Bucks Diary

Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Bucks criticized for having "no plan"

Have the Bucks become the new Clippers -- the uber example of a team that's poorly managed?

This morning on the ESPN radio show "Mike and Mike in the Morning" the hosts, Mike Greenberg and Mike Golic, were discussing NBA franchises who were without "plans". Your Milwaukee Bucks were singled out as a prime example of what happens to a team without a plan.

"You look at teams that win consistently," Greenberg said, "they are teams that have a plan... organizations that have a plan. Look at the NBA -- look at the Milwaukee Bucks. Do they have a plan? How many different coaches have they hired and fired in the last five years. They are now hiring their fifth coach in the last five years..."

The pair went on to conclude that in sports, as in any business, you need a model or plan for success, and you need people in ownership with the patience to see the plan through.

My thoughts about their general thesis: Its not absolutely correct. There are certainly instances where a measure of short term pain is a necessary down payment on long term gain. But I see no absolute virtue in merely in "sticking with a plan" simply to stick with a plan. At some point "sticking with the plan" morphs into "accepting mediocrity".

My thoughts specifically related to the Bucks: Until a month ago, their opinion was spot on. Larry Harris had no plan. He had desire, ambition, and everything else you need to succeed... but I really don't think he had any concrete notion of what components equal a championship team. Now, I think the Bucks may finally be on the right track with the hiring of John Hammond and Scott Skiles. But I'm crossing my fingers.

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

There is a strange precedent for a Celtics collapse

Given the Celtics regular season accomplishments, logic and common sense suggested they would cruise to at least an Eastern Conference championship and most probably an NBA Championship. And yet they are somehow tied 2 games a piece with one of the worst playoff qualifiers in modern NBA history. It defies explanation.

Greatest Modern Upset?

If the Hawks win this first round series, and under the pre-1993 format they would be on the brink of doing so, it would have to go down as the biggest upset in modern professional basketball history.

The only other recent upset that even enters the neighborhood would be the 42-40 Denver Nuggets over the 63-19 Seattle Supersonics in 1993-94. But that year Denver was at least an above .500 team with a pythagorean record that suggested they were better than their record. Plus, the Sonics were coached by George Karl, so they played the sort of no-defense style that historically leaves you susceptible to being upset.

This year's Celtics are 66-16 while the Hawks are 37-45, with a pythagorean that suggests they performed a game worse than their record. Its just bizarre.

Searching the Archives

Or maybe not. I went back to the 1954-55 season looking for anything similar to the Celtics struggles with the lowly Hawks. In doing so, I uncovered some irony. There is only one team in NBA history that won 65+ games in a single season and did not win the NBA Championship. Guess which team it was, and guess which team knocked them out. You won't be surprised.

The Closest Historical Precedents

1961-62: The 62-18 Boston Celtics were taken to 7 games by the 40-40 Philadelphia Sixers, but the Celtics prevailed.

1969-70: The Phoenix Suns were 39-43 and in their second season of existence when they took the 46-36 Jerry West-Wilt Chamberlain Los Angeles Lakers to 7 games. The result was a larger surprise than the records indicate because the Lakers were without Wilt Chamberlain for most of the season until the playoffs. So when they met the Suns in the playoffs, the Lakers were much closer to the 55-27 team they were a year earlier.

1972-73: Here is the closest precedent to this year's events, and it must provide an eerie feeling of deja vu for Celtic fans. The 68-14 Boston Celtics did not win the NBA Championship, because they were eliminated in the conference semifinals by the 46-36 Atlanta Hawks.

Monday, April 28, 2008

Weeding out potential busts in the NBA Draft

My favorite column in any newspaper is the "Keeping Score" column that occasionally appears in the Sunday New York Times Sports Section (the rest of the section usually blows, however). In it I discovered several of the inspirational sources for this blog (The Wages of Wins; footballoutsiders, etc.).

This week's column discussed a method for weeding out NFL draft prospects using an index of "measureables". This index was developed by the writers at footballoutsiders.com, and I believe that, in a different form, a similar method could have application to the NBA draft.

The particular method mentioned in the column involves the evaluation of NFL running backs. Specifically, the footballoutsiders have found that an index of each prospect's weight and 40 time can be used to determine the likelihood that the player will "carry" his collegiate production up with him to the professional ranks. (Notice, they don't use measureables as grading tools in and of themselves. The thrust of their evaluations remain focused on past production, as it should).

This sparked my interest because a while back I thought about using some kind of similar measurement as a companion to the evaluation system developed by Erich Doerr on The Wages of Wins Journal. Not that Erich's system neccessarily needs my correcting, he's done an outstanding job with it (I think he's established a production "carry" rate of something like 69%.)

Its just that, being a fan of one specific team, "outliers" like Adam Morrison and Kevin Durant... guys who don't "carry" 69% of their collegiate production up to the pros... scare me shitless. The Bucks can't afford to waste a high pick on a guy who turns out to be a "random" miss.

So I wanted to find some common warning signs that will tell us whether the player will carry his production at the normal rate. And like the footballoutsiders, I came to the conclusion that any such signs are embedded somewhere in a mix of variables. Which variables, and what the mix should be, those things I haven't yet fully determined. But at this point I'm leaning toward some mixture of the player's body weight, the player's standing reach, and his performance on the bench press. (At the very least a minimum threshold of strength and/or bulk is essential to the rebounding capacity of frontline players.)

But at this point its a work in progress, and I'm basically just thinking out loud.

Reranking NBA contenders using Team Win Score

I've done another ranking of the NBA playoff contenders, this time using Team "Win Score" averages. Win Score, as you will know, is a statistical formula developed by the economists who wrote The Wages of Wins. It weights and measures each of the traditional basketball statistics according to each statistics' relative impact on wins.

The authors developed the handy metric to provide a "Moneyball" method of evaluating NBA players.

I found that you can also use it on the "macro" level to evaluate an entire team's competitive strength... both offensive and defensive.

Today I tweaked that macro formula a bit more to make the result useful as an evaluation tool for the postseason. Instead of simply giving each team straight Offensive and Defensive Win Score averages, I took those averages and compared them to their opponents season Defensive and Offensive Win Score averages. That way each team's performance is placed on even ground (because a postseason 53.0 Offensive Win Score average against Denver is not as impressive as the same average score against the much stingier Houston Rockets, for example).


1. The Denver Nuggets are embarrassing themselves. Remember, their -10.6 collective Win Score is a comparative measurement of their performance against the entire Association's average performance vs. the Lakers. Thus, the Nuggets are not playing like a team that deserved to be in the postseason.

2. My pick of the Boston Celtics looks shaky. The Atlanta Hawks were the worst team in the postseason, and yet the Celtics comparative offensive Win Score in the first three games is barely above the Association average vs. Atlanta. And lets hope what happened to them in Game Three was just a hiccup. Their vaunted defense was absolutely thrashed by the less-than-stellar Hawk offense.

3. The Phoenix Suns are going to be blown up, and by my numbers they have actually outperformed the Spurs in the series. Of course the numbers are somewhat skewed by the Spurs lay down performance in Game Four, but nevertheless, the Spurs were extremely lucky to win Game One and this Series should be no worse than 2-2.

4. The Nuggets and Mavericks may suck, but the Lakers and Hornets both appear to be legitimate title contenders. The Lakers are doing it on both ends of the court, and the Hornets offense is certainly for real.

5. Could the Cavaliers actually give the Celtics problems? I don't think so. The Celtics would have their best individual defender -- Paul Pierce -- available for LeBron James, and Kevin Garnett and Ray Allen should numerous field days against any potential Cavalier counterparts. On the other hand, I didn't think there was any way Atlanta could win a game against them, so...

The Pistons are not switch flipping!

The media is so intellectually lazy, that instead of actually analyzing what's happening in a particular NBA playoff series, they constantly resort to trite little, collectively- manufactured "storylines" to describe the action.

And the storyline "they" (by which I almost exclusively mean the jabberjaws on ESPN) have settled on for the Sixers surprising challenge to the Pistons is "the Pistons are flipping the switch back and forth from on to off." The tired "switch" metaphor is meant to imply that the Pistons are really, really good (because, gee, didn't they win a championship a couple of years ago?), and therefore the only way they could be losing to the lowly Sixers is if the Pistons are not trying. The only problem with this little storyline is its completely false.

If the Pistons have a switch, it seems to be pretty close to the "on" position. You simply cannot play defense as well as they are playing defense without exerting a substantial amount of effort. The Pistons problem is they cannot get any consistent offense generated against Philadelphia's equally outstanding defense, especially from their traditional sources of offense... Chauncey Billups and R. Wallace.

In fact, they have struggled so much on offense that their Offensive Win Score average in this series (about 30.3 per game) would have been the worst in the NBA by a healthy margin had that been their season average. The fact is the Pistons should not have won any games in this series and they are somehow tied 2-2.

In my mind, the proper storyline, if there must be one, has the Pistons cast as quickly diminishing but ever-proud Muhammad Alis, employing every bit of guile and guts they have left to eke out wins against the Ken Norton/Earnie Shavers/Leon Spinks 76ers (young, strong, dangerous, unorthodox, and hard to score against)... opponents they would have wiped the floor with just a few short years ago.

Saturday, April 26, 2008

Tosh Howard's cabbage burning... will the NBA crit-eee-cize it?

What is with basketball players and their proven love for the dirty cabbage? As you probably heard already, Josh Howard is a proud and admitted smoker of the jazzman's friend... going so far as to brag about it on ESPN Radio. And he's only the latest in a long list of NBAers who have been somehow confirmed to be amongst the "cool".

The thing I don't get -- besides the legal and decisional aspects of the practice -- is why marijuana? I can see the lure of it for Deadheads and fans of all forms of Acid Rock and grilled cheese, but what exactly is the lure for basketball players?

Is the NBA life so stressful that guys need to kick back and blaze up? Or is there something else unique about weed that draws cagers to its burnt rope allure?

To me, if hoopsters are going to get hooked on a bad habit, one that requires the intake of toxic fumes into your body is not the one I would guess that a group of world class athletes would choose.

But I'm not one to judge.

Footnote: Although, my statement that the Suns would "stomp on" the Spurs when the series moved to Phoenix had to have been influenced by some illegal substance.

Friday, April 25, 2008

Top Performing NBA Playoff teams using PVOA

I went over each of the NBA playoff games played thus far and calculated each of the participant team's overall, offensive, and defensive "point value over average" averages to try to determine objectively which team is playing the best basketball.

PVOA in a nutshell

Point Value over Average works like this. I calculate the number of possessions in the particular game. Then I calculate each team's PVOA by comparing the points scored and allowed by the team against what the rest of the league would have scored and allowed in the same situation given the same number of possessions.

A quick example: Lets say that Boston is playing at home against Atlanta, and there were 92.8 possessions in their game. The final score, hypothetically, was Boston 105, Atlanta 80. Now, to get Atlanta's PVOA, I use Boston's home efficiency numbers to calculate the average number of points scored and allowed by the Celtics in a typical home game that featured 92.8 possessions. Lets say that turns out to be: Boston 98.5, Opponent 83.1.

Okay, since Atlanta only scored 80 points, and Boston's opponents would normally score 83.1, Atlanta's offensive PVOA is -3.1 points. And since Atlanta allowed Boston to score 105 points, whereas the rest of the league had only been allowing them to score 98.5 points in that many possessions, Atlanta's defensive PVOA is +6.5 points (with "+" representing a below average defensive performance). You put it all together and Atlanta's overall "Point Value over Average" for that particular game is -9.6 points. That is how I get my PVOA numbers from which I derive each team's PVOA averages.

Okay, here are my results for the playoffs so far:


1. So far I have the New Orleans Hornets playing the best basketball. But even though PVOA is theoretically opponent neutral, there is still a bit of a chicken/egg thing to consider. How much of New Orleans outstanding offense can be accounted for by Dallas' shameful defense?

2. Before the playoffs I wondered how much of a factor "momentum" would be. Well, if you go by the Toronto-Orlando series, the answer is next to none. Since the all-star break, Orlando was one of the best playoff teams and Toronto one of the worst, but Toronto has thus far outplayed Orlando.

3. Its interesting to see how lopsided both the Lakers and Celtics, and indeed the Hornets, are. None of those 3 top teams exhibits balanced excellence... they're all either offensively charged or defensively charged.

4. The rankings also show what I contended in my last post... Phoenix is not playing poorly.

5. Even though I did factor in home and road differences, it should still be pointed out that Utah is the only team among the top 5 or so that has played a road game.

Thursday, April 24, 2008

ESPN needs to stop confusing location with domination

"The Suns just can't handle the Spurs". That's what I keep hearing from the "Worldwide Leader". I think its wrong. The Suns and Spurs appear to me to be evenly matched teams whose games were decided primarily by location.

Why can't ESPN's experts recognize this? Home court advantage is an obvious fact at every competitive level of basketball. In fact, if you had a gun placed to your head and you needed to site one uncontrovertable fact about the sport, you could confidently state the existence of the home court advantage. It is clear, historically consistent, and basically irrefutable (the New York Times recently reported that the all-time home winning percentage in the NBA alone is a substantial 64.2%).

That's why all these stories ESPN has been running (and having the annoying Stephen A. Smith comment bombastically upon) about the decline of the Suns and the improved play of the Cavaliers, and what not else, are all simple bunk. The only story worth noting coming out of the first round of playoff games was the impressive dominance of both the Jazz and the Celtics and the apparent crash course the two teams are on. But that basically went unmentioned.

Instead the chattering class wanted to put a premature tombstone on the Suns. I'll go so far as to state that the Suns would be up two-love right now instead of down two-love had they had the home court advantage. And I fully expect them to stomp on the Spurs in Game Three. (As will the "dead" Mavericks against the Hornets, for that matter).

At which time, ESPN can start a round of phony discussions about the "Resurgence of the Suns" and the "Awakening of the Mavericks". Oy.

I miss the days when Sports Illustrated, and not ESPN, set the national sports agenda. I really, really do.

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

The dramatic effect Skiles could have on the Bucks

The more I think about this Scott Skiles hiring, the more I think it may have been a stroke of genius.

I initially wanted Rick Carlisle hired, although frankly, looking back on it, I can't really articulate why. Upon closer analysis, Skiles may have always been the better choice.

Why? Because of the situation the Bucks are in. The Bucks culture of defensive sloth and indifference has been here for so long, and is so deep-rooted within the franchise, only a dramatic figure could hope to eradicate it.

And in recent NBA history, there has been no more dramatic defensive fix-it man than Scott Skiles. In fact, when it comes to fixing NBA defenses, Scott Skiles is "The Wolf". You may not want him for the long haul, but when you need defensive solutions right now, he's the man to call.

Are Happy Days here again? Maybe.

Let's get theoretical. How much of an impact will Skiles likely have on the Bucks?

Well, if you accept my "Defensive Win Score" and "Defensive Half Wins" concepts, and this season they proved approximately 93% accurate, and if you further accept that a coach can make individual players perform better defensively, then Scott Skiles could have a dramatic impact on the Milwaukee Bucks... and faster than you might think.

Here's what I mean. In the five full seasons Scott Skiles has been an NBA coach with two different franchises, his teams have recorded Defensive Win Scores of 35.5, 35.2, 36.2, 37.6, and 34.0. Each franchise regularly recorded Defensive Win Scores in the 40s prior to Skiles arrival. And he turned each of them around in his first full season.

If Skiles does it again in Milwaukee next season, one can estimate the result will be about 62.1 defensive half wins. If that is the case, then even if the offense produces the same anemic 26.2 half wins it did this season, the Bucks are still a 44-38 team in the thick of the Eastern Conference playoffs.

Is this all fanciful theorizing? Can Skiles really come to this barren defensive wasteland and conjure such a dramatic transformation? Given his compelling track record, I believe he can. In fact, the evidence clearly suggests HE WILL... and by no later than year two.

Monday, April 21, 2008

Skiles hiring means defense now, burnout later

An interesting beginning to the John Hammond Era. After firing Larry Krystkowiak, the Bucks new honcho moved quickly to hire veteran coach Scott Skiles, a man who could be described as a defensive version of George Karl. Skiles has previously coached the Phoenix Suns and most recently the Chicago Bulls. Skiles gets quick results, but his high intensity act tends to burn bright and then fizzle out. Each of his previous teams suffered mysterious and sudden declines around his fourth or fifth season and those declines ended up costing him both jobs.

But that's an issue for the future. For now, Skiles' hiring is a clear signal that Bucks leadership thankfully intends to put an end to the long era of "matador" defense in Cream City.

The Long Era of the Matador looks to be over in Milwaukee

I think I made this point once before, but I'll make it again. Since the 1990-91 season, the Milwaukee Bucks have not had a single team finish in the upper half of the NBA under basketball-reference.com's defensive rating system (which essentially measures a team's defensive efficiency in terms of points allowed per 100 possessions). And they've only had three teams that even finished above 20th in all of those 17 mostly miserable campaigns.

The Bucks decline as a franchise parallels their defensive misery. Prior to the team's long decline, the Bucks spent every season in the 1980s, except the last, in the top ten in defensive rating. And for most of those seasons the Bucks were ranked either number one or number two.

Then in 1989-90, the team fell to 14th. The next season they surged back to 11th, and then the bottom fell out. And the dark days began. It looks like they are finally over.

Skiles is a defensive genius

Scott Skiles delivers defense. That is clear.

Skiles first NBA head coaching assignment was with the Pheonix Suns in 1999-2000. He took over for head coach Danny Ainge about 15 or so games into the season. In the season prior to Skiles ascension, the Suns ranked 19th in defensive rating. In Skiles first season the Suns ranked 3rd. In his second season the Suns ranked 1st. In his third season he was fired three quarters of the way through and the team finished 12th.

In the two seasons prior to Skiles taking over in Chicago, the Bulls defensive rating was 21st and 24th. In Skiles first partial season, it improved to 16th. In his first full season, they finished 2nd. In his second full season, the Bulls finished 7th. In his third full season they had the best defensive rating in the NBA. In his fourth season, he was fired.

Hiring Skiles is the equivalent of shock therapy for the defenseless

When you hire Scott Skiles, what you are saying is, we shall play defense no matter the cost. In three or four seasons, this radical approach tends to burn teams out, but in the short term its highly effective. And, after 17 seasons of no defense in Milwaukee, I think it will be a welcome change.

Sunday, April 20, 2008

Odds lengthen for yesterday's NBA playoff losers

I've been down with a flu bug for the last couple of days. A perfect excuse for an afternoon of non-stop NBA action. Yesterday I put in 11 hours of "the best in basketball" and Vitamin C. Hoopsters heaven. Mostly close games, but nevertheless, the odds of getting out of the first round for yesterday's losers have gotten a bit longer.

Using Cook's method to calculate playoff odds

Prior to the playoffs, I calculated each playoff team's home and road "efficiency differentials", split them, then used this formula to determine each team's overall expected winning percentage, then plugged those numbers into the "seven game series" formula developed by Professor Earnshaw Cook to evaluate the World Series in his classic book "Percentage Baseball". I then charted the results and called them the odds of each team getting out of the first round. (Note: I miscalculated one of the series. I thought Utah was the home team, and thus calculated their chances of getting out of Round 1 at 56.2%. However, they are the road team. Still though, they were the favorite to win going into the series, with their odds of winning being 51.4%.)

After Saturday's results, I recalculated the odds. Click here to see my new results.

As you can see, even though most NBA analysts view NBA series as tennis matches (in that they often say the winning team-- if it holds home court advantage-- has merely "held serve") the fact is that any loss in a playoff series greatly lengthens the odds that the loser will end up winning the series.

That's because the tennis analogy doesn't really hold. In tennis, the initial returner gets just as many opportunities to serve as the initial server. By contrast, in the basketball playoffs the team with home court advantage gets one extra "serve" than its opponent. And more importantly, "games" won in tennis are not equivalent to "games" won in basketball. A basketball victory is more analagous to winning a "set" in tennis.

After winning a set in tennis or a game in a basketball playoff series, the winner, in contrast to the loser, is placed in a position where it now needs to win fewer victories in the same number of contests. Given this new "advantage", the victors odds of ultimate victory increase substantially.

Thursday, April 17, 2008

Requiem for a hard working coach who deserved better

I caught a bad flu bug, so I'm not really in thinking, writing, or existing mode right now. But I wanted to write a few words about a guy I respected who was put in an impossible situation, former Bucks coach Larry Krystkowiak.

Coach K deserved better, and he shall rise again. He's a good coach.

As I wrote the other day, I am an unreconstructed hoopist. Often, what I see of a guy operating on the court is what I make of him off the court. And so what I saw of Coach K in his playing days colors my view of him today.

What I saw then was a marginally talented guy who through blood, toil, tears, and sweat became a very productive NBA player for some successful Bucks teams. He did all he could for the Green and Red and he left a lot of himself (including his knee ligaments) on the court when his days as an active Milwaukee Buck had finished.

I saw the same thing, only with more disturbing results, when he was the team's coach. I saw a man who was slowly dying in a job he wanted so badly to succeed at, and that he worked so hard to succeed at, but which he was never given the tools he needed to succeed at. It clearly ate away at him. Watching the postgame after last night's finale in the Twin Cities, I was shocked to see how ravaged he looked... he looks as though he hasn't ate or slept in months. For his family's sake, today's announcement may have therefore been a good thing.

At any rate, I just wanted to have a nice word for a good coach who will get a second chance and I am sure will succeed when that second chance comes.

Coach K, thank you for your effort, and as my Italian friends say... Salut!

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

The Bucks best weren't good enough, and the rest were just weak

One day early, I've done the final "Win Chart" for the 2007-08 Milwaukee Bucks. The Win Chart once again uses the Win Score algorithm developed the authors of "The Wages of Wins". My chart purports to show who did what in terms of Wins Produced for the 2007-08 Milwaukee Bucks.

My method of arriving at Win totals is slightly different from the authors, because I try to include defense in the equation. Thus, 50% of the wins credited to each player come from that player's position adjusted Win Score, and 50% come from the cumulative position adjusted Win Score of the opponents that player was assigned to cover. The ending number is referred to in the same manner as the player's "Wins Produced".

This particular chart also includes the player's Win Contributions -- both offensive, defensive, and cumulative. Win Contribution is merely the position adjusted Win Score multiplied by the player's percentage of overall playing time. Win Contribution is meant to reflect approximately the same thing as baseball's "Replacement Value over the Average Player". The player's Win Contribution is, in other words, a comparison of that particular player's production to the production the team would expect from an average NBA player consuming the same amount of time. The average player's Win Contribution is .000, so anything above that is, obviously, contributing to a winning team, and anything below is contributing to a losing team.

For the final chart, I also translated those Win Contribution numbers into specific numerical Win Totals representing the player's "Win Value over Average". That is, how many more wins did this player provide the Bucks than they would have received if they merely had Joe Average taking that player's minutes? Here's a specific example. I took Royal Ivey's Win Contribution of -.282 and translated that into the number of extra games the team lost because they employed Royal Ivey instead of an average NBA player. That turns out to be 3.8 games. That may not seem like a lot, but consider the situation if the entire team were as bad as Ivey. The team's expected record would be in the negative numbers. So Ivey had a terrible season. But the Bucks problems are more fundamental than that. And they begin at the top.

The Top of the Roster: No Head Start

The Bucks are a terrible team because their top isn't good enough, and their bottom can't make up the stagger.

Here's what I mean. Professor Berri has shown that most NBA rosters -- because of the salary cap and the distribution of talent and other things -- operate according to the Pareto Principle. In other words, your top 3 or 4 players will generally produce around 80% of your victories. So your goal should be to have a team with 3 or 4 players who are quite productive, and then the rest of the roster should be as close to average as you can get. If you think of a winning team like a relay race, your top 3 or 4 have to build a big lead (through wins above average), and the rest of the team then needs to erode that lead as little as possible.

Take the Celtics. Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce together provide 15.5 wins above the average player. That translates into a 56.5 win season. Then you throw in Ray Allen and Rajon Rondo, and I would venture to guess you are somewhere in the 64 win range. Then the rest of the team is built mainly on players who hold that advantage through superior defense.

The Bucks are a different story. Their three most productive players have a combined WVOA of only -0.6. That's terrible. You're through the heart of your roster and you've already got a losing team. (Its simply unacceptable that Michael Redd delivers only 0.4 victories over average and yet makes maximum dollars). That just won't work.

That's why earlier this year I suggested we ought to explore trading Bogut. It wasn't because I disliked Bogut. In fact, I like him very much. He's a pretty good player. The problem is, we desperately need a couple very good players, and Bogut's about the only attractive thing we could dangle to get those players. Redd's salary makes him unattractive. The word is out on Villanueva. Maybe Yi could attract some interest, but I kind of doubt it.

Once we put a couple of high value players in place the rest should actually not be that difficult. Why? You can build your roster through some offense and a whole lot of defense, like the Celtics did. Defense is incredibly cheap, and, if you have the guys on the top of your roster who can produce, defense is just as good as offense.

No matter what, this should be an eventful off-season for the Green and Red.

An unreconstructed hoopist

Last night Barack Obama reminded me just how prejudiced I am. No, no, no... I'm not a racist. I'm a hoopist.

I can't help it, but I -- like a lot of people I know -- form concrete judgments about people based solely on how they hoop. Seriously. I know its weird, but I can't help it. Once I've seen a guy hoop, and have judged his game, from that moment on I see him through that prism ("He's a scrapper" "He's a banger" "He's a spaz"). For good or ill, that's how it goes. And there's nothing I can do to change it or erase the judgment. (Sometimes I don't even need to see the guy play for my prejudice to kick in. For instance, my brother has a friend whom I used to sort of respect. Over Easter my brother told me he played hoops with him and the guy spent the whole time being afraid of the ball. Now every time I think of him I can't help thinking "candy ass". I know its wrong. I know it.).

Until last night I had a fairly mixed opinion of the Democrat Barack Obama (I'm either apolitical or independent, but I follow politics in a sort of sporting way). Great speaker, no doubt. But he seemed like a black version of Adlai Stevenson. Way too far left and way too hoighty-toighty for my beer drinking taste. He seemed like the kind of guy who spent his weekends reading public policy papers and sipping wine.

Then I saw him hoop.

The dude can play. I shit you not. He's got this kind of Tayshaun Prince/Chris Mullin thing going on. He can handle, he can pass... I even saw him stamp some other dude's shot "Return to Sender"! A 46 year old ex-smoker politician! And he's got serious game. And it wasn't one of those "Hey the cameras are on, let Barack win". You can tell when you are being played like that. This was for real. Obama was manning the point and finding cutters.

And now suddenly all of my misgivings about the guy are gone. Isn't that insane? But its true. I'm a hoopist and I know it.

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Handicapping the NBA Playoffs: Round One

I used this formula and my own calculations of each NBA play-off teams home and away efficiency differentials to determine each team's percentage chance of getting out of Round One of the NBA Playoffs. I withhold actual series predictions until I can look at the Head-to-Head numbers.


I took each team's Home and Away efficiency differentials, and used them to create "representative efficiency scores" for games played at the higher seeded teams home facility and games played at the lower seeded teams facility. I then plugged those numbers into the efficiency formula to determine each team's expected winning percentage in the series, both at home and away. I then took those results and multiplied the results for games at the higher seeds' facility by 4, and the results for games at the lower seeds' facility by 3, added the numbers together, and divided each by 7 to arrive at each team's "chances of winning". (Note: The "representative scores" are not actual "predicted scores" because the score I would predict would be dependent on the number of possessions I would expect in each game.)

Discussion Points

1. Karma is abusing the Houston Rockets
The Houston Rockets have gotten to the NBA Finals four times in the modern era, and won two championships. By my reckoning, they did not deserve to be in any of those Finals. Now they have a team worthy of the Finals, and the odds are very high they won't get out of the first round. The thing that pisses me off about that is all the NBA talking heads will feel vindicated in their assessment that the Rockets were never a contender, when in fact they were.

2. To a far lesser extent, the same for the Sixers
The Sixers have gone from a joke to what I think is the fourth best team in the East. Of course that would make them the 12th best team in the play-offs, but all things are relative. I think the Sixers are slightly better than both the Cavs and the Bullets, but people will not see it that way because either the Cavs or the Bullets will advance to Round Two, and the Sixers will not.

3. Most likely First Round victim: the defending World Champs
By my numbers, the most likely upset victim in the First Round is the Spurs. I'm not predicting an upset yet, but my initial numbers say its quite possible.

Monday, April 14, 2008

Ranking the NBA contenders using four efficiency differentials

Its been proven that victory in the sport of basketball is a function of each team's "efficiency differential" -- points scored per possession versus points allowed per possession. Makes sense.

With that in mind I ranked the playoff teams plus the Golden State Warriors by combining four separate "efficiency differentials"-- (1) Overall differential; (2) Post All-Star Break differential; (3) Home Games differential, and; (4) Away Games differential.

Taken together, I think the four categories provide good evidence of each team's relative strength entering the championship season.

Here's how the teams rank, according to those numbers:

1. Boston Celtics (+45.0)
2. Utah Jazz (+34.0)
3. Detroit Pistons (+29.9)
4. LA Lakers (+28.6)
5. Houston Rockets (+26.0)
6. Orlando Magic (+24.5)
7. New Orleans Hornets (+23.1)
8. Dallas Mavericks (+21.8)
9. San Antonio Spurs (+21.3)
10. Phoenix Suns (+19.6)
11. Denver Nuggets (+15.0)
12. Golden State Warriors (+10.1)
13. Toronto Raptors (+5.4)
14. Philadelphia Sixers (+4.0)
15. Cleveland Cavaliers (+2.1)
16. Washington Bullets (-1.2)
17. Atlanta Hawks (-5.1)


This does not necessarily indicate how I think the playoffs will unfold. Home court has to be weighted, and I have to decide how important momentum should be considered. Specifically, Orlando has played much better than Detroit since the All-Star break. Should Orlando be the pick? They would not have home court advantage, and its entirely possible the veteran Pistons have relaxed, having been unchallenged in the Central. I'll have to think about that. Also, Utah has phenomenal numbers until you get to their road numbers, which are razor thin. Should they stub their toes just once, it would dramatically change the outlook for them.

Sunday, April 13, 2008

And starring as Lindy Infante...

Its stunning how many things about the Bucks' hiring of John Hammond parallel the Packers' 1991 hiring of Ron Wolf. The timing, the look, even the way the team is playing in front of its new boss. I have to go to Green Bay right now, but I will complete this thought later...

Saturday, April 12, 2008

Beware of the Cadillac

Here's how smart I am.

Last year around this time I was singing the praises of Charlotte Bobcat free agent forward Gerald Wallace, waxing on about how great it would be if he were a Buck. I think I went so far as to compare him to the great Marques Johnson.

One year on, the WoW Journal outlined the disappointing win performance this season by the Charlotte Bobcats. Even though the Bobcats added the productive Jason Richardson, and "lost" the totally unproductive Adam Morrison, their win totals did not increase. Gerald Wallace's drop in productivity was the single biggest reason why. What happened?

Immediately I suspected a post-contract Cadillacing. And whenever I suspect that, I always look for 3 confirming "motivational" clues (all based on how I play when I don't really feel like playing) in the player's game. I look for a lack of rebounding (because rebounding takes effort), I look for an abnormal fondness for hoisting outside jump shots (because that's a lot easier than driving to the basket), and I look for a distinct lack of defense (self evident).

Well, if you look at the statistics outlined by WoW, you can indeed see a substantial decline in rebounding. You also see a large decline in offensive efficiency. But, you also see that his FTA/FGA did not change, and since I consider "basket attack percentage" a sub-indicator of aggressiveness, at first I thought my intitial diagnosis was wrong.

However, I then went to 82games.com and looked up Wallace's mix of shots, and found my smoking gun. According to 82games' statistical breakdown, Wallace's shooting percentages are all virtually the same as they were in 2006-07... Wallace just rearranged his overall mix of shots to such a degree that it resulted in his much lower offensive efficiency numbers.

Here's what I mean. In his contract year, 2006-07, 36% of Wallace's shots were defined as "jumpers", which Wallace made at a 42.1% clip, while 64% were defined as "inside" shots, which he made at a 58.3% clip. Then, after signing his offseason megabucks contract, Wallace presumably decided the more physically tolling inside game was no longer for him.

This season his shooting percentages were virtually the same, but 52% of the shots he took were jumpers, while only 48% were "inside" shots. If you sample other players "shot mix" statistics from season to season, this kind of radical change is rare indeed. And had Wallace maintained his 06-07 mix of shots, he would have maintained his above average offensive efficiency numbers. It seems he didn't have the heart anymore.

There's more evidence. His defense declined as well. Last season, when he played power forward, his average opponent's Win Score was 8.85, well below average (meaning his defense was above average). This year it was 11.05, a substantial decline, and well above average (meaning the opposite). Meanwhile, at small forward he was bad both year's, but worse this year. In 2006-07, his opponent's average Win Score was 9.50; this season it was 9.75.

The moral of the story is, when we are looking at potential free agents this summer for the Bucks, we need to factor in the contentment a long term contract might produce. In Wallace's case, that contentment seems clear. Something else could be at work, but looking at the numbers, my mind keeps playing the refrain from that Springsteen song ("Cadillac, Cadillac!").

The Relative Road Strength of NBA Playoff teams

The Win Score method, particularly the "Road" version, served me well in my NCAA picks. And Charles Barkley always says playoff series don't begin until the road team wins. With that in mind, I decided to take a preliminary look at the likely NBA Playoff teams by assessing each team's relative road strength.

Sidebar: For the NBA, I break it down into "Win Splits", which are similar to Bill James baseball "Win Shares", except that Win Splits are half wins whereas I believe Win Shares are 1/3rd wins (and I think Win Splits are way easier to understand). In essence, my theory is that one half of all team victories can be attributed to thier Win Score statistical accumulations by the team ("Offensive Win Score"), and one half can be attributed to the Win Score statistical accumulations they allow their opponents ("Defensive Win Score"). When you look at overall statistics, this turns out to be around 93% accurate, when you look specifically at road statistics, it turns out to be about 89% accurate. Here are my results:

Discussion Points

1. There is an unfortunate situation brewing in the West. The four teams I think are the strongest contenders -- the Lakers, the Suns, the Jazz, and the Rockets -- are set to meet in Round One. Thus, two teams are likely to be eliminated early, when in fact their team strength would dictate a longer run.

2. The Lakers vs. the Suns sets up as the basketball version of "George Foreman vs. Ron Lyle". If you don't get the old school boxing reference... I'm saying it will be a Pier Six brawl -- all haymakers, no defense. During their season series, each team had a Win Score of nearly 55. That means, of course, the defenses of each team were near 55. Remember, the NBA average is 43.3.

3. New Orleans should be afraid of Denver. Denver is an awful road defensive team, that's true, but they've got a puncher's chance because they are an outstanding road offensive team.

4. Same deal with Toronto in the East. On the other hand, Cleveland looks like they might be less than advertised. The third most dangerous team is Orlando, Cleveland doesn't look like a serious threat.

5. It really looks like the Rockets will go out early if they meet the Jazz. Head-to-head, the Jazz have dominated. That's unbelievable for a team that won 20-odd games in a row.

Bucks Diary vs. King Kaufmann's "Pool o' Experts"

Since I was in a goofy NCAA pool, I never got a true objective read-out on how the Win Score/PVOA system really performed visavis the norm in picking NCAA tournament games. But, comparing my picks against the conglomerate known as King Kaufmann's "Pool o' Experts", it did quite well indeed.

If the results below don't underscore the marginal value of Left Brain analysis in the sport of basketball, I don't know what does.

Remember, despite my success, I still couldn't name Kansas' entire starting five if my life depended on it, while I'm sure Seth Davis could tell you where each of them went to high school and whom their coaches were.

King Kaufmann's Pool O' Experts

1. Yoni Cohen, YoCoHoops.com...............1,260
2. Bucks Diary....................................1,240
3. King Kaufman, Salon.com...................1,010
4. Jonah Keri, ESPN/NY Sun...................1,000
5. Grant Wahl, Sports Illustrated.............990
6. CBS Sportsline Users..........................980
7. Stewart Mandel, SI.com.....................950
8. Tony Kornheiser, Wash Post................940
9. Seth Davis, CBS...............................900
10. Luke Winn, SI.com..........................860
11. Gregg Dovel, CBS Sportsline...............800
12. Barack Obama, politician..................780
13. Michael Wilbon, ESPNtv..................740
14. John McCain, politician....................710
15. Buster, Coinflip4kids.......................390

Friday, April 11, 2008

BucksNation... the news is getting better and better!

Things keep getting better and better... the word out of Michigan is that in conjunction with the hiring of John Hammond as the new Milwaukee Bucks general manager, the Bucks are planning the hiring of Rick Carlisle to take over as their new coach. The dark days when the Bradley Center was a "No Defense" zone for the Bucks seem to be rapidly coming to an end.

April 11, 2008. This looks like it could be one of those rare "game-changing" days in Bucks history, Antlerheads. It looks like the Bucks are about ot transform from a "product" into a competitive entity. And judging from what I've heard with my ear to the ground, BucksNation -- including its youngest member, my man the Cman (my nephew pictured to the right) -- is in a state of frenzy!

First the Gusto, then The Office, now the Bucks? Good things come back in 3s!

Breaking Bucks News: Kohl to left and DEEP!!!

It appears as though Senator Kohl has hit one out of the park on behalf of your Milwaukee Bucks.
The Bucks owner has somehow hired a serious, respected... highly sought-after!!... basketball managerial talent to take over the Green and Red. In Detroit Pistons consigliere John Hammond, he appears to have delivered what Bucks Diary and other called for... a basketball facsimile of Ron Wolf.

If Hammond is all he is reputed to be, it looks as though a new day has dawned in BucksNation, and no one is more ecstatic than your friendly neighborhood Bucks blogger. And I guarantee he has been given full dictatorial control over BucksNation, or he would not have come. We may be getting serious again.

I am efforting the boys who write Detroitbadboys to see if I can get a first hand opinion on Hammond. If I can just remember what I did with their email address.

Until then, as Eddie Doucette used to say in the Bucks heyday, "Oh, Baby! What a play!"

Thursday, April 10, 2008

Red Forman... HUGE Bucks fan

In the realm of popular culture, the Packers get mentioned all the time. The Brewers, not so much, although the one mention I can think of did come in the Tarantino classic "Reservoir Dogs" (oh, and of course the Brewers are central to the awful movie "Mr. 3000"). But I had never encountered a single Milwaukee Bucks reference... until last night.

Last night on FX, the Bucks played a pivotal role in a subplot of the sitcom "That 70s Show" (which is set in the fictional Wisconsin city of "Point Place"). The episode was entitled "Kelso's Serenade".

In the episode, Kitty Forman wants Red Forman to accompany her on a Sunday visit to Kitty's crotchety old Aunt Pearl. Red resists bitterly, protesting that "The Bucks are playing the Celtics!" No luck. He has to go. I feel ya, Red.

Later in the episode, after Aunt Pearl has apparently locked herself in the bathroom, an exasperated Red turns on the Bucks game and starts watching. In a half-hearted attempt to coax Pearl out of the bathroom, Red yells "Come on out Pearl! There's a Bucks game on." An excited Pearl immediately bolts out of the bathroom. "The Bucks, huh?!" Has Red found common ground with the old hag? Not really.

Pearl: "The only thing that keeps me going is watching the Bucks lose!"
Red (under his breath): "Go Bucks!"

Good stuff. Finally, the Bucks get one last mention when Red uses them -- as any good Bucks fan would -- to help illustrate a life lesson to son Eric about the need to compromise with women.

Red: "Hey! Do you really think I wanted to spend the whole damn day sitting in a room with a woman who hates the Bucks and smells like cabbage? Well I didn't. But that's the price you pay, son."

Red Forman, pop culture's one and only sworn member of BucksNation.

Here... comes... Swifty!

With a nod to the certifiably crazy Jim Cramer, here's my "Lightning Round" of random takes on anything NBA...

1. Look out for "da Utes"
Doing my WinSplit analysis the other day, what struck me hard was the balanced strength of the Utah Jazz. According to me, the Utah Jazz have a "56 win" offense, and a "53 win" defense. That's awesome balance. The only thing that troubles me slightly is their overwhelming home record. To misquote the Beatles "Can they do it on the road?"

2. The Spurs look slightly fraudulent
You ever notice how mainstream sports "analysts" will lean on past precedent regardless of current facts? (I remember in the 90s Chris Berman kept selecting either the 49ers or the Bills for the Super Bowl long after their reigns had ended). The same, I believe, is happening with the Spurs. A lot of NBA heads are choosing them to come out of the West, but according to my Win Score WinSplit analysis, they are a borderline team that is lucky to have as many wins as they do. Their offense is certainly not what it once was.

3. The Celtic Hammerlock on display at the BC
If you go back to my historical analysis of past NBA Finals, it indicates that defense wins championships. Actually, I think the proper way to characterize it is that it indicates "Defense wins wars of attrition, and therefore carries teams through the playoffs." That's why I love the Celtics. Playing them is like a kid wrestling his old man. Even when their offense goes cold, you can't gain any ground, because they won't let you out of that headlock they've got you in. So they can just weather any droughts they might encounter. Thus if you beat them, its usually like a one point game with a score in the 70s. Can any team do that to them 4 times?

4. Brooke Lopez is 2008's Big Country Reeves!
I think the safest, and possibly best choice in what I consider a weak draft is UCLA C Kevin Love. But, because he looks like his "Joe Atlas" kit never came, and because he's not the most athletic dude, people think he will flop. He won't. He may never be a superstar, but he will be a very productive starter. (If you're worried about his athleticism, I can provide numerous examples of similar athletically challenged big men who were hugely productive in the NBA -- Jeff Ruland, Moses Malone, Wes Unseld, Jerry Lucas, Dan Issel, Dave DeBusschere, Bob Lanier...) On the other hand, the guy who has "flop" written across his forehead -- Stanford's Brooke Lopez -- is a unanimous high lottery pick. I don't get it. Lopez is a 7 footer who -- in college, mind you -- has shot under 50% from the field, and has been a very poor rebounder for his height and projected position. That's the profile of Big Country Reeves and countless other big man flops.

5. Please don't do it Bucks!
The leading NBA draft sites have the Bucks choosing players that would make me violently ill if the Bucks actually chose them. Draftexpress.com has the Bucks choosing the underproductive, undersized shooting guard Eric Gordon of Indiana, and Nbadraft.net has the Bucks once again selecting the "International Man of Mystery" in this year's draft, someone named Danillo Gallinari. Haven't we had our fill of such foreign cream puffs?

Wednesday, April 09, 2008

Schlitz is back? Can Milwaukee be far behind?

As an avid connoisseur of every kind of old school working class Milwaukee beer (I drank bottled PBR before, during... and apparently now after it was cool... you should see the looks of disdain!) I am weirdly excited about the news I received yesterday that "The Gusto" is back.

Classic Schlitz, or more honestly, the owners of the old brand name and formula that once comprised America's leading bottled beer, have decided to try to make a small scale comeback. In honor of the return of the beer that once made Milwaukee famous, I've temporarily changed the tagline of this little blog (another connection: according to the old replays they show on "NBA Hardwood Classics", Schlitz and Schlitz's "Old Milwaukee" were once a primary sponsor of the NBA on CBS) .

Could this all portend a comeback for all things Milwaukee? All in a symbolic sense, of course. Since many trace the psychic decline of the once great Milwaukee brewing industry to the disastrous decision by the Schlitz company to go cheap on its popular formula, roundabout 1970, it seems to me that any decision to revive that formula should be seen as nothing but a good omen for Cream City... and maybe even our Bucks.

Of course, in classic "good news and bad news" Milwaukee-style, Schlitz is so far only available in Chicago and the Minneapolis-St. Paul area.

I smell a Bucks Diary road trip!!!!

Tuesday, April 08, 2008

Win Splits for every NBA team's offense and defense

How many victories does each team's offense and defense contribute to their respective win totals? I investigated this question using a derivation of the Win Score metric developed by the authors of "The Wages of Wins".

The Logic being used, and How to interpret a "Win Split"

My theory is that 50% of each team's win total can be traced to the team's overall Win Score per game average as compared to the overall NBA Win Score per game average (which is 43.3 Win Score points per game). This I consider, in a slightly dirty way, the team's "offensive" output. The other 50% can be traced to the Win Score per game average of the team's opponents as compared to the overall NBA average (obviously an above average defense holds its opponents Win Score average below the NBA average). This I consider, again in a slightly dirty way, the team's "defensive" effort. The theory turns out to be 92.6% accurate.

The wins attributed to the offense and defense by the Win Score metric are then, obviously, just "half wins", since each side of the court can only produce 50% of the team's outcomes under my theory. Thus the Celtics have, by my calculation of their opponents' severally below average Win Score per game average, a 72 win defense. But I believe they only have 61 wins because my calculation of their own Win Score per game average reveals a 46 win offense. You can see, however, from that example, that expressing the offensive and defensive win splits as "half wins" makes it easier to understand each unit's strength, because a "full win total" expression, such as "a 72 win season", connotes a certain level of excellence for basketball fans, which they can use to interpret each unit's strength... or to hold the weaker link responsible for its failings.

Here's an example of how. In every season of the George Karl tenure, my calculations say the Bucks were a "50-55 win" offense. Yet they usually posted records that hovered in the .500 range. Why? Because their defense was usually in the low 30 win area. In other words, they had a near championship level offense, and a near lottery level defense, and because of the dichotomy, they produced a slew of mediocre seasons. But, knowing the Win Splits, a Bucks fan can rightfully argue "Had we only had a defense to match our offense, those were all +50 win teams." (And if pigs had wings... but you get the argument I'm making, right?).

Expressing the Win Splits as half wins also allows fans to realistically assess where they stand on each side of the ball. For instance, Bucks fans probably would believe their offense was better than their defense. That is not the case. In fact, the defense, by my measure, was slightly better. But the important point is that both sucked almost equally, and thus a major overhaul of the roster is probably in order.

Monday, April 07, 2008

It was the numbers, not me

"The most valuable commodity I know of is information"... Gordon Gekko

The NCAA tournament is over. Luckily, Kansas fulfilled my expectations (barely, but Memphis had high numbers as well). Therefore I'm pretty satisfied.

After years of finishing in the bottom division of almost every pool I entered, this year I did well relying on my so-called "Point Value over Average" system of selection (although I finished with the most correct, I didn't win any money... if you've been following this saga, I accidentally entered a pool that put an absurd amount of weight on first round games. The winner in the pool picked Tennessee as his champion.).

In my pool I picked 47 correct games, for a 74.7% accuracy rate. That was the best correct out of 75 brackets entered, and four better, I believe, than the ESPN "national consensus" picks. I also chose the right champion when that team -- while not a bolt from the blue by any means -- was hardly a consensus choice (only 6% of my pool entrants took Kansas). And, I got the total score at the end of regulation pretty close (it was 132, I had 136). All in all, for a prognosticator who watched bits of maybe 4 college games all season, I'll take the results.

The funny thing is, the system I used, I thought, had some really glaring flaws. Chief among them: it did a poor job of evaluating mid-major teams on a schedule neutral basis. I'll have to work on that. But for now, drink the wine. KU, baby.

I'll leave you with an illustration of my previous methodology.

My brain: "Let's see, Duke versus Kentucky. Ok, I think I like Kentucky. Doesn't Kentucky have that one prospect everyone keeps mentioning? What's his name... Walters, Walker... something like that? Ok, I gotta ride Kentucky. Wait, I just remember Jay Bilas said Duke was on a mission this year. Ok, so its Duke. On the other hand, didn't I hear someone on Mike and Mike say Duke lacked confidence? Yeah, hmmm..."

Bucks Diary weighs in on the MVP race

The latest outstanding post on the WoW Journal concerns this season's MVP race, evaluated from a "Win Score/ Wins Produced" perspective. As those of you who read this blog know, I am a big proponent of the value of this method. So much so, in fact, that I made an unsanctioned addition of my own to the method by considering each player's opponents Win Score, which I refer to as that player's "Defensive" Win Score. For those of you who are interested, I explain below how I came up with the idea for this addition, how I figured out the value of defense to wins produced, and how it works on a team-by-team basis, and you can make your own judgments about its validity. For now, let me reveal my results.


I guess the interesting aspects of my "Shadow M2P" results are the points where I agree with and diverge from Professor Berri, so I will focus my discussion there.

1. Dwight Howard is the man.
In both evaluations, Dwight Howard comes out on top. The big man is having a whale of a season. He simultaneously stands among the top offensive and defensive centers in the sport. There is no question Orlando would be where the Bucks are right now without Dwight Howard. He is the best basketball player in the NBA on every level I consider significant. He has the highest "Combined Win Score" and the highest "Wins Produced". He holds the same distinctions in Professor Berri's normal Wins Produced calculations as well. You can't do much better than he has done.

2. I like Kobe more.
If I am reading the WoW Journal correctly, Professor Berri views Kobe Bryant as a slightly overrated product of the mainstream media's overvaluation of scoring... essentially the role originally played in the "Wages of Wins" by Allen Iverson. That could be, but according to my calculations, he may be doing a bit more on the defensive end than is generally acknowledged. I can't say for certain that he's a defensive wizard, but I can say this: the counterpart shooting guards the Association matches against him have a Win Score average that is way below the overall average for that position. And if that isn't "defense" I'm not sure what is. And its benefiting the Lakers, so I have to take a higher view (albeit not as high a view as Kobe has of himself).

3. KG has made the most of his time
If Kevin Garnett had played an equal amount of time as Dwight Howard, the two would be neck-in-neck for top Win Producer. And, if you consider the impact KG's presence has had on the improved defensive performances of so many of his teammates, you might "spot" him the difference and award the MVP to the Big Ticket.

4. We disagree on Camby
The one point where there is clear blue water between the Professor's results and mine is the evaluation of Marcus Camby. We both agree Camby is an outstanding "Win Score" producer, mainly because of his voracious rebounding and his efficient use of offensive possessions. But, somewhat shockingly, I think he's a very poor defender who is giving a lot of his statistics back on defense. I think he drifts around too much on that end of the court, and consequently allows his "covers" too much freedom to produce. And I think its hurting his team. I can hear the counterargument: What about all his blocked shots and all his alleged "alterations"? I can only say this: while he may be helping suppress his teammates "Defensive Win Scores", and that is by no means clear from the numbers, what is clear is that the other team's centers have been let free to inflict damage on the Nuggets. Now, I'm not saying Camby isn't a huge asset to the Nuggets... I'm saying he's taking some of the luster off his statistical contributions by permitting his counterparts' to do too much of the same.

5. Chris Paul is a freak
What Chris Paul is doing at 5'11 and, I don't know, 165 pounds soaking wet, is beyond comprehension. His defense is not as good as the other candidates save for Camby, but his Offensive Win Score is the best of all. He's a marvel.

I'll make more points on this whole thing in the coming days. For now, the background "foundational" information I promised is next.

Backstory: How I stumbled upon Defensive Win Score

If something doesn't make logical sense to me, it will bug the shit out of me until I resolve it. Essentially, that's how I came up with Defensive Win Score.

Here's specifically what happened. I accidentally discovered a page on draftexpress.com that keeps track of every team's cumulative "Win Score / Game" average. I looked at it and noticed Phoenix had the best average by far. This made no sense to me. If they have the highest per game average, that means they are the most "above average" team from a Win Score perspective, and it logically follows that they should have the most wins, but they don't have the most wins.

After all, if you can explain with a high degree of certainty each team's Wins Produced by ascertaining each individual player's Win Score average and then adjusting it by the average production at that player's position, then you ought to be able to do the same thing taking the entire team's average and simply adjusting that against the entire NBA's team average. What I mean is, if you are accounting for every single player minute -- which Win Score/Game does -- and you are comparing it against the NBA per game average, you are in essence "adjusting for the positional average" of every player on your team in one fell swoop. So you should get the same results on the aggregate level that you get on the "cumulative individual" level. But you don't.

For example, at the moment Phoenix's "Win Score/Game" average is a staggering 56.0. That is 13.7 aggregate Win Score points above the NBA aggregate average of 42.3. If you divide that by 5 (so that you are, in essence, considering the entire team as one player), you have a collective Phoenix Suns player who is +2.74 Win Score points above average. Theoretically then, you ought to be able to take that figure, put it through the proper "Wages of Wins" formula, multiply that result times the sum total of all Phoenix Suns player minutes to date, and come up with something close to the team's aggregate win total. But you can't. It doesn't work. Phoenix is so far above average it should be undefeated. It took me a couple of days to figure out how this could be so.

I came to the conclusion that it must have something to do with the productivity of their opponents... in other words, defense. So I looked up each team's "Opposition" statistics and used them to figure out each team's "Opponent Win Score/Game" average, and once I did that, I did the same calculation as I did in the preceding paragraph. Doing so, I quickly discovered that each team's actual win total was located almost exactly in the middle of the two results.

Take for example the Boston Celtics. Their "Offensive" Win Score is 46.4, which translates into a record of 46.6-29.4. Their "Defensive" Win Score is a mind boggling 29.8, which translates into a record of 72.8-3.2. Together, their predicted record by Combined Win Score is 59.7-16.3. Their actual record is 61-15, so its pretty close. I found similar results throughout the Association.

As a result of my "50/50" findings, I concluded each team's straight "Win Score/Game" average functionally reflected their offense's contribution to victory (thus "Offensive Win Score") and each team's "Opponent's Win Score/Game" average functionally reflected their defense's contribution to victory (thus "Defensive Win Score"). That's how that all came about.

Later, after I found out about 82games.com's "Counterpart Production" information for every player, I used that to "individualize" Defensive Win Score. Then I used the same "half and half" method from above to determine each player's "Combined Wins Produced".

A few more general points

1. Regular Win Score is still the more reliable method of evaluating personnel. Defensive Win Score varies too much from year to year to have any great use for predicting how a player will do in the future. Regular Win Score, by contrast, is remarkably consistent. In simple terms what I mean is "Combined Win Score" is more like a player's report card, whereas Regular Win Score is more like a player's standardized test score... if you understand my analogy.

2. I think the variance in Defensive Win Score performances is due to the nature of defense in the sport of basketball. Basketball, unlike most every other sport, affords players the opportunity to relax on defense without any great social sanction. In baseball, if you relax on defense, you commit errors for the world to see. In football, players are specifically assigned to defense, so relaxation could cost a player his livelihood. But in basketball, you can often drift around and conserve energy on defense, without necessarily incurring individual sanction (especially since basketball, unlike other sports, keeps no specific individual defensive statistics). Thus when players are stuck in hopeless situations, as Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce were last season, human nature is to relax a bit. Conversely, when you put them on a good team, as the two are on this year, you shouldn't be surprised to get a much better result.

Saturday, April 05, 2008

What's the frequency, Jackie?

Why do people believe so many myths about the game of basketball? One of the reasons may be because many of those we call basketball experts don't know logic from pancakes.

Here's an example. I was watching that awful "Around the Horn" show the other day. Panelist Jackie McMullen, the alleged basketball expert from the Boston Globe opined that the Dallas Mavericks "clearly" made a mistake trading Devin Harris for Jason Kidd (sidebar: Anytime anyone uses the phrase "clearly" in their argument, sound the "its weak" alarm. They're trying to be conclusory, rather than logical. After all, if things were so "clear" the evidence would tell us so, and there would be no need to use the phrase "clearly").

Why? Well, McMullen says that EVERY contender in the West has an "offensive" minded point guard, and since Kidd is not offensive minded, and apparently Devin Harris is, then other teams in the West won't respect Kidd and that disrespect will somehow hurt his teammates productivity.

Okay, first of all, if you've been reading this blog, or any other sensible blog, you're laughing right now. Where is the evidence for this assertion, Jackie? And by the way, isn't an offensive minded point guard known as A SHOOTING GUARD?
But let's put those little flaws in her argument aside for the moment.

There are much better errors down the pipe.

Okay, so, McMullen makes her little conclusory argument. But... another fellow on the show suggests to Ms. McMullen that Houston and Los Angeles lack "offensive minded" point guards.

Here is how she defended her argument against that sensible rebuttal. She pointed out to the simple-minded fellow that Los Angeles does have an offensive minded point guard, and that HOUSTON ISN'T A CONTENDER!

How is this woman employed by a reputable newspaper? She defends against a very good rebuttal by using not one but two kindergarten logical reasoning flaws. Let's highlight them.

Her first reasoning flaw is known as the "ambiguous definition". That is, her argument is premised on the flexible term "offensive minded point guard". Its so flexible, in fact, that if something doesn't fit her argument, she just adjusts the term.

Her second reasoning flaw is the all-time classic, "circular reasoning". In other words, her argument is right because it is correct.

To wit, according to Jackie, every contending team has an offensive minded point guard. Clearly then, if a team doesn't have an offensive minded point guard, they're not a contending team. How do you argue against something like that?

With intellects like hers at work, do you wonder why so many journalists are so threatened by the blogosphere? Because they aren't good at what they do.

Could you hear the horn, Ramondo?

I doubt anyone caught it, but what a finish the other night in Washington for the Milwaukee Bucks. A furious comeback, on the road, against a team that thrashed the Bucks at home earlier in the season. Very satisfying.

Also very satisfying was the play of one Ramon "The Waterbug" Sessions. I think we may have something here. He hasn't shot the ball well, but he's played with energy and desire... and hey, outside of Bogut, who else can you say that about?

Did you see the way he beat Antonio Daniels to the basketball to set up the last second win? Daniels looked certifiably startled. That simple display of "want to" ranks as one of my favorite moments of this lousy Bucks season.

And then how about that "Homer Drew" play drawn up by Coach K? That was some brass, my friends. A misdirect to a rookie with only 1 and change on the clock? I love it. And having the chutzpah to sit Mo Williams in favor of the more productive youngster? I doubly love it.

Coach K is seriously growing on me. Unless there is a big name veteran coach on deck, I wouldn't be in favor of firing him. As Professor Berri has basically argued, Red Auerbach himself couldn't coax a winning season out of this roster. Coach K works hard and deserves a fair shake.

Unless... come to think of it, the one guy out there who might be the kind of "culture changer" we need is Scott Skiles. He's a stormtrooper, for sure, but that's probably what we need. And I would bet he would keep K on staff, so I like that.

By the way, I calculated and Ramon Sessions has a Defensive Win Score of -2.32 (minus is good) and an Offensive Win Score of +0.75 (plus is good), and he hasn't come close to finding his shot yet. Good start, young fella.

Tuesday, April 01, 2008

BrewHoop: Kohl meets with Suns VP

In a piece of outstanding covert reporting, Frank at BrewHoop got and confirmed a tip that Senator Kohl recently met, and I assume had lunch with, Suns VP David Griffin at Elsa's in Milwaukee.

That should come as encouraging news (along with the fact that we are not hearing Doug Collins name or the name of any retreads). It seems the Senator is getting serious about bringing in someone serious who can rebuild what has become of our once proud Milwaukee Buck franchise. The hire would be in the tradition of, if not exactly parallel to, the Packers watershed hiring of Ron Wolf, which I wrote about a week or so ago.

We need a new direction

I made this point in the comment section one time, and I'll remake it here. For many of us who grew up in Wisconsin, there was a time in the 80s when the only sports team we had to be proud of in this state was the Milwaukee Bucks. Look at the situation we are now in. Every single sports team -- college and professional -- has bypassed the Bucks, and it makes me sad and a little angry. The Packers, the Brewers, Badgers hoops, Badgers football, Marquette hoops... they're all looking up... and the Bucks are in shambles

As Bunk once said to Omar in one of my favorite scenes on one of my all-time favorite shows, "It makes me sick, m#th#rf###er, how far we done fell!" The same sentiments, I am sure, have to have come across the minds of long-time Bucks fans. Maybe the situation is changing. Call it my "audacity of hope", I guess.

Footnote: If you're going to Brewhoop, don't type "Brewhoops". You get one of those annoying misdirect websites. Who are the deviants that waste their time developing those sites?

Footnote2: As some of you know, I also have a Brewers blog... which I have been shamefully neglecting. I'm considering combining that one with this one and making the two into one new blog. It would be a combination Brewers/Bucks/NBA/MLB blog. I'll post my plans on both blogs... if anyone cares.