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.