Monday, December 17, 2012

Regarding Duke's NBA Players

From an e-mail I wrote (December 4th) to a friend who asked, which was the last mistake he had the chance to make:

"Duke does not produce good NBA players." 

This has somehow become a knock on our program over the years (haters gonna hate), and while the quality of the players is up for debate, quantity is not. As of this season, only Kentucky (21) has produced more NBA players than Duke (18). UNC, a school whose fans might be the most likely to repeat that opening line, has one less than Duke at 17.

But who are these Duke players in the NBA? Are they any good? Who is the best? Isn't Shavlik Randolph a person? Calm the hell down as I walk you through this very definitive* list of the best Duke players in the NBA right now.

*This list is not in any way definitive or authorized by the NBA, basketball, sports, humans, or Lloyd Bentsen.

A quick note on the methods. Since these players have varying degrees of experience, I will be using some combination of current talent, past performance, and future potential in order to make the rankings. 

Honorable Mention: Elliot Williams- SG, Portland Trailblazers
This fucking guy! Williams only logged a year at Duke and then transferred to Memphis, from whence he was drafted. Thus, it's hard to consider him a true Duke player. If we did include him, in addition to being our 19th NBA-er, he would probably fall in the Singler/Rivers range on this list. He has the ability to score, but is a rough shooter overall and doesn't particularly stand out elsewhere on offense. He might be able to be a talented defender, with good size and athleticism for the position, but he's kind of hurt a lot. Alas, on to the real guys. 

18. Miles Plumlee- PF, Indiana Pacers
Has played 16 total minutes in the NBA and recently was designated to the D-League. They don't grow 6'10" athletes like Plumlee everywhere, so he has a shot at sticking in that regard, but when you're the 3rd most talented person named Plumlee (maybe 4th, I'm looking at you Papa Plumlee), the odds aren't in your favor. 

17. Nolan Smith- PG, Portland Trailblazers
Not long for this league, unfortunately. Smith is likely playing his way out of the rotation on what might be the worst bench in the NBA right now. That's a bad sign. A 2 in a 1's body without the real skills to play the point, Nolan doesn't really bring much else to the table. He doesn't have the inherent scoring ability to be an undersized bench scorer type (think Jamal Crawford or Lou Williams) and isn't any sort of defensive ace. He gets the nod over Plumlee because he has actually played real NBA minutes, but his 37% on 2's for his career just screams European League.

16. Chris Duhon- PG, Los Angeles Lakers
Pretty much the definition of replacement level when it comes to point guards. He can make some 3's when open (36.4% career), but otherwise is an awful shooter who has run into turnover problems in recent seasons. Couple this with so-so defense and you get Duhon, who is essentially the 4th point guard on a healthy Lakers' depth chart.

15. Lance Thomas- PF, New Orleans Hornets
The biggest surprise from the championship team was not Jon Scheyer being completely overlooked, but Thomas being pretty thoroughly looked. Whatever the case, he played his way into the rotation in New Orleans mainly thanks to his ability to guard multiple positions decently and .49(!) free throw rate (FTA/FGA). That is pretty nutty. For reference, professional free throw monster Kevin Durant had a FTR of .38. Granted the sample was smaller (and less sustainable) for Thomas, but clearly people were biting on the first head fake. And potentially the eighth head fake. He cashed them too, hitting 84% from the line. He also rebounded decently enough to stay on the floor. His only big issue was the 13.5 Turnover Rate, plenty high for a guy who wasn't exactly a primary offensive option.

Going forward, Lance will probably remain a 3rd or 4th big off the bench option. But if he can continue to draw fouls anywhere close to last year's rate, he'll have a place in the league.

14. Josh McRoberts- PF, Orlando Magic
There isn't tons to love about McRoberts game. Not too much to hate, either. Essentially he is going to rebound and make some shots if set up in the right place. He's probably a little underrated as a passer (and God knows he looked to swing the ball at any opportunity last year in LA), but turns the ball over A LOT. 

He beats out Lance on the list due to better size, athleticism, and a bit more range on the jumper, but is similarly a middle of the bench big man. 

13. Austin Rivers- SG, New Orleans Hornets
I like Austin Rivers. I want that on the record somewhere. He was a very good offensive player in college (something people decided to overlook or forget because of his attitude or something). However, he has been atrocious in the minutes he has been given so far. He is scoring 8.6 points per 36 minutes on 39% True Shooting. For a player who has few other demonstrable basketball skills, this is a major problem. He has a FTR of .31, so there might be a bright side to all the wild forays to the rim he is taking, but right now he is playing himself out of the rotation. 

So why is he so high? Potential, I guess. If he gets it clicking, the right hand drive and hesitation move can be deadly. I'd also like to see him dribble left, you know, ever. Also, he needs to make the free throws that he will almost certainly earn (67.6% so far). Basically, he could project to be a starting 2 or a 6th man bench scorer that could carry a 2nd unit. Will he become that? Ask his dad, he's a doctor.

12. Dahntay Jones- SG, Dallas Mavericks
Jones is well past his days of maximum usefulness, but there was a day where he was an ace wing defender. He's big for the guard position at 6'6" and could guard 3 positions. He also used his size to rebound pretty well for a guard. Apart from this, he didn't offer much. He wasn't a good shooter overall and is only maybe now showing an ability to hit some 3's when called upon. Was he great? No. But he was really good defensively which kept him on the floor for a while. 

11. Kyle Singler- SF, Detroit Pistons
Attention: This is an overreaction! He probably should be a spot or two lower based on the fact that he is a rookie, but he's been a pretty solid rookie that might project to start long term. Singler is essentially a low-usage, high-efficiency 4th option. The good news is that he's killing it in that role. He's got a 61.5 True Shooting Percentage and just 19 turnovers in 519 minutes. Defensively, he is probably out of position having to chase around 2's for most of the game, but at 6'8" he can give them some space and still close out effectively. The bottom line is that Singler was going to have to shoot well to play in the league long term and, as of now, is doing it admirably. 

10. Gerald Henderson- SG, Charlotte Bobcats
This ranking is obviously based on projection as much as anything. Gerald is basically a middling to low efficiency 2-point basket maker (a good comparison would be DeMar DeRozan). He shoots 45% for his career from the floor while taking very few threes at all. He can get to line with around average frequency (.28 FTR last year) where he'll hit around 77%. If you need a shot created, he can do it. Unfortunately, it's maybe not the greatest shot in the world. He's a very good athlete and this shows up in his rebounding, but will also go a good way in making him a wing stopper of the future (and if the Bobcats can get him and MKG to pan out defensively, watch out). I think he has a good chance to remain a starter who brings most of his value on the defensive end while being able to remain enough of a threat on offense that opposing teams can't just hide a bad defender on him.

9. Corey Maggette- SF, Detroit Pistons
At this point, he's toast. But in his day, he was a foul drawing nightmare. His career FTR is .62. Again, for every 100 field goals he took, he shot 62 free throws. For his entire career! 

After we wrap our head around that number, we get to the bottom line that at one point, he was an incredibly potent, high-usage, high-efficiency scorer. He also rebounded defensively well enough from the wing to give himself added value. And while not the greatest athlete in the world, he was very strong and solidly-built, preventing him from getting beat up if he ever was playing power forward. He has a career PER of 18, which is basically the bottom end of an All-Star range. With his ability to score the basketball and create fouls at a startling rate, this is no surprise.

8. Grant Hill- SF, Los Angeles Clippers
Hill is on the Clippers and hasn't played at all this year. I'm uncertain of whether he will come back and if so when. Essentially he ranks this high because of how good he was (despite all the injuries) and longevity. Hill was a huge, ball-handling wing who could set up offense for others with great passing while being able to score pretty efficiently on his own. He was never a great 3-point shooter, but finished well and made free throws. He was also an elite defender who rebounded really well. He was Rookie of the Year and managed to make 7 All-Star teams. Dude would have been even more of a stud if his ankles didn't keep breaking or whatever.

There probably still value in having Hill on a roster. The wizards on the training staff in Phoenix kept him in amazing shape despite his age and whereas knee injuries can rob guys of their athleticism, ankle injuries don't necessarily. This being the case for Hill, he seemed to move around fine in Phoenix and was able to play at a fast tempo that will be the case in Lob City. 

7. Shane Battier- SF, Miami Heat
Last year I was pretty sure this guy was done. This year, he's making me a little unsure. 

The case is that Battier was always a guy whose value almost entirely came from defense. When he got torched by Carmelo, David West, and Kevin Garnett in consecutive playoff series last year, he looked done. In addition, he did this while shooting 32% from 3, which was essentially the only time he was asked to shoot. In a nutshell, he shouldn't have been playing. But he manged to salvage his percentage by going nuts in the finals (4-7 from 3 in the final game). This year, he's shooting almost 46% from 3, which is pretty great, but he continues to get abused (I watched Kris Humphries just destroy him on the offensive boards and flip in putbacks when they played the Nets). Fortunately for Battier, it might not matter because of the whole LeBron James situation. The bar is set pretty low for him and I think he'll be able to clear it, even if he can't defend power forwards to save his life. 

Battier ranks this high because it wasn't that many years ago when he was pretty much the elite wing defender in the league. 

6. Mike Dunleavy- SF, Milwaukee Bucks
He's shooting 42.4% from three this year. That's pretty much what it comes down to. If he can continue to shoot well, especially from long range, he will be more valuable than most other Milwaukee Bucks who are either chuckers (Ellis and Jennings) or offensively-limited lank monsters (Larry Sanders, Ekpe Udoh, John Henson). He's also a talented passer for a low-usage player and can rebound well from the wing. 

5. Elton Brand- PF, Dallas Mavericks
Brand is a two-time All-Star with a career PER of 21.2, which is incredible. He's a very good low-post scorer who rarely turns it over and a beastly rebounder who averaged a double-double for 6 seasons. Brand is also a stout low-post defender and decent shot-blocker despite not being a great athlete. Nowadays he's having a hard time getting minutes on the Mavericks, though I think that is a mistake on their part. 

4. J.J. Redick- SG, Orlando Magic
Dude can absolutely stroke it. He's a career 40% 3-point shooter and 88% from the line. Basically, that is going to keep defenses honest and Redick in the league. He's also shown a much better feel for distributing and creating offense when he gets double off a screen or closed-out on. His defense has gone from flammable to mostly acceptable, which has greatly added to his value. With elite shooting, he probably should be starting for the Magic and might be traded to someplace he can do more damage. 

3. Carlos Boozer- PF, Chicago Bulls
He's made 2 All-Star games and averaged a double-double for 5 seasons. He's a good pick-and-pop shooter with amazing ambidextrous touch around the basket. In addition he's an absolutely beastly rebounder. While his defense is suspect due to his lack of size and athleticism, he can make up for it in enough ways that he is still a high-value starter for a very good team. 

2. Kyrie Irving- PG, Cleveland Cavaliers
What can I say about Kyrie that you don't already know? He's an uber-efficient, high-usage point guard who controls basically every aspect of the offense when he's on the floor. Irving shoots 47/40/86 FG/3P/FT percentages for his career, which is insane considering how many times he has to shoot. He has a tight-handle and good speed that get him to the basket where he can finish excellently with both hands. He also sports a career 35.6 Assist Rate, pretty incredible for how little he turns it over. Defensively we can look the other way for now, but he was bad last year. There's definitely signs he could be better as he has to do less on offense, but right now he won't be making any All-Defense teams. Overall, he projects to be a multiple All-Star point guard in a Conference that has a pretty good crop of 1's. 

1. Luol Deng- SF, Chicago Bulls
Duke's most recent All-Star tops the list based mostly on his current value. Deng is in the upper-echelon of wing defenders with great size, athleticism, and understanding of team defense. If he had never seen a basketball in his life, he likely could stay on the court just because of this. Luckily, he has seen a basketball, and tends to shoot it pretty well. The shots he creates aren't always the best, it's a lot of pull-ups from 15-18 feet, but he shoots 46% from the field and 33.5% from 3, which is decent enough. With the ability to get off a shot over most defenders, he certainly has his place on offense. He also never turns it over and is a solid rebounder. Deng currently leads the league in minutes per game, a category he also led last year. Playing somewhere around average offense with plus-plus defense for that many minutes a game makes for a very valuable player overall. 

Friday, December 14, 2012

Shoot the J

The 3-point shot is awesome. Not only is it one of the more valuable shots in basketball (looking at you too, the free-throw), but it pretty much has allowed Steve Novak to have a career and that's kind of cool.

Now, some teams are really good at shooting threes and they do it a lot. One of these teams is the New York Knicks. I'm probably not the first person to tell you that the Knicks take a lot of threes, but I need to place emphasis on the extent to which they do. Thirty-five percent of all their shots come from behind the arc at this point! The closest team to that is Houston at just under 32 percent. Clearly, the Knicks get it.

Other teams have yet to completely utilize the long-range shot. Some of these teams are bad at shooting them (Chicago at 33.2); others just are reluctant for some reason (Memphis at a respectable 36.5 percent).

So, I guess you're asking, does this matter? Well, potentially very much. I decided to look into whether teams were helping or hurting themselves with the threes they were taking. Essentially it goes like this: I did some math to figure out how many points a team was either gaining or losing on 3 by seeing how they would score shooting a league-average amount of 3's.

Teams That Should Shoot More Threes:

1. Chicago, -6.96 points per game
Chicago, despite being a bad 3-point shooting team, leads this list. Basically, they take so few 3's that, even though their percentage isn't great, they're probably still hurting themselves.

2. Memphis, -4.59 points per game
This one is baffling. Memphis, as mentioned above, is actually a good 3-point shooting team. They rank 10th in percentage yet 28th in rate of attempts. They've essentially streamlined their attempts to only people who can make them (Conley, Ellington, Gay, Bayless...), which is a pretty solid strategy. So why not shoot more?

3. Boston, -4.27 points per game
They were low in 3-point rate last year and Ray Allen leaving probably hurts, but they need to find some additional attempts from their wings.

Teams That Are Probably Fine:

1. Oklahoma City, -0.19 points per game
They stroke it and take a pretty decent amount of 3's. Good combination.

2. Minnesota, +0.07 points per game
The opposite of the Thunder, the T'Wolves are atrocious from behind the arc and don't hoist up that many. Kevin Love will presumably fix this a little bit and you've got to love Shved, but they're probably fine.

3. Indiana, +0.16 points per game
Anything to make this offense more watchable would be nice, but they're fine I suppose.

Teams That Are Stroking It

1. New York Knicks, +11.19 points per game
Holy hell! Not much more needs to be written about Knicks 3-point shooting, but yeah, this is crazy.

2. Houston, +7.11 points per game
I like this strategy from Houston. They start 4 guys who are, at the very least, threats from outside (Lin, Harden, Parsons, and Patterson), and bring Morris, Cook, and Douglas off the bench, all of whom shoot above 36%. The space created for their two premier pick-and-roll ball handlers is crucial.

3. Los Angeles Lakers, +4.7 points per game
Not everything is going wrong I guess?

This analysis obviously isn't perfect. Increasing the rate of attempts could affect how well a team shoots from three. Also it's not necessarily easy to just find new looks from 3 when you have an established offense. But overall I think a lot of teams are leaving value on the table that needs to be utilized.

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

2012-2013 Season Predictions

So, I might do this again.

Or not. It really couldn't matter less.

But for now I'll give you my standings predictions for the season and some brief thoughts (I know the season already started, but at this point only one full game has ended, so deal with it).


1. Heat
This is pretty obvious.

2. Pacers
Probably ride out their solid starting lineup to regular season success. Not sure if it'll carry over to the playoffs (you know, when Boston starts trying), but they should have a solid showing.

3. Celtics
The East isn't that strong.

4. Brooklyn
Almost can't help but be good with their backcourt and wings. Not sold on the front line, though obviously Humphries has an elite skill.

5. 76ers
Bynum will miss time and I'm not a huge fan of the Nick Young signing, but again, the East isn't that strong.

6. Knicks
Stoudemire being out for a while hurts, but probably not that much.

7. Bulls
Rose being out hurts a lot, but Thibs will have the defense in good shape. Hopefully they can keep the Bulls in the running until Rose returns.

8. Hawks
Probably didn't get that much worse, but Korver and Morrow will have a tough time defending the wings (but my God will this team shoot).

9. Raptors
Intriguing team. Could see them sneaking in at 8.

10. Bucks
Jennings/Ellis backcourt can only get you so far.

11. Cavaliers
Love Irving. Hate the bench.

12. Wizards
They lack a vision for the future, but the frontcourt of Okafor, Nene, and Ariza could be intimidating defensively (you know, if they try).

13. Pistons
Looking forward to Monroe continuing to make progress. They'll also hope Brandon Knight can make the leap.

14. Magic
Flip a coin between them and the Bobcats for last.

15. Bobcats
Kidd-Gilchrist will play hard. Other than that...


1. Lakers
Thunder trading Harden opened up the top spot. They'll need some time to adjust, but if they figure it out, this team could be scary good.

2. Spurs
Could very much finish first in the conference due to their amazing ability to last during the regular season despite having an aging core.

3. Thunder
The Harden trade doesn't drop them out of the hunt completely, but certainly makes them worse. However, I'm a Kevin Martin optimist, so perhaps he'll be a nice fit for this team.

4. Nuggets
Cannot wait to watch this team. They are going to run people out of the building. Now, about that defense...

5. Grizzlies
Still don't have enough to push into the elite level in the West. Also don't like that they lost Mayo.

6. Clippers
Could see them finishing 4, 5, or 6 based on how they defend. With Del Negro at the helm, I don't like to take anything for granted though.

7. Jazz
Such a solid young core and enough pieces to make a move that could benefit them in the near term.

8. Timberwolves
Only got better on the wings with Kirilenko over Wes Johnson. Derrick Williams will make strides as well. The injuries to Love and Rubio will set them back, but look for them to make a late push into the playoffs.

9. Mavericks
Brand and Kaman will do alright until Dirk gets back, but someone has to miss the playoffs.

10. Rockets
Harden helps a good bit, but I am also high on Lin and Asik. Still too many young guys playing significant minutes to put them in the playoffs, but they've laid a good foundation.

11. Warriors
If Bogut can make up for Lee's defensive shortcomings, the frontcourt will look good. However, Bogut and Curry's health concerns are just that, concerns. I'm also not a big believer in the impact of Harrison Barnes (maybe a slightly better Dorrell Wright?).

12. Blazers
Lillard will be good, but probably doesn't have a high ceiling. Might be competitive in this out-of-the-playoffs tier, but just too many talented teams.

13. Kings
No real blueprint for how to make this team work. Cousins might be the real deal, but will it matter with so many gunners around him?

14. Hornets
Davis will be worth watching. Eric Gordon might finally care a little. Ryan Anderson will prove he's the real deal.

15. Suns
Welcome back, Goran Dragic!

Friday, April 27, 2012

Predicting the Playoffs

I'm back and fully prepared to be wrong.

With the beginning of the NBA playoffs comes predictions from everyone and their mother (seriously, some guy at ESPN has his mother predict the playoffs every year, she's not bad if I remember correctly). I figured I'd join in.

My analysis comes mainly from a weighted regression analysis of relevant team statistics from the season. I type in numbers, the computer spits out answers. This method has had decent success. Two years ago it predicted the conference runner-ups (Suns and Magic) to meet in the Finals. Unfortunately for them, the Lakers and Celtics both kicked it up a notch in the playoffs, something the formula can't predict. Last year went haywire after the Spurs were ousted in the first round. Let's hope that doesn't happen again.

On to the picks.

First Round:

Bulls v. Sixers
I won't waste your time. The Bulls are the highest rated Eastern Conference team. They had the best defense and best overall efficiency differential. They were also the best rebounding team in the league. The only hit they took was in total team PER. The Sixers were a very good defensive team, but had an average offense. They did an excellent job not turning the ball over, but saw trouble rebounding. The Sixers actually ended up being the 3rd highest rated team out East. Unfortunately, their second half skid landed them a tough first round match-up.

Pick: Bulls

Celtics v. Hawks
So the Celtics finished higher in the standings, but the Hawks will have home court. Boston was an elite defensive team during the second half, but is poor at rebounding. They move the ball well and hit shots on offense, getting enough done while they grind down opponents at the other end. Atlanta's shot in this series will be on the offensive end. They have solid assist/turnover numbers and shoot well enough. Will they be able to do this against the lockdown Celtics? The computer believes so and while this would be one place where I might be inclined to disagree, I trust the Hawks ability to get only to the second round.

Pick: Hawks

Pacers v. Magic
Dwight Howard isn't playing. That should be enough right there. The Magic were not a very good team to begin with and will only be worse without their best player. The Pacers, on the other hand, went under the radar to claim the number 3 spot and have a better winning percentage than the Lakers. They ended up somewhere around 8th-10th in almost every category, with the only exception being assist/turnover numbers, indicative of their post-heavy style of play. The Magic rate out as the worst Eastern Conference team. Done and done.

Pick: Pacers

Heat v. Knicks
This will be a star-studded one. And while I like the intrigue of New York unseating the Big 3, I just don't see it. Miami had a top-5 offense and defense, while the Knicks relied heavily on their much improved defensive prowess and still finished behind Miami. It will be an entertaining one, for sure, and we can hope for 7 games, but overall the Heat are too loaded.

Pick: Heat

Spurs v. Jazz
Who led the league in offensive efficiency? None other than the Spurs, a team that won 4 championships with elite defense. They also had the best team PER. The Jazz, while riding an impressive offense to this playoff berth, were the lowest rated playoff team. Their frontcourt quality and depth might be enough to extend this series, but overall San Antonio will be too much.

Pick: Spurs

Grizzlies v. Clippers
Memphis seems to be a trendy pick due to their upset last year. The computer doesn't see it. They rate as the 7th best Western Conference team, well behind their opponent Clippers. Zach Randolph was a revelation last year, but can he do it again? Is the addition of Rudy Gay enough to carry them? Will Tony Allen shut down Chris Paul? It's possible, but I think the high-octane Clippers offense will be enough to get them past the first round.

Pick: Clippers

Lakers v. Nuggets
And here's the first big upset. Denver and LA stand at 6th and 7th in the computer standings and its very close. It again seems prudent to go against the computer, but I think the match-up could be good for the Nuggets. Denver will use the speed of Ty Lawson coupled with the athleticism of Afflao, Faried, and McGee to keep the Lakers disoriented. They'll have to be smart against the Lakers bigs and Afflalo will have to disrupt Kobe, but I think this is well within reason.

Pick: Nuggets

Thunder v. Mavericks
A first-round rematch of last years conference finals, it will be interesting to see if the Thunder can shake the demons of last years defeat. I think they'll be fine. They computer has a wide disparity between these two teams and I think the youth of Oklahoma City will be too much for Dallas. OKC will have plenty of bodies to throw at Dirk again and the other options in Dallas are limited.

Pick: Thunder

Second Round:

Bulls v. Hawks
The Hawks will be tasked with scoring enough to beat the two elite offenses of the league. I don't think they'll have enough. The Bulls point of attack with Derrick Rose and low post passing will give the Atlanta D trouble while the destructive second unit will be able to flood the strong side against Joe Johnson.

Pick: Bulls

Heat v. Pacers
I think this one will be tough for the Heat. Really tough. The computer doesn't think so, but I think the size and athleticism of the Pacers will give the wing-heavy offense of the Heat some problems. Hibbert and West will also be able to play over the top of much of the Heat's frontcourt. While I think this will be quite the series, I can't pick against the Heat just yet.

Pick: Heat

Spurs v. Clippers
There will be points. And great point guard play. At the end of the day, the Spurs have the capability for stops more so than the Clippers and their ability to stretch the floor will tax the wings of LA.

Pick: Spurs

Thunder v. Nuggets
And even more points. This will be an insanely exciting offensive series and the first team to miss might be the loser. Unfortunately for the Nuggets, a lot of their strengths can also be strengths for the Thunder. Playing uptempo, a fast point guard, and an athletic shot blocking big man apply to both teams. It's just that OKC did it better than Denver throughout the season and will continue in the postseason.

Pick: Thunder

Conference Finals:

Bulls v. Heat
As you can tell, four teams set themselves apart this postseason. These two teams will meet again for a place in the Finals and this time I think Chicago comes out on top. Their ability to contain wings with their flood-style defense and the return of Rose to orchestrate the offense will prove enough to carry the Bulls.

Pick: Bulls

Spurs v. Thunder
Ok, so the computer isn't much for upsets. The Spurs were rated as the best team and it continues here. I could easily see the Thunder winning this one, but I have to side with the numbers on this one.

Pick: Spurs


Bulls v. Spurs
And so San Antonio will have their fifth title. The Bulls defense could be enough to stop the scorching veteran attack of the Spurs, but again, they were pretty solidly the best team by the numbers and I have to stick with that.

Pick: Spurs

Friday, March 16, 2012

The Trade Deadline

None of the biggest pieces were moved on this year's NBA trade deadline. Yet, there was enough activity to keep the pros relevant on the first day of the NCAA tournament. On to the deals.

  • Raptors send Leandro Barbosa to the Pacers for a 2012 2nd round pick and cash
    • Barbosa gives the Pacers a scorer off the bench and someone who has experience playing as a true point guard. Barbosa has been mostly put in a scoring guard role of late and he excels there (almost 22 points per 40 minutes), but he has had very strong assist rates in the past under the guidance of Steve Nash. For what they gave up, the Pacers got a good deal.
  • Grizzlies send Sam Young to the 76ers for the rights to Ricky Sanchez
    • Who is Ricky Sanchez? It couldn't matter less. This was strictly a salary dump for Memphis and the NBA requires both teams to trade something, no matter how trivial. The Sixers get another frontcourt body who is a very solid offensive rebounder (9th among small forwards who play more than 10 minutes). However, he's a bad shooter and doesn't really do anything else well enough to warrant large amounts of playing time.
  • Spurs send Richard Jefferson and a 2012 1st round pick (lottery protected) to Golden State for Stephen Jackson
    • Jackson had been pretty bad for the Bucks and probably won't be much better in San Antonio. Perhaps they were nostalgic for the days of old when Jacko won a title with the Spurs. Jefferson isn't exactly much better, but at least has a specialty in hitting 3's (especially from the corner). The problem is the Warriors have a 3-point shooting small forward in Dorell Wright who is better and 5 years younger. Grabbing another 1st round pick is helpful for the future and they are certain to get it as the Spurs' chances of landing in the lottery this year are low.
  • Blazers send Gerald Wallace to the Nets for Mehmet Okur, Shawne Williams, and a 2012 1st round pick (top 3 protected), Blazers send Marcus Camby to Rockets for Jonny Flynn, Hasheem Thabeet, and a 2012 2nd round pick
    • The Blazers, who are in 12th place despite a +1.9 point differential, are throwing in the towel. They are going to free up money (about 20.5 million) to begin their rebuilding project around LaMarcus Aldridge and Nic Batum. They plan to waive Williams and Okur, Flynn, and Thabeet are all awful. Perhaps the young guys will be able to become serviceable in a new environment, but I don't think they are part of Portland's long-term plan. The 1st round pick is nice and the Nets apparently only protected it top 3 because their list of worthwhile players in the upcoming draft stops after Anthony Davis, Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, and Thomas Robinson. 
    • The Rockets on the other hand get another true center and an elite rebounder in Camby (he leads the league in total rebound rate). This will help in their push to secure a playoff spot in the west.
    • The Nets get a 29 year-old Wallace who obviously is a great rebounder, defender, and energy player, but I don't know if that's what they need now, especially at the cost of a high 1st rounder.
  • Lakers send Derek Fisher and a 2012 1st round pick to the Rockets for Jordan Hill, Lakers send Luke Walton, Jason Kapono, and a 2012 1st round pick (lottery protected) to the Cavaliers for Ramon Sessions and Chrisitan Eyenga
    • So long, Fish. The Lakers get a great rebounder and excellent finisher at the basket in Hill who can play stretches at either power forward or center. Sessions is a great pick and roll point guard. He doesn't shoot very well, but is worlds better than Fisher everywhere else. Eyenga is a nice throw-in to keep an eye on. The Lakers had to unload their 2 first round picks, but got rid of some dead weight in Walton and Kapono. 
    • Cleveland must have really wanted that lottery protected first rounder because the money doesn't make much sense. Kapono makes just over 800,000 which isn't much cap relief and Walton has another year at 5.8 million. 
    • The Rockets can see if Fisher can give them anything as Kyle Lowry heals and his veteran presence might be worth keeping around at 3.4 million, which comes off the books at the end of the year. 
  • Nuggets send Nene and Clippers send Brian Cook to the Wizards, Wizards send Javale McGee and Rony Turiaf to Denver and Nick Young to the Clippers
    • McGee might be a knucklehead, but he's a knucklehead who rebounds well and sends a lot of shots back. Nene is far more polished offensively, but overall their not giving up as much as it might seem, especially when you factor in Nene's 13 million dollars per year as compared to 2.5 million for McGee. Cook is a tough-nosed rebounder with little value elsewhere. The Nuggets plan to waive Turiaf in order to use some of their new found savings on Wilson Chandler. 
    • Nick Young is an absolute chucker who can't (or perhaps won't) create shots for anybody but himself. But the price was right for the Clippers, so they can afford to experiment with a real 2 guard in the lineup. 
  • Hawks send a 2nd round pick to the Warriors for cash
    • Get paid, Joe Johnson.
Overall I really like what the Rockets and Lakers did, adding productive players for the stretch. I think the demolition in Portland may be a year early and they didn't take back a single productive player, but you can't blame them for being frustrated after the bad luck they've had lately. Golden State continues to set themselves up for the future and while I like their outlook, it is predicated on good drafting and patience. The Wizards and Nets continue to make moves that don't really make sense for teams that are in their current situations. 

Thursday, March 15, 2012

Bucks/Warriors Trade

On Tuesday the Golden State Warriors traded Monta Ellis, Ekpe Udoh, and Kwame Brown to the Milwaukee Bucks for Andrew Bogut and Stephen Jackson. While it doesn't come off as a blockbuster trade and involves two teams that aren't near contention now, I think it made decent sense for both teams.

The Bucks now have another shot creator, which will take some of the burden off of Brandon Jennings. With a usage rate of 26 and 17 field goal attempts per game, he could use the help. Jennings isn't a very efficient offensive weapon and while Ellis has been tagged as overrated, he can still create good looks. The best part for the Bucks is that both players are enjoying career lows in turnover rate, so its not as if combining the two is going to make for an out of control style. Udoh is a veritable mess offensively and not a great rebounder for his level of athleticism, but he seems to have some value defensively, which will be important in replacing Bogut. At this point, the name Kwame Brown is GM code for "trade filler."

While the Bucks upgraded at 2 and added some potential with Udoh, I really think the Warriors got the better end of the deal. True, they will probably lose a good amount this season. However, they have a top-7 protected pick this year that goes to Utah if they do too well. I think this pick is safe now. Stephen Jackson probably isn't going to produce much now and isn't a factor for the future.

The real victory comes in getting Bogut. Ellis' gaudy scoring totals are nice, but Golden State was always better without him on the court and his goodness of fit with Curry had been doubted from day one. Bogut is a monster defensively, averaging over 2 blocks a game for the past 3 seasons and anchoring one of the league's best defenses last year. Bogut is also a fantastic rebounder (8th among centers who play more than 15 minutes per game). He was never a supreme offensive player, but the Warriors will hope that he bounces back from a career low 44.9 field goal percentage to something in 50s again. I would imagine that as injuries become less of a problem, he will return to form. Paired with David Lee, though, he won't have to be spectacular offensively. He can continue to get tips and flips around the rim while David Lee creates shots from the high post. Bogut will also be able to cover up the defensive shortcomings of Lee.

With a budding young point guard in Curry and a formidable, if earthbound, frontcourt, the Warriors have set up a nice foundation with which to move forward. Now if all these guys can just stay healthy.

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

How Bad Are The Bobcats?

Five and thirty-one. That's the current record of the Charlotte Bobcats, the NBA's worst team. They have a winning percentage of .139 and trail the second-worst Hornets by 3 full games. Their point differential is a stunning -13.6. Even the 12-win New Jersey Nets of 2 seasons ago only had a -9.1 point differential. Things are rough in the Queen City to say the least.

There is very little hope to be had when you take a closer look at some of the numbers. The Bobcats offense is atrocious, scoring about 92 points per 100 possessions. This is last in the league by almost 4 whole points. It is 7 points worse than the offensively-challenged Milwaukee Bucks of last year. Offense is a little down around the league due to the compressed schedule, but its not quite as drastic a falloff as the Bobcats are making it look. The Cats don't do much on the other end of the floor with a defensive efficiency of 107.7 that is only better than the Nets. The differential between their offensive and defensive efficiency (one of my favorite predictors of success) is -15.77, last in the league by a full 6 points.

The Bobcats shoot poorly (a 48.1 true shooting percentage, well below the league average of 52.2, and 29.9 percent from three) and don't rebound (last in total rebound rate, 28th and 25 in offensive and defensive rate, respectively). They allow a 54.6 opponent true shooting percentage and give up 30 attempts at the rim per game (most in the league by 3 attempts). While they allow opponents to get good looks at the rim, they take a league high 28.1 attempts from 16-23 feet, an inefficient shot to begin with, let alone with a poor shooting team.

Charlotte has only 2 players with a PER above league average (15) in Kemba Walker (15.57) and Derrick Brown (15.14). This, of course, doesn't account for the fact that Walker is flammable on defense. The only teams that come close to this level of roster futility are Toronto and Detroit. However, their players above the 15 watermark play at a much higher level (All-Star caliber in Greg Monroe's case). Another problem could be Corey Maggette, who, with an 11.23 PER, plays 28.2 minutes per game and has a team-high usage rate. There aren't many great options for them to turn to, but perhaps Corey should give it up a little bit more.

Needless to say, the Bobcats are rebuilding. Hopefully with the talented mind of Rich Cho and some lucky bounces from ping pong balls, Charlotte can soon move into relevance and avoid being relocated. In the meantime I'll consider myself lucky that LeaguePass blacks out Bobcats games.

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

The Bulls' Second Unit

Last year the Bulls finished with the best record in the East and made the conference finals. One obvious reason people pointed to was the MVP-caliber play of superstar Derrick Rose. Rose's excellence was undeniable, but  it was certainly not the only reason the Bulls were lifted into the NBA's elite class. Part of this ascension in Chicago was due to the outstanding defense of the backup unit. 

Chiago's bench lineup of Asik-Gibson-Deng-Brewer-Watson/Rose (the numbers were similar no matter the point guard) was an absolute terror for opposing offenses. Anchored by the Asik-Gibson frontcourt, which barely ever allowed an uncontested attempt at the rim, this unit gave up about 84.5 points per 100 possessions. For context, this figure would lead the league this year in defensive efficiency. By 10 points. The second unit was a full 13 points better than Chicago's overall defensive efficiency, which happened to be the league's best last year. 

Despite a few tweaks to the personnel, this year's bench unit remains a destructive force on offenses around the league. The group of Asik-Gibson-Deng-Korver-Lucas is giving up 65.89 points per 100 possessions. Read that again and take a second to revel in its brilliance. Basically, when a team goes up against this lineup they turn into a bad college offense. This unit is not all too common, seeing only 76 minutes so far this year. One might think this is due to offensive ineffectiveness, but in the limited sample this crowd scores about 113 points per 100 possessions. Nonetheless, this is a formidable lineup that might be worth keeping on the floor a little more. 

So how do they do it? Much of the credit certainly goes to Tom Thibodeau, the master architect of the Celtics' stingy defenses in past years. Also, as stated above, the imposing duo of Omer Asik and Taj Gibson at the rim isn't going to give up too many easy looks at the basket. The Bulls' opponents shoot 57.1 percent at the rim, the second lowest percentage in the league. Deng has grown into one of the best perimeter defenders in the league. He holds opposing small forwards to a 9.1 PER and a 44.3 effective field goal percentage (league average is about 48 percent). If anything is surprising about this new bench unit it is the presence of Kyle Korver and John Lucas. Korver doesn't have the reputation as a wing stopper, but has good size to harass opposing 2's and active hands. Lucas is small, but pesky. He forces opponent point guards to turn the ball over 4 times per 48 minutes. For reference, two time all-defensive first team member Rajon Rondo only forces 3.7. 

When the Bulls play on national television the focus is primarily on Rose. Perhaps this is rightly so. He provides much of the flash and excitement. However, the quiet potency of the bench defense has played a huge part in keeping Chicago atop the NBA standings. 

Thursday, March 1, 2012

Heat at Blazers: Rainy Days and Runaways

Before last night, the Heat had not played in a full week and would be without Chris Bosh due to a personal issue. Facing a Portland team whose record has probably underrepresented their true talent level, one could have thought that Miami's 8 game win streak was in trouble. LeBron James would soon put those concerns to rest.

The Heat would run away with this game by running away. Both Miami and Portland have been playing uptempo styles this season ranking 9th and 7th in pace, respectively. Portland's increase in speed has been diametric to their plodding style of old. Miami has also been keeping their foot on the accelerator ever since Erik Spoelstra had his off-season epiphany while studying the University of Oregon's football team. It has indeed worked wonders; the Heat lead the league in offensive efficiency.

So naturally, both teams came out gunning and pushing the tempo. LeBron, despite starting with a missed layup, led the Heat on his way to a 12 point, 4 rebound, and 4 assist first quarter. LaMarcus Aldridge was the go-to man for Portland, hitting 4 of his first 5 shots for 8 points. Wade and James' 22 combined points in the first quarter gave the Heat an 8 point lead.

In a season that has been full of disappointment for former Blazers with Brandon Roy retiring and Greg Oden requiring even more surgery, the second quarter began with a dash of hope. Joel Przybilla played his first minutes of the season after returning to Portland and made a couple of effective defensive plays. He was unable to stop Dwyane Wade, however, who would have a 12 point quarter. LeBron would hit a 3 pointer and then a quick 2 at the end of the quarter on a 2-for-1 to give the Heat an 18 point halftime lead.

The Heat would reamin in control for the rest of the game. Double team traps leading to turnovers (the Heat  had 18 points off of Blazer giveaways) and LeBron's transition savvy would be enough for Miami to hold the lead. Even a 7-0 run for the Blazers in the third quarter only brought the lead down to 18. And just when the Blazers looked like they could cut the deficit to 14 at the beginning of the fourth on a Ray Felton breakaway layup, LeBron came up with one of his trademark chase down blocks. The Blazers only got as close as 10 points before a dagger three pointer from LeBron dashed Portland's hopes.

James finished with 38 points, 11 rebounds, 6 assists, and 5 steals. He was aided by Wade's 33 points and 10 assists. Aldridge led the Blazers in scoring with 20 on 10-18 shooting. In a game between two breakneck teams, Portland's 16 turnovers proved to be costly.

Miami stretched its winning streak to 9 and now trails Oklahoma City, which won earlier that night, by just 1 game in the win column. Portland, which was on the second night of a back-to-back, falls to 18-18 and will remain on the outside of the Western Conference playoff picture looking in.

Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Timberwolves at Lakers: Wolves in Hollywood

The post-All Star Game schedule did not seem kind to the Minnesota Timberwolves. They were slated to start the second half of the season with a back-to-back-to-back, all three games being on the road, with the first two against the teams from Los Angeles. So much for the upstart team from up north.

However, Minnesota came out looking resilient against the Clippers on Tuesday night. After winning their first game against the Clippers in dramatic fashion earlier this season, the Timberwolves scored a more decisive victory with the help of great bench production. Derrick Williams and Michael Beasley both scored 27 points as reserves on a combined 20-25 shooting, including hitting all 7 three pointers. The Wolves' not-oft used lineup of Barea-Webster-Beasley-Williams-Milicic thoroughly outplayed the Clips' starters, scoring 48 points on just 28 possessions.

Act 2 of this Pacific division road trip (Minnesota's in Phoenix tomorrow) brought the Wolves back to Staples Center for a matchup against the Lakers. Los Angeles was playing its first game since All Star weekend, but Kobe Bryant's status was at least somewhat in question due to a concussion. He would play, albeit with a mask protecting his recently broken nose. Unfortunately for Minnesota, they would be missing All Star Kevin Love due to illness. This did not bode well against a team with a big front line that is 2nd in the league in total rebound rate.

The Lakers were indeed able to control the game with their size throughout. The first quarter saw Luke Ridnour having to guard Metta World Peace due to the necessity of putting the more athletic Wes Johnson on Kobe Bryant. World Peace got 2 easy buckets inside early, one of which became an and-1. Bynum would also get it going in the second quarter with a spin around Darko Milicic for a dunk and then an alley-oop finish in the lane from Steve Blake. Bynum finished with 13 points and 13 rebounds.

Pau was quiet in the first half, but scored 11 of his 15 in the second to keep the Lakers out ahead. While the rebounding disparity was not as severe as one might have predicted (48-44 in favor of Los Angeles), the Lakers had 8 blocks to Minnesota's 1, showing an obstructive defensive presence in the lane.

While the lane was occupied in the half court set, much of Minnesota's offense came on transition buckets. Rubio played traffic director, tallying 9 assists, including one that went between Derek Fisher's legs to a streaking Pekovic. Ricky's shooting woes continued, however, as he finished 1 for 8 with just 3 points.

And the man in the mask? He poured in a game-high 31 points on 11-23 shooting, going 9-10 from the line with 7 rebounds and 8 assists.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Is Nic Batum a 2?

Last night, the Portland Trailblazers started 6'8" Nicolas Batum at shooting guard for the second straight game. Batum took the place of Wesley Matthews, the regular starting 2. This new look by the Blazers gives them a huge and athletic starting lineup, one that perhaps is meant to keep the pace up while also solving some of their rebounding woes (20th in the NBA in total rebound rate). However, Batum's experience and profile seem to better fit the 3. So is starting him at one of the guard positions an effective strategy?

Well, for the time being, yes. The samples of Batum in the lineup at 2 are small, but they seem to indicate that this strategy might work. Batum has only played 6 percent of the Blazers' minutes at shooting guard, but has posted a 20.4 PER when he does. Even better, he holds opponent shooting guards to a 1.9 PER, limiting them to 15.7 points per 48 minutes and outrebounding them by almost 4 boards per 48. This makes sense as Batum, while no offensive ace, is a pest on defense. His length is enough to bother even the biggest 2's and he doesn't have trouble staying in front of the quicker guards. 

The unit stats are in Batum's favor as well. The new starting unit of Felton-Batum-Wallace-Aldridge-Camby scores about 131 points per 100 possessions. Now, this will come back down to Earth with more minutes, but it does seem like this can be a potent offensive unit, especially if Felton figures out how to play basketball again. This 5 man lineup has given up 105 points per 100 possessions, worse than Portland's normal defensive efficiency of 97.1, but if they can effectively outscore opponents, it won't matter. 

This is a situation to keep an eye on as Portland continues playing this starting lineup. The numbers will surely even out (especially after last night's embarrassment in Los Angeles), but early indications show that Batum at the 2 might prove enough of a matchup problem in terms of length and athleticism that it will become a permanent installation in the Rose Garden. 

Friday, February 17, 2012

J.R. Smith to the Knicks

Former Denver Nugget J.R. Smith is headed to New York to join the Jeremania (see what I did there). Assessing the move is tough because the Knicks are in a weird place right now. They are in the midst of a 7 game win streak that has been highlighted by the supernova of hype around Jeremy Lin. New York is also scheduled to get Carmelo Anthony back soon, and already the talk has turned to whether there will be enough shots to go around for Lin, Anthony, and Stoudemire. So, of course the Knicks' next move would be to sign a guard with a reputation for shoot-first tendencies.

Despite the talk of selfishness, I actually think this was a smart move. First, the price was right. Smith was given the mini mid-level exception, which, at $2.5 million, is far less than the almost $7 million he made last year in Denver. Second, I think he can be used as the primary scorer for the second unit. Assuming that the starting lineup will be Chandler-Stoudemire-Anthony-Fields-Lin when all are healthy, Smith could be used to provide offense off the bench. This was Smith's role in Denver and there's no doubt he's capable of it.

No doubt at all. Smith averaged almost 20 points per 40 minutes last year and shot 39 percent from three. His assist rate is actually pretty good for someone who is viewed as a chucker and his defensive rebound rate was 5th best among shooting guards, so he brings more to the table than just scoring. His usage rate was high (imagine something around what Mo Williams does for Los Angeles), but this will work if he is put with Shumpert, Douglas, and Jeffries. And the Knicks certainly do need help with their back up units. Pretty much any lineup that doesn't feature both Anthony and Stoudemire has averaged less than a point per possession. Smith will help to address this issue.

There are concerns, with shot selection being one. Over 42 percent of his shots inside the arc come from 16-23 feet and from observation, it seems Smith has never met a pull up jumper off the dribble that he didn't like. He also has never been considered any sort of defensive ace. However, for the money they're paying, the Knicks got quite a deal. One that should continue to fuel the theatrics in Madison Square Garden.

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Celtics at Bulls: Memories

Not long ago, the Celtics and Bulls were taking part in one of the most entertainingly epic first round series in NBA playoff history. Memories of seven total overtime periods, a breakout 36 point game from Derrick Rose, a 51 point outburst from Ray Allen, two Rajon Rondo triple-doubles, and a chippy atmosphere that saw Rondo put Kirk Hinrich into a scorer's table by the arm still pervade this match-up two seasons later.

Much has changed, though. At that point, the Celtics were defending a title against an upstart Bulls team. Now, the Celtics are 3 seasons removed from their championship and the Bulls find themselves at the top of the East standings once again. In fact, the Bulls have the best record in the league along with a +9.8 point differential and a 10-1 home record. 

Chicago's success is once again coming from their elite defense. They are 2nd in defensive efficiency and are forcing their opponents off the three point line to less efficient shots. The Bulls' opponents take the league's lowest percentage of shots from three and the highest from 16-23 feet. Similarly to last year, Chicago is led by their 2nd unit, with the Asik-Gibson-Deng-Korver-Lucas lineup giving up a miniscule 0.62 points per possession. 

Boston's defense remains in the upper echelon, but they have had trouble on offense. While they have the league's highest assist rate (thanks to the phenomenal Rondo), they still turn the ball over a lot and grab offensive rebounds at the league's second lowest rate. The Celtics continue to knockdown their threes (59.2 eFG% from 3), but are relying more on their point guard for offense as Rondo's usage rate is the highest of his career. 

The season series going into last night's game was split, one apiece, with Chicago's loss coming without Derrick Rose. Rose would have to sit out last night's game as well, but it didn't seem to affect the ball movement on offense for the Bulls. Chicago has 27 assists on 30 made field goals with much of the passing coming from the bigs. Luol Deng had 10 assists with Boozer adding 5 more. Boston tried throwing up a zone to stop the seeming passing drill that the Bulls were putting on in the lane, but to no avail. While it befuddled Chicago offense for a few possessions, it would not be enough to stop the Rose-less Bulls, who scored 89 points on 88 possessions. 

Boston's offense had a rough shooting performance and was unable to move the ball as effectively as the Bulls, with only 15 of their 31 field goals coming from an assist. They, characteristically, were unable to come up with second shots, grabbing just 6 offensive boards as compared to 16 for Chicago. 

Energy seemed to make all the difference, personified best by the play of Omer Asik. Within the first 2 minutes of his entry into the game, Asik had 3 offensive boards and drew an offensive foul on Kevin Garnett.  His minutes were limited due to the outstanding play of Noah and Boozer, but he got the most out of the playing time he saw. 

There weren't any overtimes or triple-doubles this time around. Nobody got thrown into a table. The stakes were a little lower for the third of four meetings taking place in the middle of February. However, something tells me that we haven't seen the last dramatic game between these two teams just yet.

In the meantime, we can remember the greatness that once was. 

Friday, February 10, 2012

Around the League: Close Finishes

Some exciting finishes on Friday night:

Clippers 78 at Sixers 77
Chris Paul hit a jumper with Iguodala draped all over him to put the Clippers up one. It killed me to watch because Iggy was playing such good defense that he almost forced a turnover on the possession. Los Angeles trapped Lou Williams against the sideline with a double team preventing him from getting off a shot on the last possession. Paul finished with 24 points and 4 assists in the win.

Hawks 89 at Magic 87
This one went to overtime. Down 2, Jason Richardson got wrapped up by Zaza Pachulia on a drive. Pachulia argued for the foul to be on the floor, but Richardson got free throws anyway. He missed the second and Pachulia came up shooting free throws on the other end. He missed one as well and the Magic had a chance to tie or win. Unfortunately for Orlando, Richardson and Jameer Nelson could not connect on their three point attempts and the Hawks came up with the win. Josh Smith has 23 points and 19 rebounds while Dwight Howard went 18 and 18. 

Bucks 113 at Cavaliers 112
Another overtime game. Milwaukee ran a nice play at the end of regulation to try to win it. Shaun Livingston inbounded to Drew Gooden and then took a handoff from him while Gooden screened his man. As Livingston drove the lane, help came (Tristan Thompson completely sold out for a block) and he found Mbah a Moute for the bucket. Unfortunately this play probably needed 5 or so seconds to complete and they only had 3.7. Mbah a Moute didn't finish, but it mattered not, as the clock had run out.

Gooden came up big in overtime scoring 6 points and taking a charge on Daniel Gibson's attempt to tie the game (his feet were on the restricted arc, but who's counting). Alonzo Gee would hit a 3 pointer as time expired. Alas, the Cavs were down 4 and the Bucks survived. 

Pacers 92 at Grizzlies 98
This one was much closer than the final score indicates. It was a back and forth contest and the Pacers cut the lead down to 3 with 21 seconds left on a Danny Granger three pointer with Tony Allen in his face. O.J. Mayo hit 3 of 4 free throws in the final 20 seconds to keep the game on Memphis' side. 

Lakers 85 at Knicks 92
This game wasn't actually that close, but Jeremy Lin did something mean to the Lakers. 

If all this great NBA action is getting you excited, just take a deep breath and remember that the Bobcats scored 64 points on 90 possessions tonight. 

Rising Stars Game Draft

The Rising Stars Game, which formerly pitted the rookies against the sophomores, is going to be done a little bit differently this year. This time around, Shaquille O'Neal and Charles Barkley are going to draft from the pool of players to build teams. I kind of like this idea and I figured I would give it a shot and see how I think the draft should go down. For reference here are the eligible players:

Rookies: Kyrie Irving, Ricky Rubio, Kemba Walker, MarShon Brooks, Brandon Knight, Kawhi Leonard, Markieff Morris, Tristan Thompson, and Derrick Williams

Sophomores: Blake Griffin, John Wall, DeMarcus Cousins, Landry Fields, Paul George, Gordon Hayward, Greg Monroe, Tiago Splitter, Evan Turner

Shaq will get to pick first and I'll highlight his picks in blue with Barkley's being in red.

1. Kyrie Irving, Cleveland Cavaliers
Griffin is the best player on the board, but if you are putting together a team I think you have to go with a point guard. Irving has been unbelievable for a rookie and is a nice place to start an offense.

2. Blake Griffin, Los Angeles Clippers
No surprise here, he may go first due to highlight potential.

3. Greg Monroe, Detroit Pistons
Monroe has the highest PER of the group, but is less flashy. After point guard though I'd go with big men since there are so many quality ones in this draft.

4. Ricky Rubio, Minnesota Timberwolves
One way or another (unless somebody goes with 2 PG's early), Blake Griffin is going to be paired with an excellent rookie point guard. Imagine the lob potential of Ricky and Blake.

5. DeMarcus Cousins, Sacramento Kings
Might as well go huge. Monroe and Cousins could be an interesting high/low combination.

6. Tiago Splitter, San Antonio Spurs
It's between him and Paul George at this point, but pairing Blake with an effective center is a good strategy.

7. Paul George, Indiana Pacers
The best shooting guard in the group, he makes a formidable backcourt with Irving.

8. MarShon Brooks, New Jersey Nets
A scoring machine who would benefit from being paired with Rubio.

9. Kawhi Leonard, San Antonio Spurs
A great rebounder who fills out Shaq's starting lineup.

10. John Wall, Washington Wizards
He's much better than the other options on the perimeter and a Wall/Rubio backcourt should be interesting. They won't make a jumper, but they'll play open and fast with Blake around to finish the alley oops.

11. Derrick Williams, Minnesota Timberwolves
Close call between him and Evan Turner, but Shaq already has Paul George and Williams is a more exciting player.

12. Evan Turner, Philadelphia 76ers
Solid rebounder, capable ball-handler, and outstanding finisher. Playing well, but will probably slip because of a lack of flash.

13. Gordon Hayward, Utah Jazz
This is where it starts to get rough. Hayward is a good athlete, but hasn't really figured it out yet.

14. Tristan Thompson, Cleveland Cavaliers
Adds some frontcourt depth to the team.

15. Kemba Walker, Charlotte Bobcats
Has been solid for a rookie and his biggest weakness, a stunning lack of conviction on defense, doesn't really matter in a game like this. Will probably go higher despite being only the 4th best point guard among the eligible players.

16. Landry Fields, New York Knicks
Grasping at straws at this point.

17. Markieff Morris, Phoenix Suns
He's better than Knight I suppose.

18. Brandon Knight, Detroit Pistons
Would much rather see guys like Nikola Vucevic, Chandler Parsons, Alec Burks, or even the Jimmer considered for this spot instead of Knight.

So the starting lineups look like this:

Team Shaq
C- Greg Monroe
PF- DeMarcus Cousins
SF- Kawhi Leonard
SG- Paul George
PG- Kyrie Irving

Team Charles
C- Tiago Splitter
PF- Blake Griffin
SF- MarShon Brooks
SG- John Wall
PG- Ricky Rubio

I like Barkley's team in this scenario better just because of the explosiveness of the Griffin/Wall/Rubio/Brooks core in a game that is predicated about scoring. If defense were actually a facet of the game though, Team Shaq would be in good position. Still, this is an exciting new format and think it should make for a fun game.

Thursday, February 9, 2012

Rockets at Suns: Hold the Line

If Jason Richardson would have boxed out Metta World Peace in the 2010 Western Conference Finals, the Suns may have played the Celtics for the championship that year. He did not, however, and instead they watched the Lakers advance; this was the same time they began to recede.

The downfall in Phoenix is owing mainly to their once potent offense faltering. Mainly, the Suns used to torch the nets. They led the league in true shooting percentage four years in a row from 2006-2010 and were in the top 10 last year. Now they rank 17th. Couple this with their paltry rebounding numbers and you have a team in turmoil. The Suns sat 12th in the Western Conference at 11-14 going into their game against the Rockets last night.

Houston, on the other hand, has perhaps provided the biggest surprise in the Western Conference. Their 15-11 record had them at 4th in the West with a +2 point differential. The Rockets are doing this all while playing in a division that includes the veteran Spurs, defending champion Mavericks, and up-and-coming Grizzlies. Despite lacking true star power and being the unfortunate victim of the machinations of the NBA's cabal, Houston seems to be sticking around.

Now, if someone would just explain to these two teams the purpose for that line 15 feet from the basket. Phoenix ranks 28th in free throw rate while Houston is dead last. Neither of these teams are taking advantage of what is the most valuable shot in the game. Houston is making things especially rough on themselves. They hit 42 percent from 16-23 feet, good for 2nd in the league, and take over 19 attempts from that distance per game. Unfortunately, long 2's are not a greatly efficient shot and the Rockets would be wise to create some contact.

Of course, it has worked for them so far and despite only attempting 6 free throws last night (all of which came in the 4th quarter), they still managed to pull out a victory.

The Suns jumped out to a quick 14-6 lead behind Channing Frye's 8 points including an and-1 dunk. Grant Hill would also pour in 9 points to lift Phoenix to a 3-point lead at the end of one. However, offensive boards would keep Houston around as they extended possessions and managed to have a 20-2 edge in second chance points in the first half. This comes as no surprise as Houston ranks 6th in offensive rebound rate. An 11-0 run in the 2nd quarter gave Houston a 10 point lead going into the half.

The second half would be a showdown between the veteran Steve Nash and his former pupil Goran Dragic. Dragic ran the pick-and-roll effectively and helped move the ball to find open Rockets. He managed to steal the ball from Nash and later hit a 3 over a close-out by his former teammate. Dragic finished with 11 points and 11 assists. Nash, not to be outdone, scored 14 points on a perfect 7-7 and added 13 assists.

In the end, the Houston bench proved too much for the Suns. All five reserves for the Rockets scored in double figures and the second unit closed out the game due to their effectiveness. The Suns were only able to muster 13 bench points, 11 of which came from Michael Redd whose shot looked flat early in the game. Josh Childress and Sebastian Telfair were particularly awful combining for 0 points on 0-7 shooting.

Towards the end of the game, leading by five with 25 seconds left, Kyle Lowry hit 2 free throws to seal the contest. I'm just glad he knew where to go when he got fouled.

Monday, February 6, 2012

Kobe Making History

By scoring his 24th point in the Lakers/Sixers game, which amazingly came with 5:07 left in the 2nd quarter, Kobe Bryant moved into 5th place on the all-time NBA scoring list. At this moment he has 28,597 points, one more than former teammate Shaquille O'Neal. He drained 4 of his 5 three pointers, made all 4 free throw attempts, and shot 8 for 12 overall in order to move up another spot on the vaunted list.

At the timeout, Bryant embraced Derek Fisher, his longtime teammate. It also was nice that this moment could happen in his hometown of Philadelphia. So congratulations to Kobe Bryant. Whether or not you are a Laker fan, you have to enjoy the competitive nature of Bryant and his dedication to the game.

Clippers Sign Kenyon Martin

My good friend Chris Ryan at Grantland wrote about Kenyon Martin signing with the Clippers. In his piece, he makes the point that Kenyon Martin and Jason Kidd were somewhat of a proto-Lob City. While he includes a rather convincing Youtube video of Kenyon Martin jamming really hard, I think he may have missed the point. Martin's high-flying New Jersey days were 8 years and 2 microfracture surgeries ago, so I am skeptical as to his value as a citizen of Lob Angeles.

That's not to say I don't like the signing. The Clippers were pretty desperate for frontcourt depth. After DeAndre Jordan and Blake Griffin the Clippers were rolling out some sub-par options at forward and center. Reggie Evans sports a 31.13 turnover rate and Brian Cook's true shooting percentage is 25.1 percent. Add in the 5.22 PER of Solomon Jones and you can see why the Clippers were more than willing to part with their mini midlevel exception for Martin.

Martin hasn't lit the world on fire in Denver, but he can finish, especially around the basket (71.3 percent last year), and Chris Paul will certainly be setting up easy looks for him. He's a decent rebounder and had an excellent assist rate last year, one that would put him in the top 5 among power forwards if he plays at least 15 minutes per game. That he should, as any lineup that didn't include Griffin or Jordan for the Clippers has been somewhat disastrous.

So, no, Chris Ryan, I don't expect too many highlight reel slams that made Martin the number 1 overall pick back in 2000. However, I think this greatly improves the Clippers' depth, which in a season like this one, can make all the difference.

Thursday, February 2, 2012

The 2012 All Stars: West

Continuing my All Star team with the Western Conference. Go here for the Eastern Conference.

C- Kevin Love, Minnesota Timberwolves
So I cheated. Love is technically a power forward, but he and the next guy were playing at such a crazy level that it would be wrong to leave either one of them off the team. Love scores 25.5 per game and grabs 13.5 rebounds. He is the best defensive rebounding power forward and shoots 40 percent from three as well. He also is getting fouled more, taking 9 free throws per game and making 80.6 percent of them.

PF- Paul Millsap, Utah Jazz
Millsap is part of the reason behind the Jazz's early contention in the West. He is an efficient scorer and solid defender. He gets most of his attempts at the rim where he finishes 76.5 percent. That rate is good for 5th among power forwards and he has attempted almost 40 more shots than any person ahead of him. He also doesn't turn it over with a 6.95 turnover rate.

SF- Kevin Durant, Oklahoma City Thunder
He scores 27 per game and is shooting a career best 51.3 percent from the field. He also gets to the line 7.4 times per game and hits 82.3 percent. Durant gets it done on the glass, too, and is in the top 6 small forwards in total rebound rate. Add in 1.2 steals and 1.3 blocks per game and Durant is the easy choice to start.

SG- Kobe Bryant, Los Angeles Lakers
I need to get myself some Kobe System shoes. Bryant, at 33, is leading the league in scoring at a nice round 30 points per game. He has the third best total rebound rate for shooting guards. His usage rate is an insane 38.57, easily the highest in the league. Yet, he still dishes 5.4 assists per game.

PG- Chris Paul, Los Angeles Clippers
The savior of Clipperland is proving worth the trade. He's averaging 18 points and 9 assists per game while owning the 2nd best turnover rate among point guards. He shoots 50.8/44.7/86.4 as far as percentages and adds 2.5 steals per game.

Bench- Andrew Bynum, Los Angeles Lakers
He's an elite rebounder and a reliable scoring option inside, shooting 54.8 percent from the floor. He's abysmal from the line, but blocks 1.89 shots per game and protects the rim.

Bench- LaMarcus Aldridge, Portland Trailblazers
The power forward spot is crowded in the West. He's the third 4 listed here and still has a 23.4 PER. It's a pretty crazy year if that isn't enough to crack the starting lineup. He's a decent rebounder and won't turn it over, but is such an efficient scorer at 22.6 per game shooting 50 percent from the field.

Bench- Danilo Gallinari, Denver Nuggets
The newly extended Gallinari is playing lights out. His TS% is 67 despite shooting pretty badly from three. Instead, he's getting to the rim and finishing well.

Bench- James Harden, Oklahoma City Thunder
Harden scores 16 points off the bench while handing out 4 assists. He is the main creator for the Thunder's second unit and is a front runner for sixth man of the year (though don't forget about Lou Williams). His 65.4 true shooting percentage is good enough to be third best among all guards.

Bench- Russell Westbrook, Oklahoma City Thunder
Westbrook has cut his turnover rate and is a beastly rebounder for a guard. Add in his scoring ability and he gets the second point guard spot.

Bench- Blake Griffin, Los Angeles Clippers
Did you see how hard he dunked on Kendrick Perkins?! Also, he puts up 21/11/3 while shooting 51.8 percent from the floor.

Bench- Steve Nash, Phoenix Suns
He has the third best TS% among point guards and the fourth best assist rate.

The 2012 All Stars: East

The NBA All Star starters will be announced tonight at 7pm on TNT. I went ahead and decided to pick what my All Star team would look like. We'll start with the Eastern Conference. Go here for the West.

Eastern Conference

C- Dwight Howard, Orlando Magic
Even in a season in which some have speculated he might not be completely "dialed in," Howard is still putting on a show. He is still the best rebounding center, leading the position in total and defensive rebound rate. He's also scoring better than a point every 2 minutes with a 59.4 true shooting percentage. Also, he's still dominating the middle defensively, posting better than 2 blocks and 1 steal per game. The hometown hero should start this game and fans might want to take a long last look because it is likely he's gone soon after February 26th.

PF- Ryan Anderson, Orlando Magic
I know, it's weird. But the thing is, he's been really good. He leads East power forwards in PER, shoots 42 percent from three, and doesn't turn it over. Ever. Only 3.34 percent of his possessions end with a turnover. Granted his assist rate is low, but when your 4 can light it up from behind the arc without ever creating possessions for the other team, that's pretty good.

SF- LeBron James, Miami Heat
This was pretty much the easiest decision I've ever made and one time I decided not to pay money to see "You, Me, and Dupree." Dominant is the best way to describe it. He is off to an insane start with a 33.51 PER. His raw stats, 29/8/7, are pretty good too. Any way you decide to look at it, James is not only a mortal lock for this team, but the heavy favorite for MVP.

SG- Dwyane Wade, Miami Heat
There were a few players I penalized for missing games and Wade probably should have been one of them. The problem is, the East doesn't have that many great shooting guards. Wade has cut down on his three point attempts and is instead dishing the ball more than last year. He also is a good rebounder for the position as he is second among shooting guards in offensive rebound rate. 

PG- Derrick Rose, Chicago Bulls
No surprise here either. Rose has a 2.47 assist rate to turnover rate ratio and a 56.6 true shooting percentage. Put it all together and you have a guard who can get to the rim and score (23 points per game) or create a look for a teammate (8 assists per game). 

Bench- Greg Monroe, Detroit Pistons
Monroe rebounds well and has lived up to his promise as a gifted post passer. He is the bright spot in Detroit and I hope people don't overlook his performance based on his team's lousy play thus far.

Bench- Chris Bosh, Miami Heat
Very close to beating out Ryan Anderson for the starting spot, but hasn't rebounded as well as him. Still, he's a 20 point scorer and shoots 52.5 percent from the field.

Bench- Carmelo Anthony, New York Knicks
Missed a few games, but not enough to keep him from being the scoring machine that he is. He also beat out Paul Pierce because of rebounding, but it was close for me.

Bench- Kyrie Irving, Cleveland Cavaliers
Yes, he's been that good. He shoots 51.1/41.1/82.1 in percentages. His TS% for point guards only trails Nash, Paul, Mo Williams, and Mario Chalmers. That's nice company. Also, he's pretty much keeping Cleveland relevant as a rookie. Impressive stuff.

Bench- Lou Williams, Philadelphia 76ers
It is weird that a person who doesn't start for his own team would make the All Star game. But Williams has been the best sixth man so far and deserves recognition. He has the absolute lowest turnover rate among point guards and is a top 12 offensive rebounder. Rondo missed too many games and Jennings just came up short in comparison. I doubt this one actually happens, though.

Bench- Andrea Bargnani, Toronto Raptors
He's one dimensional, but man can he score. He averages 23.5 per game on a 57.6 true shooting percentage. He also is getting to the line more than ever and drains 84 percent. 

Bench- Andre Iguodala, Philadelphia 76ers
He doesn't score as much as Anthony or Paul Pierce (who just missed the cut), but he rebounds better than Pierce and has the highest assist rate for a small forward. Factoring in his phenomenal defensive performance in the first half and he gets the last spot. 

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

The Weak Links

If the season ended today, the Knicks would not make the playoffs. In fact, they're in 10th place at the moment, a half game behind the Cavaliers. New York is 8-13 overall and is 2-8 in they're past 10 games. They certainly have many problems, but the most often cited is their lack of point guard play to open up shots for their formidable front court. I'm one to be skeptical of the narrative, but in this case it's true. Painfully true. This made me look into what teams have the worst production from a certain position. With some help from, I was able to pinpoint 4 teams that are having an incredibly hard time finding productive minutes from a specific position.

New York Knicks Point Guards: 8 PER
The numbers back the story here. Toney Douglas sees 48 percent of the Knicks' minutes at point guard and posts a 4.6 PER from that spot. His opponent point guards put up what is basically average production and kill him. The problem is woeful shooting for Douglas, who takes 4.3 three point attempts per game and connects on just 25.3 percent of them. Overall his 24.59 usage rate is far too high for someone shooting 32.4 percent from the floor. 

Douglas splits time at the 1 with Iman Shumpert who is only marginally better with a 7.8 PER. He is 3 assists worse per 48 minutes than his opponents and is shooting poorly as well. Shumpert shoot 28.8 percent from three and takes over 3 attempts per game. And while Shumpert is big for a guard, his numbers are actually worse when he plays at the 2, so that doesn't seem to be the answer. Mike Bibby takes up another 18 percent of the minutes and is actually playing the best of the group with a 10.9 PER at point guard. Unfortunately, Bibby is flammable on defense as opposing point guards score 10.2 more points per 48 minutes than him. It's certainly rough when your best option at point guard is 33 years old and looked more than washed up last year.

Orlando Magic Point Guards: 8.1 PER
Amazingly, the Knicks have competition for worst point guard play. Jameer Nelson posts an 8.6 PER at point and is having an absolutely disastrous shooting season. He is shooting 28.9 percent from three as opposed to the 40 percent he shot over the past 6 seasons. He also can't hit in the lane as he's shooting 16.7 percent from 10-15 feet. For a small guard who relied on outside shooting and floaters in the paint, this is alarming. His assist rate is the lowest since his rookie year and opponent point guards are averaging a 15.1 PER against him. 

Chris Duhon is not any better. As in his PER at the 1 is 8.6 as well. His shooting is actually pretty good with his percentages (FG/3P/FT) being 43.1/45.5/77.8. Unfortunately he turns it over a lot and is not a great rebounder. Duhon also gives up a 17.4 PER to opposing point guards with those opponents netting 12.7 more field goal attempts per 48 minutes. Clearly offenses are going right at Duhon when he's at the point, which is a problem since his value is mostly in defense. Larry Hughes gets a nominal amount of minutes at point guard and somehow puts up a 0 PER. That's right. Zero. Opponents post a pretty poor 9.7 PER against Hughes and still markedly outplay him.

Minnesota Timberwolves Small Forwards: 8.4 PER
The Timberwolves' 10-11 start, the result of phenomenal performances by Ricky Rubio and Kevin Love, has been a pleasant surprise. Far from pleasant is their production from the 3. Anthony Tolliver has posted a 7.5 PER at that spot. Opponents outscore Tolliver by 11.6 points and take 8.4 more field goal attempts per 48 minutes. This shows that he has a match-up problem when playing small forward. Tolliver is also not rebounding well this season, with his 8.3 total rebound rate being much lower than his previous seasons. 

Former 4th overall pick Wes Johnson has also been bad. His 7.9 PER is especially awful since, unlike some players covered in this article, he is supposedly playing his natural position. Johnson doesn't shoot anywhere close to well enough to play 2 and doesn't seem to be using his athleticism at the 3. He averages only 0.5 free throw attempts per game while attempting 2 long jumpers from 16-23 feet per game. Unfortunately he only hits 33 percent of these. Michael Beasley was hurt for a long stretch, but still has added to the misery in Minnesota. His 3.2 PER is bad enough, but he also gives up a 16.6 PER to opposing small forwards.

Sacramento Kings Small Forwards: 8.5 PER
This is what happens when you sign Travis Outlaw. I'm kidding. Mostly. Outlaw has been bad with his 2.2 PER at the 3 while giving up an insane 22.8 PER to opponents. That means players who get matched up against Outlaw essentially start playing like All-Stars. However, Outlaw only sees 9 percent of Sacramento's minutes at small forward. 

The bigger problem is 2 guys playing out of position. John Salmons and Francisco Garcia have combined to play 72 percent of the Kings' minutes at 3. In this time they've put up a 6.6 and 8.1 PER, respectively. Both are probably more comfortable playing shooting guard. It's just a shame neither can hit a shot this season. Salmons is shooting 21.8 percent from three and still attempts 2.8 per game. He also gets nothing at the rim, which isn't surprising, but at least in the past he'd hit his jump shots. Garcia has seen a slip in his rebounding numbers, especially on the offensive glass where he used to be pretty good. He also has pretty much resigned himself to the three point line. Garcia takes 2.5 threes per game at 27.9 percent shooting. He doesn't have a single other section of the floor where he attempts a full shot per game. 

Three of these four teams are not in the playoff hunt, seemingly sunk by a complete black hole at one position. The other is a team in turmoil that might be just weeks away from seeing its centerpiece traded away. In order to make progress, these clubs are going to need to address a huge roster need. Otherwise they'll be stuck playing 4 on 5 for a while.