Monthly Archives: April 2010

NBA HD: Offensive Orientation and Re-Estimating ORR

Carl Landry came up in a conversation I had recently.

In his rookie season in 2007-08, Landry grabbed 15.5 percent of the Rocket’s missed shots while he was on the floor, a rate that placed him atop the list of every player in the NBA.  Remarkably, the Rockets found a guy in the second round of the draft who immediately stepped in as the best mess cleaner in the NBA.  Not three years down the road. Immediately.

And two seasons later, Landry is a below-average offensive rebounder at his position.

As surprising as it might be, Landry isn’t a vacuum around his basket anymore.  His offensive rebounding rate (ORR) could be micro-graphically illustrated by the backslash on the keyboard in front of you.  From 15.5 percent in 2007-08, his ORR slid down to 10.3 percent in his sophomore campaign, and 8.5 percent this past season.  But if we focus solely on his brief stint for Sacramento, his ORR stood at 7.1.  If you’re scoring at home, you’ll notice that his once elite offensive rebound production has been slashed in half.

One can look at these numbers and arrive at several conclusions.  ”Carl Landry can’t rebound anymore.“… ” Carl Landry is a phony.“… “Please, stop talking about this new-fangled stat, ORR. You sound like a damn fool.” … “OK, so what’s your point?

Well, I think we’re missing an important piece of the puzzle: Carl Landry isn’t playing around the basket offensively anymore.   Sacramento has the Purdue alum playing further away from the rack and as a result, he has shot long twos twice as often as he did in Houston.  So he may not grab as many offensive rebounds but that doesn’t necessarily mean he’s no longer skilled as an offensive rebounder. This is an important distinction.

I bring up the case of Carl Landry because I was looking at the great work of Terrance Laney (@bbstats on Twitter) and I noticed something interesting about the players who ranked at the bottom of his position and height adjusted total rebound rate list (in laymen’s terms, who rebounds better or worse than you’d expect given their height and position).  In the bottom 10, you find players like Dirk Nowitzki, Andrea Bargnani, Channing Frye, Zydrunas Ilgauskas, Rashard Lewis and Matt Bonner.  Notice a common bond?  That’s right, perimeter shooters who happen to be very tall.

So are these tall marksmen the least skilled rebounders in the NBA or has their shooting repertoire pushed them away from the rebounding zone?  I think it’s more of the latter.  In some cases, ORR isn’t the best proxy for rebounding ability in the same way that field goal percentage isn’t as good of a proxy for shooting efficiency as effective field goal percentage for 3-point shooters.

With that in mind, I went back to the drawing board with the help of the indispensable Ed Kupfer and modeled a new expected ORR using a logistic regression that adjusts for position (PG, C, PF, SF, SG, F), height( in inches) and percentage of shots on the perimeter (PerPct) which is simply the percentage of shots outside 16 feet.   Why do we add the perimeter factor? We’re looking to isolate skill from the factors unrelated to offensive rebounding ability so this accounts for the perimeter shooters who don’t grab offensive boards because of their outside offensive orientation.  For example, Carl Landry could still be a worthy offensive rebounder even though he has migrated to the perimeter.  The model can be seen here for those who care to see the details.

So let’s take a look at the player’s who went above and beyond what we would expect given their position, height, and their shooting orientation.

Without context, a 14.2 ORR is extraordinarily impressive but after you consider that Jordan Hill took almost half his shots from the perimeter, he looks even better.  As a Knick, Jordan Hill collected tons of offensive rebounds and he might have been even more underrated than his 14.2 ORR would suggest, given his orientation on the Knicks offense.  Some might see Jordan Hill as a deal throw-in but he possesses a knack for offensive rebounding not unlike his Rockets predecessor Carl Landry.

Coming up on his 36th birthday, Antonio McDyess can still bring it.  He’s an above-average offensive rebounder even for his position and as the 8th most frequent long two taker in the NBA, his offensive rebounding rate in San Antonio is absolutely superb.  All things considered, we would expect his offensive rebounding rate to be half of what it actually is.  Impressive.

Interestingly enough, Zydrunas Ilgauskas finds himself as one of the leaders here despite ranking poorly as a rebounder in Laney’s study.  Why? Like McDyess, he’s a perimeter shooter disguised as a big man.  He cleans up the glass much better than this model would expect.

And how about the trailers?  The players below don’t rebound nearly as much as this model thinks they should.

Etan Thomas might be the Thunder’s highest paid player but this presents another reason why he has barely gotten any run recently.  He hugs the basket on offense and yet he doesn’t offer much in the way of getting second chance opportunities.  Having taken just 12 shots outside 10 feet his year, we would expect Thomas to have more boards with his rim-centric habitat.

Whereas Ilgauskas shines in this light, Dirk Nowitzki still rates as a poor rebounder on the offensive end.  80 offensive rebounds in 3,039 minutes still carries a stench even with the perimeter game adjustment that lowers his expected rate from 9.6 percent to 6.6 percent.  This is his lowest ORR since his 2002-03 season in which he, not coincidentally, posted his highest 3-point frequency of his career.

Whenever we engineer new basketball stats, we try to strip away the luck and circumstance that blemishes the current ones.  If we want to isolate the offensive rebounding skill, it helps to find out who hangs around the rim and still can’t get a board, not just those who are tall.  Perimeter shooting percentage won’t perfectly estimate a player’s offensive orientation but until we put microchips in every player’s shoe, there will always be a margin of error.  Still, this is a big step in that direction.  If you’d like to see the whole dataset, I’ve uploaded it here on Google Docs.  I’d also like to salute Ed and Terrance again for their inspiration and assistance. Cheers.

Loading image

Click anywhere to cancel

Image unavailable

NBA Playoffs Lakers-Thunder Game 5 Recap: They Crush Your Head

We knew they had it in them.

It’s been pretty obvious the last couple of months that if the Lakers wanted to play basketball the intelligent way then they would have a lot more games like this. Instead, the Lakers have been all over the place. They’ve been blaming their struggles on injuries and a lack of rhythm instead of showing some heart and fortitude on defense to go along with smarter shot selection on offense. We’ve been waiting to see them take advantage of the length that nobody else can match, rather than chucking up 20-footers because it’s the easy way out.

If you’re wondering how the Lakers dominated this game against a Thunder team that seemed ready to shock the world or surprise the league or show that nobody believed in them or proved the doubters wrong or win some more basketball games then you should look no further than the symbolic and definitive 10-0 run the Lakers used to start the game and build an insurmountable lead:

- First play of the game, the Lakers move the ball around the perimeter until they get it back to Derek Fisher on the left wing. By the time the ball gets back to Fisher, Andrew Bynum has muscled Nenad Krstic into the middle of the key. Unfortunately for the Lakers, Fisher throws an errant entry pass that Bynum attempts to save. The result is a turnover with a pass out of bounds.

- The Thunder come down and run a little screen down on Durant in the post to allow him to come up to the elbow and launch a jumper. Ron Artest does a good job of getting around the screen quickly enough to fly at Durant to contest the shot. The result is a missed jumper and a defensive rebound for the Lakers.

- Lakers work the ball to Pau Gasol on the left baseline. Pau promptly takes Jeff Green into the low block then drop-steps to the baseline for that unstoppable left-handed hook. That’s twice in two possessions the Lakers have gone to a post play. They’re up 2-0.

- The Thunder work the ball into Durant just above the low right block. He takes a quick but contested fadeaway jumper over Artest for the miss.

- Derek Fisher gets the eventual rebound after a failed tip-dunk attempt by Thabo and races up the court with the ball. He takes advantage of the Thunder’s continually inept transition defense by getting into the lane. However, he misses the runner.

- Russell Westbrook gets the ball off the Krstic board and pushes the ball back up the court. He attacks Ron Artest who plays solid defense by standing his ground and using his size advantage to cause a jump ball.

- Next play gives Kobe the ball in the right corner. As Kobe drives the baseline and attracts the attention of the Thunder help defense, Bynum flashes right through the lane from the left side. Kobe throws a bad pass that sails out of bounds but again the Lakers try to get points inside.

- Ensuing possession the Thunder drop the ball into Jeff Green inside against Artest. Green drives towards the baseline and puts up a terrible runner against Andrew Bynum. Against most other defenses, Green probably scores the basket or gets fouled but against Bynum, he just can’t get past his size.

- Kobe misses a wide-open spot-up three-pointer (three dashes in a row!) and then contests a jumper by Westbrook as he fights around a screen. We’ve now played two minutes and the Thunder really haven’t had a quality shot other than the first missed shot by Durant.

- Fisher grabs the long rebound, takes it right up the court and gets a fairly easy layup off of a little hesitation move against Westbrook. Fisher took advantage of the one-on-one situation because even though Thunder had the 4-2 advantage defensively, nobody properly raced to the key to provide Russell with some help defense. 4-0 Lakers.

- Thunder run a pick-and-pop play on the right side of the floor that gets Krstic a wide-open jumper. He misses it and the Lakers take the ball back up the court. Bynum takes Krstic to the middle of the key and then pretends to go set a back pick on Jeff Green. At the same time, Kobe drives down the right side of the floor in transition and forces Krstic to step up. Bynum slips the screen and catches a nice alley-oop pass from Kobe for the dunk. 6-0 Lakers.

- OKC comes down and runs a dribble hand-off play to get Thabo Sefolosha a jumper. I’m sure that you’re shocked they would run that play for him and amazed that it didn’t work.

- Cross-court passing and a laser from Artest to Gasol in the post gets Pau good position to work his way into the middle of the key and put up a right-handed half hook. Clanks front iron. Thunder push the tempo and get Thabo a layup that is promptly blocked by every member of the Lakers and Jack Nicholson.

- Lakes try to work the ball into Bynum again to maximize the mismatch with Krstic. Krstic fronts Bynum on the left block so the Lakers move the ball back to the top of the key as Bynum reverse pivots to create an easy lob over the top inside. Bynum lays the ball in and it’s 8-0 Lakers.

- Durant gets the ball in an iso situation with Kobe guarding him on the right side. As he faces up and tries to create a little space, Kobe steals the ball from him. Fisher gets the ball in the middle of the floor and dribble to the right side. At this point, Gasol has raced down the middle of the floor and set up on the lower right block. Bynum is trailing the play and makes a B-line right down the middle of the key. Fisher whips a pass into Gasol who drops a perfect bounce pass to the cutting Bynum for another dunk. 10-0 Lakers, four minutes into the game.

Let’s take a quick review of what happened in these plays. The Lakers tried to get a scoring opportunity nine times to open the game with just one jump shot attempt (which was an open three by Kobe that missed). They also used smart defense to get the Thunder to shoot low-percentage jumpers. When the Thunder actually got the ball inside, it was either a jump ball or a blocked shot. The Lakers knew they had the size advantage and they used it early.

So why doesn’t this happen every game? Why do the Lakers get lazy? Why do they make things harder for themselves?

They had 58 points in the paint during this 24-point demolishing of the Thunder. That’s 32 more points inside than Oklahoma City scored. And it’s something they can do with their size. Also, something they can do with their size is defend. When the Wacky Waving Inflatable Arm Flailing Tube Men are in the game, the perimeter defenders can play so aggressively. They know they have backup if they get beat. This allows the Lakers to have an easier time forcing turnovers. By the way, they scored 21 points off of the 17 Thunder turnovers.

Again, I ask you – why don’t they ALWAYS play like this?

The problem is that there is nobody in the West to challenge this team. Sure, the Thunder are giving them a good run and the Spurs look like they might be showing flashes of the decade dominant team we are used to. But nobody can realistically make the Lakers pay four times in seven games.

They can win when they have to. When they play like this, they’re a despicable affront to everything we love about sports. But without someone to keep them honest, how do you teach them the lesson to get them to change?

It’s like they’re heading down the path that the 2006-2008 Detroit Pistons showed us. They only played tough, hard-nosed basketball when they had to. But they ran into problems in their own conferences that ended up breaking their will. The Lakers don’t have that wake-up call. Nobody in the West scares them and rightfully so. There is no check and balance for the Lakers.

So they’ll go on coasting through the playoffs and there is nothing anybody can do about it. When they get to the NBA Finals, they’ll finally have a true test in either the Cavs or Magic. Even then, will it matter?

This is not the great team we were spoon-fed with dreams of 70 wins this past October. They’re just good enough and winning games whenever they feel like it.

Brad Miller Wishes The Cavaliers Good Luck In The Next Round

Brad Miller turned 34 a couple weeks ago and now he’s a free-agent. His options are boundlessly limited … continuing his basketball career or touring the web impersonating Trey Kerby are just two handfuls of opportunity.

Brad’s time in Chicago is likely over. Also, despite their history, this is the first time Miller has been sent into the summer by Shaquille O’Neal. In kind, Miller paid Shaq, LeBron and the rest of the Cleveland Cavaliers photo shoot his respects by wishing them the best of luck in the next round against the Boston Celtics.

See? He even calls someone “buddy” … I think. That’s Brad for ya. Your move Trey Kerby.


Hi, I also blog about the Wizards on Truth About It.net. What’s it to ya?

The Bobcats Did Right, and Are All Right

Walk up to an NBA blogger at Blogs With Balls and ask them who the best NBA writer on the web is. The pound for pound best writer about the NBA whose work is strictly web based. Not the best blogger (Abbot), or the best stylist (Shoals), or the best (insert whatever term I’d have to make up to get Skeets on here). But the best writer and Kelly Dwyer will come pouring out of their mouth as if he were the seventh shot of Bullit. He is prolific, and brilliant, witty and fair. And now that I’ve kissed his ass for a paragraph,  you’ve likely figured out that the crux of this post is to disagree with him. I see my clever ruse has failed. Drats.

Dwyer, as you probably know and have read, assassinated the Bobcats following their sweep to the Orlando Magic. It’s the kind of post that makes me want to use the term “curbstomp” but since it originated with a neo-Nazi in American History X, that’s probably not appropriate. It was a crowbar job, though, completely leveling the franchise after its first playoff appearance. Ever.

In the past, I’ve made the mistake of making snide remarks at Dwyer for what I perceived to be preferential treatment of certain teams. Which is, quite honestly, immature and beneath me on my part. When I sat down and watched the Lakers create seven possession in a row where they created great shots and were big and talented enough to capitalize on all of them, in an important game, I started to get it. The guy just loves great basketball. Likely a product of having grown up with the greatest franchise of the past 20 years in Jordan’s Bulls. I come from the polar-opposite. I gravitate towards the mediocre (Paroxi-wife: “You’re not happy unless someone is winning flawed.”). Which is probably why I found myself irked from the get-go this year with Dwyer’s feelings towards the Bobcats. Preseason he pegged them for 19 wins. 19. Daaaamn. And it reads much like today’s dissection. It’s probably some ingrained sense of defense of the underdog that causes me to get all snarky, or perhaps it’s just that the Bobcats routinely (coming into this season) beat the Lakers. Plus they play in a small market and are an expansion franchise. In another life, I would have been a ‘Cats fan.

Dwyer’s primary argument, from how I read it, is that the team deserves scorn for setting its sights low. It sacrificed long-term prosperity for just-above-mediocrity-like-by-an-inch, brought in players with bad contracts, didn’t put together a good offense, and generally were just bleh. It’s really important to note that Dwyer is far from the only person to think this way. Tom Ziller, who’s the secondary dry-heave to that best writer question above, also pegged them as the bleakest of the bleak back in 08. And since then they added Stephen Jackson’s absurd contract and Tyson Chandler. It’s not like I’m here to say that they’re set for the future, that things aren’t that bad. They are that bad. Theo Ratliff starts at center for God’s sake. I see what they’re saying.

My objection, instead, is that they made a mistake in what they’ve done. That they were wrong to go down this path. That they cannot be succesful with this group, or that this organization underperformed even if the team overperformed and  the team should be dismissed. Instead, I think Dwyer and I agree that they got exactly what they wanted. But I disagree that they should have wanted something else.

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

It’s remarkable that so many of us tend to laud certain organizations’ approaches as genius, complimenting the small parts, the little things, while ignoring the fact that there’s a neon-green radioactive elephant hosing itself in the middle of the room. For instance, ask me who the executive of the year was, and I’d probably say Hammond but my instinct would be to say Presti. Because Presti drafted James Harden who fits, and Serge Ibaka who serves a need, and most importantly, didn’t screw with anything. He’s the anti-Pritchard (KP as the hot property is so 2008). But whether it’s Pritchard, Presti, Popovich, whoever, you’re still talking about guys who landed at the top of the draft and got game-changers. The Thunder didn’t even have to choose between Durant and Oden! Pritchard got LMA, then Roy in the same draft! Even Hammond took Jennings who turned out to be brilliant. More and more I’m convinced that the draft is an abject crap shoot. I pulled for Tyreke Evans hard last year, while everyone was talking about Ricky Rubio and Brandon Jennings and Stephen Curry. And I look right, a whopping 10 months in. Meanwhile, in three years, Curry could be an MVP candidate, Rubio could be leading the league in assists and Jennings could be in the Finals at this pace. All while the seven foot guy with crazy athleticism in a sport where everyone says you can’t teach length looks like an abject disaster. There’s no rhyme or reason to it.

What there is rhyme and reason to, however, is that Charlotte got one shot, and then never got back. They start operations in 2004. They start a year earlier and get a top three pick as is required for expansion franchises? Sure, they may have gotten Darko. But if they didn’t we’d be looking at them differently. They get the #2 spot in 2004. Orlando takes Dwight Howard. They take the other guy, who despite what a lot of people thought, didn’t really excel once he got out of Charlotte. 2005? Raymond Felton. Still with the team. Not Jameer Nelson, obviously, but passable, and you know, typically, taking North Carolina guards works out pretty well. Just sayin’. 2006 was a car wreck of a draft and well all know it. The Ammo pick was bad but I remember when the same words in discussion of Stephen Curry’s shooting ability were used to describe Ammo.

The point is that there are tons of ways that the Bobcats could have traded for more picks, done more to load up on young talent, but no guarantee any of them were going to pan out. And eventually, just to stay afloat, you have to put together some wins. The team was on the edge of a cliff going into this season. It needed to be able to prove itself as something that wasn’t a laughingstock.

I’m a firm believer in establishing a winning atmosphere. It helps with ticket sales, sponsorships, coaching, free agents, re-signing players, the works. Even if you’re only two wins over, you can still say you made the playoffs. You’re not a complete joke. You’re not the Clippers. The Bobcats made a concentrated effort to try and make something of their franchise, to get that playoffs run under their belt and let people know in Carolina it’s safe to come back inside the NBA house. And to do that? You’ve either got to do what Presti and Pritchard did and load up on picks and expendable contracts, or get aggressive with pursuit of trade assets you can acquire. And if you go for the picks option and screw up? You’re the Timberwolves. Tons of picks! Lots of young options! AND NONE OF THEM ARE AN IMPACT PLAYER.

The other option is what the Bobcats did. And they did it partially because of the demands of their coach, the first really great coach they’ve had on staff. Brown’s a guy that likes veterans. He wants guys that know what they’re doing that he doesn’t have to destroy into tiny pieces (in his mind). So they liquidated the youth (that sucked anyway) in pursuit of older guys. And so what? Chandler’s an injury magnet but fine when he plays. They needed offense. At the beginning of this year they had one of the worst offenses in the league. And instead of sitting back and just accepting it, drifting their way to what probably would have been much closer to Dwyer’s prediction of 19 wins, they actually went out and tried to do something about it.

Let’s stress that. They didn’t just undercut, go cheap, and struggle. The wanted to make the playoffs, so they went out and got a scorer. Was it an elite scorer? No. But those are rarely available. And when they are? They turn out to be Ben Gordon. What was worse, acquiring Ben Gordon or Stephen Jackson? Gordon, right? Because he’s younger. But he’s also more expensive (Jackson’s contract-expiration year, when they can move him, is still only $800k more than what Gordon made this year), doesn’t defend nearly as well, isn’t a leader, and his contract gets more expensive the older he gets. If you’re looking to improve now, Jackson’s not a bad investment.

The Bobcats made the playoffs. They picked up more fans, brought themselves some legitimacy. They’re not the Lakers or Spurs, but they’re also no longer the Clippers, or, well, the Bobcats. Furthermore, the two things that have been evident the last two years is that no one is unmovable. The team can continue to tinker, continue to adjust, keep moving veteran pieces for other veteran pieces.

Now, part of that is severely damaged if the reports are true that Brown’s gone, which he probably is. Fits his profile, family’s in Philly, a management job is less stress. (Note: If he does stay everyone’s going to owe him a big ass apology.) And starting over with this kind of roster could be bad. But at least Jordan, for all his faults, you know will want to field a contender. He’ll be willing to invest to make the team successful. If something goes their way? Great. If not? They’ve at least built themselves into an actual NBA team, in a small market, in a major recession, and they did it by acquiring a team full of guys you won’t see on posters, but who work their ass off every single night. And if I’m a fan of that team? I’d much rather see that than a team that doesn’t give a crap.

Contending for greatness doesn’t just take skill and money. It takes opportunity that must be granted, timing, and luck. The Cats haven’t had any of those things. But at least they’ve stabilized the core. To laugh them off stage because they ran into the team that wound up with the other guy, and who have built a monstrous team around him (including, I might add, a veteran everyone thought was disgustingly overpaid when they signed him, and then also Hedo Turkoglu who is now overpaid, and now Vince Carter who people say the same about; it’s not like outside of Howard they’re full of young guns) is a bit unfair, and ignores the success that they’ve had. No, it’s not a championship ring. But it’s a start, a real start. And for fans in Charlotte, it’s at least something to make them feel good and give them hope.

Sometimes you gotta start small.

NBA Playoffs Thunder Lakers Game 5 Preview: Peace Before Victory, And The Stench Of Complacency

Winning Tuesday’s game will not be easy. The Lakers can’t expect the Thunder to come out, roll over, and hand them the win. The Lakers will need to execute the little things and can’t rely on the Thunder to not play well. However, if there is a team that knows what needs to be done to still win this series wouldn’t it be the one led by Phil Jackson and captained by Kobe Bryant and Derek Fisher? Guys with 20 championships between them as players and coach? History has proven that these guys know how to get it done. But with every new season, new challenges appear, and the need to prove it again arises. I think the Lakers have it in them. Tuesday is when we all get to see if I’m right.

via Forum Blue And Gold.

If you step back from the horror of tonight's loss – not easily done, granted – the Lakers should still be considered the slight favorites in this series. The Thunder appear to be a very different team in their own barn, and to our eternal relief, there's only one more game scheduled to be played there. In Staples, they’ll have to recreate the same élan they displayed in Games Three and Four but without the backing soundtrack from their fans and the friendly officiating that creates. It’s a lot to ask from what Dan Shulman and Doris Burke reminded us 283 times tonight is – repeat after me, everyone – the youngest team in the NBA.

That said, there's no question the Lakers are very much capable of losing this series. None of their problems from the regular season has been fixed. If anything, new problems have emerged and squished themselves onto an already crowded plate of FAIL. The stench from tonight's turd sandwich will linger in our noses for at least the next three days. Maybe much longer.

via We Are Not Amused – Silver Screen and Roll.

Let’s get down to business right from the get-go and acknowledge that this Thunder team has never won in the Staples Center in Los Angeles against the Lakers. Ouch. That one stings a little bit–until you realize that the last three times the Thunder has played the Lakers in LA, the Lakers average margin of victory has been a paltry 4.66 points.

Yes, a two possession game. So let me repeat an answer I gave to a Laker fan who posted on the site that he/she saw no proof for why the Thunder could win Game 3 in OKC (how’s that looking now?) because no matter how close the scores might have been, the Thunder still lost games 1 and 2 in LA: Do we really have to discuss how a close and competitive game is an indicator that the teams were fairly evenly matched where both had an opportunity to win it, especially since the visiting team had a three point shot bounce out when they were down by two with seconds remaining?

As crazy as it sounds, the Thunder have come A LOT closer to beating the Lakers in LA in the last three games than the Lakers have at beating the Thunder in OKC (OKC’s average margin of victory in the last 3 meetings in the Thunderdome–try 14 points).

via Can the Thunder win in LA? | Daily Thunder.com.

Am I annoyed? Do I find it frustrating? Hell yes.

But I’m not going to over-analyse it, as it will ultimately be a fruitless exercise. Matter o' fact, I’m not going to analyse it at all.

The same Lakers won't turn up for game 5, as this game actually means something to them.

Do I still think the Lakers will win? Yes.

Am I buying into the OKC-coolaid yet? Good team… I still think we’re done without going the full distance with LA walking away the victor in 6.

via With Malice – An LA Lakers blog, news and opinions.

So Games 3 and 4 were fun. And I’m not talking, “a rousing game of UNO” fun. I’m talking “afternoon mini-golfing with friends and two six packs of PBR” fun. I’m talking o”pen-tab-at-the-bar, top-of-the-line sushi and a Tarantino festival” fun. It was the most fun playoff games in the first round. Oklahoma made the NBA fun. Let that settle for a minute.

(Side note: I once commented that the state motto of Oklahoma should be “FREE PARKING!” or Well, it can’t get any worse… we think.” Now I think they should change it to: “Thunder 110 Lakers 89″.)

And now, the overwhelming sentiment is this: “We think the Lakers will show up tonight and take back control of the series and win in six or seven.” But we’re not sure. That’s what the Lakers have done to themselves, and what the Thunder have done. There’s doubt. I picked the Lakers in each game. I thought they’d win the series in 5 before it started. I thought they’d win Game 3, lose Game 4, then close it out in 5. Whoops. Then they lost Game 3, so I thought they’d get back on track and win Game 4. Instead, they put up arguably the most pathetic performance by a defending champion in the last 30 years.  And the most pathetic performance by a championship contender since, well, Game 4 of the Rockets series last year.

But that’s who this team is. I’ve said it all year and will continue to say it. This team only execute, only performs, only earns their paycheck, when they absolutely have to. And tonight, they have to. They lose this game, and Oklahoma City’s emotion will carry them to a Game 6 close out. That can’t happen. Not for a team that still has 14 feet of frontcourt before Lamar Odom even steps on the floor. This team has no choice but to respond, in front of its rowdy passionate hungry fashionable home crowd. So it’ll take down the Thunder at home, and possibly be able to withstand a surge from OKC in Game 6, especially with travel days mixed in. If not, back to the warm and peaceful confines of Staples.

Surely this series puts significant doubt as to if the Lakers can even make it out of the West, right? Wrong. Everything is coming up Lakers if they can get past the Thunder. The Jazz need 1 of 3 to make it to the second round. The Jazz have zero matchup advantages against LA before you start considering their injuries. Meanwhile, it’s looking like Suns-Spurs in Round Two. I think we all know how that turns out. Which means a beat-up, tired Spurs team faces a rejuvenated Lakers team in the WCF. G’night.

The path to the Finals is still very much there, but we just have to see how lazy, disjointed, and mediocre while still incredibly talented this Lakers team is.

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

  • Jeff Green is shooting 23% from three in this series, down 7 percent from the regular season. His offensive rating is down 9 points. It’s not surprising, given that trying to play his traditional role in this series is remarkably difficult, but the number of open looks he’s clanged has been damaging. It takes away a central component of the Thunder offense, and means that they have to rely even more on Westbrook and Durant. If Green can knock down a few, it’s going to move the defense away from the middle, though that strategy has actually benefited the Thunder lately.
  • I was really not expecting Ron Artest to unravel like the baseball Benny hits in the Sandbox until much later. But there he is, throwing up airballs. He’s shooting 13% from three. THIR.TEEN.PER.CENT.
  • I went through a bunch of Ibaka boards on Synergy trying to find some sort of trick he’s using, possibly black magik, to collect rebounds. Nope. It really, honestly, truly just is that he’s working harder, wanting it more. 8:08 second quarter of Game 4, Harden comes around a screen, drives, misses the layup, Ibaka comes from the right corner, jumps from the right side of the basket, and grabs the rebound on the left side, over Odom and Farmar. Dude just wants it more. What was I saying about cliches?
  • Kobe’s gotta get rested with all the travel days at some point, right? Right?
  • Westbrook’s moved himself into the top ten of point guards, right?



Faces of Dallas; Caron Butler is no Maverick

Why so sad Brendan Haywood? Or is that your game face? Then again, maybe you’re thinking about free-agency and how Dallas might not be the best fit. I mean, you’re the guy formerly known as Brend-A and can’t even get a start over a guy who’s still known as Eric-A. It’s like you versus Etan for the glory of starter’s minutes all over again. Sure, an NBA championship is now on the line, but you’re a free-agent FCOL! Damn Rick Carlisle.


This is the face of a man who ‘Don’t see no fat lady.

Which begs the question, what does Shawn Marion see?

Maybe he’s wondering how he and Caron Butler managed score a combined 31 points on a combined 31 shots in game four, sharing just two free-throw attempts between them (thanks to Tuff Juice).

To talk about Caron some more. His bread and butter, at least in terms of the frequency of his offensive attempts, is isolation plays and spot-up shots (according to Synergy Sports Technology) … which is particularly disheartening because Butler isn’t the best driver nor does he have the best jumper. He’s known as a “tough” scorer, but this season, in both Washington and Dallas, he’s been horribly inefficient. Guess that Eddie Jordan’s pro-style Princeton offense was his crutch.

In D.C., 28.6% of Butler’s offensive plays were isolations — he only scored 39.5% of the time, got to the free-throw line just 5% of the time, and produced a measly 0.81 points per possession (PPP).

In Dallas, his isolations have decreased to 22.1% and he has become more efficient, scoring 46.6% of the time, getting to the FT line 6.8% of the time and netting 0.99 PPP.

Spot-ups accounted for 18.7% of Butler’s offense with the Wizards. With these opportunities, he fared slightly better than isos, scoring 40.7% of the time, getting to the FT line 7.8% of the time, and netting 0.86 PPP. Still not great.

With the Mavericks, Butler’s spot-ups have increased to 20.8% of his offensive opportunities, but he only scores on 36% of them, getting to the line just 4.5% of the time and at a 0.78 PPP clip.

Overall, on Butler’s offensive plays that end in FGAs, TOs or FTs, he scored 0.86 PPP in Washington, which ranks 334th, and in Dallas, 0.87 PPP, ranked 318th. Not the Tuff Juice Mark Cuban thought he was bargaining for, but certainly the guy Wizards fans became familiar with this season.

Good to know from playing with point guards Gilbert Arenas to Randy Foye to Jason Kidd, some people never change. If Dallas was looking for Butler to be a maverick from his past inept wizardry, they should look somewhere else.

What say you Mr. Cuban?


By the way, I’m not around these parts too often. My name is Kyle Weidie and I’m the Washington Wizards blogger in ESPN’s TrueHoop Network at Truth About It.net. And since my team is crappy, might always be, perhaps I’ll pop up on H-Wood Paroxysm every now and then like I used to. That is all.

NBA Playoffs Spurs Mavericks Game 5 Preview: Someone Want To Tell Me What The Hell Is Going On In Texas?!

Had some business to attend to late last week and over the weekend, so this series has gotten a little bit away from me. Catching up with the replay, though, I’m still bamboozled. What in hell is going on? And I say this not just as someone who has ‘endorsed’ the Mavericks simply because I’ll back any candidate that I think can beat the Lakers. This hasn’t been a “oh, the Spurs do what they’re doing” series. It’s been a completely bizarre, WTF, GTFO series. George Hill is good. We knew this. But this good? “I’mma run your ass all over the floor and play with more poise than Jason Terry” good? DeJuan Blair we knew was good. But TRR (Total Rebound Rates) of 16%, 83% (!) (I don’t care that it was 4 minutes), and 30%? Richard Jefferson being alive? What in God’s name?

Some things make sense. Like this. “Play Matt Bonner less and your defense will suck less. MAGIC!” That makes sense. And the Mavericks getting caught out of focus due to physical play? I loathe cliches. I don’t like boiling down basketball to “one team wanted it more” or “they played with the heart of a champion” or “you’ve got to be tough.” But there are also reasons why phrases become cliches. They’re used a lot. And it’s been true. You harass the Mavs, take them out of the basketball game and into a street fight and they’re not in their element. These guys aren’t dive bar frequenters. So that makes sense. Hell, the Spurs have been doing it to teams since Clinton was in office.

But Duncan and Ginobili and Parker struggling and the Spurs still winning? A three-guard lineup from the Mavs, in the face of all reason and common sense? Dirk Nowitzki being assisted on only 25% of his points in a crucial Game 4?

I can’t decide whether this is one of those series that simply didn’t make sense and wasn’t indicative, or if the Spurs really have something going. I heard a term used to describe the question of this Spurs team, and it does strike fear into my heart. Sustainability. Can they sustain this? Can you really win four playoff series with Richard Jefferson, a rookie sans ACLs, and George Hill as your vital components? Sure, Duncan and Ginobili will have their nights. But after what we’ve seen from this team this season, should we just throw all of that information away? My fear is we’ll find that this bizarre formula is enough to down the Mavs who can’t seem to make any adjustments, and the Suns, because, well, it’s the Suns and I’m pretty sure there’s an immutable law of physics which says Steve Nash can’t defeat Tony Parker in a playoff series. But LA? Trust me, I know how terrible the Lakers have looked. But doesn’t anyone else see the pattern being formed here?

The Lakers struggle against a fun, free, dominant Thunder team who is drastically shifting expectations and constructs on how to build a team long-term with young talent (the Blazer-destructim Manifesto). Then get a short-handed, perennially sheep-in-wolf’s-clothing Jazz team they can mow through. And then a Spurs team that manages to outperform expectations coming into the postseason, yet disappoint based on preseason expectations. That kind of path falls right in line with my continued philosophy that the Lakers are, through no act of their own or league intervention, blessed by the basketball gods to ensure that whatever they need to occur, does.

Regardless, though we’ve seen the Spurs “turn it on” in the playoffs seemingly ever year for the last decade, this seems like something else entirely. It’s a dramatic evolution of the team into an entirely new entity. This isn’t a team that flexed its muscle when it had to in the regular season. Their big wins in the regular season looked nothing like this. Sure, Hill had some huge games and Blair’s been a beast. But the overall complexion seems like this team just hopped out of a cocoon with swords drawn. It’s like the playoff Spurs just burst from the chest of the regular season Spurs .


So Dallas will, barring a miracle the likes of which haven’t exactly gone their way in the playoffs, be eliminated yet again, sooner than anyone thought they would, yet again. San Antonio also manages to continue their long standing tradition of destroying fun through excellence, depriving us of a competitive series culminating in a Game 7. The Spurs have acquitted themselves. The question will be what they do with their newfound freedom.

NBA Playoffs: Nuggets Jazz Game 4 Recap- Not Even Adamantium Jumpers Can Be Enough

Can Wolverine be enough to ensure victory?

I know that Wolverine is supposedly indestructible and all that stuff. I’m not going to pretend to know the nuances of the comic books. I watched the cartoons when they were on Saturday mornings. I’ve seen the X-Men movies. I’m familiar with the theory and idea of Wolverine. The particulars of what make him what he is are not important here.

The question remains: is Wolverine enough to win?

What if he’s going against the X-Men himself?

In case you haven’t figured out Carmelo Anthony is Wolverine in this discussion. At least, he was in Game Four against the Utah Jazz. And the Jazz are certainly the team of X-Men. They are a group of players with special talents that work together for the common good. This isn’t going to be a post telling you which one is Gambit or which one is Storm or which one is Cyclops. That’s not the point of any of this even if that’s what you’ve come to expect from the internet.

Can the one lone Wolverine get the better of a team of mutants?

After Game Four, it seems impossible. I don’t know what else Carmelo Anthony could have done. Ignore the nine turnovers. Yes, they matter. But no, they don’t matter right now. Carmelo Anthony and Ty Lawson were the only guys that truly came to play with all of the heart and desire you would need from guys who were down two games to one in hostile territory. They were desperate for a Game Four victory. You can’t say the same about their teammates based on what we saw.

This Denver team gives up far too easily. Did they make a run? Sure. Did they cut it pretty close? Yes. Did it really matter? Not with this squad. They don’t seem to care about defense at all. And by “care about defense” I mean that they would rather try to use telepathy to get shots to misfire for the Jazz than to properly close out, rotate crisply on defense and protect the rim with more than a big windup. There is no defensive intensity or pride with this Nuggets team. And when the shots aren’t falling, you’re left with Carmelo Anthony all by his lonesome.

So what is Wolverine supposed to do all by himself?

He forced things and he forced them good. Don’t blame Carmelo for this loss even if you look at the eight turnovers. He had no choice. He was on and he was fighting. He was the only guy who was capable of getting quality possessions against the Jazz. And he did it all. He’s not a particularly good defender. You can score on him posting up or isolating him on the perimeter. But other than that, in this game he was able to get steals, grab boards and even crash the offensive boards. He finished with 39 points on 25 shots. He made all nine of his free throws and made all four of his threes.

He was incredible. But he was alone.

And he was going against the X-Men.

Deron Williams dominated the show but everybody contributed. CJ Miles had a particularly stunning game as a role player. Wesley Matthews scored 18 points by just being in the right place at the right time. Carlos Boozer took up the slack for when Paul Millsap fouled out and when Kyrylo Fesenko just wasn’t effective enough (which wasn’t often). Ronnie Price was as competitive and physical as any Nuggets big man and he’s barely 6’2”.

You can’t beat a team like that when you have no help – even if you’re as good as Carmelo Anthony. You can’t do it when the best players on your team don’t give an excrement about winning this game. They’ve clearly punted on the rest of the season and are waiting for Mark Warkentein to adjust the roster in the off-season. Chauncey Billups is there but he might as well be a galaxy away. JR Smith is there but we definitely know that doesn’t guarantee anything. Nene, Kenyon Martin and Chris Andersen were there but far too selective for when they were going to give maximum effort.

So what is an offensive, attacking force like Carmelo supposed to do? Just sit back and take the fact that he’s alone?

He tried to fight with all of his powers and abilities. But you can’t beat a team that works together and trusts each other.

I don’t care how mutated and full of rage you are. And I don’t care how many fans you have in Utah.

NBA Playoffs Celtics-Heat Game 3: Seriously? You Didn’t See This Coming?

“Well, they have so many late game situations, I mean c’mon. If you go through their edit, there’s no pattern. They have so many proven 25-point game scorers on their roster that they just go with usually who the hot hand is. We anticipated it would be a Pierce-Garnett pick-and-roll. That’s what we thought it would be.” – Erik Spoelstra after the Heat’s Game Three loss on a Paul Pierce game-winning jumper.

I don’t want to pretend to know more about the game of Erik Spoelstra. I certainly don’t have half of the knowledge that he possesses. He’s worked his way up the ranks of the NBA coaching profession. I’ve spent one year as the assistant coach of a junior varsity boys high school basketball team (although we did win league for the first time in a long time). But I can’t believe his post-game comments about Pierce’s shot to bury the Heat into a seemingly insurmountable 3-0 deficit.

Here’s the final shot:

I find it very hard to believe the Miami Heat didn’t think this was coming. It was the only play that could have been called for the Celtics to win this game. It’s kind of the same play they always run at the end of games. If they’re behind and need a big three, they’ll run the inbounds play to Pierce or KG and have Ray Allen find some open space for a three-point jumper. But when they’re down one or tied with not much time remaining then they’re going to give the ball to Paul Pierce and get the hell out of the way.

How did Spoelstra not know this but everybody watching the game did?

You just knew he was getting that shot. He ALWAYS gets that shot. He loves the elbow. He lives at the elbow. He’s built a Hall of Fame career at that elbow. He’s going to find a way to get into that area and get a shot off. As the head coach of the Miami Heat, you HAVE to know this. Or as one of the assistant coaches, you HAVE to know this.

When Spoelstra goes into that huddle and starts telling his guys to watch out for the pick-and-roll, that’s when you interject and claim that you’d wager any body part that Pierce is getting the ball for the classic hero shot at the end of a game. All of the stars do it. Pierce does it. You HAVE to know this!

Just looking at the YouTube for less than five minutes, I found all of these buzzer-beaters by Pierce in which he’s just getting the ball and creating a jumper.

That was less than FIVE minutes on YouTube. There’s no way you couldn’t have known that Paul Pierce was getting the ball in an isolation set near the top of the key.

I think it’s time for the Miami Heat databank to update the Celtics’ “edit.” Trying getting some data from post-1998.

NBA Playoffs Nuggets-Jazz Game 3 Recap: Fashion Shows, Cat Fights and Just Doing You Lose Out To A Full Ensemble Cast

One of the drawbacks of making blogging your living is that you do a lot of writing at the end of most nights.

For some people that’s not a bad thing at all. And it’s not necessarily a bad thing for me. At least it wasn’t until my fiancé discovered the Real Housewives of (Fill In The Blank) television series on Bravo. Now, once a week I finish my night of watching basketball games only to turn the remote over to my lady as she takes her turn with the TiVo. The thing that turns on almost immediately is The Real Housewives of New York or The Real Housewives of Orange County or The Real Housewives of Odessa or whatever the hell the latest one is.

From watching this TV programming gem while I commence my nightly writing, I’ve found that I understand teams like the Denver Nuggets a lot better than I ever would have. While basketball is about skill and athleticism and a basic understanding of how the game is and should be played there is also a very human element to the NBA that has to be recognized. We’ve seen it in many forms. We’ve seen Maurice Cheeks sidle up to a young lady who has forgotten the words to our national anthem and help walk her through the rest of the song. We’ve also watched Stephen Jackson go chasing after Ron Artest into the Pistons’ stands to not stop him from committing a crime but to make sure he commits it correctly.

The personalities and the human aspect of life matter just as much in basketball as they do in the crappy television world of housewives in front of a camera filming “reality.” When you put five egotistical, power-hungry, driven women in front of a camera and ask them to ham it up a bit for their audience, you’re going to come across some problems. They’re going to get catty and start to come apart at the seams, much like their botched plastic surgery. They can’t help themselves and once it gets to that point of complete unraveling, there is no way for them to recover and get back to the decency or somewhat respectful nature that got them to this point in their “careers.”

This same pattern of psyche was one of the main reasons I didn’t trust the Denver Nuggets to take care of business four times in a seven-game series against a Utah Jazz team that I’ve tried not to fall in love with. The Denver Nuggets have a bunch of strong personalities.

Carmelo Anthony is the star of the show who will have the crap promoted out of him during the duration of this show. Chauncey Billups is the older person that could just as easily justify the same attention for himself that Melo is getting if he were just a bit sexier. JR Smith is the crazy one that is so unpredictable that you almost have to sit on the edge of your seat when he’s on the court or at a fashion show. Kenyon Martin is the old, hard persona that could be the nicest person in the world or the most conniving with he feels he’s been crossed. And Chris Andersen is just the kooky, free spirit who will wow you with the accessories (mustache, hair, tattoos) as much as with his ability to completely ruin any given show.

When things are going extremely well, it’s a hype machine that sells advertising and makes you crave the after show in which the brilliance and step-by-step entertainment of the show is explained with everybody sitting around, enjoying a cocktail or two. But when things fall apart, you can almost tell that nothing is going to fix the tailspin that has begun.

When the Jazz took control of Game Two and escaped from Denver with a three-point victory, the Nuggets appeared to be shell-shocked. Not only were they the Denver Nuggets but they were also facing a Jazz team that was without two of their core players. And yet, they couldn’t hold serve at home and now had to go into a hostile environment without the advantage of a 2-0 series lead.

The first quarter of Game Three between these two teams was complete smoke and mirrors. The Jazz played horribly enough to be down 15 points after the first 12 minutes while the Nuggets used free throws and a ton of rebounds to counter a horrible shooting quarter by everybody not named Carmelo Anthony and Chauncey Billups. By the time the Jazz got settled in, the Nuggets were in no position to survive on lucky bounces and poor execution.

The Jazz went old school with their offense by running a ton of set plays and executing them to near perfection. The Nuggets on the other hand tried to play one-on-one despite the fact that there were 10 guys on the floor. The Jazz ran an offense while the Nuggets players isolated themselves on an island.

This affinity for isolation was one of the things that worried me coming into this series. The Nuggets have the players that can absolutely destroy their opponents one-on-one. Chauncey Billups is able to veteranize most opponents into scoring opportunities for himself. JR Smith is able to go dumb with hot shooting and oozing bravado. Nene can devour opposing centers with a single move towards the basket. And Carmelo Anthony doesn’t have Fans From Utah cheering him on because he’s so good at making the extra pass. He makes the money by throwing an array of offensive ninja stars at his opponents once he faces up.

But throw a little controversy and a bunch of Utah rebounds, free throws and scoring runs at this Denver team and they don’t seem to know how to come back as a team. They’re my individuals with no conceptual understanding of a team comeback. I don’t think it’s a selfish thing either. It’s just not something that Adrian Dantley can tie together with these guys.

The Jazz completely dominated the second half both basketball-wise and with mental toughness. They had four separate runs of 8-0, 8-0, 7-0 and 9-0 over a period of 15 minutes and 22 seconds of game clock. They outrebounded the Nuggets 24-15 while holding them to under 40% from the field. The Jazz utilized every weapon and play in their arsenal to take a 2-1 series lead while the Nuggets just sat around waiting for someone else to step up and carry the show.

In the crucial third quarter, the Denver Nuggets had one assist in the entire 12 minutes of play. Everyone tried to be the individual star of the show and didn’t realize they were part of an ensemble that was the reason for the entire show. It was this Real Housewives mentality that kept them from competing in this game.

This Denver team has been missing something all season long. For a while, I thought it was just another big man to bang with the big title contenders. But it looks to be much deeper than that. They’re missing a glue guy. Maybe that glue guy is actually George Karl or maybe it was Linas Kleiza. Whomever it was, you’ve now comprised a team of a bunch of characters and personalities that seem more worried about book deals, product sponsorships and spin-off programming when you really need a group of people who should be worried about being picked up for another season.