Thursday, November 27, 2014

Early Season Defensive Frauds

I am using the term "fraud" loosely here as most of these teams will be good defensively, just not as good as they currently look.  In the past 5 seasons 2 teams have managed to hold their opponents to a sub 32% mark from 3 pt land with the absolute best mark being the 11/12 Celtics with a 30.8% mark.  Five teams this season are currently on pace to beat that and a sixth (Sacramento) would set the second best season over the past 5 years if they maintain their current rate.  Those 5 teams with their 3 pt% against and current defensive rank are

Rockets  27.5%  #2
Trailblazers  29.0%  #5
Spurs  29.7%  #3
Warriors  30.2%  #1
Thunder  30.7%  #8

I think it is pretty obvious that this is early season variance and not these teams simply and suddenly (and simultaneously) learning how to dominate the 3 pt arc.  Ignoring the Thunder (for obvious reasons) here is where these teams would rank defensively last season if (all else equal) their opponents were averaging 33% (a very strong defensive number, typically #3-#5 over a season) or their rate from last year (using this years 3pt attempts).

Rockets- Current Defensive rating 98.0, opponents 3pt attempts per game 20.9
Adjusted for 33% shooting- defensive rating-  101.5- defensive ranking for that rating last season #3
Adjusted for 35.5% shooting- 103 - ranking #5

Trailblazers- 101.8- 17.3
Adjusted for 33% shooting- 103.9- #6/7
Adjusted for 35.5% - 105.2 #10

Spurs- 98.1 - 20.2
33% - 100.1 - #2
35.3%- 101.5 #3

Warriors- 97.7 - 21.5
33% - 99.5 #2
34.4%- 100.0 #2

This is a superficial analysis but as we can see only one of these teams actually looks like a fraud.  Rather than a top 5 defense Portland looks like a fringe top 10 defense when this variance is removed.  Obviously there are many other factors that could be distorting this picture that are subject to variance but I would tentatively say that the Portland hype train, much like last year, is going to slowly run out of steam as the season goes on. 

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Confirmation Bias in the Shootaround

Covering a whole league means you frequently miss stuff, the best writers know this and just try to focus.  Bad writers tend to just say what they think is going on without really checking.  In the most recent edition of Grantland's NBA Shootaround column we see a fair amount of the latter. 

Retro Baksetball Is Alive and Not Doing so Hot

With a lead in like that and paragraphs talking about their offensive systems like

The Knicks and the Lakers are nos. 1 and 2 (as of Monday) in percentage of field goal attempts taken from 16 feet to inside the 3-point line — i.e., the much-maligned long 2 — 29.5 percent for the Knicks, 25.6 percent for the Lakers.

You would think the issues of these teams are offensively based, this isn't true as the Lakers are 16th and the Knicks 19th in offensive efficiency.  While not good it is a damn sight better than the 30th and 27th they are on defense (respectively).  The issues with their offenses are not "Sharing is great, until you realize that it means sharing with the likes of Quincy Acy, who already has 54 FGAs on 4.5 attempts per game, almost double his career average."  Acy isn't actually shooting much above his career average on a per possession basis (10.9 per 100 this year, 9.6 for his career), the issue is that they have so little talent that they have to put Acy out there 50% more than his career average.  The talent level of these teams is hardly an indictment of the systems they are running. You might in fact argue that if you can get competent offensive play out of teams low on the talent spectrum perhaps there is some value in them after all. 

Nerd Nit:  "With the NBA’s very own Sauron at the controls"

Jason Kidd isn't Sauron, Sarumon is a better fit- he turned evil later when he became power hungry.

On Jimmy Butler

Butler is in the top 50 in total drives, a list densely populated by ball-dominant point guards. He’s driven the ball to the hoop more often than Chris Paul, in the same number of games. When he drives, good things tend to happen. The Bulls score 1.23 points for every drive Butler takes, a figure nearly identical to Kyrie Irving’s rate, better than John Wall’s and within tenths of Damian Lillard’s and James Harden’s numbers.

 Only Butler isn't ball dominant.  His USG of 22.6% would be very low for that list, and his assist rate of 13.9% is also awful for that list.  In addition his raw stats are buoyed by his 39 mins per game.  I don't want to denigrate his start to much since his TS and turnover rates are terrific, but we saw this last year with Paul George, only George's start to the season was much better.  Defenses will adjust in the long term.  As it stands teams have to prepare for two different Bulls teams nightly- one with and one without Rose, and their their 2nd highest usage player behind rose is not Butler, but Gasol (and when he is in Brooks matches Gasol's usage though on fewer mins than Butler/Gasol).  Once teams settle on their own rotations and get a chance to really drill into their players' heads how to slow him down his results will come back to earth. 

Will the Bulls Rebound?

Chicago has been the "if" team for 3 seasons now.  If, just if, Rose could get and stay healthy they could contend.  So much focus has been on Rose that very little else in terms of criticism has been attached to this team, perennially praised as overachievers fighting through injuries to be a tough out in the playoffs.  Starting at 9-6 with Rose again missing time there are signs that this team doesn't have the core it has in the past.

Thibodeau is in his 5th season as a head coach- it seems like he has been there forever, and in NBA terms may be he has.  Defense has been their calling card for 4 straight seasons- top 2 in three of those and #6 in the season that Noah and Gibson combined to miss 33 games.  This season was supposed to be more of the same- bringing back Noah, Butler and Gibson and swapping in Gasol for Boozer should have at least kept a stable defense and scarily enough for the league could even be better with Gasol being an upgrade over Boozer.  So far they have failed to come together as a top defensive unit- #13 overall and over 5 pts per possession worse than last season.  I am a big proponent of the "give them time to come together" after off season moves, but there is a major and troubling trend behind these numbers.

Over the past 4 years the Bulls winning percentage has correlated strongly with their ability to out rebound their opponents.  Here are those seasons Win rate and the % by which they outrebounded their opponents.

0.585  7%
0.549  5%
0.758  17%
0.756  15%

This season the script is reversed and the Bulls are getting getting out boarded by almost 5%. 

This is very bad news for Chicago fans.  Without Rose they have no chance at an offense good enough to carry a decent, but not great, D to a shot at the finals.  So far this year even with Gasol's resurgence and what is by far Butler's best season in both efficiency and volume they are still the #14 ranked offense (and that is with Rose playing well for 7 games).  Even with Rose it might be a tall order unless he is fully back to his peak- which also seems unlikely. 

In a weak East they are still playoff material and probably even 1st round HC material, but beyond that it gets dicey. Toronto looks more and more like a probably ECFs team and the Bulls don't look substantially better than the Miami/Washington/Cleveland/Atlanta group. 

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

FTS fantasy draft

The best proxy for this exercise that we have is the NBA playoffs, when the best teams face each other we can note several things.

1.  Defense has been weighted more heavily than offense in preforming well in the playoffs since Jordan's last ring.  The major outlier in this case was a Lakers team that was #21 in D but was #1 the season prior and was #1 throughout those playoffs- they were just coasting in the regular season and everyone recognizes their defensive dominance in the postseason.  Most champions are good at both D and O, but the biggest gaps come with Great D and passable O- it doesn't happen the other way around.  Detroit was #18 in O and #2 on D (regular season rankings by efficiency per possession), Boston #10 and #1, The Spurs #11 and #1 and #8 and #1.  The largest gap between rankings for teams that were better on offense was the 2nd Heat title with Lebron #2 on O and #9 on D. 

2.  Point Guards are overrated in the playoffs.  This is a straightforward observation that the greatest PGs of the last 25 years have failed to win a championship in their prime.  Kidd and Payton managed to grab one each at age 37 playing 3d or 4th fiddle at best with turnover rates higher than their USG rates during both the regular season and playoffs for both.  Nash zero titles, Stockton zero, CP3 zero, Iverson zero.  The best point guard to win a title over the past 25 years has been the 3rd or 4th best player on his team during the playoffs. If you want to go back further Thomas was arguably the 3rd best player on those Pistons teams (defense and reboudning are very important in the playoffs) and Magic Johnson was 6'8 and could defend centers.  None of the PGs taken in this draft are like Magic (well, Lebron of course).

THIS IS NOT TO CLAIM THAT A GREAT PG COULD NEVER EVER WIN A FINALS.  It is the straight forward observation that they are much less likely to do so than great players at other positions.  Sure Nash might have won one had injury/suspension X not happened, but the primes of those players covered decades and covered a wide range of PG skills, to only have MAYBE 1 title between them all is very telling.  When it comes down to the best teams vs the best team relying on a PG isn't a great bet.

3.  Top shooting guards can initiate your offense as well as PGs can.  During their last 3 championship runs Ginobli has averaged more assists per 36 mins than Parker did twice while having a higher TS%, higher PER, better steal rate, and better rebounding all three times and matched or bettered Parker's scoring per 36 mins all three times.  Wade led his team in assist rate during his solo title run (regular season and playoffs) despite having two PGs on his team (Jason Williams and Gary Payton).  During 4 of his 5 titles Kobe led his team (regular season and playoffs) in assist rate and was #2 for the other at age 21. 


There are going to be a lot of claims that Team X's offense is unstoppable.  Its an exaggeration.  The absolute best shooters in the history of the game miss 10% of their FTs- basically unlimited practice time, a moment to gather your breath, focus and go through your preferred routine and the absolute best (Nash and Price 90.4% career marks) still miss sometimes.  The simple fact that scoring with the basketball is extremely tough works in the defenses favor.

In terms of the strength of my defense- the top 3 defensive teams were the Pacers, Bulls and Spurs.  I have the top two defenders from the Spurs, the top defender on the Bulls and the 2nd best defender on the Pacers.  Oh, and the top defender on the #5 defensive team coming off my bench.  My three wings have amazing foot speed, length and anticipation.  But here is the kicker


Of the top 10 scores in PPG last season only 2 averaged fewer than 7 FTA per game- only perimeter savants like Dirk (on my team) and Curry are able to score lots at high efficiency without taking a ton of FTs, and FTs for almost all quality scorers are the highest value shot they get on a consistent basis.  Well, that stinks for you since Duncan, Leonard, and George, despite being defensive focal points averaged 2.2, 2.4 and 2.7 fouls per 36 mins last year.  These guys play elite, high effort defense without fouling.  Noah averaged only 3.1 per 36 last season- his highest rate in the past 3 years, and MKG 3.5.  Even my offensive players Wade, Dirk and Manu don't foul (2.1, 2.3, 3.2) and the two that have the highest foul rates, Manu and MKG, are my bench players that will likely be eating the fewest mins.

This defense is about as well suited as you can imagine for slowing down opposing teams best players, with the added benefit of basically never turning off ball fouls into FTs because opposing teams will almost never be in the bonus.

Defensive rebounding is also a major strength, even Wade and Ginobli are good defensive rebounders, Kawhi, Noah and Goerge pretty good while Duncan and MKG are elite for their position, Heck Dirk is actually an average defensive rebounder. I can put in lineups like Duncan, Noah, MKG, Kawhi, Manu whose Dreb rates from last season would combine to > 90%.  Obviously my team wont be 90% + but you won't be expecting many 2nd chance opportunities.

Since I have already limited the number of FTs (and good shots in general) and offensive rebounds I should remind you that your teams are going to be missing a bunch of possessions thanks to the #3 and #8 in St% players from last year in Kawhi and PG, and Manu and Wade put up 2.2 and 1.6 steals per 36 mins in the playoffs last year- showing that they can still turn it up in big games.  Remember that they put up these numbers without fouling and playing with inferior team defenders on average.  The combination of George and Leonard is going to force turnovers for any team in this format. 


This team is much better than it first appears.  First we have our transition offense initiated by the best defensive rebounding and steals generating team.  Secondly offensive rebounds will add some cheap points- especially when Noah (12th in Oreb rate last year) has to battle with only one big man when Dirk is working outside.

Second Wade and Manu are still terrific creators as long as they are on the court.  Manu's per 36 min stats from the playoffs last year were 20 pts, 5.8 assists on 59% TS, and Wade put up 18/4 on 56% TS.

Third we have Dirk.  He is totally unguardable but he is one of the best all time at getting off a good shot no matter the defense, and will pull opposing bigs way away from the basket. 

Fourth we have Popovitch.  As I noted in the thread my team averaged slightly more assists per 36 mins than the sum total of New Zealand's team which boasts two PGs.  My big men are terrific passers and my coach has demonstrated the ability to invent and implement schemes that help win titles with cast offs like Green and Mills by using ball movement to generate shots for them. 

Fifth Paul George is spending a lot of time at the #2/#3 option.  He was able to create for himself well in Indiana with limited offensive players like Hibbert and Hill in the starting lineup. 


Every single player has played the role he will hold on this team recently.  Paul George has to take a step back as a ball handler from last year, but his 23% usage from 2 years ago shows he doesn't have to be the #1 offensive dog.  Dirk will score, Manu has excelled in the playoffs in 20-24 mpg coming off the bench, MKG though a starter played 24 mpg last season and as a bench player in relief of Kawhi/George that is probably a pretty good baseline.  Noah and Duncan have been anchoring high end defenses for years with varying responsibilities on offense depending on the teams surrounding them.  Wade is at his best as an offensive initiator who has help defenders behind him.

Experience- I got it, you don't.  If you like championship experience this team has the most from the coach, to the most finals MVPs, to finals appearances, to general playoff experience. 


Several other teams are going to snow job you.  They will tell you that Aldridge is going to shoot 3s despite shooting 22% on 130 career attempts, and tell you he is a good defender despite not being on an above average defense since Brandon Roy retired.  They will say imagine this plus this and that.  I won't be saying imagine.  I will be saying you know what Pop can do as a coach, you know these guys excel in their roles, you know that defense is more important than offense at the highest levels. This team is built specifically to slow down elite players so they can't generate huge numbers of points efficiently. 

Monday, November 17, 2014

What is going on in the East- notes 10 games in

Who is good?  We don't know.  Toronto has the best record and a good point differential but a decent chunk of that is a 32 pt win over Philly.  You don't want to discount every big win, but ones against potentially the worst team in NBA history?  Also 4th easiest schedule so far

The Bulls are 7-3 but there differential isn't amazing and they have had the easiest schedule in the league so far. 

Wizards are 7-2, mediocre PD and, yes, easy schedule (5th easiest).  Yes its a trend- teams in the East will have easy schedules this year, only 4 of 15 so far have faced even slightly above average schedules and one (Philly) is because they don't get to play themselves. 

The Cavs looked like crap at 4-3 and then like gods at 5-3.  Is one big game enough to forget that they were fighting in 1 pt games against Boston and Utah?  The offense will come together but will it come together as a very good, top 5 team, or an unbelievably good top 5 team of all time?  Without the latter they need some massive defensive improvement as well (which I think they get just with time and Lebron playing D).

Saturday, November 15, 2014

What the Blatt is going on?

The Cavs are a strange looking team right now, but no one seems to have noticed.  Focusing on the outcomes (bad D, good O) allows people to see what they want to see, but they are missing some really fun stuff, and it looks like Blatt is trying out what appears to be a rare, or entirely new, strategy. 

To start with the Cavs are an average rebounding team this year, 14th in Oreb rate, 18th in D reb rate.  While there is nothing odd about a team being average at rebounding this is actually very unexpected.  Love is one of the best three rebounders in the game, Varejao has been above average most of his career and TT has been a very good at offensive rebounds and decent at defensive rebounds.  With those three as the primary big men along with SFs that have no problem getting involved in Lebron and Marion the Cavs "should" be at the top of the rankings, not floating in the middle.  What is going on?

First off Tristan Thompson is crashing the offensive boards like a maniac.  His Oreb rate of 19.3% would be the 7th best season all time if it lasted the whole year.  Meanwhile his Dreb rate has been basically cut in half. 

Anderson Varejao has been neutered on both ends with his Oreb rate down 20% and his D rebound rate down 40% from his career averages.

Love's defensive rebounding has remained excellent- right around his career mark and 4th in the league so far- but his Oreb has taken a massive dive- down 40% from last season and 60% from his career mark. 

What in the Sam Hill is going on around here?

The Cavs right now are running an unconventional rebounding system with responsibilities split between offense and defense between two players, TT and Love.  When TT is not on the court the Cavs barely grab any rebounds on the offensive end- Thompson has more than 1/3rd of their total rebounds despite playing 1/10th of their total mins played.  In other words this isn't just a case of an aggressive offensive rebounding team where TT happens to be the best at it.  On the other endLove has snagged a little less than 30% of the team's total defensive rebounds. 

The situation, as far as I can tell, is one where Tristan Thompson is solely responsible for attacking the glass to generate 2nd chance opportunities.  This, in theory, leads to the other 4 players getting back defensively more quickly.  Love is taking the other side of the responsibility, which should free up other Cavs to leak a little early and use his excellent passing either to generate a fast break or at the least put pressure on the opposition and make them scramble with their assignments. 

Lots of teams, of course, have had excellent offensive and defensive rebounding players over the years, but they are frequently one and the same which changes the dynamic.  If you offensive rebounder misses his chance and the opposition takes it and pushes up the floor he new has to catch up to get into position to grab a potential defensive rebound.  When he does grab a rebound his team has a choice to make in running a break or a quick possession.  If they move to quickly they lose the value of his offensive rebounding on their shot.  By splitting the responsibilities between the two players the Cavs do not suffer from these conundrums. 

The entire system is far more complicated though and is heavily read based.  Sending 4 men back on D immediately wouldn't be wise as it would leave Thompson alone offensively when he does snare the ball.  Sending no men back is unwise as he will miss the rebound 80% of the time and the opposition would feast on fast breaks.  The middle ground is that each player has to read Thompson's attack of the glass and the likely spots where help will be, well helpful, if he can't take it straight back up.  Then each player has to (quickly!) determine if he should be going to one of those spots or heading back defensively.  These reads have to happen before the ball hits the rim, and it will take time to work out the kinks.

Offensively the early returns are very good.  The Cavs are 5th in the league in transition scoring even though they are a below average defensive rebounding and turnover creating team playing at the 22nd slowest pace in the league.  Three of the top 5 teams in transition offense are playing at a top 7 pace, and the 4th, Dallas, while only 1 spot ahead of Cleveland in pace are #1 in creating turnovers. 

If, or when, the Cavs can turn TTs massive rebounding rate into coherent defense this strategy will be a terrific base to build on.  Teams that like to attack the glass offensively will be making a tough decision and leaving themselves vulnerable, while TT's rate is so good it implies that even tough defensive rebounding teams won't be able to deny him as much as they would like. 

Thursday, November 13, 2014

New Orleans and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Team Building

Landing an absolute monster in the draft- and knowing it basically from day 1- is the single best start to building a contender.  It is such an advantage that teams can't imagine squandering it, until a few moves down the road and the GM is scratching his head trying to figure out ways to improve a team over the cap with no picks and not even any contracts to trade.  By the time Lebron left the Cavs their last remaining moves were to trade away rotation players with the understanding they would be bought out and could return to the team after a long vacation.  The history of how Z was traded for Jamison and then played with him is to long to go into here.  Basically it started with Boozer being let out of his contract a year early- much like Houston did with Parsons this season- which set in motion a perpetual chase to find an appropriate running mate, which never was realized though the permutations of Mo Williams, Larry Hughes, Ben Wallace, Shaquille O'Neal, Darius Miles, and others indicate that a lot of effort was put forth, after that initial mistake.

New Orleans, sadly, looks like they have made a similar mistake in their rebuild, and they are compounding that error.  Some of this will sound an awful lot like hindsight but remember that I am pointing out the cumulative effects of these issues.  That instead of eating one bad move, falling back a year and then taking advantage of their fortune they are continued to bet big on one line of thought, and it painful to watch.

Mistake #1: Matching Gordon's contract offer from Pheonix.  A lot here was going on, he was the major piece in the CP3 trade and losing him would look bad, but matching a max (BTW a good move for a cheap owner is to make a big offer to a guy whose team will match- it even ties up your cap so that you CANT make any other offers for 3 days) for a guy that missed every game save 9 the previous season also missed time the two years before that (20 and 26 games) was a huge risk.  Obviously a mistake in hindsight, and probably a mistake going in, you can see why they did it after landing Davis.  His contract and (likely) production would make it ok if Gordon was a 10-12 million dollar player and not a 15-17 when he came back.

Gordon didn't come back.  He missed 40 games the next season and though he looked good playing (though not as good as his last year in LA) missing that much time with his contract was not just a red flag, but a 3rd red flag.  The rebuild should have essentially been rethought at that point with the main focus on knowing that they might be building a team with a 15 million dollar albatross on the books.  Instead all indications are that their future moves were made under the assumption that Gordon would come back, and they doubled down on.

Mistake #2:  Trading for Jrue Holiday.  Lets review- you have a massive advantage that should manifest itself in a year or two, but you have a potentially massive liability.  Davis for 5 million is great, Davis and a guy on the bench with a bad knee for 20 million isn't a huge advantage any more.  Two first round picks for a solid, but not great, PG making 11 million per year was their move.  The fit with Davis/Anderson/Gordon is acceptable, but the picks are ruining you if Gordon doesn't return.  A gimpy Gordon can be replaced in one of two ways- first by drafting a replacement and using his cheap production to mitigate Gordon's expensive non production.  Secondly you stick one of those picks on his contract you can find a taker for part of that money.  Either way 1st round picks are your best bet at getting your team back on track.

Here is where I list signing Evans as mistake #3- only I don't know that its a "mistake".  Teams make bad projections on how FAs will fit and Evans certainly has some of the skills necessary to make him an eleven million dollar player.

Mistake #3:  TRADING for Evans.  While Evans MIGHT be worth 11 million with the right coach, team and system that doesn't mean you dump two cheap, productive players to do so.  Dumping Lopez rippled into this season when they then had to trade a 1st for Asik to shore up a big man "rotation", and dumping Vazquez meant they had to turn the backup PG keys to Brian Roberts and forced Rivers who, to put it mildly, looked like shit at as a rookie, into more playing time.  When he continued to look bad the Pelicans then didn't pick up his affordable 4th year option.  Now he looks like a passable backup NBA player and to keep him the Pelicans will have to make him an offer and hope their insult doesn't push him out the door.

The trade for Evans and his new contract basically capped the team out for another off season and again their only route to improve was to give up an asset.  Enter mistake #4

Mistake #4:  A bizarrely protected (#1-3 and #20-30) pick for Asik.  Not only are they potentially giving up their 3rd pick in as many years this move actually makes it hard to trade future picks.  If the Pelicans do have a successful year and pick in the 20s they keep a pick, which means they they still owe it to Houston making the 2016 pick untradeable, and because it will still have a lot of protections for its entire life the possibility will always exist that a team landing a 1st round pick from the Pelicans will have to wait, and wait, and wait, dimishing its trade value.

Davis is still under contract and still wonderful, and his teammates are NBA level players but the Pelicans' front office doesn't control its destiny. They can catch a break if Gordon opts out of his last year (he shouldn't) or they find a gem of a 2nd round pick, but this would take luck not skill.   And don't let anyone tell you it was bad luck for the Pelicans.  They had a position of strength, gambled heavily and look to have lost.

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

The Toronto Rapture

Teams will ebb and flow, go on runs, win championships, stink for decades but I think sports exists primarily for one reason.  For the early season chance to go from where you are now to something so much better.  Without diehard fans teams would fold during extended droughts, leagues would become smaller, more densely packed with talent, more skewed and less popular without the millions of people watching a local event- that happens hundreds or thousands of miles away half the time. 

The Raptors are hovering in that space now- a 48 win team last year that was on a 52 win pace from January on and a 55 win pace post all-star break- and this early season thrashing is either storm clouds for the rest of the East or a cruel tease for their fans.  With one meaningful win (a thrashing of the currently looking average Wizards) and only one not bad at all loss (5 pts vs Miami in the second game of a road B2B) they are doing what most very good teams do- whipping up on inferior competition (4 wins by double digits).  Is it time for a little cold water or a hot and steamy ECF prediction? 

Who is that masked man?  Last season 5 guys in the NBA attempted 5+ 3s and 10+ FTs per 100 possessions.  Durant, Lebron, Love, Westbrook and Harden.  In 7 short games this year Kyle Lowry is in that club, with 5.8 threes and 11.6 FTA per 100 possessions.  This is a huge leap (+66%) from last season in free throw attempts but it is not totally without precedent in his play.  His FTr this year is at a career high at 64%, but the first 3 full seasons of his career he was over 52% and as high as 58%- on fewer total FGs it should be noted.  Lowry's 32% 3 pt attempt rate is much lower than the past 4 seasons (41-46%) but higher than the rates when he was churning out FTs (22-29%).   We should expect that FTr to come down as he plays against better defenses but it could stabilize around 50%.  The good news is that his efficiency can stay around 60% where it is now as his 3pt% will climb back up to its previous trend (currently sitting 10 percentage points lower than the worst of his last 4 seasons).

In terms of totally unsustainable production, look for his turnovers to bounce back up.  7 games against weak defenses has led to a rate that is a little more than half his career average, but it shouldn't go to high and if his assist numbers stay down as he focuses on his penetrating he could match his career low from last season. 

With that kind of production, along with his decent for an undersized SF, let alone an undersized PG, rebounding and his tenacious without fouling defense could we seriously be talking about the 4th best PG in the league? 

His running mate DeRozan seems to have taken the same class is efficient shot selection over the summer, and though Zach Lowe bizarrely laments the decline in his 3 pt attempts, cutting out most of his long range chucks (career rate of 27%, career high of 30%) without jacking up a bunch of mid range twos in its place has lead to a good start for his TS while also getting on track for a career high in USG.  At 25 he still has 2-3 years as a penetrating, FT generating, ball handling scorer before he needs to add an outside game to mask the slow declines of age.  As with Lowry that rate should come down, but as long as it stays where it was last season or higher the two will still make a dynamic pair.

The good news offensively for Rator fans is that last year the Blazers showed how a modestly efficient team could run a high end offense by limiting turnovers and grabbing extra possessions via the offensive rebound.  With Derozen always good at avoiding turnovers (sub 10% career rate), Louis Williams showing good restraint at points in his career (career rate 11.6%, with 2 full seasons under 10%, and his worst 2 seasons as a rook and sophomore), Ross being a catch and shoot guy (career sub 10% TO) if Lowry keeps his rate low the 4 primary scorers/initiators of their offense will be keeping things cool and under control. 

Defensively they were a solid unit last season with a fair amount of turnover, and limited time to incorporate the returns of the Rudy Gay dump (a trade that both teams won?!?!?!) which bodes well for them this year.  The primary concern seems to be that last season they had an extremely good run of health with their 5 starters appearing in 77+ games each.  This is already in jeopardy this season with Amir Johnson missing 3 games early on and with continuity being their best chance at defensive gains they want to get healthy fast.

Toronto was one of the also rans last season that made the fewest moves.  Chicago mixed up its front line, Washington swapped Ariza out for Pierce and Charlotte snagged Lance, but they addressed their biggest need with Louis Williams and are now riding a young, but not wildly inexperienced, core and I am going to be watching. 

Monday, November 10, 2014

Is Kirk Goldsberry running for public office?

He is after all perfecting the art of lying without lying.

This is not the first time I've read something he wrote and thought "wow, that is just wrong", and then I reread it and its more like "wow, that is wildly misleading".  Here we have a few exerts from his piece

They are shooting the lights out, as per usual; an elite shooting club in all three ranges on the floor, they rank first in close-range shooting efficiency, fourth in midrange efficiency, and fifth in long-range efficiency. The Warriors also have the highest true shooting percentage in the NBA.
Enter Kerr, supposed prodigy of both Phil and Pop. Early indications suggest that at least some of that prodigal hype is warranted. In the preseason, Kerr lauded Andrew Bogut’s abilities as a passer and discussed how Bogut will help the new-look offense:
Through a few games, they’ve done exactly that, making some gorgeous basketball in the process. This season, the Warriors guards are cutting more often and more intelligently than they have in the past, especially when the bigs have the ball.
The Warriors’ guards were already a huge pain to defend, but if Kerr can design schemes that regularly get them quality looks like these, well, it’s not hard: Stephen Curry plus Klay Thompson plus open shots equals a fantastic offense.

What conclusion would you draw about the Warriors offense so far?  Would you laugh if I claimed that they were #16 in efficiency?  Would you be incredulous if I told you that they were worse offensively than either of the past two seasons under Jackson- by 3.4 and 2.3 pts per 100 possessions.  Some of that decline is due to missing David Lee early in the season, but the truth has been that GS is still struggling to generate a good offense.

Why the discrepancy?  How can a team #1 in TS (by a lot) be #16 in efficiency?  The Warriors are turning the ball over at an abhorrent rate.  How bad?  More than 33% worse than the 76ers last year. 

There is a reason why when discussing the "fantastic offense" he neglected to mention the fact that Bogut and the rest of the team just decide not to cheat and hand the ball to the opposition more than 20% of the time.

GS has played some astounding basketball so far this year, but almost entirely on the defensive end, and they were handed their first loss last night thanks largely to their 26! turnovers, including 4 from their starting C that is "boosting" their offense this year. 

Sunday, November 9, 2014

Early season questions

With all the schedule anomalies, coach and player changes and general variance, last years results are still probably more informative and will be for a few weeks than this seasons performance, but there are a handful of interesting things going on.

1. Why is Klay Thompson playing like an offensive all-star?  The gap between Thompson's scoring last year and through 5 games (7 pts per 36 larger) this year is mostly in his FT rate (4.2 made FTs more per 36).  Is this just small sample size theater with a huge game against a historically bad (so far) Laker's D and a bunch of FTs against a shorthanded Houston team, or will he regress? 

2.  Is Z-bo back?  Unnoticed by most but since turning 30 Randolph's efficiency has really dropped.  His first two years in Memphis had quality TS marks around 55%, the past 3 years he has been far less effective never breaking 51%.  Memphis has needed a scorer since Rudy was run out of town to make them more than a tough out. 

3.  I Marc Gasol really a high usage player?  After spending years as a defensive stud and an offensive contributor he has a USG of 25% through 6 games- substantially higher than last years 21.7 mark and his previous career high.  Can he do it on both ends of the floor while still anchoring a top 4 defense?

4.  Can the Grizz get home court?  They have been the tough out going 7 games in 3 of 4 postseasons and the 4th year making the conference finals.  HC would be huge for them in the postseason, and starting out 6-1 with 5 away games is the first step.

5.  Is Sacramento's defense good?  Currently #9 riding Gay and Cousins could they keep a top 10 D up or will this all fall apart.  Gay has been a starter on quality Ds before, Cousins looks strong and quick, and in position.  with no other high end defenders on the roster it doesn't seem like this can last, but maybe?

6.  Will Josh Smith be historically bad around the rim?  In the 3 pt era no player has played 1,000 mins, shot 5 FTs per 36 and ended up with a FG% under 41.  This makes sense as averaging that many FTs invariably means you are taking shots near the rim, and other teams fear you enough to contest those shots.  Josh Smith is averaging 7 FTA per 36, is on pace to play 1,000 mins by game 30, and is shooting, dun dun dun, 32% from the floor.  His 3par and FT rates are right where van gundy wants them, but for some reason he can't finish. 

Friday, November 7, 2014

Were the Blazers contenders last year?

I hear people offhandedly mention the Blazers as contenders this year as if they were contenders last year, and shouldn't be forgotten about.  My answer to that is they weren't contenders last year so you have to sell me on their leap this year before I call them that.  My reasoning?

1.  They were of above average health last year.  Of the 8 teams in the West they were the 2nd healthiest in terms of their core 5 players (behind Dal).  LMA missed 13 games and no other starter missed even 1. Their 54 wins, while impressive, isn't in contention for coming out of the West in a typical year, and their is no real reason to think that they were a 60 win team masquerading as a 54 win team due to Pythag or health issues.  In the last 4 years the West was won by a team with 57-62 wins (projected in the SS season).

2.  Their series against the Rockets was really stinking close.  Their wins were by 1, 2, 3 and 7 pts.  Houston actually outscored them by 2 pts in the series despite losing 4-2.  Functionally the difference between those two 54 win teams was the fact that Hou shot 36% from 3 during the season and 32% during the series.  Literally a pair of 3 pters made could be the difference between Portland in 6 and Houston in 6. 

That is a description of what happened last year, but where is the why?

Specifically why did they get annihilated by the Spurs- lost in 5 games, the closest loss was by 15 pts. 

Obviously the Blazers were an offensive team- #2 in Ortg and #16 in Drtg during the regular season, but they weren't a regular high powered offense.  They weren't among the league leaders in TS% (they were 11th) like the other top offenses (Tops in TS%- Heat, Rockets, Spurs, Clippers, Thunder, Mavs  occupied the #1 and 2-7 spots in Ortg).  The Blazers worked their offense differently, as a slightly above average TS team they generated higher than expected scoring with terrific offensive rebounding and a low turnover rate (3rd in both).  When they ran into a playoff team that didn't allow them to dominate in this area their offense fell apart, and with no true offensive stud (no, LMA doesn't count, more on this some other day) they simple had nothing to fall back on.

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

Fast start for the Rockets

Early season discussions frequently make writers look like fools... I mean they would if anyone remembered what was written a month ago, also if anyone was reading this that also might help.  On the other hand- fuck it, its way more fun/interesting to speculate off small sample sizes.

The Rockets are 5-0, whoop dee do Basil, we know that Houston will be good this year and a 5 game win streak against 4 bottom feeders and one playoff team isn't unexpected.  What about the fact that all the wins are by double digits with a 14.5 average margin?  Ok, getting warmer. What about the fact that 4 of them were road games?  That is something worth getting a little excited for.

Defensively the Rockets have been surprisingly good.  Losing Asik (even with limited playing time last year) weakened their big man rotation, and swapping out Parsons for Ariza should have at least caused some continuity issues, instead they are #5 in Drtg after being #13 last year, what has gone on so far?

1- the opposition has been not amazing- on the other hand its been not terrible.  Philly has looked like crap (30th in o as expected) but their other opponents so far are 4th, 6th, 11th and 16th in Ortg so far this year.  Even if these rating don't hold up (some of them won't) they aren't ONLY going up against the dregs.

2- No more Lin and Parsons.  Lin is an awful defender, I know that a lot of people hate Drtg, and it has many (many, many many) flaws but Lin's Drtg was 2 pts worse than Harden's last year and you shouldn't be worse than a guy considered one of the worst in the league when you are on the same team, playing a lot of over lapping mins.  Lin is awful defensively and is already showing it on the Lakers (worst Drtg on the team of anyone playing >11 mins a game- on a team of awful defenders).  Parsons had a Drtg 1 pt worse than Harden's last year, and they played a crap load together.  I have heard about his length and intelligence, but I have also seen him pushed around and get stuck on picks.  The long and the short of it was that he has serious flaws on D and while you can probably hide them on some teams sticking him out there with Lin, Harden and a 2nd year PF probably isn't that situation. 

3.  Ariza in for Parsons- they didn't just lose Parsons, they replaced him with a very good defender- that helps.

4. ?????? the addition of Kostas Papanotgonnaspellthisrightnikolaou- I don't know anything about Euro players, and am not going to pretend to.  The draft express page has this to say though "Papanikolaou's profile may not jump off the page on first glance, but his size, defensive prowess, experience and productivity at the highest levels of European basketball" From
Considering he has played the 4th most mins on the team and they are surprisingly good at D so far I think he warrants a mention and a "I'm keeping my eye on you this year".

Offensively there isn't a huge amount to say- the teams they have played are currently ranked 30th, 29th, 23rd, 22nd and 19th <--- that one is Philly, the BEST defensive team they have played so far is Philly!  Harden and Dwight are destroying fools, and Ariza has a TS of 80% against an extremely soft lineup. 

The one offensive note I want to make is that the combo of Harden/Dwight is putting a lot of teams in awkward rotational situations by getting backup big men in foul trouble.  Last night Josh McRoberts checked in for the Heat for 5 total mins.  In that span he shot zero times, grabbed zero rebounds, made zero assits, steals or blocks but he did manage to foul Dwight twice, and Harden and Beverly once each before getting nailed back down to the bench.  In what was still a reasonably close game at the end of the 3rd and the Heat being a little shorthanded due to Deng leaving the game this was one factor in allowing the Rockets to run away with the game.  Bradley, Sullinger and Zeller all found themselves on the bench with 5 fouls in less than 27 mins for the first two and less than 20 for Zeller, and Davis fouled out for LA on opening night, with Bryant and Mathews getting called 5 times each. 

Monday, November 3, 2014

Early Returns on Stan Van Gundy

Can you find good news in an 0-3 start, two losses by double digits and your highest USG player chucking bricks up to the tune of a sub 40 TS%? 

I can.

Ok, its true, Josh Smith's shooting has been AWFUL so far this year- 38/0/47! and is across the board worse than last year in what was rightfully considered a disaster for smiths offense.  However there is good news- it appears that Stan Van Gundy, through three games at least, has gotten Smith to listen to him, which is a big stinking deal.  Evidence?

1.  Smith's 3 pt attempt rate is at its 2nd lowest in the past 5 years, and almost half of what it was last year.
2.  His FTr is the highest its been in the past 5 years, and almost 50% higher than last season.
3.  His actual FTs per 36 mins and FTs per possession are at what would be career highs.
4.  His assist rate is back to what it as the two seasons prior to joining Det, and more than 33% higher than last year.

Now the Shit Your Pants(if you are a Det fan)/Laugh at a terrible contract (if you aren't) scenario is that Smith is just done, at age 29, as an NBA scorer.  This is possible- his efficiency has never been great, and his FT, never above average, has cratered in his past two seasons, and his jump shooting just flat sucks (important for older players who want to work any kind of perimeter game), so that possibility is there. The bad news for Josh Smith is that he still looks like one of the worst shooters in the league, the good news is that he no longer looks like one of the worst decision makers in the league (its still early though!). 

The other good piece of news for Detroit fans is that while Smith is taking fewer 3s the team is taking many more.  Last year they were bottom 5 in 3pt attempt rate, and this year they are at 16.  Instead of Smith being #2 in attempts he is #5 in total attempts and #6 in attempts per min.  As a team its ugly- a combined 22% from deep- but as a concept the right players are shooting 3s this year (or at least the right types of players).  That 22% wont last and if it reverts even to 33%- the worst team rate in the league last year- at their current rate of attempts they would expect to have scored more than 7 pts more a game so far, and changes their margin of loss from almost -10 to almost -3. 

The Pistons results are terrible right now, but the (very early) returns are that they have a far better process in place than they did last year. 

Sunday, November 2, 2014

Keep an eye on: Alex Len

The Suns are a funky team- very young with only 1 rostered player over 30 but with few players with enough up side left to transform them into a contender.  The one player that could do it for them though would be Alex Len.  Through 3 games he has played 17+ mins in each after breaking 17 mins 3 times in 41 games last year.  His foul rate so far has gone from atrocious last year (6.8 per 36) to workable so far this season (4.2 per 36).  Which should help him stay on the floor and perhaps turn into the type of C that pushes Plumlee into a 3rd big role where he can feast on lesser defenders and hide his own flaws. 

An illustration of the Pellies weakness

Hopefully I won't be crowing about posts after 1 game like this, but the game against Dallas was almost ideal.  NO's top 4 players crushed Dallas' top 4.  Davis had a monster game, Tyreke and Jure had very good games, and their defensive FC held Dirk and Chandler to 28 pts on 26 shots and 13 roubounds with 5 turnovers.  Sounds like a recipe for a win, especially at home, right?

109-105 loss as the Pelican's 7th, 8th and 9th men combined 3 pts, 3 rebounds and 4 assists in 27 mins (all the actual stats came from Rivers in 18 mins of play) while the Dallas bench went to 10 men, and 6-10 went for 24/12/4 with 2 steals and 3 blocks.  Gordon had an awful game as a starter (0-6, 0 pts, 4 turnovers) and there was no one on their bench to fill in at all, they  just had to ride it out. 

Saturday, November 1, 2014

Golden States Offensive Limitation

The narrative coming into this season about the Warriors offense is that Mark Jackson sucked, and Steve Kerr will be better.  That is putting it bluntly, but sums up quite a few (optimistic) articles about GSW (One example: "Instead, a steady diet of isolations under Jackson . . . led to an unsettling number of stagnant and ineffective possessions").

What we may find to be closer to the truth is that Jackson was working with limited players and actually was getting the most out of them as a unit.  The most obvious flaw as a team is that their FT rate was awful last year- 29th in the league*. 

Free Throws are still, even with the explosion in three point shooting, the most efficient shots in the league.  An average FT shooter (last season 75.6%) at the line for 2 equates to a 3 pt shooter hitting a hair over 50% of his attempts, in other words one of the best 3 pt shooting seasons of all time.  Without including some of the ancillary benefits (getting opposing players in foul trouble, or getting into the bonus and grabbing more valuable shots later) FTs are clearly incredibly important shots for a team's efficiency. 

 Their lack of FTs is tied to their lack of dribble penetration.  Curry, for all his brilliance outside the arc, gets to and finishes at the rim at below average rates for a starting PG.  Klay Thompson has been awful at these skills, and Andre Igoudala has seen his USG and FTr decline almost every year for the last 5 seasons, almost setting career lows in both last year (his rookie USG "saving" him).  At 30+ he is unlikely to have a sudden
 resurgence after a long and steady decline.  

The simple fact seems to be that the Dubs do not have the shot creating necessary to power a top offense, and that as a practical matter the lack of versatility of the individual players is what has hampered this unit, not a lack of creative plays. 

*The Spurs were 30th indicating that this may not be a fatal flaw- but of note is that the Spurs best FT generators played substantially more mins in the playoffs, and that as a team in the regular season they were 7th in efficiency, which is good but not the dominant forced they seemed to be in the playoffs.  Also they are the freaking Spurs.