Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Secret Wars: Previewing Heroes & Villains for the 2011 NBA Season with ESPN and Marvel Comics, Part 2

It's time for NBA season previews and ESPN the Magazine has put forth the most interesting effort by using Marvel superheroes and illustrators to come up with variant comic book covers for each team (Insider access required). Honestly, the idea was genius and the outcome was pretty tremendous but there were a few covers that could have been better. I'm going to preview the NBA season with a rundown of the good (heroes), bad (villains) and the ugly (anti-heroes) from Marvel's variant NBA covers.  All images used for this post appear courtesy of comicvine.com.

This post uses Win Score and Wins Produced, statistical models created by Professor David Berri from the Wages of Wins Journal to measure how much a player's boxscore statistics contributes to their team's wins. An average player produces an estimated 0.100 wins per 48 minutes (WP48). More information  can be found at the following links:

Simple Models of Player Performance
Wins Produced vs. Win Score
What Wins Produced Says and What It Does Not Say
Introducing PAWSmin — and a Defense of Box Score Statistics

This is Part 2, a preview of the Eastern Conference. For Part 1, a preview of the Western Conference, click HERE.

Eastern Conference

LeBron James is proving that his skin is tough enough
to survive in a league that fears and hates him.
#1. Heat (75-7)
Cover Rating - Villains: The Miami Heat's Three Kings holding Captain America's shields over their heads to protect them from the spotlight shining on them this season gave me the impression that cover artist Mike Deodato just mailed it in. Why not the X-Men? Think about it - LeBron James, Chris Bosh and Dwyane Wade are fighting to save a league that fears and hates them. Ticket sales were in the tank last year but this year teams are selling tickets at a rapid pace because they want to see the Miami Heat. David Stern wants to cut player salaries? James, Wade and Bosh all left money on the table to possibly provide the league the best entertainment it's seen in nearly 15 years. I think the X-Men would've been the perfect choice for the Heat. A #1 seed in the East feels like a perfect choice, too.

Dwight Howard's been a juggernaut in the paint for years,
but don't get caught up in Olajuwon's marketing hype.
Howard doesn't have what it takes to march through the Heat.
#2. Magic (56-26)
Cover Rating - Anti-Heroes: Dwight Howard as Wolverine for the Orlando Magic? Marvel, I don't believe you, you need more people! I haven't seen a killer instinct from Howard (unless you count the playoff games when he tried to knock the entire Celtics frontcourt unconscious with his elbows). Despite the fact that he spent a few hours practicing with Hakeem Olajuwon this summer to help market the Dream's new company, I think Juggernaut would have been a better character for Howard and the Magic. They bulldoze through competition in the regular season, but once a worthy opponent finds the chink in their armor - they're exposed as a mentally inferior adversary.  I dismiss the notion that Howard can single-handedly dominate the Miami Heat because the Heat split the season series last season with the Magic, 2-2.  Howard only produced an estimated 0.28 wins in 126.5 minutes played over those four games with an estimated 0.106 WP48.  Basically, Erik Spoelstra's defense reduced Howard from a superstar (0.377 WP48) to an average center (0.100 WP48 is average). Expect more of the same when the Magic come up small against the Heat in the playoffs.

If the Boston Celtics are the Fantastic Four on the court,
then who's going to fade like the Invisible Woman?
#3. Celtics (53-29)
Cover Rating - Heroes: The Fantastic Four was a great choice for the Boston Celtics so I'm not sure why Marvel and ESPN decided to make it the Fantastic Five and include Shaquille O'Neal. Shaq's production declined from eight wins in 2009 with Phoenix to just two wins in 2010 with Cleveland. Injury could have played a role in Shaq's decline and he's supposed to be in great shape this season, so time will tell if he can improve upon last season's mediocre output. Two members of the Celtics' Fantastic Four weren't so fantastic in the Finals against the Lakers. Kevin Garnett's production declined from 0.232 WP48 in the regular season to an estimated 0.074 WP48 in the Finals.  KG was obviously playing hurt, but who knows whether his knee can withstand the rigors of 100+ games in the regular season and playoffs without impacting his production?  Ray Allen also faded against the Lakers.  His production dropped from 0.128 WP48 in the regular season to an estimated -0.042 WP48 and he was routinely killed by top shooting guards like Wade and Kobe (0.259 Est. WP48 in the Finals).  I don't know which of those two will disappear faster than the Invisible Woman this season, but the decline is inevitable.

The Chicago Bulls hope Carlos Boozer makes a similar impact
when he arrives in the lineup. 
#4. Bulls (52-30)
Cover Rating - Anti-Heroes: I can buy Carlos Boozer as the Red Hulk but I need the illustration to be a little better. It would also help the Chicago Bulls if Boozer was as indestructible as the Hulk. Regardless, the Bulls should win more than enough games to get home-court advantage in the first round of the playoffs.  The front office upgraded the roster by exchanging three players that produced 10 wins last season for seven players that produced 26.8 wins. Adding a potential 17 wins to last season's 41-41 record means the Bulls will be smashing a lot of teams this season.

Can Joe Johnson stand and deliver a trip to the Eastern
Conference Finals for the Hawks, or will they end up
getting the high, hard shaft for the biggest free agent
contract signed this summer?
#5. Hawks (49-33)
Cover Rating - Anti-Heroes: Hawkeye and the Atlanta Hawks? It's corny but the Larry O'Brien trophy surrounded by arrows that missed the target is pretty clever. The Hawks were in a similar position as the Suns this offseason - they only had two choices: overpay their star player to remain a playoff team or try to replace them with children of a lesser god. The Hawks chose to fork over the dough to Joe Johnson and it was a questionable decision. If they chose to let Johnson walk and gave his starting spot to Jamal Crawford (and Crawford's minutes to Maurice Evans), then it would have cost them about 5 wins. That still would have left them with enough production to finish with a higher seed than the Bucks, but behind the Heat, Magic, Celtics and Bulls.

Brandon Jennings is like the Black Panther on the court
with his speed and agility.
#6. Bucks (43-39)
Cover Rating - Anti-Heroes: I loved the Luke Cage and Iron Fist comics growing up but I can't buy into any image that has the Milwaukee Bucks' Brandon Jennings with bulging muscles. That's pushing the limits beyond science fiction, so I'm rating the Marvel/ESPN cover as ugly. Speaking of pushing the limits, I will be disappointed if someone on the Bucks doesn't lay Amare Stoudemire out in their first game against the Knicks (where's Kurt Thomas when you need him). I find it hard to believe that Bogut would've taken such a horrific spill if Stoudemire didn't push him in the back. However, if the best revenge is living well, then the Bucks should be able to take solace in living well into the first round of the playoffs as the #6 seed while Stoudemire sits home and watches them on TV.

Prokhorov is off to a good start taking over the NBA
universe. The Nets will be much improved this season.
#7. Nets (41-41)
Cover Rating - Heroes: Mikhail Prokhorov as the planet-consuming Galactus was an interesting choice. Prokhorov entered the league proclaiming to make the playoffs this season and win the title in five seasons. So far, it looks like he's off to a good start. I've seen two different bloggers project the Nets to win 41 games this season using the Wins Produced model - Ty Willinghanz and Arturo Galletti. A good portion of the Nets projected improvement relies upon Troy Murphy being healthy and so far that hasn't been the case. Murphy produced 13 wins last season, so if he's not healthy the Nets could go from a 41-win team in the playoffs to a 30-win team back in the lottery. Of course, the bigger question is whether Prokhorov can pull Carmelo Anthony into his orbit. The forecast shouldn't really change if the Nets get Melo in exchange for Devin Harris, Derrick Favors and draft picks because the increase in production from starting Melo over Travis Outlaw would be cancelled out by the decrease in production from starting Jordan Farmar in place of Harris.

The Cavs may not be swinging to the top of the
standings this season, but they should still be able to
swing into the playoffs.
#8. Cavaliers (40-42)
Cover Rating - Heroes: The remake of a panel from the "Spider-Man No More" issue with LeBron James walking away from his Cavs uniform in a Miami Heat jersey was classic. A face-off with the Heat in the first round of the playoffs would also be classic. The Cleveland Cavaliers lost 32 wins in the off-season when LeBron, Big Z, Shaq and Delonte West joined other teams but can be expected to gain 12 wins from the additions of Ramon Sessions, Ryan Hollins and starter's minutes for Jamario Moon. That puts them around 41 wins. They can go above or below that number depending on who takes the minutes left by Big Z. If Leon Powe can return from a devastating knee injury to be the player he was in 2008 for the Celtics, then the Cavs can be expected to fight their way to the #7 seed. If not, then they should get a date with the Three Kings in South Beach and the chance to keep that promise Dan Gilbert made.

As owner of the Bobcats, Michael Jordan will need
Gerald Wallace and Stephen Jackson to continue being
Iron Men this season and finish in the NBA's top five in
minutes played for a second consecutive season.
#9. Bobcats (36-46)
Cover Rating - Heroes: Michael Jordan looks so much like Samuel Jackson's portrayal of Nick Fury it's comical. What isn't comical is the Charlotte Bobcats trying to replace the eight wins produced by Raymond Felton last season with D.J. Augustin, Shaun Livingston and Sherron Collins. Livingston has only played 48 games in the last two seasons and Collins was ranked as the 64th best college player available in June's draft (based on Win Score). Replacing Felton with Augustin could cost the Bobcats 8 wins this season (they won 44 last season). 36 wins may not be enough for them to hold onto the #8 seed or a playoff spot.

Amare Stoudemire, Mike D'Antoni and Donnie Walsh
will disappoint a lot of New Yorkers when this new era
of Knicks fails to bring playoff basketball back to
Madison Square Garden.
#10. Knicks (35-47)
Cover Rating - Anti-Heroes: The picture of the Avengers welcoming Amare Stoudemire to the New York Knicks was just okay, but in my mind the whole was never greater than the sum of its parts when it came to the Avengers. While the Justice League could stand on its own (thus the successful run of its cartoon series) the Avengers was never more popular than individual heroes like Spider-Man or Iron Man. I don't think the Knicks or their individual players will be that popular this season because the expectations have been set too high. ESPN the Magazine predicted them to finish as the #7 seed but I don't see how that's going to happen. The Knicks won 29 games last season but their two biggest free agent acquisitions didn't net them any additional wins. The combination of David Lee and Chris Duhon produced the same amount of wins as the combination of Amare Stoudemire and Raymond Felton. So where will the other 12 wins required for a playoff berth come from? Anthony Randolph has only averaged a little over 900 minutes in two seasons. Even with the assumption that Randolph will be able to play all of the minutes used by Al Harrington last season, that only gets the Knicks an additional seven wins. Where will the last five wins come from? Timofey Mozgov has been below average in the pre-season. Ronny Turiaf and Roger Mason combined to produce 3 wins in 2,400 minutes last season. After that, the best the Knicks can hope for is improvement by Toney Douglas, Bill Walker and Wilson Chandler. I think they're coming up short and the Walsh/D'Antoni era is coming to an end soon.

Even Sasquatch knows Raptors GM Bryan Colangelo
has been clueless making personnel decisions in
#11. Raptors (25-57)
Cover Rating - Heroes: It seems right that the NBA's only Canadian team is illustrated in the likeness of Alpha Flight, Marvel's premier Canadian super hero team. The Toronto Raptors will be so bad next season that perhaps their loyal fanbase will riot and finally drive Bryan Colangelo and Andrea Bargnani out of town. Bargnani has been the least productive number one pick in the lottery era but Colangelo signed him to a $50 million contract extension that kicks in this season. If the fans don't want to get their hands dirty, maybe Alpha Flight can use its powers to drive them south of the border.

Larry Bird has been out to lunch in Indiana ever since
the bad mojo from the Malice in the Palace.
#12. Pacers (20-62)
Cover Rating - Anti-Heroes: Like the Indiana Pacers, Dr. Strange always bored me to death. The metaphor for the cover was clever but I think there should have been a few more white players in Dr. Strange's hour glass. Indiana fans probably think there should be a few more productive players on the roster. The Pacers only had three above average players on the roster last season and they traded the best one (Troy Murphy) to New Jersey for Darren Collison (who is just average). Larry Bird's best strategy to prevent the Pacers from finishing last in their division would be to ask Dr. Strange to magically restore him to his prime so he can suit up and play.

The roster Joe Dumars has assembled in Detroit spells
D-O-O-M for the Pistons.
#13. Pistons (19-63)
Cover Rating - Anti-Heroes: Dr. Doom and Joe Dumars are a match made in heaven but after all the money he spent signing Charlie Villanueva and Ben Gordon, I don't believe that he would pay Victor Von Doom to build robotic replicas of the Bad Boys. There were only four above average players on the Detroit Pistons roster last season and one of them is out for the season with a torn Achilles tendon.  The only significant move Dumars made this offseason was drafting Greg Monroe from Georgetown. Unfortunately, he only projects to produce 1-2 wins this season. The Pistons will definitely be missing the playoffs for the second consecutive season.

Rank and foul is the best way to describe the roster
Ed Stefanski assembled in Philadelphia.
#14. 76ers (12-70)
Cover Rating - Heroes: Andre Iguodala as Deadpool is a stretch, but the best part of the Philadelphia 76ers' cover is the mascot, Hip Hop, holding up the "We Want #3" sign. The clueless look on Elton Brand's face probably belongs on the general manager Ed Stefanski's mug instead. Why he chose to spend $80 million on a player that had just ripped their Achilles tendon to shreds is beyond me, but what's even harder to understand is why he hasn't lost his job yet. He's had a different coach working for him each season since he's been in Philly and the team is so bad they're giving his latest coaching hire severe headaches from banging his head against the wall. In the last two seasons, Stefanski has gotten rid of two of the three most productive starters on the team in what must be an attempt to win some sort of sick bet with Ernie Grunfeld to see who can destroy a playoff team the fastest (Grunfeld wins).  To make matters worse, the Sixers tried to improve their personnel decisions by hiring the architect of a 12-win team.  Anyone who thinks the Sixers will make the playoffs must be as crazy as Deadpool.

John Wall won't be able to blaze a new path in DC until
the plague of Arenas, Grunfeld and Saunders is lifted.
#15. Wizards (6-76)
Cover Rating - Anti-Heroes: John Wall as the Human Torch is interesting but the pencils were a little weak - I've seen better from Tom Raney. Speaking of fire, remember when I said that it appears Ed Stefanski and Ernie Grunfeld are in a race to see who can burn a playoff team down the fastest? Well, the 2011 Washington Wizards is what the finish line looks like - nothing but ashes. The five most productive players for the Wizards last season are no longer on the roster. Those five players produced 25 of the team's 26 wins. The Wizards are basically starting from scratch this season. Actually, scratch is where they aspire to be starting from. All of the veterans on the Wizards roster were below average last season. Basically, John Wall could be the second coming of Magic Johnson and the Wizards STILL wouldn't be expected to win more than 30 games. Trust me - John Wall ain't even Allen Iverson, let alone Magic Johnson. The Wizards WILL be the worst team in the Eastern Conference this season and the worst team of all-time.

Unless referenced otherwise, all stats used in this post were taken from the Wins Produced Viewer, Wages of Wins website and basketball-reference.com.


  1. The Colossus and Juggernaut covers were a big upgrade over the magazine.

  2. Thanks. You wouldn't believe how much time it took to find the right cover. I wanted to use the cover for "God Loves, Man Kills" but comicvine.com didn't have a good image. I ended up taking an X-Men personality test for LeBron to figure out which character to use.