Tag Archives: Chris Paul

Time To Make The Sausage

There aren’t many certainties in today’s NBA, but beginning the month of May with MVP controversy is one thing you can always count on. There are no standardized qualifications for becoming the league’s official Most Valuable Player, and that creates a huge amount of inherent wiggle room, allowing voters to weigh different criteria in whatever way they see fit. That loose flexibility was shoved into the spotlight yesterday when Boston Globe columnist, Gary Washburn, revealed himself to be the lone voter who didn’t put LeBron James at the top of his ballot. Washburn went with Carmelo Anthony, and made his case public as part of yesterday’s announcement.

LeBron had an absolutely dominant season and it’s nigh impossible to find any reliable statistical metric by which he wasn’t the most productive player in the league this season. Washburn actually seemed to agree, and his argument was that although Anthony may not have been the better player, he was more important to his team. I’m not here to argue the merits of Washburn’s argument. But I would like to point out that this is an extreme example of separation between decision-making based on the power of statistics and the power of narrative. LeBron’s season presents some incredibly compelling storylines as well, but while there’s little space to argue against his statistical case, there’s plenty of room to argue about stories.

I don’t mean to imply that Washburn’s choice is somehow immature or incorrect because he gave more weight to the narrative elements of Anthony’s case. Stories are part of basketball; how we watch it, understand it, talk about it, and certainly how the media covers it. Stories are important and have always been a part of how the MVP award is decided. My own experiences as a basketball fan and amateur analyst are a constant balancing act between the narrative and the numeric. It’s an indelicate art and the line between the two moves constantly. One of the questions that the whole Washburn rigamarole raised for me was, exactly where that line falls for MVP voters in the aggregate. How much of MVP voting is based on statistics, literal or implied, and how much is based on a compelling story?

Narrative is an extremely complex idea to measure, but tracking the statistical case for MVP candidates is a little more straightforward. I began at Basketball-Reference’s Award Page, looking at the players who have received MVP votes over the last 10 seasons. Basketball-Reference is nice enough to include a limited statistical profile right alongside each player. The listed categories are age, games played, minutes per game, points per game, rebounds per game, assists per game, steals per game, blocks per game, field goal percentage, three-point percentage, free throw percentage, Win Shares and win shares per 48 minutes. My intuition is that any MVP voter who does include statistics in their decision making probably doesn’t look much further than these categories, and so they seemed like a reasonable place to start.

The one category which is conspicuously absent from a voting perspective is team win percentage, which I added. The other changes I made were dropping total Win Shares, keeping just the per 48 minute version, and converting total games played to percentage of games played, adjusting for the lockout shortened season. I then regressed those categories onto the share of total possible points that each player received from the voters. The result was an R^2 value of 0.516, which means just over half the variation in MVP voting can be explained by players’ performance in those categories I mentioned above.

While that explains a significant block of variability, it still leaves nearly half of the story untold. That 0.484 is where the narrative comes in. The results of the regression analysis also include an equation by which you can project the share of possible MVP voting points a player should have received, based on those numbers. I did that for each of the top five vote-getters from those 10 seasons and put them in to this Tableau Visualization, along with the actual share of MVP vote they received.

[iframe]<iframe src=”http://public.tableausoftware.com/views/NBAsMostValuablePlayerResults/MVPVotingDashboard?:embed=y&:display_count=no” style=”border:0px #FFFFFF none;” name=”MVP Voting” scrolling=”no” frameborder=”1″ marginheight=”0px” marginwidth=”0px” height=”663px” width=”663px”></iframe>[/iframe]

You can play around and sort by year, looking at how each race shook out. The higher a player is on the vertical axis the more compelling their statistical case was. I’m making an assumption here, but the implication is that the difference between a player’s projected share and their actual share represents the power of their narrative. Player’s who fall low on the vertical axis, but far to the right on the horizontal axis would appear to be the ones with the most compelling narratives.

I put this visualization together for you to draw your own conclusions, but I’ll share I few seasons I found particularly interesting.

2013

2013 MVP

This was a year where the narrative component of the MVP voting went hand-in-hand with the statistical rationale. LeBron and Durant had big statistical edges and it was clearly reflected in the results. But those numbers also fell in with the storyline of two dominant stars elevating their games and leading their teams to a new level. I also thought it was interesting how much of a difference narrative made in the case of Carmelo Anthony. We already discussed how his story swayed Gary Washburn, but he apparently wasn’t the only one. Anthony finished third in this year’s voting despite a weaker statistical component to his case than either LeBron, Durant, Kobe Bryant or Chris Paul.

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2011

2011

This was one of the most memorable MVP votes for me and really exemplified the divide between analytic-minded decision makers, who advocated for Dwight Howard, and those drawn to the compelling one-against-the-world narrative of Derrick Rose’s season. In the end the award went to Rose, by a healthy margin. Amazingly, the regression equation seems to indicate that LeBron had a much stronger statistical case than either Rose or Howard, despite finishing third. This is a case where the negative narrative of the Heat’s ‘front-running’ and the ‘post-Decision’ backlash probably kept LeBron out of the top two spots.

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2008

2008

2008 was another fascinating year in terms of balancing narrative and production. There was a lot of push for Chris Paul who jumped several levels in production, leading the New Orleans Hornets’ to the second-best record in the Western Conference, along with building the most compelling statistical resume of the candidates. In the end he lost out to Kobe Bryant, who trumped Paul’s narrative with a career of dominance, that had at that point been unrecognized with an MVP award. Kevin Garnett finished third for his work in coalescing the Big Three in Boston and leading the Celtics to the best record in the league. LeBron James finished fourth, with the second-most compelling statistical resume but no enticing story to attach it to.

_____

2006

2006

This is another infamous award season. It was Nash’s second consecutive MVP, despite being the worst for the Nash-D’Antoni Suns, both in terms of wins and offensive efficiency. But it was a remarkable and, at the time, almost unbelievable duplication of what they had done in their first season together. This was especially true when you consider that Amare Stoudemire played just three games all season long. That the ‘Seven Seconds or Less’ philosophy was able to sustain into a second season and prove a viable offensive strategy that wouldn’t dissipate once it was “figured out” by NBA defenses was the narrative that drove Nash to this award. LeBron finished second in the voting, but he was one of three players, along with Dirk Nowitzki and Chauncey Billups who had a more compelling statistical case.

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People on both sides of the narrative-numerical divide often seem to get their hackles up around the MVP Award, depending on which side prevails in a given year. While middle ground we currently walk always leaves someone frustrated, it’s by far preferable to the alternative. There is a place for logic and reason in the NBA and no one would be satisfied by a world where postseason awards were handed willy-nilly with no verifiable, objective reasoning to support those decisions. At the same time, making decisions with a formula only denies our human instinct to create, tell and consume stories. It may be a bumpy ride, but you can enjoy the MVP award both for what it is and for what it is not.

15-Footer, 4/30/13: HAIKUS FOR TUES(day)

Golden State Warriors vs Denver Nuggets 8 PM TNT

Steph Curry Stephen

Curry Steph Curry Stephen

Curry Steph Curry

 

He is en fuego

Karl sticks Miller

On him. Big mistake

 

Denver returns home

Down three games to one. Will Dubs

Deliver knockout?

 

Memphis Grizzlies vs Los Angeles Clippers 10:30 PM TNT

 

Marc Gasol getting

More aggressive on offense

Is good for Memphis

 

CP3 being

The Point God is good for Clips

And for us at home

 

What’s not good for us?

Blake Griffin’s incessant need to dribble between the legs then pull up for a mid-range jumper that will inevitably clang off the rim. YOU’RE SHOOTING 33% from MID-RANGE AND 51% AT THE RIM. GO STRONG TO THE HOLE BLAKE.

I broke haiku rules.

 

Statistic support

For story provided by

NBA.com

I Need A Hero(ball)

I’m ready to raze the advanced statistics movement — lay waste to its algorithmic ramparts and seize the Holy Land of the Larry O’Brien Trophy in the name of Heroball.

These 2013 playoffs have certainly picked their spots when it comes to bringing us to our feet, but what moments they’ve been. And they’ve largely resulted from Heroball, the oft derided, amorphous shadow cousin of “the right way.” LeBron James’s performance in Game 1 against the Milwaukee Bucks was the paragon of efficiency, whether measured by counting or rate statistics: 27 points on 9-of-11 shooting from the field. An 86.4% effective field goal percentage. 10 rebounds. Assisted on approximately 43% of his teammates’ made baskets when he was on the floor. Each time James handles the ball is a moment to appreciate the inner workings of a mastermind, like being a fly on the wall in da Vinci’s workshop — with HD compound vision.

Yet for all the spectacle of watching James in his effective glory, the most astounding moments are the visceral, not the academic. LeBron’s passing will leave you shaking your head; his decision to take the basketball and turn everything around him into the defensive equivalent of third graders performing as trees in a school play will leave you unleashing tribal screams into the vast darkness of the universe. When LeBron James engages in Heroball, the world stops — for everyone but him. And while its largely because these acts of valor are so incredibly efficient that they have such resonance, the efficiency is tangential to the experience. It’s perfect for analyzing the minutes, but subpar for capturing the moment.

And for all of his improvement as a post player and passer, Carmelo Anthony was still at his most entertaining this weekend when he went into full on Melo-mode, isolating his defender and finding the most ridiculous ways to get shots off and knock them down. Heroball brought Madison Square Garden to its feet and gives lift to the already astronomical stylings of JR Smith; without it, the Knicks are the Atlanta Hawks with fewer playoff series wins in recent history.

The only thing that makes Heroball more fun is when it comes at the end of the game, though — unless you’re a Warriors or Grizzlies fan. Professor Andre Miller and Chris Paul, two of the wiliest players in the league, both worshiped at the altar of legends. Both reduced twitter to a rambling mess of capital letters, exclamation points and various appeals to deities, basketball and general alike. And both rendered advanced statistics absolutely meaningless.

Were there more efficient options? Maybe in a points per possession sense, yes. But in terms of providing us with the very best of what NBA playoffs have to offer?

Let Heroball reign. Its expected value is off the charts. Especially when the very act of Heroball is the most efficient decision on the court, as it was with Chris Paul at the last second last night. Heroball is at its most beautiful when it takes its singular, insular focus, turns it on efficiency, and renders the numbers meaningless.

Chris Paul, in the clutch, is ridiculously efficient. His Heroball will tell you that.

2013 All-Star Profiles: Chris Paul

trindade.joao (flickr)

trindade.joao (flickr)

 

The Point God, Chris Paul, is returning to the All-Star Game for the 6th time in his career. Whether he actually plays in the game is an open, inconclusive question at this point. You see, for a Point God, Paul is regretfully mortal. His balky bruised knee has sidelined him for all but two games over the last couple of weeks. The Los Angeles Clippers, once neck-and-neck with Oklahoma City and San Antonio for first in the West, have capsized during his absence.

7 losses in 9 games is not a good look.

But just because Paul is a mere mortal and not a divine god doesn’t mean he isn’t a worthy hero and capable of genuine feats of grandeur. Greek mythology is not only littered with gods but also men who did the magnificent and the spectacular. Men like Odysseus and Jason braved treacherous waters, stormed mighty gates, or hid inside Trojan horses. Whatever the tactic these men gamely used their brains, brawn, and bravado to save the day.

Chris Paul won’t be garnering any golden fleeces, but his bag of tricks is just as valuable and covetous. For years he’s been the NBA’s best floor manager. Demonstrative orders are handed out on the floor for his minions to set picks, make cuts, get out the way, do whatever is necessary to create a cogent play. When a play still breaks down, he’s one of the best in the league at creating his own shot with wicked dribbling and a stepback jumper that is second-to-none.

The Clippers will easily make the postseason again, but Paul’s health is the key to their long-term success. Better he miss the all-star game in February than the postseason in May. Whether Paul stays in Los Angeles beyond this season is the real worry for the Clippers. Staying with the Clippers may seem like a golden goblet of mead right now, but these are the Clippers still owned by the nefarious Donald Sterling. Two years of determination to win can quickly revert to past habits of complacent mediocrity.

If Paul were to hitch himself long-term to the club, he may prove to be a tragic Greek figure. Poor Daedalus comes to mind in this regard. He was the genius designer who constructed the labyrinth in Crete, but was subsequently imprisoned inside his own creation by his one-time patron and benefactor, King Minos. The NBA’s best passer, its strongest defender at the point position may prove a similar fate.

However, this isn’t mythology. No Oracle can cast foreshadowing eye on what the future holds. We’ll have to see how Paul’s fate unfolds. For now we’ll celebrate his all-star play, wish him a healthy recovery, and hopefully enjoy another stellar postseason where Paul showcases why he’s the league’s premier guard.

Understanding Advanced Stats: The Difficulty Of Defense

Continuing the quest to bridge the gap, another edition in the Hardwood Paroxysm series of Understanding Advanced Stats

One of the hardest things to quantify in basketball is the value of individual defense. The eyeball test can at times be as reliable as statistics here, but it can also fool you all the same. Remember that although it helps, “intensity” doesn’t automatically equal good defense (looking at you Mr. Kobe Nine-Time All-NBA Defensive First Team Bryant).

The standard blocks or steals per-game numbers are also very misleading — a good help defender can net dozens of rejections while being a poor man-D and/or rotation-D defender, and no one in their right mind would accuse steals leaderboard regular Monta Ellis of being a good defender. Even Chris Paul, who regularly leads the NBA in steals, is something more a gambler than an actual lockdown defender as many assume when browsing numbers.

Having a preconceived notion of a player’s abilities due to the standard accepted old school stuffed box score of stats, or a prominent analyst’s opinion, can then skew the viewer creating a bias in the mind’s eye. Because individual defense is so difficult to measure in the NBA we often make assumptions and excuses for particular plays or players. Reputations often rule masses, single spectacular plays net new contracts (has anyone made more money and gotten more burn off of a single clothesline than Raja Bell?).

Unlike on offense, there is no one place to go to get a fairly definitive defensive feel of a player — it really takes trips to a few different sites before we have enough information assimilated to even begin getting an accurate feel for a player on the D end that we can then take with us to the game.

Let’s start by taking a look at an All-NBA Defensive First Team selection from last season, one Kobe Bean Bryant, at BasketballReference. As you may recall from previous posts here at HP, lower is better for DRtg (defensive rating).

Kobe actually looks pretty on par by this rating, right at his career average. Let’s dig deeper, next stop 82Games, and opponent PER (player efficiency rating).

While PER isn’t universally accepted as an accurate offensive measure, it lends itself as a very useful tool as a piece of the defensive stats puzzle — there isn’t, after all, “opponent win shares,” or “opponent wins produced” — and while imperfect, it does have a place in furthering our quest. Keep in mind that we are always wary of small sample sizes.

Kobe Bryant, 2010-11 season

Bearing in mind that 82Games says “all stats reflect assigned responsibility to a player” when positional assignments are charted, Kobe looks pretty good here as well (15.0 is considered the “average NBA player” PER). As with DRtg, opponent PER can’t be trusted as a stand alone D-stat — there’s just too many variables, such as maybe his counterpart simply stinks at shooting the ball, a big portion of the PER formula, or that a team’s D-scheme may include a couple of towering seven-foot beasts that tend to force opposing guards to want to take a lot more lower-percentage long twos than they normally would, etc. Just because Kobe is assigned an offender on paper doesn’t strictly mean he defensed that player on a particular play.

For comparison, since we brought him up, Chris Paul’s opponent PER

My eyeballs have been telling me a different story concerning Kobe for some time, so since we’re seeking truth and not confirmatory bias, and knowing now that D-stats are difficult to quantify, we will continue on to another metric to see if it again holds up.

Over at mySynergySports we find dedicated cameras recording every play by every player in every game, then categorized by type. The result is a comprehensive points-per-possession rating, otherwise known as PPP, with accompanying video.

Note: While quite comprehensive, the calculation of PPP, as with any stat, does have it’s flaws as well, one of which is the inclusion of turnovers as a negative mark. This has the unfortunate effect of having a tendency to rate high usage guards, such as Kobe and point guards, lower offensively since they handle the ball much more, therefore turning it over more often, generally speaking. But that has no effect on defensive stats other than that maybe a particular player may have a penchant for floating around in passing lanes or anticipating passes, like say, Kobe or Chris Paul. While this is technically defense, it’s not exactly what one peruses when pursuing defensive measures of a player.

Kobe Bryant, 2010-11 season

Giving up 0.89 PPP overall isn’t awful. It’s not great either, especially when one considers that of the approximately 450 players in the NBA at any given time only about 300 or less are getting significant playing time (Kobe ranked 216 overall on defense, as you can see).

Kobe is good at isolation D and quite often guarded the opposing point guard, as we can glean from his second-largest sample size of 24.1% on the P&R (pick-and-roll) Ball Handler (duh, Derek Fisher. If I was Phil I’d have put Kobe on ‘em too). The best way to expose Kobe on defense is to come off a screen (he doesn’t like chasing guys around. At all.), or make your spot-up shot, where he allowed 1.01 PPP, which was by far the most used method to take advantage of the aged wonder at 40% of the time Kobe defended opposition.

You see, Kobe will play off you, dare you to shoot, because he just loves getting in those kinds of contests where he excels. They get him goin’. He thrives on ‘em. What he doesn’t thrive on is playing defense. Sure, he’ll gnash his teeth,  jut his jaw, talk smack, and stare you down something serious, but when it’s time he mostly just likes to occupy a spot to one side of the free throw line and take jabs at the ball as it passes in the paint. If he has to, he’ll offer a token couple of steps at a close-out with one hand up at the jump shooter. He’s not wasting precious offensive energy playing defense these days.

This is typical of a Bryant defensive setup. He’ll mostly just stand right about there waiting for the ball to come back to him on offense.

Kobe’s man here is CJ Miles, whom Bryant is playing way off of. Bryant has little or no respect for opposing shooters (notice he has his back to his man, granted Kobe knows his scouting reports and all, but this is also typical of Bryant on defense regardless), opting to occupy a space he doesn’t have to move much more than a couple of steps at.

Miles sees Kobe’s manner of defense on him and will astutely take advantage of it a few possessions later. No, not with an ill-advised three. Watch.

Again, same basic setup.

Paul Millsap has the ball, and Kobe’s full attention, inexplicably, on the low block. Pau Gasol has had a little trouble with Millsap this night, but Ramon Sessions is right there ready to cheat down on a double if necessary. Yet Kobe floats over anyway, and as he does he opens up a huge lane that Miles recognizes.

As Miles makes his move Kobe continues to gravitate toward the ball, y’know, cause it’s Kobe and all. He can’t help it. Notice the passing lane Millsap now has thanks to Kobe as Miles cuts to the paint.

You could drive a Kia through that passing lane and a Mack truck through that cutting lane. Millsap takes full advantage of his underrated court vision after pulling three of the floor’s five defenders to him and dishes off to the cutting Miles for an easy layup attempt.

Watch where you're pointing that finger, Mike Brown

No, Bryant doesn’t always make it this easy on opposing players to get clean looks, but he rarely challenges with more than a token effort. If you can shoot even a little, Bryant will let you try.

Watching every defensive spot-up play defended by Bryant in last season’s playoffs, Kobe’s man made 23, missed 26, and fouled three times. Assigning one point per foul, Bryant gave up 49% shooting to his man in the playoffs last year.

Perspective? Only three qualified shooting guards in the NBA last season made at least that from the floor, Dwyane Wade, Arron Afflalo, and Ray Allen, the latter two extremely good mid-range-to-long shooters by perimeter player standards (here’s your cue to go check em out at HoopData). After that the drop-off is pretty steep to DeMar DeRozan and Kobe himself, at .467 and .451 respectively. The median qualified shooting guard last season shot 44% from the floor, so Kobe gave up at least 5% more than he should have in the playoffs with his “defense.” To guys like Trevor Ariza, Marco Belinelli, Peja Stojakovic, and Jason Kidd, who together averaged .405 from the floor in the regular season.

And yes, he gave ‘em plenty of room to do it in. Ring up another victory for advanced stats.

_____

• Chris Paul’s 2010-11 Synergy defensive numbers

• Kobe’s current Synergy defensive numbers for the 2011-12 season. Interesting to note here that while spot-up and iso numbers remain about the same we see a pretty big drop-off in his ability to cover the ball handler this year. And while his overall rank is better this year than last, that’s as likely attributed to a league-wide fall-off in FG% due to the shortened season as anything else

• Handy sortable “simple ratings” from 82Games already sorted for you by opponent PER (remember, click the column heading)

• Dozens of sortable team and player stats by position from HoopStats based on efficiency differential (which they call Diff. Eff. Same thing), yet another metric you can use to fill in a piece to the D-puzzle

• A little something I’d like to see revisited and updated from Rohan Cruyff, defensive pace factor

Chris Paul Is Finally, Officially, A Los Angeles Clipper

Photo via CNN.tv.

The Los Angeles Clippers have agreed to a deal in principle with the league-owned New Orleans Hornets to acquire guard Chris Paul, according to sources close to the process.

The Clippers, sources said, will send guard Eric Gordon, center Chris Kaman, forward Al-Farouq Aminu and Minnesota’s unprotected 2012 first-round pick to the Hornets for Paul.

via Sources: Clippers, Hornets agree | ESPN.com

And that’s it. The saga only took one week to resolve itself, but it packed enough drama to rival the months-long Carmelo Anthony sweepstakes. In the end, the Hornets got a vastly superior haul for CP3 than they would have in the original Lakers trade: a semi-elite two-guard in Gordon, another young player with significant promise in Aminu, a sizeable expiring contract in Kaman, and Minnesota’s sure-to-be-high-in-the-lottery pick in next year’s stacked draft. It’s as good a starting point for a full rebuild as they could have hoped for, and it makes David Stern’s ridiculous “basketball reasons” explanation for vetoing the Lakers trade seem sort of defensible, even though it isn’t.

On the other side, well, the best teammate Chris Paul has had to date is David West. And now he gets Blake Griffin. And DeAndre Jordan. And his pick of either one of them to throw lobs to every time down the floor if he feels like it. And we get to watch it on League Pass every night if we’re so inclined. And now the Clippers can likely avoid the uncertainty of whether they’ll be able to hang onto Griffin in a year when he’s elegible for an extension. And, assuming they don’t get Dwight Howard, the Lakers may soon become the second-most relevant NBA team in the city of Los Angeles.

All in all, this is a huge win for both teams involved. The Clippers get the best point guard on the planet to team with the most ideal pick-and-roll partner he could ask for, and the Hornets spare themselves a year of drama and get a head start on rebuilding. But most of all, this trade marks a great day for basketball fans everywhere because WE GET TO WATCH CHRIS PAUL AND BLAKE GRIFFIN TOGETHER. EVERY NIGHT.

The Lakers Are Still The Lakers

httpv://www.youtube.com/watch?v=y8-8xeUvS1g

Chris Paul is reportedly close to being on his way to Los Angeles in a three-way deal that will send Pau Gasol to Houston and Lamar Odom, Kevin Martin and Luis Scola to New Orleans. And, other than the confectioners and various candy proprietors in the greater NOLA area, we are all doomed.

Dwight Howard will end up on the Lakers. It is inevitable. But he is not the real villain; he will simply be Darth Vader, corrupted by power and really, really sick of C3POtis-Smith.

The emperor? Our real overlord? He will come in his winged chariot, flags a-flying. He will look like this.

Photo by pictrhound via Flickr

Prepare yourselves, NBA fans. The Empire is coming. We have seen the enemy before, and they most certainly are not us. We would definitely not wave flags if we were one of the most storied teams in the modern NBA. We would never find ourselves to be insufferable fools who use noxious, jewelry-based arguments. It is simply Laker fans that are like this, obviously.

Or maybe we would. Maybe a run of luck comparable to LA’s might stir up some insufferable behavior of our own. Unfortunately, we might not ever know again. The Lakers are going to win the next 18 championships. The fans will cheer. And they’re going to be really annoying.

You’d probably do the same.

The Hitchhiker’s Guide to Point Guard Defense

 

Author Illustration

From the Magrathean Archives:

Fook: “Oh, Deep Thought. We want you to tell us the answer.”

Deep Thought: “The answer to what?”

Lunkwill: “The answer to…everything. We’d really like an answer. Something simple.”

Deep Thought: “Hmm, have to think about that… Return to this place in exactly seven-and-a-half million years.”

HoopSpeak’s Ethan Sherwood Strauss asks, does point guard defense matter? It might surprise you to find Deron Williams isn’t a very good defender by this measure, though not so much if you’re a Utah Jazz fan. With a relative lack of definitive defensive stats to draw upon, the eyeball is largely relied on to make a conscious determination on the matter. Point guards of significant stature, intensity, and athleticism, like Williams,  can easily play tricks with your mind’s eye, fooling you into believing they’re making an impact on the defensive end of the floor.

Similarly, small, quick gamblers like Chris Paul and Russell Westbrook can present a mirage when examined solely through the myopic-scope of standard statistical analysis, such as posting impressive steals numbers. While Ethan’s opinion may simply be tainted by being forced to cover one Monta Ellis –who picks pockets more often than Manu flops even as not a rational soul in the basketball world would ever claim he resembles anything approaching a good defender– we do have a few other resources to draw upon in attempting to compose a more complete picture. (If you didn’t click on the TrueHoop link at the top of this paragraph, please do so now.)

Ford Prefect: “Is it finished?”

Zaphod Bebblebrox: “No, no, no, there’s more, there’s more. They go back.”

Arthur Dent: “What, seven-and-a-half million years later?!”

Zaphod Bebblebrox: “That’s right. They do.” [presses play]

Fook: “Deep Thought, do you have…”

Deep Thought: “…an answer for you? Yes. But you’re not gonna like it.”

Fook: “It doesn’t matter, we must know it.”

Deep Thought: “Alright, the answer…is…”

“Only when you know the question will you know what the answer means,” and I’m not convinced we’ve asked the right question in this case. But lucky for you, you won’t have to wait around for 10 million years to find out.

Who leaps to mind in today’s NBA when you think “defensive point guards?” We’ve already ruled out Chris Paul and Deron Williams (by any measure outside of an iso post-up situation, just trust me on this –you won’t find anything to support otherwise), so we’re left with whom? Certainly Jason Kidd and Rajon Rondo. Maybe Andre Miller and Kirk Hinrich. I’d add anything-Philadelphia, but that’s about it.

The proper question might not be does point guard defense matter, but rather, is point guard defense being played? Because if it’s not, by and large, then it’s difficult to make a case that it does, indeed, matter.

It wasn’t always the way of today with PG D, and it’s only due partially to the “no-hands” era (which I examined more closely here). Offense is sexy. Defense is dirty work no one wants to do anymore. In an effort to understand how we got here I charted the last 25 years of O/D-rating and Points-Per-Game and set it to a timeline of points-past that were well known for their defensive prowess.

Note and disclaimer: Offensive and Defensive ratings are per BasketballReference.com, and are an accurate measure of points scored and allowed. As every action has an opposite and equal reaction, league-wide O and D-Rtgs will always be equal in the summary

I realize that big men have a much larger impact on defense than the little guys, but I believe perimeter players, specifically point guards,  give in far too easily today, playing more with their hands than feet

We used to regularly see point guards on the NBA’s All-Defensive 1st Team –Dennis Johnson and/or Mo Cheeks were there for nine straight years– as well as multiple PGs on it (count ‘em, four times, past) and even the lone Defensive Player of the Year-as-a-point, The Glove, but no more. In the last nine years we’ve had four total appearances, one of which was the aforementioned Chris Paul, and two accounted for by Rondo.

On HoopSpeakLive Ethan notes (4:38 mark), “For all the talk of Rajon Rondo and his defense I don’t think point guard defense matters that much. It does have an impact, but it’s the least important of all the positions [defensively]…it’s not clear he’s having a huge impact.”

Certainly point guard defense matters. Your point is not only your your first line of defense, he’s also supposed to be controlling the game, and not just on the offensive end of things. A point should be doing everything he can to dictate where the opposition goes with the ball, thereby increasing his team’s chance to get a stop.

Most of today’s point guards will all-too-easily take a half-hearted swipe as the ball goes by, leaving their big men exposed in the paint to try and mop up after ‘em, which is just about the worst-case scenario for these guys considering the athleticism and ability of players nowadays, as Ethan notes. Once the ball gets in the paint, the vast majority of the time it will end in points.

If you checked the “no-hands era” link above you noticed that there are more guards on the NBA’s .500 field goal percentage list these days –indeed, three of em made it this year and Steve Nash was right there til the end.  Among point guards, Tony Parker led all in FG% last season, and two other poor 3-point shooters, Rajon Rondo and Andre Miller also find themselves in the top ten of PF FG%. Why? Because point guards don’t defend each other worth a damn, instead relying on help D to bail ‘em out.

Free throw attempts leaders in 2010-11 by position shake out thus: PGs 11, SGs 7, SFs 7, PFs 11, Cs 4. Point guards have found that if the pick-and-roll with their power forward isn’t there they can easily drive the paint now where one of three things generally happens: 1) They score 2) They find an open ‘mate when defenses are forced to collapse to help, or 3) They end up at the line.

According to HoopData stats last season, of the 14 point guard FG% leaders 63% of shots were made “at the rim,” compared to 41% for everything from 3-23 feet. Of the ten leading point guard free throw attempt’ers, 59% of shots were either at the rim or from 16 feet out to beyond the 3-line, compared to just 12% from 3′-9′ and a paltry 9% from 10′-15′ out. If PGs aren’t driving the paint they’re likely popping 3s or near-3s. Chicks dig scars, and chicks dig the long ball, right? Anything in between is no-real-man’s land.

The 3-ball is more prominent now than ever before in the NBA, and high-usage point guards are fond of trying to ring in from range. The 14 best FG-shooting points average out to make about one in three tries, 34%, last season, while 3s comprise about one in every four of their FGAs. An interesting thing happened when I charted in the 3-point percentage to the above graph.

We might expect that 3s would more closely follow along with PPG, while instead we find that over the last 20-plus years it instead appears more closely tied to D-ratings. It took less than a decade –the 3 was first adopted by the NBA in the 1979-80 season– for the 3-ball to integrate itself as a permanent weapon in the arsenals of offensive players and it’s effects have been attached to defenses ever since.

As the perimeter is the domain of point guards first and foremost, as heads egos butt initially from here on in to the paint, on the majority of possessions in most systems, defensively and offensively, this is an area of the game their impact should be felt. Yet we’re experiencing a high,  sustained rate of made 3-pointers. Granted, not all of them come from point guards, but PGs all too often readily let a man fly and hope for the best, waiting with extended hands for a chance to answer at the other end rather than make an attempt to quell a momentum-swinging play in the first place.

Back in the day, one of the most tenacious and annoying defenders in the league, John Stockton, would reportedly terrorize his opponent early in every game by “accidentally” driving his knee as hard as he could into his opposition’s thigh, thereby setting a tone of toughness that seems to be lacking in these “entitled” times of little-to-no real defense. A cursory search of PGs then and now readily shows a separation of several feet on the D end of things for most perimeter players.

Perimeter point guard defense has seemingly said, “So long, and thanks for all the fish.”

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More pieces to the puzzle

Defensive Pace Factor, helping explain why Chris Paul gets so many steals; he gets more chances

Sebastian Pruiti’s recent look at How Top Point Guards Are Defended

Zach and Ethan touch on system on HoopSpeakLive. Deron Williams and Devin Harris show it in their numbers before/after 2011 trade

Baron Davis plays weird defense, or at least he used to (Video)

Unstoppable: Chris Paul Goes NOVA

For the uninitated:

“‘Going Nova”-v: To accelerate your game in an explosive manner, to the point where you are shining so bright it’s hard to see anything else happening on the floor.

via Joe Johnson Goes Nova | Hardwood Paroxysm.

My briefer over at CBS:

It was a perfect example of the lengths Paul will go to in order to win. Trevor Ariza noted after the game that he had six rebounds. The Hornets’ big man, Emeka Okafor had 6 rebounds. Chris Paul had 13 rebounds, against the tallest and longest frontcourt in the National Basketball Association in a pivotal playoff game where he was also scoring and running the offense. Oh, and he had two steals. There was nothing more you could ask for from Paul. How often do you really get to say that about a player?

via NBA Playoffs: The insatiable, unstoppable CP3 – CBSSports.com.

I didn’t bury him. But I was close. I had the hammer in hand. It’s a weakness, falling for the latest thing, and to be fair, there are such strong performances, night after night, after night, from point guards in this league, and… whatever the hell Derrick Rose is (cause that ain’t a point guard), it’s easy to get lost. To forget, to walk past Paul. Especially after he looked so passive for so much of the regular season. Can you assume a player is holding back, if you don’t have a fan’s faith? I guess you should, as CP3 is showing us.

It’s such a firm control, is the thing. Shooters can shoot, but they need the offense to orchestrate the opportunity. Big men can deliver, but they need the space and the defense to allow them to carry it forth. But Paul? Paul is the guy. He’s at the center of everything. The offense doesn’t just flow through him, he’s the engine, the wheels, the carborator, the air filter, the spoiler, the tinted windows and the air conditioner. He’s the entire mechanism. He seems to always make the right decision, and in these games, he’s driven at another level. He wants to be at a frequency beyond what the Lakers are at. He’s a step ahead. He’s dodging bullets. He really is.

27 points, 7 assists, 6 rebounds in the second half. A triple-double, his second in four games against the defending champions. Isn’t this what heroes are made of? Isn’t this the kind of performance you want to remember? But it’ll go unnoticed if/when the Lakers win this series. But we’ve got to. We’ve got to hold onto it for as long as we can because this guy is taking the sport we love and playing it a frequency we can’t even comprehend, with an intensity and beauty we can’t master.

There are albums that make people fall in love with music. Films which get you into movies. Books which drive people to literature. What Chris Paul did in Hornets-Lakers Game 4?

That’s the kind of game that makes people fall in love with basketball.

CP3 went Nova.

You All Lost Your Minds. Let Me Help You Find Them

In this society, we always want something new. We want something better than the last, and we want to be up on it before everybody else gets a whiff of it, and joins the trend.

I’m guilty of it myself. I’ve probably bought a new laptop four times in the four years I’ve been writing about the NBA. Why would that ever be necessary? Is a new laptop going to make me a better writer? Is it going to give me better ideas to present my thoughts on the NBA? No, of course it won’t. But I still like to have the most up-to-date technology I can at my fingertips, literally.

I don’t know why I like this new technology and I don’t know why I crave it. To be honest, my last MacBook Pro was probably better than this one. It was perfect to type on and it had a great layout that I was very comfortable using. But I got greedy. I saw the opportunity to grab one with more updated specs and seized it. I wanted to be ahead of the technological curve.

This is kind of what we have going on in the world of point guard debates. For some godforsaken reason, we now have to debate every point guard matchup and figure out who is going to be the best one. We need to know which guy is a Hall of Fame player after two years in the league and which one would be best to build an entire franchise and marketing campaign around. With the rules being so favorable to the diminutive generals (not a shot at Avery Johnson) and forcing us to crave more complete players than just some Trent Dilfer type of floor leader who will uninspiringly make you wish you could find one damn YouTube-worthy highlight from each game (ABSOLUTELY a shot at Avery Johnson), it makes sense to want to have the latest and greatest point guard on your team.

With the emergence of Rajon Rondo, Russell Westbrook and Derrick Rose last season, the influx of insanely talented rookie point guards and the dominating nature of Deron Williams, we all seemed to forget about Chris Paul. A big part of this was due to injuries. He hurt his knee and it kept him out of almost half the games. Then Darren Collison became a fantasy basketball sensation, which caused everybody to lose their collective bowels and start wondering if the Hornets even needed Chris Paul. Deron Williams exploded at the end of the regular season, threw up some absurd performances in the playoffs and all of a sudden experts and pundits are proclaiming him to be hands down the best point guard in the NBA.

ARE YOU PEOPLE OUT OF YOUR F***ING MINDS?!?

This is CHRIS PAUL!

CHRIS F’ING PAUL!

How did this happen? How did we move on so quickly to the latest fad when the best product on the market is still kicking ass and handing out career years to his teammates?

All he did was injure his knee. He didn’t Greg Oden his knee. He didn’t Shaun Livingston his knee. He didn’t have Big Baby fall into it like an inebriated seal and Joe Theisman his knee. He tore the meniscus in his knee and you all decided to write his obituary and send him off on some slab of glacier to the cold Icelandic waters?

Do you know what he was doing during this time period when Darren Collison had you foolishly drooling and Deron Williams had you worshipping false point guard prophets? He was sitting there, absorbing all of this coverage. He was watching you be dismissive. Hell, he was probably relishing being passed over, just waiting for the day in which he could come back and shove his damn leadership and assists in your face.

This is Chris Paul. He’s kind of an a-hole. That’s not to say he’s a mean guy or a bad guy by any means. But put him on the court and he’s going to want to rip your heart out Temple of Doom style. He’s going to fight Mike Tyson over which one of Lennox Lewis’ kids he can eat first. This guy is competitive beyond any rational sense of what is okay and what isn’t. I would be terrified of him in a fight because with his competitive nature, he’s probably incapable of stopping until he knows the job is finished.

And you left him there stewing. Just waiting to attack. He was like Darth Maul in Star Wars: Episode 1 when he’s taking on Obi-Wan and Qui-Gon at the end. There’s the scene in which they get separated by some laser-infused, Kool-Aid partition. While Obi-Wan is trying to catch up to help out a meditating Qui-Gon, Darth Maul is just pacing back and forth, like a pit bull ready to make the 6’o’clock news after raiding an elementary school.

Throughout this entire time, people have just been kind enough to throw Chris Paul back into the conversation without any real proclamation that he’s returned to his throne of best point guard in the league. Everyone has been looking for the new guy to be the best. Instead, you should have been preparing for the biblical apocalypse that he’s going to hand down on the court this year. He’s healthy now and he’s almost completely in shape too. He has his teammates trying, filling in their roles and actually trying to play defense.

I saw David West show on a screen the other day on defense and it felt like I just saw Haley’s Comet come chill out in my living room.

THIS is the affect Chris Paul returning in a healthy manner has had for the New Orleans Hornets. Maybe he wants to eventually be traded so he can have a real chance at a ring. Maybe he’ll see the effort from this team, fall in love with their tenacity and willingness to do what it takes to rack up wins and decide N’Awlins is the place for him in his next contract. None of that really matters right now.

What matters is people took this man for granted, even though he’s only 25 years old. We got lazy and we got caught up in the latest and hopefully greatest, instead of hoarding bottled water, batteries and Simpsons Uno so we don’t get bored to death in the bunker we should have been building to prepare for his return to the court.

You know who wasn’t prepared? James Jones.

Chris Paul killed James Jones with that crossover. He’s dead now. It doesn’t matter there was a charge called inexplicably after he killed James Jones. All that matters is that James’ will and testament get doled out properly.

Chris Paul is back. He’s the best point guard in the world and everybody needs to be ready to admit it. It’s not a fluke really that the Hornets are 6-0. It’s because Chris Paul is no longer hobbled with a knee injury.

After Chris Paul dismantled the Miami Heat with a 19-assist performance, LeBron James declared on Twitter that this nonsense needs to end.

Ultimately, it’s okay to be impressed with what Rajon Rondo is doing. It’s okay to want Derrick Rose to realize his potential or hope Russell Westbrook develops a jumper or wish Deron Williams would stop going to Supercuts to get his hair did.

The new fads are fun. You can grab a laser disc player. You get to play with your Furby. Go to town on your pogs. Just remember to not lose sight of who the best is right now.

Chris Paul is back. He never really left. And he’s going to make you rue the day that you doubted he was still the best at what he does.