Bucks Diary

Saturday, May 31, 2008

Bryant has struggled mightily against the Celtics

Most are picking the Lakers to win the big NBA Finals. I'm not so sure. If Kobe Bryant struggles against the Celtics like he struggled against them in the regular season, the championship banner will belong to Boston.

The Lakers are so heavily reliant on Bryant that any reduction in his play could be fatal to their chances. Indeed, so far he has to a large extent carried Los Angeles in the postseason (his Win Contribution in the playoffs is an astronomical +0.988). The only other reliable contibutor for the L's has been Lamar Odom (+0.579). Many credit Pau Gasol's contribution, but by my estimate he's only been slightly above average (+0.182). If the Celtics could throw a wet towel on Bryant, its hard to imagine the Lakers winning four games.

How did they do it in the regular season? As far as I can tell from reconstructing the two Boston-LA matchups using ESPN's "Play-by-Play", the Celtics used a combination of Ray Allen, Tony Allen, James Posey, and a little bit of Ricky Pierce with great effect on #24. In the two games... two easy Celtic victories, btw... Kobe Bryant made negative Win Contributions to the Lakers of -0.245 (at Boston) and -2.251 (at LA). Remember, +0.000 represents the Win Contribution you would expect a merely average player to make at the same position in the same amount of playing time. Thus, Kobe's first outing against the C's was subpar... his second was almost impossibly bad. I would venture to say no team in basketball history could win a game when one of its players makes a Win Contribution that is <-2.000.

Granted, Gasol was not on the team for either of those two disasters, but he had his own problems with the C's playing for Memphis. In his one game against Boston he went 3-for-13 and made a Win Contribution to the Griz of -.570.

Perhaps the synergy created by the two will produce dramatically different statistical outcomes for each player. And perhaps Kobe's just a better player now than he was then. (The Lakers are certainly a better team.) Lakerland better hope so, because if the Celtics put a foot on Kobe's throat like they did previously, the Lakers have next to no chance.

Peg your Pants! "Super Star Wars II" is on!

The Packers without a reliable quarterback? Indiana Jones in the theaters? People seen pegging their pants? Now the Lakers are playing the Celtics in the NBA Finals? I feel as though I'm living Back to the Future II in reverse! And I'm sort of psyched about it.

Generally, if the media is pulling for one particular matchup, particularly if they are babbling about how good that matchup would be for the particular sport, I purposely pull for whatever alternative matchups exist. I hate when the media does that. In my opinion, the two teams who should compete for any given championship are the two teams who fulfilled the qualtifications for getting there... whether those teams hail from New York and Los Angeles or West Palooka and Nome, Alaska.

But in this case, nostalgia got the better of me and I have to admit that I too was pulling for Boston-Los Angeles. Not because it was good for the NBA's ratings, I have no concern whatsoever for that. Because of the history and the memories, I guess. The great memories.

Well, now its on. Lets see if it can live up to the gigantic examples of the past. It probably won't. You can't go home again, Biff.

Friday, May 30, 2008

Vujacic's million dollar bush shot

By taking and subsequently burying his meaningless last second three point shot in last night's decisive Lakers-Spurs game, Los Angeles Laker G Sasha Vujacic instantly created a legion of Vujacic Haters and Vujacic Lovers. CNBC is reporting that the shot, which resulted in an 8 point Laker win as opposed to a 5 point Laker win, swung an estimated one million dollars worth of gambling action. The money apparently went from parties who bet on the Spurs minus the points to those that did not. (Arbitrary last second shots by foreigners who don't understand basketball etiquette: Reason #57 why its foolish to bet on the NBA.)

Footnote: From what I could discern from the clip CNBC showed, San Antonio's Michael Finley may be counted amongst the Vujacic Haters. After the shot, he gave Vujacic a nasty look that sort of said "Not in America, pal."

The flaws in Erin Burnett's game

Now for something completely different. A barely-connected-to-this-post rant about CNBC daytime anchor Erin Burnett. When the CNBC reporter who ran the Vujacic story described the last second shot as "controversial," Burnett scrunched her nose and replied "Controversial? I thought the object was to win by as many points as possible!"

Okay, Erin. First of all, winning by "as many points as possible" has never, ever been the object of basketball. So comment on things you know (which ain't much), you twit.

Second of all, as you may suspect, I take a huge burn at Burnett. Everyone thinks she's so hot, to me she looks as plain as Wonder Bread. But that's neither here nor there.

What gets me about her is her pedantic nature. I mostly know her work from her appearances on "Morning Joe", this MSNBC political show I watch in the mornings. There she does Q&A segments every morning in which she basically pitches the day's offerings on CNBC. That's fine. What I can't stand about her is the way she laces every comment about every topical economic story with her "Wall Street first, Main Street... oh, third or fourth I guess" political agenda which she tries to disguise as unassailable economic thought that cometh from God's mouth to her ear.

I bet she thinks that kind of absolutist commentary positions her as a financial expert, but it actually makes her look like a typical media simpleton. Someone once wrote that the fool thinks she is a wise woman, and only the truly wise woman knows herself to be a fool. Those words are as true now as they ever were then, and they ought to be shared with at least half of the talking heads on cable television.

Thus ends possibly the first and last anti-Erin Burnett rant ever featured on an NBA blog. Now what was the original topic of this post?

Bucks Diary now featuring daily postings

From this point forward, I am going to post new material every day on Bucks Diary. The trade off is, of course, that from time to time the postings will not be as comprehensive or provocative or analytical as I usually try to make them, but I've come to the conclusion that consistent production is something blog readers want more, and I will provide it.

Why can't KG close?

The issue for today comes from my brother. Why can't Kevin Garnett close games?

The Celtics have nearly lost two games they should have won handily because Garnett continually resorts to fade away jumpers down the stretch. He needs to watch a couple of episodes of "Dogfights" and learn a little something about offense during crunch time from the famous example given by World War II Japanese Kamikaze pilots. In the clutch, serious players carry the action to the other side. They force the defense to stop them.

That's what the Japanese did. Sure, kamikaze attack planes rarely succeeded and the strategy's ultimate cost in valuable manpower was enormous and debilitating. So why did the Japanese resort to this tactic? Because, the Japanese knew it was "crunch time" for their tiny island. Either they turned back the American ships or those ships would unload men who would invade their Japanese homeland. It was literally do or die. So the Japanese had to increase their margins for success.

And on a micro level, kamikazes did just that. Unlike conventional planes that just dropped bombs and could therefore miss their targets or get knocked down before they even dropped any bombs at all, Kamikaze planes either scored devastating hits or died trying. In doing so, they forced the American planes and Ack-Ack gunners to, in sports parlance, "make a play". Either the Americans would knock the planes completely out of the sky short of collision or the Kamikazes scored... they never "beat themselves".

In a similar (obviously less serious) way, Kevin Garnett needs to develop a little "Banzai" fearlessness late in playoff games. He certainly doesn't have it at the moment. According to 82games.com, in the "clutch" time in these playoffs, an incredible 83% of Garnett's shots are jumpshots (as opposed to 68% during the normal minutes... he gets more timid in the clutch!). For superstars in the clutch, fade away jumpers just don't cut it. Especially in the case of Kevin Garnett.

Garnett -- at 7 feet tall with a wingspan from me to you and athletic and ball skills that guards should envy -- ought to attack the basket with impunity. Instead he neutralizes his physical gifts by taking fade aways. And when I say "attack the basket", I don't mean those wishy-washy weave zig zag moves he often uses. I mean this: one decisive move, one or two hard purpose dribbles, a powerful elevation off the floor, and strong move to force the ball through the hoop with authority. That's the ticket, Big Ticket.

If it gets sent back at you, don't sweat it. How often will that happen anyway? Once... maybe twice a game? Think about it. The best shot blockers don't usually get more than 4 or 5 blocks a game. And most of those blocks occur against men the blockers were not defending. Even the best shot blockers rarely block shots on the ball.

Besides, its such an obvious percentage play. By taking the ball right to the rim, the player has three chances to make a positive play, the defense will have a difficult time making one (I'm assuming most shooters will rarely miss on their own from point blank range). When you take fade aways, the odds lengthen considerably. Usually you have about a 4 in 10 shot of success. That's why big time playoff players don't resort to fade aways in the clutch. They're not effective.

Magic Johnson knew this. I remember he had power forward and defensive stalwart Kevin McHale on him in the 87 NBA Finals with time running down in that decisive game. Most point guards would have settled for the jumper. Not Magic. He attacked the lane and scored his famous "junior sky hook". It was a gutsy, aggressive play. And it was the kind big time players make. Its time for KG to step into the big time.

Friday, May 23, 2008

Breakdown: Boston's bench costs them Game 2

In an attempt to find a scapegoat for the Celtics devastating home loss last night in Game 2 of the Eastern Conference championship series, a lot of people are pointing the finger at Rajon Rondo. That is wrong. Rondo was actually excellent. By my calculations, he slightly outplayed his counterpart, Chauncey Billups. In fact, using the Win Contribution metric, the entire Celtic starting five thoroughly whipped the Piston starting five. It was the Celtic bench that gave the game back to the visitors.

By WC tally, had the game been a 5-on-5 contest at the Y, the Celtics would have won easily. Their starting five had a combined Win Contribution of +3.233 (led by Kevin Garnett's +1.333, Rajon Rondo's +0.923, and Ray Allen's +0.800) to the Pistons starting fives' Win Contribution of +1.837 (led by Chauncey Billups +0.787, and dragged down by Tayshaun Prince's -0.330).

But as I stated earlier in the season when I assessed the strength of each NBA team's bench production, it is the collective job of the starters to build a Win Contribution advantage... the bench's job is to do as little as possible to erode that advantage away. Last night, the Celtics bench produced an avalanche of erosion.

In 33 minutes of action, or nearly 14% of the Celtics player minutes in last nights game, the Fantastically Bad Four of James Posey, Eddie House, Glen Davis, and Tony Allen combined to produce 4 points, 8 missed field goals, 3 missed free throws, 0 rebounds, 0 assists, 0 steals, 1 turnover, and 5 fouls. Thank goodness for the fouls and missed shots or we may have no record at all that any of them participated in the game.

When adjusted to account for position, then, the four combined to produce a staggeringly negative Win Contribution of -2.783. The entire Celtics bench accounted for a negative Win Contribution of -2.679 (PJ Brown and Leon Powe made positive contributions).

The Pistons bench, on the other hand, combined to produce a negative Win Contribution of only -0.335, which, when combined with the poor work done by the Celtics bench, completely made up the "stagger" and then some. The Pistons overall Win Contribution, then, was around +1.304, while the Celtics was approximately +0.594. And the Pistons took Game 2 on the Celtics home court.

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

This year's draft looks inverted, Antlerheads

NOTE: Before I get started with my lottery evaluation, a special shout out to the world's newest Milwaukee Bucks fan, and future lottery prospect -- who is sure to have a deadly set-shot release -- my nephew Henry David... born Saturday night in the Land of the Lakers, Minnesota. Welcome to a Green-and-Red World, Hammer! (He may live in Minnesota, but he bleeds Green and Red. In fact, he comes from a long line of crazed Antlerheads. His grandfather and middle-namesake famously snuck out of the house to attend a Bucks game with his Jaycee buddies when Henry's old man (my brother Todd) was 3 days old and sick with Billy Rubin (sp?)! That's Green and Redication, y'all!! Hold on... I'm going to look up who they were playing on basketball-reference... I'm back... Ho, ho... its a true story!! Its been confirmed!! 3 days after Henry's dad was born happens to have been a Saturday night -- which completely fits the "Jaycees Outing" angle of the story -- and the Bucks indeed were playing at home against the Houston Rockets. By the way, the Green and Red prevailed, 126-101. And now you know the rest of the story. On with the show...)

Slim Pickins at the Top, Fats Domino at the Bottom

This lottery looks a little bare. Of the consensus top 17 prospects, I see 3 definite "players", 3 other "possibilities", and 11 guys I wouldn't draft for my noontime YMCA team. Now, what are the odds the Bucks will end up with a stiff?

The Big Timers (I've already commented on these 3 players ad infinitum and will not repeat my analysis here, except to say that while you guys all laugh at Kevin Love, I guarantee he will be a contributor in the NBA which is more than I can say for most of the top prospects. If the Bucks get a contributor in this draft I will be ecstatic).

1. Derrick Rose
2. Michael Beasley
3. Kevin Love

Sort of/ Maybes

1. OJ Mayo: I'm pushing it here. His college numbers were low, but I'm going to give him the benefit of the doubt because he may be able to score more easily when his role becomes diminshed, and he has the ideal size and strength to rebound and defend out of the 2 hole.
2. Anthony Randolph: This recommendation is contingent upon position. If he is slotted at the 3, as some are suggesting he will be, he has the length and the rebounding to produce above average numbers on offense, and to be a force on defense. But I am skeptical. The NBA rarely allows players who are tall enough to play power forward play small forward, no matter how weak they may be. This is especially true when the player has no perimeter game, which Randolph lacks.
3. Donta Green: Take the Randolph analysis and just substitute the name Donta Green.

Buster Browns (Get out of town)

1. Brooke Lopez: Why is this guy so highly coveted? Applying history to his collegiate production almost assures us he will be a big, big bust. What is there to like about him? He doesn't shoot well at all for a big man (under 50%). He's passive. He doesn't rebound. He's passive. He turns the ball over. He's passive. Are you getting the picture? He stinks. Didn't anyone watch the NCAAs?
2. Jerryd Bayless: What the hell? People... people... undersized shooting guards who can't shoot and aren't strong and have no history of playing the point DON'T WORK OUT EVER!! I don't care how "freaky athletic" he is, or how fast he can run the shuttle, or whatever. He didn't produce good numbers in college, and the meager numbers he did produce are heavily skewed due to Bayless' love of the easy college 3. So, what I am saying is his college production was subpar... WHAT THE HELL MAKES YOU THINK HE WILL DO BETTER IN THE NBA? And I haven't even addressed the defensive trouble he is sure to have.
3. Eric Gordon: Can we get a consistent height record on this kid? Half the world calls him 6'4'' the honest half has him at 6'3'', and I'll bet you dollars to donuts he's no better than 6'1 1/2 in stocking feet. Okay, once again, lets review this "top" prospect. He shoots the ball extremely poorly (45%). He couldn't even hit the NBA 3 point average (35%) from college distance (he shot 33.4% from college 3). Think he'll get better in the NBA? Think again. In fact, think TJ Ford. So, we have a "scorer" who's undersized and can't shoot from the outside very well. Brilliant. He must do something well. He's a top ten consensus pick. Well, lets see... he doesn't rebound A LICK. His board totals would embarass Mugsy Bogues. He doesn't seem to pass either, and he's not a good ballhandler. Oh, but he does have an above average turnover rate. Yeah, he's a hell of a prospect.
4. Danilo Ganillari: I heard this foreign bud, who stands 6'9'' and weighs all of 209 pounds... that's not a typo... say he wants to be one of the best players on the planet. If he's speaking about Mars or Venus or one of the other unihabitated planets in the solar system, I'd give him a 50/50 shot at reaching his goal. But on Earth he sucks. To put a Dennis Leary emphasis on it... he suuuuccccckkkkks. This foreign born softy doesn't rebound at all, nor does he ever venture into the paint. He shoots the 3 okay, but he hasn't had an NBAer choking his air space yet, either. Oh, and he doesn't pass. And I'm going to venture to say he plays no defense.

All right, I'm getting bored. Let me rush to the finish... the two point guards are lesser versions of TJ Ford with not as good a jumpshot (sarcasm). Kosta Koufus is one of these big men who never, ever ventures into the paint. Darrel Arthur is way too small to play the power forward in the NBA and he doesn't shoot well enough to play the 3.

All in all, this year's lottery stinks.

I actually think all of the good picks are, ironically, down the draft board. Joe Alexander looks like a producer, as does Mareese Spaights and Chris Douglas Roberts. And the big sleeper of all of them doesn't even show up on draftexpress.com's board until the second round... Ryan Anderson, small forward and bigtime producer from California.

Anderson rebounds very well, he shoots it well, he produced at an incredible rate. If he projects at power forward, the only thing that could slow him down is his strength. If he projects as a small forward, nothing will slow him down on offense, but I suspect he will struggle on defense.

Anyway, projecting his college numbers to the pros, Anderson would be a slightly below average power forward and a well above average small forward. I'd seriously rather take this guy and give him a shot at the 3 rather than selecting anyone the Bucks would likely select at 8.

Then you've got JR Giddens (I'm looking at some of these guys, literally, for the first time). His numbers for a shooting guard are off the charts. What is he doing in the second round while Eric Gordon is in the first? He shoots better, produces way, way, better. Has better size, more experience... I'm beginning to believe the "Eyeball" prospects are all in the overvalued lottery whereas the "Productive" prospects are all undervalued members of the second round. Wow

I haven't even gotten to rebound machine Richard Hendrix yet. But I"m going to stop here for the night with this thought... the Bucks have to trade out of the lottery. The gold is all down stream!

The tired old Lottery and some other tired things about the Association

You know how excited I was for tonight's lottery? I did some work instead. And, surprise, the Bucks fell a spot. What a joke.

The whole concept of the lottery is getting on my nerves. Its a gimmick that's gotten extremely tired and needs to be put to rest, like so many other things in the modern NBA. Go back to the old coin flip. It served the Association just fine for 15 or so years, and its a hell of a lot more fair than the lottery farce. So get rid of it, David Stern. And while you're at it, please also eliminate the following:

1) The Dunk Contest, I haven't watched one single dunk contest since Dee Brown pumped up his shoes, and I don't intend to again;
2) The 3 Point contest, have not watched since Bird;
3) Any kind of contest associated with All-Star weekend;
4) Having player's appear on the scoreboard to urge the crowd to make noise;
5) The faux Chicago Bulls introductions every single damn team does before every single damn game;
6) the T-Shirt Gun -- the gun doesn't even reach the real fans in most arenas;
7) Coaches using the phrase "energy," or blaming losses on the team's failure to "compete" or failure to "execute" or any other damn cliche that has absolutely no explanatory meaning whatsoever;
8) blaring rock music at every NBA arena instead of playing the jazzified sound of Streetlife or just a simple organ;
9) wildly overvaluing guys who are athletic but, ooops, can't play a lick of basketball...

I could go on all night. But I still love the NBA.

Monday, May 19, 2008

Celtic fans shouldn't blame it all on Ray

Ray Allen's postseason offensive contributions to the Boston Celtics have been almost nonexistent. But, believe it or not, his lack of production is not the primary reason the Celtics have devolved from an invincible regular season team to a vulnerable postseason team. The blame for that is better placed with the duo of Paul Pierce and Leon Powe.

Here's how I came to that conclusion. I first calculated the offensive and defensive postseason Win Scores for every member of the Boston Celtics. I then converted those numbers into each player's postseason "Win Contributions" by comparing the Win Scores to the NBA averages and then multiplying that result by the player's percentage of overall postseason playing time. (For instance, if the player's offensive Win Score was 2.1 points above the NBA average for his position and he played 13% of the Celtics overall playoff minutes, then his offensive Win Contribution was +0.273. As always, +0.000 represents the contribution that could be expected from an average NBA player at the position, and anything above or below that indicates above or below average production).

Then I repeated the same Win Score calculations, but this time using each Celtics regular season averages. I then took those results and multiplied them by the player's postseason percentage of minutes played.

What I was left with was a comparison between the offensive and defensive Win Contributions each player was making in the playoffs and the Win Contribution they would be making if they were producing like they did in the regular season.

Technically, its Pierce and Powe

According to my calculations, the biggest difference between the postseason Celtics and the regular season Celtics has been the dropoff in offensive production from Paul Pierce and, surprisingly, Leon Powe. If those two players were playing with the efficiency and productivity they played with during the regular season, then I believe the Celtics would be winning at the same rate they did during the regular season.

Remember, my conclusions are all relative. Of course Ray Allen's offensive production has been worse than either Pierce or Powe, but because his regular season contributions were not as great as theirs, his decline has not had the same relative impact as theirs has.

Saturday, May 17, 2008

Defensive Win Score and the NBA All-Defensive Team

If you follow this blog, you will know that I have for some time believed you can pretty accurately quantify a player's defensive contribution to his team's success by simply taking Professor Berri's Win Score efficiency metric and rather than applying it to the player himself (as is custom), instead applying it to the player's collective "counterparts" -- ie those opponents he was assigned to guard throughout the season. I refer to this calculation as the player's "Defensive Win Score".

(The logic goes like this. If traditional Win Score shows how well the player did at producing statistics that correlate with victory, then Defensive Win Score should show how well the player did at preventing his assigned opponents from producing those same statistics... in other words, how well he played defense.)

Anyway, last night I painstakingly calculated the "Defensive Win Score" averages for each position on every team. They are in raw form, but this year's overall positional averages are listed at the top of every positional column. By subtracting the average from the team's positional total, and then multiplying by .20 (1/5th of all playing time) you can get an idea about the defensive win contribution each team received at each position. (note: you will notice the backcourt positions provided the Bucks with the most negative defensive win contribution of any backcourt in the NBA).

Click here for every team's Defensive Win Score averages by position

The Hidden Value of a Bill Laimbeer

Defensive Win Score is fundamentally different and broader than the traditional concept of defense. Traditional defensive evaluations myopically focus on "point prevention". But as the research in the book "The Wages of Wins" clearly demonstrates, there are many other components to victory. Defensive Win Score takes all of those various components into weighted account, and pays no mind to a player's "one-on-one" defensive technique, or shot blocking capability.

This technique leads to surprising, counter intuitive, results. Interior players who can force their counterparts to account for them on the perimeter of their defensive end -- players like Bill Laimbeer, Yi Jianlian, and Dirk Nowitzki -- have a hidden "defensive" value I never considered before I started calculating this statistic. By keeping the opposition's big men away from the defensive glass they simultaneously prevent one of the opposition's best "possession enders" from ending possessions. That can be considered a form of defense -- it extends their teams' offense.

That's why if you look at the numbers, Yi and Nowitzki both have excellent Defensive Win Scores, even though neither would be considered a "glove-like" defender by any standard. Both hold opposition power forwards well below their "per 48" rebounding averages. And once Yi becomes a better defensive rebounder himself, his advantage will multiply -- he will be on the defensive boards while simultaneously keeping his counterpart off the Milwaukee offensive glass. Maybe the idea of keeping Yi at power forward deserves a second look.

Defensive Win Score and the NBA All-Defensive Team

Based on my findings, I have to take two exceptions with the NBA All-Defensive team. Based on their Defensive Win Scores, I don't think Bruce Bowen or Marcus Camby deserve to be on the team.

In my mind, Bruce Bowen's value to the Spurs is significantly overstated. He is on the floor strictly for his defensive contributions, yet if you quantify those contributions according to Defensive Win Score, he actually makes one of the smallest defensive win contributions on the team (-0.082). That's just below average (with average being +0.000), but it goes without saying it is not up to All-Defensive team standards. According to defensive win contributions, which is equal to Defensive Win Score above average multiplied by the player's percentage of overall playing time, Bowen's spot rightly belongs to Paul Pierce, the NBA's Defensive Win Score "Player of the Year". (With a Defensive Win Contribution of +0.569, I estimate Pierce's defense alone added 4 more victories to the Celtic win column than the average player would have added in the same amount of playing time and given the same positions).

The second mistake selection based on reputation is Denver center Marcus Camby. By Defensive Win Score calculation he is one of the worst defensive centers in the game (-0.331)! His addition to the All-Defensive team is based, I'm assuming, on the mistaken belief that blocked shots equal good defense. They don't (necessarily). Focusing solely on Camby's blocked shot totals ignores the costly trade offs he makes to achieve those blocked shots.

By attempting to block everything in his sight, Camby effectively turns his counterpart centers completely loose. Indeed, when matched against Camby, NBA centers grabbed significantly more rebounds per 48 (particularly offensive rebounds -- supporting my "he turned them loose" hypothesis), shot a higher percentage from the field, and committed fewer turnovers.

And, there is no evidence Camby's shot blocking had any chilling effect at all on the other team's shooters. Denver's opponents had a better effective FG% with Camby on the court than they did with Camby on the bench.

That all being said (or written), here is the NBA All-Defensive team if I were choosing.

Bucks Diary's "Defensive Win Score" NBA All-Defensive Team

First Team

PG-- Deron Williams, Utah Jazz (dwc: +0.374)
SG-- Tracy McGrady, Houston Rockets (dwc: +0.471)
SF-- Paul Pierce, Boston Celtics (dwc: +0.569)
PF-- Kevin Garnett, Boston Celtics (dwc: +0.378)
C-- Dwight Howard, Orlando Magic (dwc: +0.484)

Second Team

PG-- Chauncey Billups, Detroit Pistons (+0.315)
SG-- Kobe Bryant, LA Lakers (+0.405)
SF-- LeBron James, Cleveland Cavaliers (+0.225)
PF-- Dirk Nowitzki, Dallas Mavericks (+0.326)
C-- Chris Bosh, Toronto Raptors (+0.329)

Friday, May 16, 2008

"Madison" Bucks and "Providence" Celtics: How NBA history explains home court advantage

The overriding story of this NBA playoff season has been the dramatic advantage the home team has held in nearly every contest. But what exactly explains it?

Celtics fan John Swansburg addresses that very question in a recent posting on Slate.com. After implying that the question might have no answer, he cites the four most plausible explanantions:

1. Its the building
2. Its the crowd
3. Its the refs
4. Its the travel

Ironically, had I written this post about six months ago, I would have argued vehemently that the answer had to be either (1) or (4), or a combination of both. But after researching the issue on this fabulous statistical resource site, I am now absolutely convinced by historical evidence that it is neither (1) nor (4). It almost certainly has to be (2), and probably also (3) being impacted by (2).

The NBA's forgotten "Neutral Site" Era

Those who know NBA history will remember what I call the "neutral site" schedule era. It spanned the early years of NBA history and ended following the 1973-74 season. I'm sure it served to nationalize the game in the days when the game was extremely limited in its geographic reach.

For whatever reason it existed, its peculiarity and inconsistent application provides valuable insight into the causes of the homecourt advantage in basketball. If you study the era carefully, you will find clear evidence that partisan crowds, as determined by geographic proximity to the team's home city, produced win advantages quite similar to those acheived at each teams home arena.

Of "Madison" Bucks and "Providence" Celtics

Look at this chart I made. It illustrates the impact of crowd partisanship on game results. The chart breaks down the records of 4 teams across different seasons: the Boston Celtics, Milwaukee Bucks, KC/Omaha Kings, and the Houston Rockets. Each of those teams had identifiable "semi-home" games on their schedules during the seasons sited (most obviously Kansas City/Omaha -- the only team in NBA history with two acknowledged "homes"). As you will notice, each of the team's "semi-home" records over the given timeframes significantly exceed their overall records and practically mirror their home records.

You will notice I also cited a fifth team without any "semi-home" record. From 1960-1969, the Los Angeles Lakers played a "pure" neutral site schedule. By that I mean, none of their neutral site games were played anywhere near Los Angeles or the opponents home city. And as you will notice, their neutral site record over that time parallels precisely their overall record, indicating neither an advantage nor a disadvantage in any of their neutral site outcomes.

All of which would tend to eliminate (1) and (4) as plausible explanations. The teams that played "semi-home" games played so few of them that the "semi-home" arenas were no more familiar to them than they were to they were to their opponents. So (1) can't be true. And, all four teams had to travel to their "semi-home" destinations (two of them out-of-state) and that had no adverse effect.


The home court advantage in basketball is very significant and very real. And it is almost certainly a product of crowd partisanship. How the partisanship actually manifests itself, I cannot say.

But the explanation is almost certainly psychological. Anyone who has performed in an indoor spectator sport and has "felt" the roar of a partisan crowd... or the baying of a hostile mob... will concur that the first can be unbelievably uplifting, and the second quite disconcerting. And your concentration, your effort, and even your "comfort" level is effected accordingly. (The same, I believe, impacts the judgment of the referees -- its human nature). And in basketball, all of those things combine to dramatically tilt the advantage to the home team.

Stay tuned for my future post, which builds on this post and asks the following question: "How much home court advantage did the Bucks leave at the old Milwaukee Arena?" Hint: What year did Bucks history take a turn for the worst? What event occured the year before?

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

I hope Bucks' GM Hammond is kidding

I don't like some of the comments I read from the Bucks new GM John Hammond in an interview with the Racine Journal Times. In the interview, Hammond essentially repeats the delusional "the problem was underachievement" thesis that former GM Larry Harris was babbling to himself as Bradley Center security escorted him out the doors of 1001 Fourth Street.

Here's the specific Hammond quote I refer to:

"I think what I would say about this team is probably what any coach here last year or any player that was here last year would say and that is they underachieved"

He later proceeded to basically blame the team's woes on Larry Krystkowiak. Hammond threw Krystkowiak under... well not a bus... it was more like one of those huge troop transporter planes. To make the point even clearer, he alluded to the fact that he "wasn't blaming" Coach K. Uh-huh. This is not the frank assessment I wanted to hear from the new leader of BucksNation. Its ridiculous on its face.

Underachieved? Maybe some of them technically did, but that's kind of like saying that Poland underachieved in World War II. Its irrelevant. Even their best wouldn't have been near good enough.

That's why I wish when someone makes the "underachievement" argument they would point out which specific players performed below their career norms, and exactly how many wins that cost the Bucks. Once you move away from abstractions, the argument falls apart. You can't make a rational case that the existing Bucks roster, with each player producing at his career norms, would have been anywhere near a winning team.

But, I'm going to give Hammond the benefit of the doubt. I am going to assume he's just putting lipstick on the pig he will probably have to sell at public auction next season. It may very well be that Hammond realizes it will take him a couple of years at least to get rid of some of the past regimes long-term mistakes.

Indeed, that is the view espoused by Bucks announcer Ted Davis. He believes there really isn't much Hammond can do immediately to revamp the roster. He will have to wait until some of the more foolish contract obligations the Bucks made finally expire. Davis believes, however, that either Michael Redd or Mo Williams will be traded before next season, with Redd being the more saleable commodity (even with his massive contract).

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Comparing the potential of Derrick Rose and Michael Beasley

Since the Bucks reside in the sweet spot for winning the lottery (I'm kidding... but doesn't it seem like the 7th or 8th place team always ends up winning?), who would they take if they had to choose between the consensus top pick candidates? ESPN's Chad Ford believes it would be Memphis PG Derrick Rose (the alternative, of course, is Kansas PF Michael Beasley).

Ford's logic: He believes new Bucks GM John Hammond would not pass on a "franchise" point guard if given the opportunity to choose one. He also believes the Bucks would not draft a power forward two years in a row.

Shouldn't let your past picks adjust your draft board

All right, before I evaluate the two prospects, let me say I hope John Hammond takes no account of the Bucks drafting history when making his selection.

If NBA draft history has taught us anything, it has taught us that passing on a better player because you just picked that position in a recent draft is one of the surest roads to regret. Look at recent Bucks history. Do you think the Bucks regret passing on Chris Paul and Deron Williams? Yet they never even considered drafting either point guard because they just spent a lottery pick on TJ Ford. Or how about the all-time classic example: Sam Bowie over Michael Jordan. The Blazers passed on Jordan because they just drafted a player at Jordan's position (Clyde Drexler) the season before.

Rose vs. Beasley: Its a close call

Between Derrick Rose and Michael Beasley, who projects as the better professional player?

If you go strictly by college offensive Win Score, the answer is probably Michael Beasley. The average professional retention rate is around 63%. So Beasley's college performance projects to an NBA average Win Score of 14.7, which would be superlative. Rose's college performance, on the other hand, projects to about 6.4, which would be slightly below average for a point guard.

But two things make the 63% standard uncertain for these two prospects. One is Beasley's size. It indicates he might do worse. The other is Rose's position. It indicates he could do better.

In the few instances where players' college Win Scores drop way off of their college production, the player's size (meaning height and/or weight) relative to the average at the player's position is usually an issue. Specific to Beasley, his weight/height mix leaves him in the danger zone for a power forward, especially his weight (because his college numbers are so heavily dependent on his extraordinary collegiate rebounding). I've found that a big man's relative weight is an excellent predictor of his likely professional rebounding production, but that it can be overcome by extraordinary height (which Beasley does not possess).

Now, if you project Beasley at small forward, its a different story. His size for that position is ideal. (But would he be able to guard anybody there?) Either way, though, I don't see how Beasley can be expected to produce anything less than 56% of his college numbers, which would be a Win Score of about 12.1. That would be a Win Score over positional average of +2.1 at power forward and about +5.6 at small forward.

As for Rose, his numbers could be potentially greater than 63% of his college numbers. Point guards, once in a while, will outperform the 63% standard.

And if you look at analagous point guards, it seems Rose is almost likely to do better. My comparative choices are Deron Williams of Utah, Jason Kidd of the Dallas Mavericks, and Baron Davis of the Golden State Warriors. All 3 players have similar size and playing styles to Rose.

If the professional results of those 3 are instructive, we can project Rose to produce 83% of his college Win Score, or 8.5. I say that because that's precisely what the three similar point guards have produced. Deron Williams college Win Score was 7.7. Thus far his NBA career Win Score is 6.1, which is roughly 83% of his college performance. Jason Kidd's college Win Score was 14.1, and his career NBA Win Score has been 11.8. Again, roughly 83% of his college performance. And Baron Davis' college Win Score was 9.1, and his NBA Win Score has been 7.1. That's 83% almost on the dot. Amazing, but true.

If that holds for Rose, then Rose will produce a +2.2 Win Score over position on the offensive end. Very good numbers.

Can't say about either player's defense, though

None of this, of course, takes into account defense. That analysis would be purely subjective. But from what I saw in the NCAA tournament, Rose seems to be the better defensive prospect of the two.


So, in short, if you are going for the home run, Michael Beasley would be the pick. If he hangs onto the normal amount of his college production, he will be a big time offensive producer. But his risks are greater, because of his size and his uncertain defensive adjustment.

If you want the surer thing, then, Rose is the pick. His size is excellent, and his defensive instincts indicate he will do fine on that end. Plus, if the history of similar point guards is instructive, he will also be an above average player on the offensive end (though probably not right away).

Monday, May 12, 2008

Pistons don't give playoff layups; Celtics don't get them

If the Boston Celtics get by the Cleveland Cavaliers, they will probably face the Detroit Pistons in the Eastern Conference Finals. They should be worried.

According to the numbers posted in 82games.com, thus far in the playoffs the Celtics cannot generate any easy baskets, and the Pistons refuse to give any up. Normally, that's the recipe for a beatdown.

Ranking Interior Play for the remaining NBA contestants

Using the aforementioned numbers, I've ranked the best inside offensive and defensive performances among the teams left in this year's NBA playoffs. The Detroit Pistons are the best interior defense and the Boston Celtics are the worst interior offense. The Pistons interior FG% Against is an outstanding 44.2%, while the Celtics interior FG% Shot is an anemic 46.6%. That, along with the free throw problems I outlined previously, is causing the Celtics some real problems.

Oddly enough, during the regular season the Pistons were a decidedly less effective interior defensive team (allowing a FG% of 50.0%) while the Celtics were an excellent interior offensive team (shooting a FG% of 56.8%). Yet the Celtics struggle. And this despite the fact they have played 3 games against the worst interior defense remaining.

Among the rest, the most improved inside defense belongs to the Utah Jazz. They have gone from a regular season FG% allowed of 56.4% to a postseason 48.7%. And the LA Lakers have the most improved inside offense, topping their regular season performance by about 6%.

Some teams know how to step it up. Others need to learn quickly.

Saturday, May 10, 2008

Have the Zebras hamstrung the Celtic road defense?

During the regular season the Boston Celtics were the best road team in the NBA. So far in the postseason they are one of the worst. Why? What has changed?

To quote Joe Louis (or was it Max Schmeling analyzing Joe Louis?), "I see something."

During the regular season, both at home and on the road, Celtic opponents shot free throws at a rate equal to about 45% of their two point baskets attempted. That's high, but given the Celtics physical style, not out of proportion.

Likewise during the home portion of the Celtics' postseason, Celtic opponents have shot throws at about the same rate, 45% of their 2Pt FGA.

However, since the Celtics lost Game 3 of their Opening Round series to the Hawks in Atlanta, Celtic road opponents have shot free throws at the astounding rate of nearly 70% of their 2 point field goals attempts. No one, not one team in the NBA, gave up free throws at that rate during the regular season... not even the Bucks... and the refs gave the Bucks no quarter on the road. So a leap to 70% by a top-flight defensive unit like the Celtics is an astounding turn of fortune, and it could be the reason the Celtics are suddenly an ineffectual road defensive team. It seems they've been neutered by a band of Zebras.

Now let me caution that this is just a circumstantial hypothesis. Its not based on any objective call-by-call evaluation... its just based upon my analysis of the postseason numerical data. Nevertheless, it makes logical sense.

After all, numerous academic studies have established that basketball referees' decisions are, to some extent, affected by the home crowd's level of enthusiasm. And after the Hawks drew Celtic road blood in Game 3, opposition fans have seen Kelly Green vulnerability and they've clearly amped the anti-Celtic enthusiasm way up.

And perhaps that has made a difference in the referees collective perception of what is and isn't legitimate defense. Perhaps, through their new looking glasses, the refs are seeing illegal handchecks were they used to see only good, physical defense. And if that is the case, one likewise expect to see a chilling effect on the overall aggressiveness of the entire Celtic defensive scheme.

Again, it's all just a theory. But, as I say, it makes sense. If the Celtics can't play their normal defense on the road, they can no longer expect their normal results. And that's been the case since Game 4 of round one (Game 3 was just a lousy effort by the Celtics... one that... if my theory is correct... they may well live to regret). They haven't been the Celtics.

How are the better players playing in the playoffs?

I did an offensive and defensive win contribution chart evaluating the performances of some of the more prominent players in the NBA playoffs. It takes a long time to calculate all of the numbers, so I left some notables off the chart, but tried to include as many as it struck me to include.

(Win Contribution Explained: Win Contribution is the equivalent of baseball's "Replacement Value over the Average Player", with +.000 representing the average player for my purposes. Anything over +.300 represents an excellent win contribution, and anything under -.200 is a pretty poor performance. Numbers over +1.000 are simply awesome ("Jabbar-in-Milwaukeeesque"... hence the picture). Offensive Win Contribution is calculated as the player's Win Score over Average multiplied by the player's percentage of overall playing minutes. Defensive Win Contribution is the same calculation only using the opposite of the player's "Counterpart's" Win Score over Average, using the "Counterpart" statistics compiled by 82games.com to do that calculation. Overall Win Contribution is just a compilation of the two: Offensive WC plus Defensive WC divided by 2.)

Discussion Points

1. Dirk Nowitzki did not really play poorly for Dallas. His defense was below average, but his offense was well, well above average. This year's playoff defeat cannot be layed on him.

2. Shaq and Steve Nash were both absolutely brutal. Shaq's numbers didn't surprise me, Nash's kind of did.

3. Kevin Garnett is holding up his end of the bargain. The Celtics are struggling to match their regular season standards because the other two "Basketeers" are slumping, and I'm particularly talking about Ray Allen.

4. Carmelo Anthony was pathetically bad... brutally bad. Can we finally stop calling him an All-Star now? He's not even close.

5. Chris Paul is the playoff's best Offensive Win Contributor, but Deron Williams ranks ahead of him in Overall Win Contribution because Paul's defense hasn't been very good, and Williams has, although Paul has faced some stiffer competition.

6. Kobe has been awesome, just awesome. Gasol hasn't been bad, but I expected his numbers to be better than they were. I wonder what Odom's numbers look like? I bet Luke Walton is doing well, also.

7. I'm getting sick of doing these charts and having Dwight Howard as the runaway leader. Its almost like he has some built in advantage. I guess technically he does -- he's awesome.

8. Tyson Chandler, according to me, is the guy who's really stepped things up for the Hornets. His defense has been off the charts, and his offense is pretty good too.

9. McGrady, as I expected, was not to blame for the Rockets failures. He was excellent on both ends.

10. Jason Kidd's offense was very good... but, ho, was his defense bad, though. "Off the charts" bad... "Life ain't worth living" bad... "Call my Mommy" bad...

11. Chauncey, on the other hand, has been pretty darn good. Duncan, though, has just been okay. He may be getting old. Parker and Ginobli must be doing awesome... I left them off.

Friday, May 09, 2008

Pierce, Powe, and Posey... the true "Parquet Posse"

God bless Kevin Garnett, but I always thought the true NBA defensive player of the year for the 2007-08 season was his fellow Boston Celtic Paul Pierce. He had the best "Defensive Win Score" on the best Defensive Win Score team in the Association. (Of course, you could counterargue that Pierce's decidedly improved defensive performance was directly related to Kevin Garnett's arrival... and I would probably buy that.)

Anyhow, in the Cleveland series we have thus far seen a true "Parquet Posse" mount up -- Paul Pierce and his partners in defensive excellence, James Posey and Leon Powe. My understanding of a posse from my limited knowledge of Westerns is a gang put together to corral the greatest threat to the community.

And Pierce, Powe, and Posey have thus far done an astonishing job of corralling the greatest threat to CelticNation, LeBron James. James' regular season raw Offensive Win Score average was a celestial 14.7. For the playoff series thus far, James has been held by the Parquet Posse to an earthbound average of -0.2. And the Celtics (mostly Paul Pierce) have collectively locked down the small forward position in similar fashion all season long.

I would expect James to somewhat break free in Cleveland. Remember, the Celts were able to lock down Atlanta's Josh Smith in similar fashion until he got to Atlanta. Nevertheless, what the posse has done so far to limit the production of "The King" is unquestionably the story of this series.

Tuesday, May 06, 2008

The Incredible Shrinking Celtics

Sorry about the unusually long hiatus. I've been really busy. I'll be back regularly posting in just a couple of days. I tried to cobble together posts just to keep people fed, but as the next paragraph explains, that kind of approach doesn't square with the standards I like to try to hold myself too, and I apologize.

Sidebar: Before I go any further, I have to correct myself for a post two down from this one. In it, I either got unconscionably sloppy or I just refused to let facts get in the way of a good story. Either way, the post is wrong. Just last year the +65 win Mavs were eliminated without a championship and somehow this slipped my mind. As I said, I've been busy, but its no excuse.

Now to the issue at hand. The wilting of the once formidable "Parquet Posse".

During the season, I stated with near certainty (for various historical reasons) that banner number 17 was halfway to the rafters for the Boston Celtics. Now it looks as though it may never even be sewn.

The Celtics are struggling against teams they should not be struggling against. Yeah, the Hawks series was actually quite lopsided. But tonight they squeaked by the Cleveland Cavaliers, another bad team, at home on a night when Paul Pierce put the clamps on LeBron James and Kevin Garnett played out of his mind.

In the movies, that would be called negative foreshadowing. As the competition steps up, even incrementally, the Celtics get worse. It looks like they may not make it.

Why did they dominate the regular season and then struggle during the playoffs? I don't know. I haven't found any convenient and well "split" data base of playoff statistics, and haven't had the opportunity to break down the numbers on my own.

But you can bet, should the Celtics bow out before the Finals, I will take a great interest in discovering the answer.