Impartiality

It’s amazing how your ability to be impartial gets impaired the more emotional you get about something. I’m sure it happens to people on a host of topics, including religion, politics, and sometimes sports. I’ve been banned (rightfully so) by my wife from discussing the first two, since it usually becomes a hot topic with yours truly. When a conversation turns highly emotional there is no exchange of ideas, since you’re not going into that kind of debate looking for a deeper understanding of your views. The emotional attachment blocks your objectivity.

I want to go on record and say I am not rooting for the Lakers for a few reasons. Shaq seems like a pleasant & intelligent guy off the court. In fact I agree with and understand most of what he says in interviews. However, on the court he is a brute. That quasi-legal rough style of play is my least favorite to face on the court, so I tend to root against him.

That’s not my only reason to root against L.A. Unless my team is involved, I usually root for the underdog, and L.A. is anything but an underdog with their recent string of championships. In addition, I have my reputation on stake with the T-Wolves, as I picked them in my own blog bracket contest. Finally I find it hard to root for Kobe, Payton, and Malone right now, each for their own reasons.

Because I’m rooting against the Lakers, there are a few things I’ve discovered about myself while watching game 6. First is that I start to hate some of the other Lakers. (Hate is too strong a word for what I feel, but in this respect I hope my readers that are sports fans know exactly what I mean). My roommate & I call Devean George and Derek Fisher scrubs, getting their rings by riding on the coattails of Shaq & Kobe. Of course I know they aren’t “scrubs”, just role players performing to the best of their limited abilities.

Another thing I noticed is that I was judging the officials’ job by how they call against the Lakers. Early in the game Shaq pushed Madsen with his arm, not once but twice before getting the ball on the blocks. Of course this illegal push resulted in an easy dunk, and I was irate (too strong a word again – but you get the picture by now) yelling at the referee to make the call. A little bit later in the game, Oliver Miller was setting illegal screens all over the court. I know it takes a lot of force to get such a large mass to stop and move, but Oliver wasn’t even trying to set himself. Miller was just bulldozing guys, & I watched as this went uncalled for about 5 minutes. When the refs finally called him on it, I was upset. It took me a minute to realize that I had witnessed him doing it for a few minutes. For the most part I was in denial. I was holding the refs to another standard when it came to the team I was rooting for. I didn’t care if the officials missed this call, because I wanted Minnesota to win.

Gladly I was able to realize I wasn’t being objective, and was able to think rationally about the game. I know that the officials called a good game. At the worst they gave the benefit of the doubt to Minnesota, as most of the Lakers were in foul trouble and the officials handed three technical fouls to Los Angeles. Now that I am a public writer (albeit with a tiny audience), I feel a bigger obligation to stay level-headed about things. Fans have the right to be as biased as they wish. In fact it’s expected of them to think their team and their players are better than anyone else’s. It’s easy to be a fan and let your emotions take over. I have a great respect for those that have been writing or announcing for years with their objectivity in tact.


As for the series, it seemed obvious that Minnesota struggled without Cassell. Their offense was in disarray, and even getting the ball across midcourt has been an issue. No one was able to pickup the slack. I said in an earlier column that Hoiberg and Szczerbiak should try to pickup the slack. However their abilities come in an offense where they are not the primary scorers. Without a second scorer to take the pressure off Garnett, or a PG that can penetrate or distribute the ball, they were unable to fill the hole left by Cassell. On the offensive end Hoiberg all but disappeared in game 6, scoring 2-4 with 0 treys – his main weapon. I hoped he wouldn’t, but Sprewell tried to pick up the slack, but shot 8-22 with 0 threes (36% eFG%). It wasn’t all that bad, as he shot 11-11 in free throws to give him a nice 1.22 PPS (points per shot).

Using FG%, it might appear that they shot at the same percentage (.432 to .449), but the Lakers hit 9 three pointers to the T-Wolves 2. Using eFG% shows the Lakers with a decided edge (.506 to .446). Minnesota also turned the ball over more often 18 to 10. Certainly these are two areas where Cassell would have made a big difference. In any case I have to give credit to the Lakers, who certainly are the favorites to win the championship right now.

Foul? What Foul?

The other day I had a dream. I happened to be walking behind an NBA referee, and he dropped his rule book on the ground. I opened it up to Rule 12, Part B, Section 1. It read:

Section I–Types
a. A player shall not hold, push, charge into, impede the progress of an opponent by extending a hand, forearm, leg or knee or by bending the body into a position that is not normal. Contact that results in the re-routing of an opponent is a foul which must be called immediately.
b. Contact initiated by the defensive player guarding a player with the ball is not legal. This contact includes, but is not limited to, forearm, hands, or body check.

In handwriting, the official had scribbled something in the ledger that said “Ignore – Final Two Minutes.” I immediately woke up and the world made sense for a second, until I realized that was all a dream.

Referees try not to call fouls in the last minutes of a game. I can only guess this is because they don’t want to be the one to decide the fate of the game. No one wants to be remembered for giving Larry Johnson a four point play, although I highly doubt Jess Kersey is a household name. In the above example, the player is remembered for his accomplishment, not the official who made the call. If the whistle is blown, no one will blame the official if there was a foul on the play. What’s not debated is whether L.J. was fouled or not. What is debated is if he should have been granted the continuation. Often it seems that the referees are reluctant to blow the whistle at all. The end of a close NBA game sometime resembles the rough parks in NYC, where the motto “no blood, no foul” is taken seriously.

There are certain game ending plays that I’ll always have in my mind as questionable, because of the possibility that a foul (or two) might have went uncalled. Charles Smith’s blocked layups (4 cleanly shots blocked?), Reggie Miller’s 8 points in 16 seconds(did he push the inbounding player to the ground?), Jordan’s shot against Utah (did he use his left hand to push Byron Scott aside?), etc. I’m not saying there is evidence to fully prove there were fouls during these times, but I can question the validity of these plays because of laissez faire approach taken by NBA referees in the closing moments.

These playoffs have given me at least two more moments to burn in my memory regarding last minute no-calls. First is Mark Madsen trying to foul Shaq. Mark wanted a foul. Shaq wanted a foul. The referee wanted to hide under his bed. Mark Madsen figured that hugging Diesel wasn’t enough, so he took Shaq’s arm and placed it around his neck. Still no foul. I think Minnesota should add Tracy Morgan to the roster, to give shack another spanking.

The second is Reggie Miller at the end of the Pacers/Pistons game. We’ve all seen it a million times. Miller pump fakes. The defender jumps. Miller jumps into the defender. Foul shots ensue. Apparently the referee didn’t feel that body to body contact was enough to call a foul. You can question whether this common Reggie tactic is a foul, since Miller is jumping into his defender. However if this play happened in the first quarter of a regular season game, I’m sure Reggie would get the call. That’s the whole point. What is a foul at one point of the game, should be a foul for the entire game. Referees need to be consistent with the rules right up to the very end of the game.

Karl Malone vs. Kevin Garnett?

There is nothing greater to a blogger than to get a response via email. It means that someone out there is actually reading. Writing a blog is a solitary act. It’s very different from responding to a message board, or talking basketball with the person that happens to sit next to you at the bar. I don’t have to validate my work to anyone when I write my blog. For all intents & purposes, I write in a vacuum.

Getting an email is joyous to a blogger. It means that someone out there is not just giving you a ‘hit’ by quickly scanning the page for something of interest. Not only did they actually read my entire blog (so I hope), but the fact that something inside of the blog made them yearn for more. They wished to contact you. And although it seems easy to scan the page for the email me link, few people exercise that right. Whether it’s from a lack of a following, or a lack of desire for my readers to actually care about anything I write is up in the air. By receiving an email, I know that I may be writing alone, but I’m not alone in my thoughts.

So I was thrilled tonight to check my email and see one from:

From: May Sorensen
Sent: Tuesday, May 25, 2004 6:25 PM
To: knickerblogger@kurylo.com
Subject: University Certificates, No Classes Needed, ID: T8618U75

ID: m421OO14

Academic-Qualifications from NON??–ACCR. Universities.

No exams. No classes. No books.

Call to register and get yours in days – 1.203.286.2403

No more ads: deloresaber@1net.gr
toroid billie durward bled decelerate wit intensify deer alsop seldom davidson mist grub dally fillip blame huddle inexhaustible centrifugate eclipse mumford upbraid befit eliot bolometer wylie inattention region format lawn

I’d be interested in putting a university certificate right next to my university diploma. However right now I’m too busy getting my penis enlarged (sfw), and helping that poor Nigerian banker get his money out of the country. Some people might say that the random words inserted at the bottom are to fool spam blockers, but if you went to their University, you would know exactly what they are trying to say in that sentence.

I’d put May in the category of readers that just glanced over my blog. I also got another email, and I’m pretty sure that this guy might have read a few of the sentences:

From: BChaikin
Sent: Monday, May 24, 2004 10:38 AM
To: KnickerBlogger@kurylo.com
Subject: KnickerBlogger

In addition Malone was never the defensive player that Garnett is.

kevin garnet may be a great defender now, but karl malone was 1st-team all-D for three straight seasons, from 96-97 to 98-99, during which time some other great defending forwards were scottie pippen, p.j. brown, charles oakley, tim duncan, and others. while some may write off one 1st-team all-D nomination as a popularity contest, i doubt they would 3 straight…

i saw karl malone play alot, and there’s no question in my mind that he was an excellent defender for a long time. for that matter his 1st team all-D nominations didn’t come until his 12th-14th seasons in the league – he was an awfully good defender pnrior to these seasons also…

bob chaikin

Now as much as I appreciate May Sorensen’s input, she will never have the understanding that Bob Chaikin does about basketball, and neither will I. Bob is a contributing member of the APBR. He’s created various computer simulation modeling programs that have been used by a few NBA teams. If you didn’t know all that, then you might recognize Bob as a regular poster in the APBR_Analysis group. Needless to say Bob knows basketball.

At first glance I thought Mr. Chaikin was disagreeing with me. All the normal clues are there. He’s begun by using my quote, and stating some facts. But nowhere in his email does he say that Malone at any time was as good a defender as Garnett is now, which was my claim. Instead he notes that Malone was a very good defender using both observational and statistical data.

I agree. Malone was a three time 1st team all-defensive team member. Garnett has already been honored in that fashion for 4 consecutive years, and he’s only been in the league for 9 years. In no way shape or form is that the only way to measure a player’s defensive abilities. However beyond that, I don’t have evidence to the contrary. Maybe Malone was a better defender but his contemporaries were better defenders than Garnett, which is why he won less awards. Maybe the voters had something against Karl. It could be that Malone’s defensive abilities were such that he held opponents to a lower FG% than Garnett would have. It’s possible that Garnett’s higher shot blocking statistics is due to his teammates letting their defenders beat them more often that Malone’s.

That’s an argument for another time, when we have the tools and understanding to better gauge a defender’s effectiveness. Right now I’ll be happy to take back any implications that Malone wasn’t a great defensive player in my statement, but stand by it as well by believing that Garnett is the better defender of the two.

Round 3

Let’s get another update in the KnickerBlogger 2004 Bloggers Bracket.

BLOG:	1st	2nd	Total Points
Ron 7 4 11
Michael 7 4 11
Me 8 3 11
Jon 7 3 10
Kevin 6 4 10
Scott 6 4 10
Tim 6 4 10
Matt 6 3 9

In the lead are Ron (Hornets247.com), Michael (Knicks Clicks), and myself. I put myself third because they have the 4 teams still alive, while I only have 3. I could really use Minnesota to knock off LA, which might clinch the championship for me. There is a 4 way tie for 4th place, with 3 of those guys also having 4 of the teams still alive. Poor Matt from Bulls Blog is bringing up the rear. We won’t hold it against him since he picked these teams before he earned his college degree.

What A Difference A Game Makes

In an earlier column about the Timberwolves, I said that Minnesota improved their team on the defensive end. This is exactly how that they beat the Lakers last night. In game 1, LA had a field day, having an effective field goal percentage of 51%. Last night their eFG% dropped 10 points, to 41%. To put these numbers in perspective, 51% would have been an average night for league leading Sacramento, while game two would have looked bad even for this year’s Bulls (44.5%).

Only Derek Fisher (1-2, 1 3PT) and Luke Walton (1-1, 1 3PT), had an eFG% of 50% or better. Karl Malone went from a robust 8 of 13 in game 1 to a meager 2 for 5. Malone also had a dubious distinction of getting called for traveling by getting run into by his own teammate during the act of shooting. Gary Payton’s game 2 eFG% (40%), while better than his game 1 (36%), still leaves much to be desired. Kobe still scored a lot of points, but his 10-24 night lacked any hits from beyond the arc (0-4 3PT). Even the Timberwolves brand of hack-a-Shaq worked like Kryptonite against the Laker center, as Shaq went 4-10 from the field and 6-14 from the line.

The other thing that is radically different between games 1 and 2 in the box scores is the offensive rebounding. Minnesota only had 3 offensive boards (7% oREB%) in the first game, but more than tripled that amount in the next game with 10 (18% oREB%). It was a combined team effort as no Timberwolf had more than 2.

The Timberwolves may have more problems coming up. In addition to losing the home court advantage in the series, and heading to L.A. for the next two games, they might have to deal with the loss of Sam Cassell. Cassell has been fighting back problems, and had to leave game 2 after a few seconds. To make matters worse, he’s not Minnesota’s only injured PG, as Troy Hudson is out with a bad ankle. Journeyman Darrick Martin filled in nicely enough on the stat sheet (37 minutes, 4-11, 1 3PT, 6 AST & 0 TO). However the T-Wolves’ chances have to be decreased without their second best scorer. Cassell and Martin couldn’t be more different. Going from one player with a 52% eFG% that scored just under 20PPG this year, to a player who hasn’t played regularly in 4 seasons, with a career 44% eFG% will hurt their offense.

They will need someone or a group of players to pick up the slack. Latrell Sprewell shouldn’t be the one, since his 43% eFG% isn’t suited for the task. Even baseball guru Aaron Gleeman knows that Minnesota had more of a Big 2, than a Big 3. Of their top eFG% players, you can eliminate defensive specialists Ervin Johnson, Mark Madsen & Oliver Miller. (Did I just call Oliver Miller a defensive specialist? I guess that’s what happens when you have 6 fouls to give against Shaq). This means Minnesoters should be rooting for Hoiberg (56%) and Szczerbiak (49% in limited time, 52% last year) to shoot the rock more often. If there is anyone that should be picking up the scoring it’s Wally, whose role was reduced this year by the acquisition of Sprewell.

Standing On The Shoulders Of A Giant

Usually the title expression is in reference to when someone performs something great, but defers the credit to those that came before him to make it possible. If memory serves me correctly, it was Isaac Newton who used the expression (in it’s plural form) to honor those that made his discoveries possible. In this instance, I use it to describe the Timberwolves game 7 against the Kings. Kevin Garnett’s teammates jumped on his back, letting the giant carry them to victory. It was like Pippin & Merry on the back of Treebeard.

Garnett played the entire 4th quarter, and at one point had his team’s last 13 points. His contribution wasn’t limited to just scoring, since he also was the T-Wolves main rebounder (21), shot blocker (5), and even played backup point guard when Cassell was on the bench. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a player do it all, like Garnett. He is simply a unique player that comes around once a generation.

Only considering the players I’ve seen in my lifetime, there is little comparison to Garnett in terms of skill set. Shaq is a dominant player on his own, maybe the most dominant player with the smallest skill set. Shaq is nearly unstoppable under the hoop, but his ability diminishes as he travels further from the basket as to where his free throw shooting is embarrassing. Shaq fancies himself as a skilful dribbler for a man his size, but only in Shaq’s mind does he have the handle of Garnett.

Tim Duncan is another 7 footer who opts to play PF instead of C. Unlike Shaq, the Big Fundamental has decent range for a player his size, but he doesn’t have Garnett’s shooting touch. Like Shaq, Duncan’s free throw percentage is a weakness at times, with a career low this year of 59.9%, something that hasn’t afflicted Garnett (career 76.1%).

Of the active power forwards, Karl Malone might be the most similar on offense, but he still doesn’t have Garnett’s dribbling ability or shooting range. In addition Malone was never the defensive player that Garnett is.

In fact there is only one player (that I’ve seen play), that has as diverse abilities as Garnett: Magic Johnson. Johnson, in case you were born yesterday, was a 6’9 point guard. Magic’s blend of efficient scoring (53% eFG), passing (11.2 APG – #1 all time), and rebounding (7.2 RPG) made him an offensive machine that earned him 3 MVPs and 9 All-NBA First Team honors. Magic was probably the best passer I’ve ever had the pleasure of witnessing.

My point is not to compare the two individuals in that manner, because despite their wide range of talents, they play much different roles. When Magic retired (for the first time), the game lost one of it’s greatest and most entertaining players. Today’s generation that will grow up never have seeing Johnson run one of his trademark fast breaks will be missing something, as I’m sure I am, never having seen Oscar Robertson or Cousy showcase their gifts. However watching last night’s game, Kevin Garnett gave today’s generation something to brag to their kids about.

Home Is Where the Background Is?

I have various saved incomplete blog entries that will never see the light of day. One of them was about what gives a team the home court advantage. Last week, Raptorblog asked the same question:

In my mind, the greatest mystery about NBA basketball is why homecourt advantage has such a profound effect on game results. I understand that the home team is allowed final substitutions and has the support of their fans (outside of Atlanta and New Orleans) but I can’t figure out why NBA home teams have a higher winning percentage than the other three major sports.

So I decided to revive one of my unfinished posts.

Everyone reading this (I hope) is familiar with the scene from Hoosiers where the team makes the finals & they go to visit the court they will be playing on. Gene Hackman (the coach) has the players measure various parts of the court. The hoop is exactly 10 feet high, just as their home court. This is to prove to his players that this (and all) courts are exactly the same dimensions (unlike baseball stadiums, or even football fields with their different turfs & weather). So in basketball we can eliminate any kind of home field bias due to the playing surface (although some people claim that the floors of some courts have weird bounces, I think everyone can agree that this is highly unlikely of a 61% home field advantage).

To figure out what gives a team the home court advantage, I decided to take the playoff teams and split them into 2 groups, the top 8 & bottom 8. I choose these groups to isolate a few variables. First the bottom 8 teams all lost & were vastly inferior to their opponents. Second they played less games than the top 8. Using ESPN I was able to get their home & road splits. I also decided to use the regular season statistics as well, getting the home/road splits for every team this year. So what kind of theories do we have?

Theory #1: Home Cooked Refs

Referees with their fragile egos & fearful of being booed give the home team better foul calls. If this is true teams will have less free throw attempts on the road than at home. So what do the numbers say?

[Note: the first set of numbers are the home numbers, the second set road numbers, the third set the difference.]

TEAM	FTM	FTA	FT%	FTM	FTA	FT%	FTM	FTA	FT%	

Top 8 18.9 26.7 70% 19.1 26.5 72% -0.2 0.2 -2%
Bot 8 16.2 22.3 73% 18.1 23.3 78% -1.9 -1.0 -4%

There really isn’t much of a difference in shots attempted. On the road the bottom 8 playoff teams averaged an extra of 1 free throw per game with a higher percentage, so if anything it appears that the bias is the other way. In fact just to be sure I checked with the regular season stats. Teams attempted only 1.2 more free throws at home than on the road. The top 5 teams in getting more FTA at home were: Atlanta, Golden State, New Orleans, Memphis & Milwaukee; meanwhile the bottom 5 teams were a mixed bag as well: Philly, Washington, Boston, Houston, and Toronto.

I really can’t conclude anything from this, but I would certainly lean to the side that refs don’t give the home team special treatment with respect to free throws. Having one extra free throw per game doesn’t seem to be a large advantage.

Theory #2: Better Free Throw Shooting

Maybe the refs don’t give players an advantage, but once the player arrives at the charity stripe do the fans make the difference? When a home player is shooting the fans are calm, but when an opposing player is trying to make a free throw the fans go nuts, trying to distract him from making his shot. What do the numbers say?

Using the same chart as above, oddly enough teams in the playoffs this year have shot better on the road. Again to verify my results I’ll look at the regular season. The league shot a FT% of 75.2% at the comfort of home this year, and 75.3% on the road. That’s right on the road they shot 0.01% better. Certainly not significant.

Theory #3: Able to See the Rim Better

On the Raptorblog.com comments for his post, Kamahsutra came up with this theory:

It has been noted for basketball, that the home field advantage may be due to the shooting. No doubt all the court dimensions are exactly the same in all NBA arenas, however the rest of the surroundings are not, eg, the look of the backboard relative to the background. Anything that may affect the shooter’s comfort level. This would be tell tale, if you were able to look at the shooting percentages of visiting against home teams during playoffs.

I tend to notice this at my local gym. The guys that have been playing there for years have little adjustment period when the season starts up. However when I bring someone new there, they always seem to struggle to hit their shots. It’s a large size court – something that’s rare to find in New York city parks. The backboard is glass (again rare to find in public parks), and the background is a monotonous beige. At times it’s hard to pickup the rim, but since I’ve been there for 4 years, now I have no problem knowing where it is. Once or twice we’ve had to use another gym for a short period of time, and my first time there I have trouble hitting my shots.

Could this be true in the NBA?

TEAM	FGM	FGA	FG%	FGM	FGA	FG%	FGM	FGA	FG%	
Top 8 35.0 76.7 45.6% 31.7 76.6 41.5% 3.3 0.1 4.2%
Bot 8 34.6 81.8 42.5% 30.6 77.7 39.3% 4.0 4.1 3.2%

The initial numbers look good. The good teams shot 4% better at home, and the bad teams were 3% better. The regular season shows similar yet reduced results: 44.5% at home, 43.2% on the road. The reason for the regular season numbers being smaller is the better teams make the playoffs. For example sorting the regular season by biggest difference in FG% would put most of the playoff teams near the top (Dallas, San Antonio, Milwaukee, New Jersey, Miami, and Sacramento), and weaker teams at the bottom (Chicago, Indiana, Boston, Cleveland, Seattle, and Orlando).

What if this is due to another reason. One could be maybe teams on the road feel more desperate and shoot more 3s (which would lower their fg%). Let’s try to break down FG% & see where the difference is, first with two pointers:

TEAM	2PM	2PA	2P%	2PM	2PA	2P%	2PM	2PA	2P%	
Top 8 29.2 60.7 48.2% 26.7 61.2 43.7% 2.5 -0.5 4.5%
Bot 8 29.3 65.9 44.9% 26.2 63.1 41.3% 3.1 2.8 3.6%

There seems to be a significant difference here, around 4%. The regular season nets a smaller 1.2% difference. There are 10 of the 16 playoff teams which rank in the top half. Now about FG%’s other half, three pointers?

TEAM	3PM	3PA	3P%	3PM	3PA	3P%	3PM	3PA	3P%	

Top 8 5.8 16.0 35.9% 5.0 15.4 32.1% 0.7 0.6 3.8%
Bot 8 5.2 15.9 33.3% 4.4 14.6 29.3% 0.9 1.3 4.0%

Again a big difference here, near 4%. During the regular season, the home team had a 1.3% advantage at home when shooting threes. So to conclude this section teams in the playoffs this year so far have shot about 4% better overall which is about evenly distributed between 2 pointers & 3 pointers.

Right now I have to conclude that this is a possibility. The cause may not be what we think, but the results are clear. There could be a host of reasons why teams shoot better at home, including sleeping in your own bed or eating familiar food. However I don’t think science has come far enough that we can isolate such variables.

Is this enough evidence to come to a certain conclusion that it’s the backdrop that effects shooters? No. But it’s certainly a start.