“Sonics’ Super Scientist”

For the statheads out there (and even the stat-curious), there is an interesting article about Dean Oliver. In case you didn’t know, the author of Basketball On Paper has been hired on by the Sonics as a consultant. The article is meant for a mainstream audience and maybe a bit short on details, but has a nice tidbit like this:

“In baseball, what are you going to do, not throw the ball to the first baseman because you don’t like him?” Sonics assistant Bob Weiss joked before a game last season.

Isn’t that what Chuck Knoblauch was doing?

I Got Nuthin’

Sorry for the lack of content these days. There’s a lot of madness going on in RL. If the stats page can’t keep you busy enough, then try some of these excellent blogs:

He’s only been around for two months, but Forum Blue & Gold has hit the ground running having one good post after another. Best line on his page:

The Raptors are the only team I?ve run across to list the results of a Playstation match up on their game preview page. But I guess it makes sense ? with what?s left in Toronto, you?d probably rather play a video game than watch your real team.

If you don’t already go there, check out BlogMaverick. Whether or not you agree with the Veeckian Cuban (and often I don’t), it’s an interesting read with a wide variety of topics from “The Hip Hop Generation” to promoting his HDTV channels. It’s always great to get an inside peek at the ownership of the NBA. Imagine if Dolan had a blog! Actually I don’t know why I put an exclamation point there. How exciting could it be?

If you’re upset that some blogs out there are a taking their year end vacation check out Celticsblog who has been putting out at least one entry (sometimes more) every day.

Finally, I’m not a big college fan, but CollegeBall puts out a ton of information, in addition to what might be the nicest looking site out there. Even though his posts are very short (un-Gleeman?), he pours in multiple posts per day covering everything in college hoops.

Introducing The New Stats Page

I’ve been working on this for a bit, and I think it’s time to release it out into the general public: the new stat page. A little Merry Christmas from me to my readers. It actually started as an automated tool for myself, so I could have a few key stats handy when I’m writing, but it just snowballed into what you see today. Since I don’t have much of an index, let me give you a quick rundown, interspersed with comments from today’s Knick win over the hapless Bobcats.

The best place to start is the Team Totals. On that page, you can see each team’s scoring per possession, the best measure of a team’s offense or defense. At the very top of the defensive page are teams like the Spurs, Pistons, and Rockets. At the bottom are teams like the Jazz, Hawks, Bucks, and unfortunately, my New York Knicks. New York was 23rd when I checked a month and a half ago, so that means they’ve gotten worse since then. Wilkens has to deal with this disturbing trend either by trying out different defenses, getting the team to play better fundamentals, or by giving more minutes to better defensive players. I’ve begged & pleaded in this space for the Knicks to press & trap, something which the Knicks almost never do. In fact as far as I can recall, they play man nearly exclusively. Certainly it’s not working.

My least favorite defensive breakdown is what I call ‘defensive indifference’. Today Tim Thomas had two great examples of this. In the first quarter, Thomas got caught on a switch, and Primoz Brezec had the ball with Thomas at least 10 feet away. Brezec went up for the jumper as Thomas raced toward him. He closed the distance quickly, but realized he wouldn’t get there in time to block the attempt, and just gave up right in front of Brezec, without putting up a hand. Those kinds of plays kill me as a viewer, because every kid on a team in America has a coach that has taught him if he can’t block a shot to get a hand in the shooter face to stop him from getting a good look at the basket.

In the next quarter, Charlotte had a possession where they got a few offensive rebounds. At one point Okafor pulled one down facing the basket and Tim Thomas came behind him. Now, I have Thomas listed as 6’10, Okafor at 6’10, and Okafor’s FT% at 62%. If Thomas tries hard enough, the worst he can do is give Okafor a 38% chance of scoring two points. At best, it would have been a blind side block, the kind that little guys like Boykins, and Brevin Knight salivate for. But Thomas just watched as Emeka scored an easy two. Defensive indifference.

Anyway back to the stat page, not only can you rank the teams by efficiency, but by pace, or any of the four factors. You may notice that each team name is underlined, and clicking on the name will bring you to the team page. Here I have a few stats I use, including John Hollinger’s PER. It came in handy today when one of the announcers (Al Trautwig?) claimed that Moochie Norris was doing a good job bringing energy off the bench & setting up the offense. He’s got to be kidding me. Norris (2.9 PER) runs the offense like the Ukrainians run an election.

John Hollinger did a great job coming up with ways of rating a player’s ability, but what does Norris’ 19.5 turnover ratio mean? Click on the leaders link at the top, and then on the X above TO-r. This brings you to the League Leaders page, sorted by Hollinger’s turnover ratio. Norris doesn’t have enough minutes to qualify for league leaders, but if he could, his 19.5 would be 6th worst. Right between Antonio Davis and Erick Dampier. That’s just what you want in a backup PG, someone that turns the ball over like two old centers.

A special thanks goes to Kevin Pelton of supersonics.com fame for eyeing over my work & helping me get over that final hump in PER. Kevin, a cold beer awaits you in New York if you can make the trip with the team in March.

Christmas By Myself This Year

So deck those halls, trim those trees
Raise up cups of Christmas cheer,
I just need to catch my breath,
Christmas by myself this year.
–“Christmas Wrapping”
The Waitresses

So far the Christmas matchup between Shaq & Kobe has more stories than a good season of 24. Outside of all the drama, this is a game between two radically changed teams. After a tumultuous offseason, how do these two teams stack up against each other? SantaBlogger (a KnickerBlogger subsidiary) is giving a little stocking stuffer for good little hoopheads with a little hardwood egg nog.

Pace (Lakers 21st – Heat 19th)
California and Florida each has a team that plays an up-tempo game, but unfortunately they aren’t these two teams, so don’t expect a fast paced game. The only hurry on Christmas day will be the kids getting to the presents under the tree. The Heat, a Van Gundy? team, will wait for Shaq to lumber up the court and set himself up in the post before beginning their offense. While Jerry Buss’ dream of the purple & gold fast breakers of the ’80s returning will remain just that, a dream. That the Lakers are currently wedged between notorious plodders Utah and Indy speaks volumes on the speed of their offense.

Lakers Offense (9th, 103 pPTS) vs Heat Defense (6th, 99.1)
eFG (8th 48.6) vs (6th 45.3)
TO (26th, 17.2) vs (27th 14.3)
OREB% (26th, 27.6) vs (3rd, 26.6)
FT/FG (1st, 30.4) vs (6th 28.7)

The Lakers are a good shooting team. That’s surprised me with the combination of Kobe’s eFG% dropping faster than Santa down the chimney, while his usage is just a tad lower than the elfish (selfish?) Iverson. However, Kobe’s ability (and desire) to shoot may be taking the load off of his teammates, leaving them with higher percentage shots. Odom (52.5%), Butler (48.6%), Atkins (55.4%), Mihm (52.9%), and Jones (55.9%) are all sporting the best shooting percentage of their career, and 6 Lakers sport eFGs of over 50%. Good shooting isn’t their only offensive skill, as the Lakers combine it with the ability to get to the line. The credit almost singlehandedly goes to Kobe Bryant who leads the league with 9 free points per game. He accounts for 43% of the Lakers’ free throws, when no other teammate accounts for more than 15%, so the onus is on him to carry the Lakers in this respect.

It’s ironic that the two Laker strengths on offense, are two of the Heat’s strengths on defense. It’ll be interesting to see which side gives. The two major keys of the game will be Los Angeles’ ability to shoot well as a team, and for Kobe to get a little bit of home cooking (ie. extra free throws) on Christmas.

Miami’s Offense (5th, 104.8) vs Lakers Defense (25th, 103.1)
eFG (2nd, 51.5) vs (8th, 45.9)
TO (4th, 14.6) vs (29th, 13.6)
OREB (24th, 27.0) vs (17th, 29.2)
FT/FG (7th, 27.7) vs (25th, 22.7)

How’s this for a Dickens twist: the Los Angeles Lakers may have to use the hack-a-Shaq against Shaquille O’Neal. Miami’s is so efficient because the offense still runs through the Big Diesel (61% eFG), and the Lakers are ill suited to stop him. With Vlade “the Gingerbread Man” Divac still on the DL, Los Angeles will only have one 7 footer to throw out there against Shaq: Mihm. Between Cook, Grant, and gulp Medvedenko, the Lakers have enough hax0rs to make Shaq practice a few more free throws. At 45% he’s regressed heavily from his career best of 62% just three years ago, and makes the strategy more appealing.

Dwayne Wade has become Shaq’s third ward, and has flourished in the role. His PER of 25.7 ranks him among the league’s top 10. He’s 9th in scoring, 5th in free throws, 5th in assists, and 12th in steals. It’ll be interesting if Wade’s offense will suffer chasing around the league’s #2 scorer on the other end of the court. To make matters worse, Kobe is no slouch on the defensive end with 5 All-Defensive Team honors and 82games.com verifies his tenacity (SG 12.0 oPER).

The Lakers best option may be to try the Jeff Vandy Gundy?-Jordan defense. Don’t try to waste energy stopping the unstoppable. Let Shaq get his points, but by doing so get the rest of his team out of their rhythm early on. Concentrate on shutting down the three guards in Ward Wade, Damon Jones, and Eddie “Murphy” Jones in the first three quarters, so that they’re not mentally prepared in the fourth.

Whatever approach L.A. uses, it’s Kobe that will be under the pressure, and I’m not even considering the off the court circus. On offense Kobe is the Lakers main focal point, whereas Shaq has Wade who is producing at a near equal rate. On defense, with his team unlikely to stop Shaq, it’ll be up to Bryant to shut down their other main weapon Dwayne Wade. All Kobe on offense. All Kobe on defense. I guess it’s Christmas by himself this year.

Knicks Holiday Preview

[Today’s article comes from KnickerBlogger NBA Roster Head Analyst David Crockett, Ph.D., who in his part time is an Assistant Professor of Marketing at the University of South Carolina. He can be reached at dcrockett17@yahoo.com]

This summer I wrote an off-season preview for the Knicks in which I urged Isiah Thomas to continue rebuilding on the fly by eschewing (for a while at least) any more roster-gutting moves, concentrating instead on building from the back of the bench. In Part Two of that preview, titled ?What the Knicks Should Do Now,? I suggested the following.

I strongly urge the front office to pursue only players that bring better defense, versatility, or ball handling/passing to the team. On defense the team needs substantially better individual defense, especially in the frontcourt. On offense the team?s turnover problems stem from a serious absence of ball skills among the starters other than Marbury.

It was hardly surprising that Isiah had a reasonably similar assessment of the Knicks? major weaknesses. The Knicks were horrible in the aforementioned areas. This season the Knicks have shown some improvement in each of the areas, even if ever so slight. The Knicks are scoring 104 points per 100 possessions (pPts) and allowing 105pPts for a -1 differential according to 82games.com. Last season?s differential was -2. Part of this slight improvement is that the Knicks have become a tad better at hanging onto the ball and prying it away from their opponents. The team currently has a 16% turnover rate, turning opponents over at the same rate. Both numbers represent 1% improvements over last season. More substantially, the Knicks are also taking 24.5 trips to the free throw line (up over 3 attempts per game from last season) while giving up 26, slightly down from last season. These improvements, with less than a third of the season completed, are far from awe-inspiring. They are undeniably, however, improvements.

The Knicks, with limited salary cap flexibility into the foreseeable future, will find themselves best able to acquire these skills by leveraging its few valuable assets for draft picks and young, reasonably priced veterans who can help lay the foundation for a winning organization… The Knicks must address turnovers, defense, and free throws in order to improve. They cannot simply trade these problems off against each other. As I look at any transactions Isiah makes this off-season that is how I will assess them, including the second round pick in the upcoming draft.

Though not solely by choice, Isiah approached this past off-season in a manner not altogether inconsistent with my suggestions. Not nearly enough games have been played to offer anything close to an assessment on the wisdom of this off-season?s moves; however we have seen enough of this year?s Knicks to chronicle those players? roles on the team and how they address the team?s key weaknesses. Obviously the big off-season move was the sign-and-trade that brought Jamal Crawford for $55 million over 7 years and Jerome Williams who has 4 years remaining on his $40.8 million contract (team and player option in the ?07 season). (Crawford warrants a few comments in his own entire paragraph elsewhere.) Williams, the Junk Yard Dog, is a very versatile if expensive role player who has the ability to defend power forwards as well as centers in some situations. Isiah also drafted the athletically-gifted and defense-oriented Trevor Ariza from UCLA in the second round, and signed free agents Vin Baker, Bruno Sundov, and Jamison Brewer.

Thomas also eventually bought out the contract of Shandon Anderson, who is now averaging a career low 15.3 mpg with the Miami Shaqs. Of those moves, Williams and Baker are the two players who either carry burdensome contracts or who may be standing in the way of young talent that needs minutes. Vin Baker is an expensive insurance policy at a fragile position. Should the vastly improved Nazr Mohammed succumb to injury I suspect the Knicks would go small, sliding Kurt Thomas to center and starting Sweetney at power forward. In that scenario Baker would become the primary backup at center. As for JYD, how can anyone not love what he brings to the Knicks? His hustle, athleticism, and ability to finish are all things that endear him to fans but that are also quite valuable on the second unit? at power forward.

Crawford, who was the key acquisition this off-season, is a brilliant if erratic offensive talent. The sign-and-trade that brought him to New York is the classic high risk/high reward gamble. It is precisely the kind of gamble on which GMs make or break reputations. In one respect, since Crawford is a player entering his peak production years with no major injury risks this is not on its face a poor gamble. Conversely, his reputation for being a poor defender, streaky shooter, and generally immature in his decision making appears to have been well-earned. Whether he is able to overcome these shortcomings will go a long way towards determining Isiah?s legacy as an executive in New York and in the league, even more than the established Marbury.

At the time of this writing the Knicks are two games above .500 and feeling generally optimistic about how the first half of the season. Isiah publicly stated that a .500 record after 20 games would meet or exceed his expectations for the team, a mark the team was able to reach. So now what? How might the Knicks realistically improve as they enter year 2 in the EZ (Era of Zeke)? If we look at the four factors the Knickerblogger highlights on his stats page (shooting, turnovers, rebounds, free throws) we might get some clues.

? Shooting ? (15th off, 24th def) from an overall offensive efficiency standpoint the Knicks are just below the median (and just at the median based on eFG%). Defensively the Knicks are quite poor, 1.6 and 2 points respectively below median defensive efficiency and eFG defense.
? Turnovers ? (16th off, 18th def) the Knicks are middle of the pack in turnover rate both offensively and defensively.
? Offensive Rebounding ? (20th off, 11th def) the Knicks are middling, 20th ranked though less than a full rebound below the median. Defensively, the Knicks are doing a reasonable job of protecting their defensive boards.
? Free Throws ? (21th off, 15th def) on this dimension the Knicks are quite poor, ranked 21st in FTM/FGA, a full 1.5 below the median. However they are right at the median defensively, a marked improvement over last year.

That the Knicks, a barely above .500 team, are pretty mediocre across those categories thought by many to be the most closely correlated with winning is hardly a shock. The key question facing the team as it goes forward is how can it improve? Assuming that the team makes no major roster moves the Knicks can do two things to help improve their FG defense and their ability to get to the free throw line. (I realize that we?re talking about Isiah but trade deadline moves is another post altogether)

1. Play Sweetney more minutes ? Perhaps the only reason the Knickerblogger allows me to post to his blog is that when it comes to Michael Sweetney he and I both agree that Sweets should play the lion?s share of the power forward minutes on this team. [KB’s Note: Not true, the weekly check Dave sends me is enough.] I suppose that when it comes to campaigning for Sweetney, we’re kind of like the guys from the Guinness ?Brilliant!? ad campaign. Sweetney does exactly what the Knicks need. He crashes the offensive glass (brilliant!), scores in the post (brilliant!), and lives at the free throw line (brilliant!). Sweetney doesn?t have to start over Kurt Thomas but both should play roughly 40% of the team?s power forward minutes. This needs to be a priority for Lenny Wilkins.

2. Move Crawford to the second unit (eventually) ? Though moving Jamal Crawford to the second unit may rankle the New York punditry, who desperately wants to write the Batman and Robin story about the Marbury/Crawford pairing, I suspect that he will eventually meet with his greatest NBA success as a sixth man. He has a phenomenal array of offensive tools and skills. Yet as well as he has shot the ball this season at SG (48% eFG) his defense is, in a word, atrocious. In fairness, I should note that he is averaging over 1.5 steals per game (good for 17th in the NBA at the time of writing); nonetheless, he gives back a lot of points at the defensive end. Apart from that, once Houston is healthy, Crawford is the better fit coming off the bench with the high energy second unit.

As it concerns the second unit more broadly the Knicks really need to acquire or develop a point guard for the second unit. That unit, which usually features some combination of Norris, Ariza, Hardaway, JYD, and Sweetney, consistently plays with high intensity and is by far the best defensive combination. But unless that unit can get out and run it has a difficult time orchestrating the offense and scoring in the half-court. Moochie Norris has played admirably as the unit?s point guard, which is to say, not very well. He has played just under 10% of the team?s minutes at point guard this season amassing a whopping PER of 2.21. Pacer cast-off Jamison Brewer hasn?t played any better between stints on the DL but it?s difficult to imagine he can play much worse than Norris has. In addition, he has displayed some of the vaunted athleticism Isiah so covets.

Dallas 123 New York 94

I had spent the day on my couch with what was either food poisoning or a stomach virus. Unable to eat anything solid for 36 hours, and working from home, the only thing I had to look forward to was watching the Knicks face off against the Mavericks in the Garden. And I thought my day couldn’t get any worse.

Dallas embarrassed New York, coasting off their 39 point halftime lead to a 123-94 laugher. I should have known the Knicks were in trouble when they brought in Vin Baker in the first quarter. With Nazr in mild foul trouble, the Knicks need to bring in a big man. They could have either brought in Mike Sweetney, who’s offensive rebounding and high percentage shooting are what the Knicks’ lacked early on. Or they could have brought in Jerome Williams who’s high energy and defense would have provided helpful when New York came out flatter than the hardwood they play on. The Knicks’ announcers said Lenny Wilkens had to bring in Baker due to a “match-up” problem. Kurt Thomas couldn’t switch to center because he was the only Knick that could defend Nowitzki. Huh?

First when Sweetney and Thomas play together, it’s usually Sweetney that covers the other team’s center. So New York could have brought in Sweetney, and still played Thomas at PF. Secondly whether or not you consider Kurt to be a good defender, he’s certainly at his worst against PFs that can play from outside the post. Multi-talented guys like Antoine Walker, Dirk Nowitzki, and PFs that can hit the side of a barn like Kyle Korver, Croshere, and Kenny Thomas cause problems for Kurt. Finally, if it was defense that Wilkens was concerned with, he could have brought in Jerome Williams, who hounded Nowtizki in the first matchup.

In either case Nowitzki had no problems scoring, as he had 23 point by halftime. All of those were while Kurt Thomas was on the court, but he wasn’t the only New Yorker playing matador defense. Finley lit up the boys in orange & blue for 17 first half scores, and Howard poured in another 14. That’s 54 points from the Mavs new-not-so-big-three, by halftime.

Needless to say I didn’t stick around to catch the second half. I looked for something less depressing, and switched over to the Diary of Anne Frank. It’s too bad, because Bruno Sundov got some quality time, and it would have been nice to get a scouting report on him. Unfortunately the Knicks’ first half performance was all my stomach could handle.

Definition Of A Good Sunday

Will all apologies to Homer Simpson, the best way to spend a Sunday is: