One Reason to Watch Every Awful NBA Team Down the Stretch
As the 2012-13 NBA season winds to a close, many fans of the worst teams in the league are asking the same question: “Should I really keep watching over the final few games?”
It's not very fun (read: it's extremely depressing) to watch a team that gets smacked around on a nightly basis. And that makes it tempting to shut down the fandom for the final few weeks and wait out the offseason. But it's never worth it.
There's a reason to keep watching any basketball team—even the ones pushing 20 wins. You just have to look through the tears and the 30-point home losses to see the good in each squad. A better future awaits. Probably.
All stats current as of 4/7/2013.
Detroit Pistons: Andre Drummond and Greg Monroe
Andre Drummond is finally back from injury, which alone is cause to watch the Detroit Pistons. The fact that Pistons coach Lawrence Frank recently said Drummond will be getting more minutes (per Mlive.com's David Mayo) only serves to make things better.
Drummond's had a sensational rookie campaign—his 21.8 PER puts him in good company historically, and no young player in the league has more raw ability. But despite that, Frank has been stingy with Drummond's minutes.
The big man averages under 20 minutes per game and has played just 350 minutes with fellow frontcourt member Greg Monroe (per NBA.com). If Drummond is getting increased minutes, then it stands to reason that many of them will be with Monroe. And that's exactly what Pistons fans have been waiting for.
In all fairness, the Monroe-Drummond combination hasn't exactly set the world on fire so far.
In fact, the Pistons are a net minus-four points per 100 possessions when the two play together (per NBA.com). But the pair are the future of the organization. At some point, they're going to have to learn how to play together.
The way the two ride out the end of the season might not always be pretty. Monore is almost certainly going to have to improve his mid-range jumper (he shoots just 33 percent from mid-range per HoopData) if the pair are to avoid the type of spacing issues that plagued Dwight Howard and Pau Gasol this year.
But the opportunity to watch the two big men grow together as the season runs its course—and maybe even to see Monroe put his slick passing skills to good use—will be well worth seeing.
Cleveland Cavaliers: Luke Walton (Seriously)
It's not exactly like people need to be informed of Kyrie Irving's brilliance, so here's another reason to watch the Cleveland Cavaliers—for Luke Walton and the effect he's had on the Cavs bench.
Don't laugh. Walton may not be a future star (or even a former star), but as Grantland's Zach Lowe recently noted, his passing has transformed the Cavaliers' bench into one of the most entertaining units in the entire league.
Walton can't really shoot, guard anyone or even handle the ball all that well, but he averaged nearly five assists per game last month and is posting seven assists per 36 minutes (via Basketball-Reference). Heck, he even had a 12-assist game last month against the New York Knicks (though admittedly, calling a few of those "assists" was generous).
When Walton comes into the game for the Cavs, the team's ball and off-ball movement seems to almost double. Guys start looking to make the right pass, and they cut hard to the basket expecting Walton to find them. And more often than not, he does.
What Walton and the Cavs' bench are doing may not be equating to wins, but it's still refreshing to watch in today's “isolate the superstars” type of offense. A good bit of fun for Cavs fans as they wait for the results of the NBA lottery.
Phoenix Suns: Goran Dragic
The Phoenix Suns have been an utter mess on the court this season, but at least Goran Dragic's play can give fans something to smile about.
Though the Suns boast the second-worst offense in the NBA at just 101.1 points per 100 possessions (per Basketball-Reference), it's hard to put any of that on Dragic's shoulders. Despite the Suns' relative lack of offensive talent and curious offensive scheme, Dragic is averaging 15 points and seven assists per game and has put up some monster lines as of late.
Just last month, the Suns' guard posted six double-doubles, including a herculean near-triple-double (31 points, 12 assists, nine rebounds) against the Brooklyn Nets. And he's doing this stuff with defenses totally, 100 percent gearing toward stopping him night after night.
Dragic isn't the shooter that Steve Nash was (he hits just 31 percent from downtown), but he's far more difficult to keep out of the lane. He's nearly doubling the number of shots Nash took at the rim last year (3.5 per game to 1.7 per game via HoopData). He also has all sorts of creative shots when he gets to the paint, including a nifty floater and twisting layups with weird spins that always seem to drop in.
Oh, and he's a gifted passer in the open floor. Other than all of that, there's not much to see, though.
Dragic has his flaws, of course. For example, he's taking almost four three-pointers per game (via HoopData) despite his poor shooting touch from outside. And part of the Suns' offensive problem is that Dragic hasn't been able to build the pick-and-roll chemistry with Marcin Gortat that Nash once had.
But he's still performed admirably in filling some pretty big shoes and has been a blast to watch during a rough season.
Orlando Magic: Nikola Vucevic
Nikola Vucevic was seen as nothing more than a throw-in to the Dwight Howard trade—a young center with some potential who could maybe be a decent rotation player someday.
In fact, Vucevic's name never even came up in ESPN's review of the trade. Not once. Bad idea in retrospect.
It's been just eight months since the trade, and the 22-year-old center is already much better than a decent rotation player. Vucevic has been killing it for the Orlando Magic this year—particularly on the boards.
Vucevic's pulling down 11.8 rebounds per game—second only to Dwight Howard—and his 20 percent total rebound rate ranks fourth in the league. He also leads the league in 20-point, 20-rebound games (three) and had a ridiculous 20-29 performance against the Miami Heat in December.
How could you not like this guy?
Vucevic could definitely use some work in terms of defensive positioning, and his offense is far from polished right now. But he's surprisingly adept from mid-range, hitting 47 percent of his shots from 10 to 15 feet (per HoopData), and his 35 percent three-point shooting at USC suggests that he could possibly expand his game to beyond the arc.
Vucevic is unlikely to develop into some kind of superstar, but he could definitely be a good starter on a contender and maybe even one of the best centers in the East if he develops properly.
And if everything I've already said hasn't convinced you that the Magic are worth following for the rest of the season...Vucevic is averaging a 23-25 against Miami.
Guess who the Magic play in their final game this year?
Charlotte Bobcats: Kemba Walker and Gerald Henderson
These are dark days for the Charlotte Bobcats franchise, and much of the hope for the team's future lies in draft picks and cap space. But fans trying to enjoy the rest of the season can at least take comfort in the way the Charlotte backcourt has played this year.
Neither Kemba Walker nor Gerald Henderson are world-beaters, but they're an entertaining pair and have dispelled some of the worries surrounding them as the season has progressed.
A lot of people slapped Walker with the “chucker” label last year because he wasn't a particularly efficient scorer and because he averaged less than five assists per game. But this year, Walker's taking better shots, and his true shooting percentage has shot up from 46 percent to 51 percent as a result (per Basketball-Reference).
Walker's assists per game have also increased from 4.4 to 5.7.
It's not a particularly impressive increase on the surface, but in an offensive system that doesn't emphasize ball movement—and on a team in which only Michael Kidd-Gilchrist shoots above 45 percent—it's enough to suggest that Walker's become a better playmaker.
Henderson's biggest improvement has been in his outside shooting. After failing to hit even a quarter of his three-point shots in any season previous, he's hit 34 percent this year on nearly double the attempts.
He's not an elite scorer in any category, but he has become pretty good at everything and provides some spacing for a team with very few outside shooters.
Walker and Henderson are young and improving and can be a lot of fun to watch when their shots are falling. If they're coupled with the right draft choices and solid free agents, the Bobcats could really have something.