseason was all about its newfound, unguardable offensive identity. Check out these moves:

Traded a 2012 first-round pick to Philadelphia for a future first-rounder and the No. 45 pick; drafted Justin Hamilton: This was a heck of a trade. Miami chose to massage its luxury tax hit by using a first-rounder at some point down the road instead of picking 27th this year. The pick from Philly is top-14 protected each of the next three seasons and then turns into second-rounders in 2015 and 2016; most likely, it will be a pick in the late teens in 2013 that will replace the one the Heat owe the Cavs from LeBron's sign-and-trade.

The Heat moved down 18 spots and selected project center Justin Hamilton, who will play in Europe this season. Apparently Miami's lovefest with players of this ilk couldn't be completely cured in one go, but last season's playoffs came pretty close to extinguishing the malaise.

Signed Ray Allen for two years, $6.3 million: You want shooting? We've got your shooting right here. The Heat landed arguably the best shooter on the planet by using their taxpayer midlevel exception on Allen, and while it's possible he'll be around for only a year (he has a player option after this season), it should be one heck of a fun year. Or not, if you're an opposing defense: Would you like to stop LeBron's drive and leave Allen open for a corner 3, or concede the dunk?

This also speaks to one huge advantage the Heat will have going forward -- any veteran shooter looking for a ring is going to seriously consider coming to Miami at a discount. Allen could have taken a lot more money with other teams (like his previous one, for instance) but found a season of shooting wide-open 3s and lazing by the pool more palatable.

Signed Rashard Lewis for two years, veteran minimum: I wasn't crazy about this move simply because I'm not sure Lewis has anything left in the tank, but again you see the idea: Shootingshootingshootingshootingshooting. Lewis can play as a floor-spacing 4 much like he did in Orlando, except now he'll be shooting the shorter corner 3 instead of from the elbows and top of the key like he did with the Magic.

As with Allen, Lewis has a player option on this deal, so if he plays well (or if LeBron and Wade make it seem that way), he's likely to walk after one season.

Signed Josh Harrellson for one year, minimum: A nice pickup by the Heat after the Rockets waived him, Harrellson signed a non-guaranteed deal but is almost certain to make the roster as a rare floor-spacing center. The Heat could potentially use him as the backup 5 and keep Anthony out of the rotation entirely, relying on Harrellson and Bosh to provide a constant floor-spacing presence. The nice thing about Harrellson is he can rebound too, although his lack of mobility on defense may be problematic.



2012-13 Outlook

Dwyane Wade, Rashard Lewis, Chris Bosh, LeBron James, Ray AllenIssac Baldizon/NBAE/Getty ImagesWith more shooting to surround the Big Three, Miami is looking formidable for another NBA title run.

Watch out, world. I hesitate to call any team an "overwhelming favorite," because there are just too many things that can go sideways in an 82-game season. In a 30-team league the odds of any single team winning a title will almost always be lower than that of the field.

But if I were to drum up a scenario where I'd favor a single team over the field, this might be it. The Heat have the best player, and the best team, and they've figured out how to make it work, and all those things are important. But an even better reason to like Miami is the general state of the Eastern Conference.

I have Miami projected to finish a dozen games ahead of the next-closest team, and if the Heat are healthy in the playoffs it's hard to imagine any Eastern club giving them much of a fight. Even last season, the two times Boston played Miami with Bosh in the playoffs, the Celtics lost by 19 and 13; also, their best shooter last season now plays for the Heat.

As a result, the Heat have, by far, the best odds of any team of appearing in the NBA Finals. And you can't win the title until you get to the final round. Moreover, the playoffs tend to magnify most of Miami's advantages -- mainly, its top-heavy roster is a greater strength in the postseason because the starters play additional minutes.

Finally, having such a stress-free stroll through the regular season should allow Miami to have everyone relatively fresh for the playoffs. I'm sure there will be a hiccup or two along the way -- the point guard spot still looks iffy, with Chalmers as erratic as ever and Norris Cole a huge disappointment as a rookie, and it's not clear how much Mike Miller's worn-out body can give them -- but if the Heat's three stars make it to June healthy, they have a great chance at a repeat.

Prediction: 64-18, 1st in Southeast Division, 1st in Eastern Conference
 

Da_Eggman

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Overview

It seems a bit odd to talk about a "window" closing when a team has had the best record in the conference two years running, ran off a 20-game winning streak last spring, and stands 48-11 in its past 59 games, including the playoffs. (If you're scoring at home, that's a 67-win pace.)

So consider this your annual reminder not to disregard the Spurs, even though you will until March rolls around and you realize they're in first place again. Despite recent setbacks, the Spurs are really, really good, and they aren't going anywhere in the immediate future.

Nonetheless, they do face some existential questions when looking further out. San Antonio's empire is built on three stars -- Tony Parker, Manu Ginobili and Tim Duncan -- who are now 30, 35 and 36, respectively. Ginobili's contract expires after the season, and a lot of the cheap help the Spurs found to support this group (Tiago Splitter, Gary Neal, DeJuan Blair) also will hit the market next summer.

HOLLINGER'S PLAYER PROFILES

Check out Hollinger's player scouting reports and '12-13 stat projections for the Spurs' roster. Player Profiles Insider

Fortunately, the Spurs are the best-run team in sports and have always been one step ahead of the game. They showed it twice last season, with a pair of moves likely to pry their window open just a little bit longer. The first sent George Hill to Indiana for the rights to Kawhi Leonard, shaving several million off their cap the next three years by resetting the clock on a rookie contract. Moreover, it gave the Spurs a shot at a legitimate star to fill in the gaps as their veteran trio ages -- Leonard showed signs of being Shawn Marion 2.0 as a rookie.

The second removed the one legitimate liability from their books, sending a first-round pick and Richard Jefferson to Golden State for Stephen Jackson at the trade deadline. Effectively, they removed an $11 million cap liability in 2013-14 for the cost of the 30th pick in the draft, in a range where the draft pick has often sold for $3 million. The mind still boggles that they snookered the Warriors so badly.

As a result, the Spurs' books going forward are as clean as anyone's. That's probably more valuable with respect to the luxury tax than it is with signing free agents, given the near-certainty of Ginobili re-signing and San Antonio's low profile as a free-agent destination. But given the age of the roster, it's worth noting that the Spurs have kept their options open and can bust out the dynamite pretty much any time they choose.

The Spurs also continue to invest in overseas prospects and have several players stashed overseas (keep an eye, especially, on Latvian forward Davis Bertans). This year they culled French wing Nando de Colo from that group to help them.

Instead, the issue here is less about "windows" and more about the particulars of the playoffs: The Spurs continue to crush in the regular season, but have lost postseason series with home-court advantage three times in four years. As the Spurs have shifted from a "dominant superstar" model behind Duncan to an "ensemble cast" model, the odds have tilted against them in the postseason. The reasons will be familiar to my long-term readers: A strong bench is less of an advantage in the playoffs, where the best players can stay on the court for 40 or even 45 minutes a game.

The young ones, can, anyway. Even against Oklahoma City, Duncan averaged just 34 minutes and Ginobili only 30. The star trio of Duncan-Ginobili-Parker was +27 for the series, but the Thunder outscored them by 54 points when at least one sat out. In particular, Duncan and Ginobili played only 124 minutes together -- less than half the series, and barely half the 228 minutes that Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook were paired.

Meanwhile, Durant averaged 43 minutes in that series, including the entirety of Game 6. In short, the difference wasn't one of quality but of quantity -- the younger Thunder could play their best players longer. It's not clear how the Spurs can overcome that, and not just against Oklahoma City; the Lakers may present a similar problem.



2011-12 Recap

Popovich-Ginobili Layne Murdoch/NBAE/Getty ImagesGregg Popovich will count on Manu Ginobili, but will he be able to play enough playoff minutes?

The Spurs were a modest 12-9 in late January, with Ginobili sidelined, and seemingly headed toward a middling playoff seed.

Then they went nuts. The Spurs went 38-7 over the final 45 games, including a couple of late-season games they were more or less trying to tank. They won 20 straight games at one point, including 10 playoff games, before suddenly careening off a cliff by losing four straight to the Thunder in the conference finals.

Parker had a big year at the point, Ginobili played extremely well when he returned, and Duncan looked as active and mobile as he'd been in years. But again, the underlying story was the skill of the Spurs' front office in filling in the pieces. Scrap-heap find Danny Green emerged as a reliable 3-point weapon and became a starter on the wing, Leonard was one of the league's best rookies, Boris Diaw played extremely well after Charlotte left him on the Spurs' doorstep, and Splitter quietly put up some fairly prolific numbers as the backup center.

HOLLINGER'S '11-12 STATS

W-L: 50-16 (Pythagorean W-L: 51-15)
Offensive Efficiency: 108.5 (1st)
Defensive Efficiency: 100.6 (11th)
Pace Factor: 95.1 (8th)
Highest PER: Manu Ginobili (24.18)

There were disappointments if you looked hard enough -- first-round pick Cory Joseph didn't do much, 2011 first-rounder James Anderson failed to develop, backup point guard T.J. Ford had to retire because of spinal issues, and small forward Richard Jefferson struggled before the trade. But the Spurs still had the league's deepest rotation by the end of the year.

The big difference in San Antonio is that they've shifted to being a pure offensive team. The Spurs led the NBA in offensive efficiency, and in several shooing categories as well. San Antonio wasn't a good offensive rebounding team and drew fouls less often than the average team, but man, could these guys shoot. San Antonio was third in two-point shooting and led the league in 3-point shooting at 39.3 percent. It also never gave the ball away, posting the league's second-lowest turnover rate at just 14.2 percent of possessions.

Defensively, however, the Spurs were just average, and this was their undoing against the Thunder. San Antonio played a low-risk style that didn't foul or force turnovers and produced very low assist totals from its opponents, but the Spurs didn't have a genuine stopper on the wing (Leonard and Green are auditioning for the role) and Duncan was the only rim-protector.

Best Defensive Rebound Rate, 2011-12
Team DRR
San Antonio 76.0
Orlando 75.5
Toronto 75.4
Philadelphia 75.2
Dallas 74.8
League average 73.0

Although the result was average, there were a lot of extremes. Only the Lakers fouled less often than San Antonio, and only four teams forced turnovers more infrequently. Meanwhile, the Spurs were the league's best defensive rebounding team, grabbing 76.0 percent of opponent misses, and were the hardest team to get an assist against -- only 52.1 percent of opponent baskets came from an assist. Basically, they made you score one-on-one, they wouldn't foul you, they wouldn't pressure you, and if you missed they would get the rebound.

It all worked swimmingly until the Thunder came along, and if the Spurs had an elite wing defender one can see how this approach would have really paid dividends. While the Spurs didn't beat themselves, it just wasn't that hard to get a decent look against this team.



Offseason Moves

Tim DuncanAP Photo/Eric GayBoris Diaw and Tim Duncan re-signed, ensuring the Spurs veteran experience up front.

San Antonio kept the same group together, which was really the only viable strategy in its situation. We may see one more tweak around the edges, as DeJuan Blair may be traded for a future asset given that he's fallen in the frontcourt depth chart. Check out these moves:

Drafted Marcus Denmon: Can you say "Eurostash"? The Spurs got Denmon to agree to play in Europe after taking him 59th. He's a good shooter and rebounder, but he's an undersized 2 and his athleticism is a question mark. For now he'll join the Spurs' extensive European farm team, but he broke his foot and will be out several weeks for his European club.

Re-signed Tim Duncan for three years, $37.5 million: In the least surprising free-agency move of the summer, Duncan will stick around for at least two more years. Only $3.5 million of the third season is guaranteed, giving the two sides an out if Duncan wants to retire then. Also, Duncan has a no-trade clause in this deal, as if there were any possibility of the Spurs trading him.

Re-signed Danny Green for three years, $11 million: Fortunately for the Spurs, Green counted as an "early-Bird" free agent; otherwise they would have had to choose between Green and Diaw. As it was, they kept Green on a fair deal given his restricted status and locked up another productive piece inexpensively.

Re-signed Boris Diaw for two years, $9 million: Diaw's deal has a player option in the second season, which I'm not a big fan of on two-year deals: If he plays well, he's gone, and if he plays poorly they're stuck with him. Nonetheless, it allowed San Antonio to keep him by using its midlevel exception, and he functioned quite well in this system. No reasonable person should expect him to match his performance from late in the regular season, but his two-way play has value as long as he stays in reasonable shape.

Let James Anderson go, signed Nando de Colo for two years, $2.9 million: The Spurs dipped into their biannual exception to ink 2008 draftee de Colo, a wiry wing who can handle the ball and create but has some suspect shooting numbers for his size. He likely won't be a regular part of the rotation but instead will serve as a fifth wing and play when injuries hit.

Signed Derrick Brown, one year, minimum: This one slipped under the wire just before training camp; it's a non-guaranteed deal, but Brown played well for Charlotte last season and could help the Spurs. The tricky part is that he isn't a spot-up shooter and is a bit of a tweener, so there may not be an ideal role for him here.



2012-13 Outlook

SpursAP Photo/Eric GayWill the Spurs have reason to celebrate in the spring? Health as always will be the key.

Rumors of this team's demise continue to be greatly exaggerated. In the regular season in particular, it's hard to see how the Spurs will fall behind the pack much, if at all, given their three stars (and perhaps a fourth emerging one in Leonard) and how incredibly deep they are -- San Antonio's 13th man, Patty Mills, would be a rotation player on a lot of teams. Meanwhile, six Spurs -- Duncan, Ginobili, Parker, Leonard, Blair and Splitter -- all project to have a PER of 18 or better.

Combine that with what we already know -- that the front office isn't going to screw up, that coach Gregg Popovich manages his players' wear and tear as well as anyone, and that they had the West's best record with Ginobili playing half a season in 2011-12 -- and it becomes hard to pick anybody to finish ahead of this gang.

In the regular season, anyway.

It seems a lot of the similar problems face the Spurs when it comes to a playoff matchup against the Thunder or the Lakers, and that may prove their undoing. I'm much more comfortable picking them to have the conference's top seed than I am picking them to win it come June. But for the regular season? Sheesh. They've had the best regular-season record in the conference for two years running, and I'm banking on a three-peat.

Prediction: 60-22, 1st in Southwest Division, 1st in Western Conference
 

Jplaya2023

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i can't believe hollinger has the spurs over the the thunder and lakers

Eggman, i'll ask you to post both eastern and western team outlooks in this thread as they're released please.

Thanks in advance
 

Majestic Pape

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I can see the Spurs ending up as the best team in the West from a regular season record perspective, but they're not getting to the Finals.

And was Norris Cole really considered a 'huge' disappointment as a rookie though?
 

Da_Eggman

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Indiana Pacers: 2012-13 Forecast
Overview

Well, here they are. After years of rebuilding and unloading bad contracts, the Pacers had their coming-out party in 2011-12 and look set to have a half-decade window of being a quasi-serious contender in the Eastern Conference. Meticulous cap management under Larry Bird and some shrewd drafting -- Danny Granger and Roy Hibbert were selected outside the lottery and Paul George 10th overall -- allowed the Pacers to rebuild. The final step came when they scored a rare free-agent coup with David West.

Bird stepped down over the summer, however. Meet the new boss, same as the old boss: Indy handed the reins back to Donnie Walsh, with former Blazers GM Kevin Pritchard as a heavily involved No. 2. Meanwhile, the Pacers parted ways with Bird's right-hand man, David Morway.

HOLLINGER'S PLAYER PROFILES

Check out Hollinger's player scouting reports and 2012-13 stat projections for the Pacers' roster. Player Profiles Insider

The new front office inherits an enviable situation, as most of the hard work has been done. The Pacers identified a solid coach in Frank Vogel and seem locked into this starting five, assuming West re-signs, for the foreseeable future. With West the only player on the wrong side of 30, the Pacers don't figure to go away any time soon.

The question, instead, is whether they can make the additional leap to be something more than a solid second-round playoff team. The Pacers have five good players, but they don't have a true star, Hibbert's max contract notwithstanding. The best shot at one is George, but he and Granger are both natural small forwards. It seems inevitable that the Pacers will have to move Granger to get the best out of George.

The other move that could lift the Pacers another level would be upgrading the bench. An effort was made on that front in the offseason, although to what end is unclear. Indiana will be able to keep the starting five together and stay under the luxury tax or reasonably close -- an imperative in this market -- but the Pacers have to keep finding inexpensive role players to piece together the rest of the roster.

Drafting well would go a long way toward accomplishing that, and the draft was Pritchard's specialty in Portland. Nonetheless, the Pacers represent a typical study in the challenges facing small-market teams trying to take the final steps to be a champion. Nobody is flocking to Indiana in free agency or demanding a trade to this team, they can't go deep into the tax, and they'll be drafting in the 20s for the next few years.

Getting to this point took some wise drafting and a lot of patience, which was impressive. Getting further will take a double dose of smarts, luck and timing.



2011-12 Recap

Roy Hibbert and Danny GrangerAP Photo/Charles Rex ArbogastRoy Hibbert and Danny Granger could be celebrating more success if the Pacers keep rolling.

How is this possible? The Pacers were 28th in 2-point shooting percentage, ahead of only Cleveland and Charlotte, and somehow had a good offense anyway. This answers one of the big questions of last season, which is how an offense could look so ugly and still produce decent results.

It turns out, it looked ugly because it was ugly. There were a lot of forced shots and bad bricks, and much of it came either in straight isos or pick-and-rolls that the ball handler turned into isos. The indiscriminate gunning was bad enough with the starters, but it really went over the top any time Tyler Hansbrough checked in. Not surprisingly, the Pacers had the third-lowest assisted-basket rate in the league.

HOLLINGER'S '11-12 STATS

W-L: 42-24 (Pythagorean W-L: 42-24)
Offensive efficiency: 103.5 (8th)
Defensive efficiency: 100.4 (10th)
Pace factor: 93.4 (19th)
Highest PER: Roy Hibbert (19.35)

So where's the good news in all this? And how the heck did they finish eighth in offensive efficiency?

For starters, they got to the line a ton and made their freebies. While they had trouble finding the open man, when they did, they made the shot, as Indy shot a strong 36.8 percent on 3s -- albeit on very few attempts; again, finding the open man wasn't a strength. As a result, its true shooting percentage was almost exactly at the league average of 52.7.

The second part, as you may have figured out by now, is that Indy was a classic quantity team. Maybe the guards didn't find the open man, but they didn't throw the ball away either. And all those ugly isos at least produced a shot. The Pacers were well below the league average in turnover rate and well above it in offensive rebound rate. As a result, only five teams averaged more shots per possession than the Pacers.

Basically, they were good at every part of offense except 2-point shooting. That's still an important factor, but the Pacers were the rare team whose excellence on the rest of the spectrum let them thrive despite an abysmal shooting percentage inside the arc.

Still, one wonders how good they might be with a dynamic point guard. Shooters like George, Granger and West dot the perimeter, and Hibbert has a solid face-up game too. A guard who could drive and dish would make their lives a lot easier.

Defensively, the Pacers were solid overall, but their weakest link pointed an arrow at the frontcourt. Indiana fouled like crazy, particularly with the second unit, posting the league's fifth-worst opponent free throw rate. The Pacers also had a subpar defensive rebound rate and gave up more 3s than normal.

Usually all three of those are signs of an ineffective frontcourt rotation, and it's not a huge surprise to see Indy rank so low. While Hibbert and West were effective offensive players, they both had defensive limitations. West is a bit undersized and couldn't jump after offseason Achilles surgery, while Hibbert protects the rim but moves slowly. The second unit didn't help either, as undersized Lou Amundson struggled as the backup center.

This takes us to the other big story of the season. A lot of people don't realize how bad Indiana's bench was and how much it held the Pacers back, especially in the playoffs. Consider that the four-man pairing of West, George, Granger and Hibbert outscored opponents by 259 points. The rest of the time Indy was -41. Every bench player had a negative plus-minus, every starter had a positive plus-minus, and George Hill and Darren Collison, who swapped roles halfway through the season, were neutral.

This carried over to the playoffs, where the Pacers' starters outplayed Miami's, but the bench was so bad they lost the series anyway. Indy was plus-58 with its starting five on the court, but with at least one sub playing, it was minus-97 against a club not exactly renowned for its bench.



Offseason Moves

Roy HibbertMichael Hickey/US PresswirePacers center Roy Hibbert re-signed, giving Indiana long-term stability in the middle.

Indiana kept its starting five intact and, based on the failures of the bench, went about rebuilding the second unit. In the end, I'm not sure the overall impact was a net positive, but it beat trying something that had been proven not to work. Check out these moves:

Let Amundson go, drafted Miles Plumlee and Orlando Johnson: Plumlee is a great athlete and leaper, but he might have been a reach in the first round. His anemic production at Duke suggests he'll be a one-dimensional rebounder. He does, however, add some genuine size to a frontcourt that needed it. Second-rounder Johnson was another need-based pick, as the Pacers look to fortify a wing rotation that disappointed last season.

Re-signed Roy Hibbert for four years, $56 million: The Pacers "matched" an offer sheet from Portland that was never actually signed by Hibbert, as Indy quickly offered him identical terms and he decided not to bother with the charade. The most important part, other than the money, is that it contains a player option for the fourth year, which means the Pacers and Hibbert could be doing this dance again three years from now. The Pacers probably overpaid, but they had no realistic alternative; Dwight Howard wasn't clamoring to come to Indiana.

Re-signed George Hill for five years, $40 million: This one was preordained when the Pacers traded their first-round pick to San Antonio for Hill a year ago, with the intent to re-sign him. While one can argue that the money was a bit rich for a restricted free agent who isn't a star, Hill had a productive first season in Indiana, and his ability to play both guard spots gives the team some roster flexibility. The biggest issue may be the fully guaranteed fifth year on the deal, which no other team could even offer Hill. That, combined with the dollars, seems like an overreach.

Traded Collison and Dahntay Jones to Dallas for a signed-and-traded Ian Mahinmi (four years, $16 million): This was the big question mark in Indy's summer, as the Pacers could have signed Mahinmi outright rather than trading two players for him. The contract also seemed a bit generous for a player of Mahinmi's modest talents. The one big positive is that the Pacers seem to have solved their backup center issue. Mahinmi will be a big upgrade on Amundson defensively, and unlike Amundson, he can make a shot from outside the charge circle.

The problem is more that the Pacers needlessly gave away two players to make it happen. Apparently they viewed Jones as a negative asset and wanted him gone badly enough that they were willing to throw in Collison. That seems a stretch given that Jones was fairly productive a year ago, but it was the logic. Meanwhile, the Pacers lost a productive point guard who was the lone positive for their struggling second unit -- all for a player they could have signed outright.

Signed Gerald Green for three years, $10.5 million: Indy filled its backup small forward spot by looking to cash in on Green's potential. He washed out earlier in his career, but last season, he destroyed the D-League like it was a video game and played quite well for New Jersey. Given the dollars, it was a reasonable risk on the Pacers' part that may pay big rewards. The nice part for Indy is that if Green thrives, it can play small lineups with Granger at the 4 much more frequently, something the team hardly ever did last season.

Let A.J. Price go, signed D.J. Augustin for one year, $3.5 million: The new backup point guard in Indy will be Augustin, which is the other puzzling part of the Collison deal. First, the positive: Augustin is a better passer than any guard on the Pacers, and he may be able to distribute the ball to Indy's shooters much more effectively. Unfortunately, Augustin hasn't made his own shots, either from outside or in the paint, and defensively he is a major liability. As a result, he is a downgrade from Collison in nearly every respect and costs $1.2 million more.

The Pacers signed him to only a one-year deal, which means even if Augustin plays well, they're hosed, because he can walk as a free agent and the Pacers won't have his Bird rights -- the most they can offer is a 20 percent raise to $4.2 million. Collison would have been a restricted free agent and much less of a flight risk.

Let Leandro Barbosa go, signed Sam Young and Sundiata Gaines to one-year, minimum deals: Barbosa was secretly awful last season, and the Pacers were wise to let him walk. I liked the moves they made to fill out their roster, as Young and Gaines were undervalued by their former teams. Neither can shoot, but the Pacers have enough shooting. It's likely one of these two will be the backup shooting guard, although Johnson and Lance Stephenson also figure in the picture. Gaines may get minutes at the point if Augustin struggles.



2012-13 Outlook

Paul GeorgeMark L. Baer/US PresswireThe continued emergence of Paul George is one key to the rise of Indiana.

The biggest advantage the Pacers have is that they play in the Eastern Conference, where it looks like they may land the No. 2 seed by default. With the former powers crumbling around them and nobody else to take the mantle, Indiana may find itself in the conference finals this spring.

This would be another tangible sign of progress, but if you're looking past this to the Pacers' chances of winning a conference title or the whole shebang, look at two factors: Paul George and the bench. George is the team's one chance to have a genuine star emerge, so if he can take that next step in his third pro season, it will make Indy's already potent starting five a real force -- even against the Miamis of the world.

With the rebuilt bench, the hope is that supplementing the frontcourt with Mahinmi and Plumlee and adding a passer in Augustin will offset some of the weaknesses that plagued this team last season. Adding Green helps too. I'm dubious that the changes will amount to an improvement, but give Indy credit for aggressively addressing a problem area.

The final issue, as always, is fortune. The Pacers had good luck with health last season, as Hill was the only rotation player to miss more than six games, and they received another stroke of good luck with opponents shooting only 72.9 percent from the line, well below the 75.2 percent league average. (Indy benefited by about a full game in the standings from this.)

They probably won't have quite as much buena suerte this season, but they probably won't need it either. In this conference, Indy looks like the biggest threat left to Miami's dominance.

Prediction: 52-30, 1st in Central Division, 2nd in Eastern Conference
 

Da_Eggman

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Denver Nuggets: 2012-13 Forecast
Overview

Whooooosh!

Here come the Nuggets, ready or not, hell-bent on trying to prove you can win big without a superstar, and doing it with one of the most unique attacks in basketball: a turbo-paced, foul-drawing, defense-carving firestorm that needs only an elite shooter or two to be the best one in the game ... yes, even without a superstar.

Denver general manager Masai Ujiri has done an amazing job of rebuilding, turning the Carmelo Anthony-Chauncey Billups-Nene Nuggets into a 12-deep outfit that somehow has a payroll of just $63 million. Adding Andre Iguodala this summer to what was already the league's most potent open-court team makes the Nuggets scary interlopers in the presumed Thunder-Spurs-Lakers hierarchy in the West (more on that in a minute).

HOLLINGER'S PLAYER PROFILES

Check out Hollinger's player scouting reports and '12-13 stat projections for the Nuggets' roster. Player Profiles Insider

In the meantime, one can't help but be impressed with all the roster flexibility the Nuggets have maintained while building this juggernaut. They should be able to keep this group together for several years, if they choose, while staying under the luxury tax. But they also are in a position in which they could lump together multiple assets for a genuine star -- the Melo trade in reverse, if you will, except with better terms.

The defense was the biggest obstacle last season, but acquiring one of the league's best wing defenders in Iguodala will go a long way toward remedying that deficiency. So will the return of Wilson Chandler from a lost 2011-12 season, and another year of experience for the young frontcourt combo of Kosta Koufos and Kenneth Faried.

We need to talk more about these two. Koufos might be the single most underrated player in the league at this point (and, better yet, is signed for just $3 million for each of the next three seasons), while Faried's high-energy game made him one of the league's most impactful rookies. Each started for only half the season, but both should be fixtures going forward.

Denver also has some other potential sources of breakout years. Off the bench, tantalizing but frustrating shot-blockers Anthony Randolph and JaVale McGee offer intrigue; McGee, in particular, seemed like he was turning the corner at the end of last season. So do the Nuggets' past two first-rounders, Jordan Hamilton and Evan Fournier.



2011-12 Recap

Ty Lawson and Andre MillerGarrett W. Ellwood/Getty ImagesCharged by points Ty Lawson and Andre Miller, Denver's powerful offense pushed it to the 6-seed.

The big-picture view is a great start, a wobbly middle and an encouraging ending that saw the Nuggets take the Lakers to seven games in the first round of the playoffs. Look closer, though, and you'll see it more as an exercise in quick thinking that got Denver out of a couple of tight spots cap-wise. The Nuggets overpaid to keep two key players, Nene and Arron Afflalo, but both disappointed last season -- Nene by sitting out with minor injuries, Afflalo by shirking the defense that had made him a rotation player in the first place. Saddled with a five-year commitment to each that would take up a third of the salary cap, the Nuggets moved Nene at the trade deadline and Afflalo after the season (more on that below).

HOLLINGER'S '11-12 STATS

W-L: 38-28 (Pythagorean W-L: 41-25)
Offensive Efficiency: 106.5 (3rd)
Defensive Efficiency: 103.4 (19th)
Pace Factor: 96.6 (2nd)
Highest PER: Kenneth Faried (21.94)

Meanwhile, the statistical story was an overpowering offense making up (usually) for an overly permissive defense. The Nuggets ranked third in offensive efficiency by relentlessly attacking the basket, finished second in the league in free throw rate and led the league by a wide margin in 2-point shooting percentage (see chart). Ty Lawson's breakneck speed was the catalyst, but Andre Miller also thrived in the up-tempo game, and in the half court, Danilo Gallinari was an aggressive foul magnet. (Commonly described as a long-range shooting specialist, Gallinari has not shot particularly well as a Nugget, but he has drawn fouls by the bushel.)

2-point FG% Leaders, 2011-12
Team 2-pt FG%
Denver 52.2
Oklahoma City 50.9
San Antonio 50.7
Miami 49.6
Phoenix 49.4

Once active bigs who can finish, such as Faried and Koufos and blazing wing Corey Brewer, got in the lineup, the Nuggets doubled down in this department. Al Harrington helped in the half court with a Fluke Rule season, and Afflalo had his best offensive season.

In the end, the only reason Denver wasn't the league's best offense was that it couldn't make 3s. The Nuggets hit only 33.3 percent from behind the arc, 24th best in the league, and the departed Afflalo was the only regular to make more than a third of his tries. This, obviously, is a lingering problem heading into 2012-13, and the hope is that Iguodala (39.4 percent last season but just 33.1 percent in his career) and improvement from Gallinari can provide enough floor spacing to continue the Nuggets' full-scale assault on the rim. As for the defense, the Nuggets simply must get better at this end. In particular, their 3-point defense was a complete disaster. Denver was last in both preventing 3-point attempts and forcing misses on them; opponents took more than a quarter of their shots from beyond the arc and shot a blistering 38.3 percent from there (see chart).
Worst 3-point Defenses, 2011-12
Team Opp 3A/FGA Rank Opp 3-pt. % Rank
Denver .267 30 .383 30
Miami .250 28 .363 26
Golden State .236 21 .365 28
L.A. Clippers .247 27 .365 27
New York .236 22 .359 23
League average .226 .349

To understand how far Denver was outside the norm here, consider that the difference between the Nuggets (571 3-pointers allowed) and No. 29 Miami was greater than the difference between 29th and fifth. A merely average 3-point defense would have saved Denver about two points per game and put it at the league average overall.

This was partly because the Nuggets liked to junk things up at times and play Harrington at center, which necessitated copious double-teaming in the paint. That won't be an option this season, nor should it be with three playable centers. But Denver also needs to tighten up its wing defense (where Iguodala should be a huge upgrade on Afflalo) and match up better in transition -- difficult, yes, when the Nuggets are racing upcourt and the guards are constantly penetrating, but also essential.



Offseason Moves

Andre IguodalaGarrett W. Ellwood/NBAE via Getty ImagesWith Andre Iguodala, a top wing defender, in the fold, the Nuggets hope to shore up their defense.

Denver was involved in one blockbuster trade, but otherwise it was a fairly quiet offseason, as the Nuggets sought to build on an encouraging 2011-12.

Traded Arron Afflalo, Al Harrington and a 2014 first-rounder for Andre Iguodala: While one can argue the Nuggets shouldn't have helped the Lakers get Dwight Howard, it's easier to stomach by looking at how much they helped themselves. This was a great deal, allowing them to dump their two worst contracts in exchange for the shorter commitment to Iguodala while also upgrading their single most glaring weakness (wing defense) with a player whose open-court excellence should fit in perfectly.

Let Rudy Fernandez go, drafted Evan Fournier, Quincy Miller and Izzet Turkyilmaz: Fernandez was basically biding his time until he could go back to Spain, and in his place the Nuggets insert the Frenchman Fournier. He is unlikely to play much this year and replicates Denver's other weaknesses -- a perimeter marksman he ain't -- but his scoring skill will keep him in the league somewhere. As for Miller, he was a strong value play in the second round, but as with Fournier the payoff is likely down the road rather than immediate. Turkyilmaz is a project big who will stay overseas.

Signed Wilson Chandler for five years, $31 million: Technically this happened last spring, but we can talk about it now since it primarily affects the coming season. While the shortened first season and the non-guaranteed last effectively make this a three-year, $21 million deal, it's still a potential problem. Chandler played terribly when he came back from China last season, and the Nuggets have a logjam of athletic-but-erratic small forwards that they need to parlay into another skill player or two. He's a fine player and the contract isn't outrageous in a vacuum, but I'm not sure he's a great fit here. Ideally, he'll play well enough in the first half of the season for Denver to package him at midseason and get a piece that's more complementary to the existing nucleus.

Re-signed JaVale McGee for four years, $44 million: The Nuggets knew they'd be paying McGee when they traded Nene for him at the deadline, but they saved a few ducats and got a bit more youth and upside on the exchange. Denver is paying for potential here -- yes, McGee had a great PER last season, but his defensive stats are suspect (great shot-blocking, lots of opponent baskets in between) and his basketball IQ needs to make some serious progress to justify the contract. All that said, virtually any team in this situation would have done the same thing; 7-footers with McGee's physical gifts don't grow on trees.

Re-signed Andre Miller for three years, $14.6 million: Miller's decline last season was a bit worrying, but the Nuggets shielded themselves with a mostly non-guaranteed third season that could become a very valuable trade chip. (Fun fact: Among Koufos, Miller and Chandler, the Nuggets potentially have about $7 million in non-guaranteed money to put into trades in both 2015 and 2016. We're a couple of years out, but keep an eye on this.)

Used amnesty on Chris Andersen; signed Anthony Randolph for three years, $5 million: It was a bit surprising to see the Nuggets use the amnesty on Andersen, as he was pretty good when he played last season and there were no genuine savings because they were over the cap and under the tax. However, Andersen was the only amnesty-eligible player on whom it was at all plausible for them to use it, and they needed the roster spot more than they needed a fourth center. They probably were hoping another team would claim Andersen and save them a few bucks, but nobody did.

As for Randolph, he amounts to a bargain upside play. The hope is that he can provide Denver with a genuine backup 4 to replace Harrington while cashing in on his considerable potential in an up-tempo environment that should play to his strengths. Randolph has been an immensely frustrating player, but at this price and at this length, the Nuggets give themselves relatively little downside and a potentially huge upside.



2012-13 Outlook

Kenneth FariedGarrett W. Ellwood/NBAE/Getty ImagesKenneth Faried and the running and gunning Nuggets are hoping to mine (title) gold in 2012-13.

Yes, that would be me leading the Nuggets' bandwagon again. (At least, if Kevin Pelton doesn't steal the reins.) Everybody is sleeping on this team, which is almost understandable given all the news out of L.A. But look at this roster: In the regular season in particular, I expect the Nuggets to be a hellish opponent with an explosive offense, enviable depth and one of the league's most improved defenses.

My main concern is the 3-point shooting. Iguodala is likely to regress from the 39.4 percent he shot from 3 last season, and nobody save Gallinari has any track record of shooting effectively from outside. Second-year pro Jordan Hamilton might be of some help here, particularly if Denver opts to play small with Gallinari at the 4 for long stretches.

But otherwise, it's tough to argue with an attack led by Lawson and Miller and in which all 10 rotation players can score. There's no traditional "go-to" guy, and that might cause a few problems with the crunch-time offense. But Gallinari had an All-Star caliber start to last season, and if he stays healthy, he could become more of a focal point this season.

Besides, any focus here is eyeballing the wrong side of the floor. Denver had an awesome offense in 2011-12 without 3-point shooting or a go-to guy, so apparently it's not a big deal. The bigger limitation is at the defensive end, which is why the Iguodala move is so exciting. Denver was only 19th in defensive efficiency last season, but getting one of the league's best defensive players should improve that ranking considerably. So, too, will development from the Nuggets' younger players, particularly the frontcourt combination of Faried and Koufos.

The Nuggets will challenge for the top seed in the West, but things get more problematic for this team in the postseason, in which a deep bench is of less value than raw star power. Nonetheless, if I were going to drop a few dollars in Vegas on a long shot to win the title, this would absolutely be my play. More likely, the Nuggets won't survive more than a round against the West's heavy hitters come playoff time. Nonetheless, Ujiri and company have done a fantastic job of building a young, cap-friendly, long-term contender from the ashes of the Melo trade. Ignore Denver at your peril.

Prediction: 59-23, 1st in Northwest, 2nd in Western Conference
 

Wiirdo

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Just copy and paste the article title and add hoopchina after it.
 

Jplaya2023

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LMFAO he has the nuggets winning 59 games!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
 

Da_Eggman

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cant give out the pass anymore cuz they ban you if ur pass is being used by a bunch of ips now
 
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