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.

Marbury is the Problem

[Today’s column comes to us from KnickerBlogger Point Guard Specialist David Crockett, Ph.D. David is an Assistant Professor of Marketing at the University of South Carolina, and can be reached at dcrockett17@yahoo.com. This article was originally written earlier this week, but was bumped by the Editor In Chief in an effort to improve international relations. It has been published in it’s original form.]

The past two games against the Chicago Bulls should not be cause to overreaction here in Knick Nation. No one really has any good reason to expect this team to be a vast improvement over last year’s edition, even when healthy. It may be a tad more exciting than last season’s edition, but it will not jell into a good basketball team. This is life in the NBA’s salary cap purgatory, a place the Knicks seem to have taken up permanent residence in the penthouse apartment. On the bright side, at least some cap relief is on the way. This summer the contracts of Vin Baker, Penny Hardaway, and Tim Thomas enter their final seasons. If I am not mistaken so does Moochie Norris’s contract, either through option or buyout. My hope is that Isiah Thomas thinks very seriously about preserving roster spots for young developing players, not merely dealing those contracts for someone else’s mistake.

Having said that, let me also offer Isiah Thomas another piece of sage advice. This offseason trade Stephon Marbury while you still can. In every sense Thomas has tied his own fate, and that of the franchise to Marbury’s considerable offensive talent. In many respects Marbury has lived up to what could have been reasonably expected based on past performance. Offensively, if one considers shooting prowess, ability to create scoring opportunities for others, and propensity for turnovers Marbury may well indeed be the league’s best point guard. He is certainly among the best. He is 4th in overall PER 2nd in eFG%, 2nd in assist ratio, and tied for best turnover ratio among players at his position according to the Knickerblogger’s stat page.

Player.............	PER	eFG%	Ast-r	TO-r
Dwyane Wade (Mia).. 24.10 49.6 23.4 12.5
Steve Nash (Pho)... 22.49 57.0 41.1 11.8
Allen Iverson (Phi) 22.47 44.6 19.1 10.3
Stephon Marbury(NY) 21.98 50.7 29.6 10.3

These are indeed impressive accomplishments that are far too often dismissed by sports pundits who appear contractually obligated to promote Jason Kidd as the archetypal point guard at the expense of all others. Then, as the syllogism goes, sense Marbury is a different kind of point guard than Kidd he must be inferior to Kidd.

My own suspicions about Marbury at the time of the trade were that he was a selfish, shoot-first guard, who could not run the screen-roll. Whether Marbury is selfish is one of those debates that will continue to rage between his supporters and detractors around the league. What I think we can conclude however, is that on offense Marbury creates scoring opportunties for other players through his penetration. He takes 36% of his own shots in close. This was second only to the hyper-athletic Wade who takes 38% of his shots in close, even more if one counts dunks and tip-ins. (Iverson takes 30% and Nash 20%.) He also runs the screen-roll well, particularly with Kurt Thomas. This is a more subjective assessment but I certainly have no problem with the way Marbury runs the screen-roll. Another subjective assessment: his offensive game has matured. He’s much less prone to the “heat check” hoisted jump shots that are basically as good as turnovers. Earlier in his career he had the shot selection of Jamal Crawford but appears to have grown out of settling for the long jumper. Virtually, no matter how one slices it Marbury is an elite offensive player – not just for his position but in the league. But, does he make others around him better? I suppose the answer to the question is in the eye of the beholder to some extent. What we can say with a reasonable degree of certainty though is that he creates scoring opportunities for his teammates. He penetrates off the dribble more than any other player in the league (other than Wade). As it concerns creating opportunities he more than fulfills expectations in that part of the job description.

So why move him? In a word: defense. 82games.com lists counterpart’s production as its primary defensive metric. Opponent’s production is a seriously flawed metric for evaluating power forwards and centers, whose responsibility for defensive rotation seemingly overstates their defensive liabilities relative to the backcourt. However it appears to be a reasonable measure of the backcourt’s defensive contributions. In Marbury’s case specifically, since he plays nearly 40 mpg virtually all of the opposing point guard’s production comes against him. Look at opposing PG’s production against the same group of players.

Player.............	PER	eFG%	Close% Ast48	TO48 
Dwyane Wade (Mia)*. 13.9 42.4 26 7.3 2.7
Steve Nash (Pho)... 14.4 47.9 23 8.3 3.6
Allen Iverson (Phi) 12.0 44.1 22 9.6 3.8
Stephon Marbury(NY) 15.9 46.1 27 8.5 3.8

* In Wade’s case, since he has played some SG and SF I used only opposing PG figures on 82games.com

Marbury allows by far the highest opponent’s PER, almost a full point above league average (set at 15). He is second worst to Nash in opponent’s shooting. He is worst in giving up penetration (as measured by % shots in close – a conservative measure), and unlike Dwyane Wade’s Heat the Knicks have no shotblockers protecting his back, or the rim for that matter. It is tempting in one respect to simply offset Marbury’s defensive liabilities against his phenomenal offensive production and live with the difference. But that would miss the point. Marbury’s incredible capacity to penetrate creates scoring opportunities for both he and his teammates. The opposite is true of his defense. Marbury’s defensive indifference, propensity to be beaten off the dribble, unwillingness to fight through screens, and freelancing create easy scoring opportunities for opponents, putting his teammates in a terrible bind. Unlike him, they cannot necessarily shoot their way out of a poor defensive showing. I would suggest that even if the team were blessed with much better interior defenders its defensive efficiency might not improve much, if at all. The guards allow so much penetration that many opponents’ shots are taken in high percentage areas.

At this point in Marbury’s career it seems unlikely that he is going to devote himself more fully to defense for more than a quarter here or there. Thus, even if the Knicks are fortunate enough to escape salary cap hell in the next 2 seasons, how can the team construct a title contender with Marbury as its focal player? I argue that it cannot. The team cannot surround him with enough offensive talent to offset his defensive liabilities with more scoring, a la Dallas of two seasons ago. Nor can the Knicks construct themselves like the San Antonio Spurs of three seasons ago, surrounding Marbury with 2 shot blockers and another perimeter defensive stopper. In order to do either Isiah Thomas would have to be perfect in all of his moves for the next 4-5 seasons. The far more sensible approach would be to attempt to build around another player where the gap between his offensive contributions and defensive liabilities is not nearly so wide.

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

TEAM	NAME............	POS	GAMES	MIN/G	PTS/40	eFG	FT	PSA	FT/FG	PER
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

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.