Monthly Archives: January 2011

Of Mental Design

Danny Chau is the sole writer of Plantar Fasciitis, a contributor at Outside the NBA, and an owner of an incredibly distinct and powerful writing voice, even in these crowded days in the NBA blogosphere. We’re thrilled that he’ll be joining us over here at HP from time to time, and know that if you’re not familiar with Danny’s work already, you’ll surely come to appreciate his thoughts on the game as much as we do. -RM

On May 22, 1972, Saul Bellow spoke to an undergraduate class on “Contemporary American Novel” at Frank & Marshall College. He discussed the stylistic implications of his writing, such as his 1964 novel Herzog. “People don’t realize how much they are in the grip of ideas,” said Bellow. “We live among ideas much more than we live in nature.”

A bulk of Herzog‘s text derives from written letters from the main character, Moses Herzog. They are never sent out, and some are addressed to people he’s never met. He writes because he’s spurned the world he lives in: a world he doesn’t understand, and in turn, doesn’t understand him. He writes to put the complexity of his circumstance in perspective.

And considering the obstacles John Wall and his team have faced this season, it’s easy to imagine the young Wall picking up a similar pastime— finding something that can make sense of his injuries, his team, and the realities of the NBA. While he isn’t going through a midlife crisis —nor will he for a long, long, long time— his growing pains are intrinsically linked to his adjustment to the league and the toll that takes on a player’s body and mind.

It’s no secret that Wall has been nursing a few injuries, limiting his explosiveness and assertiveness on the court. What could have been a dazzling campaign thus far has been sullied by ailments of the knee and foot. He has all the physical gifts of the ideal point guard, but with a wounded body, he’s found it difficult to translate fully his mind’s commands. Shifting in different directions takes a split second longer, enough for a defender to react accordingly. A quick sprint down court becomes a stroll, as he slowly directs a woefully inefficient offensive team. The NBA life has introduced new challenges for Wall. The ability to manage injuries and play them out over a season has been chief among them.

For a young player placed at the helm of a wounded franchise, it must be frustrating to play at half-capacity in an act of preservation. For someone who has gone through the past few years being classified as a physical marvel, Wall has been forced to use his intelligence more than his athleticism. While it’s not something he’s used to, it hasn’t been an area of concern. Just listen to his post-game comments. He understands the game. He is fully cognizant of his gifts, but more importantly, of his shortcomings. His middling defense, especially on the pick and roll, is in large part due to his inexperience in dealing with league-caliber point guards. But he has time to learn personnel. He has time to work out the flaws in his jumper, and to make sounder decisions on both ends of the floor. Time, at this stage, is Wall’s greatest ally.

People’s lives are already filled with mental design of one sort or another. If you don’t have it yourself, your environment has it. If your environment hasn’t got it, your government has it.                                                                                                                                                                                                             – Saul Bellow

We know what we expect from Wall. We can only imagine what he expects of himself. It’s just tough to watch Wall grow so much in acumen all while playing without his awe-inspiring extra gear. It’s frustrating because it’s clear that the injuries have tampered with his aggressiveness. But he’s learning ways around these handicaps.  He’ll be better for it. There is a world of brilliance waiting for him once he gets his legs under him.

Though, it seems silly to discuss the problems of an NBA rookie point guard who is fifth in the NBA in assists with a touch over nine a game, the most of any rookie since Damon Stoudamire in 1995-96 (9.3 a game). It all seems silly when just a few days ago, Wall helped his young team top the big bad Boston Celtics in large part due to his late game heroics.

But our expectations are warranted. That’s just the type of talent we see in him. We’ve recreated the John Wall from his year at Kentucky in our minds, and infused the incredible playmaking ability he’s shown thus far in D.C. This John Wall has the ability to blast any defense to sand. This John Wall is getting into the paint at will and absorbing contact. This John Wall will show up very soon in the present, but in our minds, he’s already here.

Traversing through visions and ideas means overlooking reality at times. We are arrested by Wall’s potential —so much so that we’ve overlooked the incredible strides he’s made in his game since November. With another half of basketball to follow, Wall has time. Time to heal, to grow, to bring our salient visions to fruition.

Blake Griffin: Army of Great


(Apologies for the lateness. I had a thing.)

We’re doomed. I realize that now.

It was inevitable, really. We all wanted it. That player who would change things. The unstoppable force of nature. The nexus of violence, improvisation, tenacity, fearlessness, and fear-of-God-giving talent. And so we’ve been given him. Which is too bad, because there’s nothing to stop him from reigning fire down upon all of us.

“YOU GET A POSTER! AND YOU GET A POSTER! AND YOU GET A POSTER!”

There’s no stopping him now, of course. Now that he realizes what he can do. Now that he faced down LeBron. Kobe. Think about that. The team’s won 16 freaking games because they’re the GD Clippers and still, their hit list is impressive. Check it out.

Heat. Hornets. Lakers. Bulls. Knicks. Spurs. Suns.

He had eleven points versus the Nets and 24-14-6 against the Heat. The more we throw at him the stronger he becomes.

Moving past the hyperbole, we haven’t seen anything like this in the modern era. It hearkens back to glimpses of what we would have seen in Shaq’s rookie season. Or Kareem’s. No, literally. Except he has none of Shaq’s silly pompousness and need for attention, nor the aloof detachment of Kareem. He dunks on everyone, everyone, everyone, then stares them down. He’s unapologetically awesome, and in doing so, he’s the promise of greatness.

Great.

That word is what we hope for all those misbegotten freakshows who wind up as nothing more than “athletic” rotation guys who never really amount to everything. That they’ll put that athleticism to good use, work on developing some semblance of a repertoire and attack, attack, attack. And in the meantime, Griffin’s doing things which shouldn’t even be physically possible. Exhibit A:

THAT SHOT GOES IN, FOR GOD’S SAKE. What angle is that? Is it possible? Even if it was, how is it possible from a 21-year-old forward out of a post-spin in his first season when the entire defense is trying to stop, specifically him? HOW?

But wait! There’s more!

Again, with the insanity. He’s lifting off for a layup out of a driving post-spin by using Jeff Foster’s face as a launchpad. This isn’t reality. This is Blakeverse. He’s owning all of us. Clippers games are now must-watch. This is the organization employing Baron Davis, run by the worst owner in professional sports history, playing without their starting center, and yet people are staying up just to watch this… thing destroy everything in its path.

Zach touched on this the other day,  but the absurdity of this moment should not pass us by. Which is why I won’t resort to worrying about him breaking something as he goes splaying to the floor for the fortieth time. I’m not going to focus on his defense (which actually isn’t that bad if you trust Synergy Sports- 30% FG% in ISO, but 50% in the post), or his awareness or his jumper (how is he hitting threes with that shot?). I’m just going to enjoy this. And revel in the fear.

This is really too good to be true. And while there is part of me waiting for it to be pulled out from under me and another questioning what set of Basketball Gods would give Donald Sterling this revelation in the draft, it does no good. There’s a chance, no matter how slim, that we’ve stumbled on the next one-man Army of Great, and we’ll have to face that reality.

If you need me, I’ll be in the bunker.

Blake Griffin: Redemption for the reluctant

Probably my favorite show of all time is The Shield.

The Shield was a drama on FX for seven seasons in which Vic Mackey ran a special team of detectives who weren’t always on their oath-sworn side of the law. They dealt drugs, harbored fugitives, started gang wars, killed countless people and were always trying to create their own 401k of skimmed money and whatever pile of cash they could illegally get their hands on. Vic Mackey, the most crooked cop of the team and moral compass defacer, headed up the team.

Throughout the seven seasons of the show, the theme of redemption and the idea of making things right seemed to saturate the main characters. They always had a chance to steer to the right side of the law, clean up the streets in a legal way and stop pissing on the line they constantly stepped over. Sometimes the characters showed great contrition in the deeds they had done. And other times, Vic Mackey and his partners were beyond recalcitrant for the sake of being difficult as they figured out how to climb out of the latest hole they had dug for themselves.

Redemption presented itself constantly, and you often hoped they would stop breaking the law they were supposed to protect.

Blake Griffin is redemption.

Blake Griffin has taken over the NBA in a way we really haven’t seen since Vince Carter in 1999. Sure, LeBron James and Carmelo Anthony were being dubbed as the new Magic-Bird rivalry in 2003 and we’ve all seen the early hype from young stars like Derrick Rose, Kevin Durant, and Andrea Bargnani (just checking to see if you’re still paying attention). But when’s the last time a player was wowing us every time down the floor?

When was the last time we truly gave a damn about the Clippers? Have we ever truly given a damn about the Clippers? They’ve been the punch line to many NBA and owners hating brown people jokes over the years. And yet now they have people considering a playoff berth despite the fact the team started this season 5-21.

We haven’t seen this kind of star kick down the door for a little breaking and entering into America’s households since Vince Carter. Vince was the next big thing. Maybe we forced that title upon him when he was unwilling to embrace it, but regardless of his acceptance of where we wanted him in the history of the NBA folklore, it was his to own.

He played along early on in his career because it was probably pretty fun. He got the veteran versions of his peers who had seen it all before to drop their jaws to the floor and grab their ankles. He did spectacular feats we never knew were possible. He was THE reason to watch SportsCenter every night. He didn’t invent YouTube but he might as well have.

And yet, as his stardom grew to insane heights, his reluctance built itself into a nice little cocoon of discomfort. We begged him to be what we needed to fill Michael Jordan’s void. He grew complacent in his ability to care about what we needed him to care about. Time after time, Vince Carter was given a second, third, or eighth chance to be what we asked of him. Time after time, Vince Carter proved to hate trying to be what we desired.

Over a decade later, Vince Carter is being given his redemption by a locomotive from Dante’s Inferno.

Blake Griffin is an Absinthe hallucination.

Nothing he does is real. It’s all created in our minds and hearts through some inebriated state of fandom. He is the wet dream of Nielsen Ratings. If you were to create a player in NBA 2K11, you’d GameShark your way to an infinite amount of skill points and build the 250 lbs propulsion device that is Blake Griffin.

It’s not that he’s inventing the art of dunking or the concept of the highlight play. That was down decades ago. It’s that he’s doing these things with a ferocity that is both sexually gratifying and completely animalistic in its nature. He’s relentlessly violent in the way he attacks the rim. Cut him off from the dunk and he’ll just hang in the air until he finds the right angle for his shot.

Talking about his motor would often be as cliché as asking him to take things one game at a time and give 110%. But the guy works himself into complete exhaustion in a way that makes the Energizer Bunny want to throw down the drum set, put his feet up on the ottoman, and see if Lamar Odom is going to have an awkward conversation with whatever it is we’re calling “Bruce Jenner” on the newest Keeping Up With The Kardashians.

At 6’10” he has the handle of a mid-level exception earning combo guard. We’ve seen his jumper extend comfortably out to the 3-point line on occasion and his touch off the glass from 2 feet or 16 feet makes you all tingly inside. If LeBron James is what it would be like if Karl Malone was a point guard, then Blake Griffin is what it would be like if LeBron James decided to swallow his pride and become the power forward some of us have hoped he’ll want to be.

We’re getting to the point in which the absurd is becoming routine and each new stat line and performance is becoming preposterous. An oversized Adonis dribbling into the lane, spinning off his defender and gathering himself for a tomahawk dunk that would be a felony in 13 states is only mildly entertaining because I’m still thinking back to the time he checked Timofey Mozgov for lice before he literally threw the ball into the basket from up above.

It’s not all limericks and fuzzy navels with Blake. His defensive awareness is alarmingly out of touch and you’re always going to be afraid he’s one big fall from snapping into his knee ligaments like a Slim Jim. But don’t we worry about that with every budding high-flyer?

The Los Angeles Clippers finally have clout for the first time in their franchise’s history. There have been moments and seasons of becoming a breakthrough performer with this organization before but for the most part, they managed to ruin it for themselves in the most embarrassing of ways. Now, Blake Griffin is putting together one of the most impressive athletic ventures in the history of competition – making the Clippers a winner.

The exciting thing with Griffin is he has so much room to grow. I think he’ll become a good defender and shore up his game with more succinct, efficient ways of dominating all around the floor. But there is no guarantee he’ll ever be better than what he is now. The fun part is going to see him go from just getting by on raw instinct to letting his understanding of the league shape the next wave of highlights that crash over us.

Blake Griffin is not just becoming the most exciting part of an NBA that has a restored Lakers-Celtics rivalry adding to the history books and the conglomeration of superstars forming in groups of three to try to overtake them. He’s letting the disappointing and reluctant stars of NBA’s past off the hook for not living up to our expectations. He’s absolving the sins of those who haven’t met our anticipations.

Who knows where Blake Griffin takes us next.

I’m just excited I found a new favorite show.

Say hello to the bad guy and other movie villain clichés

“You either die a hero or live long enough to see yourself become the villain.”

That was the famous quote from “The Dark Knight” when the film made its one last philosophical push to wrap things up. It’s the idea that you will be loved if you die early so nobody can get tired of you always being around – throwing your talents in everybody’s face.

Basically, you’re better off being Kurt Cobain than LeBron James.

Except that quote is sort of a load of guano.

You know who tried to die a hero? Kevin Garnett. You know who got vilified anyway? Kevin Garnett.

Now, LeBron is embracing his villainous stature like he gets nourishment from eating babies, stomping on puppies and masturbating to I Hate Orphans Quarterly. We see the change right before our very eyes. It didn’t start with The Decision or whatever the hell he was doing during the 2010 playoffs against the Celtics. It began the night he went to Cleveland and tried to put out the inferno by using Chevron With Techron.

THAT was the moment in which we saw LeBron James decide to be the villain we’re seeing evolve in front of us on a nightly basis. I honestly believe he didn’t know what was going to happen the night he returned to Cleveland. I don’t think he knew he was going to destroy them until he stepped onto the court. Going back to the proverbial scene of the crime (I guess technically the Boys and Girls Club in Connecticut is the scene but you know what I mean here) had to have been intimidating on many levels.

What if someone took things too seriously and tried to do him bodily harm? Stick and stones may break my bones but I’m going to drop jumpers on you until you feel bad for burning my jersey. Once he stepped to the court and did his chalk toss in front of angry fans and an unimpressed Wally Szczerbiak, it was back to the normal routine. It brought out the killer in him.

Since then, LeBron has a more devious look in his eyes when he and the Heat are steamrolling teams. Wade feeds off of it a bit and Joel Anthony would too if he could catch it. But the growing malevolence emanating from him reminds me of the Evil from “The Fifth Element.” The more you attacked it; the stronger it got. And that’s been LeBron since he tore down the Q in Cleveland.

He’s enjoying the blowouts a bit more and there’s a mischievous aura around him while he’s doing it. Look at the way he won the game in Portland the other night:

For all ostensive purposes James’ bucket sealed Miami’s come-from-behind, 107-100 victory. Nonetheless, Blazer coach Nate McMillan called timeout.

But instead of following his team to the huddle, James walked to the other side of the court, his arms in the air beckoning and chiding the Portland fans who booed him on every touch since introductions. “You want to boo me?” James’ gestures seemed to say. “Well go right ahead and kiss my ass.”

In the postgame comments, he says, “I’ve kind of accepted this little villain role everyone has placed on me, and I’m okay with it.”

For once, the preening seems to be headed somewhere. It’s not him acting as we all accused him of doing for years. I always thought he was an entertainer first, and this so-called killer second. He wanted to make a gorillion dollars more than he wanted to win, or at least that’s what I assumed. But now, it appears as if he’s happy with where he is in society’s view and looking to be the bad guy. If the boos truly fuel him, then we’re headed for a transcendent era of basketball.

Nobody is more hated than LeBron James right now. People seem to have forgotten their contempt for Kobe and couldn’t care less if Mike Vick went all “Shocker” on a room full of Corgis. LeBron James broke up with his girlfriend on national television for the hot girl with implants and is now flaunting her in front of every camera that broadcasts back home.

I sort of love the fact that he slammed the Cavs during their darkest hour on Tuesday night.

Why shouldn’t he? Why should the villain be the mature one here? When did you ever see The Joker, Hans Gruber or the Jonas Brothers be the bigger person in a situation? Villains disturb people and they laugh at the misfortune of others. They enjoy the pain of others because that’s just some villainous type of shit to do.

LeBron didn’t live long enough to see himself become the villain. He just flat-out decided to do it. He embodied it like Heath Ledger’s version of the evil clown gone madder.

I wouldn’t be shocked if the Miami Heat’s way of bringing in veterans to round out the roster this summer was LeBron bringing them into a room, snapping a cue stick in half and telling them it was their audition for the team with just one spot to fill. I want to see this from LeBron.

Somewhere along the line, sports became so personal and everyone forgot it was just entertainment. It was an escape into a competitive world that quenched our ancestral thirst for gladiator blood. I want the best player in the world to turn heel and give us a sideshow of epic proportions.

Thank you, LeBron, for becoming this character. Whether it will end up working in your favor or not is beside the point. I don’t really care if you win. I’m just happy you’re doing it.

Forget being the hero. Look into your next victim’s eyes and ask them, “Why so serious?”

It makes for a better story.

UPDATE: LeBron has backtracked on this tweet:

@TheAkronHammer: LeBron on “The Tweet”: “It was someone who sent it to me and I sent it out.”

Way to make yourself look like a wuss again, LeBron. I guess you’re still about image over being a “killer.”

Boundary and Nexus: Maximizing Inefficiency

Image via Flickr

It’s a well known fact: the long 2 is the least efficient shot in basketball. 

The reasoning is quite simple, really. The further you are from the basket, the harder it is to make shots. And since by going further than the long 2 range you gain an extra point for every shot, long 2s are the furthest, low scoring attempts in basketball. 

This (correct) notion has become ingrained in our analytical DNA. Sure, the long jumper is impressive when it goes in, but no basketball fan in their right mind would rather see Lebron James settle for a foot-on-the-arc fadeaway when you know that he can take it to the rim at will. 

However, there is more to basketball than just “long 2s bad, close 2s and open 3s better” (yup, that was an Animal Farm reference. Because at HP we are dedicated to bringing you both snot-nosed, self righteous, social-critiquing literature, and zombie movies). Long 2s are shot, and often, whether it’s because the players that shoot them know they can make them, want to keep defenses honest, or are just plain lazy. But how damaging are they anyway? 

Lets start by taking it back a few steps, and numerically conforming the statistical inferiority of the long 2. With the help of the life-altering Hoopdata.com, here is a table of the league average eFG% for different shooting ranges as far as Hoopdata’s records go (the 2006-2007 season), and the averages over the entire stretch (since the current season is just midway, I weighted the results under the assumption that the average NBA team has played 34.7 games this season, as was true of January 7th). 

The results: 

 

The number that jumps off the page is that the percentages for the 10-15 foot “in-between” range were not only in the same area of the 16-23 foot range, but actually worse for 4 of the last 5 seasons and over the entire 5 year stretch. However, that figure becomes much less surprising when you look at the figure right next to it – the % of made shots that were assisted. This makes sense – although we very often see shots from that range taken in ISO situations, you see plenty of spot ups from just inside the arc, and very few spot ups from 10 to 15. And in general, it’s much easier to make shots when your body is all lined up and a passer hits you than when you have to create on your own. 

In addition, shots from in between are usually tougher makes. Many of them are either of the floater variety (hello Derrick Rose) or come off the mid-range post game (hello Kobe Bryant). But Roses and Kobes are few, and these shots tend to be harder to make, especially since they are taken closer to the shot-altering reaches of various big men. So while I didn’t expect the two ranges to be similar percentage-wise, it does seem to fit in with general convention – in a vacuum, you’d rather be open from 13 feet than from 18 feet, but how you get there and how you’re being guarded is a factor. 

Moving on from the percentages, we reach the amount of field goals attempted from each range. Interestingly enough, there has been a baffling drop in attempts at the rim in 2010-2011 – 4.5 less a game. However, the corresponding, nearly matching jump in shots from 10 feet in (up 4 shots a game) makes me think that shot locations may be counted differently this season in contrast to years past, thus creating the difference. I may be wrong with this assumption, but since it’s not our topic of focus, we’ll keep it at 2-bit conjuncture levels. 

In what is our topic of focus, though, the “shots attempted” numbers are quite odd as well. The average NBA team since 2006 attempts 20.9 long 2s a game, which accounts for 26% of all shots. This exceeds the amount of shots from every other range except at the rim. Remember, this is the widely acknowledged least efficient shot in basketball. Are teams just stupid? Or is there more to this? 

Allow me to toss out two theories as to why this is the case. First of all, the evolution of the sweet shooting big men – initially just known as Euros, then acquiring the ever descriptive name “stretch 4s”, has surely helped in this regard. While some of these gigantic sweet-strokers make their hay behind the three point line, a substantial amount of them score their points off the 20 foot range. Guys like Dirk Nowitzki, Kevin Garnett, Chris Bosh, The Artist Formerly Known As Rashard Lewis and David West have made multiple all-star teams behind the premise that their high point of release combined with their shooting prowess makes them efficient from the non-efficient range. Nowitzki, specifically, is probably the best long 2 shooter in recent history, making a ridiculous 53% from 16 to 23 feet this season (by far his best since in Hoopdata’s records and unlikely to sustain but still darn impressive) while taking 43% of his shots from that range. 

The list of big men shooters goes on and on. Amar’e Stoudemire has been more than just a dunker for years now. Al Horford seemingly can’t miss a long jumper. Pau Gasol, Lamarcus Aldridge, Luis Scola, Kevin Love. All good shooters. In today’s NBA, even if you’re big, you need to make that shot. With so many more players capable of making the shot, it makes sense that more players take them, even if it’s not as efficient as getting to the line or spotting up a bit further back for an extra point. 

Another reason could be the annoying-but-ever-present pick up mentality that a swished jumper is more impressive than banging into your defender for two freebies. What’s more memorable, those Kobe jumpers that don’t even touch the net as they account for 2 more on the scoreboard, or when he fools his defender into fouling him on a 3 point shot that was never intended to go near the rim? Players want to show they can make those shots, so they attempt a disproportionate amount of them, even if their strengths lie elsewhere. Just look at Allen Iverson’s career. 

Of course, this still doesn’t excuse teams from focusing way too much on the least effective way to score points. While nobody would make the argument that good teams shouldn’t shoot long 2s at all – if you’re got a good shooter and you’re open, then by all means, knock it down – the stark contrast to conventional wisdom presented by these numbers makes one wonder. Do better teams try to lessen their long 2 attempts? Conversely, do they try to bump it up a few notches for their opponents? Does this even affect them? 

In order to answer these questions, I once again turned to last season’s shot location data per team (last season and not this season for the larger sample size). I plotted the percentage of shots each team took from from 16 to 23 feet (looking at the percentage of shots and not the total amount of shots from each range in order to adjust for pace) versus each team’s offensive efficiency, in order to measure just how damaging the “worst shot in basketball” is anyway. 

 

This graph clearly shows us that there is some kind of relationship between the relative amount of long 2s a team takes; however, this relationship is far from conclusive. As we can see, the scatter on this graph is fairly large, and the correlation between the two variables is only 0.0768 (running on a scale of 0 to 1, where 1 is a perfect relationship, and 0 being a Tony Allen-O.J. Mayo relationship), which means that many other variables have far stronger effects on offensive efficiency. However, some kind of effect is there, even if it’s minimal. 

Look at the two extremes on the chart, and you see exactly the teams you’d expect to find: Orlando took the least long 2s in the league by far, right on par with Stan Van Gundy’s “Dwight inside or everybody else from 3” strategy, taking it to second in the league in offensive efficiency; meanwhile, if you watched the Chicago Bulls last year, you know that Vinny Del Negro “coached” his team into an offense full of long jumpers and void of any offensive movement, resulting in the highest percentage of long 2s in the league and the 28thranked offense. Right on their heels were the Washington Wizards, who spent the season featuring notorious gunners; early on, Gilbert Arenas and Caron Butler were the ones taking your contested long shots, only for the likes of Andray Blatche, Nick Young and Al Thornton to take over the inefficiency load once the two former all-stars left the team via suspension or trade. 

As for some outliers, the iso-heavy yet offensively efficient Hawks and Blazers expectedly broke the trend, ranking 9th and 4th in percentage of long 2s, and 3rd and 7th in offensive efficiency, respectively. The Bosh-led Raptors also efficiently built around long jumpers, ranking 6thon both accounts. Underperformers were just as familiar, with a cluster of offensively terrible squads such as the Bobcats, Bucks, Pacers and Clippers appearing far below the trendline, with 09-10 laughingstocks New Jersey and Minnesota falling even further. All these 6 clubs were around the league average as far as taking long 2s, but were so atrocious elsewhere that it dragged them towards the lower regions of our graph. 

So good teams tend to take less long 2s, but it’s not a necessity for a good offense. How about good defenses? Do they corner opponents into long jumpers? We go for the same exercise, only with shots given up and defensive efficiency. 

The defensive graph seems to very easily break into three groups. The elite defensive teams of 2010-2011 – those in the 100 to 102 points per 100 possessions range – seem to have been all over the place as far as giving up long 2s. On one end we have the Magic, who seem to employ the same defensive strategy as they have on offense – have Dwight take care of the inside, everybody else close out strong on 3 point shooters, and thus force opponents to take plenty of 2 point shots from too far away. This plot ranked them 3rd as far as long 2s conceded. On the other side we have the Thunder, whose opponents were 3rd from the shallow end, presumably due to a lack of a true physical presence inside to deter opponents from stepping out for their 2 pointers. 

Looking past that elite group, we have an Atlanta-Portland-Dallas-Utah-Chicago clump, whose defensive efficiency ranges from 102.6 to 104 (ranked 10th to 14th), and whose opponents take long 2s 24.4% to 25.3% of the time. It’s hard to note any effect long 2s have on this particular group, since they are all very similar. 

The third group is the most interesting one as far as our research, and it shows the what pretty evenly breaks into the bottom half of the league defensively. In this region, there seems to be a pretty direct effect. In fact, the correlation for just this part of the chart was 0.381, by far stronger than that of the offensive graph. When we add the top 14 defensive squads, the correlation drops to 0.1019. In fact, if you take another glance at the trendline, it really does look as if it was tailor made for the top half of the graph before the evenly distributed bottom came and dragged it down in it’s original shape. 

The difference between top and bottom is very odd, and I find no explanation for it, seeing how there is no reason why something should only affect bad defenses and immediately stop mattering once you creep up to number 14. As such, we can probably dismiss it as a fluke, leaving a message very similar to that of the offensive graph: channeling your opponent to the inefficient long 2 gives you a better chance of being a good defensive team, but you can just as easily be a great one without it. There are many ways to skin a cat, this just happens to be an effective one. 

To get a good look at the complete effect of long 2s, I combined the two graphs by plotting differentials – offensive minus defensive. Since this is basically combining the two previous graphs, we shouldn’t be surprised that the results are pretty similar. The Magic again were stalwarts, with the absolute best differential in both categories, proving both that they strategically avoid the inefficient shooting range while funneling their opponents towards it, and that they are extremely successful in doing so. 

 

The conclusions here may seem trivial. However, they have analytical value. We know that long 2s are bad shots, but this gives us two seemingly conflicted truths: that it is generally smart to reduce those shots for yourself while encouraging your opponent to take them; and that is more than possible to fail while doing so, or succeed without it. While the long 2 is often considered to be inefficiency incarnate, it is not a death knell. It can be manipulated and molded into a prosperous ordeal.

The NBA Alphabetical: January 10th, 2011

Sometimes, innovation is cool. Other times, it’s better to steal ideas. This is an “other time.” The NBA Alphabetical is based on Orson Swindle’s consistently amazing College Football Alphabetical and reviews 26 recent NBA stories.

A is for Amar’e’s Return

Steve Nash has watched a torrent of players come and go over the past few years. And Amar’e Stoudemire was clearly the best of the bunch that parted ways with Nash and Phoenix.

For years, fans and analysts had questioned how much of Amar’e’s game was predicated on Nash’s creativity. Through 35 games, we’re rapidly learning the answer- STAT is pretty damn good on his own. Stoudemire’s Offensive Rating (points produced per 100 possessions) has dropped to 109 from the 117 he posted from 2008-2010, but he’s also taken on a larger scoring burden. And even though he’s being assisted on just 49% of his shots this year (61% last year with Nash), he’s managed to keep his eFG% relatively steady.

It’s almost stunning to see the opposite directions Stoudemire and the Suns have gone since parting ways, but maybe this was to be expected.

B is for Booray

This card game has taken the NBA world by storm in recent years, and I’m sure a large number of readers are unacquainted with its rules. Being a booray aficionado myself, I thought I’d explain the rules of the game via a simple flow chart:

PROTIP: The richer you are, the more likely you are to call it “bourré.” (Up until the Ironic Hipster line of course (estimated at $700,000 earnings per calendar year).

C is for Clutch

82games.com released its latest “clutch play” data this week.

As Rob Mahoney wrote for the NYT blog this week, Dirk Nowitzki ranks among the league’s most unguardable players, while some surprises (like Charlotte’s Ty Thomas) make the list.

Derrick Rose’s MVP Prospects

They do not exist, and this Bleacher Report article “Chicago Bulls: Why There NBA Title Hopes Are Legit” is hilarious.

Yeah, yeah, B/R, Lowest Common Denominator, etc. Let me ask you this: you laugh at Reggie Miller, don’t ya? DON’T YA?

E is for Efficiency

There are few players in the NBA as efficient as Kevin Martin. He perennially ranks among the league’s top free throw shooters (including a ridiculous 10.3 FTA per game with Sacramento in 2008-2009).

His game on January 5th against Portland was a case of Martin simply outdoing himself. Martin scored 45 points on just 8 shots, converting 13 of his 15 free throw attempts and knocking down 6 of his 8 threes. Effective field goal percentage and true shooting percentage really put it into perspective. Martin posted an 89% eFG percentage and a 91.5% (!!) true shooting percentage and averaged 1.56 points per possession for the game.

F is for FIT

It was FIT week in the NBA these past few days. The new team warmups (FIT emblazoned across the fronts) looked a bit ugly, but obviously, promoting fitness nationally is a great cause. Multiple NBA teams, including Kevin Durant’s Thunder, ran campaigns for kids.

G is for Granger’s Availability

It hasn’t been a great year for Danny Granger. He’s posting career lows in floor percentages, turnover rates, rebound rates, and overall offensive efficiency (ORtg).

This week, Marc Stein reported that Granger is no longer an “untouchable” asset for Indiana. The Pacers are still on pace to make the playoffs in the East, but Granger could have as big an impact on this year’s postseason with another team as Andre Iguodala or Carmelo Anthony. Provided, of course, his lack of form is temporary.

H is for Hideous

Donald Sterling is a hideous human being. This week:

“Players Sam Cassell, Elton Brand, and Corey Maggette complained that [Sterling] would bring women into the locker room after games, while the players were showering, and make comments such as, ‘Look at those beautiful black bodies.’

Just… ugh.

I is for Illusory

The story of Ted Williams is awesome for so many different reasons. The primary one is obviously that a homeless man begging for money on the side of a street could now be an announcer for an NBA team.

For me though, the disconnect between his appearance and his voice is the best part. The first time I saw the video, I could have sworn it was edited. But, obviously, it wasn’t. Williams mentioned in a later interview that he was inspired to develop his voice when, as a kid, he saw how wildly disparate a local radio personality’s voice and appearance were. And that’s so true. Every time I see an announcing duo on the screen on NBA League Pass, it comes as a jolt. “Wait, those were the guys that were talking this whole time?”

So best of luck to Mr. Williams.

J is for Jesus Misses

Ray Allen is as close to automatic as it gets in this league. Sure, he’s missed three or more free throws multiple times in a game before. But you never expect him to miss at the end of the game, let alone miss twice. That’s exactly what happened in Boston’s marquee matchup with the Spurs.

As Glen Davis said after the game, “I would’ve put my whole salary that he made at least one. I would’ve been in trouble.”

K is for Knee Operations

We’ve seen many players flame out with knee conditions recently (and even Kobe Bryant noted this week that his knee was “almost” bone on bone). Brandon Roy, apparently, will be trying a solution no player has attempted yet.

The Portland Tribune reports that Roy will explore the possibility of getting a meniscus transplantation. No active professional player has ever had the procedure, and Roy’s case could be a landmark moment in terms of the way NBA players deal with and recover from knee injuries.

L is for Lockout’s Draft Impact

Andrew Luck passed up a chance to be the NFL’s #1 overall pick on Thursday, opting to return to Stanford. As Tom Ziller wrote for SBNation on Friday, the NBA could very well see a similar scenario unfold.

With a potential lockout looming, any player drafted in the 2011 Draft may have to sit for an entire year before earning a single NBA paycheck. It’s clear why the alternative option- staying in college, remaining in the spotlight, and getting paid MOST DEFINITELY NOT GETTING PAID EVER- is so attractive.

At this point, I’m not sure of what to make of Jared Dudley’s cryptic tweet on Wedensday either.

M is for Mark’s Diss

Mark Cuban’s random insult thrown Phil Jackson’s way (“I love that Jeanie Buss’ boy toy had something to say about us. It’s nice to know she lets him speak in public about other teams”) wasn’t particularly surprising. We’ve seen him be childish and immature in the past, and we’ll see it again the future.

The surprise was the maturity of Jackson’s response- “I love it. I’m a boy toy? That’s terrific.”

N is for Not On My Watch

Carmelo Anthony’s move to the New Jersey Nets appears to get closer by the day. In its latest incarnation, 17 different players would be moving. But one of those players- Chauncey Billups- remains staunchly opposed to going anywhere.

Billups has long maintained that he’d like to be a part of the rebuilding process in Denver and finish his career there. It’s a rare sentiment in this day and age. And it’ll be intriguing indeed if Billups’ refusal to play for the Nets ultimately breaks up the deal as it’s currently constructed.

O is for Odom’s Reality Show

Take it away… Khloe Kardashian.

Ok dolls, it’s official! Lamar and I will soon begin filming our very own show on E! called Khloe & Lamar! WOOOOHOOOOOOOO! How exciting is this?! It’s been an option since we got married, but we wanted to enjoy our first year in private. With Keeping Up with the Kardashians, only a very small part of our life together is shown, but with this show, we’re putting it ALL out there LOL. Rob will play a major role in this too since he lives with us. He’s basically like our son LOL. With the three of us living together, it’s honestly like a sitcom. Trust me, there will be a lot of laughs.

Lamar and I could not be more thrilled about this. It’s show time baby!!!!

Yep. Hope you’re ready. Dolls.

P is for Propitious

Doc Rivers became the 4th all time winningest coach in Boston Celtics history last week. It prompted various Boston journalists to wax poetic about Rivers’ coaching prowess, his legacy, and his Hall of Fame credentials.

And it’s fascinating. In late November of 2004, Rivers was fired as the head coach of Orlando. His team was floundering with just 1 win in eleven games. Though he won Coach of the Year in his first season (1999-2000) by leading a team picked to finish last to a 41-41 record, none of his other seasons were particularly remarkable.

Under Chuck Daly, the Magic were a strong defensive team but a poor offensive one. Over Rivers’ five plus seasons in Orlando, the Magic defense steadily regressed. By the time of his departure, it was clearly an offensive team (that wasn’t very good).

Rivers joined the Celtics in 2004. From 2004-2007, Boston won 45, 33, and 24 games respectively. Rivers wasn’t exactly provided with the league’s best talent, but that doesn’t mean he had no critics either. Of course, that summer, the Big 3 came together. Importantly, Tom Thibodeau joined Rivers’ staff. The Celtics went on to post the league’s strongest defense (never considered one of Rivers’ strong suits throughout his career) and won the NBA Finals.

How much of Boston’s success do we credit to Rivers? There’s really no correct answer. Thibodeau’s impact has to be mentioned, especially since his new team in Chicago is among the NBA’s elite defenses this year. But there’s also something to be said about managing a collection of talent like the one Boston put together. And which coach has ever won without elite talent?

I don’t mean to criticize Rivers as much as I want to point out how circumstantial coaching success can be.

Q is for Quatorvirate

Or a body of four.

Blake Griffin, Serge Ibaka, Brandon Jennings, and Javale McGee are the four players that have been named to the dunk contest thus far. Griffin is the presumptive favorite; Ibaka’s dunks are largely of the more-impressive-in-game variety, McGee can get up but may be at a judging disadvantage due to his height, and, as my friend pointed out this week, Brandon Jennings’ shoe commercial has him performing a layup (and he’s coming off injury obviously).

It would have been nice to see LeBron James participate, and perhaps if Griffin wasn’t a part of the field, he would have.

R is for Rising

I was never a fan of Jrue Holiday. I thought he came out too early from college, I didn’t think he was worth the hype, and I didn’t think he’d amount to much.

This year, he’s proving me (and all the doubters) wrong. In outdueling John Wall last week, Holiday merely continued a great sophomore campaign. He’s doubled the rate at which he gets to the free throw line, he’s increased his assist rate by more than 7%, decreased his turnover rate by 5%, and continues to develop into an elite defender at the point guard position. And he doesn’t turn 21 until June.

S is for San Jose?

Larry Ellison confirmed last week that he attempted to buy the New Orleans Hornets but was rebuffed.

Two main takeaways:

(1)  Ellison is clearly undeterred after his failed bid for the Warriors. He’s rich, San Jose is a great market despite the presence of the nearby Warriors, and he mentioned that he’d be willing to pay relocation fees and reimbursement/market encroachment costs to the new Warrior owners. Ellison probably won’t be going away any time soon as a potential NBA owner.

(2)  Marc J. Spears wrote this week that Ellison was willing to meet Hornets owner George Shinn’s demands, but Shinn attempted to negotiate with Gary Chouest (who was offering less) because he was convinced that Ellison would try to move the team away from New Orleans. And thus, the love-hate-(love?)-HATE relationship between Shinn and his two NBA cities continues.

T is for The Showcase

It didn’t technically happen in the last two weeks, but the D-League Showcase begins today.

Each of the 16 D-League teams will play two games over the next four days at the South Padre Island Convention Center in Texas, with numerous NBA scouts expected to be in attendance. NBA teams were recently allowed to begin signing players to 10-day contracts, and as the linked article notes, eight D-League players received call-ups immediately following the 2010 Showcase. Er, sorry. Eight D-League players received GATORADE call-ups.

U is for Unemployment

As Kurt Helin pointed out at NBC’s Pro Basketball Talk this week, a number of players were waived in the past week.

Multiple players were given deals that only became guaranteed in January this year, so in a way, it does make sense. But some of the cut players were either playing with some regularity (Ime Udoka, Rodney Carney) or could definitely have helped their respective teams (Damien Wilkins).

V is for Van Gundy Cries Out!

Last Tuesday was National “I’m Not Going to Take It Any More Day,” and considering the circumstances, that’s quite appropriate.

Stan Van Gundy’s lack of patience with the national media’s insistence on attributing every Dwight Howard shot ever to a few hours spent with Hakeem Olajuwon is understandable. And Van Gundy’s “outburst” is another reminder as to why he’s one of the league’s most entertaining coaches. How many coaches go on the record like that on an issue that doesn’t really matter? Van Gundy wanted to get that off his mind and so he did.

W is for Weathering the Storm

Two weeks ago, the Dallas Mavericks lost Caron Butler for the season. Since losing Dirk Nowitzki for a recent stretch, the Mavs have been in a tailspin, dropping 5 of 7 games.

Many have noted that if any team could weather the loss of second-tier stars (like Butler), it would be Dallas. They’re deep, and they’re disciplined defensively. But that said, if Dallas is indeed going to preserve a high Western Conference seed, they’ll need some of that depth to step up a little bit more. Jose Juan Barea has been shooting awfully from the field. With Tyson Chandler’s promotion to full-time starter, Brendan Haywood has been one of the league’s worst backup bigs. Jason Kidd is posting another bad turnover rate, his worst three point percentage  since 2003, and his worst rebounding season since 1996. Even the reliable Jason Terry has a sub .500 eFG% for the first time in eight years.

Dallas is deep, but that depth exists in theory more than in practice right now.

X is for x

A.k.a. the roman numeral for 10. Billy King had the following to say this week:

“I don’t think Brook is ever going to be a 10-rebound guy. Some guys have a knack for it. Some guys don’t.”

First of all, it’s humorous to me that a GM would measure a player’s rebounding ability by his raw rebounds per game figure. And second, it’s obvious that King isn’t very well versed in Lopez’ background.

As a rookie in 2008-2009, Lopez posted a 10.6% offensive rebound rate, a 21.2% defensive rebound rate, and a 15.8% defensive rebound rate. If he’d gotten the minutes he did in his sophomore year during his rookie season, he’d have finished very close to the 10 boards a night mark. Lopez has regressed badly this year on the glass, but the potential was clearly there. It’s crazy to overlook how good he was on the glass just two years ago (and Lopez wasn’t terrible last year either). King was likely trying to take the pressure off Lopez, but his quote shouldn’t inspire much confidence in Nets fans.

Y is for Yikes

The Cleveland Cavaliers are bad. They shoot terribly, they don’t get to the line, they don’t rebound their own misses. They allow high shooting percentages, and they don’t force turnovers. Overall, they’ve got the league’s second worst offense and its 5th worst defense. It’s clear that their early season start was illusory. With Anderson Varejao ruled out for the season, that start could very well have saved them from “worst team ever” talk.

Z is for Zydrunas’ (and Joel Anthony’s, Juwan Howard’s, etc, etc) Replacement

Udonis Haslem was always going to be a critical component of the Miami Heat championship puzzle. The Heat look to have adequate shooting around their big 3 (especially with the return of Mike Miller), and so their biggest flaw remains their post defense and rebounding.

Haslem could reportedly return as soon as “late March” according to the AP. For anyone that’s seen the Heat play basketball over the past month, that’s scary.

Wide open spaces

There’s an old saying that states, “A cluttered house is a sign of a cluttered mind.”

It makes sense too. You can be suffocated by the lack of space around you or by all of your possessions. If you’re able to roam freely physically, then you’re probably able to be completely aware of the space around you. Instead of worrying about moving around objects, your mind is left open for better awareness in many aspects of your life.

A perfect sports example of this is the early success of Kurt Warner when he took over the Fastest Show on Turf in St. Louis. Before he was the greatest undrafted player in NFL history, Kurt Warner was tearing up the Arena Football League as a speed-junky type of surgeon, picking apart defenses in a very compact environment.

The Arena Football League’s field is extremely small compared to the NFL dimensions. The AFL field is 85 feet wide and 200 feet long. It’s essentially the size of a hockey rink (thanks, Wikipedia!). To be a great quarterback in such close quarters is pretty impressive because you would assume the defense is everywhere at all time. When Warner finally got his real chance at the NFL, he was now looking at a field that is 160 feet wide and 320 feet long.

It wasn’t so much that Warner had a longer field to work with in throwing the ball; he now had so much room from side-to-side to operate. A wider field meant incredible freedom in how he approached the passing game. You could wait a little longer on crossing routes. Swing passes out of the backfield were now much more fruitful. The defense wasn’t making him so claustrophobic.

Opening the field of play visually for someone with the instincts of Kurt Warner is just like playing off of Rajon Rondo because he’s a bad shooter. The playing off Rondo strategy drives me insane. People (Derrick Rose fans) want to discount Rajon Rondo’s production because he’s playing with Hall of Famers and personally, I think that’s a crock of excrement.

Want to know why Rajon Rondo is putting up impressive assist numbers over the last two seasons? Because teams are giving him an NFL field to work with on the NBA court. Everybody knows Rajon Rondo is a poor outside shooter. Sure, you can point out that it’s improved and he once hit a bunch of 3s in a H-O-R-S-E competition and when the sun isn’t in his eyes he’s actually pretty good as long as the wind isn’t blowing. Let’s face reality though; in an NBA game, Rajon Rondo can’t shoot.

You know who else knows that Rajon isn’t a good shooter? Rajon Rondo. He knows it’s a low percentage shot for him to just take the bait and pull up for a jumper. If he does that to bail the defense out instead of attacking and setting up his teammates than he’s failed as a point guard. If Rondo needed to be a scorer, he could do it. He could take jumpers in games until he was comfortable enough with it. He could drive to the basket with ease and get the ball to the backboard instead of looking for a cutter or spot-up shooter.

Instead, Rondo shows patience out there and instead of trying to show how much of a man he is by shooting the ball, he’s point guarding the hell out of the defense by using the space given to him as a head start.

Normally, playing off of someone helps you protect against the drive. But with athletic aberrations like Rajon, Derrick Rose and Russell Westbrook, you’re giving the quickest players in the world a head start to attack you. By the time they’ve made up the six feet you’re giving them, they’re at full speed and you’re backpedaling awkwardly as a defender.

Not only do you give Rondo a head start by playing so far off of him but you’re also giving him all the passing angles he could ever want. You’re not going to prevent him from driving by playing up on him. He’s very good with the ball and probably quicker than you. But by playing up on Rondo, you’d be making him turn his body to protect the ball and cut down a lot of his vision on the court.

Unfortunately for the Celtics opponents, they’d much rather play lazy conventional basketball wisdom instead of adjusting to the new age of players and abilities. Rondo never has to look out of the corner of his eye to find an open teammate. He gets to stand squared up to the basket, keeping his dribble and patience alive while waiting for the play to develop. Meanwhile, his opponent is too far away to actually affect a pass unless it’s coming right at him.

When you see Chris Paul get a bunch of steals, do you see him picking off passes a couple yards away from his defensive assignment or do you see him pestering his opponent a couple inches away and reading the guy’s eyes? He’s picking off passes right off the passer’s hand instead of trying to guess correctly on playing the passing lane. Why wouldn’t teams attempt this with Rondo?

Instead, Rajon is being allowed to do his Kurt Warner impersonation. He has a gigantic field in front of him to work with, while he out-waits you. His crossing patterns get extended. His swing passes are unmolested. The defense is nowhere to be found bothering him.

The only thing cluttering up Rajon Rondo’s mind right now are his increasingly astounding assists numbers. And it’s all due to the fact he doesn’t have a house cluttered with defensive pressure in front of him.