Bulls, Pacers, and Celtics - The Most Adaptable Teams in the NBA?

And the Clippers are the least... Our new NBA writer Oswin Knuckles explains all.

Most Adaptable Team Award

There is a reason why you have never heard of the Most Adaptable Team award – it doesn’t exist. The NBA hand out a plethora of individual awards – Most Valuable Player, Most Improved Player, and so on, but curiously no team award apart from the championship trophy itself.

Now, I am not advocating that the league starts awarding Defensive Team of the Year awards because, quite frankly, there are more than enough end of season awards already. But given the pivotal role injuries play over the course of a season, a team’s ability to respond when key personnel are injured is crucial. I considered naming the fictional award Most Flexible Team, but after extensive deliberation I decided I would let the International Gymnastics Federation have it. It just sounds appropriate.

Without further ado I present the first ever winners of the MAT award. 

First Place: Chicago Bulls

The Bulls have had to make do without their MVP point guard Derrick Rose from day one, yet they lie in fourth place in the Eastern Conference. Usually when injuries occur the initiative falls on the bench players to step up, but their achievement so far is more to do with their collective mindset. Coach Tom Thibodeau is a no-nonsense defensive coach who will not tolerate excuses, so you can be sure they are not feeling sorry for themselves.

First time All-Star Joakim Noah epitomes their tough attitude on the court, while new acquisition Nate Robinson has provided some much needed offence in Rose’s absence. The seemingly invincible Luol Deng also deserves a special mention here.

The centre of Chicago’s offence leads the league in minutes played (40) and has doggedly played through his fair share of injuries. Even though the Bulls played notably well last year whenever Derrick Rose was out, hardly anyone believed they could keep it up for so long.

Runner Up: Indiana Pacers

The Pacers, like the Bulls, are known for their defence (yes, there is a theme developing here). Only the Bulls allow fewer points in the paint than the Indiana Pacers, and only the Memphis Grizzlies allow fewer total opposition points.

The combined wingspan and athleticism of Roy Hibbert and Paul George enables the team to be particularly bothersome to opposition players daring enough to make moves to the rim, and in the prolonged absence of star shooting guard Danny Granger, the production of Paul George (first time All-Star) and David West improved dramatically.

They lie in third place in the Eastern Conference, and they have accomplished this even with Roy Hibbert experiencing a dip in his scoring and rebounding numbers from last season.

Third Place: Boston Celtics

The Celtics are 4-0 since Rajon Rondo’s injury. Enough said. Maybe. It is a small sample size, but it’s been enough for some to suggest that the team is better without their All-Star point guard.

Now, this is an absurd suggestion. Rondo leads the league in assists, and although he is sometimes censured for passing up scoring opportunities and not getting to the free throw line consistently, his aggression usually increases when it matters most in the big games (hence earning the moniker National TV Rondo).

Admittedly, this four game stretch did include a hard fought double overtime thriller against rivals Miami Heat as well as a tough, close game against the Clippers. But playing a playoff series without Rondo will prove to be a much stiffer challenge.

Having said all this, the Celtics have been impressive playing with a no-point guard system. Doc Rivers has placed an emphasis on ball movement, and Paul Pierce has taken on added rebounding responsibilities in the wake of Jared Sullinger’s absence due to a back injury. I suspect the Celtics are playing with a chip on their shoulder; many have already written them off, suggesting the team should focus on rebuilding, but Kevin Garnett and co will not lie down so easily.

Of course, these awards are only provisional since the season hasn’t actually come to a close. But the aforementioned teams have proven themselves worthy of their merits. Only a supernatural turn of events, such as the injury-ravaged Timberwolves making the playoffs, or the Lakers going unbeaten for the rest of the season, will force me to reconsider. These things are not happening.

PS: LA Clippers: How NOT to respond to injury

If there was an award for the best bench in the league the Clippers would probably win it. They have Jamal Crawford, a leading candidate for Sixth Man of the Year.

Overall their bench leads all benches in steals (4.3) and are second in points (40.5) and blocks (3.2). They are strong statistically across the board – yet when Chris Paul misses games they look mediocre.

They currently hold a 5-6 record without CP3, including a 25 point blowout loss at the hands of a very average Toronto Raptors team – albeit one which has found its feet of late. It appears all the criticism directed towards the Clipper’s non-existent half-court offence holds weight.

Chris Paul is the only guy who can make it all work, with the possible exception of a healthy Chauncey Billups. On the plus side, this reinforces Chris Paul’s own case for MVP.

image: © Keith Allison