Round 3

Let’s get another update in the KnickerBlogger 2004 Bloggers Bracket.

BLOG:	1st	2nd	Total Points
Ron 7 4 11
Michael 7 4 11
Me 8 3 11
Jon 7 3 10
Kevin 6 4 10
Scott 6 4 10
Tim 6 4 10
Matt 6 3 9

In the lead are Ron (Hornets247.com), Michael (Knicks Clicks), and myself. I put myself third because they have the 4 teams still alive, while I only have 3. I could really use Minnesota to knock off LA, which might clinch the championship for me. There is a 4 way tie for 4th place, with 3 of those guys also having 4 of the teams still alive. Poor Matt from Bulls Blog is bringing up the rear. We won’t hold it against him since he picked these teams before he earned his college degree.

What A Difference A Game Makes

In an earlier column about the Timberwolves, I said that Minnesota improved their team on the defensive end. This is exactly how that they beat the Lakers last night. In game 1, LA had a field day, having an effective field goal percentage of 51%. Last night their eFG% dropped 10 points, to 41%. To put these numbers in perspective, 51% would have been an average night for league leading Sacramento, while game two would have looked bad even for this year’s Bulls (44.5%).

Only Derek Fisher (1-2, 1 3PT) and Luke Walton (1-1, 1 3PT), had an eFG% of 50% or better. Karl Malone went from a robust 8 of 13 in game 1 to a meager 2 for 5. Malone also had a dubious distinction of getting called for traveling by getting run into by his own teammate during the act of shooting. Gary Payton’s game 2 eFG% (40%), while better than his game 1 (36%), still leaves much to be desired. Kobe still scored a lot of points, but his 10-24 night lacked any hits from beyond the arc (0-4 3PT). Even the Timberwolves brand of hack-a-Shaq worked like Kryptonite against the Laker center, as Shaq went 4-10 from the field and 6-14 from the line.

The other thing that is radically different between games 1 and 2 in the box scores is the offensive rebounding. Minnesota only had 3 offensive boards (7% oREB%) in the first game, but more than tripled that amount in the next game with 10 (18% oREB%). It was a combined team effort as no Timberwolf had more than 2.

The Timberwolves may have more problems coming up. In addition to losing the home court advantage in the series, and heading to L.A. for the next two games, they might have to deal with the loss of Sam Cassell. Cassell has been fighting back problems, and had to leave game 2 after a few seconds. To make matters worse, he’s not Minnesota’s only injured PG, as Troy Hudson is out with a bad ankle. Journeyman Darrick Martin filled in nicely enough on the stat sheet (37 minutes, 4-11, 1 3PT, 6 AST & 0 TO). However the T-Wolves’ chances have to be decreased without their second best scorer. Cassell and Martin couldn’t be more different. Going from one player with a 52% eFG% that scored just under 20PPG this year, to a player who hasn’t played regularly in 4 seasons, with a career 44% eFG% will hurt their offense.

They will need someone or a group of players to pick up the slack. Latrell Sprewell shouldn’t be the one, since his 43% eFG% isn’t suited for the task. Even baseball guru Aaron Gleeman knows that Minnesota had more of a Big 2, than a Big 3. Of their top eFG% players, you can eliminate defensive specialists Ervin Johnson, Mark Madsen & Oliver Miller. (Did I just call Oliver Miller a defensive specialist? I guess that’s what happens when you have 6 fouls to give against Shaq). This means Minnesoters should be rooting for Hoiberg (56%) and Szczerbiak (49% in limited time, 52% last year) to shoot the rock more often. If there is anyone that should be picking up the scoring it’s Wally, whose role was reduced this year by the acquisition of Sprewell.

Sorry Bulls Blog

Special apologies to Matt from bullsblog, because I totally forgot to update his stats in the KnickerBlogger bracket tournament. I have no excuse for this oversight. It’s not like Matt has given me some extra hits for mentioning my blog not once, or twice, but three times in a row. And it certainly isn’t because he said this in his column the other day:

With apologies to Knickerblogger, I hate the Knicks. Like, a lot.

Matt only made one mistake in his first round picks, predicting a minor upset in Miami. Other than that his picks were right on target, earning him 7 points, good enough to be tied for second place. I’ll edit the previous post to reflect Matt’s participation.

Round 1: 2004 NBA Bloggers Bracket

Thanks to the stubborn Hornets, Round 1 is finally over. Here are the updated standings for the KnickerBlogger 2004 Bloggers Bracket:

Blog	IND	NJ	DET	MIA	MIN	LAL	SAS	SAC	PTS
Me 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 8
Jon 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 0 7
Ron 1 1 1 0 1 1 1 1 7
Matt 1 1 1 0 1 1 1 1 7
Michael 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 0 7
Kevin 1 0 1 1 1 1 1 0 6
Scott 1 1 1 1 1 1 0 0 6
Tim 1 1 1 0 1 1 0 1 6

Alone in first place is yours truly. Being spineless has paid off for me so far, because I didn’t think there would be any upsets in the first round. Jon and Michael had Dallas bumping off Sacramento, while Ron showed his home team pride by sticking with the Hornets. Three contestants thought there would be 2 upsets, with the popular upsets being Memphis & Dallas.

Interesting enough, the bottom 5 guys not only have the Lakers (down 0-1) upsetting the Spurs in this round, but they have the boys in yellow & purple taking the trophy back home to L.A. If the Lakers lose, there will be a big divide between those two groups. Nobody has the Pistons (1-0) nor the T-wolves (0-1) getting upset this round. However I will be affected if Minnesota’s playoff hopes end against the Kings, since I have them making the Finals.


This morning while groggily watching ESPN, I heard the Miami coach Stan Van Gundy at a press conference say something to the effect of it being ludicrous that the Heat had any kind of advantage being at home. (I was a bit too tired to remember the quote in it’s entirety). This is just baffling to me, because Stan watched every second of a series where the home team won every game. Not only that, but the Heat have been a 71% team at home this year, better than the NBA average (about 60%-65%). They are riding a 16 game home win streak, and he doesn’t think his team has any advantage at home?

I’ll give him the benefit of the doubt and say he’s doing it as a psych job for his players (“don’t get lazy at home!”), and not because he really believes it.

NBA First Round – Necessary?

I received an interesting & at first cryptic email today. The entire email was:

Houston. #6. 1995.

Need I say more?

The email was from Page 23’s Kevin Pelton. It took me a second to realize what this meant. It was in reference to my last entry where I wrote:

Off the top of my head I can’t think of a team past seed #5 that went two rounds other than the strike season Knicks.

I had been too busy (read: lazy) to actually research which low seeds have gotten far in the playoffs. Luckily I have readers astute enough to do my work for me. Of course Kevin’s point is made even more poignant by the fact that the 6th seed Rockets not only went past two rounds, but they were the champs as well.

The Rockets playoff team was a bit different than the one that earned them the 6th seed in the West. Midseason they traded Otis Thrope for Clyde Drexler. Drexler only played 35 games for the Rockets during the regular season. Similarly the 8th seeded 99 Knicks went through some changes as well. The newly acquired Camby and Sprewell were still trying to find their identities on the fly, especially in the playoffs when Ewing went down with his injured Achilles. The strike didn’t give them a chance to jell during the season, and who knows what their record would have been had they played the full 82 games.

If we wanted to take 20 years worth of data, let’s go back to 1983. Since then (and excluding 1999) there have been 5 teams that were either the 6th, or 7th seed to go at least as far as the Conference Championships (no 8th seeds have made it that far). The aforementioned Rockets, the ’94 Pacers, the ’89 Bulls, the 87′ Sonics, and the ’84 Suns. All of those teams were 6th seeds, except for the 7th seed Sonics.

In 20 years, there is a 4% chance that one of those teams (#6-#8) will make the conference finals, and and a .8% chance that one of them will make the finals and win it all. If you think I’m tilting the tables in my favor my excluding the strike season Knicks, the chances go up to 5%, 1.7% (to make the Finals), and .8% to win it all. Another thing to consider for the furture is the possibility of a first round upset is now lower with the expanded series (7 games from 5).

In other tournaments like March Madness, the NFL playoffs, and the World Cup, teams have better opportunities for upsets because it only requires one win to move on. The longer series gives the favorites a better chance at winning.

Sunday’s two games underscores the point between the first and second round games. The early game, a first rounder between the Heat and Hornets, meant little to me. It wasn’t because it wasn’t exciting, because tempers were flaring all over the court. One reason was that I couldn’t imagine either of these teams beating Indy in 7 games, and then the winner of Detroit/NJ on the road. The other was that it game 6 of the series. The Hornets were fighting for their lives, but Miami wasn’t. The other tournaments I mentioned above are all single elimination. Each game is important for both teams, not just the one with their backs against the wall. Tthe longer series makes each individual game less important as well.

The second round matchup between the Lakers & Spurs was another story. Since both of these teams have won the last 5 titles, I felt that the winner could possibly go all the way. The Lakers were the early season favorites, with their new additions of Payton & Malone. It was a GREAT game to watch. Even though it was only one game, it was the first of the series, and an upset on the Spurs floor would have tilted the series in the Lakers favor. That the winner of this series still has to face the winner of Minnesota/Sacramento to just reach the Finals is an awesome thought.

To conclude, really low seeds (7th & 8th) have virtually no chance of getting far in the playoffs. You can’t eliminate the first round altogether, because as pointed out by Kevin, 5th & 6th seeds do have a (very slim) chance of making a magical run. I can’t think of a playoff format that would make the first round more exciting without going to single elimination, or even a quick best of 3. The NBA will never allow such a hit on their wallets, even if it would make the game more exciting for their fans.

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.