Nets 107 Knicks 83

The Knicks took a beating from the Nets last night. I’m not just talking about Jason Collins’ getting a flagrant on Tim Thomas, sending the Knicks SF for overnight hospitalization. Nor am I speaking of Frank Williams getting hit on a fastbreak (albeit on a clean play) and falling on the court, with Kidd standing over him.

I’m more talking about the 24 point loss they suffered on the scoreboard. The Nets seemed almost unstoppable on offense. They had an excellent 53% eFG%. The source of their excellent offense was being able to constantly get fast breaks against the Knicks. The Knicks’ 19 team turnovers were the main source of the Nets breaks. In addition, the Nets had more foul shots, due to 5 Knicks having 4 or more fouls.

Most of the Knicks had quiet nights. Marbury had a quiet 13 points. T.Thomas had 12 points, but most in the first half. Of course he didn’t have much of a chance to score in the second half, due to the hard foul by Collins. Most quiet were Anderson and Kurt Thomas with 4 points apiece. Kurt, normally a 47% (eFG%) shooter, shot a miserable 1-10. I think this says a lot about Kenyon Martin’s defense.

To add injury to insult, Tim Thomas might miss a few more games due to the injuries sustained tonight. The initial results are that he suffered a bruise, and would be day to day for the rest of the series. Without Thomas, or a miraculous recovery from Houston, the Knicks already slim chances get even slimmer. I won’t go on record saying that the Knicks are done without both of these players, but it does make them that much more thin at the 2/3.

71+2>72

The title says it all. A simple child can understand that 71 plus 2 is greater than 72. There are many applications of this. If Farmer Jeff has 71 apples, and he picks up 2 more apples, he’ll have more than Farmer Farmer Phil. He’ll also have more apples if he stops to pick up 3 more as well, but if his only concern is having more apples than Farmer Phil, then 2 apples will do. So why don’t NBA players understand this?

I watched it live, but in case you didn’t here’s all you need to know about the end of the Rockets-Lakers game on Saturday night:

0:11 Houston Full Timeout. 71-72
0:00 Jim Jackson missed 24 ft Three Point Jumper. 71-72
0:00 71-72 Shaquille O’Neal Defensive Rebound.

Why was Jim Jackson behind the three point line? I watched the play live, and I’ve seen it at least three more times since on replays. Francis drives down the lane on the right side, and Jackson spots up in the left corner. The closest defender to Jackson is moving closer to the hoop, and is a few feet from the basket. Francis passes the ball to Jackson in the corner, and he misses a three pointer.

What drives me mad is that Jackson stayed far away from the hoop. His defender was moving towards the hoop, so Jackson could have moved in closer as well. Certainly moving in from the three point line gives Jackson a higher percentage shot. If the Laker lead was two points, I can understand taking a wide open three pointer to win the game instead of opting for a chance at overtime. But the Rockets only needed two points to win, so why didn’t Jackson set himself up for a closer shot?

UPDATE: I’ve seen the replay yet again this morning. Jackson’s defender was Kobe Bryant who was in the paint at the time of the pass. Jackson could crept up to about 12-15 feet away & comfortably made the shot. I know hindsight is 20/20, but it’s basic basketball knowledge that when your defender goes towards the hoop to help out, you should move in as well.

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.

Little Man In My Head

There’s a little man in my head
And he must have lived in someone else’s head before
‘Cause I was born in ’63
And he’s only been there since ’74

— “Little Man In My Head”
Dead Milkmen

Every once in a while, the part of my brain that thinks he’s a 94 year old grumpy man creeps out and spills it’s liver about basketball and just about anything else that can keep it awake for more than 10 minutes at a time. Today, this is what he shared with me.


ESPN has put up their experts’ picks on their web page. Not a single columnist has picked the East to win it all. I can understand the East being an underdog, but not one of their 12 experts is willing to go out on a limb on this one? Chad Ford has Gary Payton as the Finals MVP. Is the East that inferior that the 4th best player on a West team has a better chance to win the Finals MVP than any East team has of winning it all?

Marc Stein not only has the Mavs over the Kings, but apparently over the Twolves as well (since they he has them losing to the Spurs in the conference finals). Now that takes guts. I wonder how many other teams in the history of the NBA with a defense ranked in the bottom 5 have won not just one, but two series in the playoffs as underdogs. I mean an educated professional sports columnist like Marc Stein does know that the Mavs defense is that bad?

Bill Walton has the Lakers going all the way and Shaq as the Finals MVP. Just in case you were worried that he would be rooting for anyone else during his telecasts.

Moochie Norris has been left off the Knicks’ roster to make room for Allan Houston. Houston only has a 20% chance of playing this series. That seems about right, since Morris makes 20% of Houston’s salary.

Obviously the NBA moved the Knicks/Nets game to 4:30, because of the Yankees/Red Sox 1:20 game. I wonder if any game during the first month of the NBA regular season will ever mean enough to reschedule another league’s playoff game? Maybe an MLS game? Probably after that Freddy guy retires.

Or maybe they can just get rid of the regular season altogether and expand the playoffs some more. Sure an 81 game series may not be as exciting, but imagine all that extra playoff revenue!


Whew I think I got that all out of my system. On a positive note, you have to read this article. It’s just about the greatest article I’ve read concerning blaming a single player in a team sport. READ IT! Someone needs to give this guy some kind of prize.

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

TimberBlogger?

It’s pretty amazing how the regular season turned out. At the beginning of the year, I don’t think many people would have predicted that Indiana would have the best record in the league, and the Wolves would be the team to beat in the West. Before the season started critics were shouting to break up the Lakers, who acquired two hall of fame players, albeit past their prime. The Lakers made a decent second half push, and ended up with the number two seed, barely ahead of Sacramento.

How did Minnesota improve? Thanks to 82games.com (is there anything they can’t do?), it looks clear that they did it by upgrading their defense. Last year they averaged 108 pPts and their opponents 105 pPts (pPts is points per 100 possessions). This year their offensive output is the same, but they shaved their points against down to 101 pPts. Just to give you an example, this year their defense is ranked about 6th, while if they still had last year’s production, it would have been about 15th.

Knowing that they improved their defense, we can try to identify who the culprits are. We can look at the Wolves minutes last year, and compare it to this year. They took minutes away (by either trading or relegating to a smaller role) from Szczerbiak, Nesterovic, Kendall Gill, Peeler, Joe Smith, and Gary Trent, and gave them to Latrell Sprewell, Sam Cassell, Fred Hoiberg, Michael Olowokandi, and Mark Madsen. To me that looks like a defensive upgrade at every turn, save for Nesterovic.

Offensively, the Wolves are an efficient team. While they’re not in Sacramento’s class, they are 4th in eFG% behind Seattle and Dallas. Garnett and Cassell are very efficient and handle the majority of the shot attempts. Sprewell is their achilles heel in this area, as his .448 eFG% is very low, especially for some one that hoists it up about 15 times a game (same as Cassell). Put it this way, the worst team in the league, Chicago managed a .446 eFG%. Surprisingly Hoiberg leads the Wolves in eFG%, with .564, with his high percentage on three pointers (44%). The return of Wally Szczerbiak (.492 eFG%) gives the Wolves another scoring punch off the bench.

If anything I’m glad the Wolves will (in all likelihood) advance to the second round. I was tired of bad sportswriters using it as a tool to justify not voting for Garnett for MVP, and perpetuating the stereotype that one player is responsible for his team’s entire fate (hear that T-Mac?).

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.