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June 28, 2012

Draft Chat

Filed under: Uncategorized — Kevin Pelton @ 11:32 am

One of our favorite traditions here on Basketball Prospectus is conducting a live chat during the NBA Draft to break down the action. Join our team of analysts starting around 7 p.m. Eastern to discuss all the picks, trades and surprises. See you then!

June 27, 2012

Charlotte’s Gamble

Filed under: Uncategorized — Kevin Pelton @ 3:04 am

NBA teams aren’t allowed to gamble, obviously, but there is one way they can wager on the fortunes of other teams–by trading for future draft picks. That’s the kind of risk the Charlotte Bobcats took Tuesday, when they reportedly agreed to swap Corey Maggette to the Detroit Pistons in exchange for Ben Gordon and a protected first-round pick.

The protection, as first detailed on Twitter by David Aldridge, is key to understanding this trade. Next season, Detroit’s pick is lottery protected, making it likely the Pistons will hold on to it. By 2014, the pick is top-eight protected.  If the pick rolls to 2015, Detroit keeps it only if it comes up No. 1 overall. In 2016, it is entirely unprotected. Obviously, the Bobcats are hoping not to get the pick until at least 2015, giving them the opportunity to land a top-five pick. Such selections don’t come around very frequently, which explains why Charlotte was willing to swallow Gordon’s $13.2 million player option for 2013-14, as well as about $1.5 million this season, the last of Maggette’s contract. Gordon is a more valuable player than Maggette at this stage of their careers, too, though he’s a slightly worse fit for the Bobcats given their backcourt is already populated with plenty of undersized scorers.

Projecting two years out is exponentially more difficult than projecting the upcoming season, but I find it more likely than not that Charlotte will end up with a 2014 pick in the second half of the lottery. The Pistons finished with the league’s ninth-worst record this season, have a handful of rising talents (most notably Greg Monroe) and will have incentive to win games down the stretch in 2013-14 rather than coasting into the lottery.

A 2014 pick would still be valuable to the Bobcats, certainly. I’d estimate the value of the 10th pick somewhere around $6 million. But Charlotte is taking on more than twice that much salary, so for this deal to truly work they will almost certainly have to delay the pick until 2015 or 2016–and hope Detroit is still struggling then. Naturally, the Pistons have a slightly more optimistic view of their own fortunes, so it makes sense that they’d be willing to take the risk for the payoff in cap space next summer.

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

June 26, 2012

Quick TA: Budinger for 18

Filed under: Uncategorized — Kevin Pelton @ 11:48 am

According to multiple reports this morning, the Houston Rockets have agreed to trade forward Chase Budinger to the Minnesota Timberwolves in exchange for the No. 18 pick in this year’s draft, a trade that could benefit both teams.

Budinger has established himself as a solidly league-average player. His winning percentage last season (.515) was slightly better than that, while his single-season RAPM (-0.1) was slightly worse. (The difference between the two may reflect Budinger’s below-average individual defense.) Part of the Prospectus credo is there’s value to being average, and that’s especially true in the case of the Timberwolves, who didn’t have a single average wing player on the roster and weren’t likely to get one with the 18th pick.

The other key to this deal is Budinger’s terrific contract. He has a team option for the league minimum next season, meaning Minnesota will actually pay him about $600,000 less than the 18th pick (assuming standard 120% of rookie scale). If Budinger was a free agent, as an established three-win player, I think he’s looking at a deal starting around $4 million a year, so the Timberwolves get around $3.1 million in surplus value next season plus whatever benefit there is to having Budinger’s Bird Rights next summer.

On paper, Houston still gets more benefit. The No. 18 pick is historically worth about $4.6 million over the first three seasons of the rookie contract, plus value from the fourth year and having team control when the player hits restricted free agency. Picks in the teens are rarely sold, which establishes their value at more than the $3 million teams can pay in a trade.

That makes this a bit of a win now vs. win later move, which is odd to the extent that the Rockets finished eight games better in the standings. Minnesota was even before Ricky Rubio‘s injury, however, and a healthy Rubio plus Budinger plus one more wing added in free agency could be enough to make this a playoff team. Given that David Kahn is in the option year of his contract, urgency to win now makes sense. And the Timberwolves were certainly justified in trading out of No. 18 given that the wing talent seems to flatten out between about picks 15-25 (after the 16th pick, DraftExpress and Chad Ford combined have just one wing going before pick 26 – raw Baylor forward Quincy Miller).

For Houston, Chandler Parsons‘ terrific rookie season made Budinger expendable. This move is all about asset accumulation as the Rockets look to swing some kind of blockbuster deal between now and the draft. The No. 18 pick will probably hold more value in that effort than Budinger would have, which is why this move made sense for the Rockets.

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

June 20, 2012

On Coming Back from a 3-1 Deficit

Filed under: Uncategorized — Kevin Pelton @ 1:32 am

Over the next two days, get ready to here this stat about a bazillion times: In NBA Finals history, no team has ever come back from a 3-1 deficit to win. In fact, teams behind 3-1 are 0-30 all-time in the Finals. Let’s discuss why that stat isn’t quite as straightforward as it appears.

First, I’m not really sure what’s special about the Finals in terms of coming back from down 3-1. If anything, the 2-3-2 format should help a team like the Oklahoma City Thunder given the conventional wisdom that it’s more difficult for the lower-seeded team to win all three home games when they’re played consecutively. If the Miami Heat closes the series out in Game 5, that will mark just the third time in the 2-3-2 era a team has won all three home games, that having previously happened in 2004 (Detroit) and 2006 (Miami).
If we look at the entire playoffs, eight teams have come back from 3-1, most recently in 2006 when the Phoenix Suns rallied against the L.A. Lakers. Those aren’t good odds–it’s happened 4.2 percent of the time–but they’re a lot better than zero.

Returning to the 0-30 stat, it’s easy to see that many of those series aren’t really applicable here. Naturally, most of the time the higher-seeded team takes the 3-1 lead. Not only were those teams likely favored entering the series, they also had two home games remaining, an enormous advantage. If we limit the sample to lower-seeded teams up 3-1, it shrinks to eight NBA Finals, just three of them since the switch to a 2-3-2 format in 1985.

Beyond that, we also know that this series has been competitive despite the Miami Heat’s commanding lead. Each of the last three games has been decided in the closing moments; the most lopsided win in the Finals was Oklahoma City’s 11-point Game 1 victory. The Heat’s advantage over the course of the series is just five points. Of the past eight times the lower-seeded team has taken a 3-1, just one was more competitive–the 1948 BAA Finals, before the advent of the NBA, when the Baltimore Bullets won three consecutive games by margins of three, two and two to take a 3-1 lead. Back home, the Philadelphia Warriors won to force Game 6 before the Bullets won on their home court.

If you’re looking for a slightly more contemporary comparison to this series, the 1993 NBA Finals are the best option. Then, the Chicago Bulls won the first two games in Phoenix and split the first two back at Chicago Stadium to go up 3-1 with a +9 differential. The Suns won Game 5 on the road, then had the lead late in Game 6 with a chance to play the deciding game at home before John Paxson happened.

Look, I’m not saying the Thunder is going to come back. Even expanding beyond the Finals, the long odds speak for themselves. Still, I’d be careful when shoveling dirt on a team that just won four consecutive games against what we thought was the best team in the NBA. All it takes is a win Thursday for Oklahoma City to reclaim home-court advantage in this series, and anything could happen back at Chesapeake Arena. Write the Thunder off at your peril.

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

June 19, 2012

Getting it Right is All That Matters

Filed under: Uncategorized — Kevin Pelton @ 12:26 pm

When the Charlotte Bobcats hired St. John’s assistant Mike Dunlap as their next head coach, a move first reported Monday by Rick Bonnell of the Charlotte Observer, they surprised … well, pretty much everyone. Not just because of Dunlap’s background–more on that in a moment–but also because Dunlap reportedly wasn’t one of the three finalists for the job, a group that included Brian Shaw, Jerry Sloan and Quin Snyder before at least Sloan and possibly Shaw took themselves out of the running.

On SB Nation, my friend Scott Schroeder took Charlotte to task for the process. Scott’s got a dog in this fight–as a preeminent D-League analyst, he kept a close eye on Snyder’s route back to the NBA through coaching in the D-League. The former Missouri coach has since advanced to the NBA as an assistant coach, first with the Philadelphia 76ers and now the Los Angeles Lakers. His larger point is certainly valid, but I disagree with it because in three years nobody is going to remember the Bobcats’ finalists for this job.

In the summer of 2007, the Orlando Magic conducted one of the most convoluted coaching searches in recent memory. The Magic hired Billy Donovan away from the University of Florida after his second national championship, only to see Donovan walk away from the job days later to return to campus. Changing courses, Orlando settled on Stan Van Gundy, who proceeded to win better than 60 percent of his games over the last five years and should have won Coach of the Year at some point during the run.

By the time Van Gundy established himself, how he was hired was long forgotten–at least until the equally messy end to his tenure with the Magic. So all that really matters is whether Dunlap can coach, and anyone who expresses a strong opinion on that matter is irrationally confident. Certainly, Big East assistant to NBA head coach is not a typical career path, but that misses a lot of Dunlap’s unique resume. He’s got NBA experience, having spent two seasons as an assistant to George Karl in Denver, which mitigates the usual concerns about college coaches trying to learn the NBA game.

Dunlap seemed certain to land a good head coaching job in the NCAA at some point, especially after taking over the Red Storm program last season with head coach Steve Lavin battling prostate cancer. Dunlap’s supporters–including Karl–have long raved about his ability as a teacher and Xs & Os guy. Obviously, this is a bigger step than moving up at the NCAA level, and those endorsements aren’t enough to go by any more than Dunlap’s non-NBA resume is from a negative perspective. Wait and see might be a cop-out, but it’s often the correct response to uncertainty.

This is an NCAA story, too, as Lavin has to replace a key assistant relatively late in the college calendar. Having received a clean bill of health at his most recent checkup, Lavin is expected to return to to the bench next season but will need to add someone to a staff that also includes long-time Purdue head coach Gene Keady.

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

June 15, 2012

David Foster Wallace on Scouting Personality

Filed under: Uncategorized — Drew Cannon @ 12:11 am

So I’m reading Infinite Jest by David Foster Wallace – while on the ride from the hotel to the NBPA Top 100 Camp – this morning, and there’s a section that discusses mastery of tennis.

“‘He’s talking about developing the concept of tennis mastery,’ Chu tells the other three… ‘His point is that progress towards genuine Show-caliber mastery is slow, frustrating. Humbling. A question of less talent than temperament…that because you proceed toward mastery through a series of plateaus, so there’s like radical improvement up to a certain plateau, with the only way to get off one of the plateaus and climb up to the next one up ahead is with a whole lot of frustrating mindless repetitive practice and patience and hanging in there…’

‘What John’s saying is the types who don’t hang in there and slog on the patient road toward mastery are basically three. Types. You’ve got what he calls your Despairing type, who’s fine as long as he’s in the quick-improvement stage before a plateau, but then he hits a plateau and sees himself seem to stall, not getting better as fast or even seeming to get a little worse, and this type gives in to frustration and despair, because he hasn’t got the humbleness and patience to hang in there and slog, and he can’t stand the time he has to put in on plateaux, and what happens?… He bails, right…

‘Then you’ve got your Obsessive type, J.W. says, so eager to plateau-hop he doesn’t even know the word patient, much less humble or slog, when he gets stalled at a plateau he tries to like will and force himself off it, by sheer force of work and drill and will and practice, drilling and obsessively honing and working more and more, as in frantically, and he overdoes it and gets hurt, and pretty soon he’s all chronically messed up with injuries, and he hobbles around on the court still obsessively overworking, until finally he’s hardly even able to walk or swing, and his ranking plummets…’

‘Then what John considers maybe the worst type, because it can cunningly masquerade as patience and humble frustration. You’ve got the Complacent type, who improves radically until he hits a plateau, and is content with the radical improvement he’s made to get to the plateau, and doesn’t mind staying at the plateau because it’s comfortable and familiar, and he doesn’t worry about getting off it, and pretty soon you find he’s designed a whole game around compensating for the weaknesses and chinks in the armor the given plateau represents in his game, still – his whole game is based on this plateau now. And little by little, guys he used to beat start beating him, locating the chinks of the plateau, and his rank starts to slide, but he’ll say he doesn’t care, he says he’s in it for the love of the game, and he always smiles but there gets to be something sort of tight and hangdog about his smile, and he always smiles and is real nice to everybody and real good to have around but he keeps staying where he is while other guys hop plateaux, and he gets beat more and more, but he’s content.’”

And that’s the fastest I ever improved as a basketball scout.

June 11, 2012

Team Performance in the Playoffs

Filed under: Uncategorized — Kevin Pelton @ 12:19 pm

Because schedules in the playoffs are anything but balanced, the only way to really evaluate teams on a level playing field is to adjust for competition. I do so by comparing the Offensive and Defensive Ratings teams post to the weighted average of their opponents during the regular season. The amount better or worse than an average opponent during the regular season is the basis for offensive and defensive rankings and a combined net performance.

Entering the NBA Finals, here are this year’s numbers.

Team             Off    Def    Net
----------------------------------
Miami            7.9    4.8   12.8
Oklahoma City    9.3    2.6   11.9
San Antonio      5.9    3.9    9.8
Philadelphia     0.3    7.2    7.5
Boston           0.2    5.9    6.1
Indiana         -0.7    4.7    4.0
Memphis         -3.2    5.9    2.7
Denver           1.3   -0.6    0.7
Chicago         -4.7    5.4    0.7
L.A. Lakers      0.3    0.3    0.6
L.A. Clippers   -0.4    0.2   -0.2
Dallas          -0.5   -0.6   -1.1
Atlanta         -6.2    4.0   -2.2
Orlando         -7.6    0.4   -7.3
New York        -4.2   -3.6   -7.7
Utah            -9.6   -0.3   -9.9

I would submit that Miami outplaying Oklahoma City in the playoffs is something of a minority position, given that the Thunder had a much more difficult matchup in the conference finals and played three more games over the course of the playoffs. However, the Heat still had a better point differential en route to the NBA Finals, built largely during a dominant first-round win over the New York Knicks. While the Thunder swept the Dallas Mavericks, three of the four games could have gone either way.

Additionally, Miami’s more difficult set of early matchups (the Knicks and the Indiana Pacers rated ahead of both the Dallas Mavericks and the Los Angeles Lakers during the regular season, despite the championship pedigree of the West teams) made the Heat’s path slightly more difficult overall.

Despite losing the Western Conference Finals, the Spurs were still clearly the best team not to reach the Finals. After that, the rankings break down a bit because of injuries. The Pacers and Philadelphia 76ers are getting credited for beating the regular-season Orlando Magic and Chicago Bulls, who played below that level because of health.

June 8, 2012

Best High-Leverage LeBron Games

Filed under: Uncategorized — Neil Paine @ 10:55 am

Was last night’s performance the best we’ve seen from LeBron in a high-leverage game?

Here were his best Hollinger Game Scores in games where the Championship Leverage was 2.00 or greater (meaning the game had at least twice as much impact on the outcome of the NBA championship as the average playoff game that season):

Date Opp Result Min Pts TS% Ast Reb Tov S+B GmSc Lev
5/31/2007 at DET W 50.3 48 61.3 7 9 2 2 38.1 3.14
6/7/2012 at BOS W 44.8 45 75.1 5 15 4 0 36.4 2.83
5/18/2008 at BOS L 46.8 45 60.2 6 5 2 2 32.8 2.67
5/24/2009 at ORL L 42.0 41 53.2 9 7 2 3 31.3 2.04
5/26/2009 at ORL L 49.4 44 59.6 7 12 8 2 27.9 2.16
5/24/2011 vs CHI W 49.4 35 55.2 6 6 5 4 24.8 2.10
5/29/2007 vs DET W 44.3 25 54.4 11 7 3 3 24.3 2.13
6/2/2007 vs DET W 46.2 20 51.7 8 14 3 4 22.1 3.62
6/5/2012 vs BOS L 45.3 30 52.6 2 13 3 3 21.9 2.45
5/31/2011 vs DAL W 45.3 24 71.1 5 9 1 1 21.0 3.30
5/30/2009 at ORL L 44.9 25 50.3 7 7 3 1 16.1 3.18
6/12/2007 vs SAS L 42.0 25 47.1 7 8 5 3 15.9 3.01
5/21/2006 at DET L 46.8 27 49.1 2 8 3 1 15.6 2.34
6/2/2011 vs DAL L 39.6 20 59.7 4 8 5 5 15.6 3.41
6/12/2011 vs DAL L 40.4 21 62.6 6 4 6 2 13.6 6.18
6/10/2007 at SAS L 38.0 25 48.4 6 7 6 1 13.6 4.00
6/5/2011 at DAL W 45.3 17 53.9 9 3 4 2 13.6 3.97
6/9/2011 at DAL L 45.6 17 42.8 10 10 4 1 12.4 4.94
5/24/2007 at DET L 44.7 19 43.0 7 6 6 3 11.0 2.00
6/7/2011 at DAL L 45.7 8 31.3 7 9 4 2 5.9 3.62
6/7/2007 at SAS L 44.0 14 39.4 4 7 6 2 5.0 3.87

(Leverage for 2012 is based on an estimate of the final playoff-wide average game swing, derived from the pre-Finals average.)

Not quite his greatest high-leverage outing ever (that honor still belongs to this masterpiece), but it was pretty close. We’ll see if he can do it again in Game 7, which is tracking to be the 3rd-most important game of James’ career.

Email Neil at np@sports-reference.com. Follow him on Twitter at @Neil_Paine.

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