Author Archives: Steve von Horn

NBA Finals 2012, Thunder Vs. Heat: Why OKC Will Beat Miami In 6 Games

If you can’t get excited about the 2012 NBA Finals matchup, it’s time to turn in your NBA card. NBA basketball may not be for you. The Oklahoma City Thunder could throw any combination of Thabo Sefolosha, Kevin Durant, Serge Ibaka and Nick Collison at LeBron James, while the Miami Heat bring the No. 4-rated defense in the NBA (and the No. 2-rated defense against opponent shots at the rim) to the table for Durant, Ibaka, James Harden and Russell Westbrook to confront. That’s what I call fun.

Each team is deserving of a title, so the series will be easy to enjoy for me. Here’s a crazy thought for you: the Miami Heat have already matched the Boston Celtics’ Big Three in NBA Finals appearances, and with a series win they will have matched the number of championships as well…all in the minimum possible time to do so. That bit of perspective will help me avoid overreacting to a possible Miami series loss as well, because I actually believe OKC will win the series in six games.

The best qualities of the top players in this series are off-the-charts (literally), and it all shines through on the visuals presented below. The biggest issue for the Heat is that Dwyane Wade isn’t really matching his regular season production, even if LeBron is raising his level of play to a legendary level. Wade in the 2012 NBA Playoffs owns a 52.9 TS% and he is shooting 35.5 percent from everywhere beyond three feet from the rim (82/231). That he has managed to post a 22.5 playoffs PER is a testament to his vast ability, but something tells me he won’t be able to keep up the 72.9% shooting at the rim (75/103) that has propped up his production now that Serge Ibaka and Kendrick Perkins are standing in the way.

The Chris Bosh love feels more like a pathos-related boost than a true bump in ethos, but expectations will certainly be more in line with his ability than ever before after his gutty Game 7 performance against the Celtics. It’s a good problem to have for Miami, which is more than I can say for their looming matchups against Russell Westbrook and James Harden. The “defense wins championships” notion will be tested early and often when Durant, Westbrook and Harden take the court together, because the Heat simply don’t have the firepower to match OKC’s best lineups.

The real reason I give OKC the decisive edge is that they have improved upon their greatest weakness from the regular season. Prior to the playoffs, the Thunder owned the highest turnover rate of any team in the NBA. During the regular season, they gave the ball away without getting off a shot on 15.3 percent of their possessions. It didn’t prevent the team from posting the highest TS% in the NBA or the No. 2 overall offensive efficiency, but the negative value of the turnovers still weighed down the team any way you slice it. In those 66 games, the blame among OKC’s high-usage trio broke down like this: Harden 14.8 TOV%, Westbrook 14.2 TOV%, Durant 14.0 TOV%.

Fast forward to the playoffs and everyone is suddenly taking better care of the basketball. Westbrook is only turning the ball over 9.6% of his possessions, while Durant and Harden have reduced their TOV rates to 11.7% and 12.5%, respectively. The Thunder have an 11.2 TOV% in the postseason, which is the second-best mark of the entire playoff field in 2012 (behind the Denver Nuggets). OKC isn’t helping their opponent beat them any longer, and that’s what has made them supremely dangerous during the 2012 NBA Playoffs.

This matchup is incredibly close based on the regular season numbers, but the two important postseason shifts with Wade and the Thunder turnover situation are why I believe OKC will take down Miami in six games. Here is a comparison of the rosters if you would like a close look beyond the team stats posted above:

This is my attempt at creating a lineup analysis tool where players are compared to the average values at their position (20+ min/gm positional averages are used). For example, say Player X has an Assist Rate of 20.43, while the average NBA SF (20+ min) has an AR of 17.8. I express the value as it relates to the positional average, so Player X’s Assist Rate is 14.7% better than average (which would point upwards and list 14.7 on the graph).

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Fun With 2012 NBA Draft Scouting Reports (A Mock Draft Supplement For Lottery Picks)

The 2012 NBA Draft represents a beacon of hope for a handful of lost franchises making repeat visits to the draft lottery, but there are plenty of questions regarding how deep the class is after Anthony Davis. The Charlotte Bobcats certainly aren’t ecstatic about nabbing the No. 2 overall pick, as nothing is particularly clear-cut after Unibrow gets snatched up. In fact, you could arrange the next group of prospects (Thomas Robinson, Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, Bradley Beal, Harrison Barnes and Andre Drummond) in every possible order and pretty easily justify all permutations of the list by accentuating the strengths and weaknesses of each player. The same goes for the next group of players projected to land in the mid-to-late lottery — Kendall Marshall, Austin Rivers, Jeremy Lamb, Terrence Ross, Perry Jones III, Terrence Jones, Jared Sullinger, John Henson, Meyers Leonard and Tyler Zeller.

In essence, each team faces a difficult decision. Some of these guys could easily get an NBA GM fired a couple years down the road. One of the most nebulous (and therefore, useless) phrases you hear around this time of year is: “Team X should take the best player available.” Too often we recite this notion of “best player available” as a true draft strategy and nod our heads in agreement, but only because it’s hard to disagree with something so simple and straightforward. The important question conveniently sidestepped by the basic “best player available” credo is the question of true player value within the context of an actual NBA team. I tackled the issue of deconstructing the “best player available” notion last year before the draft, and here is a distillation of my stance:

…”best player available” is a concept highly dependent on the circumstances for anything outside of the top five picks. Average level skills are more fungible than above average skills, and above average skills are more fungible than elite skills…that is just the way the world works. Elite talents define the context of how a team operates, and mediocre talents merely try to thrive within that context. Each non-elite player on an NBA roster still has individual talents and skills, and each has individual value in his own right, but when players with duplicative talents (especially at the same position) are collected on the same team, you eventually reach a point of diminishing returns. No matter how many great rebounders a team has, there is still only one ball to rebound. No matter how many great isolation players a team has, there is still only one ball. There are only 48 minutes in a regulation game, teams are allowed only five players on the court at time, and teams are only allowed to dress twelve players for each game. Eventually, depth can compromise the value of individual players. In other words, when overly similar talents are accumulated on a roster, at some point the individual talents and skills that each player possess can no longer be maximized in actual games.

Even if you disagree with my take, it’s hard to discount the inherent depth and nuance to the issue. Hell, it’s part of what makes the draft process so exciting. We all slip into fantasies where we simultaneously wield the talents of a veteran scout and the authority of an NBA GM — you know, the part where you rank the prospects yourself and vehemently argue over which player the team should have selected — so why not embrace the process. I set out to compare and distinguish prospects in the same position group and draft range by using scouting report blurbs from ESPN’s Chad Ford and homemade Venn diagrams, and then I added supplemental information from Draft Express. Consider the following visual aids another 2012 NBA Draft resource to draw upon.

In the same vein, if you are looking for even more detailed 2012 NBA Draft coverage I have assembled a list of my best features so far:

Here we go:

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2012 NBA Playoffs, Celtics Vs. 76ers Lineup Analysis And Why Boston Will Win In 6 Games

The Philadelphia 76ers don’t really deserve to be in the second round of the 2012 NBA Playoffs. Make no mistake, the Chicago Bulls would have destroyed them with a healthy Derrick Rose and a spry Joakim Noah. Heck, the Bulls came one C.J. Watson mistake away from forcing a Game 7 at the United Center. The Sixers have been dealing with some problems in the second half of the season. I wrote about their tendency to fall into a pattern of shooting mid-range jumpers back in April and broke the whole issue down in much greater detail, but here’s the most relevant snippet:

Undisciplined teams like the Charlotte Bobcats, Washington Wizards and Cleveland Cavaliers are willing patsies in Doug Collins’ defense-oriented plan, but those teams won’t be in the playoff bracket. When compared to the NBA at-large, Philadelphia often looks like the smart team in the room. On most nights, Collins can simply say “we don’t feel like contested two-point field goals will beat you,” and still sound like a genius. However, the landscape is starting to change, and when compared to well-refined teams like the Miami Heat, Chicago Bulls and Orlando Magic, the Sixers are suddenly the dummies taking all of the long twos and sinking into oblivion. They have slipped into the quicksand of inefficiency as better teams chip away at their defensive dominance and exploit their offensive addiction to sub-optimal attempts.

Throughout the 2011-12 NBA season, the Sixers have been among the league leaders in terms of percentage of total shots taken between 10-23 feet. That’s an efficiency dead zone where offensive rebounds and shooting percentages go to die, generally speaking. The Celtics aren’t exactly the polar opposite of Philly, and in many ways they are a bizzarro world version that found ways to get better in the second half of the season by starting Kevin Garnett at center and allowing Avery Bradley to take the starting shooting guard spot from Ray Allen. I don’t think the Sixers have gotten over the problems that plagued them during the second half of the season, but I do think the Celtics have become a better team. Here’s how the lineups compare:

A New Lineup Analysis Tool (.GIF File On 20-Second Intervals)

Here is my attempt at creating a lineup analysis tool where players are compared to the average values at their position (20+ min/gm positional averages are used). For example, say Player X has an Assist Rate of 20.43, while the average NBA SF (20+ min) has an AR of 17.8. I express the value as it relates to the positional average, so Player X’s Assist Rate is 14.7% better than average (which would point upwards and list 14.7 on the graph).

Philadelphia had good success against the Celtics during the regular season, but Boston was never quite operating at full strength. According to NBA.com/stats, no five-man lineup for Boston played more than 15 minutes against the Sixers in the regular season. That’s odd for two teams in the same division. One thing I always like to do for the playoffs is to see how the top players from the higher-seeded team played against the opposition, because rotations tighten up and those guys will be on the court together a lot during the series.

In this case, Boston comes out looking good. When the trio of Garnett, Pierce and Rondo were on the floor together (55 total minutes), the Cs accumulated a +17.2 pts / 100 possessions net rating — 117.0 Offensive Efficiency, 99.8 Defensive Efficiency. Along the same lines, the group of Bradley, Pierce and  Rondo (26 total minutes) produced a stellar +28.1 net rating. Those guys are going to play a ton of minutes together, and while the small sample size means it likely won’t hold up at that level, the short bursts of dominance bode well when coupled with the experience of Doc Rivers and the Celtics overall.

Meanwhile, three of the top-five most-used lineups (filled with starters that will be playing heavy minutes in the playoffs) by Sixers in head-to-head regular season games against the Celtics played terrible basketball in short stints. Here’s the quick rundown:

4-Man Lineups MIN OffRtg DefRtg NetRtg
Brand,Elton – Hawes,Spencer – Holiday,Jrue – Turner,Evan 22 106.3 139.3 -33
Brand,Elton – Hawes,Spencer – Iguodala,Andre – Turner,Evan 20 106.3 133.1 -26.8
Hawes,Spencer – Holiday,Jrue – Iguodala,Andre – Turner,Evan 20 106.3 133.1 -26.8

Advanced Stat Breakdown

I don’t think this will be an easy series for either team. They don’t play easy styles. Everything is a grind, and it all stems from disciplined defense. The Sixers matchup well across the board and boast solid depth to match the Celtics, but Boston has better top players that are more reliable under a playoff intensity. Paul Pierce is going to get to the right elbow when the game is on the line. Rajon Rondo is going to create open looks for Kevin Garnett from the mid-range. I’ve never felt particularly fatalistic about a series, but I do in this case. The Celtics are going to get the job done somehow.

Prediction: Celtics In 6

 

For my other predictions and deeper analysis on other matchups, check out these other Hardwood Paroxysm articles:

A Full Eastern Conference Playoff Breakdown With First Round Picks Included

A Full Western Conference Breakdown With First Round Picks Included

My Piece On The Philadelphia 76ers From April

Heat vs. Pacers Prediction And Lineup Analysis

Statistical support for this story from NBA.com

2012 NBA Playoffs, Heat vs. Pacers Lineup Analysis And Reasons Why Miami Will Win In 6 Games

As the 2012 NBA Playoffs finally move beyond the first round, the real fun begins. Individual matchup become more compelling, the stakes continue to rise and the quality of basketball ascends as lesser teams make their fishing plans. I’ve hit on all my predicted winners except the injury-ravaged Chicago Bulls in the first-round, and you can check out those picks and my deeper analysis of the full field on Hardwood Paroxysm here for the Eastern Conference and here for the Western Conference. Now here’s my look at the second-round Eastern Conference matchup between the Miami Heat and the Indiana Pacers.

A New Lineup Analysis Tool (.GIF File On 20-Second Intervals)

As you might expect, the Miami Heat are the superior team. LeBron James and Dwyane Wade are the two best players in the series, and it isn’t even close. Shocking, right? Anyways, here is my attempt at creating a lineup analysis tool where players are compared to the average values at their position (20+ min/gm positional averages are used). For example, say Player X has an Assist Rate of 20.43, while the average NBA SF (20+ min) has an AR of 17.8. I express the value as it relates to the positional average, so Player X’s Assist Rate is 14.7% better than average (which would point up 14.7 on the graph). Here is how Miami Heat players compare to their counterparts on the Indiana Pacers and NBA averages from 2011-12:

Danny Granger and Paul George certainly have the physical tools to slow down LeBron James and Dwyane Wade, but according to NBA.com/Stats the Pacers were a net -16.1 points per 100 possessions (93.9 Off Eff, 110.0 Def Eff) with LeBron on the court in their four regular season matchups and a net -10.7 with Wade on the court. Something tells me Indiana is going to see a lot of both of those guys in this series, so I’m going to treat those stats as a harbinger of death for the Pacers.

One thing that gives me pause about predicting a six-game series win for Miami (aside from the fact that their role players are so weak), is that the Pacers actually had terrific success with their most-used lineup against Miami this season — Collison| George | Granger | Hibbert | West — as that quintet dominated the offensive glass (35.7% offensive rebound rate) and produced a net rating of +9.1 pts / 100 poss in 74 minutes against Miami in the regular season. As you can see above, Hibbert has a clear advantage on the offensive glass against Haslem, and West is slightly better than Bosh in that respect, but James and Wade more than cancel out anything George and Granger bring to the table. Without knowing the exact matchups for that seemingly magical Pacers lineup, I can still tell you that they shot an absurd 48 percent from beyond the arc while on the floor. That feels like fool’s gold to me. One thing that will throw Indy off their game is that Udonis Haslem and Joel Anthony will bother Hibbert in the post, disrupting spacing on the arc — Hibbert posted up on 51.9% of his plays this year (0.89 ppp), but Haslem only allowed 0.78 ppp and Anthony limited opponents to 0.75 ppp, according to Synergy Sports.

Advanced Stat Breakdown

One area that provides some hope for Indy is that the Heat have given up one of the highest percentages of shots from beyond the arc to opponents all season long, which could work well for a Pacers team that finished the year as the sixth-best three-point shooting team in the league. If Indy catches fire from long distance, the complexion of the series could change in a hurry. Interestingly, the Pacers hold an advantage in three of the traditional Four Factors on offense, but the most important factor (by far) is eFG% and the Heat are miles ahead in that respect. Perhaps even more importantly, Miami is a top-five defensive team in the NBA and Indiana gets to the rim even less often than an average NBA squad, so it all comes down to the three-point efficiency. James and Wade know the Pacers are hungry to prove they belong, so I fully expect the dynamic duo to rip Indy’s heart out early in the series to prevent things from getting interesting. That’s what stars do in the NBA Playoffs. Sorry Pacers fans.

Prediction: Miami In 6

Statistical support for this story from NBA.com

2012 NBA Playoffs, Eastern Conference First Round: Advanced Stats, Cool Visuals And Short Blurbs

The 2012 NBA Playoffs have finally arrived, and in the Eastern Conference the Chicago Bulls and Miami Heat still the cream of the crop, but injuries to Derrick Rose have created some space for the Boston Celtics to jump back up to pseudo-contention status. The Atlanta Hawks would love to join the Celtics  at that level, but with a head-to-head first round matchup the Hawks would have to take that title away from Boston. Do the New York Knicks have any chance at an upset? How lopsided are the matchups? Take a look at the chart I’ve embedded to compare playoff teams in various advanced stat categories. and be sure to read up on the short blurbs as well.

No. 1 Chicago Bulls vs. No. 8 Philadelphia 76ers

Tom Thibodeau has managed to push the Bulls to insane heights this season considering the lingering injuries to Derrick Rose, Richard Hamilton and Luol Deng (among others), while Doug Collins turned a fast start by Philadelphia into a near-disaster. In fact, you could argue it’s still a disaster. If Rose is injured things become a bit more interesting, but in general the Bulls are not the team you want to see in the first round of the NBA Playoffs. Chicago has knocked off plenty of top teams this season, but the Sixers are like their wimpier younger brother. Both rely on defense to gain their edge over opponents and in this series the Bulls are going to come out with better defense. Why? The Sixers take a lot of long jumpshots (as I detailed a while back) and should struggle to score against the Bulls. The only reason I’m even extending this series to six games is because there is almost no way Derrick Rose will be a 100%.

Prediction: Bulls in 6

 

No. 2 Miami Heat vs. No. 7 New York Knicks

Analysis: If Tyson Chandler misses game one with flu-like symptoms, there are big problems for the Knicks. Chandler holds things together on offense and defense, and he’s amid one of the most efficient offensive seasons in the history of the league (as I detailed a while back), so if he’s anything less than 100% there is no amount of Carmelo Anthony isos that could make things right. Melo has been great since Mike Woodson refocused the offense around his offensive talents, but the Miami Heat have more than enough talented defenders to throw at Melo. LeBron James and Dwyane Wade aren’t going to let this series get away from them, so I expect a strong start that puts the Knicks on their their heels.

Prediction: Heat in 5

 

No. 3 Indiana Pacers vs. No. 6 Orlando Magic

Analysis: The Orlando Magic are done. Finished. Dwight Howard has sunk their battleship. There really isn’t much more to say, honestly. I really like Ryan Anderson, but when stories start coming out about the need for Jameer Nelson to raise his game to a new level, it’s over. Because I don’t think this will be much of a series, let’s close with a joke.

Q: Where does Stan Van Gundy hide his porn stash(e)? A: On his face. It works better as a verbal joke, I promise.

Prediction: Pacers In 4

 

No. 5 Atlanta Hawks vs. No. 4 Boston Celtics

Analysis: Avery Bradley is the talk of the town and Ray Allen’s absence has been sort of brushed under the rug at this point, but the Celtics have certainly found a nice combination near the end of the season. Are they primed for a run to the NBA Finals? I don’t really think so, even if Kevin Garnett can handle 30 minutes per game at the center position. The main point is that the Celtics vets can keep things going for a series or two and the Hawks have failed to show this year is different than any other with this same core.

Prediction: Celtics In 5

2012 NBA Playoffs, Western Conference First Round: Advanced Stats, Cool Visuals And Short Blurbs

The 2012 NBA Playoffs are finally here, but sometimes I wish we didn’t have to start with 16 teams. For all the excitement and action that the NCAA Tournament and NFL Playoffs bring to our lives with single-serving, sudden-death games that could pivot on any number of unlikely events , the most attractive feature of the NBA Playoffs (to me) is the stability that the best-four-of-seven format provides. The postseason in professional basketball is a meritocracy, plain and simple. The best teams of the regular season (health permitting) almost always advance out of the first round and push towards the championship, so the best players tend to play on the biggest stages and for the highest stakes. That’s exactly how I like it.

Unfortunately, this dynamic usually turns the matchups on the outside of the bracket — 1 vs. 8 and 2 vs. 7 — into pro forma events that represent more of a reward to the highest seeds than anything else. In any case, I’ve set up a nice little graph of various advanced stats that make it easy to compare strengths and weaknesses of competing teams set for head-to-head matchups. I also decided to compile a checklist that addresses which team has the edge in each area and paired it with short blurbs of analysis and my prediction for the series.

No. 1 San Antonio Spurs vs. No. 8 Utah Jazz

Analysis: I’ve watched about 20 Jazz games very closely this season, and about 15 more at a #leaguepassalert level. I’m hardly an expert, but my viewing experience has spanned from the early-season concerns about Tyrone Corbin’s sub-optimal rotations (the Raja Bell and Josh Howard experience) to the Paul Millsap at SF experiments down the stretch. That last part is key, by the way.

Sure the Houston Rockets pooped the bed to make room for the Jazz in the playoff bracket, but the secret behind Utah’s recent success has been a particular five-man unit of Devin Harris, Gordon Hayward, Paul Millsap, Derrick Favors and Al Jefferson. According to NBA.com/Stats, over the last 15 Utah games — in which this group played during 7 games and logged 65 minutes on the floor — the quintet posted an offensive efficiency of 117.5 (pts/100 possessions) a defensive efficiency of 80.4 (pts/100 possessions), which is good for a +37.1 net efficiency mark! That’s not just good, it’s outlandish.

There’s only one problem for the Jazz: they are playing the Spurs. Over that same 15 game period, the Spurs rested plenty of players along the way and still managed to post a +15.0 net efficiency as a team. The entire Jazz squad during that stretch with the special five-man group? +2.5 net efficiency. The disparities are even more stark over the course of the season. In other words, anything Utah can do, San Antonio can do better. The chase for the 8th seed was fun, but don’t buy in to any upset storyline for this series. San Antonio is just too good at basketball.

Matt Moore and Graydon Gordian have been known to use the phrase “Gentleman’s Sweep” to describe the outcome in a lopsided playoff series, and I think works well in this case. For those who don’t know, a Gentleman’s Sweep” is one where “a team wins comfortably but still graciously allows its opponent to win one game. The phrase fits perfectly here if Utah prime quintet gets big minutes and takes off during one of their home games.

Prediction: Spurs In 5 (Gentleman’s Sweep)


No. 3 Los Angeles Lakers vs. No. 6 Denver Nuggets

Analysis: The Denver Nuggets are the kings of high-pace offense and have been among the best in the NBA in terms of fast break points, percentage of shots taken at the rim, true shooting percentage and offensive efficiency for most of the season. However, they have been battling injuries for much of the second half of the season and this matchup makes me feel like Nuggets GM Masai Ujiri would love to borrow Nene for a week. Can Kenneth Faried, JaVale McGee, Kosta Koufos and Timofey Mozgov hold up against Andrew Bynum and Pau Gasol? I have my doubts. Kobe may not be healthy, but it’s only really going to hurt the Lakers if he insists on being the star of the show. Running offense through the bigs will allow LA to control the pace, and their strong rebounding numbers should help and muzzle Denver’s potent transition attack as well.  If Danilo Gallinari can exploit the absence of Metta World Peace and Ty Lawson can dominate Ramon Sessions, I could see an upset. However, I think the Lakers will run things through the bigs and wear down Denver over time.

Prediction: Lakers In 7

No. 2 Oklahoma City Thunder vs. No. 7 Dallas Mavericks

Analysis: The Thunder are hungry, and the Mavs have played most of the season like they are anything but, so this one feels pretty easy to me. No doubt Dirk Nowitzki will dazzle at times, but it’s important to remember how soundly Serge Ibaka defended Dirk last year in the playoffs (even if Nowitzki still hit the shots). James Harden was cleared by doctors to play earlier in the week, so I’m assuming he will be ready to go when the series starts. No way OKC gets bounced in the first round by an underwhelming Dallas team. Durant, Westbrook, Harden and Ibaka are leaps and bounds better than what the Mavs can counter with in this matchup.

Prediction: Thunder In 5

No. 4 Memphis Grizzlies vs. No. 5 Los Angeles Clippers

Analysis: The Memphis Grizzlies have home court advantage in an NBA Playoff series for the first time in franchise history, and while I know that’s a big deal it’s hard to get over the fact that the Grizz are a grindy team that still feels like an overachiever from the regular season. Their size will be an asset in the series, but the Clippers shouldn’t be dismissed just because Memphis surged in the second half of the season. LA claimed a 2-1 regular season series victory in head-to-head play and Blake Griffin played particularly well in both wins, so his production will be something to key on in the series. I already feel dumb for trusting a team coached by Vinny Del Negro to pull out a road win or two in a playoff series, but I feel like the Grizzlies have been overrated down the stretch while the Clippers are still easily on their level.

Prediction: Clippers In 7

Statistical support for this story from NBA.com

2012 NBA Playoffs: Spurs vs. Jazz and a Metric Model of Awesome

Four Things You Need To Know

(1) Players Are Compared To The Corresponding Positional Average And Minute Threshold.  The idea behind this project is to explore player performance in relation to the average player at their position. Many lines have been blurred in the positional revolution, and while shooting guards and small forwards are doing very similar things on the court, basic differences between point guards and centers have endured. Big men are grabbing the rebounds, point guards are dishing out the assists, and the bulk of shots are coming from very different locations on the floor (on average). The comparisons won’t always be perfect, but using positional averages makes the exercise more useful in my mind.

Along the same lines, there is a general trend in the NBA that better players play more minutes. Even rate stats increase on average when breaking down positions at the higher minutes per game thresholds, so while it’s fun to compare Derrick Rose to  Toney Douglas , it makes more sense to use other starting PGs as the measuring bar. I’ve broken each position group into two segments (10+ min/gm and 25+ min/gm) so the top players are subject to a smaller pool and the role players get an expanded basis for comparison. With teams tightening rotations up for the playoffs, high end matchups are far more likely to see now.

(2) I’ve Altered A Few Things To Make It More Intuitive.  First of all, this exercise covers offensive and rebounding stats exclusively, because there aren’t enough reliable defensive metrics at the individual level to work with. Again, remember that defensive impact is not included in this analysis — I would recommend checking out 82games.com for +/- stats and counterpart PER allowed if you’d like to take a deeper look.

A trio of alterations have also been applied to make the data more understandable: (a) Turnover Rate is the only stat where a lower value is better, so I have flipped the values to make a lower TOR appear as above-average, (b) low sample size shooting zones — 3-9ft and 10-15ft — have been combined into a single value and (c) a 50 attempt minimum threshold has been imposed on each shooting zone to avoid misleading stats like  Andrew Bynum’s  three-point shooting percentage.

(3) Here’s An Example.  Mike Dunleavy  is a SF who plays 26.2 min/gm, so I compared his production to the averages for NBA SFs that played 25+ min/gm this season. For example, Dunleavy has an Assist Rate of 20.43, while the average NBA SF (25+ min) has an AR of 17.8. Dunleavy is clearly above average, but I compare his value by indexing against the average. Dunleavy’s AR is divided by the positional average and multiplied by 100, and the resulting value 114.7 means that Dunleavy is 14.7% better than the average SF (25+ min/gm) when it comes to AR.

(4) Here Is How You Read The Graph.

How_to_read_the_graph_real_medium

Knicks Center Tyson Chandler Is Probably Better Than You Think, No Matter What You Think

Tyson Chandler is not the most talented center in the NBA, and he’s often not the most outstanding player in the moment, but he’s a damn good NBA player. In fact, no matter how good you think he is, Tyson Chandler is probably better than you can reasonably project. When the New York Knicks acquired the 7-foot-1 big man in a sign-and-trade on a four-year, $56 million contract in December of 2011, they got quite a deal. That’s just the truth, and it goes well beyond his defensive value.

Honestly, there’s no better time to start appreciating one of the NBA’s best centers than right now. The subtlety of his impact creates an atmosphere where his game can easily be obfuscated by those old, trusty basketball tropes and idioms. He “does all the little things.” He’s “a consummate team player.” The Knicks “couldn’t survive without him.” All of that is absolutely true, by the way, but none of it can quite capture what Chandler does on the court. If every NBA GM had an opportunity to reprogram the undisciplined, ultra-athletic seven-footer hanging around on their roster, they would use Chandler as the blueprint for a successful rebirth.

It starts with defense. The Knicks haven’t jumped from 21st to 5th in defensive efficiency this season by accident. It’s almost inconceivable that Chandler could play alongside some potentially porous combination of Carmelo Anthony, Amar’e Stoudemire, Jeremy Lin and Baron Davis and still transform the Knicks into an elite defensive unit, but that basketball miracle has come to fruition this season. In fact, the general trend that more good things happen with Chandler on the court has been in development for years. Here’s a rough-chop look at his defensive impact with four different teams over the past four seasons:

Chandler knows his role on the court and plays to his strengths. He’s not faster or quicker than the opposing point guard penetrating into the lane, but he often beats that man to the spot with his anticipation, awareness and length. Opposing big men struggle to break his disciplined approach and steal easy baskets under the rim. He knows defense is his calling card, and clearly stated his goals during the introductory press conference back when some guy named Mike D’Antoni used to coach the Knicks:

“I know what my job is in coming here. I know I came here to defend. I’m going to defend the rim and I’m going to rebound. I’m going to get extra shots. I know if we play on both ends, and we play as a team, the sky is definitely the limit.”

With a record hovering around .500 and an eye on the eighth seed in the Eastern Conference playoff bracket, I’m not sure New York has to worry about the sky limiting their ascent at this point, but defense is not the problem. As noted by ESPN’s John Hollinger, Chandler is single-handedly turning the Melo-STAT pairing into some viable semblance of a core by taking care of the point prevention thing along with Iman Shumpert and Landry Fields. Even so, fans have been more likely to chant Lin’s name than Chandler’s this season. Such is life for the big man.

The Dallas Mavericks unquestionably benefitted from Chandler’s superb defensive abilities during their championship run last season, but even then he finished third in Defensive Player of the Year voting, didn’t even place that high on ballot of Mavericks beat writer Eddie Sefko and received zero first-place votes. Chuck Hayes (2), Grant Hill (1), and Keith Bogans (1) received more first-place votes for 2011 DPOY, so it seems fair to say that Chandler isn’t always turning heads with his brand of basketball. But who cares if he doesn’t turn heads, because he transforms teams. Hollinger is absolutely on point with his recent endorsement of Chandler for 2012 Defensive Player of the Year (insider only).

Now what if I told you Chandler was in the midst of one of the most efficient offensive seasons in the history of the NBA?

It would be a mistake to suggest that he is some sort of offensive centerpiece, but to overlook his contribution on that end of the floor is criminal. Resident basketball sage and Hardwood Paroxysm godfather Matt Moore couldn’t have put it more perfectly when he wrote about Chandler as the perfect “clean-up man” for New York back in December of 2011:

Interesting differential in years where the Spurs killed people and where they didn’t. In years they did, Duncan had what I call the “clean-up man.” It’s someone who just waits, grabs, and lays it in. Because the double-team on Duncan was so rough, that Duncan would miss long, rebound to the other side, and there’s Fabricio Oberto. Just waiting. And watching.

Chandler causes more problems because he’s better than those clean-up men. He’s a legitimate threat. He has the hands to catch and finish, can jam back the putback over a smaller defender, and has enough offense to create a few buckets here and there. He’s like the deluxe version of the clean-up man. And that kind of role addition is a game-changer for teams.

Amen, Matt. Amen. First let’s take a look at his impact on team rebounding through the same lens applied to his defense:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Chandler grabs plenty of rebounds on his own, but he’s always around the rim and contributes with innumerable box-outs and tap-outs as well. The percentage bumps in rebounding paint his value with a broad brush, but a closer look at the details just enhances the beauty of his art.

Consider the following facts regarding Tyson Chandler’s offensive game:

(1) He owns the highest True Shooting percentage of any active NBA player (60.8% TS).

(2) He is on pace to post the highest single-season True Shooting Percentage of any player in NBA history (here is the full list on Basketball-Reference).

(3) As first noted by Benjamin Hoffman of the New York Times, he is also primed to claim the third-best single-season field goal percentage in NBA history (here is the full list on Basketball-Reference).

Tyson Chandler: the ULTRA deluxe clean-up man. The title sounds slightly pejorative, but that’s not the case. It also looks like another glossy basketball trope, but it comes far too close to reality for dismissal on those grounds. Of the 610 points Chandler has scored this season, 608 of them have come from either the free throw line or within the paint. You read that correctly. He has 275 points from the free throw line, 335 points in the paint and one lone 16-foot jump shot from the third quarter of a Feb. 3 game against Boston Celtics. It’s not as if he’s missing a ton of jumpers either, as you can see from his 2011-12 shot chart (via Basketball-Reference’s Play Index+ tool and then NBA.com/Stats):

Could Chandler do more on pick-and-pops? Probably. He shot a more than respectable 21-44 (48.0 percent) from 16-23 feet last season with the Mavs, but that can’t hold a candle to his fifth-highest rate in the NBA on basket cuts (1.47 ppp) and ninth-best mark when diving to the rim as a roll man on PnR (1.23 ppp), which comes via MySynergySports.com. I like to think that he isn’t willing to sacrifice interior impact on putbacks, tap-out rebounds and drop-step finishes for a few more points and the tenuous prospect of slightly better spacing. The craft is already perfected. Practical talents and wise decisions have compounded so often that he appears to dictate the merger of the right place and right time on a regular basis. Tyson Chandler may not conform to the NBA’s marketed brand of “spectacular” but he’s probably better than you think, no matter what you think.

2012 NBA Playoffs Primer: The Philadelphia 76ers, A Kingdom On Quicksand

Photo by electricnerve on Flickr

(Steve von Horn is a writer at the obscenely good BrewHoop and SBNation. Today he begins a series of playoff previews primed around ye old metrics (COUNT THE RINGZ). He’s got that ol’ HP style and a good mind for TEH METRIX that I thought would fit in nicely here. Welcome him as you would any Bucks fan, with a respectful confusion.- Ed.)

 

The Philadelphia 76ers are the most interesting team in the Eastern Conference playoff bracket, but that’s not necessarily a compliment. They’ve eschewed the superstar model with a quiet gusto, but it has always seemed like a reluctant route in Philly. Early success in the 2011-12 season deadened Andre Iguodala trade deadline rumors for the first time in what feels like forever, but it would be quite a stretch to call him the clear-cut star of a squad led in scoring by its sixth man (Lou Williams) and most famous for its bench (the Night Shift).

It feels wrong to nit-pick a team that has ranked among the top-5 in efficiency differential (pace-adjusted) and margin of victory for the entire season, but there’s a reason Sixers are fading down the stretch. It’s likely the same reason why Philly is 11-18 against +.500 teams and the only team in the league yet to win (a) when their opponent scores 100+ points (0-7) or (b) any game decided by three points or less (0-4). While some might see balanced scoring and superior depth where others lament the absence of a superstar, everyone who takes a hard look at the Sixers has to spend a lot of time thinking about long two-point shots.

The long-two carries all sorts of baggage in NBA analysis, but the most divisive point — that taking long jumpshots is somehow a sign of being ‘soft’ — has no place in this discussion. You should abandon any such connection before reading on. The point being drilled home here is that mid-range jumpshots are among the most inefficient attempts in basketball and represent a serious limiting factor on offensive efficiency. It would be easy to just say ‘a team should ever take long twos’ and turn this story into some self-aggrandizing stand against the two-point jumpshot, but in the real world that class of shot is a necessary part of every NBA offense. Long-twos always happen, so it’s the rate of occurrence that really matters.

The theory behind limiting such shot on offense and forcing more of them on defense isn’t controversial at all. The goal is to turn possessions into points better than the opponent, and because shooting percentages drop the farther you move away from the rim, it makes perfect sense to that a two-point attempt from three feet is inherently a better than a two-point attempt from 15 feet. Both shots are worth the same amount of points, but the longer one goes in a lot less. Distance is the enemy of efficiency right up to the line on the floor where the rules award the offense an extra point for a made basket — the three-point line. To illustrate the logic of the concept, here is a breakdown of league-wide shooting averages from various floor segments normalized using eFG% on threes (information via NBA.com/Stats):


There’s significant collateral damage associated with jump shots as well. First of all, it’s hard to consistently earn free throw attempts, which are supposed to be, at a minimum, the safety net for any offense struggling to find the bottom of net — because defenders rarely foul players that catapult pull ups and spot ups from the perimeter. The second problem is that the in between shots are the least likely to be recovered as an offensive rebound, which further compounds the inefficiency. At the 2012 MIT Sloan Sports Analytics Conference, Rajiv Maheswaran, Yu-Han Chang, Aaron Henehan and Samantha Danesis presented a wonderful research paper on how rebounding is affected by shot location, and Hardwood Paroxysm’s own Jared Dubin summed up the findings like this:

“According to their research, rebounds collected within two feet of the basket have a 40 percent chance of being an offensive rebound. The percentage chance that the rebound will be offensive drops down to 22 percent between 2 and 10 feet from the basket. Once the ball moves farther outside that range, however, the chance that the rebound will be offensive starts to rise back up, passing the 40 percent plateau again when the ball gets 22 to 26 feet from the basket upon being officially rebounded. As detailed by the researchers, this generally aligns with the expectation that most offensive rebounds are grabbed very close to the hoop (such as tip-ins) or are long rebounds.”

The only thing more stunning than the comprehensive weight of this evidence is how it applies to the Sixers. Let me explain.

The Kingdom. Philadelphia’s defense isn’t just good, it’s great. For all the attention paid to Tom Thibodeau on the Chicago Bulls for their defensive prowess, the fact remains that Doug Collins has quietly turned the Sixers into the NBA’s top defense. Nothing about their dominance is hidden in the shadows either. Philly plays the same slow-paced, physical brand of defense as the Bulls (they rank No. 30 and No. 29 in pace, respectively), and can match Chicago in every relevant defensive category.

Without a name-brand premier interior defender to anchor the paint, Philadelphia shuts opposing offenses down. According to Hoopdata.com, they allow the fewest points per contest in the NBA (87.8) and own the top mark in defensive efficiency (94.9 points allowed per 100 possessions) as well. If you’d like to take a look back, they were this good in January, February and March, too.

Here’s how they’ve done it. Andre Iguodala and Jrue Holiday cut off premium angles for penetration with their collective length and quickness, while Elton Brand, Spencer Hawes, Lavoy Allen and (sometimes) Thaddeus Young work hard to push opposing big men off the block and out of the paint on post plays. When these defensive dynamics combine on pick-and-roll plays, the Sixers particularly shine. According to mySynergySports.com, Philadelphia is the fourth-best team in the NBA at defending pick-and-roll ball handlers (0.74 points per possession allowed), and the third-best at shutting down the roll man (0.89 ppp).

The whole defensive system works in harmony, and the network of carefully timely rotations and strategically surrendered soft spots achieves something close to perfection in the points prevention department. Doug Collins opened up to John Finger of CSN Philly about the core tenets of his defensive philosophy in January and he sounded like genius at the time.

“We don’t feel like contested two-point field goals will beat you. At the end of the day you’ll get beat in the paint, you’ll get beat with fast breaks and you’ll get beat behind the three-point line, but we just don’t feel like teams are going to beat you making contested two-point shots,” Collins explained. “Our whole philosophy is to try and make those teams make those shots against us. Sometimes it looks like, ‘Man, that guy is really open. Why didn’t someone rotate to him?’ Well, we’d much rather give a guy a long two rather than rotate over so they can make a pass to a guy for an open three.” 

Collins wasn’t just spouting off coach-speak, because the theory translates well to the court. An average NBA team takes exactly one-third of its shots from the 10-23 foot range, but the Sixers’ defense forces opponents into hoisting a league-high 39.1 percent of shots from that same distance (via Hoopdata.com). Long jumpers mean long odds on long-term success, so to borrow a line from The A-Team, “I love it when a plan comes together.”

The Quicksand. When Doug Collins confidently declares “we don’t feel like contested two-point field goals will beat you,” it sounds sincere. Heck, it even looks sincere if the focus remains on the defensive numbers. Unfortunately for Doug and the 76ers, there are two equally-weighted sides of the coin in basketball.

Philadelphia’s defensive unit would absolutely love to play against their offense. That’s the easiest way to put it. Guess which team takes the highest percentage of shots from the 10-23 foot range on offense. Okay, it’s actually the Charlotte Bobcats at 43.7 percent, but the Philadelphia 76ers devote the second-highest percentage of their offense to long twos (43.4 percent). All of the other collateral trends discussed above follow right in line. They are No. 17 in offensive efficiency, No. 26 in Offensive Rebound Rate and dead last in Free Throw Rate. That’s simply not how a successful playoff team runs its offense.

What are some possible solutions for the Sixers as they prepare for the 2012 NBA Playoffs. Here are a couple suggestions, and they should be treated like energy alternatives to fossil fuel, meaning no single option is the panacea, but every option offers the chance for incremental improvement:

1. Doug Collins should take the time to listen to…himself. Doug’s quote from above lays out the simple blueprint for better success on offense: “At the end of the day you’ll get beat in the paint, you’ll get beat with fast breaks and you’ll get beat behind the three-point line, but we just don’t feel like teams are going to beat you making contested two-point shots.” I wholeheartedly agree.

As Zach Lowe of SI.com has noted, Collins likes to run a popular set called “horns,” where an entry pass to a big man on either elbow initiates the offensive movement while the wings typically set a series of screens along the baseline and beyond the arc. Elton Brand is a nice player, but by consistently putting the ball into his hands along the free throw line extended, the offense is primed to settle for two-point looks more often. Consider this: the only players in the league who have attempted more shots than Elton Brand from 10-15 feet this season are Kobe Bryant and Dirk Nowitzki (via Hoopdata.com).

The problem for Collins is that the primary ball handlers on the perimeter have struggled to produce in traditional pick-and-roll sets. According to mySynergySports.com, Jrue Holiday ranks 27th in isolation scoring, but just 81st overall as a pick-and-roll ball handler. Iguodala (102nd in PnR) and Evan Turner (109th) suffer from the same deficiency. Lou Williams seems like the perfect man for the job, as he ranks No. 8 overall in the NBA as a pick-and-roll ball handler (0.98 ppp), so perhaps Collins can find the right back-court pairing to get Lou on the court and change the complexion of the offense for the better.

2. Get out in transition more often. In theory, it makes perfect sense for the Sixers to get out into the open floor more often. Holiday, Iguodala, Young, Williams and even Turner are good enough athletes to thrive in transition, and the defense is designed to force long jumpshots that get snagged by the defense at a high rate than any other attempt on the floor. Clean the glass and run! 

The perfect way to bring home the point of this entire article is with the following information (again according to mySynergySports.com) : Holiday, Iguodala, Turner and Williams all rank 112th or worse in transition efficiency, but even Jrue’s No. 193 mark (1.02 ppp) is still higher than Lou Williams 8th-overall PnR efficiency (0.98 ppp).

In other words, running more often certainly won’t hurt the offense. It’s not a coincidence that the league’s fastest team — George Karl’s Denver Nuggets — hold elite ranks for points in the paint and offensive efficiency. In fact, the Nuggets have almost made more shots in the restricted area (1162) than the Sixers have even attempted (1209) at the rim (information via NBA.com/Stats).

3.  Get a bit more creative with lineups to avoid overwhelming long-two tendencies. Aside from the suggestion to play Lou Williams more often just to increase his raw volume of pick-and-roll plays, there are a few other small adjustments that can be made.

Looking at three-man combinations among the 30 most-used lineups for the 76ers, it’s apparent that Jodie Meeks needs to be separated from Elton Brand and Jrue Holiday.


Conclusions: A Kingdom On Quicksand. After starting the season 20-10 and jumping out to a big lead Eastern Conference’s Atlantic Division, the Philadelphia 76ers hit the wall and now find themselves in a tight race for the division crown with the Boston Celtics. The Atlantic Division title could mean the difference between a winnable first round matchup against the Indiana Pacers/Atlanta Hawks and a dubious pairing against the Miami Heat/Chicago Bulls. If you get the feeling that the Sixers are sinking, it’s because they are.Maybe Lou Williams creates better opportunities for Meeks beyond the three-point line by breaking down the defense in PnR, or maybe defenders hedge picks differently with Brand and Holiday on the floor and deny Meeks proper openings for premium catch-and-shoot looks, but the key is that Collins could make small tweaks like this one to help the offense get back on track.

They’ve built a kingdom on the long-two point shot, which is something that worked well enough against the bad teams front-loaded into their schedule, but it’s not an effective way to beat quality opponents that are good enough to avoid the shots on offense and talented enough on defense to capitalize on Philly’s systemic mistakes. Keep in mind that Philly is just 11-18 against +.500 teams and 2-19 when trailing after the third quarter.

Undisciplined teams like the Charlotte Bobcats, Washington Wizards and Cleveland Cavaliers are willing patsies in Doug Collins’ defense-oriented plan, but those teams won’t be in the playoff bracket. When compared to the NBA at-large, Philadelphia often looks like the smart team in the room. On most nights, Collins can simply say “we don’t feel like contested two-point field goals will beat you,” and still sound like a genius. However, the landscape is starting to change, and when compared to well-refined teams like the Miami Heat, Chicago Bulls and Orlando Magic, the Sixers are suddenly the dummies taking all of the long twos and sinking into oblivion. They’ve slipped into the quicksand of inefficiency as better teams chip away at their defensive dominance and exploit their offensive addiction to sub-optimal attempts.  We are at the point where everything sounds great, but Philadelphia fans are justified in asking: “where is King Collins when you really need him?”