A vision of mine has been how to track success of different NBA players taken in the draft throughout the years. I have wondered, “Who is the best player taken with the No. 13 pick in the draft? Can you draft a franchise player outside the top 10 picks? Is being a low-seed playoff team really the worst long-term result for a team? Will the Kings ever make the playoffs again?” As you can see, this has taken up quite some time, and are really important questions for me.
Thanks to basketball-reference.com, and their extensive database, I was able to create a database of information that helped visualize the information I was looking at.
Here is the result of my research, with some details:
- I only have data from the years since the lottery was instituted. That means no Michael Jordan, as the lottery was instituted in 1985, the year after MJ was drafted.
- All players are listed under the team that drafted them. Draft day trades weren’t accounted for, ie Jimmer Fredette is under the Milwaukee Bucks, despite being traded to the Sacramento Kings, but Kyrie Irving is under the Cleveland Cavaliers, because the Los Angeles Clippers had traded the pick prior to the draft.
- If you notice something, comment below and I’ll see if I can fix it.
Play around with the filters, and see what you learn yourself. Here are some of the things that were most interesting to me:
- Steve Nash is the most successful non-lottery pick since 1985.
- The NBA tier of teams that are “mediocre,” meaning they make the playoffs, but don’t advance past the first round, have not yet produced many franchise players. These teams pick most often between 15-23, and only one player taken in those picks would be considered a franchise player – Nash. The most notable players so far are Nash, Mark Jackson, Shawn Kemp, A.C. Green, and Michael Finley. Players like Josh Smith, Zach Randolph, Kawhi Leonard, Roy Hibbert, and Ty Lawson may get there, but more time is needed.
- Andre Miller has had a really great career, and no one has noticed. For comparison, Allen Iverson played 13 seasons, and finished with a win share of 99.0. Andre Miller is in his 14th season, and has a win share of 96.1. Miller hasn’t had the MVP’s, All-Star games, sponsorship deals, or Finals appearances, but steady consistency may end up in a tremendous career.
- Steph Curry and Ty Lawson have nearly identical win shares with the same number of years experience. Their careers will be interesting to track, as they seem to have separated from the rest of the ’09 draft class.
- Not including the franchise players from 2003, but 2000-2005 hasn’t exactly produced a lot of fantastic players. It may explain why the NBA players seem so young (at least to me.)
- If your team doesn’t get the top pick, it seems like ending up with pick No. 5 hasn’t turned out poorly for many teams. Dwyane Wade, Ray Allen, Kevin Garnett, Scottie Pippen, Ricky Rubio, Kevin Love – that’s an elite team, all taken with the fifth pick. I left out Vince Carter, Devin Harris, Jason Richardson, Jeff Green, DeMarcus Cousins, Jonas Valanciunas, and Mike Miller. Not too shabby, five.
- LeBron James is really good. Like, really really good.
If you find something interesting, say so in the comments. I may update the table later, with information like “franchises played for,” and “All-Star game appearances.” If you have suggestions, again, please say so in the comments.
The NBA is a players league. This should hardly be news to even the most casual of basketball followers, but it cannot be overstated. Coaches lose their jobs and general managers pull a 180-degree turn with their teams’ direction at the hands of the athlete. It also shouldn’t come as a surprise when I say that this doesn’t work out when a team’s goal is to compete.
This season, we’ve seen many cases of head coaches bending to the will of their players for the security of their jobs, possibly at the cost of team success. A prime example can be found in Houston, where Dwight Howard isn’t interested in being a pick-and-roll player. So says former teammate Steve Nash:
“He didn’t seem like he really wanted to do a pick-and-roll offense, maybe because he had run one in Orlando for so long and he wanted to get in the post more” (via Dave McMenamin of ESPN Los Angeles)
It seems Rockets coach Kevin McHale has decided not to try and force an offense on Howard that he isn’t comfortable running and allowing him to work in the post more. (Forthcoming statistics provided by mySynergySports) Just 8.7% of Dwight’s offense has come as a pick-and-roll man this season compared to 11.4% in 2013. Subsequently, his post ups make up a 47.7% chunk of his offense, up from 45.2% last year.
The problem is that Howard’s a much bigger help to his team’s offense as a screener, scoring .57 points per possession down low this season to 1.18 PPP as a pick man. The huge gap is partially due to how ineffective Howard’s post-ups are with Omer Asik on the floor with him – which has been commonplace – but a similar image appears in the prior season’s statistics. In 2013, Howard connected 0.74 PPP on post-ups – a steep decline from his 1.29 PPP clip in the pick-and-roll.
The Rockets offense hasn’t suffered because of Howard’s lack of willingness to diversify his approach, but it has stagnated. Last year Houston assisted on 17.4% of their field goals to this year’s 14.6%, a gleaming hole in the team’s scoring that the Knicks took advantage of on Thursday night. New York single-covered Howard in the second half, forcing him to find his offense in the post. He finished with 7 points on 1-5 shooting while Houston narrowly escaped with a victory.
New York’s Mike Woodson has also made an analogous and questionable move, in moving last year’s Sixth Man of the Year winner J.R. Smith into the starting five.
On a team whose bench is depleted of scorers and whose starters are struggling on the defensive end, starting an inconsistent, shot-happy, non-100% player coming off a suspension doesn’t seem like the right way to go. Smith disagrees, firmly believing he is a #STARTER on this team.
Woodson’s intentions are foggy here, especially how quickly he shot down the idea of Smith starting at the forefront of the 2013 season, before his elbow to the throat of Jason Terry in the postseason, the slump, injury and suspension that followed. Whatever the case, the addition of Smith to the Knicks’ starting five has been a trainwreck.
New York is a full 10.4 points per 100 possessions worse with J.R. on the court, yet Woodson has shown no interest in demoting the struggling swingman. I guess Smith’s .393 TS% isn’t a clear enough message that playing him starter’s minutes is the wrong move.
The Knicks aren’t the only team in the empire state dealing with this issue. Brooklyn’s Kevin Garnett has tied head coach Jason Kidd in a knot. Before the season began, Kidd conveyed his plans to sit the aging Garnett on the latter of back-to-backs. Garnett didn’t take this well:
“I understand what he’s saying. He just wants to make sure I’m durable. … I just don’t want to be told anything.” (via Adi Joseph of USA Today Sports)
As it turns out, Garnett had it go his way. In the Nets’ single back-to-back this season, Garnett played in both contests. His minutes per game are at a career-low, but the number is still on the high end. Garnett’s played like a hollowed out shell of his former self, to the point where it may be in Kidd’s best interest to bench him and limit his minutes more drastically. “The Big Ticket” is shooting just 30% from the field, and the Nets are 12.7 points per 100 possessions better with Garnett on the pine as opposed to in the game.
These three scenarios won’t end well if the spoon-feeding continues, but this is just one end of the spectrum. Not all players struggle with ego, many are happily doing as their coaches ask and have benefited their team as a result.
Take Jeremy Lin losing his starting spot this year to Patrick Beverley with no resistance.
“I think for me, I am just focused on basketball… Controlling what I can control and playing my brand of basketball when I’m out there and doing what’s best for us,” said Lin in an interview with the Houston Chronicle.
Lin’s replacement with Beverley was a defensive-minded adjustment, with Patrick being the stingier defender and Lin more of an offensive threat. The change was for the better thus far looking at the Rockets’ DRTG at 100.9, a considerable improvement from the 103.5 showing in 2013 when “Linsanity” was a full-time starter. Lin is also a beneficiary, as his USG% has received a bump but his TS% exploded from 0.538 last season to 0.671 this year.
The Atlanta Hawks’ best player, Al Horford, isn’t playing in his favorite position and the team is thriving despite this. “I was hoping to play more in the power forward position… I understand that now I have to go play some center. I would like to play a little more power forward,” Horford said speaking to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.
Horford has played at the center for the lion’s share of his minutes and it has proved worthwhile for both himself and his Hawks team, now 6-4, as of Saturday night, and in the league’s top five in ORTG and AST%. Horford’s stat line has been off the charts, averaging 20.9 points, 9.7 rebounds, 3.1 assists, 1.7 steals and 2.3 blocks per-36 minutes on 55% shooting from the field.
A comparable situation lies in Phoenix, where the Suns pulled off one of the biggest sneaky-good moves of the summer in trading for Eric Bledsoe. The thunderbolt point guard was thrust into a starting role after leading the Clippers bench last year, sliding former starting one Goran Dragic to the off-guard position.
This is unfamiliar territory for Dragic, and despite the trade rumors circling his name Goran has committed himself to his new role – and the team is reaping the benefits. Phoenix’s (healthy) starting five of Bledsoe-Dragic-Tucker-Frye-Plumlee, their second-most played lineup, has a NetRTG of +9, good for 8th best among lineups that have played 59+ minutes this season.
This dynamic two-PG lineup has helped lead the Suns to a surprising 5-4 record, a feat that might have not been accomplished if Dragic didn’t play along. Supporting this notion is Phoenix’s most-played lineup, a paltry -7.7 NetRTG and it’s only difference being Gerald Green in for a hurt Dragic.
Appealing to a player’s needs is nothing to glance over. Team chemistry is fragile, and it’s importance in many teams’ quest for an NBA title is often underappreciated by the public. However when it’s time for a coach to do his job and get the best out of his team on the hardwood, the best organizations put the player’s needs in the backseat. And the best players – the ones who ultimately want nothing more than an NBA championship – oblige, knowing it’s for the best.
Unless otherwise noted, all statistics provided by NBA.com/stats and are based on games played prior to the night of 11/17/13
This year, for the first time, Hickory-High will be tackling the challenging of crafting season previews for all thirty NBA teams. Beginning today we’ll be rolling out these previews, one each day, leading up to Opening Night. This was a task of considerable size and complexity and it required the help of every member of our staff. The only guidelines given were that each writer approach team by staying true to their own style and the result is season previews of a difference sort. We hope you enjoy!
For the second straight offseason, the Brooklyn Nets have made an unexpected splash that has rippled through the waters of the NBA. Last year, we saw GM Billy King trade for Joe Johnson with the Nets moving to Brooklyn and needing a marquee ticket-seller, I mean basketball player, to accompany the team’s transition. This year, the Nets traded for two post-prime Hall of Famers in Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett, as well as pulling off possibly the steal of free agency, signing Andrei Kirilenko to a third of what he was being offered elsewhere. Oh, and they made a former player of theirs with no coaching/basketball operations/analysis experience their head coach.
Busy summer, huh? As great as this team looks on paper – with Deron Williams, Joe Johnson and Brook Lopez on top of their newest additions – there are questions to be answered as to how this team will live up to the hype and where exactly their peak is.
First – How far can talent alone take this Nets squad?
Even the most experienced experts can’t picture exactly how effective a coaching staff Jason Kidd and his army of 300 assistants will be. Kidd’s yet to have a non-player basketball experience so under the worst-case scenario that he and his coaching staff don’t do a solid enough job. it’s up to the talent on it’s own. Luckily for the Nets, they have a damn good amount of it. Now the threat of injury is apparent, with Brook Lopez being the only player in their projected starting lineup of Williams-Johnson-Pierce-Garnett-Lopez who is under 29 years of age. But let’s set injuries aside, for now.
Deron Williams’ TS% was at a ‘meh’ 54.2% clip before the All-Star break when he struggled with injuries, but leaped to an astounding 62.2% post-ASB. If his past injuries don’t linger and he stays healthy, Williams is well overdue for a strong year in a Nets uniform. Joe Johnson is the odd man out, with no clear-cut role in this system and little to offer the team that they don’t have elsewhere. Johnson was a freak in close games last year, shooting 66% on tries in the final 2 minutes of a game within 3 points, but disappointed nearly everywhere else. Johnson’s below-average PER mark of 14.1 demonstrated his ineffectiveness scoring the ball, and even with improved spacing this year it’s hard to imagine a big jump in efficiency.
Pierce is a mixed bag, with conventional knowledge and regression in his statistics telling us his career is quite close to it’s eclipse. However, ‘The Truth’ continues finding a way to make himself very useful – Pierce’s TS% was at a 3-year low last year, but his REB% and AST% were career highs. Pierce has said he’s content with being a “glorified role player” and this truly is a great descriptor of how he could be most helpful to Brooklyn. Kevin Garnett’s mid-range jumper, low-post precision and intangibles don’t age, so expect a lot of the same from this former Celtic in those aspects. As for his defensive impact, well we’ll get to that later. Brook Lopez is arguably the Nets’ most intriguing piece, being their lone young prospect and only player getting significant minutes who still has yet (as far as we know) to reach his ceiling. Lopez has improved his defense dramatically from his rookie campaign, last year being his largest leap forward. With Garnett paired alongside him, we can expect this to continue, adding on to an already impressive offensive repertoire.
Off the bench, we have the steal-of-the-summer in Kirilenko filling the sixth man role as a tremendous defender and well-rounded player altogether. Filling out the pine are a decent if not an average cast of characters – Jason Terry, Reggie Evans, Andray Blatche, Alan Anderson and Shaun Livingston, who has impressed in the preseason.
So we take a look at this roster construction and can easily come to the conclusion that, yes, this roster is flooded with talent. Enough to be a contender if the coaching aspect doesn’t work out well? No, not at all. The team doesn’t have an elite superstar to carry them, meaning it’ll take a team effort and brilliant coaching to make that happen. But don’t mistake this team for the Pacers, who have five well-above average defenders starting for them and one of the best coaches in the league, not to mention a system that’s already been cemented. All this being said assuming injuries aren’t a factor. There is also talk of a potential power struggle between the players and coaching staff, but I don’t really see this as a possibility. Moving on.
Second – How much of a defensive impact can Kevin Garnett have? Garnett is going to be the Nets’ defensive anchor and their best chance of being a top-10 defensive team. Many cite Garnett’s influence on the Celtics’ defense last year, with a pretty telling number: the Celtics gave up 8.4 fewer points per 100 possessions with Garnett on the floor compared to him on the bench. That’s huge, no doubt about it. However, KG the Net may not be able to have that large of an effect on the defense this year. There are a couple of reasons for this.
First, he won’t be playing the center position as he did in Boston. Lopez will undoubtedly play the center, moving Garnett back to the four – and in today’s NBA, further from the paint where he is at his most helpful. Lopez is incapable of guarding perimeter oriented fours, so this duty will go to Garnett, thus limiting his interior presence. This can be undone by subbing out Brook Lopez of course, but that is a mighty cost over any decent stretch of time and there’s no denying that.
Secondly, coach Kidd has made it known that he plans to limit Garnett’s game time and possibly even having him sit out the second games of back-to-backs. Now nothing was set in stone from the sound of Kidd’s comments, but it’s clear – despite Garnett’s noted disapproval – that Jason is planning to do what he can to keep KG fresh for the Playoffs. Garnett can’t do much for the Nets defense sitting on the bench or playing 20 minutes a night, but playing him often brings an increased risk of injury.
With these two things in mind, expecting Garnett to revolutionize Brooklyn’s defense is far-fetched. Brooklyn will surely improve on that end but it’s hard to see them being an elite team on defense when their anchor can’t maximize his ability to bolster the team on that end.
Finally – How does this team stack up to the NBA’s best such as Miami or Oklahoma City?
Well, to me, there are too many question marks and ‘what if’s’ for Brooklyn that other contenders simply don’t have. Unlike Miami, Oklahoma City, Indiana, Chicago, Memphis and San Antonio – the Nets have a brand new team top to bottom, with a brand new system to turn into a winner. That alone is a scary idea, and let’s not forget that Miami didn’t even finish the job in their first year with three of the best players on the planet, nor last year’s Lakers who, well, you know. And those teams didn’t employ first-time head coaches with no experience outside of playing the game.
The Nets also have a lot more injury concerns than other contenders, as much as I find this point rather rocky. But, it’s hard to turn a blind eye to Brooklyn’s defensive anchor being 37 years old and their two youngest starters battling injuries since they first donned a Nets uniform. The lack of the best, second best, third best, etc. player in the league is another weak point to me, with having one transcendent athlete being as pivotal as it is in today’s NBA.
I see Brooklyn having an up-and-down season, with talent alone earning them at the very least a top four or five seed. Come the postseason, if the team hasn’t figured itself out yet it’s hard to see them making the Conference Finals. If they do click however, I can see them challenging but ultimately falling in the ECF or, if they get lucky, the NBA Finals.
The Nets were a stagnant, inconsistent, and plainly poor ball club last season. A coaching change early on brought little change in strategy and a first-round Playoff defeat to the shell of a Finals contender. What’s happened in Brooklyn since then? A lot.
Former Nets star himself Jason Kidd was hired as their new head coach. With no prior experience as a coach on any level, the move seemed like much more of a publicity stunt than a basketball move, especially with all of the much more qualified candidates available at the time. After being introduced, Kidd’s earned himself some criticism with saying he wants Gerald Wallace to be a point-forward, following that up with a technical foul in a Summer League game. Still, a recent quote hinted good things could come out of Kidd in Brooklyn, when he addressed a serious issue in the Nets’ offensive approach:
“We are going to try to not iso, we are going to get more team-oriented on the offensive and defensive end.”
This is a very, very smart move by the new head coach of the Nets and a necessary step in improving a defense which struggled last year and will likely do worse this season.
The Nets offense ranked 9th in the league last season, but was blatantly exposed by the elite defense of the Chicago Bulls in round one of the postseason. Their isolation-heavy system bent on the scoring of former All-Stars Deron Williams and Joe Johnson as well as current All-Star Brook Lopez proved incapable of scoring at a strong enough rate to escape a first-round exit.
The idea of an offensive-focused team seemed reasonable on paper, with Williams and Johnson known for their scoring and Lopez a center who’s growing into one of the best at his position. Only, Deron Williams shot 44% from the field, Johnson 42% and Lopez – shooting 52% – played just 30 minutes a night and was benched in many fourth quarters. The best creator of offense on the rest of the team was Andray Blatche, and that tells you all you need to know about how the Nets’ hastily compiled roster and offensive system turned into a disappointing inaugural season in Brooklyn.
The Nets ranked fourth in possessions ending in an isolation in the league per mySynergySports, and shot just 43% on those possessions. With Kidd promising to move away from these looks and towards a much more unified offensive attack following the trade for Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett, Brooklyn’s in a perfect position to switch up their approach for the better. Here are some suggestions:
Deron WIlliams Post-Ups
Williams is one of the bulkiest point guards in the league, with the speed to match his strength. This athletic edge was hardly taken advantage of last year though, with Williams looking to create out of the post just 83 times per Synergy Sports. His performance warrants more time down low, with him scoring 0.99 points per possession on the block with just a 10.8% turnover rate. A point guard posting up is also a huge rarity in the NBA, making it a tough adjustment for opposing squads.
Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett went to this play oftentimes in close contests as members of the Boston Celtics and there were few times when it didn’t end in a score. Garnett’s mid-range touch will forever be a part of him, hell he’ll probably drain one right before falling on his death bed. Pierce is as crafty at getting to the basket or creating his own shot in general as he was back in 2008, even if his athleticism isn’t there. He scored 0.90 points per possession as a pick-and-roll ball handler and Garnett scored 0.98 as a screener last season per Synergy. The two, in tandem with Lopez, Johnson and Williams waiting for their man to help, would mean an easy score for Brooklyn in the majority of occasions.
Joe Johnson Off-Ball
Johnson was an offensive liability with the ball in his hands outside of the final minutes of a close contest last season, shooting 44% and under out of isolation, pick-and-roll and post-up plays last year. However, as an outside threat waiting for the pass he was lethal. Although it’s not a familiar approach to his offense, Johnson molding his game towards being more of an off-ball threat would not only make him a more efficient scorer but would also spread the floor for his teammates, similar to what the Knicks’ Carmelo Anthony did this past year. Johnson scored 1.02 PPP as a spot-up shooter and 1.09 as an off-screen gunner, but isolation attempts dominated his offensive arsenal last season.
Experimenting with Lineups
Last season’s Brooklyn Nets’ had one lineup with a NetRTG of +16.0 and another with a NetRTG of +18.3. These lineups combined saw 130 minutes of game time, just a fifth of the minutes their most popular lineup saw, which had a NetRTG of +4.4. Sure the sample size is on the short size, but what’s to say these lineups wouldn’t have been better options for Brooklyn? Especially the one with the +18.3 NetRTG, Williams-Bogans-Johnson-Wallace-Lopez, which saw not a minute of playing time in the playoffs. Kind of unacceptable, having a team who’s offense is one of the more stagnant of the league but also are stagnant in looking for more effective ones. This season, putting an emphasis on finding lineups that kick ass and sticking to them until they don’t work while always trying something new but not silly should be something coach Kidd focuses on if he doesn’t want his team to be as predictable as the Nets of 2013 were.
Jason Kidd has made his mark early in his tenure as Brooklyn’s head coach with his words, but watching him turn these words into action will be a whole other challenge. Anybody can talk the talk, but walking the walk is what makes teams successful.
Shot selection and specifically shot locations have become a larger and larger part of the basketball conversation. It’s a topic of great personal interest to me and I’ve written quite a bit about it this season. To add an easily comparably quantitative element to the conversation, I also developed Expected Points Per Shot (XPPS). This metric is based on the expected value of shots from different locations and boils the quality of a player’s shot selection down to a single number. When we talk about high-value shots were usually referring to shots at the rim, three-pointers and free throw attempts. The scale of XPPS is aligned with league averages, numbers which are constantly over and under-performed. For that reason we often compare XPPS to Actual Points Per Shot and look at the difference between the two, which is called Shot Making Difference.
I’ve built visualizations which allow you to explore, sort and filter the XPPS numbers for players, team offenses and team defenses. I know those interactive graphs can be a little overwhelming so I wanted to pull out some of the most interesting numbers from this season and go a little bit deeper with them. Today we’ll be looking at some of the shot selection numbers for individual players, with analysis of teams to follow in subsequent posts.
This first table shows the players with the ten highest and lowest-value shot selections, as measured by XPPS. I separated the players into three groups based on their USG%, to differentiate between players with different roles.
As we mentioned above players over and under-perform the expected values of their shot selection all the time, which is a big factor in evaluating whether they truly understand their offensive roles and strengths. This next table shows the same 60 players, but instead of their XPPS I’ve listed their Shot Making Difference, which is the difference between their XPPS and their Actual Points Per Shot. You can see some players who take high-value shots, but don’t necessarily make them, as well as players who make a lot of low-value shots, usually long two-pointers.
The extent to which XPPS is useful in evaluating shot selection is pretty limited if you don’t also understand the context of their skills, limitations and responsibilities within the team’s offensive structure. Here are few of those numbers, both good and bad, with the context more fully fleshed out.
LeBron James – 1.079 XPPS (8th best in the >24 USG% bracket), +0.202 Shot Making Difference – What James did this season in the scoring efficiency department this season was simply incredible, increasing his FG% from essentially every area of the floor. However, he exponentially raised the impact of those gains in accuracy by improving his shot selection as well. Last season 37.9% of James’ shot attempts were long two-pointers. This season that percentage fell to 29.7%, with big increases in both shots at the rim and three-pointers. He made shots at an incredible rate this season, but he also made an incredible effort to make sure he was taking the right shots.
Tyreke Evans – 1.119 XPPS (5th best in the 19-24 USG% bracket), -0.002 Shot Making Difference – For his first few seasons in the NBA, Evans was the poster boy for unconscionable shot selection. A sensational rookie season was met with criticism of his inconsistent outside shooting. Over the next two seasons Evans seemed determined to prove those critics wrong, spending more and more time outside the paint, and in the process, proving those critics right by missing mountains of jumpshots. This season, he made some huge changes and it showed up in his scoring efficiency. First off, he became a consistent three-point shooter, knocking down 34.2% compared to a previous career high of 29.1%. Also, for the first time in his career he attempted more three-pointers than long two-pointers. Those inefficient and inaccurate mid-range shots made up just 16.7% of his shot attempts this season, by far the lowest percentage of his career. We always find time to celebrate the players who become better shooters, but we should also find time to celebrate players, like Evans, who become better decision makers.
J.J. Hickson – 1.111 XPPS (8th best in the 19-24 USG% bracket), 0.070 Shot Making Difference – Hickson is another player, like Evans, who made dramatic improvements in offensive efficiency by making dramatic improvements in offensive decision making. Last season 51.0% of Hickson’s shot attempts came at the rim. This season that number jumped to 65.3%. By being more selective with his long two-pointers, he also became more accurate. Last season he shot 30.5% in that zone, where this season he made 47.3% with a whopping 71% of his makes being assisted on. Concentrating on what you do well can yield tremendous benefits.
Tyler Hansbrough - 1.135 XPPS (2nd best in the 19-24 USG% bracket), -0.081 Shot Making Difference - How does a player who shoots below the league average from every area of the floor end up with a TS% above the league average? Free throws. Hansbrough took 361 shots from the field this season and 263 free throws. Only Dwight Howard and Reggie Evans had a higher ratio of FTA/FGA. He’s not a great finisher or shot maker from anywhere, but he has really focused on his strengths – getting to the rim and getting to the line. That FTA/FGA ratio was a career-high, nearly 50% higher than in any of his previous seasons. This was also the first season of his career where he attempted more shots at the rim than long-two pointers.
Dirk Nowitzki, Elton Brand, Chris Kaman – 0.946 | 0.950 | 0.951 XPPS (3rd, 2nd and 4th worst in their respective USG% brackets) – There is an absolute benefit to having players, especially big men, who can step out and knock down a mid-range jumper. It’s a pressure valve for an offense and can really buoy the efficiency of a group against tough defenses. The problem is when that shot becomes the centerpiece of the offense. Nowtizki is one of the best mid-range shooters in the history of the NBA and having him take that shot on a regular basis won’t break the offense. But the Mavericks stacked their front court with mid-range shooters the entire offense suffered. Last season when Nowitzki was on the floor 21.5% of his teammates’ shots were long two-pointers. This season, alongside Brand and Kaman, 26.8% of his teammates’ shots were long two-pointers. Even making those shots at an above average rate, as Brand, Kaman and Nowitzki can do, provides less efficient scoring that a multitude of other options. The Mavericks’ offense this season was a perfect example of the lesson that, “just because you can make a shot doesn’t mean you should take a shot.”
Evan Turner – 0.973 XPPS (8th worst in the 19-24 USG% bracket), -0.17 Shot Making Difference – Making 36.5% of his three-pointers this season was a big step forward for Turner. He’s also settled into a nice, accurate groove on long two-pointers, making 42.3%. The problem, as always, is balance. This was the third season of Turner’s career, and the third in which his ratio of long two-pointers to shots at the rim was roughly 2-to-1. Those long two-pointers made up nearly half his shot attempts this season and still outnumbered his newly accurate three-point shots by more than 3-to-1. He also shot a career low 47.9% on shots at the rim this season, where the league-average was 64.7%. Turner is a respectable mid-range shooter, but that shot just isn’t efficient enough to be the foundation of a richly versatile offense game. The bottom line is that he simply can’t be a viably efficient offensive player with this shot selection.
Tayshaun Prince – 0.963 XPPS (5th worst in the <19 USG% bracket), 0.008 Shot Making Difference – At this point in his career Prince’s offensive contributions come almost exclusively as a spot-up shooter. For most players this would equate to a lot of three-point attempts, but this season he attempted four times as many long two-pointers as three-pointers. Prince’s three-point attempts per 40 minutes this season were at a career low and even declined further as he moved from Detroit to Memphis. It’s a shame because Memphis is in desperate need of floor spacing and Prince has the skills to have a Shane Battier-like effect in that department. But to make that really work he needs to move a step or two back.
Andrew Nicholson – 0.954 XPPS (4th worst in the 19-24 USG% bracket), +0.154 Shot Making Difference – Including Nicholson on this end of the list may be a little unfair. He actually had a really solid rookie season and proved himself to be a reliable perimeter threat, both spotting up and as the screener in the pick-and-roll. Although his shot-selection looks terrible, with 45% of his shot attempts coming on long two-pointers, he drastically over performed the expected value of his shots and finished the year shooting 43.8% on those long twos. Although his XPPS puts him in the bottom ten, his actual points per shot were higher than Tyler Hansbrough’s, who ranked in the top ten in XPPS. He has the potential to be a supremely better version of Brandon Bass, but if he really wants to push the bounds of his efficiency it would be worth it for him to work on stretching his range out past the three point line. Nicholson didn’t attempt a single three-pointer this season, but shot a reasonable 34.0% from 20-24ft. Besides the added value of potentially earning three points per shot attempt, adding a few feet to his range will also open some considerable space in the paint for his teammates.
Every year as the playoffs approach one thing is guaranteed.
A team or two always gets marked as “the team no one should want to face.” The teams normally fall into one of two categories.
First the young up and coming team that does something better than anyone else in the league. Think the Grizzlies of a few years ago, who excelled at the slowdown grind it out game because of an elite defense. Or this year’s Rockets who possess one of the most efficient and explosive offenses in the league.
The other category is the one the two teams being anointed as this years “don’t want to face” teams fall into. Veteran teams that fell below the seeds that many people expected them to before the season.
This year those teams are the Lakers and Celtics.
There is a problem with the labels this year though.
They just simply aren’t true.
These aren’t teams that were missing their best player for large chunks of the year but now have them back. These aren’t teams that are all of a sudden playing great basketball. In all reality, these aren’t even good teams.
What they are, are teams with names.
Celtics, Lakers, Paul Pierce, Kevin Garnett, Pau Gasol, Dwight Howard. The names should mean something and because of that people think the Celtics and Lakers should be feared this year.
But look deeper. Deeper at other names that matter. Jordan Crawford, Shavlik Randolph, Antawn Jamison, Steve Blake, Earl Clark. Do any of those players bring anything but chuckles when you realize that to win in the playoffs they will need to make big contributions to their teams?
Because that is the underlying point that makes these labels nothing more than a myth. Sure superstars matter in the playoffs and the Lakers and Celtics both have them. But so do role players.
Would the Heat have won the title last season without LeBron James, Dwayne Wade and Chris Bosh? No. But do they win it without Shane Battier, Mike Miller or Mario Chalmers? Probably not.
The importance of the role player is all over every title team but for more examples look at both the Celtics and Lakers last title. Sure Kobe Bryant, Gasol, Pierce, and Garnett were important.
But so were PJ Brown, James Posey and Tony Allen in Boston and Trevor Ariza, Derek Fisher and Lamar Odom in Los Angeles.
Now I know the people who are adding these labels just mean that each team can maybe pull a first round upset at the most, but outside of the names where is the reasoning?
Will the Lakers finally learn how to play defense in time to stop Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook, Tony Parker or Tim Duncan?
Will Jordan Crawford, Avery Bradley and Jason Terry be able to provide enough offense to beat the Knicks?
In the end the Celtics and Lakers are who they are. They are bad teams, one who hung onto the seventh seed in the East because the Bucks forgot how to play basketball and lost to the Magic and Bobcats, and the other who plays tonight to determine their playoff fate.
Kobe Bryant is not about to come back from some midseason injury to save the Lakers. Ditto for Rajon Rondo and the Celtics.
If you want a team that “no one should want to face” check out the Rockets where great role players like Chandler Parsons, Jeremy Lin and Omer Asik surround a superstar in James Harden and form an elite offense. Or to Chicago where for all we know Derrick Rose will reappear for the playoffs to join Joakim Noah, Luol Deng and an elite defense. Those are the dangerous teams.
Not the Lakers or Celtics.
All they are is old and not very good.
Hello again, Hickory High. Sorry I wasn’t around last week. I was in Istanbul. And the first thing I saw when I got out of the airport was a giant poster of Hedo Turkoglu
, the Turkish Michael Jordan
Hedo gets a pretty bad rap because we feel he hasn’t reached his potential. There were moments when he was in Orlando when it seemed like he could be a key player on a contender, but when he went to Toronto, he pulled a Vince Carter and begged his way out. His reputation hasn’t been the same since.
A big reason Miami and Boston have had success over the past few years is that they haven’t thrown money at guys like Hedo Turkogulu—and I don’t mean Turks. I mean guys who don’t become the players they should be. After the Decision, some people, including me, thought LeBron James might have been squandering his potential by teaming with two other stars, but that seems pretty silly now. Both these teams are full of guys who became the best players they could be.
So when the Heat and the Celtics meet Monday night, lets give thanks that Hedo Turkoglu will be nowhere near the game. He might be the best Turkish player ever right now, but Ersan Ilyasova is getting better every year.
Alright, let’s talk about the game.
Dwyane Wade has really picked up his game during Miami’s winning streak. He’s been the Heat’s leading scorer in the month of March, shooting 57 percent. His performance has kept Miami winning while LeBron James has come down from the ridiculous heights he reached at the beginning of the Heat’s streak. People like me have long prophecied Wade’s decline. But he’s still performing at a superstar level. It’s hard to say he’s losing his athleticism when he gets to the free throw line more than all but seven other guys in the league. It’s tough to call him old when he’s still one of the best defenders in the league. Until further notice, Dwyane Wade is still a great player.
As he ages, Dwyane Wade can look to Paul Pierce as an example of a star aging gracefully. Since he came into the league in the late 90s, Paul Pierce has been the Celtics’ best player. He’s had to take that role again with Rajon Rondo out. With Rondo out, he’s Boston’s best shot creator, passer and closer. In his past nine games, he’s averaging 20.2 points per game on 52% shooting. It might not be enough to salvage what would would be his worst shooting season in years, but he’s contributing in other ways—his TRB% of 11.1 would be a career high. He still gets to the line a lot—almost as much as Dwyane Wade, and he’s a big reason why Boston is one of the best defensive teams in the league. He’s had solid games against the Heat as well, notching a triple double in Boston’s January win. This is how you get old in the NBA.
What to Watch For
This is a classic offense-defense matchup. Though Miami has improved on defense, they’ve been winning all season with their scoring. A lot will depend on whether Kevin Garnett, who is injured with a strained left adductor, will be able to play. He’s still one of the best defenders in the league, and the Celtics will be hard-pressed to replace his ability and leadership.
The Miami Heat actually play at a pretty slow place, even slower than the Celtics. But no one turns a turnover into a basket faster than LeBron James and Dwyane Wade. The Celtics simply don’t have that kind of speed without Rajon Rondo. Both defenses are excellent at forcing turnovers, but it will be more important for the Celtics to be careful with the basketball.
Why Else Should I Watch?
This is one of the few real rivalries in the league. You can feel the animosity.
How to Watch
ESPN, Monday, 8 p.m. eastern
League Pass Bonus Game
Oklahoma City Thunder at Memphis Grizzlies, Wednesday, 8 p.m. eastern. The rubber match between two western conference powers.
Last night the Boston Celtics beat the Denver Nuggets in triple overtime, 118-114, stretching their win streak to seven games since Rajon Rondo
went down with a season-ending knee injury. At the time, removing the Celtics’ All-Star point guard seemed like a fatal blow to a team that was already struggling to keep their heads above water. Despite a slew of off-season additions, efficient offense has been just as elusive as ever in Boston. The Celtics have averaged just 100.4 points per 100 possessions, tying Memphis for 22nd in the league, and without their offensive engine they appeared ready for a major stall.
But over this seven game win streak the Celtics’ offensive efficiency has jumped over three points to 103.7 points per 100 possessions. The defense in Boston hasn’t missed a beat, so if the Celtics have somehow stumbled onto a sustainable and repeatable recipe for efficient offense they quickly become a major player in the Eastern Conference playoff picture. If this is just a mirage, an extended adrenalin boost born of desperation, then we can expect the Celtics to fade back into the pack. So the question becomes, what is responsible for this bump in offensive efficiency, and is it something that can be sustained?
The first piece of the puzzle is that Boston lucked into a lineup of less than impressive defensive teams. Here are the total defense rankings of the seven teams they’ve beaten on their current streak – 12th, 29th, 25th, 6th, 17th, 23rd, 13th. Other than the Clippers there is not a potent defense to be found on that list. However, it’s possible that in that soft schedule the Celtics have been able to find some things that work, and that might work against a more stout opponent. One place to begin the search is looking at how their shot-selection has changed, using Expected Points Per Shot (XPPS). This metric uses the expected values of shots from different locations to evaluate the quality of a team or player’s shot selection.
For the sake of creating a full picture I divided these XPPS numbers into three categories. I looked at the Celtics’ XPPS from their recent seven game win streak. I also looked at their team numbers from before the Rondo injury, when he was on the floor and when he was off the floor. The values from when Rondo was on the floor have his own shot attempts removed, so that we are only looking at the quality of his teammates’ shots. I also looked at Actual Points Per Shot for each category and calculated the Shot-Making Difference between the two. For context, the league average for XPPS and Actual Points Per Shot is 1.047.
[table id=66 /]
When Rondo is on the floor the Celtics have had one of the least efficient shot-selections in the league. A vast majority of the shots Rondo creates for his teammates are mid-range jumpshots for players like Brandon Bass, Jason Terry, Jeff Green, Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce. Those players are all reasonably solid shooters from that distance and despite the inefficient appearance of their shot-selection, they have actually managed fairly well, scoring 1.070 points per shot. When Rondo was off the floor, before his injury, things looked nearly identical.
However, since Rondo’s injury the Celtics’ have made some clear changes in their shot selection. Their XPPS has pushed above average for the first stretch this season and they’ve also been outperforming their XPPS by nearly twice the margin they were earlier in the season. To see exactly what’s causing this numeric shift we can look at what percentage of the Celtics’ shot attempts are coming from the six different areas that make up XPPS.
[table id=67 /]
There are two big shifts here. Comparing their shot selection with Rondo to their distribution now, they’ve moved about 6% of their shots from the mid-range to the rim. They’ve also taken about 1.5% of their shots and moved them behind the three-point line to the free throw line. Those are significant changes, and ones that bode well for the Celtics’ offense over the rest of the season. There is no reason that those changes in shot distribution couldn’t be sustained over the rest of the season and on their own, separate from any questions of shooting accuracy, they make the Celtics’ offense better by a definitive, albeit small, margin.
The other piece of this shot selection equation is accuracy. As I pointed out above, since Rondo’s injury the Celtics have improved their shot selection by a healthy amount, going from way below average to slightly above average. But an even bigger factor in their improved offensive production has been the doubling of their Shot-Making Differential. Shot-Making Differential is the difference between the expected value and the actual value of their shots, so seeing that they’ve doubled their output in this category already takes into account the improvement in their shot selection. For reference, the Celtics’ Shot-Making Differential of 0.096 over the last seven games would rank second in the NBA this season, just behind the Oklahoma City Thunder. In short, this piece of their improvement is probably not sustainable, at least not at this level.
Summarizing what we’ve seen so far, using the most basic descriptors, the Celtics began taking better shots, but also began making those shots at a rate vastly superior to what they were making earlier in the season. It seems that a big piece of their improvement may be that they have stumbled into a streak of particularly accurate shooting. For us to assume that increased accuracy is in any way sustainable we’d have to assume that there have been some other changes to their offensive attack besides just the locations where their shots are coming from. One place to look is at the types of offensive possessions they have been using to create those shots.
The table below contains data from mySynergySports and shows the percent of offensive possessions the Celtics have used in different ways, before and after Rondo’s injury. It also shows the points per possession the Celtics have averaged in each of those possession types.
[table id=68 /]
Right away we see a few more significant shifts in the Celtics’ offensive makeup. With Pierce taking on a bigger role as offensive facilitator, a much smaller portion of their offensive possessions are being used on post-ups. Surprisingly, those post-ups have become a much more efficient option, jumping from 0.90 points per possession to 1.04. A slightly higher percentage of possessions have been moved to cutters, which have also seen an increase in efficiency. We see the same pattern with spot-up shots. But the biggest piece is what has happened with the Celtics’ pick-and-roll.
Before Rondo was injured, pick-and-roll possessions used by the ball handler made up 11.0% of the Celtics’ offense and they averaged 0.80 points per possession in those situations. With Rondo out that percentage has jumped to 14.5% and the Celtics are averaging 0.86 points per possession. Those sound like small differences, but they have huge import for the Celtics’ offense. When Rondo ran the pick-and-roll his first, second and third priorities were to find an open shooter. This single-minded focus made the job of a defense much more simple. The fact that the Celtics were still able to succeed to any degree with such a reluctant scorer handling the ball is a testament to his prowess at moving the defense and creating space. Now with players like Pierce, Terry, Barbosa and Bradley running more pick-and-rolls the defense is presented with several more dimensions to account for. The efficiency of possessions used by pick-and-roll screeners for Boston has declined slightly without Rondo at the helm, but the threat of a scoring focused ball handler has more than offset that. In the end, although the Celtics have no one who even approaches Rondo’s ability to create shots for others in the pick-and-roll, using players who are better at creating shots for themselves may be making the Celtics more difficult to defend.
It’s important to remember that we’re looking at a seven game sample, and things can rapidly change in several different directions. However, the Celtics have made some nice fundamental changes to help them plug the numerous holes created by Rondo’s absence. They are taking better shots, and creating them in some new ways. Although the incredible accuracy they’ve displayed during their win streak may not be here to stay, it does seem that the changes they’ve made have created a more full and healthy offense.
The trade deadline is just over two weeks away and it appears that seems major moves could be simmering right below the surface. The Hickory-High staff has been putting the ESPN Trade Machine
through the wringer, exploring many of the scenarios. Today we thought we’d have some fun and share a few of the oddities we assembled. Below you’ll find a collection of semi-outlandish trades we’ve cooked up and tried to defend. I made sure to identify the guilty party for each one so you know where to direct your indignant responses.
Dallas Mavericks Receive: Jared Dudley, Kendall Marshall, Wesley Johnson
Phoenix Suns Receive: O.J. Mayo, Rodrigue Beaubois, Dominique Jones
I’ll openly admit that I had my Mavericks’ blogger hat on when I drew this one up, but as a simple exchange of talent it doesn’t seem to tip the scales too far in either direction. Phoenix is in desperate need of across the board upgrades and have very few enticing pieces to do it with. They don’t seem ready to part with Marcin Gortat and no one is biting on Michael Beasley or Luis Scola. That leaves Jared Dudley. The production of Mayo and Dudley has been very similar this season, but while Dudley appears to be maxing out his talent, Mayo still has room to grow. He’s also two years younger than Dudley, and has two fewer seasons on his contract which means Phoenix can take a flyer on his continued development without sacrificing any long-term flexibility. I’m not sure I can point to another deal where Phoenix gets such a return of talent for just Dudley. Of course, the dowry for the Dudley/Mayo swap is for Phoenix to give up on Kendall Marshall.
Marshall means nothing to the Suns’ present, he’s played just 96 minutes this season and they’ve been content to let Sebastian Telfair and Shannon Brown chew up the backup backcourt minutes, while Marshall gets most of his reps in the D-League. Even there he has been underwhelming, shooting just 31.3%. In exchange for taking a pass on Marshall’s future, the Suns get Jones and Beaubois, two dynamic backcourt players who have had a hard time turning dynamism into consistent production. Both have untapped potential and could benefit from a system that allows them to freelance and attack, making mistakes but continuing to play.
From the Mavericks perspective (at least the way I see it), this would be a huge move. Mayo has played great times, horrible at others, and although he’s a player with considerable untapped potential it looks more and more like he’s a bad fit. In an ideal situation the Mavericks offense has a fairly strict structure. Mayo’s offensive skills, while considerable, also bring with them the collateral damage of numerous broken plays, forced jumpers and careless turnovers. Dudley could provide a significant portion of Mayo’s versatile floor game, but without all the negative fallout. However, Marshall is the real prize for the Mavericks.
Although Darren Collison has been playing strong basketball of late he still hasn’t shown the propensity to consistently manage all the moving parts a fully-functioning Mavericks’ offense relies on. At his best, Marshall seems like the kind of heady floor general who can see the multiple layers and options available and keep the ball moving to where it needs to go. There is a lot of development that needs to happen before that becomes a reality, but Marshall’s peak seems like it could mean a lot more to the Mavericks than Mayo’s peak.
1. Which All-Star selection fills you with blissful joy?
Kyle Soppe – @unSOPable23 – Jrue Holiday, for all the critics who say that the 76ers are a team without a true star player. This kid was a prodigy when he went to UCLA and has been as good as advertised in Philly. He already has 53 more assists than last season (27 fewer games played) and has seen his scoring average jump by nearly 50%. How many point guards in the league average at least 17 points and 9 assists? Only one.
Matt Cianfrone – @Matt_Cianfrone – Paul George. As I Bucks fan I should hate George but I just find it so hard. A superb defender, stupid athletic, great passing young guard who has carried his team minus what many people think is their best player. I am glad to see George rewarded even after his slow start. Also I already can’t wait for his dunks that will come in the game. It is going to be great.
Myles Ma – @MylesMaNJ - Tyson Chandler. Yes, this is a total homer pick. But this selection absolutely fills me with blissful joy. Tyson Chandler has finally made an All-Star team after serving his time as the lynchpin of a Knicks defense whose perimeter defenders volunteer as traffic cones at the DMV. It’s his first All-Star game, and it comes in the midst of one of his finest seasons. Over the past three years, Chandler has decided to limit his offensive game to just dunks and free throws, with spectacularly efficient results. This year, he’s perfected the art of the tap out, turning a lot of J.R. Smith bricks into the midpoints of extra-long possessions instead of the unhappy endings they usually are. He even made No. 8 on GQ’s 25 most stylish men of 2012. Even with that scraggly-ass beard. It’s definitely his year.
Kris Fenrich – @DancingWithNoah - David Lee (I almost typed “David Curry”) with Jrue Holiday coming at a close second. I often refer to Lee as the modern-day Bob Pettit and I’m only partially joking. He scores with ease, rebounds well, has well-above-average vision for a four man and passes well. And none of this is new, it’s just the guy’s never been in a winning situation before. Good to see his multiple skills acknowledged among the league’s best.
Michael Shagrin – @mshaggy -Kyrie Irving. When it’s all said and done, I think this kid will have the last laugh. He’s a Chris Paul look-alike with more size and a smoother J. And he’s only 20 years old! Classic Kyrie outing: the night he returned after breaking his finger, the Cavs played a nail biter against the Lakers with Kyrie going for 28 points. As Kobe tried to wrest control of the game from him in the final minutes, he cooly steered Cleveland to victory. His absence from the starting unit was almost my answer to the following question…