Friday, October 19, 2007

Same old Larry Brown story

If you went to today, you saw that the featured basketball story was about Larry Brown.

Now, when I see that story, I'm thinking "Did someone offer him a job? Did he get in a fight with someone in the Sixers' organization?"

Apparently not.

It must just have been time for ESPN to run an obligatory "what's going on with Larry Brown" article. If you remember, had a somewhat similar story awhile back (see my post on it here). I'm not sure why, but they must have a contract clause somewhere that requires them to speculate about Larry Brown's future even if no current event has given them a reason to do so.

Thursday, October 18, 2007

Larry Miller, stat man

Apparently, Larry Miller has his own handy back of the envelope way to evaluate whether his players had a good night:
It's pretty simple: Add up points, rebounds, steals, blocks and assists. Subtract fouls, turnovers and shots taken. Then divide by minutes played. This gives you what Miller calls a player's batting average, to borrow from baseball.
A player with a batting average of .300 usually approaches All-Star status, Miller said. A player with a .400 average is definitely an All-Star and a player with a .500 average is a likely MVP candidate. Karl Malone's career average, which Miller cited, was .457.
Over the years, it regularly spit out John Stockton as the NBA's top point guard, Michael Jordan as the top shooting guard, Larry Bird as the top small forward, Malone as the top power forward and Shaquille O'Neal as the top center, Miller said.
It's presented in a slightly different format then other stat measures, but eye-balling it I see why it seems to do pretty well. Moving the pieces around a bit, you can see that points minus shots taken serves as a crude measure of scoring efficiency, steals plus rebounds minus turnovers gives a crude measure of how many extra possessions the player gains (or loses) for the team, and blocks plus assists minus fouls gives a basic measure of the player's offensive and defensive help ability. Miller's formula is actually very close to the Win Score formula.

All of these stats are also kept for a team, so do they serve as a good proxy for team performance? The short answer (based on quick look at last season's numbers): Somewhat.

The top sixteen teams based on this metric were, in order: (1) Phoenix (with a team average of .288), (2) Denver, (3) San Antonio, (4) Golden State, (5) Utah, (6) Detroit, (7) LA Lakers, (8) Dallas, (9) Washington, (10) Toronto, (11) Chicago, (12) Houston, (13) LA Clippers, (14) New Jersey, (15) Sacramento, (16) Memphis (.230).

This list includes all eight Western Conference playoff teams. It also includes five of the Eastern Conference playoff teams. Of the excluded Eastern teams, Cleveland and Miami are the next two teams on the list. If you took eight teams from each conference using this measure for last season, the only playoff team that would not make the cut would be Orlando (they'd be beaten out by our Sixers!). So as an off-the-cuff measure of who's good versus who's bad, I'd say Miller's "batting average" does a decent job.

That said, it definitely suffers from the bias that most non-possession based systems suffer from-- running teams rank higher, even if they actually aren't better. With more possessions, there are simply more opportunities to get the statistics valued by this measure. Memphis had only 22 wins last season, but in the second half of the season they played at a very high pace. Good offensive teams also benefit from this system relative to good defensive teams-- thus Golden State, Denver, the LA Lakers, and the Wizards are ranked higher than I would expect form a neutral system, while the Rockets are ranked lower. And the Cavaliers, who made it to the NBA Finals last year on the back of a fantastic defense, but a mediocre (at best) offense fall out of the top tier of teams altogether.

What's the takeaway from all of this? Well, I think it shows that the NBA has done a credible job in figuring out good statistics to track. They might not track the "best" statistics, but the statistics they do track have at least some bearing on how teams perform. The teams that do a better job acquiring the "good" stats tend to be better than the teams that end up with a ton of the "bad" stats. Put those stats into a formula that meets the common-sense test, and you'll probably end up with results that aren't too outlandish. Not an earth-shattering revelation, but always good to have this belief confirmed when you spend a lot of time looking at basketball statistics.

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

And this is a good thing? Why?

It's a couple of days old at this point, but I was a little perplexed by something Marty Burns wrote in one of his columns over at
It's still early, but if Howard can knock down 15-footers, he could elevate himself into an MVP candidate. It wouldn't be unprecedented. Amaré Stoudemire radically improved his jumper in one summer a few years ago, taking his game to elite status.
I think it's great that Howard is working on his offensive game. The jump hooks and post moves that are also described seem great. If the Magic can go to Howard in the post, in addition to relying on him to get rebounds and finish off of feeds inside, then they'll become a very dangerous team. That said, I don't see how Howard shooting 15-foot jump shots is really a good thing.

Every time Howard sets up at 15 feet, that's a trip down the floor when he's not setting up 5 feet from the basket. He's an absolute monster underneath. Why on earth would you want him moving farther away from the basket? I just don't get.

I'll admit that I've never really enjoyed watching Shaquille O'Neal play because of how "unskilled" his game seemed, but, boy, his game sure was effective. If he had been on my team, I sure wouldn't have wanted him to start shooting 15-footers even if he could.

Versatility is great, but not when it means the player stops doing the things that make him dominant.

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Not all rookies are created equal

A couple of days ago I was browsing through some recaps of the NBA preseason games against teams from the EuroLeague, and I came across the recap of the Rockets-Panathinaikos game.

One line really caught my attention:
Rookie Luis Scola scored 17 points[.]
I know that Scola is in his first season in the NBA, so he's considered a rookie by the league, but do we really need to see him described that way over the course of the year?

I mean, he's 27 years old (the same age, as a I recently discovered, as the Sixers' "grizzled veteran" Reggie Evans). He's been a key member of Argentina's gold medal winning team, and he's been widely considered the best player in Europe for the last couple of years by NBA scouts. And from what I saw of him in the FIBA Tournament of the Americas, he's the real deal.

Should we really be evaluating his season the same way that we'll be evaluating Thaddeus Young's season (to take just one home team rookie as an example)? I don't think so.

I know that Kevin Durant is everyone's choice to win rookie of the year (especially now that Greg Oden is injured), but I think my money will be on Luis Scola actually being the best "rookie" this year.

[Over at, David Thorpe gives his take on the rookie class. It's an Insider article, but currently available to everyone, so check it out now before it goes back behind the wall. The short version: Durant is favored to win rookie of the year, followed by Scola and the other non-rookie rookie, Juan Carlos Navarro. The Sixers' rookies are both listed as "others to watch" which seems to stand for "don't bother to watch" since 16 rookies are listed before them!]

Monday, October 15, 2007

Finally finding some games here in Anchorage

Last Thursday I went to the Alaska Club to play some basketball. There was an okay game, but what made the night worthwhile was that the players there told me that Monday and Wednesday nights were the best times to go to the gym for a game.

So I went to the gym tonight around 7:30 to check out the scene...and it was good.

The games didn't really get started until after 8 pm, but then there was a good group of people. Maybe 15-20 people all together, but never all there at the same time (at least not during the hour and a half I was there for). I got in the second game (which we won) and then got to play one more game (which we lost) before calling it a night around 9:30 pm. I would have stayed later, but I was supposed to be free to get a call at 9:30 (which I missed by two minutes, but that doesn't have anything to do with basketball).

In terms of the skill-athleticism-physicality balance that I prefer, I'd say the game was a bit more focused on athleticism and banging than is optimal for me, but it was still fun. Some of the players were quite skilled, but a decent chunk had athleticism that exceeded their skill level. And it was best to cover yourself if you went inside because someone was going to hit you!

Don't get me wrong--I don't want a game that isn't physical at all. Anyone who's played with me knows that I bang pretty good for a person my size (5'10, medium build), but I'm certainly not a bruiser. The first game I played tonight I guarded a guy who was 6'3", probably least (no joke, and he was still a high schooler--which raises another point: I was probably the oldest guy on the court by a good five years, most of them were still in high school and played for one of the local high school teams). I figure it'll be good for me; I'll need to get tougher with my finishing inside. I'd had an inkling that the games would be physical based on my experience last Thursday night when everyone used European-style moving screens, and tonight just confirmed.

I'm really sore right now, but it's a good sort of sore. It's good to have found a game.

Sunday, October 14, 2007

CBS Sportsline thinks the Sixers should have tanked

I told you I'd keep posting on season previews of the Sixers, otherwise I'd have just let this one from CBS Sportsline fall by the wayside.

One of the least informative previews I've ever seen in any forum. In fact, calling it a preview is probably being a bit too generous since all it does is talk about how not tanking last season was a terrible idea.

The writer predicts 21 wins for the Sixers, but doesn't explain why he thinks they'll be worse than last year so you're left to guess at his rationale. I'm guessing that his rationale is that 21 wins is how many John Hollinger predicted, but maybe I'm being too cynical.

Thanks, CBS Sports. I'm a much better informed Sixers fan thanks to your contribution.

At least you gave me an opportunity to be snarky.