What The Contenders Could Use

HANG TIME NEW JERSEY — The trade deadline is Thursday afternoon, the race for the 2014 NBA championship is relatively wide open, and there are plenty of players available for the right price.

So, the league is seemingly ripe for a ton of action at the deadline. But the whole “the right price” thing could limit the number of deals that are made. Buyers may be hesitant to give up first-round picks for players that they’re only “renting” for a few months, and sellers may prefer to keep their guy if they’re not getting the assets they want in return.

But maybe a deal could be made that turns a contender into a favorite or a tier-two team into a contender.

Here’s a look at what those teams could use — from a numbers perspective — to put themselves over the top (in the case of the contenders) or in the mix (in the case of the next group).

OffRtg: Points scored per 100 possessions
DefRtg: Points allowed per 100 possessions
NetRtg: Point differential per 100 possessions

Oklahoma City (43-12)

OffRtg: 107.6 (6), DefRtg: 99.3 (3), NetRtg: +8.3 (2)
The Thunder are the most complete team in the league, the only one that ranks in the top six in both offensive and defensive efficiency. And their bench has been terrific, even with Russell Westbrook‘s knee surgery forcing Reggie Jackson into the starting lineup over the last seven weeks.

The only lineup numbers that look bad are those of their original starting group, which has been outscored by 5.7 points per 100 possessions and which will be back together when Westbrook returns on Thursday. In 280 minutes, the lineup has scored just 97.5 points per 100 possessions, a rate which would rank 29th in the league.

In general, the Thunder have been much better playing small. In fact, they’re a plus-203 in 1,954 minutes with two bigs on the floor and a plus-204 in 694 minutes with less than two. Some added depth on the wings could make them even more potent.

Indiana (41-12)

OffRtg: 102.4 (18), DefRtg: 93.8 (1), NetRtg: +8.6 (1)
The Pacers are, statistically, the best defensive team since the league started counting turnovers in 1977. And that may be enough to win a championship.

But they’re a below-average offensive team and only seven of those have made The Finals in the last 30 years. The Pacers turn the ball over too much, don’t get to the rim enough, and aren’t a great 3-point shooting team.

George Hill is a key cog in that No. 1 defense and the starting lineup scores at a top-10 rate, but Indy could certainly use a more potent point guard, or at least a third guard that can create off the dribble. Their bench is better than it was last season, but it still struggles to score.

Danny Granger has a large expiring contract, but acquiring a player on a deal that goes beyond this season could compromise the Pacers’ ability to re-sign Lance Stephenson this summer.

Miami (38-14)

OffRtg: 109.8 (1), DefRtg: 103.4 (16), NetRtg: +6.4 (5)
Is the Heat’s defensive drop-off a serious problem of just a case of them being in cruise control most of the season? Their ability to flip the switch on that end of the floor will depend on Dwyane Wade‘s health and Shane Battier‘s ability to play more minutes than he has been of late. As much as rebounding is an issue, so is defending the perimeter. And if there was a way they could add another shooter/defender on the wing, it would help.

Rebounding is an issue. The Heat have rebounded better (on both ends) with Greg Oden on the floor, but he’s played just 78 minutes all season and compromises their offense to some degree. So he’s probably not going to neutralize Roy Hibbert in a matchup with the Pacers.

San Antonio (39-15)

OffRtg: 107.5 (7), DefRtg: 100.4 (5), NetRtg: +7.1 (3)
The numbers look good on the surface. Only the Thunder rank higher than the Spurs in both offensive and defensive efficiency. But their defense has failed them, allowing 111.5 points per 100 possessions, as they’ve gone 2-8 in games against the other teams over .600 (every team on this list, except Golden State). Last season, they allowed just 101.8 in 22 games against other teams over .600.

Injuries have played a role in their defensive decline and if the Spurs are healthy, they’re still a great team. But there’s no getting around that, going back to Game 3 of the 2012 conference finals, they’ve lost nine of their last 11 games against Oklahoma City and could certainly use more athleticism up front with that matchup in mind.

Houston (36-17)

OffRtg: 107.7 (5), DefRtg: 102.1 (9), NetRtg: +5.6 (6)
If there’s a fifth contender, it’s the Rockets or the Clippers, two more West teams that rank in the top 10 on both ends of the floor. Houston is actually the only team that ranks in the top five in both effective field goal percentage and opponent effective field goal percentage.

Their defense hasn’t been very consistent though, and it’s allowed 106.1 points per 100 possessions in 22 games against the other eight West teams over .500. And that’s why they might want to hold onto Omer Asik. One of their biggest problems defensively is rebounding, especially when Dwight Howard steps off the floor. Only the Lakers (15.8) have allowed more second-chance points per game than Houston (15.1).

Portland (36-17)

OffRtg: 108.7 (2), DefRtg: 105.7 (23), NetRtg: +3.1 (10)
Diagnosing the Blazers’ issues is pretty easy. You’re simply not a contender if you rank in the bottom 10 defensively. The worst defensive team to make The Finals in the last 30 years was the 2000-01 Lakers, who ranked 19th and who, as defending champs, knew how to flip the switch. They ranked No. 1 in defensive efficiency in the postseason.

Not only are the Blazers bad defensively, but the their bench is (still) relatively weak. Lineups other than their starting group have outscored their opponents by just 0.2 points per 100 possessions, the worst mark among the teams on this list (even Golden State). So they’re going to be tested with LaMarcus Aldridge out with a groin strain. They’ve been outscored by 8.3 points per 100 possessions with Aldridge off the floor.

L.A. Clippers (37-19)

OffRtg: 108.7 (3), DefRtg: 102.2 (10), NetRtg: +6.5 (10)
The Clippers are very similar to the Rockets. They rank in top 10 defensively, but have struggled on that end of the floor against good teams. Furthermore, though Howard and DeAndre Jordan rank in the top four in rebounds per game, their teams rank in the bottom 10 in defensive rebounding percentage.

Blake Griffin and Jordan rank 2nd and 3rd in total minutes played, and the Clippers basically have no other bigs that Doc Rivers can trust for extended stretches in the postseason. Though the Clippers’ injuries have been in the backcourt, they’re more in need of depth up front.

Golden State (31-22)

OffRtg: 104.2 (12), DefRtg: 99.5 (4), NetRtg: +4.7 (7)
The Warriors and not the Suns (31-21) are the last team on this list because they have a much better defense and a higher ceiling. They also have a much easier schedule, which could allow them to get into the 3-5 range in the West, going forward.

Golden State’s issues are pretty simple. Their starting lineup has been terrific on both ends of the floor, but their bench … not so much. Things have been a little better with Jordan Crawford in the mix; They’ve scored 104.5 points per 100 possessions with Stephen Curry off the floor since the Crawford trade, compared to the putrid 86.7 they were scoring without Curry before the deal. But one of their most important defensive players – Andrew Bogut – is banged up and their D falls apart when Andre Iguodala steps off the floor.


  1. el soli says:


  2. How you like rockets now chuck says:

    It’s no secret that once Dwight learns more post moves, he will take rockets in a serious race for the west!
    This whole season no one gave Dwight credit. He’s learnt moves not seen in the first what…10 years? This season in the First 30 games, he learnt a post then face up down low move. Although he over used it, no one gave him credit for FINALLY learning some moves other than dunking. Now, over the past 15 games he’s seriously adding more to his arsenal, ie post up drop back, bang bang hook. Over the next 30 games don’t be surprised if he learns a few more shaq moves (I.e power moves because I can’t see him ever having Tim Duncan’s moves)
    Once he does this, loving my rockets to make the finals!

  3. Sacha says:

    Pau Gasol to San Antonio and they’re champs.

  4. okc2014 says:

    Heat can’t win another title without a healthy Dwayne Wade.

  5. Lakers (18-35) says:

    The Lakers can start by replacing Jim Buss and get someone with basketball knowledge (Phil Jackson?) to run the show. Then they can also consider replacing Mike D’Antoni. This series of moves will hopefully convince the core (Meeks, Young, Hill, Marshall, Johnson and Henry) to stay and attract top free agents. How’s that?

  6. c man says:

    been saying all year as a clips fan they need a 3 position badly I had hoped they would get deng but no. what about asik or taking a try for butler coming back. come on doc you need a 3 getting jj back and barnes to return to the 2nd unit would solidify the team only one day left for the clips to get it done

  7. Edzequiel says:

    i know i’m crazy coz i wnt melo and rondo for clippers..so its like rondo,jamal,melo,BG and DJ; another next in line of 5 starters of doc rivers that when playoff comes no team could defeat them in a 7 series just like his ’08 boston champs!

    • asdf says:

      Oh yeah, I’m curious how would these trades even work, you’re being really lunatic if you think this has a chance of happening…

  8. Christoper Bamba says:

    ZBH is correct because if you look at kd’s numbers he has just basically stooped anybody from saying that he doesn’t deserve the MVP award. And whoever thinks that The Heat are going to just going to take it this year should watch there games against the teams like the thunder, Spurs, Pacers, and even the Trail Blazers. Heat Fans better hope that they don’t have to deal with the Pacers in the playoffs. Eventhough, that is what everyone wants to see.

  9. Bob says:

    I am still waiting for Miami to trade Michael Beasley for either Pau Gasol or Gerald Green

  10. NBAFAN says:

    I want a new team to win it all. GO PACERS!!!

  11. LordP says:

    Still waiting for the Heat to make a move,Toney Douglas is not needed in south beach to help Bron & Co to chase the tree peat..Stephen Jackson can be a good piece to have on your team,he has size,range and plays D foreal when needed…

  12. McCollbeD says:

    Yesterday’s article hit it on the head; Thunder need a defensive-minded small forward like Jimmy Butler. As good as KD has been offensively this year he is still not in the top 30 defenders in the league and LBJ will continue to screw with the Thunder until they fix that hole. On a side note, anybody who is of the opinion that KD should be given the MVP award this season is basically saying they don’t understand that defence is 50% of the sport. LBJ for individual and team 3-peat.

    • ZPH says:

      Defence isn’t even a word. Defense is. You should probably go take your 100% understanding of the sport and take back Steve Nash’s MVP’s.

      PS. Thus far, this season, KD has been better than LBJ. So far, he deserves the MVP. Saying KD doesn’t deserve the MVP because defense is 50% of the sport is to say that KD doesn’t play it at all. LBJ’s defense is better. KD still plays defense. To say KD doesn’t deserve the MVP thus far because LBJ is better at 1 facet of the game makes you sound like a short sighted homer.

      • AAC says:

        Defence most certainly is a word, you just need to consider that British English is used in most English speaking countries outside of the US. Perhaps you were being a little short sighted? Coincidentally, your apostrophe in “MVP’s” is poor grammar in all forms of English.
        For what it’s worth, I agree with you that KD deserves the MVP this year (and I don’t even like KD or OKC).

      • NZ BBALL FAN says:

        Defence is a word. Defense is also a word. Here is a link to help you out:


        Not every English speaking person lives in the United States of America. If you really think about it, ot’s all in the name of the language. You know English, as in from the country called England.

  13. Suppa Hot Fire says:

    miami will 3peat…

  14. kevin says:

    funny that ppl who stroke the thunder ball sac refuse to bring up the idea that they have little if no inside scoring..unless you count transition dunks and layups…they will get pounded inside..don’t get me wrong they very very good..but winning a title on jump shots alone might be tough when u get deep in the playoffs.

    • chuck says:

      of course you would undermine outside scoring, FG percentage and transition points. it must be hard to watch the heat lose by 30 points in their own floor at their own game. i hope you realize that everything you pointed out about the thunder are the same weaknesses that are present in the heat. let me point out that other than chris bosh (who has been inconsistent this season) there is no other inside scoring from the heat. as a matter of fact there are no other inside scoring from the heat other than transition dunks and layups. but isn’t that what you so quickly dismissed. also, let me remind you how the heat play; exactly like the thunder. although the biggest difference in the style of play may be the focus on defense. the thunder have 2 bigs that are defense oriented, a SG that is the team’s main defender and two scorers that can light it up on a nightly basis. all this and i have not even talked about their bench. i will leave you to your opinions about who is better since the playoffs are coming. but don’t be surprised if you’re proven wrong time and time again.