One Man NBA Selection Committee: Eastern Conference

Tomorrow night ten middle aged individuals that nobody has ever heard of will convene in Indianapolis to select and seed the 68 teams making the 2013 NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament. 37 teams are chosen by the selection committee as “at-large” participants based on a number of different variables such as overall record, RPI, BPI, strength of schedule, head-to-head matchups, conference RPI, etc. 30 teams gain entry into the tournament by winning their respective conference tournaments. And one team – from the Ivy League – is placed into the tourney by posting the highest combined score on an IQ test. After those 68 teams are selected, the committee seeds the teams and places them into four different regions. Then, mass hysteria ensues over the three weeks, which we affectionately know as “March Madness.”

I love March Madness just like everyone else does. I haven’t been to school on the first two days of March Madness since I was ten years old, and it became a running joke amongst my high school teachers that I was always going to be “sick” on those two days. I’m slightly obsessed. But even as the Madness is about to commence in a few days, I’m still here pondering the everyday happenings of the NBA. Since most people want to check out bracket projections and will be searching “bracket projections” in their respective search engines, I figured I’d not only make a push for some accidental site views, but also entertain the totally farfetched idea that I could be a one man selection committee for the NBA playoffs this year.

You’re probably asking yourself how this would work. Honestly, since I thought of the idea about three days ago, I’m not totally sure how it goes. I’m basically making it my imaginary job to get the right teams into the playoffs for the most desirable matchups for us, the fans, even though my qualifications for the job aren’t quite as high as someone you’d realistically put in this role, if, you know, it was real. Let’s get started, NCAA Tournament style.

Eastern Conference
Sorry to the Rudy Gay led Toronto Raptors, Andrew Bynum-less Philadelphia 76ers, Mourning-the-loss-of-Brandon-Knight Detroit Pistons, Suddenly tanking Cleveland Cavaliers, Terribly depressing Washington-Wizards, “No Ewing Theory here” Orlando Magic, and Charlotte Jordans Bobcats… start buying your scratch offs, because you’re lottery bound. All eight teams currently in the Eastern Conference playoff picture I’ll classify as “Locks.” But how should those eight teams be seeded?

Let’s end the suspense right now. Miami is the 1 seed; and in all reality, it doesn’t matter how you seed the rest of the teams because the Heat are on cruise control until the NBA Finals. People can say all they want about the Pacers, Knicks, and maybe even Celtics potentially being road blocks in the Eastern Conference, and who knows, maybe they can take the Heat to six or even seven games in a series, but does anyone really think in a do or die game anyone in the East can beat the Heat? If you do, I want to hear the rationale behind your case, and you might as well toss in a few more fairy tales as well.

The 2 seed comes down to the Knicks and Pacers. The Knicks started the season off incredibly fast (winning 20 of their first 27 games, garnering a whole bunch of “Whoa the Heat might not be the best team in the East” hype, and even more “Carmelo’s finally figured it out, he’s the MVP” hype). Since the Knicks entered Christmas day 20-7, they’re 18-18 since, and all of that early season hype has vanished quicker than Alan Parrish got sucked into Jumanji. Meanwhile, the Pacers stumbled out of the gate to a 10-10 start through twenty games as they adjusted to life without Danny Granger. But just as I expected, they turned it around without Granger, who I will call overrated as long as I have someone willing to listen to me, and have been good enough to steal some of that early season hype the Knicks were getting about potentially taking that Eastern Conference crown from the defending champion Heat.

March 8, 2013; Orlando FL, USA; Indiana Pacers small forward Paul George (24) drives to the basket against the Orlando Magic during the second half at Amway Center. Indiana Pacers defeated the Orlando Magic 115-86. Mandatory Credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

I give the edge for the 2 seed to Indiana. They’re just a better basketball team than the Knicks. Plain and simple. By any defensive statistical measure you can come up with the Pacers will be at the top of it, and their offensive has been more productive as late as well. In their first 40 games of the season, the Pacers scored 100+ points in only five games. In the 26 games since, they’ve scored 100+ twelve times. Give me the Pacers over the free-falling, and now banged up New York Knicks for the 2 seed.

I’ll hesitantly leave the Knicks as the 3 seed just because their start to the season was impressive, and the idea of a 1-1 series going back to Madison Square Garden for two straight games is daunting. How to seed teams 4 through 7 is as big of a mystery as why the Ravens haven’t been able to re-sign a single player besides Joe Flacco this offseason. They’re currently separated by 2.5 games, and it’s to be expected that they’ll be shuffling for the next month. Of the four teams in question (Atlanta, Boston, Brooklyn, Chicago), Atlanta and Boston have the most home games left, and Brooklyn has the most left on the road. If we’re going by the “Best wins”, “Last twelve games” and “Eye test” techniques the NCAA selection committee uses to pick their tournament teams, that would slot Boston as the 4 seed, Chicago as the 5, Brooklyn as the 6, and Atlanta as the 7. Allow me to justify my reasoning:

-Rajon Rondo went down with a torn ACL on January 25th, and improbably the Celtics, 20-23 at the time, have turned the season around and gone 15-6 since. Just like it doesn’t make sense that the Harlem Shake has gotten so incredibly popular, it doesn’t make any sense that the Celtics would be playing better basketball without Rondo. In college basketball the selection committee would likely lower a team by at least one seed if they were missing their best player, but I’m going to look past that. They’ve been the 3rd best team in the Eastern Conference since February 1st, and in my eyes, are much scarier than the Knicks are.

-Chicago has dealt with their share of injuries this year too, and I’m not even counting Derrick Rose, who shouldn’t come back this year. Maybe that’s an unpopular opinion, but this Chicago team, even with a completely healthy Rose, wouldn’t beat Miami. It’s just not going to happen. Still, their ability to defend and win on the road (6th best in the league, only behind the Spurs, Clippers, Heat, Thunder and Grizzlies) make them worthy of a 5 seed.

-Deron Williams isn’t the Deron Williams he used to be, Joe Johnson is still the Joe Johnson he used to be (which means his respective team gets Grandfather Claused into the 6 seed and ultimate irrelevancy) and the Brooklyn Nets might as well still be playing in New Jersey. They pose no threat to any of the top teams in the East, but it would be cool to see a Brooklyn/New York playoff series round one.

-Atlanta was able to shed Joe Johnson and his all-time horrendous contract, but they are still covered in his stink of irrelevancy. It might last a while. They aren’t going any further than a five game series in the first round. I can’t have them any higher than the 7 seed.

And that leaves Milwaukee as the 8 seed, which seems pretty close to a lock right now unless one of two things happen:
1: A super small ball lineup featuring Brandon Jennings, Monta Ellis, JJ Reddick, Ersan Illyasova and LARRY SANDERS! leads them past Atlanta for the 7 seed, which would be fine with me as a Heat fan.

2: Monta Ellis and Brandon Jennings get into a fist fight over who is taking more shots, the Bucks plummet out of the playoff picture, and somehow the Raptors or 76ers sneak into that 8 seed.

This means in the 1st round the matchups would be Miami/Milwaukee, Boston/Chicago, New York/Brooklyn and Indiana/Atlanta. I feel as though half way through this process, I’ve done a pretty good job. Since I don’t have any committee members to share some congratulatory handshakes with, I’ll just pat myself on the back and move on to the Western Conference.