The NBA is a strange league. Parity has been a nonexistent term within the leagues vocabulary. The rich stay rich and the poor stay poor. Dynasties have routinely defined NBA eras. You know the names: Celtics, Lakers, Bulls, and most recently the Spurs. Then there is the bad. These names have elicited nearly every synonym for describing how awful something can be.
Recently, franchises such as the Philadelphia 76ers, Milwaukee Bucks, Orlando Magic, and the Charlotte Hornets (artists formerly known as Bobcats) in the East and the Sacramento Kings, New Orleans Pelicans, Minnesota Timberwolves, Utah Jazz, and the Phoenix Suns in the West have made up the bottom-tier of the NBA’s worst. Sure these franchises have had success and exciting players sprinkled in throughout their respective histories, but this league is unkind to teams looking to establish themselves as perennial contenders. The major market teams in Boston, Chicago, and LA have had their share of mediocrity, however the difference between these franchises and the consistently bad ones is that they eventually rise up out of the gutter and back into prominence.
Attracting star free agents, while preventing their own budding young stars from leaving for bigger markets, is the plight of the small market franchise. The 2014 NBA Draft class has made pundits for parity cautiously optimistic. The hope is, this infusion of young talent into the NBA will make for competitive games from top to bottom around the league. This is where the small market stock report for the 2014-15 NBA Season comes into play.
By tracking the NBA’s projected mediocre to bad teams, we can get a better look at the progress each franchise is making towards becoming perennial playoff threats, which is the goal any respectable franchise should set for its fan base. Sure these may not be technically “small markets” in the literal sense of the term, however in the grand scheme of competitiveness these are the NBA’s worst of the worst. All hope is not lost in these teams. There is a light in the distance, light representing talented young cores that should hypothetically establish winning cultures in nearly every one of these franchises. With the advancements of analytics, depth of data, technology, and an unlimited channel of online communication, scouting departments and front offices are more equipped than ever to find young talent at a premium price. Ultimately, securing this young talent long term and building properly around it will lead these bottom-dwelling franchises into the ranks of the NBA’s upper class.
Eastern Conference Report
Record: 0-4. To the Sixers credit these games have been competitive, but match-ups with Houston, Miami, Milwaukee, and Indiana failed to result in a win during the NBA’s opening week. The Indiana game may have been their only real chance at a win in the foreseeable future.
Stock Status: DOWN
The tank is rolling in Philly. GM Sam Hinkie’s grand manipulation of the system has created one of the worst starting five’s (and overall rosters) in league history. Yet, the Sixers front office could not be happier. The team is off to a winless start in the season’s opening week. It could be a record year in Philly as they look to join a list only reserved for the NBA’s historically futile. Making this list reminds me of the scene in “Casino” when Joe Pesci’s character, Nicky, gets himself banned from every casino in Las Vegas. Joining the ranks of Al Capone, Nicky can no longer set foot in a Vegas Casino or the businesses may be fined up to $100,000 every time he steps foot in one. The Philadelphia 76ers performances this season may necessitate a fine every time the team steps foot in any NBA arena. Given the NBA’s recent ruling of not changing the current draft process, I could also see Hinkie mimicking Pesci’s final words in that scene, “They’re not getting rid of me. I’m staying here.”
Buy or Sell: BUY
Being in downtown Indianapolis on opening night and seeing scalpers try to move tickets to this game was a depressing sight. I can only assume they eventually failed to give these tickets away. However, this is why I am buying the Sixers. They are executing a plan, much to the league office’s dismay, and saying to hell with entertainment, competitiveness, and ticket sales. A radical process is being undertaken in Philadelphia. I will stay tuned all year long to see just how bad it can get, how talents Michael Carter-Williams, Nerlans Noel, and Joel Embiid develop, and if this grand tanking scheme is actually the work of a genius madman who is building towards a core of the game’s best young talent.
C Nerlans Noel (8 PPG, 6.5 RPG, 2.0 BPG) and one holy **** block on the Rockets James Harden.
PG Tony Wroten (19.3 PPG, 6.8 APG, 4.8RPG) Someone has to score in Philly and that someone is Wroten. Filling in for the injured Rookie of the Year Michael Carter-Williams, Wroten is taking advantage of his opportunity and minutes in MCW’s absence.
Record: 1-3. Opening night thrilled fans with classic Kemba Walker heroics, but losses to the Knicks at the Garden and Grizzlies at home have made for a disappointing start for a franchise with playoff aspirations.
The buzz is back. The winning is not. Charlotte is predicted to make the playoffs in the East, which is why the start was disappointing. Clutch Kemba saved opening night from being a total bust against the lowly Milwaukee Bucks by draining a game tying three in the waning seconds, forcing overtime, ultimately resulting in Hornets win. Charlotte then dropped their next two games to the Knicks and Grizzlies. The Hornets could very well be 0-4 at this point. Offensively the new additions have not clicked, resulting in a 28th overall offensive rating of 93.5 points per 100 possessions. On the flip side, the Hornets have the 8th best defense in the league, allowing 97.9 points per 100 possessions over the course of the league’s opening week.
Buy or Sell: BUY
I am buying the Hornets, despite a disappointing 1-3 start. Their commitment to defense will keep them in most games and will be the reason why they thrive in an improved, but still weak Eastern Conference. Big Al Jefferson is still a dominant force in the middle and will take advantage of the East’s lack of big men. Lance Stephenson is struggling to adjust in a new setting, but has shown flashes of the do-it-all player he came to be known as with Indiana. The offense struggles badly continued during a recent blowout to the Pelicans in New Orleans. The final score of the game was not indicative to how the Pelicans dominated the Hornets, who only had 65 points through 3 quarters. If the offense can improve from bad to mediocre, their high level defense will keep them in most, if not all games this season.
C Al Jefferson (18.5 PPG, 6.3 RPG, 2.0 BPG)
SF Michael Kidd-Gilchrist (11.3 PPG, 7.7 RPG, 68.8 FG %) and most importantly MAKING JUMPERS (4/5 from 15-19 feet)
Record: 2-2. The Bucks have been competitive to open the season, but will need long-term consistency from veterans OJ Mayo and Larry Sanders, an unlikely prospect given the duo’s track record. Giannis and Jabari are still extremely raw, but still remain must-watch talents. Brandon Knight has surprised early with excellent numbers and Jason Kidd will need to develop consistency and instill an NBA work ethic in the younger players.
Jason Kidd’s first week in Milwaukee has shown positive signs. The Bucks sit at 2-2, but have been competitive in each game. Larry Sanders and OJ Mayo have decided they want to be NBA players again and Jabari and Giannas will provide plenty of reasons to tune in throughout the season. Parker, the 2nd overall pick in the 2014 draft has averaged 10.5 ppg and 7 RPG through the first four games of the season, but has shot just 36% from the field. Giannas has struggled offensively, but has shown what a defensive presence he will become with his freakish length and 6’11” frame. Brandon Knight has been a revelation through the first week averaging 20.5ppg, 7.3apg, and 6.8rpg, on 46.6% shooting from the field. Kidd has spread the minute’s distribution around, indicating that he is still mixing and matching rotations in the early stages of the season. The young talent is evident in Milwaukee, Jabari will score a lot and Giannis will make plays a 6’11” 20 year old shouldn’t be making, but the key to this team will be how consistent Sanders and Mayo. That in itself is a scary thought for Jason Kidd’s beginning in Milwaukee.
Buy or Sell: SELL
Too many questionable fits are spread throughout this roster. Larry Sanders and OJ Mayo could implode at any time or may be ultimately traded to teams in need of rebounding or shooting. The locker room leader consists of Jared Dudley…and that’s it. The first week of the season has provided a snapshot into what this team ultimately is, a sub .500 team with two dynamic talents in Giannis and Jabari, but still very raw and extremely young. Brandon Knight has never shown to be the type of player his current numbers imply. Kidd’s lineup creativity could be enhanced if Knight shows consistency, with the current luxury of Parker and Giannis ball handling abilities.
PG Brandon Knight (20.5PPG, 7.3APG, 6.8RPG)
SG OJ Mayo (13.5PPG, 51.4FG%, 50.0 3P%)
Record: 0-4. The Magic clearly have talent up and down the roster. The key for this organization will be finding a coach to make the pieces of talent fit together. Jacque Vaughn has been a popular choice amongst coaching hot seat candidates and a winless start is not helping his cause. Tobias Harris and Nikola Vucevic have been extremely impressive to begin the season and to the credit of the Magic they play extremely hard.
The early schedule has not done the Magic any favors. Orlando has opened the season playing 3 of the top eastern conference playoff teams in Chicago, Toronto, and Washington. They have also had to go down to the Bayou where Anthony Davis is evolving into some kind of terrifying monster. So with a 0-4 start why is their stock on the rise? The Magic are up because of their monster at center, Nikola Vucevic. The 24 year old Magic center is leading the league in rebounds with 15 per game and scoring 18 points per game through opening week. Vucevic will continue to put up huge numbers similar to what Kevin Love was doing in Minnesota. The combination of a young team, available minutes, probable blowouts, make a recipe for Vucevic to put up godly stats on a bad team. The Magic are certainly no strangers to young superstar talent at the center position. Vucevic hopefully will avoid the drama that plagued Shaq and Dwight’s tenures in Orlando.
Buy or Sell: BUY
The Magic have talent across the board, are a fun watch, and are still without Victor Oladipo due to a facial injury. Former Nuggets shooting guard Evan Fournier, acquired for Aaron Afflalo over the summer, has filled in admirably for the Magic’s injured 2013 first round pick. Fournier is averaging 15.8 points per game at a highly efficient 48.9% shooting from the field and 47.1% shooting from three point range. Tobias Harris is emerging as a beastly inside-outside offensive player, capable of becoming the Magic’s go to isolation player in crucial moments. Through the first four games Harris is second on the team in points with 17.8 per game and in rebounds with 7.5 per game. First round picks Elfrid Payton and Aaron Gordon have struggled adjusting to NBA game speed, but have also shown hints of why the future of the Magic is very bright. Payton’s big criticism coming into the league was his shooting and has done nothing to discredit those claims, however he has backed up his much hyped point guard and leadership skills. He elicits memories of a young Rajon Rondo. Gordon is a freakish athlete who looks like he does not know what to do with that athleticism quite yet and then there is the matter of deciding if he can play the small forward spot or is better suited as a stretch four. A lot of questions remain for the Magic, but once all the youth on this team finds a chemistry and cohesiveness the sky will be the limit and will make for an intriguing watch all year long.
C Nikola Vucevic (18.0PPG, 15.0RPG, 1.5BPG, 49.3FG %)
SF Tobias Harris (17.8PPG, 7.5RPG)
SG Evan Fournier (15.0PPG, 47.1 3P%)
**All stats courtesy of NBA.com/Stats