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October 31, 2009

Griffin Injury Assessment

Filed under: Uncategorized — Kevin Pelton @ 12:42 am

On the eve of the season opener, the Los Angeles Clippers got terrible news about their No. 1 overall pick, forward Blake Griffin. Examination revealed a stress fracture of Griffin’s left patella, which the team says will sideline him up to six weeks. To get perspective on the uncommon injury, I turned to Dr. Bill Carroll. Dr. Carroll is the author of the forthcoming Carroll Guide to Sports Injuries, to be published soon online by Football Outsiders and co-edited by his son, Prospectus staple Will Carroll.

“Patellar stress fractures are relatively rare injuries–normally seen in distance runners and those who jump high and, more importantly, land,” wrote Dr. Carroll in an e-mail. “Prognosis will depend on two factors, (1) whether the patellar retinaculum is intact (and it usually is in a stress fracture) and (2) the direction of the fracture–transverse or longitudinal.

“The bad news is it sounds like they intend to treat it conservatively rather than surgically attach wires–conservative treatments usually lead to less successful results and subsequent reinjury if the athlete is to continue to perform at a high level. I have seen the ESPN replay of the injury and it appears to happen when he landed after dunkiing–since it is a stress fracture, that event can actually be no more than the ‘straw that broke the camel’s back’ as a stress fracture is the result of repeated microtrauma–a case where subthreshold traumas accumulate and become threshold trauma.”

Prospectus Elsewhere

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

As the NBA season tipped off, Basketball Prospectus’ experts offered their insights to several other Web sites this week. Bradford Doolittle and I participated in a roundtable previewing the season at the Third Quarter Collapse Magic blog, while I answered some questions about Phoenix for Valley of the Suns. Also, Dan Filowitz of the Free Darko Presents: The Disciples of Clyde podcast was nice enough to invite me on as his guest this week to discuss Pro Basketball Prospectus 2009-10, the basics of APBRmetrics and more. And Bradford analyzed the Knicks with Will Leitch at the New York Magazine Sports Section blog.
It wasn’t all NBA talk. John Gasaway has already kicked off his virtual book tour, talking Indiana Hoosiers turnaround with  Inside the Hall (the first part of the interview touched on the Big Ten and the nation). He then joined Arkansas Expats to break down the Razorbacks.

October 30, 2009

Five thoughts on the Bulls-Spurs

Filed under: Uncategorized — Bradford Doolittle @ 12:55 am

The Bulls got their season off to a happy start, bumping off the Spurs 92-85 at the United Center in Chicago. The Spurs were playing their second game in as many nights after beating New Orleans on Wednesday, but Gregg Popovich did not play his starters heavy minutes and, after the game, seemed disappointed at San Antonio’s lack of chutzpah. He also seemed disappointed by some of the post-game questions (Were you overconfident? … How are the new guys looking? … Why didn’t your team have any energy?). Can’t blame him for that but from the perspective of an analyst who is trying to bring an insider’s perspective to his work, that kind of drivel is a time-suck that makes you want to grab that phallic-shaped microphone from the radio dude standing next to you and start cracking heads. But I digress …

My main takeaways from Thursday’s game:

* The Bulls really beat the Spurs on the hustle board, with a 52-44 edge on the boards (on a similar number of opportunities), a 14-10 edge in blocks+steals and generally winning the mystical “getting-to-loose-balls” category. The ringleader in the Bulls’ “energy” triumph was Joakim Noah, as per usual. Noah is developing into a really nice player. He was active on the glass (six offensive boards), ran the floor, moved the ball well in the halfcourt, operated in the two-man game with Derrick Rose and played solid defense on Tim Duncan. Yes, Duncan had an outstanding game, but it was much more because of his own efforts than it was due any defensive shortcomings on the part of Noah. Noah worked on his jump shot during the offseason and sank a relatively smooth-looking 17-footer in the first half. It’s not going to be a staple of Vinny Del Negro’s offense, but maybe Noah’s defenders will have to think twice about excessive sagging when Noah has the ball in the high post region.

* Del Negro expressed a desire to limit Derrick Rose’s minutes as his young point guard was appearing in his first game in three weeks because of an ankle problem. Mission accomplished. Rose played 33 stress-free minutes and looked as good as ever, with 13 points, seven rebounds and seven assists to go with one turnover. His supposedly-improved jumper was rusty (five-of-12 shooting), but he clearly outplayed his Spurs counterpart, Tony Parker, who didn’t score in the second half. Just as important as Rose’s efforts, however, was the fact that the Bulls were able to maintain, and even increase, their lead when Rose was off the floor.

* Popovich bemoaned Chicago’s second-chance points afterwards. The Bulls grabbed 15 offensive boards, to the Spurs’ eight. (Again — on a similar number of misses.) DeJuan Blair played just 12:43 in the game, while Popovich went with a lot of small lineups. “I was trying to score,” he said in the post-game presser. Coming up short in the offensive rebound column isn’t new for the Spurs. Last season, San Antonio was last in the league in offensive rebound percentage. That was only slightly unusual. The Spurs always rank near the bottom of the NBA in offensive rebounding, perferring to get guys back to the defensive end of the floor. What was unusual is that a hallmark of Popovich’s teams has been the ability to lock down the defensive glass. In that respect, the 15 offensive boards Chicago grabbed had to be particularly galling.

* Popovich said before the game that with San Antonio’s improved depth, he expects to play a faster pace this season. I’ll believe it when I see it for 30 games or so. The highest the Spurs have ranked in pace factor during Popovich’s 13 seasons prior to this season is 19th.

* After a sluggish preseason, Luol Deng had a nice outing for Chicago. He was eight-of-13 from the floor and had 17 points, nine rebounds and a couple of assists. He was aggressive in taking the ball off the dribble and working off the blocks, which is a great sign for the Bulls. Deng also limited Richard Jefferson to nine points and two boards and three-of-nine shooting.

I also logged some stuff in-game with Twitter. You can follow that and get future Tweets at @bdoolittle.

October 29, 2009

Opening night, final rosters and Bulls-Spurs

Filed under: Uncategorized — Bradford Doolittle @ 5:41 pm

We had a bit of trouble with Unfiltered earlier this week, so I was unable to post my opening night lament:

Opening night! Don’t get me wrong — I could not be more excited to have the NBA season tip off. And because we wrote a book about it, I don’t think I’ve ever been quite this well prepared for the start of a season. Still, it bothers me that the NBA season starts on a Tuesday, tucked in between Monday Night Football and the start of the World Series.

For years, the season started on a Friday with a near-full slate games, then followed it up with the same on Saturday. By the time Saturday was finished, every team had played a game. That arrangement had more of a big-event feel to it. My brother and I would get together no matter where we resided to watch as many games as possible. This was in the dark days before the advent of the DVR. It was like Christmas morning, only with more Bernard King.

Nevertheless, tonight’s four games are chicken soup for the NBA fan’s soul. Unfortunately, there is a little bit of bittersweetness in the concoction.

Timely or timeless? You be the judge.

The other bit of opening night news was the release of the NBA’s initial rosters. As ESPN’s Marc Stein pointed out, 18 teams ended up carrying 15 players on their opening roster. All told, there are 14 (now 15) unfilled roster spots across the league. The news could have been much worse for the NBA Players Association.

Who are (were) the biggest surprises?

* Derrick Byars, Chi
* Coby Karl, Cle
* Carlos Arroyo, Mia
* Marcus Landry, NY
* Wesley Matthews, Uta

The common thread between these five players is that none of them made Pro Basketball Prospectus 2009-10. That’s why I’m surprised by them, though Arroyo certainly would have gotten an entry had he signed in Miami by press time. We did write-ups on 514 players and, still, we couldn’t quite nail them all. Maybe next year. Since the rosters were released, the Bulls waived Byars. He must of had a bad practice.

I’m at the United Center for the Bulls-Spurs game tonight. I’m working on a DeJuan Blair feature, but I’ll be tweeting occasionally through the night. Follow me at @bdoolittle. Perhaps I’ll post my tweets as an Unfiltered later. There are no rules here.

Instant reax to Bissinger reax!

Filed under: Uncategorized — John Gasaway @ 11:29 am

In today’s fast-paced world, what with our Otis elevator safety brakes and self-scouring steel plows, reaction arrives quickly. One minute I’m posting my piece on Buzz Bissinger‘s call in the New York Times for the swift and fiery destruction of one-and-done. The next minute I’m going to sleep.

But the minute after that I’m rolling into my corner office here at the luxe Google-style campus that Prospectus maintains for its hoops analysts (it’s like Sterling-Cooper only, alas, no Joan) and finding a very gracious and interesting email from Jon Nichols of Basketball-Statistics.com. Nichols authored the research on NBA rookies that Bissinger cited in his piece.

Here’s what I said about Bissinger’s cite:

Bissinger noted that players who entered the NBA straight out of high school have historically performed better as rookies than have their counterparts who were drafted as as college juniors or seniors. Good grief, of course they have. The NBA may not be my beat–it says college hoops on my business card–but even a tyro like me knows that in any statistical comparison between two sets of NBA rookies, the group that includes LeBron, KG, Kobe, McGrady, Dwight Howard, and Amar’e Stoudemire is probably going to fare pretty well.

So let’s be clear. The fear that permeated the air around the NBA draft in the old days before one-and-done was never that these players plucked straight from high school would fail to pan out as a group. It was that the high-schooler that your team drafted might fail to pan out. And in this sense it’s revealing that Bissinger was able to perform the not inconsiderable feat of penning a 1300-word piece on one-and-done without using two words in particular, “Kwame” and “Brown.”

And here’s what Jon emailed me on the interrelated subjects of Buzz Bissinger, yours truly, and the highly variant fates of NBA rookies with the initials K.B.:

Hi, John,

I enjoyed your piece regarding Bissinger’s article. Although it’s been a few years since I wrote that research and my style of work has changed, there are a few things I’d like to clear up.

Whether or not Bissinger actually understood this, I think your point about phenoms like LeBron, Howard, and Kobe further supports the research rather than discredits it.

Only the true elite coming out of high school are going to make the jump to the NBA (if legal). And some/many of them will fail. So the typical argument is that well of course the high school players look better! It’s only the elite talents that would have been great in the NBA had they stayed a few years in college anyway!

But that’s the point. For those elite talents it does make sense and the numbers in their rookie years (and careers) can prove it.

You also made the point that had it not been for such-and-such superstars the high-schoolers wouldn’t look so good. Each of the age groups has its ups and downs, so specifically selecting the ups and somehow discrediting them doesn’t seem like a fair argument. I believe it was in fact in that article of mine where I mentioned the disparity in success of high school players. You take the good with the bad, I guess. The fact that some general managers are trying to minimize the risk for the sake of their job security is no excuse to limit the freedoms of 18-year-old kids.

Anyways, good article. In the end we have the same idea. (Although I think narrowing the impact of one-and-done’s to just ticket sales ignores the large impact they have on things such as TV ratings, especially for more casual fans.)

–Jon

Jon’s exactly right: We have the same idea, and if anything in my phrasing suggested I was seeking to discredit the notion that the high-school-to-NBA cohort is a variegated bricolage of outcomes just like any other age category, I hereby correct myself. My point was simply that, as Jon states, the best players in the world will be drafted at the earliest moment when they’re eligible. Subsequent research, including and especially research as rigorous and intelligent as Jon’s, will therefore find that this particular age group looks really good on paper. So far so good.

To say the data for that age group looks really good, however, cannot support the weight Bissinger puts on it in this single discrete instance. (Keeping in mind both Bissinger and I want to chloroform one-and-done. I just think his argument’s a bit creaky while mine’s flawless as always.) You could set the age minimum for 25 or 18 and Bissinger could well note that lo and behold 25- and 18-year-old Kobes and Howards did really well as rookies! The apposite question, of course, is not the moment at which the outliers should be allowed to shine but rather when should the first round’s 50th percentile be allowed to tempt fate.   

Lastly I do wonder if perhaps Jon overstates the impact of big one-and-done stars on things such as actual revenue to schools and TV ratings. I would instead fling out a reckless but winningly intuitive Gasaway Mayo Paradox, wherein huge one-and-done stars make their biggest revenue splashes precisely at the relatively sleepy hoops backwaters like USC, places where elastic revenue sources like merchandise sales are slack and less elastic ones like gate receipts are currently hampered by the ubiquity of fans cleverly disguised as empty seats. At Kentucky, by contrast, John Wall is certainly bringing excitement to a fever pitch and he may even be selling an added increment of jerseys. But: Wall’s excitement-added increment would represent a couple flights of stairs on top of a preexisting Everest of revenue; it’s physically impossible to get more cash-paying customers into Rupp; and the very term “casual Kentucky fan” is surely an oxymoron on a level with “classy Deadspin.”

As for TV ratings, I eagerly await the robust study on number of eyeballs vs., well everything: teams, conferences, stars, time of night, etc. In the meantime anecdotal evidence and my Spidey sense unite in serene albeit provisional accord right about here: Said ratings may turn out to be driven in no small measure by the passionate followings that adhere to schools that can claim six-figure alumni populations from the non-hoops-dormant pluralities of the Big Ten and ACC (plus Kentucky, duh).  Those ratings hit the bottom lines with a loud crash at ESPN and CBS, of course, but they’re little more than a distant murmur at the NCAA and indeed virtually silent by the time you get to the programs themselves. Whether the recipient of the millions in cash is the NCAA (with its somewhat popular tournament in March) or the conferences (with their regular seasons from November to February), TV money is locked in by the decade precisely to avoid downswings in the economy and the occasional wacky and unforeseeable decision by the likes of David Stern

October 26, 2009

Batum Sidelined

Filed under: Uncategorized — Kevin Pelton @ 4:56 pm

My hope with the release this morning of “final” SCHOENE projections was that injuries would not be an issue between then and opening night. Alas, within a half an hour of the column going up news broke in Portland that starting small forward Nicolas Batum will undergo surgery to repair a torn shoulder labrum and miss the next 3-5 months.

If anyone is prepared to replace an injured starter, it is the Blazers. In fact, Batum’s absence might make things somewhat easier for Nate McMillan to juggle minutes, as Travis Outlaw and Rudy Fernandez will be able to play at small forward in addition to their primary positions (shooting guard for Fernandez, power forward for Outlaw, where they back up the team’s best two players). Martell Webster, who looked like an overqualified 10th man, now becomes the likely starter at small forward. McMillan will have several options as far as finishing games depending on matchups.

Losing Batum will hurt the Portland defense. Even as a rookie, the Frenchman was the Blazers’ best perimeter defender, and his improvement over the course of the season as a stopper would surely have continued in year two. Still, the bottom-line cost to Portland’s record will probably be fairly minimal because of the quality of the alternatives. Docking Batum 60 games for the surgery – the same amount as Brandan Wright, who recently underwent similar shoulder surgery – costs the Blazers about 0.8 games in SCHOENE’s projections.

The bigger loss is Batum’s development as part of Portland’s young core. It may not be until 2010-11 that Batum is truly back at full strength, and the injury will cost him valuable NBA experience.

I’m personally upset because Batum was one of my late picks in my super-deep fantasy league (14 teams, 14 players per team); my team has now experienced two injuries in the last week (Kevin Love being the other). Also, Batum’s absence undermines some of the analysis Blazersedge’s Ben Golliver and I did in this week’s two-part season preview Dontonio Wingcast podcast.

October 25, 2009

Updated SCHOENE Projection Sheet

Filed under: Uncategorized — Kevin Pelton @ 10:08 pm

For those of you with last-minute fantasy drafts Monday or even Tuesday, be sure to download the latest version of our SCHOENE Projection Spreadsheet, available now via your Baseball Prospectus download manager. This should cover all known major injuries as well as some other places where playing time has changed in the last week or so. However, if something breaks between now and the season tipping off, we’ll provide another update. If you haven’t yet purchased the SCHOENE Spreadsheet for $4.95, find out more and download a sample.

October 22, 2009

Wall to Wall Wall

Filed under: Uncategorized — John Gasaway @ 11:35 pm

Today ESPN reported that the eligibility of Kentucky freshman John Wall is in doubt, but that the future lottery pick may be sidelined for just three or so games. Assuming no new facts come to light, the story was an excellent example of the “WHAT?!…Oh, is that all?” reaction that news professionals now refer to as the balloon boy sequence: shock and fright followed by a shrug.

The man at the center of the matter, for once, is not UK coach John Calipari. Nor is it Wall, really. No, today’s news is actually the doing of Brian Clifton, who was a sports agent for about a year until early 2008, at which time he relinquished his license. Clifton says he left the agent business because he wanted to focus on his North Carolina-based D-One Sports program and, anyway, he hadn’t signed any clients. But in putting together his invaluable article on Clifton last year, Gary Parrish of CBSSports.com talked to sources who said Clifton’s hand was forced by a new NCAA online system for accrediting AAU and summer league coaches. One of the questions coaches now have to answer is:

Are you a licensed sports agent, runner/recruiter, or representative/agent/employee of a sports agency?

An answer in the affirmative from Clifton would have prohibited him from acting as Wall’s AAU coach. 

From Kentucky’s perspective, however, the problem is that Clifton had already been Wall’s coach, in 2007, at the same time that he was a licensed agent. Having had an agent as his AAU coach makes Wall the recipient, in the eyes of the NCAA, of improper benefits. To become certified as an amateur eligible to compete, Wall in theory will have to reimburse Clifton for any benefits received, as well as sit out ten percent of UK’s regular season games. Wildcat compliance officials have reportedly been working for months to identify exactly what is owed to Clifton.

All in all it’s been an eventful couple years for Clifton. In the summer of 2008 his brother, Dwon Clifton, was hired by Baylor to serve as the Bears’ director of player development, a position that did not previously exist in Waco. The hire wasn’t enough to lure Wall to Baylor, obviously, but then again the story of the Cliftons and John Wall isn’t over yet. Parrish has wondered aloud if Brian Clifton might have sufficient chutzpah to simply renew his license as a sports agent at the end of Wall’s only college season. Or perhaps Wall will sign with Bill Duffy Associates, an agency made famous by the O.J. Mayo saga and one that signed NC State product Cameron Bennerman after he’d been counseled by Brian Clifton. 

But we’re getting ahead of ourselves. First comes the actual basketball, even if Wall’s season is ten percent shorter than originally scheduled. Calipari has said that Wall is further along than Derrick Rose and Tyreke Evans were at this point. High praise, indeed. In a forthcoming book that I highly recommend you pick up, you’ll learn exactly how Kentucky’s 2008-09 season came apart at the seams on the floor. (You already know why it came apart off the court.) In the meantime I will say that if Wall wants to make the most of his brief stint in Lexington, he’d do well to set the following goals:

1) Take care of the rock
2) Feed Patrick Patterson
3) Defend

Because I have a feeling the scoring will take care of itself.    

Beech Takes Larger Role in Dallas

Filed under: Uncategorized — Kevin Pelton @ 3:09 pm

Interesting news today from Rob Mahoney of The Two Man Game, who reveals that 82games.com founder Roland Beech has taken a larger role with the Mavericks. Beech, who had previously consulted for Mark Cuban from afar, has apparently moved to Dallas to become more involved in the day-to-day business of running the team. Having a statistical analyst in house is something of an oddity for an NBA team. Mike Zarren is the exception as part of the Celtics’ front office, but his role goes well beyond crunching numbers (Zarren graduated from Harvard Law School and is also the team’s associate counsel). For the most part, even analysts who have considerable influence (like Dean Oliver in Denver) have operated from a distance.

“It’s kind of an experiment to have me here in this way,” says Beech, obviously anticipating the scientific theme of the day.

Beech’s increased role might explain why the Mavericks decided not to renew the contract of IU professor Wayne Winston and Jeff Sagarin, who had been using their WinVAL system to consult from the team in concert with Beech.

Anyway, this is the first of a two-part interview with Beech, who shares his thoughts on the state of APBRmetrics, how he got involved with Dallas, and more.

I’m actually not a big fan of the regression plus/minus rating, even though I’ve actually published a few articles on it. I just don’t believe players have a constant value. The whole foundation of regression is trying to find a constant value for a guy, but value can change pretty dramatically with a different role, a different coaching scheme, different teammates, or different match-ups. I certainly look at plus/minus statistics, but I don’t view it as a one number rating – I don’t think anything is a one number rating that captures everything. I don’t put too much stock in regression plus/minus. I mean, I look at is as a factor.

In (Kevin) Durant’s case, his plus/minus is bad – his on/off, whatever you want to look at. But I still think he’s a great player, and I think we’ll see a progression that’s common from what I’ve seen with a lot of the young players where their plus/minus starts getting better. I think that typically, defense takes a long time to learn when you first come into the league and so over time that should improve. I think Durant will clearly be very good player for a long time to come.

October 20, 2009

PBP 09-10 on Amazon

Filed under: Uncategorized — Kevin Pelton @ 12:43 pm

Great news for anyone who has been waiting to purchase their copy of Pro Basketball Prospectus 2009-10: it’s now available on Amazon.com, offering additional shipping options. Order now and you can have the book in hand in time to start reading through the 370 pages of statistics and analysis before the start of the NBA regular season a week from tonight. For more on the book, don’t forget to check out our homepage featuring endorsements, sample chapters and more.

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