Surprises and Disappointments
April 16, 2014
By Joe Nelson
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With the close of the NBA regular season it is time to look back on some of the biggest surprises and biggest disappointments of the season. Here are three teams that exceeded expectations and three teams that proved to be busts in the 2013-14 NBA season.
2013-14 Surprise Achievers
Phoenix Suns: While the playoff bid for the Suns fell painfully short, it was a very impressive season for Phoenix in the debut season on the bench for Jeff Hornacek. The Suns won just 25 games in 2012-13 season and Phoenix will nearly double that mark this season despite being the first team left out of the tough Western Conference playoff picture. Goran Dragic had a breakout season and the Suns also got a lot of mileage out of several players overlooked by other teams, notably Gerald Green and the Morris twins. Unheralded young players Miles Plumlee and P.J. Tucker also performed admirably in their first significant opportunity in the NBA. This is not a roster stacked with overwhelming talent, but the Suns finished with a better point differential than Dallas and Memphis, the two teams that beat them out for the final spots in the playoff field. The Suns became a great offensive team and this is a team that can improve moving forward with mostly favorable contract situations and the chance to add a few key pieces this off-season. The Suns lost a great deal of close games this season as Phoenix delivered an amazing road record to produce great against the spread results and the crush the season win total number that was just 21, by far the bigger overachieving team of the season.
Charlotte Bobcats: The Bobcats were 21-61 last season, featuring the second-worst record in the NBA. As a result, the Bobcats had the second-best chance to win the lottery, but they fell to fourth, picking Cody Zeller, a pick that was heavily criticized early in the season. Zeller has developed into a solid contributor this season, but the best move for Charlotte has been the hiring of Steve Clifford, a longtime NBA assistant to take over as head coach. Clifford instantly made Charlotte more competitive with a very sound defense, finishing the season ranked in the league’s top seven in defensive efficiency, while allowing the fourth-lowest scoring average in the league. Al Jefferson has proven that he still has a lot in the tank by averaging 22 points per game this season and there has been improvement throughout the roster. Late-season additions of Luke Ridnour and Gary Neal helped to push this team into the playoffs and while few expect the Bobcats to advance in the postseason, it will certainly be one of the most successful seasons in franchise history, especially if they can get a first ever playoff win. The win total on the Bobcats was around 26 as Charlotte was one of the top unexpected achievers this season.
Portland Trailblazers: The Blazers will ultimately be judged by their results in the postseason as they head into a big 4/5 series in the Western Conference with Houston. Portland has become one of the more dynamic offensive teams in the league with a successful season and a return into the playoffs. The cloud of the missed chance to take Kevin Durant will hang over this franchise, but recent home run draft picks with LaMarcus Aldridge and Damian Lillard gives Portland a bright future. Last season, Portland won just 33 games after winning just 28 games in 2011-12. The Blazers have 53 wins heading into the season finale and they could certainly make some noise in the playoffs with one of the most efficient offenses in the entire league. The Blazers regained a strong home court edge this season, but Portland was also a team that mostly beat up on the losing teams, actually featuring a losing record against above .500 teams on the year. Portland also went 5-2 in overtime games as the Blazers may not have deserved as strong of a record as they will wind up with. That said, Portland beat its season win total projection by double-digits for one of the best performances in the league relative to the expectations.
Honorable Mention: San Antonio Spurs, Oklahoma City Thunder, Dallas Mavericks, Washington Wizards
2013-14 Biggest Disappointments
Milwaukee Bucks: While no one expected Milwaukee to win the NBA title this season, most saw the Bucks as a team that could push for one of the final playoff spots in a weak Eastern Conference. Milwaukee had won at least 31 games in five straight seasons with two playoff appearances. While a lot of teams found great success this season with a new coach, Larry Drew’s seemingly lateral move from Atlanta to Milwaukee turned out to be a disaster. Milwaukee will wind up with the worst record in the NBA, barely winning half of the season win total projection of 29 from the start of the season. This should be a good season to end up with a high draft pick and the news is surfacing that the Bucks have been successfully sold with intentions to stay in Milwaukee should provide a boost to the franchise. After the dreadful start to the season, the Bucks clearly gave up on the year, giving young players the opportunity to get experience and the lost season may pay dividends down the road. Brandon Knight, Khris Middleton, John Henson, Nate Wolters, and Giannis Antetokounmpo all saw significant minutes with some promise to the future. Milwaukee still has some ugly contracts to work through and will not be an overnight turnaround next season even with a top pick, but it will be impossible not to improve on the 2013-14 season of disappointment.
New York Knicks: Even in a season of great disappointment, the Knicks still nearly made the playoffs. Carmelo Anthony will be out of the postseason for the first time in his career, but the Knicks are still the most valuable franchise in the NBA and a team poised to make a big splash in free agency the next two seasons. Bringing Phil Jackson to the management helps to calm some of the glaring concern after the Knicks will finish well below .500, failing to take advantage of the one of the weakest Eastern Conference fields in many years and falling from last season’s finish as the #2 seed in the East. The Knicks were projected to win 49-50 games this season, a mark the team will fall well short of. New York was just barely minus in average point differential on the season and New York did pick up several marquee wins on the year as this squad has a higher ceiling than it generally showed. The Knicks went 2-8 in games decided by three or fewer points and went juts 22-16 against fellow below .500 teams, areas where New York could easily provide improvement next season. New York will drop in wins by around 20 and while the Knicks were a huge disappointment, it is hard to say too many people were surprised by the failure considering the recent run of dysfunction around the franchise.
Detroit Pistons: The Joe Dumars era ends in Detroit with an incredibly disappointing season as the Pistons sit 14 games below .500 heading into the season finale. Detroit spent a lot of money in the offseason bringing in Josh Smith and Brandon Jennings and got breakout seasons from young players Andre Drummond and Kyle Singler and yet the Pistons still wound up buried in the Eastern Conference standings. Detroit could end up with the exact same record as last season, but improvement was certainly expected with the season win total posted at 40, a mark that would have put the Pistons in the playoffs. Detroit went just 10-33 against winning teams on the season and the Pistons were not competitive in a great deal of games with only five losses coming by three or fewer points. The Pistons were a high-scoring team and a great ‘over’ team on the season, but it has now been five straight seasons without making the playoffs for Detroit and it appears that a major shake-up could be on the way.
Honorable Mention: Los Angeles Lakers, Denver Nuggets, Brooklyn Nets, Cleveland Cavaliers
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