Bucks Diary

Saturday, March 29, 2008

Who'd you talk to Oscar?

In Saturday morning's Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel, Bucks great Oscar Robertson was asked his opinion of the Association's mandatory minimum age requirement for entry. The Big O said he checked with some attorneys about it and they told him it was illegal.

No disrespect to the Bucks only No. 1, but next time he talks to the law firm of Hutz & Associates, he ought to have them review Maurice Clarett v. NFL.

Its pretty well-settled that the "terms and conditions" of employment -- including minimum age requirements -- are subject to collective bargaining, and that any agreement covering those matters resulting from such bargaining is exempt from antitrust regulation and can be made to cover those who "seek to become part of the bargaining unit". In other words, high schoolers who want to play in the NBA. So the age restriction is not illegal, so long as the NBA Players Association agrees to it as part of the CBA, and they have.

I'm not saying that's right, I'm just saying at the moment it is.

The PVOA System... not bad

For the first time in a long, long time, I am having a successful run picking the NCAA tournament. I have now correctly selected 44 of a possible, what is it, 58, using the Point Value over Average method? Not bad... not Danny Sheridan by any means, but not bad. In my pool, or the pool I'm participating in, I am first in correct picks and first in "Best Correct".

(Maddeningly, however, I have virtually no chance to win because of some chinese weighting methods the pool operator chose to employ. They are so bizarre and irrational, a guy who has Tennessee in the Championship Game has already virtually salted away the money.

Next year I'll read the rules a bit more carefully before I make my picks. Or at least I'll read them. I accidentally got into this pool thinking it was my usual pool... in which case standard weighting rules applied. Instead I'm in some pool run by some Bozo out of this company's Chicago office. Had I been in the usual pool I would be on the verge of swimming in dough. Damnit. Hope you all are doing better.)

Is that Kareem and Oscar's son?

Did anybody else think that Friday night's Kareem bobblehead giveaway actually looked like Oscar Robertson with some superimposed Lew Alcindor pork chops? I don't know, maybe its just me.

Mixing Greats with Not-Greats

The Milwaukee Bucks 40th anniversary team lumped Bucks superstars Marques Johnson and Bobby Dandridge in with the likes of Vin Baker and Big Dog Robinson. I feel like they unneccesarily watered the team down.

Mo CAN shoot, Redd not so good

For what its worth, 82games.com reports that Mo Williams is amongst the top few two point jump shooters in the NBA. Interestingly, Minnesota's Rashaad McCants is a better shooter in every category than Redd. Of course, McCants does nothing else productive, unless you're looking at things from the opposition's point of view, in which case he does produce a lot of turnovers.

Can the last one out at the BC please get the lights?

This probably hasn't been the worst campaign in Bucks history, but it certainly has to be one of the most boring and, for lack of a better term, depressing. The Bucks just never got it going, or even threatened to get it going, all season long. And so, the season just kind of drifted past... marked only by the too frequent road blowouts.

Friday, March 28, 2008

The second coming of Westley Sissel Unseld?

If you watch Kevin Love of UCLA, and try to "eyeball" project him to the NBA, he kind of scares you. Let's just say he's "athletically deficient". In fact, you know how they say guys play "above the rim"? At times, Love appears to play "below the net". Thus, everyone is calling him the new "Big Country Reeves", a player who would qualify as a certifiable NBA bust. But is that really Love? I say don't buy it.

He is nothing at all like Bryant Big Country Reeves. That's a racial comparison, not a basketball comparison. Lets compare their collegiate production numbers.

Big Country Reeves was a four year collegiate player at Oklahoma State. (It would be unfair to Reeves to simply compare freshman seasons... Love's blows Reeves out of the water). Reeves Win Score per 40 average for those four seasons was 11.91. That projected to a below average NBA Win Score per 48 (for a center) of 9.00. And indeed, his career Win Score per 48 in the NBA was a bit worse... 8.24.

Love, by comparison, has a FRESHMAN year Win Score per 40 of an astounding 18.74. Thus, even if Love were a major disappointment for a big man (and there are no signs that he would be) and he produced at only half his collegiate level, he still would project as an above average power forward with a Win Score per 48 average of 11.24. And, to project him as a bust on the level of "Big Country" Reeves, you would have to project him to produce at a level equivalent to only 36.5% of his collegiate production numbers. While this kind of drop-off can and does sometimes happen to perimeter players... particularly skinny perimeter players (Adam Morrison, Kevin Durant), I have found no example of this happening to any interior player.

So its unlikely to happen to Kevin Love. And if you assume it won't, and assume that Love will project in the same manner that most collegiate big men project (63% of their college average), then you can expect him to have an NBA Win Score per 48 average of about 14.11. That would make him an All-Star.

Thus, I believe that a much more accurate basketball comparison to Kevin Love is the great Wes Unseld. In almost every way, the two are doppelgangers. In fact, NBAtv had a "Hardwood Classic" replay of the 1978 NBA Finals on the other day featuring Unseld's Bullets. Watching that replay, I was astonished to see how much Unseld's game looked exactly like Love's (or I guess, the other way around).

Of course, I may be overstating things a bit. After all, I estimate (the necessary statistics weren't kept by the NBA that would let me say for sure) Unseld's rookie year Win Score was a stratospheric 22.73. I can't see Love coming close to those numbers. Plus, Unseld led his Bullets teams of the 70s to four NBA Finals appearances. All in all, that's a heavy order for Love.

But I think his pro career numbers will come much closer to the career numbers of Unseld than they will the career numbers of one Bryant Reeves.

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Are the Bucks getting jobbed on the road?

The Bucks are a poor road team. There is no question about that. But they deserve a fair shake away from home from the Association's referees. The evidence suggests they are not getting one.

As you can see from the chart, most teams' Free Throw Splits profile basically the same on the road as they do at home, with downward allowances for road bias. Not the Bucks. The Bucks look like two different teams entirely, and it makes no sense. The only team within shouting distance of the Bucks cavernous home-road free throw split disparity are the Kings, and even they come up well short.

What's going on?

Anyone who knows me knows I am the last one to supply excuses for the Bucks. But I will always follow the evidence. Here the evidence seems pretty clear. The Bucks seem to be getting a road job from the referees.

In order to dismiss referee bias, one must not only believe that the Bucks are the one team in the NBA that plays a significantly different brand of basketball on the road... one must also believe that -- on the road -- the Bucks become substantially less aggressive on offense and substantially more aggressive on defense simultaneously. No way.

Of course, none of this excuses some of the Bucks sorry efforts on the road. It is just meant to suggest they may not have been engaging their opponents on level ground.

Monday, March 24, 2008

NCAA Weekend: Lessons learned

The PVOA system, applied to the NCAA tournament, had an okay showing over the four day weekend. In fact, for an untested, purely theoretical, system I can't complain. We hit on 36 of 48 games, including 15 of 16 on Thursday, and 12 of the 14 games in which I had at least one team alive over the weekend. Friday was a disaster, but we'll get to why.

Actually, if you count only games in which there was a pick available, we hit on 36 of 46. That's a little over 78%. Its far better than I've done since the days when I actually followed college basketball.

But lets talk about the misses. Here they are.

The missed pick listed first:

St. Joseph's-Oklahoma
St Mary's-Miami FL
Drake-Western Kentucky
Arizona-West Virginia
Connecticut-San Diego
Duke-(West Virginia.. I had Arizona here)

The problems, as you can see, have mainly been at the margins. Here are some things I learned:

1. Field Goal Percentages not indicative
If there was no clear blue water between two teams using PVOA, then I went with the team that had the higher effective field goal percentage. This was complete folly, based entirely upon this guy's analysis ("Even with the small sample, this is fairly strong evidence that the better shooting team has a distinct advantage in matchups of similarly seeded teams."). I lost every single one of the "better shooter" games, save for Michigan State-Pittsburgh.

2. Beware of the "Even" Mid-Majors
Moreover, and perhaps more significantly, in every one of those games the better shooting team ended up being the Mid-Major: St. Joe's, St. Mary's, Drake. Next year I will lean against the Mid-Majors in a close call. Obviously the statisical "level playing fields" are harder to achieve when comparing Mid-Majors of relatively equal strength to the more middling "Big Conference" teams such as Oklahoma and Miami. That needs fixing.

Indeed, once we got to the weekend and had a lower percentage of mid-majors, the PVOA analysis picked up steam once again. So, again, the method of doing Mid-Major evaluations needs tweaking.

3. Beware of too many trifectas
If I had it to do all over again, I would break stalemates by picking the team that relies less on the three pointer. If you go on the "Point Distribution" outline on KenPom.com, you will see that you cannot find a single tournament team among the top, 75 I believe, most 3 point reliant teams in the country. I noticed that last night. Of course, Texas and Tennessee are still rocking, and both of them rely on the three... but by and large its dangerous to do so.

4. Offense will leave you
Next year I am going to place an added weight on defense. Most every one of the surprising teams to go down were teams heavily reliant on offense (and a lot of those were also, as I stated above, heavily reliant on threes for offense), and just average on defense. Clemson, Vanderbilt, Connecticut, etc.

4. Apply some common sense
This is a fine line. Once you start letting all of your "hunches" loose, suddenly you have no system anymore. But, I suppose in cases like Indiana and Arizona, I should go with the overwhelming evidence of a trend. The trend in Indiana's case is that they quit on Dan Dakich. The trend in Arizona's case is that they played well against a very tough schedule, but they couldn't pull out wins.

Where I'm At

I feel like I'm doing alright... I'm hitting on more picks than all but two in my pool, but circumstances have to fall into place precisely for me to end up in the money.

Two games will go a long way toward deciding that:


This is where the rubber meets the road with this system. National polling and media sentiment would have you believe in Tennessee, and local experience had most around here skeptical of Wisconsin.

But the numbers are pretty clearly on the side of Louisville and Wisconsin, especially Wisconsin. And I'm really not worried about them. If they lose, it will have been because Davidson played a spectacular game. The Badgers will show up and give a good account of themselves.

Louisville and Tennessee is a little dicier. Louisville is slightly too dependent on the three pointers for my taste, but, thankfully, so is Tennessee. So it may come down to defense, and that is edge to Louisville. Plus, historically, Bruce Pearl teams sprint to the field of 16 and then run out of gas. And Tennessee is the worst team left in the tournament at preventing their opponent from getting second chance rebounds on the offensive end.

NBA talk will return tomorrow or the next day

Friday, March 21, 2008

Disasterous Day

The formula needs tweaking.

It only got 8 right out of 16. You could train a chimp to do better than that. Actually, the chimp wouldn't need training.

The Indiana game hurts the most. Ouch. I'll give it a further look on Monday.

Thursday, March 20, 2008

14 should have been 15

Bucks fans, I screwed up. I transposed the numbers for Kent State and UNLV. The pick should have been UNLV. Too much number crunching made me sloppy.

The other game I lost was Arizona. That was one of several razor thin PVOA evaluations where I had to go off the reservation and use outside numbers. But I would have picked Arizona under any circumstance, so I'm not mad at all about that. You can't account for unpredictability, and Arizona is that.

One warning: I never noticed Kansas State was playing in Nebraska. I probably should have considered that a "semi-home" game. Kansas State certainly played like it was. The Wildcats are a great home team and a poor road team, and yesterday they played to their home numbers, which might mean trouble for the Badgers. (I should have known better. My favorite team name of alltime is the 70s classic "The Kansas City-Omaha Kings". Kansas... Nebraska... duh. Screwed the pooch on that too.)

By the way, did you see how horribly I would have done if I had stayed with my original mishmash system? The numbers behind the system were solid, but I had no solid method for level comparison of teams. So I just threw a bunch of methods together and probably ended up with something illogical.

A so-so early debut for my NCAA PVOA formula

So far, I think I only missed on the Kent State game. Of course, that was basically the only "separation" game so far, so that's a huge miss. And my "hits" left something to be desired.

In my defense on that Kent State-UNLV miss, though, UNLV played precisely as I calculated they would, and so did Kent State... in the second half. What the hell was that first half all about? Ten points? That wouldn't be the PVOA for a pee-wee team. And UNLV is far from a "lockdown" defensive team. Far from it. Every single indicator, every single tendency variable, said it would be Kent State. But I didn't account for KSU's nervousness, I guess. So obviously, first time jitters need to be factored in next year. The hell of it is most of the people in my pool probably picked UNLV based solely on their beating Wisconsin last year and/or their slightly superior seeding. So that miss hurts.

As for the rest of the early games, truth be told, my "hits" weren't all that impressive either. Purdue won by much, much more than I ever would have anticipated, so the formula didn't work there (I think I had that game as a toss-up). And Marquette's win should have been easier, I guess, too.

Am I starting to sound like the guy Jim Rome calls "Bracket Guy"? If I am, feel free to step me down.

The Bucks aren't a product... and other thoughts

I don't rip the Senator often because, well, if he wasn't around the Bucks wouldn't be either. But some of the things I'm hearing bother me:

1. He constantly refers to the Bucks as a "product", and fans as "customers". He says the organizations number one goal is to "put on a good product." Does he get it?

The Bucks aren't like some circus act or broadway play. They aren't a "product". They are a competitive basketball team. Therefore, the number one goal of the organization should be winning championships. To me, the goal of simply putting on a good product means the organization is willing to settle for "okay" teams as long as people are attending games.

Also, it implies that Kohl is more concerned about the aesthetic appeal of the team than doing what it takes to win games. If that's true he should look into buying the Harlem Globetrotters and selling the Bucks. Which leads into my second point:

2. He CANNOT be making, suggesting, implying or otherwise concerning himself with strategic basketball decisions.

The thing that really frightened me yesterday was when I read Gary Woefel's piece from some time ago that suggested that Coach K came into the season wanting to run the triangle and the Senator said he couldn't.

Now I don't give a crap what offense the team runs, but that call must belong to the basketball folk.

What's next, the Senator is going to ban jump shots, because the "customers" prefer dunks? I mean, really. That is scary.

3. He can't be mistreating loyal employees the way he mistreated Harris

If reports are correct, the Senator just sort of let Larry Harris play make-believe GM all season. He was like Lyold Braun in Costanza's computer company... he looked busy but his phone was never plugged in.

Harris would effort trades, the Senator would nix them. I'm sure that made Harris look great in front of his colleagues and subordinates... his authority completely undermined. You just can't be embarrassing people like that. Especially people who have been with the team for 20 odd years.

It sounds like the move was made yesterday primarily because Harris had enough of the whole charade. Good for him.

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Bucks must find their own Ron Wolf

"When I got (to Green Bay), it was the worst organization in pro football. Yet what people said couldn't happen here...happened here (building a winner in Green Bay)...I'm proud of that." -- Ron Wolf, former GM of the Green Bay Packers

The Bucks are searching for a new general manager. I must say the names being floated are not inspiring. Retreads like Donnie Walsh and square pegs like Doug Collins do less than nothing for me.

In fact, the Bucks should stay away from "name" candidates altogether. They tend to adapt themselves to their situations rather than seeking to transform them. That's exactly what the Bucks don't need. What the Bucks need is an innovative force majeure whose single minded obsession and sole mandate will be to eradicate the Bucks 20 year culture of losing... root and branch. A man whom Garry Wills and others would refer to as a "transformative leader". In sporting terms, the Bucks need a Basketball Ron Wolf.

You can bet he's out there. Somewhere in the recesses of some NBA office, there sits an anonymous, driven, and innovative leader in waiting with the right stuff to return the Milwaukee Bucks to glory. Senator Kohl's task is to identify him and bring him to Milwaukee.

Dateline 1991: Another proud franchise trapped in an endless winter

In November of 1991 the Green Bay Packers were in pretty much the exact same position the Bucks are in right now. Leaderless and nearing the end of yet another losing season. They were a once proud franchise that had just endured two decades of nearly uninterrupted drift.

Help was on the way. Having just fired the hapless mediocrity Tom Bratz, Packers President Bob Harlan set out to find the man who could get the ship back on course. He asked around. One name kept popping up... Ron Wolf, personnel director of the New York Jets. Harlan brought him to Green Bay.

At his core, Wolf was a football scout. He had a unique ability to identify both superstars and productive role players... the glamour boys and the grunts... all the parts you need to have a championship team. When he made mistakes in his evaluations, and he often did, he admitted those mistakes and moved decisively to correct them -- a seemingly obvious act but one that is rarely done.

Just as importantly, as a manager, Wolf was a force of one. He blew out the existing culture of mediocrity in Green Bay and immediately instilled one of excellence. No one was safe from Wolf's scrutiny -- I remember one of his first moves was to fire the equipment manager. I remember thinking that was an odd initial move. Actually, it was brilliant. He was sending a powerful message. Then he turned his attention to the roster.

"Then I met with the team," Wolf recalled in his magnum opus The Packer Way. "If looks could kill I would have been a dead man. The players knew things would never be the same. The free ride was over, the country club atmosphere was gone, and now performance would determine their future. The standards of the organization had changed. If that bothered them, good. Things needed to be shaken up. Mediocrity no longer could be acceptable. They no longer could feel secure within the Malaise of Excuses (his caps, not mine). It had to be different in Green Bay, and this was the day it would begin."

"I ended my speech with "Go Packers" and left."

Change a few words and that is a speech that has to be given in the Bucks locker room. The question is, can the Senator find the right man to give it?

Enough was enough

The Larry Harris Era ended today. The Lizard Years are mercifully behind us.

By the way, not that I disagree with the move, but the Bucks always seem to pick the oddest times to change personnel, don't they? What's with these late March purges? What good do they accomplish? (So help me, if the words "playoff push" are uttered at this afternoon's press conference as an answer to that question, my head will explode.)

I guess the explantion could be more benign. Maybe the Senator just wants to get a jump on being rejected by Doug Collins for the eighteenth time. Never can ask that guy too many times, can you? (Why does Senator Kohl have so much respect for Collins basketball acumen, anyway? Because he had a perm in the early 90s? What has he ever done besides offer obvious and boring commentary from the television booth? Why not hire Charles Barkley and Kenny Smith, then. At least the fans will be entertained while we lose.)

Or maybe it was just that last night's disgusting performance... at the BC, no less... was more than any self-respecting owner anywhere should be made to tolerate. I mean, losing at home to a team that basically has a white surrender flag tied to the front of their team bus? I mean, the Heat don't even know from day to day whether their coach is going to show (I'm surprised Riley resisted the temptation to scout that Coppin State-Mount Saint Mary's game last night... I have no respect for that guy.) Unforgivable!

So, what will it be this time? Who's next on the menu? Well, let's see, there are two ways this organization likes to go: (1) way overspend on someone with a big name, (2) find someone unqualified who will work on the cheap. Oh, its been a great last twenty years, hasn't it? The ferris wheel just keeps on a turnin' in Bucks Nation.

Anyway, whoever it is, I guess I'll be satisfied if the guy at least pretends to have a logical plan for rebuilding the Bucks... and I mean one that doesn't involve his hand and the seat of his pants. If he could just bring that much to the job, I'd say that would distinguish him from about 95% of the gentlemen who preceded him as Captain of The Good Ship Bango.

Where have you gone, Wayne Embry?

Revised Bracketology

If you read my post yesterday, forget it. I slept on it and decided there was a less arbitrary, simpler, and more statistically reliable way to predict the probable outcomes of NCAA tournament games. I call it "Neutral Site Point Value over Average".


I went way back in NBA history to the days when they played true "neutral site" games (for example, the Lakers would play the Celtics in Michigan. I guess it was the days before TV contracts) and discovered that team's average neutral site performances usually ended up splitting the difference between their overall performance and their road performance. Relying on that, here is my method for predicting neutral site outcomes:

1. Average each team's Overall and Road offensive and defensive efficiencies. The product is the team's likely "Neutral Site" Offensive and Defensive efficiencies.

2. Get each team's "Opponent" Offensive and Defensive efficiencies. This is your schedule neutralizer.

3. Determine each team's "Point Value over Average" by subtracting the team's neutral site efficiencies from their opponent's opposite efficiency. (For instance, Wisconsin's neutral site offensive efficiency is 105.8. Their Opponent's defensive efficiency for the season is 95.4. Therefore, Bucky's offensive "Point Value over Average" for neutral site games is +10.4.)

3. Add both teams average number of possessions per game and divide by 2. The outcome is the likely number of possessions when the teams play.

4. Now use that possession number to play out each team's "average game". In other words, multiply each team's neutral site efficiency by the possession number Now you have an average "score" each team would expect on a neutral site given the number of possessions.

5. Take each team's "Point Value over Average" and apply it to the other team's "average game". (For instance, comparing Wisconsin to Georgetown. Wisconsin's neutral site PVOAs are +10.4 on offense and -19.3 on defense. Georgetown's are +12.2 and -14.1. Georgetown's average neutral site game score is projected to be Gtown 67.3, Opponent 58.4, and Wisconsin's is Wisco 65.8, Opponent 54.6. Therefore, if the two teams met, from Gtown's perspective the score would be Gtown 66.8, Wisco 51.7, and from Wisco's perspective the score would be Wisco 68.8, Gtown 48.)

6. Take each team's PVOA game score and average the results. That is your projected outcome. In the above example, the predicted outcome would be Wisconsin 60, Georgetown 57.

What it tells us

All this is telling us is the likely result of the game if each team plays their average game. And, isn't that about the best you can hope for? If you use this method, you are playing the probabilites.

I tested the method on tonight's meaningless "play-in" game between Coppin State and Mount Saint Mary's. The predicted score was Mount Saint Mary's 65, Coppin State 58. The actual score was MSM 69, C State 60, so it was close and it got the victor right.

New Tournament Picks

First Round (Picks in Bold; notes where appropriate)

1. North Carolina-MSM

2. Indiana 72 Arkansas 67

3. Notre Dame-George Mason

4. Washington State - Winthrop

4. St. Joes 70 Oklahoma 65

6. Louisville-Boise St

7. Butler-South Alabama

8. Tennessee

9. Kansas

10. Kent St-UNLV

11. Clemson

12. Vanderbilt

13. Kansas St. 64 USC 63

14. Wisconsin

15. Davidson

16. Georgetown

17. UCLA

18. Texas AM

19. Drake

20. UConn

21. Purdue (barely)

22. Xavier

23. Arizona

24. Duke

25. Memphis

26. Miss St

27. MSU

28. Pitt

29 Marquette

30 Stanford

31 St Mary's (just barely)

32 Texas

Second Round

Its getting late, so I'm just going to list the teams and explain them later. Some are very close calls.

Memphis...PItt...Stanford...Texas...UCLA...Drake...Xavier...Duke...NC...Wash St....Louisville... Tenn...Kansas...Clemson...Wisconsin...Gtown.

Elite Eight


Final Four (Really Bold Picks...hey, I'm just going to let the numbers play out)

UCLA...Texas (only because I analyzed Texas' Elite Eight game as a home game)...Kansas...NC


Kansas 70, UCLA 66

Sorry about the sloppy post... I'm really out of gas with this stuff.

Monday, March 17, 2008

Information to (allegedly) help you fill out your NCAA brackets

Alright, I promised it and so here it is: Bucks Diary's first and probably last ever NCAA bracket helper (trying to analyze college basketball is like trying to analyze the weather with your finger).

The Logic

I did two seperate analysis of the field of 64 based on the following logical beliefs:

1. The belief that, as established by Dean Oliver and countless others, wins and losses in basketball are strictly a function of offensive and defensive efficiency;

2. My own belief that, because of the inordinately strong "home court advantage" in the sport of basketball, team strength is best revealed on the road; and,

3. You have to try everything you can to neutralize the wild fluctuations in schedule strength that are inherent in the college game -- both absolute strength and home/road strength.

Here's what I did

I have, basically, three seperate analysis packed into two seperate charts. The first chart, I'll call the "Win Score" analysis is here:

Click here to see "Win Score" analysis

Here's what's going on there. For each team I did four seperate Win Score per game analysis: (1) Overall Offensive Win Score; (2) Offensive Win Score on the road; (3) Defensive Win Score; and (4) Defensive Win Score on the road. I then averaged the Offensive and Defensive numbers (since NCAA tournament games are "neutral" site, I figured that the team's would perform somewhere in between the way they perform in front of entirely friendly crowds and entirely hostile crowds. Indeed, if you look at home/away/neutral scoring breakdowns, there is evidence to support that theory.)

After averaging them, I calculated their percentage difference from the collegiate mean of 35.0 Win Score points per game. I then adjusted that number according to their opponent's offensive and defensive efficiency variations from the collegiate mean (101.5 pts/100 possessions), then I did some dirty math to adjust for road strength: I arbitrarily gave each team an extra 4 points for every road game against a Top 25 team, and 2 points for every road game against a Top 25-50 team. (I did that because there was NO WAY I was going to calculate each team's absolute road schedule strength. I put too much time into this shit as is.)

Second Analysis

Not completely satisfied with that, I did a second analysis I will call the "Mixed Analysis". This one contains the surplus of the Win Score numbers I referred to above, plus each team's "Point Value over Average" -- which is very similar to basketball-reference.com's "Simple Rating System" except it uses efficiency numbers instead of actual points scored. I then added those numbers together and adjusted them for road strength by multiplying them by 1 plus the team's "Away RPI" and then adjusted them for Strength of Schedule by multiplying that result by 1 plus the team's "Strength of Schedule".

Click here to see the "Mixed Analysis"

I think that by itself "Point Value over Average" is a pretty good evaluator, because, in theory, it is schedule neutral. The only thing it doesn't account for is "location". Some teams, like Tennessee and Arizona, play a schedule weighted with difficult road opponents, whereas teams like Memphis play nearly all of their most challenging opponents at home. That makes a big difference, and "Point Value over Average" doesn't account for that difference. But with that caveat in mind, I think it can still serve as a useful analytical tool standing alone.

My best guesses

Its been proven by someone (I forgot the guy's name) that seven game series are an inadequate way to distinguish superior teams, so the college "one/off" method is, a lot of times, an absolute toss-up. That said, here are my best guesses (I'm assuming away all of the 1-16 games, btw):

Indiana vs. Arkansas:
All the numbers say Indiana. In my mixed analysis (hereafter "MA") Indiana holds a 144.3 to 96.6 advantage. In the WS analysis, its Indiana 71.7, Arkansas 50.2. On the straight PVOA comparison, its Indiana 26.7, Arkansas 20.2. And Indiana has the better Away RPI. The problem is, Indiana is in turmoil. Nevertheless, I'm holding with the numbers and taking Indiana.

Notre Dame vs. George Mason:
Notre Dame is an awful road team. They would be vulnerable against any decent competition. Unfortunately, George Mason is not it. The pick goes to ND.

Washington St vs. Winthrop:
Not this year, Winthrop. Tony Bennett's boys are just too strong, and Winthrop is much weaker than last year's edition. The pick goes to Washington State.

Oklahoma vs. St. Joseph's
Upset alert, No. 1. I think St Joe's can take down the Sooner. In my MA, its close, with SJU holding a 114.9 to 108.9 advantage. In my WS, Oklahoma edges out SJU 60.3 to 58.0. In PVOA, its Oklahoma again, 22.2 to 17.2. But SJU has the better overall Win Score, and in "one-off" matchups, big offensive teams always have a "puncher's chance", and SJU's projected Neutral Site WS offense is an above average 38.5. This one's just a hunch, so buyer beware.

Louisville vs. Boise State:
Louisville is one of the strongest teams in the field. Boise State is not, but they do have an explosive offense. That said, there is no way they should beat Louisville.

Butler vs. South Alabama:
Another tough call. Butler is not all they are cracked up to be. They haven't beaten anyone of note on the road all year. UWGB almost took them out in GB, and the same with UWM. But they do have a lock down defense. The WS edge goes to South Alabama, 41.5 to 37.7. The MA edge goes to Butler, 108.7 to 98.4. The PVOA edge goes to Butler 22.0 to 14.4. But the Away RPI edge goes to South Alabama, and they had basically had even schedule strengths. I'm going to hold my breath and go offense, so the pick here is South Alabama, but again, Buyer Beware.

Tennessee vs. American:
Ahh, Tennessee.

UNLV vs. Kent State:
"Tin Soldiers and Nixon's coming..." I've got Kent State here. They take the WS analysis 37.7 to 26.5. They take the MA analysis 86.2 to 69.1. UNLV does have the better SOS, Away RPI (even though they haven't beaten anyone, and their Away Win Score combined average is in the negative numbers), and PVOA (17.0 to 14.5), but I'm going to take Kent State on a hunch (this is why I finish last every year... I have a penchant for climbing out on unsturdy limbs).

Clemson v. Villanova:
Villanova is a fashionable pick, but I don't see it. Clemson throttles them on my board: MA (153.7 to 77.8) WS (73.5 to 49.9) and PVOA (26.4 to 17.1). The pick here is Clemson.

Vanderbilt vs. Siena:
Vandy is so ripe to be had, but not by Siena. There just too bad.

USC vs Kansas State:
The big celebrity matchup. But USC should win easily. Kansas State is a terrible team away from their home gym, and they come into the tournament on a losing romp, whereas USC looked impressive against UCLA. The Trojans are the pick.

Wisconsin v. Cal State Fullerton:
Bucky drew a little bit of a scary matchup. Cal State can fill the hoop. But they play no interior defense, so, Wisconsin had better win.

Gonzaga vs Davidson:
This is a tough one. I initially liked Davidson as an upset, but he signs all point toward Gonzaga (I'm speeding this up so I can get to bed).

Mississippi St vs Oregon:
This is kind of close, but the numbers all say Mississippi State, so that's the way I have to go.

Michigan State vs. Temple:
State is just an awful road team. Even so, the numbers are all decisively in their favor, so I'm picking them.

Pittsburgh vs. Oral Roberts
Pittsburgh won't get far, but they will get past Oral Roberts. I don't like Pitt that much though.

Marquette vs Kentucky
Why is everyone saying this will be a tough game for the Kett? On my charts, Kentucky looks atrocious. If Kett doesn't wax them, changes need to be made on Wisconsin Avenue.

Okay, from this point I'm only analyzing games that are close calls, all others assume the higher pick. I'll do the rest of the rounds tomorrow.

Miami vs. St. Mary's
Another upset special. Every one of my numbers says its St. Mary's. Miami is another negative Win Score road team, and that is always the profile of an upset victim.

Brigham Young vs. Texas A&M
Brigham is the higher seed, but my numbers go to Texas A&M. But this one scares me... the Aggies are a very bad road team. Very bad. But I have to take them.

Purdue vs. Baylor
All of the numbers here are DEAD even. With that being the case, I'm going to take the offensive team, Baylor, in a mild upset.

West Virginia vs Arizona
I don't hate West Virginia, but my numbers love the team with the sorry record, Arizona. By my reckoning, Arizona played the toughest schedule in the country. Too bad they couldn't win too many. But I have to abide by the numbers, and they say Arizona is a strong pick, but so is West Virginia. I'm going to play a hunch and go with Arizona.

More tomorrow...

Thursday, March 13, 2008

Resetting the Bucks

A couple of posts ago I did an "Offense/Defense" assessment of the Bucks. There was a lot of great comments on it. Well, truth is, it was slightly inaccurate for the reason I gave in "Sidebar II" of my last post.

In a nutshell, the positional averages I originally used were stale... which I discovered as I tried to apply the "formula" to players from other teams. In short, the averages needed updating or they wouldn't accurately reflect the "defense" that each player was providing. So I went through the hell of computing all the "Production by Position" numbers for every team on 82games.com to produce averages that are exactly reflective of the average Win Score production at each position this season.

Note: I also added each Buck's "Cost per Win" to my new chart. Bogut is our best bargain. If I listed some of the Bucks as costing more per win than they actually make, its because they have produced less than one win, so I theorized how much it would cost the Bucks if they had to pay them for a full win. In other words, if you bought a half a hot dog from me and I charged you $2.00, you could tell people that I was charging $4.00 per hot dog.

The New Numbers in a nutshell

Basically the new Bucks numbers are just internal readjustments of the old numbers for each player. As you can see from the old and new averages, C production is way up, PF production is down, and every other position is up slightly. So, Bogut's defense was much better than I originally had it, and Yi's... while still above average... isn't quite as sterling as I first made it seem.

Actually, Bogut's defense... if you accept my measurement as being an accurate reflection of defense... is far superior to so-called "defensive type" centers such as Tyson Chandler and Marcus Camby. What might be happening is that those two tend to wander on defense to block shots. You might argue that they are therefore helping hold down their teammates "Defensive Win Scores" at the expense of their own. That may be true, but if 82games "Counterpart" production information is accurate, they are also allowing their men to do more damage than Bogut allows his men to do to the Bucks.

And I feel good about that. I'd rather know we have a solid "on-the-ball" defensive center, because we can put pieces around him. We don't necessarily need "The New Bill Russell" to be successful. The important thing now is getting those pieces right.

Coming Soon: A post on the cruel injustice of leaving Marques Johnson off the Milwaukee Bucks 40th Anniversary Team. I can't believe that! He's easily the second most productive Buck. Why no love for #6? Was it the coke? Because a certain famous third baseman from year's gone by is legendary for indulging in the snow, and he's in the Brewer Hall of Fame. And he left Milwaukee; Marques J was traded!

Comparison of leading NBA MVP candidates

In my mind, the two leading candidates for NBA MVP are two guys who are either dismissed or never mentioned whenever NBA analysts discuss the topic. Those two are Dwight Howard and Kevin Garnett.

How I came to that conclusion

I recently tweaked the "Win Score" and "Wins Produced" performance evaluation formulas developed by the authors of "The Wages of Wins" in an attempt to reflect each player's offensive and defensive contributions to victory. To accomplish this, I used the exact method the aforementioned authors use, except that instead of taking only the player's "Position Adjusted Win Score" into account, I instead averaged each player's "Position Adjusted Win Score" with his counterparts' "Position Adjusted Win Score", according to data reported on the website 82games.com. I call the end result "Overall Wins Produced".

Sidebar: If you evaluate entire teams using the "Overall Wins Produced" formula, you will find that it is just as accurate as Professor Berri's straight "Wins Produced" formula, but that it tends to credit superstars with fewer wins, generally spreading the excess wins out over the exceptional (and often unsung) defenders on each superstars' respective team (see for example: Allen, Tony). I'm not uncomfortable with that, because I think in that way it distributes "wins produced" in a manner similar to the "Overall Wins Produced" baseball statistic developed by Bill James known as "Win Shares".

Sidebar II: Professor Berri's calculations use positional averages taken from production numbers produced over a ten year period. That did not work for my "Defensive Win Score" calculations, so I had to go through and update each positional average. Here is a comparison of the two. As you can see, production is way up overall, with the increase going most to the center position, and with power forward production actually decreasing. I believe that is because many of the superstar power forwards of year's past (Duncan, Bosh, R. Wallace, Garnett, O'Neal, etc.) are logging a lot of minutes at the center position, and the power forward position is often being manned by players who have games more suited to traditional small forwards (Lewis, Scola, Moon, Gay, Yi, G. Wallace, etc.).

Analysis of the MVP race

According to my calculations, if you go by "Overall Wins Produced", the MVP ought to be Dwight Howard of the Orlando Magic. However, if you go by overall performance regardless of minutes played, as reflected by "Overall Win Score", then the MVP would be Kevin Garnett of the Boston Celtics. Garnett simply played fewer minutes to date than his rivals.

A couple of other interesting things emerge. First, both Bryant and James (especially Bryant) play excetional defense, if you consider the output of the men they are assigned to cover (their "counterparts") an accurate reflection of "defense". Less surprisingly, of the 6 contenders, Garnett's defense is the best.

In fact, amongst the top 6 MVP contenders as identified by me, only Steve Nash allows his counterparts to accumulate Win Scores that are above the positional average. Defense may matter more than we generally assume.

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Road woes say alot...plus early NCAA insights

Sorry I haven't been posting. Been a little busy, and I'm sort of out of "thesi" (is that the plural of thesis?) about the Bucks. All I can say is "They stink (at the moment)", and I can't dress that pig up until the offseason. I do still have some thoughts about them, though...

Road Record is the measure of the team

You know how I am always bitching about the Bucks being a schizo team because they seem to always take a dump on the road and play halfway competitively at home? Well, its not because they're schizo... that phenomenon happens a lot... it just means the team sucks.

I went back in NBA history using this guy's nifty time traveler... (BTW, did you know that until about 1972-73 every NBA team played a slate of around 10 "neutral site" games every season? I did not know that). What I discovered was that the Bucks ".500 at home; putrid on the road" record is actually common among 20-30 win teams throughout NBA history.

That's because no matter how bad they are, most NBA teams are at least competitive at home (except the exceptionally awful). There is clearly and demonstratively a distinct "home court advantage" in the sport of basketball... that's not debatable and has been proven in several interesting studies ( but none of those studies has settled on a consensus "Why?" to my satisfaction. Some studies point out biased refereeing, some show evidence of crowd "intimidation" of the visitors, others purport to show crowd "inspiration" of the home team... there is no clear cut consensus).

Because of that, the true measure of an NBA team is taken on the road, not at home. Bad teams are usually below .400 on the road, good teams are usually just over or just under .500 on the road, and the great teams are nearly as great on the road as they are at home. It happens every season in the NBA.

In fact, my new maxim that "you can judge a basketball team by their road record" is so solid that I am going to use it as part of my econometric formula to help myself and you all pick this year's NCAAs...

Coming for Bucks Diary readers: Kickass NCAA Pool Insights

Are you like me, an NBA fan who is sick of getting his ass kicked every March Madness because he rarely watches college basketball and just makes picks based on something he heard some dunder head on ESPN say? Well, no more.

Coming on Monday, I will have a complete Win Score-based, historical-significance influenced, econometric analysis of the entire NCAA tournament field. I'm half way done with it already. This year we will dominate the offices, Bucks fans!!

This thing should be good. As I say, its based on each team's offensive and defensive Win Score, fully adjusted for strength of schedule, and further adjusted based on each team's Road/Neutral record. The last adjustment was added when I found out that the single best way to predict an upset victim is by their weak road record. Makes sense based on what I wrote above.

Preview of my NCAA Primer

Here's a quick preview: Barring injury, the Badgers look set to make a deep run... I've got them at around sixth or seventh strongest team, which they in truth weren't last year... the Polar Bear's absence last season hurt the Badgers waaayyyy more than anyone at the time realized... my early Cinderella looks like Drake, a solid, solid team, and Davidson... Purdue and Michigan State both look like upset victims in the making, especially Purdue... same thing with Vanderbilt... and Notre Dame... beware of slightly above average teams with great home records... if Tennessee is a No. 1 seed, they will be the most likely to go down... Kansas State is a complete fraud, they probably won't make it... Butler grades out solid but their lack of offense scares me.

Wednesday, March 05, 2008

A new way to measure individual defensive performance in basketball

Alright Bucks fans, I think I have developed a way to tell the full story about the debacle that is the 2007-08 Milwaukee Bucks... on both sides of the court. At last, with my easy new defensive metric individual responsibility can be meted out where it belongs and the weak links can be exposed. No more hiding behind the cloak of "collective responsibility."

Introducing "Counterpart Win Score" to measure individual defensive performance

I wasn't satisfied with the "Defensive Rating" metric used by basketball-reference.com to grade the defensive performance of each player. It seemed to be too dependent on the performance of the entire team.

So instead I referenced the "counterpart" data provided by 82games.com (a "counterpart" is the guy you are guarding) and did a "Position Adjusted Win Score" analysis on each Bucks collective counterparts. Sort of a Win Score in reverse.

Here's my thinking. If "Win Score" is a formula that accurately measures the way any given player's statistical output translates into victories... and I am convinced it is... then I figure the degree to which each Buck prevents or allows his counterparts from accumulating said statistics provides a good indication of the degree to which that Buck has prevented his counterparts from contributing to victories for their teams. And isn't that the definition of defense?

The Data

When you look at my chart, here is what is going on: the first column is the player's "Position Adjusted Win Score / 48", what I will call his offensive contribution to victory. The second column is the cumulative "Position Adjusted Win Score / 48" of every guy that Buck has guarded this season. The third column is the player's "True Win Contribution" which is the sum of those two numbers divided by 2 and then multiplied by the player's percentage of overall playing time. (Note: Since I'm doing this entirely from the Bucks perspective, all "+" numbers are good. Also, keep in mind that a Win Contribution of .000 is exactly average, and a Team total of .000 will indicate a .500 team, so any contribution of a positive number indicates the player has contributed to a winning season, and vice versa.)

Discussion of results

1. Pressey25 was right!! The Bucks backcourt, especially Mo Williams, is awful defensively. Mo has wiped away his good work on offense with his poor work on defense.

2. I was stunned to see that Yi Jianlian is a good defender. Remember, "defense" under my definition is more than just "checking your man". Its keeping him off the boards, its getting him into foul trouble, its forcing him into turnovers, its preventing him from accumulating assists, ... Of all the starters Yi the most to disrupt his counterparts from making a positive contribution. I feel much better about him now. I still think his best spot is SF because of his offensive tendencies.

3. I was disappointed but not shocked to see that Andrew Bogut is not that effective defensively. Granted, he sometimes has to leave his man to help, but those instances should have come out in the wash, so to speak, by now. I think he needs to do a better job of scoring prevention, and rebounding prevention.

4. Royal Ivey, you are exposed! Get out now!

5. Charlie V and Bobby Simmons are basically wastes of space.

6. Oh, I have to close by giving respect to Desmond Mason, the only Buck above average on both sides of the court. I was sure wrong about him.

Rethinking OJ Mayo

I'm starting to rethink my initial assessment of USC's OJ Mayo.

I previously labeled him a toxic prospect because his college productivity numbers are not good, and his game has some scary bad elements to it. He takes poor shots, he relies too much on the three pointer, he turns the ball over way too much, and he doesn't rebound nearly enough for his size. Normally I'd want to stay the hell away from a player with that profile.

But in this case I'm reconsidering. Mayo has excellent size for a 2 guard, and apparently he isn't the prima donna I stereotyped him to be. But mainly I'm doing it because of three lines contained in the "Strengths" column of his scouting jacket:

• Perimeter defense
Hands in passing lanes
Work ethic

To a Bucks fan, those are three lines of poetry. The problem, of course, is that the Bucks don't really have the luxury of carrying an unproductive wingman on their current roster, and they can't really justify drafting such a player so high. But I'm so thoroughly disgusted with our long defensive drought, I would consider it.

Maybe his poor college numbers are a result of the lack of talent around him at USC. Maybe he can be coached up. And if his defensive skills are legit, he could provide the Bucks with one of the two elements that can dramatically improve their team defensive play: a tenacious perimeter defender -- the other being a big ugly bruiser at the 4 or 5.

Of course, if we got him I assume that would mean the Michael Redd Era would be over in Milwaukee. At this point, though, that's sounding less and less bad. I just can't take another season of the kind of bad defense I keep seeing every winter.

I'm not exagerrating, either. According to basketball-reference.com, the Bucks have been in the bottom half of the Association in defensive rating for every season since 1991. That's incredible. That's sickening. That shit has to end.

One Last Point: The Moncrief Factor

I didn't realize this, but the 80s Bucks were actually built on defense. In fact, for every season from 1979 to around 1987 the Bucks were among the top defensive teams in the Association (by the same efficiency rating). Those seasons correspond exactly to the years Sidney Moncrief was healthy and able to play a full schedule for the Bucks.

That makes sense. Moncrief was one hell of a defender... he was 6'3'', but he played like he was about 6'8'' with those arms. And remember that spider crouch? From time to time I think he could actually guard bigger guys like Larry Bird. He was a phenomenon. The original No. 4.

Now I'm not saying that Mayo would ever be anywhere near Moncrief. But we need someone like Mayo to restore credibility to our perimeter defense. That's why I'm going against my better judgment and giving him a second thought.

Tuesday, March 04, 2008

NBA Deadline Trades: Who got better / worse?

Last night I did a full team and opponent Win Score analysis of the five "playoff" teams involved in deadline trades (I left out New Jersey for now): Phoenix, Los Angeles, Dallas, Chicago, and Cleveland. I wanted to assess the early impact of those trades without regard to wins and losses. Since the sample size was small, I completed adjusted each team's numbers to account for strength of schedule. So everything is schedule neutral.

Discussion of Early Returns

Based on my new data, I may need to reassess the conclusions I made in the last post... It appears the Lakers have substantially improved what was already a potent offense... Their offense is, if early returns hold, now historically good (+30%)... That changes the whole equation vis-a-vis who ought to be favored to win this season's NBA title... That said, I was surprised to learn that of all 5 teams, the Cleveland Cavaliers have improved the most. In fact, based on early returns, they have crept back into the Eastern Conference discussion... Its mostly because their defense has returned to last year's form... On the other hand, the early returns suggest Phoenix is in HUGE trouble. Shaquille has turned them from a lopsided offensive juggernaut into an extreme mediocrity. They made the trade to shore up their defense, yet by "Opponent Win Score" figures, their defense has actually gotten worse, while their once potent offense has lost a lot of its steam as well. Now they have nothing. If they don't improve fast, they are going nowhere... Dallas is the same on offense and worse on defense. I caution, though, that Jason Kidd does not seem to be putting up Jason Kidd like numbers yet... Chicago has stayed virtually the same as it was before the trade.

Historically, it still looks like the Celtics

Despite their success this season, very few experts seem to believe in the 2007-08 Boston Celtics. But, looking back at those teams who have won NBA Championships in the past, the Celtics look like a pretty solid bet to win one this year, barring some unforeseen injury or some odd collapse.

Extending my NBA Finals analysis past 1974

A couple of weeks ago I did a team and opponent "Win Score" analysis of every NBA Finalist from the modern statistical era, which dates to 1973-74. I couldn't go any further back than that because the NBA did not keep 3 necessary statistics until that season: turnovers, steals, and blocked shots.

However, fooling around a bit with the numbers, I quickly discovered that both turnovers and steals have been declining at an oddly steady and predictable "per minute" rate since 1974, and that blocked shots per minute have remained, during that same period, fairly constant. Realizing this, I calculated all the pertinent per minute numbers for every available season, plugged them into the linear graphing function featured on this University Physics Department website, and, after much trial and error (I'm not a mathematician of any sort) generated a regression formula that allowed me to speculate on the missing statistics for seasons prior to 1973-74.

Now granted, the statistical totals the formulas produced would never stand up to academic or legal scrutiny, but that doesn't mean they might not be pretty accurate. In fact, for amateur purposes, I think they are unusually accurate... or at least accurate enough to be useful.

Because even if the numbers are wrong, they have the virtue of being consistently wrong, which indicates they might be pretty close to right. In other words, of the teams I happened to analyze over several seasons, like the 60s Russell Celtics, the late 60s and early 70s Chamberlain/West Lakers, and the Bradley/Frazier Knicks, all of them show similarly structured results from year to year, which is what you would expect given their similar rosters across the seasons.

Moreover, when the results did diverge, they did so for explainable reasons (for instance, the Lakers numbers are consistently similar except that they change dramatically in 1969-70. That is a season in which Chamberlain only played 12 regular season games. Same thing for the 1971-72 Knicks, except the missing player was Willis Reed). So I think the numbers tell a believably accurate tale.

Anyway, enough with process. Here are the results in 3 parts, plus a repeat of this season's numbers.

Why the results point strongly to the Celtics

1. Defense as good as the Celtics almost always wins championships

The Boston Celtics "Opponent Win Score" for this season is 29% below the NBA average. With the exception of the 1993-94 New York Knickerbockers, every team that has held their opponents Win Score average at least 25% below the prevailing NBA average has won the NBA championship. And I consider the 1994 and 1995 NBA Finals a statistical Bermuda Triangle... I can't explain either of those Rocket championships. I can at least say that both of them were won against lopsided teams (the Knicks were all defense; the 1995 Orlando Magic were all offense)... something the Celtics are not -- see number 3 below.

2. Dominant defense trumps dominant offense

Even if the Celtics opponent should be the emerging offensive dynamo the Los Angeles Lakers, historically speaking, the Celtics should still be favored to win. Going back to 1962-63, -20% "Opp Win Score" defenses trump +20% "Team Win Score" offenses (see for examples, the 1969 Finals, the 1973 Finals, and the 1989 Finals).

3. The Celtics combine it with good offense

Not only do the Celtics play dominant defense, they also pair it with an offense that is 12% above average. That kind of +40% combination, if sustained, would almost certainly carry them to a championship. The only time it hasn't is twice.

First was the 1974 Bucks team, and that team was (a) not as dominant defensively as the Celtics; (b) lost Lucius Allen late in the season and suffered greatly for it offensively; and (c) came up against a Celtics team that was actually better defensively.

The other example was the 1997 Utah Jazz, and they were unfortunate enough to run up against another +40 team in the Chicago Bulls... and the same situation probably won't exist this season (though the Lakers or Pistons may change that).

Some other Random Historical Observations

1. Before 1974 (and in the late 80s) you could win with just defense

If you look at my results, the Russell Celtics and the 70s Knicks each won multiple titles with average and often below average offenses. In fact, stifling defenses carried the original Celtics dynasty to championships time and time again. If my numbers are right, the "Russell did it with defense" legend is absolutely correct. (Another thing I admire about the 60s Celtics is their obvious heart and "will to win". If you notice, they peaked in 1965, declined precipitously -- but won again -- in 1966, were dethroned by the awesome Chamberlain 76ers of 1967, and then somehow found a way to get off the mat and win two more championships with far lesser teams in 1968 and 1969. In that way, the Celtics dynasty follows an eerily similar trajectory and storyline to that of the 1960s Lombardi Packers.)

2. The 1971 Bucks were the third greatest champions ever

When I did my original analysis of NBA champions, I ranked each champion according to their Cumulative Win Scores. If I took my new numbers as read, and continued my rankings backward, the Bulls of the late 90s would still be number one, but the 1972 Lakers would be number two, and the 1971 Bucks would be a close number three. The Bucks were awesome that year, and they should have won more than one championship in the Kareem Era (the Celtics and Knicks won multiple championships with statistically far lesser teams). Situational misfortune (they played at the same time as two great champions -- the 1970 Knicks and the 1972 Lakers) and the aging nature of that team's rosters robbed Bucks fans of at least one more championship banner above the Bradley Center.

Monday, March 03, 2008

Comparative value of an NBA draft choice

You ever wonder why the Packers seem to be able to get quality players way down the first round of the NFL draft, whereas the Bucks seem to always get marginal players near the top of the NBA draft? Well, most of it is superior executive leadership, but a lot of it also has to do with the much more rapidly diminishing value of draft slots in the NBA draft.

Here's a cool "conversion" chart posted by the WoW Journal that gives a numerical value to that phenomenon.

That conversion seems about right, doesn't it? It also points up the high stakes involved in the NBA lottery. Put into NFL terms, a bad NBA lottery can effectively slide a team from the top of the first round right down into the NFL equivalent of the second round.

That's going from Adrian Peterson to Brandan Jackson. Whew, that's a slide, baby.

NBA Power Rankings

As an addendum to my last post, below are my "NBA Power Rankings".

The Rankings are based exclusively upon the percent by which each team is either above or below the NBA team and opposition Win Score average of 42.7. Of course, a score above 42.7 on "Team Win Score" and below 42.7 on "Opposition Win Score" are the basis points for each measurement.

Also, I adjusted the percentages to account slightly for strength of schedule, because the Eastern Conference numbers, as you might expect, are much worse on "Team Win Score" and slightly worse on "Opposition Win Score" than the Western Conference numbers. Thus most Eastern teams are adjusted downward, as are some of the Western teams that have played schedules that have so far been split more evenly between conferences.

Revisiting Cumulative Win Score after the trading deadline

Around February 18th, just before the trading deadline, I did an analysis of every NBA team's "Win Score / Game" and "Opposition Win Score / Game" averages, and compared each number against the NBA average team Win Score / Game, which was then 42.5.

At the time I roughly defined the first average as a reflection of the team's offensive efficiency and the second as a reflection of a team's defensive efficiency (though as I said then, those definitions are not entirely accurate because the "Win Score" calculation contains both offensive and defensive statistics... but they are still pretty decent shorthand descriptions).

Anyway, I recalculated those numbers after this weekend to see if and how they have moved since the trading deadline. I came up with some pretty interesting results.

In the parenthesis next to each average is the average I calculated just before the trade deadline. Keep in mind, those are all season averages. So any movement of the numbers in the last two weeks should be amplified accordingly as you analyze the direction the team is heading.

Analysis of some teams' directions

Suns: At the time the trade was made, I said the Suns were right to roll the dice on O'Neal because they needed to shore up their "Opposition Win Score", which was right at the NBA average. I said such an average score likely would not win them a championship, and I backed that up with historical data. Well, so far, mission NOT accomplished. Since the trade the Suns Team Win Score and Opposition Win Score are both going in the wrong direction. And if you notice, even though the Heat are not yet reaping any results, the addition of Shawn Marion has their Opposition Win Score trending in the proper direction. So, perhaps the move will not pay off for the Suns.

Lakers: The Lakers, on the other hand, have both sets of numbers heading in the right direction. Of course, they got Gasol for a song, whereas the Suns had to actually make a trade for O'Neal, so you would expect that. Nevertheless, the Lakers are appearing stronger by the day.

Jazz: Everyone keeps saying Utah is better with Kyle Korver, but in the last two weeks their offensive numbers have stayed the same while their defensive numbers have gotten slightly worse. They may have initially improved with Korver, I don't know, but they haven't made any additional progress in the last two weeks.

Celtics: The Celtics have backed up a bit, but I think it might simply be a regression toward the mean. Their defensive numbers were so historically high, I don't think they were sustainable. According to my chart, even adjusting for schedule, they are still by far the strongest team in the Association. We'll see if I'm right.

Rockets: The Rockets are really coming on strong. Their winning streak is no fluke. Their offensive numbers are way up, and their already excellent defensive numbers are up. We'll see how the Ming injury effects them, but I suspect they will be strong enough to at least get to the conference semis, if not beyond.

Mavericks: The Mavericks have also gotten better since the deadline. And given the fact that their Opp Win Score is much better than the Lakers, they will be a tough "out" if the two teams face each other. Although, that said, they've had superior numbers going into the last two seasons and haven't come away with a championship.

Nuggets: The Nuggets have a crappy defense, but their offense ought to be good enough to get them into the playoffs. I think they will sneak in ahead of somebody, most likely the Warriors. The Warriors defense is just bad, but, hey, it was bad last year too and look what they did.

Cavaliers: The Cavs have gotten better since their big trade, but that's on short evidence. They have a long way to go before they can contend with the likes of the Pistons or the Celtics. At least, that's my opinion.

Sunday, March 02, 2008

Ginobli drops 30 "Quiet" Points on the Bucks

One time I scored 25 points in a high school game. Felt all proud. After the game a buddy of mine was looking at the scoresheet and said "You scored 25? Wow, that was a quiet 25."

What the hell does that even mean?

I bring it up because last night Spurs SG Manu Ginobli dropped 30 on the Bucks. But after the game Coach K tried to argue that the Bucks played good defense on him because it was a "quiet 30 points."

What difference does that make? I don't know about you, but I thought Ginobli's 30 looked pretty "loud" on the scoreboard.

On the other hand, there is such a thing as an ineffective 25 points...

Redd ineffective, Mason/Bogut brilliant

Michael Redd scored 25 points, and some of them came with pretty impressive shots. But, when it comes down to his overall contribution to victory, he wasn't very good. He only had one assist and 4 rebounds in 39 minutes, he missed 11 of 19 shots, and he turned the ball over a whopping 6 times.

On the other hand, Andrew Bogut, Desmond Mason, and Bobby Simmons all had outstanding games. Bogut and Mason controlled the boards, and Simmons played a very nice "power forward" after the Bucks got nothing from Charlie V and Yi.

Also, the Bucks played an outstanding overall defensive game, holding the Spurs to a Win Score of 36, which is 6.4 under the NBA average, and 11.9 under the Bucks Oppositions' average for the season.

Rabbit Ears Ref costs the Bucks

That young ref was obviously wrong when he ran Bucks PG Mo Williams in the 3rd Quarter. The foul he called on Mo was a phantom foul, and then he gave Mo 2 T's before Mo even got out 3 sentences. Unless Mo said something very personal about his mother, that ref needs thicker skin. It costs the Bucks the game last night because it brought Poison Ivey into play...

The Ivey illusion

"Full of sound and fury signifying nothing."

Royal Ivey is constantly getting praised by the Bucks television announcers, but when you look at his statistics after the game, they inevitably stink. I think I figured out the disconnect.

Remember the episode on Seinfeld when Costanza revealed his trick for seeming busy at his Yankee job when in fact he wasn't doing anything? He said he would make "stressed out" noises and gestures, like sighing loudly or grimacing, and whenever he did his boss Wilhelm would think he was actually getting something accomplished.

I think that's what happens with Royal Ivey. Everything he does looks difficult. He looks so active on defense, which leads to observations like "Tenacious defense from Royal Ivey!" But then his man scores on him at will.

Or he'll doing things like making a bounce pass while falling down, which he did last night. "What a pass by Ivey!" the announcers proclaimed. But it wasn't that great a pass... its just that he made it look more difficult than it was by losing his balance.

Saturday, March 01, 2008

He's found it (the value of assists in basketball)

I've always thought assists, in and of themselves, had some sort of intrinsic value to basketball teams. I could never put my finger on what that value was, though. Now "The Arbitrarian" has used economic game theory, and statistical correlation, to find what I was looking for. (Notice the Bucks low assist totals.)

He has found that the higher a team's assist to field goals attempted, the higher the team's field goal percentage. Basically, a high degree of passing establishes a productive mindset in each player that leads to better overall shot selection which leads to a better team field goal percentage.

To borrow from that cloying children's phrase, "Sharing is Scoring". Or at least more efficient scoring. Basically, if each player believes that he is likely to receive the basketball when he has a high percentage scoring opportunity, he is more likely to pass the basketball rather than hoist up a lower percentage scoring opportunity.

If you want to witness this theory in action, put a Larry Bird or Magic Johnson video on your Netflix list. Or to witness it in reverse, play a pickup game with a gunner. You will be amazed at how quickly you yourself become a gunner as well.

Footnote: I have only one additional thought to add to the Arbitrarian's post. I have noticed that Bucks opponents often have high assist totals. I suspect it is because it is easier to pass the ball freely when you are unharrassed. I wonder if the correlation the Arbitrarian has discovered doesn't also have a defensive aspect to it.