It helps to follow multiple sports. Â I download a ton of analytical ideas from baseball’s sabermetric community, which is admittedly light-years ahead of basketball’s analytical field.
One of the concepts that I’ve applied to basketball comes from Beyond the Box Score, a must-read site for basketball analysis that I’ve been digging for a couple years now. Â It’s their WAR graphs (seenÂ here) that have me and the rest of the sabermetric community going buck-wild. Â Today, FanGraphs, the infotastic site for advanced baseball stats, debuted their own adaptation of the BtB’s WAR graphs, allowing the reader to pick and choose their own players to compare.
What are WAR graphs? They compare player careers by charting their best seasons, as measured by Wins Above Replacement (WAR), in descending order to create a career arc. Â It tightly consolidates lots of information about a player’s career.
I’d like to present my own version of the WAR graphs that looks at the NBA. Â But instead of player careers, I’m looking at NBA Draft talent. Â You often hear about a draft class being particularly deep or top-heavy but do we ever follow up on that prognosis? Let’s do that now.
Here’s a BtB-type graph that looks at the talent level of each draft, as measured by EWA, John Hollinger’s WAR equivalent for the NBA.
That’s a colorful bowl of spaghetti, no? Â Each line represents a draft class distribution of talent from their best player (as measured by yearly EWA) down to the 30th best player. Â It’s probably information overload for some but we’ll shorten the invitation list later in the post. Â But let’s go through this one.
If you were to look up “top-heavy” in the dictionary, you’d either find a picture of Stewie Griffin or the 2003 draft class. Â LeBron James, Dwyane Wade, Carmelo Anthony, and Chris Bosh were all drafted in that year, not to mention players like David West, Kirk Hinrich, Josh Howard and Chris Kaman who were selected in 2003 as well. Â But after Bosh, the talent level drops off and flattens out around the 8th best player.
Looking for the deepest draft? That would be 1999’s draft class, represented by the hollow blue line. Â Elton Brand was the top overall pick in that year and also owns the highest yearly EWA among 1999 draftees, but his 13 yEWA doesn’t stand out among the other classes. Â You can see the blue hollow line nestled underneath the several classes on the far left. Â But listen to this roll call of talent: Shawn Marion, Manu Ginobili, Andre Miller, Jason Terry, Baron Davis, Andrei Kirilenko, Steve Francis, Lamar Odom, Rip Hamilton, Corey Maggette, and Ron Artest. Â That’s why you see the hollow blue line’s elbow out in the open at the 12th best player.
All that depth in 1999 drained the talent pool of the following class of 2000 in the hollow orange. Â Only one player (Michael Redd) averaged more than 5 yEWA in the NBA while the 1999 class featured 12 such players. Â 2000 not only had incredibly shallow depth at the top but it remained shallow throughout the draft. Â The twelfth best player of the 1999 draft by this measure is starting for the championship favorites this year (Ron Artest) while the twelfth best player in the 2000 draft is starting the NBA unemployment line (Speedy Claxton).
So these are the different shapes of the NBA draft. Â Want to ease the eyes and look at just the past 10 years of drafts?
Once again, the 2000 class does it’s best impression of the Jolly Green Giant. Â No difference in this trimmed graph. Â But now, we get a clearer look at the talent distribution of last year’s draft class. Â Blake Griffin’s return from injury and Ricky Rubio’s Western migration will probably pick this class up a bit down the road so it at least has an excuse for its shallow depth. Â As is, it’s probably too early to assess the class as a whole. Â We saw what a year’s grind did to Goran Dragic, Russell Westbrook, Robin Lopez, and George Hill. Â We’ll check back in next year.
What will 2010’s class look like? Â The experts suggest this year’s draft is filled with talent top-to-bottom. Â If that’s the case, you’ll probably see a talent distribution much like 2005 with John Wall taking the spot of Chris Paul. Â Notice the blue dotted line on the first graph and how it sits on top of the others. Â That’s what it looks like to have a widely dispersed talent pool.
For more in-depth draft stuff, check out the D.R.A.F.T. Initiative series I ran at ESPN Insider last year. Â You can find it on the ESPN NBA Draft frontpage at the bottom.
A brief overview in order of importance regarding what cost the Celtics Game 5:
- Magic shooting
- Poor defense
- J.J. Redick running pick and roll
- Dwight Howard killing everything in sight (including Kendrick Perkins for his quarter and a half)
- Ray Allen 3-11
- Paul Pierce 3-8
- Kevin Garnett 5-14 (!)
- Kendrick Perkins got ejected unfairly.
And he did, there’s little doubt about that. I went over the reasons Perkins got tagged for the second one at PBT (and if Eddie Rush did warn him, that technical should be upheld. If not, rescind that one too.). The first one’s gotta go, there’s just no excuse for it. I’m not as out of my mind livid about it because the fact that Boston has 18 technicals plays a part here. Should it? Should every instance be judged on its own context? Maybe. But let’s ask this question. If Derek Fisher continues his penchant for bodying up guards at the perimeter with the chest bump, you want the officials to notice that and adapt to that little work around, especially when he tries to draw the charge, right? Context does matter. And Perkins’ penchant for tantrums following a call, often ones that should not be that upsetting, has gotten him a reputation.That reputation comes with consequences. And as I told Celtics Hub, the Celtics play a bullying, brutish, physical style. That comes with consequences. Sometimes that means you’re going to bury a team into submission. And sometimes it means you’re not going to like the calls. But you cannot react to them like Perkins has done consistently. He pushed his luck, and it burned him.
I also think that people are overreacting a bit to the call without knowing what it was Perkins said to the official. “HE WALKED AWAY!’ does not really hold up if accounts like this (which are obviously dubious and uncomfirmed, but so is the argument he said nothing volatile) are accurate. I’m not saying Perkins said something about the officials mother, I’m saying we don’t know if he did or didn’t. We know his elbow slipped on the first one, so there’s ample cause to rescind that technical. Which means that last night’s ejection was unfair. Let me say that again.
Perkins should not have been ejected.
However, what’s causing me to tear my hair out today is the contention that it ended up mattering in this game.
Let’s look at the worst case scenario here. Perkins stays in the game, and then proceeds to do the following:
- Contain Howard, which he had not done for the quarter and a half he was in. Do you remember the earthquake dunks Howard was delivering in the first quarter that got the Magic going? Yeah, that was on Perkins. It’s definitely true that Kendrick Perkins has the ability to contain Dwight Howard. It’s also true that there are numerous games we can look to and say “Damn, Dwight Howard made Perkins his special friend.” Last night was on track for one of those nights. Howard actually had a better game before Perkins was ejected. He scored 8 of his 21 before Perkins was ejected. So 13 points with Perk ejected, Perk did a better job, right? Wrong. Calculate the hack-a-Dwight free throws and there was really no differential. So yes, it’s entirely possible that Perkins would have gone out in the second half and shut down Dwight Howard. It’s also just as likely that Howard would have killed him, killed him, killed him dead.
- Make the Celtics make shots. Somehow, I don’t see Perkins helping Ray Allen knock down more shots, or Kevin Garnett start draining big ones. Perkins doesn’t help much on the offensive end. He can get a few buckets, and had a very impressive hook on Howard. He does help on the offensive glass. All these things are true. But his impact on the offensive end was not going to make the difference in this game, and the Celtics, who had a terrible offensive efficiency (comparatively) of 105 (compared to how they’ve been gunning) were not going to turn that around because of him.
- Defend the perimeter. I get it. “PERKINS HANDLES DWIGHT WHICH MEANS WE DON’T DOUBLE AND THEN THE ROTATIONS ARE THERE!” Except most of the threes the Magic were taking were not the direct result of a Howard double team. It was Pick and Roll. And while Perkins is a good (not great) pick and roll defender, it’s the Celtics’ system that allows them to excel in those situations, and that system broke down because of slow rotations.
- Guard Jameer Nelson.Â Nelson wasn’t killing the Celtics inside. Perkins wasn’t going to allow them better defense on them. He just hit huge shots. Six of his points came off of 1. another long-bomb pull-up three that he’s hit three of in the last two games and 2. a transition PUJIT 3 because the Celtics failed to execute Hack-A-Dwight.
- Somehow make a 21 point game into a single possession game just for the Celtics to have a chance. Perkins has a huge impact on the team. He does a lot of things really well. He wasn’t going to help them win this game.
You know why? Things are regressing back to the mean. The Celtics have been flirting with the heavens during this little run of theirs and the invincibility star they ingested is wearing off and they’re starting to flash back to normal. The Magic were a 57.3% TS% team during the regular season. And in the first three games of this series they shot 49.8, 52.5, and48.7% TS. How much of that is Boston’s defense? The majority. Boston’s defense has been incredible, no denying that. I’ve said on this site, on PBT, on FanHouse, and on Sporting News Radio (which you can catch me on Saturday nights at 11:20PM EST with Larry Brown, I LIKE TO PLUG IT PLUG IT) that the is the best defense I’ve seen since the 08 run. But some of it is also the Magic missing looks. When those shots start to fall, things change. Part of that is the nature of the Magic’s system. Instead of going to something else, they just kept at it, and now those shots are opening up. It’s a grind, and the Celtics are getting tired of running off threes, of battling Howard, Lewis and Gortat for rebounds, and then trying to cover three rotations. The Magic are a good offense. This is just a regression to the mean. The Celtics are still more than capable of holding them under 54% TS%, which is a great job, and kind of the threshold needed to beat the Magic. But there are also going to be nights where the bounces go their way, the threes fall, they get some things going for them.
Offensively, against one of the league’s best defenses, the Celtics have really just kind of maintained. Outside of a few players (Sheed) they’re not really getting outlier performances. Their offensive efficiencies are all within range of their season average. They’re not overachieving. The Magic have underachieved until Game 4. Some of that is the Celtics letting the foot off the pedal. Some of it is the Magic just having a bad run of shots. But now we have the actual series, and if we throw out outliers, it’s a 2-1 Celtics lead in a best of five. Throw out a night where the Magic had several things go their way, and the one where things like Rasheed Wallace hitting a fadeaway three with a defender standing literally shoulder to shoulder with him happened, and you’ve got a 2-1 series lead for Boston and every reason to suspect they can get this done.
I have to wonder if this isn’t everything Orlando can throw at them. It’s a tentative balance, much more so than it was three days ago. The reason? The Big 3 are sputtering. When any combination of 2 of the Big 3 are hitting, you might as well go home. But last night Pierce struggled with the Magic’s physical play of him, Garnett’s head has been AWOL since the start of Game 4, and Allen, well, Allen’s got the best defender in this series on him like white on rice and is still hitting fairly regularly. The Magic have kickstarted the offense and as much as Celtics fans may not want to admit it, Rashard Lewis DOES look like he suddenly got healthier, playing with more energy and the focus on his release has been better.
I still like Boston to close in 6, because I think the Magic will simply fatigue and Rondo will get healthy. He’s a huge factor. When he’s dominating, the Celtics are dominating. He opens those shots up for the Big 3. When he’s hurt, the offense runs through Ray Allen, instead of culminating wit him. Pierce in ISO is a liability against this defense. That’s what it’s going to come down to. I can’t imagine this thing going from 3-0 to 3-3.
… Can you?
UPDATE: Alex Kennedy of Hoops Word reported the Celtics bench was warned just prior to Perk’s second T. The league should uphold that one. (HT: Trey)
I’ve seen this game too many times, and I’m sick of it already. You might as well keep it in your DVR for a while, and next year, when the Lakers go into a series up 2-1, just play this one back on repeat. If you didn't recognize tonight’s performance, I don't think you qualify as a Lakers fan, because this was vintage. Once again, the Lakers were put up against a dangerous and desperate team in a Game 4, and once again they were out-worked, out-muscled, and out-smarted by a team that had no business doing any of those things. Once again, they decided that 80% would be good enough, and the Houston Rockets er, Denver Nuggets um, Oklahoma City Thunder oh, Phoenix Suns made them pay for it.
The only point that anyone outside of the Phoenix locker room will believe the Suns can win this series is when the clock hits zero of a fourth Suns win. It’s not just the enormous disadvantages the Suns face that they’ve overcome in Games 3 & 4 or the remarkable number of things they need to go their way, but like SSR points out, we’ve seen it. The Suns need for something very unlikely to occur in order to win this series. In a game in LA, they need for things to go their way. The shots to fall for them but not for LA. The calls to go for them (and boy did they go for them in Phoenix) in Staples. And the zone to keep working. Dwyer mentioned that this series had a familiar feel to it, like the predictable horror movie that still scares you. But even with the win, there’s still that familiar feeling with it. The Lakers simply proved they still are who they always have been. The amazingly talented, brilliantly effective, world-class team that only chooses to execute when it absolutely has to, believes in its own hype, and lacks any sort of true killer instinct against good teams. And they can and will still win in spite of that.
The Lakers were foiled, not by a spectacular effort, or some extremely brilliant coaching adjustment. No, they were done in by a Zone defense and simple adjustments to their own overload defense. It’s the equivalent of seeing Will Hunting struggling with a brain teaser. I’m not dismissing Phoenix’s execution, instead, I’m here to tell you they can play better than they did in Game 4. The Suns only shot 37% from three. That can go up. Stoudemire can play better. Nash can take over. There is more they can do. They likely won’t, because that’s what homecourt advantage means. If it does, then we’ll really be looking at a different scenario.
Until then, this is simply another in a long line of examples for how the Lakers will continue to do just enough to get by. The Suns will do everything they can and execute at a high level until they’re outclassed.
But damn, is it fun to watch. At some point both defenses may crack, and we may actually see both offenses execute at full power. And that’s going to be like the world’s gone Nova.
Some more notes:
- While Dudley and Frye’s threes and Dragic’s sickness are going to get the majority of the credit, there needs to be a mention of Lou Amundson, who absolutely blistered on the rebounding edge. Amundson’s timing is perfect, and if the Lakers don’t provide all of it, they’ve got no shot against the ponytail.
- A good game for Bynum tonight, offensively. He was as focused in tonight as Odom wasn’t. His follow-ups are the kind of thing that Phoenix’s intensity and heart can’t match. If he can physically handle it, they should try letting him work a little more. Of course, his defense is taking years of Jackson’s life, so…
- Dragic. Seriously. Dragic.
- Bryant was amazing down the stretch. Not just the tough shots, he was working to create shots for his teammates. He really wanted to win that game. He was the only one. Again.
- Anyone else enjoying the Pau Gasol-Amar’e Matchup? That’s just good stuff on both sides.
- Channing Frye in Phoenix: Shannon Brown in LA and Channing Frye in LA: Shannon Brown in Phoenix.
- By the way, there are a lot of players with D-League time in this series. Farmar, Brown, Amundson, and technically Dwayne Jones and Taylor Griffin.
- Seriously, I get that the Lakers know how to do it anwyay, but with ten rings, you’d think a zone defense wouldn’t trip a guy up so much.
Goran Dragic did something fun.
He did this in Game 4 against the Los Angeles Lakers.
He did this in a game in which the Suns won to even up a series that was supposedly over.
He did this and made Robin Lopez lose control of himself like he was visited by the Holy Spirit in some mega-church along the Bible Belt.
Here’s the move. If you don’t think it’s impressive, are you wearing your white or purple Kobe jersey right now?
â€œItâ€™s definitely in it,â€ Carter said. â€œItâ€™s now or never. This is a very painful position to be in, being that this team is very capable.