Welcome to this week’s edition of Full Court Press where we will cover:
- The entire University of Kentucky starting 5 entering the NBA Draft
- The Clippers making their first playoff appearance since 2006
- Who we think will fill out the final playoff spots as the season closes out
Calipari Singing the Kentucky Blues
There may not be an NBA team in the state of Kentucky, but the entire starting 5 of the Wildcats felt like they could play at NBA caliber, when they announced themselves eligible for the upcoming draft. When Calipari won the NCAAB National Championship this year with a starting squad of freshmen and sophomores, he had to be thinking about back to back titles, maybe more. So it’s no surprise that Calipari looked fairly uncomfortable as he sat in front of the media, answering questions about the draft, with his starting squad on either side.
Calipari is a good enough coach, and Kentucky a good enough program to attract the talent to be competitive next year, but you can’t replace an entire starting squad and expect to be in the national title picture. I guess that’s what happens when you preach athletics over education in your program.
You can’t really blame the players for jumping early. It is likely that without the rule requiring players to be at least 19 years old AND one year removed from high school to enter the NBA draft, many of Calipari’s squad would have skipped school altogether. However, based on Calipari’s history at other schools, not just Kentucky, he has some of the worst graduation rates of any division 1 coach. He runs a player-first program which benefits his recruiting, but doesn’t do much for the futures of the stars he recruits.
When you mention NBA playoff droughts, you really have to look at things relatively. For example, the Timberwolves hold the longest current playoff drought at eight seasons. Compare that with 30 seasons for the Washington Nationals in the MLB and 12 for the Buffalo Bills in the NFL. So while six seasons might not be a long time for the Clippers to wait compared to other professional sports franchises, it’s a pretty long time to wait in the NBA where all but the absolute worst teams seem to make it to the post-season. This year the playoff drought ends.
Led by young superstar Blake Griffin and not-too-young-not-too-old-and-still-really-talented Chris Paul, the Clippers have taken the NBA by storm this season. Depending on how they play the rest of the season, they could end up with as high as a three-seed, or as low as the seven-seed. No matter where they fall in the NBA playoff picture, they are going to be a tough team to handle.
Out of the 16 total playoff spots in the Eastern and Western Conferences, only 10 have been locked down as of April 18, 2012. So who do we think makes the final six?
Things are fairly competitive in the Eastern Conference since 6/8 slots have already been filled. There are only three Eastern Conference teams still playoff eligible; and with 5 games (give or take) left, New York is in the best position to find the post-season. Philadelphia holds a two game lead over the Milwaukee Bucks, and Milwaukee plays more games against teams with winning records. The going won’t be easy for the Bucks, so we project that NYK and PHI will be the final two teams into the playoffs from the East.
The West is still wide open; with 4/8 slots remaining and six teams still eligible to fill them. Right now Phoenix is sitting in the 8th spot, but their last 5 games are all against teams with a winning record. Compare that to Houston and Utah who are just a shade out of the race, but who only play two games apiece against teams with a winning record. If Phoenix wants to make the playoffs, they are going to have to earn it. Memphis who is projected to be the 5th seed right now is sitting pretty with just one game against a team with a winning record. Denver and Dallas have some tough remaining games, but hold enough of a lead over the remaining hopefuls that even with a couple of losses, they should still breeze in. We project that Memphis, Dallas, Denver and Houston make the last four teams in the Western Conference.