Thursday, July 31, 2008

Two things you MUST watch

I know, I know, Ron Artest, blahblahblah. I'm still thinking out the consequences in my head, to be honest. I will post when the thoughts crystallize. In the meantime, if you're interested in some analysis: my gut reaction is to agree with Hollinger at ESPN, who thinks Artest helps Houston offensively. Kelly Dwyer thinks it through and then, like me, concludes: "Not sure." But he does seem positive. Finally, before any of this Artest-to-Houston stuff, Shoals at freedarko had some posts up about outlining a vague theory of redundancy. It's probably applicable to this move.

Anyways, on to the real point of this post:

(Update: I recently learned that I can just embed the video right here, saving you the trouble of having to click the links. So here it is):


No, really, go watch it. It will only take a couple of minutes, and it is more than worth it. I'd been surfing ibeatyou just a couple days ago, but I didn't find that myself, it was mentioned at TrueHoop.

Secondly, if you haven't yet seem the movie Hoop Dreams, I would highly recommend it. It is quite good. And now, you can apparently watch it for free online. (Thanks BDL).

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Monta on my mind

Part I - Improvement

This fall, Monta Ellis will turn 23 years old and, days later, begin his fourth NBA season. He just signed a 6 year, $67 million deal to stay with the team that drafted him in the second round four years ago, the Golden State Warriors.

Besides the ability he's shown in his three years as a pro, it's Monta's potential, evidenced by his improvement throughout his career, that earned him his contract. After all, he'll be making the same amount of money as Chauncey Billups next year, and more than Manu Ginobili -- even though it's unlikely that he'll produce as much as either of those players. At just 23 years old, though, it's reasonable to expect that his production will increase through the length of his contract.

In the following look at Monta Ellis' improvement, I'm going to look at three different shooting percentage numbers. The first is FG%, which is the normal Field Goal percentage that we're used to seeing in box scores and such. The next is eFG%, or "Effective Field Goal Percentage," which accounts for the fact that 3-pointers are worth an extra point. For instance, a player who makes 4 three-pointers in 10 attempts is similar in efficiency to a player who makes 6 layups in 10 attempts -- they both score 12 points while taking 10 shots. While traditional FG% says the first player shot 40% and the latter shot 60%, eFG% says they both shot 60% eFG. Next, True Shooting Percentage takes into account not only three-pointers, but also free throw attempts. Imagine a player who takes 3 shots and misses all of them, and also is fouled in the process of shooting 5 other shots, and makes all 10 resulting free throws. Traditional FG% and eFG% say the player shot 0%, which is true, but the times that the player went to the foul line were also scoring attempts (they would have been shots if he hadn't been fouled), so TS% looks at the points created there, also. The TS% formula is slightly more complicated than this, but for our purposes you can imagine that in the above example, the player scored 10 points in 8 scoring attempts (3 shot attempts plus 5 shooting fouls), giving him a TS% of 62.5%. Players such as Dwyane Wade and Corey Maggette have learned how to absorb contact and get to the foul line, and that skill has greatly increased their efficiency (since most players shoot a much higher percentage from the free throw line than they do from the field).

Ok, on to the analysis:

Monta Ellis' FG%, eFG%, and TS%, respectively, in each of the last three years:

2005-06: 41.5 45.9 48.6
2006-07: 47.5 49.5 54.5
2007-08: 53.1 53.6 58.0

Notice a pattern? There are notable reasons for his improvement. For one, in each year he has decreased his number of 3-point attempts, which is useful since he only hits 28.5% of them for his career. In his second year in the league, Ellis also doubled the rate at which he got to the free throw line, allowing him to increase his efficiency that way. Last year, Ellis further improved his mid-range game, allowing him to take even fewer three-point shots, which led to the observed increase in effective shooting percentage. Look at his hotzone shooting chart from the last two years:

In 2006-2007:

And then, in 2007-2008:

Ellis improved his midrange FG% from an okay 39% to a very solid 44%. Meanwhile, he took less than 1/3 the amount of three-point attempts per game as he did the previous season.

Finally, in 2006-2007, Ellis turned the ball over almost 16 times for every 100 times he used a team possession (leading to almost 3 turnovers per game), while in 2007-2008, he cut that rate down to below 11 times per 100 possessions (even very talented young players tend to have high turnover rates, so in that sense the decrease was expected. For Monta, his turnover rate was further depressed by the fact that he was given fewer ballhandling responsibilities last year, decreasing his opportunities to turn the ball over) .

The decrease in turnovers and increase in shooting percentage together allowed Ellis to increase the points that resulted from his touching the ball from a pretty average 1.04 points per posession to an elite 1.17 points.

That might be a little abstract, so a better way of saying it: the only perimeter players who produced as efficiently as often as Monta Ellis last year were Chris Paul, Deron Williams, Kevin Martin, Steve Nash, Chauncey Billups, and Jason Terry.

Nash, Paul, Williams, and Billups, as point guards, had a very different role on their respective teams compared to Ellis. Of the remaining two, Ellis fell somewhere between Jason Terry and Kevin Martin (Martin had a severely underrated year, as highlighted below). At this point, I think statistically the most comparable year was Jason Terry's , and Jason Terry is 30 years old while Monta is 22 and steadily improving. Note that Terry and Ellis achieve their results in vastly different ways, as Terry takes over a third of his shots from behind the 3-point line while Ellis almost never shot a three-pointer last year.

The takeaway from all of this? Monta Ellis is positioned to become a frighteningly good offensive player.

Part II - The Next Big Step: Becoming the Offensive Focus

In interviews this summer, Don Nelson has claimed that Monta Ellis will be the starting point guard for the Warriors next year. Personally, I quite liked Monta as a small 2 alongside a bigger point guard. Kawakami wrote earlier the summer that he didn't like the idea of Monta at the point, either. The last time he played significant minutes at the point (during the 06-07 season), Ellis suffered, particularly because he turned the ball over too much. In this post I don't intend to argue the merits of one position vs. another as a good home for Ellis, but with Baron Davis gone, and Monta signing a 6 year, $67 million deal, it would seem reasonable to assume that Monta Ellis is going to be playing a much larger role in the offense, regardless of position. In terms of numbers, we should expect to see an increased usage rate from Monta. (As the name implies, usage rate is a measure of the percentage of a team's posessions that are "used" by a player when he's on the court. By "used" I mean the player is responsible for the end of the possession, by shooting/getting fouled, assisting, or turning the ball over. For reference, the highest usage rate players in the league are players like Kobe Bryant, Lebron James, or Dwyane Wade who have the ball in their hands a lot, while spot up shooters, energy guys/rebounders, and other role players have lower usage rates).

The reason I bring up the question of Monta's usage is to get an idea of what can be expected of him, and what he'll need to do next year. For now, I'm ignoring the complication of playing him at the point. Studies have shown that an increase in usage tends to lead to a decrease in efficiency, which also makes sense intuitively since, presumably, you'll be forced into more turnovers and bad shots when you're trying to be the main offensive threat for your team.

If Monta Ellis were a fully-formed player without any expectation of increased efficiency as an offensive player, and if he were to increase his usage rate from what he provided last year (21.7, which is a little more than average) to what Baron Davis provided last year (25.6), we would expect his efficiency next year to decrease to around 112.1. That moves him from the elite territory highlighted above into a neighborhood with Michael Redd -- still a star but not quite transcendent. Will he continue to improve, thereby negating some of the expected decrease in efficiency? Hopefully . . ..

Part III - Comparison, Hopes, and Avenues for Improvement

About a year ago, Tom Ziller at Sactown Royalty did a very interesting preview of Kevin Martin's upcoming season, comparing Martin to his closest comparisons, Reggie Miller and Michael Redd, and setting reasonable expectation levels given the expected jump in Martin's usage rate (as for results, both at midseason and season's end, Martin came through with absolutely stunning numbers). I was thinking of that post recently when reading about Monta Ellis' recent deal, 6 years and $67 million (compare to Martin last year, who signed for 5 years and $55 million), since for some reason in my head I'm always comparing the two players.

But upon further reflection, these are two completely different players.

Which got me to thinking, who has had a similar season to the one Monta Ellis just completed? Monta just finished his 3rd professional season and is 22 years old.

It looks like Kawakami went through a similar exercise in February and came up with George Gervin and Kevin Johnson. Looking at the numbers, I'm coming up with the following list: Sidney Moncrief, Kevin Johnson, and Dwyane Wade.

What Ellis shared with these players was an ability to be incredibly efficient offensively without using the 3-point line as part of his arsenal. He also has notable differences from each of them. Unlike Ellis, Moncrief was a tenacious defender and prolific offensive rebounder. Kevin Johnson, obviously, was a much more natural point guard and able to create numerous shot opportunities for his teammates without Monta's tendency to turn the ball over when pressured. Wade, meanwhile, has developed a league-leading ability to get to the free throw line.

I'd like to propose these comparisons and contrasts as a point to look for possible avenues of improvement. If Nelson is being honest and Ellis is to play the point next year, then improving his ballhandling and passing skills, a la KJ, should be the main priority. If Monta is allowed to continue to play at the 2, then increasing his free throw attempts should be a goal (perhaps he can learn from new teammate Corey Maggette) -- this avenue is sensible considering Monta's highlight-worthy finishing ability around the rim, which could lead to many 3-point plays. Also promising for Monta -- Wade's huge increase in free throw attempts came during the season in which he turned 23 years old, and Monta will turn 23 in the upcoming season. Becoming a better defender (like Moncrief) should be a goal regardless. The other possible route for improvement is the addition of a 3-point shot -- here Monta would be similar to Richard Hamilton in being an effective mid-range player and then slowly extending his range beyond the arc (Hamilton is now a very effective outside shooter). Given the Warriors reliance on three-point shots combined with their lack of a consistent shooter from that range, this is a possibility (though personally I'd hope to continue to see Monta improve his game inside the arc).

I do not at all expect Monta to become as good a point guard as Kevin Johnson or take as many free throws as Dwyane Wade, but just wanted to throw some familiar names into the mix to give an idea of where Monta is historically.

Part IV - Caveats

Ellis' claim to fame is his inflated shooting percentage (he shot 53% from the field last year), but historically FG% is the most volatile stat year-to-year, and we might be in for some regression to the mean. If he can keep his True Shooting Percentage above 55% that should be sufficient -- he may need to take more free throws to keep that up.

Ellis has also been criticized as only getting such lofty numbers because he was playing alongside Baron Davis. In looking at his player pair data, there is some support for that claim -- Ellis shot 53.8% last year when playing alongside Davis, but only 50% when playing without Davis. Furthermore, 46% of Ellis's shots were assisted last year. Without Davis in the mix, Ellis will not only be shooting more, but he'll be creating his shots off the dribble more often. Can he continue to be efficient without the help of a shot-creator like Davis? This is just one more reason that Monta Ellis's season will be one to keep an eye on in the upcoming season.

Monday, July 28, 2008

Prayers Answered!

Thanks, Basketball Gods! I can't think of a better home for Kwame.

Welcome to Detroit Kwame!

Seriously, Detroit is a deep team that won't be counting on Kwame immediately for very much. They also have a borderline magical medical staff led by Arnie Kander, which should help since Kwame has played in more than 42 games just once in the last 4 years. Further, given the recent success of Arron Afflalo, Rodney Stuckey, and particularly Jason Maxiell and Amir Johnson, it's reasonable to say that the Pistons are strong with player development, and more than anything it sometimes seems like Kwame needs to be nurtured and developed.

Sunday, July 27, 2008

In the meantime . . .

Ok, I've been working for a while on what is becoming a wordy and roundabout post about Monta Ellis. Meanwhile, I'm preparing a few more about "players to watch" next year, which may or may not have to wait until after the Olympics. Because these posts are all delayed by a bit, here's some random things to consider in the interim:

  • After last week's Sparks-Shock fight, I thought about doing a review of how the event was covered at various media outlets. But this article does a thorough job of exploring the coverage and the issues it brings up. So read that if you're curious or interested.
  • Back in the Smush-Kwame days, Kobe Bryant, in a sort of throw-away interview with Elie Seckbach, jokingly said he'd trade the entire Lakers squad for Lisa Leslie (I'm having trouble finding the youtube right now, but it's definitely out there). Fast forward a year or two, and the Lakers acquire Pau Gasol, a player who can score from either side in the low post, pass and shoot from the high post, and always makes great decisions. Coincidence??
  • Congratulations to Anthony Morrow, who just signed a contract with the Warriors. He was another player I thought was impressive in Summer League play.
  • This is sort of old, but I was re-watching it recently and my heart was warmed at the thought that Allen Iverson is a huge Michael Jackson fan. That just really pleased me.
Anyways, watch for the upcoming post on Monta Ellis, sorry for the delay. In the meantime, you can watch this video, which is tangentially related to Allen Iverson and Michael Jackson:

Friday, July 25, 2008

Woohoo! Welcome Home, MACHINE!

The threat has been averted, Sasha Vujacic is not only remaining in the NBA, but he'll again be playing for the Lakers. And 3 years, $15 million seems about perfect. Of course, the Lakers are way into the luxury tax right now, but they were going to have to sign someone to fill that roll regardless, and how much less than $5 million were they going to pay, and at what cost in terms of quality/knowledge of the team and system?

In any case, it's not my money. I offer up the following youtube selection as a celebration of sorts:

Professor McFruity: Understanding the Mid-Level Exception and Restricted Free Agency

(That's Josh Childress signing a contract in Athens)

I have written a lot lately about Josh Childress, the mid-level exception, and restricted free agency, and it has been brought to my attention that not all of my reader(s) understand exactly what these things are. So here's a little breakdown.

Mid-Level Exception: The basics
The mid-level exception is an amount that every team in the NBA is allowed to spend each season even if they are over the salary cap. It's an "exception" because it allows teams to spend more on player salaries than the salary cap normally allows for. The mid-level exception is, as its name suggests, equal to the league average salary (it's not technically the exact average, but close enough). For the upcoming year, the mid-level exception amount is $5.585 million. Further, a mid-level contract offer can last up to 5 years, with a maximum 8% raise each year. Finally, the mid-level exception can be split up and offered to multiple players, but cannot be combined with cap space to offer a larger contract to a player.

MLE Background
To understand the mid-level exception, you have to remember that in the NBA, there is a salary cap. So let's go back a few steps and figure out what all this is. First of all, most of the rules regarding player salaries and benefits are enumerated in the Collective Bargaining Agreement, or CBA. The CBA is an agreement between the NBA Players Association, which is like the union for NBA players, and the NBA (their employer). Among other things, the CBA guarantees the players as a group will receive 57% of NBA revenues each year. For the purposes of this discussion, the important things to note are that the CBA defines, each year, a salary cap, a minimum payroll (the minimum that each team must spend on players in a given year, equal to 75% of the cap), maximum and minimum salaries for individual players based on years of service, rookie salary scales, and the exceptions to the salary cap. In a future post, I'll go over the relationship of rookie salary limits and European players.

The CBA allows for a series of notable exceptions to the salary cap. This link has an explanation of every single one of these exceptions. As you can see, there are a lot of ways that a team can spend over the salary cap, which is why, in practice, the luxury tax often serves as more of a threshold that teams aren't willing to go over. This article includes a little background on what the motivations were for having a mid-level exception at all. The basic idea is that before there existed a mid-level exception, decent players who became free agents would get severely underpaid in years in which not many teams had salary cap space (ie, had a total payroll below the salary cap, allowing them to sign free agents for more than the minimum salary). So the mid-level exception came around, which allows teams to go over the salary cap and sign players to league-average contracts. Historically, the mid-level is often misused to overpay below-average players (example: Jerome James in New York), to fill in a missing piece for a good team (James Posey this year with the Hornets) or to make lowball offers to above-average free agents when the market for the free agent's services is limited (this is basically the situation that Josh Childress was in this summer). A team who has employed a player for a couple years is entitled to his "Bird rights," meaning they can go over the salary cap to make whatever offer they think is appropriate, but if the team is cheap, like the Hawks, they may still try to squeeze the player if they think he doesn't have other options. I won't go into the notion of the "sign and trade" here except to point out that as you increase the number of parties in a negotiation, it becomes that much harder to reach an agreement.

Restricted Free Agency
Ok, so in talking about Childress I've also often brought up the idea of Restricted Free Agency. What is that? Restricted Free Agency exists only for players who are early in their careers (first 3-4 years in the league), and is kind of like a compromise/limbo between true free agency and no free agency. When a player becomes a restricted free agent, he is able to shop his services to any team in the league, as would a regular free agent, but if he agrees to a contract offer from one of the teams, his current team has the right (the team acquires the right by extending a one-year qualifying offer to the player) to match the offer within 7 days and keep the player. Theoretically, restricted free agency should allow a player to determine his worth in the market and get paid. However, there's a glitch. To see why, consider this hypothetical example: Mr. Player just finished his fourth season for Team A, and is now a restricted free agent. Experts have determined that a fair salary for Mr. Player, given his current production and his projected growth, is $9 million/year. Team B is currently $12 million under the cap, and is interested in signing Mr. Player, and they've also developed back-up plans in case they are unable to reach an agreement with Mr. Player. However, they know that Team A likes Mr. Player and would probably match a fair offer. Because Team A has 7 days to match the offer, Team B is worried: once they extend an offer to Mr. Player, the proposed contract begins to count against the cap even though they might not end up employing Mr. Player. So in a worst-case scenario, they extend a fair offer to Player, Team A waits 7 days and then matches the offer, and in the intervening week (while Team B was only allowed $3 million in cap room while awaiting a decision regarding Mr. Player) the players that Team B targeted in their backup plans have signed with other teams. So Team B is left completely stranded. This possibility is what often stops teams from even making an offer to a restricted free agent -- the possibility of losing their cap room for 7 days and ending up with nothing. The only ways around this dilemma for Team B are to overpay for Mr. Player to such an extent that Team A no longer has an interest in matching the offer (for instance, offering all $12 million that they have available), or skipping Mr. Player altogether and going straight to the back-up plans. As we've seen, teams that overpay non-superstars tend to get mired in mediocrity for long stretches, so in practice a lot of teams with cap space just avoid making offers to restricted free agents (note, for instance, that Josh Smith, a promising and future all-star that a lot of teams would love to have has not signed an offer with any team yet). Now, there are other teams without cap space who might be interested in Mr. Player but all they can offer is the mid-level exception of about $6 million. Team A can now offer $7 million, which is more than any other team can afford, and they get Mr. Player for $2 million less than he's worth. So, traditionally, players have no leverage as restricted free agents, and this article highlights the extent to which they end up underpaid relative to their true free agent peers. The way Josh Childress got around this, of course, was by gaining leverage outside of the NBA. So yeah, good for him. Also, he seems to be having a great time in Greece (via TrueHoop):

Links to check out if you want to know more
Everything you ever wanted to know about the CBA and the salary cap is explained clearly here. It's much easier to search that site than to try to wade through the text of the CBA.

For current and future salaries for every team, the most thorough and up-to-date sites I've found are: ShamSports, HoopsHype, and draftexpress. The draftexpress site is particularly useful because it allows you to search and sort salaries by a variety of criteria, while ShamSports is very accurate and detailed. HoopsHype is easy to navigate.

For past salaries, basketball-reference has salaries for each year by team if you look at the team pages, and by player (for each year the player has played) at individual player pages.

Ongoing transactions can be tracked at nbastuffer. That's a great reference to keep up on where everyone is going in the offseason.

And finally
This is totally unrelated, but I found it sort of amusing. A comment at freedarko by someone named "The Other Van Gundy" -- "Maybe all of Childress's Stanford friends went abroad and he felt like he missed out. That's the solidly middle class thing to do, right? Go to Europe and maybe get a handjob from some Dutch girl?"

Reasons To . . . Watch Olympic Basketball

Olympic season is underway, and it should be pretty fun to watch. The actual games kick off in August, a couple of weeks from now, but tonight the U.S. men's team will be playing an exhibition game against team Canada. So, here's some reasons to pay attention:

  1. Good basketball: The men's team is in Group B for the first round, along with Angola, China, Germany, Greece, and Spain. This is by far the tougher Group of the two, but four teams advance to the second round. Most likely, China and Angola will be left behind, but every game will be extremely competitive.
  2. The ugliest frontline in history: Chris Kaman got German citizenship in order to play alongside Dirk Nowitzki for the German team. This should make them a very strong team up front, but also shockingly unattractive. I haven't seen any thorough studies, but I would guess that this would be the ugliest Forward-Center combo in history.

  3. The Sparks fronline: The entire frontline of the Sparks -- Delisha Milton-Jones, Lisa Leslie, and Candace Parker, will be playing for the U.S. women's team. You'd think with a front that good, the Sparks would be a better rebounding team, but whatever. It should be fun to watch them play together.
  4. An early glimpse of some (hopefully) incoming NBA rookies -- it's probably worthwhile to check out Rudy Fernandez on the Spanish team, as he'll be joining the Portland Trailblazers in the upcoming season. Also with the Spanish team is Ricky Rubio, a super-talented 17-year old who will most likely be a lottery pick in next year's draft. He's supposed to be a pretty good defender (and at 6-3 or 6-4 has good size for a point guard) and a complete magician when it comes to passing the ball. Here's a taste (watch the whole thing, there's half-court alley-oops, passes through defenders legs, the whole bit):

    And for Lakers fans, there's the ever mysterious 6'9" point guard Sun Yue. Mitch Kupchak has claimed recently that he's working to get Yue on the roster for next season -- presumably to appear for a few minutes in a handful of games and play for the D-Fenders (D-League team) and hopefully develop into the left-handed Chinese Magic Johnson.

  5. Familiar faces in other places. Like Kaman in Germany, Becky Hammon, a star guard with the San Antonio Silver Stars (and an elegant finisher around the basket) went and got her Russian citizenship in order to play for the Russian national team. Meanwhile, 2-time WNBA MVP Lauren Jackson, an Australian, will be playing for the Australian National Team. On the men's side, several of the teams in the competition have some current NBA players on the squad.
  6. The off chance that Andrew Bogut (Australia) will high-five his imaginary friends:

Rumor: Sasha to pull a Childress?

Sasha, are you going back to your home continent? What happened to being the best 2-guard in the NBA?

Ok, caveat: RUMOR. Ever since Childress did his thing, there have been a lot of rumors, probably put out by agents, of several players considering leaving for Europe (yesterday, it was Carl Landry). Doesn't mean it will happen . . ..

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Oops! Corrections

Two reporting errors have come to my attention today. Apologies:

  1. Apparently, Josh Childress' deal is actually equivalent to 3 years and $32.5 million in an NBA contract, not the $40 million that I previously asserted (my calculation was based on an assumption of 50% taxation in the U.S., but what do I know about having a multi-million dollar income?). My original points about the situation still stand, I think, but are adjusted slightly -- he'll be making just a couple million dollars less than Chauncey Billups over the next three years (if he stays for the entirety of the contract), or about the same per year as Carlos Boozer.
  2. Apparently I spoke to soon when I claimed that Kelenna Azubuike was going to the Clippers. The Warriors matched his offer sheet, so as of right now he is still a Warrior.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Sorry about the downtime . . .

I was out sick for a couple of days there. Regular posting should resume shortly. In the meantime, here are some discussions regarding what's been happening recently:

  • The Sparks beat the Shock, but after the first quarter they were pretty much outplayed. The Shock dominated the rebounding battle (Detroit retrieved 45% of their own misses, L.A. got 25% of theirs), and the Sparks again turned the ball over too many times. The Sparks guards, however, played a pretty good game. And yeah, you may have heard there was a fight at the game . . .. There's some discussion of it here. I'll have my own thoughts when I'm feeling better. I would like to point out, though, that blaming Laimbeer and Cooper and making this a Pistons-Lakers rivalry sort of thing is its own kind of sexism. Also: a very special WTF?! to Rick Mahorn.
  • Congratulations to Josh Childress. He made his decision, he's signing with Olympiakos. This article goes over many of the relevant issues, and is a very interesting read. Of particular interest is a reference to an older article that studies the differences in contract value for different situations (unrestricted vs. restricted free agents, rookies, etc). Both links are worth reading. I'll have more to say later, but for now, note that Childress has signed for 3 years, $20 million (actually the equivalent in euros, so it could be worth more tomorrow), with an opt-out clause after each season. Because of the fact that Euroleague salaries are net of taxes (the team pays the taxes for the player), it's actually like getting 3 years $40 million in the U.S.. That's more than Tony Parker will make over the next three years, and per-year it puts Childress right around Steve Nash's level in terms of income. Not to mention the number of games: in terms of games, he'll play about half of an NBA season each year, so per-game the salary is actually double that. Congratulations Josh! But come back soon.
  • For some reason, Matt Barnes signed a one-year deal for the vet's minimum in Phoenix. Does he think he'll be able to inflate his numbers for a year and then get a big payday next year?
  • Also, congratulations go out to Bobby Brown (no, not that one), a wonderful young point guard who came from Long Beach. He looked really good in summer league, and just signed a 2-year deal with Sacramento, who could really use the guard help. Along the same lines, Will Bynum looked good in summer league and just signed a 2 year deal with the Pistons. I wish Brown and Bynum well, and will be rooting for them (unless they're playing the Lakers).
  • We're reaching the time of year for free agents where contenders start to overpay for guys who were never very good but won titles in the past. In related news, Devean George is a free agent. Boston: you just lost Posey. The ball is in your court.
  • I expected a team to take a chance on Shaun Livingston by now.
  • And on a COMPLETELY unrelated note: please come to my friend's birthday party this Sunday. Details are here.
Like I said, real posts will be coming soon.

Monday, July 21, 2008

Au Revoir, Ronny!

This is a few days late, but this is for Ronny Turiaf: Good luck! You'll be missed!

Damn you, Hotlanta!

So, there's a rumor that Josh Childress is considering leaving the NBA for Greek team Olympiakos. There is so much to digest, so I'll resort to bullets:

  • The selfish part of me wants to say, "Wait, no Greece! Please, take Kwame Brown, but leave Childress here!" Childress is a wonderful all-around player who deserves somewhere around 5 years and $40-45 million. He is a terrific offensive rebounder, for one. Further, he knows where to be on the court without the ball to make himself most effective. This leads not only to the aforementioned offensive rebounds, but to a plethora of assisted baskets around the hoop, leading to 57.1% FG% last year (and, considering his tendency to get to the free-throw line more often than most, a whopping 64.7% True Shooting percentage, which takes into account 3-point shots and free-throw attempts). He is a passable outside shooter (36% from 3 for his career), a decent defender, and a pretty good passer. He is just smart and makes good decisions, and, well, he just "belongs in the NBA."
  • Remember when I wondered whether players would be leaving the NBA for Europe? Sounds pretty prescient now, doesn't it? Tiago Splitter, Carlos Delfino (who left for Moscow), Juan Carlos Navarro . . ..
  • At Yahoo, Kelly Dwyer has an excellent breakdown of the entire situation. Of note, the link back to Rex Chapman and the history of the mid-level exception, and the introduction of the notion of the NBA's upper-middle class, who is underserved by the mid-level exception, and yet undeserving of a superstar free agent contract paying $12-15 million a year. This is the group that is left to rot year after year, getting at best a mid-level deal when they, like Childress, deserve better and would receive better in a competitive market. Really, just read the article, it is excellent.
  • At freedarko they're wondering if NBA/Europe becomes NBA/ABA. The situation could threaten the league, or "these could be the first steps, or falling dominoes, toward a unified international league."
  • A random connection: to what extent can Childress' possible departure be blamed on the summer of Lebron? With teams positioning themselves for the apocalypse 2 years from now, only Philadelphia and Memphis had any cap room at the beginning of this summer. Philly spent their room on Elton Brand, and Memphis doesn't appear to have any interest in spending anything this year. The Warriors and Clippers got unexpected cap space, but the Clippers have spent all of theirs on Baron Davis, Marcus Camby, and (potentially) Kelenna Azubuike, while the Warriors already signed Corey Maggette, making Childress redundant. In any case, in a more normal year, without the looming two-year horizon, is it possible that there would have been some other suitor willing to offer more than the mid-level to a player as valuable as Childress? Probably not -- last year's trials and tribulations of Sasha Pavlovic, Anderson Varejao, Matt Barnes, and Mikael Pietrus proved that this situation is probably the norm for modern restricted free agency, rather than an anomaly.
  • Given the above point, maybe Dwyer is right in that Childress' move, or at least his threat of a move, can put some more bargaining power into the hands of restricted free agents who are worth more than the mid-level. In which case, GO GET THAT MONEY JOSH! But come back soon, I love your game.

Look, this is all a bit premature. He may not go anywhere. He may go for a bit and come back. Who knows. But it's something to keep an eye on.

A Prayer for Kwame Brown

Dear basketball gods, hear my prayer!

Kwame Brown is a good man. Blessed with a body designed to play basketball, but cursed with the accompanying expectations, he is now left floating in the limbo of free agency. All he wanted was to have some fun, maybe throw some cake.

Yes, I know he has trouble holding on to the ball, or really performing any sort of role in an organized offense, has trouble rotating on help-defense, and that he doesn't rebound as well as he should given his size. Still, he is an excellent man defender in the post, he sets good screens, and, when he plays, the officials allow him 6 fouls to use just like anyone else.

As a Lakers fan, I feel the burden of Kwame Brown on my conscience, the castaway who had to be sacrificed for my team to achieve greatness. But he should know that I am grateful. Please, find him a home where he can thrive. Do not banish him to the Clippers, Hawks, Bobcats, Knicks, or Grizzlies. Thank you,


Saturday, July 19, 2008

More Questions: Elton Brand and Baron Davis

Hooray for questions! Here's another one from the comments:

A mediocre question for a great basketball mind...
Me and another white guy were wondering why the Clippers signed Baron Davis, who has the pereception of being an oft-injured player and (my dad says) clubhouse cancer. will playing in his hometown help his knees? Do you think Davis signing there had anything to do with Brand sigining with the 76ers? And further, why did both these teams throw hella money at guys who have a history of injury?

Lastly, can you talk about how important iron will is?



This link has some relevant thoughts about the value of Baron Davis, good and bad. He's 29, and won't turn 30 until the end of the upcoming season, so he ought to be in his prime for a few years -- but before last year he hadn't played in even 70 games since the 2001-2002 season. He definitely has been oft-injured.

That said, Davis played the full 82 games last season, after spending the off-season getting into excellent shape. Maybe the Clippers are banking on him being able to stay healthy again for the next few seasons.

As for what they were thinking: presumably, they thought they'd sign Elton Brand as well, giving them a decent but not dominant team. Recall that the Clippers have been historically inept -- with just two seasons over .500 since moving to L.A. in 1985. But then, in the summer of 2003, when both Elton Brand and Corey Maggette were free agents, the Clippers turned the tables bi signing both to big contracts, signaling a committed effort to build a winning team. The effort paid off in the 2005-2006 season, when they not only went to the playoffs but came within one game of the Western Conference Finals, in a year when the Spurs had been knocked out in the second round and the conference was wide open. At the time, Elton Brand and Corey Maggette were both 26 years old, Chris Kaman was 23, and Shaun Livingston was 20. That core looked to be capable of improving and challenging for a title. And then, suddenly, everything fell apart. The team has been racked by injuries for the last two years, and has given up on the once-promising but oft-injured Livingston, let go of Corey Maggette, and seemed, before the Davis signing, to be an afterthought -- a team known for underspending and serving as a de facto D-League team for the rest of the NBA.

In that context, the Davis signing was another signal, similar to the one 5 years ago, that the Clips were trying to build a winning team. Historically, great players avoided playing for the Clippers because, well, that's where careers go to die. So Davis's decision is a big deal. As stated on Clipperblog, "He's a premier, image-conscious athlete who is militantly protective of his brand, which makes his choice of the Clippers all the more remarkable." Furthermore: "More than anything, the Davis signing would reverse the downward trajectory the franchise has been charting the past 18 months."

(The article linked above was written when it was still assumed that Brand would re-sign, but I think the sentiment still applies).

While Baron Davis has had some problems wearing out his welcome in Charlotte/New Orleans and Golden State, other players tend to like him and he has had a lot of success. There is some worry, I suppose, that without any real personality on the team, the Clippers will take on the personality of Baron Davis -- in good and bad ways -- with swagger and fearlessness on the court, and (perhaps) a bit of cavalierness off the court. I guess we'll see what happens.

[A completely unrelated aside: The Atlanta Hawks right now are in the same position as the Clippers in 2003 -- what they do with Josh Smith and Josh Childress should say a lot about whether they are trying to do anything meaningful in the league]

Elton Brand, on the other hand, shouldn't be considered as having a "history of injury." Since joining the Clippers, he had played an average of 75 games a season before missing almost all of last year due to a ruptured achilles tendon. According to WebMD, successful surgery for this injury (which Brand had) allows the patient to fully recover, and the chance of reinjury is only about 2% (and we can assume that Brand's trainers will pay special attention to it, thereby reducing the risk). So signing him is a relatively safe bet. As for whether it helps: well, it should allow the 76ers to move Thaddeus Young (a very promising rookie last year playing out of position at the 4) to the 3 (moving Iguodala to the 2), and finally gives the team a true post player on offense, who can probably mesh well with Sam Dalembert. It puts Philadelphia right there with teams like Orlando and Toronto behind Boston/Detroit in the Eastern conference.

Lastly, I never saw Iron Will, and to me the Iditarod is the only dogsled race that matters.

Friday, July 18, 2008

This way to the gun show

What do these two have in common?

Player #1:

Player #2:

If you answered "huge sculpted arms" you are correct! In addition, the two were effectively traded for each other. Player #1 is Kelenna Azubuike, whom the Warriors let walk in free agency to make room (financially and on the court) for Corey Maggette (Player #2), who signed with Golden State for 5 years, $50 million. To replace the departed Maggette, the Clippers signed Azubuike for 3 years, $9 million. Maggette is currently a better player, but they are similar and Azubuike is younger and much cheaper. He doesn't get to the line as effectively as Maggette, but he's a better rebounder.

Whatever. This post isn't about the basketball merits of the signings. I am just wondering if the Warriors and Clippers both have roster bicep quotas that they were trying to meet by signing these guys . . ..

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Regarding Mr. James Posey

This post is in response to a question posed in the comments to a recent post:

Mr. McFruity-

I have a question for you. why would the Celtics let James Posey sign with the Hornets? He seemed like such a integral part of their defense in the finals last year. is this a signal that they know they fucking suck and have no chance of beating the Lakers next year?

Thank you for being you and writing what you do.

James Posey was a free agent and signed a 4-year, $25 million deal with the Hornets. Here are some links regarding the signing:
  • Ryan from Hornets 24/7 is a fan of the signing: "Posey is a solid pickup. He'll slot nicely into the intense defense the second unit plays, and will be able to let both West and Peja get some nice minutes of rest."
  • Jeff from CelticsBlog sees the financial benefit for the Celtics, pointing out that not signing Posey should allow them a chance to re-sign players such as Eddie House and Tony Allen. However, he is certain that it is a big loss: ". . . we just lost our top bench player, an elite defensive specialist, and an emotional leader on and off the court. He will be very difficult to replace. In fact, I don't think you can replace all that he gave us with just one player."
  • John Hollinger at ESPN does not agree with the Hornets' decision to sign Posey, and thinks the excessive length and amount of the contract is just carrying on a long tradition of overpaying role players on title teams. He compares Posey's game to that of Byron Russell, Dan Majerle, Jaren Jackson, Rick Fox, and Raja Bell, and points out that given his age (31) and those comparisons, Posey is due for a steep decline.
(To the list of comparisons, I'd add Robert Horry, who seems to have a lifetime of goodwill built up from a few big shots in the playoffs).

As for the statistics, here's what they tell us: Offesnively, Posey was an efficient but limited scorer last year -- he mostly shot spot-up 3 pointers and he hit them at a solid 38% clip. A whopping 84% of his made shots were assisted, which isn't surprising but gives an idea of his role in the offense. He used under 13% of the team's posessions when he was on the court, meaning he had about as much of a role offensively as Kendrick Perkins did. I'll repeat, though, that Posey was efficient -- on the handful of plays when he did touch the ball on offense, he created about as efficiently as Kevin Garnett did (please don't take this as an offensive comparison -- Garnett used twice as many possessions as Posey did and his role in the offense was much greater -- I only want to point out how efficient Posey was).

A random sidenote:

Here are two players' per-game statistics from last year:

Player1: 24.6 minutes per game, 7.4 points, 4.4 rebounds, 1.5 assists, 1 steal, .3 blocks, 41.8% FG%, 38% 3P%, 80.9% FT%, .9 TO

Player2: 28.1 minutes, 12.2 points, 7.2 rebounds, 2.2 assists, .7 steals, .4 blocks, 45.5% FG%, 41.8% 3P%, 79.7% FT%, 1.3 TO

Player 1 is James Posey. Player 2 is Troy Murphy. If Troy Murphy was a free agent and your team just signed him to a 4 year deal, would you feel like he put your team over the top?

Obviously, though, it's not Posey's offense that people are excited about -- it's easy to remember him in the playoffs not only hitting clutch shots but, importantly, playing excellent defense. So, how good was he defensively? Well, surprisingly, last year Boston's defense was almost 4 points worse per 100 possessions when Posey was playing compared to when he was on the bench -- the defense was better when Posey did not play. Adjusted defensive plus-minus makes him look a little bit better, as it shows Posey helped the defense to the tune of about .1 points per 100 possessions. That still puts him well behind noted defenders such as Tayshaun Prince, Bruce Bowen, Ron Artest, and Shane Battier, more in the neighborhood of Jarvis Hayes and Luke Walton (note: adjusted plus-minus is similar to a plus-minus or on/off court rating, but controls for the quality of teammates on the court with a player and for the quality of the opposition). In terms of man-to-man defense, Posey held his opponent to a PER of 16.8 (15 is average) -- and considering that he was often asked to guard good offensive players, this is pretty good. Also, Posey was an excellent defensive rebounder, grabbing 18.1% of available defensive rebounds, 3rd best among all small forwards in the league, and ahead of Lebron James.

Overall, though, the Celtics were worse off with Posey on the floor, compared to when he was off the floor.

Still, something these statistics don't exactly catch is the feeling that in the biggest moments, Posey would hit the big shot, grab a big rebound, or make a hard foul to help his team win the game. And who knows, maybe that is exactly what the Hornets need, although one wonders why Posey is getting paid so much more than Eduardo Najera (who just signed with the Nets for 4 years, $12 million), who is about the same age and fulfills a similar role.

In the short-term, I think the signing will work for the Hornets. The Hornets 2nd unit is already pretty strong defensively, and Posey's experience should help them become more consistent. Plus, if Peja Stojakovic decides to fold in the playoffs, as he is wont to do, they have a proven performer to take his place. Also, take a look at Posey's shot chart from last year:

Unlike other perimeter defender/3-point specialist types such as Bruce Bowen or Raja Bell, Posey actually shoots better from the wings than he does from the corners. It did seem like most of his big shots in the playoffs also came from that right wing as well. While this would make him less of a good fit with a team like the Spurs who rely on the corner 3-pointers, it actually fits in quite well with the Hornets. While Morris Peterson camped out in the corners last year, Stojakovic actually made quite a few shots from the wings in transition (which Posey can do), and even occasionally by receiving passes out of the Chris Paul/Tyson Chandler pick and roll from the opposite wing.

While I do think the Hornets are helped in the short-term, it's the long-term that I think might hurt -- Posey's contract lasts through his 35th birthday, and the decline in the effectiveness of Spurs role players like Bruce Bowen and Robert Horry during the last couple of years sort of serves as a warning. At the end of the contract, New Orleans might be paying Posey over $6 million for virtually no production.

This, I would guess, is the main reason that the Celtics let him go. Even without him, they will be favored to win the Eastern Conference again, and because of that they should have their pick of veteran free agents this summer and during the season who want to sign with a winner. They are probably thinking that they can replace some of what Posey did for much less than what Posey signed for. In fact, Posey himself signed last year with the Celtics for less than half of what he'll be making for the Hornets. Sadly, I don't think the Celtics decision not to re-sign Posey is a signal that they know they fucking suck and have no chance of beating the Lakers next year, I think it's more that they think they can use that money more effectively.

(Then again, maybe it's just hubris? We'll find out next year whether or not indeed Posey was really integral to the Celtics defense. I would guess that the only irreplaceable parts of that defense are Kevin Garnett and assistant coach Tom Thibodeau. Still, it's valid to point out that Posey was an important piece, whatever the numbers might say).

In the end, I think I agree with Kevin Pelton's assessment:

As for Posey, guys who can shoot the three and who are terrific defenders at multiple positions can fit in just about anywhere. Posey's newfound ability to play an undersized power forward has really added to his value. The issue with Posey is years. The mid-level isn't a bad deal for Posey at the moment; in fact, given the key role he played in winning Boston the championship, you could argue it's a bargain. The length of the contract is a different issue. A five-year deal would end when Posey is 36, and even if his shooting ability is likely to hold up, his athleticism won't. Whether a team is willing to make that tradeoff depends on how much they think Posey might help their chances of legitimately contending for the next couple of years.

The Hornets are definitely a good enough team to benefit greatly from Posey's presence for the next couple of years. I think it will have been the right decision for them as long as they are still able to extend the contracts of Tyson Chandler and David West during that time. They might suffer from Posey's large contract a few years from now, but their short-term success will determine whether that is worth it.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Congratulations BOOBIE!!!

Dear Boobie,


The dollar amounts haven't been made public yet, but word is that you've just signed a FIVE YEAR CONTRACT with the Cavaliers. Despite not knowing how much you signed for, you know and I know that whatever it is is more than any other team would have offered you. So congratulations on getting that money. The reason we can know for certain that you're being overpaid is that you are a role player -- specifically, a pure shooting guard who happens to be too short for his position, so you are called a point guard. You are still very young, and have yet to show how great you might possibly become as your game matures. And you got a 5 year deal (role players don't sign for that long, unless their name is Luke Walton or they got overpaid with a mid-level exception. And young players who haven't yet become superstars? They will generally sign shorter contracts so they can increase their value and then re-sign in a few years, unless they're getting a long-term contract that overpays them). From the Cleveland Cavaliers, who are notorious for overpaying whenever they sign a player.

Seventy percent of your made shots last year were assisted (ie, you didn't break your man down off the dribble, you just caught and shot). You had a low low usage rate of 14.7% (usage rate measures the percentage of a team's posessions that a player uses while on the court, so average would be 20% -- for comparison, Lebron James used 32.7% of possessions last year). Less than 20% of your own possessions last year were assists, hence you ended up with 2.5 assists in 30 minutes per game last year. You are most definitely not a point guard, you are a spot up shooter. And a damn good one -- you shot a hot 44% from the three point line last year and were #16 in the entire league in effective field goal percentage. I love your game, but let's be honest -- you got a point guard contract for being a backup shooter on a good team.

Normally, I criticize teams for overspending on a player (even while I'm happy for that player to be getting paid), since it makes it more difficult for that team to improve in the future. But in this case, all I can think about is just how happy I am for you.

Why? First of all, because you are ridiculously pretty -- far too pretty for this world:

If there's one thing that makes me happier than seeing people succeed, it's seeing beautiful people succeed. There is some evidence, too, that part of the reason you were signed was for your boyish good looks and winsome smile:

"He's got a great smile on the court. He can shoot the heck out of the ball and bring energy to our group because guys just love playing with him," Cavaliers general manager Danny Ferry said.

Another reason I'm happy for you is because you have a wonderful name. Born "Daniel Gibson," you have gone through your career with teammates, coaches, television commentators, and your adoring fans calling you "Boobie." More power to you.

And finally, I applaud you for working around the system. You were a first-round talent in 2006 when you left college, but you refused to workout for any team other than the Cleveland Cavaliers. As a result, you dropped to the Cavaliers in the second round of the draft. Most people would think dropping to the second round is a bad thing, since you don't get a guaranteed contract as a rookie. But you had confidence that you would make the team and get signed. And you did! And what that gave you was flexibility. While first round contracts last for four years with pre-defined maximum caps on annual salary, you were able to play for just two years before becoming a restricted free agent and going after that cash. Everybody knows that the second and third contracts are where the big money comes from, and you got a head start. During the next two years, All-Star Brandon Roy will be making under $7 million, but I am certain that you, who were drafted the same year, will be making more than that, even if you never become an all-star. You took a big risk in 2006, and now it is paying off.


The Story of Andrew Bynum's Hook Shot

The Experiment and Hypothesis

Ever since he entered the league and the Lakers put Kareem Abdul-Jabbar in charge of his individual development, Andrew Bynum has, according to reports, been learning and becoming more comfortable with the hook-shot.

The hook-shot, besides being an elegant and powerful scoring weapon, might be an indicator of offensive polish. After all, it's not something even college-educate players come into the league with, let alone players straight out of high school. In that sense, the hook represents hours and hours of practice on footwork and fundamentals. In the case of Bynum, we'll use his development of his hook shot as an indicator of his development as a player.

(Side Note: I will do a future post looking into the true relationship between hook-shots and offensive polish)

What we know

In 2005-2006, when Bynum was played sparingly, he shot 38% on hook-shots. The next year, with a year of experience under his belt, he increased his hook-shot FG% to 48%. Finally, during his breakout season this past year, Bynum shot 55% on hook-shots before getting injured.

So that looks pretty good. Now, another way of looking at shot opportunities is % of shots assisted. A post player who scores an unassisted basket has to create the opportunity himself by establishing post-position, calling for and receiving the ball, and making a move with the ball toward the basket. It makes sense to look at unassisted baskets as expressions of skill and polish. Since he's entered the league, the percentage of Bynum's made non-hook-shot baskets that were assisted has actually increased due to the improved motion in the offense. However, the portion of his hook-shots that have been assisted have gone down from 60% to 53% to 39%. So, Bynum has been creating more and more of his hook-shots by making his own post moves with the ball, and in doing so has not only maintained his FG% but actually increased it.

I don't know if any of this means anything, but it's worth throwing out there, right?

For comparison

Tim Duncan over the last 3 seasons shot 52% on hook-shots and 31% of his made hook-shots were assisted.

In 2006-2007 Eddy Curry shot 67% on hook-shots and 54% of his made hook-shots were assisted.

Other Notes

It's not a given that a hook shot represents greater skill or polish, but since there has been so much written and said about Bynum's relationship with Kareem and the related yuk-yuk about Kareem teaching Bynum the secret old-school ways including the mysterious and terrifying sky-hook, it seemed reasonable to take a look at this. Also, although an unassisted shot results from a particular type of skill (creating a shot), assisted shots can also be indicators of a player's offensive awareness and ability to get to the right place at the right time, so take the above assumptions about unassisted shots with a grain of salt.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

This is probably important

The Clippers acquired Marcus Camby for a 2nd round draft pick (actually, not even that -- word is they gave Denver the right to SWAP picks). Considering that they were supposedly considering making a similar deal for Zach Randolph, they seem to have made out like bandits. They saved themselves a third year of Zach's contract (Camby's only lasts two more years) and about $5 million per year during the next two years (difference between Camby's and Randolph's salaries). They also saved themselves from a player who is very skilled at scoring in the post but also can't handle double teams, does not play any defense, and doesn't pass well.

The Clippers were able to make this trade without receiving any salary commitments in return because they were well under the cap due mainly to the departures of Elton Brand and Corey Maggette.

What did they get? Camby is 34 years old and injury prone (this last season, in which he played 79 games, was an anomaly) on one hand. On the other hand, he is a good passer, and can play pretty well offensively from the high post (he does shoot extremely slowly, but he's gotten away with that for 12 years now, so I'm sure he'll manage), which should allow him to mesh well offensively with Chris Kaman playing in the low post (and Kaman hasn't been a very good passer, so Camby gives them some passing from the inside that they've been lacking). He is also a terrific help-defender, and the Clippers should have a pretty intimidating front line when it comes to rebounding and shot-blocking (although it seems like they'd have trouble guarding quick/athletic power forwards). And finally, he is a member of a non-existent ethnic group.

The real question this year should be how many games Camby and Baron Davis are able to play healthy. Even if they have miracle seasons, we're still looking at a second-tier playoff team. Financially, this deal is interesting for the Clippers since it (theoretically) helps them on the court for a couple of years without ruining their ongoing attempt at building through their young players (Thornton, Gordon).

As for the Nuggets, it's understandable why they would do this. Even after the trade (Camby makes $10 million next year), Denver will be paying Nene and Kenyon Martin a total of close to $24 million. Denver is still over the cap after the trade, but now have room to maneuver without hitting the luxury tax.

I'm not totally convinced right now that this is an absolutely wonderful trade for the Clips, but given the stark contrast with the possibility of Zach Randolph, Camby feels like a steal.

Monday, July 14, 2008

Sparks 75 - Silver Stars 62

When she was in the game, Shannon Bobbit was everywhere. She only shot 2-12 and had 3 turnovers in 26 minutes, but she was the spark for the Sparks. She ended up with 7 assists, 4 rebounds, and a steal (it definitely felt like she had more than 1 steal), as well as a couple of charges drawn. If she didn't take half an hour between the time she catches the ball and when she shoots? She might have had a few more points. Regardless, she played a nice game.

Becky Hammon, by the way, only shot 6-19 for the Silver Stars, but that woman is a magician around the basket and in the paint.

As far as the game: it wasn't always pretty. Both teams shot very poorly, but Los Angeles dominated the boards, grabbing 44% of their own offensive rebound opportunities and allowing San Antonio to retrieve a pitiful 5% of theirs. In raw form, the offensive rebounding edge went to L.A. 18 - 1. !!!!!

The Sparks played particularly well in the first and fourth quarters -- dominating the first quarter to the tune of not allowing San Antonio a single offensive rebound (and holding them to just 26.7 eFG%) en route to a 17-10 lead. They stopped getting the ball inside in the halfcourt for several possessions in a row early in the fourth quarter, allowing the Silver Stars pull back to within 6 points, but then reasserted themselves and pulled away to a pretty easy victory.

It looked as though the Sparks were making a concerted effort (once again) to run and get early offensive opportunities, particularly in the first half. Candace Parker ended up with 8 defensive rebounds and quite a few of those turned into fast breaks because of her ability to turn and take the ball up the court herself. It seemed, tonight, like the correct strategy, considering the success -- they had some success in the halfcourt as well, but they also succumbed to the Silver Stars' physical defense, including 6 turnovers by Lisa Leslie.

On the other end, the Sparks pressured the Silver Stars rebounders, denying outlet passes and keeping pressure in the backcourt. They also played with energy, drawing several charging fouls and getting 10 steals, mostly by intercepting entry passes and kickouts.

There is still a lot for the Sparks to improve upon. The game was fast-paced but sloppy, both teams turned the ball over on more than 20% of their possessions. Still, all in all, a good win. If the Sparks can continue to win the rebounding battle like they did tonight, as well as keep their turnovers down , they should be fine for the remainder of the season.

Some Filler

Sorry for the lack of posts today and over the weekend. I've been hard at work compiling a database of play-by-play data from the last three years, as a first step towards a general theory of style. In addition to play-by-play data, I've been utilizing NBA Hotzone data (downloading the data using a method learned from countthebasket). I'm hopeful that the results will be worth the wait.

In the meantime:
  • Summer League: I watched a couple of games. What I know -- Coby Karl looks a lot better than most of the other players out there. I don't know if this is due to the one year of experience playing for the Lakers and Defenders last year, or if he's just a lot better than everyone else, or both. Also: during the Detroit-LA game, Rodney Stuckey was by FAR the best player on the court, and dominated. He really doesn't need to be playing summer league games at this point, I don't think. Amir Johnson had a few nice moments, but fouled a lot. I saw Clippers - Mavericks also. I was hoping to see something special from Nick Fazekas, but didn't see anything particular. Al Thornton was far too good to be on that court, and he looks bigger/stronger than he did last year. Eric Gordon ran around and shot a lot. Gerald Green depressed me -- the most athletic guy on the court, great skills, and he didn't look like a professional basketball player, even against summer league competition. He had a gorgeous breakaway dunk at one point, but he also looked lost several times. I hope he somehow works out in Dallas though. I didn't really catch much else. More thoughts on Lakers summer league performances here. You can watch Vegas summer league games live via webcast at the NBA website.
  • Olympic Qualifiers are being played in Athens. For a pretty in-depth preview of what to expect, check out this link.
  • This is a really worthwhile read - a snapshot of the WNBA season to date. No huge surprises, I don't think, although Lindsay Whalen's position near the top of the PER list is a reminder of just how odd it is that she's not on the Olympic team.
  • I'm pretty excited about tonight's Sparks - Silver Stars matchup. I'm not doing a full preview, but I'll have some thoughts up about it after the game. As for their last game against the Storm, I missed it and there doesn't seem to be an archived webcast available. The numbers look ugly, though:

Pace Efficiency eFG% FT/FG OREB% TOr
LOS 72 72.2 35.8% 26.4 19.4 27.8
97.2 41.5% 15.5 45.0 16.7

  • The 72.2 Efficiency for the Sparks is WAY below their season average, and that 27.8 at the top right? That means they turned the ball over on almost 28% of their posessions. Obviously, it's hard to score if you never get a shot off, good job by the Storm of getting steals. But the really scary number up there is Seattle's grabbing 45% of their own missed shots. Seattle shot poorly (41.5% effective field goal percentage), but they got a second opportunity on almost every other missed shot. It can be mighty demoralizing to a defense to force a missed shot, just to watch the opposing team get the ball back for another try. Finally, here's a good breakdown of one of the offensive sets used by Seattle in the game. Since I didn't watch the game, I've nothing more to add.

Friday, July 11, 2008

Uno, Dos, Tres, OLE!!!!



A late link

In the wake of tonight's drubbing at the hands of the Monarchs, here's a recap of a better time:

The reason I'm linking to it is because it's more thorough than anything I'll write, and it's worth a read, not the least because the writer agrees with my assessment of Derek Fisher as commentator: "shockingly becoming one of my favorite WNBA commentators."

In all seriousness, I only just saw that story today, and it deserves a link, even if it's from two games ago. And I'm not really into considering the Monarchs game at the moment. 27 turnovers?! Anyways, I'm tired.

A few free agency updates

I'll probably have more complete thoughts on everything going on in free-agency later, but I wanted to get a few quick thoughts up:

As basketball fans, we're sometimes put in the awkward position of identifying with owners and GMs rather than players. Please know that I am always happy for anyone who is able to get paid more, even if, as a fan, I sometimes wish my team could sign them for less.

An instance? The case of Ronny Turiaf. $17 million over 4 years seems a bit steep, honestly. If Ronny ends up going to the Warriors, I'll be sad as a Lakers fan but as a Ronny fan, I'm happy for him. Take the money Ronny! From the Warriors perspective, they sure seem to be burning through their newfound cap space quickly, don't they? Have they already forgotten what happened the last time they overpaid a Lakers role player? That was Derek Fisher, who they had to trade away after one year (he's now back with the Lakers).

The James Jones signing may be a hint as to Sasha Vujacic's market value. The difference is that Jones was an unrestricted free agent, while Vujacic is restricted, and as a rule teams generally have to overpay for restricted free agents (the reason being that the team that has the rights to match will match any reasonable offer, and will only not match if the offer is too rich).

Speaking of James Jones, remember how Miami let Jason Kapono go to Toronto last year, for close to $6 million a year (I believe he went for the full mid-level). Well, now they are paying Jones significantly less to do the same job, with the added benefit that he is a better defender than Kapono (Kapono is still a better shooter than Jones, but worth twice the salary?). Just a thought to keep in mind.

Finally, I mentioned in an earlier post that Orlando was paying too much for Mikael Pietrus, and that the heavy contracts might come back to bite them in the future. Well the future is now, as the Magic are unable to afford to keep Keyon Dooling (and they're already weak at point guard). Last year, they lost Darko Milicic to sign Rashard Lewis. This year, they're losing Keyon Dooling to sign Pietrus. None of it seems huge, but these are the sorts of little things that add up to huge frustration eventually.

Elaboration at a later date.

Reasons to . . . Watch Vegas Summer League

New running feature: Reasons to . . .

For today here's the #1 reason to watch the Vegas Summer League this summer: JAMES WHITE.


You might know him better as James FLIGHT White. And he's playing for the Lakers' summer league team. Hopefully, he'll do some of these things:

(Yes, that is a two-handed windmill dunk from the free throw line).

Other highlights:

James White is the reason YouTube was invented. James White once ran into Gravity in a dark alley. No one has ever heard from Gravity since then. James White challenged Chuck Norris to a dunk contest, and Chuck Norris shat his pants.

You get the point.

Thursday, July 10, 2008

Follow-Up on Brandon Jennings

When I wrote the previous Jennings post, I sort of avoided any real discussion about the merits of the NBA age rule. However, that's sort of the subtext of the situation, so here's some people who have a much more eloquent take on it:

First, Dan Shanoff spells out just what a reasonable system of professional development in a less exploitative environment would look like:

Would I have gone to Europe if I were him? No: I would have signed a shoe deal (plus sold the rights to my story) and used that to finance a maniacal domestic training regimen, entirely geared around preparing myself for the 2009 NBA Draft, then becoming the most NBA-ready player in the class. I would create a template for any top prep to do this.

I hope this sets a new trend, next year and beyond: I hope that the other half-dozen or so high school seniors with obvious NBA futures opt out of the nuisance of the college basketball system to use their "one-and-done" year to focus on training for their NBA careers.

I hope that the NBA changes its policy, if not to unwind the age-limit (they never will) then at least allow/encourage preps to jump straight to an exclusive one-year NBA development program, through the D-League.

If the goal is the NBA, then why not? The system has at its heart the interest of several stakeholders, but never that of the player himself (in this case, Jennings). So, how about a path by which the (top-tier, one-and-done) player puts his interests first, and make the D-League a true developmental league? It's been pointed out that currently, the D-League is not set up to make this a reality, but maybe it should be (either way, that linked interview is very interesting and you should read it when you have the chance).

Also, a must-read post at knickerblogger. (No really, please go read it). An extra point added to what I've already said about the possibilities:

With European leagues breaking up the NCAA’s monopoly on young basketball players, don’t expect things to stay the same. Depending on the contract, European teams can receive up to $500,000 from NBA teams for a drafted player. With Jennings opening the door, foreign teams will have incentive to recruit America’s best underage basketball prospects. Eventually some organization is going to want to keep these players from going oversees. The NBA would have a motive since they would be paying an extra half million dollars for some of their draft picks. The NCAA might want to make a change before their basketball empire crumbles. And the NBDL could take advantage of this opportunity to make themselves a proper minor league. One thing is for certain, future 18 year old basketball prodigies will have more than one option to consider.

I hadn't even considered the extra buyout costs to bring over rookies playing on European contracts. In any case, it is possible (I suppose) for Jennings becoming "his generation's Kevin Garnett" but it's a little early to tell.

Also, something I rethought from earlier: not all European basketball is the EuroLeague. Maybe the skill level and development system won't be all it could be wherever he ends up. I guess we'll have to wait and see. However, the folks at ballineurope think the experience will help him as a player.

Brandon Jennings Questions

What does it mean that this man has chosen to play basketball professionally in Europe for a year rather than go to college and play in the NCAA?

Hopefully, one result will be an increased popularity for the fade haircut in Europe. I'm imagining a bunch of Italian dudes sporting it all of a sudden . . ..

More to the point: Jennings makes a few hundred thousand dollars extra while waiting to go to the NBA, which is nothing to sneeze at. The NCAA loses a chance to make money off of a domestic star, and the NBA gets the first response to the age limit.

This most probably won't happen, but what if Jennings is a huge success in his first year over there, and becomes a big star and is offered a contract paying several million euro per year? That's more than the max he could make during his first 3-4 years in the NBA (considering the strength of the euro and the weakness of the dollar, and rookie salary scales), and plus the European teams also cover housing and transportation costs. Would he skip the NBA altogether and choose the life of a Euro star?

The reason I say that won't happen is because European teams are heavy on the development. By the time they reach the senior teams, players have been practicing and playing regularly together daily for many years, developing individual skills and team chemistry. Player development is taken very seriously, and isn't controlled by shoe companies as it is here. It's unclear how much an American high school star could contribute to a team there in just one year. But then why would any European team sign him, knowing he won't be around for long?

Will this start a trend, turning Europe into an alternative to college for the top players and effectively converting European basketball leagues into NBA minor leagues? I doubt it at this point, but if that did happen then eventually somebody would have the sort of success I described, and then we'd perhaps see a top player choose to have a career in Europe instead of the NBA. Keep in mind that very few high school players in any given year would even be talented enough to make the jump to a professional European league, so this option is open to very few individuals. Also, the risk is that since the level of competition is so much higher in European Leagues (vs. the NCAA), a player's draft position could drop considerably compared to if he stayed in the U.S.. So there's a lot of obstacles out there to stop this from becoming a trend.

One facet that will be interesting to watch is how Jennings develops skill-wise. The NCAA, often with only one year to work with top-flight stars, doesn't always do a great job of developing well-rounded pro-ready players. From a basketball standpoint, is Jennings better served by focusing full time on becoming a better player and playing within a team concept? (This isn't meant to be a comment on the value of a college education -- obviously anyone would benefit from that, this is just from a basketball perspective, and everyone who doesn't finish their college education as they pursue a sports career should totes go back to school a la Vince Carter or Shaquille O'Neal once they've made a few bucks, etc etc.).

I don't know. I will say, good luck Mr. Jennings! Hope to see you in the NBA next year!