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May 27, 2010

Abbott on Evaluating Coaches

Filed under: Uncategorized — Kevin Pelton @ 6:01 pm

As it turns out, Tuesday’s column on the difficulty of evaluating coaches was just in time. Tuesday turned out to be coaching day in the NBA blogosphere, and there was lots of great work, like Rob Mahoney reminding us Stan Van Gundy has nothing to worry about and Kelly Dwyer making the case that Dwane Casey should be the next head coach of the Atlanta Hawks (and he should).

The best of them all, in my humble opinion, was TrueHoop’s Henry Abbott waxing poetic on Nate McMillan as part of the “You Be the GM” series on OLive.com’s Blazers Blog.

The way to judge a coach is not to obsess over this or that little thing, but to look around the franchise and ask: Are the basketball players well-led? Do they give great effort at all times? Are the offense and defense generally efficient? Are the players on the roster well-deployed? Do the players believe in the coach as their leader? Is the staff on the same page?

The answer to all of those questions is hell yes when it comes to Nate McMillan.

Abbott’s piece reminded me of what might be the single column I’ve revisited most often in my life, the incomparable Bill James (guesting for Rob Neyer) on how to evaluate an organization.

Baseball organizations make thousands of decisions every year: A-level decisions, like “Who will be our manager?” and “Should we make a commitment to sign Johnny Damon?”; B-level decisions like “Who are we going to use as a leadoff man?” and “Who is going to be our first-round draft pick?”; and on down to Z-level decisions like “Should we use a pinch-runner here or a sacrifice bunt?” and “Is it time to move Tubby Poholsky up to Double-A?”

It seems to me that if you begin reviewing all of those decisions by a standard of “Is this the way I would have done this?” then you launch into a process that is, by its nature, neither fair, nor logical, nor constructive. Why? Because it is impossible, by doing that, to form a comprehensive picture of what the organization has done. You cannot hold 7,000 decisions in your mind while you think them through, so what you inevitably begin to do is pick and choose those which serve to advance your prejudice.

When evaluating a coach (or a GM or almost anyone), it’s sometimes easy to let the big picture slip away obsessing over individual decisions. That’s not a good way to make those evaluations, especially since it’s convenient to let the standard change from the average coach to what you would do in that situation. And while that’s inevitably part of the evaluation process, that’s a standard to which nobody else will ever entirely live up.

(Incidentally, Sean Meagher of OLive.com was also nice enough to ask me to participate in “You be the GM,” and I wrote about how wrong I was regarding the Andre Miller signing.)

May 16, 2010

Who Has Been the Best Playoff Team?

Filed under: Uncategorized — Kevin Pelton @ 2:12 pm

We talk in general terms about which teams have played the best in the playoffs, but it’s often difficult to separate schedule from performance. For example, how do you compare Orlando sweeping two lesser opponents with Boston upsetting the league’s winningest regular-season team, Cleveland?

My answer has always been to compare a team’s performance to the regular-season statistics of their opponents, weighted by games played in each series. So, through two rounds, let’s take a look at the four teams that advanced the conference finals. First, who had the hardest schedule?

Team    ORtg     Team    ORtg     Team    NetDif

PHX    112.2     BOS    105.5     BOS       +5.9
BOS    111.3     LAL    106.4     PHX       +4.7
LAL    111.0     ORL    106.4     LAL       +4.6
ORL    109.6     PHX    107.5     ORL       +3.2

Unsurprisingly, the Celtics top the list while the Magic comes in last, though the difference might not be quite as enormous as you would imagine. Phoenix and the L.A. Lakers have faced schedules of about even difficulty, but the Suns have–based on regular-season numbers–played the hardest slate of offenses and the weakest set of defenses. It’s hard to take Phoenix’s opposition numbers completely at face value, however, because the Suns got the luxury of playing Portland without a healthy Brandon Roy.

With that caveat, let’s take a look at the adjusted playoff performance of these four teams.

Team             ORtg

Orlando         +14.4
Phoenix         +10.5
L.A. Lakers     + 6.6
Boston          + 3.6

Orlando’s Offensive Rating in the postseason is 120.8, which would be remarkable regardless of the opposition. Add in the fact that the Magic faced the league’s best defense in the first round and Orlando is really doing something, although we cannot entirely account for the indifference shown by Atlanta in the conference semifinals. The Lakers have scored much better in the postseason, but let’s not go overboard and imply that the Western Conference Finals match equal offenses. Phoenix is significantly better. Boston brings up the rear here, but has improved its offense compared to the regular season, when the Celtics ranked 13th in the league.

Team             DRtg

Orlando         +11.1
Boston          +10.0
Phoenix         + 3.9
L.A. Lakers     + 3.0

The Magic also tops our list of best postseason defenses. The surprise is the Lakers coming in last. They have completely changed their stripes from the regular season, when they won with defense. Phoenix’s improved defense is probably getting too much attention as compared to the Suns’ still-excellent offense, but with the aforementioned Roy caveat, Phoenix’s postseason defensive numbers look pretty good. Certainly, the Suns have been better than the regular season, when they ranked 19th in the NBA in Defensive Rating.

Team           NetDif

Orlando         +25.5
Phoenix         +14.4
Boston          +13.5
L.A. Lakers     + 9.6

Putting it together, Orlando’s net differential is off the charts. The Magic is playing at an incredibly high level, and arguing that Orlando hasn’t been tested demeans what the Magic has done. Again, it is most surprising that the Lakers come out so relatively poorly. While they swept Utah, the Lakers had only one double-digit win in four games, so it wasn’t a totally dominant effort.

None of this is a guarantee of future success, of course. A year ago, Cleveland would have surely topped the list (though not as dramatically so as Orlando this time around). Teams change course and matchups matter. Still, when we discuss how teams have done in the playoffs to date, it’s good to have some numbers to use as a baseline.

May 15, 2010

The WNBA Tips Off Today

Filed under: Uncategorized — Kevin Pelton @ 2:47 pm

From time to time, we hear from readers who would like to see Basketball Prospectus cover the WNBA. What they don’t know is that my day job is covering the Seattle Storm for stormbasketball.com. As part of that, I’ve tried to do as much analytical coverage as possible, so if you are interested in learning more about the women’s professional game, check the site out.

With the WNBA’s 2010 season getting under way today, I’ve posted capsule previews of teams from both the Eastern Conference and the Western Conference. You can also follow me on Twitter at @kpeltonWBB for more WNBA analysis.

The terrific caliber of play in last year’s WNBA Finals won over a lot of new fans, and the league should be even more competitive this season with talent so evenly dispersed among the 12 remaining WNBA teams. If you’ve yet to give the league a shot, now is the time.

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