Monthly Archives: July 2009

Hurrah. The 09-10 Season Is Officially Perfunctory.

Celebrate good times, come on.

Nice work, Odom. Way to play hardball. Good job working yourself into single digit money as a fourth option on a team you won’t even be on the poster for. You can use that ring to prove to people you were actually on that team when they think you’re Ron Artest or Andrew Bynum. Good job, there. Maybe next time you can just spit on all of us and then kick yourself in the crotch and save us the hassle.

It’s at this point I’m forced to commend the guy for actually taking less money to play for a champion. It’s the best place for him, what with the recording studio and hot blondes and safe protective environment, plus his buddy Artest is there, plus he really did want to play for this team.

So everyone can be happy we can see the “beauty” of this Lakers team for another year. And sure, we lost a chance at something cool as hell in Wade-Odom, but in return we get to see the winningest franchise in the NBA win more games. Which is great. For them.

So just to review, every small market team is in the red so bad they’re trading franchise centers for shorter contracts and drafting players they know they won’t have to pay that much, while the largest market with a winning tradition in the league re-signs its best player for less than what he’s worth and adds another great player to the mix.

F*ck it, dude. Let’s go bowling.

Nichols and Dime: Easy Buckets: Who Depends on Them the Most?

Using the play-by-play data available at BasketballValue, you can calculate all sorts of things about a player’s tendencies. One of these is the types of shots a player typically takes. I’ve sorted through the data and now possess a mini “scouting report” on each player’s shooting tendencies. I will use that data to explore a number of different issues in the future. Today I’m going to take a look at easy buckets.

First, let’s start with layups. Although it’s not always easy to get to the basket, once there, it’s much easier to convert than on a jump shot. Which players rely the most on layups for their scores (i.e. the greatest percentage of their shots are layups)? Here are the top 20 (minimum 25 attempts):

Layups

There’s a nice mix of big and small guys. Leading the way is Reggie Evans, a bull on the inside who perhaps doesn’t have the height/athleticism to finish with authority. He’s not going to take stupid shots, so unless he’s near the basket, he won’t be shooting. Tony Paker (not shown) leads the league in total layups, but those make up only 39.36% of his attempts.

Next, we move on to the older brother of layups: dunks. Here are the top 20 (minimum 25 attempts):

Dunks

Greg Oden entered the league without a very polished offensive game but with a ton of strength, and it shows. He relies more on dunks to score than other player in the league. This list is full of centers. Besides Gerald Wallace and Renaldo Balkman, every other player on this list is either a power forward or center. The leader in total dunks is Shaquille O’Neal, followed by Dwight Howard (who ranked 21st in terms of percentage).

Up next are alley oops. Although they are less common, this is still a fun list to look at. Here are the top 20 (minimum 10 attempts):

Alley Oops

One of the biggest criticisms for Charlotte in their recent trade for Tyson Chandler is Chandler’s limited offensive skills. The belief is that a lot of his scoring comes on easy dunks and alley oops, thanks to Chris Paul. Well, the belief is right. Chandler and DeAndre Jordan are far and away above the rest of the league. A couple of notable alley oopers are also on this list, such as Jamario Moon twice (with Miami and Toronto) and Shawn Marion (with Miami). Chandler is the league leader in total alley oops. And LeBron? He recorded 30, but those accounted for just 1.86% of his shot attempts.

Switching gears a bit, let’s move on to putbacks. These include both putback dunks and putback layups. Here are the top 20 (minimum 10 attempts):

Putbacks

A lot of the players here aren’t household names, highlighted by Solomon Jones at the top. The Hawks feature four players in the top 20, and that doesn’t include the always spectacular Josh Smith, who just missed the cut. Dwight Howard is the league leader in total putbacks. I imagine most of those are dunks.

Finally, we have the cousin of putbacks: tips. Here are the top 20 (minimum 20 attempts):

Tips

There are many familiar names here. Chris Andersen, Tyson Chandler, and Joel Przybilla were in a heated race for first (I’m sure they were well aware of this at the time). In the end, Andersen finished as the leader in terms of percentage. The leader in terms of total tip attempts, though, was Jason Thompson. Pau Gasol was second, although his 64 tips accounted for just 6.19% of his total shot attempts.

In conclusion, it’s no surprise that many of the same names appeared on most of these lists. Certain players (usually big men) just have a knack for being near the basket on offense and creating easy attempts. Others also have the benefit of playing with great point guards such as Chris Paul or Chauncey Billups. Either way, these easy buckets are highly efficient and very much appreciated by coaches.

Charming Masochism

Life is not easy for fans of the Charlotte Bobcats.  Watching Dwight Howard dominate the league is a constant slap in the face.  Seeing Jeff McInnis’ name in print makes my blood boil.  Raymond Felton’s lack of development can be infuriating.  I once had a dream that Sean May, Nazr Mohammed, and Adam Morrison kidnapped my family and delighted in my misery.  And underneath the layers upon layers of psychosis, behind the Alex Ajinca punchlines, there are tens of us fans of the franchise, brutally mistreated but begging for more.

I’m pretty sure it’s because we don’t expect any better.

But for those of you who aren’t Bobcats fans, victims of fan abuse, or kicked puppies, I thought I’d take you through the thought process of a part-time Bobcat fan in the aftermath of a miserable trade.  Upon reading the news of franchise cornerstone Emeka Okafor being traded for a center once appraised at the value of one Chris Wilcox, one Joe Smith, and a sock full of quarters, I curse the name of Robert Johnson.  The deal has salary savings written all over it, but with blatant disregard for the process of team-building and considerable sacrifice to both the team’s short and long-term output.  As I understood it, the goal was to make the playoffs.  Now the goal is to simply trade away every player who won’t agree to put in extra practice time by mowing Larry Brown’s lawn.  Or every player who gives LB a dirty look.  Or maybe just every player.

I’m not sure how one could even begin to argue that this trade is about basketball.  Okafor and Chandler are absolutely comparable players, but one of them has more NBA experience with no offensive growth to show for it.  Chandler’s offensive game is restricted solely to dunks and garbage buckets, and on a team lacking in Chris Pauls, those opportunities will be scarce.  Meanwhile Okafor’s offensive talents will be fully appreciated in NOLA, where Oak’s robotic but occasionally effective back-to-the-basket game and short-range game will be a breath of fresh air from Chandler’s reluctance and inability to shoot.  David West is precisely the type of talent necessary to balance out Okafor’s game, and the combination of D-West’s skill set and Paul’s dreamy eyes court-vision should make Emeka’s job inside even easier.  Oak has shown something up to this point, and his offensive game has some headroom.  I’m just not sure that Tyson Chandler, despite a startlingly similar age, has the awareness or understanding of the offensive end necessary to really progress on that front.

Defensively, a healthy Tyson Chandler is undoubtedly superior.  But considering that Emeka is still a stand-out defender at center, is this deal even remotely worth the risk?  The Thunder pulled out the rug on trading for Chandler last season, despite the fact that both parties were all smiles.  The Thunder wanted Tyson, and he would have fit in brilliantly with OKC.  But Chandler’s extensive injury history drove the Thunder away despite the fact that they had very little to lose, and yet here are the mighty Charlotte Bobcats, dumping a valuable center for the same bounty.

And for what?  For a competent, oft-injured player that will either be off the team in two years in the name of supposed cap space?  Or for a clearly inferior player that will need to be re-signed to a big contract in order to maintain the team’s assets?

Neither inspires confidence in the state of the Bobcats…and ideas like playing Chandler at power forward don’t really help either.

What’s even worse, to me, is the notion that the Bobcats are still capable of making the playoffs this year.  The meat of the East is too wide open to ignore the possibility, and a playoff berth would likely be misread as a step in the right direction.  If the Bobcats luck into a winner here, it won’t be because they pulled a fast one on the Hornets or built Larry Brown’s roster to perfection.  This move is money first, second, and third, with basketball somewhere off in the distance, and any basketball bi-products would serve only to instill faith in failed management and ownership systems.  That thought makes all of us at HP warm and fuzzy inside, as the reality of the Bobcats slipping into a Grizzlies or Clippers-esque era of mismanagement is simply too real to ignore.

Huh. Half The League’s In The Red, Huh? You Don’t Say.

You might look at this supercool infographic courtesy of SuperSonic Soul, and say, “Wow! No wonder Stern is reporting half the league is in the red. Despite their super-neat revenue sharing model, it would appear that in fact, if you don’t play in a major market, you’re pretty much FUBAR.”

Well, to that, sir, I would tell you, what’s really better? A truly fair system that allows for a level playing system so that every team’s fans truly have a chance at a championship and so the league can gain maximum brand exposure nationwide, which has worked out pretty well for the NFfreakingL? Or a system where super-cool big market teams get super-cool big market players and win lots of championships and ratings are superb as long as those specific markets are involved so we can make the most money?

One question. Why aren’t the Thunder on here? They actually did pretty well in their first sea…oh.

Awkward.

Don’t Forget the Fabric Cleaner, Stephon

Have you ever wondered what side of the bed Stephon Marbury sleeps on?

What about how many eggs he eats for breakfast?

Does he have an Isiah face on his boxing speed bag?

And, who is that dude with the camera?

All this and more can be yours when you take a trip, down the rabbit hole (or just click on this link) and get your 24 Marbury fix TODAY! That’s right, Stephon Marbury has invited you to witness his world (OMG, who will he text first? IDK!) live on the internets.

Stephon has recently informed the raptured crowd of 1 a dozen countless followers that he just got his workout on and is getting ready to go hit the streets of L.A. This is Being John Malkovich, Adaptation and some really bad Dane Cook movie all rolled into one. Supposedly you can tweet him things to do, but I haven’t seen it yet. How can you ask Stephon to show everyone that Isiah face on his punching bag in 140 characters or less?

Regardless, this is a fabulous, quixotic journey into the mind and manner of one of the League’s most enigmatic and unusual players. Curb Your Enthusiasm – it Stephon and his (just recently) admitted ugly feet. He’s gotta get them feet done.

(Hat Tip: BDL)

Nichols and Dime: At Which Positions Are Great Players the Most Important?

Using the lineup data at http://www.basketballvalue.com, as well as the Adjusted Plus-Minus ratings, I’ve tried to figure out which positions are most crucial to a lineup’s (and team’s) success. My method was pretty simple. I calculated the average net rating (offensive rating minus defensive rating) of all lineups featuring a player with an Adjusted Plus-Minus of greater than three at each position. For example, if the average net rating for small forwards is five, then that means that all lineups featuring a good small forward (Adjusted Plus-Minus greater than three) beat the opposing lineup by an average of five points per 100 possessions. The easiest way to understand this is to look at it graphically:

All

Let’s look at the home and away splits:

Home
Away

Overall, it appears that small forwards are the most important, followed by power forwards, centers, shooting guards, and point guards. I’ve heard people suggest small forwards are crucial to a team’s success in the past. Three of the remaining four teams in the playoffs last year featured a small forward as their main playmaker. And as my study on the shooting abilities of small forwards showed, it’s best not to have a specialist at that position. What you need is a player who can do it all because that position appears to be very important to your team being successful.

Things get especially interesting when you look at the home/road splits. At home, small forwards still reign supreme. However, the little guys essentially catch up to the big men in terms of importance.

On the road, though, it appears having a solid interior is crucial. The importance of great guards is minimized greatly and centers and power forwards are well ahead of the rest of the pack.

Of course, there are a few potential concerns with this data, and I will explore two of them in this article. First, as always, there’s the question of sample size. Maybe point guards are just getting a bad rap because the sample size is too small and the ones that do qualify haven’t had that much success. Let’s take a look at the frequencies of each position having a player with an Adjusted Plus-Minus greater than three among all lineups:

Frequencies

I would say the sample sizes are pretty big. An observation I had was the relative lack of quality centers compared to other positions. Perhaps the complaints about there being no good centers nowadays are valid.

A second concern might be the quality of players in each position among those that qualify. In other words, if there are 20 point guards with an Adjusted Plus-Minus above three but they’re all at 3.01, it’s no surprise that they’ll look worse than the other positions. To see if this is a problem, I calculated the average Adjusted Plus-Minus for each position among those that qualify:

Averages

Three of the positions (point guards, power forwards, and centers) are bunched together, one is clearly lower than the rest (small forwards), and one is clearly higher (shooting guards). This evidence further supports the original conclusion I made that small forwards are the most important. After all, we have the weakest group to choose from at that position yet they still have the most positive effect. On the other hand, there are a lot of excellent shooting guards in the NBA, yet their impact is much less significant. And still, I have yet to find an excuse for point guards. They are often seen as the floor general and the player crucial to a team’s success, but remember who the two starting point guards in the Finals were (Derek Fisher and Rafer Alston). Of course, there are still potentially hundreds of hidden variables that could have an explanation for why my data underrates them.

The Visible Man

Last summer, I ate, breathed, and slept Team USA basketball.  Kobe and I did Pilates.  Dwyane and I painted each others’ toe nails.  LeBron was quite the gossip.  But in between all the team slumber parties, I started to notice a few things.  And not just Kobe’s simple excellence, Wade’s resurrection, or James’ tremendous LeBronness.  In particular, I noted the work of one Mike Krzyzewski, head coach of the U.S. Men’s Senior National Team, who has committed to another Olympic run in 2012.

Good for K.  The man can always sell more books, and who wouldn’t want more merit badges?  But the real question is: is Coach K returning truly a boon for Team USA?  That, friends, is a question that requires a bit more nuance.

My natural instincts are to deny Coach K’s influence on the team entirely.  In 2006, Krzyzewski showed his college chops as he let the Americans be devoured by a routine pick-and-roll offense.  It’s something pro coaches deal with on a daily basis, and yet something that lives on in but a few NCAA arenas.  Yet here were a hand-selected group of American elites, worn down by injury and circumstance to be fair, unable to stop the basketball equivalent of bread and butter.  Maybe even sliced bread.  Maybe even the very notion of food.  No offense is more basic, and while the pick-and-roll isn’t always easy to stop, it sure as hell better be when the chips are stacked in favor of a man who supposedly has command over his X’s and O’s.

No disrespect; the man’s a living legend, and I’m not sure I could coach my way out of a garbage bag.  But in preparing a team of pro ballers to complete on a stage very foreign to them under a semi-ridiculous set of silly international rules, one would think it prudent to hire a coach accustomed and experienced in dealing with pro level talent.  K’s methods have a time, a place, and most importantly, a specific audience.  Given his pedigree, I’m not sure that it’s safe to assume NBA All-Stars are among them.

This is about the time where an angry mob of Duke fans sets my car on fire.  But guys, before we get too out of hand here, let me finish.

…I haven’t railed on his insignificance as a motivator, yet.

In the Beijing Olympics, Coach K got to lean that La-Z-Boy back as far as it goes and enjoy the view.  Provided he didn’t do anything brash or reactionary, the Americans were practically fated to take the gold.  For one, the talent level on that team was superior to any team in international competition since 1992.  But also, the Redeem Team needed no additional motivation.  Krzyzewski fed them the inspirational calendar lines about leadership, patriotism, and the like, but K’s work had already been done by a force much more powerful than a tagline: revenge.  The losses in 2004 and 2006 made things personal, and nothing gets the blood of an American, much less one that’s a professional, hyper-competitive athlete, pumping like being wronged.  Americans losing in basketball was an offense to the highest orders of sporting logic, a crime punishable by 30+ point differentials.

K may have done his job on that front, and he may have even done it well.  All I’m saying is we’ll never know, because Jabberjaw could’ve coached that team to the gold.  Nya, nya, nya.

So given all that we think we know about Coach K and his time with Team USA, it would be understandable to be a bit worried about his decision to return.  I’m not.  In fact, I’m actually quite pleased with the possibility, because it helps shift the team’s interest from that fun American pastime of revenge to establishing consistency.  That was one of Jerry Colangelo’s primary goals in creating the blueprint for the national team, and it’s why Team USA was able to look so dominant in Beijing.  Bringing back a coach with a name and a gold medal should definitely work in the program’s favor on that front, assuming he doesn’t drive the whole thing straight into an iceberg.  Not impossible, but frankly, I’m not crediting K with that much influence over our country’s most hegemonic players.  The top-tier talent that fills the rosters spots and then some creates a system where the players may eventually be able to coach themselves.  The natural leaders exert influence through their play and their own motivational tactics, as teams often do.  However, maintaining the illusion that there is a system of order and responsibility among the coaching staff is important in keeping things consistent.  Krzyzewski certainly has that going for him, even if the real responsibility falls on the players.

Mike Krzyzewski may not have been the ideal coach for the job, but at this point he’s the ideal name; Coach K as an idea is more important to Team USA than another coach likely would be with the clipboard.  As long as the Team USA machine is self-sustaining and the players continue to push one another toward desired goals and golds, the very idea of a head coach may be rendered obsolete.

No Respect For My Cognitive Reverie

“You ever just know something, Mr. Nash?” – General
“Constantly.” – John Nash

I’m in full belief that I have a gift for recognizing talent. I could be full of crap. But it’s the belief that I have.

Now clearly, just about everyone not named Andrew Bynum has required basketball talent in order to make it to the NBA. We never fully get to realize just how good these guys are. We read tales of players like Wally Szczerbiak and Peja Stojakovic making 85 out of 100 threes in practice but think they can’t be all that good because when it comes to in-game, crunch time situations, they rarely come through for their fans. But their talent is off the charts.

I’m narcissistic (or maybe delusional or maybe both) enough to believe that I can look at any player and tell you whether or not they’ll be great or not, simply by watching them play for no more than a minute. Much like Matt Moore can find writing talent (excluding myself of course; who knows what the hell he was thinking there?), I can find an NBA player and tell you if he’s one of the special ones.

But when nobody else outside of a certain Pacific Northwest, rabid fanbase can see what you see, at what point are they completely ignorant or are you completely wrong? At what point do you trick yourself into seeing what isn’t there or realize you hit the jackpot of evaluation by recognizing what others simply choose not to see?

Welcome to my obsession with Greg Oden.

We all know the tales of Gregory Wayne Oden, Jr. He was an All-American at the high school and college level. He was the number one overall pick over the smooth scoring Kevin Durant. He had micro-fracture surgery before his pro career even started and instantly started getting catcalls that referenced Sam Bowie. Bill Simmons thinks he’s a bust while having stated in consecutive pre-season podcasts how good Andris Biedrins and Andrew Bynum are with his buddy, Joe House. Oden is a running joke right now amongst those that don’t cheer for the Rose City. Hell, he’s probably even a joke or punch line for you and your friends.

But I have to tell you something.

You’re wrong.

Greg Oden is a beast of a man, ready to unleash hell on the rest of the NBA. He’s a rebounding vacuum. He’s a shot-blocking, missile defense system that the Pentagon would be envious of. He has an Ike and Tina kind of relationship with the rim on offense. He’s a decent enough free throw shooter and he moves as smartly without the ball as any young center in the NBA. Greg Oden is not only a good player; he’s a sure-fire perennial All-Star who will help his team win a couple of titles. He’s a Defensive Player of the Year a couple times over.

I could try to get my Kevin Pelton on right now and spout off all of the pertinent statistics that tell me I’m right about how good he can be. I could mention his Per 36 averages of 14.8 points and 11.6 rebounds per game. But that wouldn’t convince you. I could mention that he was one of the top rebounders in the league last year based on rebounding percentage but you wouldn’t care about that. I could mention that his offensive rating was 12 points higher than his defensive rating but you would just scoff. I could mention that Greg Oden is one of 12 centers in NBA history to get 4.3 Win Shares or greater as a 21-year old rookie or that his PER was 18.1 last year or that he is far more athletic and skilled than you could ever imagine but you think he sucks and is a bust.

But then again, you don’t see what I see with Greg.

Wait; do I actually see what I see with Greg?

You see injuries, slow feet, and an awkward shuffle up court.

I see powerful dunks, skying for blocked shots, and brute strength unlikely to be matched by feats of feeble young giants.

You see Pyrite, sedentary in a hearth of failure.

I see 1970s Solid Gold magic.

And that’s where a man by the name of John Nash and the movie portrayal of his life come into play.

In A Beautiful Mind, John Nash is the type of genius that nobody can understand. He sees codes where others see inanimate objects of little consequence. He finds diamonds in the rough, military plans in a wall of numbers and trends in months of magazine articles. He’s the greatest mathematical mind that had the gall to disprove 150 years of economic understanding. He is a protractor’s wet dream.

He’s also completely F’ing insane. He believes he’s being chased down by Russians and has an imaginary roommate from college who also has an imaginary niece. He thinks that he’s been decoding secret Soviet messages and helping the Department of Defense when in fact he’s been mumbling gibberish and stuffing nonsensical letters into random mailboxes. He hallucinated half of his life’s work and personal interactions and needed intense therapy for psychosis. Eventually, he learns how to balance medications and his own gift for seeing things that nobody else can sees (in a sane way) but it raises two questions for me, one being in regards to him and one being in regards to me and Greg Oden.

Does it make what Nash experienced any less real if it was ultimately a hallucination?

And am I cracking code with who Greg Oden really is or just hallucinating a college roommate that I wish I had?

Personally, I tend to think I’m right about this. Then again, John Nash thought he was ripping Sputnik a new one. For those who think Greg Oden is a bad basketball player and a bust, you’re absolutely dead wrong, no matter how crazy I am about this guy. The more appropriate question with Oden is how healthy can he be? He seems to have suffered a series of freak accidents in his career with injuries.

He broke his wrist right before his college career began and never fully healed until the NCAA title game. He needed micro-fracture surgery on his knee before his pro career could start but it was such a small area of his knee that needed the cartilage rebuild that it couldn’t have been a better and easier surgery. He hurt his foot playing against the Lakers on opening night this past season and the Blazers cautiously sat him for weeks on end.

He’s never had a string of injuries like a Danny Manning or a Yao Ming. He’s just had the on-the-job kind of luck Tim “The Tool Man” Taylor. And that’s why I think he has the ability and the likelihood to be great.

He’s never been in true NBA shape. He’s been conserving his explosiveness and his aggressiveness in order to make sure the knee heals properly. This off-season, he’s apparently been shedding pounds and moving much better as he trains. He will no longer have that twinge in the back of his mind keeping him from moving properly on the floor in fear of facing another physical step backwards. Those were the type of things keeping him from being in position properly last year while he racked up nearly four fouls per game in just 21.5 minutes each night.

With more confidence in his movement and therefore more confidence in his game, you’re going to see a lethal attack of two-handed jams while he throws his pelvis in the air ala Shaq. You’re going to see him swatting weak floaters in a single bound. You’re going to see drop steps and hooks with both hands landing like he was Bernard Hopkins. If there is a rebound to be had, he will have it. He won’t be an All-Star next year. He won’t lead his team to the title next year. And he won’t score even half the points that Kevin Durant puts up.

But the foundation will be laid. And he will be established as the next big thing.

In A Beautiful Mind John Nash said, “You have no respect for cognitive reverie.” I believe that at this current moment, I haven’t convinced you to change your mind on Greg Oden. I believe that you read my cognitive reverie about this giant and believe me to be hallucinating. But I’m confident in my assertions.

Sometimes, you just know something.