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.