Saturday, December 13, 2008

So Long, Mo. Thanks for the memories.

Guess I missed the news. I'm sitting here watching the Sixers-Wizards game (I live in D.C. right now, so the game is on TV. Glad that I'm finally getting to watch a game.), and about half-way through the second quarter I hear the announcers mentioning the Sixers new interim head coach. Somehow I hadn't seen the news before now (I know the change was only made earlier today, but still...).

I know the generic reasons given for firing Mo Cheeks-- need to shake up the team, underperforming, etc.-- but I can't say I'm a big fan of the move. And that's coming from someone who's never thought Cheeks was anything more than an average coach. As my last post talked about, Cheeks was basically playing everyone the minutes that was expected. If the problem is that Andre Igoudala, Elton Brand, and Samuel Dalembert are playing worse than expected, then I don't see how getting rid of Cheeks helps anything. I especially don't see how it helps in the case of Igoudala and Dalembert-- after all, he was also the coach when they played really well last year.

So what do I expect? I expect the Sixers to start playing better and finish the season with somewhere between 40 and 50 wins. They have a few easy games over the next week that they should win (including tonight's game and next Friday's game against the Wizards that I'm going to!), so I expect the "improved" play to start right away. Of course, that's what I was expecting before the firing. Stefanski will get credit for shaking things up, and really it'll just be the players returning to their normal performance level.

As long as the Sixers start playing better I guess I won't be too bothered by the coaching change. After all, I don't follow the Sixers to watch the coach!

Update: I meant to post these two links from ESPN on the firing (by John Hollinger and Marc Stein) for a more detailed take on the firing. Take a look!

Saturday, December 6, 2008

20 games in

Well, we're twenty games into the season. A 9-11 record with a -0.3 point differential. Not exactly what we were all hoping for after the big off-season signing of Elton Brand. And not really in-line with the WP48 projection of the season I put together.

The big question is obviously "why?".

Taking a first crack at the question, I looked at the minutes per game for each player on the roster to see if that was the problem. Short answer: no. Based on current minute allocations and last year's WP48 for each player, the Sixers would be on pace to win somewhere between 43 and 53 wins (depending on which WP48 projection I use for Elton Brand).* Samuel Dalembert's playing less minutes, but other than that Mo Cheeks is generally playing everyone the expected minutes.

As for Dalembert playing less minutes, I guess that leads into the other possible explanation for the poorer than expected performance. You know, that the players just aren't playing as well as they have in the past. From what I've been able to tell (and what the news media has been reporting ), Dalembert and Andre Igoudala have both been playing worse than last year. I didn't do an in-depth look at their performance to see how much perception and reality matched up or check to see if anyone else's performance was way off, but a downturn in both of their performances could certainly explain the Sixers' performance so far.

Hopefully Professor Berri will take a look at the Sixers sometime in the near future and give us some answers!

*I did a rough estimate that did not take into account the extra minutes played so far this season in overtime.

Monday, November 3, 2008

A good season to be a Sixers fan

Yes, I know the season has already started. But that's not going to stop me from finally posting my prediction for the Sixer's season. As with last year, I'm basing my prediction on Wins Produced.

And what does my prediction tell me? It tells me that it could be a very good season to be a Sixers fan.

I made two predictions. The first one is probably too optimistic-- it's based on the Sixer's playing a nine man rotation and limiting the playing time of many of the players not viewed favorably by Wins Produced-- but at the same time I don't think it's completely out of line with the line-ups that Mo Cheeks will probably favor this year. The second prediction is probably way too pessimistic, but it probably reflects what could happen if the Sixer's main players get a couple of nicks and miss some (but not a huge amount of) time.

Without further ado....

Prediction 1: For this prediction, I assumed that Mo Cheeks would play a relatively tight rotation of nine players. I assumed that he'd play all of our starters 35 minutes a night, split the remaining time at the PG, SG, & SF positions between Louis Williams and Willie Green, play Reggies Evans for the remaining PF time, and play rookie Marreese Speights for the remaining time at C. The two other big assumptions I made were that Elton Brand would return to his form from 2006-07 and that Mareese Speights would perform at the level predicted by Professor Berri based on his college (and preseason) stats; other than those assumptions I predicted the remaining players to perform at their 2007-08 level.

In numbers ([name] [WP48] [min/gm] = [Wins Produced]:
  • Andre Miller [.167] [35 min/gm] = 9.99
  • Andre Igoudala [.172] [35 min/gm] = 10.28
  • Thaddeus Young [.099] [35 min/gm] = 5.92
  • Elton Brand [.213] [35 min/gm] = 12.74
  • Samuel Dalembert [.197] [35 min/gm] = 11.78
  • Louis Williams [.080] [20 min/gm] = 2.73
  • Willie Green [-.019] [19 min/gm] = -0.62
  • Reggie Evans [.143] [13 min/gm] = 3.18
  • Marreese Speights [.068] [13 min/gm] = 1.51
That gives a projected win total of 57.51 wins. Wow. I was optimistic about this season, but that projection really blows my mind. Now, like I said at the outset, this projection is probably a little too optimistic, primarily because it assumes a tight rotation and no injuries to our key players. On the other hand, there's a decent chance that Cheeks plays some of the starters (especially Igoudala) closer to 40 minutes each night. So a super-best-case scenario could be even more impressive.

Prediction 2: For this second prediction, I assumed that the other players on the roster would get playing time over the course of the season. I didn't have a good way to figure out where those minutes would come from (at least not a quick way), so I just assumed that each of the starters would play 30 minutes instead of 35 minutes, Royal Ivey and Kareem Rush would split the newly available time at the PG, SG, & SF positions, and Donyell Marshall and Theo Ratliff would get the newly available time at the PF and C positons, respectively. The way I look at it, we can just assume that this playing time occurs when the starters need some time to rest from minor injuries that always occur over the course of a season (ankle sprains, etc.). The one other big assumption I made was that Elton Brand would play at his injury-reduced level from last season. Since Donyell Marshall played for two teams last year, I just averaged his production from both teams (without taking the different amounts of playing time into account).

In numbers ([name] [WP48] [min/gm] = [Wins Produced]:
  • Andre Miller [.167] [30 min/gm] = 8.56
  • Andre Igoudala [.172] [30 min/gm] = 8.82
  • Thaddeus Young [.099] [30 min/gm] = 5.07
  • Elton Brand [.058] [30 min/gm] = 2.97
  • Samuel Dalembert [.197] [30 min/gm] = 10.10
  • Louis Williams [.080] [20 min/gm] = 2.73
  • Willie Green [-.019] [19 min/gm] = -0.62
  • Reggie Evans [.143] [13 min/gm] = 3.18
  • Marreese Speights [.068] [13 min/gm] = 1.51
  • Royal Ivey [-.054] [8 min/gm] = -0.74
  • Kareem Rush [-.001] [7 min/gm] = -0.01
  • Donyell Marshall [-.043] [5 min/gm] = -0.36
  • Theo Ratliff [.059] [5 min/gm] = 0.50
That gives a projected win total of 41.71 wins. Not as good as the first projection, but still slightly better than the Sixers did this past season. What's the difference? Well, reducing the starters' playing time and replacing them with the end of the bench players accounts for a reduction of about 8 wins. The remaining reduction comes from assuming that Brand can't regain his pre-injury form.

I think it's likely that the end of the bench is going to get playing time (although it might be at the expense of the first tier of substitutes rather than at the expense of the starters if it isn't as a result of injuries), but based on the first three games of the season I think there's a decent chance that Brand will return to his old form (I'm pretty sure I read that he was averaging 18 points and 14 rebounds).

So my prediction for the year: I'll pretend I'm King Solomon and cut everything in the middle- 50 wins during the regular season, and hopefully home court advantage in the first round of the playoffs.

Like I said at the beginning, it looks like it could be a good year to be a fan of the Sixers.

What do you think?

[And for commenter Louis since I know he likes to pick on my grammar- is it Sixers fan, Sixer's fan, or Sixers' fan?]

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Roll out the ball and let's play!

Training camp has arrived, so the season is just around the corner. If by "just around the corner" you mean a month away. With training camp here, it's also time for predictions to come out of the woodwork. I'm not going to track them all down this year like I did last year (no time!), but I couldn't help noting John Hollinger's season preview. You can catch his views on the Sixers here. In short: he predicts them to come in 3rd in the Eastern Conference. I think he might be a bit optimistic (although not necessarily), but I also think that his thinking is going to be more or less in line with the views of most mainstream sportswriters. That's a sea change from last season when Hollinger, and most writers, predicted the Sixers to come in last. And that's definitely a change that I could get used to.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Jobs take a lot of time. And what the 1980s Sixers can tell us about Elton Brand.

I know. Captain obvious speaking. And, yes, I did have a job all of last year. But I started working at my law firm last Monday (the 15th), and I feel like I haven't had a chance to breath since then. I had none work related stuff going on as well (all good things), but since I tend to not write that much about my non-basketball personal life here I'll just leave it at that. But needless to say, the spare time that I use to sporadically post about the Sixers and basketball took the hit.

I had a few spare moments tonight, so I browsed around my usual haunts (Truehoop, Wages of Wins). And, as usual, Professor Berri (at WoW) had an interesting post up about the Sixers--or, at least, the Sixers from the early 1980s.

In particular, in his post artfully titled "What Ever Happened to "Fo'-Fi'-Fo'"?", he focused on how the Sixers went from very good to NBA champions to first round losers. It's very interesting, so I'd go read it all.

But the upshot (for you lazy people who just want my take on things...) is that you can tie both the Sixers rise and fall primarily to Moses Malone. In his first season with the Sixers, he was fantastic, posting a WP48 of .378 and producing 23 wins. The next year he was still the Sixers' best player, posting a WP48 of .268 (Dr. J had a WP48 of .241 in both seasons) and producing 14.6 wins. But as you can see in those numbers, Malone wasn't nearly the player in the second season that he was in the first season. That said, he was still elite (top 10 in Wins Produced), but no longer super-elite (top 3 behind Magic Johnson and Larry Bird). The difference just goes to show you that even when a player has a very good season, he might not be quite the difference maker that he had been in the past or was expected to be.

And for the current Sixers, that should serve as a warning about getting too hopeful about Elton Brand taking the Sixers into the top tier of the league's teams. In 2005-06, Brand posted a WP48 of .274. In 2006-07, he posted a WP48 of .213. In his injury shortened 2007-08, Brand posted a WP48 of .058. Setting aside last season, we still see a huge difference between Brand's 2005-06 season and his 2006-07 season. At least we do looking at WP48. But I don't think the difference appeared that large to people (like myself) when watching him play. When I saw him play, in both seasons, I was just left with the impression that "Wow. He's a very good player."

And he was. But he was a better "very good player" in 2005-06. I haven't done a WP48 based prediction for the Sixers this year yet (although I hope to soon, especially since last year's prediction turned out to be pretty accurate in overall results), but I expect that the Sixers will be an elite team if the 2005-06 Elton Brand shows up in Philly, yet only a strong playoff team if the 2006-07 Elton Brand shows up. In both cases, we'll think we got a very good player (and we'd be right!), but the case study of the Sixers from the early 1980s and Moses Malone tells us that which version of the "very good player" shows up can make all the difference in the world.

Friday, September 12, 2008

Cheeks gets extension. Does it matter?

The Sixers gave Mo Cheeks a contract extension the other day. Terms of the deal weren't disclosed, but since he had already signed a one year extension this past February, I guess it's safe to assume that this extension is a multi-year deal.

The team played well last year and the players seem to like Cheeks, so rewarding Cheeks with a contract extension seems like it was the right thing to do. That said, does it really matter?

Nothing against Cheeks, but I'm just not sure that most coaches make that much of a difference in the NBA. I guess if you compared a terrible coach to a great coach you'd be able to see a difference. But I think all the coaches in the NBA are within such a narrow range of ability compared to one another (or, to be on the safe side, let's say 95% of NBA coaches) that I don't think having one coach versus another really makes a huge difference.

I'm too lazy to look it up right now, but I seem to remember coming across articles that reference research that basically reached this same conclusion-- a few coaches were seen to have a measurable impact on performance, but most did not. I also remember seeing a recent article on a study that found the same thing to be true for investment fund managers. (And the number of managers that stand out from the crowd has been shrinking over time as the industry has gotten more sophisticated overall.)

I think that as long as a coach can get all of his players to buy into his system (no matter what type of system it is), the ability of his players then becomes the major factor in determining team success. Beyond that initial threshold, I think that coaches are considered good if they have good players (and thus win), and they're considered bad if they have bad players (and thus lose). Not a very complicated formula.

So congrats to Mo Cheeks on his extension. And I just hope that the Sixers continue to add talent and that our players continue to buy into Cheeks' system.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Welcome home, Mr. Marshall

The biggest news, from my perspective, since my last post is that the Sixers have added another player to their roster. As detailed here, the Sixers signed Donyell Marshall as a veteran presence who can (in theory) spread the floor with his 3-point shooting ability.

Until reading the article, I hadn't known that Marshall had played at Reading in the early 1990s. Or, if I'd known, I'd someone forgotten. It's always nice to bring a hometown guy back to play (or, as appears to be the more likely case here, to provide a steadying veteran influence on the bench).

Having a veteran presence on the bench is nice, but the real question for me is always, "Can he contribute?"

To answer that question, we'll turn (as we have been all summer) to our three advanced statistical measures- PER, Adjusted +/-, and WP48. Last season, Marshall had a PER of 9.73 in limited minutes , didn't play enough minutes to have an Adj. +/- calculated, and had a WP48 of .007 while playing for Seattle and a WP48 of -.092 in Cleveland before he was traded.

Hmm. None of those numbers really make me want to go out and celebrate his signing.

Now, if Marshall is content to play hard in practice, dispense wisdom, and not complain about barely getting any minutes during actual games, then I guess I have no problems with the signing (especially since he reportedly signed for the veteran's minimum). You really can't ask for more than that from an end of the bench player. And, of course, you can always hope that Marshall returns to his 2006-07 form (WP48 of .102).

That said, I'm terrified that Mo Cheeks will fall into the trap of playing the veterans in tight situations-- i.e., putting not-as-good players on the floor because there's a comfort level with playing veterans. After last season (playing Thaddeus Young big minutes), I'm not as worried about that possibility, but it still worries me.

With Marshall signed, the Sixers now have 14 players on their roster. Not sure who they'll tab for the final roster spot, but it doesn't seem unreasonable to believe that it might be one of the three players who were on the Sixers' roster last season but are still currently free agents- Kevin Ollie, Herbert Hill, and Shavlik Randolph. Of the three, I'd go with Randolph. But we are talking about the 15th man on the roster, so I'm not sure it really matters.

Stop bugging me already!

Okay, no one has actually been bugging me about my long posting absence. Commenter Louis did send me a (very polite) note the other day wondering when I was going to post again. I promised to put up a post today, but obviously that hasn't happened.

As you can tell by reading the "About me" blurb off to the right (assuming I edited it correctly-- always a big if!), I'm no longer in Anchorage, Alaska. Labor Day weekend I flew from Anchorage to a wedding in Colorado, and then after the wedding I flew directly to Washington, DC to my new apartment. Moving in has been a bit more hectic than I anticipated, but I think I now have everything under control-- just in time to start my new job on Monday. Yeah!!!

Tomorrow I'll start putting up posts briefly touching on the big developments in Sixers' land since my last post. Hint: They involve the signing of a player and a contract extension.

Sunday, August 24, 2008

Thaddeus Young is our starting small forward

Via TrueHoop the other day (and as I mentioned in the comments to the last post), we learn that Ed Stefanski reached out to a few Sixers bloggers for a conversation (apparently I didn't make the cut...somehow, with my daily readership of ten, I'm not completely shocked). Good PR move, I guess. But more to the point, the part of his interview that stood out to me was that he basically confirmed that Thaddeus Young would be our starting small forward this year and Andre Igoudala will be our starting shooting guard (from
When asked about Thad's transition from the 4 to the 3, it became clear that this could be the critical question of the season. Stefanski said Thad has been working hard all Summer on his handle and the plan right now is for him to play the bulk of his minutes at the three. Later he said definitively that as of now, Iguodala is the starting two guard. The only question is how well Thad will transition.

And in a related bit:
The roster is set, and Willie will be a part of the rotation. How big of a part he plays will depend largely on Thad's development. If he can handle the three, we won't see a whole lot of Willie. If he can't, well that's not a road we want to go down at this point. Moving Iguodala back to the three for most of his minutes would be a huge blow to the step forward this team has taken. There's a very good chance Green could find himself in the starting lineup again. That's not something anyone wants to see happen.

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Filling out the roster

After accounting for the draft (Marreese Speights), signing Elton Brand, and resigning our restricted free agents, the Sixers' roster for the upcoming season was basically set.

These moves left the Sixers' roster in the following shape:

PG Andre Miller, Louis Williams
SG Willie Green
SF Andre Igoudala, Thaddeus Young
PF Elton Brand, Reggie Evans
C Samuel Dalembert, Marreese Speights, Jason Smith (injured)

That's only ten players and every NBA team can keep fifteen, so the Sixers were clearly in the market for players to fill out the roster. These signing will hopefully contribute, but I don't really expect the 11-15th men on the roster to really be difference makers.

As of today, the Sixers have made three signings to fill these spots.

First, the Sixers signed two shooting guards-- Kareem Rush (most recenlty of the Indiana Pacers) and Royal Ivey (most recently of the Milwaukee Bucks). (FYI: I thought Ivey was primarily a SG--and the Sixers mentioned playing him alongside Williams--but Hollinger lists him as a PG. For now, let's just call him a combo guard.) Now, I'm glad the Sixers are looking to address the weakness at the shooting guard position that we identified in our original analysis of our off-season needs. That said, I'm not sure that either one of these players is really the solution.

Last season, Rush clocked in with a PER of 10.06, Adj +/- of -4.10, and a WP48 of -.001. Ivey, for his part, clocked in with a PER of 8.89, Adj +/- of -3.88, and a WP48 of -.054. If you want to get even more depressed, you can check out this chart (from the comments in this post at Pounding the Rock) showing the true shooting percentage of all guards last season who qualified for the points per game title. Our two new signees clock in at third (Ivey) and tenth (Rush) -- and this isn't a list on which you want to be first. Sort of makes the idea that Rush is coming in to be our dead-eye shooter from the perimeter (based on his 38% on 3-pointers last season) a little crazy. Making things even happier, guess who clocked in at number five on the list? (Yup, you guessed it. The man these players will be backing up, our very own Willie Green.)

In other words, the statistics tell us that basically every time either of these players take the floor, their team gets worse. To put it mildly, that's not very good. On the other hand, the Sixers are simply paying them the veteran minimum and they need to fill their final roster spots somehow.

The Sixers other "rounding out the roster" signing actually turns out to be a bit of a surprise (at least to me). Theo Ratliff officially signed with the Sixers today on a one-year veteran's minimum salary. Now, I'm a huge fan of Ratliff from his last go-round with the Sixers back in the Iverson glory years. But that version of Ratliff has very little to do with the now 35 year old player that the Sixers just signed. Between aging and battling injuries, Ratliff doesn't strike me as being the player he used to be. But when I looked at the numbers, I was shocked to see that last year's version of Ratliff posted a PER of 12.11, Adj +/- of 1.43, and WP48 of .059. His PER and WP48 are below average, but they aren't even close to being in the dismal range of Ivey and Rush (or Jason Smith for that matter, the player whose injury apparently led the Sixers to contact Ratliff in the first place). Ratliff is probably not as good at this point in his career as the players he'll be behind in the rotation, but I think he qualifies as a very, very solid option for our fifth big man.

The verdict-- While I appreciate the effort to address our weakness at shooting guard, the guard signings don't help us at all. The acquisition of Ratliff, on the other hand, helps to shore up our bench and bolsters what appears to be an already strong frontcourt.

There are still two more roster spots to fill, but I wouldn't hold your breath waiting for an impact signing. We know what this year's Sixers squad is going to look like, now it's just a question of how well they'll play.

I'm pretty excited to watch!

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Resigning our restricted free agents

I'm back! I know you all terribly missed me. Since I know you don't care about the three days I spent this weekend hiking, kayaking, and fishing near Seward, I'll just jump right back into looking at the Sixers' off-season moves.

The biggest part of the Sixers' off-season that we still needed to look at was the Sixers' success in resigning our restricted free agents-- Louis Williams and Andre Igoudala (or Andre Igoudala and Louis Williams if you insist).

I can happily report that as of a few days ago, the Sixers have now successfully signed both of them to long-term deals.

Louis Williams officially signed his deal with the Sixers on August 4, although he tentatively had reached agreement with the Sixers a few days before that. For $25 million over 5 years, it seems like the Sixers' got a decent deal. He's probably not quite worth it today, but he's already a solid player, he's gotten better each year, and he's still young (21 years old). It never seemed like he was interested in leaving, but it's still nice to get the deal done.

As for Igoudala, we've already discussed the Sixers' seeming difficulty in signing him a few times (notably with regards to the slight possibility of a European team targeting him and the Luol Deng signing meaning Igoudala's asking price was going to be higher than hoped). That all changed a few days ago, however, when the Sixers offered Igoudala a staggering (at least to me) deal for $80 million over six years.

I'm happy we signed Igoudala, but I need to admit the price tag scares me a bit. I said that I thought Deng received more than I thought Igoudala was worth ($71 million over six years), and now we've signed Igoudala for even more. Wow. Apparently Stefanski feels like Igoudala is going to be an all-star over the next few years. I think there's a decent chance that Igoudala reaches that level, but with the contract he signed we're in a pretty rough place if he doesn't reach that level.

Ignoring the amount of money involved in the contracts, the Sixers are clearly a better team with Igoudala than without him. So from a fan's perspective (and the perspective of checking off items from the off-season to-do list), I'm excited.

And since I'm not writing the checks, I guess that's the only perspective I really need to worry about...

Up Next: Filling out the roster

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

The Elton Brand chase

The big news this summer has obviously been the Elton Brand signing. We've discussed the signing fairly extensively already (disbelief that we were really in the chase, excitement at the actual signing, evaluating whether Brand made the right choice in choosing the Sixers over the Clippers), but we obviously can't have a round-up of the Sixers' moves this off-season without evaluating the Brand signing.

For the purposes of this analysis, it's important to recognize that the chase for Elton Brand actually involved two transactions by the Sixers- (1) the trade of Calvin Booth and Rodney Carney to the Timberwolves, and (2) the actual signing of Elton Brand.

First, let's look at the trade of Booth and Carney.

When it comes to Booth, it quickly becomes apparent that the Sixers didn't lose anything by trading him away. He didn't play enough minutes to be evaluated by Adjusted +/-, but his PER (7.11) and WP48 (-0.033) don't exactly inspire confidence. It's hard to imagine that whoever takes his limited minutes this upcoming season won't be an improvement.

The Carney story is somewhat similar. Carney's PER (12.15) and WP48 (-0.032) are both somewhat dismal. However, his adjusted +/- is actually quite good (1.54). Still, going with our "majority rules" principle, I think that we can make the assumption that trading away Carney isn't going to have a negative impact on the Sixers' performance this year.

So not only did trading away Booth and Carney create the cap room needed to sign Elton Brand, but the act of trading them away also removed some deadweight from the roster (clearly the case with Booth, likely the case with Carney). Good work.

Next, we turn to the actual signing of Elton Brand.

I (along with everyone else) thought the Sixers scored a real coup by signing Brand. Looking at the numbers is a little tricky since Brand was hurt for most of last year, but I think they bear out everyone's intuition that signing Brand was a good move. The only question raised by the numbers is whether Brand was worth the max money he received.

Brand didn't play enough minutes last season to have an adjusted +/- calculated for him, but he had a PER of 18.04 and a WP48 of .058. His PER was good (although lower than Igoudala's), but his WP48 last season was below average. Of course, if you go back to the 2006-07 season (i.e. when he wasn't injured), Brand had a WP48 of .213. And if you go back to 2005-06, Brand had a whopping WP48 of .274. Plus, Brand's career average PER is 22.7.

What do these numbers say to me? If Brand can return to his form from three years ago, then he'll be worth every penny of the money we gave him. Even if he doesn't return all the way to that standard, but simply returns to close to his 2006-07 form then it was still a signing that will signficantly help the Sixers on the floor this coming season.

Signing a top-tier low-post scoring threat wasn't exactly on the list of most desperate needs, but it sure isn't a move you can argue with-- act while the iron is hot and all those other good expressions. And the addition of Brand does actually help the Sixers' bench by moving Reggie Evans to the back-up power forward spot and allowing Thaddeus Young to play more at small forward.

All in all, a very nice move.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Finger injury

I hurt my right pinky finger playing basketball last night. Nothing too serious (probably a bad jam, but one of the guys said it looked like the finger very briefly popped out of joint before popping back into place). However, with my pinky taped to the finger next to it, I'm finding it a bit hard to type quickly. My plan is to post my thoughts on the "Elton Brand chase" tonight or tomorrow, but then I'll probably hold off until next week to finish off my evaluation of the Sixers' off-season moves (resigning our restricted free agents and filling out the roster).

Monday, August 11, 2008

Help from the Draft

The 2008 NBA draft was held on June 26, 2008. The Sixers had only one pick in the draft, having traded our second round pick to the Utah Jazz. Picking 16th, the odds of landing a useful player were fairly low, but we'd managed to find Thaddeus Young at the 12th spot last year so there was hope.

As everyone reading this blog probably knows at this point, the Sixers selected Marreese Speights, a PF/C from Florida, with our selection. I freely admit that I knew nothing about him at the time, other than that there had been some rumors that he was not a particularly hard worker. But even the people he made that claim also said that he was a very talented player.

So will Speights help the Sixers this year? No way to really know until the season begins, but Professor Berri helpfully evaluated the play of all the featured rookies at the Las Vegas Summer League using Win Score (a version of Wins Produced). Now, he spends most of his post explaining that the sample size from summer league is so small that the resulting standard deviation makes the results somewhat (mostly) meaningless, but I'm going to ignore that part of the piece and just look at the (meaningless) numbers he puts up for Speights.

As this table shows, the average WS48 for an NBA center last season was 10.993. Speights posted a 10.7, putting him just under the average mark for a center. If that mark represents Speights's true ability for the year (a big if), then I think he'll help us this year. From another of Professor Berri's posts, we know approximately that WP48 = 0.104 + 1.621*PAWSmin. Thus, Speights's 10.7 WS48 --> PAWS48 = -0.3 --> PAWS/min = -.00625 --> WP48 = .094. Remember, average WP48 in the NBA = .100.

Erich Doerr's analysis (based on looking at the college PAWS of top prospects) is also very bullish on Speights's chances of being a productive NBA player.

To have a rookie selected 16th come in and be able to produce at close to the NBA average in his first season is a huge help. So while Speights obviously does not help with the Sixers' need to improve at shooting guard, the preliminary results indicate that he will help strengthen the Sixers' bench. All in all, a successful draft.

(Completely off topic, but one of the players I thought was being highly underrated in the run-up to the draft was Joey Dorsey from Memphis. The Rockets selected him in the second round, and the results from summer league look promising. Go Joey!)

Up next: The Elton Brand Chase.

Sunday, August 10, 2008

Off-season moves

The other week, we had looked at the Sixers' roster as of the end of last season in order to identify the Sixers' needs going into this off-season. I summarized my analysis in this fashion:
In general, I think the numbers show that the Sixers' most glaring need was to improve the shooting guard position. Resigning Igoudala also was a clear off-season priority (although, as noted, not for all-star money). Simply accomplishing these two goals would have made the off-season a solid success, most likely ensuring a return to the playoffs. Beyond that, putting together a bench that inspires a bit more confidence was probably the next most urgent need. Resigning Louis Williams seems likely to help in that regard, but he's not nearly as certain to help as I think most people believe (including me before I did this analysis).
The Sixers have now made a number of moves, so it's time to see how these moves match up with the needs we identified. To start with, I think that the Sixers' moves this off-season can be grouped into four general categories: (1) The Draft, (2) The Elton Brand chase, (3) Resigning Our Restricted Free Agents, and (4) Rounding Out the Roster. I'll take each off these categories one at a time over the next couple of days.

In the mean time, I saw that Jason Smith injured himself the other day (ACL tear) and is out for an indefinite period of time. I obviously don't wish injury on anyone. At the same time, since our analysis from the other day indicated that Smith did not help the team much last season, but was still likely to get signficant playing time based on the general perception of his play, his injury (and unavailability to play) could actually be a slight boon to our chances this year. Of course, he was obviously just a rookie last season and therefore could have improved this year, so maybe I'm being too hard.

Up next: The Draft.

Sunday, August 3, 2008

Thanks for nothing, Chicago

Well, re-signing Andre Igoudala probably just got a whole bunch tougher.

The Chicago Bulls recently came to an agreement with Luol Deng, their star small-forward, on a six year contract that will pay him at least $71 million, and up to $80 million if all the incentives are met. If you're keeping track at home, that's a contract worth somewhere between slightly less than $12 million/year and slightly more than $13 million/year.

I don't think Deng is worth that much money. And I also don't think that Andre Igoudala should command that much money, but I am sure that he (and his agent) will look at that contract and say "That's what I deserve."

And based on the numbers, it's hard to argue that Igoudala deserves less than Deng.

Looking at PER, Igoudala has a 19.05 rating (6th best small forward in the NBA) while Deng has a 17.07 rating (15th). Adjusted +/- gives Igoudala a +4.95, while it gives Deng a +3.88.

And finally, WP48 gives Igoudala a score of .172 for the year. Unfortunately, I don't think Professor Berri has posted the year end WP48 for the Chicago Bulls. However, 13 games into the season Deng had a WP48 of .147. That's a pretty small sample size, so for now I'm not sure that we can rely on WP48 in this analysis.

Even setting aside WP48, Igoudala compares well to Deng. And I'm sure that Igoudala's agent is making sure that the Sixers know it. And it'll be a little difficult for the Sixers to claim that the Bulls are paying Deng for potential, since they've both in the league for four years and Igoudala (Jan. 1984) is less than 1.5 years older than Deng (April 1985).

The one factor weighing in the Sixers favor is that most people seem to consider this a down year for Luol Deng after his "break-out" performance last season. (Many chalk up his decline this season to the fact that he was injured for a good chunk of the season, missing 19 games). For instance, Deng posted a very strong .237 WP48 last season. The difference between Deng's peformance last season and this season mostly seems to be a function of his shooting percentage (with this past season being a return to closer to his career norm), but the perception that Deng is really the player that he was last season (and not the good, but not quite as good player from this season) might be the best hope the Sixers have for convincing Igoudala that he should accept less money than Deng received.

(You can look at Deng's averages here, and let me know in the comments if you'd interpret them differently.)

I very much want the Sixers to re-sign Igoudala, but it sure seems like it's going to be much harder than I'd hoped. First we've needed to deal with the emerging threat of offers from European teams to restricted free agents. Now we need to deal with the benchmark that Chicago's offer will set in Igoudala's mind. And in my mind, that means re-signing Igoudala to a reasonable contract just got a whole lot harder.

Thanks for nothing, Chicago.

[Update: Another take on the Igoudala situation I just came across, although it looks like it was posted two weeks ago.]

Thursday, July 31, 2008

Technical Difficulties

Well, not really. But I'm heading out to do some backcountry hiking in Denali National Park this weekend (leaving after work today) and preparation for the trip has taken up most of my free time the last couple of days so I haven't gotten around to my follow-up posts on the Sixers' off-season moves. I promise that I'll write those posts as soon as I get back from my trip.

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Looking at the Sixers' Roster

After the NBA Finals, my plan had been to take a look at the Sixers' roster using PER, WP48, ,and Adjusted +/- to determine where the Sixers stood and determine what their biggest needs were. Then I was going to propose ways for them to get better this off-season.

Obviously, I didn't get around to it right away. And in the meantime, the Sixers have made a few minor moves. (What? You wouldn't consider the Elton Brand signing a minor move...?)

That said, I thought it would still be a useful exercise, and now we'll also be able to evaluate the moves the Sixers have made this offseason in the context of the needs we identify.

For now, let's just look at the Sixers' roster as it stood at the end of last season (I've posted these numbers for the starters before-- in the posts comparing the Sixers to the Clippers):

(by the way-- if anyone knows how to import a spreadsheet into blogger, please let me know. Typing everything in neat columns isn't really my forte!)

PER Adj +/- WP48 Status

Andre Miller 18.51 -8.70 .167 signed
Willie Green 12.91 -0.75 -.019 signed
Andre Igoudala 19.05 4.95 .172 restricted free agent
Reggie Evans 11.05 2.75 .143 signed
Samuel Dalembert 15.62 0.73 .197 signed
Louis Williams 16.71 -7.68 .080 restricted free agent
Thaddeus Young 16.58 12.33 .099 signed
Jason Smith 10.76 -1.37 -.039 signed
Louis Amundson 7.59 n/a -.172 free agent
Herbert Hill n/a n/a n/a free agent
Shavlik Randolph 15.05 n/a .029 free agent
Kevin Ollie 9.81 n/a .017 free agent
Rodney Carney 12.15 1.54 -.032 signed
Calvin Booth n/a n/a -.033 signed

So looking at these numbers for the Sixers' roster at the start of the off-season, what do we see?

First, these stats don't agree on the value of our players. Some players rank high on PER, but low on adjusted +/-. Others low on PER, but high on WP48. So it isn't clear just from putting up these numbers how the roster should be evaluated. Unless, of course, you believe unreservedly in one metric, in which case things are much easier for you.

That said, I think it's a safe assumption that a player who rates well on all three metrics is a good player. On that basis, it seems clear that Andre Igoudala and Samuel Dalembert were the Sixers' cornerstones last season, ranking above average on all three metrics. That said, neither one really breaks into all-star territory on any of the three metrics.

As far as the other starters go, Andre Miller and Reggie Evans were either good (on two metrics each) or bad (on one metric each) depending on which metric you rely on. For now, I'll go with the majority of metrics and view the Sixers as being solid at both of these positions. Willie Green, on the other hand, is considered below average (or bad) by all three metrics.

Looking at the bench, we can see that Thaddeus Young had a very good rookie season. Beyond that, the results are mixed, at best. Louis Williams is either slightly above average (PER), slightly below average (WP48), or downright crappy. Rodney Carney was either below average (PER, WP48) or above average (adjusted +/-). Jason Smith was poor, despite the relatively positive reviews he received during the season. And the rest of the roster didn't really play enough to be evaluated, although Shavlik Randolph seems to be the most promising from the end of the bench crew.

In general, I think the numbers show that the Sixers' most glaring need was to improve the shooting guard position. Resigning Igoudala also was a clear off-season priority (although, as noted, not for all-star money). Simply accomplishing these two goals would have made the off-season a solid success, most likely ensuring a return to the playoffs. Beyond that, putting together a bench that inspires a bit more confidence was probably the next most urgent need. Resigning Louis Williams seems likely to help in that regard, but he's not nearly as certain to help as I think most people believe (including me before I did this analysis).

And I guess I should note that if you think adjusted +/- is clearly the best indicator, then strengthening the point guard position, and not the shooting guard position, is actually the Sixers' biggest need.

So that would have been the doctor's prescription for this off-season. In my next post, I'll take a look at how the Sixers' actual moves (so far) have matched (or not matched) these needs.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008


It's a great place to visit (well, I've only been to Spain and England, but I've heard good things...), but is that where you want to go play basketball? Apparently for Josh Childress the answer is yes.

For those who don't know who he is, Childress is a small forward who was the 6th man on the Atlanta Hawks last season, and he probably should have been a starter. As a restricted free agent, Childress didn't have many options in the NBA-- the Hawks could match any offer from an NBA team, and apparently they were also reluctant to agree to a sign and trade.

So apparently Childress (and his agent) decided to think outside the box. He signed with Olympiacos (Greece) for about 3 years and $20 million, but with the added perk that his team would pay his taxes. That contract is apparently the most lucrative current contract in Europe, and probably ends up being more (once perks are included) than he could have earned here. And if Childress wants to return to the NBA (where the Hawks will retain his rights as a restricted free agent), he has an opt-out clause in his contract after every season. Not a bad deal.

This deal caught my attention for two reasons (aside from the general "Oh my god, an American chose to play in Europe over America" angle). First, I think Childress is a good player (WP48 of .206), and one I would have loved to have seen in a Sixers uniform. Granted that getting Childress was highly unlikely based on the Sixers' salary cap situation after the Brand signing, but he was starter quality (if not even better) while viewed as a back-up, so I had a vague hope that we could somehow steal him.

Second, the Sixers are currently negotiating with their own restricted free agent, Andre Igoudala. I've been assuming that there was basically no chance that Igoudala was going anywhere (and Mo Cheeks seemed to be under the same assumption, as evidenced by the article posted in the comments to one of my previous posts). The decision of Childress to head overseas gave me pause, but only for a moment. As I noted, Childress received the most lucrative current contract in Europe. Igoudala is almost certainly going to end up with a bigger contract than the one given to Childress (although according to WP48 he might not deserve a bigger one), so it seems unlikely that a European team is going to make Igoudala a better offer than the one the Sixers will (have?) put on the table.

On a more global view, I don't think that the decision of Childress (and a few international players) to leave the NBA for European leagues is really the start of a trend, but I guess it's always possible. If so, then it's possible we could end up in a situation where the top tier players remain in the NBA, the middle tier players go to Europe as the "big fish" over there, and the lower tier players make up the bulk of the NBA rosters. In that scenario, I think everyone in the NBA suffers because the quality of play becomes much more uneven. European basketball gets stronger, but still remains a step below the NBA. All in all, I don't think that's a great result for basketball fans (but maybe that's just because I watch the NBA and not European basketball).

What do you think?

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Great for the Sixers. Great for Brand? -- Part III

The Sixers are clearly a better team with Elton Brand than they were without him. In my last two posts, I've investigated the related question of whether Elton Brand made the right decision (in terms of being on the better team) by choosing the Sixers over the Clippers.

What I've found so far is that both PER and Adjusted +/- indicate that Brand made the correct choice in signing with the Sixers. To finish my trilogy of posts on the subject, today I'm going to see what Wins Produced (WP48, to be precise) has to say about this analysis.

And related to Wins Produced, Professor Berri put up an article the other day on how Brand's presence will help the Sixers. In addition to being as interesting as all his posts, his post made it very easy for me to find all the Sixers' WP48 information in one location. Thanks, Professor!

(He also put one up that details how the Clippers acquisition of Camby helps make up for the loss of Brand, but how the Clippers still aren't a particularly good team.)

Professor Berri also put up a post in May that looked at the Clippers' season, and that article was my source for the Clippers' WP48 information. I got my Baron Davis numbers from here.

We begin, as always, with the point guards. As with PER (but quite different from adjusted +/-), WP48 ranked Baron Davis (.177) and Andre Miller (.167) as very comparable point guards, but with Davis having the slight edge. At shooting guard position, Cutino Mobley (.029) held a slight advantage over Willie Green (-0.019). Andre Igoudala (.172) was, once again, ranked substantially ahead of Al Thornton (-0.081) (Corey Maggette, no longer with the Clippers, had a WP48 of .132). Finally, Chris Kaman (.233) was ranked ahead of Samuel Dalembert (.197), with each player having the highest WP48 on their respective teams.

As a result, based on WP48 the Clippers have an advantage at three positions while the Sixers have an advantage at just one position. However, the Sixers hold an overall edge in WP48 of .517 to .358. Thus, while a position by position comparison favors the Clippers based on WP48, the overall strength of the "other" starting four (excluding Brand) favors the Sixers.

If you move Thaddeus Young (.099) into the starting line-up as the SF and shift Andre Igoudala to the SG as seems likely to happen this year, then all of a sudden the Sixers and Clippers are back to having an advantage at two positions each. And the Sixers overall WP48 increases to .635 (increasing their advantage from .159 to .277. Again, even if Thornton improves, there's no reason to believe that he'll improve more than Young does. And I also don't think there's any reason to believe that Eric Gordon will have a better rookie season than Thornton did (or than Willie Green did last season). So if you move Young into the Sixers' starting line-up, I'd call the comparison a clear win for the Sixers.

So what have we learned?

Based on the advanced statistical metrics, it looks like the Sixers' "other" starters (excluding Brand) are better than the Clippers' "other" starters. With PER, the Clippers and Sixers each hold an advantage at two positions. With adjusted +/-, the Sixers hold an advantage at three positions. With WP48, the Clippers hold an advantage at three positions (although the positional advantage disappears when Young is inserted into the Sixers' starting line-up as seems likely to happen this season). In all three cases, the overall strength of the Sixers "other" starters is stronger than the overall strength of the Clippers "other" starters.

The verdict: Elton Brand made the right call. Welcome to Philadelphia, Mr. Brand.

(One final note: I did the comparisons using all three metrics comparing Igoudala to Thornton as the small forwards and Green to Mobley as the shooting guards because that seemed like the most accurate way to do it. Considering how interchangeable the wing positions are at times, I could have compared Igoudala to Mobley and Green to Thornton. For PER and
adjusted +/-, this change would have made no difference. For WP48, this change would have benefited the Sixers. Igoudala was better than Mobley and Thornton on all three metrics. Green was better than Mobley on two out of the three metrics, and Green was also better than Thornton on all three metrics. Considering the relatively low regard in which I view Green as a player, I found it a little shocking that he "outscored" Thornton on all three metrics, especially when you consider how well-regarded Thornton appears to be among Clippers fans. Statistical measures aren't the be-all and end-all (and Thornton was just a rookie), but if I were a Clippers fan I think these results would make me seriously question my belief in Al Thornton as a savior of the franchise.)

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Great for the Sixers. Great for Brand? -- Part II

In my previous post, I compared the Sixers' and Clippers' "other" starting four (apart from Elton Brand) based on PER to try and see whether Brand made a mistake in deciding to come to the Sixers if he was just concerned about being a part of the better basketball team. Based strictly on the PER numbers, the decision to sign with the Sixers appeared to be the correct one.

Today I'll be checking to see if Adjusted +/- gives a different take on the situation.

You can find adjusted +/- stats at Sixers stats are here; Clippers stats are here. Baron Davis's stats from the Warriors come from here.

Looking at the point guards, Baron Davis (6.29) has by far the highest +/- of any of the eight "starting" players, while Andre Miller (-8.70) has by far the lowest. Compare that result to PER, which ranks Davis ahead of Miller, but only slightly. Also in contrast to PER, but this time in a good way for the Sixers, adjusted +/- ranks Samuel Dalembert (0.73) ahead of Chris Kaman (-2.23)

As expected with the shooting guards, Cutino Mobley (-3.63) and Willie Green (-0.75) both fall in the negative range, although surprisingly (at least to me) Green isn't in the realm of the terrible. On the other wing, Andre Igoudala (4.95) unsurprisingly trounces Al Thornton (-5.57). Corey Maggette (3.88) had a very respectable adjusted +/- (just as with PER), but he's no longer with the Clippers.

So based on adjusted +/-, the Sixers hold an advantage at three of the four positions. In addition, the Sixers' adjusted +/- total is -3.77 -- bad, but still better than the Clippers' overall total of -5.14.

As discussed with PER, this total ignores the likelihood that the Sixers slide Igoudala to the SG position and insert Thaddeus Young into the starting line-up at SF. Based on adjusted +/-, this change makes a huge difference in favor of the Sixers since Young had an extravagantly high adjusted +/- of 12.33 (not a typo; he had the third best adjusted +/- in the league last season). Putting Young in the starting line-up would leave the Sixers with their advantage at three positions, but it would increase the Sixers' overall total to 9.31-- increasing their advantage over the Clippers from 1.37 to 14.45.

I can't imagine Young will have such a high adjusted +/- next season. But even assuming he regresses towards an average performance and Thornton improves (as Clipper fans expect), it still seems like the Sixers come out ahead in this analysis. And I don't think anyone should expect Eric Gordon to put up better numbers this year than Cutino Mobley did last year, so I really don't see the addition of Gordon making much of a difference to this analysis either. I guess it's possible that if you just say Thornton improves and Green remains in the starting line-up than the Clippers can overcome the 1.37 adjusted +/- difference that exists between the starting line-ups based on what happened last season. But then again, we could make any assumption we want about how people will perform next year (after all, anything can happen) if we want to reach a certain result. So I think that we should just stick with the numbers from last season for now.

I will say that I was shocked to see that Miller did so poorly in adjusted +/-. He's generally considered a very good, if not quite top tier, point guard. Watching him play, he always seems to be doing positive things. In terms of the other advanced stats, he ranks well in PER, and I know that he also does well under Wins Produced (which I'll look at tomorrow). Hmm. Definitely something to think about.

(One side note-- Reggie Evans had an adjusted +/- of 2.75 last season, third best on the team. He'll most likely get reduced minutes to some extent with the arrival of Brand, but if he gets the vast majority of the back-up big man minutes (in a three man rotation of Brand, Dalembert, and Evans) then the Sixers will be very solid up front according to adjusted +/-.)

So what have we learned so far about whether Brand made a good basketball decision to sign with the Sixers over the Clippers?

According to PER, the Sixers and Clippers each have an advantage at two positions, but the Sixers are stronger overall.

Adjusted +/- leans even more in the Sixers favor, giving the Sixers an advantage at three positions, as well as an overall advantage.

Check back tomorrow to see what Wins Produced has to say on the matter.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Great for the Sixers. Great for Brand? -- Part I

There's no question that the Sixers are a much better team with Elton Brand than without him. Somewhat lost in the hubbub around Brand's decision to come to the Sixers is whether the move is good for Brand in a basketball sense-- that is, are Brand's chances of winning with the Sixers better than they would have been if he had stayed with the revamped Clippers.

The one place that this question has been most frequently raised (the only place, really, that I've come across it) is on the Clipper fan blogs, notably Clips Nation. From the perspective of many Clippers fans, Brand went to a situation with the Sixers that is decidedly worse than the one he would have had in L.A.

In particular, I noticed that Clipper fans were saying that the "other" starting four on the Clippers was clearly better than the "other" starting four on the Sixers. I wasn't quite clear on how they were coming to this conclusion, so I asked for clarification in the comments to this thread. I noted that going solely by Player Efficiency Rating, the Sixers and Clippers each seemed to have better players at two of the four positions, but overall the Sixers scored higher. I got some interesting and thoughtful responses from some of their posters. I didn't necessarily agree with their conclusions, but they definitely were well thought out and had plenty of merit.

So, first, I suggest you go click on the links above and read the exchange there (particularly the responses from Citizen Zhiv and Clipper Steve). Second, I thought I'd reproduce my side of the argument related to PER here, and expand it to also include the results based on looking at Adjusted +/- (Part II) and Wins Produced.

So, setting aside Elton Brand, do the Sixers or Clippers have the better starting line-up? To start with, I'll assume that the Sixers start the same players at the other four positions as last season-- Andre Miller, Willie Green, Andre Igoudala, and Samuel Dalembert. I'll also assume that the Clippers start the same players as last year, only with the recently signed Baron Davis at point guard.

(Note- these next three paragraphs are copied from my comments at Clips Nation. I've put changes in brackets.)
Based on PER [(found here; average PER for the league is 15.00)], Baron Davis (19.87) is slightly ahead of Andre Miller (18.51), Willie Green (12.91) and Cutino Mobley (11.56) are both pretty bad, but Green ranks slightly higher, Andre Igoudala (19.05) is far ahead of any Clipper SF (Maggette was at 19.43, but he’s not a Clipper anymore; Al Thornton was at 12.71), and Chris Kaman (17.62) gets the nod over Samuel Dalembert (15.62).

That gives PER totals of Clippers 61.76 and Sixers 66.09. So according to PER, the Sixers and Clippers each have an advantage at two positions, but the Sixers have the overall advantage. If you assume the Sixers will start Thaddeus Young (16.58) at SF this year and play Igoudala at SG, then the Sixers and Clippers still each have an advantage at two positions, but the Sixers’ overall advantage increases by 3.67 PER.

If [Clippers fans are] assuming that Thornton is going to improve, I don’t see any reason to assume that he’ll improve more than Young. If [Clipper fans are] assuming that Eric Gordon will make the difference (i.e. he’ll play SG and be better than Willie Green), then that doesn’t take into account the plan for the Sixers to switch Igoudala to that position (or my belief that Gordon is unlikely to do any better than Thornton’s rookie PER which was less than Green’s PER last season).

So, all in all, PER indicates that the Sixers have the stronger starting line-up, although it's a close call in many ways.

I think the response of the Clippers fans (and clink on this link to read their full comments if you haven't already) can be summed up as (1) PER is not the be-all, end-all metric for player evaluation (agreed!), (2) the difference between Kaman/Davis and Dalembert/Miller is actually much greater than PER indicates, (3) Thornton is much better than PER indicates, and (4) the Clippers have more (and better) shot creators, and that makes a big difference in close games and playoff games.

The first three responses are all basically subsets of the same argument that PER has flaws. I don't disagree with this point, but I'm not entirely convinced that their views on the relative abilities of the players involved is the correct one (notably, I'm not nearly as impressed with Thornton as they are). As for the fourth response, I'd say-- yes, the Clippers have better creators overall, but I think this advantage is maybe a tad overblown in the importance given to it relative to all the other aspects of a basketball game.

Am I right or are they? Who knows. You can let me know what you think in the comments.

And what does Adjusted +/- say about this debate? Check out my next post to find out.

(And since we're talking Clippers, I just saw in this post at Clips Nation that Marcus Camby has been traded to the Clippers from the Nuggets. And he was traded for basically nothing-- a trade exception and the ability to swap 2nd round picks. Wow, what a steal.)

Wednesday, July 9, 2008

We got him! We got him!

Wow. We got Elton Brand. Woo-hoo!

For the details, go here.

And for a positive assessment of what this means for the Sixers, go here:

Are the Philadelphia 76ers, as presently constituted, good enough to win the East in the 2008-09 season? Doubtful.

But are the Sixers good enough to win a playoff series or two and scare the bejeezus out of Detroit and Boston? You bet. And if they add a shooter and get another year of growth from all their young studs, will they be in position to win the conference in 2010? Absolutely.

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

The Elton Brand mirage (?)I

If the Sixers were able to sign Elton Brand, I can't even begin to describe how happy I'd be. He's a great player, plus he fits the Sixers need for a strong low-post presence.

I was in the middle of writing that despite how excited I'd be and the flurry of articles today about the possibility, I seriously doubted that the Sixers were in real contention for his services. Then I went to to try and find links to the articles that I'd read on the topic earlier today, and I came across this article:
NBA front-office sources told on Tuesday that Brand has informed the Sixers that he will accept a five-year deal worth an estimated $82 million and spurn what was presumed to be a slam-dunk return to the Los Angeles Clippers to hook up with Clipper-to-be Baron Davis.
I Just, wow.

(I'm speechless)

(As a side note, all the articles from earlier in the day have been replaced by updated versions that include this more recent information, so no links to them. Sorry.)

As the articles from earlier today hinted (and this most recent article stated), the Sixers are creating more room under the salary cap to make this signing possible by trading Rodney Carney, Calvin Booth, and a first round pick to the Timberwolves for a second round pick and/or a part of a trade exception (depending on which article you read-- the trade has only been agreed to in principle at this point). It seems odd to trade away players for basically nothing, but I wasn't too bothered by the trade because I haven't been very impressed by Carney and hopefully the Sixers first round pick won't be a good one in coming years. If this trade actually makes it possible for the Sixers to sign Brand, I'll be one happy camper.

If I'm a Clippers fan, then I'm definitely one unhappy camper. And I'd probably feel a little used. After all, when Brand opted out of the last year of his contract, he talked about how he planned on resigning with the Clippers and was opting out in part to give the Clippers more payroll flexibility so they could get him some better support. So what happens? The Clippers go out and reach an agreement in principle with Baron Davis, using some of the money that could have been used for Brand, and Brand (apparently) agrees to sign with another team for less than the Clippers could have originally offered him (but more than the current offer). And less than the Warriors are offering. Huh.

(If you're keeping track, the reported offers are: Sixers, 5 years, $82 milliion; Clippers, 5 years, $75 million; Warriors, 5 years, $90 million.)

I guess we'll find out what's really going on tomorrow. And in the mean time, for a well-balanced, let's-not-get-all-hysterical-quite-yet take on the situation from the perspective of a Clippers fan, you can go here. For a Sixers fan, this paragraph is probably the key insight:

Look, we don't have any more information from Elton today than we did last Monday night. It's a little nerve-wracking, I'll grant you that. But we suspected most of this would happen from the start, didn't we? We suspected Philly would try to get in the game. We suspected (after the first day or so), that Elton would take his time and listen to everyone, if only to do his due diligence. Did Philly shed contracts in order to squeeze out a bigger offer to EB because of 'smoke signals coming from Brand's teepee' as John Hollinger so politically incorrectly put it? Maybe, maybe not. Remember, they've got their sights set on Josh Smith too, and a bigger offer there is just as relevant as a bigger offer to Brand. They'll offer the money to Brand first for two reasons - one, he's better. But more importantly, he's unrestricted and can answer with a simple 'yes' or 'no'. With Smith, if they make the offer and he accepts it, Atlanta has 7 days to match, which could tie up Philly's money for 7 days. So an offer to Smith precludes an offer to Brand. So you go after Brand first, whether or not it's a long shot.

The idea that the Sixers have a more exciting team for Brand to join just doesn't ring true. Andre Miller? EB's been there and done that, and even if he thought Andre was a great piece of the puzzle there, this is pretty clearly his last season in Philly. So I hardly see Miller as a big draw. Does Elton want to get into the Eastern Conference where he can make the all star team and the playoffs without breaking a sweat? Maybe. But I fail to see the Sixers as having a more promising future than the Clippers with Baron Davis.

(I disagree that the Clippers have a brighter future than the Sixers, but everyone thinks a little more highly of their own team's future)

Friday, July 4, 2008

Say hello to Josh Smith

Before diving into the players available in free agency, I was hoping to get a post up looking at the current players on the Sixers roster. After all, its hard to know who you should go after in free agency unless you have a good sense of what your needs are.

It has quickly become apparent to me, however, that following that strategy might mean I don't get around to commenting on the major free agency story (involving the Sixers). In case you've missed it, the Sixers are involved in a full-court courtship of Josh Smith, a power forward on the Atlanta Hawks.

Smith is a restricted free agent, which means that the Hawks have the right to match any offer. The Hawks have said that they'll match any offer, but no one knows if that's really the case. Regardless, it doesn't seem to have deterred the Sixers from pursuing him. (Although last year it sure seemed to deter teams from making offers to some restricted free agents.) Based on the articles linked above, it appears the Sixers plan to offer Smith a 5 year, $67 million deal.

That's a good chunk of change. But is he worth it?

Let me start off by admitting that I don't think I've really ever had the chance to watch Josh Smith play. Of course, that's not going to stop me from commenting on him....

Off the bat, he's known for his athleticism-- he's a ferocious finisher and top-tier weakside shot-blocker. He's not particularly known for his handle or shooting, although he can apparently step out to the three-point line with some success. He's definitely not known as being a back-to-the-basket scorer, so don't expect him to solve that weakness for the Sixers. Qualitatively, he seems to fit in with many of the current Sixers-- athletic players who can play disruptive defense (even if not tremendous straight-up man-to-man) and get out on the break, but aren't particularly strong in a half-court set.

That's the general description. Now, what do the numbers tell us?

Looking at the basic boxscore stats, Smith averaged 17.2 points, 8.2 rebounds, and 2.8 blocks last season. He did, however, have a whole bunch of turnovers. Going further, there are three main "advanced" stats combining the basic box score stats in a variety of ways that get the most attention-- Wins Produced (which I've used a bunch over the past year), Adjusted +/-, and John Hollinger's Player Efficiency Rating (PER), so let's look at all three.

In terms of Wins Produced, Smith was the eleventh most productive power forward last season, producing 6.7 wins. However, that ranking seems to be a bit misleading. Smith accumulated much of his wins produced total because he played so many minutes. His WP48 was .110, not so spectacular when you consider that average WP48 is .100. For comparison purposes, Reggie Evans ranked 14th with 5.6 wins produced, but his WP48 was .143. So Wins Produced indicates that Smith was above average, but not by that much.

In terms of Adjusted +/-, Smith was the tenth best power forward last season (and 35th in the league), scoring a +5.14. For comparison purposes, Thaddeus Young was the best Sixer last season with a +12.33 (third in the league) and Andre Igoudala had a +4.95 (38th in the league). So Adjusted +/- shows Smith to be a good player, but not necessarily an elite player.

In terms of PER, Smith was the eleventh best power forward last season, scoring a 19.08 (average is 15.00). Kevin Garnett was the best power forward at 25.30, while Reggie Evans clocked in with an 11.05. The top Sixer, at any position, was Andre Igoudala with a 19.05. So by PER, Smith is again a good player, but not necessarily an elite player. However, he would be the Sixers' best player according to PER.

So what's the verdict?

The advanced stats tell us that based on current production, Smith is probably around the tenth best power forward in the NBA. That's good, and he'd definitely help the Sixers win more games, but that isn't necessarily elite. And for $67 million over 5 seasons, I think the Sixers probably need to find someone a little closer to elite. Of course, Smith is also only 22 years old and has apparently gotten better every year he's been in the league. If he keeps improving (really, if he just improves slightly), then signing him to this contract would probably be a good investment.

All in all, a very close call. Good thing that I'm not the one who needs to make these decisions. I just get to make snarky comments about the decisions that are made.

What's your verdict?

Tuesday, July 1, 2008

First the draft, now free agency

Well, as Louis pointed out in the comments, no one drafted Mike Green. I hope the Sixers take a look at him for summer league, but somehow I doubt it. My other "sleeper," Joey Dorsey, was selected in the second round and eventually ended up on the Rockets (after being selected 33rd by the Trailblazers). He's a big defensive and rebounding presence, and I think he's going to have a successful NBA career. But probably not with the Rockets, since they already have Luis Scola, Carl Landry (if he resigns), and Chuck Hayes at power forward.

But who cares about the draft anymore? Free agency is here!

And things have gotten off to a wild start, with Baron Davis reportedly agreeing to terms with the LA Clippers (and Elton Brand supposedly ready to resign as well).

With the Clippers having already made their move, the Grizzlies and Sixers are the two teams with substantial space remaining under the salary cap. So hopefully that puts the Sixers in a good position to sign players at a reasonable price.

What's the best option for the Sixers? I don't know, but I'll take a stab at trying to figure it out over the next couple of days.

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

I heart Mike Green

I know, I know. The draft happens on Thursday night. That's why I feel the need to make at least one draft-related post. Not really related to the Sixers...but possibly.

When I went to the Great Alaska Shootout this past year, I had a chance to watch Butler play. And after watching Butler play (and win the tournament), I tried to watch them whenever I noticed that they had a televised game.

The player who stood out to me every time I watched them play was their point guard, Mike Green. He didn't do anything flashy, but every time Butler needed a basket he seemed to find a way to get to the hole and score. He also seemed to come up with a ton of rebounds for a guard. I have no idea what the boxscore showed, but he definitely stood out to me.

As it turns out, he also stood out to a bunch of other people and was named the Horizon League Player of the Year. Still, not a player I expected to get much draft press, so I was pleasantly surprised to see him mentioned twice in the past week in a very positive fashion.

First, TrueHoop linked to an article about Green's workouts with the Pacers (and other teams), mentioning in particular that he had been shooting the three-pointer well (he hadn't been a big three point shooter in college from what I understand/remember, although Butler as a team relied heavily on the three-point shot).

Then I came across an even more pleasant surprise. In his article ranking the pro potential of college guards, John Hollinger ranked Green as the fifth best point guard prospect based on his statistical analysis, touting him as a fringe first round selection. Based on his comments, I think it's fair to say that Hollinger was surprised by this result, and also expected his readers to be surprised:

Mike Green, Butler (12.75)

Who? The four-year player from Butler is on the fence to even get drafted, but the numbers say he has a good chance at becoming a decent pro.

The Sixers don't have a second round choice this year (they traded it to the Jazz at some point) and the sixteenth pick in the draft is probably too early, but I really hope that the Sixers invite Green to summer league if he isn't drafted. Quite frankly, he reminds me a bunch of Andre Miller: unassuming, doesn't make moves that elicit "oohs" and "aahs," but scores important baskets and makes other big plays that help his team win. Louis Williams is the Sixers' heir apparent at point guard, but I think Green could become a solid pro and contributor to a winning team.

Or, at the very least, I hope he gets the chance to prove that he can. And that he gets that chance with the Sixers.

Give me one more chance, baby. I promise I'll do better.

Well, I'm not sure I'm going to make a promise, but I am going to try. I started this blog last year on June 15, more than a year ago. And through December, I managed to post multiple times a week. And, at times, I like to think some of those posts were even pretty good.

Obviously, I've slacked off a bit.

I'll probably never get back to posting as much as I did when I first started, but I'm going to try and start posting a little more frequently again. My goal- let's say two or three posts a week.

Oddly, I've discovered that I actually enjoy posting more during the offseason. I chalk this preference up to two factors. First, I like the speculation that goes on in the offseason. Anything is possible, and it's a chance to explore different scenarios. Second, and related, I just don't find it interesting to post about every game that goes on during the season, especially when I can't watch all of them. I don't think you can draw big conclusions from a single game (or even a few games), so writing about the games often just involves me regurgitating what happened and maybe highlighting a stat I found interesting. I just don't have it in me to write as if every game is the rapture or the apocalypse.

If you read my posts, I hope you've enjoyed them. And I hope you'll continue to enjoy them moving forward.

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

The second pick in the draft

The NBA Draft lottery was held tonight, and the Chicago Bulls ended up with the number one pick. The Miami Heat ended up with the second pick. From all accounts, this year's draft is dominated by power forward Michael Beasley (from Kansas State) and point guard Derrick Rose (from Memphis). So the big guessing game over the next month will be which of these two players Chicago will choose.

My question is: why settle for one?

The Miami Heat are looking to get back into contention quickly. With Dwayne Wade on the roster, they really can't afford to take a long-view (he becomes a free agent in 2010, and presumably he won't resign if they aren't competitive at that point). Either Rose or Beasley (or both) might become franchise players a few years down the road, but will they be game changers next year or the year after? Hard to say.

With that as the backdrop, what are the Heat's needs? Admittedly, I don't watch that many of their games, but I think it's safe to say that Wade, Marion, and Haslem form a solid shooting guard/small-forward/power-forward trifecta. Miami needs a quality center and point guard.

What about the Bulls? Coming into this season, many people (including myself) expected them to compete for the Eastern Conference championship. After this (disappointing) season, the sense I get from reading Blog-a-Bull is that Chicago fans would be willing to take a step backwards next season in order to create a "higher ceiling" for the team going forward. At the same time, the Bulls do have a number of solid players on their roster, even if they don't have a superstar. For big men, they have Drew Gooden, Tyrus Thomas, and Joakim Noah. Gooden has already proven that he can be an important contributor on a finals-worthy team (Cleveland, last season), Thomas is still viewed as having tremendous potential, and Noah had a very solid rookie season. At guard, the Bulls rotation is headed by Kirk Hinrich, Ben Gordon, and Larry Hughes.

I think the Bulls should offer Gooden, Hinrich, and either Hughes or Thomas to the Heat for the second pick in the draft. The Bulls most likely get worse next year as Rose and Beasley both struggle as rookies, but they'll have a very talented nucleus of Rose, Gordon, Luol Deng, Beasley, and Noah. And they'll all be young with a chance to grow together.

Would the Heat make this trade? It depends. In theory, it would meet their needs for a point guard and center that could immediately step in and help them be competitive. However, while he's been highly regarded in the past and played on Team USA, Hinrich had a very disappointing season this past year (the administrator at Blog-a-Bull considers him to be average at best). Gooden, for his part, is more of a power forward than a center, although I don't think there are many centers in the NBA at the moment who he can't guard. If the Bulls sweeten the pot by adding Thomas or Hughes (or both, or any other player the Heat want that isn't part of the nucleus I mention above), then I'd think the Heat would at least need to think about it. But maybe my valuation of the players on the Bulls is still too influenced by last season rather than the season that actually just happened.

Friday, May 16, 2008

Lakers-Jazz and homecourt advantage

I commented on this post over at a Utah Jazz blog earlier today which touched on the always contentious issue of refereeing favoring the home team. It was originally supposed to be a brief comment, but it grew as I was writing it. I guess I just tend to be verbose... Anyway, since it ended up being more of a post than a comment, I decided I'd also post it here (with a few minor modifications).

Assuming I’m reading the tables correctly (always a big assumption!), the link to basketball-reference shows that the Jazz’s opponents get 23.1 fouls called against them on the road (i.e., in SLC) and 23.0 called against them at home—in other words, no difference. The Jazz, on the other hand, get called for 24.8 fouls on the road and 23.3 fouls at home. That seems to indicate that either the refs do let the Jazz get away with a little more contact at home (1.5 fouls worth) or the Jazz simply move their feet better at home. In either case, the Jazz’s opponents do not seem to benefit from being at home in the same way.

More interesting to me is where on the court the fouls seem to occur. When the Jazz are at home, their opponents shoot 27.9 free throw attempts. When the Jazz are on the road, their opponents shoot 32.3 free throw attempts. That’s five additional free throw attempts, but only 1.5 additional fouls (from which I would expect 3 additional free throw attempts at most). So not only do the Jazz get called for less fouls at home (or more on the road, whichever way you prefer to look at it), but they also seem to commit those fouls further away from the basket (i.e. not in the act of shooting). A more energized, aggressive team (the way a team often plays at home) could certainly explain this difference, but I found it interesting.

So the Jazz seem to get some homecourt advantage related to the reffing (or at least the fouls called), but what about the Lakers?

Basketball-reference shows that the Lakers’ opponents get 23.3 fouls called against them on the road (i.e., in LA) and 21.8 called against them at home. The Lakers, on the other hand, get called for 20.6 fouls on the road and 20.7 fouls at home—in other words no difference. That seems to indicate that the refs do not let the Lakers get away with more contact at home. However, it does seem to indicate that the refs let the Lakers’ opponents get away with less contact in LA than at home (1.5 fouls worth). The Lakers’ opponents do not seem to benefit from being at home in the same way.

In terms of where the fouls are called, the Lakers shoot 29.2 free throw attempts at home and 26.1 free throw attempts on the road. This seems perfectly consistent with getting 1.5 additional fouls called against their opponents at home. The Lakers’ opponents shoot 24.3 free throw attempts in LA and 24.4 free throw attempts at home, again consistent with the number of fouls called. Now I’m even more curious about what changes in how the Jazz play defense at home vs. on the road.

Long story short: Both the Jazz and Lakers appear to benefit from the refs’ calls at home, but they benefit in very different ways. The Jazz appear to benefit because they are called differently in SLC. The Lakers appear to benefit because their opponents are called diffently in LA.

It would be interesting to know whether all so-called “physical” teams benefit in the same way as the Jazz while all so-called “finesse” teams benefit in the same way as the Lakers. Unfortunately, I'm too lazy to go through the whole league sorting teams into these categories.

Anyone else want to do it?

Sunday, April 27, 2008

Back to Earth (Sixers-Pistons Game 4)


The Sixers had a fairly substantial lead at halftime (46-36), but even at that point this game didn't have the same feel as the last one. The shots the Sixers were hitting seemed to have a much higher degree of difficulty, and the defensive rotations didn't seem to be as crisp.

Then, after halftime, the Pistons stepped up the defensive pressure a little bit more, and the Sixers' offense (which looked so good in game 3) ground completely to a halt. The Pistons had basically eliminated the halftime lead within the first two minutes of the second half, and the Sixers never managed to regain control. Rasheed Wallace draining threes (4-7 for the game, 3-3 in the third quarter), the Pistons asserting a huge advantage on the offensive glass (15 to 9), and Richard Hamilton getting hot in the fourth quarter (7-21 for the game, but 6-8 in the fourth quarter) didn't really help our chances.

Final score: Sixers 84, Pistons 93.

It also didn't help our chances that Igoudala was again completely overmatched by Tayshaun Prince. Quite frankly, it didn't really look like the other Pistons were giving Prince much help, and Igoudala still couldn't get anything going. He did have 6 rebounds and 5 assists, but he shot only 4-16 and had 5 turnovers. Not a very pretty boxscore line. Igoudala is a nice player, but I sure hope that his performance in this series convinces people not to overpay him this summer.

Oh well. At least Igoudala had a monster dunk early in the game that we can watch over and over again on youtube. (No one has posted the video to youtube yet, but I'm sure someone will post it soon...)

Friday, April 25, 2008

Go Sixers! (Sixers-Pistons Game 3)

Wow. Sure glad I got to watch that game. I got home mid-way through the second quarter. The Sixers were up two at the time (I think), and it just got better from there. Final score: Sixers 95, Pistons 75.

Even before the Sixers broke the game open, I was thinking that the Sixers looked like they were playing within themselves. On offense, they weren't relying on contested fadeaways or circus shots to score. They were running there offense and getting good looks out of it. On defense, they weren't getting lucky deflections or frantically recovering on penetration. They were staying in front of the Pistons and making solid rotations on passes.

In other words, they looked like a team that completely belonged.

Why do I mention this? When an underdog is beating a favorite, the upset is often the result of a team that is playing above its head -- getting every lucky break, getting every loose ball, hitting shots as the shot clock exires, etc. I often think those games are frantic, and in the end I'm still left with the distinct impression from watching the game that the better team (the favorite) didn't win. Watching the Sixers tonight, I never once got the sense that the better team wasn't winning. If I hadn't known that the Pistons were favored, I would never have guessed that fact based on what I saw. I didn't see the previous games in the series to compare them with this one, but after tonight's game I'm actually believing that the Sixers can win this series. Of course, the Pistons won't have 23 turnovers every game...

The one negative from tonight's game? Igoudala still can't seem to find his rhythm offensively. Quite frankly, he looked like the worst player on the floor tonight. I know that the Pistons are gearing their defense to stop him, but that doesn't explain how bad he looked. Still, I'm feeling pretty happy right now, so no more negative comments from me.

Added bonus: Henry Abbott (TrueHoop) liveblogged from the game tonight.