2013 Kronum Season Preview: Jet Sets

Expect plenty more above the rim action from the Jet Sets in 2013.

This is part six in an 8-part series leading up to the 2013 Kronum regular season.  You can also check out parts onetwothreefour, and five.

2011 Results: 5-5 Regular Season, 1-1 Playoffs, 4th place

2011 Leaders:

JS Stats

Key Losses: Jim Andorko, Mike Schaeffer, Vince Rota (to Evergreens), Sean London (to Evergreens)

Key Additions: Mike Quintans, Don McCall (from Work Horses), Ryan Skinner (from Night Owls)

Florida Gulf Coast stole the hearts and imaginations of the American public in this year’s NCAA tournament, pulling off two huge upsets before falling to Florida in the sweet sixteen.  Featuring a care-free attitude and a penchant for tossing alley-oop dunks to grace the Sportscenter top 10 lists, ‘Dunk City’ became the newest craze in the world of sports.  But before anyone had ever heard of Andy Enfield’s high-flying bunch from Fort Myers, FL, the Jet Sets were creating their own ‘Dunk City’ culture in the world of Kronum.

Finishing last year’s regular season 3rd in points per game at 119.2 (just behind the leading 122.3 mark by the Nimble Jacks), the Jet Sets undoubtedly scored in a variety of ways.  The most unique and defining way, though, was through their commitment to scoring from the goal zone area, as they recorded far and away the most dunks in the league at 6.8 dunks per game.  5 of the top 10 dunks leaders all wore the bright blue and white, with departing wedgeback Jim Andorko leading the league, and Nick DeLuca and Vinny Greco finishing third and fourth, respectively.  Not only can dunking on the opponent provide a psychological edge, but goal zone scoring stretches out the defense and opens things up for your fellow attackers in the open field.

Those fellow attackers certainly took advantage as Jeff Regensburg, Matt Parsons, and rookie of the year Stephen Vandenberg finished among the top 8 scorers in the league.  All of them were more than capable of hitting the big shot, as the three leading scorers for the Jet Sets ranked in the top 11 scorers from the cross zone area.  The entire team as a whole shot the ball exceptionally well, as the Jet Sets were the most efficient shooting team in the league at 45.9%, and the best cross zone shooting team at 30.6%.

In particular, the man they look toward is Jeff Regensburg, who led the league in scoring for the third straight season.  With a cannon for an arm, Regensburg is as dangerous as anyone in Kronum for the flex zone, leading the league in points from that area, while sporting the 9th-best flex zone shooting percentage at 52.0% (min. 4 attempts per game).  Additionally, Regensburg shot 50.0% on penalty shots to lead the league in penalty shot points.

Stephen Vandenberg will enter his second season in 2013, looking to build upon an excellent rookie campaign that saw him record some tremendous point totals while maintaining his efficiency as the 9th-best shooter in the league at 48.4% (min. 4 attempts per game), including the 4th-best mark from the flex zone at 56.7%.

Besides the Jet Sets’ big three, ranger Nick DeLuca makes his impact known as perhaps the most versatile player in the league.  Alongside his goal zone prowess, DeLuca led the league in wedge zone points while shooting a solid 42.9% from that area; he also finished fourth in the league in assists.  Another ranger, Mike Quintans, is the early favorite for rookie of the year, and should provide another arm to add to the Jet Sets’ deep arsenal. 

The biggest X-factor in 2013, however, will be captain Matt Parsons.  Parsons missed half of last season due to a broken collarbone suffered in the pre-season.  Upon his return, Parsons did not miss a beat, leading the league in assists per game in addition to finishing 6th in ppg.  He excelled in the middle of the field on both sides of the ball, leading the league in cross zone shooting percentage at 56.3% (min. 10 attempts), while also leading the league in steals per game at 1.6.  Having Parsons available from week one on will be a huge boost for an already potent Jet Sets attack.

With all of these profilic scoring numbers, you might assume the Jet Sets to be among the favorites for the 2013 title.  Unfortunately for Jet Sets supporters, the team has never proven an ability to shut down an opposing team or get key stops when needed, as they are perennially among the worst teams in the league in opposing points per game.   The Sets allowed over 100 points in half of last season’s regular season games, including permitting opposing totals of 165 and 153 points.  Defensive prospects do not look to have improved for 2013, either.  Vinny Greco does return to head the wedgeback unit after finishing sixth in the league in saves per game.  However, the team’s second-leading wedgeback, Jim Andorko, will not be returning, nor will Mike Schaeffer, who was regarded as the team’s best defensive field player.    

With all of the team’s offensive talent at their disposal, the Jets Sets certainly have enough pieces to contend in the league.  The team will drop some of the highest single-game point totals and be featured on plenty of top 10 plays during the upcoming season.  The biggest question remains whether Parsons can institute a defensive system and garner his team’s commitment to play hard both ways.   

Regular Season Prediction: 3-7 (7th Place)

The Jet Sets are practically a lock to finish in the top half of the league in scoring.  With captain Matt Parsons at the controls for a full season, their offensive attack should be more dangerous than ever.  However, there are two sides to the game and Kronum titles are not won like a fantasy sports league.  Until they can feature a staunch defense to complement their powerful offense, the Jets will remain a team known more for highlight-reel plays than victories.

Sixers Keep the Bobcats at Bay

Bobcat Clip Art

The Sixers easily dispatched of the Bobcats for their third win in three tries against them this season.

On a night when many fans in attendance likely came to the arena just to receive an Iverson bobblehead, they got more than they bargained for: another Sixers win, some exciting fourth quarter action, free big macs, and yes, the bobblehead.  It was not a dominating effort throughout by the Sixers against the team with the worst record in the NBA, but Philadelphia did just enough down the stretch to earn a 100-92 victory against Charlotte.  After the game was tied 82-82, Jrue Holiday finally snapped out of his game-long scoring funk, scoring 9 of his 14 points in the final six minutes, including a huge dunk between two Bobcats defenders.  With Holiday leading the way in the closing moments, the Sixers finally strung some stops together to pull away from a feisty Charlotte team that refused to go away.

The Bobcats shot 63.6% in the first quarter to jump out to an early lead, combining unsustainable shooting on long jumpers with an attacking mentality, tallying 20 points in the paint in the opening frame.  After hitting the rookie wall, Michael Kidd-Gilcrist played his best game in months, scoring 11 points in the first on 5-6 shooting, finishing with a team-high 21 points.  Damien Wilkins initially kept the Sixers within striking distance, recording 9 points on 4-5 shooting in the game’s first 8 minutes.

In the second period, Charlotte’s outside shots stopped falling and the Sixers did a better job protecting the paint, while continuing to probe the porous Bobcats defense themselves.  As usual, the energy of Thad Young overwhelmed an opponent, as he ended the half with 13 points on 6-7 shooting and 8 rebounds.  The Sixers as a team did an excellent job of moving the ball around and finding the open man, as 17 of their 20 made field goals in the half were assisted.  A nine-point deficit became a three-point halftime lead.

Coming out of the locker room, Evan Turner had a huge quarter, scoring 13 points in the third quarter for the second straight game.  Turner’s mid-range jumper was falling as he buoyed a Sixers offense that became a little stagnant in the second half; he finished the game with a team-high 22 points and 7 rebounds.

Following Holiday’s late surge for the victory, the Sixers find themselves having won three straight and 7 of their past 11 games.  Their recent success makes that 12 out of 13-game losing streak a month ago look that much worse.  If Philadelphia had just played .500 ball during that stretch, they would find themselves in good playoff position given Boston and Milwaukee’s recent struggles.  Unfortunately, it did happen and Sixers fans will just have to take solace in the fact that the team has enough character to pull things together and play some good basketball as the season winds down to an end.  Philadelphia will next hit the road again, completing a home-and-home with Charlotte Wednesday night, before facing three Eastern Conference playoff teams in Atlanta, Miami, and Brooklyn.

Sixers vs. Bobcats Game Preview (3/30/13)

Don’t worry Allen, we’re talking about the game.

On Allen Iverson bobblehead night, the Answer himself will be in attendance to do his iconic ‘Let me hear you’ gesture and remind Sixers fans of better times for the franchise.  Although it’s a lost cause at this point, it has been better times recently for the current Sixers team, who have won three of four, and six of their last ten.  This recent run of success has a portion of the Sixers community bemoaning the fact that Philadelphia should be tanking for a better draft pick since the playoffs are out of the picture.  However, at this point, the Sixers are almost assured of getting the 11th pick, so they should try to put those thoughts behind them and enjoy the fact that the team is playing better ball.

Tonight’s opponent, the Charlotte Bobcats have also been playing better of late (for them), going 4-6 in their last 10 contests.  The biggest reason has been the improved play of Gerald Henderson, who has taken on a larger role in the offense in the wake of an injury to Bobcats’ sixth man Ramon Sessions, who remains out with a strained MCL.  Henderson has averaged 24.0 points on 51.0% shooting over those 10 games, including scoring 34 and 35 in the team’s two most recent contests.  Charlotte’s offense over that period has been at an average 103.1 rating, much improved from their usual mark as the third worst offense in the league at 98.1 (one spot below Philadelphia).  However, Charlotte has been playing the same horrendous defense that ranks dead last in the NBA with a 109.3 rating.  To put that figure in perspective, the Bobcats are as far apart from the Sixers on defense, as the Sixers are from the best defensive team in the league.

The Bobcats’ biggest need remains their search for a serviceable big man, as lottery pick Bismack Biyombo has yet to develop any offensive game and still looks lost much of the time on a basketball court.  As a result, the team relies heavily on offensive production from its guards, especially former UConn star, Kemba Walker.  Walker takes the most shots on the team, while shooting a below average 42.0% from the field and 33.0% from three.  Despite his below average numbers, Walker has actually improved in nearly every category in his second season, averaging 17.5 ppg, 5.6 apg, and 2.0 spg.  Walker as gone from actively hurting his team, to putting up the numbers of an inefficient gunner; the team is hopeful he can continue to improve going into next season.

With so much emphasis on the perimeter game, Charlotte is the worst shooting team in the league with an eFG% of 45.6%.  One thing they do excel at, which the Sixers could take some notes on, is getting to the charity stripe.  The Bobcats are the third-best team in the league at getting to the foul line.  Walker and Henderson both do a great job getting to the line, ranking among the top 30 players in free throws attempts per game.

Keys to the Game:

  • Attack, attack, attack.  Going against the worst defense in the league, Philadelphia just needs to play sound fundamental basketball and the points will come.  Work the ball around to force the Bobcats into poor defensive rotations.  Get into the lane against their poor perimeter defenders for some drive-and-kick action and finishes in the lane.  Settling for long jumpers early in the shot clock is the best way to let Charlotte hang around.
  • Double Walker and Henderson on their drives into the lane.  If those guys want to stay outside and shoot low percentage shots, that’s fine, but they both do a good job in getting to the rim.  Offer help to their defenders and force them to get rid of the ball when they enter the painted area.  Make other players other than those two beat you on the offensive end, which is very unlikely to happen.

Prediction:

Each team travels to Philadelphia after a game Friday night, the Bobcats having fallen to the Knicks in a a game that wasn’t as close as the 111-102 final score indicated.  Like the Sixers, the Bobcats struggle mightily on the road, where they’ve gone 6-30 this season.  So, much as the Sixers have taken care of other poor defensive teams like Sacramento and Cleveland within the past week, they should handle the Bobcats.  Charlotte literally has zero offensive threats from their front court, eliminating Philadelphia’s biggest area of weakness.  The Sixers’ perimeter players should be able to limit Walker and Henderson and cruise to an easy victory at home.

Sixers Pull Away From Short-Handed Cavaliers

Bag Luggage Travel Clip Art

If the Sixers aren’t careful, fans might mistake them for road warriors.

There’s a saying in poker: if you look around the table and don’t spot the sucker, you are the sucker.  Far too often this season, the Sixers have looked around and seen nothing, done nothing.  However, on this Friday evening, Philadelphia recognized a depleted Cavaliers squad and went in for the kill.  Following a strong performance in the third quarter, the Sixers went on to coast to a 97-87 road victory.

After a lackluster opening to the game that saw Cleveland end the first quarter on a 7-0 run to earn a lead, the Sixers ended the second quarter on a 9-0 run to tie the game.  Thad Young was crucial for Philadelphia in the first half, scoring 14 points on 7-9 shooting, and collecting 5 rebounds.  After letting the Cavaliers hang around, the Sixers finally stepped up their game in the third period.  In his homecoming to the state of Ohio, Evan Turner channeled his days as a Buckeye in a 23-point, 13-rebound performance.  13 of those points came in the pivotal third quarter, as Turner and the Sixers continued to attack the lane and take advantage of a weak Cavaliers defense.  Once Philadelphia built a double-digit lead, it became apparent that Cleveland did not have the dynamic player needed to pull them back into the game.

Aside from Turner, who played his best game in weeks, Spencer Hawes continued his strong play of late, putting up his 6th double-double in the past 8 games, with 16 points and 11 rebounds.  Jrue Holiday struggled with his floor game early on, as the Cavs threw as many as three guys at Holiday on multiple occasions.  However, he rebounded nicely in the second half, finishing with 20 points, 5 rebounds, and 6 assists.

The victory was not especially impressive aside from the fact that Philadelphia has struggled so much on the road this season.  However, the Sixers lost this type of contest on countless occasions this year, and fans need to take the small victories at this point.  Philadelphia has shown of late that they can beat good teams at home, and bad teams on the road.  If they could put all that together throughout next season, we’ll once again be watching Sixers playoff basketball in 2014.

La Salle’s Memorable Tournament Run Comes to an End

Finish Flags Clip Art

La Salle reached the season’s finish line against a larger Wichita State team.

It wasn’t quite David vs. Goliath, but Wichita State’s size was too much for La Salle to overcome, as their tournament run ended with a 72-56 defeat in the sweet sixteen.  As anticipated, the Shockers absolutely dominated the game in the paint and on the boards, out-rebounding the Explorers by a 44-23 margin, including 15-5 on offensive rebounds.  Wichita State did their damage their early, starting the game on a 14-2 run, with all those points in the paint.  La Salle had no answer for Carl Hall, who went 5-5 from the field for 10 points during that stretch.

The rest of the first half was not much better for the Explorers as the hot shooting that carried them through their first three victories fizzled out, shooting just 8-30 in the first twenty minutes.   Ramon Galloway, who had put up some lofty first-half point totals in prior contests, missed his first six shots before finally connecting on a long three-pointer with 6 minutes left in the half.

In the second frame, it wasn’t enough to dominate the paint, as the Shockers took a page out of La Salle’s playbook and started hitting from behind the arc.  Two threes to open the second half propelled Wichita State to its largest lead of the game at 22.  La Salle tried to pull a reverse of the Kansas State contest and pull a memorable comeback themselves, going on a 10-0 run to back the score 44-32.  Unfortunately, that effort was the last gasp for the Explorers as Malcolm Armstead took over, scoring 9 points from that point on to help keep the team from Philadelphia at bay.  The early hole just proved too much to overcome for La Salle.

Jerrell Wright fought through some early foul trouble to play an excellent game, finishing with 16 points on 6-9 shooting, and 5 rebounds.  Tyrone Garland and Ramon Galloway also each finished in double figures, but the pair combined to shoot just 9-30 from the floor on the game.  For Wichita State, Malcolm Armstead was the man of the hour with 18 points, 6 rebounds, and 4 assists.  Carl Hall slowed down a bit after his incredible start to the game, ending with 16 points and 8 rebounds.

Despite the loss, La Salle should be extremely proud of their efforts the last couple weeks.  The team brought the program great acclaim, reaching levels of success not seen in over 50 years.  After transferring from South Carolina, leading scorer Ramon Galloway will end his fine career in the Explorers’ blue and gold having left his mark on the program.  However, all other members of the rotation are returning for next season and expectations will be high for another successful campaign.

Sixers @ Cavaliers Game Preview (3/29/13)

Sad Dog With A Broken Leg Clip Art

Like Philadelphia, injuries have played a big role in Cleveland’s disappointing season.

Given the Andrew Bynum bowling debacle, not many teams could claim to have been affected by injuries as much as the Sixers, but the Cleveland Cavaliers might be in the discussion.  After all-star Kyrie Irving misssed some time earlier this season with a fractured finger, he’s now out again indefinitely with a shoulder injury.  Besides Irving’s struggles staying on the court, the Cavaliers also lost big man Anderson Varejao for the season, who was having a career year, putting up top-10-type statistics.  Currently, even rookie guard Dion Waiters has missed the last three games with a knee injury and might be shut down for the season.  The triage unit Cleveland is sending out there has now lost 6 straight games, including a buzzer beater defeat to the Celtics Wednesday night. With three starters out, the Cavaliers lineup now consists of Shaun Livingston, Wayne Ellington, Alonzo Gee, Tristan Thompson, and Tyler Zeller.  It’s never a good thing when the majority of your starters peaked in college, and this line-up is certainly not striking fear in the hearts of the opposition.

Cleveland has the 5th-worst defense in the league, as they both allow the second-worst opponent eFG% in the NBA at 52.4%, and give up the fourth-highest opponent’s FTA rate.  You can also hit the glass against them as opponents have the 5th-highest offensive rebounding rate against them.  On top of their defensive liabilities, the team’s offensive prowess has taken a nosedive without Irving around to serve as the focal point of their attack.  In the 7 most recent games Irving has been out, the offense has gone from slightly below average at 101.3, to an abysmal 96.1 rating, which would rank last in the league over the course of the season.  The Cavaliers just don’t have much left to work with now that three of their top four players are injured.

Of the remaining crew for Cleveland, Tristan Thompson is a player who has greatly improved in his second season, averaging a double-double at 11.4 ppg and 9.3 rpg.  Thompson is top 15 in the league in offensive-rebounding rate among players who play 20+ minutes per game, averaging 3.7 orpg; Thad Young will need to concentrate on keeping a body on him at all times.  From the outside, Ellington (39.0%) and C.J. Miles (38.5%) are the Cavs’ only above-average three-point shooters on the floor.  Neither of these guys are especially threatening without Irving around to draw the defense’s attention and kick out.

Keys to the Game:

  • Get out to an early lead.  The Sixers came out against the Bucks with a ton of energy in building an 18-point second quarter lead, before the Bucks fought their way back into the game.  Unlike Milwaukee, though, Cleveland has nothing left to play for at this point of the season, and are unlikely to make their way back from any sizable deficit.
  • Jrue Holiday needs to dominate this game with Kyrie Irving missing in action.  As the only all-star taking the floor for either team, these are the types of games Holiday should rise up and take control.  He will be guarded by Shaun Livingston, who has done an admirable job bouncing back from one of the most gruesome injuries in NBA history, but is nothing more than a role player at this point of his career.  Holiday should be able to get into the lane at will against Livingston, and with the Cavaliers having the second-worst block rate in the league, Holiday should finish at the rim on command.

Prediction:

Cleveland takes the floor without their blue-chip superstar, their emerging rookie guard, and their best interior defender and rebounder.  While we have seen the Sixers lose these types of games to inferior opponents all season, the last two and a half weeks have mostly seen a different Philadelphia squad out on the court.  The Sixers earn a rare road victory in dispatching the short-handed Cavaliers.

 

Sixers Finally Bring Down the Bucks

Hunting Deer Clip Art

It might be too late in terms of the standings, but it felt good to finally watch a Sixers win over the Bucks.

The cliche ‘basketball is a game of runs’ is thrown around far too often, but never was it more true than Wednesday night in Philadelphia.  After Thad Young scored 12 points in the first on 6-7 shooting to stake Philadelphia to an early lead, the Sixers used a 14-2 run early in the second quarter to build an 18-point advantage.  If you thought they would cruise to an easy victory from there, you haven’t watched the Sixers play this year.

The Bucks would regroup behind Monta Ellis and Larry Sanders to bring the deficit to just 6 at halftime, before a third quarter push saw Milwaukee actually take the lead by as many as 7 points.  However, unlike many games throughout this disappointing season, the Sixers had one more run in them.  A 15-0 streak in the fourth quarter, during which the Bucks turned the ball over 4 out of 5 possessions at one point, saw the Sixers take a final lead they would not relinquish, winning 100-92.

As is often the case when the Sixers play well, it was a balanced effort, with all 5 starters and 6 players in all scoring at least 13 points.  Spencer Hawes continued his recent resurgence, dropping 15 points and collecting a team-high 17 rebounds.  Damian Wilkins played well once again in a starting role, tying Jrue Holiday with a team-high 18 points, including a steal and breakaway dunk in the final minute to seal the victory for Philadelphia.

For Milwaukee, Brandon Jennings was held scoreless for the first time in his career and was benched in the second half; no explanation has yet been given for the benching.  In his wake, Monta Ellis had a huge performance, scoring a game-high 29 points and dishing out 7 assists.  Ellis ditched the long jumper early on and focused on getting to the rim, which proved an effective strategy against a Sixers team without an athletic shot blocker.  Unfortunately for the Bucks, he didn’t receive much help from the other leading scorers in Jennings, and J.J. Redick (who shot just 2-12).

The Sixers’ win denied Milwaukee its first season sweep of Philadelphia since the 1973-74 season.  With the loss, the Bucks dropped 2.5 games back of the 7th seed in the eastern conference.  Philadelphia might not have much to play for in terms of the standings at this point in the season, but I’m sure the crowd in attendance on Fan Appreciation Night appreciated the effort.  The team will hit the road again Friday to face a Kyrie-Irving-less Cleveland Cavaliers squad.

#13 La Salle vs. #9 Wichita St NCAA Sweet 16 Game Preview

Pumpkin Friends

La Salle looks to avoid turning back into a pumpkin on this Cinderella tournament run.

Tyrone Garland introduced the world to the ‘Southwest Philly Floater’ last weekend, sending La Salle into the Sweet 16 for the first time in over 50 years.  He, Ramon Galloway, Tyreek Duren and company will next have to contend with a Wichita State Shockers club busting some brackets of their own. After handily defeating Pittsburgh in their opening round contest, the Shockers hit their last seven threes to upset #1 seed Gonzaga.  The odds of a 33% three-point shooting team hitting seven in a row are over 2,000:1.  Wichita State hung with the Bulldogs all game, though, so fans should not dismiss that victory as pure luck. 

Like La Salle, Wichita State played a weak out-of-conference schedule during the regular season, with their best wins outside the Missouri Valley coming against VCU and Iowa.  Also like the Explorers, Wichita State likes to play at a below average pace, so I wouldn’t expect this game to turn into a track meet.  The similarities end there, however, as Wichita State excels at rebounding on both ends of the floor, a huge area of weakness for the Explorers.  Wichita State’s offensive rebounding rate is the 11th-best in the country at 37.7%, while La Salle is just 245th at 27.7%.  On the defensive glass, the Shockers are also 11th-best nationally at 75.9%, whereas La Salle ranks 255th at 67.9%.  Jerrell Wright will be the most important player for the Explorers; he stepped up with a 21 point, 8 rebound effort against Kansas State, a team with a similar size advantage.  If Wright doesn’t approach that level of performance, La Salle will not stand a chance.

The Shockers are predominantly a veteran bunch with mainly upperclassmen within the top of their rotation.  Cleanthony Early comes off the bench to lead the team in scoring at 13.9 ppg in addition to his 5.2 rpg; the 6’8″ power forward is rated as the 61st-best junior in the country.  Senior Carl Hall teams with Early down low, averaging 12.6 ppg and a team-leading 6.9 rpg.  Finally, senior Malcolm Armstead, the transfer from Oregon, controls the action for the Shockers, leading the team with 4.0 apg, to go with his 10.6 ppg. 

Wichita State has a dominating rebounding advantage and has already gone through two highly-regarded teams in Gonzaga and Pittsburgh.  La Salle always has a puncher’s chance to get hot from behind the arc as they did in the first half against Kansas State, but Wichita State is among the top 100 teams at defending the three.  With opponents shooting just 32.3% against the Shockers from behind the arc, it’s not a glaring weakness that La Salle should be able to exploit.  I expect the round of sixteen to not be so sweet for the Explorers as Wichita State advances.

Sixers vs. Bucks Game Preview (3/27/13)

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The Sixers have ‘Feared the Deer’ this year, losing all three previous games against the Bucks.

Following a largely unsuccessful four-game west coast trip, the Sixers return home to face the Bucks in one of just four remaining home games this season.  This contest represents one of the team’s best chances for a win down the stretch as Philadelphia is a respectable 20-17 on the season at home, while Milwaukee is slumping, having lost three straight and 7 of their past 11.  Although the Bucks have all but clinched a playoff spot, sitting in 8th place and 7.5 games ahead of the Sixers, they would very much like to move up the 7th seed and avoid a first round slaughter at the hands of the Miami Heat.  Having not played since Sunday against the Hawks, the Bucks should enter play rested and appropriately prepared for a Sixers team they’ve defeated in all three previous meetings this season.

The Bucks’ offensive profile on the season seems very similar to last season’s Sixers team, as they sport the third-best turnover ratio in the league, but feature the 7th-worst effective FG% and 6th-lowest FTA rate.  Monta Ellis and Brandon Jennings shoot just 41.9% and 39.7% from the field, respectively, but account for almost 40% of the team’s shot attempts.  Any long jumper from those two should be considered a win for the defense, especially any Ellis three, where he shoots a horrid 27.2%.

Milwaukee’s recent struggles stem from an inability to stop the opponent, as they have 108.8 defensive rating over the last 11 games, compared to their 102.3 mark over the course of the season.  The Bucks have experimented with a lineup featuring newly acquired J.J. Redick at small forward with the Jennings, Ellis, Ilyasova, Sanders starting unit.  Although that lineup has scored well, it has also been, by far, the team’s worst defensive line-up this season (min. 50 minutes played).  Milwaukee will need to find different ways to incorporate Redick because any group with him and the two small guards will not be able to stop anyone from scoring.

Keys to the Game:

  • Attack the offensive glass.  The Bucks are the third-worst defensive rebounding team in the NBA, with the opposition collecting 28.8% of available offensive rebounds.  Milwaukee especially struggles to rebound when Larry Sanders hits the bench; Arnett Moultrie and Lavoy Allen lead the team in offensive rebounding rate and should take advantage of the Bucks’ second unit.
  • Protect the ball offensively.  Milwaukee forces the 7th-highest percent of turnovers in the league as they rely on run-outs to bolster an otherwise stagnant offense.  If the Sixers can limit those live ball turnovers, the Bucks should struggle to score out of their half court sets.  It will be crucial for Jrue Holiday to run the show offensively while avoiding one of his sloppy performances holding on to the rock.

Prediction:

The Sixers tough loss against the Bucks in the teams’ last meeting likely extinguished the Sixers’ last realistic chance at making a playoff push.  Philadelphia ought to remember that defeat and try to get pull out one victory in this season series.  With Milwaukee’s recent struggles and the Sixers’ solid play at home, Philadelphia should pull this game out in a close finish.

2013 Kronum Season Preview: Work Horses

The Work Horses and Night Owls did some off-season dealing that should benefit the Horses in 2013.

This is part five in an 8-part series leading up to the 2013 Kronum regular season.  You can also check out parts one, two, three, and four.

2011 Results: 0-10 Regular Season, 0-1 Playoffs, 6th Place

2011 Leaders:

WH Stats

Key Losses: Bill Zane (to Night Owls), Bob Zane (to Night Owls), Brett McGlensey (to Night Owls), Ray Hunter, Jeff Yetter (to Evergreens),

Key Additions: Phil Cavalcante (from Night Owls), Luke Dougan (from Night Owls), Matt Sola (from Night Owls), Derek Clouser (from Night Owls), Matt Kump (from Nimble Jacks)

Coming off a 2nd-place regular season finish the year before, the Work Horses had high expectations going into last season.  Shockingly, those expectations went entirely unrealized as they failed to win even a single contest throughout the season.  The closest the Horses came to victory was a 106-105, Round 9 loss to the Night Owls, a game that remained undecided until the final whistle as the players scrambled for a loose ball in the wedge zone.  It wasn’t quite on the level of the Philadelphia Eagles’ ‘Dream Team’ missing the playoffs, but the season was a huge disappointment nonetheless.  Clearly, change was on the horizon and it arrived in a big way, as the Work Horses and Night Owls exchanged seven players in the biggest swap in Kronum history.  To examine how the new roster affects the team going forward, we first have to look back.

By far, the main issue for the team last season was scoring the ball as the Horses actually performed fairly well on the defensive end, allowing the second-fewest points in the league.  It’s one thing to slow the game down, which might lead to some low-scoring totals, but a team also needs to score when they have the ball.  However, the Work Horses owned far and away the worst team shooting percentage at 33.8% (second-lowest was the Throwbacks at 36.9%).  This problem stemmed primarily from poor shooting from the flex zone where they shot just 34.2%; the next lowest percentage from that area was 38.6% and elite scoring teams shot greater than 45%.

How does a team go about turning around such a weak offensive attack?  A great place to start is by bringing in two of the top 5 leading scorers from last season, which is exactly what the Horses have done with new captain Phil Cavalcante (25.7 ppg) and Luke Dougan (23.5 ppg).  Aside from the raw numbers, these two players bring a level of toughness to the Horses’ offense as the pair fought through contact to tie for 2nd in the league in penalty shot points behind the Jet Sets’ Jeff Regensburg.  Dougan does a great job stretching the defense, as he ranked 2nd in the league in cross zone scoring, behind MVP Kevin Clark.  However, the biggest of the all of the Horses’ offseason acquisition is definitely Phil Cavalcante.

Cavalcante, along with Joe Petrino, was the most impactful off-season roster move among returning professionals across the league.  The league’s 2nd-leading scorer, he not only scored in bunches but efficiently as well, shooting 56.7% to rank 5th in the league (min. 3 attempts per game).  With good efficiency from both the flex and cross zones, the veteran unsurprisingly ranked fourth in the league in points per shot at 1.37 (see down below).  Cavalcante is the type of player that demands attention from the defense and will make the rest of his teammates better by allowing them to receive higher percentage looks at the net.  Defensively, Cavalcante is by no means the quickest player in Kronum, but he understands defensive positioning as well as anyone in the league.  As a result, he led all players in blocks at 3.0 per game and ranked 8th in steals at 1.1 per contest.

Obviously, a team can not gain so much talent without giving something in return, as the Horses lost their top two wedgebacks to the Night Owls in the Zane brothers, Bill and Bob.  However, they received back former Night Owls, Matt Sola (9.3 saves per game) and Derek Clouser (8.2 saves per game), who will join incumbent netminder Ryan McGlensey in a unit that should hold its own on the back line.  A rookie of the year candidate last season, Sola should be an especially valuable player both in net and offensively, where he averaged 12.2 ppg on 45.0% shooting last season.  Sola publicly butted heads with Owls’ captain Kyle McGrath on a couple occasions last season, and it will be interesting to see if a new team environment will help further expand his game.

Moreover, the stable was not empty on the Horses’ squad prior to the roster turnover.  A mid-season free agent acquisition last season, Dave Slusser greatly improved the Work Horses’ offense and was instrumental in their near-upset of the Night Owls.  Slusser led the league in points per shot (min. 3 attempts per game) last season at 1.44, helped greatly by his four 8-point kronums in just five games, which tied Kevin Clark for the league lead.  Slusser was not a one-dimensional player on offense, either, as his 5.0 assists per game ranked 7th in the league.  In his first full professional campaign this year, Slusser should continue to improve and wreck havoc on opposing defenses from the cross zone.

PPS Shots

A trio of rangers round out the notable returnees for the Horses.  Leading scorer Mike Small will be back for the upcoming season; at 6’7″, Small is anything but, and features a strong arm that whips the ball in at a difficult angle for opposing wedgebacks.  Matt Urglavitch was second in the league in wedge zone points behind the Jet Sets’ Nick DeLuca, and provides an additional dimension to an otherwise arm-heavy Horses’ squad.  Finally, Kosta Nikolos averaged 12.6 points per game last season and owns one of the most unique shots in Kronum; his pump-fake off his set shot from the flex area has made opposing defenders look silly on more than one highlight reel.

The Work Horses tie with the Nimble Jacks for most returning pros with 12, but are only bringing back 6 players from last season’s roster.  It will be up to Cavalcante as captain to merge the Work Horses old and new together and maximize the talent throughout the roster.

Regular Season Prediction: 6-4 (2nd Place)

The Horses have added some elite scoring options and should excel in an area that was a huge weakness for them last season.  Even on top of his on-field performance, Cavalcante commands a level of respect as a team leader that should draw out the best in his teammates.  Look for the Work Horses to have a bounce-back season and return to the upper half of the league standings.