FWDB #2b: Why You Can/Why You Won't (Win The Thing)
- By John Comey, Day 141, 2022
Let's cut the junk. Intros are for those too afraid to jump right in (note: we don't like it when podcasts use the phrase "let's just jump right into it". All basketball pods use this. Probably most sports pods. Seriously. Listen for it.)
That said, let's just ju...oh, forget it.
Atlanta Devils (39-27)
Why they could win the thing: Taquan Slattery is a wrecking ball (23.4/10.4/3.1) who has been consistent all year. Around him, there is a solid cast, with six players posting double figures, including all five starters. They rebound very well, especially on the offensive end (4th in the league). They move the ball (5th in assists), and have an efficient offense as a result (6th in FG%, 8th in FGM). The Devils are a veteran squad who knows who they are, and tries to not be something they aren’t. Oh, and rookie Cortez Ellison continues to get better as the season goes on. If he doesn’t hit the rookie wall, he could be a huge lift in the playoffs.
Why they won’t win the thing: For all of their diversity on offense and the depth they have, the Devils simply are not an impressive team, comparative to the rest of the league. They are 13th in net rating, and rank as average or worse in every advanced team stat, save for offensive rebounding percentage. For as good as they are at hitting the offensive glass, they are very average at protecting the defensive end. They get good looks, but not from deep. The lineup of Spencer-Slattery-Curtis Wellsley-Edwards-Thomas is a major impediment to success, and yet, they trot it out continuously.
Oakland Tritons (41-25)
Why they could win the thing: Oakland has the best, most efficient offense in basketball. They are first in offensive rating, third in PPG, fourth in points scored, fifth in FG%, threes made and taken per game, eighth in 3%, and second in free throw percentage. Antonio Peeler is having a career year, and sits as a legitimate Hall of Fame candidate. The Peeler/Ivory combination is the best inside-out combo in the league, perhaps outside of Hawes and Honeycutt. Jack Donlon has overcome severe growing pains to become a supreme floor general, and the right person for the Tritons.
Why they won’t win the thing: Defense. Easily defense. For having the top-ranked offense in basketball, they are 25th in defensive rating. Sure, you can chalk that up to their division. As good as they are from the line, the Tritons don’t get there as much as one would like, mainly due to the amount of threes taken. While Peeler has been a consistent 40% shooter from deep, his 43.1% is the best he’s shot in his career. If that drops at all, that can be some points that are hard to make up. And for as good as their offense is, it depends a fair amount on individual play. The Tritons rank 19th in the JBL in assists. Against the better defenses in the West (Las Vegas) or teams that can play both ways (Kansas City), the Tritons are at a disadvantage.
Mexico City Jaguars (43-25)
Why they could win the thing: The Jags have recently proven they can beat the league’s elite, owning wins against the Lightning, Scorpions, and Knights. The Jags have scored more points than anyone in basketball, and have the most buckets made per game. They are second in field goal percentage, and sixth in 3%. They are a fantastic defensive rebounding team, and find the open man for buckets better than anyone in the league (first in assists). Kahlil Hooker leads a four-headed monster, along with Jordan Carstensen, breakout star Jamaal Adams (18.7 ppg, 8.1 apg), and Antonio Vega.
Why they won’t win the thing: Tehir top three lineups, and four of their top, all net negative ratings. Go figure. Despite scoring the most points in the league, they are seventh in points per game, tenth in offensive rating, and 14th in net rating. That’s due to their 22nd-ranked defense. Despite leading the league in assists, their point guard situation has been in flux all year. Adams is a PG by position labeling only; he’s a shot-first guard. Finding that fifth starter to go with the team has become a major mystery.
Cincinnati Kings (43-22)
Why they could win the thing: Despite the overhaul with the roster, the Kings rank 9th in PPG and 8th in oPPG. They are eighth in offensive rebounds, and sixth in defensive boards. Their FT/FGA is seventh, their RPI 9th. They have the seventh-best free throw rate in the league, which is amazing. The Babes, Latrell Mason and Victor Olojakpoke, have been as good as advertised, and likely better. Christian Vickery has been an unsung hero with this team, keeping the kids rolling and making sure the vets (namely Richmond Benson) stays happy. Benson has been a stud on both sides of the ball this year; it’s doubtful he’ll garner any All-JBL nods, but he should.
Why they won’t win the thing: Their two most talented players are rookies, for starters. They have severe bouts of inconsistency, as is evidenced by two of their top five lineups netting a negative result. Having their frontcourt of Poke, Benson and Mason on the floor is absolutely key. When they aren’t on the floor as a whole, this team is not nearly as effective. They are one team that relies heavily on getting to the line (seventh in FTM, sixth in FGA); unfortunately, they’re 17th in FT%. If they go cold for any stretch, it crushes their offense. They do not get assists (21st) nor steals (21st). Oh, and a second-round date with either Philly, Toronto, or Chicago would likely await them…probably whoever the #1 seed is.
Miami Cyclones (43-23)
Why they could win the thing: Miami has an aggressive offense predicated on their offensive rebounding, which sits third in the league. They are fourth in FGM, and second in FGA. Miami does not turn the ball over, ranking first in turnovers, at just 11.0 per game. They get steals (seventh). They shoot great from the line (76.9%, third in the league). Josh Gamble and Jamaine Curry might be the most potent scoring backcourt in the league, while Gamble is one of the top playmaking guards in basketball in just his second season, averaging 16.4 points and 9.0 assists, with just 1.29 turnovers, a game. Add in Reggie Fortier, and you have an excellent Big Three. Then you toss in Kelvin Black, who is having a bounce-back efficient season after a down 2021, and that’s a multifaceted attack where opposing defenses cannot focus on one level, or any particular spot on the floor.
Why they won’t win the thing: They are slightly above-average at defense (11th in oPPG, 12th in DRtg), but can they get stops when the time comes against teams who can definitely slow them down? The Cyclones shoot great from the line, but they don’t get there (21st). If a team keeps them off the offensive glass, they’re screwed; they are 16h in FG%, but because of their league-leading offensive rebounding rate, rank fourth in FGM. There is some grumbling, slight, that a shift in how they are playing may bother a couple of players, notably key reserve Liu Jinghau. They need his consistent contributions on the second team to have a shot against the elite. Lastly, Miami is in a fight for the fourth seed; if they lose out to Cincinnati, that will be problematic. Miami is 26-7 at home, but just 17-16 on the road as of press time. They would have to get at least one, likely two, wins on the road in any series.
Kansas City Knights (47-19)
Why they could win the thing: Kelvin Hawes and Aaron Honeycutt form the most dynamic 1-2 punch in the league. The team has played one of the toughest schedules across the league, and rank third in net rating. They own top-five team ratings both offensively and defensively, which is the hallmark of a major contender. They get to the line, ranking second in the league in both makes and attempts. They don’t turn it over (sixth in the league). They seem to have found someone in Dyron Mays, who has stepped in in place of Curtis Price when he was injured. And moving Tarvis McWilliams to the second team alongside Price and rookie PF Alexei Davydov seems to have given the team a shot in the arm. The pieces around Hawes and Honeycutt are playing above expectations, making it difficult for teams to focus on just those two. They rebound, ranking fifth in total rebounds and defensive boards.
Why they won’t win the thing: Because, come playoff time, who do you rely on after Hawes and Honeycutt? The pieces around them are playing at a high level, but can they be counted on? Rahmond Thompson has shown flashes of being that third guy, but he has gone missing at times. The team does not shoot threes, and when they do, they shouldn’t. They rank 24th in the league in 3pt%. Their offensive rebounding rate could be better (19th in the league); if it were, watch out. While Juan Maurice has been one of the best short-time players in the league (his ORtg is obscene), this team is absolutely forked if Hawes goes down. The same goes for Honeycutt. They have an argument to being the best team in the league, and are likely a legit top-five, but they may get no higher than the #4 seed in the West. Having to go on the road against Houston, Seattle, or Las Vegas (and then doing it again) may prove too difficult. Realistically, this team is a year away.
Toronto Huskies (48-16)
Why they could win the thing: The Huskies are a complete team, ranking fifth in PPG and 4th in oPPG, combining for the second-best rating in the league. They have the most efficient offense in the league, shooting a ridiculous 49.1% as a team. They pick their spots, but they are fifth from deep as well. Darius Barry is a MVP frontrunner, leading this team from the shambles a few years ago. He’s not alone, though, as Vionte Houston and Brandon Terry form the best backcourt in the league. They have been more efficient shooting the ball (Houston is 48% from the field, Terry 50.7%), and Terry is a potential All-JBL selection. Bryant King, often overlooked with Toronto’s Big Three on the floor, has been a killer this year, shooting 58.7% from the field.
Why they won’t win the thing: Toronto’s front five may be the most talented in the league, but it’s no secret that Toronto is the most top-heavy team. The starters have have played 834:44 as of press time. The next most-used lineup has seen 121:53. The Huskies are a subpar rebounding team, ranking 21st in total boards. They also turn it over more than you’d want a contender to do so, ranking at 18th in the league. Once in awhile, the game can get too slanted towards the backcourt. Bryant King has to make himself heard during the game; when he does, the Huskies are at their best. But if Houston and Terry take over the offense, it makes them too one-sided. And this is nitpicking, but the Huskies have played a weaker SOS to this point than most of the other contenders (21st in SOS). They have played great, but the have definitely feasted on a weaker conference. The Huskies are also looking up at Philly for the top seed, and are suddenly in a dogfight with Chicago for the #2 seed. Having to go on the road in two series may be too much for the Huskies, who are decidedly better (29-3) at home.