Monthly Archives: September 2009

Crazy Pills IV: Back In The Habit

We haven’t taken a good, long look at Crazy Pills in a while. And it’s not that we haven’t noticed the rapping. Or the workout girls. Or the baseball cap. Or the Celine Dion. Or the lack of geographical awareness. Or the baseball hat.

You get the picture.

Anyway, the reason is that it’s been to obvious. The brilliance of Crazy Pills, the Artest that evolved after the brawl, was his flow beneath the surface. This flurry of heavily watched activity has been largely disappointing, lacking a certain je ne sais… merde de batte. But this? The last line?

Oh, that’s good Crazy Pills.

“You talk to God?”

Would you like to discuss the role of Artest in LA, which we actually haven’t touched on? Okay, then.

There are two ways it will go down. The overload of personalities create an LA 2004  situation, creating an unstable environment that ultimately results in all sorts of bad karma. We’re definitely headed down that road. Let’s throw out the Kobe-maid suit. It’s irrelevant and the man will just brush it off his shoulders. I mean, honestly, at this point unless you’ve got evidence that links him to the grassy knoll, he’s not phased by your petty accusations. But that still leaves us with Crazy Pills in an environment in which there is constant, non-stop attention on him 24-7, not to mention it being the most exorbitantly excessive city outside of LA in the entire continent of North America. Derek Fisher is trying to manage the player’s union in an especially delicate time. Farmar wants the starting job. Badly. Bynum is talking about the All-Star Game. Pau Gasol just played a ton of Euroball, brilliant though he was. And Odom… Good God. Congrats and all, but kind of a whirlwind, right?

I had a bad feeling about the Celtics last year when Pierce got pulled over and the Celtics were all partying late in the year. It was to be expected, but then, so was the hangover. This Lakers squad has an abundance of extra stuff going on. That’s all I’m saying.

Then again, the other way this could go is Artest is Rodman, everything gels, and the Lakers roll and roll and roll. That’s the more likely scenario.

For Crazy Pills, specifically, you can tell he’s liberated in LA. The effect is always the same. The personality grows. There’s such a relief that accompanies going from frustration and mediocrity (sorry Houston, I want the best for you, I do) to perpetual and sustained greatness. It prompts players to stretch out, get comfortable, walk with … ugh… swagger, bash their old team (hiya, Pau), and generally bask in how awesome everyone thinks they are. For Ron, though, it’s something else. He’s not trying to prove anything to anyone. He’s a Laker, which means he’s valuable. And he’s among friends. There’s no threat to him in this environment, which means he’s comfortable. And that’s oddly refreshing.

Artest always had a twitchyness about him, as if he was going to snap at you if provoked. He doesn’t seem that way anymore. He seems to be, quite simply, amused. After all, he doesn’t have to have the bitter focus he had in Houston. You can laugh your way through the league and still win a championship with the Lakers. Everyone remembers their uneven performance last May. They were down by more than 30 points (!) in a playoff series to a team without its best player! Without its two best players! And they won the series!

What’s Artest going to do when he knows that he can’t hurt his team’s chances?  He can be a shapeshifter in this scenario, on and off the court. King, jester, pitbull, hyena, cheshire cat, tornado, rocking chair. There are no limits in LA. Think about it. He can’t hurt team chemistry, they’re invulnerable. They’re led by an assassin (but a loving father!), who doesn’t care what you do as long as you don’t get in his way. Gasol could play with anyone. He just does his thing and parties. Odom is a space cadet. Bynum is a space cadet. It’s not like this is a delicate situation that has to be handled. The Lakers are impervious. And that freedom allows him to be at once wanted, and incapable of pushing them to the edge.

This could very well end up being the Sargent Pepper’s Lonely Heart’s Club Band of Crazy Pills’ career.

Nichols and Dime: Rating Shooting Abilities

One concern that many people have is that player rating systems are often too general. I’ll be the first to tell you my Composite Score rating system needs a bunch of contextual information to truly be useful. It’s simply too hard to sum up all of a player’s abilities with a single number. One major problem is all the things that go unmeasured, although that’s outside the scope of our abilities until we start tracking new things.

A second major problem, one that I’m trying to find a solution for, is that different teams have different needs for different situations. Let’s say Shaquille O’Neal rates better than Rashard Lewis in Player Rating System X. The Magic should try to swap Lewis for Shaq, then, right? Obviously not. Orlando needs a big man (calling Lewis “big” is a stretch, but go along with it for now) that can stretch the floor and give space for Dwight Howard down low. Suddenly, we’re doing so much contextual research for Player Rating System X that the player rating itself isn’t that useful anymore. Instead, we’re relying on shooting percentages, shooting tendencies, rebounding ability, defensive ability, etc.

It still would be nice to have one number when we’re trying to evaluate players, if for no other reason than to save time. But we’ve already proven that one number is useless without context. What can we do?

Create multiple sets of player ratings. Better yet, create an organic player rating system that adjusts based on whatever is important to us at the moment. The Magic need a power forward that can shoot three-pointers efficiently and create his own shot from time to time? Ok, let’s rate power forwards based on that.

The next step is to calculate all of those little components and adjust them by position. Why adjust for position? If we made a player rating system based on three-point shooting ability and shot-creation alone, without adjusting for position, our numbers would tell us the Magic should acquire someone like Roger Mason and put him at power forward. That doesn’t seem like a wise suggestion.

Once we have all the position-adjusted components, we can then decide which are important based on our needs. Today is the first step. Similar to how I broke down individual players by quarter, each player in the league will be rated based on how he performs from four shooting locations: close (dunks and layups), midrange (including post shots), three-pointers, and getting to the free throw line. Each rating is adjusted for position, so a center with a 90 rating on three-pointers is still very likely worse overall than a shooting guard with an 80.

The ratings will combine both frequency and efficiency. In other words, if a player rarely shoots from midrange but is efficient at it, he won’t rate that well. Similarly, if he shoots from midrange all the time but is highly inefficient, he also won’t rate well. Ratings are on a scale of 1 to 100, with 50 being average for that position.

Frequency is measured by the player’s attempts from that shot location divided by his total attempts. Efficiency is measured by his makes divided by his total attempts from that location. The only situation that is included in this efficiency measure is when a shot actually goes up, so things like turnovers are ignored.

Before I release the numbers, I should say that these shooting tendencies and efficiencies are nothing new. 82games.com has had this data available for a while now. My methods for extracting these tendencies and efficiencies from the play-by-play data are slightly different, but they are similar. The new step I am taking is adjusting these numbers by position and creating a rating system off of these adjustments. The numbers are available through Google Docs below:

http://spreadsheets.google.com/ccc?key=0AvNKNGJ_AHijdE5RWnZVcG9vS1VaQ1B5VFdBZG5tMHc&hl=en

If you’re angry because a certain player does not rate the way you’d expect, allow me to explain. First, remember these ratings account for efficiency. Superstars may be excellent shot producers (a skill I will rate in the near future), but they are not always the most efficient. Second, these ratings also account for a player’s tendencies. If a player is extremely likely to take a certain shot, his rating will be high for that. However, if he balances his shot attempts, he will not rate extremely high in any of them.

A simple way to look at it is that these ratings are attempting to describe players as much as they are attempting to evaluate them. LeBron James may only get an 80 in close shots (which is still quite high), but that’s because he mixes up his attempts. He clearly is one of the most frightening players in the world when he’s near the basket.

These ratings do evaluate to an extent, but the bulk of evaluation for my new rating system will come from other components. Shooting ratings will be a big part of the context I mentioned at the beginning of this article.

This is just a first run, so changes will inevitably be made. If you have any suggestions, feel free to comment below.

Attention Lakers/Cavs/Bulls Fans: We Don’t Condone Your Behavior, We Just Facilitate It

The opportunity has come! You chance for vengeance is at hand! Now! Now is the moment for you to strike back! To cripple their defenses and overwhelm them like the Mongol Hordes! Do not hesitate!

Yes, it is unscrupulous, but so is the swipe to the face! So is the throw into the table! So is giving an executive of the year award to a dude that got a solid from a former member of the club! Cry vengeance, and let slip the dogs of war!

ED. NOTE: Don’t actually do anything. That would be stupid. And mean. And not at all chill, bro.

(HT: Red’s)

From the Leftorium: Nick Van Exel 2.0

“Thanks for passing the torch…I think I burned my hand, though.”

leftorium

I was reading an article from NBA Fanhouse Monday morning in which Matt Steinmetz was remembering the career of Nick Van Exel and it made me remember my constantly waffling view point of how he embodied the change between the hard-nosed style of play of the 1990s to the flash and image conscience youth of today. I was always a closeted Nick Van Exel fan from his first days in Cincy until his last days in San Antonio. There was nothing particularly amazing about his game when you break it down. He was a good, not great shooter. He was a solid ball-handler that didn’t make a ton of mistakes. He was an above average passer.

He had a ton of quirks to his style of play. He wore high socks when he was feeling squirrely. He stood about two-feet behind the line when he was shooting free throws. He was knock-kneed and a crafty lefty. He was a part of the sect of basketball players like Popeye Jones and Sam Cassell that were constantly compared to aliens because of their facial and head shapes. And he would look at a teammate the entire way down the court on a fastbreak before looking away as he passed it. It was a poor attempt at a no-look pass or maybe a tribute to Magic Johnson. I could never really figure that out.

No matter what you felt about Nick Van Exel as a person or a player, there were two certainties when he was on the court: 1) he was going to score points and 2) he was going to be volatile while doing so. Steinmetz mentions him pushing referee Ron Garretson back in 1996 as his most memorable moment in the NBA. This happened during a time in the NBA in which guys like Dennis Rodman, NVE, John Starks, and Vernon Maxwell were terrorizing the officials in the league. Sponsors were getting more and more frightened by the images of their products being associated with the imagery of these outlandish acts happening on the court, which eventually came to a head when Ron Artest burst onto the scene in Detroit (literally).

But I also would rather remember him for his incredible scoring ability. Actually, to me he was more than just a scoring point guard; he was an attitude of reckless abandon, defiance, and a walking example of having a problem with authority. He seemed to bang heads with coaches, players, officials, and others as a brash young, gunslinger. But he always put on a show in doing so. He was the origin of Gilbert Arenas’ style – a point guard that was too small to play shooting guard but too good to worry about where you played him. He carried the torch of this role from guys like Sleepy Floyd and Calvin Murphy and bridged the decade of the 90s before giving way to Arenas and today’s audacious young scorers.

NVE was never afraid to take the big shot or to put the scoring load on himself. He would reliably score when his team needed it. He would take on personal challenges and try to make them fit into the ultimate goal of a team win. He would make personal points to respond to challenges, even in big spots (like scoring 40 points in a 2003 playoff series game (Game Three) against the Kings after Bobby Jackson stated that he wouldn’t exploding for 36 again like he did in Game Two). As he got older and wiser, his scoring became more about fitting in than it did about proving his own worth. His style was converted into tangible currency like winning, instead of his usual panache that had no real discernable value.

Van Exel always seemed to be toeing the line between walking the company line in order to keep his minutes on the court consistent and being an ostentatious explosion of flair, capable of putting Barnum and Bailey out of business. He was one of those few players that I figured would never be seen again. He was a showman, playmaker, and great scorer but incredibly undersized compared to the bigger, faster point guards that have become nouveau riche. We can find guys like that scattered here or there but rarely with the same attitude that Van Exel possessed. The attitude that should put off the majority of fans but at the same time is too enticing to completely hate.

Thank Higher Being for Brandon Jennings.

Brandon Jennings may be the most confused professional basketball player we’ve ever seen. He’s all about self-worth, aggrandizing himself, and showing that he’s one of the best. But he does it in astonishingly unselfish ways. His attitude contradicts his play. He distributes. He makes the smart pass while making it fancy. He leads his team while judging them with eye-rolls and passive-aggressive sighs. His trip overseas wasn’t just a way to avoid college, classes, and not being paid a wage for his duties but it was also a Sonny Vaccaro style alternative of trail blazing for his future colleagues.

I honestly can’t figure out the psyche of Brandon Jennings and I’ve spent an unhealthy amount of time thinking about it over the last couple of weeks. He seems like an affable, fun guy and yet, acts completely adolescent between plays on the court. He seems like a one-person production of Coach Carter- trying to find the gray area between his eventual capsizing hubris and his natural instincts that shape him towards spreading the wealth on the court. He seems to be confused with his own identity as well but perhaps, he’s like a young puppy just trying to figure out what he can get away with.

His play in the Summer League was pretty telling of what we all expected from him. He passed the ball well (8.2 apg) and turned the ball over a lot (4.2). He was opportunistic on defense with 3.6 steals per game but a lot of those came from some lazy dribbles by Tyreke Evans while he unfocusedly brought the ball up. His shot was completely inconsistent. And his attitude replicated his shot. When he was on his mental game, Jennings was a great teammate as he calmly congratulated teammates after made baskets. But when they missed a ball, dropped a pass, or clanked a shot off the iron, his eyes rolled like spinning rims. He huffed and puffed like he was being kept out of a little pigs house one minute and acted like a leader the next. He was a good teammate until you blinked and saw that he was actually throwing a bit of a mini tantrum.

It’s rare that you get a great pass-first point guard that appears to be completely self-involved. The last time we saw this was probably Mark Jackson and all he did was end up with the second most assists in NBA history. With Jennings, it’s hard to predict where he’ll land in the world of NBA lore. Will he adhere to the rules and advice of Scott Skiles to become an All-Star point guard? Will he get into a petty war of words with Skiles on a consistent basis that nets him in-house fines and bewildering minutes given to Luke Ridnour? Will the smart move have been jettisoning Ramon Sessions, an assist machine, for the higher risk-reward Jennings? Will Jennings be known for eventually kicking Steve Javie in the teeth or will he rack up so many assists that we’re debating his HOF candidacy in 20 years?

There’s no way of predicting his career.

Even though he’s unlikely to give us the scoring exploits of what Nick Van Exel gave us over his career, I fully expect Jennings to carry on the legacy of bravado amongst semi-controversial point guards. Much like NVE, he has much growing up to do and it might not happen under the same cap he was wearing on draft night (you know, after he oops, pow surprised David Stern on stage). It may take a couple of travels until we begin to see the production that we anticipate appreciating. We’ll ooh and ah together before we turn around and cringe at his immaturity.

And then someday, he’ll pass the torch to the next guy.

Zach Harper also runs Talkhoops.net, a general NBA blog, and Cowbell Kingdom, a Sacramento Kings blog part of the TrueHoop Network. You can email him at zharper[at]talkhoops.net. You can also follow him on twitter here and also here.

Nichols and Dime: What to Expect From Dwight Howard, Quarter by Quarter

If you’ve been reading Basketball-Statistics.com over the last few weeks, you know that I’ve been examining the individual shot selection of a number of the game’s superstars using the play-by-play data at BasketballValue. So far, I’ve taken a look at LeBron James, Dwyane Wade, and Kobe Bryant. How different will the results be when we take a look at a big man such as Dwight Howard? Let’s take a look:

dwighthowardshotselectionbyquarter

There are two changes from last time: three-pointers are not included (for obvious reasons), and as we will see later, I included the efficiency of trips to the free throw line to go along with the efficiencies of shots from the field.

With Howard, we can see that he generally favors dunks/layups (not a bad choice). His frequency of those attempts dips a bit in the fourth quarter, but it generally stays about the same. Midrange/post shots (presumably mostly post) start equal with close attempts but decrease considerably as the game goes on. Where are those shots going? To the free throw line. In the first quarter, Howard ends up at the free throw line on only 23% of his possessions, but by the fourth quarter that number has nearly doubled. In fact, it is how he does most of his damage late in the game. Are the last two trends I mentioned smart decisions by Howard or do they work in the opposing team’s favor? Let’s take a look at the efficiencies of the three shot types:

dwighthowardshotefficiencybyquarter

First of all, his shooting percentages do not change much as the game goes on. There are slight changes in each shot type, but they don’t seem very significant. However, this graph does confirm one thing: Howard is much more efficient by getting to the line (despite his poor free throw percentage) than he is by taking shots from the midrange/post. The latter is an area in which he continues to improve, but like most players it is still his least efficient shot by far.

Up next, I’ll take a look at another superstar big man and see how he stacks up to Howard.

Brandt Anderson of the Utah Flash Puts His Money Where MJ’s Mouth Is

For the uninitiated, Brandt Anderson owns the Jazz D-League affiliate Utah Flash. He’s a yuckster. He has his fun. He recently tried to get Starbury to sign with the Flash which is logistically impossible.  He’s also aggressive and progressive, a great thing for the league to have.

He’s also obscenely rich.

And what do you do if you’re obscenely rich?

You put up $100,000 to try and get Michael Jordan to face Bryon Russell one-on one. Of course.

Make no mistake, he’s serious. He actually says in the post he’s been in contact with Russell and a person “close to MJ” about it. He wants a 15 minute pick up game at half-time of a Utah Flash game.  The winner gets $100k to the charity of their choice. And bragging rights. Which would mean redemption for Russell and a chance for Jordan to prove his point he made at his oh, so eloquent HOF acceptance speech.

I gotta hand it to Anderson, dude’s doing his part to drum up attention for the D-League. Any news is good news for the league, and Anderson’s hijinx definitely will get some attention on them.

The odds of this occurring, of course, are abysmal. Jordan won’t leave his house for that much money, even if it’s for charity. And as much as he mouths off about it, he knows that the only way this could end is badly for him. He wins, so what? He’s the best, he’s still the best, against a retired player. He loses and that’s bad mojo. MJ controls his image too much to let this happen.

But man, if it did.

If by some cosmic intervention this thing actually comes to light? ESPN MUST air this thing. It should take place in between two games. TNT would be better, but ESPN usually gets first right of refusal. This would be high comedy. If we could only get Tim Hardaway against John Amaechi in the opener, this card would be stacked! Party time in Orem!

The Navarro Corollary

The functions of thought around Rubio are intensely complicated. Is he ready? Does he want to play here? Does  he have the right skill set? Will Kevin, Joe, and Nick get jealous of Ricky’s new found stardom, and will that affect the artistic merit of their work? Is his head screwed on right? Most of these questions are standard issue with any draft pick, outside of the Disney channel tie-ins. But there are two questions that struck me today.

Will his game translate?

Will he embrace the American lifestyle?

The reason for these questions is a person that I have a very complicated relationship with. Okay, maybe not relationship, because that requires both people to be actively involved. Unless you’re my ninth grade girlfriend, and you go dumping me to run off with that older dude. You whore. Anyway, these questions come to mind because there’s a player who’s been in a very similar situation to Rubio, and the ending does not follow the pattern that most people anticipate for those in Rubio’s situation.

I am, of course, talking about La Bomba. JCN. The Thrilla from Barcelona. The Running Floater of Doom. Juan Carlos Navarro.

Before we start to talk about this, let’s get some things out of the way. Navarro was drafted in 2002 by Washington with the 40th overall pick. Rubio was selected 5th overall by the Wolves. So Rubio’s a slight bit (say, $$$$$$$$$$$) more highly anticipated than Navarro was. Additionally, Rubio’s skill set is different, being more of a true point while Navarro is, was, and always will be a combo guard. And considering the numbers Ricky’s put up, he’s widely considered the better player. The intent of this is not to equate the players, but the very basic similarities in their NBA-related career prospects.

Navarro was a stud in Spain from the very beginning. Started playing for FC Barcelona at 17 and took the league by storm. Between 1997 when he began play and 2004, they won the ACB Championship 4 times. He has a gold medal, and so many European championship accolades it’s ridiculous. He was drafted when he was 21 (turning 22), but elected to stay in Spain. In 2007, after the Grizzlies acquired him to team with buddy Pau Gasol, he took a shot and came over.

Talk about bad timing.

That was the disaster season. The Memphis Apocalypse. The year of the Gasol trade. That season with Memphis was terrible for the team, the franchise, the players. But Navarro was a bright spot. He showed flashes of brilliance, but struggled the way any rookie, even a 27 year old, would in their first year in the league on a terrible team. 15 points per 36 ain’t bad, though, along with 3 assists and 3 boards and a steal. Nothing to light the world on fire, certainly. But he had nights when he’d score 28, put up 5+ assists, and play tremendously well. I was hooked on the guy, wanting to see how he would develop with a few more years in the league.

No, thanks.

Gasol was traded, and when Barcelona threw a colossal amount of cash at JCN that summer, he blew town. Wanted to try the NBA, tried it, thanks, that’s cool. Buh-bye.  He was named the Euroleague MVP last year :”””(

The impression you get from interviews with Navarro is that he just didn’t care that much about the NBA. He loves Spain. It’s his home. And versus the States, where there will be constant questions about his style, his ability, and his talent simply because he hasn’t played  in the AAU tournaments or Rucker Park or the NCAA Tournament, in Spain, he’s considered mega-successful. Would you rather be a pauper in heaven or a prince in Hell? What if Hell was actually your home, and instead of the brimstone pits, it was nice beaches, beautiful women, amazing food and way more money than you can make in heaven? The assumption that every great basketball player in the world will always have the competitive fire to be the best no matter the cost is, I’m sorry, a gigantic crock. It’s a fallacy brought upon us by Jordan, Garnett, and Nike. Rasheed Wallace has never lived up to expectations. But what I’ve learned about Sheed is that those expectations were never his. Dude’s a great family man, from all accounts. His teammates have responded well to him as he’s gotten older. And he has a championship. Tim Duncan may very well end up going down as one of the top five players of all time, and when it’s time to walk away? Duncan’s not looking back. The point is that Navarro wasn’t going to stay on a terrible team being paid less than what he’s worth just so he can compete in what is considered the most elite league in the world. Why would he do that?

If ESPN.com calls me up tomorrow and wants me to write for them, I would of course say yes, after I’ve confirmed with the authorities that the offices are not being held hostage by some deranged maniac and that this isn’t some elaborate joke perpetrated on me by Trey Kerby and Graydon Gordian. But if at the same time, a lesser organization were to offer me a full-time gig for more money and I would be able to move anywhere the wife wanted to? I’m grabbing that deal in a heartbeat. Being successful is successful enough for me. And in this scenario, at least I consider the alternative site to be less than ESPN.com. In Navarro’s mind, he may not think that at all.

Additionally, you have to look at the translation of his game. I’ll readily admit that the talent in the NBA is far superior to that in Spain. That’s been one of my sticking points with Rubio all along. But you can’t tell me that the talent disparity is enough to take Navarro from elite to solid back up with a PER of 11.  We know the guy’s extremely talented, so what’s the answer? Just as many, many college players’ games don’t translate to the NBA, so too is it difficult to go from the Euro style to the NBA. Navarro’s signature shot, the running floater in the lane, is pretty much one of the most beautiful things I’ve ever seen. It’s like a liquid sabre. But at the same time, I saw him get that shot knocked into the third row three times in two games once.  I still think in time he would have gotten a better feel for when to use it (God knows Chris Paul has), but the point is that what can make you great in Europe can make you only average in the NBA. And vice versa. It’s not like Josh Childress was knocking down doors over there (though he’s played well, by all accounts). We’re not comparing Kia’s to BMW’s here. We’re comparing five star fish restaurants to four star steakhouses. Different factors.

In an interview a few weeks ago, Navarro was talking about giving Rubio advice. You have to wonder how that’s going to play out for Minnesota. From all accounts, which Wolves fans will happily remind you of every thirty seconds, Rubio wants to play in the NBA more than anything in the world. It’s his dream, whatever that means. That certainly wasn’t the case with Navarro, who was always kind of like, “eh.” So even if Navarro is trying to warn him off of going to a terrible team for less money, he may not listen. Plus, the Wolves are in much better shape than the Grizzlies were in 07-08. But the fact remains that everyone talks about Rubio’s game developing as he gets older. What about his personality? What if he learns to really love his life in Spain as he gets older and gets to enjoy being a young man making millions of dollars in an awesome city?

The counter of course, is Pau Gasol. Gasol came in, made the top flight money as Rubio will, put up numbers, suffered in Memphis, never fit in, and managed to find his way to somewhere he can trash his former club and win championships while still making oodles and playing better basketball than he ever has (honestly, it’s time we start talking Pau Gasol in the top ten players in the league). So maybe Gasol will be able to advise him to stick it out and that playing with the best is awesome, and that he’ll wish they all could be California girls.

If he doesn’t, though, Rubio has to look at what happened with Navarro as a reason to always keep his options open. It’s not like it is here with the States, where if you’re a basketball player, you’re going to play in the NBA, or you’re not going to be happy. Rubio is on an international stage, and by extension, he has options galore. Finding those priorities, for his career, for his game, for his life, are what will eventually decide if he comes over here and stays, comes over and then bolts, or never comes over at all.

JCN, I miss you. I know it’s your home now, but please know we’re thinking about you, and we’d love it if you gave us another chance.

Unless it’s with the Lakers. That would not be cool.

You Make One Little Crack About The Pistons

I seemed to have touched a nerve.  While I was waxing ecstatic about the upcoming season and my excitement towards it, I wrote about some things I had been contemplating. They were meant to illustrate the absurd fact that when my brain is idling, it tends to flit towards things like “What was Ryan Gomes’ True Shooting Percentage last year, roughly?” and “How does Anthony Johnson feel right now?” This is not meant as a compliment.

What I ended up writing was something that had crossed my mind, the only thing I’d been able to lock down about the Pistons after their offseason flip. And make no mistake, that’s what it was. Dumars flipped the Pistons as best he could. Sheed was the flooring you had to pull up. When you installed it, it was pretty much the best thing about the house. It made the house, you know? But eventually, the kids ran over it on the skateboards too much and the dog clawed it up and it became time to get lighterweight floors, so to speak. I still have the feeling Dumars isn’t finished flipping this one, but it’s certainly not the team it was last year at this time.

The problem that arises whenever I start focusing on the Pistons is just that. I can’t focus on them. There’s no central idea. A traditionally defensive-focused team with two new players that are almost entirely offensive players. I believe that Gordon and Villanueva work hard as defenders, I’m just not sold on them in terms of knowledge and focus. The team is somehow deeper (two A-level small guards) and thinner (I love V-Nuv more than the average fan, but he creates a slew of positional depth issues because you can count him as a 3 or a 4 but not a true either one).  They’ve got more muscle, but less experience. They’re not an outright disaster, but the Gordon-Hamilton inevitable friction could be smoke in the kitchen or a napalm meltdown. Trying to get a lock on them before the season is like trying to provide census information on Guatamala from a silhouette outline of the coastline.

The one casual comment that did float in was: “The Pistons are pretty much last year’s Bucks when healthy with better uniforms.”

It wasn’t really meant to be any sort of deep seated analysis.  It was an analogy that I thought would sound kind of funny, and had an element of truth to it. But man, Pistons fans took it to heart. Stunningly enough, Full Court Press decided to take a look and concluded that I wasn’t completely insane. Which is a nice sentiment.

The main correlation is really the Ridnour-Sessions-Redd combo compared to the Stuckey-Gordon-Hamilton conundrum the Pistons now face. Gordon’s not great at running an offense, but he’s their best offensive weapon. Hamilton’s still capable of putting up tons of points and producing, but he’s not the future of the franchise. Stuckey shows a lot of talent, but he still has to take that step. Outside of that, what you have is Villanueva as the common thread, and talented veteran small forwards with some nice young pieces off the bench. Bogut really is the damning piece here, as he’s the only A-Level center between the two teams.

That said, I was describing the two teams, not necessarily evaluating them. I’m a lineup guy. I obsess over combinations of players that mesh in interesting ways, that provide the best spacing and allow all players to do what they do best. But chemistry is still a large part of the game, and the Pistons, even in their fragmented form, have it. Their whole is greater than last year’s Bucks’ sum of parts. There’s no way to tell if that will translate to victories, but it certainly does lend itself to wondering what, besides injury, happened to last year’s Bucks team, and provides a case study for the “talent isn’t always the answer” thesis.

I’m still waiting for Dumars to pull the trigger on another move. I just can’t believe, looking at this team 1-8, that this is where he’s headed over the next few years. He knows he’s got time sensitive materials in Hamilton and Prince, and he has to use him. What he gets for them, if anything, will be the deciding factor in if he’s validated for all the gambles he’s taken.

Nichols and Dime: What to Expect From Kobe Bryant, Quarter by Quarter

First was LeBron James. Next was Dwyane Wade. Today I’ll be looking at the shooting tendencies of Kobe Bryant. My methods will be the same as with the first two, so if you have any questions about how or why I do certain things, be sure to check out those first two articles.

Here are Bryant’s shooting tendencies by quarter:

kobebryantshotselectionbyquarter

If you read my pieces about James and Wade, the first thing you’ll notice is that Bryant takes a lot more midrange shots and much fewer close shots than the other two. However, he does have one thing in common: as the game goes on, Kobe favors the three-ball more and more. Those shots make up just 11% of his attempts in the first quarter, but they double to 22% by the fourth. However, unlike the other two, these attempts do not come at the expense of close shots. Close shots do go down slightly, but Kobe also seems to make a concerted effort to get to the line as the game wears on, especially in the fourth quarter. Instead, Bryant chooses to forgo midrange shots (which is a smart decision, as we will see later).

Why is Bryant more relentless at taking it to the basket than James and Wade? Part of it could be a personal mentality, and part of it could be less fatigue. After all, the Lakers can offer much more offensive support for their superstar than the Cavaliers or the Heat. Whatever the reasons, Bryant is able to take more efficient shots (three-pointers) in the fourth than he does in the first.

How about his efficiency on those shots? Let’s take a look:

kobebryantshotefficiencybyquarter

Like most players, Bryant has his ups and downs. However, I see three general trends: midrange efficiency decreases slightly, close efficiency increases slightly, and three-point efficiency peaks in the middle of the game. Still, at all times Bryant is more efficient from three than he is from midrange, so his shot selection trends seem to be wise decisions.

I’d like to keep looking at individual players, but I may switch gears and look at a big man next. The results may be drastically different, so stay tuned.

The Disease… Is Back.

You don’t know when it will come back. Its remission is such a draining experience in and of itself. You honestly try not to think about it. And just when you think you’re rid of it, it hits you.

I was stuck in traffic when it hit me. Stopped behind some moron who wants to turn left during rush hour with no turn lane. Slumped against the window of my car, unable to move as SUV after SUV passes me, my mind began to wander. And there it was.

“You know? I wonder how Al Thornton’s going to do this year? I mean, I know he’s a black hole that took a step back, but he’s a freaking great shooter. I miss his shot. And with Griffin and Davis possibly giving a crap…wait a second. Am I looking forward to watching Al Thornton and the Clippers again? … It’s back.”

And so it is.

And since then, every marginal player and obscure wrinkle of the game has been on my mind.

“Kevin Martin and Tyrke Evans may go to the line so many times their games last six hours.”

“Flynn, Sessions, Brewer, Love, Jefferson? I’d watch that team.”

“The Pistons are pretty much last year’s Bucks when healthy with better uniforms.”

“You know who doesn’t get enough play? Jamario Moon. That guy has ups and that motor thing, whatever that is.”

“Man, Okafor’s going to somehow have a higher rebound percentage this year. He’s going to rebound the sun.”

And so it is that the doldrums have summer have passed and I am ready for the season to start, even though we still have a month and a half to go. That’s nothing. We have loaded teams and new rookies and Kobe vs. LeBron, which we all love even though we all talk about how tired we are of it. We have Nash still running around making insane passes. We have Durantula growing bigger and better (do not underestimate Harden). We have Shawn Marion who can do about ten things pretty well and Dirk Nowitzki who can do about three things insanely well, and Tim Thomas, who… yeah.

The point is that it is time for the 09-10 season. LeBron’s contract year. Kobe’s race for one for the thumb. Shaq trying to make one more run at relevance. The Eastern Big 3. The Spurs reloaded. The Birdman uncapped.

Sweet Jesus, am I ready.