Veeck, Blog Maverick, and Ideas To Improve the NBA

In case you didn’t know Mark Cuban runs a weblog just like this one. Well maybe it’s not like this one, because when I sell ice cream I don’t get thousands of fans showing up to meet me. (Also when I insult the common workers of Diary Queen, there aren’t teams of reports waiting to print what I say in the papers.)

I like Mark, because he reminds me of a modern day Bill Veeck. He criticizes the establishment of the NBA on a constant basis. Owners like Veeck and Cuban are great for sports, because in general people are afraid of change. Especially when those people are owners with billions of dollars at stake. The NBA has been forced to make changes, because despite having the most popular American athlete since Babe Ruth, they are behind MLB and the NFL in terms of popularity. Granted on any Saturday I can find a game of pickup basketball to play, unlike football or baseball. However the NBA is still America’s third leading sport (neither fake wrestling nor car racing are sports in my book).

I admire Mr. Cuban’s ability to try and change the NBA for the better, but I don’t agree with all of his ideas. Similarly, when I read Bill Veeck’s book, I disagreed with some of his ideas as well. Mr. Veeck said flat out that unless the minor league system would radically change, non-major league salaries would spiral out of control, bankrupting the league. While the money given to draft picks and draft-exempt foreigners has gotten larger and larger, MLB is financially better than it’s ever been, by expanding to more and more franchises. On the other hand Bill Veeck had many good ideas that were “before their time.” Regarding racial equality, he wanted to purchase a franchise and fill the whole team with Negro league players. Mr. Veeck’s Cleveland Indians were the first AL team to have a black player (Larry Doby). He advocated interleague play almost 50 years before MLB would schedule it. Veeck he had a willingness to improve the game.

Mark Cuban seems to be the same way. Take for example this entry called “Is this cheating…” He has some great ideas to improve the game:

While I?m on the topic, here are a couple things that again apply to all levels that I just can?t figure out.

1. Why isn?t the 24 sec clock or a clock on the court used to count down the 5 secs for an inbounds play? Talk about drama as the fans, players etc see the clock. There would be more violations as well with good defense rewarded.
2. Why is it that officials will confer and can and will take as long as they need to correct the 24 sec clock, yet won?t for just about any other play or issue that arises?
3. Why is it that everyone says that Shaq is so hard to officiate? Just because he is big and when guys hammer him they don?t impact his shot, doesn?t make it not a foul. On the flipside, if he lowers his shoulder or powers through someone, its a foul. The big guy should probably go to the foul line and foul out three times as often as he does.

I agree 100% with each of these. There is no logical reason that the 24 second clock shouldn’t be used for 5 second violations. While watching an inbound play the no one else (fans or players) knows how much time is in the ref’s head. It’s worse than the penalty time in soccer. Wouldn’t the ref be better able to watch what’s going on without counting at the same time?

It shouldn’t be that hard to implement a change like this. The ref hands the ball to the inbounding player, blows his whistle, and the 24 second clock changes to 5 seconds and starts to count down. The clock buzzes when the 5 seconds are up. If the ball is inbounded before the 5 seconds are up, the time keeper hits a button & the clock changes from that 5 second timer to whatever was left on the 24. Mark’s two other ideas are just as logical.

Just as I agree with some of them, I disagree with others. For example in another of his entries he states “why in the world do we allow secondary defenders to take charges?” I don’t have any numbers handy, but I would imagine this “secondary defender” charge makes up a large percentage of charges called. Mark tries not to make it sound like this is coming from a Mavs fan perspective by saying his team has “several guys who are good at it: nash, najera among others.” If anyone thinks that Dallas is one of the best teams in the league at taking charges, raise your hand. I can’t help to think Mark has some added incentive to get this type of rule passed because his team would benefit since they are one of the top offensive teams in the league. I wonder if he owned that other Texas team (the one with the #1 defense in the league), would offensive charges still be an issue?

The Mavs owner states among his many reasons: that the dunk is more fun to watch than a charge, the numbers of players flopping would reduce, and there would be an increase in blocked shots. The dunk is more fun to watch, but if people wanted to see dunking, then wouldn’t the slam dunk contests still hold the same interest it did years ago? As for flopping, as soon as Vlade Divac retires, flopping in the league should reduce by about 80%. I don’t see how blocked shots will increase by getting rid of charging. You usually see a player trying to take a charge when he is smaller than the aggressor. Get rid of these types of charges, and you’ll just see more fouls committed by the small guys. Dean Oliver agreed & said:

“I personally thought that this idea was one of the worst I have ever seen. Taking away the ability of help defenders to draw charges would completely kill the concept of help defense. If I’m an offensive guy, as soon as I get by my man, I look for a defender to bang into just so I can draw a foul. Hell, I charge into him madly and throw up a shot because, by rule, that cannot be a foul on me. The game actually gets more dangerous if it isn’t just ludicrous.”

The only charge I would like to see banished is the charge called when a player is passing the ball (not shooting). Sometimes this occurs on fast breaks, when the opposing defender is usually a smaller guard whose only hope is to take a charge. Other times this is called when a player hasn’t even left his feet. Nate Duncan couldn’t have put it any better in his APBR_analysis post:

Another possibility is to give an offensive player immunity from a charge after he’s released the ball for either a shot or a pass. One of the most maddening things i see in basketball is a player coming down the lane on a 3 on 1, dishing to a guy running in on the wing for a dunk, and having the passer called for the charge after he’s already passed the ball.

Maverick fans should be happy that they have an owner that is so accessible. Mark doesn’t have all the ideas to help the league (no one in the world does), but I’m happy that the league has an owner that is willing to improve and adapt the game, instead of just sitting on his big pile of money watching the world go by.

SuperSubs (aka Knicks 101 Hornets 97)

The Supersubs were at it again. Tonight’s was even more impressive win than yesterday’s for a myriad of reasons. First tonight’s game was on the road. Instead of trouncing the weak Wizards, they beat the playoff-bound Hornets. Finally, instead of facing the other team’s reserves, the Hornets had their starters out there down the stretch.

This time Moochie Norris outplayed Frank Williams. Williams had only 4 points, but had 5 assists and 0 turnovers. Meanwhile Norris enjoyed a 21 point night, on 9-18 shooting (56% eFG). The two teamed up for a crucial play near the end of the game. Williams had the ball beyond the arc, and kept his dribble looking for an open man. Norris used a pick along the baseline, and Williams hit him with a perfect pass under the hoop. Moochie just had to lay it up for an easy two.

It was Michael Sweetney’s night again. He shot 7-9, and had 9 boards (4 on the offensive end) in 28 minutes. So if you’re keeping track at home (like apparently I am) he’s shot 59% in the 9 games that he’s played 20 minutes or more. His rebounding per 48 minutes is an excellent 15.3 REB/48, with 6.8 of those coming on the offensive half.

Earlier in the year in my report on him at Raptorblog.com I wrote:

Sweetney is undersized vertically, but a bit wide in the midsection with a long wing span. He’s a bit timid, and gets lost on the defensive end. He’s every bit the wide-eyed rookie, but with Wilkens slowly giving him minutes he’s looking more and more comfortable on the court. Due to his lack of minutes, there isn’t much to say about him other than he can rebound, and he makes a great looking inside shot every few weeks or so.

Well he’s no longer the “wide-eyed rookie” nor “timid” anymore. It seems he’s got the defensive rotations down pat, as I don’t see him making those mistakes anymore. He may be undersized, but his arm span makes up for it. A few times over the last few games I’ve seen him out-rebound guys taller than him. It wasn’t by jumping ability, but his long reach that enabled him to get the ball.

His positioning and awareness also helps in this area. A perfect example of this was against the Wizards. Washington put up an outside shot, and Mutombo was standing right next to Sweetney on the left side of the hoop. Sweetney knew that no one was on the other side of the hoop, so he pushed Deke over with his arm to cover that side of the hoop, while Sweetney was still boxing out his own man. Deke got the rebound, due to the rookie’s effort.

The Knicks have one game left against Cleveland, and I would imagine we’ll see a lot more of the SuperSubs in that one as well.

2004 ? “SuperSubs” is copyrighted by KnickerBlogger.

Knicks 102 Wizards 98

It was one of those games as a fan, you love to watch. There was a little bit of everything for everyone. The Knicks are still fighting for a better playoff spot, so it was a meaningful game. Even though they clinched a playoff spot, a few wins might move them up to a higher seed. However since the playoffs are so close, the Knicks also want to give a rest to their starters. They don’t want their best players tired in their first round matchup. So the Knicks were trying to win an important game with playoff indications on the strength of their (mostly) young players. If that isn’t enough to get the fans’ blood pumping, the game was close throughout, and went into overtime.

With all the Knick’s youth on the floor, it was like a glimpse into the future. The only regulars were Tim Thomas (because of a lack of SF depth due to Penny’s stomach virus) and the prehistoric center Dikembe Mumtombo. For most of the crunch time, it was DerMarr Johnson, Frank Williams, and Michael Sweetney on the floor. Frank Williams, one of my favorite underused Knicks, didn’t play exceptionally well. He did hit a “clutch” layup, but only shot 2-3 with 3 TOs and 4 ASTs in 32 minutes. Of course he played better than Morris, who shot a horrible 1-8 and had only 1 assist with his 1 turnover.

One of DerMarr Johnson’s weaknesses over his career has been his average shooting. His career FG% is just 38%, and more importantly his career eFG is an unspectacular 45%. Yesterday he shot 54% with an eFG% of 62%! I couldn’t pinpoint anything different, except going to the hoop more often, including a two handed jam. His shots just seem to be going down.

DerMarr is an interesting player. He has Reggie Miller’s frame, but other than that has little resemblance to one of the most efficient scorers over the last decade. He’s an average scorer, at best, and lacks Miller’s incredible shooting eye. Like most players that come out of Cincy, the former Bearcat is an athletic defender. The 2002 Basketball Prospectus called him “one of the best defensive prospects in basketball.” From what I’ve seen the 23 year old is still a prospect. He was no match for Ron Artest at SF in Indy the other day. His skinny 6-9 body with long arms is more suitable for defending against SGs.

MSG’s player of the game was the Knicks’ first round pick Michael Sweetney, and rightfully so. Sweetney was, as Clyde Frazier likes to say, omnipresent under the boards. He picked up 5 offensive rebounds, and 7 on the defensive end. Combined with Mutombo, they did an excellent job countering the Wizards advantage on the glass. As for his offensive game, Sweetney shot 6-9 and I noticed he plays a little bit better when given ample playing time. In the 8 games he’s been given 20 minutes or more, he has shot 22-40 or 55%. Last night, he showed a nice array of post up moves. At one point he turned a near blocked shot into a left handed layup by adjusting mid flight. I’ve seen him make this type of adjustment at least twice on the season, and they are impressive to watch.

These last few games should be interesting to watch. The Knicks’ might be playing these guys more often. Sadly, it could the last time you see any of them in a Knicks’ uniform. Isaiah Thomas has a trigger finger when it comes to trades. Any or all of them could be gone if he feels he can net a better player in the process. In a way it’s a shame, since I’ve grown to like all three, and can see potential in all of them. There is something special in sports when you watch a young player develop into a good or great player. However sports is a business, and I would trade any of these guys if it meant getting a top notch player.

Knicks 96 Chicago 82

The Knicks clinched a playoff spot yesterday with a win against the hapless Bulls (and a Cleveland loss to Memphis). It’s great to be in the playoffs again, after a two year absence. Unlike the last few Knick playoff teams I don’t have expectations for the Knicks to get past the first round. Why? Well look at the last 20 or so games the Knicks have played. I’ll split their opponents into two groups, the games they won & the games they lost.

Won:	OppWin%
Chi .282
Phi .423
Por .519
Tor .397
Atl .321
NJ .584
Wash .308
Mil .519
Was .308
Tor .397
Phi .423
AVG1 .407
AVG2 .390

Out of those 11 wins, only 3 were against winning teams. One of those wins (New Jersey) was without their opposition’s two best players (Kidd & Martin). Of the 2 other teams, neither would be considered great, as they are only slightly above average (.519). The first average (AVG1) is the average winning percentage of all the teams they’ve beaten. AVG2 is the average of those teams, minus the victory against the hobbled Nets.

Now for the games the Knicks lost:

Lost:	Win%
Ind .734
NJ .584
Det .654
Chi .282
Phi .423
Bos .449
Den .519
Lac .346
Pho .338
Sac .701
Cle .410
Uta .526
AVG1 .497
AVG2 .556

Of their 12 losses, 6 were from winning teams. The average of all these teams is just below .500, but take away the losses from the embarrassing teams (Bulls, Clippers, and Suns), and the average raises to .556. In their last 23 games, while fighting for a playoff spot, they have played 9 teams with a winning record. They’ve only won 3 of those. None of those were against a team with a record better than .520, except the Nets game. They are 8-6 against sub-.500 teams. It’s obvious looking at these numbers that the Knicks have been feasting on the weaker teams, and not putting up a good enough fight against the top dogs. In the playoffs they won’t have the Wizards, Hawks or Bulls to push around.

You may think I’m a pessimist spending a whole column on the Knicks’ slim hopes to make it to the second round. However, without expecting them to win, I can enjoy watching the games. I’m already prepared for the worst, but if they happen to pull off the upset I’ll be that much more elated.

Indiana 107 New York 86

First Half Notes:

Two shocking moments for Knick fans in the first half. First is Lenny Wilkens getting visibly angry. The usually reserved Wilkens “lost it” when Tim Thomas got called on a dubious offensive foul against Ron Artest. No technical called on the Knicks coach. Maybe the refs were too shocked to call a T.

Second, a Dekembe Mutombo sighting! When Deke came in the second quarter, my jaw almost hit the floor. It was good timing, since the Knicks had been getting killed by Pacer defensive rebounds.

After Thomas’ foul (see above) DerMarr Johnson subbed in. Johnson made a nice play on a missed Indiana shot that won’t show up in the box scores. With the Pacers in good position for (another) offensive rebound, Johnson came from under the hoop. DerMarr, using his height & leaping ability, tipped the ball out to a Knick to save the rebound. He won’t get any credit for the play, but he should have.

Shandon Anderson got stripped by Jamal Tinsley twice in the first half. I could swear that he just dribbled the ball towards the Pacer’s PG and practically handed Tinsley the ball.

Penny Hardaway ruined an easy 4 on 2 fast break. Even I know when you’re going down the court, and you have the option, you give it to your big man (Nazr). Mohammed was open on the wing, but instead Penny passed it to the trailer behind him. The Pacers easily stole the ball & had a break of their own.

Nazr Mohammed started off 4-4. It should have been 5-5. Mohammed had head faked his defender & had a clear path to the hoop. Nazr (6’10), instead of going strong to the basket, tried to lay it in from a late helping Ron Artest (6’7). Artest got called on the foul, but Mohammed missed the shot. Had the Knicks’ center taken it strong, he most likely would have gotten an opportunity at a three point play.

Michael Sweetney played excellent in the first half. He stopped the bleeding that was the Knick’s defensive rebounding, by pulling a few down. Of course as soon as he got started, he was back on the bench again. At least it wasn’t in favor of Othella Harrington (0 first half minutes).

Second Half:

One of the announcers was talking about Nazr Mohammed’s development. He said that Mohammed is growing every day, because this was his first year starting. A moment later, he tried to qualify his statment by saying that he had started in the past, but that it was only spot starts, and this was Nazr’s first real year as starter. If starting 73 of 82 games in 2001 doesn’t count as being a starter, then I don’t know what does.

Mohammed blocked 4 shots tonight. The last time he did that, was January of 2003, against Portland.

It’s shocking to see Andy Pettitte in another uniform. The Astros/Giants game on ESPN2 was infinitately more enjoyable than another one of those New York Met commercials. I almost expect them to be fully endorsed by George Bush.

Vin Baker has just lost it. He’s fouled Jermaine O’Neal 4 times in a row, and if that wasn’t showing his frustration enough, he’s earned a technical foul for arguing as well.

The Knick announcers, with a 19 point lead and 9 mintues left, were discussing since the Knicks have a home game tomorrow, Lenny Wilkens will have to decide when to give up on tonight’s game, and save the player’s energy for tomorrow. Well if Lenny had the “game state matrix”, he would know that the Knick’s chance of winning on the road at that time, was less than 2%.

Heading Into Conseco

Just to be lazy and combine the last two columns into a new one, here are the rankings & odds for the Knick’s game tonight:

Ind
#8 Offense
#3 Defense
#2 Overall

Knicks
#22 Offense
#15 Defense
#19 Overall

The Pacers currently hold the best record in the league, and they’re doing it primarily with defense. Their defense ranks #3, tied with the Nets, and right behind the Spurs and Pistons. Despite being one of the slowest teams in the league (they only average 86 possessions a game, only Portland and Utah are slower), they are among one of the top teams in turnovers per game. Meaning their turnovers per game are better than they appear. That’s not their only defensive strength. They also are among one of the best teams in opponent eFG% (sometimes called aFG%), including the third best team in defending the three (32%).

Unlike Detroit, who only has an average offense to go with their excellent defense, the Pacers rank 8th in offense. They are getting very efficient production from Reggie Miller (55.1% eFG%), and Jamal Tinsley (52% eFG%), who would be among the league’s top 15 if they qualified. Meanwhile they are getting almost 40 PPG from their defensive minded players Artest & O’Neal.

The Knicks odds of winning tonight’s game on the road is a low 28.4%. However, the last time they played, the Knicks won at home 97-90. It was supposedly a win for Isaiah, who is apparently bitter over his removal from his old team. Five Knicks scored double digits that night, including Marbury, Van Horn, Thomas, Hardaway, and Doleac. Tonight they won’t have Van Horn & Doleac, but instead Thomas and Mohammed. The Pacers have clinched the top spot in the East, but they’re not going to give the Knicks a freebee. Brown (& Bird) aren’t going to give their team a vacation before the playoffs, so dropping a home game to a 7th or 8th seed isn’t in their plans. To add to the drama, some of the Pacers still hold grudges from the last game & accused the Knicks of celebrating like they won a championship.