NBA Eastern Conference Playoffs: Tale Of The Tape

The NBA playoffs get started on Saturday afternoon. To set the tone, TheSportsNotebook is running a Tale of the Tape of all 16 teams in the field. Or, to be more precise, we’re running a concise summation of each team’s tale of the tape, so you can read a summary of what they’re about and who they do it with, rather than wading through statistical data.

Something to note in regards to the terminology used here, is that when we refer to each team’s rankings on offense or defense, the reference is based on efficiency numbers. This adjusts raw point totals for the pace of play and provides a better reflection as to whether a team is really good on offense or defense, rather than the point totals, which are often just a reflection of whether they play fast or slow. On a similar note, rebounding rankings are based on a percentage of overall rebounds, not simply the totals.

Here’s the rundown on the eight teams in the NBA Eastern Conference playoffs. (click here to read up on the NBA Western Conference playoffs)

1)Indiana Pacers (56-26): The Pacers have a clear distinction between their offense and their defense. They’re 22nd on offense, while having the best defense in the league. The excel at cleaning up the glass with Roy Hibbert and David West down low, and guard Lance Stephenson is one of the best at crashing the boards from his position. I’ll say this though—I believe in defense as the core of a championship team as much as anyone, but being this bad on offense is pushing it.

That’s going to put the onus squarely on Paul George. The Pacers’ star small forward averaged 22 points/7 rebounds/4 assists per game and it’s going to be up to him to deliver at key moments throughout the playoffs. Last year, he wasn’t ready for prime time in Game 7 of the Eastern Conference Finals in Miami. We need to find out if that has changed, and we need to see Hibbert go for 10-plus rebounds a game, rather than the 6 ½ he averaged in the regular season.

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2)Miami Heat (54-28): The question now, as it’s been all year is simply this—does quoting regular season stats matter when it comes to the Heat. If it does, than this is not a championship-quality team anymore. The #11 ranking on defense is worse than either of the previous two championship years. Miami is no longer a top ten team at shooting the three-ball, and their defense outside the arc is suspect. With LeBron James averaging 27/7/6, they’re still a very efficient offensive team, especially in the half-court, but this is not the profile of an NBA champion.

No one really questions this though. What everyone is wondering is whether Miami—specifically Dwayne Wade—still have another gear. D-Wade averaged 19/5/5 in the season and shot 55 percent from the floor, but he got much more regular rest than will be the case going forward. Can his knee hold up? Can Ray Allen and Shane Battier find the range from three again? And can Chris Bosh be the #2 man behind LeBron if Wade falters? Those are the big questions lingering over South Beach.

3)Toronto Raptors (48-34):  Toronto has been consistent in the 3-spot most of the regular season and they’re just a very consistent team, ranking 9th on both ends of the floor and 10th in rebounding. The team is built around the guards, Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan, who combine for 41 ppg. Amir Johnson and Jonas Valanciunas are each steady rebounders down low.

The three-point shooting is a microcosm of the team itself. No one is a standout at 40 percent or above from behind the arc. Lowry, at 38 percent, is the top three-point shooter. But collectively, they add up to a top ten team in shooting the three-ball. Toronto has been what we’re supposed to value in a basketball team—consistent and team-oriented. Although we’ve seen quite often that the NBA playoffs value something entirely different.

4)Chicago Bulls (48-34): Chicago’s offense/defense dichotomy is even sharper than Indiana’s. The Bulls are one of the worst teams on the NBA on the offensive end, and certainly the worst in the playoffs. Joakim Noah is an admirable basketball player, a ferocious competitor and I like him. But when he’s your top offensive threat, not just scoring, but also distributing, that underscores the offensive shortcomings.

Noah also hits the board hard though, getting 11 rebounds a game, and Chicago’s defense ranks behind only Indiana’s, and they clean up the misses they force. Taj Gibson and Carlos Boozer join Noah in going to the glass. It’s not unusual for NBA playoff games to get ugly, as officials let players play, and the Bulls can win these kinds of games as well as anyone. The two key X-factors are whether Jimmy Butler can have some big offensive games, and 6’0” guard D.J. Augustin, a 41 percent 3-point shooter, can open things up with some shots from downtown.

5)Washington Wizards (44-38): Washington finally made themselves relevant again. John Wall had a splendid year at the point, averaging 19 points/8 assists per game. Trevor Ariza and Bradley Beal were both lights-out from behind the arc—in fact the Wizards’ biggest calling card is that they not only shoot the three, but they defend it very well. Marcin Gortat averaged 13 points/10 rebounds at center, and there’s a lot of depth up front, with Nene Hilario, Trevor Booker and Drew Gooden all hitting the glass.

The Wizards really do have all the pieces in place. They just have to mesh better as a unit, as the offense still ranked 16th. But the learning process is on schedule in D.C., and this playoff experience will only further it along.

6)Brooklyn Nets (44-38): Brooklyn has been coming on strong since the New Year, and only a decision to tank a game or two at the end dropped them to the 6-seed (ensuring they would draw inexperienced Toronto, rather than battle-tested Chicago). Joe Johnson and Deron Williams are a veteran backcourt, that collectively give a team everything it could want—ball distribution, scoring and three-point shooting.

Now it’s time for the Nets to see some return on the trade that brought Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce in from Boston. Pierce has had a solid year, averaging 14 ppg. Garnett is the one who’s been rested for this moment—he’s only played 54 games and averaged just 20 minutes per in those games. That was still enough for him to get seven rebounds per game and with Brook Lopez out for the year, KG and Andray Blatche need to give their team a chance on the glass.

Brooklyn is a lesser version of Miami in this sense—you can’t look at their regular season profile and be optimistic, but you can’t look at their veteran talent and assume they were putting it all on the table all year. The Nets do have this going for them—it’s they, and not the Heat, they have at least built up a good head of steam going in, and these veteran teams are on a collision course in the second round.

7)Charlotte Bobcats (43-39): Michael Jordan’s new life as an owner starts to see success this year, as the Bobcats turn from league joke into a playoff team. Jordan found a leading actor who at least has his vicious competitiveness—Kemba Walker led UConn to the 2011 national title, and now he’s leading the Bobcats, averaging 18/4/6. Al Jefferson is a beast down low, averaging 22/11, giving Charlotte good inside-out balance.

The Bobcats don’t always look pretty on offense, the team rebounding is shaky, and they do nothing behind the arc. But defensive effort cures a lot of ills, and the team that plays the NBA’s 6th-best defense certainly brings that.

8)Atlanta Hawks (39-43): The Hawks lost center Al Horford for the season right around the New Year. Paul Milsap has been a trooper down low, averaging nine rebounds per game, to go with his 17 points, but he doesn’t have enough help and this is a poor rebounding team.

Atlanta does have a good backcourt, in Jeff Teague at the point, and Kyle Korver, the best three-point shooter in the league, running at the two-spot. But there’s probably three or four teams out of the Western Conference that could have finished ahead of Atlanta in the East.