AlamoBlogger Part II

[You should read Part I, which is just below this one. For those that are too lazy to scroll down, but not too lazy to click on a hyperlink, you can read Part I here.]

Part I ended with my theory that coaches who win year after year are biased against for their consistency. The same could be said for Tim Duncan. This year there has been a lot of MVP talk surrounding Shaq, Kevin Garnett, Dirk Nowitzki, LeBron James. and Steve Nash. Let’s just run down Duncan’s qualifications:

1. 2nd overall in PER.
2. His team has the best winning percentage in the NBA.
3. He hasn’t missed any games this year.
4. He’s one of the best defensive players in the league, earning First Team All Defensive every year except his rookie (where he was Second Team).
5. His team is the #1 defensive team in the league.

I can’t say any player in the league is this qualified. With the exception of Nash, all the above players are in the same class offensively as Duncan. However the other contenders fall short either defensively, being injured, or in team accomplishments. San Antonio is the only team in the league that ranks in the top 6 on offense and defense.

Duncan suffers from not being the top story. Shaq made a big splash by changing teams, hence he got a lot of media coverage. Nowtizki has upped his game despite losing ballhandler Steve Nash, while the Canadian imrpvoed his standing by not playing for 3 & a half games. That wonderboy LeBron is among the league’s best in his second season is newsworthy. Each of Duncan’s competitors are flashy players as well. What would you rather see on your favorite sports show: a no look pass from James, a monster Dunk from Shaq, or Duncan hit another turnaround off the glass?

Last weekend the Spurs went into Phoenix and beat the Suns in OT. Then they visited Sacramento, and blew out the Kings by 30. Think about that for a second. San Antonio beat two 70% win teams – on the road – in back to back games. [Ed’s note: And they beat the Kings again last night.] If the season ended today, I’d be hard pressed understanding why anyone would vote for any coach other than Popovich, and any MVP candidate other than Duncan.

Dallas 123 New York 94

I had spent the day on my couch with what was either food poisoning or a stomach virus. Unable to eat anything solid for 36 hours, and working from home, the only thing I had to look forward to was watching the Knicks face off against the Mavericks in the Garden. And I thought my day couldn’t get any worse.

Dallas embarrassed New York, coasting off their 39 point halftime lead to a 123-94 laugher. I should have known the Knicks were in trouble when they brought in Vin Baker in the first quarter. With Nazr in mild foul trouble, the Knicks need to bring in a big man. They could have either brought in Mike Sweetney, who’s offensive rebounding and high percentage shooting are what the Knicks’ lacked early on. Or they could have brought in Jerome Williams who’s high energy and defense would have provided helpful when New York came out flatter than the hardwood they play on. The Knicks’ announcers said Lenny Wilkens had to bring in Baker due to a “match-up” problem. Kurt Thomas couldn’t switch to center because he was the only Knick that could defend Nowitzki. Huh?

First when Sweetney and Thomas play together, it’s usually Sweetney that covers the other team’s center. So New York could have brought in Sweetney, and still played Thomas at PF. Secondly whether or not you consider Kurt to be a good defender, he’s certainly at his worst against PFs that can play from outside the post. Multi-talented guys like Antoine Walker, Dirk Nowitzki, and PFs that can hit the side of a barn like Kyle Korver, Croshere, and Kenny Thomas cause problems for Kurt. Finally, if it was defense that Wilkens was concerned with, he could have brought in Jerome Williams, who hounded Nowtizki in the first matchup.

In either case Nowitzki had no problems scoring, as he had 23 point by halftime. All of those were while Kurt Thomas was on the court, but he wasn’t the only New Yorker playing matador defense. Finley lit up the boys in orange & blue for 17 first half scores, and Howard poured in another 14. That’s 54 points from the Mavs new-not-so-big-three, by halftime.

Needless to say I didn’t stick around to catch the second half. I looked for something less depressing, and switched over to the Diary of Anne Frank. It’s too bad, because Bruno Sundov got some quality time, and it would have been nice to get a scouting report on him. Unfortunately the Knicks’ first half performance was all my stomach could handle.

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

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, 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.

Win Some, Lose Some

What a difference a day makes. Yesterday the Knicks looked like the ’92 Dream Team at home against the Hawks. A day later they more resembled the Angolans staggering after a Charles Barkley elbow. The Toronto Raptors beat the Knicks yesterday by 23 points. Although both teams are now one game under .500, the Raptors have the slight edge in their win %, taking first place in the Atlantic.

Hawks 88 Knicks 104

New York should have expected a good offensive explosion. Using conventional statistics, the Hawks defense merely looks bad, because they rank 24th in points allowed per game. However they are actually the worse defensive team in the league, giving up 106 points for every 100 possessions. It’s Atlanta’s slow pace (93 possessions per game, 22nd) that masks how futile they are in protecting their basket. Being ranked last in shooting percentage (51.4% eFG%), is a main contributor to their pitiful defense.

The Knicks-Hawks game looked over in the first quarter. Early on, Stephon Marbury was breaking down the defense, and finding the open man time and time again. Atlanta had no inside help, as Nazr Mohammed and Kurt Thomas got off to fast starts. By my eye their interior defense looked awful and the stats confirm this shows the Hawks to give up a 22.1 PER to opposing centers. (PER is John Hollinger’s stat, and does a great job rating a player’s offensive ability.) Last year a 22.1 would have been somewhere between Dirk Nowitzki and Yao Ming. In other words, the Hawks long for the day when Theo Ratliff or Dekembe Mutombo roamed their paint.

Even though the game was a laugher, the bench guys didn’t get a lot of minutes. Sweetney only played 17 minutes, and Ariza only 10. There was a Bruno sighting, but Sundov only played 2 minutes and missed both of his attempts. The question I have to ask is when you’re up by 15 to start the 4th quarter, why not give the bench guys some burn? Some point in the season guys like Sweetney, Ariza, and possibly Sundov will have to step up due to injury or circumstance. Could there be a better team to build up their confidence, than the worst ranked defense in the league?

The one guy that did make a name for himself is Jamison Brewer. The backup PG came in for Marbury and had a fantastic jam in the 4th quarter. He came up a bit lame from the thunderous score, but shook off the injury to finish the game. A while back a poster on the board suggested that Brewer might be the Knicks’ answer to a perimeter defender. He certainly has the athleticism, but defense is largely based on fundamentals. Watching him for 12 minutes in a blowout isn’t enough to judge whether or not he can shut down opposing players.

Knicks 91 Raptors 114

The next night, Brewer would see some action as well, but this time in mop up duty against Toronto. Scott sent his condolences, but I didn’t suffer much because this is the first Knicks game of the year that I did not watch. The 23 point loss was New York’s second worst of the year. For every Knicks game, I keep track of each of the four main factors: shooting, turnovers, rebounding, and getting to the foul line. This way I can quickly see how New York won, or in this case lost. Last night’s game against the Raptors looks very similar to the 34 point beating they took from the Celtics.

BOS -16% -8% -11% -2%
TOR -15% -6% +8% -2%

Except for rebounding, the numbers are identical. I’ve noted since the season began that the Knicks would have trouble if they didn’t increase their defensive intensity. It’s no coincidence that their worst defensive shooting games of the year (59.7% & 57.1%) were also their two biggest losses. Although the Knicks finally held another team under the league shooting average (Atlanta 47%), accomplishing this 1 in every 10 games is a recipe for a tumultuous season. Of their next 4 opponents, only Memphis (16th) is an average shooting team. Against Atlanta (27th), Orlando (26th), and Charlotte (24th) the Knicks can right their woes. It’s time for them to turn the heat on, and make a defensive stand.

Ranting Spree

[If you are looking for the John Hollinger interview, it is just below this article or just click here.]

A quick note to Latrell Sprewell: When a championship caliber team that is already paying you twice what you deserve ($14.6M) this year, offers you a 3 year deal at $9M a year that will run until the age of 37, when no one else in the league will pay you anywhere near that much money…TAKE THE MONEY & RUN, instead of complaining about it.

Of course if Latrell wanted to make mega-dough, he should find out what stats Winston & Sagarin are using for their WINVAL ratings, and concentrate on those. That’s what last year’s MVP Hedo Turkoglu did, and it worked for him.

Personally I think Winston & Sagarin aren’t trying to contribute to basketball knowledge as much as they are trying to be the funniest duo of the 21st century (previous winners: 20th century: Laurel & Hardy, 19th: Gilbert & Sullivan).

Winston & Sagarin 2002-2003 WINVAL ratings were:

1. Kevin Garnett
2. Tim Duncan
3. Dirk Nowitzki

Not bad, until you get to the next two guys:

4. Scottie Pippen
5. Richard Hamilton

Ugh! The rest of the top 10:

6. Stephon Marbury
7. Kobe Bryant
8. Zydrunas Ilgauskas
9. Jason Terry
10. Jon Barry

Interesting that they thought Marbury is in the top 10. Of course, a year later, they would issue this statement:

“Marbury’s one of the top 10 players on offense,” Winston says. “Everybody thinks this guy is a great player. But when he’s on defense, he gives it all back.”

So one year they say Marbury is a top 10 player, the next year they mock anyone would who make that claim. One year Tim Duncan is the #2 player in the league, the next he’s the third best Spur (behind Turkoglu and Ginobili). No wonder they only claim a 60% success rate for predicting future ability. For $29,999.99 a month less I can predict anything 50% of the time.

Winston & Sagarin are the stat version of Joe Morgan. Just like Joe, they contradict themselves and make ridiculous claims. Everytime they come out with these lists, it’s just more ammunition for stathead-haters to roll their eyes “at guys who’ve never been to a game.” Winston & Sagarin are doing harm to those that do meaningful statistical analysis. Maybe I can convince someone who pays for their information, that it would be in their best interest to not let WINVAL ratings be seen by the public. Or better yet, maybe I can convince them not to pay for such poor advice.