ESPN kicked off its annual Summer Forecast series this week, in which a panel of experts predicts every facet of the upcoming NBA season. Their first order of business, appropriately, was their expected win total and final ranking for each team in the Eastern Conference.
Boston Celtics fans hoping for another season of playoff basketball will be displeased by the 215-member panel's collective rankings.
The ESPN Panel's Take:
Of the 15 squads in the east, they expect Boston to finish 12th, with a record of 29-53. That's a .354 winning percentage, .152 lower than last season's 41-40 mark.
Not to lump myself in with this group entirely, but that's the exact record I foresee (as verified by this article on July 26).
Rather than explaining how every panel member came up with 29 wins, the summer forecast piece simply posted two specially-selected fan tweets from differing perspectives:
@DCWLN: So Boston has Rondo's ACL, the Ghost of Gerald Wallace, a bunch of gunners and a rookie head coach. No way they get 29 wins.
@MyNaMe_isToBy: I believe Boston will surprise people this year. Never doubt Rondo
Somewhere in between the extremes of these prognosticators, you'll find yours truly.
While the “never doubt Rondo” mantra sounds good, fans must also remember that the Celtics were 20-23 when he, Pierce and Garnett were perfectly healthy last January. When he went down with a partially-torn ACL, they actually started winning games.
Rondo certainly has one of the better skill sets of all the point guards in the league. He possesses a superb passing ability, capable of leading the league in assists for the next ten years. His court vision and aggressive penetration are tough to match. And his overall basketball IQ probably sits among the top of the NBA class.
However, it's not difficult to question whether the enigmatic 27-year-old can actually lead a young team to success. Celtics Nation knows quite well about his immaturity, his hot temper and his poor decisions in the heat of the moment. Now he's being counted on to take the baton formerly held by Paul Pierce? Without the guidance of KG?
Even worse, Rondo can't shoot the ball. Thanks to double-teams and increased defensive pressure on Pierce, KG and Allen, he has been afforded lane openings and clear jumpers in the past. But without any of those former “Big Three” members, the floor general will find himself as the first or second priority, and other teams will recognize that. Translation: don't expect as many open shots or clear drives.
Here's what I wrote about Rondo's jump shooting in that July 26 piece:
It seems a bit disconcerting for your best player and biggest offensive threat to struggle shooting the ball. His penchant for driving to the lane has kept his overall field goal percentage at a respectable 48.1 percent, but examine the rest of the picture. He's a career 24.1 percent shooter from beyond the three-point line. He's never shot 65 percent from the free-throw stripe.
But the most befuddling might be his mid-range game. Looking at his shot charts from between the elbows and the three-point line, it's like a barren desert—there's not a lot of green.
Since 2008, Rondo's inefficiency from 16-23 feet has been about as downplayed as any point guard in the history of professional hoops. During that span, he has topped out at 42 percent from that outer-range area, an atrocious 305-of-726.
Compound Rondo's shooting woes with Jeff Green's history of inconsistency as a “go-to” player, and rookie coach Brad Stevens could be in for an even uglier season than 29-53.
Let's also not forget that the center position (amazingly) got worse once again, with the loss of KG, Shavlik Randolph and Chris Wilcox. Ainge put a band-aid on that wound by drafting Gonzaga product Kelly Olynyk and signing Brazilian Vitor Faverani. But considering Olynyk is more of a stretch-four, and Faverani is a project (much like fellow Brazilian Fab Melo), the band-aid won't stop the bleeding.
The Celtics were the second-worst rebounding team in the NBA last season, and the 22nd-worst in blocked shots. Without KG as the defensive anchor, or a true center in the middle, those disparities will only get worse.
As For the Rest of the League...
Before you head for the ledge, let's analyze the rest of the panel's projected standings in the East:
1. MIAMI HEAT: 60-22
2. CHICAGO BULLS: 55-27
3. INDIANA PACERS: 54-28
4. BROOKLYN NETS: 53-29
5. NEW YORK KNICKS 48-24
6. ATLANTA HAWKS: 40-42
7. WASHINGTON WIZARDS: 39-43
9. DETROIT PISTONS: 38-44 10. TORONTO RAPTORS: 33-49 11. MILWAUKEE BUCKS: 31-51 12. BOSTON CELTICS: 29-53 13. CHARLOTTE BOBCATS: 26-56 14. ORLANDO MAGIC: 24-58 15. PHILADELPHIA 76ERS: 20-62
I agree with a few sentiments here. It seems improbable for the Heat to be ousted as the best team in the conference, considering they didn't lose any key pieces. The addition of Greg Oden arguably made them better. Hey, you're getting close to the ledge again!
As for Chicago, it seems the panel might be putting a bit too much stock in Derrick Rose's return. Yes, he's a beast, and one of the three best individual threats in the NBA when healthy, but it seems unrealistic to think he will propel the Bulls past the Pacers.
Indiana and Brooklyn both improved significantly this offseason, and they're my picks at No. 3 and No. 4 in the conference. Indy might be the toughest and best rebounding squad in the nation, it re-signed David West and will likely have a healthy Danny Granger. And the Nets, as Celtics fans know too well, now feature the second-best starting lineup next to the Heat. Chicago comes in at the five-spot.
After that, I agree with ESPN's placement of the New York Knicks at No. 5. There's nobody better than this team left in the east. There's also no way they're better than Miami, Indy, Brooklyn and Chicago. They remain a jump-shooting team with a declining interior and rebounding presence.
After that, things get a little kooky. I don't have the Atlanta Hawks in the playoffs. Al Horford just doesn't seem like a candidate to lead this type of team to the promised land, and the addition of Paul Millsap won't help much. The Utah Jazz team Millsap leaves in the rear-view mirror might even finish with a better record.
Expect surprises from three squads with very young cores: the Detroit Pistons, Cleveland Cavaliers and Washington Wizards.
It's sad to imagine that these teams could make the playoffs ahead of the Celtics, but just look up YouTube highlights of Andrew Wiggins if you get too weepy.
Besides, at least you know the Philadelphia 76ers and Orlando Magic will still be much worse than the Green.
Here's my early prediction for the final east standings:
1. MIAMI HEAT: 67-15
2. INDIANA PACERS: 56-26
3. BROOKLYN NETS: 54-28
4. CHICAGO BULLS: 52-30
5. NEW YORK KNICKS 46-36
6. DETROIT PISTONS 43-39
7. CLEVELAND CAVALIERS: 40-42
9. ATLANTA HAWKS 38-44 10. TORONTO RAPTORS 35-47 11. CHARLOTTE BOBCATS 30-52 12. BOSTON CELTICS 29-53 13. MILWAUKEE BUCKS: 26-56 13. ORLANDO MAGIC 16-66 14. PHILADELPHIA 76ERS 13-69
How do you think things will shape up in the east? Do you agree that the Celtics will top out at 29 wins, their worst record since 2007 (24-58)? Leave your predictions in the comment board below!