Half-Man Half-Net

According to ESPN, the Nets have acquired Vince Carter for Alonzo Mourning cousin’s liver, two guys named Williams, and 2 first rounders. Yesterday in the New York Sun, John Hollinger wrote the Nets’ pitiful offense is directly related to not having any production out of the SG spot. Coincidence? KnickerBlogger is investigating.

More seriously, I’m going to have to check out Scott’s page for a purple spin on the deal. This offers them little to no immediate cap relief. Zo’s contract and one of the Williams’ are 3 years each, and the other Williams has a 2 year deal. The key has to be the draft picks, acquired from other teams and are protected. If those picks are high enough, maybe this isn’t such a bad deal for them.

Now back to your regularly scheduled program.

PER Leaders (12/17/04)

And a special thanks to Blogger for taking a nice looking table, and forcing me to use the format below. :-P

SAS Tim Duncan...... FC 23 35.2 27 51.9 67.5 1.13 36 30.8
MIN Kevin Garnett... F 22 39.8 23.5 48.6 76.1 1.08 30 29.89
DAL Dirk Nowitzki... PF 23 38.6 27.5 47.4 85.7 1.14 47 27.9
PHO Amare Stoudemire FC 22 36.4 28.3 57.5 71.1 1.25 43 27.87
CLE LeBron James.... SF 23 41.4 23.7 51.6 76.7 1.13 26 26.74
MIA Dwyane Wade..... G 22 38.2 24 50.9 75.7 1.18 51 26.24
MIA Shaquille O'Neal C 24 34.3 24.1 60.1 45.8 1.16 38 25.85
PHO Steve Nash...... PG 22 34 18.3 58.9 88.1 1.26 21 23.83
LAL Kobe Bryant..... SG 22 43 25.4 44.6 81.1 1.07 43 23.67
PHO Shawn Marion.... F 22 39.2 19.9 49.9 78.7 1.06 16 23.56
BOS Paul Pierce..... SG 21 36.3 24.7 46.7 84.7 1.13 48 22.82
MEM Pau Gasol....... PF 21 34.1 22.3 50.5 74.1 1.14 42 22.79
NYK Stephon Marbury. PG 22 38.6 20.5 51.2 85.1 1.15 32 22.42
SEA Ray Allen....... SG 22 40.4 23.7 50.1 91.6 1.15 33 22.09
SAS Manu Ginobili... SG 23 28.8 20.2 52.9 79.5 1.2 43 22
SAC Chris Webber.... PF 21 35.3 23.2 45.7 72.7 0.97 14 21.91
UTH Carlos Boozer... PF 23 35.9 21.4 52.4 75.4 1.14 26 21.89
HOU Yao Ming........ C 22 32.1 22.8 50.7 77.7 1.15 40 21.83
MIN Eddie Griffin... F 19 23.5 19.2 52.4 81 1.08 9 21.72
LAC Elton Brand..... PF 20 38 19.9 50.9 76.3 1.12 30 21.61

Detroit 94 New York 93

I don’t need any advanced stats to tell you why the Knicks lost against the Pistons. No PER. No eFG. No PSA. They just blew it. Poor execution down the stretch. It was a heart breaking loss, easily their worst psychological loss of the year. They had the defending champs on the ropes the whole game, only to slip at the end and knock themselves out.

My biggest complaint is not Jamal Crawford’s attempt with 5 seconds left, although it was awful. It’s not about Marbury’s foul on Billups, because what else could he do in that situation? Steph forgetting how to dribble in their final attempt wasn’t the worst of the night, although it could have been. What really got my goat was Lenny Wilkens’ substitution pattern.

Here are the minutes for the Knicks’ 5 starters:

K. Thomas..	42
T. Thomas.. 30
N. Mohammed 46
J. Crawford 44
S. Marbury. 40

Was this the 7th game of the NBA Finals that 4 of their starters played 40 minutes? Next was Houston with 21 minutes, Williams with 9, and Moochie with 8. Nobody else played for the Knicks. Most notably Sweetney & Ariza had DNPs.

By the time the Knicks half time lead of 16 dwindled to 2 at the start of the fourth, I had to wonder: were the Knicks too tired to pull it out in the end? The Knicks played well with Jerome Williams in the game. The Junk Yard Dog pulled down 3 offensive boards in his 9 minutes, constantly harassing the Pistons on every loose ball and rebound. Couldn’t the Knicks have used Ariza’s high energy play the same way?

When Moochie Norris entered the game, the Knicks shifted their offensive strategy. Norris dumped the ball into paint to Nazr. Mohammed has a limited post up game, and the Pistons’ big men are good defenders. Wouldn’t it have been better to bring in player with a larger assortment of offensive moves down low, like Sweetney?

I’m not sure what Wilkens was thinking here. Did he not want risk the confidence of the younger guys against the reigning champs? Did he just want to run with the hot hand? Maybe Lenny thought the veterans would fare well? Did Ariza & Sweetney have the flu? Maybe the two youngsters went out on the town after beating the Nets & showed up late for the morning shoot around. For a moment I though they were absent due to another Isiah trade, but they were on the bench. Well rested I’m sure.

The Knicks lost a game they had in their hands. Beating the Pistons at home would have been a big boost to the team, especially because they outplayed them for most of the game. It might have been due to a few mental mistakes down the stretch. What percentage of that is due to physical fatigue I can’t say for sure. What I am certain is that Wilkens should have found some more rest for his starters, so they could have finished what they started.

The Last Emperor – West

The East isn’t the only conference that is signaling a change in the guard. Two afterthoughts in the West are breezing along to the league’s best records. Right now, there may not be a bigger surprise in the NBA than the Seattle SuperSonics. How bad was Seattle suppose to be? Let me quote from some of their team previews for this season:

In the past two years, the Sonics are 77-87, ending a 15-year run of .500 or better. This season Coach Nate McMillan faces a tough, but not impossible, challenge to get Seattle back to its wining ways…The trend is troubling in Seattle, where two straight losing seasons are already in the books. A third could arrive in ’04-05 if the shots don’t fall and the big men don’t improve.

Or this one:

This is a team that needs a new direction. The Sonics’ roster is not equipped to win in the West and the time to completely rebuild has arrived. Allen could be sacrificed to help Seattle get draft picks along with some new blood, and it would not be surprising to hear Lewis’ name pop in trade talk as well. McMillan could be on the hot seat, as the Sonics will miss the playoffs for the third straight season with less wins than a year ago.

Or this one:

The Sonics are in a bit of a rebuilding mode… Look for the Sonics to have yet another long season. If their young player develop well, the Sonics will be a contender in the near future.

For a rebuilding team, the Sonics are doing awfully well. They sit atop the Northwest division with a staggering 17-4 record, ahead of Minnesota who had the league’s best record last year. Seattle’s biggest change might be Nate McMillan and the coaching staff finally getting the team to play some defense. Last year the Sonics allowed 109 points per 100 possessions (pPTS), 3rd worst in the league. This year they are ranked 20th, with 101.9 pPTS. For most teams that would be a mediocre improvement, but consider that Seattle has one of the most potent scoring machines in the league (108.9 pPTS – ranked #2). Their high powered offense only requires an average defense to sustain them (or in this case not one of the league’s worst).

It’s no secret that the Sonics’ offense lives off a barrage of three pointers. Just look at the volume & percentages of their best guys:

NAME………..	3PM/G	3P%
Ray Allen…… 2.6 41%
Rashard Lewis.. 2.1 39%
Vlad Radmanovic 2.0 41%
Antonio Daniels 0.9 33%
Luke Ridnour.. 0.9 41%

What people might not know, is that Seattle has two other major offensive weapons in addition to their sharp-shooters. They sport one of the best offensive rebounding teams in the league (32.6% 2nd), and are the best at creating scoring opportunities at the line (29.5FTM/FGA 1st). Fortson (51.7 eFG, 1.36PSA, 21.96PER), despite limited minutes has helped in both areas. In less than 20 minutes a game, he’s 1st in the league in rebounding rate (23.7), and he’s is second on the team with 5 free throws a game. Whatever rebounds Fortson can’t get to, Reggie Evans (51.9 eFG, 1.06 PSA, 12.01 PER) probably does. In fact Fortson & Evans rank 1-2 in Hollinger’s rebound rate in the league.

Fortson’s ability to get to the line is quite unique. Danny has made 1.10 free throws for every field goal attempted. If this number means nothing to you (and unless you’re lucky enough to write for the Sonics it probably doesn’t), let me put it in context. Consider most teams don’t have anyone over .60 and Michael Sweetney leads the Knicks with a .54 ratio (and Knick fans know how often Sweets gets to the line). So Fortson is getting to the line at a rate of twice the best player on most teams. The ratio is boosted by the fact that Fortson doesn’t shoot many shots, he’s a great offensive rebounder (easy opportunities), and he’s hitting 86% of his free throws. For a guy with a limited offensive skill set, Fortson does quite well for the few minutes he’s out there.

While the Sonics mediocre defense and lack of a post-up player might be their undoing in the playoffs, it’s hard to find anything to dislike about the Phoenix Suns. The Suns have the best record in the league and rightfully so. While it’s obvious that they have the best offense in the league (111.5 pPTS), what may be deceiving is their defense. While they rank an unimpressive 11th in points scored against per game, they’re actually 6th in the more accurate points per possession (98 pPTS).

A lot of people have singlehandedly credited Nash (59.4 eFG, 1.26 PSA, 23.58 PER), who is one of the league’s best passers (3rd in Hollinger’s assist ratio 40.9), for the Suns turnaround. The logic might go something like this:

Suns (last year) =35% win%
Suns + Nash = 86% win%
Nash’s contribution = 51% win%.

Well not exactly. While it doesn’t take a genius to figure out that Nash was a major upgrade from Leandro Barbosa (55.4 eFG%, 1.16 PSA, 14.32 PER), he hasn’t been the only improvement. Just like Cleveland’s improvement has coincided with King James’ ascent into the league’s best, I think the Suns have become a powerhouse with the appointing of Amare the Great (57.3 eFG, 1.24 PSA, 27.74 PER). Stoudemire ranks 4th in offensive PER, only behind Duncan, Garnett, and Nowitzki. His defense is a bit above average at center (14.8 oPER), despite being the smaller player most nights. I’m going to go out on a very long limb & say that Stoudemire, Nash and Marion are the best three man lineup in the NBA right now.

The Suns main weakness is their bench. The Suns 5 starters are averaging 37 minutes a game, because they don’t have good options coming off the bench. If one of their starters hits the IR, the team will loose a good amount of production. Phoenix still has a few chips to cash in. Although they owe a future first to San Antonio (protected), they also own the Bulls first round pick (protected top 3). The way the Bulls are playing it would be a waste to trade that pick for only a bench player or two. Luckily for Arizonians, the Suns also have a pair of European prospects with the teenage Maciej Lampe and the rights to Milos Vujanic, who’s still enjoying his European Vacation. Before the trade deadline is over, Bryan Colangelo might have to make that tough decision to sacrifice some of that youth for a better bench for a championship run, because the Suns are in a good position to win one this year.

With so many teams that could vie for the title, the era of the 2 star dynasty in the NBA may be over. Most of last year’s top teams, the Pistons, Pacers, TWolves and Spurs are on the outside looking in. San Antonio has a great looking record, but the upstart Sonics have already beaten them twice this season. Come June, we could easily see a Finals where neither of the participants have won a championship in more than 20 years.

The Last Emperor – East

Dynasties in China lasted about 4 millennia. From the Xia Dynasty in 2000BC, to the Qing Dynasty which folded in the early 20th century, you’d have to admit they had a pretty good run. Looking at the NBA standings, they might be done with their dynasty rule as well.

In a league where multiple championship teams are the norm, we’re seeing a new face on the NBA. Just look at the standings, and honestly say that you thought Cleveland would be leading the Central, or the Sonics in the Northeast. Before last year, the last time a team won a championship without winning one in the 5 years before or after is the 1983 Sixers. That means in the last 20 years, we’ve seen the same few teams win year after year.

Professional basketball wasn’t always this way. In the 10 years before 1984, the league saw equality with 5 of the 10 champs being non-dynasties. I welcome parity, because it means every year any team can win. Nobody wants to start the year already knowing their team has no chance to compete. The NFL was a dynasty driven league in the 80s & 90s when only 8 different teams won in 20 years. However things have changed for the NFL, in the last 5 Super Bowls, 4 different teams have gone to Disney World. If you weren’t a fan of the Niners, Cowboys, or Packers, I’m sure you much prefer the current situation.

In the East, the biggest surprise might be the first place Cavaliers. Cleveland was suppose to be, at best, third in the tough Central. However the Pistons underestimated the importance of their bench. Detroit won the championship around a team model, and losing Okur, Williamson, and James made them less of a complete team. Meanwhile the Pacers might have forfeited their chances at taking the division with the 3 major suspensions that have crippled their team.

The Cavs’ offseason was suppose to be a disaster when already signed-Carlos Boozer bolted for Utah. However the Cavs have barely missed a beat at PF with the emergence of Plan B signee-Drew Gooden (49.8% eFG, 1.12 PSA, 19.9 PER). In addition, Paul Silas has gotten Jeff McInnis to play at a decent level for the second straight season (51.9 eFG, 1.09 PSA, 14.5 PER) which allows LeBron James to play SF, a position that more naturally suits him than PG. The Cavs no longer have the East’s best center with the trade of Shaq trade to the East, but The Big Z (47.1, 1.11, 19.6) gives the Cavs one of the better centers in the league.

Of course the biggest improvement in Cleveland might just be the King himself. James (52.1, 1.14, 26.4) has improved just like a rookie on his way to superstardom should. If you’re a fan of the Basketball Forecast/Prospectus, James has improved in all three of Hollinger’s independent stats: assist ratio (21.1 from 19.1), turnover ratio (10.8 down from 11.2), and rebound rate (10.8 from 7.6). LeBron has a higher PER despite taking less shots, because his shooting percentage has improved as well. If you’re wondering exactly how far LeBron has come in his second season, James ranks 6th overall in PER this year. That’s higher than Shaq, Marion, Kobe, Pierce, Francis, or Nash. The top 6:

TEAM	NAME............	PER	
SAS Tim Duncan...... 30.51
MIN Kevin Garnett... 30.32
DAL Dirk Nowitzki... 30.05
PHO Amare Stoudemire 29.14
MIA Dwyane Wade..... 26.82
CLE LeBron James.... 26.40

Cleveland isn’t just doing it on offense. The Cavs have the 2nd ranked defense, allowing only 96.3 points per 100 possessions. Looking at 82games.com, their only defensive weakness is PG. Opposing playmakers are averaging a 16PER against Cleveland. The good news for the Cavs is it’s the only position that’s doing better than average. If Cleveland can keep this up, and get a shooting guard before the deadline, they could be serious contenders in an East that is wide open.

Before the season started everyone was guessing that a Florida team would be atop the Southeast. However few would have predicted Orlando as the Florida team leading the division (Ed Note: since writing this the Heat have re-taken the lead, but isn’t this a nicer story?) I already did a little piece on the Magic, where I found three factors in the rebirth of Orlando: Grant Hill’s health, the improved defense, and the fast development of Howard. Hill did miss his first game, apparently because of a shin problem not related to his ankle. However it doesn’t appear to be serious, as he played 34 minutes tonight against the Lakers. As long as Hill stays healthy, the Magic will be competitors in the East.

Orlando isn’t the only surprise team in the Southeast. Washington looks more formidable this year as well. So far the Wiz are getting a boost from their two highest scorers, newly acquired Antawn Jamison (46.6 eFG, 1.03 PSA, 21.18)and currently healthy Gilbert Arenas (50.0, 1.12, 19.6). However their best player maybe unheralded Larry Hughes (42.4, 0.99, 23.54). The Washington shooting guard can score (21.6 PTS/40) and is one of the best rebounding guards in the league (6.8 REB/40). What’s incredible is he’s added a passing game to his offense. Hughes has nearly doubled his assists, whether you judge by per game (2.4 last year to 5.2 this year) or by Hollinger’s assist ratio (10.2 last year to 19.8 this year). To show how good a player he’s been so far, Hughes is 10th in the league in PER, between Marion and Marbury. At $5.5M he’s a steal, and the Wizards would be smart to resign him to a long term deal.

Stay tuned for Part 2, when I cover the West’s first place newbies.

Knicks 104 Washington 106

[Today’s entry comes to us from David Crockett, Ph.D, an Assistant Professor of Marketing at the University of South Carolina, who can be reached at dcrockett17@yahoo.com.]

The problem last night heading down the stretch was not benching Allan Houston, rather it was benching Mike Sweetney.

The box score from last night for both players says all you really need to hear. Sweetney must see more minutes, even at the expense of Kurt Thomas.

K. Thomas.. 34 7-11 0-0 3-8 3 3 14
M. Sweetney 17 6-7 2-2 1-7 1 2 14

In half the minutes Sweetney matched Thomas’s production in virtually every category. Perhaps more importantly than what is reflected in the simple box score is the fact that Sweetney scores the bulk of his points in the painted area (65%) while Thomas, an accomplished mid-range shooter, gets most of his fgs on 15-18 foot jumpshots (89%).

I picked up the game in the 3rd when the Knicks had a sizable lead, 8 points if I recall. When Sweetney was in the game the Wizards had a difficult time matching up with him physically. With Thomas in the game the Wizards appeared to the naked eye to be the much more physical front line. I mention this because of the game’s ending. On the final Knick possession Wilkins designed a nice play to get Mohammad a shot deep in the post. Had that play been designed with Sweetney rather than Thomas rebounding from the weakside I suspect the outcome would have been a putback or a trip to the free throw line for Sweetney. Kurt Thomas could not finish inside over Jared Jeffries once he got the rebound. Five years ago, maybe even three years ago, Thomas puts the tip back or gets to the line easily. He isn’t that player anymore.

I should mention that once again Marbury had what appeared to be a poor floor game. The two turnovers he is charged with mask how poorly he ran the team down the stretch. He simply does not operate well against zone defenses. He was able to penetrate late, getting a basket and a disputed non-goaltending call. However, of the team’s last 10 offensive possessions certainly 6 or 7 of them were quite poor. That isn’t solely the point guard’s responsibility but it’s mostly his responsibility.

Dave, it’s great to hear someone else say that Sweetney should be getting more minutes. I took some slack when I suggested that the numbers show that Kurt has lost a step defensively. However since seeing that data, my eyes have shown it to be true.

One criticism of the data was that Kurt faced the best PFs in the league against Garnett, Nowitzki, Duncan and Brand which inflated his numbers. Since then he’s been torched by ‘Toine (36pts), Okafor (20), Nailon (17) and Jamison who had 8 offensive boards in addition to his 25 points. Mind you they are good offensive players, but shouldn’t Kurt be holding this second tier of NBA PFs under their per game average?

The second argument was that Thomas was inundated with penetrators that made his stats look worse. That next game against Atlanta, I recorded the number of times that Walker could shimmy his way back up the court due to being the recipient of a distracted Thomas, and I can say that not more than 6 of his 36 points were scored that way. Game after game power forwards come out against New York with better scoring numbers than they came in. According to 82games.com Thomas is the Knicks’ PF 2/3 of the time, and opposing PFs have a PER of 19 against New York, 3 more than the next position. If Kurt isn’t a good defensive player, then it’s hard to see why he’s getting double the minutes of an offensively superior player.

As for Marbury, I don’t think he’s the only one to blame for the Knicks inability to beat the zone. For years the NBA has turned into a 2 or 3 man offense with the rest of the team standing around watching. To beat the zone you want the exact opposite, lots of motion and penetration with the proper spacing. Marbury can help with a few forays to the hoop, but the zone can morph itself to take away this kind of attack. So in my eyes, it’s the coaching & the 4 other guys on the court that are at fault. Maybe NBA players have gotten used to taking a few plays off on offense when their number isn’t called. Maybe the Knicks haven’t practiced enough against the zone. David, here’s where you might be right about Sweetney’s inside presence. Maybe his ability to draw a double team in the post can help open things up on the perimeter. I’m really not sure exactly which of these will best help the Knicks against the zone, but right something has to change, because things can’t be any worse.

Yin & Yang

No team better represents the Yin & the Yang in the NBA than the Memphis Grizzlies. Their logo is a bear, shaded dark on one side and light on the other. The team has gone from one extreme to the other. From Vancouver to Memphis. Canada to America. Caesar to Czar. Last year’s surprise to this year’s dissapointment. A balanced team as opposed to being driven by one or two stars.

In their first match-up the Knicks soundly beat Memphis. New York’s best scorer, Stephon Marbury had 26 points on highly efficient scoring (75% eFG). Michael Sweetney was the Knicks second best player that night, nailing 5-10 and pulling down 5 offensive boards. The win was their third in a row, and put them 2 games over .500. Yin.

Away from the friendly confines between 7th & 8th avenues, the Knicks started off the game down 10-0. Marbury, the Knicks leading scorer on the season, had only 9 points. His 21% eFG underscored an all around bad shooting night (38%) for the orange & blue. Sweetney missed all 5 of his attempts. Definately Yang.

The Knicks did crawl back to 47-49 by halftime, and took the lead in the third (Yin). It was New York’s reserves that mounted the comeback, (Yin) but they couldn’t sustain their play (Yang). Just as quickly the Knicks were down by 13 at the start of the 4th quarter (Yang).

This time the Knicks are on a 3 game losing streak, and have to hope for a win against a struggling Hornets. New Orleans is off to a great start in trying to earn as many ping pong balls as they can in the next NBA lottery. They just traded old-but-serviceable PG Armstrong to the Mavs for young-and-uhhh-well-traveled Dan Dickau. If the Hornets are serious about getting Nemanja Aleksandrov, they’ll give Dickau the starter’s role right away. The ex-Bulldog is on his 4th team in only 2 years, and hopes one day to follow the path that the multi-uniformed Rick Brunson has set forth.

One final note, I’m putting together a collection for the family of Latrell Sprewell. The fiery ex-Knick, who has seen more extremes of Yin & Yang than most, earned a one game suspension for using profanities against a female heckler. Latrell asked for more money in the offseason to help feed his family. By my calculations that means he’s out $176,371.95, and I hate to see anyone go hungry.