Basketball Prospectus: Unfiltered Everything Else is Fluff.

August 17, 2011

“I paid $10K and all I got was 46 percent two-point shooting?”

Filed under: Uncategorized — John Gasaway @ 11:15 am

If the allegation contained in the extensive Yahoo! investigation of the Miami football and basketball programs is correct and Hurricanes booster Nevin Shapiro, with then head coach Frank Haith‘s knowledge, really did front $10,000 in cash to DeQuan Jones when he was a recruit, the Canes were grievously overcharged. Jones was once a five-star recruit, but in a year that produced talents like Ed Davis, Kemba Walker, Tyreke Evans, and Tyler Zeller, the incoming freshman from greater Atlanta certainly wouldn’t have been picked out of any lineups as Most Likely to Attract Nefarious Booster Cash. Apparently the problem with nefarious boosters is they’re not very good at player evaluation.

Poor Jim Larranaga. For years he spurned overtures from majors. When he finally left George Mason and made the jump he went to Miami not knowing, apparently, a meteor was also headed there. Maybe the basketball program in Coral Gables can get through this without too much punishment from the NCAA — the alleged $10K was allegedly paid in cash and thus left no paper trail — but even with the charms of South Beach and a free-spending booster working in their favor the Hurricanes have struggled to produce a credible ACC hoops program. ACC wins are a zero-sum game, and in any given year North Carolina and Duke are very likely to be North Carolina and Duke. Basketball coaches at schools that landed in their league expressly because of football have the toughest gigs in major-conference hoops. If you see Larranaga (or Stan Heath or Patrick Chambers) give him a hug.

And, yes, poor Mike Alden. The Missouri athletic director will now go down in history as the man who hired Quin Snyder over Bill Self before making an even worse hire. Somewhere Harry Frazee is very happy Alden exists.

BONUS clarification! You too can mock Paul Dee coherently! The erstwhile Miami AD who also served a stint as chair of the NCAA’s Committee on Infractions is quite rightly coming in for a good deal of abuse right now, but let us be clear on why abuse is called for. Dee was the athletic director at a school that allegedly broke more NCAA rules than any other school in history. Abuse away! But Mike DeCourcy‘s belief that Dee’s formulation of “strict liability” in the Derrick Rose-era Memphis case should have struck us as “odd” at the time strikes me as odd.

Just to refresh your memory, the Tigers’ 2007-08 season — the one that ended with an OT loss to Kansas in the national championship game — was vacated by the NCAA after the Educational Testing Service invalidated Rose’s SAT score. Memphis said they didn’t know there were concerns related to the validity of Rose’s score. The COI, citing “strict liability,” said knowledge didn’t matter; Memphis didn’t cheat, per se, they just had a player on the floor who was never really eligible to begin with. So to bring forward a coherent dissent from the COI’s decision in that case Mike or anyone else needs to address two points: 1) In one of the greatest insert-foot moments in member-institution history the lawyer representing Memphis told the COI they were absolutely “correct” in holding that Rose “was not eligible to participate”; and 2) Regardless of the validity of Rose’s test score the benefits provided by the program to his brother — benefits which, obviously, Memphis did indeed know about — rendered the star freshman ineligible in the NCAA’s eyes after the season’s first seven games.

Those “benefits” consisted of giving Rose’s brother a seat on the team plane during the Tigers’ trip to New York City to play in the 2007 Jimmy V Classic. For my part I find rules like these a bit picayune, but be that as it may that is what was on the books at the time. For the COI to wave a wand over Memphis and say 2007-08 never happened strikes me as just, whereas something more tangible like a postseason ban would have been far too drastic for what was in effect a bylaw nickel-dimer. Mock Dee for his AD deeds, not his COI words.

Twitter: @JohnGasaway. Contact: here.

August 12, 2011

Sabas on a Level Playing Field

Filed under: Uncategorized — Kevin Pelton @ 2:57 am

I can still sort of remember the first time I watched Arvydas Sabonis play for the Portland Trail Blazers, which Basketball-Reference.com tells me must have been Dec. 9, 1995. Sabonis was the biggest human I’d ever seen in person, and probably only Andre the Giant surpassed him period. Yes, Shawn Bradley and Manute Bol were taller, but they were stick figures. Sabonis had tree trunks for legs. He dwarfed the entire Sonics roster. Sabonis also moved about as quickly as a tree, but that did not stop him from controlling games with his skilled play. I loved watching him play and Craig Kilborn‘s punny nickname of sorts–he’s not my Vydas, he’s not your Vydas, he’s Arvydas.

Sabonis is one of the European players who presents a challenge to the Naismith Memorial Hall of Fame because of its all-encompassing credo. Relatively little of Sabonis’ value came in the NBA, so we can’t really compare his stats in the U.S. to other Hall of Famers in any meaningful sense.

To try to provide a little more context, I looked at my WARP database (back to 1980) and pulled out only seasons where each player was 31 or older–the age Sabonis was during his “rookie” season. On this level playing field, Sabonis ranks 26th in modern NBA history:

Player                 WARP   HOF?

John Stockton         173.5   in
Karl Malone           151.4   in
Jason Kidd            117.7   N/A
Kareem Abdul-Jabbar   109.4   in
Hakeem Olajuwon       101.0   in
Steve Nash             99.4   N/A
Charles Barkley        88.4   in
Julius Erving          86.8   in
David Robinson         83.3   in
Robert Parish          82.7   in

Player                 WARP   HOF?

Reggie Miller          79.4   out
Artis Gilmore          79.3   in
Gary Payton            77.7   in
Moses Malone           77.6   in
Shaquille O'Neal       77.0   N/A
Mark Jackson           73.3   out
Michael Jordan         70.4   in
Dikembe Mutombo        70.2   N/A
Patrick Ewing          64.1   in
Sam Cassell            64.0   N/A

Player                 WARP   HOF?

Marcus Camby           63.9   N/A
Scottie Pippen         61.0   in
Darrell Armstrong      58.9   N/A
Clyde Drexler          58.0   in
Larry Bird             56.1   in
Arvydas Sabonis        56.1   in

This list is a fascinating mish-mash of all-time greats and late bloomers. On what other list of value would Larry Bird rank behind Marcus Camby? Of the 22 players on this list eligible for the Hall of Fame, 20 have been voted in. Reggie Miller will almost certainly get there at some point. The percentages will drop as more recent players like Camby and Darrell Armstrong become eligible, but this is still impressive company for Sabonis.

Because of the many different career paths possible, this is hardly a guarantee that Sabonis would have been a shoo-in Hall of Famer had he played a full NBA career, but it does seem to suggest that. The most impressive thing is that, given his knee injuries, the young Sabonis was probably a better player than his performance in his 30s would suggest. Suffice it to say Sabonis was a special player.

You can contact Kevin at kpelton@basketballprospectus.com. Follow him on Twitter at @kpelton.

August 11, 2011

Dennis Rodman: Not a Hall of Famer

Filed under: Uncategorized — Kevin Pelton @ 12:54 pm

Last spring, I tweeted my opinion that Dennis Rodman – then merely a finalist – did not belong in the Naismith Memorial Hall of Fame, debated that assertion with a follower and forgot about it until this week. With selection ceremonies almost upon us, the topic has again taken center stage. Jack McCallum took heat for writing on SI.com that he doesn’t feel Rodman belongs. Friend of BBP Tom Ziller spoke up in Rodman’s defense today on SBNation.com, calling Rodman’s election “a victory for the unglamorous.” I tend to think the opposite way. McCallum went out of his way to explain that Rodman’s off-court antics weren’t his issue, but they are for me to the extent that I think Rodman’s fame in the literal sense of the word explains his choice nearly as much as his basketball performance.

Because Rodman was such an extreme player in both positive (rebounding) and negative (usage rate and offense in general) senses, his value is a bit more difficult to quantify than most Hall of Fame candidates. Metrics that put a heavy emphasis on rebounding, like Dave Berri‘s, view Rodman as an all-time great. WARP tends to take a more moderate view.

Rodman had an incredible 1991-92 season. During the first year he went from outstanding to historic on the glass, Rodman continued to have value on offense, allowing him to generate a career-high 16.5 WARP–a total that put him 10th in the league. Before that, Rodman had averaged between six and eight WARP per year for the Pistons’ contending teams. Thereafter, he was less effective through the prism of WARP, as his single-minded pursuit of rebounds limited his other contributions. Rodman’s best season in Chicago, the 72-10 1995-96 campaign, saw him generate just 5.1 WARP.

Again, all-in-one stats struggle with players like Rodman. Plus-minus data would be hugely useful in evaluating his contributions, but play-by-play doesn’t go back to the mid-90s. We do have periods Rodman missed games, which offer mixed conclusions. Rodman was hugely valuable to the Pistons and the Spurs. In 1992-93, Detroit went 36-26 with Rodman (.581) and 4-16 (.200) without him, which almost defies belief. The 1994-95 Spurs won at a .816 clip with Rodman, just .667 without him. But the Bulls were elite even when Rodman was out. In 1995-96, they won 83.3 percent of the games Rodman missed (89.1 percent with him). In 1996-97, Chicago went 15-3 without Rodman when Toni Kukoc was available (6-3 with neither power forward) for an identical .833 winning percentage, as opposed to .873 with him. Had the Bulls started Kukoc with a more capable backup than journeyman Jason Caffey, it’s not clear they would have won many fewer games during their historic seasons.

The most damning bit of contemporary evidence against Rodman is this: He was selected for just two All-Star Games, which doesn’t exactly scream Hall of Fame. I asked Neil Paine of Basketball-Reference.com to look this up for me. Among players with at least 900 games between the ABA and the NBA (throwing out guys inducted primarily for achievements elsewhere, like Bob Houbregs and Drazen Petrovic), he found just one Hall of Famer with fewer combined All-Star appearances: Calvin Murphy, with one. Everyone else made at least four All-Star appearances.

The reply is likely this: What about Rodman’s eight All-Defensive First Team picks and pair of Defensive Player of the Year awards? Well, those aren’t exactly unique credentials. I don’t sense that Dikembe Mutombo is considered a sure thing despite four DPOY awards and eight All-Star selections. Ben Wallace made four All-Star teams and won Defensive Player of the Year four times. If Rodman belongs in the Hall of Fame, so does Wallace. Mutombo and Wallace were dirty-work players who truly were unglamorous and relatively unheralded.

To me, Rodman belongs more in a group with his Chicago predecessor Horace Grant. Grant doesn’t have Rodman’s defensive credentials, obviously (he never made the All-Defensive First Team), but he was picked for a similar number of All-Star Games (one), was also the third-best player on a team that won three consecutive championships and was far more rounded as a player. Grant totaled 82 WARP in his career to Rodman’s 80. Grant will never make the Hall of Fame. At best, he’s a first-ballot selection for the Hall of Very Good.

Maybe this comes down to how you view the Hall of Fame. Rodman is the greatest rebounder in NBA history and won five championships. He’s inarguably a crucial part of NBA history, so Springfield will hardly suffer his addition. But in terms of the overall value he provided throughout his career, Rodman falls short of Hall of Fame standards.

You can contact Kevin at kpelton@basketballprospectus.com. Follow him on Twitter at @kpelton.

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