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December 31, 2008

Like their Governor, Illinois Does the Unexpected

Filed under: Uncategorized — John Gasaway @ 2:32 am

If today’s reeling newspaper field still harbors within its tattered precincts at least one editor with an ounce of tabloid juice in his or her veins, then surely we will see this out there somewhere this morning: “BLAGO TO SENATE: DROP DEAD.”

Say this for Rod Blagojevich, he provides marvelous spectator sport. Where more “conventional” or “sentient” politicians would resign when indicted on federal corruption charges, Blagojevich has in effect donned a Prussian helmet, closed the trap door, and said: come get me. In keeping with that spirit, yesterday he had the chutzpah to appoint someone to fill Barack Obama‘s Senate seat, despite the fact that he’d already been told that the Senate would not seat anyone he appointed.  

The governor has long made plain his disdain for downstate Illinois (note to aspiring governors: not a good move to make plain your disdain for 75 percent of your state’s territory), but if by chance he were to swing by Champaign during this his August of ’74, he’ll see a team that likewise enjoys confounding the conventional wisdom.

With their 71-67 overtime win at Purdue last night, Illinois mastered the art of inverting the story line. The stop-the-presses news about this team, as you may have heard by now, is that this year their shots are actually going in. That particular piece of news was lost in translation last night, however, as Bruce Weber‘s group managed to win a rather unsightly Big Ten scrum despite scoring less than a point per trip.

They won because they deprived the Boilermakers of two things they hold dear: takeaways and Robbie Hummel. In a 45-minute game with 75 possessions against what last year was one of the best teams in the country at creating turnovers, Illinois gave the ball away just six times. That nets out to a turnover percentage of eight. Eight: a number so small you can spell it. Not that the Illini translated all those shots into points, of course. But the lack of quick baskets for Purdue off of their opponent’s turnovers was huge.

So, too, was Weber’s ability to keep the ball out of Hummel’s hands. The sophomore from Valparaiso attempted just seven shots and scored seven points. On paper the Boilers have other weapons, good ones. But on the floor it’s striking how tentative those other weapons suddenly become when the possessions aren’t being funneled through Hummel.

So here are the Illini, 13-1 and looking weirdly robust. If you need a Unified Field Theory of Illinois, here you go: Shaun Pruitt is gone. Thus free throw accuracy is way, way up (duh), and defensive rebounding is way, way down (ditto).

At this point I should waggle my Prospectus finger sternly at the Illini and proclaim that they’re doomed–doomed I say!–because of their weak efforts on the defensive glass. But let’s be honest. If you’re going to suck at defensive rebounding, the place to do it is clearly the Big Ten, where 11 out of 11 coaches surveyed are deathly afraid of going after offensive boards, for fear of allowing points in transition. Sure, there’s a ceiling for Illinois (more on that directly) but, in a league where no one crashes the offensive glass Carolina-style, it will not be their poor defensive rebounding that holds them back. Georgetown, for example, is doing weird and wonderful things in the burgeoning field of outstanding defense without rebounds. The Illini appear to be taking notes.

The real change has been on offense, where a number of small unexpected events have converged to produce yet another surprise: points. First, Mike Davis has made a freshman-to-sophomore leap that, while it may look small compared to the metamorphoses uncorked thus far in the Big Ten by Manny Harris and Evan Turner, has had a huge impact on his team. With the 6-9 Davis making mid-range jumpers, space has been created for the always lurching yet strangely accurate Mike Tisdale to make, as chance would have it, mid-range jumpers. That in turn has freed up the perimeter shooters. Again, the news here is simply that Illinois has perimeter shooters: Demetri McCamey, Trent Meacham, and, as of ten days ago, Kentucky transfer Alex Legion.

For the past two seasons the knock on the Illini has been a lack of talent due to poor recruiting. Well, they still have the same talent, Legion notwithstanding. It’s just that said talent is playing better. 

So seeing Meacham and Davis run the exact same pick-and-rolls and pick-and-pops that were being run four years ago by Deron Williams and James Augustine must be both exhilarating and bittersweet for Illini fans with memories of the 2005 Final Four team. Exhilarating because this stuff is working. (When did Meacham become such a mid-range auteur?) Bittersweet because, well, Meacham and Davis of course aren’t Williams and Augustine. As I said, a ceiling. But let’s talk about the real news here: Illinois is better than anticipated.

BONUS big-upset note! This was not a good night for teams that made their bones this season beating Davidson. On the same night that the Boilers fell, Oklahoma dropped a 96-88 decision at Arkansas. Blake Griffin notched a 21-13 dub-dub and Willie Warren scored 35 points thanks to 7-of-11 shooting on his threes–and yet still the Sooners lost. The Razorbacks went to the line an astounding 43 times and OU was absolutely hammered on their defensive glass, as the home team rebounded 48 percent of their own misses. I was already on the (radio) record that Oklahoma at this point is merely a lottery-pick-blessed default as a highly-ranked team. The real unknown here is Arkansas. They lost at Missouri State (a team that is now 7-5) and haven’t played anyone else of note. Until now. Big Prospectus kudos to Michael Washington, who recorded a 24-11 dub-dub on 10-of-12 shooting from the field in just 26 foul-plagued minutes.

December 30, 2008

Rose Garden Report: vs. Boston

Filed under: Uncategorized — Kevin Pelton @ 11:42 pm

Boston 23, Portland 13 (end first quarter) – Hello from Portland, where the Trail Blazers are hosting the Boston Celtics. A little bit of the luster was lost from this matchup when the Blazers announced before the game that Brandon Roy would sit out after straining his right hamstring in Saturday’s win over Toronto.

Portland clearly missed Roy on offense during the first quarter, a situation exacerbated by the fact that the Celtics are pretty good defensively (this is the kind of unique insight you get only at Basketball Prospectus). The Blazers shot 33.3 percent from the field and had six turnovers, meaning they scored at a rate of 59.1 points per 100 possessions. Yikes. At the other end, Boston took advantage of Portland switching the pick-and-roll to create mismatches with Steve Blake defending Paul Pierce. Pierce’s eight points lead all scorers.

Boston 45, Portland 40 (halftime): The Blazers have found an offense the Celtics simply cannot stop: 6-on-5. They came out of the huddle with 9.0 seconds left in the half with six players on the court and officials missed the violation. Naturally, Greg Oden was wide open in the paint, touch passing to Travis Outlaw for a dunk. Because the referees did not make the call until after the bucket, they were forced to let it stand. Boston was still awarded a technical foul shot.

That aside, the Blazers got going on offense in the second quarter, scoring 27 points on 22 possessions–more than double their first-quarter Offensive Rating. Steve Blake is the team’s leading scorer at the half with 13 points on 5-of-7 shooting (3-of-4 from downtown). Besides Blake, Portland isn’t shooting particularly well, but second-chance points and free throws have helped make up for it. The turnover battle reversed itself completely in the second quarter, the Celtics coughing it up eight times and the Blazers just once. Boston’s focus wasn’t there in the period, and even without Roy Portland is deep enough to make the Celtics pay for those lapses.

Portland 64, Boston 64 (end third quarter): This is a game. The Blazers are feeling good about life without Brandon Roy right now and believe they can compete with the Celtics–rightfully so. Portland has done an excellent job defensively, limiting Boston to 41 points over the last two quarters. The Celtics are shooting 41.5 percent from the field and have gotten virtually no production from anyone outside the Big Four (now including Rajon Rondo).

The Blazers ended the third quarter with a twin 7-footer lineup of Greg Oden and Joel Przybilla together up front. I was thinking about that possibility the other day, but didn’t think it would have enough quickness to survive, especially in transition defense. For this brief stretch–against an opposing front line of Big Baby Davis and Kendrick Perkins–it not only survived but thrived. Przybilla and Oden had three-point plays on consecutive possessions as Portland took a short-lived lead before settling for a tie going to the fourth.

Portland 83, Boston 80 (2:08 4th): Another game for me at the Rose Garden, another exciting finish. The Blazers are clinging to a three-point line here with Paul Pierce headed to the free-throw line. Down the stretch, Portland is really feeling the absence of Brandon Roy. Without him, there is no clear option for the Blazers on offense. They’ve had success going to both Greg Oden and LaMarcus Aldridge in the post, but isolation plays have not worked. Boston, conversely, knows exactly where to go on offense. It’s to Pierce, frequently using a screen to try to force a switch and create a mismatch. Pierce has a game-high 22 points. Nicolas Batum would be the best option defensively against Pierce, but the Blazers need Travis Outlaw’s offense right now, so Batum is on the bench.

Portland 91, Boston 86 (final): Now that is a big-time victory. The Blazers got a remarkable play from Travis Outlaw, who took the ball to the bucket with the shot clock running down and dunked over reigning Defensive Player of the Year Kevin Garnett to make it a four-point game. From there, despite a Paul Pierce three-point play, Portland making its free throws was enough to secure a victory.

What you wouldn’t have expected to say going into this game was that the Blazers won it with defense. Boston was limited to 86 points in about as many possessions and could get nothing going from beyond the arc (3-of-14, including an Eddie House airball with a chance to tie the game in the final 20 seconds) while shooting 40.3 percent from the field. We saw tonight what this team is capable of defensively anchored by a long, athletic frontcourt.

It’s good to see Greg Oden contributing and looking like he’s enjoying himself on the court. Oden had 13 points, 11 rebounds and three assists tonight; Portland was +12 with Oden on the floor. He’s put together back-to-back strong games and is making progress in his development.

Boston closes out its West Coast swing at 1-3, dampening the talk of a 70-win season. As much as the Celtics were locked in during their lengthy winning streak, losses to Golden State and a Blazers squad minus its star player have to be considered disappointments. These aren’t major concerns, mind you, but they do serve as a reminder that the Lakers aren’t the only elite team whose concentration slips from time to time.

Barring a stunning trade tomorrow, that’s it for me in 2008. Hope you’ve enjoyed the last year as readers and we’ll continue to offer the same kind of unique analysis in 2009. Happy New Year everyone and stay safe.

Connecticut Continues to Pay the Thabeet Tax

Filed under: Uncategorized — John Gasaway @ 2:45 am

Watching Connecticut these past 13 months–not only the results this team achieves but also the misconceptions they invariably engender–I’ve gradually become convinced that the Huskies pay a “tax,” in effect, for the superb shot-blocking provided by Hasheem Thabeet. The results and the misconceptions collided teachably last night, as UConn lost their Big East opener at home to Georgetown, 74-63.

First some quick recapping of what will come as old news to regular readers. Thabeet of course blocks a ton of shots, but in fact his team is not very good at preventing opponents from scoring. The main problem here is weak defensive rebounding. Mind you, this is not systemic. Connecticut has been blocking shots forever, since long before Thabeet arrived, and yet usually the Huskies have been very good, albeit not outstanding, on the defensive glass. But last year that changed. UConn was really bad at rebounding their opponents’ misses and their defense suffered as a result.

Nevertheless, the overall defensive precedent set by prior Connecticut teams–not to mention the rather insistent and indeed persuasive semiotic presented by a physical specimen like Jeff Adrien–has carried the perceptual day. Jim Calhoun‘s team is still doggedly held to be some kind of defensive monster.

They are not. Last year the Huskies allowed Big East opponents to score a little more than a point per trip. By the same token, last night Georgetown scored their 74 points in a moderately pokey 63-possession game.

Not that the Hoyas didn’t contribute their fair share to this outcome, of course. Georgetown played a remarkable game. Taking the floor in front of more than two dozen NBA scouts, Greg Monroe did himself more good in one evening than any other player in recent memory. Whether it was scoring on two different post moves over Thabeet, or stealing the ball from A.J. Price, or dishing assists from the high post like a latter-day David Padgett, Monroe clearly came to play. And John Thompson III‘s game plan was, by my lights, exactly right: as counterintuitive as it sounds, you have to attack Connecticut inside. (That is systemic, by the way. George Mason proved it, memorably, against a prior generation of UConn personnel.) They will try to block your shots. You will get blocked shots–and offensive boards and free throws. Georgetown got all of the above last night.

(Thompson’s team will be subjected to some severe tests soon enough. The Hoyas host Pitt on Saturday and visit Notre Dame in the collegiate equivalent of a back-to-back the following Monday. Given that schedule I should probably just let events play out, but I will say this much now. I knew coming into the year that Georgetown would be underrated and they were, picked to finish seventh (!) in the Big East’s preseason coaches’ poll. So, yes, I’m pleased that I gave them a glowing write-up in the book. That being said, this is an unusual team. For one thing, the folk wisdom in this case is actually correct: they don’t rebound on defense. And while last night’s announcers overstated the importance of depth in this single discrete instance–after all, the starting five includes no fewer than four featured scorers, none of whom are particularly foul-prone–their larger point is still true: the Hoyas’ thin bench could indeed hurt this team by degrees, as a fatigued starting five sees its performance dip late in the year.)

Yes, it was a good team that Connecticut lost to last night. But it was the particular features of the loss that struck me. The Huskies looked like they were waiting for Thabeet to do their work for them on defense. (I know Louisville has looked unimpressive of late, but they will watch this tape–Monroe in the high post feeding assists to cutting wings–and salivate.)  I don’t know if Connecticut has actually come to believe in the mystique of Thabeet, but it doesn’t really matter. The material point is simply that they play like they’ve come to believe in the mystique of Thabeet. Why they would do that, I haven’t a clue. Calhoun, goodness knows, has had great shot-blockers before and the teammates around those shot-blockers have continued to move their feet and crash the glass. 

Not so Thabeet’s teammates. At least not last night. 

December 25, 2008

Daily Ten: Catch-up Edition with Foye feat & D’Antoni’s comments

Filed under: Uncategorized — Bradford Doolittle @ 11:28 am

Let’s try this again. It’s been a nice, round month since we caught up on gRATEs so what better Christmas gift can I offer readers? Rather than rehashing the last month, I’ll instead present an up-to-date list of the top 25 gRATE scores for the season.

Five great games are on tap for today, headlined by the first Celtics-Lakers clash of the season. At stake for the Celtics today is the No. 1 spot on the next Hoops List, which comes out after the games of every Thursday. Entering play today, the Celtics have an oh-so-narrow 67.4-67.2 lead over Cleveland. The Cavs are 28-point favorites (NBAPET’s pick) over Washington tonight, so it really comes down to whether Boston can notch its 20th-straight win today in LA. If the Celtics do win, their hold on the top spot will be considerably tighter.

Through Dec. 24 (34.1% of season complete, 420/1230 games)

No. Player, team           gRATE   (DATE)
01. paul,chris_nwo         20.6   (20-Dec)
02. crawford,jamal_gsw     20.3   (20-Dec)
03. paul,chris_nwo         18.8   ( 1-Nov)
04. durant,kevin_okc       18.1   ( 8-Dec)
05. augustin,dj_cha        18.1   (10-Dec)
06. parker,tony_sas        18.0   ( 5-Nov)
07. wade,dwyane_mia        17.7   ( 5-Nov)
08. james,lebron_cle       17.5   (17-Dec)
09. pierce,paul_bos        17.4   (15-Nov)
10. gordon,ben_chi         17.3   ( 7-Nov)
11. jamison,antawn_was     16.9   (18-Nov)
12. howard,dwight_orl      16.8   (10-Nov)
13. foye,randy_min         16.8   (23-Nov)
14. roy,brandon_por        16.7   (18-Dec)
15. james,lebron_cle       16.7   (28-Nov)
16. horford,al_atl         16.6   (11-Nov)
17. carter,vince_njn       16.4   (19-Dec)
18. chandler,wilson_nyk    16.3   (12-Nov)
19. harrington,al_nyk      16.2   (13-Dec)
20. bryant,kobe_lal        16.1   (20-Dec)
21. carter,vince_njn       16.1   (22-Nov)
22. anthony,carmelo_den    16.1   (10-Dec)
23. diaw,boris_cha         15.8   (19-Dec)
24. ford,tj_ind            15.7   (10-Nov)
25. davis,baron_lac        15.7   ( 6-Dec)

Explanation of gRATE here:

Center court

When I was updating my database this morning, a box score number that I’d missed jumped out at me. Timberwolves guard Randy Foye grabbed 16 rebounds, 15 of them on the defensive end, in Minnesota’s loss in San Antonio on Tuesday.

The defensive rebound total sent me scurrying for basketball-reference.com. Foye is a middling rebounder for a guard. In fact, out of 96 guards this season that have played at least 30% of the time, Foye ranks No. 48 in defensive rebounding. That’s about as middling as you can get. In his career, he’s now had three double-digit rebound games, two with exactly 10 and the 16-rebound outburst against the Spurs. Right place, right time, I guess.

Foye’s defensive rebound total was one of the 10-best for players listed as guards in the basketball-reference era, which goes back to 1986-87:

Player                Date   ORB   DRB   TRB
Fat Lever        4/ 5/1988     4    17    21
Fat Lever        4/17/1988     2    17    19
Mike Dunleavy    3/ 2/2004     3    17    20
Magic Johnson    4/ 1/1989     1    16    17
Gary Payton      2/ 8/2000     0    16    16
Jason Kidd       2/28/2001     1    15    16
Fat Lever        4/20/1990     7    15    22
Bonzi Wells     11/ 2/2005     3    15    18
Jason Kidd      11/16/2007     4    15    19
Randy Foye      12/23/2008     1    15    16

As mentioned, Foye ranks 48th of 96 guards this season with a 9.6% defensive rebound rate. The top three: Mike Miller 20.2%, Andre Iguodala 17.0%, J.R. Smith 15.7%.

More interesting, to me, is the list of leading offensive rebounders among guards, which reveals Thunder rookie Russell Westbrook as a mini-Rodman:

Player              ORB%
Russell Westbrook    8.3%
Anthony Morrow       6.2%
Marquis Daniels      5.8%
Devin Brown          5.1%
Nate Robinson        4.9%
Desmond Mason        4.9%
Rudy Fernandez       4.8%
Brandon Roy          4.7%
Rajon Rondo          4.4%
Kobe Bryant          4.1%

Westbrook’s offensive rebounding rate ranks 60th of 252 qualifying players — regardless of position — this season. My first reaction was that having a point guard crash the offensive glass with such ferocity could be hurting OKC’s defense. Maybe, but look at the rankings of the Celtics’ backcourt: Rondo (9th), Tony Allen (20th) and Ray Allen (22nd). Last time I checked, Boston’s defense seemed to be doing just fine.

In the news

  • I came across a story in the New York Daily News in which Knicks coach Mike D’Antoni said that he thinks his team is better than their 33-win pace and will earn a playoff slot come April. Well, actually New York is one game better than it’s Pythagorean pace. The Knicks’ eighth-ranked schedule has been tough but, even so, New York’s power ranking is 34.6. The schedule going forward is a little easier, though still above .500 in the aggregate, but right now, the Bucks own the East’s eighth spot with a 38-win pace. So D’Antoni may turn out to be right.
  • A couple of low-level moves: Phoenix signed Dee Brown to caddie for Steve Nash. Houston dealt Steve Francis to Memphis, where he will serve his mandatory sentence as a Grizzly on his way out of the league.
  • A great idea that probably has my brother turning cartwheels: NBATV is going to show 24 hours straight of LeBron James on Dec. 29-30. LBJ turns 24 on the 30th.

Today’s games

+24 bos @ lal,  5:00 p.m. EST [ lal by  1 ]
+13 nwo @ orl, 12:00 p.m. EST [ orl by  7 ]
+ 8 dal @ por, 10:30 p.m. EST [ por by  5 ]
+ 7 was @ cle,  8:00 p.m. EST [ cle by 28 ]
+ 7 sas @ phx,  2:30 p.m. EST [ phx by  1 ]

Notes: Games listed in order of quality, as determined by the sum of each team’s efficiency ratio. NBAPET projected winner and margin of victory is listed in brackets. Through Dec. 24, NBAPET is 316-104 (75.2 percent) on the season.

Questions or comments?

December 24, 2008

The Big 12 North Needs a Government Bailout

Filed under: Uncategorized — John Gasaway @ 11:06 am

Here at Basketball Prospectus, we hard-working lab-coat-sporting hoops analysts work tirelessly to stay a meme or two ahead. Take last night. For being so close to the holiday, the evening featured a good deal of momentous happenings. But, hey, we’ve already foreshadowed all of it! Dang we’re good!

For instance, Portland State beat Gonzaga 77-70 last night on the Bulldogs’ home floor in Spokane. In the 13 days since I nominated Mark Few‘s team for potential consideration as a national number 2 behind North Carolina, the Zags have gone 1-3. I hasten to add, however, that I hustled to get in on the ground floor where nay-saying my own nomination was concerned, pointing out that outstanding perimeter shooting enabled Arizona to defeat Gonzaga by five in Phoenix. Hold on to that “outstanding perimeter shooting” buzz when looking at the Bulldogs’ opponents. Few’s team has actually remained remarkably steady in many ways during their current skid–except for their perimeter defense. Over the last four games opponents have made a ridiculous 43 percent of their threes.

Or consider Butler‘s 74-65 win at Xavier last night. We were so all over that! This team’s more than just Matt Howard, of course. Gordon Hayward is good, Shelvin Mack is good, blah, blah, blah…You’ve heard it all before, if you’ve been reading along with us here.  

One meme we haven’t yet broached this season, however, involves the Big 12 North, that forlorn and beleaguered outpost of middling “power”-conference hoops. It has come to our attention that this particular division is proving starkly and stubbornly resistant to rebuilding projects. Take last night….

Iowa State lost at home to South Dakota State 65-58. The 6-8 Jackrabbits are in their first year as a D-I program and entered this game with a 17-game road losing streak. But they won in Ames last night. The Cyclones are now 1-3 over their past four games, the lone win being a six-point victory at home against Jacksonville State.

Not to be outdone, Nebraska lost at home to Maryland-Baltimore County 66-64. Deploying a six-player rotation, the 6-5 Retrievers led by 20 in the first half and held on for dear life. It worked.

And in the near-miss category, Colorado rallied from five down with four minutes left to record a 65-62 win at home against 3-8 Louisiana-Monroe. Even the division’s top tier had a bad night, as Kansas was blown out at Arizona 84-67, and Missouri dropped a not-as-close-as-it-sounds 75-59 decision to Illinois in their annual Bragging Rights game in St. Louis.

Greg McDermott, Doc Sadler, and Mike Anderson are in their third seasons at Iowa State, Nebraska, and Missouri, respectively. Jeff Bzdelik is in his second year at Colorado. (Bzdelik was reportedly suffering from flu-like symptoms last night and had to receive intravenous fluids after the game. Get well, Coach.) They’re all trying to rebuild (or, to be candid, build) their Big 12 North programs. It’s proving to be a strangely difficult proposition.  

December 23, 2008

How Low Can Indiana Go?

Filed under: Uncategorized — John Gasaway @ 2:13 am

It’s true that one game doesn’t define a season, but Indiana fans are surely reassessing their team after the Hoosiers lost at home to Northeastern last night, 55-42.

Until last night, the glass-half-full types among the IU faithful could cling to the surprisingly competitive loss to Gonzaga at Lucas Oil Stadium and hope that the Hoosiers could at least make things difficult for Big Ten opponents visiting Bloomington this year. Who knows, maybe that will indeed be the case. But losing by 13 on your home floor to what might be merely the sixth-best team in the CAA doesn’t provide a lot of supporting evidence for that particular scenario, to say the very least.

Granted, the Huskies did win by four at Providence earlier this year. Then again they also lost by 20 at Michigan and by 18 at South Florida. So for Indiana the danger stemming from this loss is that their glaring weakness will become their excuse and indeed their crutch. Their glaring weakness is of course turnovers and it was visible again last night, as the Hoosiers gave the ball away 21 times in a markedly slow (58-possession) game.

True enough: this team gives the ball away far too often. Then again even if they hadn’t done so last night, Indiana still would have lost to Northeastern at home. IU’s shooting from the field was less accurate than the Huskies’ and the home team attempted 14 fewer free throws. Indiana is a team whose systemic flaw is much larger than merely an abundance of turnovers. Indiana’s systemic flaw is a lack of points.

We knew going in, of course, that this year would be tough for Tom Crean. Moreover, even amidst the struggles Tom Pritchard has proven to be a legitimate Big Ten player. (In fact he’s one of the finest offensive rebounders in the country. And given the frequency with which he’s fouled, he’s but a few made free throws away from becoming a truly dangerous weapon as a freshman. That’s no small feat on a hopelessly overmatched team.) Crean and Pritchard are seeds of hope for this program, as are the recruits that are on their way to Bloomington. The future looks promising enough.

But make no mistake, the present hurts for IU. Last night Indiana lost by 13 at home to Northeastern.

December 22, 2008

Thunder Inks Krstic to Offer Sheet

Filed under: Uncategorized — Kevin Pelton @ 5:47 pm

The Oklahoma City Thunder officially signed center Nenad Krstic to an offer sheet Monday, giving the New Jersey Nets a week to decide whether to match the offer. This is an unorthodox situation, certainly, with Krstic buying out his contract in Russia midseason to return to the NBA. The Thunder met Krstic’s needs, with free-agent money left to burn (the offer was made from OKC’s leftover mid-level exception) and a hole in the middle.

Surely, the Nets, who have drafted centers in the first round each of the last three years (Josh Boone, Sean Williams and Brook Lopez, with the latter looking like their answer at the position), will have little interest in matching this offer–especially if the third year is guaranteed, which would mean cutting into the cap space they’re stockpiling for the free-agent bonanza of 2010. Oklahoma City will have a tougher time bringing in a marquee name that summer (and, depending on how things play out, may still have tons of money under the cap), so this deal isn’t very harmful from that perspective.

The question, then, is whether Krstic can be the answer the then-Sonics looked for at center for the better part of two decades after trading away Jack Sikma. I think a lot of that rides on whether the Thunder sticks with its current lineup of Kevin Durant and Jeff Green. As I noted last week, while that unit has helped Durant get going, it has been abysmal defensively.

Krstic is an upgrade on the guys Oklahoma City has been running out there at center, all of whom are undersized for the position or naturally power forwards. Still, he’s a below-average rebounder and not much of a shot-blocker, so I’m not sure you can build the kind of defense Thunder GM Sam Presti envisions with a Green-Krstic pairing up front, considering the former is a liability on the glass as well. If this is more about stockpiling assets, then Krstic–if fully recovered from the torn ACL he suffered during the 2006-07 season–could be a nice chip with a very tradable contract or could fit well alongside a stronger power forward. If the Thunder has already built its future frontcourt, I’m underwhelmed.

Some Love for the TWolves’ Rookie

Filed under: Uncategorized — Kevin Pelton @ 5:27 pm

For Kevin Love, touted by my colleague John Gasaway for NCAA Player of the Year during his lone collegiate season at UCLA, the transition to the NBA has been a mixed bag. As expected, the combination of undersized big men Love and Al Jefferson has been problematic defensively for the Timberwolves.

What’s been a bit more of a surprise is how much Love has struggled to make shots against the NBA’s long, athletic post players. Love is making 41.0 percent of his two-point shots, definitely on the low side for an NBA big man. According to 82games.com, a full 14 percent of Love’s shot attempts this season have been blocked, including one in four of his non-dunk attempts in the paint.

Elsewhere, Love has been very productive, most notably so on the offensive glass. Reader Seth Stevens e-mailed in recently to point out that Love is on pace to become the first rookie since Hakeem Olajuwon in 1984-85 to lead the NBA in offensive rebounding percentage, having secured 16.6 percent of available misses so far this season. (Chicago reserve Aaron Gray is at 16.8 percent, but in limited minutes, making him ineligible.)

Let’s take a look at where Love ranks amongst leaders in rookie offensive rebounding dating back to 1980 (minimum 500 minutes):

Player             Year   OReb%    Min

Larry Smith       80-81    18.3   2578
Popeye Jones      93-94    17.6   1773
Chris Dudley      87-88    17.5    513
Hakeem Olajuwon   84-85    16.9   2914
Malik Rose        96-97    16.7    525
KEVIN LOVE        08-09    16.6   1921*
Charles Oakley    85-86    15.7   1772
Leon Powe         06-07    15.7    725
Michael Ansley    89-80    15.7   1221
Dennis Rodman     86-87    15.6   1155

* prorated to 82 games

Larry Smith, aka “Mr. Mean,” also led the NBA in offensive rebound percentage as a rookie in 1980-81 (the third player to do it was John Drew in 1974-75, though his 14.4 OReb% is relatively paltry by these standards). Add in Popeye Jones and you have the group of three players who have hit the offensive glass harder as rookie regulars than Love.

Now, there’s surely something of a correlation between the two statistics I’ve cited for Love. A lot of those close-range misses and blocks are ending up back in his hands for a second attempt (or, as I call it, the old Moses Malone play; his alleged stad-padding worked, seeing as Malone led the league in offensive rebounding seven times in his first eight NBA seasons). Surely, the Timberwolves would be OK with seeing Love’s offensive rebound percentage decline as his shooting percentage climbs. For the time being, Love is having a historic rookie campaign in one regard.

Duke’s Beautiful Half

Filed under: Uncategorized — John Gasaway @ 2:57 pm

Coming off an exciting and at times surprising weekend of college hoops, let’s circle back and salute the game that tipped things off at 2 Eastern on Saturday. That would be Duke‘s 82-64 win over previously unbeaten Xavier in East Rutherford, NJ. 

This game was a lot like Memphis‘s lopsided win over Michigan State in last year’s Sweet 16, in that both contests were effectively over at the half: here the Blue Devils led the Musketeers by 31 points at the intermission. In just 20 minutes Jon Scheyer had already made 4-of-6 threes and scored 16 points. Sean Miller‘s team had already committed ten turnovers and Mike Krzyzewski‘s team had already recorded six steals. Already Duke had made eight threes and scored 55 points in just 39 possessions.

Last week I noted that Xavier would someday play a game where they didn’t shoot a lot of free throws and that when that happened their offense would suffer. I got that much right: Miller’s team shot 16 free throws and looked very mortal. Unfortunately I also held forth sagely on how the Musketeers were unlikely to be “blown out by anyone” thanks to their “outstanding defense.”

Well, it was an outstanding defense before Duke came along. It is likely that it will be again. But between 2 and 3pm on Saturday, that defense was swept away and then buried by a Blue Devil avalanche that made nine of its first 12 shots and indeed won the game in a matter of minutes. It was a dominant display of offense. 

December 19, 2008

The Richard Hendrix Experience

Filed under: Uncategorized — John Gasaway @ 6:17 pm

Strictly speaking, this post isn’t about college basketball. Bear with me.

Yesterday the Golden State Warriors announced that they’ve waived rookie Richard Hendrix. He is, for the moment, out of the NBA, having left Alabama last year after his junior season.

You know me to be a rather college-focused dude, but this bit of NBA news got my attention. Hendrix had a superb and strangely underappreciated college career in Tuscaloosa. He’s a lousy free throw shooter and he can’t make threes, but in literally any other area of basketball endeavor that you would care to name, the 6-8 Hendrix was excellent. Scoring, turnover-minimization, offensive rebounding, shot-blocking, defensive rebounding–everything. That may have been his problem: there was no one thing you could point to and say: “There! That’s Hendrix!” But, speaking literally, no big man in the one-and-done era has excelled as markedly in as many areas at the collegiate level as did Richard Hendrix.

Now he’s on the street. Whenever something happens in the NBA that I don’t understand, I turn to one of the fine pro experts that we have in-house here at Basketball Prospectus. Here’s what Kevin Pelton patiently explained to me….

That Hendrix would not stick with the Warriors should not come as a shock. Don Nelson is somewhat reticent about playing youngsters, though he’s had little choice this year. Still, when he has turned to the youth movement it’s been for lottery picks Brandan Wright and Anthony Randolph (as well as Marco Belinelli on the perimeter). Ultimately, Nelson apparently favored Rob Kurz‘s ability to stretch the floor over Hendrix’s game, which did not fit in ideally with Golden State’s run-and-shoot philosophy.

Hendrix had been in the D-League, putting up his usual solid numbers. He was one of seven D-Leaguers averaging a double-double and is adding a block and a steal per game as well, all while shooting a solid 51.6 percent from the field.

With 10-day contracts becoming available to teams starting January 5, someone ought to give Hendrix a look. He might make sense in Charlotte, where even with the addition of Boris Diaw the Bobcats are still looking for Larry Brown-friendly players in the frontcourt. Signing Juwan Howard is a sign of desperation, especially for a young team. Atlanta might be another interesting fit in the southeast, as Hendrix has been more productive than Othello Hunter over the course of his career.

Understood. Considerations of style and roster space came into play, as of course they must. Hey, I can believe Hendrix isn’t a good fit with Golden State right now. But what I would like to see is whether he can’t make a go of it somewhere in the league. 

Five months ago I thought Hendrix’s case was sufficiently interesting that I dragged him kicking and screaming, topically speaking of course, into an essay on one-and-done–this despite the fact that the young man in question actually played three seasons for the Crimson Tide before being drafted in the second round by the Warriors. He was universally declared to be too short and too old to ever be a lottery pick. Yet all he did in college was play consistently excellent basketball against the likes of Al Horford, Marreese Speights, and, most ironically, current Warrior Anthony Randolph. I find that dichotomy interesting and I’m going to continue to watch it play out.

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