Basketball Prospectus: Unfiltered Everything Else is Fluff.

July 30, 2009

Lakers, Odom Make Right Move

Filed under: Uncategorized — Kevin Pelton @ 6:08 pm

For the last couple of weeks, the L.A. Lakers and Lamar Odom have been trapped in a contract standoff. For both player and team, the best possible outcome was Odom re-signing with the Lakers. Yet, in order to maximize their leverage in negotiations, each side had to at least attempt to convince the other they would be amenable to Odom’s departure.

Had Odom signed with the Miami Heat or another team, he would have ended up making less money to play for a weaker squad less suited to his unique talents. Meanwhile, a Lakers squad without Odom would risk losing the status of being the favorite to win the Western Conference, let alone a second straight title.

Ultimately, it appears the Lakers called Odom’s bluff. According to J.A. Adande (who broke the story) and Marc Stein of ESPN.com, Odom is guaranteed $25 million over the next three years plus $2 million in year four should they decided not to pick up a team option for the 2012-13 season. That’s very reasonable for a player I ranked the third-best free agent on the market, behind only two restricted free agents (Paul Millsap and David Lee). Jason Kidd, lower on my list, got a very similar deal over the first three years, while Hedo Turkoglu ended up making more money than Odom.

July 28, 2009

That Strangely Benign New Three-Point Line

Filed under: Uncategorized — John Gasaway @ 11:38 am

Greetings from the off-season! When I return full-force in the fall I’ll be taking on some meaty topics. Previews! Calipari! Asprilla! One-and-done! All that and more, promise. Join me when the days shorten just a bit more.

Our present lazy and hazy days, however, afford the ideal moment to attend to a piece of old business. You may remember there was a new three-point line in our college game last year, one that had been moved out a foot. The impending change was the topic of much discussion and speculation a year ago: What impact would the new line have on perimeter-oriented teams, or POTs, as I call those pesky squads that shoot a lot of threes?

The answer would seem to be: Surprisingly little! Let’s take a look….

First, note that the main story here is that the new line did exactly what my colleague Ken Pomeroy said, in our book, that it would do. Looking at Division I as a whole, the new line triggered small but notable dips in both the number of attempted threes and in the percentage of makes.

Fewer Attempts and More Misses 
All games involving two D-I teams
          % of shots
        that are threes      3FG%
2008         34.4            35.1
2009         33.1            34.2 

Nevertheless, there was a very interesting, perhaps even surprising, subplot taking place within that main story last year. When we restrict our gaze to the six “major” conferences, we find that three-point accuracy actually improved in league play in 2009: 

Fewer Attempts and More Makes 
Conference games only: ACC, Big East, Big Ten, Big 12, Pac-10, SEC
          % of shots
        that are threes      3FG%
2008         34.0            34.7
2009         33.2            35.2 

One theory: Perhaps the major conferences were burdened with more players who, until 2008-09, thought they had three-point range when in fact they did not. The new line spooked those players, perhaps only temporarily, into not shooting threes. Meanwhile, players with bona fide range from 19.75 feet turned out to be precisely the players who could also make a shot from 20.75 feet. (Just as I predicted! Woo, me!) 

Whatever the explanation, the most striking feature of the new three-point line from my chair is this:

Major-conference teams who were perimeter-oriented in 2008 actually fared pretty well on offense in 2009.

Let’s look at the top 19 major-conference teams where perimeter-orientation is concerned. Each team listed below devoted at least 37 percent of their attempts to threes in their conference games in 2008, back when the old line was still in place.

If you’ve been reading along with me for the past few seasons, you know that perimeter-oriented teams tend to stay perimeter-oriented from year to year. This was mostly true in 2009, even with a new more challenging three-point line. I say “mostly” because something weird was happening in the SEC last year: POTs were changing their spots left and right. Auburn, South Carolina, and Vanderbilt all went from three-happy outfits in 2008 to merely normal offenses in 2009 where perimeter-orientation is concerned. Indeed, Indiana was the only non-SEC team to exhibit this same behavior last year. (Of course, the Hoosiers were going through Year 1 of a painful and sweeping programmatic re-boot, making the distance of the three-point line the least of their concerns.) Meantime, Mississippi StateMichigan, Arizona State, FloridaIowa, and Iowa State actually shot more threes with the new line.

So, how’d these teams do last year on offense? About as well as any group of offenses chosen at random. The new three-point line doesn’t appear to have been a particular burden for perimeter-oriented teams….

New Line? No Problem! 
Conference games only: ACC, Big East, Big Ten, Big 12, Pac-10, SEC
PPP: points per possession
                 2008    2009
                 PPP     PPP    Change
Arizona St.      1.00    1.09   +0.09
Northwestern     0.95    1.03   +0.08
Oklahoma St.     1.02    1.09   +0.07
Iowa             0.94    0.99   +0.05
Michigan         0.96    1.01   +0.05
Ohio St.         1.02    1.07   +0.05
Iowa St.         0.92    0.95   +0.03
Penn St.         0.98    1.00   +0.02
S. Carolina      1.01    1.02   +0.01
Louisville       1.06    1.06    0.00
Florida          1.11    1.10   -0.01
Auburn           1.06    1.04   -0.02
Mississippi St.  1.05    1.03   -0.02
Duke             1.11    1.08   -0.03
Georgetown       1.04    1.01   -0.03
Purdue           1.05    1.02   -0.03
Vanderbilt       1.05    1.02   -0.03
Oregon           1.11    0.97   -0.14
Indiana          1.08    0.93   -0.15

Note that four out of the six teams that sailed into the wind, as it were, and shot more threes with the new line–the Sun Devils, Wolverines, Hawkeyes, and Cyclones–improved on offense. Total coincidence? Pretty much, yeah. (ASU, to take one prominent example, improved thanks in large part to better two-point shooting and fewer turnovers.) But that’s kind of my point: Perimeter-oriented teams could stay true to themselves in 2009 because the new three-point line was nothing more than a tweak, albeit one to the entire sport.   

July 24, 2009

Andre Miller to Portland: Good Player, Wrong Team

Filed under: Uncategorized — Kevin Pelton @ 5:45 pm

From the Portland Trail Blazers’ offseason moves, it has become obvious that the team’s braintrust was affected by the Blazers’ first-round playoff loss to the Houston Rockets. Portland’s offer sheet to Paul Millsap was somewhat conventional, in that the Blazers have long coveted another contributor off the bench up front and that forcing the Utah Jazz to match the offer weakened a division rival. In pursuing first Hedo Turkoglu and now Andre Miller, however, Portland has specifically addressed perceived weaknesses that manifested themselves against Houston–the lack of a second creator on the perimeter besides Brandon Roy as well as the team’s youth.

There were reasons to be concerned about signing Turkoglu in terms of his age, what replacing the team’s best defender in the starting lineup (young Frenchman Nicolas Batum) would do to the Portland defense and how he would affect the minutes of several wing players. Still, there was little doubt that the versatile Turkoglu would aid a Blazers offense that was already the league’s best on a per-possession basis in the 2008-09 season.

With Miller, who is reportedly close to signing a three-year contract worth around $21-22 million (the third year at Portland’s option), an improved offense is somewhat more uncertain. Miller brings plenty of skills; he rated by my system as the second-best offensive free agent on the market. His ability to create, both as a scorer and as a distributor, means he will bring the Blazers an added dimension when Brandon Roy is either on the bench or is limited by aggressive defense as he was in the series with the Rockets.

The problem is what happens when Roy is on the floor and has the ball in his hands. Away from the ball, Miller is much more limited. He is famously not a three-point shooter. He made 15 threes a year ago, and that was a breakout year–Miller combined for 19 triples the previous four seasons. Even a step inside the arc, Miller isn’t much of a shooter. He hit 40.9 percent of his long twos, per NBA.com’s HotSpots. By contrast, incumbent Blazers point guard Steve Blake was a 48.0 percent shooter on long twos in addition to his 140 three-pointers at a 42.7 percent clip. With Miller at the point, the floor will be smaller for the rest of the Blazers as defenses can offer help in the paint with relative impunity.

The question, then, is whether that is offset by the value of Miller’s ability to create. Just how much did the lack of a second creator hurt Portland in the playoffs? Here, the numbers are mixed. In the series with the Rockets, the Blazers averaged just 107.3 points per 100 possessions, way down from their league-leading regular-season Offensive Rating of 115.4. A good portion of that credit must go to a stifling Houston defense. The Rockets also did a very good job of slowing down the L.A. Lakers in the next round, holding the Lakers to 110.3 points per 100 possessions. (In three games prior to Yao Ming’s injury, the Lakers were more successful, posting a 113.9 Offensive Rating.)

Over the course of the season, there is less evidence that the Blazers needed a second creator. The first thing to note is that, again, Portland had the league’s best regular-season offense. There’s only so much improvement that can be made there. Against elite defenses like Houston’s, the Blazers were reasonably successful, with the league’s sixth-best winning percentage against top-10 defenses per 82games.com.

I’m still of the opinion that the primary priority for Portland should have been improvement at the defensive end, where the Blazers ranked 12th in the league during the regular season. Miller is a slight upgrade over Blake at this end of the floor, but does little to help Portland’s problem chasing around the league’s jets–especially as he ages. If the Blazers are to improve at the defensive end of the floor, it will probably have to come from within and specifically from Greg Oden in his second year. Glowing reports about Oden’s defensive work at this week’s USA Basketball mini-camp are encouraging on this front.

Lest we get too pessimistic, it’s not like Portland lost anyone to add Miller, should Blake be willing to move into a reserve role. If Miller’s lack of shooting becomes a problem at times, Blake will still be there to step into the lineup. From a fiscal perspective, the Miller deal we’ve seen reported is very reasonable. Because just two years are guaranteed, Miller could become a valuable ending contract as soon as next season. The cost, then, is primarily an alternative one. The Blazers chose Miller over potentially making a deal with a team looking to shed salary. That option was a risky one in that it is impossible to know for sure what players might come available before the cap space would have been lost at next year’s trade deadline, but it is possible that Portland ight have found a player who, if less talented than Miller, was a better fit for the team’s needs.

July 23, 2009

Atlantic update

Filed under: Uncategorized — Bradford Doolittle @ 2:32 pm

As a handful of alert reader have pointed out, I omitted Eddie House from the Celtics’ roster. I had entered his contract info incorrectly in my database and he ended up in the unrestricted free agent bin. My bad. Thirty teams, 15 slots per team with moves coming hard and heavy this time of the year — it’s a lot to keep track of, but hopefully I’ve ironed out most discrepancies. If my news aggregators miss something, then I might miss something. I do appreciate the corrected info and will be sure to own up to any errors on Unfiltered.

Someone also pointed out that I didn’t address Lester Hudson’s broken finger, which he had surgery on about 10 days ago. I made a conscious decision not to factor in any but the most catastrophic injuries. So I won’t be accounting for Blake Griffin’s tweaked shoulder or even Paddy Mills’ broken foot because, as of now, these problems are supposed to be cleared up in time for the season. The same holds true for Hudson, who is only expected to be out for a month and whose injury was on his non-shooting hand. Right now the only injury I’ve factored into the team snapshots is the most obvious one: Yao Ming.

The projected division standings that are listed in today’s Atlantic overview have changed a bit in the week since I first started the piece, so I’ll list the updated table. I’ll do these kind of updates periodically for each division in Unfiltered, especially after significant moves. Eventually this will lead up to more thorough playing time projections and more concrete team won-loss forecasts. With so many rosters incomplete, there are some wild projections being kicked out right now, as Bucks and Spurs fans will find out. Also, team projections will eventually have to be filtered through the official NBA schedule once that’s released. Right now everything is set to balance at the league level, but there is no real adjustment for strength of schedule.

Anyway, here’s how NBAPET sees the Atlantic Division as of today. (Note: I’ve added projected team ages, which are weighted for anticipated playing time)

Team       W    L   Pct.    Age  aRNK  Pace   pRNK   oEFF   oRNK   dEFF   dRNK   eMarg   Rank   cRNK   Payroll
Celtics   63   19   .766   29.7    2   89.0   18    108.6    15   100.6   1        8.0      4      2     $80.0
76ers     40   42   .490   24.8   23   88.9   20    106.7    20   106.9   11      -0.2     16      7     $60.6
Nets      33   49   .405   25.8   20   88.6   23    101.2    28   103.7   4       -2.5     19      8     $53.0
Raptors   27   55   .329   25.9   19   90.6   14    105.1    22   110.1   22      -5.0     23     10     $63.9
Knicks    21   61   .262   25.7   21   95.0    2    102.5    27   109.8   20      -7.3     28     14     $67.0

July 21, 2009

More on the Magic

Filed under: Uncategorized — Kevin Pelton @ 1:28 am

The NBA moves quickly. Since my column on the Orlando Magic’s offseason was posted this morning, Magic GM Otis Smith has continued to stay busy with the kind of minor moves that can make all the difference between success and failure in the postseason. ESPN’s Marc Stein reported this afternoon that Orlando is close to a two-year deal with forward Matt Barnes, late of the Phoenix Suns. This evening, the Oakland Tribune is reporting that the Magic will also ink point guard C.J. Watson to an offer sheet.

In particular, the Magic looks like it could be getting a bargain should the Warriors decline to match the offer to Watson, a restricted free agent. Flush with lead guards after dealing for Speedy Claxton and Acie Law and drafting Stephen Curry, Golden State may well let Watson walk despite the very reasonable offer.

To the extent I argued that the Magic’s moves weakened the team on the perimeter, that concern would be rectified with the additions of Barnes and Watson. Orlando would be as deep as any team in the league, with an entire 12-player active roster that could reasonably be counted on for rotation minutes. The only real argument you can make at this point is that the Magic would have been better off choosing talent over depth and consolidating that money on re-signing Hedo Turkoglu. Otherwise, it’s a lot of money to spend, but none of it unwisely and not in a way that really limits Orlando’s flexibility.

The other upside of signing Barnes is it makes it less likely that Rashard Lewis plays extensively at small forward. My contention that the Magic is much better with Lewis at the four has been the source of much debate amongst Orlando fans, but ultimately there’s some objective evidence here. Per 82games.com, Orlando outscored opponents by 9.8 points per 100 possessions with Lewis at power forward. When he moved to the three (which was, granted, just 3 percent of the team’s total minutes), that net efficiency margin dropped to 8.1 points per 100 possessions. As you might expect, the Magic defended better with Lewis alongside a true power forward, but Orlando’s Offensive Rating dropped off by 9.3 points per 100 possessions when he played small forward. I stand by the notion that the Magic is a much more dangerous, and a much better, team with Lewis spacing the floor at power forward.

July 14, 2009

Top 10 Free Agents

Filed under: Uncategorized — Kevin Pelton @ 2:14 am

With my position-by-position breakdowns in the books, I wanted to go back and put together my comprehensive Top 10 list of the top available free agents regardless of positions. Some of this was hinted at in discussing the individual players, but to go on the record … .

1. Paul Millsap, Utah (signed offer sheet with Portland)
In discussing the possibility of signing Millsap to an offer sheet before the move was made official last Friday, Portland GM Kevin Pritchard told reporters, “I’m a big believer in that you get the best player. Nate (McMillan) is an unbelievable coach; he always figures out how to blend the talent together. If you can get the best player available, go get him.” In my opinion, Pritchard did just that. Signs now seem to point to the Jazz matching the offer, but if not the Blazers will get Millsap at an incredible bargain and he will become a tremendous trade chip next summer if Portland feels using him as a reserve is a waste of Millsap’s considerable ability.

2. David Lee, New York (restricted)
Millsap finally got some love from the Blazers while Lee remains the forgotten man of the NBA’s 2009 free agency. The other David Lee, Trevor Ariza‘s agent, has gotten more ink than this double-double machine. That could be to the Knicks’ lasting benefit.

3. Lamar Odom, L.A. Lakers (unrestricted)
The other prominent name very much still on the market. The Los Angeles Daily News reported today (or perhaps tomorrow–I’m not sure with the flow of information on the Internet) that the tone of talks between Odom and the Lakers has turned negative. In this case, the Lakers have a tremendous amount of leverage. Unless the Blazers show interest if Millsap’s offer sheet is matched, there simply isn’t a market out there for Odom at this point.

4. Ramon Sessions, Milwaukee (restricted)
A third victim of the market, Sessions has been left out in the cold because the teams with money to spend haven’t been looking for point guards. There’s still time for a team with its mid-level exception to spend–New York, perhaps?–to show interest.

5. Ron Artest, Houston (signed with L.A. Lakers)
I will say this–if nothing else, Artest joining the Lakers is the most interesting possible outcome. I’m fascinated to watch how this develops next season.

6. Andre Miller, Philadelphia (unrestricted)
7. Jason Kidd, Dallas (re-signed)

If Miller doesn’t end up getting the same kind of deal as Kidd (three years, $25 million) at three years younger, he’ll have to be very disappointed.

8. Trevor Ariza, L.A. Lakers (signed with Houston)

9. Hedo Turkoglu, Orlando (signed-and-traded to Toronto)

10. Shawn Marion, Toronto (signed-and-traded to Dallas)
I haven’t really discussed Marion’s move to the Mavericks, which took on a slightly different tone today when the Orlando Magic announced the decision to match Dallas’ offer sheet to Marcin Gortat. Without Gortat, the Mavericks are even more likely to finish games with a frontcourt of Josh Howard and Marion at forwards and Dirk Nowitzki in the middle, which is pretty tantalizing, at least at the offensive end. Going back to my Marion criteria, there’s no glaring negatives in terms of the fit for his game. Dallas plays at an average pace, will surely use him at power forward extensively though not exclusively and has fine passers who will find Marion when he’s moving without the ball in the half-court offense. Marion won’t be a 20-point-a-night scorer on a team with no shortage of offensive options, but he might be able to push his efficiency up past its Phoenix levels.

A correction. Multiple sharp readers noted the mistake I made in discussing Maurice Ager in the shooting guard list, writing that he had been drafted ahead of his Michigan State teammate Shannon Brown in 2006. Brown was in fact a first-round pick three spots ahead of Ager, so his superior NBA career should not come as a surprise (the gulf between them still should). I goofed because I was thinking of Daniel Gibson, who like Brown was taken by the Cavaliers in that draft and has in fact been a second-round success story. My apologies for the mistake.

July 7, 2009

League fixes cap & tax figures

Filed under: Uncategorized — Bradford Doolittle @ 11:27 pm

Fresh off the AP wire: The NBA has set the salary cap and luxury tax thresholds for next season. As expected, both are lower than last year. The salary cap was fixed at $57.7 million, a drop of just short of a $1 million over last year. The luxury tax limit was set at $69.92 million. Every dollar over that is doubled, with the overpayment spread among the lower-earning teams. Last year’s number was $71.2 million. The mid-level exception was set at $5.85 million, which will be the amount that Rasheed Wallace earns from the Celtics this season.

With that bit of bean counting out of the way, teams can officially sign free agents beginning Wednesday.

July 5, 2009

Wallace Joins Celtics

Filed under: Uncategorized — Kevin Pelton @ 11:44 pm

One of the strange trends we’ve seen this NBA offseason is the league’s contenders adding or pursuing players who don’t seem to really match their needs. Not everyone agrees, but I’d put the Lakers signing Ron Artest and Cleveland dealing for Shaquille O’Neal into that category. The same criticism surely cannot be leveled at the Boston Celtics after they reportedly added Rasheed Wallace as a free agent Sunday, agreeing with Wallace on a two-year deal at the mid-level exception.

Like the Cavaliers, the Celtics had a tough time matching up with the Orlando Magic’s Rashard Lewis during the postseason. Because it was hard to keep bigs Glen Davis and Kendrick Perkins on the floor together, we saw Brian Scalabrine play 23.7 minutes a night in the Boston-Orlando series, and even though Scalabrine played OK, that’s not workable in the long term.

I did not consider a versatile four as important a need for the Celtics as Cleveland because of Kevin Garnett‘s presumed return from knee trouble next season. If Garnett is healthy, he’s perfectly capable of defending on the perimeter, and if he’s sidelined Boston’s problems run deeper than matchups.

Still, it’s easy to see where a focused, motivated Wallace could help the Celtics in a role similar to the one played by James Posey in the 2008 NBA Finals. Then, Boston moved Garnett to the middle to match up with the Lakers’ frontcourt of Pau Gasol and Lamar Odom, and Posey’s clutch three-pointers were a key to the Celtics winning the title. Doc Rivers may now have a tougher time taking an improving Perkins off the floor, but it’s always preferable to have options, and Rivers will. Should Boston be able to re-sign Davis, a restricted free agent, the team will also be well insulated should Wallace be unable to fit into a reserve role or see his game fall off in the postseason as it has in recent years in Detroit. Right now, Wallace is something of a bonus, and a very nice one for the Celtics.

July 2, 2009

Artest to the Lakers

Filed under: Uncategorized — Kevin Pelton @ 8:32 pm

The success of the Los Angeles Lakers’ signing of Ron Artest, first reported in a major coup by CBSSportsline.com’s Ken Berger, all comes down to possessions. As in, will Artest be willing and able to use fewer of them? Artest was essentially dealt for incumbent small forward Trevor Ariza, which may be formalized if Ariza ends up signing with the Rockets to replace Artest. Last year, Ariza used 16.7 percent of the Lakers’ possessions while on the floor. Artest used 24.7 percent of Houston’s possessions, and has been over 23 percent every year since 2002-03.

If Artest plays to his tendencies, it’s hard to see where those possessions would come from, especially when he is on the floor alongside the high-possession Bryant. I’m of the belief that possession usage is in many ways as much a skill as anything else, not something that can be largely dictated by coaches. Using a ton of possessions is in Artest’s DNA just as much as physical defense or crazy quotes.

This would be OK if Artest was more efficient with said possessions, but his 51.2 percent True Shooting is well below average (and below Ariza’s 54.4 percent mark from last season, which he upped in the playoffs when he improbably developed into a lights-out three-point shooter). The Lakers are trading more efficient possessions from Ariza and other players for less efficient ones.

Artest is a good passer when motivated, but that willingness has long been in question. The worst thing that can happen in the triangle is for the ball to stop in one place. That’s justified for Bryant, but not for Artest. Optimistically, Bryant and Phil Jackson will be able to keep Artest’s worst tendencies in check, but pessimistically he could work against much of what the Lakers are trying to do on offense.

Powered by WordPress