The NBA Alphabetical: November 29th, 2010

Rohan is the author of At The Hive. He’ll be contributing this column on the NBA Alphabetical swindled from Swindle from time to time. -Ed.

Sometimes, innovation is cool. Other times, it’s better to steal ideas. This is an “other time.” The NBA Alphabetical is based on Orson Swindle’s consistently amazing College Football Alphabetical and reviews 26 recent NBA stories.

A is for Assumptions

Specifically, the assumption that Carmelo Anthony has been “going through the motions.” There’s been talk- spearheaded by Charles Barkley last Thursday on TNT- that Anthony has been half-assing it this year. He’s so good, Barkley says, that only those that “truly know the game” can detect the fact that Melo looks like he’s playing well but isn’t actually doing so hot. This (almost imperceptible!) lack of effort is then linked with the whole “I’m Carmelo, get me out of here” deal.

But it’s entirely inaccurate. Through 15 games, Melo’s posting the highest defensive rebounding rate, steals rate, block rate, total rebounding rate, PER, and overall offensive efficiency of his career. He’s stepped up big time for a largely ineffective Chauncey Billups and an even more useless J.R. Smith. His clutch game winner against the Bulls will likely stem the anti-Melo tide for a bit, but that tide should never really have existed in the first place.

Yeah, he’s probably gone in a few months, but he’s balling for Denver right now.

B is for Bump, The

Are we making too much out of something that was probably entirely accidental? For sure. Does that mitigate its hilariousness? Nope.

This is one that you just can’t rewind enough.

C is for Collison’s Cap Curiosity

That Sam Presti’s a smart one, eh? By frontloading Nick Collison’s contract extension onto a 2010-2011 signing bonus, Oklahoma City opens up a ton of breathing room in terms of negotiating future contracts with Russell Westbrook, Kevin Durant, Jeff Green, and Sergeballu LaMu Sayonga Loom Walahas Jonas Hugo Ibaka. (That’s a lot less people than it sounds like, but it’s still a lot of people).

All that said… the Thunder have to be just a tad worried about the decline in Collison’s productivity, right? Collison’s defensive and total rebounding rate dropped for a third straight season in 2009-2010 (and thus far, have dropped for a fourth straight season in 2010-2011). His turnover rates have started to rise since 2008. He’s still an efficient scorer around the hoop, but he’s now on the wrong side of 30 and battling knee problems. Yes, 2.8 million a year is a steal. But I wouldn’t be surprised if this doesn’t end up quite as awesome in 4 years as it seems right now.

D is for Demoted

Terrence Williams was sent packing this week… to the D-League.

Personally? Not a huge fan of it. From the moment I found out what the D-League was (or “NBADL” back in those days, I suppose), I harbored elaborate dreams of seeing NBA teams creating their own MLB-esque farm systems. And I still hope that one day it will come true- that the D-League will be seen as a legit basketball circuit that NBA teams fully acknowledge and work symbiotically with. Teams “punishing” players by sending them “down” doesn’t help advance the D-League cause at all.

As far as Terrence Williams goes? Man has he been bad this year.

E is for Expirings

The New Orleans Hornets moved one of their primary chips last week when they traded the expiring deal of Peja Stojakovic to facilitate a backup point guard swap. The yield seemed underwhelming to many. More importantly, it highlights the fact that the market for expiring deals may not actually… exist.

The primary culprit? Possibly just the sheer number of expiring deals that are out there. Utah can flip Andrei Kirilenko’s $18 million deal. Jason Richardson and his $14 million expiring could be on the move. The Grizzlies have Zach Randolph’s $18 million deal to play with. Detroit has Tayshaun Prince’s $11.1 while Denver has Kenyon Martin’s $16.5. And those are just some of the bigger ones. All in all, a whopping 15 teams have an expiring contract worth at least $7 million.

Any team that moves a star- Melo, Iggy, etc- will be asking for plenty of return alongside any expiring deal because one too many teams can step up to the plate right now to offer pure cap relief.

F is for False Hope

Also known as The Darko Milicic Chronicles. He’s shooting below his career average (which sucks), he’s getting to the line below his career average (which sucks), he’s rebounding below his career average (which sucks), and he’s turning the ball over more than his career average (which sucks).

We can officially consider him Freed, but that doesn’t mean we can consider him good.

G is for Griff Show

At the beginning of the season, I was absolutely convinced that Blake Griffin would stroll to Rookie of the Year honors. Then I saw John Wall play a few times, and my confidence was slightly shaken. A few John Walls injuries and Blake Griffin dunks later, I’m firmly reattached to the Griffin bandwagon. Emphasis on “dunks.”

H is for Hibbert

I don’t remember if I wrote about Roy Hibbert last time around, but he deserves to be written about again anyway.

He’s such an excellent rebounder, a decently efficient scorer (when you factor in how often he’s fouled), and plays fundamentally sound defense (low fouls, high blocks). But the part I can’t get over is how good a passer he is. The assist rates don’t entirely reflect it, but 16.6% is nothing to sneeze at. Moreover, Indiana consistently runs their plays through him. A guard will bring it up, Hibbert will roll to the top of the post and make the catch there. Then the offensive set will proceed as scheduled with Hibbert scanning the floor and looking for the right pass. It seems unfathomable, but he plays almost a kind of point-center position a number of times each game. And it’s absolutely fascinating to watch.

I is for Impending Doom

Or not, depending on whether you’re a member of the player’s union or an NBA owner.

Based on all the reports floating around out there, I’m of the opinion that a lockout is probable at this point. But “99% sure”, as NBAPA exec. Director Billy Hunter described it as this week? That seems a little silly. As Bill Simmons pointed out this week, the NBAPA is fully aware that a number of its players live paycheck to paycheck and that has to factor into their decision making.

J is for Jarring

As in Elton Brand’s hit on JaVale McGee.

K is for Kobe’s Big Ego

Via SLCDunk, an anti-Kobe sign and Kobe’s pretty cool reaction.

L is for Loyalty?

Sports are a business, that much we know. The number of California Bay Area sports teams that have been rumored to move away from their current cities (to other Bay cities) is rather interesting. First there was the Oakland A’s plotted move to Fremont. Then there was talk that the San Francisco 49ers might move to San Jose.

Now, it’s leaking over to the NBA, where the Golden State Warriors may potentially cross the bay into the City. It’s still ridiculously early, but it’s plausible (just like the A’s and Niners’ moves were).

M is for Mo’s Clutch Revival

There was a time when Mo Williams was famous for hitting big shots at the end of games. Those were simpler days, before he began posing for invisible photographs by a cameraman who happened to be simultaneously rolling invisible bowling balls.

His game winner against the Bucks wasn’t quite his game winner against the Pacers back in the day, but it did provide something of a “coming full circle” feel. Right before, you know, the other coming-full-circle event that will also happen in Cleveland this week.

N is for Nobody Saw This Coming

Ummm. What’s gotten into Shaq? Highest offensive rebound rate since 1998. Highest defensive rebound rate since 1996. Highest total rebound rate since 1992! Highest free throw percentage since 2003. Highest effective field goal percentage since, gulp, ever.

Yeah, maybe it’s all just a small sample size thing, but Shaquille O’Neal looks like a ridiculously rejuvenated player right now.

O is for Oh Really?

Yeah really.

P is for Pedal to the Metal

Raise your hand if you thought the San Antonio Spurs would be faster than the Phoenix Suns this year. (Put your hand down, you lying liar liarer!)

It’s stunning to see a Gregg Popovich team skew offense rather than defense, but that’s exactly what’s happened with the 2010-2011 edition of the Spurs. Gone is the traditional emphasis on forcing low field goal percentages. Opponents shoot better than league average when they face the Spurs. It’s been gradually replaced by a more a turnover-focused brand of defense. San Antonio’s still a solid defensive team, but the way they do their work is no longer so insidious. It pops out right at you not only because steals are more exciting than 24-second violations, but also because once they get the ball, they’re off to the races.

Q is for Que Pasa, Dejuan?

The Spurs’ early season success notwithstanding, DJ Blair has been the anti-Shaq this year. The rebounds, passing, and defense have all stayed relatively constant… but he’s just simply forgotten how to put the ball in the bucket. Overall, his eFG% has declined from a very solid 56% last year to a putrid 39% this year.

So what gives? He’s still shooting just as often as last year (about a shot every 3 minutes). His shot locations haven’t changed much either.

I’m interested to see if this evens out over the long run, or if Blair continues to give away minutes to the Spurs’ other bigs. His rebounding is way too valuable to bench for long stretches, but it may not be worth it if his shooting woes continue.

R is for Richard Jefferson

Okay, three straight Spurs topics because of the whole #1 record thing. It’s only a matter of time before the Heat go roaring by on their way to a 70 win season, after all.

So here’s something interesting. Richard Jefferson’s eFG% by season for the last 5 years:

52%, 50%, 50% 49%, 51%…. 59%

The 59% pertains to 2010-2011. At first glance, that’s wildly unsustainable. Players, especially 30 year old players, don’t just randomly change like that, 10 years into their careers, barring something drastic.

But that’s the thing. You could make a case that a drastic change has occurred. Jefferson’s offense has fundamentally changed this year. He’s shooting more corner threes than ever before. He’s shooting more threes overall than ever before (1 every 9 minutes versus a career rate of 1 every 18 minutes). And he’s shooting all these threes wide open, more or less.

RJ’s 2010-2011 season will be a phenomenal test of the fundamental nature of the three point shot. Specifically: just how much can a player’s “true shooting ability” be hidden or altered by good defense and/or bad shot selection? My gut answer to that question would be: not that much. And I think my gut answer is molded in part by watching guys like Ray Allen or Reggie Miller or Peja Stojakovic stroke triple after triple over any type of defender from anywhere on the floor. But maybe I’m wrong, and RJ can keep this up. We’ll see.

S is for Sliding

Ovington J’Anthony Mayo was benched this week. And for good reason. Through two and change seasons, his ability to get to the foul line has seemingly decreased, and his shooting, passing, and rebounding have all regressed as well.

The Kevin Love-O.J. Mayo trade (and subsequent debates) seem a distant memory now, and it’s pretty clear who got the better player.

Mayo’s probably a guy that Memphis will make available via trade, but I’m not so sure he’s efficient enough offensively to help a legitimate contender off the bench right now.

T is for Triple Threat

Horford, Dumars, and Hardaway: Michigan Wolverines. A pretty cool story.

U is for Undeniable

If I could have picked three things to improve about Russell Westbrook’s game at the end of the last season, I’d have gone with improving his midrange game, lowering his turnovers, and lowering his usage rate (to better coexist with Kevin Durant).

One month into the new season, exactly none of those things have happened. After connecting on just 34% of his looks from 10 to 15 feet last year, he’s converting 29% this year. After turning it over on 17% of his possessions last year, he’s still right around that mark at 16% (neither of these rates is bad in the overall scheme of things, I should mention). And after using 26% of available possessions on the floor last year, he’s jumped to 31% this season.

And yet, Russell Westbrook has been undeniably awesome this year. Top 5 in the NBA awesome.

How? He’s been impossible to keep off of the free throw line. After visiting the stripe once every 7 minutes last season, he’s now heading there once every four minutes. On top of that, he’s hitting 90% of his attempts. I don’t want to say his success has been entirely predicated upon his newfound ability to draw whistles, but substitute last year’s rates, and he hasn’t changed much as a player. He ranks third in the league in free throws attempted, third in free throws made per minute, and first in overall free throws made.

Also worth mentioning? His free throw percentages the last four years:

55% (UCLA), 71% (UCLA), 82% (OKC), 78% (OKC). Let’s file this in the “unsustainable” folder for now.

V is for Voicing Concern

We’ve all heard the outrage about technical foul calls this year. There’s the “over the top” camp and the “respect the game” side.

So I decided to do some research to see just how much the rules have changed.

In 2009-2010, there were 1230 games played  and 741 technical fouls called. That provides a rate of 0.6 per game.

There have been 248 games played in the NBA this year. In those games, there have been 174 technical fouls assessed. That amounts to a rate of 0.7 a game.

Over a full season, that’s a difference of about 123 technical foul calls. If we assume that the average technical free throw shooter hits 85% of his FTs (a reasonable assumption, given that the median value for the top 30 free throw shooters is annually around that mark), we come up with a difference of right around 100 points a season. Distribute those points evenly amongst a full season’s worth of possessions by 30 teams, and that’s an increase of about 0.0004 points a possession.

So it doesn’t really matter who’s on the “right” side of the technical debate. Even if current (outrageously frequent!) form holds, very little has actually changed.

W is for Willie Green

Yeah, I write a Hornets blog, and no, Willie Green has not been one of the top 26 stories of the week.

But the question must be asked: how does a career 42% shooter average nine shots a game for the majority of a decade? How?

X is for Xceptional

No, actually it’s not because that’s dumb. I hate you, X. You’re the worst alphabet ever.

Y is for Yawn

Sorry, that’s not (another) clever lede into an NBA story. It just means I’m sleepy. You know what they say about starting strong and finishing strong? I apparently do not.

Z is for Zebrasses

See, now Z is a letter I can get behind. I could have gone with either zonkey or zebrass for this last one. That’s what I’m talking about.

In any case, a zebrass/zonkey is a cross between a zebra and a donkey. What are Zebrasses in the context of the NBA? Who knows. Perhaps it’s the newest nickname for the Heat. Perhaps it’s a backward reference to all the “Griffin’s a cross between Kemp and Hakeem! No wait, Rodman and Barkley!” In any case, I think you’ll be disappointed to learn that it sounds way cooler than it looks.

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