NBA's Biggest Winners and Losers of 2012 Calendar Year

Grant Hughes@@gt_hughesNational NBA Featured ColumnistDecember 28, 2012

NBA's Biggest Winners and Losers of 2012 Calendar Year

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    Thanks to the lockout that shoehorned a 66-game slate into a six-month window, and the games already played in this new season, 2012 technically contained more winners and losers (and games) than any calendar year in NBA history.

    Fortunately for hoop fans, the immense quantity that resulted from those games also yielded unparalleled quality.

    There were heroes and villains.

    We witnessed LeBron James' ascension as the NBA's undisputed king in 2012, but because we live in a balanced universe, we also had to watch Dwight Howard's disastrous fall from grace.

    There were failures and triumphs.

    Coaches came and went as they always do, and we even had the rare fortune of seeing an owner's improbable redemption.

    2012 was a year jam-packed with enough storylines to last a decade, but we've singled out a few of the key figures from the past 12 months. Here are the biggest winners and losers of the 2012 calendar year.

Loser: The Charlotte Bobcats

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    From a literal perspective, the Charlotte Bobcats weren't just the biggest losers in 2012; they were the biggest losers ever. Thanks to a .106 winning percentage, Michael Jordan's ongoing catastrophe entered the record books by finishing the 2011-12 season with the worst record of all time.

    Considering last season ended with the Bobcats on a 23-game slide, it didn't seem like things could get any worse in Charlotte.

    But bad lottery luck cost the Bobcats a chance to draft Anthony Davis in June, and a 16-game losing streak during the young 2012-13 season seems to indicate that little has improved.

    New coach Mike Dunlap has done his best to be creative, but his high-energy press and penchant for zone defenses have resulted in the league's worst defensive efficiency and points-allowed figures.

    The Bobcats lost more than anyone in 2012 (a combined 78 defeats on the calendar year), and if they don't start doing a few things differently, they might hold the same unwanted distinction in 2013.

Winner: Advanced Statistics

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    In 2012, the league showed that it was ready to meet the challenge of advanced metrics head-on.

    Part of the reason the NBA had been behind the statistical curve is that it's simply harder to mathematically quantify everything that happens on a basketball court than it is on a baseball diamond or football field. There are just more moving parts, variables and immeasurable elements.

    With nearly half of the NBA now using advanced tracking cameras from SportVU to chart every move players make and advanced analytics taking the place of outdated, misleading statistics, 2012 will be remembered as the year when advanced stats hit the mainstream.

    John Hollinger, one of the seminal analysts in NBA stat circles, was hired by the Memphis Grizzlies in December, signalling that even the franchises most reluctant to embrace new data are caving in and recognizing the value of more and better information.

    After all the changes of the past year, holdouts in the old guard who reject statistics out of hand seem like frightened old farts who can't keep up.

    Like it or not, advanced statistics were big winners in 2012.

Loser: Avery Johnson

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    Avery Johnson probably wasn't the biggest loser of 2012, just the most recent.

    Johnson's Dec. 27 firing as coach of the Brooklyn Nets felt inevitable amid inflated expectations and the dissatisfied belly-aching of his erstwhile star, Deron Williams. The Nets roster deserves some of the blame for the team's offensive ineptitude, but Johnson probably earned his dismissal.

    His unimaginative, isolation-based offense and micromanaging style never seemed like a viable long-term strategy in Brooklyn. And now we know it wasn't.

    Some might clamor for departed L.A. Lakers coach Mike Brown to occupy this space, but his firing didn't end up changing much in Los Angeles. Consider this a prediction that Johnson's absence has a much better chance of invigorating the mediocre Nets.

    If it doesn't, you can pencil in Williams, who has now successfully killed two coaches, as a loser in 2013.

Winner: Mike Woodson

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    The New York Knicks seem like the most surprising story of the young season, but only if you didn't pay attention to what coach Mike Woodson did with the team during the entirety of his 2012 stewardship.

    After taking over for Mike D'Antoni on March 14, 2012, the Knicks went 18-6 the rest of the way, which amounted to a .750 winning percentage that was even better than the .724 they've put up so far this season.

    Under Woodson, New York has ratcheted up the defensive intensity, shared the ball and drastically cut down on turnovers. Most impressive of all, the Knicks coach has deftly handled the intense media pressure and ego-juggling act required of his position.

    In addition to all that, he's coaxed maximum defensive effort out of Carmelo Anthony and J.R. Smith on a consistent basis, which is a noteworthy achievement in its own right.

    More than any other coach, Mike Woodson emerged as 2012's biggest clipboard-wielding winner.

Loser: The Mid-Range Jumper

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    Gone are the days when any open shot was considered a good one. The mid-range jumper died a slow death in 2012, thanks to the emergence of advanced statistics (a winner we've already covered).

    NBA teams are shooting more three-pointers than ever because of statistical analysis that shows the optimal scoring areas on the floor are at the rim and beyond the arc. That left the mid-range jumper, and especially the "long two," out in the cold in 2012.

    Farewell, mid-range jumper. You'll be missed.

    Rip Hamilton will host the funeral.

Winner: Joe Lacob

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    Golden State Warriors owner Joe Lacob went from the soul-crushing low in the video above to the spectacular heights he's enjoying as the owner of the most surprising team in the league in 2012.

    He was crucified by fans and many media members for trading Monta Ellis last season, but he stuck to his guns and even reassured everyone that he knew what he was doing in the immediate aftermath of the ugly booing episode that ruined Chris Mullin's jersey retirement ceremony.

    That showed some real confidence.

    Now that Monta Ellis is wasting away in Milwaukee, suffering through his worst season in years, and the Warriors are a real playoff contender, we know Lacob was right to be confident in himself and the organization.

    If he wanted to, he'd be justified in waving a huge middle finger at the 19,000 fans that booed him. Instead, he's giving them a fantastic product to root for and has plans to put the Warriors in the NBA's most spectacular waterfront arena in 2017.

    Joe Lacob was a huge winner in 2012.

Loser: Dwight Howard

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    In 2012, Dwight Howard went from being every NBA fan's favorite happy-go-lucky big man to being a universally despised, selfish malcontent who quit on his team and got his coach fired.

    It wasn't a very good year for Howard.

    As this timeline of the D12 trade saga shows, Howard managed to completely destroy his "good guy" image in a matter of months, and even after he got the trade he wanted, it turned out that he may have sacrificed his public image for a dream that might never materialize.

    Whether you believe in stuff like karma or not, the struggles Howard has endured this season with the L.A. Lakers feel deserved.

Winner: LeBron James

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    Any time someone wins the MVP, the Finals MVP, earns All-NBA and All-Defensive first-team honors, an Olympic gold medal and a championship ring, that guy's going to be a winner.

    2012 was the year of LeBron James, and nobody won bigger than the King.

    Unlike Howard, James' image has recovered from his messy "Decision" and subsequent Finals failure in 2011. Now, he's the league's best player, a beloved figure around the world and a media darling. Just try to find a news story knocking him these days.

    The NBA is in great hands with James, and he laid all the groundwork for his future as the face of the sport over the past 12 months.