Basketball Prospectus: Unfiltered Everything Else is Fluff.

January 4, 2010

On tap: Bulls-Thunder

Filed under: Uncategorized — Bradford Doolittle @ 7:23 pm

Oklahoma City is in town tonight, affording myself the opportunity to see Kevin Durant and the young Thunder up close for the first time. The Bulls have won six of eight and crawled within three games of .500, but need to keep making hay as a stretch of 10 road games in 12 outings loom just ahead.

I’ll be tweeting from the game, so check in: @bdoolittle

Weekend in Hoops: Chandler Parsons for National POY

Filed under: Uncategorized — John Gasaway @ 12:34 pm

Florida junior Chandler Parsons made a strong case for National Player of the 2010 Calendar Year honors yesterday with his spectacular game-winning swish from beyond half-court, a buzzer-beater that gave the Gators a 62-61 win in OT at North Carolina State. You can talk all you want about your “John Wall“s and “Luke Harangody“s. My guy is now shooting 100 percent from beyond half-court–not bad for a player shooting just 67 percent from 15 feet!

If you thought you were experiencing some serious deja vu when you first saw the video of Parsons’ miracle, you’re right. Check out this clip of Missouri‘s Marcus Denmon making a shot from virtually the exact same spot on the floor to end the first half of what eventually became the Tigers’ upset win over Memphis in the Sweet 16 last March.

In addition to giving Parsons a durable YouTube presence for the rest of his life, his shot may actually have tournament implications come March. Keep in mind that for the third consecutive post-national-championship season, Florida is yet again on a bubble trajectory. Billy Donovan‘s team appears unlikely to be bad enough this year to miss the tournament by a mile, nor do they appear good enough to be a shoo-in. NC State, conversely, looks in very early January to be the second-worst team in the ACC. (We see you, Boston Collegecongrats, Maine.) Considering the Gators already have a home loss to South Alabama on their resume, a road loss to the Wolfpack would not have burnished their tourney credentials nine weeks from now. Parsons’ heroics saved them from such a fate.

BONUS Parsonian general theory of action! I’m seeing some pretty absurd estimates of the length of this shot, up to and including “75 feet.” Someone at the RBC Center could do us all a favor today simply by walking out onto the court with a tape measure, but from my chair Parsons left his feet very close to the coaching box’s hash mark on the far sideline. (Look at the still image that appears at the beginning of this clip.) Happily we know exactly where that hash mark is on the floor: 66 feet from Florida’s baseline. Shave a few feet off that number because Parsons was shooting at the basket and not the baseline. Add a few feet because he wasn’t shooting straight-on. This shot was 60-something feet, remarkable by any measure.   

File under “never saw that coming”: Kentucky-Louisville fails to live up to Tiger-level hype
Every college basketball writer in the western hemisphere (244 of them, to be exact) was in Rupp Arena on Saturday to watch Kentucky beat Louisville 71-62. Why the horde? Partly because these are two highly venerable programs. Then again so are UK and Indiana and that game wasn’t given Gosselin-level coverage. No, I think the larger factor here was the fact that Rick Pitino had a highly eventful offseason off the floor, while John Calipari had another Final Four appearance vacated.

Like coaches, college basketball writers stick around year after year. Interests form. Storylines emerge. That being said, players change. This is no longer “Louisville”-variety Louisville we’re looking at. The fact that the Wildcats struggled to put them away in Lexington suggests to me anew that this is indeed the least scary undefeated team in the country. (And on a weekend when Texas beat Texas A&M-Corpus Christi by all of six points in Austin, that’s saying something. Kansas and Purdue, conversely, looked dang spiffy winning on the road at Temple and at home against West Virginia, respectively.)

I was going to be very interested to watch Kentucky battle Tennessee for SEC East supremacy this season, but on Friday the Volunteers’ season was thrown into disarray with the arrests of Tyler Smith, Cameron Tatum, Brian Williams, and Melvin Goins in Knoxville. The players were stopped for speeding, whereupon police discovered marijuana and two guns in the car. All four have been suspended until further notice.

Bringing this back to Kentucky: While I may suspect the Wildcats’ record is better than their actual performance, I’m not seeing a lot of UK opponents looming in the near-term who are going to confirm that suspicion. In fact I can picture Calipari’s team reaching mid-February without a loss. Go figure.

The Trojans should now read up on 2005-06 Ohio State
Yesterday USC announced that it has imposed sanctions on its men’s basketball team for violations related to the recruitment of O.J. Mayo prior to the 2007-08 season. The Trojans will not be eligible for the NCAA tournament this year, nor will they participate in the Pac-10 tournament. We know in advance that SC will play its final game, strangely, on March 6 on the road at Arizona

That’s tough news for the current players, of course, who are now trapped in the dreaded “playing for pride” lockbox. (Note to bored undergrads: Someone needs to build a bot that counts the references to “playing for pride” in SC writeups over the next 62 days.) But programs can recover from this sort of thing faster than you may think. For proof look no further than Ohio State.

The Buckeyes’ recent history is now somewhat mis-remembered. People know of course that former coach Jim O’Brien left abruptly in 2004 amidst a messy recruiting scandal involving cash (wow, talk about deja vu). Then Thad Matta arrived and promptly constructed a pipeline for players on their way to what is known as the next level. Nowadays even when Ohio State goes to the NIT they bring a flock of NBA scouts with them.

All true enough. Arguably the most remarkable aspect of the Buckeyes’ immediate resurgence, however, was that this team won the Big Ten outright in 2006 before the talent infusion, with players that had played “for pride” the previous year. Matta has won a lot of games in Columbus the past few years with players about to shake hands with David Stern, but that first season the erstwhile Cornjerker got it done with the likes of Terence Dials, Je’Kel Foster, and Jamar Butler. Trojans take note and set your sights high. 

What’s gotten into Oregon?
Of all the road trips in the Pac-10 the WashingtonWashington State swing is probably the most feared, in large part because of simple geography. Pullman and Seattle are 287 miles apart, meaning this is the only Pac-10 road trip that requires either a two-airport hassle or a really long bus ride between road games. (With 112 miles of intervening cacti, Arizona and Arizona State come in a distant second in terms of travel demands placed on visiting conference teams.)

And yet look at Oregon, sitting at 2-0 in the conference after successfully completing said oh-so-scary road trip. Coming off a 90-79 win in Seattle against what at the time was the Pac-10’s only ranked team, we have to entertain the possibility that after a one-season hiccup Ernie Kent has the Ducks back in familiar territory: Great offense, no D. Certainly the numbers on the (very) young conference season would seem to bear that out: Oregon scored 1.18 points per trip on their swing north of the Columbia. Stay tuned.

BONUS look-ahead!
Conference-only tempo-free stats are coming! Sooner than you think! Hint: Hats off to the laudably front-loaded schedule-makers of the Missouri Valley Conference. Did you know the Valley’s season is already 17 percent complete? True story. Tomorrow in Unfiltered we’ll take a look at what we already know.

Don’t just mutter ineffectually; email me!

Many quality emails in the queue, a couple so good I’m going to try to get around to parlaying them into features. Keep ’em coming! (Even if I don’t post them here!)     

January 2, 2010

On tap: Bulls-Magic

Filed under: Uncategorized — Bradford Doolittle @ 2:55 pm

Just got back from trip to Salt Lake City that was disappointing in that the Jazz were on the road during the length of my stay. Alas. I’ll kick off the new decade the right way tonight, however, when the Bulls face the Magic at the United Center. The Bulls have won three straight and five of seven, a stretch which would be even better had Chicago not blown a 35-point lead against Sacramento on Dec. 21.

That was the game that sent the Vinny Del Negro rumor mill into high orbit. Chicago’s recent success has quieted that buzz for the time being, though no one really expects him to be around to fulfill the third year of his contract. There has also been an upsurge of trade speculation about the Bulls, who would like to clear enough salary off their books to enable a pursuit of a max-contract player next summer. And they want to be able to do so without having to renounce the rights to restricted-free-agent-to-be Tyrus Thomas who, by the way, has been a key component to Chicago’s recent hot streak. A key figure in these entirely-unfounded rumors has been Tracy McGrady. I don’t know if there is any fire behind that smoke, but such a move makes sense on a lot of levels.

Meanwhile, the Magic has won five of six, but are in the second game of a stretch in which it plays eight of 10 on the road. This is a key stretch for Orlando as Stan Van Gundy’s crew remains in a four-team scrum for supremacy in the East. The Magic recently changed its starting lineup as Matt Barnes swapped roles with starting small forward Mickael Pietrus. Jameer Nelson is struggling to regain his form after returning from his knee injury.

So there will be plenty to discuss during tonight’s game. Join me at Twitter (@bdoolittle), where I will be broadcasting live from the UC.

Thanks, Joe

Filed under: Uncategorized — Kevin Pelton @ 3:14 am

First off, Happy New Year to all of our readers. May 2010 bring you everything you want, even if it’s impossible for every team with cap space to sign LeBron James.

Joe Sheehan‘s column yesterday was his last for Baseball Prospectus. Given the low-key way Joe made his exit, he probably won’t appreciate this post, but whatever. His contributions to Basketball Prospectus, save for a handful of columns on college hoops and his “From 344 to 65” series leading up to the NCAA Tournament, have mostly been behind the scenes. The first two years of this site’s existence, however, have been shaped by Joe’s guidance in his role as managing editor. He helped compile an excellent group of writers (and me) and turned us loose, and I’d like to hope the results speak for themselves. Joe’s schedule got too busy for the basketball site this season, so we’ve been operating as a committee, but his influence lives on.

On a personal standpoint, Joe’s guidance has been invaluable as I’ve made the transition into a larger role at BBP. Beyond that, it’s been a pleasure working with someone I’ve been reading for a decade. Thanks for everything, Joe, and best of luck whatever the future holds.

January 1, 2010

More on Duncan v. Garnett

Filed under: Uncategorized — Kevin Pelton @ 7:26 pm

A couple of follow-up notes on the debate (Tim Duncan or Kevin Garnett) at the top of the column on the decade’s top players. First, a really good e-mail from RR, who noted this in Duncan’s favor:

I think pace is accounted for in WARP but how about Pop’s decision to play Duncan less over the years? Duncan is known as a fantasy middle of the road guy because while per minute, he is and was a monster, Pop’s tendency to keep his minutes under forty and lately under 36 since 2003 (actually 36.7 and approx 34) always pulled his counting stats down. Garnett just started cutting his minutes down to 30 the last three (coincident with boston being a dominant winning team and injury).

Yes, that’s a good point. I ran a quick and dirty experiment to show the effect of playing time. If you give Garnett Duncan’s minutes per game, he would have nearly 10 fewer WARP over the last decade. Now, Garnett may have paid for that late in the decade with last year’s knee problems. Duncan has played more minutes per game the last three years, and that study doesn’t account for the additional games Duncan played last season because he was healthy. Still, the small difference between Duncan and Garnett disappears or maybe even reverses when we consider how Gregg Popovich has used Duncan.

On the other hand, another reader wondered whether the argument I raised about Duncan’s advantage in late-game situations was really backed up by the numbers. So let’s take a look. Here are statistics for the entire decade for close and late situations (five minutes or fewer remaining in the game, five point differential or smaller) for our top 20 players.

Player      ORtg   eFG%    TS%    Usg   Ast%   TO%

Nash       129.6   .553   .649   .276   26.7   9.3
James      125.8   .506   .578   .383   15.1   8.2
Billups    122.9   .482   .601   .288   18.3   7.1
Wade       119.9   .441   .544   .377   16.4   9.0
Bryant     119.6   .431   .543   .397    9.6   8.2
Nowitzki   116.9   .477   .585   .295    7.9   5.7
Allen      112.6   .501   .579   .274   11.2   7.7
Pierce     112.3   .434   .551   .329   10.0   8.9
Carter     111.9   .443   .535   .345   10.6   7.9
Iverson    106.9   .403   .500   .316   16.5   7.6

Player      ORtg   eFG%    TS%    Usg   Ast%   TO%

Kidd       105.7   .412   .540   .240   25.5  10.5
O'Neal     105.0   .569   .574   .225   11.5   8.1
Miller     104.7   .388   .518   .260   20.9   9.8
Duncan     103.3   .461   .536   .286   12.0  10.7
Garnett    102.3   .459   .537   .273   13.0   8.6
McGrady    102.3   .415   .482   .318   16.0   8.6
Gasol      101.0   .473   .565   .234   11.2  12.0
Marion      99.8   .528   .588   .184    6.0   6.7
Brand       87.5   .457   .504   .214   11.2  10.1
Wallace     71.3   .477   .482   .089   10.1  10.8

This group is ranked by an adjusted Offensive Rating. It takes into account the scoring and passing portions of WARP (basically all of offense except offensive rebounding) and adjusts for usage rate using the rule of thumb that one additional percent of usage is generally equivalent to one point of Offensive Rating. All are adjusted to an average usage rate of 20 percent. (That is, a player with a usage rate of 25 percent has five points added to his Offensive Rating.)

What is quickly evident is that perimeter players dominate this list. In general, WARP favors guards on offense and big men on defense (consistent with the results from offensive and defensive adjusted plus-minus). However, this is even more dramatic here. Dirk Nowitzki is the only big man in the top 11, while just one guard (the surprisingly ineffective Tracy McGrady) is in the bottom seven. Elite wing players like Kobe Bryant, LeBron James and Dwyane Wade are able to increase their usage rates to superhuman levels down the stretch without sacrificing a great deal of efficiency. Nash, on the other hand, has achieved incredible efficiency in these situations to go along with the highest assist rate of any of these players.

As for Duncan and Garnett, the former has an advantage, but it’s a slim one. Duncan has the higher usage rate of the two, and derives a significant advantage from the fact that fewer of his baskets are assisted (57.5 percent of Garnett’s baskets were assisted, as compared to just 40.3 percent of Duncan’s, showing his ability to create his own shot). Garnett, however, is much less prone to turnovers in these situations. So late-game play probably should not be considered a point of difference between Duncan and Garnett, though it does potentially hold up as a reason to support Bryant.

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