Friday, April 25, 2008

History Says This Year's NBA Champion Will be...

UPDATE 4/25/08: Added Fact #3.

Originally posted 4/17/08

I figured I would throw out some interesting tidbits before the start of the NBA postseason.

First of all the playoffs are going to be two months long. I love basketball but it's going to be a gauntlet getting through this postseason. On the plus side this year's rendition figures to be quite exciting. At least in the West. Here are the 16 teams vying for the Larry O'Brien trophy:

Boston
Detroit
Orlando
Cleveland
Washington
Toronto
Philadelphia
Atlanta

Los Angeles
New Orleans
San Antonio
Utah
Houston
Phoenix
Dallas
Denver

Now, I'm a firm believer in lesson in the past can be applied to the future. And history tells us that although there are over a dozen teams playing for a championship only a select few will truly be in contention.

Fact #1: there have been 58 NBA Championship teams. Only ten of those teams did not have a Hall of Fame center or power forward:

1975 Warriors (beat Hall of Famers Wes Unseld and Elvin Hayes)
1979 Sonics (beat Hall of Famers Wes Unseld and Elvin Hayes)
1989 Pistons (beat a HOF center for title)
1990 Pistons
1991-93, 1996-98 Bulls (some dude named MJ)
2004 Pistons (beat future Hall of Famer Shaq O'Neil)

In order to win a championship a team must have a Hall of Fame -- not good, not great, but all-time great -- big man inside the paint. By glancing at this year's rosters we can quickly eliminate several squads from consideration:

Boston
Detroit (I love Rasheed but he's not a HOF)
Orlando
Cleveland (LeBron barely has a functional team around him)
Washington (Unfortunatey the NBA isn't the ACC)
Toronto (I was on the fence with Chris Bosh)
Philadelphia (LOL)
Atlanta (Al Hortford may be in the conversation down the road)

Two teams survive this test. Kevin Garnett already has a HOF career and Dwight Howard is well on his way. Anyway, onto the West and a couple surprises.

Los Angeles (I know what you're thinking and the answer is no.)
New Orleans (David West is barely an All-Star)
San Antonio
Utah
Houston (A healthy Yao might be a different result)
Phoenix
Dallas
Denver (There is no way in hell this team will win the title)

Andrum Bynum is very young and talented but he's not even the best center playing at Staples. And Pau Gasol is simply a two-tier PF. Hell, he's not even the best power forward playing at Staples. But who knows? Maybe DJ Mbenga has been holding back his mad skillz until now...

I'm not sure anyone will argue about Tim Duncan's resume. The Suns have two future Hall of Famers in Shaq and Amare Stoudemire. Dirk Nowitzki (2007 MVP, three All-NBA first teams, 7-time All-Star) is a lock for enshrinement as well. Carlos Boozer is an interesting case. He's 26, twice an All-Star and was in the top ten in MVP voting. The last two years he's been averaging 21/10/3 and finally get the recognition he deserves.

After the first stipulation only six teams remain: Boston, Orlando, San Antonio, Utah, Phoenix and Dallas. Now onto the second part of the equation.

Fact #2: since 1987 only six NBA head coaches have won a championship. Gregg Popovich (4 championships), Pat Riley (3), Larry Brown (1), Phil Jackson (9), Rudy Tomjanovich (2) and Chuck Daly (2).

One part HOF big man, one part HOF coach, add a quality point guard, sprinke in some good role players and mix thoroughly. That's the recipe for a champioship. Not surprisingly franchises which have had legendary big men and coaches over the recent years (Pistons, Rockets, Lakers and Spurs) went to enjoy multiple title runs.

Only two franchises didn't have a great center or power forward and went on to win it all in the past two decades. First was the 2004 Pistons, which was coached by Larry Brown, one of the greatest minds in basketball history (and the only coach to win titles in both college and the pros). The other franchise was Jordan's Chicago Bulls. And finally:

Fact #3: the last 12 NBA champions have been the 1 or 2 seed within their conference. This interesting nugget courtesy of SI's Ian Thomsen.

So looking at the 2008 Playoffs, which teams have HOF bodies inside the paint, a HOF mind on the sideline and a high seeding?

Boston
Orlando
San Antonio
Utah
Phoenix
Dallas

There you go. History suggests the Spurs are once again in line to win this year -- much to the chagrin of ABC Sports and bandwagon basketball fans everywhere.

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