Tag Archives: Toronto Raptors

Profile Paroxysm: Dwight Buycks and the Remaking of a Point Guard

Reputations are hard to shake, and even harder to change. Coming out of Marquette, Dwight Buycks had a reputation of a scoring point guard, a euphemism for a guard that can’t reliably run an offense.

Fast forward two years later, and Buycks — now having played in the NBA D-League and overseas — was playing for the Oklahoma City Thunder’s Summer League team in Orlando. Buycks said his goals in Orlando was “to come here and let the world know what I’ve been working on: picking and choosing when I can get my shots and shots for others.”

Perhaps this sounds like the beginning of a story you’ve heard thousands of times before: A player comes to Summer League, promising to have completely retooled his game, only to show that his prior weaknesses still remain. This is not that story.

The 24-year old Buycks spent last season playing for BVM Gravelines  in France, where he was named MVP of LNB Pro A, averaging 18 points, 3.2 rebounds and nearly three assists per game while leading his team to a number one seed in the playoffs. Such honors and accomplishments might sway a player to stay in Europe and forget his NBA dreams, but the NBA had always been Buycks’ goal, and no amount of overseas success would change that.

There was no jolt of inspiration, no prophetic visions demanding Buycks change his scoring ways. Those are fit for fairy tales, not real life. The need for reformation was a gradual realization, one that came after a good deal of reflection.

“After reevaluating myself, I wanted and needed to become a complete point guard,” said Buycks. “Overseas, I scored a lot, but that was my job. At this level, [my job] isn’t going to be scoring, it’s going to be running the offense and getting guys shots.”

In the Thunder’s first Summer League game, Buycks the scorer was nowhere to be found. In his place was a player that always thought pass first, penetrating the lane not with the intent to score, but to suck in defenders and sling the ball out to a perimeter shooter. His eyes were constantly, incessantly scanning the floor, searching for an open teammate.

Buycks dished 13 assists in that first game, each one trumpeting the arrival of a point guard transformed. And while he never matched that number again in Orlando or Las Vegas, he played every game with the same, steady, unselfish demeanor.

An oft-heard skepticism concerning scoring guards attempting to remold their game as a passer is whether they have the necessary court vision to do so. Luckily, to hear Buycks tell it, he always had the vision, it was just a matter of properly harnessing it. To do so, he studied the bread and butter play of most NBA offenses, the pick and roll, as well as those who’ve mastered it — among them, Tony Parker, Chris Paul and Russell Westbrook. “I watched a lot of film, both mine and of other players, (I wanted) to take pieces of other NBA players’ games and put it into my own,” said Buycks. The most important lesson Buycks gleaned from studying those prolific pick and roll operators was that of patience.

“(I have to) wait for that big to set a good screen,” Buycks said. “Because that’s what frees me up, which means the opponent has to help, and if they fight to get back to me, that means (the big and I) can have a pick and pop. Or, if their big runs back, I get to attack, and someone that’s not my man has to come over, meaning someone else is open.”

Buycks became more than just a capable passer, however;  in both Orlando and Vegas he was at times downright creative with his distribution. He’d whip no-look, over-the-shoulder passes to his big in in the pick and pop, or get deep into the lane, nearly under the basket, and rise only to wrap the ball around the back of the leaping defender to give his man an easy dunk.

His passing was in fact the first thing Rex Kalamian, an assistant coach of the the Oklahoma City Thunder and the head coach of the Thunder’s Summer League team commented on when asked about Buycks.

“He’s a willing and able passer and a very good pick and roll player,” said Kalamian. “Not only does he have the ability to get into the paint, he has the ability to find guys on the perimeter. When he drives, three or four defenders collapse on him, and he’s gotten a lot or our guys open shots because of his penetration and ability to get to the rim.”

The Thunder wasn’t the only team to take note of Buycks’ remarkable reformation. Buycks was supposed to play for the Miami Heat’s Summer League team in Las Vegas, but his performance in Orlando promptly changed those plans. Suitors both foreign and domestic pursued Buycks, and before the Orlando Summer League even ended, Buycks agreed to a multiyear deal with the Toronto Raptors.

That Toronto had interest in Buycks was no coincidence. Jeff Weltman, Toronto’s Executive Vice President of Basketball Operations, used to be the Assistant General Manager of the Milwaukee Bucks, who worked out Buycks after he left Marquette. At the time, Weltman thought Buycks could eventually be a very good player, but needed to time to develop and address his issues. Following his exploits in Orlando, Weltman felt he had done just that.

When asked if he was surprised at the drastic changes in Buycks’ ability as a passer, Weltman beamed and softly shook his head. “Knowing the kind of guy he is, it doesn’t surprise me at all,” said Weltman. “He’s an incredibly hard worker. If [running the offense] was his weakness, he was going to find a way to attack it, and it was only a matter of time before he found his way into the league.”

While playing with his new team in Las Vegas, Buycks showed that his still very much existent scoring abilities could work in concert with his improved passing. He averaged 23 points per game on 15 shots (a stark contrast with his numbers in Orlando, where he averaged just 9.5 points on nearly seven shots per game), while still handing out seven assists per game.  Very few of his shots were those of a gunner. They came within the offense, when the timing and situation made sense for Buycks to channel his scoring mentality.

Inflexibility can be a death sentence to NBA hopefuls. If a player refuses to adapt or adjust, to change his game in a way that results in a lesser but more stable role, their time in the league will be counted in quarters, not seasons. We’ve seen this countless times with players that have been nothing else but “the man” everywhere they go, only to find themselves hopelessly out of their depths once they arrive in the NBA. Unable or unwilling to find other ways to contribute to the team, the player slowly drifts out of relevance.

But not every NBA aspirator must follow this unfortunate path. For those who realize their future in the NBA depends on their ability to aid a team in areas besides scoring, and who work tirelessly to cultivate their skills in those other areas, a spot on an NBA roster remains a possibility. Dwight Buycks proved as much this summer.

“Hard work pays off. I worked hard down in Orlando and gave myself a chance. The Raptors saw me, and now I have a home; it’s a blessing,” said Buycks. “I’ve had a long journey of working, and the journey’s just started.”

Masai Ujiri Leaves Denver, Joins Toronto

Executive of the Year is usually one of the more easily dismissed members of the postseason prizes. Perhaps because the moves made by an executive, unlike those of a player or coach, are harder to judge within the context of a single season; perhaps because executives are simply less interesting than those who actually play out the games. Regardless, it is unlikely that you remember who won it more than a year or two back, and unlikely that you will ever need to know.

It is rare, however, for a newly minted Executive of the Year to leave his post, which is exactly what Masai Ujiri did on Friday, accepting a 5 year, $15 million offer to become general manager of the Toronto Raptors over re-upping his deal in Denver. And it’s a move that could lead to big changes for both franchises in potentially direction-altering offseasons.

The move is disconcerting for the Nuggets. Losing a young GM who has already swung some pretty successful deals and has drafted well is bad enough; losing the steward of your ship mid-voyage is another. While this Denver team did very well during the regular season, winning 57 games before the Warriors scorched them to the ground, they hardly seemed like a finished product, only mid-way through a process that traced back to Ujiri in every way.

There are only three players on Denver’s roster who are over 26 years of age. Two of them, Andre Iguodala (29) and Corey Brewer (27), are free agents. Losing any one of them would leave a huge hole at the wing, mostly defensively. Then again, Iguodala is an unrestricted free agent for the first time in his career, two years after being picked to the all-star team, one year after playing for the US gold medal team. Brewer just played the best basketball of his career, playoffs notwithstanding. Both could demand hefty sums, which does not bode well for a franchise that just let their GM go rather than pay him.

The rest of the roster is stocked with young talent on mostly flexible deals. From JaVale McGee’s 3 years, $34 million and Wilson Chandler’s 3 years, $21 million, and through the rookie deals of Jordan Hamilton and Evan Fournier, the Nuggets have more valuable assets than playing time. Part of this is the aftermath of the Carmelo Anthony deal, but ever since that happened, the Nuggets have been committed to simultaneously running an ensemble cast and lurking in the shadows for opportunities. Be it flipping away Nene right after signing him to an extension, jumping into the Dwight Howard trade to acquire Iggy, or snatching Kenneth Faried as a 22nd pick, Ujiri had done well with such opportunities. A different GM might not be as comfortable tinkering with a cadre of toys, and in an effort to move towards a more conventional roster build, could hurt the value of said pieces.

Not that the new Denver GM must be a hard-headed, my-way-or-the-highway hire. It’s very possible that Denver promotes a member of the current staff to head honcho position, and that the organization as a whole stays the course. Ujiri himself was somewhat of an unknown when he got the GM position, after all. But it adds a level of uncertainty to a team that didn’t need it, coming off a stinging playoff upset, amid the aforementioned upcoming roster decisions and criticism of its long time coach.

As for the Raptors, it would be interesting to see how swiftly and aggressively, if at all, Ujiri reneges on some of Bryan Colangelo’s latest moves. Is Andrea Bargnani a dead man walking? (Presumably, as this was believed to be the case when Colangelo was still in office.) Will Rudy Gay and DeMar DeRozan still be considered cornerstones, despite games that somewhat contradict new-age analytical NBA beliefs attached to massive deals? Is Dwane Casey still in favor? What will be of Kyle Lowry, entering the final year of his contract, after the first season that saw his game regress since his Memphis days? The roster isn’t bereft of talent post-Colangelo, but it is expensive and flawed, and Ujiri will have his work cut out for him.

The good news are that Ujiri did well to cover for Denver’s flaws under a much tighter budget. The phrase “luxury tax”, a taboo in Denver, will be much easier to throw out as a necessary evil towards improving the team, and Ujiri’s creativity in working the trade lines could be even more impressive once those handcuffs are removed. Of course, management could work as a limiting factor as well, with a group that is believed to be locked-in on a playoff appearance at all costs – the type of endeavor that often sells out future success in the name of a year or two of first round exists.

If nothing else, Raptor fans can rest assured that they will no longer be making moves for the wrong reasons. Ujiri isn’t the type of GM to trade for a player in the name of “star power” or “a little credibility around the league”. He’s shown a knack for signing guys to long-term extensions and immediately swapping them for a better deal, a good omen for any concerns about DeRozan’s long term viability or what happens if a Lowry extension goes awry, and a sharp contrast from Colangelo, who for years held on to Bargnani for no apparent reason other than Bargs being “his guy”.

While it’s a shame the Nuggets felt the need to pinch pennies, a potentially exciting Raptors roster just got a man who could very well mold it into something tangible. This may or may not turn out to be one of those behind-the-scene moves that alter two different franchises, but at the very least, the prospects are intriguing.

15 FOOTER, 4/16/2013: HAIKUS FOR TWO (games)

Toronto Raptors vs. Atlanta Hawks. 8:00 PM ET. TNT.

If Atlanta wins
At home, does anyone see?
Attendance joke. Laugh.

Josh Smith wants the max
Hawks probably won’t give it
Unless, maybe, Dwight?

If Hawks win tonight
Closer to locking 5 seed
Hawks play Nets. We sleep.

Raptors have Rudy
Want to give him more money
No, Colangelo.

Portland Trail Blazers vs. Los Angeles Clippers. 10:30 PM ET. TNT.

The Blazers are hurt
Clips control own destiny
In quest for home court

Dame: Rookie of year
Crawford: likely not Sixth Man
CP3: Point God

Meyers Leonard runs
Like a gazelle or some shit
It’s just so pretty.

Statistical Anomaly: Bulls @ Raptors

Robert S. Donovan via Flickr

Robert S. Donovan via Flickr

Statistical Anomaly is a series where we explore all the mathematical nuances you may not have noticed watching the game the first time. Today, Kyle waxes Euclidian on Raptors shockingly dominant victory over the Bulls.

Was it that shocking though? Toronto had two days to prepare for this game, something that has helped them this season as they average 96.8 points in such games. The Bulls were fresh off of an emotional win against the Knicks and are the league’s lowest scoring team on the second night of a back to back (90.6 points per game). Mathematically speaking, the Raptors should have been projected to win this game by 6.2 points, making their 97-88 victory anything but a surprise. The Bulls are fortunate that postseason games are generally played on one or two days rest, their optimal amount of rest for offensive production. Here’s a look at how each team fairs on offense by number of days off prior to the game.

 Raptors

Amir Johnson tallied 24 points against the Bulls; nearly equaling his cumulative point total in the Raptors three April wins (25 points). Johnson’s minutes are up 16.8% from last season and he seems to thrive when playing alongside the abundance of rim slashers on Toronto’s lineup. Ruby Gay and DeMar DeRozan excel at getting to the basket, and thus demanding the attention of opposing defenses. He isn’t one of those versatile swingmen that can impact the game in a multitude of ways, but it is possible that he is the perfect four man for the offense that Raptors are attempting to run. The 25 year old has seven years of NBA experience and going to set new career highs in points/rebounds/steals/assists this season.

Since Valentine’s Day, the Raptors are 5-0 when Kyle Lowry hands out 10+ assists against a non playoff team but were 0-4 in such games against playoff teams prior to this victory. Toronto has some nice pieces, but what type of point guard fits their future plans? A point guard that can keep defenses honest is nice, but he also needs to excel in distributing the offense and getting the ball in the hands of the right people. In other words, they need a young Jose Calderon, and Lowry simply isn’t that. Fortunately, there is such a player (Trey Burke) in this year’s draft.  Could Toronto consider flipping the occasionally explosive PG for a paint protecting big man?

Luol Deng’s growth as a player has impressed me this season, as he has been forced into the “lead” role with Derrick Rose struggling to regain health. He made only three of nine shots and totaled 10 points, but he was able to keep his team close by handing out eight assists and 0 turnovers. While this performance took place on the road, Deng has gradually been improving his AST/TO numbers at home, numbers that will translate to the road eventually. In his last eight home games, Deng has turned the ball over only six times in 313 minutes. It is easy to forget that Deng turns only 28 years of age on Wednesday, meaning he is still getting better. We know he can score (at least 15 ppg in six of his last seven seasons), but if he can continue this recent trend of ball security, the Bulls are going to boast a potent offense when Rose returns.

Nazr Mohammad may be the elder statesmen on this Bulls roster at 35 years young, but he is giving them something they desperately need by providing front court depth. With Joakim Noah injured, the journeyman has answered the bell by averaging nearly 15 rebounds per 48 minutes in April. Carlos Boozer is a good forward, but his ability to knock down midrange jump shots often pulls him out from under the basket. Other than the injured Noah and Boozer, Chicago had lacked a paint presence before Mohammad stepped up his play. With Noah’s health very much a concern, and a matchup with either Brooklyn (Brook Lopez) or Indiana (Roy Hibbert) looming, Mohammad is going to have to continue his solid paint play if the Bulls are going to have a chance at advancing past the first round. It is worth noting that, in limited time, Mohammed is shooting 59.1% from the field against the Pacers/Nets this season and could be in for an extended role when they meet in a few weeks.

Statistical Anomaly: Raptors @ Bobcats

Robert S. Donovan via Flickr

Robert S. Donovan via Flickr

Statistical Anomaly is a series where we explore all the mathematical nuances you may not have noticed watching the game the first time. Today, Kyle waxes Euclidian on the Bobcats 107-101 victory over the Raptors.

Kemba Walker recorded an impressive stat line by scoring 14 points, handing out eight assists, and snatching seven rebounds. It was only the third time this season in which the former UConn star scored 10+ points while tallying at least seven assists and seven rebounds. The Bobcats have won all three of those games (by a total of nine points) while averaging 105.7 points, a vast improvement over their .200 winning percentage and 92.7 points in the other 64 games this season. Walker is far from a polished product (.397 career FG%), but he continues to show signs (15:1 assist to turnover ratio during their current two game win streak) of being a NBA level point guard. Walker’s statistics should continue to improve annually, as he is part of a young rebuilding project in Charlotte that is focused around his ability to run the offense.

Byron Mullens showed off his inside out game by converting on three triples and blocking three shots after recording three made three pointers or three blocked shots only twice in the last month. Mullens has two such games this season, the same number of games that LeBron James has over the last four regular seasons put together. When you consider the difference in regular season minutes played since the second most recent game with 3+ blocks and 3PM, the statistic is even more staggering.

 Lebron vs Mullens

I’m not saying Mullens is better than James, but his versatility for a 24 year old 7 footer is impressive. The NBA has become a league of floor spreading shooters and athletic rim attackers, making Mullens ability to both keep defenses honest and protect the rim as valuable as ever.

Jannero Pargo may not be a name the casual NBA recognizes (ninth year pro out of Arkansas), but the man has been scoring in bunches since getting into the Bobcats rotation. In his last three games, Pargo is averaging 36.9 points per 48 minutes, making one three pointer every 5.2 minutes of action. It is obviously a very small sample, but the league leader in 3PM (Steph Curry) averages a 3PM every 11.6 minutes and the most recognized three point specialist (Kyle Korver) averages a 3PM every 11.9 minutes. The Bobcats depth was also highlighted by the fact that their bench scored more points from the free throw line (14) than the Raptors bench scored total (13).

Amir Johnson is a rebounder by trade, but his scoring is at an all time high this season (10.3 ppg). Toronto is a much better team when Johnson is turning the rebounds into buckets, as this was their 15th straight loss (dating back to December 2009) when Johnson records 10+ rebounds but fails to tally 10+ points. Dominating the glass is nice, but if it doesn’t directly result in points, the impact is nullified. The Raptors have lacked an inside scoring threat since they drafted Andre Bargnani, and this is just further proof that they need a presence in the paint that is can score.

Jonas Valanciunas is finally healthy and is producing lately like a fifth overall pick in the draft. The 20 year old center has scored in double figures in six of his last seven games while shooting 65.4% from the field and 87% from the line over that stretch. His post moves are very limited and he is still very raw, but Toronto has to like its early returns on its investment. With Rudy Gay and DeMar DeRozan demanding so much attention on the offensive end, Valanciunas has been able to catch the ball in dangerous positions and has been finishing at a strong level. If the Raptors can keep Gay and this rim attacking offense, the Lithuanian rookie is in the perfect system for his skill set. Plus, he’s got a theme song . What’s not to like?

Neither of these teams is going anywhere right now, but at least the pieces are in place. Charlotte’s rebuilding project is in the early phases as they are only one year removed from the worst season in NBA history while the Raptors appear ready to contend for a middle playoff seed as early as next year.

Diary of a Thrilled Raptors Fan

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

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

Lowry

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

DeRozan

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

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

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

Correlation Between NetRtg and Quarter

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

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

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

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

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

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

Win Chart

 

Top 10

 

Middle 10

 

Bottom 10

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

First Place

NetRtg Last Place

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

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

 LeBron James Pie

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

Kobe Bryant Pie

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

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

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

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

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

Paroxysm At Gametime: Raptors Show Signs Of Life Against Scary Shooting Guards

Photo by Bruce Guenter on Flickr.

It’s Friday, December 13 and the Toronto Raptors are in disarray. They’ve lost 13 of their last 14 games. Three of their five opening day starters are out with injuries. Toronto is two and a half months removed from president and general manager Bryan Colangelo saying, “There’s that feeling that there could be something special about this group, but time will tell.” With reporters making jokes about a way to commemorate the Raptors’ record potentially falling to 4-20, time has emphatically rejected the “special group” hypothesis.

The Raptors are matched up with an 11-11 team from Texas. Head coach Dwane Casey’s main challenge is containing Dallas’ new starting shooting guard, O.J. Mayo. Entering the game, Mayo is averaging 25.1 points per game in wins, shooting 54.7 percent from the field and 61.4 percent from 3-point range. In losses, Mayo is averaging 16.7 points, shooting 42.2 percent from the field and 40.3 percent from 3-point range. Casey says the Mavericks have given Mayo the ultimate green light and he’s the reason they’ve treaded water without Dirk Nowitzki. Dallas head coach Rick Carlisle says opponents are now trying to attack him defensively because he’s been so effective as a scorer and he’s most impressed by how hard he’s worked at improving his game. “He’s seeing a lot of attention from the opponents defensively with double teams and things like that,” Carlisle says. “He’s trying to understand as time goes on the importance of discipline and patience.”

Toronto gives Mayo plenty of attention, trapping him on every pindown, forcing him to give the ball up. He never gets in rhythm and scores just 10 points, making two field goals on a season-low eight shots. He turns the ball over six times. The Raptors win by a score of 95-74, playing the determined defense expected of a desperate team.“They had a lot to do with us playing poorly and after tonight it’s very, very clear that whatever problems the Raptors franchise have are completely unrelated to coaching,” Carlisle says. Casey refers to his team getting back to the basics in practice, working on fundamentals. He calls stopping Mayo a team effort and credits Mickael Pietrus and Alan Anderson in particular for stepping up to the challenge.

Mayo says he’s disappointed in how handled the traps and he’s a better player than he showed. “I’m playing like crap,” he says. “I can’t worry about the trap more than I’m worried about attacking. I gotta continue to attack even though there is a trap and then use my outlets as far as my other teammates. I’m playing like crap in that area right now to be honest, so I’ll look at the film and get better.”

Vince Carter knows how frustrated Mayo is and has some veteran advice for him. “Stay the course,” he says. “Easier said than done, I know. Stay the course. In his new role, if you would, playing the big minutes, our go-to-guy, leading scorer, they’re going to key on you. So it’s our job to make it easier for him. It’s our job just to move the ball and make plays. He has to be patient. He’s a competitor. He wants to win and he wants to do all he can.”

“It’s the first time in my career it’s pretty much been happening,” Mayo says. “So, I’m struggling these last two games with the turnovers, taking care of the ball. But I’m going to get better, though. I gotta look at some film and obviously sit down with coach and see what I can do in those areas.”

Carter says he will watch film with Mayo, too, and he absolutely remembers when he started seeing schemes set on stopping him in Toronto over a decade ago. “It’s tough. It’s a whole new world for him,” he says. “It’s going to take time and I think he’s patient enough, he wants to win, he’ll learn it. And I’m going to help him.”

At the conclusion of his media session, Mayo is milder. “You’re going to make shots, you’re going to miss shots,” he says. “Have some games where you make plays, you don’t make plays. Crappy games, great games. So it’s a season, man, it’s like a relationship. It’s a rollercoaster.

“It’ll be alright,” Mayo says, and that seems self-evident with how well he’s played this season. Whether Toronto will be alright is a different issue.

***

On Saturday, the Raptors are preparing for a matchup with an 11-11 team from Texas. Casey’s main challenge is containing Houston’s new starting shooting guard, James Harden. Entering the game, Harden is averaging 27.5 points per game in wins, shooting 47.5 percent from the field and 35.8 percent from 3-point range. In losses, Harden is averaging 21.9 points, shooting 37.6 percent from the field and 32.1 percent from 3-point range.

After practice, DeMar DeRozan explains how they were able to limit Mayo. “Just put pressure on him, got the ball out of his hands, contested every shot he took and if he’s hitting shots and making plays out of that, God bless him,” he says. DeRozan has been close friends with Harden since high school and emphasizes that, just like it was with Mayo, it will be a collective effort to try to keep him under control. His coach concurs. “You gotta give them different looks,” Casey says. “If you come down and give a guy like O.J. Mayo and Harden the same look every time down the floor, they’re too good. There’s not one guy in this league that can stop them one on one consistently. You may get them a couple of times, but consistently, they’re too good. That’s why [Harden] is who he is. He has a max contract, they gave it to him for a reason.”

***

Just prior to Sunday’s game, Casey says that he wants the defensive effort to carry over from Friday. “It’s infectious and guys [are] talking, playing together, everybody on a rope, staying together, getting back in transition, pointing. You can hear good defense and I think that’s one of the most important things you saw the other night.” He reiterates that you can’t stop Harden but “what we want to do is kind of control him as much as possible and slow him down where he doesn’t just feel like he’s in a gym by himself.”

Harden is anything but by himself early in the game, with the Raptors blitzing him on pick and rolls. His first shot attempt comes more than five minutes into the game, a difficult leaner from 18 feet on the right baseline. It’s the kind of shot he’d normally avoid. Toronto jumps out to a 10-2 lead and Harden scores his first points splitting a double team and getting fouled at the hoop with 5:08 left in the first quarter. Unlike Mayo, Harden slows down and adjusts to the way Toronto is playing him, registering an assist or a “hockey assist” on four 3-pointers in the final 2:21 of the period to come back and take the lead.

The Raptors scale back the help on Harden in the second quarter and, for the rest of the game, the Rockets shoot 3-for-16 from behind the arc. In the fourth, Toronto elects to switch on Harden’s pick and rolls with Amir Johnson. Harden gets to the rim and shoots 14-for-15 from the line to finish with 28 points, but he shoots 7-for-18 from the field and almost none of the shots are easy. It’s a great game by any standard, but he can’t get his teammates going and Houston loses 103-96, shooting 41 percent from the field.

“We had to adjust our blitz to make sure we get it out of his hand but not give up threes,” Casey says. “That was a byproduct of you have to choose your poison because not only is he a scorer, he’s an excellent passer out of the double team.”

“James is a tough, tough cover,” says Alan Anderson, who shared Harden duty with Mickael Pietrus and Terrence Ross. “He has the ball probably every time they come down the court. He’s isolation, he’s getting ball screens, he’s shooting threes, midrange, he’s doing everything.”

“I tried to take a couple charges on him, but he was so quick and I couldn’t get there,” Johnson says. “As long as you can contain a guy like that and contain the rest of the team and just let him do all the scoring, we pretty much did our job.”

More important than the defensive details is the fact that the Raptors look competent on that end again, as they were in 2011-2012. “We’re getting back to the way we want to play as a team,” says Casey.

“We’re going to all talk,” says Johnson. “Even if we’re just yelling anything out, you know what I mean, just calling names, we’re just going to yell, just try to have fun with them. Just get the offense confused. Instead of them attacking us, we take it to them and attack the ball and it’s really looking good so hopefully we can keep that up.

“We sit here and watch film every day and it’s just working for us,” Johnson continues. It’s just two games, though, and just a few days ago it felt like the franchise was falling apart. Any optimism emanating from the two-game winning streak should be tempered by the fact it is the team’s first two-game winning streak.

“Everything is turning our way and it’s starting to click,” Johnson says. Then he remembers not to get ahead of himself. “I don’t want to jinx nothing.”

12/14/12 Mail Bag Round Table: MBRTOE, y’all

It’s time for another edition of the Mail Bag Round Table. This is a tradition that goes far back in time, to an age where knights gathered around their round tables and read emails, tweets, and Facebook posts from fans of jousting and drawing/quartering. Back then, though, they’d have to post their responses on wooden posts after writing them with quill. Sometimes, if they were lucky, the town crier would shout the responses into the markets. But people would be so annoyed at him that he’d get drawn and quartered. Lucky for you guys, you can just read the responses on this here blog post. Sean, JaredParoxyInternJordan, and Noam: take it away.

1) @TheNoizmaker on Twitter: Will Josh Smith be an all star?

Sean: I have no idea. Averaging 17 and 8 on the third-best team in the East could give him a boost, since per-game numbers and team record still factor heavily into coaches’ votes. His efficiency hasn’t been great, though. It’ll be pretty annoying if he gets the nod over Anderson Varejao.

Jared: Not if he keeps up his .307 eFG% on jumpers. I don’t care how good his defense is, you can’t be an All-Star with that kind of shooting. Not if I have anything to say about it, at least. (Note: I don’t have anything to say about it. This is a fictional All-Star vote in a mailbag on a blog).

ParoxyIntern: Yes, he will.

Jordan: I don’t see it happening. Though Smith is a highlight waiting to happen, his numbers are down nearly across the board this year, except for his three point shooting, which doesn’t seem sustainable. The greater obstacle, however, is the sheer number of quality front court players in the East: Melo, LeBron, KG, Noah, Varejao, and Bargnani (I kid, I kid). I’d even argue David West is more deserving than Smith of a spot on the East’s roster.

Noam: Never. The coaches hate him too much and the fans don’t recognize Atlanta’s existence. MOAR JOE JOHNSON

2) via my Canadian beer aficionado friends @BrewBrahs: What do you think about Mark Cuban’s stance on the NHL lockout?

Sean: I don’t know because I’ve actively avoided reading anything about the NHL lockout. Any mention of the phrases “revenue split,” “system issues,” and “decertification” trigger my PTSD from Fall of 2011.

Jared: Let’s just move half the teams to Canada. They like hockey more there anyway, and there shouldn’t be hockey teams in Miami or Phoenix. It’s ridiculous. Then we can give the Rangers all the good players so they can win the Cup again. Problems solved.

ParoxyIntern: Gotta love Mark Cuban. I watch him on Shark Tank every Friday night on ABC, so I pretty much I respect everything that he does.

Jordan: Cuban is a fantastic business and entrepreneurial mind. As an owner of an NBA team and having gone through a lockout recently himself, it’s not surprising he sides with his owner brethren. (OK, I realize I didn’t really answer the question, but I don’t watch hockey, so I don’t know enough about the situation to have an opinion on Cuban’s opinion).

Noam: I’m vehemently opposed to it. I couldn’t care less about the NHL and haven’t even read Cuban’s stance, but after Cubes and his homies nearly ruined a perfectly good basketball season, any time a sports owner talks about a labor situation I am on the other side.

3) @robsaunders1 on Twitter: We need to PROPERLY understand why the Knicks have become credible contenders and how the Lakers have not this season.

Sean: The Knicks have Sheed. The Lakers have found a way to put Pau Gasol in the doghouse.

Jared: Easy. Mike Woodson hides wizards in his goatee and the Lakers employ Chris Duhon.

ParoxyIntern: The Knicks play as a team. They also have much more balance than the Lakers with a scorer in Carmelo, a rebounder in Chandler, and 3 point shooters in Novak, Smith, and Wallace.

Jordan: The Lakers situation is pretty simple: they’re awful defensively. For the Knicks, it’s a combination of Carmelo Anthony embracing his world-destroying ability as a four, excellent spacing, Raymond Felton not being the Raymond Felton of last year, and Jason Kidd’s VETERAN LEADERSHIP.

Noam: The Knicks are making all of the threes forever and ever and ever. The Lakers have 4 good players on the roster, two of them aren’t playing, and the other two aren’t playing defense.

4) From Kirk: What’s your stance on sweater vests?

Sean: Anti.

Jared: No.

ParoxyIntern: I’ll wear them to school once a year. That is pretty much all I have to say.

Jordan: Either you can pull it off, or you absolutely can’t. There is no in-between.

Noam: I’m not opposed, but it’s hard for me to root for a sweater when it’s not a Mr. Rogers sweater. RIP.

5) @jasonhindle on Twitter: Why hasn’t Brian Colangelo been fired yet?

Sean: Because God hates Toronto. Hopefully Rush’s belated induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame will start to turn their luck.

Jared: Somebody has to be around to keep the Joe Dumars’ name out of this question.

ParoxyIntern: I think the Raptors are going to wait until the end of the season to make a move like that.

Jordan: Though GM’s are responsible for assembling a team, they also have the greatest ability to deflect blame. They can point to the coach, who is failing to get the team to perform up to their potential. They can blame the players for not living up to expectations, or for being hurt, or for a multitude of other reasons. The last person they blame is themselves. Bryan Colangelo continues to use these excuses to cover his own mis-steps, though one has to think that that strategy can only hold up for so long.

Noam: At this point, firing him is pointless – he’s in the last year of his deal and just isn’t worth bothering with. As to why he wasn’t hired after the Hedo debacle, I have no clue.

6) Chris on Facebook: Is Andrew Nicholson not the greatest? DAT FOOTWORK!

Sean: Andrew Nicholson is, in fact, the greatest.

Jared: Sean wrote an excellent article about Andrew Nicholson. He apparently only takes corner 3s and layups, which is cool. When I watch the Magic, all I do is imagine JJ Redick on playoff teams and try to concoct trades in my head.

ParoxyIntern: Of course he is the greatest!

Jordan: *nods*

Noam: He most certainly is the greatest. Orlando’s rooks have been so much fun – Moe Harkless is a new-age cop who beats to his own drum, and Andrew Nicholson just wants to make his mid-range jumpers, get to the rim, and go home to his wife.

7) From Jordan: What will we do without PER Diem?

Sean: Lobby ESPN to adopt Netw3rk’s P.O.O.P.S. system instead.

Jared: Tony Allen and JR Smith are still on Twitter, right? Okay. The republic will survive.

ParoxyIntern: I’m not sure. Someone else is going to have to step up to the plate. I would like to congratulate Hollinger on the Grizzlies job, though.

Jordan: I’m devastated. PER Diem was my gateway drug for advanced metrics. Hollinger is not only a great basketball mind, but a great writer, with a superb ability to break down complex statistics in a way even the most casual of NBA fans can understand. His snarkasm has second to none. It’s a devastating loss or ESPN and those who enjoyed reading him, but it’s a tremendous pick up for the Grizzlies, a team that has publicly stated their desire to beef up their analytics department.

Noam: It’s definitely looking bleak. My only hope is that Hollinger starts a new blog under a pseudonym, where he constantly rips the Grizzlies front office, only to triumphantly reveal himself when new Memphis acquisition DeMar DeRozan lifts the Larry O’Brien trophy over his head.

Let’s Help John Lucas III Raise Money For Movember

Donating their time and money to charity is an understated job requirement for NBA players. As the holiday season draws near, expect to see a number of quickie news stories that showcase the caring and giving side of players.

For example, for Thanksgiving:

Durant, Perkins Hand Out Thanksgiving Turkeys

Dallas Mavericks Players Hand Out Turkeys To Families

Sixers Players to Provide 1,000 Thanksgiving Turkeys

Despite being a quick photo-op, these events are noble, shining the light on the distressing issues of hunger and poverty. But donating turkeys is a run of the mill community service activity – where’s the creative, uncommon charitable donation?

Enter Toronto Raptors guard, John Lucas III and Movember.

While the mustache is a fashionable facial hair look for hipsters and cops, come November millions of men begin to adopt the look, as they sprout upper lip hair for Movember. Besides encouraging men to sport Nick Offerman-lite ‘staches, Movember helps raise awareness and money for men’s health issues.

1.

Ready for Movember just shave (John Lucas III)

Professional athletes have taken part in the movement before, but after some exhaustive research, it appears that no NBA player has ever grown a ‘stache for the cause until John Lucas III joined the movement this month.

2.

Day 2 of movember (John Lucas III)

This is not just a fun lark for Lucas, as he has been posting semi-regular updates on Twitter and following the strict Movember rules.

John’s father, former NBA player and coach John Lucas II, has a prominent mustache, so Lucas III has a ways to go to catch up to his father but at least he has a mustache role model to look up to.

3.

Movember (John Lucas III)

You would think that with his baller status, Lucas would be raking in the charitable donations but surprisingly, he has so far only raised $350! This is unbelievable and it’s clear that he needs our help. But there are a couple solid speculative reasons why he has not raised a lot money thus far:

  1. Lucas probably does not have enough time in his busy NBA schedule to continually promote his Movember campaign.
  2. Since he plays in the NBA, people are expecting Lucas to just donate his own money.

The first reason is simple to address: just send out a tweet, Facebook message, or Weibo message letting your friends, and followers know that John Lucas III is raising money for men’s health issues. It’s free and will take less than two minutes, plus if you tag Lucas in your message you could get some recognition from him which would be better than a birthday retweet.

4.

Movember looking just like my pops LMAO (John Lucas III)

The next issue is a little trickier. Sure, Lucas has a good amount of money since he plays in the NBA and should be able to donate to the cause by himself. But lets remember what Movember is all about – raising awareness for Men’s health issues by growing a mustache. That’s exactly what Lucas is doing and he is doing a damn good job at it. So reward his hard work with a donation–it doesn’t have to be very substantial.

Of note is that since he is partaking in the Canadian Movember, US donations are not tax refundable. But still, give a dollar or two, because its for a good cause and how great would it be to see John Lucas III with a mustache to rival his father’s?