Here's what I know about last season:
1) We gave several stiffs big minutes.
- Larry Hughes averaged 26.4mpg in 30 games for us.
- Drew Gooden averaged 29.6mpg in 31 games.
- Andres Nocioni played 24.1mpg in 53 games.
- Gray, Hughes, Gooden, Nocioni and Sefolosha combined for 67 starts.
2) Joakim, Tyrus, Rose, and Deng were really bad over long stretches last year.
- Joakim's numbers in November (15.9mpg, 3.1ppg, 0.8apg, 5.1rpg, 40% shooting) were bad. He wasn't a regular rotation player, and played 30mpg just once in his first 30 (!) games.
- Tyrus was equally bad in November. In 19.9mpg, he shot 35.4% from the field. That play lost him his starting job. He got it back two months later, and finally hit his stride in February.
- Rose struggled to score for most of the season. From December through March (58 games), he posted a 50.2 TS%.
- Deng's .511 TS%, 10.1 TRB%, and 9.0 AST% were each his lowest marks since his rookie season.
Yet we still won 41 games. Shouldn't we easily be better this year? Let's break it down further...
POSITION BY POSITION
PG - 2008 minutes breakdown: Rose 75%, Hinrich 15%, Hunter 5%, Gordon 3%
Similar breakdown this year, with Pargo replacing Gordon's 3%. I'm assuming Rose will improve, meaning the PG position as a whole should improve, even if Hinrich falls off a tad.
SG - 2008 minutes breakdown: Gordon 64%, Hinrich 18%, Hughes 8%, Thabo 4%, Salmons 1%
Salmons takes Gordon's minutes, and Hinrich and Pargo absorb the remaining 36%. Slightly worse starter, better bench. Overall, I think it's about a wash.
SF - 2008 minutes breakdown: Deng 36%, Salmons 22%, Thabo 12%, Hughes 10%, Noc 7%, Gordon 6%, Tim Thomas 2%
Thabo, Hughes, Noc, Tim Thomas and other scrubs (LJ3, Nichols) combined for around 1/3 of our SF minutes. This year, Deng, Salmons, Johnson, and Hinrich take the full load, with Deng hopefully taking 60%+ of it. Deng returning to form (even 07-08 form) significantly improves this position.
PF - 2008 minutes breakdown: Tyrus 48%, Noc 23%, Gooden 8%, Noah 7%, Deng 4%, Tim Thomas 4%
Tyrus, Luol, and James Johnson will take most of the minutes, with Noah and Taj filling in. We aren't strong at PF, but we were really really bad last season.
C - 2008 minutes breakdown: Noah 41%, Miller 18%, Gray 17%, Gooden 14%, Tyrus 6%, Noc 1%
Noah and Miller should take 80+% of the minutes. If Noah just starts the season well, we'll get a boost over last year. Miller absorbs Gooden's minutes, and that'll help on both sides of the ball.
That's three positions with improvements (PG, SF, C), and two where we're probably about the same (SG, PF).
OVERALL, THE OUTLOOK
We lose Gordon's 82 games. But we can get 55 more from Salmons, 55 more from Miller, 32 more from Deng, 30 more from Hinrich. Noah and Tyrus probably won't waste their first 20 games like they did last year. I doubt Rose has another 58 game slump. VDN now has 89 games under his belt. Overall we're in line to improve.
And here's what I know about the rest of the Eastern Conference: the Heat lost Jamario Moon for nothing, and Beasley had a rough offseason. The Bucks lost half their team. The Pacers lost Jack and Nesterovic and added Hansbrough. Detroit added perimeter scorers, but defense is a question. The Bobcats traded Okafor for Chandler, and drafted Gerald Henderson. Philly gets Brand back, but replaced Andre Miller with a 19 year old PG. The Raptors got Turkoglu and acquired some nice depth, but lost Marion and Anthony Parker. The Wizards got Randy Foye and Mike Miller and get Arenas/Haywood back. I admittedly like the Wizards this year, but besides them, nobody scares me.
Hollinger just projected us at 38 wins. fundamentallysound said that the apbrmetrics stat gurus all had us between 36-38 wins pretty consistently. And recently I've felt myself getting pessimistic about this season. But that pessimism doesn't make sense.
If we win 38 games, that's a 2008-level disappointment. We should win at least as many games again this year, and these signs point to a big improvement. 45 wins? 47? 50? I think it's possible, and rational.