Karl Malone vs Kevin Garnett… Part 2

My column last Tuesday must have been a hit, because I received a stream of emails larger than any other column before. Yes I beat my personal record of 1 email, and received 2 whole emails on the topic. Technically this will be the third posting in this series, since the one last Tuesday was an email response to my column on May 20th.

…my only point was that since both were all-D 1st team they are by definition comparable (of equal value, etc – the very best for a specific season). often we get people posting to the APBR groups who are young and have seen the players of today but not those of yesteryear (not that malone was great all that long ago). not knowing who you were/are, i had to wonder if you saw malone play. my point was that anyone who had seen karl malone play alot during that time would have come away thinking he was a helluva defender…

my personal belief is that he was a great defender for a long time but himself did not get the recognition from the sports media and public as one of the best because a) he was also a great offensive player, and often people think the two do not go hand in hand, and b) he played in utah, not the mecca of pro hoops, and the jazz were not center stage until 96-97 and 97-98, having lost in the finals both times to the bulls….

bob chaikin

I have to agree with Bob in that I haven’t seen Malone play alot. Being a Knicks fan, and living on the East coast didn’t give me many opportunities to see Malone’s defensive abilities. Maybe I’ve saw him play once or twice a year. Bob is right in a way, that since Utah is a West coast team without appearing in the Finals until late in his career I can’t judge Malone’s defensive game. When Malone did appear on the main stage (for us right coasters), he was a bit older & played against an offensively challenged player in Dennis Rodman. By that time in his career, Rodman’s sole abilities were rebounding & defense. Defending against an offensively challenged player is hardly a way to show your defensive skills.

Bob claims that Malone doesn’t get the respect he deserves because of his offensive skills. So is being a good offensive player is a detriment to winning defensive acclaim? Here are the All-NBA Teams for two recent years.

2002-03
FIRST TEAM

Tim Duncan, San Antonio
Kevin Garnett, Minnesota
Ben Wallace, Detroit
Doug Christie, Sacramento
Kobe Bryant, L.A. Lakers

SECOND TEAM
Ron Artest, Indiana
Bruce Bowen, San Antonio
Shaquille O’Neal, L.A. Lakers
Jason Kidd, New Jersey
Eric Snow, Philadelphia

2001-02
FIRST TEAM

Tim Duncan, San Antonio
Kevin Garnett, Minnesota
Ben Wallace, Detroit
Gary Payton, Seattle
Jason Kidd, New Jersey

SECOND TEAM
Bruce Bowen, San Antonio
Clifford Robinson, Detroit
Dikembe Mutombo, Philadelphia
Kobe Bryant, L.A. Lakers
Doug Christie, Sacamento

The awardees seem to be primarily in one of two groups: either great offensive players (Duncan, Garnett, Kobe, Shaq, etc.) or horrible offensive players (Wallace, Mutombo, Bowen, etc.). There is a third group with offensively mediocre players (Artest, Christie), but I don’t see how being a great offensive player hurts your chances of getting acclaim for your defensive play.

Bob wasn’t the only one to have an opinion on the Garnett vs Malone defensive matchup:

…I think Garnett’s defensive ability is something that might be deserving of a whole column/blog entry. He’s got all the All-Defense nods, but there are also those that think his rep vastly overstates his actual ability (Kobe Bryant falls into this category to an even larger degree).

I recall a few years ago, the Sonics coaching staff said at a season ticket-holder Q&A that Garnett could be beaten if you went at him — in other words, he’s an excellent team defender, but not as good one-on-one. Dean Oliver said something similar when I asked him about Garnett recently (we were watching Game 7 of Kings-Wolves).

His opponent performance by postition (http://www.82games.com/03MIN12C.HTM) is pretty good, but not in the stratosphere of Tim Duncan (http://www.82games.com/03SAS15C.HTM). Does his team defense make up for that?

Kevin Pelton

I’m sorry to say I can’t answer any of those questions. Right now I think it’s safe to say that nobody can give a definitive answer as to how good a player’s man-to-man defense or help defense is. I think in time we might be able to extrapolate +/- data in such a way that we can verify how good each player’s defense is. Maybe there will be a more advanced way in the future to figure these things out.

One question that we can start debating about is whether being able to play good defense against your man (man-to-man) is greater or less than being able to play good help defense (team defense). I would imagine doing the former wouldn’t show up anywhere on the box scores other than maybe a drop at the opposing player’s points scored (or eFG%, TO/48, etc.) at the same position. For example if Garnett is a good man to man defender, it’s possible that all the PF who’ve played against him will score less than their yearly average. Of course there are many ways this data could be corrupted as well. [For example a team may have a great shot blocker or play a slow tempo game (with few possessions).]

Without evidence to the contrary, I would say that being a good team defender is more important than being a good man to man guy. Being able to stop your opponent is a good thing, but let’s say you’re a SG, and your opposing team’s best scorers are the SF & C. You aren’t able to help your teammates as much. But if you’re a good help defender, you should be able to help your team whoever their scorer is, whether you’re Garnett helping out with a block, or Jason Kidd doubling down to getting a quick steal.

Karl Malone vs. Kevin Garnett?

There is nothing greater to a blogger than to get a response via email. It means that someone out there is actually reading. Writing a blog is a solitary act. It’s very different from responding to a message board, or talking basketball with the person that happens to sit next to you at the bar. I don’t have to validate my work to anyone when I write my blog. For all intents & purposes, I write in a vacuum.

Getting an email is joyous to a blogger. It means that someone out there is not just giving you a ‘hit’ by quickly scanning the page for something of interest. Not only did they actually read my entire blog (so I hope), but the fact that something inside of the blog made them yearn for more. They wished to contact you. And although it seems easy to scan the page for the email me link, few people exercise that right. Whether it’s from a lack of a following, or a lack of desire for my readers to actually care about anything I write is up in the air. By receiving an email, I know that I may be writing alone, but I’m not alone in my thoughts.

So I was thrilled tonight to check my email and see one from:

From: May Sorensen
Sent: Tuesday, May 25, 2004 6:25 PM
To: knickerblogger@kurylo.com
Subject: University Certificates, No Classes Needed, ID: T8618U75

ID: m421OO14

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Call to register and get yours in days – 1.203.286.2403

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I’d be interested in putting a university certificate right next to my university diploma. However right now I’m too busy getting my penis enlarged (sfw), and helping that poor Nigerian banker get his money out of the country. Some people might say that the random words inserted at the bottom are to fool spam blockers, but if you went to their University, you would know exactly what they are trying to say in that sentence.

I’d put May in the category of readers that just glanced over my blog. I also got another email, and I’m pretty sure that this guy might have read a few of the sentences:

From: BChaikin
Sent: Monday, May 24, 2004 10:38 AM
To: KnickerBlogger@kurylo.com
Subject: KnickerBlogger

In addition Malone was never the defensive player that Garnett is.

kevin garnet may be a great defender now, but karl malone was 1st-team all-D for three straight seasons, from 96-97 to 98-99, during which time some other great defending forwards were scottie pippen, p.j. brown, charles oakley, tim duncan, and others. while some may write off one 1st-team all-D nomination as a popularity contest, i doubt they would 3 straight…

i saw karl malone play alot, and there’s no question in my mind that he was an excellent defender for a long time. for that matter his 1st team all-D nominations didn’t come until his 12th-14th seasons in the league – he was an awfully good defender pnrior to these seasons also…

bob chaikin

Now as much as I appreciate May Sorensen’s input, she will never have the understanding that Bob Chaikin does about basketball, and neither will I. Bob is a contributing member of the APBR. He’s created various computer simulation modeling programs that have been used by a few NBA teams. If you didn’t know all that, then you might recognize Bob as a regular poster in the APBR_Analysis group. Needless to say Bob knows basketball.

At first glance I thought Mr. Chaikin was disagreeing with me. All the normal clues are there. He’s begun by using my quote, and stating some facts. But nowhere in his email does he say that Malone at any time was as good a defender as Garnett is now, which was my claim. Instead he notes that Malone was a very good defender using both observational and statistical data.

I agree. Malone was a three time 1st team all-defensive team member. Garnett has already been honored in that fashion for 4 consecutive years, and he’s only been in the league for 9 years. In no way shape or form is that the only way to measure a player’s defensive abilities. However beyond that, I don’t have evidence to the contrary. Maybe Malone was a better defender but his contemporaries were better defenders than Garnett, which is why he won less awards. Maybe the voters had something against Karl. It could be that Malone’s defensive abilities were such that he held opponents to a lower FG% than Garnett would have. It’s possible that Garnett’s higher shot blocking statistics is due to his teammates letting their defenders beat them more often that Malone’s.

That’s an argument for another time, when we have the tools and understanding to better gauge a defender’s effectiveness. Right now I’ll be happy to take back any implications that Malone wasn’t a great defensive player in my statement, but stand by it as well by believing that Garnett is the better defender of the two.

Standing On The Shoulders Of A Giant

Usually the title expression is in reference to when someone performs something great, but defers the credit to those that came before him to make it possible. If memory serves me correctly, it was Isaac Newton who used the expression (in it’s plural form) to honor those that made his discoveries possible. In this instance, I use it to describe the Timberwolves game 7 against the Kings. Kevin Garnett’s teammates jumped on his back, letting the giant carry them to victory. It was like Pippin & Merry on the back of Treebeard.

Garnett played the entire 4th quarter, and at one point had his team’s last 13 points. His contribution wasn’t limited to just scoring, since he also was the T-Wolves main rebounder (21), shot blocker (5), and even played backup point guard when Cassell was on the bench. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a player do it all, like Garnett. He is simply a unique player that comes around once a generation.

Only considering the players I’ve seen in my lifetime, there is little comparison to Garnett in terms of skill set. Shaq is a dominant player on his own, maybe the most dominant player with the smallest skill set. Shaq is nearly unstoppable under the hoop, but his ability diminishes as he travels further from the basket as to where his free throw shooting is embarrassing. Shaq fancies himself as a skilful dribbler for a man his size, but only in Shaq’s mind does he have the handle of Garnett.

Tim Duncan is another 7 footer who opts to play PF instead of C. Unlike Shaq, the Big Fundamental has decent range for a player his size, but he doesn’t have Garnett’s shooting touch. Like Shaq, Duncan’s free throw percentage is a weakness at times, with a career low this year of 59.9%, something that hasn’t afflicted Garnett (career 76.1%).

Of the active power forwards, Karl Malone might be the most similar on offense, but he still doesn’t have Garnett’s dribbling ability or shooting range. In addition Malone was never the defensive player that Garnett is.

In fact there is only one player (that I’ve seen play), that has as diverse abilities as Garnett: Magic Johnson. Johnson, in case you were born yesterday, was a 6’9 point guard. Magic’s blend of efficient scoring (53% eFG), passing (11.2 APG – #1 all time), and rebounding (7.2 RPG) made him an offensive machine that earned him 3 MVPs and 9 All-NBA First Team honors. Magic was probably the best passer I’ve ever had the pleasure of witnessing.

My point is not to compare the two individuals in that manner, because despite their wide range of talents, they play much different roles. When Magic retired (for the first time), the game lost one of it’s greatest and most entertaining players. Today’s generation that will grow up never have seeing Johnson run one of his trademark fast breaks will be missing something, as I’m sure I am, never having seen Oscar Robertson or Cousy showcase their gifts. However watching last night’s game, Kevin Garnett gave today’s generation something to brag to their kids about.

RIP 2004 Spurs

Last night the San Antonio Spurs were eliminated from the playoffs by the Los Angeles Lakers. There are a few important ramifications of this. First is that the defending champs won’t repeat this year. Second is that the #1 defensive team has been eliminated. At least one more of the top 4 defensive teams will be eliminated when the Pistons & Nets series is complete. Third is that the 03/04 NBA playoffs has it’s first upset (for an entire series). Finally, the Lakers will have to get a bigger bandwagon, because everyone will be jumping back on.

Well not everyone. Even though I was incorrect his round, I’ll stand by my predictions that the Yellow & Purple won’t be holding the big trophy by summertime. They still have two more series to win on the road, and taking the entire field seems to be at least even odds against a single team.

As for the Spurs, their defense looked fine, but their offense fizzled out. Their 32% eFG% was indicative of their poor play. Despite having a huge edge with 21 offensive rebounds to 8, the Spurs were worse in three other important categories eFG% (51% to 32%), getting to the free throw line (41 to 26 FTA), and turnovers (14 to 11). The Tony Parker that was excellent on the scoring end in 3 of the first 4 games disappeared. Thus the Lakers just needed to double team Duncan to hinder San Antonio’s offense. The Spurs tried to react giving more time to Ginobili, Horry and Brown, but it wasn’t enough to overcome the poor shooting of Nesterovic, Turkoglu, and Parker.


Just a little follow-up on my last column. Average baseball games are near 3 hours, not the 4 I exaggerated to make my point. Although I’m not alone in my feelings that baseball games are too long.

Spurs/Lakers

Last night the NBA had one whole playoff game going on, but it was the marquee matchup of the second round. The Lakers and Spurs went at it again. In case you were out busy celebrating, you can find out easily who won the game, by looking at the score. But how they won is a different story. What statistics are the most important in relation to winning?

An article by Dean Oliver titled “The Four Factors of Basketball Success” discusses exactly this. In it he outlines the four most important team stats that lead to victory. They are (with weight in parenthesis):

1. Shooting % (10)
2. Turnovers (6)
3. Offensive rebounding (5)
4. Getting to the line (3)

So how did the two teams compare yesterday?

1. Shooting percentage (eFG%)
LAL: 53%
SAS: 56%

Both teams shot exceptionally well, although the Spurs had a slight advantage here. Watching the game I can tell you this was caused by a lot of layups from fast breaks for the Spurs & dunks by Shaq.

2. Turnovers (TO)
LAL: 16
SAS: 8

So far everything seems to be in the Spurs favor. To me these first two stats says something about the Lakers defense, or rather lack of. Not only did the Spurs shot at a high percentage (see above), but they only had 8 turnovers. It doesn’t seem that the Lakers did anything to stop them from scoring.

3. Offensive Rebounds (OReb% = oReb/attempts, where attempts = opp dReb + oReb – opp oReb)
LAL: 12/(33+12-6)=31%
SAS: 6/(6+42-12)=17%

Well here is one place the Lakers dominated. Most of the credit goes to Shaq who was nearly unstoppable at times. Not only did he have 6 of the Lakers’ 12 offensive rebounds, but he shot 15/21 (71%)!

4. Getting to the free throw line (FTA)
LAL: 18 (39%)
SAS: 30 (60%)

The Spurs dominated here as well. They had almost twice as many chances from the charity stripe, and they also converted at twice the rate. Duncan himself hit 10 (of 14), which is more than the Laker’s entire team (7 FTM).

Easily it was a contest dominated by the Spurs. Right now it doesn’t appear that the Lakers added the right players. Malone and Payton are great players, but when they’re not the focal point of the offense their contribution to their team is diminished. Why would you need Gary Payton, when your offense is primarily lobbing the ball into Shaq, or letting Kobe loose. They would be better served with a few guys that can’t create offense, but instead can do things like shut down their opponent, rebound, or hit their shots at a high percentage.

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.

The Dean Oliver Interview

Baseball is in the midst of a revolution of sorts. No it’s not about steroids or home run records, but rather the wave of statistical analysis that is hitting the league like a Pedro Martinez high and tight fastball. The grandfather of this uprising could be Branch Rickey, the former Dodgers GM. More than half a century ago, he knew there were flaws in measuring a player’s value with stats like BA, RBI, and even fielding percentage. Even though the baseball world ignored these simple findings, other people did not. A small group of people asked: “what are the best tools we have to evaluate baseball players?”

The fathers of the revolution are guys like Bill James, Pete Thorn, and John Palmer, who have given birth to the modern day soldiers. Current GM’s like Billy Beane, J.P. Ricciardi, Paul Depodesta, and Theo Epstein value statistical analysis over observational appraisal. Columnists like Rob Neyer are part of the mainstream and have forced the old regime to pick up new terms like OPS to adapt. Voros McCracken, a lawyer turned baseball consultant, turned a world of baseball thinkers on their head with his theory that (with few exceptions) pitchers have little effect on a batted ball in play. The movement has hit the streets with a new generation of writers from all walks of life preaching the new credo.

What does this have to do with Dean Oliver? His book is part of a parallel movement in basketball. Dean’s goal with his book is to better understand basketball through statistics. Where current statistics don’t give enough information, Dean creates his own. Whether you’re a casual fan or a failled GM looking for a way to improve your way of thinking, Dean Oliver’s book should be of interest to you.

“Basketball On Paper” tries to answer the tough questions. Is Team A really good defensively or does their slow tempo give that illusion? Read the book. Which team was the best offensive team of all time? Read the book. Can my team benefit from playing a risky strategy or should they tone it down? Read the book. How valuable is Iverson with his low FG%? Read the book.

The fires of same revolt are slowly starting to kindle in basketball. No there are no Billy Beane’s in the front offices of the NBA, yet. Nor is Bill Walton scrambling to learn what PER means. Jon Hollinger’s “Basketball Prospectus”, columns like Kevin Pelton’s Page 23, discussion groups like the APBR, and Dean Oliver’s “Basketball on Paper” will change the way people think about basketball, like their sabermetric cousins are currently doing in baseball.

And now, on to the interview:

“Basketball on Paper”:

KB: Since writing your book “Basketball on Paper,” what have you been working on since & what can we expect from you in the future?

I’ve actually been working on marketing the book and convincing NBA teams of the value of this kind of work — any of the type of statistical work that is logical and reasonable to help a team. I have been talking to a number of teams, the league office, and to media. I’ve done a couple of limited studies relating to work I’ve done for years for the Seattle Sonics. I’ve written a couple things and I am outlining another book on statistical approaches to basketball strategy.

KB: What were some of the responses to your book?

I did a radio show down in Tampa and Doc Rivers came up to me after hearing it and really wanted to talk to me and get a copy of the book. That was nice. I sent the book on to Bill James, who in an email to me said it was an excellent book. He is planning an endorsement. I know that some readers get concerned by seeing formulas or numbers of any sort, which is a bit of a shame since they really are there to support stories and lessons of how the game works and how good talent is.

KB: What is missing or what is next in the literature on basketball statistics?

I think what is missing is the same large audience that baseball stats have. There isn’t a lot of money in a lot of the basketball writing at this point. And it’s a difference in the games. Baseball is slow enough that fans can really talk about what’s going on, pull in numbers. Basketball numbers are tremendous, they’re plentiful, and they’re insightful, but the time to use them or to make adjustments based on them is just not there. So fans look for the excitement and coaches make a lot of decisions based on gut feel. I’ve introduced some rules of thumb for hoops that can be applied on the fly, but it’s going to take a little while to catch on.

What is next in line for research is really a translation system for players from one league to the NBA. College stats have the best history, but high school and international leagues have significance now. We’re just catching up on this and it is not an easy problem. I’ve figured a few things out, but I have too many rules like “The Pitino Rule” that are just annoying and not very general. (Basically, Pitino’s system causes some of his players to be overvalued by stats.)

KB: When I read your book, “Basketball on Paper” I couldn’t help but think of it as the “Win Shares” of basketball, because of :

  • It’s ability to try and understand defense, where traditional methods are lacking
  • The clarity in which advanced statistical ideas are presented
  • The author’s humor

Do you see yourself making a book similar to “The New Bill James’ Historical Abstract”, either by making a recount of basketball by historical periods, or by ranking players by position?

I would very likely do such a book in combination with people like John Grasso, Bijan Bayne, Harvey Pollack, and my contacts in the NBA. The statistical library to evaluate the older players is incomplete, so video and news stories would be very important to make some accurate representations. These guys could definitely help. And I wouldn’t want to do what Elliott Kalb did with his book recently either, which is subjectively rank guys without a lot of link to objective evidence. You mention the recount of basketball by historical periods and I have done a lot of that. Total Basketball does some work along these lines, but doesn’t really talk about why Wilt scored 50 ppg in 1962, for instance, which is important. I mention those things — pace, less judiciousness in shot selection, lack of double-teams — in Basketball on Paper and would like to assemble more of that in a book like this.

Is this something that is right around the corner? Probably not. The group of interested basketball historians is growing, but it isn’t large enough to pay for the massive research involved. I hate having to say it that way, but basketball writers do need to make a living.

Stats:

KB: On ESPN’s MLB main stat page, they have a “sabermetric” stat OPS on the main page, and a sabermetric page with such stats as isolated power and runs created. On ESPN’s NBA page, the closest they have to advanced metrics is points per shot and adjusted field goal percentage. How long do you think it will take before the major sports web sites will post stats like your off. Rtg., stop%, or Hollinger’s PER?

We’re getting there. The WNBA will put out possession stats and points per possession stats this year. The WNBA is also quite receptive to some of the defensive work we did with them a couple years ago and we’re hoping to do that again this year. Issuing monthly reports on what individuals forced the most misses would be nice small pieces of information that help that league and intrigue the bigger brother, the NBA.

The NBA does now have something it calls “efficiency”, which is just a sum of the good things minus the bad things, something I’ve heard referred to as “plus/minus” or is almost Tendex or Bob Bellotti’s Points Created. Going to the more advanced individual numbers is going to take a while. Putting team numbers out there first is huge. Then, in a couple years, we can start talking about other stuff. What we don’t want is another NFL-like passer rating stat that everyone jokes about as the lead stat.

KB: How would you define who is the best rebounder in the league? Would you simply look at REB/48min, or are there other considerations (incl. FG% and pace)?

Primarily, rebounders can be evaluated by the percentage of available rebounds they get. With 10 guys on the court, 10% would be average. I think Rodman was up around 20%. This accounts for pace and FG%. What it doesn’t account for is whether it really makes the team a good rebounding team, which is a modifying factor. A guy who gets 15% of available rebounds on a bad rebounding team is not as useful as one who gets 15% on a good rebounding team (because he is competing against his own teammates for boards). But that is relatively small in terms of importance.

KB: Is there a way to translate a player’s college statistics into his success at the professional level?

As I said above, this is one of the most important projects on the front burner. I’m getting better at it by studying the cases that just don’t work the first time and figuring out why.

KB: What has surprised you about the NBA season this year so far?

In terms of wins and losses, there aren’t a lot of surprises. I’m a little surprised at how successful the Nuggets are. I thought they’d be a lot better, but not this much better. I have been surprised by the coaching turnover. Doc Rivers was out quick, though the losing streak made it less surprising. Byron Scott’s firing and the discord between Ainge and Jim O’Brien — those really surprised me. I also was surprised at how cheaply Portland got Shareef Abdur-Rahim.

The Knicks:

KB: What do you think of the job Isaiah Thomas has done with the Knicks this year?

He wasn’t shy. Being decisive is usually a good thing, but his history in charge generally concerns me. So, picking up Marbury is a nice thing. Marbury is a very good piece to have. I just don’t know if the baggage of the other players, plus the losses were worth it if he’s trying to build a championship team. It’s more important that Isiah know how to follow up the moves he has made than just standing on what he’s got. So he gets a big Incomplete at this point.

KB: If you had to, where would you rank Stephon Marbury among today’s point guards?

Jason Kidd is solidly above him. Otherwise, he is in a class of points who are quite good (Nash, Parker, Billups, Cassell, Payton, and I’m sure I’m forgetting someone). Marbury is the best on the offensive side, but his defense lacks. Intangibly, he’s worn out his welcome a few times now and that matters.

KB: In your opinion, what player (current or former) is Nazr Mohammed most similar to? In the best case scenario what player could he aspire to become?

Curious that you ask that. Curious that the Knicks really valued him. One of my techniques for looking for players is to look at successful players in the league and see what guys are modestly similar to them who may not be getting much time. Mohammed came out modestly similar to a couple prominent big men in a study I did for the Sonics. I think Garnett or Duncan was one. But I have sooo many numbers that suggest he just isn’t going to end up good that I discarded him as a legit possibility. I did all that right before the trade, so I found it very coincidental. Best case: he might be Jamaal Magloire. He just can’t consistently score inside.

KB: Is Kurt Thomas worth $30 over 4 years, or could the Knicks have gotten similar production out of a cheaper and younger player?

Kurt Thomas is serviceable. He’s not a bad player. But he’s just not someone I see as a significant component of a championship team. It’s a risk to go after a younger player, but I would have taken that risk.

One final question:
KB: What do you like best about the Knicks?

Weeellllll, I do tend to root for Lenny Wilkens. He may be old-school and not care about the kind of work that I do, but he’s always seemed like a decent guy.