Bucks Diary

Thursday, November 30, 2006

Ten who are struggling

Here are the ten players whose struggles this season I deemed most noteworthy:

1. Stephon Marbury (Eff48: 12.63)

Holy God, it must be the cheap shoes. Marbury's game, always flawed, has just gone completely in the toilet. He is one of the least productive "high minute" players in the Association.

2. Michael Finley (Eff48: 12.65)

Here's a guy who seems to have completely lost his game. He is only productive in spurts now. His rapid decline reminds me of former Packers WR Antonio Freeman. One day he's an elite player, the next day he's an overpaid, mediocre, salary cap albatross.

3. Gary Payton (Eff48: 11.92)

He is the modern day NBA version of Johnny Unitas finishing his career out with the Chargers. Sad really. He has nothing left, but can't force himself to admit it and step away.

4. Tracy McGrady (Eff48: 23.22)

Washed up at 27? He's way off his career numbers (Eff48: 29.45, and that includes his teenage years with the Raptors), and I heard him tell Jim Rome that because of his many injuries, he can no longer get around guys like he used to be able to do. Not long ago he might have been considered the best in the game.

5. Richard Jefferson (Eff48: 16.73)

Another guy who is way off his normally stellar career production. (Career Eff48: 23.24). But of all the guys on this list, he is the one I most expect to bounce back. He's too good.

6. Ben Wallace (Eff48: 19.65)

Prime example of a declining player suckering a team into giving him a fat contract. What I can't understand is why the Bulls wanted him when they had Tyson Chandler. Both have the same game, except Chandler is young and improving while Wallace is old and declining.

7. Chris Kaman (Eff48: 17.53)

Kaman signed the big contract and this is the thanks he gives back to Donald Sterling? He's a center who barely rebounds, and an inside player who is shooting 40% from the field. Terrible.

8. Channing Frye (Eff48: 16.66)

Last year's surprise rookie perfomer has turned into this year's sophomore bust. Channing, you're supposed to improve with experience, not dramatically decline.

9. Gerald Wallace (Eff48: 16.32)

Last season was a breakout season for Wallace. He was wildly productive, and held one of the top Eff48 scores among all small forwards (28.64). So far he hasn't followed up with anything at all.

10. Desmond Mason (Eff48: 10.46)

He's not really struggling... he just sucks. I included him on this list for the consideration of all those who keep saying the Bucks shouldn't have traded him. Bullocks! He's awful. For the second straight season he is the least productive player in the Association among those who average at least 30 minutes per game. The least productive. I don't care if he was Mother Teresa in the community, the Bucks got rid of his ass right at the right time. He has nothing left.

Power Rankings: Spurs ascend to No. 1

Here is the latest edition of my weekly NBA Power Rankings. Remember, these rankings are based solely on each team’s Offensive Efficiency / Defensive Efficiency differential (the number in the parenthesis next to each team). I’ve found that it is highly volatile. But I guess that makes it more interesting.

Week's Highest Riser: Dallas Mavericks (up 12 spots)
Week's Biggest Faller: Los Angeles Clippers (down 12 spots)

1. San Antonio Spurs (+8)

2. Utah Jazz (+6)

3. Houston Rockets (+5)

4. Orlando Magic (+4)

5. Denver Nuggets (+4)

6. Cleveland Cavaliers (+3)

7. Dallas Mavericks (+3)

8. Phoenix Suns (+3)

9. Golden State Warriors (+3)

10. Detroit Pistons (+2)

11. Sacramento Kings (+2)

12. Los Angeles Lakers (+2)

13. Chicago Bulls (0)

14. Oklahoma City Hornets (0)

15. Minnesota Timberwolves (0)

16. Seattle Supersonics (0)

17. Atlanta Hawks (0)

18. Los Angeles Clippers (-1)

19. Boston Celtics (-1)

20. New Jersey Nets (-2)

21. Philadelphia 76ers (-2)

22. New York Knickerbockers (-2)

23. Memphis Grizzlies (-2)

24. Washington Bullets (-3)

25. Indiana Pacers (-3)

26. Toronto Raptors (-3)

27. Milwaukee Bucks (-5)

28. Portland Trailblazers (-6)

29. Charlotte Bobcats (-6)

30. Miami Heat (-8)

Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Redd cooking in the toaster

The legendary original Voice of the Bucks, Eddie Doucette, used to describe drives to the lane as "going into the toaster". Beginning with last season's play-offs, Michael Redd has elevated his game by spending more time there.

I think it all began with Game Two of last year's Piston series. After a poor Game One, in which the Pistons voracious defense choked Redd off on the perimeter and scuttled his scoring, Redd knew he had to do something different. He did. He began to attack the basket with vigor, and began to score at will. The Pistons could not contain him for the rest of the series. Having succeeded with it against one of the Association's top defenses, Redd carried his new, more aggressive, philosophy forward into this season, with much success.

Redd's eFG is up this season, but, it might surprise you to learn, its actually down on jump shots alone. It has gone up overall because he is driving to the basket with more regularity and finishing his drives with much greater success.

Last season 72% of Redd's shots were jumpers, and he had an eFG of 47.6% on those shots. This season only 65% of Redd's shots have been jumpers, with an eFG of 43.6%. Last season he took only 26% of his shots in close, with an eFG of 56% (somewhat mediocre for close shots by guards, since most of those shots are driving layups). This season he has lived in the lane. He has raised his close shot percentage to 34%, and he is making nearly 67% of those shots.

This is also reflected in his higher "Basket Attack" ratio (FTA/FGA). Last season that ratio was 33.6%, this season it is up to nearly 38%.

The adjustment in Redd's game was on stark display last night against Kobe Bryant and the Lakers. Kobe Bryant used to be able to choke Redd's jump shot, and by extension Redd's game, simply by using his height to challenge Redd's release. Last night Kobe was not ready for the new Redd, and paid the price. Redd's aggression forced Bryant into early foul difficulty, and, for once, Redd got the better of his All-Star rival.

End of the Kobe Curse

When Kobe Bryant wore No. 8, he had Michael Redd's number. He routinely dominated the Bucks guard, and often provided Sportscenter with a humiliating Redd facial or two. And the Lakers always won. But now that he wears No. 24... not so much.

Last night it was Redd who was handing out the humiliations. He absolutely destroyed his old nemesis. He tallied 45 big points, most of them with a high degree of difficulty, and most of them right on Kobe's smug grille. Meanwhile, the Sportscenter lowlight from this game was at Bryant's expense -- courtesy of Dan Gadzuric -- who smashed one of Kobe's jump shots into the celebrity section at the Staples Center. Ouch. As a result, the Bucks beat the Lakers for the first time since 2001.

Is Redd unguardable?

Redd was amazing. He was making some of the most difficult shots look easy. If there is a better, more creative, scorer in the game, I haven’t seen him. Redd can make shots from any angle, and at any spot on the floor. You almost can’t defend him. If you take away his left hand, he can hit those leaning shots going right. If you try to squeeze off his jumper, he blows by you. If you run guys at him, he is nimble enough to snake through and get off that scoop lay-up. He’s having a remarkable season.

Other thoughts on the Laker game

…The Bucks nearly blew this game, a game they should have won easily. What happened? It was defensive lapses and ballhandling errors. (I’ll address the latter in a moment) Accounts of the game will credit the Bucks zone defense for the victory, but it was actually the Lakers poor shooting. The Bucks zone rotations were often way too slow. By my count they gave up 12 wide open jump shots in the fourth quarter alone. Luckily, the Lakers only made 3 of those.

…Hey Mo, what the hell? Mo Williams had a good game right up until crunch time, when he absolutely fell apart. It looked like he was trying to invent new ways to turn the ball over. He was passing it to no one, kicking it off his shins even though unguarded, and generally playing like a high school backup who’s scared to handle the ball. It was weird.

… Did anyone catch the huddle exchange between Mo and Bogut during a fourth quarter timeout? Bogut unloaded both barrels on him. I don’t know what Bogut initially said, but it was animated, and at the end of the “conversation” he backhanded Williams on the chest and clearly yelled “Pass the ball!”

…I’m not sure about this one, but after Gadzuric gave that wicked facial to Kobe Bryant, I thought I heard this request come from the Laker PA announcer “Will Row 34 please return the basketball?” I mean, that was a swat and a half.

…Welcome back Charlie Bell! Most of the credit for last night’s win will be given to Redd, but without the super stretch play of Charlie Bell, the Bucks would have lost. No shot was bigger than the shot Bell made at the 1:33 mark of the fourth period. It was an extremely difficult shot, and he hit pure chords with it.

Monday, November 27, 2006

Freakonomic error in the Eff48 statistic

Since I started this blog I have argued (and its hardly an original argument) that raw statistics such as scoring average and rebounding average are wildly overvalued in basketball. They present an incomplete and often misleading indication of a player’s value to his team. Thus I ignore them completely. A player’s value is better understood by considering the entirety of his statistical contributions, crediting him for positive production while penalizing him for negative production, and then converting the result into something that is playing-time neutral. The NBA’s efficiency statistic (Eff48) does all of that, and until now I thought it was a bulletproof measure of productive value. I wasn’t quite correct.

In the book “The Wages of Wins” (a book aptly described as “Freakonomics meets ESPN”), two economists point out the flaw in my thinking. While they agree that traditional statistics provide a highly distorted reflection of productive reality, they disagree that Eff48 represents a full correction.

Their critique is simple – Eff48 doesn’t adequately penalize missed field goals. Under Eff48 every missed field goal costs just one efficiency point, while every made field goal adds at least 2. Thus the formula indirectly rewards shot attempts over shot efficiency.

What’s missing in Eff48 is an acknowledgement of the opportunity cost of missing field goals. A player who takes 15 two-point shots and makes just 5 of them has theoretically cost his team at least twice as many potential points (20) as he has delivered in actual points (10). Therefore the true productive value of his field goal attempts should be somewhere in the red, yet under Eff48 he breaks even.

That said, Eff48 is still the best, most understandable, and most accessible measure of a player’s true productive value, and it will be the statistic I will continue to emphasize. (In plain English that translates into “I’m not good at math, so if you think I’m going to waste my time doing my own calculations based on a complicated formula I don’t really understand, you’re delusional.”)

Sunday, November 26, 2006

Elevate Krystkowiak now

The Bucks have proven the old saw that a team takes on the identity of its coach. Stotts is a mid-level accountant. When he gets you down, he asks if you need help getting back up. We've seen enough of that approach. Its time for a street fighter. A guy who, when he gets you down, makes sure you stay down.

This morning the Diesel suggested to me that the Bucks already have the man for the job under contract. He was right.

Anyone who saw Larry Krystkowiak perform in a Bucks uniform knows that. As a player he was undersized, underathletic... and yet wildly productive.

He got the job done through intensity and desire. He gave maximum effort every minute of every game. That is exactly the attitude this team needs. At the moment, the only thing consistent about their effort is its maddening inconsistency. He would change that.

That's why as soon as The Diesel threw out his name I instantly saw the genius in it. The question is: Will Senator Kohl?

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

Bucks showing heart if not wins

Time it was when a huge game from Mo Williams meant certain victory for the Bucks. That was then. The Bucks are now so undermanned that last night's spectacular performance by Williams still resulted in a loss. In fact, as presently constituted, they are probably the worst team in the league. But things are not all bad.

I think this period without Villanueva and Simmons...while acutely painful in the short term...will have medium and possibly long term benefits.

In the medium term, Bogut is becoming more involved in the offense. Ilyasova is gaining valuable experience he would not otherwise have gotten. And the team is starting to develop a toughness and heart they seemed to have lacked in the past.

In the long term, think of San Antonio. When David Robinson was injured early in his career, the Spurs went from a middling team to a dreadful one. Yet that injury proved to be the pivotal event in their franchise's history. In the next draft they were able to add Tim Duncan and then the championships followed.

I'm not saying the Bucks will land a Duncan in next year's draft. But they don't need to. A well chosen top 5 pick could make all the difference. Imagine this young team with one more young blue chip player. Such an acquisition might instantly change the arc of the entire franchise.

There is an old Roman saying that in the bitter fruit of misfortune one often finds the seeds of glory. Well, I'm lookin' for 'em.

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

Bucks Diary's NBA Power Rankings

I've revived my weekly NBA Power Rankings... with a twist. I decided its too difficult and arbitrary to try to determine ranking order off the top of my head. Plus, its not that interesting.

So instead, I am basing my rankings entirely on offensive/defensive pPts (pts per 100 possessions) differential. I think its a pretty rational basis for comparing relative levels of play. (Only when teams' differentials were the same did I use my own personal judgment to determine ranking order.)

Like the gold standard, however, my method is flawed. For instance, defending champion Miami is ranked dead last. But they have earned it with by far the worst differential (-10) in the Association. And Atlanta and Seattle are probably overrated. For instance, Seattle is a +1, but that's only because their offense is so good (111 pPts) that it just barely outstrips their awful defense (110 pPts).

But, overall, I think it provides an interesting insight into how each team is playing.

1. Utah (+8)

2. San Antonio (+7)

3. Houston (+5)

4. Cleveland (+4)

5. LA Clippers (+4)

6. Golden State (+4)

7. Atlanta (+3)

8. LA Lakers (+2)

9. Orlando (+2)

10. Sacramento (+2)

11. Okla City (+2)

12. Boston (+2)

13. Washington (+1)

14. Denver (+1)

15. Seattle (+1)

16. Chicago (0)

17. New Jersey (0)

18. Phoenix (0)

19. Dallas (-1)

20. Philadelphia (-1)

21. Detroit (-1)

22. New York (-1)

23. Minnesota (-4)

24. Memphis (-4)

25. Indiana (-4)

26. Toronto (-5)

27. Milwaukee (-6)

28. Portland (-6)

29. Charlotte (-7)

30. Miami (-10)

Monday, November 20, 2006

Pointless Bucks

When the guy behind the glass at the gas station tells me the Bucks suck at point guard, its official. But just to be sure, a recent article on NBCsports.com drives the same contention home with particularly persuasive force.

The article (written by the boys from 82games) examined each team's cumulative statistical production at each position as compared to their opponents. The authors found that the Bucks production deficit at the PG position is the third worst production deficit of any team at any position in the Association.

How have the Bucks sucked at the point? Let me count the ways. We are being grossly outshot, outpassed, outscored, outfreethrowed... everything but outrebounded. And having your diminutive point guards consistently crashing the boards is a mixed bag at best.

The moral of the story is we need to rectify this glaring problem. Perhaps Mo Williams and Steve Blake will step it up. If they don't the team will keep leaking water at one of the most important positions on the floor.

Saturday, November 18, 2006

Some good in this Bucks loss

Last night against the Indiana Pacers, the Bucks did a lot of things right. They featured a balanced attack on offense (six Bucks in double figures). They won the turnover battle (they've been doing a good job in this area all year). They outshot the Pacers, and defended well, holding Indiana to 42% shooting from the field. They were somewhat competitive on the boards (which is actually an achievement when you are the worst rebounding team in the Association). And they even got some decent contributions from their bench. But they still lost.

Thus, I can't decide if last night's 102-100 loss was disheartening or encouraging. I'm actually leaning toward the latter. Primarily because of some improved individual play. Andrew Bogut came back to life, both as a scorer and a rebounder. He was aggressive on both ends of the court. Ersan Ilyasova had a very good game, too, rediscovering his shooting touch in an impressive debut as a starter. Mo Williams looked like a point guard. He still shot too much, but he was also generous with the pass, recording 11 assists. We need more of that. Brian Skinner and Charlie Bell actually produced a little off the bench. And Ruben Patterson continued his upward ascent toward the productivity level we thought we were getting when we traded for him. But they still lost.

I guess that is the bottom line. For now, I'm okay with it. Obviously, they need to start converting these near losses into actual wins. But I was so starved for some sign of hope that since I got it I am willing to cut the team slack.

Thursday, November 16, 2006

Bucks about to drift away

I was out of pocket most of the day today, so I just found out the horrifying news that Charlie Villanueva will miss 4-6 weeks with a torn ligament in his elbow. I'm so depressed I can't even blink.

Villanueva was having a fantastic season. He was scoring, rebounding, even defending. Now he's gone. I don't even know what to say. The Bucks are like one of those old pirate ships that's had its sails blasted off. They're dead in the water.

School Time for Bogut

Where do they go from here? The Bucks will struggle no doubt. But how they struggle matters. If they take the short view, deluding themselves into thinking they can be competitive, then they will lean exclusively on their backcourt, as they did last night. That will result in a lot of shots for Redd and Williams, and next to none for the bigs. It will be bombs away. The Bucks will lose badly and gain nothing for the future.

Or they can take the long view and use this time to develop Bogut into an effective NBA center. They would bite the bullet and run the entire offense through him. And stay with it. Just keep shoving the ball into him, whether he's fumbling it around, kicking it off his shins, tripping on it, or throwing it into the seats. Use this time to make Bogut a player, to make him a leader.

He will struggle, no doubt. It will be ugly, no doubt. But it will pay off in the future, when the Bucks are back at full strength, and Bogut has found a role on this team and in this Association. Remember, Bogut's still very young, and his history suggests he is a good learner. And he must learn. He's not going to beat anybody with sheer athleticism. He needs to divine the tricks of the trade, like Sikma had to. And now's about as good a time as any to get that done.

Of course the Bucks won't go this route. Stotts is desperate to keep his job. Larry Harris is on a short leash as well. Its regrettable. They have already wasted one season of Bogut development by playing him at power forward because they were thinking exclusively short term. They haven't much more time to lose.

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

Nine observations on the state of the Bucks

1. The Bucks got rid of an overrated point guard (Ford), but now they have no point guard. Mo Williams is a small two guard, plain and simple. He is ill-suited to the point. The jury has definitely come back with its decision on that question. He doesn't know how to set his teammates up, he's doesn't produce nearly enough assists, and he never...never...never penetrates. Did you realize he has 125 shot attempts this season, and only 8 free throw attempts? That's a basket attack ratio of just over 6%! And he's our point guard! Is he allergic to paint or what? And its not as if he's lighting the world on fire from the outside, either. Yeah, he had a good game last night, but I think that's just a tease. Overall, he's shooting way under 40% from the outside.

2. Charlie Bell and Steve Blake are really staging some kind of competition for the Most Useless Buck of the Year award for 2006-07. Both of them have been dreadful. Between them they have produced virtually nothing. Neither can shoot a lick, neither plays any defense at all, and neither can seem to produce an assist to save their lives. Its time for at least one of them to step it up.

3. Ruben Patterson has been coming on lately offensively, but his defense has been less than advertised. He's allowing his covers to shoot an eFG of over 50%, nearly identical to the defensive eFG allowed by Bobby Simmons last year. He's erratic on offense, he needs to bring it defensively every night, and he needs to hit the boards a little more.

4. Conversely, Ilyasova has struggled on offense, but he's showing some unexpected promise as a defender. His overall defensive eFG is quite good, and he was the only Buck who had any success at all covering Atlanta's Joe Johnson the other night. He also rebounds pretty well. If only he could pass, dribble, or shoot, we'd have a hell of a player!

5. Not to dwell on Mo Williams, but why is he, with his eFG of 41%, getting over 12 FG attempts a game, when Bogut, who has an eFG of over 55%, is getting a mere 8? I place the blame for this squarely on the shoulders of Stotts. Why don't they work the offense inside out? Most of Williams shots come early in the clock, meaning he often isn't even trying to run the offense, he's looking to get his own. Stotts needs to clamp down on that.

6. Amidst all the Bucks' troubles, Michael Redd and Charlie Villanueva are turning in outstanding seasons. Both of them have been exceptional in nearly every phase of the game. Redd could mix in a few assists now and then, but with the way he's producing, you can't really complain. He's clearly playing on a different level. Same thing for Villanueva. He's been a phenomenal pickup.

7. I can't figure out Gadzuric. When he gets playing time, he craps out. When his minutes are reduced, he shines. He's got his production per minute back up to the high levels he's accustomed to, and his rebounder rating is a superb 37.2. But I'm not going to say they ought to play him more, because I am no longer convinced he's suited to playing a lot of minutes.

8. I hate to say it, but I think we really miss old Joe Smith. Yeah, he was injury prone and as slow as dirt, but he could rebound and occasionally mix in some points. I'd take him over Skinner in a second.

9. Did you notice Bogut got bageled last night? I realize he had only 4 shot attempts, but still, that's got to hurt. And he still isn't rebounding. He grabbed only four rebounds in nearly 24 minutes of action.