Author Archives: Conrad Kaczmarek

What are the Detroit Pistons?

Daniel Y. Go | Flickr

The Detroit Pistons have probably had the most mesmerizing offseason in the NBA this year. And by no means are you to make the mistake of assuming that mesmerizing has a positive connotation in this case. Almost every move that Joe Dumars has made has been met with either “LOL PISTONS” or “What the f*ck are the Pistons doing??” Detroit signed Josh Smith to a huge 4 year, $54 million contract. On Tuesday afternoon, they completed a sign and trade with the Milwaukee Bucks to bring Brandon Jennings to the team on a 3 year, $24 million contract. In a vacuum, both of those moves are pretty sensible. The Pistons got two very talented players on fairly reasonable contracts without giving up much more than Brandon Knight and some cap space. But as components of a larger Detroit Pistons organism, they are head-scratching moves to say the least. Now, I’m not about to write 2500 words about why these moves make perfect sense and why the Pistons are now destined for greatness with Jennings and Smith complementing a young core of Greg Monroe and Andre Drummond. But I will write roughly half that many words to explain why Detroit’s offseason leans more towards “sensible” than “head-scratching.”

The question that immediately comes to mind when we consider Detroit’s offseason move is: how does it all fit? They figure to have young studs at power forward and center in Monroe and Drummond. So why the hell are they spending $54m on Josh Smith to further complicate the situation in the frontcourt? Well, that’s a really good question. And it’s a question that has a couple of potential answers. The easiest solution to the problem of the crowded frontcourt is that the Pistons think Josh Smith can play small forward. Defensively, Smoove can certainly guard most NBA small forwards, but it’s the offensive end that gets messy. How do you possibly play those three players at the same time and have an effective offense? That’s another really good question and I don’t think I have any easy answers to that one. But Josh Smith is a really talented player (yes, even on offense) and when all else fails, adding more talent to your roster is usually a pretty good strategy. Even if you’re losing some value due to Drummond, Monroe, and Smith overlapping offensively, the Pistons still figure to get a net gain from the addition. Whether or not it’s cost effective or the best allocation of their resources are different issues that deal with a host of hypotheticals that I don’t feel the need to get into at the moment. Instead, let’s stay focused on what we do know (or can at least reasonably project).

Another explanation for bringing in Josh Smith when you already have a talented frontcourt is that it’s possible we are all overestimating the short-term impact that Detroit intends for Andre Drummond to have. Drummond has all of the tools to be an elite NBA player in the future. He’s extremely young, has a tremendous physical profile, and has produced phenomenal per-36 minutes numbers in his brief time in the NBA. But that first trait might be the most important: Drummond is extremely young. He’ll turn 20 years old on August 10th and despite his impressive numbers in the NBA thus far, his skill level still leaves a lot to be desired. He’s just a kid; he’s very raw. He played just over 20 minutes per game in his rookie year and missed several weeks due to a lower back stress fracture. For all of those reasons, it wouldn’t be surprising to see the Pistons bring Drummond along very slowly. As much as the basketball blogosphere would like to #FreeDrummond, it seems unlikely that the Pistons will suddenly thrust Drummond into the starting role and let him play 35 minutes every night. If you’re only planning on playing Drummond 25ish minute per game, it shouldn’t be that hard to mix and match the lineups with Drummond/Monroe/Smith to minimize the overlap.

I think the move to get Brandon Jennings is easier to make sense of than the Josh Smith signing. First off, the dollar amount on the contract is very reasonable. According to the NBA free agency market, the Pistons seem to be paying roughly the right amount for a player of Josh Smith’s caliber, but they might be getting a relative bargain in Jennings at just $8 million per year. He’s not the most efficient player, but his shot-creating ability (for himself and others) is valuable. He’s still quite young (will turn 24 just before the NBA season starts) and he likely has some remaining upside on both sides of the ball. $8 million seems to be roughly the going rate for an average starting point guard in the NBA and there’s a pretty decent chance that Jennings ends up being better than that.

Of course, the addition of Jennings is viewed as questionable because you have another guy that struggles with efficiency and doesn’t exactly solve the spacing issues that you’ve created with the Drummond/Monroe/Smith combo up front. And these concerns are legitimate – I’m not trying to pretend they aren’t. But the Pistons have started to address the spacing issues by drafting Kentavious Caldwell-Pope — who projects to be a threat from three-point range even if he isn’t an elite shooter right away – and by signing Chauncey Billups. They also signed Italian League MVP, Luigi “Gigi” Datome (his name is Luigi and he shot 42% from three in Italy, your argument is invalid). Maybe this roster will end up being totally dysfunctional and the talent will go to waste. But I’m willing to wait and see it in action before declaring it a disaster (or even really worrying about it, then again I’m not a Pistons fan).

Smoove and Jennings are guys who have developed reputations as shameless chuckers who are at best ambivalent (or perhaps just unaware) about the concept of efficiency. But is that reputation a life sentence? Is it possible for Smith and Jennings to change their ways on their new team? Some people around basketball will say that they are who they are. Personally, I’m more hesitant to write them off. Jennings and Smith are both obviously very talented and have the ability to be far more efficient than they have been recently. Will a simple change of scenery be enough for them to adjust their shot selections and lead to an uptick in efficiency? I have no idea, but I think there’s a non-zero chance that there is a coach, player, or mentor in Detroit that these guys lacked in Milwaukee and Atlanta. Any NBA fan has seen Brandon Jennings and Josh Smith do tremendous things on the basketball court. If somebody is able to harness their overwhelming potential and skills into consistent efficiency, then all of the questions of fit and cost can likely take a backseat.

More often than not, the NBA team with the more talented roster wins out. There are certain cases where scheme, chemistry, and coaching allow a lesser roster to overcome a significant gap in talent, but usually talent reigns supreme. And while you can question all of the specifics regarding the additions of Jennings and Smith, I don’t think you can sincerely question that they increase the overall talent on the Pistons’ roster. Again, I’m not about to simply dismiss any questions about the future direction of the Pistons’ franchise (what’s the endgame here??) or about what how the heck Mo Cheeks is going to make this roster work. But at a certain point you want to start winning games. It could have been pressure from ownership to put more fans in the Palace or the front office may truly believe that a Drummond/Monroe/Jennings/Smith core can be a title contender in the future. But more likely, the Pistons saw an opportunity to improve their roster by adding two very talented players – and they did so without sacrificing much more than some newfound cap space (sorry, Brandon Knight). That seems pretty sensible to me.

The Thing Is…The Eastern Conference Totally Sucks

The Miami Heat are pretty great.

Just look at the standings. Look at the 27-game winning streak that was finally snapped against the Chicago Bulls. Look at what LeBron James is doing in what may be his best season yet. If you look at the Eastern Conference, you’ll see the Heat sitting comfortably at the top. And you’ll see everybody else so far below them that they need a telescope to catch a glimpse of Erik Spoelstra’s finely tuned juggernaut. Taking all of this into consideration, it seems like a foregone conclusion that the Heat will be waiting for the winner of the Western Conference champion when the NBA Finals roll around.

The Heat should roll through the Eastern Conference playoffs, brushing aside the elderly Knicks, the offensively challenged Pacers, or whatever other pretenders may cross their path. But does that say more about the greatness of the Heat or the pathetic state of the Eastern Conference? As I said before, there’s no questioning that Miami is among the elite teams in the NBA this year. If they cruise to the Finals with just one or two losses along the way, people might be tempted to throw Miami in the conversation of all-time great teams. But let’s put into perspective just how easy their road to the Finals should be.

The Heat currently have the 2nd best net rating (point differential per 100 possessions for those of you who aren’t stat-heads) in the NBA at +9.9. Although Miami just lost their first game in nearly two months, they somehow still trail the Oklahoma City Thunder in this category (OKC has a net rating of +11.1). The 3rd and 4th ranked teams in net rating are in the Western Conference with the Thunder, so Miami doesn’t really need to worry about them. The Indiana Pacers round out the top 5 with a net rating of +5.9. If you’ve been paying attention, that’s a difference of four whole points per 100 possessions between the East’s number one seed and number two seed. That’s a damn big drop-off. That’s not something we see very often. Typically, the top teams in either conference are pretty close in net rating. There are usually a few teams that could reasonably reach the Finals from either conference and it adds a good deal of drama to the playoffs.

Going back to 2000-01, there has only been one other year when the top team in a conference had that large of a gap between themselves and the 2nd best team. The 2000-01 San Antonio Spurs posted a net rating of +9.8 while the 2nd ranked Sacramento Kings were right at +5.8.  Of course, the Lakers eventually took down the Kings and the Spurs on their way to an NBA championship that year. To find a similarly large gap, you have to go back to the 2004-05 Miami Heat. That team, led by Dwyane Wade and Shaquille O’Neal swept through the first two rounds of the playoffs, only to lose in 7 games to the Detroit Pistons in the Eastern Conference Finals. The Pistons ended the regular season with a net rating of just +4.8 while the Heat posted a lofty +8.4, a difference of +3.6. Both the 2000-01 Spurs and the 2004-05 Heat appeared to have exceedingly easy paths to the Finals and yet neither team managed to make it there.

If you want to find the team with the easiest path to the Finals in the past 12 years that actually took advantage of this path, take a look at the 2007-08 Boston Celtics. That Celtics team had a +3.5 advantage over their biggest obstacle in the Eastern Conference and, as you know, was able to beat the Lakers in the Finals to win the NBA championship. But even those eventual NBA champs didn’t coast through the first 12 wins of the playoffs. The Hawks and Cavaliers pushed Kevin Garnett and friends to seven games in the first two rounds before Boston beat the 2nd ranked Pistons in six games to earn a trip to the Finals.

Let’s take a look at LeBron’s best team when he was a member of the Cleveland Cavaliers. Obviously, he never won an NBA championship with the Cavs, but that doesn’t mean that those teams were crap. On the contrary, they were quite good. The 2008-09 Cavaliers won 66 games and posted a net rating of +10.3. That’s actually a better regular season than LeBron’s record setting squad this year. But the competition in the East was much better than it is this year. The Celtics and Magic were both close behind with net ratings of +8.7 and +8.3, respectively. It’s not hard to see how much better either of those teams were than this year’s Pacers (a net rating of +5.9, if you recall).

So what does this mean? Nothing, really. I just find it interesting. It may be jumping the gun to anticipate any of this, but it certainly looks like the Heat are destined to meet the best of the Western Conference in the NBA Finals. And the rest of the Eastern Conference are just placeholders so we can kill some time and watch LeBron and D-Wade toss insane alley-oops to each other. Meanwhile, Kevin Durant, Tim Duncan, and Chris Paul will be duking it out on the other side of the NBA bracket. Do you think we’d view Miami’s berth in the Finals so inevitable if they had to go through the Clippers and Spurs first? Probably not.

None of this is intended to tear down the Heat or diminish their accomplishments. I swear, it’s not – I just want to provide some context and perspective. And as we’ve seen, having an easy road to the Finals is hardly a guarantee. The Heat still need to take care of business and we’ve certainly witnessed some big playoff upsets in the past. Nobody will deny that this Heat team is incredibly good – not even me. But it’s possible for the team to be fantastic and for their competition to be pretty damn terrible at the same time.

2013 All-Star Profiles: Kyrie Irving

Lars Plougmann (Flickr)

Lars Plougmann (Flickr)

As you may or may not know, I’m the managing editor of SBNation’s Cleveland Cavaliers blog, FearTheSword. And recently, many of us over there have complained about how Kyrie Irving should have been starting the All Star Game over Rajon Rondo. And then we complained when it came out that Erik Spoelstra would likely give Rondo’s now-vacant spot in the starting lineup to Chris Bosh instead of Kyrie. But while some of our complaints may be reasonable, they seem shortsighted and misguided. We’re talking about a 20-year old point guard on a last place team who was just named to the All Star team in his second season. Read that sentence again. Now read it again and consider how crazy it sounds.

Kyrie Irving is just 20 years old.

He cannot legally order an alcoholic beverage in the United States. He can’t rent a car. And yet, he’s on his way to Houston for the 2013 NBA All Star Game. [Ed. Note: 2/3 apply to the author of this article as well.]

It’s one thing to read those words and grasp the idea that most people his age are playing Assassin’s Creed in between college classes. But to watch him on the court and grasp this concept is another thing altogether. Nothing he does would indicate that he’s merely a kid. When Kyrie Irving is on the court, he carries himself with the poise and control of a seasoned veteran.. His baffling ball-handling skills and scoring ability are among the best that the NBA has to offer. However, it’s his desire to thrive in pressure situations and his unbelievable flair for the dramatic that makes Kyrie Irving must-watch television, despite his team’s residence at the bottom of the Eastern Conference.

Kyrie’s 23.9 points per game currently ranks 6th in the NBA. He joins LeBron James as the only other player in the Eastern Conference averaging 20+ points and 5+ assists each night. His statistical profile is beyond impressive and makes a valid claim for him to take a spot in the starting lineup. But it’s not a big deal if he ends up coming off the bench. It’s remarkable enough that a 20-year old has already solidified himself as a sure-fire All Star in just his second year in the league.

The Cavaliers are yet to play on ESPN or TNT since Kyrie arrived in Cleveland. His first All Star appearance acts as an opportunity to introduce himself to the more casual NBA fan. His full array of crossovers and hesitation moves will be on display whether he’s in the starting lineup or not. Kyrie has plenty of time to work up to being an All Star starter. And once he gets there, I figure he’ll keep that spot for the next, say, decade or so. After all, he’s just 20 years old.

The Thing Is… The Clippers Are Locking Down

If you went on Twitter and asked, “who’s the best team in Los Angeles?” at the beginning of the season, you’d have been laughed at. Obviously, it was the Lakers. They have Dwight Howard. They have Steve Nash. They have Kobe “BEAN” Bryant. Sitting here in mid-November, they still do have those guys. Except that they have just now reached .500 and have already fired their head coach. Meanwhile, the Clippers – the perpetual “little brothers” in town – are sitting pretty at 7-2 and it’s pretty damn hard to look at those first nine games and come away thinking that they aren’t the best team in Hollywood.

But this article isn’t just “narrative narrative Clippers >>> Lakers best team in LA page viewz.” Instead, I want to look at why and how the Clippers have surpassed the Lakers, at least for the time being.

The obvious answer is Chris Paul. He’s the floor general (as well as essentially the head coach). His brilliance is somehow understated even though he’s been the best point guard in the league for some time now. On the young season, he has 92 assists to just 18 turnovers, leading the way as the Clippers have raced to the 5th best offensive efficiency in the NBA. He’s fourth in PER and near the top of the leaderboard in all of those other fun stats. He’s the best, basically. But Paul was on the Clippers last year. And the Clippers had an elite offense last year.

You may be eager to point to Jamal Crawford and Eric Bledsoe’s insane production off the bench and the enormous improvements from DeAndre Jordan as the reason that the Clippers look so much better overall this year. And you’d be at least somewhat right. But you’d also be wrong. All of those things help, but they aren’t enough to launch the Clippers past the Lakers and into serious contender status.

Instead, the difference is on the other side of the ball. Small sample size caveats aside, the Clippers have gone from the 18th ranked defense to the 3rd ranked defense overnight. So if you’ve been paying attention, that means the Clippers are statistically a better defensive team than they are an offensive team , as of today. When your team has Chris Paul leading your offense and that offense isn’t even the team’s biggest strength to this point, that’s a big problem for everybody else.

This is not to say that the unfathomably deep bench doesn’t deserve credit –it most certainly does. It’s just not in the way that most people think. The bench basically comes into the game and absolutely locks it down. To give you an idea of how ridiculous the Clippers’ bench has been on defense, take a look at Blake Griffin’s on/off splits from last year compared to this year (this ought to give you a decent idea, being that we assume that Blake is typically playing with the starters).

Clippers defensive rating 2011-12
With Blake Griffin: 102.2 points per 100 possessions
Without Blake Griffin: 105.0 points per 100 possessions

Clippers defensive rating 2012-13
With Blake Griffin: 98.4 points per 100 possessions
Without Blake Griffin: 92.4 points per 100 possessions

As you can see, not only has the starting unit improved defensively (and give some credit to Blake, he’s not a total sieve anymore), but also the bench unit has improved by nearly 13 points per 100 possessions from last year to this year. Last season, the most commonly used 2-man combination of non-starters was Mo Williams and Reggie Evans, who are both no longer with the team. That combination produced a defensive rating of 105.2 points per 100 possessions. In 2012-13, the most commonly used 2-man combination of non-starters is Matt Barnes and Jamal Crawford. That unit has produced a defensive rating of 89.2 points per 100 possessions thus far.

What’s the point of all this; other than to say, “Holy crap the Clippers are good”? While that point is valid, it’s more about a fundamental shift in why they are so good. Last season the team seemed to rely on Chris Paul and the offense to just blow past teams with their Lob City and flopping floppitude. This year, they’re grinding teams into the ground AND letting Chris Paul and the offense blow past teams. Save for two fluky shooting performances from Cleveland and Golden State, the Clippers have been dominant. Their resume includes relatively comfortable wins against Memphis, Los Angeles, Miami, San Antonio, and Chicago. And that’s just the first few weeks of the season.

The Lakers are going to be in the spotlight in LA and certainly have the talent to become worthy of that spotlight. But as of right now, they’ve got a long way to go to catch up with their “little brothers.”

(Now watch the Spurs hang 120 on the Clippers tonight just to make me look stupid.)

Statistical support for this story from NBA.com

The Thing Is… Dwight Howard’s Back

This is the first of a weekly feature that I’ll be doing here at Hardwood Paroxysm. Each week, I’ll be writing about something stupid that I’ve noticed around the NBA blogosphere or among fans. These will be ideas or notions that constantly come up on Twitter and seem to be readily accepted by most everybody. Everybody other than me, that is. By nature, I’m just a skeptical person. I question everything and I doubt everything. That’s why I frequently spew off 15 tweets in a row about some sort of lazy assumption that seems to be taken as undeniable truth. This column ought to work as a more organized way to project these thoughts.

One point that I feel needs to be clarified is that the line of thinking that I’m promoting here is doubt – not simple rejection. I don’t mean to say “this idea is false you idiots!!!!!!” but rather: “why do we so readily accept this as true? Shouldn’t this be reconsidered?”

All of that said, I present to you the first edition of:

The Thing Is…

The only logical place to start this series would be in Los Angeles. Virtually everybody has an opinion about the Lakers and virtually everybody with a soul was giddy to see them start the season 0-3. Unfortunately, the Lakers had to get their first win of the year on Sunday night when they absolutely destroyed the Detroit Pistons. It was an impressive display – total domination. From the opening tip off to the final buzzer, the Lakers lead rarely (if ever) went below 15 points. Much of this was thanks to Dwight Howard being guarded by guys like Jason Maxiell and Greg Monroe. In this young season, Dwight has put up some nice numbers, at least on the offensive end. It’s just four games, but the 3-time Defensive Player of the Year is dropping a cool 23.3 points on 68.8% (!!) shooting to go along with 9.8 boards and a couple blocks. Those are the superstar numbers on the offensive end that the Lakers were expecting. On the defensive end and on the glass, however, his numbers are down across the board. His rebounding rate is lower than it has ever been at any point in his career and the Lakers currently boast the 27th ranked defense in the league. While Dwight has produced offensively, he hardly looks the part of a 3-time Defensive Player of the Year.

OH MA GOD WHAT HATER ITZ FOUR GAMES GIVE IT SOME TIME. HE’S NOT EVEN FULLY HEALTHY YET JUST WAIT HE’LL ONLY GET BETTER OMG. DWIGHT HAS TO ADJUST TO THE GLARE OF LIGHT COMING OFF OUR SEVENTEEN BANNERS HANGING IN STAPLES CENTER HOW MANY BANNERS ARE IN YOUR HOUSE? NONE. HATER.

Easy there, imaginary Lakers fan that I created to get my point across. There are obviously reasons to explain why Dwight hasn’t lived up to his reputation on the defensive end of the floor. I’ll admit right here that it could simply be because this is a 4-game sample and it’s not at all indicative of how he’ll play the rest of the year. That’s 100% possible. That said, I feel As though the general consensus is that Dwight just had back surgery in the offseason and it’s clearly still slowing him down, that his back isn’t fully healed and that saps his explosiveness which brings down his defensive abilities and rebounding rates, but that it’s definitely going to heal over the course of the season and he will resume his spot as an utterly dominant two-way player.

Again, this is totally possible. But why is it accepted as a given that his back is going to heal through the course of the season? How is playing 35 minutes every night and banging in the post the best way to regain full mobility and strength?

When April rolls around and teams are getting ready for their playoff run, which version of Dwight Howard are the Lakers going to get? One who has fully recovered from his back surgery? Or does the wear and tear of a long 82-game season take its toll on a guy who’s on pace to set a career high in usage rate? Do the Lakers have a good enough bench to let Dwight Howard not play 32 minutes when they’re up by 20 points? I don’t know the answers to these questions.  I’m not a doctor – I just play one on the internet. But I think they are worth considering. Does the relative lack of strength in Dwight’s back cause him to get tired more quickly? Will it cause him to overcompensate with other muscles and injure something else? Does Mike Brown really feel the need to play his stars as much as possible every single night? Those are just some things to consider when you see people say “Wow, and Dwight Howard isn’t even fully healthy.”  Because that’s true, but it could also be the healthiest that he’ll be.

Hardwood Paroxysm Celebrates A 5-Year Paroxy-versary: Who The Hell Are You?

 

I’m not really sure how I got here. I think I have Matt Moore to thank for it, though. I’m also not really sure where “here” is. I can probably thank Matt for that, too. If you ask roughly 100% of basketball writers, they’ll probably say that they have to thank Matt Moore for helping them get wherever they are. That’s because every single one of them started writing at Hardwood Paroxysm (don’t Google that, just trust it). More seriously though, just look through the names of people who wrote posts for HP today. It’s as if Matt joined a Basketball Writer Fantasy League and was the only one who showed up to the draft. Whether HP helps groom fantastic basketball minds or just acts as hub that these people naturally gravitate towards (spoiler: it’s a combination of both), the results speak for themselves. And somehow, I ended up writing here.

Apparently Hardwood Paroxysm has been around for five years now. So if you want to feel old, I was entering my sophomore year of high school when Matt started this site. A couple years later, I got to college and had no idea what I wanted to do with my life. But I knew I liked basketball. And I knew I liked talking about basketball. And I knew I liked assuming I was right about everything. So I started a crappy Cleveland Cavaliers blog and wrote about the terrible basketball player that is JJ Hickson. I became more active on Twitter and I plugged my blog posts to my 13 followers and hoped someone besides my mom read it. One day, I wrote something that wasn’t Cavs related and tweeted that I needed somewhere to post it. Within seconds, this blue grizzly bear tweeted at me and said he’d read it and possibly post it on his site.

Who the hell are you? I knew nothing about @HPBasketball. I knew nothing about Matt’s work at CBS. I had no idea that he was hoarding all of these great young writers, but after checking his number of followers I figured he’d be helpful for me to reach a larger audience. Somehow, Matt thought my post was worth putting on his site. That post got circulated on ESPN’s Daily Dime Live and within a couple of days, the folks at SBNation reached out to me to contribute to their Cavaliers blog. A few months later, I took over FearTheSword.com and was a semi-regular contributor to HP.

Here’s Matt Moore — professional NBA bloggissist/Louis C.K. look-a-like. He’s about 10,000 Twitter followers are the time and I’ve done nothing to earn his following, much less him reading my work. The natural reaction for a person in his position would be to see some kid’s independent blog and just ignore it. I had nothing to offer him. But that’s not how Matt Moore thinks. He didn’t care that I had been writing about basketball for a month. He didn’t care that I wrote everything through Wine and Gold-colored glasses. All he cared about was the fact that I shared the same passion that he did.

This isn’t supposed to be a big article about how Matt and Hardwood Paroxysm changed my life or anything. But when we started talking about the 5-year anniversary and Matt asked us to write something, this is immediately what came to mind. I did nothing to deserve this opportunity, but I’m damn thankful that I got it. As HP starts the next 5 years, I hope Jared and Amin continue the model that Matt has used to build this site. We make jokes about how many people write for this site  and the more, the better. It’s not necessarily about COUNT DA PAGE VIEWZ or really spectacular paragraphs– but rather just the love of basketball and the opportunity to share that passion with others. That’s how I got here.

Random Acts of Violence

Earlier this week, the Oklahoma City Thunder snapped the Spurs’ epic 20-game win streak. Saturday night, the Spurs started a 2-game losing streak and find the Western Conference Finals all tied up at two games a piece.

While Kevin Durant approached supernova levels of dominance in the fourth quarter, it was Serge Ibaka’s flawless play that powered OKC to victory. We’ve seen Ibaka seriously impact games in the past with his ridiculous shot-blocking ability, but it’s rare that he explodes on the offensive end. It became apparent early on that the Spurs weren’t too interested in closing out on Ibaka when he caught the ball 18 feet from the rim. Serge responded by draining each and every jumper he took. The only time he touched the rim was when he was blowing past San Antonio’s interior defense and throwing down ferocious dunks. When all was said and done, Ibaka finished the night with 26 points on 11 of 11 shooting from the field and 4 of 4 from the charity stripe.

What does this mean for the series? Eh, probably not a whole lot. We’ve now got arguably the two best teams in the NBA fighting it out in a best-of-3 series and predicting a winner is anybody’s guess. If you ask a Spurs fan, they’ll tell you that there’s no freakin’ way that Serge Ibaka drops another 26 points in a game this series. I mean, they would have also told you there was no way that Thabo Sefolosha would mess around and pour in a cool 19 points — but that happened in Game 3. In both of the Thunder’s wins, they’ve had these spectacular performances from role players while their stars struggled to get going. Counting on role players to step up is no game plan to beat the Spurs four times, right? Well, if anybody knows about lesser players coming up with huge contributions, the Spurs know. Hell, that’s what they’ve been relying on for much of their epic and relatively unexpected deep playoff run this year. Danny Green, the same guy who got cut from the Cavaliers in favor of Manny Harris is suddenly hitting step-back jumpers and draining threes all over the place. Boris Diaw was waived by the worst team in NBA history. But now he’s starting for the Spurs and posting a blistering 61.9 TS%. Stephen Jackson is shooting 59.3% from behind the arc in the playoffs. FIFTY NINE POINT THREE. So if Serge Ibaka and Thabo Sefolosha’s performances are being considered unsustainable by Spurs fans, how do you think Clippers and Thunder fans feel about San Antonio’s array of unlikely heroes?

The Spurs have a remarkable offensive system built on their pinpoint ball movement. Each and every one of Popovich’s players is a willing (and competent) passer. Tony Parker has played like a superstar all season long. Tim Duncan looks rejuvenated. The Spurs are a fantastic team with a fantastic coach and some fantastic players. If I were describing the Thunder, you’d hear (see?) me say (type?) very similar words. The ultimate decider in this series will be the guys who aren’t typically described as “fantastic” — guys like Tiago Splitter and Nick Collison. Both teams are planning and scheming to stop one another’s star players. As you read this, Coach Pop is probably desperately trying to figure out how to stop Kevin Durant. Scotty Brooks is wondering if it’s just a matter of time until Tony Parker finds a crack in Sefolosha’s defense.

If this series goes the distance, Game 7 will likely be determined by someone providing an unexpected and yes, unsustainable, performance. The losing team’s fans will sit and think “how the shit did we let THAT guy beat us? There’s no way he’ll do that again!” But then it’ll be over. The winner will advance and someone will be etched in NBA history, even if just for that one spectacular effort. Think Boobie Gibson raining down threes against Detroit in Game 7 of the 2007 Eastern Conference Finals. Think Goran Dragic eviscerating the Spurs in 2010.

I’m looking forward to something random and unrepeatable. Something that disappears as violently as it appears.

Entering The Demilitarized Zone

It’s better to be terrible than mediocre. That’s what pretty much anybody who follows the NBA will tell you about rebuilding a team. Hanging around at the fringe of the playoffs for a couple of years can set your franchise back for many more to come. A team that has some decent pieces, but not enough to feasibly compete in the near future can easily find itself in this kind of “NBA purgatory”. You do not want to end up in a situation where you narrowly miss the playoffs, have the 13th or 14th pick in the draft, and then miss out on any potential superstars. It’s inevitable, however, that some teams will find themselves in this situation every year. The solution to this problem is easy, really…

(explosion sounds)

Tanking.

I’m not so concerned with the idea that the lottery somehow needs to be fixed to avoid tanking. Instead, I prefer to focus on the system that is currently in place. As it stands now, you’ve got a weighted lottery and the worse your team is, the better chance you have at jumping into the top three picks. Therefore, once you’ve recognized that the team is unable to actually compete, tanking for a better draft pick is probably the best strategy. It’s easy to say that as someone simply observing from the outside, but how many fans really want to get on board with that idea? Obviously, fans want what is best for their team –but does that include rooting for losses in order to improve draft position?

I don’t mean to always bring the Cavaliers into it, but they are one of the teams currently dealing with this exact situation and it can be applied to several teams across the league. At the trade deadline, the Cavs were a handful of games out of the 8th seed in the Eastern Conference (despite being several games below .500). At that point, you’ve got a decision to make: gun for that last playoff spot or liquidize assets and build for the longterm. It’s fairly apparent that they decided upon the latter (trading away Ramon Sessions, simply attempting to acquire draft picks instead of current players, etc.). In my opinion, that was the correct move. It’s important for the front office to identify the fact that the current core is not adequate as currently composed. The Cavs are still a couple of impact pieces away from having a solid core to build around and eventually make a run at the postseason. Unfortunately once you make that realization, there’s still 30 games left to be played in the season. Now what?

So you’re a fan of a team that isn’t going to make the playoffs or even if they do make the playoffs, they will likely be the victims of a demoralizing beatdown — what do you do? When they think with their brains, most NBA fans know that it’s beneficial for their team to be as bad as possible, get a better draft pick, and then build around that young core of players. However, many fans do not think with their brains, they think with their hearts. How do you go from passionately rooting for a team every night to hoping that they lose just to acquire more ping-pong balls in the lottery? In short (and I’m speaking from experience), you don’t. When I sit down to watch my favorite team play, I’m watching and reacting as if I want them to win. Every night. And this is despite the fact that I know all too well that losing and getting better lottery odds is what’s truly best for the franchise. When the Cavs aren’t playing, I’m anxiously watching the scoreboard of the teams surrounding Cleveland at the bottom of the standings, hoping that they’ll pull off a win and jump the Cavs. After the Cavs lose, I’m understandably bummed out, as any fan would be when their team loses. After about 10 minutes or so, I remember: damn, that was a good loss.

It’s easily one of the most uncomfortable and peculiar feelings for a fan. It feels morally wrong to be rooting against your team. You’ve got that little part of you that’s saying, man, if only we got into the playoffs, we could really up our game and give Chicago a scare. How do you sit there and watch you team actively blowout the existing roster in order to completely tank the remainder of the season, as the Blazers recently did? You’ve got Warriors fans booing their owner because he traded away a fan favorite, with the team’s best long-term interests in mind. Ultimately, I’ve come to deal with it by basically playing two roles. Most of the time, I’m working as an armchair general manager. When my team isn’t playing, I’m reading scouting reports and hoping that they can lose just a few more games to move up and grab this prospect — it’s all-out tank mode. Once my team takes the court, however, we’ve entered the demilitarized zone. I want to win — no tanks allowed.

Mystery Statistics Theater: Point Guard Edition

Welcome to the first edition of Mystery Statistics Theater, a new series here at Hardwood Paroxysm. Over the next few days, Conrad Kaczmarek and I (Jared Dubin) will be attempting to do the previously impossible; we’ll be removing all personal bias from our conclusions. Here and in the subsequent editions of this series, this is what you’ll find: a comparison of the per-36 minutes and advanced statistics lines of two different players – one from this season and one from a randomly selected season – with no names attached. Our task was to decide which of the two players was better, or more valuable, or which we’d rather have on our team; whatever you want to call it, we chose between the two players without knowing who they really were. You can see the comparisons, conclusions and corresponding player names below. Enjoy.
(NOTE: We used per-36 minutes rather than per-game stats to marginalize and/or eliminate any differences in playing time. Additionally, we recognize that these comparisons do not account for team context or player roles. Rather, this exercise intends to demonstrate how simply looking at the numbers can lead you to conclusions that may seem counterintuitive, for better or worse, and that surface opinions and bias can lead to drastically different conclusions than simply analyzing the stats. Also, we whited out the player names so you can play along for fun!)
Mystery #1 – Created by Conrad, Analyzed by Jared
FG FGA FG% 3P 3PA 3P% FT FTA FT% ORB DRB TRB AST STL BLK TOV PF PTS
6.0 13.5 .445 0.7 2.4 .306 3.2 3.7 .865 0.6 3.2 3.8 6.8 0.8 0.2 2.4 1.9 15.9
6.6 16.5 .402 2.1 6.0 .352 4.5 5.4 .836 0.6 2.9 3.5 8.3 1.0 0.3 4.3 2.0 19.9
TS% eFG% ORB% DRB% TRB% AST% STL% BLK% TOV% USG% ORtg DRtg
.527 .472 2.1 10.7 6.3 34.4 1.3 0.6 13.6 22.8 109 107
.527 .466 1.8 10.3 5.9 45.6 1.5 0.7 18.7 29.9 104 113
Player B has flashier counting stats, but I’m going to go with Player A. Though Player A doesn’t assist on as many or as high a percentage of his team’s baskets, he makes up for it by turning the ball over less per-36 minutes and less often per-100 possessions (and his assist numbers are nothing to sneeze at either). Taking care of the ball is of tantamount importance for a point guard. Additionally, Player A is a better and more efficient shooter than Player B despite the 4 percent deficit in 3P%. His efficiency is what allows for the 6-point advantage in offensive rating, and though defensive rating is often influenced heavily by your teammates, Player B’s 112 is too low to dismiss entirely. Player A’s 107 isn’t great, but it’s better. Taking care of the ball, efficient shooting and defense, that sounds like a point guard to me.
(Player A – Jarrett Jack 2011-12, Player B – Deron Williams 2011-12)
Note: Highlight the line above this to reveal player names
Mystery #2 – Created by Conrad, Analyzed by Jared
FG FGA FG% 3P 3PA 3P% FT FTA FT% ORB DRB TRB AST STL BLK TOV PF PTS
4.2 9.3 .451 1.1 3.2 .348 1.4 1.5 .935 0.5 3.1 3.6 8.9 0.7 0.0 1.9 2.0 10.8
4.5 9.5 .475 0.1 0.6 .233 1.1 1.9 .568 1.2 3.0 4.2 10.8 2.2 0.2 3.3 1.7 10.3
TS% eFG% ORB% DRB% TRB% AST% STL% BLK% TOV% USG% ORtg DRtg
.547 .510 1.5 9.9 5.7 44.4 1.0 0.1 16.2 15.6 115 107
.495 .482 4.5 9.7 7.2 47.1 3.2 0.3 24.3 18.3 104 100
This one is really tough. Do you want an offensive specialist like Player A or a more well-rounded point guard in Player B? Player A has a sizable edge in shooting and turnovers, while Player B has a slight advantages in rebounding and a bigger edge in assists and on defense. A player that is as good of a shooter as Player A is a huge asset, especially at the end of games. A knock-down 93.5 FT% can create a tactical advantage. Player B’s defensive prowess is just as valuable, as collecting 2.2 steals per-36 and holding a 7-point edge in defensive rating is big. His advantage in rebounding and assists is small though, and he turns the ball over almost twice as often. I’m taking the more well-rounded specimen here: give me Player B.
(Player A – Jose Calderon 2011-12, Player B – Rajon Rondo 2010-11)
Note: Highlight the area above this to reveal player names
Mystery #3 – Created by Conrad, Analyzed by Jared
FG FGA FG% 3P 3PA 3P% FT FTA FT% ORB DRB TRB AST STL BLK TOV PF PTS
7.7 17.2 .445 2.3 6.1 .366 2.5 3.0 .820 0.7 2.6 3.3 5.4 1.6 0.2 2.4 1.5 20.0
7.2 16.3 .441 0.2 1.0 .250 3.5 4.5 .780 0.5 2.7 3.2 8.5 1.1 0.0 2.8 1.4 18.1
TS% eFG% ORB% DRB% TRB% AST% STL% BLK% TOV% USG% ORtg DRtg
.541 .510 2.1 8.4 5.2 27.9 2.3 0.5 11.5 26.1 108 104
.496 .449 1.6 8.8 5.2 40.4 1.6 0.1 13.1 27.1 106 106
This is just a ridiculous toss-up. Look how similar those lines are. Points per-36 is within 0.2; rebounds per-36 is within 0.1, turnovers per-36 is within 0.2, offensive rating and defensive rating are both within one. What this decision comes down to is wther you want a guy who is a better long-range shooter and can thus stretch and defense or a guy who is a slightly better distributor and thus will get your other players more and better looks. I was all set to take the distributor (Player B) until I noticed the approximately 10 point advantage in both 3P% and FT% for Player A. Thus, Player A gets my vote.
(Player A – Brandon Jennings 2011-12, Player B – Tony Parker 2007-08)
Note: Highlight the line above this to reveal player names
Mystery #4 – Created by Conrad, Analyzed by Jared
FG FGA FG% 3P 3PA 3P% FT FTA FT% ORB DRB TRB AST STL BLK TOV PF PTS
8.6 16.7 .511 1.4 3.5 .411 4.0 4.9 .821 1.1 3.0 4.1 6.1 0.9 0.6 4.1 3.0 22.6
5.2 12.1 .430 0.6 2.3 .282 5.1 6.0 .847 0.8 4.3 5.1 7.8 2.2 0.1 2.3 2.8 16.1
TS% eFG% ORB% DRB% TRB% AST% STL% BLK% TOV% USG% ORtg DRtg
.597 .554 3.6 10.2 6.8 35.1 1.4 1.2 17.7 28.5 111 107
.546 .456 2.5 14.8 8.5 38.2 3.4 0.2 13.7 22.2 114 104
Holy efficiency, Player A! That’s just a monster season. He’s dangerously close to achieving a 50-40-90 season, the holy grail of shooting in basketball. He makes up for the fact that he’s not averaging as many assists by scoring 6 more points per-36. He’s not as good of a defender, rebounder of free throw shooter; but again, that efficiency. The fact that Player A averages 1.7 assists per-36 less but is still within shouting distance of Player B’s AST% tells me his teammates aren’t very good scorers, and that might be why he’s scoring the basketball more. His defensive stats don’t look great and he turns it over a bit too much, but as a scorer who is that efficient and is still a good distributor, he’s my guy.
(Player A – Kyrie Irving 2011-12, Player B – Chris Paul 2005-06)
Note: Highlight the line above this to reveal player names
Mystery #5 – Created by Jared, Analyzed by Conrad
FG FGA FG% 3P 3PA 3P% FT FTA FT% ORB DRB TRB AST STL BLK TOV PF PTS
5.3 12.6 .418 2.1 5.1 .408 5.4 5.9 .913 0.4 2.7 3.1 6.5 1.2 0.2 2.3 2.1 18.1
7.7 17.2 .445 2.3 6.1 .366 2.5 3.0 .820 0.7 2.6 3.3 5.4 1.6 0.2 2.4 1.5 20.0
TS% eFG% ORB% DRB% TRB% AST% STL% BLK% TOV% USG% ORtg DRtg
.592 .501 1.4 8.4 5.0 28.9 1.7 0.5 13.0 21.7 121 110
.541 .510 2.1 8.4 5.2 27.9 2.3 0.5 11.5 26.1 108 104
Man, this is a close one. Player A scores slightly less, dishes out slightly more assists and has a lower usage rate. Player B has a better FG%, but only gets to the free throw line about half as often as player A. Furthermore, Player A shoots a stellar 40%+ from behind the arc and an incredibly useful 90%+ from the charity stripe. The thing that really gets my attention is their respective offensive and defensive ratings. Player A boasts an offensive rating of 121, which is somewhat ridiculous. His defense isn’t that good, but I’m willing to accept that when the offense that he runs is so effective. Point guard defense doesn’t have a ton of impact on the overall team defense, but the play of a point guard definitely has a big impact on the team’s offensive efficiency. I’m going with Player A.
(Player A – Chauncey Billups 2008-09, Player B – Brandon Jennings 2011-12)
Note: Highlight the line above this to reveal player names
Mystery #6 – Created by Jared, Analyzed by Conrad
FG FGA FG% 3P 3PA 3P% FT FTA FT% ORB DRB TRB AST STL BLK TOV PF PTS
3.9 10.2 .382 0.8 2.4 .354 3.3 4.1 .817 0.4 4.5 4.9 9.3 2.3 0.2 3.4 2.4 12.0
5.5 13.4 .409 0.5 1.6 .296 4.2 5.4 .766 0.5 3.9 4.4 7.9 1.7 0.5 3.6 2.4 15.6
TS% eFG% ORB% DRB% TRB% AST% STL% BLK% TOV% USG% ORtg DRtg
.500 .424 1.4 14.0 7.7 41.7 3.4 0.4 22.1 19.0 104 100
.494 .427 1.5 12.8 6.9 36.0 2.4 1.0 18.6 23.8 100 110
Ew, neither of these guys can score at all. Player A is kind of confusing because he’s shooting a respectable 35% from 3-point land, yet is shooting just 38% from the field overall. In addition to the decent 3-point stroke, he knocks down his free throws which makes me question his field goal percentage even more. Player B just looks like he’s a poor shooting. Both of them seem to distribute the ball pretty well, despite turning the ball over too much for my liking. Ultimately, I’d have to lean towards Player A because he seems to recognize the fact that he doesnt score very well and instead looks to get his teammates better looks.
(Player A – Ricky Rubio 2011-12, Player B – John Wall 2010-11)
Note: Highlight the line above this to reveal player names
Mystery #7 – Created by Jared, Analyzed by Conrad
FG FGA FG% 3P 3PA 3P% FT FTA FT% ORB DRB TRB AST STL BLK TOV PF PTS
4.7 12.2 .387 1.6 4.7 .352 3.6 4.2 .873 1.2 5.2 6.4 8.0 2.0 0.3 3.3 2.7 14.7
5.1 11.1 .463 0.6 1.9 .286 2.2 2.9 .755 1.2 3.3 4.4 8.4 1.6 0.2 2.7 1.9 13.1
TS% eFG% ORB% DRB% TRB% AST% STL% BLK% TOV% USG% ORtg DRtg
.525 .454 3.9 16.3 10.1 33.9 2.9 0.6 19.0 21.6 108 101
.526 .488 4.0 10.0 7.1 35.9 2.2 0.3 17.6 18.7 110 104
Once again, these guys are really damn close. The assist rates are really close and the difference in turnovers isn’t something to get worked up about. There is a pretty big discrepancy in field goal percentage as Player B shoots a respectable 45.2% while Player A is just closing his eyes and hoping it goes in. Also, why the hell is Player A taking 4.7 threes per 36 minutes when he’s shooting just 35.2%? With most of the other important factors pretty equal, I’ve got to go with Player B because Player A needs to learn not to shoot so many threes when he’s this good at running an offense effectively.
(Player A – Kyle Lowry 2011-12, Player B – Andre Miller 2011-12)
Note: Highlight the line above this to reveal player names

Replacing The Past With The Present

Last season was a weird time for me.

Hopefully I don’t have to explain to you why last season was so hard for those of us born on the shores of Lake Erie. The futility of the Cavs and the dominance of the Miami Heat led to a mindset that I’m not very proud of. Most nights, I found myself rooting harder for a Heat loss than for a Cavaliers win. My favorite team was far less compelling than my least favorite. Nobody cared about the Cavaliers. Everybody cared about the Heat. It was nothing unusual for the Cavs to lose a game; they lost 26 of them in a row. However, it was quite unusual for the Heat to lose a game and I savored it every single time that they did. It was schadenfreude at its finest.

It was not unusual for my mindset to be called sad or even pathetic. There were plenty of articles insisting that Clevelanders needed to “let it go” and “just move on”. The only problem with this whole “moving on” concept is that in order to do it, you need something to move on to. What did Cavs fans have to move on to? The development of Christian Eyenga? The emergence of Ramon Sessions as a maybe decent point guard? Woo! Get excited, Cleveland! The truth of the matter is that there was nothing to be excited about. The Cavaliers lost essentially every night. All of the drama, passion, and unpredictability had been lost. There was no drama. There was very little passion. Unpredictable? Forget it. The only thing that was unpredictable was how the Cavs would decide to get destroy on any given night. Would they allow 50 points in the paint? Would they lose by 55 points? Would they hang around until the end and then lose in dramatic, soul-crushing fashion? The answer to all of these questions, of course, is yes. The 2010-11 Cleveland Cavaliers had turned losing into an art form. Meanwhile in South Beach, Miami’s unbelievablypassionate fan base got to experience what could have been for us.

But that was last season. The 26-game streak is over. The Heat lost in the Finals and Clevelanders everywhere felt a little bit better about themselves.

We’re now three games into the 2011-12 NBA season and I am ecstatic to report that it has an entirely different feel. The past two games, Miami has won on last second shots. This time last year, I would have been more crushed than fans of the Bobcats and Timberwolves. Now? I feel nothing; apathy. The Heat won tonight? Oh cool, but did you see Kyrie Irving? Weren’t you one of the guys that scoffed when the Cavs reached for Tristan Thompson? Did you see him tonight? 

There is reason for excitement in Cleveland. It’s been eleven games, sure, but Kyrie Irving is coming into his own right before our eyes. Every night he plays with more and more confidence. He’s scored 20+ points in his last 4 games. It’s likely that he’ll hit some rough patches but as it stands now, he has the 5th highest rookie PER of all time. Ahead of him? Oscar Robertson, Michael Jordan, Walter Davis, and Chris Paul. (h/t to @docrostov for that stat) Try to fathom this: he’s the best player for an NBA team at nineteen years old. What were you doing when you were nineteen? Whatever it was, there probably weren’t millions of people watching and analyzing your every move. This kid is special. He’s incredibly talented and will only get better. We’re still waiting for his “welcome to the NBA” moment, but it’s coming. And it’s probably coming sooner rather than later. If that’s not enough to get Cavs fans excited about this team, Tristan Thompson will force feed you infinite hustle and energy. After two games, he earned the nickname “Tigger” from some Cavs reporters and fans. His motor is unstoppable. He’s bouncing all over the court, swatting shots and crushing dunks. Whether you like him or not, we have an owner that cares about his fans and cares about winning. There’s some young talent, there’s some veteran leaders that can be used as trade bait. There’s a stacked draft class coming in that will help this rebuilding process even more. Last year, I dreaded watching and writing about the Cavaliers. This year, I’m counting down the hours until tip off.

In 2011, if you wanted to tell me to get over it, you’d have to understand that it’s not that easy. In 2012? Gladly; Cleveland fans finally have a reason to move on.