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John Schuhmann

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Lou Williams and the Sixers (4-0) should be encouraged. But Brook Lopez and the Nets (0-4)?
Jesse D. Garrabrant/NBAE via Getty Images

Good preseason start may mean more than you think


Posted Oct 15 2009 6:26PM

How important is the preseason? Sure, it's good for new teammates to develop chemistry, rookies to get used to the speed of the game, and vets to get back in shape. But the results don't mean anything. Right?

Not quite. There's actually a correlation between how a team does in the preseason and how it does in the regular season, at least in the last five seasons (2004-05 through 2008-09).

Over that time, 56 of the 86 teams (65.1 percent) who finished with a .500 record or better in the preseason made the playoffs. And just 24 of the 64 teams (37.5 percent) who finished with a record under .500 in the preseason made it to the postseason.

Of the 20 teams that have reached the conference finals in the last five seasons, 16 had a .500 record or better in the preseason.

Of course, in the preseason, a couple of garbage time buckets can determine any particular game, and there's a lot of garbage time. So it's hard to judge between a team that went 4-4 and one that went 3-5. But it is apparent that there's a difference between a team that goes 7-1 in the preseason and one that goes 1-7.

In the past five seasons, 10 teams have gone through the preseason either undefeated or with just one loss. All 10 have made the playoffs. In the same time, seven teams have won just one game -- or haven't won any -- in the preseason. Only one of the seven, the 2007-08 Cavs, made it to the playoffs.

A look at the standings on Thursday tells us that fans of the Sixers, who are 4-0, and the Clippers (3-1) should be encouraged. We also might want to keep a close eye on the Heat (0-4) and Hornets (1-3) before picking them to get back to the postseason.

When it comes to point differential, New Orleans has been the worst team of the preseason so far, allowing 10.2 more points per 100 possessions than they're scoring. But a 35-point loss at the hands of the Magic on Tuesday accounts for most of that. Not surprisingly, Orlando has been the best team so far (+14.8 points per 100 possessions), followed by Utah (+12.7) and Atlanta (+7.4).

Typically, the last few games of the preseason more closely resemble the regular season than the first few. We still have a lot of basketball to be played before we even get to opening night.

But what fun would it be if we waited until then to start breaking down the numbers?

The KG effect

Just how important is Kevin Garnett to the Celtics? The numbers say that over the last two seasons, Garnett has valuable to both the Celtics' offense and their defense.

Celtics' Efficiency, Last Two Seasons
Minutes Offensive Rating Defensive Rating
Garnett On Court 4099 111.0 95.0
Garnett Off Court 3828 104.5 100.7
Difference 6.6 -5.8
Off. Rat. = Points scored per 100 possessions
Def. Rat. = Points allowed per 100 possessions

After Garnett was essentially lost for the season in mid-February, the offense showed improvement (thanks in part to increased production from Glen Davis and Leon Powe), but the defense really suffered. Over the last 26 games of '08-09, the Celtics had an offensive rating of 108.0 and a defensive rating of 103.6. They were still a good team, but nowhere near the elite level that they were at with a healthy Garnett.

If they should lose Garnett for any amount of time this season, the addition of Rasheed Wallace, as well as the continued development of Davis, should keep the Celtics from falling off as much.

Krypto-Sheed

The other interesting aspect to the addition of Wallace in Boston is future matchups with Dwight Howard and the Magic. The Celtics already had somewhat of a Dwight-stopper in Kendrick Perkins, one of the best low-post defenders in the league, but Wallace could be even more effective against Howard.

As a member of the Pistons, Wallace was 22-5 against Howard and the Magic, including 8-1 in the postseason. There are other factors to the Detroit dominance, but a look at Howard's numbers over the last two seasons with Wallace on and off the floor is quite telling.

Dwight Howard vs. Pistons, Last Two Seasons (including playoffs)
Minutes FG% FTA/40 min. Reb/40 min. Pts/40 min.
Wallace on floor 354 0.455 9.6 14.6 18.2
Wallace off floor 133 0.719 16.2 17.0 27.8
Agent Two?

"Since I'm going to have the ball more, I don't have to take 500 threes this year. I'm trying to take less than a hundred. I'm not going to be a 3-point shooter this year."

Those are the words of Gilbert Arenas less than three weeks ago. Obviously, when we heard that statement, we were skeptical. Less than 100 threes over the course of the season is about one attempt from downtown per game. And in 415 regular-season games over his eight-year career in which he played at least 20 minutes, only 20 times (4.8 percent) has Arenas taken fewer than two 3-pointers. In fact, he's taken five or more threes in more than 68 percent of those 415 games and has been almost three times as likely to take 10 threes or more than he been to take one or less.

Arenas 3-point attempts (played 20+ minutes)
3PA Games Pct.
10+ 53 12.8
8-9 71 17.1
5-7 160 38.6
2-4 111 26.7
1 18 4.3
0 2 0.5

But through five preseason games, Arenas has attempted just six threes (and didn't attempt any in the first two games). Stretch that pace out over 82 games, and you get 98 attempts. The man is good at math.

Of course, he's been playing just 24 minutes per game so far.

New York block party

Over the last two seasons, the Knicks have ranked dead last in blocked shots, rejecting just 2.73 of their opponents' attempts per 100 possessions in 2007-08 and 2.50 (which was less than half the league average) last season.

Trading for Darko Milicic this summer was done in part to give New York a shot-blocking presence in the middle. And so far, it has worked.

In three games, the Knicks have 16 blocked shots, which is more than they had in any three-game stretch last season. Milicic just has two of those blocks, though.

No D in Dallas

A month ago, we wrote that the Mavs were the team most likely to show improvement on the defensive end of the floor. The additions of Shawn Marion and Quinton Ross, along with the return of a healthy Josh Howard, were ingredients for a leap into the top 10 defensive teams in the league.

So far, the leap has been backward.

Dallas is 2-1, but has allowed 107 points per 100 possessions in three games. When you take into account the sloppy, inefficient play that comes with preseason (teams are scoring more than five points less per 100 possessions than they did in the regular season last year), that number is particularly bad. The Mavs are the second worst defensive team of the preseason so far, ahead of only New Orleans.

Marion is currently banged up and Howard has yet to play as he still recovers from ankle surgery, so the defensive improvement may be a slow process for Dallas.

The numbers used in this story were compiled with the help of the NBA and STATS, LLC.

John Schuhmann is a staff writer for NBA.com. You can e-mail him here.

The views on this page do not necessarily reflect the views of the NBA, its clubs or Turner Broadcasting.

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