Basketball Bits #1: What do the Celtics need to win it all?

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This year’s NBA off-season will be pivotal for many teams across the league. Going into free agency, I see no clear favorite to win the NBA Finals. Even the Warriors could fall out of contention if Kevin Durant, Klay Thompson, and DeMarcus Cousins all leave as free agents. A handful of big names will be on the open market, and whoever dominates in free agency should have a good chance to win it all. Even teams who struggled mightily in 2018-19 like the Knicks and Lakers have the chance to jump into title contention with the help of a strong off-season.

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The Celtics are in an interesting situation. Last season, they were expected to be serious title contenders with the return of Kyrie Irving and Gordon Hayward from injury alongside the rise of Jayson Tatum, Jaylen Brown and others. But Kyrie Irving did not mesh well with the team, and he grew to dislike Boston. The expectation going into the season was that Kyrie Irving would return to the Celtics on a long term deal or at least 1 more year on his player option before agreeing to a long term deal. But now, Irving is expected to leave for Brooklyn, LA, or somewhere else.

With Irving expected to leave, what do the Celtics need in order to stay relevant and a potential championship contender? Do they need a star who will be a better leader than Kyrie was? Do they need multiple stars? Will they just roll with the young core of Tatum and Brown? Do they have enough cap space to do what they need to do? I researched every NBA champion in history and looked at how many star players they had, using 20 PPG as criteria for stardom. I also included the number of 25 PPG and 30 PPG scorers, as these players are less common. Check out my research as well as some Basketball Bits.

The Research

Basketball Bits #1_ Stars on Championship Teams – Sheet1

The “Basketball Bits”

  • The NBA has 73 champions all-time
    • Just 14 of 73 (19.2%) lacked a 20 PPG scorer
      • 35 of 73 (47.95%) had 1 20 PPG scorer
      • 22 of 73 (30.1%) had 2 20 PPG scorers
      • Just 2 of 73 (2.7%) had 3 20 PPG scorers:
        • The 2017-18 Golden State Warriors (Stephen Curry, Thompson, Durant)
        • The 2016-17 Golden State Warriors (Curry, Thompson, Durant)
    • 47 of 73 (64.4%) lacked a 25 PPG scorer
      • 20 of 73 (27.4%) had 1 25 PPG scorer
      • 6 of 73 (8.2%) had 2 25 PPG scorers
    • 67 of 73 (91.8%) lacked a 30 PPG scorer – nobody had more than 1
  • The Boston Celtics have won 17 championships:
    • None of them had a 30 PPG scorer
    • Only 2 of 17 (11.8%) had a 25 PPG scorer
    • 5 of 17 (29.4%) lacked a 20 PPG scorer
    • 8 of 17 (47.1%) had 1 20 PPG scorer
    • 4 of 17 (23.5%) had 2 20 PPG scorers 
  • In the last 25 years:
    • Only 3 teams (12%) have won it all without a 20 PPG scorer:
      • The 2013-14 San Antonio Spurs (Most recent)
      • The 2007-08 Boston Celtics
      • The 2003-04 Detroit Pistons
    • Only 10 teams (40%) have won it all without 25 PPG scorer
  • In the NBA’s first 25 years:
    • 6 teams (24%) won it all without a 20 PPG scorer
    • 21 teams (84%) won it all without a 25 PPG scorer
  • Between 1972 and 1994 (everything else):
    • 5 teams (21.7%) won it all without a 20 PPG scorer
    • 16 teams (69.6%) won it all without a 25 PPG scorer
  • There are only 3 franchises who have ever won a championship with a 30 PPG scorer:
    • The Chicago Bulls (4 times, Michael Jordan)
    • The Milwaukee Bucks (1 time, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar)
    • The Golden State Warriors (1 time, Rick Barry)

The Verdict

In this era, the Celtics will need at least one consistent 20-25 PPG scorer to win a title, and a second would be helpful. You never know, maybe Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown can be our guys. But I think pairing Tatum and Brown with a star point guard or star center would be ideal. The Celtics did win with a handful of 15-20 PPG scorers in 2008. That was in the Paul Pierce/Kevin Garnett/Ray Allen era. I doubt they can put something like that together again in today’s NBA with all these stars on the open market.

But if they sign one star player that can allow Tatum and Brown to thrive while that player still puts up 25 PPG, such as PG Kemba Walker, PG D’Angelo Russell, or C Nikola Vucevic, this team could have the chance to contend. They aren’t going to pull the trigger if it puts their future at risk. I don’t think that will happen. But do they have enough money? Do these stars want to sign in Boston unlike Kyrie Irving? I can’t wait to find out, and I’ll be releasing my predictions soon.

March Madness 2019: Previewing the West Region

Welcome to my 2nd of 4 March Madness regional previews.  Today, I will be looking at what may be the most unpredictable of this year’s regions: the West.  Let’s jump right in.

Note: The upsets I picked in this region may be some of the craziest I’ve picked this year.  However, per NCAA.com, there is an average 12.7 upsets per year in this tourney, and I did not pick any 16-1 or 15-2 upsets this year, as they happen less than 10% of the time.  My upset picks may be gutsy, but they are (somewhat) reasonably thought out and I factor statistics into my picks. My picks are based on a mix of stats, previous team performance (previous tourneys and current regular season), and gut feeling.

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March Madness 2019: Regional Previews

March Madness 2019: Previewing the East Region

March Madness 2019: Previewing the West Region

March Madness 2019: Previewing the South Region

March Madness 2019: Previewing the Midwest Region

I will be previewing the Sweet 16 next week as well!

Round of 64 Preview

Salt Lake City, UT: Games start Thursday, March 21, 2019 at 7:27 PM EST on truTV

#1 Gonzaga Image result for gonzaga bulldogs logo vs. Image result for ncaa #16 Fairleigh Dickinson/Prairie View A & M

Update: Fairleigh Dickinson has defeated Prairie View A & M in the First Four game.

Whether Gonzaga plays Fairleigh Dickinson or Prairie View A & M, they should be able to win this one easily.  Gonzaga isn’t the strongest #1 seed there is, but it will be the later rounds that challenge them.  Neither Fairleigh Dickinson nor Prairie View A & M even had amazing regular seasons within their own conference, let alone the league.  It would be foolish to pick anything besides a Bulldogs win in this game.

The Pick: Gonzaga

#8 Syracuse Related image vs. Related image #9 Baylor

Syracuse has shown flashes of dominance this season despite inconsistency.  They have proven they are capable of beating elite teams.  They even took down Duke – on the road!  Baylor has been even more inconsistent.  They had a nice run going in the Big 12 in February, but I hadn’t seen them making the Big Dance in the first place after a late season decline and a slow start including losses to mid-majors Stephen F. Austin and Texas Southern.  In my eyes, the Bears do not have the capacity to take down the Orange.

The Pick: Syracuse

Hartford, CT: Games start Thursday, March 21, 2019 at 2:00 PM EST on TBS

#4 Florida State Image result for florida state seminoles logo red vs. Image result for vermont catamounts logo green #13 Vermont

This was honestly one of the toughest games for me to pick.  The Seminoles have put up a pretty strong season, and they weren’t too far behind Duke, Virginia, and UNC (all of whom earned 1 seeds) in the ACC.  But they did have some inconsistent times.  Vermont is coming off a very strong season and topped it off with an AEC win over UMBC.  But do they have what it takes to upset Florida State?  They were in a similar situation two years ago against Purdue, and I called an upset.  But Purdue won, and Vermont lost.  I’m playing it safe this time around, and I didn’t think Vermont could have won any more games after this anyway.

The Pick: Florida State

#5 Marquette   vs. Image result for murray state logo #12 Murray State

Marquette got off to a nice start this season and had some pretty big victories.  But they regressed a bit towards the end of the season and disappointed in the Big East tournament.  Murray State, on the other hand, defeated a very strong Belmont team (who still made it here on an at-large bid) in the OVC, and the Racers come into this tournament hoping to prove that they are a legitimate title contender.  I think they are capable of defeating a struggling Marquette squad.

The Pick: UPSET ALERT: Murray State

Tulsa, OK: Games start Friday, March 22, 2019 at 1:30 PM EST on TNT

#3 Texas Tech Related image vs. Related image #14 Northern Kentucky

The Red Raiders put up a strong regular season and were not given the respect they deserved for it.  I’m not going to do the same.  But my concern is their Big 12 tourney choke.  Northern Kentucky could surprise them here.  Texas Tech may be underrated this season, but they are not the same #3 seeded Texas Tech that came in to this tourney last year.  In 2018, #14 seeded Stephen F. Austin couldn’t pull the upset, but this year, Northern Kentucky should be able to.

The Pick: UPSET ALERT: Northern Kentucky

#6 Buffalo Related image vs. Image result for ncaa #11 Arizona State/St. John’s

Buffalo got off to an undefeated start this season, but you would think their MAC performance would be more impressive after the strong start.  The Bulls should come into this with some momentum after their MAC tournament victory though.  St. John’s also started off undefeated, but they really dropped off towards the end of the year in the Big East, so I think Arizona State will beat them out in the First Four.  The Sun Devils were consistenly competitive in the Pac-12 this year, and they did upset Kansas early in the season.  But they didn’t quite come out on top of the Pac-12, in the regular season or the playoffs.  Expect the same in this game.  I have a lot of confidence in Buffalo, though ASU could be a sleeper team.

The Pick: Buffalo

Des Moines, IA: Games start Thursday, March 21, 2019 at 6:50 PM EST on TNT

#7 Nevada Image result for nevada wolfpack logo vs. Related image #10 Florida

The Wolfpack did put up a pretty impressive start to the year considering they are a mid-major team.  But they lost their footing a bit in the MWC and missed out on the MWC finals.  The Gators weren’t the most consistent team, but they are trending upwards after winning 5 in a row to wrap up February and making the SEC semifinals.  I have confidence in Florida to make a surprise run as they have experienced many deep tournament runs before.

The Pick: UPSET ALERT: Florida

#2 Michigan  vs. Image result for montana grizzlies logo #15 Montana

The Wolverines were the last remaining undefeated team this season, and though they were only 13-5 in the B1G after an undefeated start (9-5 since their first loss), they have at least kept up with the top teams in the league, earning them a #2 seed despite a B1G championship loss.  Though they might lose before the Sweet 16 after late struggles, they should easily be able to take down #15 seeded Montana.

The Pick: Michigan

Round of 32 and Beyond

Here are my projected Round of 32 match-ups:

#1 Gonzaga Image result for gonzaga bulldogs logo vs. Related image #8 Syracuse

#4 Florida State Image result for florida state seminoles logo red vs. Image result for murray state logo #12 Murray State

#6 Buffalo Related image vs. Related image #14 Northern Kentucky

#2 Michigan   vs.Related image #10 Florida

Syracuse is not a consistently trustworthy team by any means.  But I think they can pull the upset over a Zags team that just lost to Saint Mary’s.  Gonzaga’s win over the #16 seed won’t nearly be enough to boost morale after the WCC tourney.  The Ja Morant led Murray State could have a chance against FSU after taking down Marquette, but I have confidence in the Seminoles after their upset of Virginia in the ACC tournament and a relatively strong year in the ACC.  The Bulls should have an easy path to the Sweet 16 so long as Texas Tech is upset.  Michigan will give Florida a hard time here, but after their late season stumble, I could see Michigan putting up a dud against a team like Florida.

And the Projected West champion is…

Related image #8 Syracuse

The Orange will run with the momentum after taking down Gonzaga.  I think they can pull another upset over FSU, who has had some bad losses here and there.  Buffalo vs. Florida will be a close battle of two teams looking to make a surprise Final 4 appearance.  But I think the Orange have a better track record than either team and should make the Final 4 with ease after eliminating two Top 4 seeds.  They made it as a #10 seed a couple years back, so I’m not completely crazy to predict them making it as an #8 seed.

Next time, I will be taking a look at the South Region.  Will the Virginia Cavaliers choke again?  Does Tennessee have an easy path to the Final 4, or will somebody stop them?  Find out what I think in my next article.

NBA Playoffs Have Begun: Who Will Win It All?

The playoffs are here for the NBA.  It’s a little late, but my predictions are ready.  Who do I have winning it all?  Find out my surprising pick below.  I have hesitated to write about the NBA since Durant signed with the Warriors and the Cavs and Warriors became unbeatable super teams, but with the Celtics in the #1 seed, I’m feeling optimistic about a different final outcome.

This is my 2017 NBA Playoff Prediction.  Not many surprises early on, with the top seeds winning in every match-up except two, with the #5 Hawks beating the #4 Wizards, and the #6 Thunder beating the #3 Rockets, which could easily happen.  I don’t think the Rockets will be as good in the playoffs, they’re only slightly better than they were last year when they were seeded #8.  The Thunder have triple-double shooting Russell Westbrook on their side.  That should last them at least until they play a Top 2 seed.

The Conference Semifinals is where I have the first of a few shockers.  I have the Spurs, Celtics, and Cavs reaching Conference Finals as expected.  But I do have one surprise in the West.  Golden State will lose in the Conference Semifinals.  For many years now, I have seen Los Angeles as a legitimate contender in the West.  I think they are a team that can beat the Warriors.  They’re not the better team, but in a head-to-head match-up, the Clippers can overpower Golden State.

The Conference Finals bring more surprises.  I think the kind of shocker the Celtics pulled over Cleveland in their one regular season win against the Cavs could happen again.  They would need multiple wins in Cleveland, but especially if Kevin Love is not 100% by the Conference Final, the Celts do have a chance.  Sure, the Celtics won’t be going any further, but they have a chance to win here and go further than they’ve been since 2008.

Now, when they or Cleveland get to the NBA Championship, that will be the end.  I think no matter what happens, a Western Conference team will win the NBA Championship.  Neither the Celtics or Cavs are capable of beating Golden State, San Antonio or LA in a 7 game series.  So, it’ll be a team from the West raising the trophy.  My pick right now for that team is the Spurs.  They have a good defense, the stars they need on offense and a good all-around team.  This is the year San Antonio finally wins after a few years of waiting on a super team that’s come so close.  They won in 2013-14, and they’ve come so close since, but they can do it again three years later.   It’s hard to believe the Spurs have only won one NBA Championship in the last 5 years with the roster they have.