Friday, December 21, 2007

365 days later (or so)

Apparently, the one year anniversary of the Iverson trade was the signal for the pundits to come out of the woodwork and make snide comments about the Sixers. Two recent comments in particular rankled me a bit because they seemed to reflect a real lack of research.

First, over at, Marc Stein slammed what the Sixers got in return for Iverson. What made it even more bizarre to me was that he recognized that the Nuggets haven't had an amazing record with Iverson, but still talked as if the Nuggets had robbed the Sixers.

Then, over at, Jack McMallum describes the Sixers as a team "playing over its head" in his Christmas list column.

It seems to me that both comments reflect the same basic bias-- that Iverson is a superstar and that the Sixers must be terrible and must have gotten fleeced in the trade because they didn't get a superstar in return. It seems to me that the way to evaluate a trade is to see which team got better as a result of the trade, not comparing the "names" that each team got in the trade. And on that basis, I think its pretty clear that the Sixers at least broke even (and maybe even got the better end of the trade).

Let's take a look at how the trade impacted the performance of both teams.

First, the Sixers. In the 2005-06 season with Iverson, the Sixers were 38-44 (.463). In 2006-07 after the Iverson trade (he was suspended before the trade, so those games aren't particularly informative), the Sixers were 30-29. After Iverson was traded and after Webber was bought out (two weeks later), the Sixers went 26-21. This season through 25 games the Sixers were 10-15 (.400). All told, the Sixers are 40-44 (.476) since the Iverson trade (or 36-36 (.500) since getting rid of both Iverson and Webber).

Next, the Nuggets. In the 2005-06 season, the Nuggets were 44-38 (.537). In 2006-07, before the trade, the Nuggets were 14-9 (.609). The trade happened one game into Carmelo Anthony's 15 game suspension. Excluding those 14 games (in which the Nuggets went 6-8), the Nuggets went 25-20 (.556) after the Iverson trade. This season through 25 games the Nuggets were 15-10 (.600). All told, the Nuggets are 40-30 (.571) since the Iverson trade (excluding the games for which Carmelo was suspended).

To recap: Before the trade, the Sixers were a slightly below average team (.463). After the trade, the Sixers have been a slightly below average team (.476). Before the trade, the Nuggets were an above average, but not great, team (.552). After the trade, the Nuggets have been an above average, but not great, team (.571).

Once you account for the fact that the Nuggets supporting cast has also improved, notably Marcus Camby has been healthy and was named Defensive Player of the Year last season, and the salary cap space that the Sixers will gain after this season as a result of the trade, then I don't see how you can say the Nuggets made out better than the Sixers in this deal. Even without accounting for these things, I still don't see how the Sixers got fleeced.

I also don't see how the Sixers can still be considered to be playing over their heads after playing at this level for the equivalent of an entire season. But I'm not holding my breath for the pundits to actually notice.

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Sometimes you need to recognize how good you are

In the offseason, Kobe's videotaped rant (and the surrounding drama) was based on the premise that the Lakers weren't in a position to compete for a championship. Even during the season, I've read a number of comments where Kobe (or someone else) talks about how the Lakers are "still growing" or some such comment.

Well, they might be still growing, but I think it's time for Kobe (and the rest of the Lakers) to realize that they are competing for a championship this season. We're more than a quarter of the way through the season and the Lakers have the second best per game point differential in the Western Conference. San Antonio is better (+7.0), but the Lakers (+5.4) are ahead of Phoenix (+5.0), Utah (+5.0), Dallas (+3.5), and Denver (+3.7)-- all teams normally considered better than the Lakers. (In the Eastern Conference, only Boston and Detroit have better per game point differentials) According to John Hollinger's power rankings, the Lakers are actually the best team in the Western Conference (and third overall- again behind Boston and Detroit).

As far as I'm concerned, these numbers make the Lakers legitimate title contenders-- not at some undefined point in the future, but right now.

[note: I would have preferred to have looked at efficiency differential rather than per game differential, but I couldn't find an easily sortable list anywhere.]

Thursday, December 6, 2007

Blogging hiatus

You might have noticed that I haven't blogged in about a week. I was traveling. Now I'm back, but I'm swamped at work. Plus, and I'm not making this up, my roommate was shot earlier this week (she's stable and was moved out of the critical care unit earlier today). Rather obviously, blogging is not high on my priority list at the moment. I might post things periodically, but I wouldn't check in that regularly.

I hope you're all healthy and happy.

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

We won! We won!

After competing hard for the previous two games, the Sixers' effort was finally rewarded with a victory over the Milwaukee Bucks. You can check out the write up of the game here.

What led to the victory? In a word: offense! A bit of a shock if you've been following the Sixers this season, but there's no denying it. The Sixers had by far their best offensive game of the season-- they had their top offensive efficiency rating (126.4), lowest turnover rate (11.1%), best true shooting percentage (59.8%), and best offensive rebound rate (39.5%). It was basically a perfect storm. Well done, fellows.

On the other side of the ball, the Sixers forced their normal high turnover rate, but other than that it wasn't one of their better performances. But you know what? I'll take the victory.

If you want to see a perspective on the game from the other side, check out Brew Hoop's game recap and post-game thoughts.

Sunday, November 25, 2007

Two "good" losses

I hate to call any loss a "good" loss, but I think the Sixers' last two games fit the bill. After the miracle comeback against the Trailblazers and the blow-out loss to the Wizards, it was important for the Sixers to start playing their opponents tough through the entire game. And they did that in their last two games, an 88-93 loss to the Pistons and a 98-100 overtime loss to the Warriors. Sometimes the other team just hits a game-winning shot...not really much you can do about it at that point.

As usual, the Sixers' defense was very good-- limiting the Pistons and Warriors to offensive ratings of 99.0 and 94.8 respectively. On the other end, the Sixers' offensive efficiency was as dismal as ever, clocking in at 92.2 and 95.5 respectively. The efficiency ratings for the game against the Warriors demonstrate just how close (and perhaps fluky) that game was: the Sixers actually had a better rating than the Warriors, but lost because the Warriors had slightly more possessions-- 103 to 106 by my estimates. This three possession difference is somewhat fluky, and probably resulted from some freak occurrence of shot-clock management at the end of quarters.

I noticed that Reggie Evans had 9 rebounds in 22 minutes against the Warriors, so I'm a bit curious to know why he didn't play more. Unfortunately, the popcorn machine game flow isn't posted yet, so I can't see how the Sixers did while he was on the court. In general, I thought the lesson to be learned from the Jazz's demolition of the Warriors in the playoffs was that teams should go big and just kill the Warriors on the offensive glass. So in my mind, it would have been the perfect type of game to play Evans big minutes. Oh well.

We played two solid games, now it's time for a victory!

Thursday, November 22, 2007

Another big deficit...and this time a loss

In case you missed it, one game after coming back from a huge deficit, the Sixers found themselves in a big hole again the other night against the Washington Wizards. Only this time they weren't able to rally, losing 116-111.

The Inquirer's write-up gives a good sense of how quickly things got out of hand:

This was a competitive game for most of the first half. When Miller hit a layup with 4 minutes, 1 second left, the Sixers trailed by just 46-42.

The game then got away in the ensuing four minutes when Washington finished the half on a 14-2 run to take a 60-44 lead.

Things only got worse in the third quarter, when the Wizards scored one uncontested basket after another.

I was hopeful that the big come-back against Portland the other night would be a shot in the arm for the Sixers, but apparently not so much. Ugh.

Making this game a little different from the Sixers other big losses is that the main culprit was their defense instead of their offense. Throwing the numbers from the boxscore into our spreadsheet, we can see that the Sixers' offense actually had its best performance of the year--putting up an offensive efficiency rating of 109.7. The flip side is that the defense also had its worst performance of the year-- clocking in with an efficiency rating of 126.3.

How bad was this performance on the defensive end? The worst defensive efficiency rating posted by the Sixers in their previous nine games was a 113.5--given up in the first game of the year against the Raptors. In one game the Sixers managed to have their 2nd worst forced turnover rate of the season (13.1%), the worst defensive true shooting percentage (64.5%), and their 2nd worst defensive rebound rate (67.7%). I know the Wizards are generally considered a good offensive team, but they aren't this good! (Especially not with Arenas missing the game with an injury which was later revealed to require surgery and will keep him out for 3 months)

Monday, November 19, 2007

Time to get in your All-star ballot!

Apparently the NBA all-star ballot for the 2007-08 season has been released, and it's brewing up some controversy (see item five).

First, let's just agree on one thing: it is way too early for anyone to be voting for all-star starters. No team has played more than ten games yet, and the all-star game doesn't occur until after most teams have played 50 games. Does anyone really believe that they've seen enough basketball to say right now who the best players over the first half of the season have been? I didn't think so. Anyone who votes right now deserves to have their vote thrown out (unless they vote for a Sixer, in which case it should count twice...).

The absurdity of the NBA's voting makes me want to support the effort to get Shane Battier and Antoine Walker voted as all-star starters...

The biggest absurdity, by far, on the all-star ballot is that Antoine Walker is listed as a guard. No one thinks he's a guard. He was an undersized power forward for most of his career, but he also occassionally played small forward. He's never played shooting guard, and he never will. The reason he's listed as a guard? Apparently, Ricky Davis was going to be listed in that spot before being traded for Walker, so the people in charge of the ballot just moved Walker into his slot.

Wow. That was lazy. (On a related note, I had no idea that a group of sportswriters was in charge of determining who, and at what position, will be listed on the all-star ballot. The league isn't capable of handling this internally? Or do they just want to be able to pass on the blame?)

The omission of Devin Harris from the ballot entirely is also absurd. By my count, he's better than thirteen of the twenty-four guards listed on the western conference ballot. Apparently he pissed off the wrong sportswriters.

Finally, I think it's absurd that Tim Duncan was listed as a center, rather than a power forward on the ballot. Sure, he spends some time in the pivot, particularly at the end of games, but not that much. Most of the time he's on the floor, he's playing with a true center. And that's been true for his entire career-- first with David Robinson, then Rasho Nestorevic, and now Fabricio Oberto and Fracisco Elson. He's also been listed as a forward on the all-star ballot every year of his career until now.

Duncan will still clearly be an all-star (even if Yao Ming wins the fan voting, Duncan will without a doubt be selected by the coaches as a reserve), so this "controversy" isn't really that important. That said, I think the debate over Duncan's position does bring into relief something I've thought for awhile: the way the positions in the NBA are split between guards, forwards, and centers doesn't really match the way most NBA teams are constructed these days.

For the most part, I tend to think of NBA teams as having "Bigs" (centers and power forwards), "Swings" (small forwards and shooting guards), and "Points" (point guards). I just think the difference between power forwards and centers is generally much smaller than the difference between power forwards and small forwards. And the same is true with the difference between between point guards and shooting guards compared to shooting guards and small forwards.

I'm watching a rerun of the Spurs-Rockets game at the moment (or I was, when I first drafted this post), so let's take these teams as examples. For the Spurs, Oberto and Elson are nominally the centers and Duncan is nominally the power forward. Is there really a difference between these players (besides skill level)? Bruce Bowen is called the Spurs small forward while Manu Ginobili is their shooting guard, but Bowen generally guards the other teams best perimeter scorer, regardless of whether he is listed as a shooting guard or small forward. Tony Parker, on the other hand, is clearly a different type of player than either Ginobili or Bowen.

For the Rockets, Yao Ming is clearly an interior player. And because he's 7'6", I guess he is a bad example for my cause. That said, Chuck Hayes, the Rockets starting power forward, also is exclusively an interior player--he's much more similar to Yao Ming than he is to Shane Battier (although clearly shorter and less skilled than Yao). Battier is the Rockets small forward, but his game (perimeter defense, three-point shooting) is much more similar to that of Tracy McGrady than it is to that of Chuck Hayes. Battier and McGrady function for the Rockets in a similar fashion to Bowen and Ginobili for the Spurs. Mike James/Rafer Alston are different types of players, and serve as the Rockets point guards.

Are there still combo guards in the league? Absolutely (Charlie Bell on the Bucks is the first one that comes to mind, but someone like Brandon Roy might also fit the bill). But for the most part, I think these players are less common than players that split the difference between being
shooting guards and small forwards. Are there also combo forwards in the league? Again, absolutely (Al Harrington comes to mind). But I think these types of players are much less common than players that split the difference between being centers and power forwards (now I'm watching a rerun of the Lakers/Pistons game, or I was when I reached this part of my first draft, so I'm watching Kwame Brown and Rasheed Wallace right now--both of whom split the center and power forward position).

I guess all of this is just a way of saying that I find the normal position distinctions (the ones used on the NBA all-star ballot) to be odd considering the ways I think the positions on the court are actually used.


Sunday, November 18, 2007

What a comeback!

I have no idea what happened in the game against the Trailblazers on Friday night. I was checking the scores at work, and when I saw how big the deficit was at the end of three quarters (17 points) I stopped checking. Then when I checked the scores on Saturday, I saw that the Sixers had somehow come back to win, 92-88. Wow.

Just one of those games where the second team gave the team energy and production when the first team didn't have much to give. Igoudala helped seal the comeback, but it was definitely a night to thank the second unit.

The Sixers have needed a bit of a shot in the arm after the last couple of games, so hopefully this was it. Not a perfect game-- the boxscore shows that the Sixers turned the ball over on 23% of their possessions-- but their true shooting percentage was above 56% (our highest of the year by far), and they dominated the glass (80% defensive rebound rate, 33% offensive rebound rate).

After our last couple of losses, it's nice to get a win...even one that looked improbable three-quarters of the way into the game.

Thursday, November 15, 2007

A stats note

So I just realized that in the statistical analysis I've been doing so far, I've been neglecting to include team rebounds. I'm actually not sure how to divide them between offensive and defensive rebounds, so for now I'm going to keep on with my current method.

I'm going to take a look around and see if I can find a site that assigns these team rebounds to the offensive and defensive side of the equation, and I'll let you know if I find one.

Game Recaps- Mavericks, Hornets

I promised some thoughts on the last two games, so here they are: Ouch. And let's forget about them as quickly as possible.

When I was watching the Sportscenter highlights of the Sixers-Mavericks game, I noticed the score of two highlights. In the first one, the Sixers were leading 50-43. In the second one, the Sixers were trailing 66-73. As a general rule, giving up a 16-30 run is a good way to lose a game. And guess what? They did-- 84-99. No shame in losing to the Mavericks, most people do, but it'd be nice to have been a little more competitive after getting off to such a good showing in the first half.

Speaking of first-half/second-half dichotomies... Against the Hornets, the score was 43-43 at halftime, but the final score was 95-76. Not such a good second half. The best thing I can say about the game is that at least we won't see the Hornets again this year. We've played them twice in the last 3 games, and both times we've lost by 20 points (if you want to be technical, we only lost by 19 in the second game, but we lost by 21 the first we played the Hornets).

The big cause for concern? The Sixers offense has had an efficiency rating in the 80s in each of the last three games while the defense has had an efficiency rating over 100 in each game. Not a good trend.

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

That was fun! And a gratuitous celebrity tie-in.

I just got back from playing 3 hours of basketball at the gym. The first game I played in (the first game of the night), was by far the best basketball that I've been involved with since I arrived in Anchorage. The rest of the night was also quite good. The second best night? This past Monday. So I'd say things are looking up if these games weren't just a statistical blip!

Between games, I started chatting it up with one of the guys on the sidelines who I'd met on Monday night. Turns out the reason the games were so good is that a bunch of the guys playing play on the team for the army base located up here. Not sure why they decided to show up tonight, but I definitely appreciated it.

And that guy I was talking to? Turns out that he played basketball at LSU with Chris Jackson (who later changed his name to Mahmoud Abdul-Rauf-- I hope I spelled that correctly) after being high school rivals with him. Since I'm not sure that means anything to most people, Chris Jackson played at LSU in the early nineties and was featured by Sports Illustrated on its cover as possibly the best college player in the country. My sideline buddy played a little professionally overseas, but I didn't get a good sense of for how long. At the moment, he's recovering from a leg injury (shot in the leg while doing some bodyguard work*--and, no, I didn't ask for more details), but once he's recovered he has a tryout/workout lined up with the New Orleans Hornets arranged by his cousin...Scottie Pippen.

Nice to have a cousin who has that sort of pull. And nice of that cousin to do it.

I've now run into Scottie Pippen's cousin and Reuben Stoddard's (the American Idol singer) cousin in completely random situations. Bizarre. Even more bizarre, I remembered that I had had a basketball counselor in the early nineties at overnight camp who was a player for LSU, and my sideline buddy recognized the name as someone he had played with in school (the counselor's first name was Elmer, I think, but I can't remember his last name at all).

In other news, I know the Sixers have played the last two nights and I haven't commented on the games. They were pretty ugly, so I'm not sure you really want me to comment, but I'll put some thoughts together tomorrow. For now, I'm going to watch the rerun of the Lakers-Rockets game on ESPN while eating dinner (it's now 11:47 PM local time, so it's a bit of a late meal...).

*I learned about my sideline buddies gunshot wound on Monday night. As part of the same discussion, I learned that the other big guy in the game was also recovering from an injury-- the index finger (closest one to the thumb, right?) had been removed above the top knuckle as the result of an accident (and, again, I didn't ask for more details). I hadn't noticed anything unusual with his shot during the game, so he seems to be dealing with the loss pretty well. I thought I was tough for dealing well with my dislocated finder, but after talking with these guys I pretty much feel like a pansy. It's sort of like those NFL gear advertisements... (you know, the ones with the tag line "You wouldn't make it in the NFL...")

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

The Five Game Fix: Game 1-5

Six games are in the books (actually, seven, since the Sixers lost to Dallas earlier this evening), and I thought it was a good time to look at the Sixers statistics to see what (if any) offensive and defensive trends are emerging. I'm going to do the analysis for just the first five games (ignoring the blowout loss to the Hornets for now), and then I'll do a follow up post after every five game increment.

Looking at my basic statistics, the first thing that jumps out at me is that the Sixers are a pretty good defensive team, but a terrible offensive team. The Sixers have held their opponents to an offensive efficiency rating of just 94.4 (last year, the league average was 103.8, and I assume it'll end up being close to that number again this year). How are they doing it?

First, they're forcing a huge number of turnovers, clocking in with a defensive turnover rate of 19.0%. Last year, the Sixers had a DTOR of 16.6% (2007 NBA average = 15.9%), so it isn't surprising that they have a high DTOR. That said, last year the highest DTOR in the NBA was the 18.2% rating posted by the Golden State Warriors. Right now, the Sixers are forcing turnovers at a higher rate than any team did over the course of last season. We should probably expect this number to come down a little as the season progresses, but for now the forced turnovers are an important and positive part of the story.

Second, the Sixers are holding teams to a true shooting percentage of 50.1%. Last season, the Sixers had a DTS% right at the league average of 54.1%. While last year's Sixers forced turnovers but gave up shots of average difficulty when they didn't get those turnovers, this year's squad is forcing turnovers AND forcing difficult shots. That's a pretty nice combination. The Sixers have been particularly good at defending 2-point FG attempts-- allowing opponents to shoot just 42.3% from inside the arc, compared to last year's league average of 48.5%. The Sixers are giving up slightly above average shooting from behind the arc (37.5% compared to the 35.8% league average from last season), but considering how strong this part of the Sixers game has been I think dwelling on the one negative shooting stat is a bit nitpicky.

Finally, at least on the defensive side of the equation, the Sixers are basically holding their own on the defensive glass, grabbing 71.2% of the other team's missed shots. Last season, the Sixers grabbed 70.8% of the defensive rebounds (compared to the league average last season of 72.9%). Not that different, but possibly some positive movement. I'd love to see improvement on the defensive glass, but I guess you can't have everything at once.

While the Sixers might be playing very good defense, they're playing horrible offense. With an offensive efficiency rating of 99.8, the Sixers are like a JV team compared to the NBA varsity. Last season, not a single NBA team had an offensive efficiency below 100.0 for the year, and only the Celtics and Hawks were even close. The Sixers weren't very good (101.1 compared to the league average of 103.8), but they weren't as mind-boggling bad as they have been this season.

Just like on the defensive end, turnover rate and true shooting percentage are the main factors driving the Sixers performance.

In the comments to my post yesterday, Louis wrote:
One of the catogories that bridges the offense/defense divide also gives me a little hope. Even though the Sixers are not getting many steals, they're 23rd in the league, they must be protecting the ball well because they are 12th in steal differential.
Unfortunately, the steal differential stat is very misleading since turnovers don't just result from steals (as far as I can tell, it also isn't pace adjusted, although I don't know how the Sixers compare pacewise to the rest of the NBA at this point). While the Sixers are forcing turnovers on 19% of opponents possessions, they're giving much of that advantage back by turning the ball over at a rate of 17.5% (remember last season's average TO rate was 15.9%).

And when the Sixers don't turn the ball over, they also aren't shooting it very well, putting up a putrid 50.8%. The shooting woes can't be traced to just one aspect (although 3-point shooting has been getting the attention)-- the Sixers are below average (compared to last season's NBA average) with regards to free throw shooting (68.8% vs. 75.2%), 2-point FG shooting (46.7% vs. 48.5%), and 3-point shooting (30.7% vs. 35.8%). Every one of these marks is below the Sixers mark for last season, and only the 2-point FG% is within one percentage point of where it was last year.

The lone bright spot on the offensive side of the equation for the Sixers is that through the first five games they were grabbing an astounding 33.9% of available offensive rebounds, compared to last season's NBA average of 27.1%. Last season, the Utah Jazz led the NBA with an ORR of 31.7%, and only the Jazz and NY Knicks(!; at 31.0) had ORR above even 30%. The Sixers had an ORR of 27.2%, just slightly above the league average.

The offensive picture is pretty negative, but what really scares me is that these offensive numbers include the Sixers blowout win, but don't include their blowout loss. That said, while the picture is bleak on the offensive side of the ball, all is not a lost cause. If the Sixers can just come down to the league average in TOR and FT%, they'll raise their offensive efficiency to at least close to the league average. If they can maintain their defensive performance at the same time (and I don't see how turning the ball over less and making more baskets can negatively imipact a defense--if anything it should help the defense), then the Sixers will be in the thick of the playoff chase all season long even with a below average offense.

Monday, November 12, 2007

While I was otherwise occupied...

Apparently, the Sixers continue to play games even when I'm otherwise occupied. Who knew? My visiting polar bear has returned to warmer climes (only in Alaska can I describe Boston as a warmer locale...), so I'm catching up on the Sixers action from the last couple of days.

Two games to quickly comment on today, and then tomorrow I'll take a look at trends from the Sixers first five games.

On November 9, the Sixers dropped a game 103-105 to the Raptors. That makes two losses to the Raptors in the first five games of the season (dropping the Sixers to 2-3). Clearly, the Raptors are better than the Sixers at this stage of the season. Not a surprise since I expected the Raptors to be better, but I think we now have our proof. Reggie Evans had 12 rebounds in 22 minutes and Samuel Dalembert had 6 rebounds in 19 minutes, but I can't get mad at Mo Cheeks for not playing them more-- Chris Bosh went to the foul line 18 times, getting both big men in foul trouble (Evans had 4 fouls and Dalembert had 5 fouls). The Sixers will obviously need to do better in that department if they're going to have success this season. At least the Sixers did better this time than in the first game against the Raptors, so its a start.

On November 11, the Sixers got absolutely blown out by the Hornets (92-73). Shooting made the difference in this one-- the Sixers had a true shooting percentage of 44% while the Hornets had a TS% of 54%. So far, the Hornets look very good this season (as their 5-2 record demonstrates). Hopefully this result was just a one game blip since the Sixers have hung tough in all their previous games, but it did leave the Sixers with a very disappointing 1-3 record on their homestand. Ugh.

Thursday, November 8, 2007

Sixers eat Bobcats- Game 4

Well, the final score from last night (Wednesday) says it all: 94-63. The Bobcats rolled over in this one, and the Sixers took advantage. And good for them. When you're a team on the playoff bubble (as I view the Sixers), then you need to take advantage when teams decide to take the night off. Especially when the team you're playing is another bubble playoff team.

From looking at the boxscore, I think it's pretty clear that the story of the game was turnovers. The Sixers had 21 (23% of their possessions)-- not a very good performance. Thankfully, the Bobcats were dreadful, coughing up 29 turnovers (30% of their possessions). Considering most NBA teams turn the ball over about 15% of the time, you can get a sense of how sloppy the game must have been.

The Sixers also continued their fantastic work on the offensive boards, grabbing them at a 36% clip. I think the league average last year was around 25-27% (I'm too lazy to look it up right now), so the Sixers are really going gangbusters. My boxscore favorite, Reggie Evans, wasn't a big part of the action-- grabbing only one offensive board (and five total) in 18 minutes of play. All told it seems like the offensive rebounding was a team effort. Samuel Dalembert led the way with 5, but 7 other Sixers grabbed at least one.

On the downside, the Sixers grabbed defensive rebounds at a pathetic 62% clip (they'd been averaging a 76% defensive rebound rate coming into the game). I'll chalk up the poor performance to the fact that the game was a blow-out.

[Apologies for the light posting this week. I'll be back with some more intensive posting next week.]

Tuesday, November 6, 2007

My other favorite rebounder

Over at today, Marty Burns was all over the Anderson Varejao story. (By that, I mean that he was clearly the reporter chosen by Varejao's camp to receive a leak to try and push his negotiations with the Cavaliers towards a resolution.) First, Burns posts an article quoting people "close to" Varejao saying that he would be willing to accept a $5 million, one year deal instead of the bigger money, longer term deal he was seeking. Such a deal would allow Varejao to become an unrestricted free agent next year, instead of the restricted free agent he is currently. Now, just a few hours later, Burns is back with an article basically saying the Cavaliers response was "thanks, but no thanks."

I've said it before, and I'll say it again: Why don't the Sixers make Varejao an offer? If Varejao is really willing to sign for close to the mid-level exception for one year, the Sixers have nothing to lose by making the offer. If the Cavs match, then nothing has been lost (unless the Sixers really think Varejao and the Cavaliers won't reach an agreement, and that the Cavaliers will fall below the Sixers in the playoff race without him...). If the Cavaliers don't match, then the Sixers have a superb rebounder/defender to help out their frontcourt this year. Plus, I think they'd have the inside track on re-signing him for next year. I really wish someone could explain to me why the Sixers (or some other team) isn't making this offer right now.

Monday, November 5, 2007

Breakdown alert

I'm a little concerned about the Celtics. In a 20 point victory over the Washington Wizards (the Celtics first game), Doc Rivers played his stars major minutes. Kevin Garnett played 38 minutes, Ray Allen played 38 minutes, and Paul Pierce played 39 minutes. If these guys are playing this many minutes in a 20 point victory, then you need to assume that they'll play at least this many (and probably more) in most of the Celtics' games this season. And that means the chances that one of the Big 3 breaks down by playoff time is that much greater. Bad news if you're a Celtics fan, good news for everyone else in the Eastern Conference.

[As with all my other first game observations, remember the caveat that this was just one game and might not be indicative of a larger trend...but not much changed in the second game...]

Sunday, November 4, 2007

The Reggie Evans Experience- Part 3

Yes, I promise, I'll stop talking about Reggie Evans all the time. But first, I hope someone can help me out. Since I'm in Anchorage (and the local cable company doesn't carry NBA League Pass), I'm not really able to watch the Sixers play. So I'm hoping that someone actually seeing the games can tell me what I'm missing.

Looking at the box score from the Sixers' third game (an 88-93 loss to the Nets on Saturday), I noticed that Evans had 11 rebounds in 21 minutes. That's an amazing performance, but I couldn't figure out why he only played 21 minutes if he was rebounding that well. He only had 2 personal fouls, so concern with fouling out couldn't have been the problem.

Is something going on that isn't showing up in the boxscore? Despite his rebounding, is the offense bogging down while he's in the game? Is he playing terrible man-to-man defense or is he rotating late on help defense? According to the game flow display over at the popcorn machine, he had two break-even stints and one brief, bad stint, but then he didn't even get into the game in the fourth quarter. (And the bad stint occurred during a small ball line-up-- the starters, except with Korver in place of Dalembert. Why are we playing this line-up? I give up.)

Over three games, Reggie Evans has grabbed 35 rebounds in only 71 minutes of play--a rate of .49 rebounds/minute. (Last year, Kevin Garnett grabbed .32 rebounds/minute to put that number in perspective.) I hope someone watching the games can let me know what's going on, because from my box score driven view of the games it sure looks like Mo Cheeks is not making very good use of a very useful player.

The Reggie Evans watch- Game 2

Okay, Sixers games aren't entirely about Reggie Evans, but I am fascinated by his nose for the ball. In their second game, the Sixers defeated the Bulls 96-85. Evans played 29 minutes and had 9 rebounds. That's pretty good, and he wasn't even the Sixers best per minute rebounder. Dalembert had 11 rebounds in 31 minutes and Jason Smith grabbed 6 rebounds in 14 minutes. The guards also helped out the cause-- Igoudala grabbed 10 rebounds, and Willie Green (Willie Green!) grabbed 8. All in all, the Sixers rebounding in the first two games has been superb-- a 77% defensive rebound rate and a 40% offensive rebound rate. That offensive rebound rate in particular is pretty stunning.

Two other trends I noted from the box score: (1) Mo Cheeks is definitely sticking with the small line-up. The Sixers big men played 77 minutes out of the 96 minutes available to them. Two games still isn't proof, but I think we can see the trend. (2) In big games, Mo Cheeks is going to play Igoudala (45 minutes) and Miller (41 minutes) big minutes. Willie Green (38 minutes) also played big minutes, but from the box score it looks like he was having a pretty good all around game so his big minutes might have been an aberration (Igoudala's and Miller's big minutes confirm something we could have guessed, which is why I'm more willing to jump to a conclusion from one game.).

[oops- I thought I had posted this already, but apparently I just saved it as a draft.]

Friday, November 2, 2007

Rockets v. Lakers- An early season look

On the first night of the regular season, the LA Lakers played the Houston Rockets. (San Antonio also played Portland, and Utah played Golden State, but let's ignore that for a minute.)

The game turned out to be a nailbiter-- the Lakers staged a furious comeback, tying the game on a Derek Fisher 2-pointer, only to see the Rockets regain the lead seconds later on a contested 3-pointer from Shane Battier. A foul to put Kobe on the line, an intentionally missed free throw, and a scrum for the ball later, the Rockets left LA with a 95-93 victory.

I didn't watch the entire game, but I did get to see a good portion of it. I watched the entire first half at home before leaving to do some errands. After the errands, I headed to the gym and watched most of the fourth quarter while running on the treadmill (well, mostly running--some walking might also have been involved).

The game looked like a defensive struggle from what I could tell, with both teams contesting shots and generally making life miserable for the other side. Ronny Turiaf, playing big minutes with Lamar Odom injured, looked particularly active and energetic on the defensive end. That said, the number of free throws that Kobe took (he was 18-27 from the charity stripe-- actually a bad night for him, percentage-wise) made me think that I might have been confusing good defense with a propensity to foul.

Well, was it good defense? Over the summer, I looked at how forced turnover rate, opponents true shooting percentage, and defensive rebound rate were the main contributors to good team defense (or defensive efficiency, defined as points given up per 100 possession). So I decided to look at the statistics from the game and see what information I could tease out.

I was particularly interested to see what these numbers told me for two contrasting reasons: (1) Last year, the Lakers were a very good offensive team, but a very poor defensive team. A strong defensive showing could give hope for a more successful season. (2) Last year, the Rockets were one of the top defensive teams in the league. They replaced Jeff Van Gundy, a defensive minded coach, with Rick Adelman, an offensive minded coach. A good defensive showing might indicate that they are likely to retain their stellar defensive play while integrating an improved offensive.

Of course, this was just one game, so the results might just as easily tell us nothing of lasting importance (Hey, I'm a blogger. That means I want instant satisfaction. No time for reasoned analysis here...).

First step was to take the information from the box score and convert it into the numbers that I needed.

[pause while I go and do this...]

Before sharing the numbers with you, I just want to put them in some perspective. Last year, the league average defensive efficiency (according to my unofficial numbers) was 103.85, average forced turnover percentage was 15.92%, average opponents TS% was 54.15%, and average defensive rebound rate was 72.91%.

And now the show... (boy, this post has already gotten long)

Last night, Houston (last year's numbers in parentheses) had a defensive efficiency rating of 96.25 (97.64) with a forced TO rate of 12.42% (15.03%), an opponent's TS% of 48.54% (51.16%), and a defensive rebound rate of 77.08% (76.97%). Last year Houston had a great defensive by playing stay at home basketball (i.e. not going for steals), forcing bad shots, and cleaning up the defensive glass. Based on their first game, it sure looks like Houston is going to feature the same sort of defensive again this year. And based on their personnel, I'm not surprised. Yao Ming is so big that his mere presence in the lane alters just about every shot in his vicinity. Obviously the Lakers offense suffered without the presence of Lamar Odom, but such an impressive performance still bodes well for Houston's ability to maintain their defensive efficiency this season under Rick Adelman.

The Lakers (last year's numbers in parentheses) had a defensive efficiency rating of 101.59 (106.22) with a forced TO rate of 19.25% (15.13%), an opponent's TS% of 54.20% (54.78%), and a defensive rebound rate of 68.42% (73.32%). Overall, the Lakers defense seemed to improve, but I think it really was about the same. The high TO rate is a bit of a mirage--it fueled their late comeback the other night, but last season the Warriors had the highest forced TO rate at 18.21%. Only the Warriors and Bulls had DTOR greater than 18% last season, and no other team cracked the 17% barrier. (If you assume the Lakers had slightly above a 15% DTOR, then defensive efficiency goes up to over 106) I was surprised that the Lakers didn't do better on the boards-- Odom is a good rebounder, but I assumed Turiaf and the other subs would fill in ably for him in that department. The Lakers were helped by Houston's inability to hit its free throws (they shot 21-31, last year Lakers' opponents shot 76% from the line), but even an average showing by Houston would only have added about 2 points to the Lakers' defensive efficiency. All in all, the Lakers had a good defensive showing, but I think its dependence on the turnovers makes that result a bit of a mirage. If the Lakers want to be a good defensive team, they're going to need some work (especially on defensive rebounding).

So I wasn't wrong-- the game was a defensive struggle. And the (very) early results are that both Houston and the Lakers are likely to replicate their defensive success (or failure) from a year ago.

[Don't worry, I haven't forgotten about the Sixers. I'll try and do a similar analysis for the Sixers after every five games or so. But compiling the stats takes time, so I won't always be able to do it.]

Thursday, November 1, 2007

One more set of predictions

[oops- meant to post this a few days ago. Season's started already, but these predictions are still worth looking at.]

As a complement to the predictions he made for Sports Illustrated, Ian Thomsen also convinced the scouts he talked with to make predictions for the year. I'd say the predictions from the scouts are pretty standard (that is, they think the Sixers will be bad-- 14th in the East), and they definitely rely heavily on what happened last year. In aggregate, they bump Orlando out of the playoffs because they move Boston to the head of the pack in the Eastern conference, but other than that they predict all the same teams to make the playoffs this year as made it last year (for both conferences). I don't think there will be much movement either (I only predict the Nets and the Warriors to drop out of the playoffs), but it's striking how little movement they expect there to be.

If I have the time, I'll try and put all the different predictions I've found into a spreadsheet so at the end of the season it'll be easy to compare how everyone did (including myself).

[Update: Make that two. The Wages of Wins predicts the Eastern Conference here, and the Western Conference here.]

[Update 2: Okay, there are tons of other predictions and previews out there, but I'm done tracking them down! You'll need to fend for yourself.]

Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Disaster strikes!

Okay, disaster didn't actually strike, but the Sixers did lose their season opener to the Toronto Raptors. Since I assume the Sixers are going to finish the season behind the Raptors in the standings, I guess I can't be too surprised they lost to them. Still, stealing a few games against mid-tier teams like the Raptors will go a long way towards boosting the Sixers playoff chances.

Much to my chagrin, I can tell from looking at the box score that a few things happened in today's game that I really wished hadn't happened:

(1) Mo Cheeks played a small line-up. How do I know? Well, our centers and power forwards (Dalembert, Evans, Smith, and Booth) played only 64 out of the 96 minutes available for the two big man positions. I understand Dalembert only playing 25 minutes-- he's coming back from injury so maybe his conditioning and timing isn't that good (he picked up 4 fouls in 25 minutes which could be a sign of rust)-- but why did Reggie Evans only play 22 minutes? In that time period he had fifteen rebounds! The man is a machine on the glass, and he should be playing more even if he isn't doing anything else.

(2) Willie Green played big minutes, and so did Rodney Carney. Cheeks played Green for 33 minutes and Carney for 16 minutes. You know my opinion of the two of them, so as far as I'm concerned we effectively conceded the shooting guard position to the other team for the full game. To be fair, it doesn't look like either player was that bad tonight, but based on their playing time it's clear that Mo Cheeks and I don't see eye-to-eye on this issue.

[note: ESPN's box score only accounts for 229 out of the 240 minutes played by the Sixers. I'm assuming this is the result of the way they rounded minutes played, but it means my discussion of everyone's minutes might be a tad off.]

The good news is that for the most part it seems like the Sixers played the Raptors pretty tough. Most nights Igoudala isn't going to cough up 6 turnovers, and assuming a slightly better showing from AI2 the Sixers would have had a real shot at victory. And Dalembert will hopefully play more minutes as he gets healthier.

All in all, a mixed bag, but not a bad start to the season (although a loss is still a loss...).

Current Record: 0-1

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Western Conference Predictions

The Real Deal Holyfield (Toss a Coin)

(1) San Antonio- Tim Duncan. Manu Ginobili. Tony Parker. Bruce Bown. The random guy they’re playing at center this year. Best team in basketball. Do I really need to say anything more? They led the league with a +8.4 point differential last year—more than a full point higher than the next closest team (Phoenix). I love watching them play, but I understand why people don’t find them interesting—there’s nothing new to say, and no drama surrounding them. Maybe Duncan should grow his hair out and dye it green just to see how the media reacts. They just play top-flight, winning basketball. I’d actually be surprised if they end up with the best record (since it doesn’t seem to be a priority for them), but I just can’t see a reason not to pick them to finish first. [58 wins]

(2) Houston- I’m weighing the continued maturation of Yao, the splendor of McGrady, the theft of Luis Scola from the Spurs, the defense of Shane Battier, and the re-acquisition of Mike James and Steve Fancis against the loss of the miracle worker Jeff Van Gundy. Rick Adelman’s teams generally perform very well in the regular season, but Houston’s success last year was based on being one of the very best defensive teams in the league and the loss of JVG is definitely going to hurt them in this area (just remember how badly the Knicks fell apart a few years ago when JVG left them mid-season). Still, the Rockets are loaded. [58 wins]

(3) Phoenix- It’s hard to top Phoenix’s Big 3 of Nash, Stoudemire, and Marion. I’m not a huge Amare fan, but there’s no doubt that his hands and finishing ability are a great fit with Nash. And Marion is a great fit anywhere (as long as his pouting over not being “The Man” doesn’t interfere with his fantastic play). It’s also hard to keep playing your top players the number of minutes that Phoenix’s top guns have been playing the last few seasons. They have arguably even less depth this year than the previous two years, so we’ll see if they can continue to log the heavy minutes without breaking down. They remain a running team with the addition of Grant Hill, but I’m not sure I’d still consider them a team of 3-point shooters. It sounds like all I’m doing is bad-mouthing the Suns, but you know what? They’re still going to win close to 60 games this season. [58 wins]

(4) Dallas- I don’t think they’re going to have any problem bouncing back from last year’s crushing playoff loss to the Golden State Warriors. They have one of the league’s most efficient offenses as well as one of the five best defenses in the league. They had the third best point differential last season (+7.2), and they basically return the same group. They’ll be fine. The 67 wins last season were a bit of a fluke based on their point differential, so don’t be surprised if their win total drops by a decent chunk even though they’ll probably be basically as good as last year. [58 wins]

So Close and yet So Far

(5) Utah- It isn’t Utah’s fault that they’ve become good at the same time that the league is boasting four teams that have the potential to be juggernauts (just like it wasn’t Stockton and Malone’s fault that their Utah Jazz teams peaked at the same time Michael Jordan’s Bulls were peaking). They’re probably as good as the top three teams in the Eastern Conference (maybe even better), but they just aren’t in the same tier as the top four teams in the West. Maybe Deron Williams makes “the Leap” this year, maybe Andrei Kirilenko figures out a way to better fit in with the team as a small forward, and maybe someone fills the void left by Derek Fischer’s departure to give the Jazz a top quality shooting guard. It will probably take all three happening to boost the Jazz into the top ranks of the Western Conference. More likely, one of the three happens and the Jazz have the “misfortune” of being a really good team and racking up a whole bunch of wins, but then needing to play a really, really good team and getting bounced from the playoffs in the first round. Sorry, Utah. [52 wins]

What about us?

(6) Memphis- Last year, Memphis was absolutely horrible, losing a league worst 60 games with a -5.1 point differential. But the season started with Gasol injured, and by the time he returned to the line-up the Grizzlies had already dug themselves a hole from which they couldn’t get out. Two years ago, Memphis was the fourth best team in the Western Conference, winning 49 games with a +3.7 point differential. The off-season acquisitions of Mike Conley, Juan Carlos Navarro, and Darko Milicic, plus the services of Gasol (and Mike Miller) for the entire season make me expect that last season is going to become a fading memory in Memphis very quickly. [47 wins]

(7) Denver- They score a lot of points, but I don’t think they really worry any of the top teams. No one would be surprised if this was the year Iverson’s body finally broke down or if Camby misses significant time with an injury. Barring that, Denver will be again what they’ve been the last two seasons—a fun team to watch that squeaks its way into the Western Conference playoffs. It’s possible that Carmelo becomes the efficient scorer for the Nuggets that he is with Team USA, but somehow I doubt it. [45 wins, again] [After writing this prediction, it came to my attention that Kenyon Martin is apparently healthy again. If he regains his pre-injury form (from back when he was with the Nets), then I'd bump Denver up to Utah's level. Also, Chucky Atkins got hurt, but I didn't think he was that good so I don't think his injury matters.]

(8) LA Lakers- If Kobe gets traded, then all bets are obviously off and we can forget that I ever made a prediction for the Lakers. If he isn’t traded, then I think the Lakers will find their way into the playoffs again. And, with Kobe on the team, they’ll be the team that no one wants to face in the first round because of Kobe’s potential to explode. That said, the Lakers big issue will be defense. They actually had one of the most efficient offenses in the league last year, but they couldn’t have stopped a high school JV squad (well, maybe a bad one). You’ll laugh, but having a healthy Kwame Brown and Chris Mihm (along with a slightly more mature Andrew Bynum) should actually make a big difference here. On the other hand, Odom’s lingering shoulder trouble could make a big difference in the opposite direction. The Lakers could implode and find themselves out of the playoffs, or they could bring it defensively and find themselves just a hair below Utah. I’ll split the difference. [42 wins]

(9) New Orleans- They’ve been on the verge of the playoffs the last two seasons, and it looks like they’ll be on the verge of the playoffs again this year. I haven’t really seen them play, so it’s hard for me to comment on them. Tyson Chandler anchors them defensively, and he had a very solid summer with Team USA. Plus, a few of their key players will hopefully be healthier this season (Chris Paul, Peja Stojakavic). Add it all together, and you have another season where they’ll be in the mix right to the final whistle. But I can’t pick everyone to make the playoffs, and they’re the odd men out. [41 wins]

(10) Sacramento- Two years ago, they were a solid 8th seed with 44 wins and a +1.5 point differential. Last season, they were pretty bad—winning only 33 games. What happened? Well, Bibby and Miller had bad seasons. Just as importantly, they had some bad luck—despite a point differential of -1.8, they lost 6 more games than New Orleans which had a -1.6 point differential (and they only won 1 more game than Portland which had a -4.3 point differential). I expect Bibby and Miller to bounce back (although I’ve never really been a big Bibby fan), and I expect the odds to at least even out a little bit. Unfortunately for them, the top of the Western Conference is loaded, and even a .500 record won’t get them into the playoffs. [41 wins] [Bibby is now expected to be out for the first two months of the season with a hand injury. I don't think it's a devastating blow since I've tended to think Bibby was overrated, but it might be enough of a blow to eliminate their chances at the post-season.]

It was nice while it lasted

(11) Golden State- Sam, weren’t you paying attention last year? Didn’t you see us knock off Dallas in the playoffs? Yes, I did. Then I watched Utah crush Golden State in the second round. And then in the off-season I watched Golden State trade away Jason Richardson for 10 cents on the dollar. The Warriors are really going to miss Richardson. And they’re also really going to be hurt by all the coaches in the league having had a chance to watch the playoff series against the Jazz. Everyone learned that if you slow the tempo down against Golden State, your big men will be able to abuse Golden State on the offensive glass. By mid-season, whichever small player is playing the bulk of his minutes at power forward in Nellie’s small ball offense is going to be incredibly sore. [35 wins]

I’ve heard the NBDL is looking for some teams

(12) Minnesota- Celtics West takes the floor in Minnesota this season, and it’s going to be a bit rough. That said, I’m probably a little bit higher on their prospects than most people, but most likely because I became invested in a number of these players from watching so many of their games the last few years in Boston. Al Jefferson is very, very good—an all-star if he had remained in the East, but probably destined to be overlooked in the West this season. I’m also much higher on Telfair than just about anyone else I know or have heard discuss him. With the players on the Timberwolves’ roster, I’d put the ball in Telfair’s hands and tell him to push it and get his teammates open looks in transition. Go small with Telfair, Foye, Green, Smith, and Jefferson (with Brewer coming off the bench), and see what you can create. You won’t get many (any?) defensive stops, but you’ll be fun to watch! I’m higher on this team than most, but I’m not crazy. [25 wins] [Since I made my prediction, the Timberwolves have traded Ricky Davis and Mark Blount for Antoine Walker, etc. I don't think this trade really matters for their record this year, and I also don't think Walker is going to be with the team in a few weeks. So what does that all mean for this prediction? Who knows!]

(13) Portland- The difference between this year’s team and last year’s 32 win (-4.3 point differential) team? They traded away Zach Randolph. Oh, and they reacquired Steve Blake. The trade of Randolph made sense with the expected arrival of Oden, but now that Oden is injured the Trailblazers are going to be in serious trouble. The only way they don’t drop in the standings is if all of their young players take big steps forward. I’m not saying it won’t happen with Aldridge and Roy, but I’m not sure which other young players are going to step up with them. This year will be a step backwards, but that will just set them up to take two huge strides forward next season. [23 wins]

(14) Seattle- Sam Presti, the Sonics new GM, comes from the Spurs so he gets the benefit of the doubt, but I have no idea what he was thinking this offseason. They lost Rashard Lewis and Ray Allen for basically nothing (sorry, I don’t think Jeff Green will be a difference maker in the pros). Durant will score a bunch of points this year, but I expect his shooting percentage to be in the low 40s because there won’t be anyone to take the pressure off of him. Plus, the looming specter of the move to Oklahoma City (if it isn’t thwarted by a pending lawsuit) means that the team is probably going to be playing a lot of home games in a mostly empty arena. I think it’ll be a long year in the Emerald City. One bright spot? I like the Kurt Thomas signing (I guess I should say trade), but I’m not sure what he’s doing on this team other than serving as trade bait when the trade deadline approaches. [22 wins]

(15) LA Clippers- Chris Kaman was the fifth best starter on the Clippers when they had their successful season two years ago, and he’s a really good player for your fifth spot. This year, he projects to be their second best player (assuming he bounces back from his poor performance last year). That is not a good sign if you’re a Clippers fan. Cassell and Mobley are old, Shaun Livingston still isn’t back from injury, and I don’t even want to talk about the injury to Elton Brand, which just seemed arbitrarily cruel on the part of the sports gods. The Clippers are going to be the Corey Maggette and Chris Kaman show, and that means it’ll be a long year for L.A.’s “other” team. [20 wins] [I stand by my prediction, but I came across this post over at Clips Nation which makes a strong argument that the Clippers don't deserve to be ranked 15th in the Western Conference (the writer suggests a ranking of 12th would be much more realistic). I think he makes some good points, so go read it.]

Monday, October 29, 2007

Eastern Conference Predictions

Cream of the Crop

(1) Chicago- They led the conference with a +5.0 point differential last season, and during the off-season they replaced P.J. Brown with Joe Smith (call it even) and added Joakim Noah. Add in a little more seasoning for Tyrus Thomas, and you have probably the best team in the conference over the course of this regular season. What’s not to like? [50 wins]

(2) Detroit- Moving McDyess to the starting line-up makes the first five even tougher, but puts a lot of pressure on the bench players. Assuming they’re given a chance to play with a little leeway, the bench might struggle a bit early in the season and cost Detroit some wins, but it’ll help them in the long-run. This might be the year Rasheed blows up and takes the team down with him, but I’m a Wallace fan and think he’ll keep it in check. [49 wins]

(3) Boston- Call them the C’eatles (per Garnett) or the GAP kids (per me), but don’t call them pretenders. They’ll be for real. All the changes to their roster makes looking at last year’s results completely worthless. With three locks for the Eastern Conference all-star game on the roster, Boston has the Eastern Conference’s equivalent of the Suns’ Big 3 (only slower paced and playing in an area with much more snow...). If Doc Rivers is smart enough to not play his stars huge minutes during the regular season, it’ll cost them some wins during the regular season but help them in the long-run. Save the 40+ minute games by the Big 3 for the playoffs, and the Celtics will be heading all the way to the NBA Finals. [48 wins]

You need a Crystal Ball for these Guys

(4) Cleveland- They represented the Eastern Conference in the Finals last year. They had one of the best defenses in the league, and they had the third best point differential in the conference behind Chicago and Detroit (+3.8). Lebron has another year of experience. They basically stood-pat, which means placing them fourth seems appropriate (bumping Boston in front of them). On the other hand, if they don’t get the contract situation with Varejao straightened out (he’s currently home in Brazil) I think they could be fighting for their play-off lives—he’s a huge part of what they do defensively. [47 wins, but with a huge Varejao asterisk]

(5) Washington- They finished last season as a .500 team with a negative point differential (-0.5). On the other hand, they were ravaged with injuries to star players (most notably Gilbert Arenas) and were doing really well before everyone got hurt. I’m tempted to think they’ll do really well this year with their stars back from injury, but then comes the news that Etan Thomas needed heart surgery. He’s not a star, but he did a bunch of the dirty work for them. Plus, who do I put them in front of? They could be a 50 win team or they could be a 40 win team, and neither would surprise me. I’ll split the difference and put them here. [45 wins, with another big asterisk]

(6) Miami- If I had any guts I’d predict them to miss the playoffs, but I think I’m too scared because of the big names. (Shaq! Wade! It’s the NBA playoffs!) They had a negative point differential last year (-0.9) yet somehow managed to grab 44 wins. They were also plagued by injuries, and I don’t see this year being any different. They didn’t get any younger. Wade is going to miss a chunk of games at the beginning of the season. We know Shaq is going to miss games at some point. They lost quality wing players in Kapono and Posey, and an out-of-retirement Penny Hardaway isn’t going to be the answer. Yet I still can’t bring myself to put them below any of the remaining teams. I’m a wuss. [43 wins, with two asterisks!!!]

Two of these Things are going to Belong

(7) Toronto- Last year was a break-out year for the Raptors, and I think the run continues. John Hollinger predicts a drop-off because so many Raptor players had career-best years last season, but I think that was more a function of their new style of play. Plus, as one of just five teams in the Eastern Conference who had a positive point differential last year, I think they can decline a little and still make the playoffs. There are some lingering injury problems (Bosh, etc.) that will probably slow them down to start the year, but I think they don’t drop any lower than the seventh seed. [43 wins]

(8) Orlando- Change the name—they should be called the Stan Van Gundy Magic, rather than the Orlando Magic. I wasn’t a huge fan of the roster moves they made this summer (letting Milicic walk, signing Lewis to a contract way above market value), but I am a huge fan of SVG. He’s a miracle worker (as is his brother for that matter) who was absolutely knee-capped by Riley in Miami. If Orlando hadn’t changed coaches over the summer I’d be picking them to drop out of the playoffs, but not with SVG at the helm. Plus, I was surprised to learn that they had a positive point differential (+0.8) last season despite having a sub-.500 record. I don’t know how SVG is going to make Adonal Foyle a prime-time player, but he will. [42 wins]

(9) Indiana- Jim O’Brien is another coach that I consider a miracle worker. Remember, the Sixers were 43-39 in 2004-05 under him before falling back to 38-44 the next year under Mo Cheeks with basically the same roster (not to mention his work with the Pierce/Walker Celtics before that). His presence on the Indiana sideline is probably good for at least five wins. I also think his preference for fronting post-players will cover up some of Troy Murphy’s defensive shortcomings by allowing Jermaine O’Neal to cover up things with his over-the-top help defense, while at the same time allowing Murphy to concentrate on his offensive strengths—the outside jumper which also happens to be a JOB favorite. [41 wins]

(10) Philadelphia- The Sixers were 26-21 over the last 47 games of last season. I think being above .500 for that much of the season is a good sign, even if it might be a bit overstated because of some “cheap” wins racked up over the last month. They replaced Joe Smith with Reggie Evans, but other than that they pretty much stayed still. And as a result, I’m putting them slightly above .500 for the upcoming season. [41 wins]

(11) New Jersey- Um, Sam, you do realize that New Jersey has Jason Kidd, Vince Carter, and Richard Jefferson? Yup, but I also realize that they basically have nothing else. Possibly Krstic’s return from injury or their pick-up of Jamal Magloire will make the difference, but last year NJ was a .500 ball-club with a negative point differential (-0.8). Not enough has changed, so I think this is the year they fall out of the playoffs. But it’ll be close. [40 wins]

(12) New York- The interior pairing of Curry and Randolph will be poor defensively, but effective offensively. People keep talking about them as two low-post players, but my impression of Randolph is that he was more of a high-post player. The big keys will be whether the guards get them the ball, Quentin Richardson stays healthy, and they find a way to get David Lee on the floor. Oh, and making sure that Isiah Thomas doesn’t harass anyone on the way to the arena (yes, that was a low blow, but not an undeserved one). They have talent (and they should with their payroll), but the key will be how they mesh that talent. [40 wins]

Wait, you’re telling me that you’re a Professional basketball team?

(13) Charlotte- They have a killer line-up of players at the swing positions (Gerald Wallace, Jason Richardson, Walter Herrmann, Matt Carroll, and Derek Anderson, and that isn’t even counting Adam Morrison, who isn’t good [update: and is now injured--which might add a few wins to their total], and Jared Dudley, a rookie). Unfortunately, they’re pretty thin everywhere else, especially with the injury to Sean May. Still, I don’t see them being any worse than last year, and they might even be a few games better because of the addition of Richardson, but another injury to a front court player (I’m looking at you, Mr. Okafor) would be devastating. [36 wins]

(14) Atlanta- They’re another team with a strong contingent of wing players, although not quite as deep at the position as Charlotte (Joe Johnson, Josh Smith, Josh Childress, and Marvin Williams should take all the minutes). But they’re also another team that’s pretty thin everywhere else. Al Horford helps, particularly as a presence on the boards and on the defensive end, but he isn’t enough to vault them into playoff contention. Maybe Acie Law IV is the answer at point guard, but I doubt it. They’ll have a better year than last year, but not by much. [34 wins]

(15) Milwaukee- I like Michael Redd (and really liked him on Team USA this summer), but I don’t like anything else on this squad. For the life of me, I don’t understand why they were so insistent on bringing back Mo Williams and Charlie Bell—I don’t think either of them is really going to help the Bucks win. Yi isn’t going to be a difference maker this year, and I just don’t see a whole bunch on the roster to get me excited. [27 wins]

Sunday, October 28, 2007

League overview

I went and predicted results for every team in the league, and I'll share those predictions with you over the next few days (one day for the Eastern Conference, one day for the Western Conference). For now, I just wanted to share a few general thoughts I had about those predictions.

First, I made my predictions by thinking about each team, their finish last season, and the moves they made in the offseason, and then making an educated guess about how many games they would win. If someone is anal enough to go through and add up all the projected wins, that person will notice that I've predicted too many wins. Since one team needs to lose each game, the overall record of the league at the end of the regular season is always 1230-1230. My predictions give the league an overall record of 1251-1209 (626-604 Eastern Conference, 625-605 Western Conference). Clearly not actually possible. So sue me. It's the preseason--you're supposed to be overly optimistic for all the teams. (I was actually even more optimistic at first, but then I tried to adjust the numbers once I realized what I had done...and then I decided it wasn't worth the effort)

With that book-keeping out of the way, what insights do I think I gleaned from my look around the league?

1. The top teams are in the West. The top teams have been in the Western Conference for the last few years, so this observation wasn't exactly a revelation. This year I think the top five regular season teams will be in the West-- San Antonio, Dallas, Phoenix, Houston, and Utah. Those first four teams are the class of the league, and I think they'll all challenge the 60 win mark. While Utah is a step below, the Jazz are still as good as the top teams in the East over the course of the regular season (Chicago, Detroit, Boston).

2. Boston is the wild card. I don't expect Boston to be amazing over the course of the regular season because of the lack of depth, but the post-season will be a different story. Assuming the Big 3 (Garnett, Allen, Pierce) are healthy, they can play 40+ minutes a night in the post-season, making Boston's lack of depth a much less signficant factor. So don't judge Boston's title chances on their regular season record.

3. The top teams are in the West, but so are the worst teams. In predicting team records, I thought the top teams in the West would win close to 60 games while the worst teams in the West would win close to 20 games-- a 40 game spread. In the East, I thought the top teams would win close to 50 games while the worst teams would win close to 30 games-- a 20 game spread. Teams like Minnesota, Portland, Seattle, and the LA Clippers have no chance of even getting near the playoffs. In the East, I think Atlanta and Milwaukee are the only ones without a realistic chance of getting to the playoffs, and they'll still be closer than those teams from the West I just mentioned.

4. If you don't have a .500 record this season, you aren't getting into the playoffs. I think this year there are at least 10 teams in each conference that can legitimately claim a shot at having a .500 record. Maybe this is just a result of my total predicted wins being too high, but I do think that at least 8 teams in each conference will end up reaching that mark. No patsies in the playoffs this year.

5. The middle tier teams in the Eastern Conference are impossible to predict. Miami has injuries. Cleveland might be dealing with the absence of Varejao if his contract situation isn't resolved. Washington has players returning from injury, making it hard to figure out what last year's performance really means. I think one of these teams is likely to drop out of the playoffs, but I can't predict which one and I was too much of a pansy to actually make a prediction that included this belief.

6. Everyone' s favorite Cinderella team from last season, Golden State, is going to discover that the clock has hit midnight. They lost Jason Richardson and didn't really get anything in return. I don't see how they recover from that decision.

One final note-- Since I made my predictions last week, there have been a few trades (Antoine Walker to the Timberwolves) and injuries (Mike Bibby, Chucky Atkins) that probably would have impacted my predictions. I decided not to redo my predictions, but in a few cases I mention "major" events that have occurred since I made my initial predictions.

This scout stopped watching games five years ago

Sometimes I'm not sure about NBA scouts...

Reading the scout's comments on the Dallas Mavericks over at, I noticed this statement:
The key for Dallas is that when you get into the playoffs and people are stopping your transition game by getting back on defense, you've got to be able to run the half-court offense. The Mavericks struggle in the half-court when they have to play there on a consistent basis.
If he was talking about the Mavericks of five years ago, I'd say "Right on!" But we're not. Last season Dallas was 28th in the league in pace factor--only two teams in the league averaged fewer possession per game than Dallas. Dallas was almost exclusively a half-court team last year, and playing that style they had the second most efficient offense (points per 100 possessions) in the league (to go with the league's fifth best defensive efficiency rating).

The Mavericks don't generally struggle in the half-court; they excel at it. Obviously not the case in last year's playoffs, but generally so.

That said, this Mavericks blogger thinks the scout was dead-on with his observation. I think the blogger was mostly agreeing with the second half of the scout's discussion (not included in the quote above) in which the scout talks about Dallas' failure to make adjustments in the series and create mismatches, but it's hard to be sure.

But what do I know, I'm not a professional...(not that my amateur status is going to keep my from playing a professional on my blog!)

Thursday, October 25, 2007

Ex-Celtics swapped just for fun

Well, I'm sure it wasn't just for fun, but I'm still not sure what advantage both teams were looking for in the deal.

In case you haven't heard (and if you don't check basketball related websites religiously like I do, you probably haven't), the Miami Heat traded Ex-Celtic Antoine Walker, Michael Doleac, and some potato chips (potato chips = Wayne Simien and a conditional first round draft pick) to the Minnesota Timberwolves for Mark Blount and Ricky Davis.

When I first heard about the trade, my initial thought was that Kevin McHale was trying get as many former Celtics on his roster as he possibly could. Sort of like a scavenger hunt, but with real NBA players as the items you were supposed to collect.

Then I realized that both Ricky Davis and Mark Blount were also ex-Celtics, so McHale was actually lowering his number of former Celtics by making this trade. At this point, I decided it'd be impossible to figure out what the point of this trade was for either team (which doesn't mean I won't try).

As near as I can tell, this trade was done entirely for personality reasons. It's been all over the (basketball) news the last few days that Riley was unhappy with Walker for not being in condition to start training camp (I guess Shaq has a special dispensation to play his way into shape over the course of the season. Role players--and that's what Walker is these days--don't get that same luxury.) There were also reports earlier this summer (after the big trade for Garnett) that Al Jefferson hadn't really gotten along with Blount when they'd been in Boston together. If true (I have no idea), that would explain Minnesota's desire to make the trade.

In terms of playing ability, Michael Doleac and Mark Blount are basically the same player, and I don't buy the argument that Ricky Davis is a better offensive player than Walker--they're both high volume, low percentage shooters.

[brief pause as I go and actually look up Walker's and Davis' stats from last year...]

Well, it turns out Davis is a better offensive player, but not by that much. Last year Walker shot 39.5% from the filed, taking .37 shots/minute. Davis shot 46.3% from the field, taking .36 shots/minute. I was going to say that I thought Minnesota got both the better players and the better contracts (Walker's contract goes for two more years, but Blount's goes for three more years), but I guess I'll just need to say that Minnesota got the better contracts.

I guess for the first few weeks while Wade is out Davis will be an important player for the Heat, but I'm not sure I see him playing a major role once Wade returns. (And if Wade doesn't return, it really doesn't matter who the Heat have on their roster.) He can play pretty good perimeter defense, so maybe they can play him at the small forward position and have him guard the better perimeter players so Wade can rest on the defensive end. Still, I don't see this trade really doing much for the Heat's chances this year.

I'm also unclear what role Walker will have with the Timberwolves. Jefferson is clearly the centerpiece of the revamped team, and he and Walker both play the power forward spot. The Wolves could go small and play Jefferson at the center position, but if they were going to do that then I'd think they'd want Craig Smith to play the power forward position (a defensive and rebounding presence to complement Jefferson's offensive presence). The article I linked to indicated that McHale might have some other trades in the works, so my best guess is that Walker's stay in Minnesota will be a brief one.

And yes, I know that this trade doesn't impact the Sixers in any way.

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Predictions galore!

Good thing I've already given you my prediction for the upcoming Sixers' season, otherwise you might think that I was just copying all these predictions that have started appearing. came out with their NBA season preview yesterday (or, at least, that's when I found it). Their Sixers preview really focuses on how the Sixers' use of "small-ball" really hurt them last year, and might again this year unless Mo Cheeks stays away from those line-ups. It's a point I've made before, so I obviously think they're on to something important. No projected record for the season, but I forgive them.

The Miami Herald also got in the Sixers preview swing of things (although I'm not really sure why--maybe they did previews for all 30 teams). They laud the Reggie Evans signing, point out the critical nature of Dalembert's injury status, and pan the short-term impact of the Sixers' draft picks. Solid review, but no real surprises for someone who's been reading this website. They predict the Sixers to only win 25-28 wins this season, so I disagree with them there.

Finally, Sports Illustrated posted a good chunk of their NBA preview on-line today (maybe all of it, but I don't think so--I haven't gotten my copy in the mail yet). You can see an opposing scout's view of the Sixers here, and a more overall preview of the Sixers here. The scout's opinions generally seem on target to me-- he discusses Dalembert's importance, but also his tendency to be out of position defensively; he discusses Evans strength as a rebounder; and he puts Igoudala's importance to the team and his talents in perspective. The overall preview doesn't say much other than that the Sixers are young. SI thinks the Sixers will bring up the bottom of the Atlantic division because they more or less stayed still while the other bad teams from last season (Celtics, Knicks) made splashy moves. No need to reiterate that I think the Sixers will be around .500 this year (although I guess I just did).

Anyway, those are the previews I came across in the last 24 hours. Check 'em out!

[Update: And now has out its season preview. Check out the Sixers' preview here. I'll give you a hint-- they don't think the Sixers are going to be very good.]

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

My Sixers prediction (WP48 version)

Well, after discussing my thoughts on the swing players that are going to get squeezed out of the Sixers' rotation in yesterday's post, it's time to move on to the main event.

To make things simpler on myself, for the purposes of making a Wins Produced based season prediction for the Sixers I made the assumption that none of the Sixers' rookies were going to play at all this year.* Why did I make this assumption? Two reasons: (1) I don't have WP48 numbers for the rookies, and (2) I have no good way to predict them. I'll make the assumption that the rookies will have the same WP48 as the player's that they take playing time away from. Probably not a perfect prediction, but it's as likely to benefit the Sixers as to harm them.

With those assumptions in mind, what did I predict (Reggie Evans WP48 from here, all other WP48 stats from here)?

The likely scenario (given in the form of [player] [WP48] (mins/gm) = [WP]):
  • Andre Miller [.161] (35) = 9.63
  • Andre Igoudala [.195] (37) = 12.33
  • Samuel Dalembert [.178] (30) = 9.12
  • Reggie Evans [.216] (30) = 11.07
  • Kyle Korver [.047] (30) = 2.41
  • Willie Green [-.120] (23) = -4.72
  • Calvin Booth [-.010] (15) = -.26
  • Shavlik Randolph [.158] (11) = 2.97
  • Louis Amundson [.061] (10) = 1.04
  • Louis Williams [.105] (10) = 1.79
  • Rodney Carney [-.105] (6) = -1.08
  • Kevin Ollie [.015] (3) = .08

  • Total = 44.39 wins!
[note: do I really think that Calvin Booth will play 15 minutes per game? No, but with Randolph coming back from injury and Amundson only having played 90 minutes all of last year, it seemed like the safe prediction to make.]

The best-case scenario (I'm not optimistic enough to predict that the Sixers drop Willie Green from the rotation, so for my best-case scenario I assume that the Sixers drop Carney, Ollie, and Booth from the rotation, play our starters slightly heavier minutes, and Randolph is healthy enough to pick up the other big man minutes that open up):

  • Andre Miller [.161] (35) = 9.63
  • Andre Igoudala [.195] (37) = 12.33
  • Samuel Dalembert [.178] (33) = 10.03
  • Reggie Evans [.216] (33) = 12.18
  • Kyle Korver [.047] (33) = 2.65
  • Willie Green [-.120] (23) = -4.72
  • Shavlik Randolph [.158] (20) = 5.40
  • Louis Amundson [.061] (10) = 1.04
  • Louis Williams [.105] (16) = 2.87

  • Total = 51.41 wins!
So there you have it. Based on WP48 and my predictions about playing time, I predict the Sixers to win between 44 and 52 games. I guess I should have also done a worse-case scenario prediction, but what' the fun in that?

In truth, my gut prediction (based on comparing the Sixers roster to the rosters of other teams) is that the Sixers will win between 40 and 42 games. I'll be really happy if the WP48 method turns out to be a better indicator of success, but I'm not sure I completely buy it. I'm already more optimistic than most predictions, and WP48 tells me I should be even more optimistic.

On the other hand, Dalembert's ongoing foot issues is making me more pessimistic.

That said, it'll be interesting to come back to this prediction over the course of the season-- looking at how actual playing time differs from my predictions, and how a WP48 prediction would have differed based on that information.

Tomorrow: Some general observations about the competitiveness of the league for this coming season.

*Yes, I know, this assumption contradicts what I said yesterday about Carney being squeezed out of the rotation in favor of Thaddeus Young. What do you want from me-- consistency?

Monday, October 22, 2007

Who isn't going to get playing time?

For my Sixers' prediction, I thought I'd take WP48 numbers for the Sixers' players and then apply them based on my predictions of playing times for the various players on the roster to get at a total Wins Produced prediction.*

In trying to predict playing times, I realized that the numbers just don't add up. Someone who's expecting to get at least a decent chunk of time is probably going to spend most of the season sitting on the bench.

In particular, looking at the wing players (shooting guards and small forwards) on the Sixers' roster, I don't see how everyone is going to get playing time. The articles I've been reading talk about Andre Igoudala, Kyle Korver, Rodney Carney, Willie Green, and Thaddeus Young getting time on the wings, not to mention a few articles that talk about Louis Williams getting some playing time at the shooting guard position.

That's five players (excluding Williams) competing for 96 minutes of playing time each game (48 at each position). You can pencil Igoudala in for 35+ minutes a game (he was actually at 40/game last year), and Korver will almost certainly get 30 min/gm again as the sixth man. Once those two players are accounted for, we're really talking about 30 minutes of playing time (at most) being divided among three players.

Divide the time evenly and each player is looking at only 10 mins/gm. Well, Willie Green played 23 minutes a game last year and Carney played around 14 mins/gm. Just between the two of them, all the remaining available minutes are used up, leaving Young, our "prized" rookie, with no playing time.

As discussed yesterday, the Sixers' use of a small line-up means that more time will be available for these players (as evidenced by Green and Carney combining to play more than the remaining available small forward/shooting guard minutes last season). But the small line-up doesn't help the Sixers win games, so I don't think using it just to give players playing time is a very good idea (i.e. it's a very bad idea).

All of which circles us back around to the original point-- the numbers don't add up, and someone who is expected to see time this year is going to find themselves buried on the bench. Who's it going to be? I don't know, but my guess is that Carney will eventually find himself as the odd man out. The Sixers' coaches and management have an inexplicable love affair with Willie Green, so I imagine he'll get at least 23 mins/gm again. The battle for the remaining 10 mins/gm will then come down to Young and Carney, and I don't think Carney has shown enough to keep the Sixers' coaches from wanting to try out their shiny new toy (that would be the rookie, in case my metaphor wasn't clear).

Of course, since I don't think Green or Carney are good, and I don't expect much out of Young as a 19-year old rookie, I'm not sure it matters who the coaches end up playing for these minutes. But it does make for interesting speculation.

*(The reason WoW has given for not making specific predictions for each team is that it's too hard to guess how coaches will divide playing time for each team, but I figured it wouldn't be too hard to do for just one team. Having tried to get inside a coaches' head for one team, I can certainly understand why they didn't want to do it for 30 teams.)