Archive for February, 2008

Go Ahead and Crown Their Asses

February 29, 2008

A little perspective on how schedules contribute to long winning streaks. Opponents with winning records are in bold.

Houston Rockets, 13 games, Jan. 29 – present:

  1. Warriors
  2. @Pacers
  3. @Bucks
  4. @T-Wolves
  5. Cavs
  6. Hawks
  7. Blazers
  8. Kings
  9. @Cavs
  10. Heat
  11. @Hornets
  12. Bulls
  13. Wizards

L.A. Lakers, 10 games, Feb. 8 – present:

  1. @Magic
  2. @Heat
  3. @Bobcats
  4. @T-Wolves
  5. Hawks
  6. @Suns (Shaq’s first game)
  7. Clippers
  8. @Sonics
  9. Blazers
  10. Heat

Portland Trailblazers, 13 games, Dec. 3 – Dec. 30

  1. @Grizz
  2. Heat
  3. Bucks
  4. @Jazz
  5. Warriors
  6. Jazz
  7. @Nuggets
  8. Hornets
  9. Raptors
  10. Nuggets
  11. Sonics
  12. T-Wolves
  13. Sixers

Since the Pau Gasol trade I’ve heard the Lakers offense referred to as a “juggernaut” at least half a dozen times and some commentators call them the team to beat. Even skeptics like Reid — who, like me, is hardly inclined to give the Rockets’ boring-ass game any cred — said the other day he was starting to bump them into the upper echelon of title contenders before Yao went down. And yet the most impressive of any of those streaks is the Blazers’. They’ve gone 12-16 since it ended.

This isn’t to say that the Lakers aren’t very good or that the Rockets weren’t playing significantly better, but I’ll wait to decide until I see both teams face some better comp.

UPDATE: Not that this proves anything definitively, but sure enough, last night the short-handed Rockets beat a decimated Grizzlies team while the Lakers lost in Portland.

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Whew Times Two

February 28, 2008

Spurs escaped twice tonight. First, Barry’s coming back, although it sounds like he was seriously considering joining the Suns, where he would have been a perfect fit. Second, I really couldn’t argue with Reid that, at the end of tonight’s game, if Damp’s bump on Duncan was a foul, then Terry probably should’ve gotten a whistle on the ensuing possession. In the West this year, we’ll take ’em wherever we can get ’em.

Stack Jack vs. Stephen

February 28, 2008

Reid pointed out two good profiles of Stephen Jackson that make him sound like a pretty genuinely good guy. They’re worth passing along:

1. Ric Bucher’s story in ESPN the Magazine is the first I’ve seen that tells this story:

Donald Buckner Jr. took the younger half-brother he called Stevie a lot of places but Longs (housing project) was not one of them. Stevie understood, well aware of what drugs and poverty could drive folks to do; no one grows up in a town surrounded by six prisons and misses that lesson. Stevie was a 14-year-old burgeoning basketball star when Donald hooked up with a new girlfriend living in Longs. Only she had an ex who hadn’t conceded that their relationship was over. Donald visited her one night and the ex called him out to settle it Port Arthur style. “In my neighborhood, no one minded catching a fair one,” says Jackson, “and my brother didn’t back down from anyone.” So they fought, with Donald getting the best of it until the ex’s brother and a cousin jumped Donald from behind, attacking him with a bottle and lead pipe. By the time Stevie heard about the fight, Donald was lying comatose in an ICU, 17 staples in his head. Stevie was bedside when a single tear slid down Donald’s face as he exhaled for the final time. “You can’t tell me seeing his brother die that way hasn’t had an effect,” says Pacers CEO Donnie Walsh. “To me, it’s why he is always coming to the help of his teammates.”

2. Yesterday in the S.F. Chronicle, Gwen Knapp referenced Bucher’s story and basically localized it with all he’s done since arriving in the Bay Area.

KEEERRRR!!!

February 27, 2008

Apparently today is decision day for Brent Barry, and he’s still open to the possibility of killing what innocence Hengst has left:

Brent Barry has reduced his list down to two teams, the Arizona Republic is reporting. Barry, who was waived by the Sonics after being acquired in a trade from San Antonio, will finish the season either back in San Antonio, or in Phoenix.

“I’ve spoken with Brent,” Suns GM Steve Kerr said. “I met with him and his wife, and we’re awaiting his decision. He’s very seriously considering it.”

That’s from RealGM quoting the Arizona Republic. The Republic also gives some some contract details: “Each team is offering a veteran’s minimum contract that includes the 2008-09 season, but the Spurs are believed to be sweetening the pot with a third year, on top of the emotional pull of teammates he has played with since 2004.”

Back in SA-Town, the E-N reports that Barry is feeling a little half-baked: “I’m really hoping that (Wednesday) is decision day, because I just told Erin I’ve never used drugs, but if this goes on much longer, I might be tempted to start.”

Wait, I always assumed that’s why he liked playing in Seattle so much…

Seriously, Who Does ESPN’s Graphics?

February 26, 2008

Today Yao goes down for the season and gets the Charlie Brown treatment:

A couple weeks ago, the Jason Kidd trade got its own special graphic that looked like a bad movie poster for Trade 2: Trade Harder(*):

Apparently, Kidd was ready for some real serious kung-fu shit, but then … why does Avery look like Eddie Griffin? Why does Dirk look like Seann William Scott in Dude Where’s My Car? And why does Cuban look mentally challenged?

Oh well, at least we know which team in the West is going to fall into the lottery now.

*Joke © Kevin Ray, 2001

Big Stat Attack

February 26, 2008

Following up a previous post, let’s throw out some stats that seem like logical indicators of whether these huge trades worked. This isn’t ideal because I’m a little rushed, haven’t really explained why these are the stats I like, and don’t have the pre-trade numbers at my fingertips, but oh well, that’ll come. For now let’s grab the latest numbers from ESPN. A good glossary of the stats is at basketball-reference.com. Suggestions welcome in comments.

SPURS

  • I thought defensive rebound rate (DRR) would tell the tale, or perhaps defensive efficiency (Def Eff), but nope: the Spurs are currently first in DRR (77.5) and third in Def Eff (100.0). Looks like Kurt Thomas was brought in specifically for playoff match-ups against Shaq, Pau, et al. Or maybe we really were just sticking it to the Mavs.

MAVS

  • Assist rate — currently stuck at 16.4, 20th in the league, this will obviously improve with Kidd but how much?
  • Offensive efficiency and pace — at 108.2, the Mavs’ efficiency is solid, 8th in the league, but they play at a really slow pace, 91.8 possessions a game. Not sure what any change would mean, but I’ll be curious to see.
  • Dirk’s 3-pt. % — he’s currently at 29.9%, way below last year’s 41.6. Will less pressure to facilitate the offense free up his shot?

SUNS

  • Def. Eff. — 103.8, ranked 15th. Obviously they want it to improve, but not at the expense of their offense, which was humming at a league-best 110.0 points per 100 possessions.
  • DRR — 69.5, ranked next to last. (Marion was their best defensive rebounder before the trade, with a DRR of 23.0. Granted it’s only three games, but Shaq’s at 31.9 for the Suns.)
  • Amare’s numbers — It’s already obvious Shaq is freeing up his game, but will it be more than a few extra dunks and some weakside blocks?

CAVS

  • True shooting % — right now: 52.2, 24th in the league. I figure better spacing and some real 3-point shooters should get them to rely less on second-chance points. Cavs were 4th in the league in ORR.
  • Def Eff — this year it’s a pedestrian 103.8, 16th overall. Paging Ben Wallace.

BULLS & HAWKS

  • Off. Eff. — If these teams are going to improve, it’s going to have to be offensively, right? Chicago = 99.4/26th. Atlanta = 101.0/22nd. As a general rule anything below 100 is pretty awful.

LAKERS

  • Things are obviously clicking for the Lakeshow, but my one lingering question was if that would change when Bynum gets back. I thought maybe he and Gasol overlapped, so there would be trouble working the kid back in. Reid figured they’d leave Pau at the high post and continue to score in buckets. The stats seem to back him up. Pau is more of a scorer and distributor; Bynum hits the glass harder and cleans up more of the offensive scraps.
  • Bynum: 13.1 pts, 10.2 reb, 1.7 ast, and .636 FG% per game. Advanced: 127 Off. Rating, 17.4 Usage Rate, and 12.1 Off. Reb. %
  • Gasol: 22.0 pts, 7.1 reb, 2.9 ast, and .632 FG% per game. Advanced: 132 Off. Rating, 23.0 Usage Rate, and 6.8 Off. Reb. %

I hate to say it, but shit, that’s impressive.

In all, I hope to find time this week to talk more about these stats, especially Offensive Rating and Usage Rate, which haven’t been discussed as much on the internet as I would expect.

Embarrassing…

February 25, 2008

Screen grab of Hawks-Spurs

That first quarter score isn’t a typo, like I thought when I saw it on the ticker? What in God’s name happened?

Encouraging…

February 25, 2008

E-N blog: “Brent Barry’s locker still hasn’t been completely cleaned out at the AT&T Center. His nameplate is still present above his stall as well.

“Not so for Francisco Elson, whose former space has already been invaded by new arrival Kurt Thomas.”

Quality Analysis

February 24, 2008

Jeff Van Gundy’s transformation from a coach who looked like a narcoleptic on suicide watch to a sarcastic, legitimately funny and insightful TV analyst ranks as a pretty big surprise. Watching this Suns-Pistons game, he nailed what appears to be the source of Phoenix’s hiccups in the Shaq era: they’ve lost too many shooters.

Again, it’s early yet, but I’m looking especially at Grant Hill. I haven’t been as impressed with Hill’s performance as most people — he just doesn’t seem to do a lot to make his teammates better — and it’s becoming obvious that his lack of 3-point shooting is killing the Suns’ spacing when he and Shaq are in the game. In fact, if they’re going to play Shaq and Amare together, which is yielding obvious benefits for Amare, the Suns really should consider making sure Hill and Diaw are on the bench. A line-up of Nash, Barbosa, and Bell, all top-notch 3-point shooters, makes a lot more sense.

In general, the Suns can’t afford to sacrifice their signature offense for the sake of forcing Shaq to fit, but that’s exactly what they’re doing against the Pistons. As of this writing, in the 3rd quarter, the Suns are down 25 and Shaq and Hill are “leading” the team in the minus part of plus-minus: -24 and -26, respectively.

Post-script: And whose name keeps popping up today as the best addition for the Suns? Brent Barry.

Trade Winds

February 24, 2008

I’m not really sure how anyone could totally process all these trades that went down, but that didn’t stop the ESPN crew from grading and dissecting them in four separate columns, to the tune of several thousand words: Hollinger, Stein, Simmons, Ford. Which is fine, we all want to read about these trades and it’s the worldwide leader’s job to provide content. What I don’t get is why sports pundits subscribe to the cable-news idea that the only worthwhile commentary is passing judgment.

For instance, Hollinger followed the draft-day model and graded every trade. Of course, he uses PER as his basis for all the grades, but most stat-heads I’ve read admit that all these complicated statistics measure only past performance. They hold little to no predictive value. So… how can you assign grades down to pluses and minuses when your numbers don’t say anything about how the new pieces will all fit? Or Simmons, who watched Chris Paul destroy an anxious, amped up, and adjusting Mavs team and declared that all his worst fears about Kidd were confirmed.

For now, even the limited evidence available is returning a ton of variation. The Suns just gave up 130 points to the Lakers and then held the Celtics to 77. Kidd had 5 assists and 6 turnovers in his first game, then turned around two nights later and handed out 15 dimes . Hell, Chicago went from being the most disappointing offensive team of the season to scoring 135 points in a regulation game — more, apparently, than the franchise ever scored in a game in the last 7 years of the Jordan era.

Going forward, it seems like it would be more helpful to offer fans something to watch for — whether on the court or statistically — that should signify whether these trades are having their intended effect. One example could be to watch how the Suns defensive rebounding rate and defensive efficiency increase with Shaq. Maybe I’ll think of some more for a post tomorrow.

At this point, only one thing is certain: everyone’s happy. Kobe’s delight, the high spirits in the Phoenix, and even Marion’s excitement about a fresh start are well chronicled. Dirk and Josh Howard are both gushing about Kidd, who’s wanted out of NJ forever. Devin Harris said he’s glad to be out from under the Little General’s marching orders. Lebron and Damon Jones seemed completely amped in a short-handed win the other night, like they were trying to put on a show for their new teammates (who had to watch in street clothes). Larry Hughes told the AP he’s happy to be out of Cleveland and no longer pretending to be a point guard. Unless you’re Brent Barry or doomed to Memphis, things are looking up, apparently.

I can’t believe I’m wrapping up by quoting Joakim Noah, but he said it best: “I think the most important thing tonight is just being happy in this locker room,” said Noah, who reportedly clashed with Wallace. “We haven’t done that too much this year.”

How long the backslapping lasts for all these teams is anyone’s guess.