Basketball Prospectus: Unfiltered Everything Else is Fluff.

January 17, 2009

The MLE Strikes Again

Filed under: Uncategorized — Kevin Pelton @ 5:24 am

Last summer, I took a look at the dismal history of the NBA’s mid-level exception in free agency. The money quote: “In theory, the mid-level exception also helped teams over the salary cap by giving them an opportunity to add quality talent in free agency. In practice, it has been a disaster.”

If you needed another reminder of the poor track record, the Dallas Mavericks and Charlotte Bobcats offered one Friday by dealing two players signed to MLE contracts for each other. DeSagana Diop lasted barely two months in Dallas after being re-signed over the summer, with the Mavericks getting Matt Carroll (re-signed to an MLE-equivalent contract in the summer of 2007) as well as third-year center Ryan Hollins.

This deal won’t have much of an impact on either side, which is the whole point. While both Carroll and Diop are useful players, they are not substantially better than replacement-level alternatives available for a fifth of the price. In terms of talent, the Bobcats make out a little better. Diop gives them a shot-blocking center to use alongside and behind Emeka Okafor, something Charlotte has never really had.

The upside for Dallas is that Carroll’s contract declines year to year, while Diop’s contract continues to grow. While their salaries are similar now, by the end of their deals (2012-13), the Mavericks will pay Carroll about half as much as Diop.

Two other Friday notes:
Great, great finish between the Lakers and Orlando at the STAPLES Center. Jameer Nelson came up with huge shots time and again in the fourth quarter, capped by the go-ahead triple with 35 seconds left. That’s the kind of win that, long overdue, is going to make people take the Magic seriously as championship contenders. How about rookie Courtney Lee matching up with Kobe Bryant down the stretch? That’s a long way from the Sun Belt Conference.

– Am I crazy or does Tupac in the movie Notorious (played by Anthony Mackie) look more like Julius Hodge?

January 16, 2009

Daniel Hackett’s Outstanding Four-Point Game

Filed under: Uncategorized — John Gasaway @ 9:40 am

I know it’s hard to get real excited about a team that lost to Oregon State, but USC beat Arizona State 61-49 in L.A. last night. Given that I had been contemplating a piece on the Sun Devils having perhaps the nation’s best offense, I’d say the Trojans have something to brag about.

No, Tim Floyd didn’t pull another triangle-and-two out of his bag, like the one that almost beat Memphis last year. This time it was straight-up man-to-man, deployed in a painfully slow 57-possession game. It was as if a Big Ten game had been transported to the Galen Center, but it must have looked beautiful to USC fans.

Daniel Hackett scored only four points but he held ASU’s James Harden to an identical number on 0-of-8 shooting from the floor. Harden will be in the NBA this time next year and, unless I miss my guess, doing well. (Hey, Kevin Pelton says Russell Westbrook is doing well. How hard can it be?) Hackett will always have this game to tell grandkids about. I don’t know where it came from, exactly (the strangest explanation I’ve heard is that Hackett “was raised in Italy“–oh), but I’ve started contemplating a piece on the USC defense. It’s early but this could be the first season in recent history where the best Pac-10 defense in L.A. is not headquartered at Pauley Pavilion.

January 12, 2009

Chat Tuesday

Filed under: Uncategorized — Kevin Pelton @ 8:39 pm

Now that we’re past the holidays, I want to get in the habit of chatting every couple of weeks over on our sister site, BaseballProspectus.com. The first of those comes tomorrow at 1 p.m. Eastern. If you can’t make it, be sure to submit your questions now.

January 10, 2009

Top 25 Freshmen: The Sequel

Filed under: Uncategorized — John Gasaway @ 3:27 pm

My apologies for the sparse posting of late. I was battling a flu bug, but I’m happy to report that I’m back and in fine fettle (whatever a fettle is), ready to ride this here season all the way through to its conclusion in Detroit.

The unscheduled hiatus has left me with a piece of old business to attend to. I received a great response to my piece on the nation’s top 25 freshmen. In particular, readers took me at my word when I asked: “Who’d I miss?” Well, you told me and, to be honest, I was happy to at least find that just about everyone you named was someone I’d looked at closely.

If there was a consensus top vote-getter for “Mr. Who’d I Miss,” it was point guard Isaiah Thomas of Washington. Indeed, Thomas just missed making my list due to what appeared to me to be middling shooting from the field (48 percent on his twos, 33 percent on his threes). Nevertheless, as many of you pointed out, he is a 5-8 freshman at the helm of a Pac-10 team; he’s doing an excellent job dishing assists and, particularly, taking care of the ball. All true, all impressive. I’ve got my eye on Thomas.

Also receiving votes for Mr. WIM were Delvon Roe of Michigan State, Laval Lucas-Perry of Michigan, and just about every freshman at Kansas. Conversely, I was a little surprised I didn’t hear from anyone supporting Paul George of Fresno State, whose merits seemed so strong to me that I actually had a paragraph drafted for him before bumping him to make room for 25 other outstanding players.

All in all it was an interesting conversation that arose here, so I propose to continue it. Watch for a final all-performance no-hype list of the nation’s top 25 freshmen of 2009 at the end of the season. The lobbying begins now.  

Big 12 tip-off day

Filed under: Uncategorized — Bradford Doolittle @ 1:17 pm

For my day gig, I wrote up a preview of the Big 12 hoops season, which tips off today. Everything was based on Ken Pomeroy’s statistics, which I frankly hadn’t paid much attention to up to this point in the season. To my surprise, Pomeroy’s system ranks Missouri as the Big 12’s top team entering conference play.

The Tigers haven’t earned their way into the Big Dance since 2003, the longest drought since the 1970s. MU is led by the senior forward duo of DeMarre Carroll and Leo Lyons but the improvement in MU comes from their seven newcomers, who have combined to give Mizzou one of the deepest rosters in D1. Over 42% of their minutes have gone to non-starters and for the most part, these are all legit major-conference players that are largely interchangeable. The depth plays to Mike Anderson’s preference for a frenetic, pressing defensive scheme.

What Missouri lacks is a go-to offensive player that can create high-quality shots when the offense is bogging down and the defense isn’t creating the turnovers that feed the offensive attack. Nevertheless, this is undoubtably Anderson’s finest team in Columbia. Do I really think they’ll go 12-4 and win the conference? Not really. Not until they notch a high-quality win that atones for the egg the Tigers laid on national television against Illinois a couple of weeks ago.

Still, MU should jump back into the NCAA tourney fray this season, one of six or seven Big 12 teams that could get there. Any one of those six or seven could win the regular season, led by most observer’s favorites Oklahoma and Texas. Anyway, we’ll start to get things sorted out today. Here are Pomeroy’s projections for today’s games:

Saturday, Jan. 10
(105) Iowa St. at (22) Texas             UT  68-54 [ 93% ]
(19) Kansas at (27) Michigan St.         MSU 75-72 [ 62% ]
(11) Missouri at (75) Nebraska           MU  74-67 [ 76% ]
(18) Oklahoma at (14) Kansas St.         KSU 78-72 [ 71% ]
(87) Texas A&M at (42) Oklahoma St.      OSU 79-69 [ 84% ]
(109) Texas Tech at (30) Baylor          BU  93-76 [ 92% ]
(National rankings in parenthesis)
[ Percentage chance projected winner wins game in brackets ]

January 7, 2009

The Missouri Valley: Suddenly Interesting!

Filed under: Uncategorized — John Gasaway @ 12:37 am

I realize this will mark my second consecutive Unfiltered post about the Missouri Valley Conference, but there were some big doings Tuesday night. To make it worth your while I’ll also include a BONUS non-Tuesday-related thought….

Illinois State is no longer unbeaten, having lost at Bradley 56-52. Here’s a rare behind-the-scenes glimpse of the inner workings here at Basketball Prospectus: I’d resolved to do a piece on the Redbirds if they won this road game. Since they didn’t, I’m doing a bullet point instead. I was wary of trumpeting Tim Jankovich‘s team too soon because they were shooting so many threes. Of course they were making them–that’s why they were undefeated. But that was bound to change sooner or later. Sure enough, it changed in Peoria Tuesday night. Osiris Eldridge was his usual productive self, scoring 17 points on 5-of-11 shooting from beyond the arc. His teammates, however, were a combined 1-of-15 on their threes. Still, 14-1 is way ahead of where anyone thought ISU would be at this point. Even when their perimeter shooting is off, their excellent defense will keep them in most games, as indeed it did against the Braves. As for BU, they’re now 4-0 in-conference and have clearly been one of the three best teams coming out of the blocks, along with Illinois State and, well, next bullet:

What in the world’s gotten into Northern Iowa? The Panthers won at Creighton 69-66, as Johnny Moran hit 6-of-8 threes and scored 22 points. Northern Iowa lost their conference opener to Indiana State at home in double-overtime, but having won on the road against the preseason favorite Bluejays, Ben Jacobson‘s team is in a surprisingly strong position. Credit the offense, which, as seen in the case of Moran, has been raining made threes on opponents: the Panthers have made 47 percent of their threes against Valley opponents. That will win you some games. That level of shooting won’t continue, of course, but then again it might drop off less than you think. Northern Iowa is one of the best free throw shooting teams in the nation. They should be able to hit threes as well.

BONUS non-Tuesday thought! Southern Illinois is but a shadow of its former self. The next time a coach is instantly criticized for leaving a Valley program to take a major-conference position, think of one coach who stayed: Chris Lowery. In the spring of 2007 Lowery was a hot property, widely considered to be in the mix for the openings at both Michigan and Iowa. In the end, however, he decided to stay put. If you were in his shoes back then, you would’ve probably thought these options would be open again and that there’s no need to jump at the first opportunity. Well, look now. The Salukis are off to an Edvard Munch-level horrific start and Lowery is where he is. Of course, for all I know he could be perfectly happy in Carbondale. But my point is simply that his options have certainly diminished–and that’s the danger when you stay. Anywhere you look, Southern Illinois is struggling. Their long-feared defense is in tatters, they’re fouling like crazy, and in Valley play they’re making just 33 percent of their twos (not a typo). Possession for possession, only Wichita State is off to a worse start in-conference.

January 6, 2009

Evansville Seeks Shelter from this Modern World

Filed under: Uncategorized — John Gasaway @ 2:07 am

You may have already known that Evansville is the least likely team in the nation to shoot a three. But what you didn’t know is that coach Marty Simmons has apparently decided that even giving 18 percent of your shots to threes (as the Purple Aces have done so far this season) is far too modern and louche.

So now that the Aces have reached conference play, the coach has put the hammer down. In their first three games in Missouri Valley play, Evansville has attempted just 21 threes out of 164 shots from the field. In other words, just 13 percent of the Aces’ attempts have been launched from beyond the arc. Keep an eye on this: Simmons is on track to set a record here, whether for fewest threes, highest degree of antediluvian fervor, or both.

Simmons of course played for a coach who didn’t like threes much. And, speaking purely as an aesthetic matter, that’s OK. There’s no law mandating that threes must be loved. But as a strategic matter here’s the thing:

When you’re a D-I coach in 2009, you’ll probably find that your team makes about 34 percent of the threes it shoots. And, not to be redundant, each one of those makes is worth three points. To declare to opponents in advance that you’re not even going to try to make them is a precious scouting gift. It makes defending your team ever so much more simple. Why would you do that?

January 5, 2009

Man Bites Dog: BC Wins at Carolina

Filed under: Uncategorized — John Gasaway @ 10:50 am

You’ll be forgiven for wondering where in the world this came from: Boston College 85, North Carolina 78.

Boston College? Winning in Chapel Hill? Correct me if I’m wrong, but I thought the last time the Eagles graced the ESPN family of networks they were beating Iowa. In Chestnut Hill. By two. Not exactly the profile of a team that’s going to take down the Tar Heels.

Yet take them down they did. I’m seeing some morning-after accounts pointing the finger of blame at shots the Heels missed, and it’s true that Roy Williams‘ team didn’t exactly burn up the nets, hitting just 41 percent of their twos and 32 percent of their threes. Still, UNC did score 78 points in a 73-possession game, thanks in large part to excellent offensive rebounding. That will usually be enough for them to eke out a “tough win” at the Dean Dome.

The fact that it wasn’t enough on this night points to the central truth about this game: North Carolina lost because of a failure on defense, allowing BC to score a scorching 1.17 points per trip. Part of that, of course, was simply stars aligning for the Eagles. Rakim Sanders, who entered the game as a 30 percent three-point shooter, made 4-of-7 threes and scored 22 points. Nevertheless, there was justice in this result.

UNC couldn’t get the Eagles to turn the ball over, they couldn’t keep the visitors off the offensive glass, and they couldn’t keep Tyrese Rice off the free throw line. For the first time this season, an opposing player scored as many points on free throws (nine) as did Tyler Hansbrough. BC got the job done by simply doing what they do: taking care of the ball and crashing the offensive glass. As Rice put it: “Just play your game and run your offense.” Couldn’t have said it better myself.

Anyway, thus endeth the run-the-table talk. Or maybe it simply moves now to more surprising locales outside Chapel Hill: to Pittsburgh, PA, Winston-Salem, NC, Clemson, SC, and Normal, IL.

Turnaround Stories in the Pac-10

Filed under: Uncategorized — Kevin Pelton @ 1:41 am

A year ago, California and Oregon State combined for six Pac-10 wins in 36 combined tries. A week into the 2009 conference schedule, the Cardinal and the Beavers are already halfway to that total.

Someday, Barack Obama may be known as Craig Robinson‘s brother-in-law, not the other way around. Well, maybe not, but Robinson does have an Oregon State squad that in 2007-08 became the first in Pac-10 history to go 0-18 playing competitive ball. Sunday, the Beavers paid it off by beating USC 62-58 in overtime to snap a 23-game conference losing streak.

Still, so far Oregon State only ranks second as far as Pac-10 turnarounds go. That’s because Mike Montgomery has his Cal Bears in position to compete for the conference title. Having lost two starters to the NBA Draft after a ninth-place finish in Ben Braun‘s last year at the helm, the Bears were expected to rebuild this season. An 11-2 non-conference record was a great start, but Cal was short on marquee wins (Utah and UNLV, both on the road, being the team’s biggest conquests) and was walloped by 27 at Missouri.

We can safely say the Bears now have a win to point to, having taken down 12-1 Arizona State (No. 7 by Ken Pomeroy’s Pythagorean ratings) 81-71 at Haas Pavilion Sunday to complete a sweep of the Arizona schools. Cal’s start has come on the strength of super-accurate three-point shooting. The Bears lead the NCAA by hitting 50.5 percent from beyond the arc, including 9-of-17 threes Sunday. Junior guard Jerome Randle, a secondary scorer before the departure of Ryan Anderson, is leading the way by hitting 38 threes this season at a 55.9 percent clip and averaging nearly 20 a night after matching James Harden‘s 26 points in the win.

Elsewhere in the Pac-10:
– Don’t expect Arizona to be the last team to come away winless from a trip to the Bay Area. Stanford–also breaking in a new coach, Johnny Dawkins–has exceeded expectations for the post-Lopez twins era, meaning the Cal-Stanford pair is challenging USC-UCLA as the hardest trip in the conference.

– The Trojans’ lack of depth has been a weakness in recent years; now it’s reaching ridiculous proportions. Daniel Hackett and Keith Wilkinson both went the full 45 minutes in the OT loss; Dwight Lewis and Taj Gibson both topped 40. Two USC reserves saw action for a combined 24 minutes.

– Washington snapped a seven-game losing streak to Washington State by a 68-48 final in the weekend’s rivalry matchup. The fate was a familiar one for the Cougs, who defend as well as anyone in the nation (eighth in Pomeroy’s adjusted Defensive Rating while surrendering the nation’s lowest opponent two-point percentage) but simply can’t score consistently after losing Derrick Low and Kyle Weaver from last year’s Sweet Sixteen team. In five losses, Wazzu has averaged 49.4 points, an outcome not entirely attributable to Tony Bennett‘s slow pace. The Cougars’ average Offensive Rating in those five games is a dismal 89.2.

January 3, 2009

Greetings from the Big Easy

Filed under: Uncategorized — Bradford Doolittle @ 12:37 pm

I’m sitting in my hotel room in New Orleans, frantically putting the finishing touches on this week’s Hoops List, which has been slowly coming together in hotels, on planes, in three different cities and even from a balcony just off of Bourbon Street. Then I’ve got to get up to speed on last night’s NBA action, which featured the first 15-game slate in league history. What a night to be away from my TiVo!

Well, I have to say that it was worth it. Last night, I attended the Sugar Bowl with my in-laws, who are from Utah. My wife is an alumni of the University of Utah, so it was a pretty happy night … and a long celebration. Whatever they put in those Hurricanes is diabolical …

Anyhow, it’s off topic, but I’ve spent my morning arguing with anyone who will listen (Alabama fans) that Utah should win the national title and so I thought I’d spread those sentiments here, as well. There is no doubt in my mind. (My argument is here.) If I’m a Florida or Oklahoma fan, the Sugar Bowl result is a nightmare scenario. There were already rumblings for Texas and USC, but now with Utah finishing a perfect season by thumping an SEC power, is there any way that the winner of the BCS title game will feel like a legitimate champion?

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