Monthly Archives: January 2013

JaVale McGee’s Unquenchable Thirst

Gallo For 3 - via JaVale McGee's Instagram

Gallo For 3 – via JaVale McGee’s Instagram

It is no secret that JaVale McGee is a joy to watch.

A constant fixture on ‘Shaqtin A Fool’, JaVale is just the king of doing ridiculous things on and off the basketball court. There is no need to list the JaVale anecdotes, highlights and lowlights, the man is just pure comedy.

Even when he is not playing I find myself watching him on the bench as his celebrations are Robert Sacre-lite. Last night he did not disappoint, exploding with joy after a Danilo Galinari three:

As great as that late game celebration was, something else about JaVale caught my eye much earlier, the gallon of water under his seat.

JaVale jug

On Tuesday, McGee tweeted out a picture of a plastic gallon of water which was marked in hour increments starting at 10 AM and ending at 10 PM:

[blackbirdpie url="https://twitter.com/JaValeMcGee34/status/296298637825306625"]

jug

In typical hilarious JaVale fashion, the picture and corresponding tweet didn’t have any background information except now we know JaVale was planning on a drinking a gallon of water starting at 10 AM and ending at 10PM. Apparently, McGee has been keeping on schedule as he brought the gallon of water with him to last night’s Nuggets/Rockets game and even drank from it during the game (focus on McGee on Denver’s bench starting at the 1:08 mark until the 1:11 mark):

http://youtu.be/bIRcxM8__2o?t=1m8s

Has McGee not been hydrating properly all year? He has been out the last couple of games because of a shin injury, but a quick look at WebMD shows that drinking water doesn’t really aid in the healing process. Drinking more water in general can often be attributed to a healthier lifestyle so perhaps this is what McGee, a frequent Chipotle eater, is doing.

There are probably dozens of other questions that we can think of on why JaVale is drinking a gallon of water, even during games, but why bother, this is just another noteworthy mark on the career of JaVale McGee.

Kevin’s Summer Project: Part 7, A Metric for Defense

i-31

What’s a pic of this guy doing in an article on defense? Not sure, but I’ll try to justify it.

Time to switch focus to defense.  This presented the tricky task of finding a catch-all defensive stat without major flaws.

Steals, Blocks, Defensive Rebounds, and their associated rates all prove too simplistic and skew towards various positions.

Defensive Rating over credits team defense; i.e. the poorest defenders on the elite defensive teams typically rate as superior to the best players on the lesser teams.  This ruled out the defensive win shares built from it.

Opponent’s PER can provide cover to players where their team hides them on defense; when Ben Gordon rated as an elite shooting guard, it seemed non-worthwhile proceeding there.

On-Court / Off-Court numbers fluctuate based on a player’s back-up as well as the quality of teammates and opponents…they do build the foundation for where I headed though.

Adjusted plus minus (APM) intrigued me since becoming aware of it; the number attains a sensibly complex simplicity for evaluating players.  Many things happen on a basketball court that are not capably measured in a box score; in order to ascertain who contributes to victory best, why not run a massive regression with every player as a variable and every line-up matchup as an equation?  Unfortunately, quick online searches only find APM data appearing from 2006 – 2007 to the present, and the numbers are not split into offense and defense.  Also, the numbers are statistically noisy over sample sizes even as large as one season.

Occasionally throughout the 2012 – 2013 Pro Basketball Prospectus, regularized adjusted plus minus (RAPM) gained mention, most notably as it related to leading the field in a group of other stats-based projection systems during the 2011 – 2012 season.  Given my mild inclination towards APM, I was intrigued.  Scrolling through the vast wall of numbers available here, the defensive data matched my understanding of individual performance better than anything else prior.  I became a big fan, developed a number that met the needs of this project, and now we will wander into the murky world of plus-minus stats.

If you just want to know which players rated best at defense, skip the next few paragraphs.  If you want to read about an arbitrary creation of a defensive metric…carry on.  The number derived can loosely be defined as “points stopped compared to a 30-win player”.  Thirty wins became my threshold, which equates to 36.6% wins.  From there, with “A” equal to the NBA’s average offensive rating for a season, I solved the equation:

0.366 = R^14 / (A^14 + R^14), where “R” equals the 30-win player (this equation format is common to calculating expected win percentages, while using a team’s defensive and offensive ratings).

The “R” was always 4 to 4.2 points less than “A”, which when halved, accounted for the defensive value of the “30 win player”.  So, a “30 win player” allowed two more points per 100 possessions than an average player.  With 2 as an example “R” value, the “points stopped compared to a 30-win player” calculates as:

Total Possessions / 200 * (Defensive RAPM per 100 Possessions + 2)

With all of that said, the point of this series is not to advocate for a defensive metric.  Basically, this number gives players credit for the quality of their defense, but also for how much they played.  This was important, as the Offensive Win Shares provided similar context, and in both cases I was trying to avoid overvaluing players that were great at one end, but couldn’t get on the court because of their atrocities at the other.  Finally, the number was primarily contrived so that the vast majority of players provided positive values, but that some small percentage offered negative results.  This is also similar to OWS, with approximately 15% of the players rating sub-zero.  Finally, the rating does not compare players solely to their position, but instead a composite 30-win player.

So, take that for what you will; the defensive parts of this series build upon it.  The obtained results generally matched universal understanding of who played strong or weak defense.  When surprises arose, I reached out to my fellow bloggers for confirmation or refutation (Special thanks to Hickory High, 3 Shades of Blue, The Two Man Game, Queen City Hoops, The Brooklyn Game, Daily Thunder, and Warriors World).  The definite majority provided a response along the lines of “Sure, that’s a reasonable enough result.”

At the end of the analysis and correspondence, I decided the number performed satisfactorily enough to write about.

Today, I will not delve into the relevance of draft measurements as it relates to defense.  Instead, this article ends with three “All Kevin’s Summer Project Defensive Teams” and a little discussion about one surprise.  From that, your opinion of using RAPM may grow or fade.  Remember, these only represent seasons meeting the following screens:

  • Drafted from 2000 to 2010
  • First four seasons post-draft
  • Only includes the 2000 – 2001 through 2010 – 2011 seasons.
  • Player was from NCAA or a High School Kid (pre-2004)
  • That participated in pre-draft measurement combines

Per position, the most quantitatively productive defensive seasons revealed by this study were:

First Team

PG – Chris Paul, 2008 – 2009, 194 points better than a 30-win player.

SG – Dwyane Wade, 2005 – 2006, 158 points better.

SF – Andre Iguodala, 2007 – 2008, 250 points better.

PF – Josh Smith, 2007 – 2008, 393 points better.

C – Dwight Howard, 2007 – 2008, 438 points better

Second Team

PG – Mike Conley, 2010 – 2011, 127 points better than a 30-win player

SG – Ronnie Brewer, 2008 – 2009, 138 points better

SF – Kevin Durant, 2009 – 2010, 248 points better

PF – Josh Smith, 2006 – 2007, 262 points better

C – Dwight Howard, 2006 – 2007, 365 points better

Third Team

PG – Kirk Hinrich, 2005 – 2006, 121 points better than a 30-win player

SG – Monta Ellis, 2008 – 2009, 121 points better

SF – Andre Iguodala, 2005 – 2006, 232 points better

PF – Chris Bosh, 2004 – 2005, 259 points better

C – Jason Collins, 2004 – 2005, 359 points better

Generally speaking, these results met expectations.  Monta Ellis serves as the primary ‘red flag’.  This lead to three conclusions.  First, as expected, the guards offered the least impressive defensive seasons.  Much of the group did not ascert themselves strongly here during the early years of their career.  The tenth-best season was only 80 points better than ”30 win player”, or less than one point per NBA game.  Players qualitatively much better than Monta Ellis, lacked in quantity; one season, Tony Allen provided 94 points of benefit in 2600 defensive possessions, compared to Ellis’s total in 6400 .  Per possession, in his “best” defensive seasons, Ellis was near average; he benefits from playing a lot.

This leads to conclusion number two.   I need to adjust for pace.  Golden State easily played faster than every other team in 2006 – 2007.  While my method avoids over-valuing players that rarely found the court over four seasons (but managed to produce a highly efficient 300 minute campaign), it allows guys whose teams played at blistering speed to benefit.  Factoring for pace, 2007 – 2008 Ronnie Brewer sneaks into the third shooting guard spot, supplanting Ellis (note to hardwoord paroxysm: I have some re-work to do…could be three weeks again).

Finally, Monta’s good defensive seasons were the final two years of his rookie contract.  RAPM considered him a “30 win defender” his rookie season.  In his second and third campaigns, when he earned $660 and $770,000, his defense rated better, at nearly league average per possession.  As soon as the ink dried on his 6 year, $66 million extension, the credit received from RAPM dropped towards “30 win defender” status again; whether this exact scenario actually occurred, at least it is a narrative I can believe.  Playing for a contract happens, right?

It’s time to wrap this up.  To my knowledge, a perfect defensive catch-all does not exist; RAPM work bests.  With some minor modifications, I developed a number that meets this Series’ needs.  Come back next time, for an assessment of which pre-draft measurements most impacted point guard defense.

Diary of a Thrilled Raptors Fan

The Toronto Raptors acquired Rudy Gay as the centerpiece of a three player deal, a deal which could change the career paths for multiple players. The Pistons get a playmaking veteran in Jose Calderon who should help mold their team into a future contender considering that Detroit is loaded with young talent (Brandon Knight, Andre Drummond, and Greg Monroe). The Grizzles unloaded a tough to manage contract and filled the void with a high potential front liner in Ed Davis and a strong defender in Tayshaun Prince. That being said, no team improved from this trade (now or down the road) as much as the Raptors. Why do I say this? Here is what I expect from the four Raptors I expect to start 2013-2014 alongside Gay.

Kyle Lowry – He has spent the first half of this season adjusting to life as part of a point guard by committee (a role he never seemed comfortable with) and was averaging fewer than 28 minutes a game. With Calderon out of town, the now supremely athletic Raptors are putting all of their eggs in the Lowry basket. The 26 year old has moved from team to team over his seven year NBA career, but his second season with each team in the past (Memphis and Houston) has been considerably better than his first. In his second season in Memphis (2007-2008) Lowry saw his per game scoring increase by 71.4%, his assist rate increase by 12.5%, his shot total increase by 89.5%, and his shooting percentage increase by 17.4% over his first season as a member of the Grizzles. In his second consecutive season in Houston (2010-2011) Lowry saw his per game scoring increase by 48.4%, his assist rate increase by 48.9%, his shot total increase by 58.8%, and his shooting percentage increase by 7.4% over his first season as a member of the Rockets. All of those increases were based on Lowry’s ability to get comfortable in a system and were never the product of bringing in a potentially franchise altering player. It would be reasonable to expect a statistically superior 2013-2014 season from Lowry based simply on his past, but with a significantly increased role and a much improved roster at his disposal, we could be looking at an All Star level season sooner rather than later (think Jrue Holiday type growth).

Lowry

DeMar DeRozan – Critics will question the Raptors adding a Gay to play next DeRozan, as they are two players with a seemingly similar style on the offensive end. While it is true that both prefer to slash to the rim, that doesn’t mean that an offense won’t be successful with both of them on the court at once. With one of them positioned on each wing defenses will be to pack the paint, surrendering the midrange jump shot. While Gay and DeRozan are recognized for their work at the rim, both are consistent threats from as far as 15 feet out (DeRozan shot 49.6% and Gay 52.7% from 15 feet or closer last season). Defenses couldn’t stop DeRozan from getting to the rim when he was the primary scoring option and now as the secondary option he should benefit from seeing weaker defenders and rotating defenses as opposed to defenses that are positioned with the sole intent to prevent DeRozan from scoring. His assist totals have increased every season thus far; a trend I expect to continue in what will be an explosive offense. A common misconception about DD is that he is a one dimensional player who needs always needs the ball, but I contend that he was only that over the past 3+ seasons because he had to be. Don’t forget that DeRozan is only 23 years of age and has very similar numbers to the 26 year old Gay this year.

DeRozan

Andre Bargnani – My feeling toward the 27 year old Italian have completely changed as a result of this deal. Prior to the deal, I didn’t like a finesse center who takes over 29% of his shots from behind the three point line for a team that struggled to get consistent production in the paint. But with the addition of Gay and the increased workload of an aggressive point guard, I don’t mind the idea of the floor stretcher being a seven footer. In fact, he could create some serious matchup problems for teams who have a “true” center. A shot swatting big man is going to have a hard time keeping up with Bargnani on the perimeter and (more importantly) won’t be planted at the rim waiting for Gay/DeRozan/Ross/Anderson. With an abundance of explosive athletes, a player who can worry defenses from the perimeter is crucial, and the fact that he is the starting center provides the Raptors with a unique wrinkle. He averages 1.4 3PM for his career and if defenses decide to pack the paint against the 2013-2014 Raptors, it could very well result in a new career high for 3PM for Bargnani (121 is the number to beat). Bargnani has never been a force on the defensive end, but the athleticism of the other projected starters/rotation players should help mask that flaw to an extent.

Amir Johnson – The final piece of every good team is a player who will do the dirty work, and with Ed Davis no longer being groomed as the PF for years to come, Johnson should fill that role nicely. He has the ability to score in an efficient manner (a 57.9% career shooter from the field), but his value to next year’s Raptors team will come on the defensive end. Over his career, Johnson is averaging one rebound every 3.79 minutes played, a ratio that is nearly identical to Al Horford’s number this season (3.77). The Raptors have been looking for a nasty interior presence since Antonio Davis (2000-2001) led the team to it’s only ever playoff series victory. Johnson’s strengths fit what I expect to be the primary deficiency of this offensively gifted core of athletes, making him the perfect fifth starter to what could be the best Raptor team we have ever seen.

How do you feel about the Raptors acquisition of Rudy Gay? Tweet me (@unSOPable23) what you think, I’d love to hear what your thoughts on the first domino to fall as we approach the 2013 trade deadline. Again, from a Raptors perspective, I believe every individual involved won in a big way. Jose Calderon will accelerate the youth movement that is quietly taking place in Detroit and Ed Davis couldn’t ask for a better mentoring duo than what he will have in Memphis. But I like the Raptors to emerge as the short and long term “winner” from this deal due to athleticism and youth (average age of my starting five is currently 25.4 years old).

Rudy the Raptor: RTOE

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The Memphis Grizzles, Toronto Raptors and Detroit Pistons made a three-team deal that will send Rudy Gay and Hamed Haddadi to Toronto, Ed Davis, Tayshaun Prince, Austin Daye and a second round draft pick (from Toronto) to Memphis and Jose Calderon to Detroit. This is a pretty massive shakeup with pretty massive implications. Questions? Answers. Featuring Noam Schiller, Sean Highkin, Brian Schroeder, Amin Vafa, Kyle Soppe, Derek James, and myself. 

1. What do you think about this deal for the Grizzlies? Did they give up their last shot at a playoff run for salary cap reasons, or can they still make a go of it with the pieces they picked up?

Jared Dubin: If they were resigned to dealing Gay during the season, which it appears they were, this is a really nice deal. They save a boatload of money (somewhere around $25-30 million over the next two and a half seasons), which allows them to keep their Conley-Randolph-Gasol core together for a few more playoff runs. They pick up a nice piece for the future in Ed Davis, who can really learn a lot from both Randolph and Gasol while giving them solid minutes in the front court. And they replace Gay with a better defender in Prince (who should fit right into Memphis’ grit n’ grind ethos), who can also shoot and create a little bit. Add in a flyer on Austin Daye and a second rounder, and I think it’s a pretty clear win.

That said, they’re breaking up the chemistry of one of the most fun, tight-knit teams in the league. Rudy may not be a perfect player, but he was a big part of The Grindhouse for the last few years. You can see just in the way Tony Allen and Conley reacted to the deal on Twitter; they’re not happy he’s leaving. In dealing Gay, Memphis also really only has one off the dribble creator left on the roster now (Conley), and that’s a problem for a team that already has trouble scoring. More than ever, they’ll be depending on Gasol and Randolph in the post and Conley’s play in pick-and-rolls.

It’s a potentially delicate situation, but they’re still going to defend at an elite level, and if Prince, along with more minutes for Quincy Pondexter, Jerryd Bayless and Tony Wroten open up the floor a bit, they’ll be fine. They got good value here.

Noam Schiller: My biggest concern is that the 2010-2013 Grizzlies as we knew them were more dependent on chemistry since, oddly, Prince’s 2004 Championship Pistons, and messing with that could be a messy thing. However… Tayshaun Prince gives them a desperately needed long range shooter who can sop minutes at the 3 without compromising the defense, Ed Davis is a nice young big who will give them depth right away and might blossom into something more, and Austin Daye will either provide gravy by making threes or leave at the end of the year. I think this solidifies Memphis as the 4th best team in the West, glancing upwards.

Sean Highkin: I would have preferred it if the Grizzlies had waited to move Gay until this offseason, but if they were dead set on doing it now, I like this deal a lot. Prince is clearly worse than Gay, but he’s still a solid defender and it’s a good fit culturally. Plus, they got a nice young piece in Ed Davis, who will help make Zach Randolph more expendable whenever the time comes to trade him.

Brian Schroeder: I like this deal for the Grizzlies, but I don’t love it. I don’t think anyone really thought they’d be challenging for a title with Rudy Gay, but I’m not sure what they got in return is an improvement. Austin Daye might be able to help, considering he’s not playing like one of the worst players in the NBA this season.

Amin Vafa: HOW COULD YOU EVER TRADE HADDADI?

Kyle Soppe: The Grizzles aren’t as talented after the trade, but they are still a contender thanks to their front line. Swapping Prince for Gay will hurt them offensively this year, but Memphis was never a team built on their offensive prowess. The Grizzles are now the equivalent to an NFL team that relies heavily on its run game (points in the paint) and defense, and we’ve seen those type of teams do just fine. I’m not picking them to win the West, but it wouldn’t surprise me if they maintained their position as the 4/5 seed, won their opening playoff series, and gave an “elite” team (Spurs, Thunder, Clippers) all they wanted in the second round.

Derek James: I think they found away to strike a deal that helped them both shed some salary ($25-$30m, as Jared said.) and still stay competitive. Since they brought in the young pieces in Davis and Daye, it may limit their ceiling in the short-term, but gained some long-term flexibility as well as some, *gulp*, potential down the road, too.

2. What do you think about this deal for the Raptors? Is Gay a good enough centerpiece to justify what they gave up? How should they deal with their now very crowded wing rotation?

Jared Dubin: It really depends on what they plan to do with Gay. Is he going to play strictly the 3, where their rotation is already crowded? Is he going to play some small-ball 4? Gay’s not a franchise centerpiece you can add to your lineup and just automatically contend, but he can be incredibly useful if put into a position to succeed. Something like a Lowry-Ross-DeRozan-Gay-Valanciunas lineup sounds really intriguing to me.

All that said, they’re clearly not done building this team yet. Andrea Bargnani is likely out the door whenever they can find a willing suitor, and presumably there will be some answers within the wing rotation as well. Whether or not Bryan Colangelo is the right guy to finish building the roster is another story, but it’s hard to really judge this deal until we see what Toronto does next.

Noam Schiller: Ugh. This is gross. Calderon had to go, because Kyle Lowry is better and Dwane Casey wasn’t acknowledging it; that said, did it really have to come in a deal that costs one of Toronto’s best young players in Davis and compromises the minutes and touches of two others in DeMar DeRozan and Terrence Ross? Apologies to Hamed Haddadi, but the Raptors are still sorely lacking inside, depend on a combination of Lowry and inefficient wings to create their offense, and – incredibly – are in line to pay the luxury tax next season (at least until the inevitable Linas Kleiza amnesty).

Sean Highkin: I have mixed feelings about how the Raptors did here. On the plus side, trading Calderon puts an end to their point-guard tensions, as well as the idea that they were talking about trading Kyle Lowry instead of him, which was just insanity. But on the downside, Gay and DeRozan seem pretty redundant to me, and Bryan Colangelo is committing almost $30 million per year to the two of them…while they have Terrence Ross on a rookie contract. I’ll be interested to see how a Lowry/Ross/DeRozan/Gay/Valanciunas lineup looks when Jonas comes back, but this feels like a lateral move for Toronto.

Brian Schroeder: On the other hand, I’m not sure I understand the rationale behind this for Toronto. They’re supplementing the poor contract of DeMar DeRozan with another less than ideal contract, and for a player who’s ultimately an evolutionary version of DeMar. I understand Gay and Lowry are close, and it’ll certainly clear things up in the point guard rotation, but I feel like they could have gotten a big man in exchange for Jose (Haddadi aside, more on that later).

Amin Vafa: WHY WOULD YOU EVER TRADE HADDADI?

Kyle Soppe: As a Raptors fan, I very much welcome this move. Toronto is a team that rarely makes the big move, so from a PR perspective alone, this move was a step in the right direction. As far as an on the court impact, the Raptors are now loaded with athleticism, which isn’t a bad problem to have. Kyle Lowry (26 years old) is a legitimate point guard of the future, while the front line is loaded with upside. Is it a little crowded? Sure. But athletic wing players are always in demand, so it sets them up to potentially make another move. Even if they can’t make another move, I believe a healthy Lowry/Bargnani can spread the floor enough to make a Gay/DeRozan/Ross effective. As a realist, I don’t think this move allows Toronto to sneak into the playoffs this season, but their first playoff berth since 2008 seems likely next season.

Derek James: It’s not the worst thing that they gave up what they did for Gay since they weren’t going to win a title or anything, anyway. Still, I want to know just how far they think a core of Jonas-Lowry-Gay-DeRozan will take them. I mean, it could still get them to the fringe of the playoffs or as a surprise low seed, but they won’t get far with it. It kinda seems like Bryan Colangelo just built a bridge to mediocre town.

3. What do you think about this deal for the Pistons? Can Jose Calderon give them a playoff push at the surprisingly wide open bottom of the East? How will he impact Andre Drummond’s development?

Jared Dubin: If Lawrence Frank doesn’t start Calderon, move Brandon Knight to the bench to fulfill has manifest destiny as a scoring guard, and unleash Andre Drummond to run screen-and-roll after screen-and-roll with Jose, I give up on him forever.

Noam Schiller: I really like this for Detroit. The guard rotation makes much more sense now – Brandon Knight can start off ball, Rodney Stuckey gets his pre-destined 3rd guard role, and Will Bynum can be unleashed whenever he’s feeling it and hidden in a glass jar for emergencies when not. And the alley-oops – oh lord, the alley-oops! I’m excited about this Pistons team now, even if their small forward rotation might legitimately feature Corey Maggette.

Sean Highkin: This trade is a huge win for the Pistons. They got out of Prince’s contract (which I never understood them giving him in the first place), and they got the best available pick-and-roll partner for Andre Drummond. I wonder if they can find a taker for Jason Maxiell in the next three weeks, just to force Lawrence Frank’s hand in playing the Monroe/Drummond duo.

Brian Schroeder: The Pistons did nothing but improve with this trade. They’re more than a factor in the East playoff race (such as it is), and Jose Calderon will only help players like Drummond, Jerebko (who’s now a small forward, as he always should have been) and Monroe. Brandon Knight is probably not an ideal point guard, but playing next to Calderon, maybe in a bench role? He’s going to be very useful.

Amin Vafa: HOW COULD YOU PLAY HAMED HADDADI LIKE THAT, JOHN HOLLINGER?

Kyle Soppe: I like the move as far as the franchise is concerned, but I do not think they can wriggle their way into postseason play this year. The Pistons would need to jump over Boston/Philly and hold of the Raptors to make the postseason, and with only half of a season remaining, that is a lot to ask from a team that currently sits at 17-28. That being said, the addition of Calderon is a perfect fit for the current Pistons squad. His elite decision making (at one point he had 45 assists without a turnover during a six game stretch) should help the development of Brandon Knight (who had 31 points and 0 assists on Sunday) and Andre Drummond. The Pistons are a strong team of young talent, and the veteran point guard should fit in nicely. The other teams probably received more NBA talent, but the Pistons made a savvy move here, and will reap the benefits via accelerated player development.

Derek James: I like Calderon and what he can potentially bring. I imagine that with Brandon Knight also on the roster this means a lot more off-guard for Rodney Stuckey, but gives them another player capable of handling the ball at any given time. This also likely benefits Greg Monroe’s development, not just Drummond’s. A good point just makes all of his teammates better.

4. Which of the three teams is the biggest winner? Biggest loser?

Jared Dubin: Memphis is the clear winner, turning Gay into huge cap savings and a potential stud in Davis, while not getting much worse – if at all – in the short term by flipping Calderon for Prince and the other pieces. Toronto’s the big loser until we see what they do next, and with their crowded cap situation (they owe nearly $45 million to Gay, DeRozan, Landry Fields and Amir Johnson in 2014-15), they may be the loser no matter what they do anyway.

Noam Schiller: The Grizzlies. They’re deeper, slightly more balanced (though they still lack a second perimeter creator), and should have ample room to re-sign Tony Allen in the summer without venturing back into the luxury tax. I’m shocked that they pulled this off. As for the Raptors… sigh.

Sean Highkin: Detroit is the biggest winner, from the standpoint of finally cutting ties with the last remaining member of the ’04 title team and committing to a fresh start. The Rajon Rondo injury means the Celtics’ playoff spot is up for grabs, and this trade sends a clear message that the Pistons are going all-in for it. Toronto is the biggest loser, because even though Gay is a great talent who gets a bad rap for his contract, their wing rotation (and payroll) is kind of clogged now. I’d feel better about it if they were looking into shopping DeRozan elsewhere, but that doesn’t seem to be the case right now.

Brian Schroeder: I have to agree with Detroit being the biggest winner, clearing out the last vestiges of the “dynasty” team and getting younger in the process. Tayshaun was an institution there, but it was becoming painfully apparent that Joe Dumars thought he was a lot better than he was. Also, Jose Calderon is really good.

Amin Vafa: THIS BETTER NOT MESS UP HADDADI’S VISA STATUS. IT WOULD NOT BE COOL IF HE HAD TO GO BACK TO IRAN.

Kyle Soppe: I’ll show some faith in the Raptors organization and say they figure out how to maximize the production they receiver from their abundance of  athletic swingmen. I think they are the only team who clearly increased their talent level, thus making them the best bet to “win” this trade. Of course, the Grizzles cut salary, which has long term value, but for this season, the Raptors gained the most. As far as a loser is concerned, I don’t believe there is one. The Pistons added a veteran who will help improve their young pieces and Memphis shed a contract that they had to. This is the rare 3 team deal that filled needs for everyone involved without changing their 2012-2013 outlook a whole lot.

Derek James: In order I like this most for Memphis, Detroit, and then Toronto. I’m not crazy about it now for the Raptors, but we’ll see how this plays out and if they make other moves, like Bargs.

5. Which player is the biggest winner in the deal? Biggest loser?

Jared Dubin: Drummond is the big winner. Seriously, just let the dude pick-and-rolls with Calderon til he drops dead. Big loser in the short term is Ed Davis, who goes from finally getting a starting gig to a war for the 3rd/4th spots in Memphis’ big man rotation. Long term, he gets to learn from ZBo and Gasol and be on what looks like a playoff team for at least the next few seasons, though, and that ain’t too bad. I guess Rudy Gay loses too, as he goes from Memphis to an afterthought Toronto squad.

Noam Schiller: I love this for Drummond. If you want to see the impact Calderon can have on a young big, look no further than Ed Davis, whose final Raptor half-season was a study case in just how dangerous an athletic big can be if he gets the ball where he can use it. Biggest loser is Terrence Ross, who just started getting consistent minutes and is now stuck behind a max-player who must be given everything he desires lest the franchise be exposed as a laughingstock.

Sean Highkin: Kyle Lowry is the clear winner of this trade. He doesn’t have to come off the bench anymore, and he’s probably off the trade block now. I’m not sure how thrilled Gay can be about going from Memphis, where he had a clear role without much competition, to Toronto, where there are two other athletic, shooting wings who are starting-caliber.

Brian Schroeder: Kyle Lowry, Jose Calderon and Austin Daye are all winners here, but I’m going to throw out Hamed Haddadi as a beneficiary. His per 36 numbers (11.8 points, 12.6 rebounds, 3.1 blocks for his career) are solid, and his lack of athleticism hardly a detriment on a team that plays Aaron Gray. Haddadi might be able to carve out something more than a garbage role for the Raptors. They could certainly use it. As for a loser? I have to go with Ed Davis, who went from a potential star in Toronto to a bench fixture in Memphis. I’m sure he won’t mind winning a few more games with his new team, but he’s now hovering around Derrick Favors territory, which is hardly the best position for a developing big man to find himself in

Amin Vafa: Seriously, though, I hope Haddadi does stick in Toronto. Great city for an Iranian immigrant to North America.

Kyle Soppe: Kyle Lowry. He not only gets the backcourt in Toronto all to himself, he gets an improved front line to work with. If he can stay healthy, Lowry at 26 years of age could develop into an All Star caliber player sooner rather than later.

Derek James: I kinda wanna say Calderon, but I could see him embattled in another PG controversy down the road if Brandon Knight develops. Really, this is a good opportunity to bring Ed Davis along in a good lockerroom and also further his development. Ugh. That sounded like the “mentor” thing.

Correlation Between NetRtg and Quarter

What quarter deserves the most attention when trying to draw a link between NetRtg (points scored per 100 possessions minus points allowed per 100 possessions) and winning? What does it take to be number one?

In each season, beginning with the 2007-2008 campaign, the most linked quarterly Rtg (offensive or defensive) was the first quarter. A poor DefRtg in the first 12 minutes resulted in the highest Loss Correlation in each of the past five seasons.

Also, fans like to obsess over the fourth quarter scoring (How often have you heard, “Kobe is the most clutch player of all time” or early in his career “LeBron freezes up down the stretch and couldn’t finish a game is his life depended on it”?), but is that really all that important? The average Win Correlation for OffRtg (how directly tied the game result is to the number of points scored per 100 possessions) is lower in the fourth quarter than the average of quarters one through three in every single season since 2007. This stat indicates that the offensive efficiency prior to the fourth quarter is consistently more crucial to winning that what a team does in the final 12 minutes.

In fact, if you’re still going to look at the fourth quarter as the most crucial of quarters, you’re better off looking at the defensive efficiency. In three of the five seasons studied, the average Loss Correlation for DefRtg was higher in the fourth quarter than the average of the first three quarters three times.

When analyzing the data from the past five seasons, it becomes obvious that games are won in the early going, as opposed to the final few minutes. Success is ultimately determined by victories and the wins leader (Lakers with 277) has the greatest cumulative first quarter NetRtg (48.2) over the last five seasons. Coincidence? I think not.

The total number of wins by the quarterly NetRtg leader decreases as you progress through the game. But this trend isn’t only true for the elite teams, it holds true for the NBA as a whole. The top 17 teams in terms of wins over the last five seasons are the exact same 17 teams that lead the way in cumulative first quarter NetRtg. Here is a look at how each team stacked up in total wins and cumulative NetRtg by quarter since 2007.

Win Chart

 

Top 10

 

Middle 10

 

Bottom 10

Further disproving the myth of fourth quarter efficiency and its overall importance is the overall trend of the top teams in NetRtg and the bottom teams in NetRtg . Now, one must acknowledge the fact that blowouts do play a role in the late game data and not the early game stats, but with five years of games (394 games per team), the vast majority of games are competitive throughout. Even during a game which has for all intensive purposes been decided with considerable time left on the clock, both teams will turn to their reserves, thus not skewing the data a whole lot. Take a glance at the trend of the best team/worst team in terms of cumulative NetRtg by quarter.

First Place

NetRtg Last Place

As you can see, the worst team in the league (in terms of cumulative NetRtg) improves as the game progresses while the best team gets worse. The gap from the best team to the worst team shrinks from 94.5 in the first quarter to 59.4 in the fourth stanza, a 37.1% drop off.

With all of this data surrounding the fact that the best team excels early in the game, it would only follow that the best player in the world would be associated with a similar trend. Since 2008-2009, no player has won more games than LeBron James (231) and his teams have dominated in the first quarter. In the last four seasons, James’ team has had a first quarter cumulative NetRtg of 47.5, far and away tops in the league. While his fourth quarter efficiency is still very good (27.2) in those seasons, that represents a 42.7% downward trend.

 LeBron James Pie

 If your gut feeling is to blame that disparity on James’ slow developing “clutch gene”, consider that Kobe Bryant’s Lakers (the most successful franchise over the last five seasons) have seen their cumulative NetRtg drop by 72% from the first to the fourth quarter.

Kobe Bryant Pie

 What could this trend of production early in games tell us about the future?

Since the 2007-2008 season the East has gradually improved and finally overtook the West as the better conference when it comes to playoff teams. The 2007-2008 Eastern Conference playoff teams (Celtics, Pistons, Magic, Cavs, Wizards, Raptors, 76ers, Hawks) had an average NetRtg of 3.2, with four teams logging a negative NetRtg. It was a top heavy conference, as the top three seeds had the highest NetRtg’s in the NBA. The Western Conference, however, had the next eight highest NetRtg totals from its playoff teams (Lakers, Hornets, Spurs, Jazz, Rockets, Suns, Mavs, Nuggets) and averaged a far superior 5.84 NetRtg.

Since that point in time, however, the Eastern playoff teams have cut into that gap until finally passing their Western counterparts last season. Despite a minor regression in 2009-2010, the East teams have gained ground on the West in average NetRtg (trailed by 2.64 in 2007-2008, by 0.68 in 2008-2009, 0.87 in 2009-2010, by 0.37 in 2010-2011) before finally breaking through with a higher NetRtg by 1.24 last season. Instead of being a top heavy conference, the East boasted five of the top seven playoff teams in total NetRtg.

Production in the first half of games appears to be directly correlated with this changing of the guard. In 2007-2008, the Western Conference playoff teams averaged a NetRtg of 12.3 in the first half of games, a number that was 40.2% greater than the Eastern Conference playoff teams. The East gradually chipped away at that difference by cutting the disparity to 16.2% the next season and 2.8% in 2009-2010. The East broke through last season, as their NetRtg was 13.9% greater than that of the West. They were able to make these strides specifically due to their strong play in the second quarter. Back in 2007-2008, the average Western Conference playoff team had a NetRtg that was 3.1 points better than the Eastern teams in the second quarter alone. Fast forward to the 2011-2012 season, and the Eastern teams had a NetRtg 1.69 points higher than the West.

Since the 2007-2008 season, the Eastern Conference has won 14 games (five seasons) in the Finals. They had won only 17 since the Michael Jordan era (nine seasons) ended in 1997-1998. The bottom feeders in the East are as bad as ever, but are we seeing a changing of the guard at the top of these conferences?

Even In The Darkest Of Times, The Knicks’ Life-By-Three-Pointer Is A Good Life

Photo from Flickr via MattBritt00

Photo from Flickr by MattBritt00

“The New York Knicks live and die by the three.” People say this. The use of this cliche is directed cynically, that the Knicks live, and ultimately die, by the three. But buried within this assumed predestination is generally unchallenged reasoning – that three-pointers, by nature, are dangerous. And it does stand to reason that shots taken farther from the basket have less of a chance of going in – but historically, they’re not so evil.

The New York Knicks encapsulate this evaporating yet subtle distinction concerning three-pointers, or any shots really: shot quality matters. This, it would seem, is the goal of any offensive possession – to generate a good shot. When Raymond Felton sat due to injury, the Knicks couldn’t generate high quality shots. Their field goal percentage, three-point and otherwise, dropped accordingly. But when Felton came back on Saturday night against Philadelphia, the Knicks shot 4 for 27 from three-point range. People prattled on about them dying by the three-pointer. And they threw out some other tired refrains about effort and hustle and lethargy and disinterest to explain away the anomaly. But sometimes in basketball, a team doesn’t make shots. Sometimes a team plays well – really well – generating high quality shot after high quality shot, but none of them go in. This team will lose, by a lot. The Knicks lost by 17.

It’s an uncomfortable diagnosis to handle, mostly because it is completely out of our control. We can’t critique play design or substitutions or whatever else we, the observer, would have done differently. Sometimes players have to make their open shots. If they don’t, the team will lose. This is what happened to the Knicks.

In order to dispel this notion of “dying by the three,” I sliced up some video of the Knicks three-point field goal attempts in Philadelphia, when they supposedly died by the three because 4 for 27 is an indicator of something other than ball not going in hoop. Buzzers and bells and loud arrows included, of course. And, if you couldn’t gather it yourself, green check marks are for good shots, and red x’s are for bad ones. Alright, off we go.

By the end of the 3rd quarter the game was in hand, and so the video ends there. But by my count, 12 of 16 three-point attempts by New York were clean looks, or at the very least shots Mike Woodson could live with. Of course a few are debatable – the Shumpert three early in the first quarter, for example – but the Knicks shot 25% on open three-pointers. Remember, three-point percentage is an aggregate of the good and bad shots, and the Knicks missed all of the latter, too. And even of those four bad shots, three were attempted by Carmelo Anthony with a hand in his face – which isn’t the worst shot in the world for him sometimes. Recognize this?

That was the very next night against Atlanta, when ‘Melo shot 9 for 12 from deep, including 3 for 5 on contested threes – the same ones he didn’t make against Philadelphia. All of which is to say, keep shooting New York.

15-Footer 1/30/2013: Cheap Seats Edition

Cheap Seats by @AaronHadleyDana

A busy Wednesday in the Association with twelve games on the schedule. ESPN will be showing the Miami Heat and Brooklyn Nets game which is arguably the best game of the night but if you want to go out and experience a game live in person there are plenty of cheap seats available for over half of tonight’s games.

Washington Wizards at Philadelphia 76ers – 7pm EST
Cost: A penny! What can you buy for a penny these days? John Wall is back and Jrue Holiday is an All Star. Make a night of it Philadelphia, get yourself a bacon taco shell taco and then head to the game!

Detroit Pistons at Indiana Pacers – 7pm EST
Cost: $1.00 – $2.00. Andre Drummond is a rising star and Paul George is Paul George so why wouldn’t you spend $2 to see this game live if you can?

Toronto Raptors at Atlanta Hawks – 7:30pm EST
Cost: $1 to see the pre-Rudy Gay Raptors.

Los Angeles Clippers at Minnesota Timberwolves – 8pm EST
Cost: Plenty of tickets available in the 99 cents – $2 range. Blake Griffin’s dunks are worth a lot more than 99 cents so this is a real steal.

Charlotte Bobcats at San Antonio Spurs – 8:30pm EST
Cost: 80-90 cents to witness the Boris Diaw bowl. But really San Antonio, you should go so you can pledge your support in person to the #LetBonnerShoot movement.

Houston Rockets at Denver Nuggets – 9pm EST
Cost: $2 – $4 to see two playoff teams battle each other. JaVale McGee is injured so you really won’t be getting your money’s worth but be happy watching Andre Iguodala try to stop James Harden.

New Orleans Hornets at Utah Jazz – 9pm EST
Cost: 25 cents! You can attend a NBA game that features Anthony Davis for the same amount of money it costs to put 15 minutes in a parking meter.

If you end up staying home, happy League Pass surfing!

Understanding The Answer

HMS Stubborn

Credit: Flickr/oisingormally

There’s just something about Allen Iverson as a player that I could never warm up to. Even as a middle schooler growing up in the heart of suburban Minnesota, I was in the minority of my basketball watching friends who were never tempted to buy a #3 Sixers jersey, and I even preferred a pair of T-Macs to Iversons. It’s difficult for me to pinpoint exactly if it was the people I knew then who who adored The Answer, his style of play, or all of the above that made it difficult for me to love AI like everyone else. Putting it bluntly, Iverson was everything that was wrong about the NBA in the early-00′s to me. To be fair, this was a simplistic time of basketball viewing where points per game was a relevant argument in a discussion just like my argument that Iverson was a ballhog.

How’s that for some hard-hitting analysis?

Of course, this was the same kid who enjoyed the likes of Vince Carter, Steve Francis, and Baron Davis, so it’s not as if I had some enlightened or deep understanding of basketball efficiency at that time. I know it’s hypocritical to be hard on Iverson for averaging 31 points per game on 28 shots when B-Diddy was doing things like averaging 18 ppg on 16 shots shots per game, but ooh, shiny dunk! Off the court, things like the famous “Practice?!” press conference or resisting the new dress code in the mid-00′s as a part of a then-desperately needing image makeover rubbed me the wrong way. Of course, I hated AI’s attitude, but love Kobe’s.  Still, I could never deny that Iverson was certainly talented despite his incredibly high usage rates and volume shooting because he’s likely a major reason some of those early 00′s Sixers teams went as far as they did.

Now, today (Tuesday), Iverson took to his Twitter account to basically say, “Thanks, but no thanks.” to the D-League.  You know the surprising-if-not-entirely-hypocritical thing about this happening is? I couldn’t blame him for feeling that way.

Maybe it’s because that at that moment I understood a little more about Iverson, and that understanding is that he’s a proud person. It’s the reason that he he couldn’t take a backseat in Detroit, Memphis, or Philadelphia. Perhaps it’s foolish, or stubborn, since it likely would have meant being able to to remain in the NBA the past few seasons, but it’s not as if all of us would be so quick to take a demotion of sorts in our own lives if it was an avenue of life we had been previously successful in. Think about it. Iverson wasn’t just Rookie of the Year, All-Star, MVP or scoring champ; he was a brand and an icon. And that brand extended beyond the court to a level that few others had before and since him. This is the same player who made $154,000,000 (per Basketball-Reference) during his career not counting endorsements, too. Iverson talked about his dream being to complete his NBA legacy, and I can assure you that after all he’s accomplished that doesn’t include the D-League. Sure, he’s proud, but even I have to admit that he’s not at fault for feeling that way.

Faults and all in his game, Iverson’s legacy will always be viewed as one of the greatest players of his generation, the killer crossover, and an image that was unapologetically The Answer. Iverson has always done it his way, and will probably always do it that way, which makes it difficult to imagine him being content winning a ring as a 12th man if that’s what it means to complete his legacy. You could even make the argument that, aside from a title, there isn’t even that much left for AI to accomplish in the NBA, let alone the D-League. Looking at his resume, accolades, and acheivements, it seems that Iverson has little to prove to anyone at any level. Even if I never loved Iverson like my peers did, I can still say that I wouldn’t want him to get reach that goal in such an un-Iverson like way.

Middle school Derek may not have understood Iverson growing up, but now I realize that, for better or worse, everything he’s done on and off of the court has been motivated by a strong sense of pride and individuality. On the court, it came off as selfishiness at times. Off the court, it made him seem obstinate, if not a touch irreverent. Looking back at it all, there’s something to be respected about an individual who led a relatively long career on his own terms. In fact, he’s always operated on his own terms, so it’d be foolish to expect that to change now. And if that means we’ve seen the last of Iverson as a basketball player, I doubt he’d have it any other way.

The Circle of Life: Rajon Rondo and the Big Three Construct

rajon_edit

Illustration by Maddison Bond.

The moment that will stay with me when thinking about Rajon Rondo’s season-ending ACL tear is watching Paul Pierce find out. After the Celtics pulled out a thrilling double-overtime victory over the Miami Heat in which Pierce’s triple-double was maybe the fifth-most notable thing that happened, he was given the bad news by Doris Burke. Everyone watching the game on TV, of course, already knew, and word of Rondo’s injury had traveled at warp speed across the premises of the TD Garden (the great Jackie MacMullan has a must-read firsthand account of Rondo himself finding out). But it somehow hadn’t worked its way to Pierce yet. When Doris mentioned in her postgame interview that Rondo had suffered a torn ACL and would miss the remainder of the season, Pierce’s double-take was riveting (and heartbreaking) television. He repeated the words “Oh my God” a couple of times and appeared completely at a loss for words. As anyone would be when asked to react to a piece of news like that on national TV.

For Pierce, the news carried more weight than just the short-term implications of his Celtics losing their best and most important player. Boston’s playoff hopes are likely shot now, but not even Tommy Heinsohn had any illusions of this being a title team. With Ray Allen gone to Miami and trade talk swirling around Pierce for weeks, this season already had the feel of a final title push for old time’s sake. The Big Three era radically redefined Pierce’s place in history and shot the winningest franchise in NBA history back to relevance over a decade after Larry Bird’s retirement. Though their eccentric, inscrutable passing savant was not part of the Big Three in its original incarnation, it quickly became clear that Rondo was as key to the Celtics’ success as Pierce, Allen, or Kevin Garnett, if not more so. With Rondo’s injury, that period of history was over. It was a lot for Pierce to process with cameras and microphone shoved in his face.

Whether intentionally or not, the 2007-08 Celtics were the most important and influential team of the past decade. The concept of two or three superstars teaming up to gun for a title has been inescapable among the NBA’s upper class since that summer. The LeBron/Wade/Bosh Heat are the flashiest and most talented Big Three. The Melo/Amare Knicks are the most heavily scrutinized, simply by virtue of being the Knicks. Chris Paul and Blake Griffin teaming up on the Clippers was the most logical, because of the built-in, almost preordained Lob City firepower. This year’s Lakers pushed the concept past the breaking point and may wind up the most talented lottery team in NBA history.

But the Celtics were the first modern Big Three, and by most measurements the most successful. They were the least morally objectionable superteam because, unlike Pat Riley or Mitch Kupchak, Danny Ainge gave up actual value for the two superstars he brought in in 2007. Unlike Anthony and Stoudemire, Boston’s Big Three had skillsets that fit together naturally. And unlike the Heat, there was no waiting period for the chemistry to develop. They won a title their first season together and came within a Garnett injury of contending again the following year. They pushed the Lakers to seven games in the 2010 Finals despite a Kendrick Perkins ACL tear. Two years after that, they were back in the Conference Finals. From day one, Garnett remade the team in his image through sheer force of personality. Since Ainge made the KG and Allen trades, the conversation about every roster, even non-contending ones, shifted towards identifying their Big Three. And after nearly six years, the run of the team that set the bar is ending the same way as two hopeful successors: with a devastating knee injury.

The Garnett and Allen trades came after the Celtics made a concerted effort to tank for one of the top two picks in the 2007 draft. The two teams ended up with those coveted picks both attempted to construct Big Threes of their own in an entirely different manner, using all homegrown talent. The then-Sonics took Kevin Durant second, and added Russell Westbrook, James Harden, and Serge Ibaka in subsequent drafts. Harden is gone, but the Thunder remain as good as any team in the league. The Blazers, meanwhile, had a potentially lethal, organically developed Big Three fall apart with repeated knee injuries to Brandon Roy and Greg Oden. Even setting aside the Oden-Durant what-ifs Blazers fans will never fully escape, the Roy/Aldridge/Oden core was supposed to be what Durant/Westbrook/Harden/Ibaka has become. They were done in by the same joint that has turned against Rondo and the Celtics.

The single most memorable playoff series the Big Three-era Celtics were involved in was the seven-game, overtime-packed first-round thriller with the Bulls in 2009. In part because of the hardening they underwent in that series, the Bulls developed into a legit contender over the following three years. Whether his 2011 MVP award was deserved or not, Derrick Rose, when healthy, is one of the best offensive players in the world, and certainly among the most exciting. Rose, Joakim Noah, Summer of LeBron consolation prize Carlos Boozer, and defensive workhorse Luol Deng became, under the guidance of basketball sociopath Tom Thibodeau, the East’s only serious challenger to the Heat. They, too, were halted by the devastating ACL tear to Rose that we’re all sick of seeing on that awful Adidas commercial.

The bad news about Rondo has effectively ended an illustrious period in Boston Celtics history, but it also brought an entire era full-circle and provided the worst possible kind of closure. Between the real-life Series of Unfortunate Events that is the 2012-13 Lakers and Rondo’s injury, the superteam as a concept feels at a crossroads. The Celtics are the one team that has been there at the beginning and the end.

Allow Me to Reintroduce Myself My Name Is Rick Adelman

Photo by Paco CT on Flickr

Photo by Paco CT on Flickr

Let’s not mince words about this: Having head coach Rick Adelman back will be an unalloyed good thing for the Minnesota Timberwolves. If you’ve been living under a rock for the last three weeks, here’s a recap: Adelman’s wife Mary Kay was experiencing unexplained seizures and Adelman stepped away from the team to be with her while she was in the hospital; during this time, assistant coach Terry Porter stepped up to lead the team; and also during this time, the team stepped off a cliff, going 2-9 and doing all kinds of wacky things like blowing an 18-point lead to a Bobcats team that had lost 16 straight at home and getting blown out by the Wizards.

As you may have noticed, that’s a lot of stepping, and it wasn’t limited to the coaching staff and on the court: it came up all the time in postgame conferences and player interviews. “Guys have to step up,” said Porter after a home loss to Brooklyn. “We’re missing some guys, so the other guys have to step up,” said Rubio. And it wasn’t just when they lost. When they beat Houston it was because, according to Rubio, “Everybody stepped up today.” That was the game that welcomed 10-day-contract recipients Mickael Gelabale and Chris Johnson to the team and after the win, Porter said, “I don’t recall, in my experience, getting two guys and having them step in and put in the type of work that they did tonight for us.”

The way this team has been talking, you’d think it all just came down to whether they were hotstepping or half-stepping. And the good news is that Adelman’s return is likely to cause the kind of lift that got them a victory in Rubio’s return against the Mavericks, or against Atlanta when Porter assumed head coaching duties, or against Houston when Johnson and Gelabale came through. But as much as I’m looking forward to some kind of bounce from the return of Adelman, it doesn’t change the fundamental fact that the Wolves wear their heart on their sleeve, and that’s a problem.

It’s a problem because while a certain amount of instability can create dynamic openings—nights when players like Johnson or Barea or Kirilenko explode and carry the team—it’s unreliable and ultimately unsustainable.

Consider the case of Eddie Vedder. (I have Pearl Jam on the brain because a friend and I discussed the PJ20 movie last night.) Where the other members of Pearl Jam were working musicians, more or less, Vedder was a surfer when he joined. He’d been in bands before, but none on the level of Pearl Jam, and he was suddenly thrust into the role of frontman onstage night after night. The way he managed to get comfortable with it was simply to pour himself completely into it. It made for riveting performances, but he had to keep raising the stakes to make it feel like he was giving it his all. As the band’s momentum built on the road, this led to Vedder climbing the lighting rig, the scaffolding, the balconies—as immortalized in the video for “Even Flow”—whatever was tall and looked unclimbable, and then dropping down onto the crowd. And it was amazing, but it was also risky and emotionally draining. Before long, Vedder burnt himself out. In some ways, the rest of Pearl Jam’s career has been about Vedder finding ways to be himself without trying to kill himself.

It’s not at all clear that the Wolves can find that kind of balance and still win games. “Stepping up” isn’t a simple matter of working harder—it’s an emotional grind as well and it takes its toll. Guys are being asked to play over their heads: you can see it in Kirilenko’s shot selection, which has tended more and more towards the desperate during Adelman’s absence. He’s a unique player, but he’s not at his best when he’s asked to carry the team—he’s better at slipping into the cracks, at being the mortar between the bricks.

And boy have there been a lot of bricks this season. Adelman’s return won’t remedy the shooting problems. It won’t stem the tide of injuries that keeps coming and coming because injuries beget more injuries as fewer guys play more minutes. What it will do is almost certainly provide a shot of energy that may get the Wolves through the next few games better than the last few, especially with the impending return of both Pekovic and Shved.

But if Adelman’s return is going to have a long-term impact, it has to come from providing not energy or heroics, but from a steadying voice that says the Wolves can build a framework, a blueprint that can be replicated and applied from game to game. It can’t just be a relentless upping of the ante. Getting guys to do more than step up would be a, well, good step.