Basketball Prospectus: Unfiltered Everything Else is Fluff.

December 8, 2009

Also very good at basketball: Daniel Orton

Filed under: Uncategorized — John Gasaway @ 12:42 pm

I tried six ways to Sunday to make the following fit in the John Wall feature I just posted, but it was like putting a taco on a birthday cake so I had to leave it out. Nevertheless I want this to be on the record:

The sequence in Saturday’s North CarolinaKentucky game where Daniel Orton rejected John Henson at the rim, sprinted down the floor, received a fast-break pass from Eric Bledsoe, and dished an exquisite bounce-pass to Patrick Patterson for the dunk may have been the most impressive possession I have seen from a player this decade. Defense, athleticism, hustle, selflessness, and point-guard-level skill, all on one play. Seven-second wonder Daniel Orton, I salute you! 

December 7, 2009

Winning Basketball, the Tony Shaver way

Filed under: Uncategorized — Ken Pomeroy @ 11:53 pm

People occasionally ask me what the key to winning college basketball games is. My answer is always the same: take over half your shots from beyond the arc and make over 40 percent of them. Sadly, no coach has ever taken me up on that. Oh sure, every season there is usually a team or two that satisfies the first criterion, but never both.

While I’ve never had a conversation with William & Mary head coach Tony Shaver, through eight games his team is maintaining my crazy rate of three-point production. Fully 50.2 percent of the Tribe’s shots are threes (ranked 4th in the nation) and they’ve made 41.0 percent of them (32nd). They’re not so hot in other areas – they don’t rebound well, they make few twos and get a lot of those attempts blocked anyway. And to say their defense is porous would be kind. But none of that matters if you’re going to rain in threes every game.

William & Mary has yet to be held below a point per possession and in each of their six wins they exceeded 1.1 PPP, including a 12-point victory at Wake Forest (where oddly only 34 percent of their shots were threes). Since Shaver took over in Williamsburg before the 2003-04 season, his teams have been increasingly three-happy, but never terribly accurate. Undoubtedly, they won’t be able to maintain this pace in either category and it’s a bit early to declare that their offense is Gonzaga East, but the Tribe are still a story worth following.

The extent of the college’s hoops tradition is that the single-game rebound record is held by the Tribe’s Bill Chambers (51 in a 1953 game – some sort of cyborg combining DNA from Blake Griffin and Michael Beasley isn’t going to break that.) While Northwestern is getting a lot of mileage out of the fact they have never been to the NCAA tournament, W&M can claim that as well. In fact, the Tribe has been to the postseason exactly once – losing a first-round game in the 1983 NIT. William & Mary was founded in 1693, so that’s one quasi-March Madness experience in 316 years! There’s still a long way to go (given that the team went 10-20 last season), but with additional postseason options available these days, that could be changing this season.

Weekend in Hoops: Portland Oregon and sloe gin fizz

Filed under: Uncategorized — John Gasaway @ 1:14 pm

What the heck happened to Portland? The Pilots were teed up to be our feel-good story this year and, more pointedly, to give Gonzaga a much-needed run for its money in the WCC. Now all the sudden Eric Reveno‘s team can’t swing a cat without knocking over still another opponent that blew them off the floor. Yes, the 18-point loss to West Virginia in the title game of the 76 Classic was to be expected. The four-point loss at home to Portland State? Less so. Then last night Portland lost at Idaho 68-48.

Granted, Idaho is no tomato can. The Vandals did beat Utah in Salt Lake City, which is way more than Illinois, for one, can say. Still, 68-48? Wow. The Pilots better radio the tower for help! Har! OK, I’ll stop.

Portland’s eight-game rise-and-fall would appear to present a near-classic case of a foreseeable correction becoming an unforeseeable avalanche. This team started the season with an offensive display that would have put Reveno’s group in the same bleachers with 2008-09 vintage North Carolina and Pitt. Feast your eyes:

Auto-Pilot disengaged 
Portland offense, first four games (E. Washington, Seattle, Oregon, UCLA) vs. last four (Minnesota, West Virginia, Portland St., Idaho)

                        First 4   Last 4
Points per possession    1.20      0.96
2FG%                     52.8      48.1
3FG%                     53.7      28.7
TO%                      22.3      22.8
OR%                      40.6      35.2

Hindsight’s 20-20 but I swear if you’d asked me about column A on November 26 I would have puffed my chest out rather smugly and said “Portland will not continue to make 54 percent of its threes!” What I wouldn’t have been able to tell you is that the Pilots’ perimeter shooting would veer to the other extreme, or that their D would disappear entirely: Portland State, to take one example, scored its 86 points in a 67-possession game. 

T.J. Campbell has encapsulated this team dynamic rather nicely. He had a perfectly dreadful 1-of-11 night against Idaho, yet on paper he’s still a Harangody-in-2006-level victim of under-use. (Though he is at least starting now.) Even after a tough night in Moscow, Campbell’s still making about 48 percent of both his threes and his twos for the year, while getting to the line frequently and shooting 86 percent there. Yet he’s taking less than 20 percent of the Pilots’ shots during his (team-leading) minutes. Forget the 1-of-11 and give him the ball, Coach!

Portland plays at Washington a week from Saturday, so they’ll have an opportunity to prove they’ve settled on a happy performance medium here. Stay tuned.  

Curses are real. Ask current and former Ohio State players.
Tough weekend for Buckeyes, be they alums or undergrads. First Greg Oden goes down for the season. Then, seven minutes into an easy win over Eastern MichiganThad Matta loses Evan Turner for eight weeks to a back injury that I absolutely refuse to observe with a YouTube link. Call me squeamish.

It’s not often that you lose your point guard and worry about the impact on the glass, but that’s precisely the case here.

This point guard rebounds like Blake Griffin. (Almost.)
Ohio State defensive rebound percentages, through games of December 6

               DR%
Turner        27.0
Lauderdale    13.9
Lighty        12.4 

Sure, that outlandish number next to Turner would have diminished somewhat as the season progressed, but he is clearly this team’s workhorse on the defensive boards. It’s not politic to say it aloud the first week in December, but in the span of eight games Turner had already effectively locked up Big Ten Player of the Year, the only question being whether he would win national POY as well. Now those honors are wide open for the taking, the already thin Buckeyes look much thinner, and the Big Ten is watching a POY-caliber performer struggle with back issues for the second consecutive season (cf. Robbie Hummel, 2008-09). As I said, a curse. 

BONUS curse-on-a-rampage note! Egad! The Buckeye curse has apparently hit the hardworking men and women of the OSU Athletic department. Note to hardworking box score professionals in Columbus: I’m pretty sure the final score of the North Carolina game was 77-73, not 116-106.

Hello? Kentucky? John Wall?
Tune in tomorrow.

Unfiltered-back!
Don’t just mutter inefectually; email me!

An old email I neglected suddenly becomes timely–procrastination or predestination?
A while back when Turner had his dreadful ten-turnover game against North Carolina and everyone was running around screaming with their hands above their heads saying what a dreadful point guard this guy was, I dropped my usual simmer-down gotcha on the crowd and pointed out Turner functioned a lot like a point guard last year. The readers responded!

The difference between Ohio State this season and last is that Turner is the one bringing the ball up the floor on nearly every trip. Last season, Jeremie Simmons, P.J. Hill, and Anthony Crater (before he transferred) were the ones in charge of that.

True, the offense revolves around its best player in Turner, but he was never the primary ball handler last season. (Though as soon as the ball crossed half-court it usually ended up in his hands.)

If there’s one downfall to Ohio State this year it’s not having a true point guard. There are two reasons why Turner plays the point this season. One, he’s a better ball-handler than Simmons or Hill, which really isn’t saying much. And two, it allows Matta to start his five best players.

Matt B.

Thanks, Matt! Excellent points. Already on the young season I’ve made something of a career out of classifying very prominent Big Ten scorers as point-guards-under-the-skin, so let me be clear here….

“Point guard” is a squishy-soft term that we humans came up with long after Dr. Naismith came up with his game. Sometimes the term is indeed useful and apt: Ty Lawson was definitely a scoring point guard, Levance Fields was definitely a point guard for Pitt last year, etc. I just wonder if sometimes the term might create more trouble than its worth, particularly when given a Heideggerian antecedent like “true.”

Maybe it’s an unfortunate discursive habit imported from baseball and football, where players do indeed specialize by position. All I know is not every roster is going to have a player that fits the point-guard mold, just like not every roster is going to have a decent defensive rebounder. That’s where coaches earn their money: You can win games anyway. 

December 6, 2009

Oden Fractures Patella, Will Undergo Surgery

Filed under: Uncategorized — Kevin Pelton @ 12:47 am

Terrible, terrible news from the Rose Garden Saturday night. Portland Trail Blazers center Greg Oden, enjoying a breakthrough second season that I wrote about on Monday, collapsed early in the first quarter after his knee buckled as he jumped to block a shot. It was immediately clear that Oden was seriously injured, with teammates and players from the opposing Houston Rockets crowding around him before he was taken off on a stretcher.

The diagnosis came just as the Rockets and Blazers hit halftime: Oden fractured his left patella, which according to Portland PR will require surgery and likely end his season.

I’ve got an e-mail in to Prospectus injury expert Will Carroll for more, but I found one other NBA player who suffered a fractured patella–then-Washington Wizards forward Jarvis Hayes, who was injured in late December 2005. Hayes did not apparently initially undergo surgery, but then had the procedure in mid-February 2006 when the patella failed to respond to non-surgical treatment. He missed the remainder of the season, but returned to play 163 out of a possible 164 games the following two seasons.

Of course, L.A. Clippers rookie Blake Griffin is still sidelined by an injury to his patella, but Griffin suffered a stress fracture. Oddly, L.A. Lakers center Andrew Bynum–another promising 7-footer who has faced injuries early in his career–missed an extended period following an injury to his patella during the 2007-08 season, but that was a subluxation of the kneecap (essentially a partial dislocation).

UPDATE: Here’s what Will had to say on Twitter (cleaning up the 140-character grammar): “It’s not bad career-wise. Dumb-luck injury and fractures heal. Not related in any way to microfracture. Just bad luck.”

For the record, when Oden underwent microfracture surgery prior to the 2007-08 season, it was on his opposite knee–the right one.

December 4, 2009

Blair, draft fail, and one email

Filed under: Uncategorized — John Gasaway @ 12:27 pm

Last night DeJuan Blair did something to make even the casual NBA fan sit up and take notice. He played the Sports Guy’s team. 

San Antonio played Boston, meaning Bill Simmons was watching. So when Blair posted an 18-11 double-double in just 21 minutes (mind you, against Rasheed, KG, and crew), Simmons sent out this tweet: “Dear NBA GMs who passed on DeJuan Blair from 11 to 36: I hope you’re watching TNT tonight. And feeling dumber than usual.” And that wasn’t even the best tweet of the night on the subject. Chris Douglas-Roberts had just one question: “How do guys like DeJuan Blair go in the 2nd round??? That’s some retarded shii.”

Well, how did Blair fall to the second round? If your answer contains the word “knees” ($), much less “long-term worries about his knees,” I have to stand shoulder-to-shoulder with CDR on this one. It is indeed some retarded shii. Yes, Blair had major reconstructive surgeries done on both knees in high school. You might remember that he then looked OK I guess as a college player while not missing a single game or, in Pitt coach Jamie Dixon‘s telling, practice over the course of two seasons. (By the way the best piece on Blair’s knee issues was of course done by my colleague Kevin Pelton.)

Still, let’s set forth the worst-case scenario here. Blair’s knees are ticking time bombs. At some point in the not-too-distant future he will get out of bed in the morning only to find that his hips have collapsed down directly onto both ankles. He will then spend the rest of his life tooling about in a Rascal as a beloved ambassador of the game who, tragically, was cut down in his prime. 

Fine. Even if you accept that as a 100 percent certain outcome, today as I tap out these words Blair is all of 20 years old. Unless you believe he’s going to meet his oh-so-certain knee-Armageddon before he turns 22, there was no earthly reason not to spend a mid- to late-first-round pick and sign him to the standard two-year contract.  After that you can call in your specialists, do your MRIs, and make your best deal.

Meantime your team has an incomparable Thabeet-flipping man-weapon, one whose “historic” offensive rebounding spelled the difference between a Pitt offense that was merely average and one that was the effective equivalent of North Carolina. Or, as I said on draft night after watching with mounting disbelief as 33 players not named DeJuan Blair were chosen by this so-called NBA, “We are now at the point where Blair must have had both legs amputated early this morning.”

Blair was measured as being just a quarter-inch over 6-5 without shoes at the combine, meaning I’m actually a half-inch or so taller than he is. And yet he can play at this level against the Celtics. I find that both inspiring and mind-bending. I will enjoy him for as long as his knees and his league’s retarded shii will allow.

Leave the Pac-10 alone
Texas Tech beat tenth-ranked Washington in OT 99-92 in Lubbock last night in a wild game that saw the home crowd storm the floor twice. The first time was after a Mike Singletary buzzer-beater at the end of regulation that, upon further review, did not beat the buzzer. The second time was for real. 

Let us all rightly celebrate the Red Raiders (Bob Knight is indeed correct: Pat Knight‘s team needs to play some D this year), but please don’t trot out the “Pac-10 takes another hit” line. You might remember a team called Kansas. Exactly nine months ago to the day the Jayhawks were blown off that same United Spirit Arena floor by the Raiders, 84-65, and unless you believe Xavier Henry would have been worth 20 points to KU that night, we are talking about the exact same group of players that currently has their team rated as the odds-on favorite to win this season’s national championship. Kansas hasn’t won in Lubbock since 2003. There is no shame attached to U-Dub losing there, much less to the Pac-10 for having its nominal best team lose there. Move along. 

Unfiltered-back!
Don’t just mutter ineffectually; email me!

When a pile of good emails collects I tend to cower in front of it in a strange kind of shamed paralysis. No longer! I’m owning up to my shortcomings and letting go of that shame. I know I won’t get to them all but here’s a timely one.

Did you notice a sign at front of the student section during the PurdueWake Forest game that said “Defense Lives Here” and had a counter with what I think was possessions and points? It’s catching on.

Alex

I did notice the sign and it looked like one of the two numbers was definitely points, but I couldn’t tell whether the other number was possessions or blocks or steals or something else. Let me hear from you, Paint Crew!

Even if the Boiler kids aren’t tracking possessions with their signage just yet, that day is not far off. Just this morning we have news from redoubtable colleague Ken Pomeroy that the Big Ten clearly has tempo-free fever–and they don’t want no cure!

Ken’s been tracking which 2010 team pages at his place have been getting the most hits. Turns out one conference in particular is well represented on the list of top pages: “With Indiana, Michigan, and Northwestern falling just short of this list, the Big Ten actually has nine teams in the top 30 and easily provides the biggest source of interest in the site.” 

Good on you, tempo-free-crazed Midwesterners! And speaking more globally, there’s a free copy of the book in it for the first undergrad–north, south, east, or west–that sends me a photo of authenticated in-arena possession-tracking. Go to it, next generation! You carry the promise of a new and more rational age cohort, one that would never do something as epically dumb as pass on DeJuan Blair.

***UPDATE: I post an entry and literally two minutes later I get an answer. Readers. So responsive.

The defense lives here sign at Mackey Arena actually tracks turnovers forced by that famously tenacious Boilermaker D. If they could do real-time turnover percentage, though, you can bet those wily engineers would be so on top of that. The sign started in the last couple years, when Purdue resumed being good at basketball. Oddly that corresponded almost precisely with my graduation and relocation to the East Coast.

Adam T.

Thanks, Adam! And my offer still stands: I have here a free book for the first student or students who bring me a jpeg showing they’re tracking possessions at the game. Assistant coaches have done it for years. You can do it too. 

BONUS collegial note! So let me get this straight. I’m over here busting my tail for old man Prospectus and pumping out like 5K words per week, while Pomeroy’s sprawled out on the floor of his den with his laptop open and his fuzzy slippers on, lovingly tracking real-time hits on his site meter? I’ve got to get that guy back to work.        

December 2, 2009

The Disappearing Portland Defense

Filed under: Uncategorized — Kevin Pelton @ 6:00 pm

Tensions are running high in the Rose City in the wake of a three-game Portland Trail Blazers losing streak, with two of the three games played at the Rose Garden, where the Blazers are usually tough to beat. While Portland is working through a variety of issues on the offensive end, including the emergence of Greg Oden and the addition of Andre Miller, the difference lately has been on defense. As recently as last Friday, Portland was second in the league in Defensive Rating. The three poor games have seen the Blazers slip all the way to seventh.

Benjamin Golliver of Blazersedge (with whom I discussed some of the team’s issues on the most recent Dontonio Wingcast podcast, along with our contest to win a free copy of Pro Basketball Prospectus 2009-10) questioned the legitimacy of the lofty early ranking based on the weak slate of offenses faced by the Blazers. Let’s take a look.

What this chart shows is two Defensive Ratings for the Blazers for each game–one the standard points allowed per 100 possessions (in black), the other adjusted for the quality of the opponent offense (in red). I set the latter to league average (107.9 points per 100 possessions) to compare it on the same scale. As you can see, more often than not the red is higher because Portland has in fact gotten a break in terms of strength of schedule in the early going (the average Offensive Rating of opponents has been just 105.9). Nonetheless, the team’s defense was strong through a win on Nov. 21 against Minnesota.

Using the adjustments shows it has really been a five-game trend of poor defense for the Blazers, one masked slightly by the fact that Chicago and especially New Jersey are below-average offenses (as well as by dominant offense in an easy win over the Bulls). Before the last five games, Portland’s adjusted Defensive Rating had been above 110 just twice all season. It has been worse than that mark each of the last five games.

Why the change? The difference is almost all in terms of shooting. Check out the Four Factors plus shooting percentages as broken down by the first 15 games and the last five.

Split       2P%    3P%   eFG%  DReb%  FTA/FGA    TO%

First 15   .436   .315   .443   .752   .308     .101
Last 5     .526   .446   .547   .746   .282     .129

The Blazers have been forcing fewer turnovers, but they’ve offset that to some extent by sending opponents to the line less frequently. For the most part, teams are just shooting lights-out against Portland, both inside and outside the arc. What I don’t have is a good explanation for why this is happening.The team’s rotations have clearly not been nearly as crisp lately, but that to me is more of a symptom than an underlying cause.

The only dramatic change to personnel in the span, save LaMarcus Aldridge missing last night’s game, was the shift back to a traditional starting lineup with Martell Webster at small forward instead of the smaller unit with Andre Miller alongside Steve Blake in the backcourt. For whatever reason, the Blazers have defended better with the undersized group despite the fact that it seemingly makes the team worse defensively against both wing positions.

December 1, 2009

Big Ten thankful for “degree of DeChellis”

Filed under: Uncategorized — John Gasaway @ 12:10 pm

I think it’s pretty obvious at this point that the most sublime and savory use of Twitter imaginable relates to college hoops, specifically the ability to get quotes from sideline huddles in real time. For instance the other day at the 76 Classic in Anaheim, Bob Huggins was yelling at his West Virginia team (it’s true!) for free-lancing on D: “We don’t switch! We never talked about switching!” Thanks to the ever vigilant Gary Parrish we had that knowledge before the ball had even been whistled back into play.

So I can only assume that the relative lack of working press in Charlottesville last night accounts for the fact that I didn’t get a tweet spelling out what Ed DeChellis must have told his Penn State team last night late in the Nittany Lions’ victory over Virginia. I just know in my bones it went down like this:

Alright, men. Here’s the thing. I know we’re up by 12 and there’s only three minutes left, but I want you to make this close down the stretch, OK? You see there’s this guy at Basketball Prospectus who’s convinced I’m some sort of wiz in close games because we always win them. But he won’t write about any of this if we don’t let Virginia back in the game. Let’s see if we can get this final margin down to about three, got it?  

Sure enough, Penn State beat the Cavaliers 69-66 in Charlottesville last night to give the Nittany Lions’ league a precious and rare 1-0 lead in this year’s installment of the ACC-Big Ten Challenge. Talor Battle came very close to outscoring eight other PSU players combined, recording 32 points by making 5-of-9 threes and getting to the line 13 times. It turned out his team needed every one of those five threes.

I realize the name “DeChellis” rarely pops up in conversations centered on coaches who give their teams a decided schematic advantage in the closing minutes, but that may have to change pretty quickly here. For one thing I think DeChellis looks a lot like Norman Dale. ‘Nuff said.

OK, one more point. DeChellis is virtually unrivalled in the field of achieving wins in spite of a silly and extraneous factor like how well your team scores points and prevents scoring. Behold:

Exceeding expectations to an extreme degree 
Largest differences between per-possession performance and W-L
Conference games only: ACC, Big 12, Big East, Big Ten, Pac-10, SEC, 2006-09

                      Mean   Actual
Penn St., 2008        3-15    7-11
Oregon St., 2009      3-15    7-11
Kentucky, 2008         8-8    12-4
Texas Tech, 2008      4-12     7-9
Villanova, 2006       11-5    14-2
Georgia, 2009         0-16    3-13
Missouri, 2006        2-14    5-11
Alabama, 2007         4-12     7-9
St. John’s, 2007      4-12     7-9  
Penn St., 2009        7-11    10-8
Penn St., 2006        4-12    6-10

Translate “Mean” as: “Based on 292 conference seasons played by 73 teams over the course of four years, teams that are outscored by 0.14 points per trip, as Penn State was in Big Ten play in 2008, will typically finish 3-15.” So the Nittany Lions in 2008 and last year’s Oregon State team finished in a virtual dead heat for the title of Most Fortunate Major-Conference Team Ever. (Where “Ever” means since 2006. I noted the Beavers’ remarkably fortuitous season last February and as a result I subsequently received a flurry of unabashedly gleeful “Can you believe this?” emails, tweets, and texts in the preseason when Doug Gottlieb picked the Beavers to finish third in the Pac-10 this year. Hey, the way the Pac-10 is looking Gottlieb may just turn out to be a regular Nate Silver, with OSU functioning as his 2008 Tampa Bay Rays and Obama candidacy combined. Stay tuned.)

Clearly you don’t want to get in a close game if you’re playing against DeChellis. Only thing: Don’t call it luck. I now prefer the more precise term “degree of DeChellis,” which, I suppose, comprises my own modest stab at coming up with something as succinct and accurate as UHB 

The Nittany Lions’ victory last night underscored the quotidian and cumulative nature of this here Challenge. You might be interested only in tonight’s game between Michigan State and North Carolina, but the conference that wins this thing will have to win games like Penn State vs. Virginia, or Virginia Tech vs. Iowa. Absent a PSU win last night, the Big Ten right now would be staring at having to win six of ten games tonight and tomorrow, which, how to put this nicely, would have been difficult. As it is, the occurrence of something unprecedented and world-shaping (i.e., the Big Ten winning an ACC-Big Ten Challenge) has to be entertained as a live possibility for at least one more day.  

Investigating Jennings’ Slump

Filed under: Uncategorized — Kevin Pelton @ 2:18 am

Since scoring 26 points in Milwaukee’s win over Memphis on Nov. 21, rookie Bucks phenom Brandon Jennings has been in something of a slump. Entering tonight’s game against Chicago, Jennings had shot 29.0 percent (20-of-69) in his last four games. Not coincidentally, the Bucks had lost each of those games. With Andrew Bogut anchoring the defense in his return to the lineup, Milwaukee got the win tonight, but Jennings (5-for-15) shot poorly again.

As Outside the Clubhouse pointed out today (referencing my Jennings Every Play Counts breakdown), the odd thing is that Jennings cooling down has had little to do with the most reasonable culprit–his outside shooting. Jennings is still shooting nearly 50 percent from beyond the arc. Instead, he’s struggled closer to the basket. Using NBA.com’s HotZones charts–which were invaluable in researching Pro Basketball Prospectus 2009-10–helps isolate the issue.

Specifically, we can compare Jennings’ shot chart over the last five games to what he’s done over the course of the season. Using ESPN.com’s game-by-game shot charts, I also added in what Jennings shot tonight. The results are striking. You might think that teams have stopped Jennings by keeping him out of the paint, but he’s actually attempting more shots at the rim now than early in the season (40.5 percent of his total shot attempts, as compared to 29.5 percent early). It’s just that he’s not making any of them. Through the first 10 games, Jennings was hitting a reasonable 51.6 percent of his close attempts. The last six games, that has dropped to 26.5 percent, which is rather ridiculously low. Jennings has also seen the midrange game desert him. He hit 46.6 percent of mid- to long-range two-pointers during the first 10 games, and that is down to 15.0 percent since.

What has been the difference? Surely, as teams have scouted Jennings they have a better idea of how to try to stop him. The fact that he’s played a stronger set of defenses over the last five games is also a factor. Still, some misfortune has to be a factor. NBA players–even skinny 6’1″ point guards–simply do not finish so poorly on a regular basis.

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