These weekly roundtables have quickly become a part of our weekly routines and we have every intention of extending through the rest of this barren offseason and right into the season proper. We hope you’re enjoying them as much as we are. Don’t forget to check out question 6, which asks for answers from you, the readers.
Editor’s Note: Daniel Lewis wrote this week’s questions so I would have a chance to participate.
1. Which currently injured player will have the biggest absence this season?
Ian Levy (@HickoryHigh): I see this from the angle of which player’s absence now will have the biggest impact when we look back on the entire season. For that reason Kobe and Westbrook are out because I think the Thunder and Lakers will ultimately find themselves in about the same places as if Kobe and Westbrook had been available for these first few weeks. But Rondo’s absence could shape the Celtics present and future. If he was here and healthy there’s a chance this team becomes competitive. At the very least development would be sped up for some of the young pieces and nearly everyone would look a lot better with Rondo steering the ship. But since he’s gone they’ll struggle more profoundly, development will be slowed and his absence will probably make him less important to the Celtics’ plan moving forward because they’ll have been given a big shove towards the top of the lottery. If he was here this rebuild might move faster and actually be built around him. Instead it seems more likely that things will be taken slowly and Rondo could finish the year with a new team.
Cole Patty (@ColePatty): Strange answer, but Emeka Okafor. Kobe and Rondo are on teams that I don’t think are playoff bound even with them, so it’s better that their respective teams can lose more without the them. The Thunder can float without Westbrook for the short span — comparatively speaking – he should be out. The Wizards were fifth in Defensive Rating last season, and Okafor was a huge part of that. Without Emeka, the identity of Washington is skewed, and a playoff hopeful team now has many more questions in the front court.
Jeremy Conlin (@jeremy_conlin): Russell Westbrook. We saw what happened to Oklahoma City’s offense when Westbrook is out of the lineup last year in the playoffs, and those problems should be compounded by Kevin Martin’s departure. Kevin Durant is an amazing scorer, but his efficiency saw a major drop-off in the Memphis series last spring. If Durant is the team’s only reliable scoring option, we could see the Thunder dropping games early in the season that they probably wouldn’t otherwise, and with the top of the conference expected to be so competitive, every win counts.
Patrick Redford (@patrickredford): Kobe Bryant. Did you see Zach Lowe has them in his ‘shitty teams’ tier? If Bryant was healthy, nuh uh no way now how. The gap between Kobe and Jodie Meeks isn’t so much as a gap but rather a chasm populated by nations of people who haven’t made contact with each other because the chasm is so large and full of natural barriers like mountains and oceans.
Kevin Ferrigan (@NBACouchside): I’m going with Rondo, if only because the Celtics have such an incredibly bad roster without him. Rondo’s a competitive dude, but I think he’s different from Kobe in that he sees the writing on the wall and isn’t going to rush to come back. Kobe still thinks he can come back and drag this terrible Lakers roster to the playoffs. So I’m guessing Rondo stays out longer than Kobe and as a result, he’s got a longer and thus bigger absence. Cole’s answer has some merit, though, as the C’s and Lakers both have almost no chance of making the playoffs even with their star players returning. The Wizards are right on that playoff bubble, but with Okafor missing any significant amount of time, it gets harder to see them beating out the Atlanta, Detroit, Toronto, or Cleveland for one of those final 3 playoff spots.
Andy Liu (AndyKHLiu): Biggest means amount that we care? That has to be Russell Westbrook, right? The amount of reactions and reactions to those overreactions will be enough to blow our brains out a month into the season. But the biggest loss? Kobe Bryant. I get the fun stuff with Nick Young and the new guys, but yeah, they’re going to suck more than The Walking Dead this season.
Matt Cianfrone (@Matt_Cianfrone): Russell Westbrook. I think Westbrook is one of the best eight or so players in the league so this one was pretty easy. We saw how important Westbrook was when he missed the end of the Thunder postseason last year and now OKC is without Kevin Martin. Kevin Durant will keep the Thunder offense passable but when Westbrook returns it will be elite. That difference will probably cost the Thunder a game or two early and with how tough the top of the West is this season that may cost them home court advantage in the first round of the playoffs.
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!
It was a simple task describing Brad Stevens’ Butler teams. They were the very definition of an underdog, the type of team sports movies are centered around. They lacked the athleticism, size, and in some cases talent, that much of their high profile opposition possessed. The Bulldogs’ miracle NCAA tournament runs were made possible by Stevens’ style of coaching and the winning culture he created at the small, Indianapolis-based college, or at least that’s we were led to believe.
Now, despite the 17 NBA championship banners that will hang above Stevens’ head, the 36 year-old finds himself in an oddly familiar situation with the Boston Celtics.
The aura of both Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce are gone, each off to Brooklyn to chase a ring as their career clocks tick to the end. The pair have left Boston fans with a small taste of a championship in their mouths and a belief that there should’ve been at least one more. The current roster is filled with parts that you would find at the second or third levels of a title-contending depth chart in the NBA, suggesting a losing season could be on its way.
Whether or not general manager Danny Ainge and his staff is committed to losing a bunch of games this season, they brought Stevens in at the perfect time. The parts at Stevens’ disposal make it difficult to believe a winning scenario exists, at least for this upcoming year. It’s a Celtics group that should remind Stevens of his Butler teams of the past; a team that he’s going to have to get the most out of if he doesn’t want to find himself at the bottom of the standings.
Boston’s most valuable player will be on the shelf as this new Celtics era begins - Rajon Rondo continuing to recover from an ACL injury suffered last season. The true potency of Rondo’s game is often up for debate, but whatever side you fall on, the polarizing point guard will be the wildcard of 2013-14. If he does come back healthy some time this season — assuming he hasn’t been dealt — Rondo will get to prove that his worth wasn’t created by future Hall-of-Famers and that he can lead an NBA team serving as the best player on the floor. Removing Rondo from the equation — which is what Boston is facing early on — leaves Stevens with a lot of unproven pieces.
The back court features Courtney Lee, Avery Bradley, MarShon Brooks, and Jordan Crawford. One of them will act as Rondo’s replacement at lead guard and in all likelihood it will be Bradley. Bradley’s strengths can be found on the defensive end of the floor where he’s a pest for opposing ball-handlers, often in their face as they attempt to get the ball up the court. And that’s basically where Bradley’s positives end. He lacks the play-making and offensive skills to be a plus at point guard, but another opportunity to prove otherwise will begin on opening night. Lee offers the most immediate value of the remaining three. Just like Bradley, he can defend despite being short for a 2. Unlike Bradley, he’s developed a reputation of a shooter over his career, especially from the corners. Lee’s ability to be an above-average performer, and the three years remaining on his contract, make him viable a trade chip should Ainge decide the Celtics aren’t losing enough.
The possibility of being shipped out of Boston this season will also follow the other “veterans” around. Brandon Bass and his excellent mid-range shooting from the power forward position could prove worthy to a contender at the deadline. Too bad he offers virtually nothing else. While Kris Humphries doesn’t offer much besides rebounding these days, his expiring contract could peak some interest around the league.
Not all is lost when it comes to this Boston roster, though, as the front court duo of Jared Sullinger and Kelly Olynyk seems like they could produce some upside. Sullinger was selected in the first-round in 2012 and was undergoing a promising rookie debut before suffering back issues, the same issues that lowered his stock before the draft. If Sullinger can stay healthy (highly questionable), his collegiate profile and early returns of his first year suggest there’s plenty of value there. Olynyk, the Celtics first-round pick of 2013, is a skilled 7-footer who tore up the West Coast Conference while at Gonzaga and continued it at the Summer League back in July.
Ultimately, it’s a mixed bag of an NBA roster. There are more specialists here than true talent, and because of that, betting on Boston to carry a top-ten pick into next year’s draft would be wise. Nonetheless, this type of group is what Stevens built his mythic college reputation on at Butler. The six-year contract Stevens received from the Celtics suggest they are right next to him during this rebuild and that this first season is just the first step of him creating more believers of his coaching style.
It’s unclear whether Stevens’ magic from college will work on professional athletes playing the professional game. But due to the underdog, less talented moniker that will be placed on this year’s Celtics, it’s difficult to believe he won’t get the most out of them.
Brad Stevens has already went through a process similar to this once, why can’t similar success happen again?
The staff of Hickory-High is back with another summer roundtable, killing ennui and breathing as much life and creativity as we can into our collective basketball spirits. Make sure to check out question six and send your answers in.
1. The Denver Nuggets made wholesale changes this summer, on both the player and front office sides. Any chance the pieces that were removed this summer have compromised their structural integrity and the whole thing comes crashing down to the Draft Lottery?
Patrick Redford (@patrickredford): There’s a chance, but I doubt it , but mostly because I believe in the issue forcing, pyroclastic blaze of speed that is Ty Lawson probably a little bit too much. Igoudala is of course the largest of the now departed Nuggets, but he always felt like a dude who was just kinda there rather than an integrated, systemically valuable part of the unit.
Jacob Frankel (@jacob_frankel): It’s a possibility in the always competitive West. I’m hesitant to call this roster that much better than Portland’s, New Orleans’, or Minnesota’s. A small injury, or Gallinari taking longer to return than expected could change everything. That said, at this point there’s still a very good chance this team makes the playoffs.
Kyle Soppe (@unSOPable23): Great NBA teams believe in a system, and the Nuggets are simply following theirs. For better or for worse, they are displaying the type of faith it takes to eventually succeed. Ty Lawson is a good centerpiece and Gallo can score, so I’ll trust that they can stay afloat for the time being based more on principle than actual talent on the roster. Maybe it results in a playoff berth or maybe it means a trip to the lottery, but either way, I think the Nuggets are looking long term and this offseason is simply part of the process.
Cole Patty (@ColePatty): In the summer it is very easy to overreact to the changing landscape of the NBA and make changes seem much bigger than they are, yet that is exactly where I’m going. The Nuggets likely aren’t better than the Thunder, Spurs, Clippers, Rockets, Grizzlies, or Warriors, so that leaves them at best being a 7 seed if those six teams stay healthy. On top of that the Mavericks, Trail Blazers, Pelicans, and Timberwolves could all be in the mix along with the Nuggets for the last two seeds. I can’t definitively say any of those teams in the 7-11 group are better than the other, so the Nuggets could quite possibly be looking more at lottery night instead of the playoffs.
Kevin Ferrigan (@NBACouchside): Honestly, it’s a possibility. The West is still so tough and they lost several major contributors and I’m not counting on Brian Shaw to do a better job than George freaking Karl in his first season as the head man on the bench. From losing Iguodala to Karl to Ujiri, this offseason was just a total crap sandwich for Nuggets fans. I didn’t really like anything about their offseason, to be honest. Well, except signing Nate Rob. He’s the best.
Kris Fenrich (@dancingwithnoah): Let’s just hope any structural integrity is contained within the roster and leadership and not the Pepsi Center. I’m not sure it makes much difference if the team tumbles into the lottery or is bounced out of the first round; they’re weaker than last season. This has to be the first franchise in league history to lose the reigning Coach and Exec of the Year in the same off-season. What kind of buffoonery is that? They caught a bad break with Gallinari, got slapped up by a cresting Golden State team and ownership decides to light a match, burn the house down and trust the keys to the new house to JaVale McGee?
Jeremy Conlin (@jeremy_conlin): Denver’s success last year was mostly predicated on an insane amount of depth. They went nine-deep with productive, above-average players. There wasn’t anyone in their regular rotation that took more off the table than he put on it. That doesn’t seem like it’s the case anymore, however, with guys like Randy Foye and J.J. Hickson taking minutes that last year would have belonged to Andre Iguodala and Kosta Koufos. What was previously insane depth on the wing and in the frontcourt is now depth of undersized guards who might not actually be that good and cause endless headaches on defense (Foye, Evan Fournier, Andre Miller, Nate Robinson). There are currently six teams that seem to be inarguably better than Denver – Oklahoma City, San Antonio, Houston, the Clippers, Memphis, and Golden State. And with the improvements of New Orleans, Minnesota, and Portland, Denver falling all the way out of the playoffs certainly wouldn’t be a shock.
Andy Liu (@AndyKHLiu): The Nuggets should be fine; if fine is defined as a 40-45 win season and the honor of getting smacked out of the postseason by the Oklahoma Antonio Spurs. Losing Andre Iguodala was big but their famed depth should remain strong enough, if not as talented, with Wilson Chandler, Nate Robinson, J.J. Hickson and one of Jordan Hamilton or Quincy Miller stepping up. They ultimately have more answers than questions and we can’t really say the same about the rest of the bottom-eight contenders in the Western Conferece; Minnesota (injuries and defense); Portland (depth and talent); Dallas (talent and old). So they’re fine, if only by default.
Brandon Curry (@ByBrandonCurry): Brian Shaw strikes me as a coach who will mold a system around his personnel, rather than plugging what he has into his own tactical beliefs. This Denver roster is vastly different than any he saw while with the Lakers and Pacers, so playing towards its strengths would be a wise move. However, as with all rookie head coaches, we aren’t sure what we’re going to get. Shaw’s biggest challenge will be implementing a true defensive system. Relying on Andre Iguodala’s individual brilliance is no longer an option, leaving few pieces on that end to work with. Nevertheless, I believe Shaw has what it takes and Denver will find themselves back in the playoffs, although another short appearance is likely.
Bobby Karalla (@bobbykaralla): The Nuggets still have a very good point guard in Ty Lawson and some explosive, reliable inside players in Kenneth Faried and JaVa– uh, Faried. To make the playoffs in this league, you need those two components. Besides, it’s not like Denver was a perennial title contender, anyway. I’m more curious to see how (or whether) Brian Shaw will implement the triple post stuff than I am in what goes on in Denver’s front office.
2. Haiku Challenge – Put the beauty of Jimmy Butler into the traditional 5-7-5 syllable form.
Vertserger: He plays defense well.
Iman Shumpert is better.
The Knicks are the best.
Redford: Tom T had a dream
Holistic, balance, defense
Soppe: Bring out the handcuffs
Jimmy B will hold the key
Bulls still trail the Heat
Ferrigan: Haha Verts good one.
Shump can’t hold Jimmy’s Buckets
The Knicks are the pits.
Fenrich: Jimmy’s a human
Not a Twitterized symbol
Love your fellow man
Conlin: I don’t really get
How haikus work but Jimmy
Butler is awesome
Liu: 48 minutes
A game, the Chicago Way
Who is Luol Deng?
Curry: Defense, threes and smarts
He’s at your service
3. Which version of Vince Carter do you prefer – the frequently disinterested, explosively athletic model of his youth? Or the current, consistently engaged iteration; athletic gifts fading but veteran savvy cresting?
Vertsberger: Current Vince Carter solidifies his HOF entry to me. Could very well be Sixth Man of the Year next year. Does a lot of everything, remarkably a steady 3-and-D guy. Who woulda thunk it?
Redford: The former. I know stability wins basketball games, but the life-affirming joy of peak VC was basketball at it’s athletic zenith, even if only on a sporadic basis. There’s something that appeals to the inner romantic about a performer who utilizes their gifts to produce pantheon level pieces, regardless of how frequently, whereas consistent mediocrity is a bit too of this world.
Frankel: I didn’t even watch Carter during his prime, but the fact that I can know so much about it gives away the answer to this question. He threw down some of the best, most iconic dunks of all time. We’ll remember that, not his solid bench role with an inconsequential Mavs team.
Soppe: The basketball analyst side of me is begging for me to answer “current Carter”, but I can’t help myself. I’m an unapologetic Raptors fan because of the excitement VC generated when I was introduced to the game and, for that reason, he will always have a spot in my heart. You could easily make the argument that the current model is more useful to a winning NBA team, but that wasn’t the question. My name is Kyle Soppe and I love me some VIN-sanity.
Patty: There is nothing Vince can do in the latter of his career that will replace those Vinsanity days. Vince was electric in the dunk contests – back when the dunk contest was much, much better – and anytime he touched the ball in Toronto. Even Nets-era Vince Carter will be much closer than this version plodding away in Dallas today. I will say the fact he is likely doing more to add to his Hall of Fame resume, instead of detracting from it, is nice to see.
Ferrigan: Vinsanity was great. I used to always make the argument with my friends that Vince Carter was underrated, but that his Wince reputation for not playing hurt or constantly being hurt tarnished people’s opinions of him. I also think he fell into the same trap that his cousin, T-Mac, fell into in terms of public opinion. The game seemed so easy for him all the time, you wanted him to push himself to the point where he seemed challenged. As it was, he was excellent for many years. I hope he makes the Hall, but I have my doubts people will properly appreciate him when he’s gone.
Fenrich: I prefer the early model Vince and it’s not close. For all of his youthful inconsistencies, he still played with a creativity that expanded the spectrum of possibility and so much of the demonization of Vince’s efforts have been attached to a single quote; which however fair or unfair, doesn’t eradicate his body of work. The heart of the question is how we, as sports fans, value redemption — which is what’s occurring with the perception of VC maturing from lazy superstar to engaged teammate. The roots of redemption in American culture stem from the Judeo-Christian tradition so prevalent since the country’s formation so VC’s narrative is easy to see in its familiar simplicity. Whether or not it’s an accurate maturation or narrative is a topic better discussed in another forum.
Conlin: I thought Vince should have won the 6th Man award last year – his offensive numbers, for the most part, were competitive with the front-runners (J.R. Smith, Jamal Crawford, Jarrett Jack, Kevin Martin), but what voters glossed over is that Carter has become a plus defensive player – Dallas’ defense was nearly four points better per 100 possessions with Carter on the floor last year – something that none of the other candidates can say. Watching Young Vince was more exciting, but watching Old Vince is more satisfying.
Liu: I guess one could argue they are exciting in their own way. Veteran Vince does veterany-savvy things like this. Prime Vince did basketball things like this. It’s becoming more analyst-y to enjoy the smaller, more nuanced things but the athleticism was once-in-a-generation. It’s okay to enjoy both, but it’s obvious which was more interesting to watch.
Curry: I want to choose Vince’s Vinsanity days more than anything, but it’s what he’s morphed into that keeps me from doing that. It’s not even about the current version’s style of play, but rather that he is actually playing that way and has committed to it. A hoops junkie like me loves entertainment on the court, but watching an elite athlete transform and create himself into a new effective player is even more special.
Karalla: Young Vince could drag a team to the playoffs. Old Vince cannot do this. Therefore, if I’m a fan, I’m riding with the gravity-defying half-human who terrorized teams in the early Aughts. Vince was never a model of efficiency, but he was always worth watching. In much more nerdy ways he might be more valuable currently to a team as a whole than he’s ever been, so perhaps as a coach or title-seeking GM I’d rather work with modern Vince.
4. What’s your favorite basketball story from the summer that would have been overlooked or ignored during the commotion of the regular season?
Vertsberger: JR Smith’s armored vehicle and suspension- oh you said would be ignored during the regular season? Nevermind.
Redford: Boogie Cousins and Isaiah Thomas: bros.
Soppe: Remember when winning a championship used to mean that only the best could join your franchise? The old time Lakers and Celtics hand picked players that fit their mold. The Heat? Greg Oden and Michael Beasley. They may not make the team, but it’s an odd dynamic.
Patty: Andre Drummond and Jeanette McCurdy. I’m not sure we would have ignored it if it was happening during the regular season, but I doubt Drummond would have had the down time to chase after the former iCarly star during the season. Andre Drummond is also my favorite player, so this is highly biased.
Ferrigan: What Cole said.
Fenrich: In a world where survival is determined by how frequently your content is updated, it seems nothing is ever overlooked or ignored. That being said, a story that got little run outside of Seattle was Jamal Crawford’s ability to draw A-list talent to his summer pro-am. In addition to the usual Seattle mainstays (Crawford, Nate Robinson, Aaron Brooks, Isaiah Thomas, Tony Wroten, Spencer Hawes, etc), Seattleites were fortunate to catch Tyreke Evans, Kevin Durant, Blake Griffin and Kyrie Irving. The event is one of few places for fans to see some of the best players in the world without being bombarded by $10 beers, massive corporate advertising campaigns, or artificial noise being piped in through ear-splitting sound systems.
Conlin: Ditto on the Drummond/McCurdy thing. They’re definitely America’s next power couple.
Liu: If you spent more than 15 seconds on this question, you’ve probably overlooked the story yourself. That being said, I’ll fall in line with the Drummond/McCurdy fairytale. And if you haven’t read her op-ed on WSJ, do so. It appears she has talents other than acting and attracting NBA stars.
Curry: The Tankapalooza for Andrew Wiggins. I know that sounds a bit odd, but hear me out. I believe we’ve confused the lengths a few teams have went in getting worse for a mass, league-wide tankfest. Sure, Philadelphia, Boston and Utah are obviously going for it, and some others, but when the seasons gets into full swing, opinions will change. The West is stacked and in the East, the Pacers got better, Chicago gets Derrick Rose back and the Nets have entered the ring. Everyone would like to have Wiggins, but only a few are truly after him.
Karalla: I’m not sure this qualifies, but I want to include it somewhere: I’m glad LeBron’s possible pending free agency hasn’t been a huge talking point like it was before the summer of 2010. In fact, there have been so many other stories worth discussing that we haven’t been bombarded with rumors surrounding the other players who might soon change teams, either, including Carmelo, among others. Once the season starts winding down, it might become an annoyance. But for now, I’m grateful. And I hope Drummond dating McCurdy drowns any of the free agent noise.
5. Keep Rajon Rondo? Trade Rajon Rondo? State your case.
Vertsberger: Trade him to the Knicks for STAT and Shumpert. Knicks win the 2014 chip and *wakes up* – Alright I think I need at least one serious answer here. I’m one of the few that think Rondo will hurt Boston’s tanking efforts. He’s that good. I also may be overrating Jeff Green, but my point is this: Rondo’s not staying in Boston if the team doesn’t get good by the time his contract expires. I don’t think Boston can be bad enough with Rondo on this team to rebuild quickly enough to keep Rondo down the line. So yeah, trade him. To the Knicks. Amar’e is great – I promise.
Frankel: I’m solidly entrenched in both team “tanking is the best option” and team “Rondo is really overrated” so my answer to this one should be pretty obvious. Rondo’s good enough to take this team out of the promised land that is the top-7 of the lottery, but not good enough to be a foundation player. Rondo was actually a competent midrange shooter last season, but teams are content with giving that up. I feel like a lot of Rondo’s assists are more “by default”, not shot openings that he was creating. Analysis done by many APBRmetricans suggests that assist percent on it’s own has very little relationship to a player’s actual on court impact, and only when it’s paired with usage is it a significant factor.
Soppe: He’ll be 28 years of age in February, which is probably slightly too old to be a part of the rebuild. That being said, I probably slow play my hand if I’m Boston in an effort to get full value in return. I’d let Rondo do everything (score, assist, sell popcorn, etc) in the first half of this season, basically telling him that if he wants to move elsewhere, this is his time to rise his stock. Boston won’t want to settle for pennies on the dollar, so allowing Rondo to prove he is fully recovered is key. In the end, they hold an asset that is valuable to other franchise’s, an enviable position for a rebuilding squad.
Patty: I would prefer to trade Rondo, but I’m not selling him at a discount rate either. If the team is bad enough by the time he could possibly come back, I do see merits in shutting him down for the year in order to keep draft position. That can come in the form of an undisclosed injury though, instead of a complete fire-sale. If the right deal comes for a talented young piece, sure, but I’m not automatically selling Rondo to the highest bidder regardless of whatever is coming back in the deal.
Ferrigan: I’m of two minds on this. One the one hand, Rondo is, very clearly, the Celtics best player and I don’t think that doing a total roster blow up works very often. It’s happened, but it’s exceedingly rare. Most of the time, you’re better off blowing things mostly up, hanging onto one of your best players and rebuilding. The Celtics made their decision that Rondo was the guy to rebuild around- and really, it was no choice at all, he was the youngest of their top guys, the rest of whom are on the brink of retirement. On the other hand, I’m an unabashed Rondo detractor. I think he’s pretty overrated in terms of overall impact. I believe his negative impact on spacing and the domino effect that creates in pinching off lanes and operating room for his teammates is a big reason the Celtics have struggled to put even average offenses on the floor, despite having several Hall of Famers on the roster. He’s also become a very overrated defender. He was once much better on that end, but he’s gotten to the point where the costs of his gambling have begun to significantly cut into the positive things he brings to the table on that end. Plus, he’s 28, his team stinks, and he’s coming off an ACL surgery. It might be best for the Celtics to deal him now while he still has some value.
Fenrich: Keep keep keep. More so than any other player in the league, Rondo resembles an extraterrestrial with those long dangling arms, massive curling fingers and hands, and wide, suspiciously calculating dark eyes. It’s unlikely that Ainge could get equal value in return for Rondo because he brings so much to Boston in terms of leadership, culture, competitiveness and skill. Any practical or rational explanation of trading Rondo reveals a disbelief in life beyond the stars, of magic, artistic genius, and the faith that some things cannot be explained numbers.
Conlin: To Be Determined. It doesn’t make any sense to trade him now, when his value is at a low point and they don’t need an immediate contributor anyway. If Boston can get him back by New Year’s and showcase him for six weeks before the deadline, they might be able to get a contender to bite. But I’m of the opinion that they should either deal him at the deadline or not at all.
Liu: I’m really not a fan of Rajon Rondo’s game and think he’s a tad overrated (can’t shoot and overly defers for the sake of deference), but I think his skill-set matches that of Brad Steven’s coaching mindset. Toughness, defense and smart basketball was synonymous with Butler basketball in Stevens’ duration as coach. Rondo fits all those to a tee and it’s not as if he’ll play enough games this season to stop their tanking spree.
Redford: Keep Rajon Rondo because there’s an off chance that he and Brad Stevens will go rollerskating together and it will produce a pantheon-level oral history in 15 years.
Curry: I tend to agree with a lot of what Jacob said in terms of the evaluation of Rondo’s game. But I don’t believe many NBA front offices feel that way. That’s why Boston should slow play this, build him up even more, and try for that legit piece in return rather than a package of B-level or less players. That’s easier said than done, but reasonable when you factor in all the questionable moves teams still make. Finally, I’m not sure Rondo is the player that can lift a really, really bad team with a bunch of unknowns, to being an average or just bad team. The Celtics are in the driver’s seat here and should be throughout.
Karalla: I was really hoping Boston would panic-trade Rondo to Dallas for Shawn Marion and some draft choices this summer, a pipe dream at best, but a boy can dream. Now that Rondo’s survived a tumultuous off-season, though, I think he belongs in Boston at least through the year. Who knows? Maybe the Celtics can squeeze into the 8-spot out East and give Miami or Chicago a run for their money in the first round. But if you’re Boston, until you know exactly what you have on the court, I don’t see a reason to give Rondo away. Unless, of course, it’s to Dallas.
6. Pitch a movie project built around the sparkling star power of Brian Scalabrine.
We’re leaving this last question up to you the readers. Put your answer in the comments or use the hashtag #Question6 to share your answers on Twitter. I’ll find them and drop them in here. Check back throughout the day as answers roll in.
The Memphis Grizzlies are playing as good a brand of basketball as any of the eight teams left in the NBA playoffs, with the emergence of Mike Conley
being a big reason why. But when Tony Allen
, following an emotional road victory in which Conley led the way (26 points, ten rebounds, and nine assists), declared that his floor general was “one of the top five point guards in the league,” it smelled a lot like an overreaction. As an elite perimeter defender, I value Allen’s opinion on this matter, but the conversation regarding Conley and the top five point guards in the Association is a short one: he’s not there right now.
That being said, he safely resides in the next tier of point guard and is more than capable of heading a championship level team. I hardly have the NBA experience of Allen, but as a reasonably efficient high school point guard in my day (Kyle Soppe, the pAssman), here are my PG rankings with a regular season Conley (25 years old) related tidbit for each. It is important to note that these rankings are for next season. This isn’t a “you’re starting a franchise now and need a point guard” list, but rather a snap shot as to where we stand at the PG position for the 2014 regular season.
1. Chris Paul (28 years old) – Regardless of where he plays, he is simply the gold standard when it comes to properly running an offense. The six time All-Star and four time All-NBA Defensive team member has a career 4.03 assist to turnover ratio, 25.2% better than Conley’ best season.
2. Russell Westbrook (24 years old) – The explosive leader of the Thunder has the ability to do things athletically than Conley simply will never be capable of. Westbrook’s shot selection is as criticized as anybody’s, but his FG% over the last two seasons (44.7%) is better than any season Conley has ever produced in the NBA.
3. Kyrie Irving (21 years old) – The general public seems to have forgotten just how special (brief reminder) this former Blue Devil is just because he isn’t still playing. He’s a high level athlete that has playmaking abilities and instincts than cannot be taught. Since leaving college, Irving has scored 1.25 points per FGA while Conley has averaged 1.20 over the same stretch.
4. Stephen Curry (25 years old) – Yes, I’m buying this postseason breakout to a greater degree than that of Conley. We all know that Curry has arguably the sweetest stroke we’ve ever seen, but he is far from a one trick pony. In fact, the baby-faced Curry has muscled up for 30% more rebounds than Conley over his career and holds the edge in steals per game.
5. Derrick Rose (24 years old) – Say what you will about this season, but Rose at full health is as tough a cover a there is in the league. His size and athleticism demand the attention of the opposing team’s best defender (players like Tony Allen), thus creating mismatches for his teammates. All you have to do is look at his 2010-2011 season to realize that his ceiling is significantly greater than that of Conley. In Rose’s MVP campaign he scored 2,026 points, a 70 point edge over Conley’s total number of points scored in the last two seasons combined. Scoring is his greatest attribute, but he does average 23.6% more assists per game over his career than the Grizzlies’ guard.
OK, so that settles the debate over the top five point guards in the league today. Conley has been excellent this postseason and is developing into a very good point guard, but he simply isn’t in the class of the five listed above. I’d listen to an argument at placing him anywhere in this next tier of PG’s, but I’ve got him sandwiched between Holiday and Williams.
6. Rajon Rondo (27 years old) – It is entirely possible that Conley is playing at a top-five level (based on his hot streak and the rash of injuries among the PG’s ranked above him), but that wasn’t the quote. Rondo is the best table setter in the league (149 more assists than Conley over the past two season despite playing 51 fewer games) and among the best defensive options at the point. Those qualities are well known, but did you know that since Conley entered the NBA in 2007-2008, Rondo actually averages more FGM per game (5.02 to 4.60)?
7. Tony Parker (30 years old) – The elder statesmen of this strong crop of point guards will turn 31 in less than a week, but Parker is showing more signs of improvement than decline. His experience is a factor that cannot be measured statistically, so let’s stick with some numbers. As a five-star recruit, Conley was part of a loaded Ohio State team that lost in the national championship. During that season, Conley shot 51.8% from the field against comparatively inferior competition for the most part. Parker has shot a higher percentage from the field than that in two of the last three seasons.
8. Ty Lawson (25 years old) – His choice in headband style may be declining, but every other statistic is on the uptick for this road runner. In each season of his budding career, Lawson has increased his point, assist, and steal totals. His extreme speed is an advantage he holds over nearly every point guard in the league, making the fact that he owns a better career 3P% than Conley icing on the cake. I trust Lawson’s ability to penetrate/create a bit more and believe that he is a slightly tougher matchup on the perimeter.
9. Jrue Holiday (22 years old) – It is easy to forget just how young the 76ers leader is, especially when you consider the increasing maturity of his game. This past season saw Holiday tally 17.7 points and 8.0 assists on a nightly basis, numbers that may define the ceiling for Conley. When comparing Holiday’s 2012 season totals with the totals from when Conley was 22 years old (424 more points and 200 more assists), it is clear that Holiday is on the fast track to ascend to the top of this second tier. After a strong campaign in his first season as the 76ers go-to player, Holiday proved more than capable, a quality that is hard to find in players (especially point guards) his age.
10. Deron Williams (28 years old) – It feels like DWill was atop this list not very long ago, and while he has dropped off a bit, he still deserves to be considered a strong option. He has developed a lethal outside game (169 3PM this season, three more than Conley over the last two seasons), allowing him to stretch defenses and thus create single coverage situations in the paint. Williams has a higher scoring upside than Conley but lacks general consistency on both ends to still be considered with the best PG’s in the league.
This list doesn’t include Damian Lillard (need to see more), Ricky Rubio (my favorite player, but he’s a poor man’s Rondo at this point), or whoever you consider to be the point guard in Milwaukee (inefficient and lacking the ability to lead a team).
What did I get wrong? Tony Allen has forgotten more today than I know about basketball, but is he too close to the situation to properly analyze where his teammate ranks? Or am I just off my rocker and failing to accept that Memphis is home to an elite point guard? I’d love to hear your thoughts (@unSOPable23) and see how you’d rank the top point guards in the NBA for 2014.
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.
Fridays With Fenrich is a weekly feature here at Hickory-High, the aggregation of an extended, week-long email conversation on a single basketball theme, between myself and Kris Fenrich of Dancing With Noah. This week Kris and I worked on the Hickory-High Question Of The Week.
Ian: You’re starting a book club and the first selection is the classic Phillip K. Dick novel, ‘A Scanner Darkly.’ Which four NBA players do you invite to join?
Kris: 1. Joakim Noah: By most accounts, Noah is a free-spirited genuine individual in a league made up of trend followers. Having had a past (and possibly present) relationship with drug use, I feel Noah’s curious nature and personal interest in the topic would provide a unique insight and energy to the book club. And maybe some potent herbs too.
2. Lamar Odom: Another player who’s battled substance abuse issues. Odom is a tragic figure who wears his heart on his sleeve. Given how emotional he was when he was suspended for marijuana use early in his career, I’d be interested in seeing his reaction to a book that makes the point that people can lose track of their identity and/or develop new identities through drug abuse.
3. J.R. Smith: While drugs (specifically the fictional Substance D) are the primary cause of identity-splitting in ‘A Scanner Darkly,’ the shifted identities and their relationships with one another (particularly regarding the main character who is both a drug dealer and an undercover police officer and spends much of his time attempting to capture himself, elude himself and elude his suspicious colleagues) remind me of JR Smith who at times appears to be his own worst enemy. While someone like DeMarcus Cousins has a bigger problem staying out of his own way, I feel Smith is mature enough that he could possibly see make connections and learn something from Scanner Darkly.
4. Rajon Rondo: Complete wild card inclusion. I’m not sure if he’d even read the book or if he’d maybe find a way to sabotage the book club, but I’d send out the invite just to see what happens.
Ian: I know this exercise is all hypothetical fun, but you’ve clearly taken the question seriously, actually assembling a group that could accomplish something meaningful together. Here’s my literary quartet:
1. Joakim Noah would make my list as well. As much as any NBA player, he seems to have a multi-faceted cultural perspective that doesn’t have basketball as a giant ionic column towering in the center. Plus, I’d say there’s more than a good chance he’s already read the book and wouldn’t just be making vague points from his memory of having watched part of the movie with Al Horford, sprawled over a papasan chair in some drab University of Florida dorm room.
2. James Harden. At it’s core, A Scanner Darkly is about identity. I can’t think of a player who’s identity bleeds across more borders, or defies more frames. If I’m going to have a conversation on that topic with NBA players I want to make sure James Harden is in the room. It’s been a recurring theme in our conversations over the past few months, but I’m absolutely captivated watching both Harden on and off the court. His game is analytically pure and stylistically extravagant. I want to know to what degree he reflects on himself and his actions on the basketball court, and what framework of identity he sees himself through. Will he see personal parallels between his own experience and the way Bob Arctor moves back and forth between the culture of drug-users and drug-subterfugers? Does James Harden sneak below deck during his all-white yacht partiers to read Kevin Pelton’s latest piece at ESPN Insider, hurriedly slamming his laptop closed as Chandler Parsons comes bursting through the door with a Kelly LeBrock lookalike?
3. Dwight Howard. I can think of about 368 NBA players I’d rather spend two hours in a room with, but I’m trying to be generous of spirit here. I get the sense that Howard is not someone who regularly has meaningful conversations about topics of any sort. That’s not to say he’s not intelligent, but he does seem to lack a significant amount of introspective viewing power and critical thinking ability. A Scanner Darkly and it’s themes of identity and substance abuse may not turn out to have any personal relevance or attraction for Howard, but he seems like an individual who could benefit tremendously from some time spent in close analytic proximity to life experience of a different kind.
4. Tyler Hansbrough. He’s essentially the Keanu Reeves of the National Basketball Association so he could certainly bring an authentic perspective to bear on the lead character. Plus, I’m a sucker for those dulcet tones of Poplar Bluff, Missouri that roll off his tongue. I’d listen to him read just about anything aloud.
I set the parameters for this initial discussion, choosing a book that I love and a framework I was curious about. What books would you like to read and discuss with NBA players?
Kris: Oh man, I’m cracking up over your Kelly LeBrock reference. I know we’re both on the older end of the basketball blog spectrum, but you took it waaaaaaay back with that. I guarantee you a good chunk of guys who read this post will go straight from here to a “Kelly LeBrock” search on Google Images. Not to get too distracted here, but it was bizarre seeing her go from Weird Science to Hard to Kill and it’s even stranger she was married to Steven Seagal.
Sorry for that, but here are a few books that’d be fun or insightful to read with NBA players:
- The Book of Basketball: The NBA According to the Sports Guy: Over the years, Bill Simmons and his endless well of snark has worn away at me. I find the guy insufferable at times, but with The Book of Basketball, he stuck to what he knows best and did a hell of a job breaking down the league’s greatest players of all time. It’s not without its snarky flaws, but it’s an easy, engaging read. I’m always intrigued by what players think about other players and what they’ve experienced competing with and against each other. I think this is one of the reasons NBA TV’s “Open Court” series is so successful; because it taps into that insider’s world. Reading The Book of Basketball with NBA players would be fun, insightful, entertaining and probably head scratching at times (seems players often hold other players in higher regard than their actual ability).
- Breaks of the Game: David Halberstam’s masterpiece on the landscape of the NBA in the late 70s articulates the challenges faced by the league and its players better than any other book on basketball I’ve read. When I read it a few years ago, I was struck by how many of the same issues are still prevalent in the game and the business of the game today: racism, reactionary responses to a majority African-American player base interacting within a majority Caucasian business and marketing model. For players in today’s game, I think it’d be eye opening to see that while yes, things have changed drastically for the better, the subtleties of the NBA in the late 70s are still very much alive.
- Hellhound On His Trail: The Electrifying Account of the Largest Manhunt in American History: Hampton Sides wrote this thorough tale about the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr. and painted an almost frighteningly detailed portrait of his assassin, James Earl Ray. It’s a tragic and engrossing read that seems like a must-read for players in a league that treats King’s birthday as a celebration complete with day games on the annual Monday holiday. The race aspect, the readability, the power of the story … in terms of reading schedule, this would probably be the first or second read of the book club.
- Oh the Places You’ll Go!: The Dr. Seuss classic still carries weight if you’re willing to just open the book and absorb the message. It’s fun, poignant, meaningful and deeply insightful for anyone who’s been through challenges in life. Assuming players could shrug off the hard ass veneer that so many of them wear in public and on the court, it’d be fun to read with players who enjoy a drink every now and then followed by an open conversation. Give me Shane Battier, Jerry Stackhouse, Zach Randolph, Chris Andersen, some booze and The Places You’ll Go and let’s see what crazy shit we end up talking about.
Ian: Running your finger across the top of my living room bookshelf you’ll find a whole lot of Edward Abbey and Tom Robbins. It’s an odd pairing, and one that I don’t think would particularly appeal to most NBA players. Although I suppose some of Abbey’s fiery stoicism and rugged surliness might strike a chord with a certain Laker guard, who coincidentally appears to have some extra time for reading on his hands.
However, if I somehow was able to get a book into the hands of an NBA player, with the promise of it being read, I’d be heading down to Everyone’s Books to snag a copy of Dune for LeBron James. I wrote about the parallels between LeBron and the main character in Dune, Paul Atreides, nearly three years ago, just after his move to Miami (Follow that link at your own peril. My ability to communicate ideas through the written word has grown considerably since then.) The themes in that novel are scattered about like grains of sand, but the one that always pulls me in is the idea of mythic templates. The story is convoluted to say the least, but fifteen year-old Paul arrives on the planet of Arrakis, a member of the new ruling family. As the planet is thrown into turmoil by rebellion and war, Paul steps into the role of messiah for the native people, fulfilling a long-held prophecy. The interesting thing is that the prophecy he fulfills is a completely and consciously false construct, planted among the natives centuries before by outsiders from Paul’s own culture.
I’ve done a poor job summarizing the plot, but hopefully enough to see the theme. Like all professional sports, myth and prophecy drive NBA basketball. Both have also been swirling around LeBron since he was a boy. Like all myths, the ones built around, for, and by LeBron are just constructs, whether consciously or unconsciously conceived. These myths, these artificial constructs, accurate or not, have not just helped define LeBron to the public, they appear to have, in some ways, defined his own self-image. I wonder what reading a book like Dune would do for LeBron in examining his own journey.
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.
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…
As mentioned in the previous edition of the Weekly Stats Recap, the suggested #StatStudy
for this week was orchestrated to determine the impact of elite assist men. Perry Missner (@PerryMissner
), a noted doubter of the importance of great point guards
, estimated that 65% of the teams with a double digit dime man would win. As it turns out (for this week at least), Perry wasn’t pessimistic enough when it comes to the correlation between individual passing performance and team success.
During this 49 game week, a mere 11 games were won by a team who had a player record 10+ assists. That is a lower number than I would have guessed given the sheer volume of points scored in the NBA, but points are being scored more in isolation sets these days. In addition, teams with a double digit assist player lost 12 times, meaning that if you had a player record 10+ assists, you only had a 47.8% chance of winning.
I decided to also chart the number of assists for the point guard on the winning team. My thought process in charting such a statistic was to see if Perry’s theory that “we don’t need no stinking point guard” was accurate. As expected, because he does his due diligence and wouldn’t make such a claim if not supported, assist totals for victorious point guards was not very high at all. The 49 winning point guards recorded 319 assists (6.5 apg), not a high total considering that the NBA average for points in a game is 97.5 and roughly 103 points for the winning team.
What statistic is on your mind? What do you want me to chart for the next seven days in the hopes of proving/disproving a thought of yours? Tweet me (@unSOPable23) the stat and your prediction for the result, use the hashtag #StatStudy, and I’ll put the wheels in motion. That’s all it takes. Let your opinion be heard!
Without further adieu, here are the stats that went unnoticed for the week that was in the NBA.