Basketball Prospectus: Unfiltered Everything Else is Fluff.

February 25, 2010

Here Come the Bucks

Filed under: Uncategorized — Kevin Pelton @ 2:34 pm

There is one NBA team that, above all others, has seen an immediate impact from its acquisition before last Thursday’s trade deadline. It’s not Antawn Jamison and the Cavaliers (who lost Jamison’s first two games), it’s not Marcus Camby and the Blazers (who saw Camby go down with a sprained ankle on Tuesday) and it’s not Kevin Martin and the Rockets (still in free-fall in the West Playoff race). No, the most meaningful addition in the extremely short term has been the Milwaukee Bucks dealing for John Salmons.

Milwaukee is 4-0 with Salmons, and has played 9.5 points better per game than an average team would be expected to do against the same schedule. The Bucks crushed New Orleans by 20 points last night and also came up with a big win over one of their rivals for the final playoff spots in the Eastern Conference, Charlotte.

Though Salmons has been Milwaukee’s leading scorer since his arrival, averaging 17.8 points per game, he’s done it on 39.0 percent shooting and a quick glance at the numbers shows the Bucks have been no better on offense (and perhaps even a little worse). But they are crushing teams on defense, allowing just 95.1 points per 100 possessions. For the season, Milwaukee’s Defensive Rating of 105.6 points allowed per 100 possessions is ninth in the league; nobody in the NBA is particularly close to allowing less than a point per possession. Even adjusted for a relatively weak schedule, the defense over the last four games has been 11.6 points per 100 possessions better than average.

What does this mean in terms of the playoff race? Basketball-Reference’s playoff simulator gives the Bucks a 67.0 percent chance of making the playoffs, while John Hollinger‘s playoff odds (which weight recent performance more heavily) has Milwaukee as a slight favorite for the eighth seed over Charlotte and with a 74.6 percent chance of reaching the postseason. Given that the Bucks upgraded their talent with the Salmons trade, even if perhaps not quite as dramatically as the results thus far would make it seem, and Milwaukee looks like a playoff team.

Hugging Your Way to Victory?

Filed under: Uncategorized — Kevin Pelton @ 4:27 am

The NBA (or is that the N.B.A.?) made its way to the pages of the Health section of the New York Times earlier this week, as the Gray Lady reported on research on the significance of touch as part of human communication. In particular, the Times noted, researchers at the University of California, Berkeley studied the physical contact between teammates during NBA games early in the 2008-09 season. Their conclusion?

In a paper due out this year in the journal Emotion, Mr. Kraus and his co-authors, Cassy Huang and Dr. Keltner, report that with a few exceptions, good teams tended to be touchier than bad ones. The most touch-bonded teams were the Boston Celtics and the Los Angeles Lakers, currently two of the league’s top teams; at the bottom were the mediocre Sacramento Kings and Charlotte Bobcats.

Now, the Times notes that researchers attempted to control for team performance, but I’m more than a little dubious of that effort. Like the subjective notion of chemistry, the causation seems impossible to determine. Naturally, winning teams are going to have more cause to celebrate with and make contact with each other than losing ones. Without seeing the full study, we can’t really evaluate the controls, but the story makes it sound as if elements of team performance (“their ratio of assists to giveaways,” for example) were used. Since these always add up ultimately to wins and losses, I’m not sure how that would tell us anything new.

To really put the theory to the test, it would be interesting to see if when the players found to embrace their teammates the most (the leader in this category came as little surprise) bring value above and beyond their performance on the court when they switch teams. That would be a way to show that touching truly is having an impact on performance. Until then, we can stick to simply laughing when Andrew Bogut has to high-five imaginary teammates after a free throw.

February 22, 2010

Weekend in Hoops: Purdue’s clueless homers

Filed under: Uncategorized — John Gasaway @ 10:31 am

As Robbie Hummel is my witness, I will convince the hoops world that the story on Purdue in 2010 concerns their strikingly skilled and, yes, talented offense. But I do realize that my task is a formidable one….

“There are no John Walls here, no Wesley Johnsons, no Evan Turners. But nobody outworks and imposes their will on an opponent like Purdue.”

“It’s all about effort and grit.”

“Purdue has that old-time college basketball feel.”

Aggressive. Physical. Tough. Smart. A host of adjectives have been used to describe the defense that has helped Purdue reach a No. 4 national ranking.”

Mind you, this is from the Boilers’ own home-turf media. Even at close range Matt Painter‘s team is being misunderestimated. When friendly media types who think they’re praising you plainly have no earthly idea how good you really are, you’re officially suffering from an image problem.  

The reality is way more fun. (It always is, which is why I’m pretty pro-reality.) Yes, Purdue has a very good defense. Then again: 1) They pretty much always have a very good defense; and 2) Ohio State, to pick one example, has played even better defense in-conference, and I haven’t noticed any “It’s All About Diebler’s Effort and Grit” or “Buford Has That Old-Time College Basketball Feel” headlines.

Simply put, the news about Purdue this season is their offense. Compared to last year it’s improved significantly and powered this team’s climb to the top of both the Big Ten and the national polls.

No one outscores and imposes their points on an opponent like Purdue 
Conference games only, 2010 figures through February 21
Pace: possessions per 40 minutes
PPP: points per possession    Opp. PPP: opponent points per possession
EM: efficiency margin (PPP – Opp. PPP)

               W-L   Pace    PPP   Opp. PPP   EM
This year     11-3   64.4    1.08    0.97   +0.11
Last year     11-7   63.6    1.02    0.95   +0.07

Take Saturday. Purdue beat Illinois by a comfortable 10-point margin, even though the Illini shot exceptionally well against this defense that’s allegedly the second coming of Milan ’54. How? By being ostentatiously good on offense, to the tune of 1.18 points per trip. For a group that’s portrayed as plucky overmatched underdogs, the offensive triumvirate formed by Hummel, E’Twaun Moore, and JaJuan Johnson sure looks formidable to me. The Boilers’ three featured scorers make a collective 54 percent of their twos. No other trio of featured players in the Big Ten can match that number. 

Indianapolis Star says black (“Purdue’s D Puts it Back on Top”). I say gold: It has in fact been Purdue’s offense that has landed the Boilermakers where they are today.

(Note: I had this section half-done before I saw that Mike Miller had already made pretty much the exact same point. Mike, please stop being right faster than I am.) 

BONUS misadventures in program stereotyping!
During Saturday’s KentuckyVanderbilt game Dick Vitale repeatedly asserted that the Commodores’ strength is making three-point shots. This despite the fact that his own broadcast partner had noted correctly that the Vandy offense has become more “balanced” since Shan Foster‘s day. Last year the ‘Dores attempted fewer threes in-conference than an average SEC team. And this year only Georgia and Alabama have been less likely to attempt a three-point shot in conference play than Kevin Stallings‘ group.

Then again if you shot threes the way Vandy did on Saturday against Kentucky (2-of-20), you’d stay away from them too. I credit much of that abysmal shooting to the Wildcat D: Jermaine Beal and Brad Tinsley had few if any open looks. Pundits and fans still talk in terms of “stopping Kentucky” in a given game, but–like Memphis in the old days–I think a much more accurate way to talk about this team is to consider how an opponent is going to score enough points to win. While Vanderbilt and Florida have both scored more efficiently than John Calipari‘s team in-conference, no SEC defense comes close to Kentucky. Stop worrying about their dribble-drive and start worrying about how you’re going to make shots against this team.

Won’t you pay attention to the nation’s top-ranked team, please?
Kansas
is just four Big 12 wins away from doing something that hasn’t happened in seven years, running the table in a major conference. (Yes. Seven years. You can thank Matt Sylvester that it’s not merely five.) The Jayhawks’ remaining games are:

vs. Oklahoma (tonight)
at Oklahoma St.
vs. Kansas St.
at Missouri

I’m going to have more to say on KU in the coming days, but for now let me note that should Kansas get that far a season-ending road game against your NCAA-bound arch-rival is the perfect venue for this to be decided one way or the other.      

In today’s less historic venues….
Villanova’s “weird, needless, suicidal fouling,” continued!
 Yesterday Pitt beat ‘Nova 70-65 in Pittsburgh, as the Wildcats put the Panthers on the line 34 times in a really slow (62-possession) game. Granted that’s not all on Jay Wright‘s team. Pitt just happens to lead the Big East in getting to the line. Still, the home team enjoyed a 15-point advantage over ‘Nova at the foul line in a game that was decided by five points. And the Cats’ “hack factor” has ticked up to a robust 2.54. Also Dan Hanner has some further thoughts on Villanova’s WNSF…. Repetition aids comprehension. Repetition aids comprehension. I know I’ve said this before but UTEP is the class of CUSA….It’s hard to out-Marquette Marquette, but: If Dayton is left out of the NCAA tournament there will be 65 teams breathing a sigh of relief. The Flyers have actually outscored the A-10 by more than Syracuse has outscored the Big East, but at just 7-5 in-conference Brian Gregory‘s team is edging ever closer toward bubble land. Dayton’s five conference losses have come by four, one, one, three, and two points. The three-point loss at Saint Louis went to two overtimes, and the two-point loss yesterday at Duquesne was particularly ill-advised….Memphis never did this. How come you’re doing this? To me the single most amazing aspect of the Calipari-era domination of CUSA by Memphis was that they so rarely played to the level of the opposition. Middling opponents were reliably ground up into dust. Which brings me to Gonzaga, clearly the best team in the WCC this year and, just as clearly, a team that is bound and determined to lose to inferior opponents. On Thursday the Zags lost 74-66 at Loyola-Marymount. Mark Few‘s team has handled the stiff opposition in the West Coast–Saint Mary’s and Portland–with little trouble, but his team has been tripped up on the road by San Francisco and now the Lions. It’s the kind of thing that casts doubt on otherwise glittering numbers in Tuesday Truths….Washington has told its parents: “I’m bipolar and you just have to accept that.” The Huskies started their weekend homestand by mustering just 64 points in a 67-possession game won by USC. Then on Saturday night with the ESPN GameDay crew on hand, U-Dub did a pretty fair imitation of UCLA ’73, blowing out UCLA (how ironic!) 97-68. Barring a Pac-10 tournament title for his team, Quincy Pondexter will join the likes of Ed Davis, Willie Warren, and, possibly, Stanley Robinson as a 2010 draft pick who did not play in this year’s NCAA tournament….I’m with Ken Pomeroy on this one. If New Mexico is a three-seed we could probably improve seeding by simply drawing numbers out of a hat. And it’s not just the Lobos beating Air Force by a measly three points at home on Saturday, though that certainly was notable. More tomorrow.     

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Duke apparently donated its collapse to Virginia this year
J-

Nice article on Duke‘s minutes. I’ve taken some time to watch a couple of their recent games–at North Carolina and vs. Maryland–and noticed there is certainly much less motion in their offense in the second half, especially from Singler and Scheyer. And when they get a big lead deep in the half, they go into about as much of a stall as you can these days.

Taking a quick peek at the play-by-play from the Maryland game, the Blue Devils had nine offensive possessions from the 10-minute mark until Singler and Scheyer came out for good with under two minutes left. No trip was shorter than 20 seconds, and actually after the first three possessions no sequence was shorter than 28 seconds. So while these guys play a lot of minutes I’m not sure they’re really as gassed as their opponents hope at this point in the season.

David S.

Thanks, David. Of course in the time period you looked at in the Maryland game the Devils were nursing a double-digit lead that whole time, so that may have been one instance where energy-conservation worked hand in hand with strategy. Though, now that you mention it, Mike Krzyzewski has indeed taken his foot off the pedal this year ever so slightly, to the tune of three trips per ACC game.

By the way all this talk was triggered by an article that appeared last week in the Duke student newspaper, The Chronicle. I was interviewed by the bright young people at said paper as part of a follow-up piece on the ensuing discussion. Watch for it there tomorrow or so.  

February 19, 2010

Duke collapsing, and other rites of spring (Updated!)

Filed under: Uncategorized — John Gasaway @ 3:28 pm

Yesterday the Duke student newspaper, The Chronicle, posted an excellent piece on the Blue Devils’ recent habit of growing weaker as each season progresses, and before going any further I just want to say one thing. Seeing today’s undergraduates comfortably and indeed unselfconsciously tossing around “per-possession this” and “tempo-free that” brought tears of joy to this old duffer’s eyes. If this single article is any indication, the future would appear to be in good hoops-analysis hands.

Now, as for the actual content of the piece I did have two additional reactions.

One, of course the declines have been real. More than real, in each of the past two seasons they’ve been unbelievably in-your-face dramatic. Good grief, last year I was running around screaming with my arms above my head (“Decline! Decline!“) but no one listened because, hey, the Blue Devils had re-jiggered their lineup and everything was going to be A-OK!

The Jon ScheyerElliot Williams experiment is working so well that Duke is quite pleased with its progress going into the postseason.

“The lineup we’ve had the past few games is a good look for us,” Scheyer said. “Elliot is doing a good job for us as a ball defender.”

Duke’s Kyle Singler said the Blue Devils “are at a good spot right now.” He added that Williams has helped the Blue Devils’ ball pressure.

If anything the collapse in 2008 was even more sudden. Duke barreled out of the ACC gate that year going 10-0, outscoring opponents by 0.19 points per trip. Over their last six conference games, however, that per-possession scoring margin shrank to 0.01, as the Devils went 3-3.

So yes, this is an official Punxsutawney-level ritual until further notice. If you’re a Duke fan, right now you are quite rightly holding your breath.

Which brings me to my second point. It is of course entirely possible, in theory, that Mike Krzyzewski is tiring his stars out. And if that is indeed the case then Duke really is doomed, because the minutes are even more concentrated this year in Durham than they have been the past couple seasons.

There is a bench this year, right?
Percentage of total team minutes played by Duke’s five leaders in playing time, 2008-10

      Pct of Total
2008      71
2009      68
2010      75

Then again North Carolina last year gave 73 percent of its minutes to just five players and from my chair the Tar Heels looked pretty spry in late March and early April. 

Which, again, doesn’t rule out a fatigue-based Duke Collapse theory entirely. Maybe Coach K just demands so goll-dern much from his players, what with all that floor-slapping, blatantly un-Kansas-State-like motion on offense, actual effort on defense, etc. Or maybe his practices are too frequent and/or intense. There could be any number of sound fatigue-based reasons why the Blue Devils have been falling apart like a cheap rain coat every year.

But if sheer minutes are the culprit, it’s not just Duke fans that should be worried right now.

There are benches this year, right?
Percentage of total team minutes played by five leaders in playing time for various big scary teams, 2010
Teams borrowed from top four lines of this morning’s Bracketology at ESPN.com–thanks, Joe! 

            Pct of Total
Georgetown      82
Ohio St.        80
Duke            75
Temple          74
Gonzaga         73
West Virginia   73
Syracuse        72
Purdue          71
Kentucky        70
New Mexico      70
Kansas          69
Vanderbilt      68
BYU             67
Kansas St.      66
Villanova       64
Michigan St.    60
 

Duke skews toward one end of the minutes-concentration spectrum, sure. But they’re far from the most extreme case and, anyway, the Blue Devils are more or less equivalent in this respect to teams like West Virginia, Temple, and Gonzaga. If Coach K’s team really is doomed purely because of how their minutes have been distributed, at least they have company.

Update: In doffing my cap to the “excellent” piece in the Chronicle I was saluting tempo-free-savvy young people. At the same time it’s true that the particular method that was used for measuring performance in said piece was by its very nature pretty likely to come up positive for “decline.” Duke of course plays North Carolina as their last game every year. Then they play in the ACC tournament, wherein each successive opponent is likely to be a little bit tougher. Lastly the Blue Devils move on to the NCAA tournament. It is a gauntlet. If you measure a team’s performance until they lose in the NCAA’s and if you don’t take into consideration the strength of the opponent, you may well chart a line for performance that trends downward.

So, at the risk of parroting the links I included in my post, let me be clear about what I mean by “decline.” I am looking at ACC regular-season play only.

Last season Duke’s defense allowed ACC opponents just 0.80 points per possession over their first nine games. Then over their final seven conference games, the Blue Devil D allowed 1.12 points per trip. As for the numbers I trot out above with relation to 2008, one interesting feature there is that the 10-game happy time took in the road game at Final Four-bound UNC, whereas the six-game time of woe included the season-ending rematch against the Heels at Cameron Indoor.    

The Wild, Unpredictable West

Filed under: Uncategorized — Kevin Pelton @ 3:53 am

It may not rise to the level of fury John Gasaway experiences any time the term “rebound margin” is uttered, but one of my great annoyances in college basketball analysis is when conference results are used to discuss the strength of a conference as a whole. Consider this an intractable truth of basketball: Whenever two teams from the same conference meet, one of them will win and one of them will lose. (I know. Profound.) The net result is always the same for the conference’s strength as a whole.

That said, in-conference results can certainly determine a lot of a conference’s fate come March. And while the Pac-10 certainly earned its poor reputation this season fair and square with a poor showing in the non-conference slate of games, the inability of any team to separate from the pack in the conference is doing further damage to the Pac-10’s chances of being anything more than a one-bid league this season.

Cal is clearly the class of the Pac-10 on paper, with a lofty standing of No. 24 in the Pomeroy Ratings and some momentum entering this weekend’s play–three straight wins, including a big one at Haas Pavilion over Washington. How then to explain tonight’s result? Giving up 80 points in 64 possessions to the country’s No. 206 team in adjusted offensive efficiency, the Bears lost by 16 at Oregon State. The Beavers shot a sizzling 61.1 percent inside the arc (22-of-36) and made 36 trips to the free throw line in a home blowout that will mar Cal’s resume come Selection Sunday.

(As for how an Oregon State team that lost at home to Seattle University and Sacramento State could beat up on the Pac-10 leaders … well, it’s the latest example of the Beavers’ results being largely unconnected to the quality of their opposition, as I noted earlier in the year.)

The Huskies looked to have a good shot at breaking out of the pack of teams vying for position behind conference leaders Cal and Arizona State after finally winning a road game at Stanford last Saturday. Instead, Washington’s tournament hopes took a major hit with a rare home loss against stingy USC, which built a 16-point lead midway through the second half and survived a Husky rally. Now, Washington probably finds itself in the position of needing to win the Pac-10 Tournament to reach the NCAAs. My lede aside, the Trojans are the last team the Pac-10 wants winning since USC is ineligible for postseason play thanks to self-imposed violations. Nonetheless, the Trojans–now tied for second place with Arizona State, a half-game behind Cal–might just win the conference regular season.

The wackiness of the evening in the Pacific time zone wasn’t limited to the Pac-10. In fact, Gonzaga suffered an even bigger upset at the hands of lowly Loyola Marymount, ranked No. 187 by Pomeroy even after the win. The Zags have come through against the West Coast Conference’s other top teams (sweeping both Portland and St. Mary’s), but have been surprisingly poor against everyone else in their league. Gonzaga’s tiebreaker advantage means it would take two stumbles to let the WCC regular-season title slip away, but this loss could prove costly in terms of keeping the Bulldogs from being able to stay in Spokane for the first weekend of the NCAA Tournament, which would require a protected seed of fifth or better.

February 18, 2010

Brewer to Memphis Beats the Buzzer

Filed under: Uncategorized — Kevin Pelton @ 5:20 pm

As usual, even though it’s well after the 3:00 p.m. Eastern trade deadline, deals continue to trickle in. The latest sees Ronnie Brewer dealt to Memphis for a conditional 2011 first-round pick, a deal that has important ramifications for the Western Conference Playoff picture.

Utah won’t get under the luxury tax without Brewer’s salary, but will not have to pay the tax on his contract and also saves the actual salary the rest of the season. That savings is slightly offset by the need to sign another player to fill out the 13-man roster. All told, the Jazz saves about $3.06 million by dumping Brewer’s contract. Is that and the first-round pick worth losing Brewer? That probably depends on your perspective.

Utah believes it is because the team has multiple other players capable of stepping into those minutes at the two–rookie Wesley Matthews, C.J. Miles and a healthy Kyle Korver. Other than Korver, who has shot lights-out when he’s been on the floor, those other two players have not been as effective as Brewer even in terms of individual statistics in what has been a down season for the incumbent Jazz starter. In terms of plus-minus, however, Brewer has been the least effective of the group. Utah is 4.3 points worse per 100 possessions with Brewer on the floor, per 82games.com, and that’s despite the luxury of playing with the team’s strong starting five.

I’m more optimistic on Brewer than the plus-minus and wonder about shaking up a team that has played so well lately, but the difference may ultimately be negligible for the Jazz. At the same time, Brewer could represent a boon to a Memphis team that has been disastrous off the bench this season. He’s a considerable upgrade on rookies DeMarre Carroll and Sam Young and gives the Grizzlies a sixth player upon whom they can rely. Is that difference enough to get Memphis to the playoffs? Probably not, but Brewer is young enough that he is more than a rental. In particular, he represents insurance in case the team is unable to re-sign Rudy Gay this summer, when Gay will be a valuable commodity because of all the teams who cleared cap space prior to the deadline.

Knicks Get Their Cap Space, But at a Cost

Filed under: Uncategorized — Kevin Pelton @ 3:19 pm

Tracy McGrady is headed to New York after all, along with a whole lot of cap space, but the price the Knicks had to pay for the ability to sign two free agents to max contracts next summer was a steep one. In the hours leading up to the trade deadline, New York President Donnie Walsh agreed to give up Jordan Hill, the Knicks’ 2012 first-round pick and the right to swap picks in 2011 in order for the Houston Rockets to take on the contract of Jared Jeffries. The only question remaining is what kind of protection was placed on those picks. That’s still undetermined right now, and we’ll update as we hear more. Sacramento Bee report Sam Amick said the 2012 pick is top-10 protected, which would cover New York quite a bit, but ESPN’s Chad Ford (whose colleague Marc Stein first broke the completed deal) says the Knicks keep their 2012 pick if it is in the top five (while the 2011 pick is protected only if it is No.1 overall).

Hoopdata.com’s Joe Treutlein and CBA guru Larry Coon both broke down New York’s cap situation earlier this week and showed that buying out Eddy Curry would be enough to get the Knicks enough cap space to sign two free agents to maximum contracts next summer.

The issue for New York is even if it gets those players, it’s going to be hard pressed to add much talent around them besides the existing core of Wilson Chandler, Toney Douglas and Danilo Gallinari. The Knicks will have just one pick in the next three years, and depending on whether they or the Rockets are good in 2010-11, it will probably be a low one. For next year, the hypothetical scenario would have those three players, two max-contract superstars and seven guys making the minimum. Tough to see that kind of team making much noise.

By holding out until the last minute, Houston GM Daryl Morey drove a tough bargain. The Rockets are no longer in position to go under the salary cap, so Jared Jeffries is a useful if overpaid piece. (He might also spell the departure of Shane Battier, since Houston is flush on the wing with the addition of Jeffries and Kevin Martin and Jeffries has emerged as one of the league’s better perimeter stoppers.) Hill provides a complementary style up front and helps sop up some of the minutes Carl Landry was playing, while the Rockets get tons of assets going forward. In the context of this deal, I like adding Martin yesterday that much more.

One minor note: Adding Sergio Rodriguez helps the Knicks this season. He’s a very intriguing fit for the Mike D’Antoni system. I’ve always been high on Rodriguez’s talent, but he’s never really gotten the right chance to show his wares. The Portland style was too conservative, and he was squeezed for minutes in Sacramento. You could see him break out over the next couple of months.

Bulls get busy in pair of deals

Filed under: Uncategorized — Bradford Doolittle @ 2:11 pm

After apparently losing out in the battle to land Tracy McGrady‘s massive expiring contract, the Bulls swung a couple of deals that not only may have boosted their cap fortunes as much as a McGrady deal might have, but also allowed Chicago to create that additional flexibility without punting the rest of the 2009-10 season.

Last night, Bulls swingman John Salmons was ordered to remain at the team’s hotel in New York while his teammates were taking on the Knicks. Salmons was told he’d be traded but the destination wouldn’t be known until the morning. Word that the Bucks were the partners in the deal emerged before the evening was over, however. Initially, it was thought that the Bulls would be getting veteran big men Kurt Thomas and Fernando Elson back from Milwaukee, but this morning that pair turned into apparent bust Joe Alexander and Hakim Warrick.

That left the Bulls with the task of moving talented but perpetually disgrunted forward Tyrus Thomas. This morning, reports emerged that the Bulls found a taker. Thomas is headed to Charlotte for Acie Law, Flip Murray and a future first-round pick.

This was well played by Bulls general manager Gar Forman and his boss, John Paxson. The contracts of Warrick, Alexander, Law and Murray all expire after this season. The Bulls will also shed the contracts of Brad Miller, Jerome James, Jannero Pargo, Lindsey Hunter, Devin Brown and Chris Richard.

That leaves Derrick Rose, Kirk Hinrich, Joakim Noah, Taj Gibson, Luol Deng and James Johnson as the only players under contract–a solid core group to attract the max free agent that Chicago now has room for. However, Chicago is well short of the needed cap space to bring into two max players. To get to that level, Chicago would need to finder a taker for Deng or Hinrich, which seems unlikely without Thomas still around to package.

For the Bucks, Salmons gives the team a wing scorer to fill the role that Jerry Stackhouse has been unable to do justice. It also give them a bit of protection if Michael Redd should opt out of his contract.

As for Charlotte, the Bobcats may looking at the luxury tax if they want to re-sign Thomas off the restricted market. In the short term, Thomas gives Larry Brown another athlete, but he’d already been getting solid play in a similar role from rookie Derrick Brown. (To be fair, Thomas is considerably futher along.) Also, with Murray gone, Charlotte may have to turn to little-used rookie Gerald Henderson to fill out the backcourt rotation.

Tigers take Texas

Filed under: Uncategorized — Bradford Doolittle @ 10:30 am

Yesterday, I dropped in with some preparatory thoughts on last night’s Texas-Missouri game. Since that was kind of late in the day, I wanted to check back in with some thoughts on the game’s outcome.

Missouri turned in its best overall performance of the season, knocking off the Longhorns 82-77–a score skewed by two Texas three-pointers in the last five seconds after the game was already decided. The win was crucial for the Tigers, who would have found themselves squarely on the bubble with a loss. Mizzou isn’t guaranteed a spot yet, but its position is much stronger than it was yesterday at this time. The win jumped Mizzou 10 spots in the RPI rankings, to a much more comfortable No. 37. Missouri evened its mark against Top 25 teams to 2-2 on the season and moved into a third-place tie in the Big 12, just behind second place Kansas State.

Texas has now dropped six of nine after starting the season 17-0. In yesterday’s piece, I pointed towards the inconsistent shooting of the Longhorns as being their Achilles’ Heel, especially that of their key freshman. Last night, Jordan Hamilton was impressive, scoring 24 points on 16 shots, but fellow freshmen J’Covan Brown and Avery Bradley combined for 24 points on 28 shots. Dexter Pittman was a non-factor because of foul trouble. He was limited to 12 minutes and didn’t even get an official shot from the field. A double-digit scorer the last two seasons, the burly senior has hit that mark in just two of 11 Big 12 games.

As I suggested might be the case, Missouri’s pressure was a constant problem for Texas’ young trio despite the fact that the Longhorns entered the game with the conference’s best turnover rate. Mizzou forced 18 Texas turnovers while committing just 11 miscues themselves.  More surprising was Missouri’s showing on the boards. The Tigers grabbed 17 of its 40 misses against a good-rebounding Texas team, though Missouri was typically weak on the defensive glass.

Texas fell to 6-5 in the conference and now travels to Texas Tech for another tough road game on Saturday. Is it conceivable that the Longhorns–No. 1 in the country only a few weeks ago–could play themselves all the way out of the bracket? That seems very unlikely as, despite the slump, Texas stands No. 27 in RPI. But that number gets a little bit worse with each passing game. There isn’t an easy game left on the Longhorns’ schedule, but it seems impossible that they could lose out, or even go 1-4 entering the Big 12 Tournament. That and a one-and-done showing in Kansas City is probably what would have to happen to keep Texas out of the Big Dance.

Couldn’t happen, right?

K-Mart Opens in Houston

Filed under: Uncategorized — Kevin Pelton @ 4:18 am

The biggest stunner of the 2010 trade deadline, barring something really crazy tomorrow, has apparently hit. Early Thursday morning in the East Coast, ESPN.com’s Marc Stein reported that the Houston Rockets had acquired Kevin Martin from the Sacramento Kings. Later, Yahoo!’s Adrian Wojnarowski supplied the particulars. While the New York Knicks may still get involved to bring Tracy McGrady to the Big Apple in a three-team deal, for now McGrady is headed to Sacramento along with Joey Dorsey and Carl Landry. Houston gets Martin and several expiring contracts who make the deal work–Hilton Armstrong, Sergio Rodriguez and Kenny Thomas.

In many ways, this is more fascinating than the deals that have previously been consummated because it’s a scenario that hasn’t been discussed to death. To try to explore the impact on the Rockets, I plugged their 2009-10 numbers into the SCHOENE projection spreadsheet and ran them for a projected rotation with Martin. The results are not encouraging.

Projection    Win%    PW     ORtg  Rk    DRtg  Rk
Current       .457   37.4   108.0  23   109.5  18
Martin0910    .402   32.9   106.2  27   109.5  18
MartinProj    .429   35.2   107.6  24   109.9  18

The first scenario includes Martin’s 2009-10 stats, and it shows Houston dropping quite a bit. It could reasonably be argued that Martin has been coming back from injury and his performance this season is not indicative of what the Rockets can expect. The second scenario uses Martin’s SCHOENE projection prior to this season. Even with that more optimistic assumption, Houston essentially gains nothing from this trade.

Why not? First, Landry has been excellent this year, posting a team-high 4.2 WARP off the bench. Martin’s established level of play is higher, but not significantly so. The difference is made up for by the fact that the Rockets will have to take some minutes away from their effective guards in order to play their less-effective big men. More minutes for Chuck Hayes are surely better than individual statistics can simulate, but Hayes’ limitations on offense explain why he’s averaging just 21.7 minutes per game.

Given all that, I suspect Houston GM Daryl Morey is thinking more down the road with this deal. Martin gives the Rockets an efficient scorer at shooting guard, something they’ve never had under Morey, with first McGrady and now Trevor Ariza being volume scorers. With Yao Ming back next year, Luis Scola can shift back to power forward and put Houston’s frontcourt rotation in order. I also suspect Morey and company think they can find another quality undersized four on the cheap–maybe not as good as Landry, but a decent replacement nonetheless.

There are still issues, like the fact that a backcourt of Martin and Aaron Brooks is problematic defensively and that the Rockets are continuing their tradition of star players who tend to spend a lot of time on the sidelines, but for next year I like the move for Houston.

As far as the Kings go, I had maintained they should wait to see if Martin and Tyreke Evans can coexist before making a deal. I understand why Geoff Petrie took this one, however. Sacramento gets a solid building block in Landry, who immediately becomes the Kings’ best frontcourt player. They also get plenty of financial flexibility thanks to Landry’s cost-effective team option for next year. I show Sacramento with a little over $37 million committed for next summer, providing enough room (nearly $16 million, projecting a cap of $53 million) to go after second-tier free agents or to use in lopsided trades. The Kings will also have another draft pick to add to their core next summer.

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