2004 Bloggers Bracket

Welcome to the KnickerBlogger 2004 Bloggers Bracket. First prize is Blog bragging rights for the year, and I’ve assembled a cast of the best bloggers around the country to participate. The rules are simple, you get a point for every correct team that you pick. In the unlikely event of a tie, tiebreakers will be taken by closest to the final score of the final game. All entries were sent to me before the first game was played on Saturday. First let’s meet the contestants:

Jon Hollinger – Jon’s blog says it all: “The Basketball Page for Thinking Fans.” Mr. Hollinger offers intelligent analysis with his “From the Baseline” blog at alleyoop.com. These days he’s moved on to real publishing, authoring the all encompasing Basketball Prospectus. The third edition covering the 2005 season is scheduled to be released in October, and I already have mine on order.

Kevin Pelton – Kevin fits the mold of Moneyball: logical, young, open-minded, and intelligent. He’ll use statistics to get a better understanding of any player or team. Whether it’s trying to understand how good Okafor might become, or if Gilbert Arenas is worth $7M. You’ll never know what topic he’s going to jump into at his Page23 blog.

Ron HitleyHornets247 has one of the most prolific blog writers. Ron’s articles are long, but he keeps the pace up with lots of quick tidbits. Check him out for the playoffs, since he’s likely to have something written something about every team.

Michael Avalone – The first page I’m going to in the morning is Michael Avalone’s Knicks Clicks. He’s got all the latest news about the Knicks, and I mean ALL the news. Like a young Dekembe Mutombo, nothing gets past him.

Scott Carefoot – I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, Scott is the best blogger out there. Scott isn’t ultra popular up north because of his cute little image before every post. Just read this post, which is maybe the best blog post I’ve ever read.

Tim KrausTim is my new best friend, thanks to my lucky picks in the NCAA pool. Always watching from the End of the Bench, Tim has the whole NBA covered, including those who cover the NBA.

Matt Bernhardt – The lowly Bulls don’t deserve such a good blogger. Although their lowly stature has supplied Matt with enough things to critique, Matt doesn’t stick to the Windy city, and comments on things outside of the game, including the plight of the college athlete, Mark Cuban’s weblog, etc.

Now on to the Picks:

BLOG:	Jon	Kevin	Ron	Michael	Scott	Tim	Matt	Me
EAST FIRST ROUND
E1v8 IND IND IND IND IND IND IND IND
E2v7 NJ NY NJ NJ NJ NJ NJ NJ
E3v6 DET DET DET DET DET DET DET DET
E4v5 MIA MIA NO MIA MIA NO NO MIA
WEST FIRST ROUND
W1v8 MIN MIN MIN MIN MIN MIN MIN MIN
W2v7 LAL LAL LAL LAL LAL LAL LAL LAL
W3v6 SAS SAS SAS SAS MEM MEM SAS SAS
W4v5 DAL DAL SAC DAL DAL SAC SAC SAC
SECOND ROUND
E2-1 IND IND IND IND IND IND IND IND
E2-2 DET DET DET DET DET DET DET DET
W2-1 MIN MIN MIN MIN MIN MIN SAC MIN
W2-2 SAS LAL LAL LAL LAL LAL SAS SAS
FINALS
EAST DET DET IND IND DET DET DET IND
WEST SAS LAL LAL LAL LAL LAL SAS MIN
CHAMP SAS LAL LAL LAL LAL LAL SAS IND
Score 82-78 89-80 87-81 110-95 93-86 90-75 90-82 91-84

In the East it looks like Indy, the Nets, and the Pistons are locks for the second round. Only Kevin has an upset here, by taking the Knicks. This is surpising, since both Knick bloggers have the Nets winning (us wimps!). Miami is a slight favorite over the Hornets. You have to give it to Ron, who is a much better fan of his home team than I am.

In the West, there is little room for upset where Minnesota and the Lakers are concerned. Scott and Tim both have the Grizzlies taking the Spurs out.

Everyone has the Pacers and Pistons fighting for the East. While the West, according to my fine panel, has Minnesota meeting either the Lakers or Spurs. The one dessenter being the Bulls Blog who choose the Kings to knock off the T-Wolves.

When it comes to the overall champion, I am the only one to choose an East team, taking the Pacers to win it all. Also I’m the only one that thinks Minnesota will make it that far. 5 of the 8 contestants think the Lakers are going all the way, with 2 picking the Spurs.

I’m not that surprised that no one wants to pick the East to win, but I thought the T-Wolves would get a little more respect. It seems that the majority of people think the winner of the Lakers/Spurs series in round 2 will decide the championship. I think the T-Wolves have a little advantage against the winner, since the team they will face in the second round will have a weak defense (SAC/DAL), and this series is less likely to be physical or go the full 7 games than the LAL/SAS series.

Good Luck Contestants!

2003-2004 Team Rankings

2003-2004 End of season Offensive ranking:

RNK	TEAM	Poss/G	eFG%	pPTS
1 DAL 92.8 .495 113.3
2 SAC 92.4 .507 111.2
3 LAL 90.5 .481 108.5
4 SEA 89.7 .501 108.3
5 MIL 90.7 .477 108.1
6 MIN 88.3 .486 107.0
7 MEM 90.4 .479 107.0
8 IND 86.3 .471 105.8
9 DEN 92.0 .467 105.7
10 GSW 88.4 .475 105.5
11 SAS 86.9 .473 105.3
12 POR 86.2 .478 105.3
13 LAC 90.7 .453 104.5
14 BOS 91.2 .486 104.4
15 UTA 85.1 .456 104.2
16 DET 86.6 .461 104.0
17 ORL 90.5 .461 104.0
18 NOR 88.4 .460 103.8
19 MIA 87.0 .463 103.7
20 PHO 91.5 .475 102.9
21 CLE 90.4 .451 102.8
22 ATL 90.5 .465 102.5
23 NJN 88.1 .471 102.4
24 NYK 89.8 .474 102.4
25 HOU 87.7 .484 102.4
26 PHI 87.0 .456 101.2
27 WAS 90.8 .454 101.1
28 TOR 86.6 .454 98.6
29 CHI 91.3 .446 98.3

[pPTS is points scored per 100 possessions. This accounts for the team’s pace & is a better measure than points/game. For example, Indiana only scores 91.4 PPG, good enough for 20th in the league. However since their offense & defense slows down the game, it gives both teams a less chances to score. However accounting for pace, their offense is ranked 8th. eFG% is FG% with a bonus for 3 pointers (since they net more points). This is a better measure than FG%. For example if a player shoots 4-9 from inside the arc, that’s only about league average, and he gets 8 points. However if all of those are from three, it’s considered excellent shooting, and he gets 12 points.]

Dallas has taken the top spot, due to the plummeting Kings. Nearly two months ago (2/24), I ran this kind of comparison before, and the Kings had 114pPTs. Since then they’ve dropped almost 3pPts. The question is were they playing over their heads early on in the year, or are they suffering from trying to work Chris Webber back into the mix?

Also at that time, Orlando was still in the top half offensively (11th), but since McGrady’s injury, they’ve dropped to 17th. With their record being so horrbily bad, I would imagine it was their defense that was pitiful. Maybe if they could pick up a defensive force in the draft, they can have a quick turnaround for next year. That is if T-Mac is still around.

2003-2004 End of season Defensive ranking:

RNK	TEAM	Poss/G	oeFG%	opPTS
1 SAS 86.9 .433 97.0
2 DET 86.6 .441 97.3
3 IND 86.3 .459 99.2
4 NJN 88.1 .460 99.6
5 HOU 87.7 .447 100.4
6 MIN 88.3 .444 100.8
7 TOR 86.6 .449 102.1
8 MIA 87.0 .463 103.1
9 NOR 88.4 .476 104.0
10 NYK 89.8 .461 104.0
11 PHI 87.0 .467 104.0
12 LAL 90.5 .471 104.2
13 MEM 90.4 .465 104.3
14 DEN 92.0 .481 104.5
15 CHI 91.3 .469 105.2
16 UTA 85.1 .468 105.6
17 CLE 90.4 .469 105.7
18 SAC 92.4 .483 105.8
19 BOS 91.2 .479 106.0
20 GSW 88.4 .476 106.3
21 POR 86.2 .482 106.8
22 MIL 90.7 .485 107.0
23 PHO 91.5 .482 107.0
24 WAS 90.8 .486 107.3
25 ATL 90.5 .476 107.6
26 DAL 92.8 .498 108.6
27 SEA 89.7 .487 109.0
28 LAC 90.7 .494 109.6
29 ORL 90.5 .502 111.7

Well there is Orlando, dead last in defense, just as I predicted above. The Spurs take home the crown for best defensive team, with the Pistons barely behind. The West has the top 5 offensive teams, but the East has 3 of the top 4 defensive teams. Even though they are second & third in defense, I have picked the Pacers to win the East because their offense is 8th, as opposed to the Pistons who sit at 16th.

Knicks Related
There is one thing I can’t explain, and that is the Knicks’ ranking in the top 10 in defense. The Knicks’ defense has looked pitiful at times, but according to these numbers, it’s their offense that is the weaker of the two. To make matters more confounding, their opponents eFG% is a lowly .461, good enough for 8th in the league.
Breaking it down to their players, of their starters 2 are known as weak defenders (Nazr & T.Thomas). Only Kurt Thomas is regarded as a good defender. Thomas is a good man to man defender, but not necessarily a good weak side helper. Anderson is probably a better defender than Houston, but he’s not good enough to propel the Knicks single-handedly to the top 10. Mutombo is a good (weak side) defender but has seen little playing time this second half.

The Knicks don’t create many turnovers (23rd in the league), and are about league average in blocked shots (16th). They are one of the worst teams in sending their opponents to the line (behind only Utah & the Bulls). Really the only indication of them having a good defense is the low eFG%. Maybe the Knicks individual players’ defensive reputation is lower than their actual performance? One explanation of this could be their lacking players who perform well in traditional defensive measurements (STL, BLK, etc.). In any case I’m pleasantly surprised with this revelation.

Seeds

Here I am sitting with my NBA bracket. All empty & waiting to be filled out. I’m more curious about the thought process that goes into such an endeavor. What would make someone choose one team over another? If logic is in play, shouldn’t I always pick the higher seed, since they have home field advantage and are usually the team with the better record? Or do I use my gut feeling? What information am I using to base my picks on? Do I go with the hot/cold teams (SAS, MIN, IND, DET, and MIA are hot; NJ, MEM, HOU, and SAC are cold)? Do I take the teams with more playoff experience (LAL, SAS, NJ, & DET) over the ones that aren’t playoff tested (NY, DEN, MIA, & MEM)? Where can I find solace in my decisions?

A good place to start is to look at recent history. I don’t have a team of experts at my call (this is a one man blog, not ESPN). So I’ll quickly use the last two years as a starting point, to find out what kind of team is most likely to pull off an upset. Here are all the underdog winners over the last two years:

Year	Rnd	TEAM	Seed	OPP	Seed
2002	2	BOS	3	DET	2
2002	2	LAL	3	SAS	2
2002	3	LAL	3	SAC	1
2003	3	NJ	2	DET	1
2003	2	DAL	3	SAC	2
2003	1	LAL	5	MIN	4

Out of the 16 first round games, there has only been one upset. The 5th seed Lakers played without Shaq for 15 games, and only missed the 4th seed by one game. However with their center (and franchise player) healthy, they took the Wolves in 6. They were as easily dismissed by the Spurs in the second round 4 games to 2. Of the latter rounds, it seems that the #3 seed has the best chance of survival. Subtracting the well documentated Lakers 2002 championship, 2 of the remaining #3 teams have won their second round game. Both teams were offensive orientated teams that just got hot at the right times. Boston behind the shooting of Walker & Pierce, and Dallas with their myriad of scorers. Twice the #1 seeds have been upset one series before the finals.

So with my extremely small sample size, what kind of data am I armed with? First round upsets are rare, but the further you go in the playoffs, the more perilous it gets. This should be obvious because the disparity between the teams gets smaller (instead of a #1 playing a #8, it’s a #1 playing a #4 or #2). In my small sample size, no team lower than a #5 seed is likely to pull of an upset. In history there have been lower seeded teams to move on past the first round (Knicks & Nuggets). However the odds seem too slim when given even odds (as a picking out a bracket is).

Leaving open the option that a #6 could slip by, I’ll take a quick gander at those two matchups. #6 Memphis isn’t likely to upset the Spurs. San Antonio still has the best defensive team in the league, and I think that makes it a little tough for an underdog to unseat them at home. Similarly with other #6 team, the Bucks. They are facing the #2 defensive team in the league, and I don’t see the Pistons losing with home court advantage.

The 5th seeds have a little better chance at unseating their opponents. According to me, a few days ago Miami only had a 17% chance of taking the 4th seed. Their opponent the Hornets were in the 6th seed. Thanks to the Bucks who mailed it in the last few games (why does that sound familiar?) those two get to play each other. Miami seems to have every edge, home court advantage, hot team going into the playoffs, and the better record. The Hornets only have their playoff experience, but I don’t think that’ll be enough to unseat the Heat.

Dallas-Sacramento is the matchup that could go either way. Both teams are great on offense. However the Kings have an average defense, while Dallas ranks among the bottom 5 teams. It’s not without the realm of possibility for the Mavs to take this series, especially if their offense explodes. However I can’t get over their defense being that bad, especially while facing the league’s best offense.

So in the first round, I’ll be a wimp and take all the favorites:
East: IND, NJ, DET, MIA
West: MIN, LAL, SAS, SAC

To keep my street cred, I’ll have to go out on a ledge in round two. So here we go. I’ll predict both 3rd seed to win their series. Detroit and the Spurs are ranked #1 & #2 in defense, and both teams finished with better records than their 2nd seeded counterpart. Not many people are taking the Nets over the Pistons, but enough people are not only picking the Lakers to win in the second round, but to go all the way. I can’t find a good reason to pick either of these teams to knock off the top teams, so I have an Indiana-Minnesota finals.

Second & Third Round:
East: IND def MIA, then DET
West: MIN def SAC, then SAS

For the finals, I’ll take Indy over Minnesota. Despite my hatred for the Pacers due to their rivalry with the Knicks, the East needs a to win a championship to gain any type of respect from the media. While the talent disparity is still there, an East team winning it all will let free agents feel they can win a championship in the East. Recently I’ve felt that players are going to or staying out West because they think it’s their best chance at winning a championship. Logic dictates that while it may be easier to reach the finals in the weaker East, the West is pumping out the rings faster than Sauron. In any scenario, I will be rooting for whoever represents the East in the Finals

Finals:
IND over MIN score of the final game: 91-84

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.

Pistons 100 Knicks 85

Thank goodness I decided to watch the NCAA games yesterday instead of the Knicks game. This way I saw one of the most exciting games of the year, instead of another disappointing loss. There is one aspect where a blow out loss doesn’t get reflected, the box score. With the Pistons up by 23 to start the 4th quarter, “garbage time” began. The Knicks (bench) would finally outscore the Pistons (bench) 18 to 10, to make the game more respectable. And they still ended up losing by 15.

How bad was last night’s game? First Darko Milicic played 9 minutes. The teenage first round pick who’s played in all of 28 games this season. Second, is that he’s not even listed (at this writing) in ESPN’s box score of the game. I can only guess that the logic of Milicic playing in a game was too much for their computers to handle, like one of those Kirk vs. the computer episodes of Star Trek.

Even without the garbage time, the stats look terrible for the Knickerbockers. The Pistons had large advantages in FG% (46% to 39%), turnovers (8 to 15), and PF (27 to 22). Just to show you how garbage time affects stats, take away Darko’s 0-5, and the Piston’s team FG% rises to 49%. It’s tough to win when you let the opposing team score half of the time.

In our continuing sagas, DerMarr Johnson played major minutes (39), and looked good. I can’t say that entirely first hand, but the stats showed it, and when I caught part of the game on MSG Rewind, the announcers said so. He shot 5/12 which is a decent 42% FG%, but account for his 3 pointers and it becomes a very respectable 50% aFG%.

Othella Harrington also played 14 minutes, and had more fouls (3) than points (2). Yesterday I complained that Sweetney only had 20 minutes, instead of 27, and tonight I got my wish. He had 4 points, 7 rebounds, and 4 fouls. Other than the rebounds, the numbers were a little disappointing.

DerMarr could see a big hit in his playing time when Thomas or Penny comes back, but Sweetney should continue to see playing time this year. It’ll be curious what Lenny does in the playoffs with Sweetney & Othella. Will he trust the rookie, or go with the less talented veteran?