Basketball Prospectus: Unfiltered Everything Else is Fluff.

September 29, 2009

Renardo Sidney deserves a better lawyer

Filed under: Uncategorized — John Gasaway @ 11:01 am

I really should continue working on our latest college hoops book (announcement forthcoming), but the press release that landed in my In tray this morning is simply too good to let pass: Renardo Sidney has a lawyer, Donald Jackson, who is vowing to take his client’s case to…Congress? Yes.

You will recall that Sidney is a 6-11 McDonald’s All-American who has arrived at Mississippi State from Jackson, Mississippi, via Los Angeles. In February Sidney announced that he would play this season for USC, only to have the Trojans subsequently rescind their scholarship offer. Why on earth would a program say no to a 6-11 McDonald’s All-American?

In a lengthy investigative piece published in May, the LA Times detailed the circumstances that led not only USC but also UCLA to withdraw scholarship offers to Sidney. The Sidney family arrived in southern California in 2006 and by 2008 was reportedly living in a house that carried a market value of $1.2 million and rented for somewhere between $4,000 and $5,000 per month. When asked how the family met such obligations, attorney Jackson has stated that Renardo Sidney Sr. is employed by Reebok and his wife is his personal assistant. That’s sufficient explanation for the Sidneys, but it spooked USC, UCLA, and 341 other D-I programs away until Mississippi State made its overtures. When the LAT asked a friend of the family in April if MSU was “the front-runner” for getting Sidney, the reply was that the Bulldogs were “the only runner.”

Once Sidney committed to Mississippi State, the NCAA asked the family for its financial records. When the powers that be in Indianapolis were not satisfied with the documents provided, they declared that Sidney was “not certified” as an amateur. And here we are.

Jackson has loudly and repeatedly vowed to take legal action to get his client on the court for the Bulldogs this season. Call me naive, but I had rather assumed the legal action would consist of finding a sympathetic judge to issue an injunction, court order, or anything else that would create the needed five-month window to get this kid through his one-and-done year. After all, judges issue questionable orders all the time. Many of them are overturned later, but that process takes time–weeks and months during which Sidney could be dominating the SEC West. I thought Jackson was headed down this road.

Silly me. Jackson instead thinks the wise course here is to haul the NCAA before Congress on charges of “selectively harsh treatment against African American student athletes.” I have no doubt Jackson can round up some sympathetic ears on the Hill and hold some rollicking good press conferences. But let’s be frank: The chances of Jackson securing from Congress the needed “legislative intervention” (Jackson’s words) on behalf of Renardo Sidney are exactly zero. Or should be. If our nation’s elected officials actually table discussion on Afghanistan, our health care system, reforms in financial regulation, and Iran’s nuclear capability to spend time pondering whether or not Renardo Sidney should be allowed to play college basketball, they will have one angry constituent on their hands, regardless of whether they mandate or prohibit Sidney’s presence on the floor.

Jackson’s press release, nominally about the injustice being visited on his client, helpfully includes the following information vital to Sidney’s cause:

Donald Maurice Jackson, a licensed attorney and the Principal of The Sports Group, advises organizations, student-athletes, [sic] coaches in NCAA enforcement matters and appeals. He has appeared before the NCAA infractions committee and various NCAA committees on behalf of member institutions, student-athletes, and coaches. In recent years, he has represented numerous high profile student athletes in NCAA investigative actions, including several McDonald’s and Parade All Americans. Jackson is a graduate of the University of Virginia School of Law and a former collegiate pitcher. Jackson is the author of Fourth Down and Twenty Five Years to Go: The African American Athlete and the Justice System.

Sidney could use a lawyer that spends less time distributing his own CV and more time making the best argument in the most promising venue.           

Uh, Oakland we have a problem

Filed under: Uncategorized — Bradford Doolittle @ 12:56 am

You have to wonder what is going on in Golden State. The Warriors selected scoring phenom Stephon Curry with the seventh pick of the most recent draft, despite having an undersized, score-first combo guard in Monta Ellis. Hey, it worked for me. Talent is talent and in today’s NBA game, the traditional point guard role isn’t nearly what it used to be. A Curry-Ellis backcout sounded like a lot of fun. Perhaps someone should have run this by Ellis.

At Monday’s media day in Oakland, when asked by reporters about the possibilities of playing alongside Curry, Ellis said:

“Us together? No,” Ellis said. “Can’t. We just can’t. … Just can’t.”

“They say you can?” Ellis repeated (when told that the Warriors thought it was a GOOD idea). “They say you can … but you can’t. I just want to win and you’re not going to win that way.”

You gotta love the NBA. Drama, and we haven’t even really started training camp.

September 25, 2009

To Foul Up Three?

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

Wayne Winston, the Indiana University professor who collaborated with rankings guru Jeff Sagarin to introduce the NBA’s first version of adjusted plus-minus, has a new book out called Mathletics. In addition to discussing adjusted plus-minus, Winston has other basketball-related studies. I’ve yet to get a chance to check out the book, being too busy finalizing our own forthcoming effort, but Henry Abbott blogged today at TrueHoop about one of them–revisiting the old debate over whether to intentionally foul when leading by three points.

Then Winston does something delightfully simple. He asks: Has it worked? He presents, for the first time I’m aware, the evidence:

A student in my sports and math class, Kevin Klocke, looked at all NBA games from 2005 through 2008 in which a team had the ball with 1-10 seconds left and trailed by three points. The leading team did not foul 260 times and won 91.9% of the games. The leading team did foul 27 times and won 88.9% of the games. This seems to indicate that fouling does not significantly increase a team’s chances of winning when they are three points ahead.

He adds a key footnote:

We believe more work needs to be done to determine the definitive answer to this question. We are working on a simulation model of the last minute of a basketball game that should help settle the issue.

(The doubly-indented text is from the book.)

While the study by Klocke and Winston is a nice start to this research, Winston is correct to say more work needs to be done. There are two reasons that the percentages don’t tell us very much. The first is the small sample of times teams chose to foul. They went 24-3 in those games. Change one outcome either way and fouling either looks substantially worse than not fouling or slightly better.

Second, as David Thorpe points out later in Henry’s post, the best strategy may not be to have a hard and fast rule. That is, coaches are taking the situation into account when deciding whether to foul. Coaches are less likely to foul a poor-shooting team that will be hard-pressed to make a three, since a win is already almost assured in these situations. On the other hand, they’re also more likely to foul when less time is on the clock, which means the leading team’s chances of winning are better. So, as Henry says, the situation is still awfully complicated to study. A model might give us a better look at the issue than real-life situations.

September 15, 2009

So . . . Allen Iverson

Filed under: Uncategorized — Kevin Pelton @ 1:52 am

I’ve yet to have time to comment on Allen Iverson signing with the Memphis Grizzlies (though I did manage to make “God Chose Memphis” my name in the Football Outsiders Loser League), while Bradford Doolittle’s thoughtful analysis of the situation has gone directly into the forthcoming Pro Basketball Prospectus 2009-10. Fortunately, djturtleface of the Straight Outta Vancouver blog crunched the numbers on how Iverson’s usage rate will fit with his new teammates in Memphis.

With Iverson in the starting lineup the usage percentage as a team comes up to 122.4%. That is much too high, which means that at least two players are going to be doing significantly less shooting.

His conclusion, an eminently reasonable one, is that Iverson needs to be the Grizzlies’ sixth man to even out the usage rates of the starters and the reserves. Certainly, Memphis should keep one of Iverson and O.J. Mayo on the floor at all times while minimizing the minutes the two shot creators play together, and using Iverson as a sixth man seems to be the easiest way to do that–provided Iverson is willing to accept the role.

Either way, the Grizzlies have dramatically increased their number of high-usage players with the additions of both Iverson and Zach Randolph. The SCHOENE projection system adjusts for usage, and nobody in the league has players with higher projected usage rates than Memphis. Is this a good thing or a bad thing? The answer is yes. When good offensive teams bring in volume scorers like Iverson, it’s a bad thing because possessions are being diverted from more efficient options to less efficient ones. However, the Grizzlies weren’t going to be confused with the Suns last year, so the fact that individual player efficiency increases as usage rates decrease should work in their favor.

In this case, I think the potential issues are ultimately less about math and more about chemistry or psychology. Can Memphis keep everybody happy, especially if the team gets off to a poor start?

A Hall of Our Own

Filed under: Uncategorized — Kevin Pelton @ 1:20 am

In the wake of last weekend’s Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame induction ceremonies, Friend of BP M. Haubs from The Painted Area argues the time has come for an NBA-only Hall of Fame. I’ve never been sold by arguments in the past, in part because there’s often an undercurrent of NBA superiority, particularly towards the women’s game (something to which I am especially sensitive).

Part of the line of argument seems to be that the NBA is getting squeezed out in favor of representatives of other fields, which I don’t think is accurate. According to the Hall’s explanation of the enshrinement process, the four different categories of Hall of Fame candidates–North American (that is, NBA and college), Veteran (retired at least 35 years), Women and International–essentially operate independently. That is, just because the Hall of Fame inducts a European star or a coach from the ranks of the  NCAA Women’s game doesn’t mean an NBA player is not being voted in.

However, Haubs adds some more trenchant criticism, including the blurred line between collegiate and professional accomplishments and the Hall’s own shortcomings, especially in terms of transparency.

Regarding players specifically, the idea that performance in both pro and college is taken into consideration makes the precedents rather bizarre when looking at upcoming candidates.

[. . .]

The point is this: by the standards set by these players, guys like Christian Laettner, Danny Manning, Glen Rice and Grant Hill should unquestionably receive strong consideration for the Hall, and Tyler Hansbrough and Joakim Noah already have a leg up on their candidacies.

One way or another, I’d love to see the Hall of Fame become a bigger part of the NBA. Last year’s center-heavy class of Patrick Ewing and Hakeem Olajuwon drew some attention, but when was the last time before this year that people really paid attention to the induction weekend? Granted, it’s partially because Peter Vecsey apparently delivered the worst speech in Hall of Fame history and Michael Jordan‘s love letter to everyone who inspired him along the way so divided observers (I enjoyed it for the most part), but every year the NFL and baseball draw huge attention to their Hall of Fame ceremonies. There’s no reason we can’t accomplish the same thing in the NBA.

(Hat tip: TrueHoop)

September 5, 2009

Sessions Signs Offer Sheet

Filed under: Uncategorized — Kevin Pelton @ 1:44 pm

Even without Ricky Rubio, the Minnesota Timberwolves could have two of the league’s best young point guards next season. The first is rookie Jonny Flynn, taken the pick behind Rubio, and the other might be Ramon Sessions, signed by the Timberwolves to an offer sheet yesterday. Despite the fact that Sessions’ four-year, $16.4 million deal is extremely reasonable, his former Milwaukee Bucks squad is not expected to match because of tax concerns.

How good a value is Minnesota getting if Sessions goes unmatched? Check out my list from earlier this summer of the top 10 free agents along with their first-year salary and the length of their contract:

Certainly, Sessions’ deal stands out. Save for David Lee, whose situation has yet to play itself out, every other top free agent on the market got at least the mid-level exception. Sessions won’t even be making that much if he picks up the fourth-year player option on his contract. Free agency certainly isn’t so orderly that the top free agent gets more than the second-best and so on. Restricted free agency affects things, as does which teams have cap space and whether players re-sign with their former teams.

Even in that context, however, this has been a strange summer. It seems to be more a matter of player evaluation than circumstance (remember that Ben Gordon and Charlie Villanueva, who didn’t make this list, also got big deals), as well as a collective decision to ignore player age. In three years, Sessions could easily be the best player of this year’s free agents, and if so he’ll be a bargain for the Timberwolves. Sessions has already played plenty of shooting guard in an undersized backcourt alongside Luke Ridnour and could easily start for Minnesota at shooting guard as well as see time behind Flynn. When and if Rubio comes over in two years, the Timberwolves may need to make moves to even up their talent, but if he gets Sessions you have to give David Kahn credit for stockpiling valuable assets.

September 3, 2009

Bowen Retires

Filed under: Uncategorized — Kevin Pelton @ 2:10 pm

Long-time San Antonio Spurs defensive stalwart Bruce Bowen is set to announce his retirement at a press conference today, multiple outlets are reporting this morning. Bowen probably could have helped a team in a limited role off the bench this season, but with the Spurs apparently not interested in bringing him back after he was included for cap purposes in the Richard Jefferson trade and subsequently waived by the Bucks, Bowen has decided to focus on his post-basketball life.

Admittedly, as a fan of a Western Conference rival, I’ve never been Bowen’s biggest backer. I wouldn’t go as far as Ray Allen in decrying Bowen’s tactics, but at times I do think he crossed the line into dangerous if not dirty play. That said, besides his admirable work off the court, Bowen leaves with an important NBA legacy.

For one, he offers hope to undrafted players. It took Bowen four years to make the league after finishing his career at Cal State-Fullerton, and he did not establish himself as a regular starter until age 29 in Miami. The following year, Bowen signed with San Antonio as a free agent, and he proved to be a perfect fit for Gregg Popovich‘s system. By focusing on one specific offensive skill (the corner three-pointer), Bowen made himself useful enough on offense to stay on the floor for 30-plus minutes a night. (That never translated into his individual statistics, however. Bowen retires with one of the most negative career WARP totals of any players.)

I would also say Bowen brought a certain level of attention to the unglamorous work of defensive stoppers. Bowen wasn’t the first player to gain accolades for individual perimeter defense, and he won’t be the last. However, an entire generation of offensive-challenged defenders gets the luxury of the “next Bruce Bowen” tag, not unlike talented young swingmen in the post-Michael Jordan era. For a guy who took nearly a decade just to become the first Bruce Bowen, that’s not bad at all.

September 1, 2009

No Rubio, No Problem for Timberwolves

Filed under: Uncategorized — Kevin Pelton @ 12:50 am

Once again, Minnesota Timberwolves President of Basketball Operations David Kahn is the punchline after today’s news that Timberwolves draft pick Ricky Rubio will remain in Spain, agreeing to a six-year deal with FC Barcelona that means he will not play in the NBA until the 2011-12 season.

Since taking Rubio with the No. 5 overall pick, Kahn has made no fewer than three trips to the Iberian Peninsula to negotiate. Unless he was bringing money to give Rubio under the table, however, Kahn could do nothing to change the reality of the situation: Minnesota could offer just $500,000 toward the buyout of Rubio’s contract with Joventut, leaving the player essentially playing for free the first two years of his NBA career.

From a marketing perspective, Rubio’s value to the Timberwolves is obvious, and that Kahn expended so much energy on the negotiating process indicates its importance to him. From a basketball standpoint, however, it’s hard to see this as a negative for Minnesota. Rubio, lest we forget, will not turn 19 until October. He is, in fact, a full month younger than highly-touted incoming Kentucky recruit John Wall, the presumptive No. 1 overall pick in next June’s Draft.

Given all the hand-wringing we usually hear about young players entering the NBA unprepared, how can it be considered a bad thing that Rubio will spend the next two years developing and maturing physically in Spain on Barca’s dime? When he does come over, Rubio will be better prepared to contribute immediately. He’ll also be (essentially) the same price. By waiting two years to bring Rubio over, the Timberwolves will get his age-21 through age-24 seasons on his rookie contract, as opposed to having to begin paying him market value at the age of 23. In the long term, this is a financial boon for Minnesota.

There are two caveats here. The first is, most obviously, that Rubio does come over in the summer of 2011. By that point, there will be little value to the Timberwolves in waiting. Rubio will be ready to contribute and Minnesota will be ready for him. This isn’t a major concern to me. Rubio has made it clear that he wants to play in the NBA, and a player of his caliber would be hard-pressed to ultimately command an equivalent salary in Europe. (That’s the downside of moving to Barcelona for Rubio, the flipside of the argument above for the Timberwolves. He now must wait an additional two years to start his NBA service clock and move closer to his first big contract.)

The other issue is if Kahn rejects this analysis and trades Rubio’s rights now. While such a move would clear up Minnesota’s situation at the point, where No. 6 overall pick Jonny Flynn will start the next two seasons, it would be hard for the Timberwolves to get full value for Rubio at this point in time.

If I haven’t made it clear in the past, I consider Rubio a unique prospect with the chance to become a special player in the NBA. If that’s the case, he will be more than worth the wait for Minnesota.

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