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April 29, 2010

The Foul Factor

Filed under: Uncategorized — Kevin Pelton @ 1:06 pm

Yesterday, John Hollinger had one of the most interesting takes on the playoffs thus far when he studied how the Denver Nuggets’ foul rate has changed since Adrian Dantley replaced George Karl on the sidelines (Insider only).

Given the eye-popping differentials in foul calls and free throw attempts, we have to ask if human nature has made some officials respond different to Dantley than to a more intimidating, permanent coach like Jerry Sloan. Are the refs more likely to call, say, three charging fouls in a half on a team’s superstar, or call a delay-of-game violation for a technical foul with three minutes left in a close playoff game, or make a dramatic zip-your-lips gesture to the bench as if lecturing a room full of third-graders if the person reacting to that call is basically the substitute teacher?

They’re the best officials in the world. But they’re only human, after all.

I was compelled to look into the numbers a bit more, focusing on Denver’s free throw attempts per game. If my math is right (and comparing two samples is a little tricky from a statistical standpoint), the difference between the Nuggets’ 31.6 attempts per night under Karl and 27.1 with Dantley during the regular season is statistically significant.

The fact that Denver played more road games than home (11 out of 19) with Dantley does mitigate that a little bit. I ran a regression attempting to relate the Nuggets’ free throw attempts to game location, pace and opponents’ tendency to put teams on the free throw line, adding the coach as a dummy variable. With this adjustment, Dantley’s impact on the team’s free throw attempts per night drops slightly to 3.1 per game and is no longer quite statistically significant. Still, the magnitude of the effect is considerable.

Now, the main reaction to Hollinger’s piece has been commentary on the fact that free throw attempts evened out in the Denver-Utah series last night, with the Nuggets getting to the charity stripe 42 times to the Jazz’s 25 in their Game Five win. That stat can’t be considered in a vacuum; Denver was playing at home, was desperate to extend the series and played much more energetic basketball than in its three straight losses. Still, to the extent the Nuggets haven’t been getting calls under Dantley, that certainly wasn’t the case last night, and the situation being made public may well have had something to do with that. In fact, Hollinger predicted as much.

What strikes me is whether we can quantify how other coaches affect the way their teams are refereed. This would be tricky, for any number of reasons–predicting fouls from the stats is challenging, and disentangling players’ existing foul rates from the effect of coaches when most of them tend to work together for multiple seasons is tough–but surely this can’t be the only case where a coach makes a difference at the free throw line. One I investigated in the WNBA was whether the imposing Bill Laimbeer helped his team by intimidating referees (and whether this effect wore off over time). Such a study is probably beyond my statistical capabilities, and I don’t like making work for other people, but I’d love to see one done.

Kevin Pelton is an author of Basketball Prospectus. You can contact Kevin by clicking here or click here to see Kevin’s articles. Follow Kevin on Twitter at @kpelton.

April 26, 2010

Playoff Prospectus: The Disappearing Denver Defense

Filed under: Uncategorized — Kevin Pelton @ 7:31 pm

Editor’s note: Because of the server switch, we are still unable to post articles on Basketball Prospectus. Please bear with us on some of the effects, including the BBP stat pages being unavailable. Here is my Playoff Prospectus on three of Sunday’s four playoff games. Bradford wrote about the Chicago-Cleveland game, which he attended.
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April 24, 2010

Prospectus Server Switch

Filed under: Uncategorized — Bradford Doolittle @ 3:05 pm

If you don’t read the baseball side of the Prospectus Empire, Dave Pease’s post here foretells of a weekend server transfer, which affects us on the hoops side as well. If you see some funky things on the site, this is why and it’s only temporary. We should be back to normal programming on Monday and the site should be faster than ever. The glitches–I think–have affected us a little more behind the scenes in terms of posting, etc., but if you have noticed slow page loading or other problems, hang with us. All should be better after tomorrow.

April 22, 2010

Tournament salvation, punditry-fail

Filed under: Uncategorized — John Gasaway @ 11:17 pm

Today the NCAA announced a new 14-year, $10.8 billion deal (which I immediately saw misprinted as $10.8 million) with CBS and Turner Broadcasting for the rights to the men’s D-I basketball tournament. Ironically it took the NCAA three whole paragraphs to get to the part that everyone’s been talking about for months:

Last Wednesday, the NCAA Division I Men’s Basketball Committee unanimously passed a recommendation to the Division I Board of Directors to increase the tournament field size to 68 teams beginning with the 2011 championship. The Board will review the recommendation at its April 29 meeting.

In other words, expansion has at last reared its ugly head. In the form of three additional play-in games.

Upon hearing the news my first reaction was a shout of joy. My second reaction was that, with the shining and outstanding exceptions of John Ourand and Michael Smith of the Sports Business Journal, the college hoops punditry was absolutely dreadful at their jobs throughout this entire 80-day saga, one that started with a report on February 1 saying expansion to 96 teams was “a done deal.”

Since then it’s been all downhill. Don’t get me wrong, I include myself among the underperformers:

Networks love postseason sports because they draw large DVR-impervious and demographically-attractive audiences. The more hours of this content the networks (old-school or cable) can get, the happier they are, and major league baseball, the NFL, and the NBA have all been delighted to inflate their postseasons accordingly over the past two decades. Now it’s the NCAA’s turn, and when a primal force of sports-business nature like this is combined with a warm and fuzzy but no less true statement like “It will mean more mid-majors get in,” resistance is futile. Watch.

Fortunately I wasn’t alone. Here’s Gene Wojciechowski on February 11, holding forth sagely on the economics of the matter:

Someone at the NCAA needs to take a business course or call Warren Buffet. Since when do you offer a one-of-a-kind basketball oceanfront property on the cheap?

Always sell high, not low. That’s what the NFL does. It understands the value of its product, waits until the economic timing is right and then opens the bidding.

Meanwhile the NCAA is considering an opt-out during the middle of a recession. How shrewd. 

Again, the NCAA announced today that it will receive $10.8 billion from CBS and Turner over the next 14 years, an average of $771 million a year. This represents roughly a 41 percent increase in average yearly revenue over the organization’s previous 11-year $6 billion deal with CBS. And they did it without expanding to 96 teams and enraging me. Sounds pretty shrewd from where I’m standing.

Or consider Dana O’Neil‘s bill of indictment from three weeks ago:

Essentially, this is what we learned from NCAA head honchos here Thursday afternoon:

They don’t care about fans.

They don’t care about the regular season.

They don’t care about conference tournaments.

And they sure don’t care about student-athletes being bothered by that pesky “student” portion of their hyphenated moniker by going to class.

What do they care about? Cash.   

To her credit, O’Neil opened her piece today by saying “I have put the spatula away after scraping the egg off my face and can now admit that I was wrong.” Well, pretty much everyone was wrong in terms of forecasting what the NCAA would do. Speaking as one of those erroneous forecasters myself, however, I can say that my problem with O’Neil’s indictment and with so much of what I read over the past 80 days was that it was all so needlessly focused on why the NCAA was doing something (it ended up not doing). Greed! Stupidity! There were two insuperable flaws with the Greed!-Stupidity! meme from the outset. First there’s the fact, shocking though this may sound, that NCAA employees are in truth no more greedy or stupid than any other group of professionals.

But the larger problem with yelling Greed! and Stupidity! at the NCAA was that it was entirely beside the point. The tournament could have been expanded by wholly selfless and highly intelligent people–and it still would have been a terrible and needless mistake. Not because we know for a fact that a 96-team field really would be such an unwatchable mess but because there is no earthly reason to jeopardize what an amazing number of people already agree is a nearly perfect thing. In their haste to hit the trusty and well-worn “LOL NCAA” button, many writers lost sight of this story’s central truth. The tournament is the thing.   

I make fun of political pundits for excessive Howard Kurtz-style navel-gazing, and rightfully so. Political pundits are indeed guilty of excessive Howard Kurtz-style navel-gazing. But say this for inside-the-beltway types. When they screw something up badly, they positively revel in the autopsies and self-recriminations. In this one instance the college hoops punditry could stand to do likewise.

BONUS fodder for conspiracy theorists! But wait! Does having 68 teams in 2011 really mean the tournament is safe? After all, the NCAA noted today that it can revisit the issue of expansion anytime they wish, and there’s already speculation that “they’ll jam [96 teams] down our throats eventually.” Of course if they do the irony will be just too delicious. The TV deal has been signed and the dollars are locked in for 14 years. Expanding now to 96 teams won’t change those dollars, meaning the NCAA would be acting to placate coaches, give more teams a shot, whatever. If they do so I will of course be enraged and you’ll find me back in my tree outside NCAA headquarters with my trusty bullhorn. Just don’t call it “a greed grab,” please.  

April 20, 2010

Howard repeats as DPOY

Filed under: Uncategorized — Bradford Doolittle @ 2:56 pm

In a less-than-surprising development, Orlando center Dwight Howard won the NBA Defensive Player of the Year Award today for the second straight season. Here’s how the voting went:

1. Dwight Howard, Orlando..........................576
2. Josh Smith, Atlanta.............................136
3. Gerald Wallace, Charlotte.......................113
4. LeBron James, Cleveland......................... 61
5. Rajon Rondo, Boston............................. 55
6. Ron Artest, Los Angeles Lakers.................. 29
7. Andrew Bogut, Milwaukee......................... 23
8. Thabo Sefolosha, Oklahoma City.................. 20
9. Anderson Varejao, Cleveland..................... 18
10. (tie) Dwyane Wade, Miami....................... 13
10. (tie) Marcus Camby, Portland................... 13
12. Kobe Bryant, Los Angeles Lakers................  9
13. Shawn Marion, Dallas...........................  8
14. Tim Duncan, San Antonio........................  7
15. Shane Battier, Houston.........................  5
16. Andrei Kirilenko, Utah.........................  4
17. (tie) Aaron Afflalo, Denver....................  1
17. (tie) David Lee, New York......................  1
17. (tie) Ben Wallace, Detroit.....................  1
17. (tie) Brendan Haywood, Washington..............  1
17. (tie) Matt Barnes, Orlando.....................  1
17. (tie) Kendrick Perkins, Boston.................  1
17. (tie) Luc Richard Mbah a Moute, Milwaukee......  1
17. (tie) Kenyon Martin, Denver....................  1

Just for the heck of it, here is the defensive leaderboard in NBAPET, according to dMULT. I list 22 because these were all the players to earn a +5 skill rating for defense this season. I’ve listed their finish in the voting at the end, where applicable.

1. howard,dwight_orl     .548 (1st)
2. durant,kevin_okl      .618 (--)
3. artest,ron_lal        .717 (6th)
4. james,lebron_cle      .721 (4th)
5. bryant,kobe_lal       .723 (12th)
6. bogut,andrew_mil      .733 (7th)
7. wade,dwyane_mia       .738 (10th)
8. delfino,carlos_mil    .781 (--)
9. garnett,kevin_bos     .791 (--)
10. kirilenko,andrei_uta .802 (16th)
11. deng,luol_chi        .812 (--)
12. varejao,anderson_cle .812 (9th)
13. odom,lamar_lal       .813 (--)
14. sefolosha,thabo_okl  .829 (8th)
15. williams,deron_uta   .831 (--)
16. stuckey,rodney_det   .835 (--)
17. nowitzki,dirk_dal    .837 (--)
18. rose,derrick_chi     .839 (--)
19. evans,tyreke_sac     .848 (--)
20. wallace,gerald_cha   .849 (3rd)
21. ginobili,manu_san    .850 (--)
22. horford,al_atl       .850 (--)

There is little doubt in my mind that Durant’s prowess on the offensive end, and that of his team, overshadowed his defensive work in the minds of voters that ignored him altogether. Also, Garnett–a fixture in the voting for this award–drew an undeserved goose egg. He missed 13 games this season, but that shouldn’t have been enough to lock him out of the voting. Josh Smith had a dMULT of .948, which slotted him as a +3 defender. That seems a little off but, overall, I like NBAPET’s list better than the results of the voters. Especially in the case of Rondo, who is a good rebounder and the best ball thief of in the league, but opposing point guards routinely put up good numbers against him. His dMULT was nevertheless a solid .918. Also, whoever listed David Lee needs to have their award-voting privileges revoked pronto.

April 17, 2010

log5, BBP-style

Filed under: Uncategorized — Bradford Doolittle @ 1:58 pm

Kevin’s previous post linking to the preview pieces at FanHouse reminded me that, hey, I’ve got a log5 application to project the NBA playoffs, too. Duh. I built it last spring and used it all season to generate the championship probabilities in my Hoops List series*. So I’d be remiss if I didn’t go on record with those projections.

* I owe you a final Hoops List for the regular season. Coming soon. This piece will steal a bit of thunder from that because you’ll see in these numbers that Orlando passed Cleveland for the top spot in the rankings. This in fact happened on the final night of the season, when Atlanta beat coasting Cleveland handily, while Orlando was easily dispatching of lowly Philadelphia.

These numbers will differ from Ziller’s because I used NBAPET power rankings as my inputs. Last season, I found that the power rankings formula had as much predictive value for postseason success as winning percentage, point differential and efficiency margin. POW and EM actually come out fractionally ahead of the other two, but the difference is small. But, hey, it’s something! Using the POW ratings for each team, I use the log5 method to calculate the probabilities for each series, then run a Monte Carlo-style simulator 1,000 times to generate the percentages you see below. Each column represents the team’s chance to advance to that round.

<

EASTERN CONFERENCE
SD  TEA   POW    R8%    R4%    R2%    R1%
E1  cle  59.2  93.2%  76.5%  44.5%  29.7%
E8  chi  38.5   6.8%   1.5%   0.2%   0.0%
—————————————–
E4  bos  49.7  61.0%  16.6%   5.8%   2.5%
E5  mia  46.5  39.0%   5.4%   1.3%   0.3%
—————————————–
E3  atl  53.2  72.4%  25.6%  10.2%   4.9%
E6  mil  45.2  27.6%   5.7%   1.2%   0.1%
—————————————–
E2  orl  59.4  89.5%  65.3%  36.5%  25.4%
E7  cha  44.5  10.5%   3.4%   0.3%   0.1%
=========================================
WESTERN CONFERENCE
W1  lal  56.5  69.5%  40.4%  26.3%  11.0%
W8  okc  50.8  30.5%  12.6%   6.1%   1.7%
—————————————–
W4  den  53.6  48.3%  21.6%  12.1%   4.5%
W5  uta  55.1  51.7%  25.4%  14.7%   6.2%
—————————————–
W3  phx  53.7  61.8%  33.1%  13.6%   4.8%
W6  por  50.0  38.2%  17.0%   5.1%   1.5%
—————————————–
W2  dal  51.3  44.9%  21.9%   8.0%   2.1%
W7  sas  53.8  55.1%  28.0%  14.1%   5.2%

I’ll re-run these numbers after the end of each round. Not too many surprises, at least to me. Log5 likes the Jazz over the Nuggets, the only lower seed favored in the first round.

Log5 Comes to the NBA Playoffs

Filed under: Uncategorized — Kevin Pelton @ 2:46 am

Ken Pomeroy doesn’t realize how easy he has it. Doing Pomeroy’s patented log5 projections for the NCAA Tournament is relatively simple compared to playing out all the possible permutations of each best-of-seven NBA Playoff series. Fortunately, Fanhouse.com’s Tom Ziller stepped in to do that work as part of Fanhouse’s previews, co-written by Ziller and Bethlehem Shoals, both friends of BBP.

Suffice it to say that the eighth-seeded Chicago Bulls are the NBA equivalent of a 16 seed. Log-5 gives them just a three percent chance of upsetting the Cleveland Cavaliers. “So overmatched does Chicago appear,” writes Ziller, “there’s a better probability Cleveland will lose Game 1 and reel off four straight wins (4.3%) than the Bulls will win the series.”

April 14, 2010

Updated playoff scenarios

Filed under: Uncategorized — Bradford Doolittle @ 10:32 am

Down to the last night of the NBA season and more than half of the league’s playoff seedings are still up in the air. The situation clarified slightly last night with Chicago’s won over Boston, which locked the Celtics into fourth in the East, behind third-place Atlanta. Charlotte is slotted at No. 7, so we know the Bobcats will be playing the Magic in the first round. We also know the Lakers and Thunder will tussle in the West’s opening round. Beyond that, it all comes down to tonight. Here’s is today’s NBA press release outlining the various scenarios:


2010 NBA Playoff Scenarios

(Updated through Games of Tuesday, April 13, 2010)

 

EASTERN CONFERENCE

1.  CLEVELAND CAVALIERS

2.  ORLANDO MAGIC

3.  ATLANTA HAWKS

4.  BOSTON CELTICS

5.  Milwaukee or Miami

6.  Miami or Milwaukee

7.  CHARLOTTE BOBCATS

8.  Chicago or Toronto

 

WESTERN CONFERENCE

1.  LOS ANGELES LAKERS

2.  Dallas or Utah

3.  Utah, Dallas or Phoenix

4.  Phoenix or Denver

5.  Denver or Utah

6.  Portland or San Antonio

7.  San Antonio or Portland

8.  OKLAHOMA CITY THUNDER

EASTERN

Miami will be seeded:

  • #5 if Heat wins OR Bucks lose
  • #6 if Heat loses and Bucks win

Milwaukee will be seeded:

  • #5 if Bucks win and Heat loses
  • #6 if Bucks lose OR Heat wins

Chicago will be seeded:

  • #8 if Bulls win OR Raptors lose

Toronto will be seeded:

  • #8 if Raptors win and Bulls lose

 

WESTERN

Denver wins the Northwest Division if Jazz lose

Utah wins the Northwest Division if Jazz wins

Dallas will be seeded:

  • #2 if Mavericks win OR Jazz loses
  • #3 if Mavericks lose and Jazz wins

Utah will be seeded:

  • #2 if Jazz wins and Mavericks lose
  • #3 if Jazz wins and Mavericks win
  • #5 if Jazz loses

Phoenix will be seeded:

  • #3 if Suns win
  • #4 if Suns lose

Denver will be seeded:

  • #4 if Jazz loses
  • #5 if Jazz wins

Portland will be seeded:

  • #6 if Blazers win OR Spurs lose
  • #7 if Blazers lose and Spurs win

San Antonio will be seeded:

  • #6 if Spurs win and Blazers lose
  • #7 if Spurs lose OR Blazers win

April 13, 2010

Introducing the Internet Basketball Awards

Filed under: Uncategorized — Kevin Pelton @ 7:54 pm

The Internet Baseball Awards are an annual tradition that actually date back to the early days of this series of tubes–1991. In recent years, the IBA have found a home at Baseball Prospectus, where readers vote to select their own version of the same awards chosen by members of the media. Football Outsiders also has its set of postseason awards, and it’s high time we do something similar for the NBA.

With that in mind, I’m proud to introduce the First Annual Internet Basketball Awards. Click here to cast your vote. I’ve set this up so it mirrors the actual ballots submitted by members of the media, but I recognize you may not want to fill out, say, all 10 members of the All-Rookie Team, so it’s OK to pick and choose a little bit, though the more complete your ballot the better. Voting will be open through one week from today, April 20, and we’ll announce the results later in the month.

(Also, thanks to everybody who has participated in our site survey, and please help us by filling it out if you have not yet done so.)

NBA playoff scenarios

Filed under: Uncategorized — Bradford Doolittle @ 6:47 pm

I’ve gotten a couple of emails wondering about NBA playoff possibilities. The league puts out a semi-daily update of scenarios, but it’s not as ubiquitous as, say, the NFL’s at a similar juncture of its season. So as a public service, I post the NBA release here. The teams listed in BOLD CAPS are locked into a playoff seed. With just two nights left in the season, only 5 of the 16 slots have been locked down. Wow.

2010 NBA Playoff Scenarios

(Updated through Games of Monday, April 12, 2010)

 

EASTERN CONFERENCE

1.  CLEVELAND CAVALIERS

2.  ORLANDO MAGIC

3.  Atlanta or Boston

4.  Boston or Atlanta

5.  Milwaukee or Miami

6.  Miami or Milwaukee

7.  CHARLOTTE BOBCATS

8.  Chicago or Toronto

 

WESTERN CONFERENCE

1.  LOS ANGELES LAKERS

2.  Dallas or Utah

3.  Denver, Phoenix, Dallas or Utah

4.  Utah, Denver or Phoenix

5.  Phoenix, Denver or Utah

6.  Portland or San Antonio

7.  San Antonio or Portland

8.  OKLAHOMA CITY THUNDER

EASTERN

Atlanta will be seeded:

  • #3 if Hawks win OR Celtics lose a game
  • #4 if Hawks lose and Celtics win twice

 

Boston will be seeded:

  • #3 if Celtics win twice and Hawks lose
  • #4 if Hawks win OR Celtics lose a game

Miami will be seeded:

  • #5 if Heat wins OR Bucks lose
  • #6 if Heat loses and Bucks win

Milwaukee will be seeded:

  • #5 if Bucks win and Heat loses
  • #6 if Bucks lose OR Heat wins

Chicago will be seeded:

  • #8 if Bulls win twice OR Bulls win once and Raptors lose.

Toronto will be seeded:

  • #8 if Raptors win and Bulls lose once OR Bulls lose twice.

 

WESTERN

Denver wins the Northwest Division if Nuggets win or Jazz loses a game.

Utah wins the Northwest Division if Jazz wins both games and Nuggets lose.

Dallas will be seeded:

  • #2 if Mavericks win OR Nuggets win OR Jazz loses a game
  • #3 if Mavericks and Nuggets lose and Utah wins both games

Denver will be seeded:

  • #3 if Nuggets win OR if Jazz lose to Warriors and Suns lose to the Jazz.
  • #4 if Nuggets lose and Suns beat the Jazz.
  • #5 if Nuggets lose and Jazz win both games.

Utah will be seeded:

  • #2 if Jazz wins both games and Mavericks and Nuggets lose.
  • #3 if Jazz wins both games, Mavericks win and Nuggets lose.
  • #4 if Nuggets win and Jazz beat the Suns OR if Nuggets lose and Jazz lose to the Warriors and beat the Suns.
  • #5 if Jazz loses to the Suns.

Phoenix will be seeded:

  • #3 if Nuggets lose and Suns win both games.
  • #4 if Suns lose to the Nuggets and beat the Jazz OR Suns beat Nuggets, lose to the Jazz and Jazz beats the Warriors.
  • #5 if Suns lose both games OR if Suns beat Nuggets and lose to Jazz and Jazz loses to Warriors.

Portland will be seeded:

  • #6 if Blazers win OR Spurs lose
  • #7 if Blazers lose and Spurs win

San Antonio will be seeded:

  • #6 if Spurs win and Blazers lose
  • #7 if Spurs lose OR Blazers win
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