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.