Sunday, November 30, 2008

Close Readings - Bynum's D, Durant's O

I thought it would be nice to take a close look at a couple of early storylines as they play themselves out in game situations. For this episode, I'm interested in: Kevin Durant's offensive effectiveness since his move to the small forward position, and Andrew Bynum's defensive contributions against teams whose bigs stretch the floor.

Kevin Durant
One of the major changes in the Oklahoma City Thunder since Scott Brooks took over as interim head coach has been Kevin Durant's move from the shooting guard position to the small forward, where many observers feel he is a more natural fit given his skillset. The move allows the team to play another perimeter player (Damien Wilkins), creating more space inside and allowing Durant to work closer to the basket. Early in his career, Durant has struggled to be efficient as a scorer, and partly because of that the Sonics/Thunder have been a pretty poor offensive team in terms of efficiency.

Durant has now played 5 games at the 3 position under his new coach. It's still very early, but statistically, the results are promising. Under P.J. Carlesimo, Durant was shooting a pretty low 46.1 eFG% (recall that eFG takes into account the extra point that three-pointers are worth). Since the coaching change, he's improved that to a solid 52.4%. Further, he's getting to the free throw line 3 more times per game than he was before (7.8 attempts per game now, 4.8 before the switch). One unexplained stat is that Durant is attempting more three pointers per game (3.2) than he was before the switch (1.3), although he's maintained his impressive percentage (43.8%). His turnovers are also down since the move.

Here's a comprehensive look at Durant's performance at each of the two positions, including minutes played at small forward before the coaching change. It's a very small sample, but the fact that the team is 15 points per hundred possessions better on offense with Durant at the 3 as opposed to the 2 is encouraging.

All of that should, I hope, serve as some background. But I am aware that, this early in the season, with so few minutes played, not much can be concluded from a look at the numbers. So instead I decided to watch and take notes on Saturday's Thunder-Grizzlies game (hey, someone had to watch it, right?). These notes will only be about Durant's offense, so before I begin, I'll make a few random observations from the game: on defense, Durant repeatedly got left out of rebounding position without anyone to box out when a shot went up. He ended up with 7 defensive rebounds in 39 minutes, but the Thunder allowed Memphis to retrieve 31% of their missed shots, which isn't horrible but could be improved (league average is just 26.9% so far this season). Of particular concern were Greg Buckner and Javaris Crittenton combining for 4 offensive rebounds in 42 combined minutes, as well as a telling play in the first half: Durant was guarding Darrell Arthur, who went up to set a screen at the top of the key for Mayo; Durant hedged to slow Mayo down, but didn't recover quickly enough as Arthur rolled to the basket; Mayo drove all the way to the hoop and missed a layup, but by the time Durant arrived he was behind Arthur, who was in perfect position to grab the rebound and go back up with a dunk. O.J. Mayo had yet another brilliant game. This was the first I'd seen Crittenton this season, and I was impressed with his agressiveness (8 free throw attempts in just 18 minutes, and no turnovers). Russell Westbrook leads all point guards in the league in offensive rebounding -- this just seemed worth pointing out. Also worth pointing out -- Westbrook is one of the few players whose rebounds deserve to be highlights by themselves. And finally, the Section 209 Crew at FedEx Forum in Memphis have been giving life to a lifeless stadium throughout this year, and even though I'm only watching on television, I'm grateful for their presence.

Anyways, on to the game. It should be noted that this was the first game this season in which Russell Westbrook was the starter at the point. Below are specific offensive possessions in which Durant played an important role in a scoring attempt, although I've left out several transition buckets that Durant got:

1st quarter
At the start of the first quarter, with Darrell Arthur guarding Kevin Durant, the Thunder focus on getting the ball into Chris Wilcox in the post, working against Marc Gasol. Durant doesn't factor much for the first several minutes, and Wilcox didn't do that much against Gasol. I found the strategy odd, since Gasol is an excellent defender, but whatever.

Halfway through the quarter, Arthur went to the bench and was replaced by Greg Buckner, and Durant immediately began working in the post against the smaller Buckner.

Here's how his possessions went:
- Durant gets the ball isolated at the left free throw line extended and draws a shooting foul (he makes both FT).

- After a weakside block by Rudy Gay (I forget on whom), the Thunder grab the rebound and Durant drifts out to the left wing while Gay is still under the basket. Durant gets the ball at the arc and shoots the open 3-pointer with 10 seconds on the shot clock. Gay is late closing out, but Durant misses.

- Durant gets ball on the right wing, dribbles left around screen by Westbrook, puts up a contested 22 foot jumper and misses. Probably should have waited for a better shot here.

- Out of a timeout, Durant takes Gay off the dribble from the right wing, gets into the paint and kicks out to Damien Wilkins for an open corner 3, but Wilkins decides to pass up the shot and dribbles into the paint. Durant floats out to about 14 feet and misses a tough-angled shot off of Wilkins' penetration.

- Durant posts up Gay down low on the left block, backs him down for two dribbles and makes a right-handed jump hook over him. This seems like the sort of thing Durant should be able to do regularly against a lot of 3's.

2nd quarter
Durant sits for the first 4 minutes or so, returning with 8:25 left and is matched against Javaris Crittenton at both ends.

- At 7:36, he posts up Crittenton on the right mid post and calls for the ball. Crittenton tries to deny the entry and ends up fouling Durant. Immediately, Mayo comes in for Crittenton.

- Working off the ball, Durant comes off a Joe Smith baseline screen on the left side and receives a pass from the top of the key and he catches the ball at about 12 feet just left of the paint with an open shot. Darko Milicic comes out to challenge while Mayo continues to pursue Durant around the screen, leaving Joe Smith unaccounted for. Smith begins to roll to the basket and Durant throws a bounce pass perfectly leading him, but Mayo, recognizing the opening, grabs Smith's right arm and doesn't let him get to the ball. The foul isn't called, and the play results in a turnover and a transition dunk for Rudy Gay. This was a nice play, despite the result.

- Out of a timeout, the Thunder go back to the exact same play, and this time it results in a Durant assist on a Joe Smith dunk.

- After a Grizzly time out (and an O.J. Mayo basket coming out of it), the Thunder again go to the Smith/Durant baseline screen. This time, Durant runs up from the left corner to receive the pass at the left elbow as Smith screens Mayo. Marc Gasol is in at center instead of Milicic this time, and Gasol positions himself to shut down any driving lane for Durant, but doesn't give Smith an easy lane to roll to the basket. Smith comes off the screen and settles in at about 15 feet. Durant turns down the jump shot and passes to smith, who misses a baseline jumper that he can usually make.

After that play, we see a series of possessions that feature Durant isolated on the left high post against several different defenders.

- Durant is isolated in the left high post against Mayo. He turns and faces, but Mayo pokes the ball away as Durant begins his dribble. Durant recovers the ball and ends up taking a tough 17 foot jumper while falling to his left, which he makes. He's 3 of 8 shooting at that point, but he makes 5 of his next 8 shots and ends the day 8 of 16.

- The next time down, Durant gets the ball in the exact same place (left high post), isolated against Mayo again. This time he takes his time and backs him down into the paint. No help arrives, and Durant makes an easy layup over the much shorter Mayo.

- On the next trip down, the more physical Greg Buckner guards Durant. Durant has to work a little harder for it, but again receives the ball at the left high post. Buckner plays Durant closer and more physically, so Durant turns and faces and then easily drives baseline around Buckner straight to the hoop. No help arrives, so Buckner fouls Durant as he goes up. Durant makes one of two free throws. The last three possessions show some of the versatility in Durant's game that makes it hard to guard him one-on-one if he gets the ball in a position to score. While taller defenders might have a little more success, there aren't many taller players in the league who are quick enough to stay with Durant off the dribble. If Durant starts with the ball at the top of the key, on the other hand, there are a lot more ways to shut him down or force him into bad shots.

Anyways, during Durant's free throws, the Grizzlies bring Darrell Arthur back into the game.

- On the next offensive possession, Durant is again isolated at the left high post, this time against Arthur. Durant turns and faces, but Arthur steps back and gives him the shot. Durant takes the 18 foot jumper but misses (despite the miss, it's a decent shot). The Thunder retrieve the offensive rebound and get it into Jeff Green on the right side in the post against Rudy Gay. Green sees Durant open at the three point line on the left side, but the cross court pass is intercepted.

For the rest of the quarter, Durant mostly hangs out on the perimeter while the Thunder outscore the Grizzlies 6-4.

3rd quarter
- Darrell Arthur starts the 3rd quarter, but on the Thunder's first possession, Durant gets fouled by Arthur in transition and makes both FT. The foul sends Arthur back to the bench, forcing Gay to defend Durant again.

- Later, after a defensive switch caused by a Durant screen, Durant finds himself posting up Mike Conley. Unfortunately, Damien Wilkins can't get into position to get a good angle on the entry pass, so instead takes a tough 17-footer as the shot clock expires, and makes it.

After that, the Thunder again begin feeding Wilcox down low against Gasol. This takes up much of the next several possessions (with a little more success this time -- forcing back-to-back defensive 3-second violations leading to technical free throws for Durant) except for the following:

- At about 7:20, Durant gets involved again, getting a handoff from green at the right elbow and driving to the basket. From the paint, he kicks the ball back out to green, who misses a 3-pointer (leading to one of Russell Westbrook's breathtaking offensive rebounds -- he had 5 on the night).

- Durant passes from the top of the 3 point line into Wilcox at the left free-throw line extended, then cuts down to the baseline, rubbing his man off of Wilcox. He gets the pass back from Wilcox and hits the baseline jumper over Gasol.

- Durant gets a wide open dunk off a sideline out of bounds play, but I can't see how he got open because the camera was stuck on a closeup of O.J. Mayo's face for some reason.

After a few more Wilcox post-isolations, Durant gets involved again:

- At around 4:10, Durant ends up isolated at the top of the arc against Hakim Warrick, with the other four Thunder players spaced around the court. Durant takes a hard left-handed dribble and pulls up and makes the straightaway 20-foot jumper over Warrick.

- 3:36. Durant sets up in the left corner guarded by Gay, Green posts up Warrick at the right elbow, Earl Watson is in the right corner guarded by Mayo. Westbrook dribbles up to the top of the arc, guarded by Kyle Lowry, and makes the entry pass into Green, then runs down to the right corner and sets a screen on Mayo, forcing Lowry to switch onto Watson while Mayo chases Westbrook along the baseline up to the left corner, which Durant is in the process of vacating. Watson runs back up along the arc and gets the ball at the right wing from Green as Green screens Lowry, while on the weak side Durant runs up to the left wing while Wilcox moves down to the left elbow and Westbrook arrives at the left corner. Wilcox picks off Gay as he chases Durant, and Watson passes the ball to Durant at the wing. With Mayo sticking to Lowry in the corner and Gay stuck behind Green, there is a wide open driving lane and Durant doesn't hesitate, taking the ball straight to the hoop and getting fouled by Gasol as he goes up for the shot.

- At 1:45, Durant gets the ball at the right wing, and tries to drive. He loses the handle and the play results in a backcourt violation turnover. This is significant since it's one of the only times in the game he tries to attack from the right side, and it doesn't go well.

- :40, Durant gets the ball in the left post with good position against Gay and quickly turns and shoots and misses badly. I'm assuming he was going for the 2-for-1, because he could have gotten a much better shot if he had taken a little longer.

4th quarter
Durant sits out the first half of the quarter, and comes in at about 6:06 with the Thunder down by 1, 92-91. He spends the fourth quarter in a very small lineup with Jeff Green, Earl Watson, Russell Westbrook, and Desmond Mason.

- 3:20. Durant gets the ball in the low right post, misses a turnaround baseline jumper (there's that right side again).

- The next time down, Durant gets the ball isolated in the left high post, faces up and drives baseline, and gets to the basket easily with a left-handed drive, and is fouled in the act of shooting.

- On the next offensive possession, Durant gets the ball in the exact same position, and again easily faces and drives with his left to the hoop, but this time help arrives and Durant gets called for a charge at the basket.

After that, the Grizzlies turn the ball over and Durant gets fouled in transition. The subsequent free throws put the Thunder up by 7 with 48 seconds left, and after that it is a free throw shooting contest.

The Grizzlies' help defense wasn't great in this game (and even though Durant exclusively drove baseline when he drove, the Grizzlies were unable to shut off the baseline penetration), but it was still possible to see some of the possible advantages to playing Durant in lineups with an extra shooter. A lot of those isolations in the left high post were possible because there was less congestion down low, giving Durant the option of driving or backing his man down to the paint, in addition to taking the shot. Because the Memphis rotations were late most of the time, I didn't get a chance to see how well Durant would pass out of a double team if he got in close to the basket, but that will be key now that Damien Wilkins (shooting 40.9% from 3 this year) is in the lineup with him (in addition to Jeff Green, who is still shooting an impressive 46.9% from 3 this year). In this particular game, Oklahoma City went on runs of 10-0 and 5-0 in the fourth with the small lineup of Durant/Green/Westbrook/Watson/Mason. That won't always work, but it was nice to see the coach giving it a shot. Defensively, Durant might be better equipped to guard forwards instead of guards since he lacks the quickness to do the latter (in this particular game, Durant was able to spend a lot of time guarding Arthur and Buckner, who aren't really offensive threats, and that allowed him to rest/roam on defense. When he did end up matched up against Rudy Gay, he struggled). However, without an extra big in the lineup, Durant will be relied upon more on the defensive glass, and he'll need to improve there in order to make this change work.

On Sunday, the Lakers hosted the Toronto Raptors. I was interested in this game since the Lakers have recently struggled defensively a bit with teams who have bigs who can contribute from outside the paint. Coupled with penetrating guards, these perimeter bigs have drawn the Lakers' shotblockers out of the paint and left it open for smaller guards, exposing the Lakers' inability to stop dribble penetration. These weaknesses were apparent recently in games against Detroit and Sacramento. The Raptors don't have the sort of penetrating guards that would be able to take advantage of the vacated painted area that Detroit (Iverson) and Sacramento (Salmons, Udrih) have, but I thought it would be interesting to watch how the Lakers dealt with Chris Bosh and Andrea Bargnani anyways.

While the Lakers played decent defense overall, they occasionally struggled staying in front of Roko Ukic and repeatedly lost track of Anthony Parker. Altogether, the Lakers allowed 32 points in the paint. But even though I started out watching for guard penetration, what I was most impressed by and distracted by was just how well Andrew Bynum took to the challenge of guarding Chris Bosh.

Bosh has been making a case for himself as an MVP candidate this year, with 27 points and 10 rebounds a game and shooting 54% from the field. But Bynum held Bosh to 12 points on 4-13 shooting, and 4 turnovers in 37 minutes. With help behind him, Bynum kept Bosh out of the paint most of the night (with the exception of a couple of memorable Bosh dribble-drives along the baseline), and challenged shots much farther away from the basket than he's used to. Bosh shot 2 for 8 on shots outside the paint, excluding his lone three-point attempt (which he made), and shot 1 for 4 inside the paint. Some quotes:

And if you like what you saw, credit the Captain with a big assist. After watching Bosh draw a foul against Drew and can a 21-footer in his face in Toronto's early possessions, he gave Bynum some advice during the first time out. Smiled Bynum, "Kareem was like, 'Make sure that you stay within the arm length of him and play his left hand, before he even makes a move, play him on to he left side.' And it worked."

Bosh on the defense:

"They come from that bottom spot and take every pass away except the furthest pass, which is in the corner and the backboard is in the way. I have two seven foot defenders on me. It was very tough."
It remains to be seen how the Lakers will adjust if Bynum is consistently guarding a threat outside the paint and the opposition has a player who can regularly get past the perimeter D, but tomorrow night's matchup against the Pacers might be a nice test. With Rasho Nesterovic and Troy Murphy stretching the floor, T.J. Ford and Danny Granger should find plenty of opportunities to get into the paint without any shot-blockers there to meet them. I would worry specifically about Ford.

An unrelated aside
He's only played 13 games so far, but Devin Harris is averaging 25 points (on 49% shooting), 6.4 assists, and only 2.1 turnovers per game. His offensive efficiency -- 129 points per 100 possessions -- is unheard of for such a high usage (he uses 28.4% of his team's possessions) player. Historically, the only players who've ever kept up anything close to that level of efficiency at such a high usage rate for an entire season are Michael Jordan (1990-91) and Adrian Dantley (1983-84). We can probably expect Harris to come down to earth a little bit at some point, but you might want to keep an eye on him just in case.

Thursday, November 27, 2008

Happy Birthday, Chick!

On this date in 1916, the greatest play-by-play man ever was born. Happy birthday and RIP, Chick Hearn!

For non-Laker fans, Chick Hearn was the play-by-play man for the Lakers from 1965 all the way through their most recent championship year in 2002 (and he never missed a game, working 3,338 games in a row, making A.C. Green seem like a wimp). His broadcasts were on both radio and television through the magic of simulcast, and he gave the basketball world such popular phrases as "slam dunk," "air ball," and "throws up a prayer...", as well as tons of other colorful and descriptive phrases. Here's a link to a collection of classic Chick-isms, although they make much more sense when you hear them than read them, so try browsing through the Old Golden Throat YouTube Channel.

Here, for your viewing pleasure, are some old highlights:

Other favorites:

Magic faked him into the popcorn machine! He's got butter all over him!

The game's in the refrigerator! The door is closed, the lights are out, the eggs are cooling, the butter's getting hard, and THE JELLO'S JIGGLING!

And finally, here is a strange rendition of the Wazzup! commercials featuring the early 2000's Lakers:

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Checking up on Nene

When Marcus Camby was traded ("traded" might be a bit generous -- let's just say "sent") to the Los Angeles Clippers this summer, most of the stories were about Camby and his Denver teammates being miffed at the move, and the Nuggets trying to get under the luxury tax. Then, once the season started, other high-profile trades (Allen Iverson-Chauncey Billups, the Knicks deals) took the spotlight, and somewhere along the way the story of the man who took over for Camby got lost. We've maintained here at fruithoopz that, although Camby is a nice player, he might have been overrated due to his gaudy block and rebound numbers, and that Nene could, if healthy, do a solid job providing a lot of what the Nuggets have lacked in recent years.

So, 14 games into the Nuggets' season, let's take a look at what a healthy Nene has been doing. And healthy is the key word here -- Nene leads the Nuggets in minutes played so far this season, and is having the sort of start that could, if sustained, lead Denver fans to forget about Camby altogether.

At the offensive end, Nene has shown a few incremental improvements this year. For starters, he has a much-improved jumpshot. He's shooting a very impressive 48.8% on shots outside of 8 feet this year. For comparison, last year Camby, who shoots much more frequently from outside and has an offensive identity built around being able to hit outside shots, shot 37.7% on shots from more than 8 feet last year, and Nene himself, in his last healthy season in 06-07, shot 27.4%. Chances are that Nene's percentages will come down somewhat as the year goes on, but considering the fact that he's also shooting a career-high 74.6% from the free throw line (he's only shot 65.1% over his career), it's clear that Nene has improved his shooting ability somewhat. His shot chart shows how well he's playing the pick and pop game at the top of the key (90% of Nene's jump shots are assisted):

As is apparent from above, Nene continues to be extremely effective from inside, as he has been throughout his career. All in all, Nene has proved efficient enough to lead the league in field goal percentage and come in second in the league (behind only Delonte West in Cleveland) in True Shooting Percentage. He's scoring 15.4 points per game, while only taking 9.4 field goal attempts. 

Nene continues to be active offensively, also, and takes 35% of his shots in the first 10 seconds of the shot clock.

While Marcus Camby was known for roaming for blocked shots and always accumulated large totals in that department, to the point of winning Defensive Player of the Year a couple of years ago and leading the league in blocks per game for three years in a row, Nene has been known as a better position defender in the post (some fans might recall Nene doing an admirable job guarding Tim Duncan a couple of years ago in the playoffs). The statistics bear this out, as this year Nene has held opposing centers to 11 points per 48 minutes on just 41.8% shooting. Again, as a comparison, last year Marcus Camby allowed opposing centers to score 19.3 points per 48 while shooting 52.5%. 

In terms of defensive rebounding, Nene has not produced as much as Camby individually, but one very interesting feature of Camby's absence has been the move toward accomplishing defensive rebounding as a team. Currently, the Nuggets are rebounding 72.2% of their opponents' misses, which mirrors their 72.1% rate from a year ago, despite the fact that Camby rebounded 31.1% of opponent misses last year, while Nene, as his replacement this year, only corrals 18%. Looking a little more closely at the numbers, we notice that last year Camby's presence on the court only led to an increase of about 1.2% in defensive rebounding rate compared to when he was off of it, despite his prodigious individual rebounding numbers (meanwhile, this year the Nuggets see an increase of 9.1% in defensive rebounding rate when Nene is on the court vs. off of it). This year, the most glaring contributors to take over some of Camby's rebounding load are Carmelo Anthony and J.R. Smith, both of whom are on track to record career highs in defensive rebound rate and defensive rebounds per game. I've posited here before that many of Camby's gaudy rebound totals in recent years have been partly a result of a scheme that left Camby alone to secure rebounds while other players leaked out in transition. So far this year, Denver is averaging 5 fewer possessions per game (99.7 last year, 94.7 this year), meaning they're pushing the pace a little less this year (another way of looking at it: they're taking 35% of their shot attempts in the first 10 seconds of the shot clock this year, vs. 39% last year), and the entire team is involved in securing defensive rebounds. 

(As a sidenote, how impressive would it be if Carmelo Anthony continues to average 8.9 rebounds per game, as he has so far this season?).

The Overall Effect
All told, Nene has the highest plus/minus rating (the difference between how the team performs when he's on the court vs. off of it) on the team, the second highest Player Efficiciency Rating or PER (behind Chauncey Billups) on the team, and leads one of the better teams in the Western Conference in minutes played. As long as he's healthy, the Nuggets shouldn't miss Marcus Camby.

Sunday, November 23, 2008

The BFF Theory and other thoughts

The BFF Theory
I watched the short-handed Knicks on Friday against the Bucks. The game wasn't particularly interesting -- Luc Richard Mbah a Moute and Ramon Session continue to be fantastic, pretty much all of the Knicks besides Chris Duhon had off-shooting nights (including some questionable shot selection from Wilson Chandler). Malik Rose lost the battle of the Maliks to Malik Allen.

But the story of this particular game wasn't the score, it was (once again) Stephon Marbury. He had to dress for the Knicks to avoid a forfeit as they wait for their new players to show up, but apparently refused to play. Most of the coverage of the event is focusing on the bizarre angle or the "Marbury-as-team-cancer" angle, so I'll ignore that. Instead, I'm concerned about how we're finding this story out. The story comes directly quoted from Mike D'antoni, while Marbury is refusing to comment (when has he ever refused to comment?). So Mike: why are you telling us this? Are we supposed to hate him? Feel sorry for you? I don't know, but I refuse to play along.

Anyways, since Marbury didn't play we saw Nate Robinson play 41 minutes and Anthony Roberson play 17. Robinson was active but off -- shooting 7-21 with 4 turnovers, seeming generally distracted, and I was wondering: is there any study of players immediately after their BFF gets traded away? We saw Rip Hamilton have his Chauncey Billups taken away earlier this season, and he has struggled at times, and now we see a distracted-looking Nate Robinson playing after losing his BFF Jamal Crawford. Thoughts?

In other news:

I was watching this snippet of an interview with Rasheed Wallace:

And it occurred to me -- Rasheed Wallace seems like the perfect elder friend to understand the life of Kwame Brown. Like Brown, Wallace has made a career out of not quite living up to the lofty expectations of others, but unlike Brown, Wallace has made a satisfying all-star career for himself out of his insistence on being exactly who he wants to be (not Kevin Garnett or Tim Duncan, but Rasheed Wallace). I really think Brown could find some peace by learning from Wallace.

I watched two Kings games (both losses) over the weekend, and I am super-impressed by rookies Jason Thompson and Bobby Brown. And Donte Greene seems like a poor man's Kevin Durant, and I don't know if that's a compliment or not.

Warriors rookie Anthony Randolph might be some kind of superhero who lurks in the shadows, jumps out intermittently to cause all manner of devastation, and then just as quickly disappears back into the shadows. On Friday (Pilipino Night at the Oracle Arena!), in 13 minutes, he did this: 10 points, 9 rebounds, 4 blocks, 1 assist, 1 steal, 2 turnovers, 2 fouls. In 13 minutes!

Speaking of superheroes, Trevor Ariza!! I don't know the proper imagery for what he does on the court -- he's a tornado of activity. He's not yet the sort of lock-down man defender he might become one day, but what he does fits in perfectly with the Lakers' team defense. On offense, he's added a couple of features to what he did last year (relentless offensive rebounding and cutting to the basket). I've pointed out the improved jumpshot already, but I haven't mentioned how much he's improved his ballhandling. That improvement shows up statistically in the fact that he's on pace to average a career-high in assists per game and assist percentage as well as a career-low in Turnover percentage (turning it over on just 8% of his used possessions).

There were a couple of coaching changes in the league also, as Eddie Jordan of the Wizards and P.J. Carlesimo of the Thunder were both canned. Both moves were, I think, pretty expected, so not much to say here. Here's an introduction to the Thunder's new coach, and here's another - that latter link includes a pretty insightful look into Kevin Durant and Carmelo Anthony. More on the Wizards' move later.

And I finally got a chance to check out the Cavaliers' new and improved offense when they played the Hawks this weekend. I'll write about it in a later post, but in the meantime, you can learn a lot about it through these two posts.

Friday, November 21, 2008

So, the Knicks are busy

I had a completely unrelated post prepared that will have to wait for the weekend. Instead, just as I finished up the previous post on the wacky Warriors, the Knicks went and traded Zach Randolph to the Clippers, for Cuttino Mobley and Tim Thomas. The Knicks are also sending Mardy Collins in the deal.

The Knicks, in one day, have more or less cleared the way for the big free agents they plan to go after in a couple of years. Bleh. Begin 400 stories on every website about Lebron James or Chris Bosh in 3, 2, 1 . . ..

(Congratulations, Knicks fans -- this is what optimism feels like. Welcome back).

The Clippers?

The Clippers continue to be the bizzaro Warriors, wielding mismatched players who form a completely non-entertaining (and dysfunctional) whole (the Warriors, on the other hand, create function and entertainment out of their chaotic canvas).

I'll let this play out before doing any more in depth analysis, but suffice it to say I think this is a horrible move for the Clippers. Also, as pointed out at Clipperblog, this move makes it seem likely that Chris Kaman is on his way out, doesn't it? So, time to bust out the trade machine, and figure out where he's going! What do you think -- Chris Kaman to the Mavericks for Jerry Stackhouse and Brandon Bass?

The Warriors embrace their own madness

Word is out that a trade between the Warriors and Knicks is official, with the W's sending Al Harrington to the Knicks and receiving Jamal Crawford in return. The Knicks are just shaving salary in preparation for a free agent run in a couple of offseasons. But the Warriors?

The Warriors.

The NBA is a beautiful thing. I have read a lot of arguments about why the NBA should shorten the regular season, and what the Warriors just did emphasizes exactly why the regular season should remain as long as ever.

See, the NBA gives us three leagues, in three seasons. There is the winter league, when we get to watch the most intriguing of the non-contending teams come together. This involves close readings of rookies and projections of their games into the future, and analysis of new combinations of players and coaches to further our understanding of basketball. And the winter gives us our most memorable and unnoticed highlights. Every now and then, a winter team will slip into relevance in the spring, getting hot and remaining in the playoff race through the last quarter of the season. The Portland Trailblazers did that last year.

Then there's the springtime league, where exciting but flawed teams battle it out for the seventh or eighth playoff spot. They'll convince us all that they are contenders, only to be quickly swept away early in the playoffs, when we make room for the summertime -- the second round of the playoffs and onward.

Two years ago, the Warriors went from being a winter league team to, shockingly, competing for a playoff spot in the spring. And then, out of nowhere, they stumbled their way into the second round of the playoffs. It was a brilliant moment.

And now, just 11 games into the season, the Warriors have given us:
  • Anthony Morrow, NBA star
  • Demarcus Nelson and C.J. Watson as starting point guards
  • 48 minutes of Stephen Jackson in a single game
  • Corey Maggette as a power forward
  • Kelenna Azubuike as a dependable vet
And now, we add Jamal Crawford to a team already overflowing with scoring guards. Sure, why not? This team is completely beyond analysis, which is why they are THE team to watch this season.

Other teams that are in for this season: Grizzlies, Hawks, Bucks, Lottomatica Roma (Brandon Jennings!), Olympiacos (Josh Childress!). Perhaps also the Bulls and the Blazers, although something tells me we'll be paying a lot of attention to those two teams in February, March, and April.

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Weekend Notes

There were a few significant games played in the League this weekend. I didn't catch all of them, but here's some notes from the ones I did see. Note that, at this point of the season, I'll be focusing mostly on teams that won't be in the mix in the spring -- we'll have plenty of time to consider the contenders later in the season, but this time of the year is for the circus that is the rest of league:

Bucks 101, Grizzlies 96
Is Rudy Gay's game wilting in awe of O.J. Mayo's jumpshot? I realize he's going through a bit of a shooting slump that he'll eventually break out of (he's shooting 43.6% eFG so far, after 51.1% last year), but there's something more disturbing . . . his moves and his shot seem so earthly now, in comparison to his rookie teammate's. Also, in this game O.J. Mayo was wearing long socks, Michael Cooper-style. Anyways, a couple of big Bucks takeaways from this one -- this weekend was the first time this season I've really paid a lot of attention to this team, and I was impressed. Super rookie Luc Mbah a Moute did everything the Bucks needed in this game, to the point where I started to think that if I were a GM with a late-first or second round pick and wasn't sure who I wanted, I would just pick a UCLA player. Milwaukee and Memphis were more or less even in most respects, except that Milwaukee dominated the rebounding battle at both ends, grabbing 45% of their own misses while only allowing Memphis to get to 17% of theirs. In raw numbers, that translated to an overall rebounding edge of 62-36 for Milwaukee. Mbah a Moute had 10 offensive rebounds (!!) and 17 total -- it's fair to say he was the difference maker. More on the Bucks below. Also nice to see -- Mike Conley finally seems to be waking up a bit -- he only finished with 4 assists in 34 minutes, but he was clearly penetrating more and being more aggressive than he has been so far this season. He also ended up with 7 rebounds and 3 steals. Richard Jefferson also played well for the Bucks.

Trailblazers 82, Hornets 87
Portland lost this game but the only story for me was the emergence of a healthy Greg Oden. In 24 minutes, he accumulated 11 points (on just three field goal attempts), 11 rebounds, and 4 blocked shots, and there was excitement in just seeing him on the floor. There was even more excitement when he did this:

Also of note: he hasn't played that many minutes so far this season, but per 36 minutes, Sergio Rodriguez is averaging 10 assists and 2.4 turnovers, and looks promising. In New Orleans, Devin Brown has taken over the backup point guard spot from Mike James, a move that was necessary.

Pistons 106, Lakers 95
I was really happy for Kwame Brown. See below for some notes on the Lakers' defense this season.

Trailblazers 88, Timberwolves 83
Once again, the story was Greg Oden. The Trailblazers outscored the Timberwolves by 13 points in the 24 minutes that Oden was on the floor, while he ended up with 13 points, 8 rebounds, 3 blocks, 2 steals, and 2 turnovers. Offensively, he is mostly limited to dunks and a consistent right-handed jump hook, but it's a good start. Defensively, he takes up a ton of room in the paint and consistently challenges penetrators, but can be drawn away effectively by pick and rolls (as can most big men), and can be scored on one-on-one by crafty and/or quicker offensive players (Al Jefferson ended up shooting 12-16, for instance). I never thought I'd say this, but it was nice to see Minnesota acknowedging the lack of height and playing Jason Collins for 14 minutes. Finally -- in a close game in which Minnesota was outscored 23-12 at the end, Mike Miller had just one shot attempt in the fourth quarter.

Celtics 102, Bucks 97 (OT)
With Michael Redd out, the Bucks have been playing a lot of minutes with two point guards in the backcourt together, Luke Ridnour and Ramon Sessions. So far, it seems to be working. In this game, the two combined for 33 points, 10 assists, and 8 rebounds. Mbah a Moute had another solid game, and he might be the steal of the draft.

The only reason Milwaukee was able to stay in this game was because they outrebounded the Celtics, and that's what happens when you play Brian Scalabrine for 13 minutes. Also, Andrew Bogut got ejected late in this one for picking up his second technical, and while the call wasn't completely fair, it was within the rules and more or less correct. Yet the incredibly annoying Bucks color commentator went on and on about what a horrible call it was for a good 10 or 15 minutes, spanning two commercial breaks, and really I wished he would just shut up.

Notes on the Lakers defense
There has been a lot written on the web in the last couple of weeks about the Lakers' defense this year. Instead of rehashing the excellent work of others, I'll just recommend you check these links out yourself. If you're a fan of the Lakers, these are some must reads:

- Kurt at Forum Blue and Gold calls the defense the strong-side zone. He mentions one of the motivations for switching to this type of defense -- the way the game is being called by referees. He also points out potential weaknesses -- cross-court skip-passes to beat rotations, and penetrating guards like Allen Iverson (this was written before the Detroit game, by the way).

- Kevin Pelton at Basketball Prospectus has an excellent breakdown after charting the defense throughout the Nuggets game. He calls it more of a trapping defense than a zone, and compares the defense to that of the Seattle Sonics of the 90s. He also references the rules changes as a motivation for the style, and highlights the importance of Andrew Bynum in making this scheme work, since "Bynum's quickness allows him to help and play the role of stopper while being able to recover and contest a shot attempt by a player cutting from the weak side." He also mentions a potential weakness -- rebounding. This style of trapping should leave the defense susceptible to second-chance opportunities, which makes the Lakers' excellent defensive rebounding numbers so far this season that much more impressive.

- At X's and O's of Basketball, it's pointed out that the Lakers did use this defense last year against Carmelo Anthony and the Nuggets during the playoffs (they'd even written a post about it). There's a very clear explanation with diagrams, images, and video clips, of how the defense works and why it is effective -- including the important point that this defense only works because the Lakers have players who are quick enough to recover in time when the ball gets reversed to the weak side (I would add that part of the advantage is the Lakers' length). Like Kurt, they point out the possible vulnerability to the skip pass, but with the Lakers' ability to play passing lanes, this is a risky pass and only the best passers in the league could hope to make it. They also, like Pelton, point out that defensive rebounding could be a weakness in this defense (though it hasn't been yet).

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Questions about the Answer

Got a question recently:

Mr. Fruithoopz-
Loyal reader. Wanted to know if you could answer a question. Lots of sportzwriterz and fans like to accuse Allen Iverson of being a ball hog. As a student of the game and the numbers that make
them, is it accurate to refer to Mr. iverson as a ball hog? Is there such thing as a good ball hog vs bad ball hog? I know it is has a bad connotation in the sports pages. Is it true or is it just some people don't
care for his personality and perceived impact on the game and use this term pejoratively? thank you!

I should start out by saying that this post might be more biased than usual because I just really like AI. That said, let's take a look.

I. The Color Commentator dictionary
Basketball commentators like to use contextual and often suggestive vocabulary to describe playing style. For instance, "intangibles" and "hustle" and "energy guy" are words associated with rebounders. In a similar vein, "unselfishness" is generally measured by assist totals.

"Ball Hog" is an interesting concept. Theoretically, it should connote the same thing as "selfish," but in fact players like Allen Iverson and Stephon Marbury, who have had high assist totals, can still be ball hogs. And it's not just ball-domination that makes a ball hog, as both Lebron James and Steve Nash have made careers out of dominating the basketball on offense and yet have avoided being labeled as ball hogs.

II. Value
Allen Iverson, as an extremely high usage but average efficiency player, is in the middle of an ongoing unsolved problem of individual basketball statistics -- that is, the question of the tradeoff between usage and efficiency. We've discussed here before that most players tend to lose some efficiency when they are forced to use more possessions on offense. How much a particular player's efficiency will drop off will depend on his particular skillset and the role he's asked to play in an offense. However, in general, the question of how to weigh the value of a player's usage contributions vs. his efficiency is still an open one.

The only reason the question is so important at the moment is because of the ESPN-ization of statistics. It is not enough, currently, for audiences to see numbers that show what a team does well and what it struggles with, and the roles of the various players on the team and how well they are fulfilling them. Instead, we are bombarded with MVP lists and lists of "best players ever" and so on and so forth. In that context, statistics are being asked to answer context-independent questions about player value, forcing us to make absurd and ultimately useless comparisons between players like Kobe Bryant and Kevin Garnett. With this need for all-encompassing player metrics, the question of the relative values of usage and efficiency become very important. How valuable is a created shot? When Steve Kerr hits a wide open three pointer, how much credit do we give him for making the shot, vs. how much credit we give Michael Jordan for allowing Kerr to be so open in the first place?

The two most prominent overall player metrics currently are Dave Berri's winscore and John Hollinger's PER. Berri's metric was developed by valuing boxscore statistics at the team level and then just applying those values to the individuals who contribute them. Since it is developed in that way, the metric is blind to individual usage contributions (at the team level, usage is not in doubt -- every possession gets used somehow, by definition), and as such, finds Allen Iverson to be an average player. PER, on the other hand, values usage highly, even if that usage is somewhat inefficient. As such, PER sees Iverson as one of the best players in the league.

Adjusted plus-minus, which tells us how a team performs when a player is in the game, tells us Iverson is somewhere in between the extremes -- one of the top offensive contributors from the 2-guard position, just behind transcendent talents like Kobe Bryant and Dwyane Wade.

(This is as good a time as any to mention that I'll be mostly ignoring the question of defense because, in short, Iverson has never been a very good defender. This is due partly to some effort lapses but moreso to the fact that he's just not big enough to guard most of his opponents).

Neither PER nor WinScore take into account supply and demand in their valuations of shot-creation. Just how rare is the ability to create quality scoring opportunities, relative to how rare it is to be able to consistently hit open shots when you receive the ball? The answer to that question ought to tell us more about Iverson's value to a team, vis-a-vis winning.

III. Innings Eaters and Economics
One of the underreported advantages that Iverson brings is his remarkable ability to stay on the floor. Over his career (spanning 835 games and counting), he has averaged 41.7 minutes per game. The only other players in history to have averaged over 40 minutes per game are Wilt Chamberlain, Oscar Robertson, Elgin Baylor, Bill Russell, and Lebron James (and James has only been at it for 399 games).

The basketball regular season is LONG. In baseball, due to the long regular season, we understand the value of an "innings eater" who can keep other pitchers rested. In basketball, such players are so rare that we don't even consider their value. But a player who can produce at average efficiency (which Iverson does) for almost the entire game gives a GM the opportunity to save money on a replacement-level backup, thus allowing him to spend more in another area. But Iverson doesn't just produce at average efficiency -- as discussed in part II, when Iverson is on the floor, he takes up enough possessions (through shots, assists, and turnovers) for over 1.5 average players -- you can put him out there with a couple of Ben Wallace-type role players without really hurting the offense, since Iverson is able account for so much of the offense. To use another baseball analogy -- imagine a decent hitter who is for some reason allowed to bat twice each time through a lineup (when no other team is allowed that advantage), once for himself and once in the place of any other batter on the team. Even though the hitter is only decent and not spectacular, he greatly betters the team by allowing them to start another defensive specialist without paying the price offensively.

IV. Making Players Better
There's a lot of talk about how a real star "makes players better." It's unclear what this means, and that's a good thing -- if there were a solid measure of such a quality we wouldn't talk about it so much. Let's imagine offensive scenarios in which a player does make his teammates better:

A) Gravity -- A player draws so much attention that he warps the defense, leading to wide open outside shots and cutting lanes to the basket, as well as easy offensive rebound opportunities for teammates.

B) Precise passes -- (not to be confused with just passing in general). A couple of examples: noticing immediately when a post player has established position and getting him the ball in a position to score, rather than waiting a second or two and then struggling to get him the ball, forcing the post player to step away from the key and then try to re-establish position to avoid getting a three-second violation. Or: getting the ball to an open shooter at just the right height so he can catch and shoot in one quick motion -- not passing below his waist or above his head.

C) Shouldering a disproportionate offensive burden -- This is where Iverson fits in. Most players in the NBA can be efficient on the offensive end as long as they have defined and limited roles. Spot up shooters can shoot high percentages as long as they can move without the ball, catch, and shoot, without having to put the ball on the floor. Finishers and rebounders can be efficient if they aren't given the ball outside of about 8 feet from the basket. For this reason, shot-creators (for instance -- Steve Nash, Kobe Bryant, Lebron James) are valuable since they allow role players not to stray from their roles. In Iverson's case, imagine a defense that stays at home on shooters, and pushes big men out of the paint. With Iverson around, the role players on the team aren't forced to take shots that they can't hit regularly (imagine Ben Wallace shooting an 18-foot jump shot), because Iverson will take the shot himself, with a much less dramatic dropoff in his ability to hit it (Iverson will hit an off-balance 12-foot runner much more frequently than Ben Wallace will hit that 18-foot set jump shot). Perhaps looking at an example will help -- let's look at Anthony Carter, who has played with Iverson in the backcourt in Denver. Below is a graph showing the relationship between Carter's usage and his efficiency:

Notice that Carter is at his most effective when using less than 15% of possessions. There are five players on the floor at any time, so an average player would use 20%. So for Carter to be effective, he needs to play alongside someone who can use an extra 5% of possessions. Enter Allen Iverson, who for his career has used 32.4% of possessions while he's on the floor (at the same efficiency as Carter when Carter uses around 12%) -- he can use the extra five to help Carter and still has enough offense in him to add another Carter-like role player (say, Kenyon Martin). These role players are then allowed to not only be effective in their offensive roles, but to fill defensive roles better than an average offensive contributor might (for instance - Kenyon Martin continues to be one of the better defensive players in the league, depsite his offensive shortcomings).

If Iverson is making players better in this way, we should be able to see some sort of evidence. In fact, we have player-pair data to show us that Carter did in fact shoot a better FG% and commit fewer turnovers when he played alongside Iverson (41.4% without him, and 46.4% with him). The same is true for several other role players (although, interestingly, not all of them). Last year's player pair data is hard to extract too many conclusions from just because Iverson played almost every single minute of the Nuggets' season, which is unusual (and, for a 32 year old, pretty impressive). So, here's the player-pair data from the year before, when he was only with the team for 50 games, and Philly's data for 2005-2006 (for instance, with a little arithmetic we see that Kyle Korver shot 33.3% without Iverson on the floor and 45.7% with him on the floor).

D) Drawing fouls -- One of the reasons Iverson is able to produce with even average efficiency despite low shooting percentages is his ability to constantly draw fouls and get to the free throw line (averaging 9.3 free throw attempts per game for his career -- the only other guards in NBA history to average over 9 for a career are Jerry West and Dwyane Wade). While obviously this helps the team score points, it also helps in other ways. With Iverson able to draw fouls early in quarters, he is able to get the opposing team into the penalty, which allows all of his teammates to take foul shots later in the quarter after minor hand-check fouls on the perimeter. Last year, Denver was second in the league at scoring from the free throw line, scoring close to 27 points from the line for every 100 shot attempts. They were first in the league by a huge margin in free throw attempts for the season. Another advantage of being able to draw fouls is getting the top players from the opposing team into foul trouble and forcing them either to the bench or to be hesitant on defense. There isn't currently a very good measure for this effect.

V. Detroit
So how does Iverson fit in in Detroit, a team which without him has consistently been one of the most efficient offenses in the league? I have no idea. I've said here before that I saw the trade as purely about building for the future with his expiring contract and turning the team over to Rodney Stuckey, but Iverson is still a remarkable player so he has to have some impact. We do know that Iverson is able to adjust his game to some extent -- last year in Denver he used a career low percentage of possessions (26.7%) and had his most efficient year ever (115 points per 100 possessions, which is well above average, in Kobe Bryant territory), shooting career highs of 48.8% eFG% and 56.7% TS%, while establishing a career low in turnovers per game. Now that he's with an even better offense, will he adjust even more, become more efficient? He's already discussing the changes:

"The game is a lot easier playing with these guys," Iverson said. "They're so unselfish. All they care about is winning. So many guys can do so many things, and they make it much easier for me."

So, let's wait and see. And if Iverson can have any sort of success in Detroit, then it's really time we got rid of this whole notion of selfish ball-hoggery.

VI. Aesthetics
We don't watch basketball just to see who's going to win or what someone's shooting percentage will be. Iverson matters also because we have to watch him. His crossover has almost become cliche over the last ten years, but the whole generation of crossover artists is following in his footsteps. And his ability to constantly, year after year, game after game, get to the rim and finish despite giving up 12 or more inches to his opponents in the paint is the sort of thing that makes me feel warm and fuzzy. The creativity involved in getting a ball over and through bigger players and into the hoop is constantly amazing. And Iverson matters because he's a cultural icon. He represents so much of an entire era of NBA basketball between Jordan and Lebron, of rule changes and image problems and changing skillsets and so forth. I really wonder if the correct historical comparison isn't Pete Maravich, another somewhat inefficient but aesthetically unique high-usage dribbler/passer/scorer who, like Iverson has at times in his career, went underappreciated. And this is probably where the question of "ball-hog" most belongs -- how do you as a basketball fan feel about this particular style of play? We've seen that it can be effective, so it's not a moralistic question about what "leads to winning" or anything, just -- is this something that is enjoyable to watch?

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

A short note for Steve Kerr

Noticed this quote from Steve Kerr, GM of the Phoenix Suns, today:

“I like what we’ve shown on defense (allowing just over 98 points a game) and the offense has lots of room from improvement,” Kerr said. “Change isn’t easy.”

Mr. Kerr, please take a gander at the numbers so far this season. Phoenix has the number 1 offense in the league and the number 18 defense. It is very early in the season, and things will undoubtedly change, but so far it's the defense that has room for improvement, while the offense has been keeping the team in games.

If you would like to make a statement after just eight games that won't be fact-checked in order to convince the public that you have in fact made a positive difference since joining the team and immediately tearing it apart, I would suggest you point out that Phoenix is currently second in the league in Defensive Rebounding Percentage, after finishing second to last a year ago. As you'll recall, lack of defensive rebounding was a major criticism of the team for several years.

Al Horford, LOL-ized

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

O.J. Mayo is real

Regular readers here will have noticed that I've developed a bit of an obsession with this year's Memphis Grizzlies. And while it may seem obvious to sing rookie O.J. Mayo's praises after back to back 30+ point games, I want to point out that he has looked amazing since the beginning of the year, even when his shot wasn't falling and he shot 5-20.

And we shouldn't forget how good he is when he inevitably hits a shooting slump sometime during the season, and his 3-point percentage sinks to the low 30s (currently at 44%, which would be extremely high for anyone, let alone a rookie). Because his recent success isn't just about getting on a hot-streak. He just . . . gets it. He goes to just the right places off the ball, doesn't waste any motion or energy, his shooting form is perfect, he splits double teams, he converts when he gets close to the basket, he never panics, he never forces bad shots and makes very few bad decisions . . ..

The thing that's most surprising about Mayo, though, is the extent to which he's seemingly emerged fully formed from the NCAA. Eight games into his NBA career, and he looks like a vet. There are certain characteristics that we can generally count on from rookies. Even the most promising big men will struggle with foul trouble early on, and the most promising perimeter players will have too many turnovers. Except for Mayo -- who is only turning the ball over on 13.1% of his posessions. Watching the games, it's nice to see how he protects the ball in traffic and keeps his dribble low when he's outside. 

And everything he does is smooth. He doesn't look any faster than any other player, but every now and then you seem him get a steal and run out on the fast break, and it's like he's barely trying but he just floats by everyone else. And then when gets to the basket, there's no violent Lebron-like finish -- he just floats through the air and settles the ball into the rim, then turns around and gets back on defense.

The only thing he didn't do consistently early on was get to the free throw line (only had 6 attempts through his first four games, though he's taken 19 in the last four), and even that didn't seem so much a flaw as a part of his myth -- the game was so effortless and smooth and fluid, that he couldn't be bothered to sully his aura with base physical contact. 

Anyways, in last night's game against Phoenix, Mayo got his first turn at point guard, and looked great there -- bringing the Grizzlies back from a large deficit and almost pushing them to a win over the Suns while scoring 20 fourth quarter points. Over and over again, he made the right decisions coming off the ball screen in the pick and roll, and here again, he didn't look like a rookie.

It is very early, but this year's rookie class looks to be something special. 

Friday, November 7, 2008

Games to check out tonight

  1. At 52.2% eFG%, Toronto is one of the best-shooting teams in the league so far. The Atlanta Hawks, though, behind the long arms of Josh Smith and solid team play, have the third best defense overall and the second best eFG defense, holding teams to just 43.4%. Specifically, Atlanta has excelled at defending the three-point line against some very good-shooting teams (particularly Orlando and New Orleans, who they held to 5-20 and 12-30 from 3), while Toronto has been leading the league from 3, shooting 50.8%. If Atlanta continues to do a good job defending shooters, they should win easily, as Toronto is the worst rebounding team in the league so far this season. (Friday, 4:30 Pacific)
  2. Derrick Rose vs. Steve Nash! (Friday, 5:30 Pacific)
  3. Don Nelson finally came around to giving Brandan Wright some big minutes in the Warriors' last game, and Wright came through with 18 points, 13 rebounds, and 3 blocks. When the Warriors last played the Grizzlies, Marc Gasol beat up on a tired team -- hopefully this time, we see more of an even matchup. With rumors bubbling around that the Warriors are shipping out Al Harrington, possibly to Charlotte in return for Gerald Wallace, we should be seeing more and more of Wright (Friday, 7:30 Pacific)


Apologies for helping spread rumors. More on this if it becomes a reality.

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Monday, November 3, 2008

NBA Vocabulary: Cheney

I would like to propose a new vocabulary word for the NBA:


Meaning: To shoot in the face of a defender. 

Example: Bruce Bowen played excellent defense, but Kobe just pulled up and nailed a Cheney on him. 

Bonus: A Cheneydunk is a dunk that happens to be a Cheney. Currently it is sometimes called a facial, but that sounds dirty. You might as well call it a pearl necklace. 

J.R. Smith, your future is on hold on line 1

Allen Iverson just got traded to Detroit for Chauncey Billups, Antonio Mcdyess, and Cheick Samb. For next year and beyond, this makes a ton of sense for Detroit -- Iverson's contract expires after this summer, leaving Detroit some $20+ million to spend at that point in addition to the contracts already set to come off the books at that point (that is, if they don't turn around and flip Iverson and/or others with expiring contracts such as Rasheed Wallace or Walter Hermann).

For this year? After 30 days and before the trading deadline, the Pistons have the option to make more deals that would include Iverson. But they may not have any interest in doing such a thing. It's really hard to know what the Pistons will look like with Iverson in -- do Iverson and Hamilton have the height to form an effective defensive backcourt? Can Detroit make up for the decrease in efficiency from the three-point line? But in any case, Rodney Stuckey: this is now officially your backcourt.

For Denver? Let the J.R. Smith era begin!! Billups will help them, and so will McDyess if he sticks around. But without Iverson around, J.R. Smith can potentially move into the starting lineup. Let the good times roll!

Smith has in fact looked improved so far this year -- he's been handling the ball more and finding teammates for assists, all while committing far fewer turnovers. He looks more comfortable in a role that encompasses more than scoring. It's early still, but he also appears to be going after rebounds more.

Honestly, as a basketball fan I'm going to enjoy the expanded J.R. Smith role, as well as seeing Billups in Denver. But if I were a Nuggets fan? I would be confused. The team just put themselves in the luxury tax for extra years, in order to field a team that still can't get out of the first round, and pushed back any possibility to rebuild by a few years. Maybe they just went from being a non-playoff team to a first-round exit, and maybe that's enough for them. Who knows.

Some Random Observations

I haven't had a chance to watch every team play yet, but I've watched quite a few games so far this season, including every Memphis Grizzlies game so far. So here's some random very early-season observations. Some of these may continue to hold throughout the season, others might be early flukes.

  • The Lakers have the best defense in the league, so far. They had some lapses in their last game against the Nuggets, but overall, they've been solid. Andrew Bynum and Kobe Bryant have been particularly effective.
  • Thaddeus Young (55.6%) and Trevor Ariza (83.3%) have both been hitting their three-pointers. Neither of these guys has ever been a huge threat from that range, but if they are hitting them consistently, then Philadelphia and Los Angeles are going to be even better than expected.
  • For all the talk about Mike Conley and the Grizzlies, the team seems to be better off when Kyle Lowry is at the point. Lowry pushes the pace and allows for easy baskets for finishers like Rudy Gay and Hakim Warrick.
  • Speaking of the Grizzlies -- Marc Gasol and Darrell Arthur actually make for a solid starting frontcourt. Gasol in particular is a much better defender than I realized, especially at guarding the pick and roll. Neither of them has a very developed offensive game so far, but playing alongside Rudy Gay and O.J. Mayo means that's not a huge concern. Darrell Arthur is an excellent defensive rebounder and a strong finisher on offense, although when he gets the ball in the high post he settles too much for an iffy 15-foot jumpshot. If the team could find better ways to get him the ball in a position to finish at the rim, he might end up as this season's Carl Landry.
  • I haven't watched the Cavs much yet, but I'm excited too now that I've read the recent rumors that, as fans have been asking for for years, the team has been using Lebron James off the ball and in the high and low posts much more this year. Here are two links describing the changes. This might mean that the Cavs are finally not boring to watch, and that is exciting news.
  • Speaking of exciting news: the healthy Joe Johnson of years past is back! And he is completely unguardable. He could very well average 27 points per game, 40% from 3 and 48% overall, along with 4 assists and 5 rebounds. For reals. 
  • Chris Paul looks fantastic as usual, but Mike James, so far, has been . . . not so good. Paul is averaging 38 minutes per game already. He's definitely young enough to handle it, so hopefully it won't be an issue, but the whole team has looked kind of awful when Paul is out. Meanwhile, the Utah Jazz are sporting the 6th best offense in the league despite the fact that Deron Williams has yet to play a game.
  • In case you're into that, on 82games there is a new adjusted plus-minus calculation for the 2007-2008 season. By using additional data from previous seasons, the authors were able to make their estimates much less noisy than before. Does Rashad McCants' place on that list seem a little surprising?