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Friday, April 17, 2015

2014-15 Playoff Predictions

The overall composition of the Western Conference playoff field is what I expected with the exception of New Orleans taking the place of injury-riddled Oklahoma City but the seeding is different than I predicted. The defending champion San Antonio Spurs lost to New Orleans in the  final game of the season and summarily dropped from second to sixth in the standings. I picked the Spurs to be the West's best team and that could still happen but now the Spurs may have to win three series without home court advantage to achieve this. Of course, the biggest story in the West--and in the league, period--is the 67-15 record posted by the Golden State Warriors. I picked the Warriors to finish fourth, which is probably more generous than most analysts were prior to this campaign. Stephen Curry has emerged as an MVP caliber player and should be the clear favorite for that award if you subscribe to the "best player on the best team" theory (I prefer the best player period theory and believe that LeBron James should have won every regular season MVP since 2009). I will be very interested to see how the highly touted Houston Rockets and Memphis Grizzlies perform; I am much less impressed by those teams than many other commentators are.

In the Eastern Conference, I did not foresee Atlanta's rise from the eighth seed to the top spot. Danny Ferry put together an underrated, supposedly no-name supporting cast around LeBron James in Cleveland a few years ago and now he has built an underrated, supposedly no-name squad that finished ahead of James' new-look Cavaliers. I thought that the Miami Heat and Indiana Pacers had enough firepower to make the playoffs in the East despite their injury problems but both teams came up just short. The Cavaliers started the season 19-20 but after James exited his self-described "chill mode" they went 34-9 the rest of the way and looked like the best team in the league. Chicago's chemistry--on court and off court, in terms of the simmering feud between Coach Tom Thibodeau and the front office--has not been quite right all season. The other five playoff qualifiers are hardly worth mentioning, at least in terms of being legitimate championship contenders, though Jason Kidd deserves some recognition for the fine coaching job he did while leading Milwaukee to a 41-41 record, a 26 game improvement.

Here is my take on the first round matchups, followed by some thoughts about the 2015 NBA Finals.

Eastern Conference First Round

#1 Atlanta (60-22) vs. #8 Brooklyn (38-44)

Season series: Atlanta, 4-0

Brooklyn can win if...Brook Lopez continues to play at the high level that he reached in the final month or so of the season, Deron Williams plays at an All-NBA level and the Nets contain Atlanta's lethal three point shooting.

Atlanta will win because...the Hawks are a well-rounded squad that has completely embraced the team-first concept that Coach Mike Budenholzer learned as a San Antonio assistant. The Hawks rank fourth in field goal percentage and sixth in defensive field goal percentage; their only weakness is rebounding but the Nets are not a strong rebounding team, either.

Other things to consider: The Hawks do not have a player who would rightly be considered a superstar or a franchise player but four Hawks made the Eastern Conference All-Star team this season. The Hawks have a lot of really good players who function well together.

#2 Cleveland (53-29) vs. #7 Boston (40-42)

Season series: Tied, 2-2

Boston can win if...LeBron James enters "chill mode."

Cleveland will win because...the Cavaliers have been on fire during the second half of the season. LeBron James reasserted himself as the best player in the league, Kyrie Irving is a dynamic scoring threat and the team's midseason acquisitions have added size, depth and three point shooting.

Other things to consider: Boston started the season 4-11 but closed the season with a 15-6 run to grab a playoff berth. The Celtics are riding a six game winning streak--including two victories against Cleveland, albeit a disinterested Cleveland that could neither move up nor down in the standings--and are probably a better team than their sub-.500 record suggests. However, the Cavs are also better than their record suggests and unless James completely disappears this should be a short series.

#3 Chicago (50-32) vs. #6 Milwaukee (41-41)

Season series: Chicago, 3-1

Milwaukee can win if...the Bucks can keep the rebounding battle close and find a way to score against Chicago's stingy defense that ranked fourth in the NBA in defensive field goal percentage (.435).

Chicago will win because...the Bulls have a lot of playoff-tested veterans and this year's squad has added some offensive firepower with a (somewhat) healthy Derrick Rose and a revitalized Pau Gasol.

Other things to consider: Jason Kidd may not be well-liked in some NBA quarters but he is proving to be a pretty effective NBA coach. No one expected much from the Bucks this season but they surpassed some more heralded teams to earn just their third playoff appearance since 2007.

#4 Toronto (49-33) vs. #5 Washington (46-36)

Season series: Toronto, 3-0

Washington can win if...the Wizards can recapture the form they demonstrated in last year's playoffs and in the first half of this season.

Toronto will win because...the Raptors are a team on the rise in general and they match up well with the Wizards in particular.

Other things to consider: The Wizards started out 19-6 but went 27-30 the rest of the way. There is little reason to believe that they will suddenly turn things around.

Western Conference First Round

#1 Golden State (67-15) vs. #8 New Orleans (45-37)

Season series: Golden State, 3-1

New Orleans can win if...Anthony Davis plays at a historically great level and if the pressure of being the number one overall seed proves to be too much for the young Warriors.

Golden State will win because...the Warriors proved over an 82 game season that they are an outstanding team. Stephen Curry emerged as the best player on the best team, Klay Thompson is an All-NBA Team candidate and the rotation includes several other very talented players.

Other things to consider: Golden State versus a reasonably healthy Oklahoma City would have been fascinating but that possibility was dashed when the Thunder shut down Kevin Durant. Golden State versus Russell Westbrook on a solo mission would have been compelling theater. Golden State versus New Orleans is going to prove to be a mismatch, though Davis' debut on the postseason stage is worth watching.

#2 Houston (56-26) vs. #7 Dallas (50-32)

Season series: Houston, 3-1

Houston can win if...Dwight Howard controls the paint and the referees reward James Harden for flailing on his drives to the hoop. The Rockets need for Harden to shoot at least .450 from the field, draw a large number of free throw attempts and not turn the ball over at a high rate. Houston also must hope that playoff Rajon Rondo does not show up.

Dallas will win because...the Mavericks are not going to let Harden just march to the free throw line. They will contest his three point shots, exploit his lack of a midrange game and contest his drives without hacking him. Dirk Nowitzki is declining but the every other day scheduling of the playoffs should help him recover between games. Rajon Rondo has a history of rising to the occasion in the playoffs. He could be a pesky defender on Harden.

Other things to consider: We have heard for three years that Harden is a "foundational player," to quote Houston GM Daryl Morey's peculiar description after acquiring Harden. Many people think that Harden deserves the 2015 MVP. Dwight Howard missed half of the season but the Rockets went 28-12 with him--including 5-2 down the stretch to secure the second seed--and he is healthy now. There are no excuses for Harden and the Rockets to not make a deep playoff run--but I think that Harden will once again struggle as his team falls in the first round.

#3 L.A. Clippers (56-26) vs. #6 San Antonio (55-27)

Season series: Tied, 2-2

L.A. can win if...Chris Paul lives up to his press clippings as an MVP candidate.

San Antonio will win because...the Spurs finally have their full championship nucleus back in action. San Antonio won 11 straight games before falling in the final game of the season. Finals MVP Kawhi Leonard missed 18 games but he reasserted himself down the stretch as one of the best two way players in the league.

Other things to consider: This is a nightmare matchup for the Clippers. The Clippers are not particularly tough mentally and have yet to make it to the Conference Finals despite having a talented roster headlined by two MVP caliber players. These are two of the top six teams in the league but one of them will be going home very early and it will most likely be the Clippers.

#4 Portland (51-31) vs. #5 Memphis (55-27)

Season series: Memphis, 4-0

Memphis can win if...the Grizzlies slow the game down, pound the Trail Blazers in the paint and make just enough outside shots to prevent Portland from trapping Memphis' big men.

Portland will win because...LaMarcus Aldridge and Damian Lillard will be the two best players on the court and Memphis' chronic inability to make a shot outside of the paint will enable Portland to harass Memphis' big men with extra defenders.

Other things to consider: Memphis swept the season series but that does not always mean much heading into the playoffs, when there is more time off between games and a team is able to focus on the opposing team's weakness. Memphis went 5-6 in the final 11 games, slipping from second in the West to fifth (Portland received the fourth seed despite having a worse record by virtue of winning the Pacific Division title). The Grizzlies' lack of outside shooting and overall lack of scoring punch will be too much to for them to overcome.


I expect the second round matchups to be Atlanta-Toronto, Cleveland-Chicago, Golden State-Portland and San Antonio-Dallas. Atlanta-Toronto should be entertaining but I expect Atlanta to prevail. Cleveland-Chicago will be a hard fought series; Chicago enjoys an edge in coaching and toughness but LeBron James should be enough to overcome those factors if he plays at his top level. Golden State has too much firepower for Portland. San Antonio and Dallas have contested some classic playoff series and this could be another one but the Mavericks do not have quite enough weapons and togetherness to dethrone the champions.

The Conference Finals should be outstanding. Atlanta is San Antonio East and the Hawks will try to frustrate LeBron James much like the Spurs have done two out of three times in the NBA Finals. As always, it will come down to which LeBron James shows up. If he plays his best, the Cavaliers will beat the Hawks. Golden State-San Antonio is a dream matchup, as the young upstarts seek to unseat the league's model franchise. It is tough to win three playoff series without home court advantage but if any team can do it the Spurs can. Look for the Spurs to get the split at Golden State in the first two games and win the series in six games.

The Spurs have been Kryptonite to LeBron James' Superman ever since they swept his Cavaliers in the 2007 Finals. The Spurs are smart, they are tough and they do not deviate from their principles or game plan under pressure. Coach Gregg Popovich is one of the great leaders in sports history. The Spurs will need all of those assets to win back to back NBA titles and overcome James' quest to end Cleveland's 50-plus year professional sports championship drought. Kawhi Leonard has demonstrated that he can make James work at both ends of the court. Tim Duncan is not as statistically dominant as he was when he won back to back regular season MVPs more than a decade ago but he anchors the Spurs' defense and provides an important post presence offensively. Tony Parker's speed and ability to finish in the paint put great pressure on opposing defenses.

I expect the San Antonio Spurs to win the 2015 NBA championship.


Here is a summary of the results of my previous predictions both for playoff qualifiers and for the outcomes of playoff series:

In my 2014-2015 Eastern Conference Preview I correctly picked five of this season's eight playoff teams and I went seven for eight in my 2014-2015 Western Conference Preview. Here are my statistics for previous seasons:

2014: East 6/8, West 6/8
2013: East 7/8, West 6/8
2012: East 8/8, West 7/8
2011: East 5/8, West 5/8
2010: East 6/8, West 7/8
2009: East 6/8, West 7/8
2008: East 5/8, West 7/8
2007: East 7/8, West 6/8
2006: East 6/8, West 6/8

That adds up to 61/80 in the East and 64/80 in the West for an overall accuracy rate of .781.

Here is my record in terms of picking the results of playoff series:

2014: 13/15
2013: 14/15
2012: 11/15
2011: 10/15
2010: 10/15
2009: 10/15
2008: 12/15
2007: 12/15
2006: 10/15
2005: 9/15

Total: 111/150 (.740)

At the end of each of my playoff previews I predict which teams will make it to the NBA Finals; in the past 10 years I have correctly picked 10 of the 20 NBA Finals participants. In three of those 10 years I got both teams right but only once did I get both teams right and predict the correct result (2007). I correctly picked the NBA Champion before the playoffs began just twice: 2007 and 2013.

I track these results separately from the series by series predictions because a lot can change from the start of the playoffs to the NBA Finals, so my prediction right before the NBA Finals may differ from what I predicted in April.

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posted by David Friedman @ 5:22 PM



At Friday, April 17, 2015 8:50:00 PM, Blogger Awet M said...

Thanks. Here are my picks, posted yesterday at a popular forum:

At Saturday, April 18, 2015 8:26:00 AM, Blogger Ben said...

I'm not high on the Grizzlies and rockets either, but I think having them exit in the first round is a bit much.

At Saturday, April 18, 2015 11:43:00 AM, Blogger Nick said...

I think Washington and Memphis probably win their first round series, but otherwise I mostly agree with this. I think Houston/Dallas is basically a coinfilp, but with a gun to my head I'd probably take Dallas.

At Sunday, April 19, 2015 12:40:00 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Doug Collins must be an idiot. He called Harden MVP again today. And how dare Morey for calling a 3x AS, soon-to-be 2x 1st team all-nba, and MVP candidate for 2 years running Harden a 'foundational' 3 years ago. No way has he even approached that. 54 and 56 wins the past 2 seasons is just pathetic.

Harden exaggerates his fouls, but sometimes you have to sell them, or else the officials don't see them. Paul, James, Ginobili, and Griffin are all notorious floppers as well. It's not pretty, but big deal, it gets the job done. Harden will get to the line, that's pretty much as close to a fact as any in the nba. All the good players know how to draw fouls. Harden baits his defenders extremely well to reach, and they usually get caught. It's more of a team philosophy than anything else that Harden has very little midrange game. However, he's awesome from deep, driving, transition, and FTs; which is everything else. Jordan struggled from deep. James struggles from the line and inconsistent from midrange/deep, and Westbrook is terrible from 3 and can struggle from midrange. Shaq sucked from everywhere except 3 ft. in, but who cares, he didn't have to do much else than that, though his poor FT shooting was costly sometimes.

Hopefully, CHI/ATL have their acts together in the playoffs, so James doesn't have another cakewalk to the finals.

Hard to see GS not making the WCF. They're much better than the 3 teams in their half, and all 3 are dealing with key injuries. However, they have some issues to deal with after today, letting NO almost comeback and win.

Probably SA/GS in WCF. Let's see what LAC can do, though. It's time for Paul/Griffin/Glenn Rivers to actually do something in LA. HOU probably has to be completely healthy to have a chance, which they aren't. They have 3 rotational players out and Howard still isn't playing like an AS. And they have 2 almost 40yo PGs playing big minutes, not sure how that's going to work out longterm. DAL has lots of weapons and almost beat SA last year, but they have true stars. They could squeak out in the 1st round potentially and maybe beat LAC should they advance as well, but that's about it.

At Sunday, April 19, 2015 2:14:00 AM, Blogger David Friedman said...


Why is it "a bit much"? Houston has lost in the first round the past two years and has not made it to the second round since the Yao Ming era. Memphis has sputtered down the stretch and the Grizzlies cannot make an outside shot to save their lives.

At Sunday, April 19, 2015 2:41:00 AM, Blogger David Friedman said...


If everyone thinks exactly the same thing then that is a sign that no one is really thinking at all. I respect Doug Collins tremendously. I just happen to disagree that James Harden is the very best or most valuable player in the NBA, for the reasons that I have stated in many articles and in many comments after those articles.

I have always called Harden an All-Star caliber player and I expected him to be an All-Star in Houston. I also expected him to lose in the first round of the playoffs as his team's best player and I am two for two so far with that prediction. I did not expect him to be an All-NBA player--and I am still not completely convinced that he is one. The cupboard is not exactly bare around Harden; the idea that the Rockets would just be awful without Harden is incorrect, at least from my perspective, and the analogy that you attempted to draw between Harden and Bryant in a different comment thread does not wash. It is a fact that Bryant made the playoffs with guys who were barely rotation players anywhere else (most notably Smush Parker and Kwame Brown but the entire roster was a mess) and that Bryant won two of his five championships with some of the worst supporting casts among title winners in the past 25 years or so. Harden is playing alongside a perennial All-Star in Howard (limited by injuries, yes, but still has an impact when he plays), a talented and athletic power forward (Josh Smith), a great wing defender/utility offensive player (Trevor Ariza) and a host of other players who fill their roles nicely.

My issue with Harden's offensive game is not aesthetic; my issue is that it has proven to be ineffective in the playoffs for several years now. Harden shot 4-11 from the field in Houston's game one win over Dallas. If his teammates had not drained nine three pointers, the Rockets would have lost. Maybe one could argue that Harden opened up those opportunities, though I recall seeing Ariza and Jason Terry hit big three pointers for other teams. Corey Brewer is a bad three point shooter who went 3-4 from long distance in this game and that is just an aberration.

Let's say Houston wins this series. Does advancing out of the first round for the first time in three years somehow validate all of this MVP talk about Harden? I just don't get why it is that important to elevate him above every single other player in the NBA. I elevated Bryant and elevate James because they have complete games and they lifted their teams to championship contention/championships on multiple occasions. Harden was the third wheel on OKC's 2012 Finalists (and he was terrible in the Finals) and he has been the first wheel on two teams that lost in the first round. His individual offensive numbers are good but not record-setting and his defense is subpar.

LeBron James went to a bad team whose other top players have zero playoff experience and he lifted that team to the second seed in the East after making four straight Finals trips and winning two championships in Miami. James can guard any position and can take over offensively from anywhere on the court. Stephen Curry is a better all-around offensive player than Harden and a much better defender. Russell Westbrook is a scoring champion and a triple double machine. Anthony Davis, who I did underestimate, has emerged as a great scorer, rebounder and shot-blocker. Why is it some crime against basketball analysis to express an informed opinion that I would take those guys over Harden? I am pretty sure that Harden is not going to be a unanimous pick for MVP, so there are at least some people somewhere who are not completely sold on the idea that he is the very best player in the league.

A "foundational" player wins championships. Shaq. Kobe. Duncan. Nowitzi. James. Are you really ready to put Harden in that group of "foundational" players from the past 15 years or so? Those are legit MVP-caliber players.

At Sunday, April 19, 2015 5:32:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

When it comes to MVP, the phrases 'best player' and 'most valuable player' should more-or-less be synonyms. There could be exceptions. Determining the best player is determining who had the best season. I don't think anyone would choose any other player over James, regardless if that's right or not, but that's basically a moot point. Nobody would've done that before the start of this regular season, but in hindsight they would've.

However, James just didn't have the best season individually and incorporated into his team's success this season. While you and others might disagree, this really isn't that hard to see and most people can see this. That doesn't necessarily mean we're right, but I haven't heard any nba expert or non really say much differently. Maybe James was a better player than Durant in 2014, but Durant had the better season; thus, Durant correctly won the MVP. Best season equals best player to me, if we're only talking the regular season. If you're the best player, then you should have the best season, right? Could be exceptions possibly. Maybe Curry was so good this year, he didn't have to play as many minutes as Harden did for their respective teams' successes. That could be something to consider.

You keep saying James should have won every MVP since 2009, meaning he was the best player each of those years. Just looking at 09 and 10, which I think Kobe should've won both MVPs. Possibly James had better regular seasons, which I don't think he had, but let's just say he did. What happened in the playoffs? Do you really dispute that Kobe clearly showed he was the best player in the nba through each playoffs, especially in 2010 when James mentally broke down? Shouldn't the supposed best player in the league both of those years, while leading the best team in the league both years as well, win at least one title? He only made 1 conf. final those 2 years combined. If you want to say you think he was the best player during the regular season both of those years, fine, if that's what you think, but the season doesn't end at game 82. And in hindsight, nobody should be taking James over Kobe in 09/10, meaning Kobe was indeed the best player in the nba those 2 years, meaning if you think best player equals MVP, Kobe should've won MVP both of those years. It's the same thing happening this year. Curry and Harden both have much stronger cases this year for best player/MVP through the regular season. Come playoff time, I'd take James over anyone right now, but that's different, regardless if I'm right or not.

At Monday, April 20, 2015 2:58:00 PM, Blogger David Friedman said...


LeBron James came to a new team run by a coach who has no NBA experience. His two best teammates have no playoff experience. The Cavs finished with the second best record in the East and have been the best team in the league for months. Most observers would say that they are one of the top three or four teams most likely to win the championship. That is an MVP-level season both individually and in terms of team success.

Regarding 2009 and 2010 specifically, Bryant and James are two of the greatest players of all-time. They both clearly played at an MVP level on a perennial basis. Bryant was the best player in the league and deserved the MVP for several of the previous seasons. In 2009 and 2010, I thought that in a close MVP race he wore down a bit down the stretch of the regular season and thus James narrowly deserved the honor over Bryant. I agree that Bryant then reasserted himself as the best player during the playoffs, winning two titles and earning two Finals MVPs. The 2009 and 2010 scenarios are different from this year's scenario because I am not convinced that James Harden is on the same level as LeBron James individually nor I am convinced that Harden had a better season in terms of team success.

At Monday, April 20, 2015 4:16:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Everything you said about James/Cavs is true, but why should he just get a pass for when his team was struggling, especially when he was part of the problem? For as good as he, Irving, and Love are, how can that happen? As well as just basically taking 2 weeks off during the season, and missing 13 games total? Name me one other first-option player that has 2 guys as good as Irving and Love. I'd say only Durant could even come close to this, but he only played 27 games, and obviously isn't in the discussion.

And nobody is saying James isn't having an MVP-caliber season. It's just that there's anywhere from 2-5 other players doing the same and a few of them with stronger cases. 53 wins in a joke of a conf. playing alongside 2 other big-time players isn't that great of an accomplishment, especially considering what some of the other MVP candidates have done with their respective teams. Blatt isn't that bad of a coach, and he has a lot more experience than Kerr. Look at what GS did this year.

James vs. Player X for 2015 when they play(other than when James was in 'chill mode')? Of course everyone would take James over anyone else for any single game and future games coming up, but that's a bit different. The regular season is 82 games long. James admitted to coasting, took 2-3 weeks off, and his team had a worse record in a much worse conf. than 3 MVP candidates in the West. I know you've said before that the MVP is about regular season only. It seems like your stance on this is changing. This isn't like Kobe playing on garbage teams from 05-07, while Dirk/Nash combined for those 3 MVPs. Either we wait til the end of the playoffs to decide the MVP or we have to pick before the playoffs. The MVP votes are done before the playoffs start. It's about regular season only. That's how the process works. There isn't anyone even remotely in the MVP conversation in the East other than James. And the only supposed real threat to the Cavs in the East are the Hawks, who have nobody even close to a superstar and surprised everyone. They may continue to surprise people, but they don't look too tough for a true contender to beat. Whereas in the West, you have fringe MVP candidate Paul going up against a lot of peoples' favorites in SA in the 1st round. That's like comparing apples to oranges. Even if LAC can scrape by SA, they'll have 3 more very difficult series to win. Even for someone like Kobe in his prime, this was ridiculously difficult to do, and can't be done every year.

At Monday, April 20, 2015 4:30:00 PM, Blogger David Friedman said...


I have not changed my criteria. I think that the MVP should go to the best player in the league, which means either the most complete player (guys like Magic, Bryant, James) or the most dominant player (guys like Moses Malone, Shaq who may not be as versatile but who dominated the paint). The NBA does not currently have an MVP level dominant player, so the MVP should go to the best all-around player.

No team is good throughout the whole season (except maybe GS this season and even GS had a couple down games); Cleveland's slump is more well known and defined--and I certainly am not a fan of the "chill mode" sentiment--but James is still the best all-around player in the league. James would not be an MVP candidate if the Cavs woefully underachieved but they are arguably the best team in the league now and they are peaking at the right time.

Regardless of stats or conference affiliation, I find it hard to believe that anyone who understands basketball would take Harden over James. To me, the only valid choice other than James is Curry, if one subscribes to the best player on the best team theory (and I don't subscribe to that theory, but I do prefer it over the best player on the team the media is most intrigued by, which is the theory that props up Harden).

At Tuesday, April 21, 2015 10:52:00 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Again, I also seriously doubt anyone would take Harden or anyone else over James. However, looking back at the regular season, almost everyone is taking Curry AND Harden over James. James is 3rd at best in almost everyone's real or imaginary voting. And that's because Curry and Harden accomplished more individually and team-wise during the regular season. There's no skating around that. With possible rare exceptions, the best player should have the best season; and that's why I and most cannot put James #1 for the regular season

He may have cost his team around 10 wins for coasting and taking a mini vaca., which is the difference from the 7th best record in the league to the 2nd best record in the league. With the cast he has around him and playing in a weak conf., the 7th best record is very underachieving. Maybe what he did will help him with stamina or whatever in the playoffs. Maybe it was a good strategy; however, he shouldn't be rewarded for this with regular season MVP, especially when there's more deserving players.

At Tuesday, April 21, 2015 6:52:00 PM, Blogger David Friedman said...


I can't say that you are wrong per se, as you have made some good points, but my criteria for selecting the MVP differ from yours. I take into account a player's skill set and what I would call his intrinsic value; for me, it is about more than just individual stats and team records. I know that if I were coaching in the NBA it would be tougher to game plan against LeBron James than James Harden. I think that LeBron James is more valuable. If James had loafed for half of the season or his team was 26-56 then this would be outweighed by the considerations you mention but I think that James did more than enough this season to retain his status as the league's best player.

At Wednesday, April 22, 2015 11:07:00 AM, Anonymous AW said...

Well the Rockets are up 2-0 on the Mavs now. Not saying they will win the series though. But if they do beat Dallas what will you then say about Harden?

He's accomplished what you believe he wouldn't. You believed he would just max out as a two or three time all star and he did. Two Time all nba first team, one time all nba third team, three time all star, and will finish second in mvp voting.

Harden has kept the Rockets alive this season. Dwight missed half the season and the rockets still stayed at the top of the west standings.
Dwight has not been that impressive this season when he played.

You have to at least give harden some praise now.

At Thursday, April 23, 2015 2:29:00 AM, Blogger David Friedman said...


What I have said about Harden for the past three seasons is that he is an All-Star caliber player who is not good enough to be the best player on a championship contender. I expected that if he were the best player on a team then that team would lose in the first round of the playoffs or, at best, make it to the second round before being eliminated. I expected him to score a lot of points as a first option but to shoot worse than .450 from the field. I expected his defense to not be great.

Up to this point, Harden has lived up (or down) to all of my expectations. This season he has performed a little better and a little more efficiently than I would have expected and he is a legit All-NBA level player, though I still think he gets way too much MVP consideration when LeBron James, Stephen Curry, Anthony Davis and Russell Westbrook are all better candidates.

Houston is the second seeded team in the West. They "should" beat Dallas, an injury-riddled team that has chemistry issues. I picked Dallas to win the series and I might have been wrong about that--but if Houston wins the series the way that things are going now, it does not change my opinion of Harden.

We have seen the following things in this series:

1) Dwight Howard has been dominant inside at both ends of the court. He is the series MVP through two games, scoring 19.5 ppg while shooting .625 from the field and playing the major role for a defense that is holding Dallas to .410 field goal shooting.

2) Monta Ellis has been horrible, scoring 20.5 ppg but shooting just .333 from the field. He is a classic example of a player who could be a nice second or third option on a championship team but is not well-suited to being the first option. I thought that Dirk Nowitzki would reestablish himself as the first option thanks to the time off between playoff games giving him the opportunity to recover but that has not happened.

4) Speaking of high scoring players who are not well-suited to being the first option on championship teams, we come to Harden. He is scoring a series-high 24.5 ppg but he is shooting just .321 from the field, including .222 from three point range. His bricklaying and Monta Ellis' bricklaying cancel each other out. It is pretty funny to watch two guys who are not suited to being the best player on a championship contender randomly shooting blanks while other, less heralded players actually decide the outcome of the series.

The story of this series right now is Dwight Howard and, to a lesser extent, Josh Smith. Their defense has been smothering. Other stories include Ellis' bricklaying and Rajon Rondo's disappearing act.

Harden is performing like he always does in the playoffs and like I predicted he would as his team's first option; the difference is that he has a lot of good teammates now to bail him out.

The Rockets went 5-2 down the stretch with Howard back in the fold but overall they have the fifth best point differential in the West, barely ahead of Memphis and Dallas, so in a statistical sense they are fortunate to have finished second. There is every reason to think that they were not as good as their record suggested with Howard out of the lineup but there is also good reason to think that a healthy Howard could emerge as their best player and carry them deeper than Harden has the past two years. Howard has already shown that when healthy he can be the best player on a Finalist. If Howard keeps playing like this I will adjust my predictions about the Rockets but that will not change my view of Harden.

At Thursday, April 23, 2015 8:15:00 AM, Anonymous AW said...

Well Harden should get praise for Houston getting the second seed.As I stated Dwight missed half the season. And before Dwight sat out for like a month and a half or two months he wasn't that impressive. You make it seem like Harden doesn't deserve any praise for them finishing second as if he has a stacked team or something. Harden clearly was the team mvp this year.

I dont understand why people keep bringing up Westbrook. He failed to lead his team to the playoffs as the man for pretty much the whole season. His defense is no better than Hardens and he shot a worse percentage than Harden. Yet Harden doesn't deserve no mvp consideration?

It's good to see Howard doing well. He was not that impressive during the season.

Its not fair whenever the Rockets lose games, you blame Harden, when they win it's because of his teammates. Im pretty sure you expected Houston to finish as a bottom seeded team before the season started. But they finish as the two seed and Harden is a non factor, right?

At Thursday, April 23, 2015 10:45:00 AM, Blogger Nick said...

Nailed it, David. The one series I'm most likely to be wrong about it is Houston/Dallas, and I can't believe I forgot about Howard while picking it. He looks like Dwight Howard again, and if he keeps that up Dallas is toast.

That said, losing Rondo may actually be a blessing in disguise for Dallas and allow them to play a little more their game. We'll see.

At Thursday, April 23, 2015 5:53:00 PM, Blogger Nick said...


Westbrook's D this season has been very bad, at least in the second half of the season, but I'd argue it's still been better than Harden's. Westbrook's hyper-active "go after everything" approach to D at least pays off sometimes (even if it exposes him more often than that), while Harden's just now figuring how to stand in the right place.

That said, I think the two have about equal merit (I.E., not a ton) as MVP candidates; by most definitions is pretty much has to be Lebron or Curry, IMO.

That all said, Harden definitely deserves a lot of the credit for Houston's season, and I don't think anyone disputes that. I think the main reason David- and I- are down on him is his game is all gimmick, and doesn't hold up in the playoffs (as we're seeing now; his team is winning in spite of him, not because of him).

At Thursday, April 23, 2015 11:24:00 PM, Blogger David Friedman said...


When Harden arrived in Houston, I very clearly stated that I viewed him as an All-Star caliber player. So before he even took one shot as a first option player, I ranked him among the top 25 or so players in the league. I also explained why I did not consider him to be a "foundational" or franchise player, which I would classify as a top five player. Some people, maybe even many people, are now convinced that Harden is a top five player. Harden's performance this season was good enough for me to move him from top 25 to top 15 or so.

Harden had a lot to do with Houston getting the second seed. We should expect nothing less of a top 25 or top 15 player. That said, Houston was better with Howard in the lineup than with Howard out of the lineup. Howard's return to health and return to action was well-timed, enabling the Rockets to go 5-2 and preserve that second seed (thanks to some help from New Orleans in the final game).

Howard is Houston's playoff MVP through the first two games. The only difference between Monta Ellis and Harden in this series is that Harden is playing alongside Howard. If Harden continues to shoot less than .350 from the field then the Rockets will be bounced in the second round at best.

"Foundational" players do not shoot less than .350 from the field, period. Maybe Harden will step his game up--but we have years of evidence showing that Harden is not a great playoff performer. I think that the fact that his game translates so poorly to the playoffs is a reflection of his ultimate value and that is one reason why I don't rank him as an MVP level player. Others are free to disagree but until Harden is the best player on a team that advances deep in the playoffs there is no reason for me to change my assessment of his game.

At Friday, April 24, 2015 5:11:00 AM, Anonymous AW said...

I don't believe its fair to judge just based on two games but we'll see.

Howard has contributed but he played limited minutes in game one.

@Nick F Hardens defense has improved rhis season. He's definitely not great. I just dont think Westbrook is noticeably better. Westbrook also has some weaknesses in his game.

I dont think I'd say Harden is a top five player in the league but I have him in my top 7.

@David I don't mean to get off topic but what do you think of the firing of Scott Brooks?

At Friday, April 24, 2015 12:21:00 PM, Blogger Nick said...


I don't think it's a huge gap, either, and against a smart enough offense Westbrook may even be worse- it's fairly easy to get him to completely compromise the scheme trying to be the hero- but against most teams Harden's general inattentiveness and slowness laterally are a little but more of a liability possession to possession. I agree that he's better this year than he was last year, but he's improved from an F to a D, not a B, in my estimation.

At Friday, April 24, 2015 1:51:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

It's highly misleading to simply quote Harden's FG% (or even his 3p%) and conclude he's not playing well. Because he's gotten to the line so much (something you were skeptical he would be able to do in the playoffs), his TS% is .583 so far in these playoffs. That's higher, by the way, than Kobe's playoff TS% in any year but one.

Harden is also averaging 8.5 assists a game, and has been masterful at finding teammates while driving.

He's the main reason they got the second seed this year. And he's a huge part of the reason they're up 2-0.

As an aside, are you willing to concede yet that Harden is worth a max contract? You very clearly were not when the trade was made, and continued in that vein for some time thereafter. Since then, you've talked almost exclusively about some random comment ("foundational player") that Morey once made, but have been silent on this issue, as far as I know.

At Saturday, April 25, 2015 2:59:00 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

You're going to compare hardens playoff TS% (for this year only) to Kobe's overall playoff TS%? Really? Let's see his percentages for a year with more than one playoff series. Oh wait, we can't..unless we count the year with the thunder, but oh wait, harden was the reason they lost that year. If harden advances I'm pretty sure his percentages will plummet. Kobe dealt with years of western conference brackets of hell to get his ts%, can't say the same for the flop king..

At Saturday, April 25, 2015 4:17:00 PM, Blogger David Friedman said...


Howard has been the series MVP, by far. He is leading both teams in rebounds (14.3 rpg) and blocked shots (3.0 bpg) while scoring 17.3 ppg on .588 field goal shooting. He is playing the way that he did when he was an MVP-level performer carrying the Magic to the NBA Finals.

The fourth quarter of game two consisted of Smith tossing lobs to Howard. The Mavericks adjusted in game three to take that away but this enabled Harden to have a rare good shooting day in the playoffs. Without Howard, Harden is Monta Ellis come playoff time but with Howard the Rockets will actually win one series before being bounced in the second round.

Regarding Scott Brooks, I have two questions for the Thunder:

1) What more could Brooks have possibly done this season?

2) Who are you going to hire who is a better NBA coach than Brooks?

The Thunder's point differential should have equated to 47 wins, which would have earned them a playoff berth despite all of the adversity that they faced (and the Rockets' point differential equated to fewer wins than they attained, which is part of the reason that I am not as sold on them as some people are). No coach could likely have squeezed out more wins for the Thunder than Brooks did this season. When they were healthy, he took them to the Finals. Their problem has been injuries, not coaching.

At Saturday, April 25, 2015 4:22:00 PM, Blogger David Friedman said...

I agree with Anonymous #2. It it is ridiculous to compare Harden's shooting in two first round games with Kobe Bryant's shooting over an entire, five championship playoff career.

I would be surprised if any team has won a championship with its best player shooting less than .350 from the field, no matter how many free throw attempts he had.

The attention Howard is drawing enabled Harden to finally have a good shooting game and boost his FG% to a good level (.462) but he has a long playoff history that strongly suggests that by the end of the playoffs his FG% will sink to the low .400s.

Dallas is a mess and the Rockets are probably going to finish off the sweep but unless Howard plays at an MVP level and Harden shoots at least .450 the Rockets are going to lose in the second round. One way or the other, Harden is not going to be the best player on a team that goes deep in the playoffs: either Howard will be the best player or the Rockets will exit early.

At Saturday, April 25, 2015 5:54:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...


Steph curry MVP and hands down the best player this season. Led his team to 67 wins avg 24 and 8. Harden and Westbrook both could not win 67 games wit this warrior team. And curry didn't play in 16 fourth quarters. Curry is currently the NBA best player and his team will win the NBA title. I believe spurs are over the hill. Cavs are too green. Atl not contenders. Men and hou are a not great teams and can't score. Only reason people would take lebron ad or kd over curry is because they taller. Curry skill is as gud as anyone.

At Sunday, April 26, 2015 12:45:00 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I'm curious as to how he's the MVP and "hands down the best player" when he's playing at around the same level as he has been for the last three years? In fact he's doing worse, but because of his entire teams clear improvent (looking at green and Barnes) he's the reason behind it all? I'd say it's just as likely that the rest of the team made curry look better than he really is. And how do you know Westbrook can't do the same with this super stacked warriors team? Are you high? Everything you stated is all opinion..nothing more. Cavs are too green?? They probably have more collective playoff experience in lebron than the entire warriors roster. Spurs are always over the hill and yet, they won. And for your last comment..no. Just no. Curry is a slightly better Steve Nash w a just as good squad. There are MANY reasons to take lebron, kd, Westbrook, etc (NOT HARDEN) over curry. People give this guy way too much credit. According to all warriors homers, curry is the sole reason their offense and defense are excellent this year. The warriors have a stacked team and a much better than expected first year coach. Get over it.

At Sunday, April 26, 2015 10:31:00 AM, Blogger Nick said...


Curry's improved immensely on the defensive end this year. He's gone from a bad defensive player to a well above average one; he's not John Wall, but he's much better on that end than Harden or Westbrook. Offensively, he's cut back his turnovers and learned how to finish at the rim. It's true his team has improved some, but it's silly to suggest he hasn't.

Westbrook and Harden would be poor fits for that Warriors team philosophically, regardless of who's "better." Neither is much of a threat off-ball, and so much of what the Warriors do builds from Curry terrifying defenses even when he doesn't have the ball.

At Sunday, April 26, 2015 4:19:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Please explain to me how Westbrook isn't a threat off the ball? Because of Curry's stroke he's a bigger threat than Westbrook? Westbrook is a much stronger finisher at the rim and I'd say he draws more double teams than curry. People who think curry get doubled or tripled immediately don't watch games. The philosophy of this team isn't much. Swarm/zone defense with some good shooters..and westbrook can't thrive in that setting? Smooth shooters like curry get destroyed in later series without a dominant wrecking ball like a kobe, lebron, or westbrook. But regardless I've seen your back and forths with David and I'm not interested in participating. Arguments like yours are best debunked by just watching the playoffs progress.

At Sunday, April 26, 2015 4:22:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Btw curry is much better than Westbrook on the defensive end? What are the people on this comments section smoking? Do tell. Again, stop giving the teams defensive prowess all to curry. His entire team is on point with defense. His help defenders are quick. His interior defense is solid. Basically everybody is doing what they're supposed to he doing but curry is the one who made it all possible because of his amazing defense? Knock it off.

At Monday, April 27, 2015 8:05:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...


It's by no means ridiculous to observe that Harden's efficiency in the first two games -- a performance you characterized as poor and inefficient -- was higher than Kobe's normal playoff efficiency. I made no larger claim about the two players; the point is, if you believe Harden was a detriment as a scorer in those two games, it would follow that you should think the same of Kobe during his playoff career. Do you?

Also, to reiterate a previous question: Do you believe Harden is worth a max contract?

At Wednesday, April 29, 2015 10:46:00 AM, Blogger David Friedman said...


It makes no sense to compare Kobe's career to Harden's two games based on one stat that is not even that significant of a stat outside of proper context.

Harden shot less than .350 from the field in the first two games of the series. That is a small sample size but it is also typical of how he shoots from the field in the playoffs. I don't think that a team can win a championship with its best player shooting that poorly from the field, no matter how many free throws he attempts.

Fortunately for Houston, Howard has emerged as a force, so Harden does not have to be the best player. Howard was the difference in the first round versus Dallas and after the Mavs adjusted to deal with him then Harden starting shooting better, as a good second best player on a team should.

A healthy Howard makes the Rockets much more dangerous, though I still expect them to lose in the second round.

I don't think that Harden can be the best player on a championship team. What that means in terms of dollar value depends on a variety of factors but I would not pay him max dollars to be my team's best player if winning a championship were my primary goal.

Howard can be the best player on a championship team if he is healthy and focused.

At Wednesday, April 29, 2015 6:04:00 PM, Blogger Nick said...

I agree with basically everything you said, David, but I don't know that I think that non-first options shouldn't get max contracts; I generally think you can afford to pay your two best guys max deals.

Like, I wouldn't give Harden a max to be my best guy. But I might give him a max to be my second best, if that makes sense, especially if my best guy was an Anthony Davis-type that could be trusted to clean up after Harden on D.

At Thursday, April 30, 2015 10:55:00 AM, Blogger David Friedman said...


I agree that it would be feasible in some situations to give Harden a max deal to be a team's second best player. In essence, that is the situation in Houston now, whether or not people realize it. The Rockets will go as far as Howard takes them, because a healthy and motivated Howard impacts the game at both ends of the court. Howard carried the Magic to the Finals without having a second option player as good as Harden, so it is not outside the realm of possibility that a Howard-Harden one-two punch could lead the Rockets to the Finals, though I don't expect that to happen--and it certainly won't happen if Harden is the team's best player, which would only be the case if Howard is injured or not focused.

At Friday, May 01, 2015 11:57:00 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Howard is certainly being paid like Houston's best player ($21 million this year vs. $14 million for Harden).

It's awfully hard for me to construct an argument in which Harden isn't worth $14 million--he's the 27th highest-paid player in the league. The max contract he signed in Houston always struck me as a no-brainer, and he has clearly more than lived up to it.


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