Basketball Prospectus: Unfiltered Everything Else is Fluff.

May 26, 2011

In Defense of Perk

Filed under: Uncategorized — Kevin Pelton @ 3:57 pm

It was a rough Western Conference Finals for Kendrick Perkins. At some point, the Dallas Mavericks realized that a limited Perkins could not keep up with Tyson Chandler and exploited the matchup for easy looks. Perkins exacerbated the issue with ill-advised postups that resulted in costly Game Five turnovers. It was not, it’s safe to say, his finest hour.

Still, I can’t say I understand the belief that seems to be growing that trading for Perkins somehow held the Oklahoma City Thunder back during the playoffs. For example, this popped up in friend of BBP Jonah Keri‘s defense of the Perkins trade from the Celtics’ perspective. As part of his conclusion, Keri writes, “Kendrick Perkins didn’t work out this year for OKC, and Jeff Green didn’t work out this year for Boston.”

It’s an unknowable alternative, but without the Perkins deal I don’t think the Thunder reaches the Western Conference Finals. Yes, that’s in part testament to Oklahoma City improving with the subtraction of Jeff Green and Nenad Krstic, but Perkins’ addition had an immediate positive impact on the Thunder’s defense.

The counter-argument here is how much better Oklahoma City was in the playoffs with Perkins sitting on the bench. His -15.6 net plus-minus was worst of any player who saw at least 250 minutes of postseason action, per BasketballValue.com. As in the case of Russell Westbrook‘s negative net plus-minus, the Thunder’s lineups force us to go deeper. This wasn’t a Perkins issue as much as it was a starting lineup issue; Serge Ibaka (-13.1) and Thabo Sefolosha (-13.5) also had tremendously negative plus-minuses, but received less flak for it. To the extent Ibaka rates better, it’s partially because he played more of his minutes with plus-minus superstar Nick Collison than Perkins (25 percent of his playoff possessions to 21 percent for Perkins).

As I’ve noted repeatedly, Oklahoma City’s best lineups include Collison, Westbrook, Kevin Durant and James Harden. Scott Brooks used a variety of different players alongside those four, and their performance with Perkins was competitive with any of them.

Player       ORtg    DRtg     Net   Pos

Ibaka       114.6    98.2   +16.4   110
Perkins     121.1    91.4   +29.7    95
Cook        143.8   106.4   +37.4    48
Mohammed    120.6   100.0   +20.6    34

As always, the sample sizes here are not reliable, but there’s no indication that when Perkins got to share the floor with his best teammates he was holding the Thunder back. In fact, he was better with them than Ibaka, who received none of the same criticism for his postseason plus-minus. Oklahoma City’s defense was best with Perkins on the floor despite his obvious physical limitations. With a full offseason to improve his conditioning and rest his left knee (which was bothering him, he told ESPN’s Ric Bucher during the Memphis series, not the right knee in which he tore his ACL less than a year ago), Perkins should be an effective starting center for the Thunder.

May 24, 2011

Ed DeChellis, I salute you!

Filed under: Uncategorized — John Gasaway @ 7:02 am

Ed DeChellis‘s decision to leave Penn State to become the head coach at Navy has been termed bizarre, confusing, and stunning. I think it’s bizarre, confusing, and stunning that a college basketball coach triggers these reactions by behaving just as you and I do in the so-called real world.

Give credit to Dana O’Neil, who reported yesterday that DeChellis was told before last season he would be fired if PSU didn’t make the 2011 NCAA tournament. As it happens the Nittany Lions did indeed make the tournament for the first time since 2001. Talor Battle and company secured a No. 10 seed and lost in the round of 64 to Temple. That was enough for DeChellis to keep his job, but, according to O’Neil’s sources, it wasn’t sufficient for the coach to be given a vote of confidence, much less a contract extension.

In the real world, where employment is kind of important, a person in the situation I’ve just described is going to update the top of their resume (“Became first coach in 17 years to lose a tournament game to the guy I lost to”) and start working their contacts. But DeChellis isn’t in the real world. Until yesterday he was a major-conference head coach. He’s supposed to barricade his office door and hold on for dear life.

And for what? To avoid the salary cut he’s now taking? If you’re Ed DeChellis in the spring of 2011, there’s a prohibitive likelihood that a salary cut is on the way, no matter what. By taking the job at Navy the coach has negotiated this cut on a timetable of his own making. Besides, any normal human would be thrilled to be pulling down a reported $450K in a quaint, historic, and highly livable Chesapeake town located in close proximity to substantial cities and airports. No, the Middies aren’t going to the Final Four anytime soon, but expectations at the 5700-seat Alumni Hall are set accordingly. Not to mention the unique nature of the Naval Academy’s student population means the regular recruiting grind is, mostly, a thing of the past for DeChellis. (He now has little or no reason to attend all those AAU events. Woe is Ed!)

By leaving before he was fired, DeChellis gave himself a much broader range of options for his next move. While he was unable to get the basketball program at a football-centric school over the hump, it appears that he is nevertheless both savvy and willing to face up to reality. The latter quality in particular can be scarce at the top of the coaching profession. Indeed I can think of a couple coaches in the Big Ten who should very seriously consider pulling their own DeChellis.

BONUS coaching-search admonition! What should Penn State look for in their next coach? Must they insist on “a man with some oomph, someone who will literally jump on cafeteria tables and pound on the dorm room doors to make students care“? Could be. Then again if PSU athletic director Tim Curley were given a magic lamp that would produce the door-poundingest available coach on the planet, he’d likely find Bobby Gonzalez delivered to his office in a puff of smoke. Just keep in mind that stylistic monism is the enemy of any good search. If leaping ability in the cafeteria is the sovereign criterion, Brad Stevens need not apply. The myth that states it is absolutely mandatory for a good college basketball coach to channel Knute Rockne and Vince Lombardi at the expense of John Wooden and Dean Smith started with Bob Knight, and has run amok ever since. But when it comes to actually hiring an available candidate, stylistic pluralism almost always wins out at the end of the day. It should.

Twitter: @JohnGasaway. Contact: here.

May 23, 2011

The one thing that might screw up college basketball is college football

Filed under: Uncategorized — John Gasaway @ 2:43 pm

It’s long been understood that there are “college sports” and then there are revenue sports: football and men’s basketball. It wasn’t until very recently, however, that I realized that the world at large — up to and including the Big Ten conference, most sportswriters, PBS, HBO, and the U.S. Department of Justice — has failed to grasp an essential point. There’s every bit as much difference between college football and college basketball as there is between either sport and any non-revenue sport. (One outstanding exception to the rule: John Infante. He understands the yawning chasm between the two revenue sports perfectly.)

In a world where decisions made pertaining to “revenue sports” are really made pertaining to football, basketball is at risk. College hoops isn’t about to disappear, of course, but it is true that the sport’s quality and popularity are contingent, not inherent. People weren’t this interested in the NCAA tournament 40 years ago. Who’s to say it can’t be that way again if we screw things up?

The Big Ten is considering a proposal that could screw things up for college basketball. Bumping up the value of athletic scholarships to cover the “full cost of attendance” is being presented as “a student welfare issue.” If this were truly the overriding concern the solution would be obvious: a funding mechanism that embraces all FBS programs in football and all D-I programs in basketball. The cost of spreading this wealth would be surprisingly modest. Press reports peg the additional outlay per scholarship at between $2,000 and $5,000. Let’s take the larger figure. The amount of additional money needed to bump up every football player in the low-revenue Mid-American Conference to a “full cost of attendance” scholarship would be roughly equivalent to Nick Saban‘s annual salary. If the athletic directors discussing this proposal are really so concerned about student welfare, they have it within their power to do something about it — across the entire sport.

Guess what. That’s not what will happen. Instead the conferences with the deepest pockets will be able to address the needs of “student welfare.” The rest — the majority — will not.

No one has deeper pockets than the Big Ten. You have to give the conference credit. Where sports, dollars, and media intersect, the conversation is now driven primarily by the Big Ten. The conference has become to the business of college sports what the SEC is to football.

If the Big Ten wants players in its revenue sports to have “full cost of attendance” scholarships, the league has the resources to make it happen. (They have the resources to make it happen even assuming the bottom-line figure would need to be doubled and shared with an equal number of non-revenue athletes in women’s sports to survive Title IX scrutiny.) But creating these new dollarships, while merely cementing existing imbalances in college football recruiting in place, would revolutionize college basketball recruiting overnight. The elite high school football player already chooses between programs that can afford full cost of attendance scholarships. Not so the top high school basketball talent. In a sport where TV exposure and NCAA bids are spread (relatively) far and wide, talent currently has far less incentive to travel in packs. That will change, dramatically, when major-conference programs can offer recruits a better financial package than what mid-majors are able to afford.

These are two very different sports — each with its own very different revenue model — and if you ask me if they share any needs in common I would cite just two things: better athletic directors and a new definition of amateurism. If you’re concerned that the very same SEC West football coaches who make plainly unprincipled decisions receive millions of dollars while their players struggle to afford a plane ticket home, the solution is two-pronged: 1) principled athletic directors creating compensation packages more aligned with empirical reality than with the HR equivalent of the mid-00s housing bubble; and 2) allowing stars in any college sport to strike whatever deals they can with agents and advertisers. Meantime tell college football no one wants them exporting their stale oligarchical ways to the one revenue sport where surprises actually happen.

Twitter: @JohnGasaway. Contact: here.

May 15, 2011

Eastern Conference Finals Pick

Filed under: Uncategorized — Kevin Pelton @ 1:56 pm

To me, picking between the Chicago Bulls and Miami Heat comes down to a few factors, none of them quite so simple as “Who’s the better team?”

– Evaluating regular-season performance
Since the Bulls finished four games clear of the Heat in the East standings, the natural assumption is that Chicago was the better regular-season team. However, the Heat ever so slightly had the superior point differential, +7.5 points per game to +7.3. That’s well within the margin of error, but don’t assume the Bulls were the better team.

– Evaluating playoff performance
This is where things get tricky. How do we integrate how teams have played in the playoffs with the larger sample of the regular season? So far, Miami has been 11.4 points per 100 possessions better than an average team would be expected to perform against the Philadelphia 76ers and the Boston Celtics. That’s the second-best mark among playoff teams, trailing only the Dallas Mavericks (+14.1). Chicago, meanwhile, has been relatively less impressive than in the regular season, playing +6.3 points per 100 possessions better than we’d expect based on the regular-season performance of the Indiana Pacers and the Atlanta Hawks. There are some mitigating factors, including injuries on both sides and the Hawks picking up their level of play in the postseason, but that’s a significant gap.

Another way to consider the issue, as used in my reassessment of the Mavericks, is to consider the regular-season performance of the playoff rotation. I did not use lineups for the Bulls, because they’ve played a lot of units that saw relatively little action in the regular season (most notably Derrick Rose and C.J. Watson together), but if you use the more simple method of regular-season on-court rating weighted by playing time, the Heat’s advantage grows slightly (Miami’s playoff lineups would be expected to play 8.7 points per 100 possessions better than average, while Chicago’s expectation is +8.0).

– Home-Court Advantage
On a neutral court, I think Miami is the better team. The Heat might win 55, or even 60, games out of a hundred. But this series won’t be played on a neutral court. Sport Skeptic has some good research showing that an advantage of a full point in regular-season point differential is necessary to give the lower-seeded team the edge on paper. Adjusting for playoff lineups doesn’t quite get Miami there. So, to pick them is to believe that the Heat is a better team than regular-season results would indicate. I think that’s the case, that LeBron James and Dwyane Wade had an extra gear in reserve they showed off in the series with the Celtics. That erased the silly notion that Miami couldn’t win close games, as well as the reasonable one that Tom Thibodeau-style defenses were the Heat’s kryptonite. In order, the most likely outcomes of this series seem to be Miami in 6 or Chicago in 7. It’s close to a tossup, but I lean ever so slightly to the Heat.

Miami in 6

(Stay tuned for a complete preview from Bradford on the series later today.)

May 12, 2011

What is amateurism, anyway?

Filed under: Uncategorized — John Gasaway @ 10:44 am

The debate over whether college athletes “should be paid” is sabotaged by language. College athletes are already paid. First, they receive a free education. (The current aggregate figure for student loan debt in the U.S. is about $1 trillion. Former D-I scholarship athletes carry $0 of that.) Secondly, they of course receive additional cash for housing and books. If they’re smart they find ways to stretch that cash, just like you and I did. No one has a problem with making sure these allowances are sufficient for a student-athlete to spring for an occasional pizza or movie, just like you and I tried to do.

Then again you and I weren’t Denard Robinson or Jimmer Fredette. With a tiny number of star athletes in football and men’s basketball, there’s a huge discrepancy between the value of the scholarship and the cash allowances and what the stars are actually worth to their school. That difference should be made up by outside parties like agents and advertisers, not by the schools. Instead of an athletic director puzzling over creating a pay scale that will accommodate both a national player of the year and the last player on the bench, outside parties acting in their own self-interest will strike whatever deal they can, just as they have for years with a suggestive lack of controversy or even notice with Olympic athletes.

The NCAA has always prohibited this kind of activity, of course, but they can’t explain why, exactly. I agree with NCAA president Mark Emmert that college athletic programs shouldn’t pay salary-type amounts to athletes, but that’s a far cry from justifying a blanket prohibition on any compensation from any outside source.

As it stands now amateurism is mistakenly defined as meaning players “aren’t paid.” Actually, they are paid. We should instead define amateurism simply as a realm where players aren’t paid salaries by the teams they play for. But if those same players can line up some interest from an agent or a national advertiser, bully for them. To repeat:

In other words the NCAA would enable student-athletes, in exchange for performing at an acceptable level academically, to pursue what they love heedless of money — sort of what the NCAA says it’s been doing all along. But “heedless” here means that whether money materializes or not the NCAA wishes you well, so long as said money doesn’t come from the school or on its behalf. You’re a big kid now and you can handle these decisions.

If, on the other hand, you’re in favor of the status quo, my question is still this:

What are the tangible benefits to student-athletes of a blanket prohibition on any kind of compensation from any source?

I am open to persuasion. Show me the advantages of this set-up: what are the direct positive results of this prohibition to student-athletes? I am yet to hear an answer directed specifically to this point but, who knows, when I do I may come to champion this system myself. I’m all ears.

Twitter: @JohnGasaway. Contact: here.

May 5, 2011

What I’ll miss about Montreal

Filed under: Uncategorized — John Gasaway @ 10:17 am

The Gasaway family is wrapping up our sojourn in Montreal. We moved here for my wife’s one-year assignment with her company, and in a few weeks when our two little boys complete their school year we’ll return to the States.

Montreal is not a college hoops hotbed, and its winters are too long. Plus for some inexplicable reason one is not permitted to make a right turn on a red light anywhere on Ile de Montreal. But, these demerits aside, I’ve loved our time inside this small dollop of the Continent, one that has somehow thrived on the North American land mass.

Now, a word about that Continental influence. Prior to moving north of the border I’d lived in Illinois, California, Atlanta, Kansas City, Minneapolis, and Indianapolis. In each locale I’d come home to find flyers stuffed into our mailbox or in between our doors. Typically they advertised companies that would clean my gutters, trim my trees, paint my house, or deliver a pizza.

Not in Montreal. Here’s what I found in our mailbox this week (Franglish in original — their English is five times better than my French):

FILM LOCATION RESEARCH

Dear Madam, Dear Sir,

Montreal based society PRODUCTIONS PIXCOM INC. (PICHE: ENTRE CIEL, TERRE, A VEUX, DESTINEES…) is currently preparing the shooting of a new television series entitled VERTIGE. This 6 episode TV series of one hour will air on SERIES + channel, winter 2012. The actual filming will occur between May 24th and July 14th 2011.

Directed by Patrice Sauve (GRANDE OURSE, CHEECH, LA VIE, LA VIE…), this production tells the story of a young woman’s search for the truth: after having been found unconscious on the ground, she comes out of a long coma, amnesic. What happened that made her fall out of her apartment’s terrace? Suicide, murder attempt, accident? All scenarios are possible…

For the purpose of the script, we are presently looking for specific locations and we believe that your property could be suitable for our needs. We would welcome you to give us the opportunity to explain what this venture entails.

I eagerly await tuning in to SERIES +, whatever that is, in 2012 and seeing chez Gasaway serve as a metaphor for a young woman’s hermeneutic journey from Mile End to Baie-d’Urfe. Patrice Sauve, je vous salue!

Twitter: @JohnGasaway. Contact: here.

May 2, 2011

A death kills a meme

Filed under: Uncategorized — John Gasaway @ 7:38 am

Every year the president fills out a bracket, and every year critics say what a terrible thing it is that our commander in chief “dithers” with such trivia while the world goes to pot.

This year was no different. On March 15, ESPN’s Andy Katz was in the Oval Office for the annual unveiling of President Obama‘s bracket. But late last night we learned that the president also found time to do other things that week.

On March 14, Mr. Obama held the first of what would be five national security meetings in the course of the next six weeks to go over plans for the operation.

The meetings, attended by only the president’s closest national security aides, took place as other White House officials scrambled to avert a possible government shutdown over the budget.

If you want the best modern examples of presidents who never did anything frivolous, I commend to your inspection Lyndon Johnson and Richard Nixon. The former was notorious for insisting that meetings with his aides continue while he sat on the toilet. The latter summoned the press to the beach for a “Look! I can dither!” photo op, only to be universally mocked for strolling on the sand in oxfords and creased suit pants.

If these are your exemplars of laudatory executive diligence, I wish you luck. As for me, every sane adult I have ever known dithers now and then. Let us have no more of this meme.

Twitter: @JohnGasaway. Contact: here.

May 1, 2011

Round Two Picks

Filed under: Uncategorized — Kevin Pelton @ 2:16 am

If you’re scoring at home, it was a pretty dismal first round of the playoffs for me. Like most everyone else, I was wrong about the favored San Antonio Spurs and the Orlando Magic, and I also missed with my prediction that the Dallas Mavericks would fall to the Portland Trail Blazers. So take this set of picks with the appropriate skepticism.

Miami in 7
I hate to pick this series, because I don’t entirely trust the Heat against the discipline of Tom Thibodeau defenses, but I think the Celtics will be undermined by their bench and we’ll look back on that as the difference.

Chicago in 4
Isn’t this an annual tradition with the Hawks? In seriousness, Atlanta might have had a chance to make things interesting with a healthy Kirk Hinrich–Hinrich did a good job defending Derrick Rose in the first two head-to-head meetings before Rose went off in the third. With Hinrich doubtful to play at all after injuring his right hamstring in Game Six against Orlando, the Bulls should roll.

Oklahoma City in 6
“In a vacuum, the Thunder is the better team. I don’t think the Grizzlies have enough matchup advantages to make up that gap.”

L.A. Lakers in 6
“The Lakers will make the Mavericks’ role players beat them, hopefully from the outside. That may burn the Lakers a couple of times, but ultimately it’s the high-percentage play and one that will allow the Lakers to move on.”

Stay tuned for the remaining series previews, which will be up tomorrow (Boston-Miami) and Monday (Dallas-L.A. Lakers, Atlanta-Chicago).

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