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.

Disappointed

Disappointed a few people
When friendship reared its ugly head
Disappointed a few people
Well, isn’t that what friends are for?
What are friends for?

— “Disappointed”
P.I.L.

There’s nothing like a loss to bring out the worst in fans. Lurking around the message boards, you’ll see some posts titled: Knicks are the WORST defensive team in the League, New York Quitters, and FIRE LENNY WILKENS. Ouch!

The Knicks have been a lottery team the past two seasons, but this year we’ve all but locked down a playoff spot. No we’re probably not a threat to take the East, and we’re nowhere near a championship level team. Most likely a first round exit is in order. However isn’t this better than Knick fans expected at the beginning of the year? Expectations were much lower when Scott Layden was at the helm.

Isaiah Thomas has done a respectable job with the mess he inherited. I won’t pretend that I liked every move, or that he is maximizing the team’s strengths. I’m happy that he’s brought in at least one top tier player in Marbury. I don’t mean “top tier” as in McGrady, Duncan, Garnett, or Shaq, but it’s unmistakable that Marbury is one of the best PGs in the league. The Knicks haven’t had anything close to that since #33 roamed the Garden floor.

It’s impossible to expect anyone to turn a 37 win team into a 50 win team midseason. Those are unrealistic expectations. I’ll be happy with a playoff appearance after a long absence. I’ll be happy that we have a 27 year old PG to build our team around. I’ll be happy that we’ll go into the offseason with a GM that couldn’t be worse than the last. If Dolan wants to win now, and won’t allow the team to rebuild, then he better win now. This year a 7th seed will make most Knick fans happy, but next year we’ll all expect more.

Grizzlies Get Defensive

Man I was mean but I?m changing my scene
And I?m doing the best that I can.
I admit it?s getting better
A little better all the time

— “Getting Better”
The Beatles

Tonight’s opponent is the Memphis Grizzlies. A team that finished 28-54 (.341) last year. Dallas finished in first place in their division last year. This year is a different story. Memphis at 44-26 is tied with Dallas in the standings for the 5th seed. This can only further solidify Jerry West’s genius as a GM. In case you didn’t know, West was the GM of the Lakers from 1982 to 2000. Not only did he help to shape the Lakers in the 80s, but he was the one to bring Shaq & Kobe to the Los Angeles.

So how did Memphis improve so much? My best guess is they turned it up on the defensive end. Last year Memphis’ points per 100 possessions were 97.6 for, and 100.7 against. This year the offense is a little worse at 96.4, but the defense is an impressive 93.9! That’s an almost 7 point turn around. The biggest difference in the team stats department is lowering the opposing team’s eFG% (effective FG%, aka adjusted FG%, aka accounting for treys in FG%) in jump shots. (As opposed to dunks, tips & close – you really have to look at the graphs on 82games.com). Last year they allowed .434 eFG% from jump shots, and this year it’s down to .401.

The largest changes roster-wise is the addition of Posey & Wells, a full season from Mike Miller, and 20 minutes a game from Bo Outlaw. Other than Outlaw, I’m really not familiar enough with the players to comment on their defensive prowess. With Outlaw, you can just look at his stats and tell he’s a defensive specialist. Why else would someone that scores 6 points in 25 minutes stay in the league for 12 years? Funny thing is I can recall Outlaw playing for teams like the Suns and the Magic, because he’s one guy that always gets your attention on the court. He’s a freakishly athletic player, with seemingly little basketball skills on the offensive side. Kind of like Dennis Rodman minus the circus show.

I can’t believe that Bo Outlaw is a good enough defender to account for all of this difference. The assumption doesn’t have to be that Posey, Wells & Miller are great defensive players, but rather they’re probably better than the guys that they replaced, namely Gooden, Giricek, and Person. Of course there could be other factors as well, such as coaching, defensive schemes, improvement in the players that were there, voodoo dolls, etc.

The Knicks’ prospects against a good defensive team is not promising. They are 15-28 against teams that rank among top 19 teams in points against, and 18-10 against the bottom 10 teams. They are also 6-15 against the best 10 teams in def eFG%. In other words they struggle against good defensive teams & eat up the bad ones. Now before Knicks’ fan can go into despair these are stats for the entire year, and the team has changed much since then. Also remember that the Knicks are home tonight, which evens things out considerably.

Good News and Bad News

KnickerBlogger fans. I have good news and bad news.

First the bad news. There will be no entries for KnickerBlogger until Monday March 21st, due to KnickerBlogger and Mrs. KnickerBlogger going away on vacation. There is a small chance I will post something while away, but it’s doubtful. Even though I won’t be going to one, I might as well be on a deserted island as far as internet service goes.

Now the good news. Come Monday I will have an interview with Dean Oliver. Yes the Dean Oliver. So if you haven’t already, you should run out and buy his book Basketball on Paper (or order online while sitting in front of your computer). If you won’t take my word on it, you can read the review by Kevin Pelton, who called it “revolutionary.”

Dean’s writing is colorful, entertaining, and intelligent. He is a master in two areas that seperates him from the rest of the basketball writers out there. First Dean understands what goes on during a game. Second is his ability to think clearly in relation to statistical methods. It’s his ability to combine these two talents that puts Dean in the same class as Bill James. Some of the title chapters alone should pique curiosity:

  • The Significance Of Derek Coleman’s Insignificance
  • Reserve Your Playoff Tickets Now! We Won Three In A Row!
  • The Effect Of Bad Referees and Other Short Stories
  • Should I Firebomb Billy Donovan’s House?

The books is filled with fascinating things like: the best (and worst) offensive and defensive teams of all time, how good were some of the league’s best players (Bird, Magic, Jordan, Ewing, Shaq, Iverson, Stockton, Malone, and more!), and the interesting plight of the 2002 Raptors (they did loose 13 games in a row, then won 9 to get a playoff berth). Knick fans will be satisfied getting this book & learning exactly how good defensively those Ewing/Oakley/Riley teams were.

Here’s some suggested readings for the week:
Monday: The Corner Triangle – This is a Bucks blog, and since the Knicks play the Bucks on Sunday, there should be something about the Knicks on there.
Tuesday: Page 23 – If Dean Oliver is the Bill James of basketball, then Pelton might be Rob Neyer. His articles are sharp, and he’s been posting an article every few days recently, so something new should be up. If not, check out his archives, on of my recent favorites is Do Point Guards Develop Differently?
Wednesday: Knicks Clicks – The Knicks play the Wiz on Tuesday, so as always Mr. Avallone should have some great stuff.
Thursday: GroupHug – Like Penthouse letters, where you’ll wonder how many are true. Go make a confession!
Friday: Aaron’s Baseball Blog – The best sports blog out there. On Friday’s he’ll have a wrap up of the week’s blogs, and you’ll have plenty of great material to read.
Saturday: RaptorBlog.com and Bulls Blog – These two teams play each other on Friday, so you can read both for a full report on the game.

AFG%

The world has turned and left me here
Just where I was before you appeared
And in your place an empty space
Has filled the void behind my face

— “The World Has Turned And Left Me Here”
Weezer

I find it interesting that Paul Pierce is the only player in the league to currently lead his team in points, rebounds, and assists. There are a few people that lead their team in two stats, Shaq, Garnett, etc., but no one leads in the “big three.” Usually stats like this are meaningless, but it means in a sense that the Celtics don’t have stability at three positions, center, power forward, and point guard. Usually PGs lead their teams in assists, and Cs or PFs lead their teams in rebounds, because that is the nature of their positions.

The Celts have won their past five games. The most impressive is the last one against Minnesota, 80 to 77. As far as I can tell from the box scores, they won despite shooting a lower percentage and having less rebounds. So how did they win? First Boston attempted twice as many three pointers (24 to 12). This lowered their FG%, but increased their adjusted field goal attempts. {Definition: Adjusted FG Percentage = [(PTS – FTM)/(FGA*2)}

Adjusted field goal percentage (AFG%) compensates 3 point shooters for their poor FG%. A FG% of 45% isnt very good for a guy that works primarily in the paint, but is a pretty good percentage for someone that lives beyond the arc. Field goal percentage is a little bit outdated in the modern age due to the added reward of the three point shot. It’s good for players that both don’t shoot any treys. FG% can’t even be used to compare two players that shot some three pointers, unless their ratio of three pointers to two pointers are close.

For example, let’s say player A attempts six layups and hits two. His FG% is 33% (2-6), and he’s scored 4 points. Now player B attempts six three pointers and hits two. Player B’s FG% is still 33%, but this time he’s scored 6 points. Player A’s AFG% is (4-0)/(6*2) or 4/12 or 33%. Player B’s AFG% is (6-0)/(6*2) which is 6/12 or 50%.

AFG% is one of the few “advanced” stats ESPN has on their main stat page. Here’s a quick rundown of the top 25 in this stat:

NAME	................. GP	PPG	FGM	FGA	FG%	PPS*	AFG%
1 S. O'Neal, LAL.....	47	22	8.2	14	0.587	1.57	0.587
2 P. Stojakovic, SAC	61	25.4	8.4	17.6	0.479	1.44	0.567
3 Mark Blount, BOS...	64	9.3	3.8	6.9	0.55	1.33	0.55
4 James Posey, MEM...	63	12.7	4.3	9	0.473	1.42	0.545
5 Yao Ming HOU.......	62	17.5	6.5	12.1	0.539	1.44	0.539
6 D. Marshall, CHI/TOR	63	15.4	6	12.7	0.474	1.21	0.534
7 Nene Hilario, DEN...	59	11.4	4.2	7.8	0.531	1.45	0.531
8 Sam Cassell, MIN....	62	20.6	8	16	0.497	1.29	0.529
9 Erick Dampier, GSW	61	12	4.6	8.8	0.522	1.36	0.522
10 Mike Bibby, SAC....	62	18.4	6.3	14.1	0.451	1.31	0.522
11 A. Jamison, DAL....	62	14.2	5.8	11.2	0.514	1.27	0.52
12 Brad Miller, SAC...	55	15.2	5.6	10.9	0.513	1.4	0.52
13 Steve Nash, DAL....	58	14.6	5	10.9	0.459	1.34	0.519
14 Carlos Boozer, CLE	56	14.9	6.1	11.8	0.517	1.27	0.517
15 Elton Brand, LAC...	49	20.7	7.2	14	0.515	1.47	0.515
16 Jim Jackson, HOU...	61	12.3	4.6	10.9	0.419	1.13	0.512
17 Mike Dunleavy, GSW	54	11.9	4.4	9.9	0.441	1.2	0.51
18 M. Finley, DAL.....	57	19.2	7.3	16.2	0.447	1.18	0.51
19 Kerry Kittles, NJN	62	13.2	5.3	11.7	0.457	1.13	0.51
20 Bobby Jackson, SAC	49	13.9	5.3	12	0.442	1.16	0.509
21 R. Jefferson, NJN	62	17.4	6.4	13	0.491	1.34	0.508
22 Tim Thomas, MIL/NYK	52	14.3	5.4	12	0.455	1.19	0.502
23 K. Van Horn, MIL/NYK	56	16.7	5.9	13.2	0.45	1.27	0.502
24 Gary Payton, LAL...	62	14.8	6	12.7	0.475	1.17	0.501
25 D. Armstrong, NOR	63	10.7	3.8	9.3	0.409	1.15	0.501

It’s no shock to see Shaq and Peja at the top two spots, despite doing it in radically different ways. Shaq has done it without any three pointers, Peja on the other hand shoots his fair share of threes. The biggest benefactor of this is Jim Jackson of Houston. Despite a low FG% (42%), almost half of his shots were for three, and he hits them with a good enough percentage to warrant a spot among the top 25. Even more interesting is Tim Thomas and Keith Van Horn occupying adjacent spots. By the way the column next to AFG%, PPS, is points per shot. This factors in points from free throws as well. Boston’s Mark Blount is #3, but he scores only 9 PPG.

Getting back to the story, the Celtics’ edge in three point shots gave Boston a slight edge, but it wasn’t the only edge. They had a slight edge in turnovers, and went to the charity stripe 8 more times. It doesn’t sound like much, and it wasn’t. They only won by 3 points.

Suns 113, Knicks 95

It is time
It is time for
It is time for stormy weather

–“Stormy Weather”
The Pixies

Even though you can analyze basketball fairly well with statistics, there is much to basketball that doesn’t show up in the stat sheet. On the same note those that watch the game without a good understanding of the stats will not be getting the whole picture either. If you watched a game, you wouldn’t know if someone shot 42% (10/24) or 50% (12/24), unless you kept track. The difference is only 2 shots out of 24, but someone who shoots 50% consistently would be one of the league leaders, whereas a 42% shooter would be at the other end of the spectrum.

Unfortunately last night’s game coincided with the funniest show on tv, so I did miss a good 20 minutes or so. The game wasn’t a close match, so I really didn’t feel like I missed much. I wanted to concentrate on the Knicks that I haven’t seen much of, namely Nazr Mohammed, Tim Thomas, and rookie Michael Sweetney, who has moved up the depth charts recently. I know what they do statistically, but I wanted to learn how they compiled their numbers.

Tim Thomas hurt his arm on the first play of the game. He would stay in the game for a few minutes, and have the most exciting play of the night for the Knicks. It started when Marbury stole the ball & headed up court with the closest Sun right behind in hot pursuit. Knowing he couldn’t have made the basket with a defender in tow, near the basket Marbury made a nice behind the back backwards pass to the trailing Thomas. Thomas followed with an athletic dunk. In my head I imagined Van Horn on that play. Keith would have missed the lay-up, but get the offensive board and get fouled on the ensuing shot. It was a prime example of the “athleticism” everyone had been talking about. Thomas would leave the game shortly after due to the elbow injury, and not return.

My focus drifted to Nazr Mohammed. I want to see what kind of offensive skills he has. A PF can average 10 PPG, but you can’t tell from the stat sheet whether he scores primarily by jump shots, posting up, or from offensive rebounds. Nazr did appear to like to work from the post. His first attempt was a post up fadeaway, but he started so far from the paint, it fell way short of the hoop. The next time he was posting up closer to the hoop, and spun into the paint. He missed again, but the move looked pretty good. His only points of the night were the results of a great pass by Marbury under the hoop for an easy dunk. He also had a nice pass out of a double team in the post to a wide open Kurt Thomas.

Nazr Mohammad only scored 2 points because he was in foul trouble all night. If you didn’t watch the game, you would know this by looking at the box score. When someone who would probably play 25-30 minutes, plays only 14 and has 4 fouls in that span, you can conclude that they had foul trouble. However if you just looked at the stat sheet, you wouldn’t know that Nazr committed a stupid foul on McDyess. With less than 5 seconds left in the half Mohammed committed a reach in foul under the hoop, which sent the former Knick McDyess to the foul line. It was no surprise to me that Mohammed was in foul trouble. Looking at his per 48 minutes, Mohammed averages 5.8 personal fouls. That?s almost as high as team leader Othella Harrington (7.3), and the same as Kurt Thomas. The next current Knicks on the list are Sweetney (4.6) and Mutombo (4.5).

Seeing Michael Sweetney next to Jahidi was the only other highlight for me. They are both large men. At one point White was driving to the hoop, put up a shot and on the way down crashed into a stationary Sweetney. Instead of following the shot, my eyes followed White?s trajectory. I was surprised that Sweetney was not only able to hold his ground, but he repelled the massive White. The Knicks rookie PF looks skilled, but lost at times especially on defense. I expect that if the Knicks are patient enough to give him playing time, this befuddled play will disappear as it did with another New Yorker, who was wide eyed early in his career.

Moochie Norris, although not on my list to watch, made a name for himself on my notepad. He embarrassed himself last twice last night. In the first half while bringing the ball up, Kurt Thomas was wide open on the far side waiving his arms frantically asking for the ball. By the time Moochie woke up from his daydream and passed Thomas the ball, the defense collapsed on Kurt, forcing him to take a bad shot. The second bungle was without the ball. Norris freed himself on a screen, but as the ball was passed to him, he tripped on his own feet, and fell flat onto the court. Why Norris gets any time ahead of Frank Williams is a column for another day.

The Knicks were lit up last night by the inside presence of the Suns. It seems that the last few games teams have figured out how weak the Knicks are up the middle, and have been exploiting this. Jahidi White, who is averaging 4.7 PPG this year, tore up the Knicks. He looked like Shaq on the offensive glass, pulling down 5 offensive boards in only 15 minutes. Amare Stoudemire posterized Deke with a dunk, then to add insult to injury, rejected him at the other end. It was that kind of night.