Monthly Archives: February 2010

Most Valuable Column: Narrowing The Field

Mark Milner is a contributing writer for The Good Point. His Most Valuable Column chronicles the MVP race of the season from different views. Enjoy. -MM

A little while ago, I projected that five players had a good chance of being named MVP.  I chose them based on two advanced statistics, PER and Win Shares, and by looking at how well their team was doing.

All three of those seem to come into play for the MVP. While the winner may not lead the league in PER or in Win Shares (frequently, they don’t), they are often near the top. But more importantly, their team also plays well. The MVP often looks not so much like the best player in the league, but the most important player on one of the best teams.

Since I last wrote on the MVP race, one of the five likely dropped out of contention – Hornets Guard Chris Paul, who will likely miss at least a month with a knee injury. Since the NBA/ABA merger, only one player has won an MVP while missing more then 10 games – Bill Walton, in 1978.

There are several players who could likely take his spot (Dwight Howard, Tim Duncan), but I chose Kevin Durant, who is putting up some amazing numbers for the Thunder almost by himself.

He is the first of the five players I’ll look at. Continue reading

Video: Jason Kidd Fearlessly Draws Contact On… Mike Woodson?

You have to ask yourself the question. How far are you willing to go? Will you go to the limits of the law and then beyond it. Okay, that’s just some paraphrasing from The Untouchables.

What Jason Kidd did tonight in helping the Mavericks to a win was legal. He isn’t cheating by doing that. He’s just also not NOT cheating by doing that.

What’s “that?”

I’ll show you, courtesy of Protect the Paint:

Man, somebody get Mike Woodson a xanax.

Shining Outward

With just about every competitive squad in the league, you can isolate a player that stands at the heart of everything the team hopes to accomplish. More often than not, that player is simply the team’s most talented (Chris Paul, LeBron James, Brandon Roy), but in some cases, it’s a secondary star who compensates for shear production with massive on-court influence (Chauncey Billups, Brandon Jennings, one of the Boston Celtics).

Or, in slightly less frequent and more bizarre circumstances, a team is left with no focus at all, depending on a balance of power, production, and personality to turn what could be a tornado into a whirling dervish neatly dressed in a tuxedo and a bow tie. The Atlanta Hawks are a team without a singular focus, without an anchor. That type of situation could be a cause of trouble for any number of rosters throughout the league, but somehow, someway, Atlanta makes parity look easy.

A number of pivotal parts could make or break the Hawks with their steady contributions or lack thereof. There is no transcendent talent on which Atlanta can hang its hat, regardless of how cool a customer Joe Johnson is, or how much of an impact Josh Smith makes defensively. This is one of those rare beasts that lacks a true superstar…and yet the Hawks are sitting at 4th in the East, and their lack of a star could be the precise reason why they pose such incredible match-up problems for so many of the league’s elite teams.

Now, if you throw LeBron James onto the Hawks, of course they improve. If you throw Kobe Bryant onto the Hawks, of course they improve. But there’s no way the current system in Atlanta forms organically around those players as it has since the Hawks acquired Joe Johnson. Stars of that magnitude come with a certain expectation, whereas Joe, who is about as low-key as low-key stars get, and somehow still flying under the radar, had few. The Hawks were adding a very good player for a lot of money, and that was that. It wasn’t expected to put them over the hump, or into the hunt, or to the head of the pack, or to the front of the race. In the strictest sense, it hasn’t; though the Hawks wouldn’t be the Hawks without Joe Johnson, it’s not as if his addition to the team instantly vaulted them into playoff contention. It took Johnson’s Hawks three seasons to top 30 wins and four seasons to make the playoffs, meaning their climb toward playoff contention and now fringe title contention, is based more on the internal development of a core and a system than it is on some grand acquisition or a “Eureka!” moment in Josh Smith’s subconscious.

Joe Johnson is important, but so is Josh Smith. So is Al Horford. And so are Jamal Crawford, Marvin Williams, and, sigh, Mike Bibby. The way that Atlanta basically treats all positions as interchangeable and switches on every pick is the most obvious systemic metaphor you could ask for. On the floor for the Atlanta Hawks on a nightly basis are five basketball players. They vary in talent and occasionally in size, but it’s five basketball players executing a plan based on simplicity and balance. Where one ends and another begins isn’t quite as important as how they function as this amorphous, adaptive whole, and though that might leave them somewhat lacking in star-powered marketability, it was the genesis of an intriguing basketball product that shouldn’t be obscured by the conventional star model.

Backboard’s Shadow: Thabo Sefolosha

Thabo Sefolosha is a 25-year-old elder statesman.  He speaks three languages, has played professional basketball in four countries and is the George Washington of Swiss born NBA players.  Playing on the Oklahoma City Thunder, hands down the most likable team in the league, Sefolosha has comfortably nestled himself beside Kevin Durant, Jeff Green and Russell Westbrook as a fragment of the team’s burgeoning success.

On this young, charismatic group his job isn’t to tally points.  He doesn’t have plays called for him or have his teammates look to him when the shot clock is winding down. He scores less than the other four starters and rookie sixth man James Harden, he’s smart and like all effective role players knows his limitations. But he’s also loaded with talent and after signing an extremely organizational friendly contract extension at the beginning of the season, is an tremendously underrated piece of the Thunder’s future.

Players like Sefolosha are always needed by championship contenders.  Players who are trusted by their superstar teammate to do what their job is on a nightly basis. That glue guy who goes virtually unnoticed outside of his home city until the spring when they make three or four huge plays in a nationally televised playoff game.  Last season for the Lakers it was Trevor Ariza and in 2008 the Celtics had James Posey.  The Spurs had Bruce Bowen in Duncan’s shadow and Michael Jordan had Paxson during his first title reign.

In his 30 minutes of playing time a night, Sefolosha is a guardian.  A 6’ 7” guard who is paid to make his teammate’s lives easier (Thabo literally means “one who brings joy”) by not only assuming responsibility for the opponent’s most dynamic scorer but on the nights where that isn’t possible, he serves obediently as an effective help defender.  Durant says he’s one of the top three defenders in the game, but don’t take his word for it.

Traded from the Bulls for a first round draft pick at last year’s trade deadline, since coming aboard the Thunder’s team defense has been on the incline (or decline depending on how you look at it).  Last year their defensive rating was 20th out of 30, right now they’re currently 3rd. They were 23rd in opposing points per game, now they’re 7th. Defensive improvements like this can never be attributed to a single player, but his presence certainly helped.  He sticks superstars so his own doesn’t have to.  The Dwyane Wade’s, the Kobe Bryant’s, the Joe Johnson’s.  They are all his duty while Durant, Green and Westbrook are able to focus on putting the ball in the basket.

Sefolosha’s usage percentage is at a career low 11.1% and his scoring average is the lowest its been since he was a rookie.  That is to say when Oklahoma City is in possession of the basketball, Thabo Sefolosha isn’t asked to do much.  As a matter of fact he probably couldn’t comply if called upon.  His accuracy from deep has uncharacteristically fallen since entering the league. This might be due to the executive voices whispering in his ear that defense is what they pay him to play while jacking up shots will first send him to the bench and then out of town.  Kevin Durant is there to shoot and score.  It’s what he does exceptionally well; it’s his trademark.  Thabo Sefolosha’s is defense.

As far as American professional athletes go, Thabo is a rare breed. He puts his team ahead of himself and is aware of his spot on Oklahoma’s totem pole. He signed an exceptionally generous five year, 15.5 million dollar contract that shows loyalty and sacrifice.  Not to say he would’ve been granted Lebron money, but Sefolosha most likely took a pay cut when deciding to stay with Oklahoma City for such a long period of time. Sefolosha fits splendidly with the Thunder and in two or three years, when they’re knocking on the doors of a championship, expect him to make those three or four crucial plays to help knock that door over.

Decisions That Haunt A Lifetime: Hasheem Thabeet

The onus here, though, is clearly on meddling Griz owner Michael Heisley. The basketball people definitely wanted to draft local Memphis standout Tyreke Evans, but were overruled by their boss. For some reason, Heisley bought into the old school theory about the need to draft centers – even longterm projects – even though far superior players were available.

If Evans had gone to the Grizzlies, and Oklahoma City had stuck with James Harden at No.3, I’m confident the Kings would have bypassed Thabeet (whew!) and selected a point guard – albeit, the wrong one. From all accounts, they would have drafted Jonny Flynn, leaving Stephen Curry for Golden State. As Doug Collins noted on TNT's telecast of the Nuggets-Warriors game earlier tonight, most NBA types failed pegged Curry as an undersized shooting guard and failed to appreciate his pure point guard skills.

via Kings Blog and Q&A: What if the Grizzlies hadn’t outsmarted themselves?.

Okay…

Wait, hold on a second.

There. I feel better now.

You may remember the reason I broke up with Memphis while we were still “dating” before I committed to them this season.

I’ve also made it a habit of whenever Tweeting Memphis Games to make sure after analyzing Mike Conley’s latest unforced turnover and Thabeet’s third foul in four minutes to follow it up with “In unrelated news, (insert Tyreke Evans stat).”

It’s not that it was an obvious choice. I mean, it was. You had an all-world point guard with killer size coming out of the college in the same city. This isn’t rocket science. No, no, what kills is that this rookie class has turned out so well that it was such a difficult thing to do to miss!

James Harden, Jonny Flynn, Stephen Curry, Jordan Hill (seriously, the guy gets almost no playing time and was traded for Tracy McGrady and was still a much better draft selection), DeMar DeRozan, Brandon Jennings, Ty Lawson, Jeff Teague, Eric Maynor, Darren Collison, Omri Casspi, Rodrigue Beaubois, Taj Gibson, Wayne Ellington.

And those are just the guys we KNOW are better! I’d take Terrence Williams, Gerald Henderson, Tyler Hansbrough, Earl Clark, Austin Daye, James Johnson, Jrue Holiday or whatever pieces New York would have given up for Rubio!

The Grizzlies literally could NOT have picked a worse player with the #2 overall. Had the Clippers passed on Griffin, and he still have broken his kneecap, he still would have been a better pick! Two guys who haven’t even played were better selections! I’m reduced to ending paragraphs with exclamation marks!

It’s been that kind of season for the Grizzlies. Finally get a good lottery bounce, waste the draft pick completely. Find yourself in playoff position, don’t find a bench contributor or suitable point guard and watch the playoffs slip away. It’s not the worst that could happen; if the team outright sucked that would be way worse. But it’s just that they had such potential to set themselves up for long-term success, and instead they may hit August and wonder “what happened in the last eight months?”

Pogo-stick.

************

One more note. There’s some discussion out there about this being a good thing for the D-League. That’s a lie. He’s there for ten days. The Grizzlies don’t have much to any interaction with Dakota. They’re not devoting time and money into the hybrid system. They didn’t do this back in November when they should have.

If Thabeet dominates, it just makes the D-League look bad by comparison. If Thabeet struggles, it just makes Thabeet look worse (“He can’t even compete with D-Leaguers!”). There’s no long-term development plan. There’s no concentrated effort to develop him slowly on a timeline. They’re just getting rid of him for ten days. There’s no upside to this.

Best of Daily Dime Live

Beginning this season, the TrueHoop Network and ESPN army have come together each night to collectively watch and discuss the games of our beloved NBA with fans across the world. Called the Daily Dime Live, the congregation is a fast-paced chat over on ESPN where bloggers drop knowledge, reporters give in-arena updates, columnists bring unique insight, fans argue about LeBron vs. Kobe and everyone makes fun of Vince Carter.

Good times all around.

And while it’s great to hear live thoughts from the likes of Marc Stein and John Hollinger, perhaps my favorite part of participating is hearing from some great voices that I didn’t even know existed. Through the first half of the season, certain people have showed up consistently, and guys lie Noam, RIC THE MASCOT, Nathan and C33 have helped form a legit DDL community of hoops chatter that adds a lot to game night.

Another standout is a guy named Felix. And he had the foresight to start aggregating some of the best comments from day one. So it is with much gratitude to Felix that we are able to all the present you with the Best of Daily Dime Live 2009-10 after the jump.

I’ll be over there chatting tonight during the Cavs/Celtics game. Stop by and say hello. (There will be a link to it here when it goes live at 7:00 pm)

UPDATE: Here’s a direct link to tonight’s chat.

Continue reading

A Compendium Of Sorts: 2/25/10

What’s that? Trade Deadline’s past? March Malaise is setting in? Playoffs are on the horizon? Must be time for me start mailing in quick thoughts instead of fully developed ideas! Come on everybody! Everyone on board the bullets train! Whee! Next time I’m going to name it “Things I Think I Think!” Get it?!

  • So Z’s bought “out” of DC. Can you be bought out of somewhere you never went to? I mean, he never left his house. That’s like saying I checked out of the grocery store because I looked at the pants I would wear if I were to go to the store, which of course I’m not going to. Anyway, I do have a cooky conspiracy theory to share with you (shocking, I know). I really feel like the whole “we’re not going to play you on the night you’re supposed to break the record, even though your family and friends are all here and it’s a really big deal to you” thing is getting underplayed. You’re telling me Z has zero feelings about a franchise burning him like that in front of his family and friends, then trading him to Washington for an upgrade, and then wanting him back? Here’s another thing. I asked Kurt if I was right in my opinion that Mike Brown runs essentially the most basic offensive sets on the planet. He agreed.  So you have Z, who’s been spurned by his home team, the team he’s bled for, on multiple occasions. Then you have other teams, who are willing to pay more money for him. And he can provide info like “when they run this place, Delonte will be in that corner. Yes, right there. Trust me.” Does this not have some Counte of Monte Cristo shiz going on?!
  • Haha, just kidding, Z will be back in Cleveland in a month.
  • Why ISN’T Shelden Williams playing?
  • Jason Kidd, Caron Butler, Shawn Marion, Dirk Nowitzki, Brendan Haywood. Are you serious? With Terry, Beaubois, and Dampier off the bench? Are you serious? Why is this not a bigger deal? The Mavericks have to be the most under-the-radar made-the-playoffs-every-year-for-a-decade, loaded-with-All-Stars, holy-crap-they-match-up-with-anyone, division-leading team in the league. The fact that they won that game tonight without Butler is phenomenal to me. Butler is exactly the kind of guy you want to guard Bryant. He’s not going to shut him down, no one can. But it would allow Marion to guard Odom, Dirk to guard Pau, and so on. On Twitter, someone commented that Odom would kill Marion with the length, but I’m not entirely convinced of that given Odom’s um, problems with maintaining focus (though he’s been much better this year). But they won anyway! Kobe missed two dagger threes down the stretch and Nowitzki is having such a brilliant season that no one is noticing. Kidd’s also so good at running against LA. He pushes the ball to probe for a weakness in transition, but instead of forcing it into three talented transition defenders, he just backs it out and calmly sets the offense. They’ve got something considerable there. The Western Conference playoffs are going to brutal, and good. Even if LA still comes out on top, the field looks much tougher than it did at the start of the season.
  • Anybody else notice Al Thornton is trying to do more than just shoot in Washington? No? Just me then? Okay.
  • If you wanted to know what it was like watching O.J. Mayo play brilliantly for 45 minutes and then miss two clinching free throws and then the game winner, with Kobe nailing a three to win in-between, here’s the only comparison I could make, as I told Harper. I was fine after the game. A little shaken, but grabbed Paroxi-Wife and settled in to be thoroughly confused by LOST for the zillionth time. I went to the kitchen to fix a snack, and the thought just crossed my mind, the free throws, and I just doubled over. It wasn’t like a punch to the gut. It was like something devouring me from within. Later I got into bed, sat down to take off my reading glasses, paused, and then just facepalmed. Paroxi-Wife was concerned I was thinking about some sort of deep sadness. Then I just turned and said “OJAM missed.” So there you go, there’s some schadenfreude for you.
  • By the way, the March Malaise is a very real thing. NBA Bloggers LOATHE the next month. You can’t start playoff previews because you have no idea what the seedings will look like. The games start to matter, but not like they do in April. The mediocre teams that were doing pretty well start to tail off as their opponents figure things out and the young guys get tired. Injuries take their toll. The luster of new rotations wear off. It’s horrendous. There will be about seven great, great games in the month of March and the rest is a damn death march. Pre-deadline, there’s the constant “Is this working? Should they trade?” lines. But now, you’re stuck. You are who you are. And for a lot of teams, that doesn’t amount to very much. It’s the death of hope.
  • Everyone needs to chill out with all this “This preposterous trade sutff has to go!” in regards to Z. Every major team has or would do something like this. It harms no one. Everyone wins in this situation except Cleveland’s competitors. And that’s not a reason to say it’s not fair.

In related news, I’ve decided to rank the top five fanbases based on their own loathing of a starter.

1. Chicago Bulls- Taj Gibson

2. Atlanta Hawks- Joe Johnson

3. Indiana Pacers- Troy Murphy

4. San Antonio Spurs- Richard Jefferson

5. Memphis Grizzlies- Mike Conley (this is mostly just me. What makes it more impressive is the small size of the fanbase in relation to my unending disgust that Mike Conley is paid to play professional basketball.)

Hit The Breaks, Watch Them Fly Right By

High five. From Compton, California to Philadelphia, Pennsylvania to Sante Fe, Argentina to Yaonde, Cameroon to Melbourne, Australia, this starting lineup couldn’t have come from much further apart. And yet, in just their second start as a fivesome ever, Jennings/Salmons/Delfino/Mbah a Moute/Bogut looked like a crew that grew up ballin’ on the same block, late into the night, sky is as dark as the pavement, hoop dimly lit by that light across the street, an hour and a half past when mom said i’s time to get in house.

The Bucks have tried plenty of starting lineups this season, but they needn’t try any more.

via Recap: Bucks 115, Hornets 95 – Brew Hoop.

The Bucks and Bobcats are headed in opposite directions, and the trade deadline has a lot to do with it. It’s  a gamble, every time. We act like just adding pieces or replacing them will automatically improve the team, but you’ve got to look at it from a chemistry standpoint. That’s obvious, right? But it’s not as simple as “this guy’s a complainer” or “this guy’s got an ego.” It’s just about guys clicking. The Bucks? They’re clicking, folks. It’s rare that I’ve seen a traded player fit in so seamlessly on the floor as Salmons.

Most of that is a function of the fact that essentially, Salmons is just sliding into Redd’s spot. Salmons on the court isn’t trying to force himself into a leadership role, he’s just slashing and shooting. And it’s one of those trades where you look at it, and you can’t really believe you didn’t see its impact before.

Bogut is dominant right now. I’m not exaggerating. DOMINANT. There was nothing the Hornets could do last night, and they were bringing Okafor and a double team for large stretches of the game. Bogut’s combination of size, savvy, and touch is just not something teams are able to handle right now. They have a point guard tandem that can score in bursts or manage the game (Ridnour,  who’s also shooting the lights out, even though he’s the Mike Bibby to my J.E. Skeets). They have a defensive stalwart  in Mbah a Moute, and all of a sudden Carlos Delfino matters again. They’re playing smart, and well. For all the crap Scott Skiles has gotten over the years, he has this team playing really well and in line for a playoff push.

The Bobcats, on the other hand, are in trouble. Bonnell points out how essentially the Bobcats pushed past the really useful point of expecting to win and into the dreaded ‘entitlement’ phase. They’ve come to a standstill as long as you lock down on CapJack. Losing Flip Murray was a significant loss for them, one which Larry Brown should have anticipated. Adding Thomas helps you inside, but losing Murray brings that offense back a step when it had just become decent. Thomas scored 20 points last night, and maybe he really is becoming the guy most of us want him to be. But even with the injuries to their frontcourt, the Bobcats have to figure out how to get cohesive in a hurry.

NBA HD: Are Rookies Better Finishers in Sophomore Year?

A few weeks ago, I had the privilege to attend Omri Casspi’s debut at Madison Square Garden when the Sacramento Kings visited town.  Israeli flags blanketed the Garden and the Kings generated more cheers than the home team.   Casspi was the star that night to be sure but I had my eyes on another Sacramento rook: Tyreke Evans.

Tyreke is a man amongst men.  The 20-year old packages his ball-handling skills, 7-3 wingspan and 220+ pound frame and plows through the lane like a bowling ball against his slighter foes.  The guy is averaging 20.3 points per game in the NBA, just a few months after leaving Memphis after his freshman year.  And the most impressive fact? The rook attacks the rim more than any other player in the NBA.  With 8.2 at rim attempts per game, Tyreke Evans has shown that not all rookies need a few years to adjust to the league’s size before they can weave through the NBA bodies and get to the rack.

And he can finish there too, unlike some of his other classmates.  The average point guard converts 56.1 percent of their at rim attempts which includes layups, dunks, and tip-ins while Tyreke knocks down 60 percent.  I know some people may have a problem with classifying Tyreke as a point guard.  I’m fine with that.  Shooting guards have a 59.7 percent at rim field goal percentage.  He’s good.  He’s so good that after he took his man off the dribble and powered his way to the rim, I felt compelled to ask Joe Treutlein, founder of Hoopdata.com, who was sitting next to me at the time,  “If he can do this now in his rookie year, just imagine what he will become.  Do we even know?”

So, I went to my toolbox over at Hoopdata.com to see if  I can dig up some sort of an answer to that question.  I wanted to see if rookies improve their ability to convert at the basket in their sophomore year after a year’s worth of banging with the big boys.  We have four years worth of shot location data at our disposal so I grabbed all the rookies with sophomore experience and put them into a pile.  I threw out the ones who didn’t attempt more than 50 layups in their rookie season and separated them by their positions.  After the trimming process, I had 77 rookies still standing.   Here are the results.

Overall, the sample did experience a slight uptick in field goal percentage from 58.9 percent to 59.7 percent but not enough to expect huge gains into sophomore year.  The fourteen centers in the sample actually regressed on average from rookie season to their sophomore year.  Brook Lopez has seen his conversion rate dip from 66.4 percent to 62.8 percent this season while Jason Thompson has slid down to 58.9 percent from his 62.4 percent rookie campaign.  Not every center experienced a sophomore slump, however;  Roy Hibbert has boosted his success rate 8.2 percent since last season and now ranks among the league average in the category.

As you can see, rookie point guards have it rough.  The going rate for point guards at the rim is 56.1 percent but rookies fare even worse at 51.8 percent.  And this sample does not include Brandon Jennings who misses 6 out of every 10 layups. Speaking of Brandon, his forecast isn’t bright for his stature.  Undersized point guards like Aaron Brooks and D.J. Augustin each saw their at rim percentages plummet in their second year by 7.6 and 9.8 percent respectively.  Normally, one would say that Jennings has no where to go but up from here but Augustin, at 35.2 percent this season, reminds us that it’s not guaranteed that improvement waits on the rookie’s horizon.  Thanks to Suns point guard Goran Dragic (+13.4%), Jerryd Bayless (5.5%), and Mario Chalmers (+6.6%), the point guards in this sample actually showed improvement as a whole.   For Evans, the closest comp points to Pistons point guard Rodney Stuckey who stands at 6-5 and attacks the rim with similar aggressiveness, if less ability.  While he doesn’t exhibit quite the same length, bulk, and finishing skills as Tyreke, the Eastern Washington product improved his shooting at the basket ever so slightly in year two.  It’s not out of the question to suggest Tyreke Evans is just beginning to tap into his potential.  And he’s already one of the most relentless attackers in the game.

We’ll need more data to draw up some stronger conclusions but this is another step forward in projecting the development of rookies in the NBA.  Before I go, I thought I’d offer up the leaders and trailers from year-1 to year-2: