Archives For January 2005

On Tap: The Seattle Supersonics

 —  January 25, 2005

If you lived in Seattle, were forced to spend too much time indoors because of the rain, loved the Sonics, and had an unhealthy obsession with Legos, what would you do? Build a life-size Lego Ray Allan, of course.

I think the best chance for a Laker win tonight comes if the Lego Ray Allen is the one that shows up to Staples Center. Problem is, if they put Chucky Atkins on him, Lego Ray will still score 12.

(By the way, if you want one, you can get a life-size Lego Kobe as well — or Jason Kidd, or Shaq or other NBA players. Think how good that would look in your living room. You can’t make up stuff this funny.)

Okay, time to get serious (well, as much as I ever do). There are two questions that come up when thinking about the run of wins the Lakers have had since Kobe went down: 1) What will happen when the Lakers take on a good team? 2) Will the improved team play continue when Kobe comes back, or will the Lakers revert to old habits?

We’ll find out the answer to question #1 tonight (question #2 is a topic for another post, probably next week, closer to when Kobe returns). The thing is, while these Sonics are good, they are not as good as the ones that got off to the fast start this season. So far in January, the Sonics are 6-5.

The reason for the slide is defense — the Sonics actually play less than the Lakers. Early in the season the Sonics were one of the top 10 defensive teams in the league, now that has fallen to 25th overall (giving up 104.5 points per 100 possessions, the Lakers are 22nd at 103.7). Teams shoot well against the Sonics (48.7% eFG%) and teams get to the free throw line 26.5 times per game against them (only five teams are worse).

While the defense may be poor, their offense is still a force — they have the second highest rated offense in the league (109.8 points per 100 possessions). Their team eFG% is an insane 50.7% (third best in the league) and, almost as importantly, they get rebounds on 33.2% of their misses (the highest percentage in league). Think about that, a good shooting team that on one-third of its misses gives itself a second chance — a tough combination to beat.

As you would imagine, Ray Allen (the real one) has the highest PER on the team at 20.17 and leads the team in Roland Rating at +13.5. But right behind him with a PER of 20.11 is Danny Fortson, who has come in and provided the rebound and defensive toughness inside Seattle lacked in recent years. Fortson leads the league in points per shot attempt at 1.39, in part because he gets to the free throw line on second chances. Also, obviously, don’t forget about Rashard Lewis (19.69 PER), who scored 37 on the Lakers (8 of 12 from three point range) in the Sonics win in December against the Lakers.

For the Lakers to win they will need a big game out of their front line — Mihm, Odom and Butler. Those are the weakest defensive spots for Seattle, the Lakers should be able to score inside. What’s more, that group (and Grant, Cook and Jones off the bench) needs to work hard to get defensive rebounds and not give up extra chances to the Sonics. If, for a change, the Lakers can get the front line of the Sonics in foul trouble, that would be a nice change of pace.

For the past two games, Chucky Atkins has been the point guard the Lakers have needed all season, the Lakers have moved the ball around and gotten good scoring chances. If they can do that tonight they can hang around, Seattle can’t stop them Kobe or no. However, to win will require perimeter defense, something that folded in the face of the Seattle offense the last time these two met. We’ll see what happens tonight.

Update: Kevin Pelton, the guy behind Supersonics.com and a guy who knows his stats, has posted a great preview of tonight’s game that is well worth the read. Also, he wants us to know that the people at Lego built Lego Ray, and “no actual Sonics fan hours were wasted on it.”

Things That May Interest Only Me

 —  January 24, 2005

Let’s talk for a second about the three-point play — not the one the Lakers are attempting 30 of a game these days (except when playing well) but rather the more exciting one, the bucket and the foul.

The driving force behind the Crazy From The Heat blog figured out the number of “and one” fouls players on the Heat have gotten this year (and suggested how to figure that into other scoring stats). His work started the smart folk over at APBR looking into the number of +1 shots every player has gotten this season (and that required going through all the game logs, the NBA doesn’t keep track of this).

Without the data, my guess was Kobe would be the guy who has the highest percentage of “and one” free throws on the Lakers. I was wrong. Lamar Odom not only leads the team, he’s sixth in the league with 13.3% of his free throw attempts coming as the one shot after being fouled and still scoring (he has 24 of those shots this year).

Lamar is long and strong, something he had in common with the five people ahead of him on that list (Elton Brand, Nazr Mohammed, Eddy Curry, Amare Stoudemire and Antwan Jamison).

We’re not talking a lot of points here, but it’s just one more thing Odom brings to the table when the offense flows through him.

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Something else I find interesting.

Brian Grant doesn’t take many shots — he’s only averaging 2.3 shots per game he’s played — but when he does he gets more points per attempt than any other Laker.

Usually on this blog I’ve used effective field goal percentage (eFG%) to talk about a players shooting. It’s a good measure, but its flaw is that free throws earned are not part of the mix — a player who gets fouled and gets to the charity stripe deserves some credit for that.

That’s where “points per shot attempt” (or PSA) comes in. The bottom line with this statistic is that free-throws (as well as three pointers) are counted in to give a better picture of how efficient a player is at getting points when he does shoot. It’s not a measure one should look at as the Holy Grail (no stat is, and besides, I’ve already got one) but it does help fill out a picture about a player’s contributions on offense.

Let’s look at this season’s Lakers. Grant leads the way at 1.24 PSA, but he’s only taken 58 shots all season. Among the Lakers getting regular playing time, Chucky Atkins (1.13) and Chris Mihm (1.12) lead the way — Atkins because of his threes and Mihm because he hits 52% of his shots (he’s only attempted one three pointer all season).

As for the guys the offense runs through, Lamar’s points per shot attempt is 1.10, Kobe’s is 1.08.

Those numbers are pretty ordinary. For some comparison, on the high end of PSA among “name” players are Amare Stoudemire and Steve Nash of Phoenix, both at 1.23. Dirk Nowitzki is at 1.16 and Shaq is at 1.17. On the low end of the scale, Tim Duncan is at 1.07 (but he brings a few other things to the table). Atkins’ 1.13 PSA is the 47th best in the NBA so far this season. Lamar is 70th, and I didn’t feel like counting down to find Kobe.

The bottom line, it would help if the Laker stars were a little more efficient. But we’ve been saying that all year.

As a historical side note, one of the top PSA players of all time is Magic Johnson. His career average PSA of 1.22 is eighth best all time, and the highest of any player in the Hall of Fame.

Whither Devean

 —  January 24, 2005

According to Joel Meyers and the Los Angeles Times this morning, Devean George should be back on the roster within a week.

He’s a familiar face that will make a lot of Laker fans happy, but not me — I’ve never been a big George fan. I think right now they are getting more out of Jumaine Jones coming off the bench than they will from George. Plus, the return of George presents two other questions: Who goes on the IR to clear room for him? What about the glut at small forward — can we trade Devean, or Luke Walton?

First, let me explain that I think George is one of those players who has the reputation and — thanks to hitting a few key shots — gives the perception that he is better than he actually is. Last season, George’s PER was 11.53 (the league average is 15), his opponents PER was 15.2, his Roland Rating was +0.4 (meaning that averaged over 48 minutes, the team was about the same with him on or off the court) and his eFG% was 46.5% (right about the league average of 47% last season). Lest you think that was a one-year aberration because of Karl Malone’s presence (or any other reason), George’s PER in the 2002-03 season was 11.35, his Roland Rating was +.1 and his eFG% was 44%.

Those are pretty pedestrian numbers. For comparison, this season Jumaine Jones (who has taken over the first small forward off the bench role) has a PER of 14.53, an opponents PER of 12.8, an eFG% of 56.1% and leads the team in Roland Rating at +13.6.

While I may not think much of George, he appears to have a good reputation around the league, which makes him good trade bait. With the Lakers’ glut at the three, they need to trade at least one small forward, and I would put George at the top of the list of people to move. The question is what they can get for him — I’d personally settle for a first-round draft pick next season (the Lakers would be without one if they make the playoffs) and a scrub/salary filler if needed. As we have discussed before, while the Lakers need to get a point or a four in a trade, I’m not sure there’s anyone they can get for George or anyone else.

In the short term, who will go off the roster to make way for George? The logical choice is Tony Bobbit, who was activated when Kobe went on the IR but has never seen the court. The problem there is if Butler or another guard is injured, the Lakers will be very thin in the backcourt. The other option is to put one of the two forwards not seeing court on IR time to make way — Luke Walton or Slava Medvedenko. To me, this makes more sense in terms of the numbers game, but it would be a shame to see one of two guys itching for their chance to be put on the shelf.

Basketball and Doug Pappas

 —  January 22, 2005

One simple and easy way to see what teams are choosing their players and spending their money well is to divide the number of wins into the money spent on payroll.

Kevin Broom over at Real GM has done that, and here’s what he found.

1. Phoenix Suns $680,040
2. San Antonio Spurs $740,041
3. Seattle Supersonics $870,239
4. Cleveland Cavaliers $981,325
5. Washington Wizards $992,984
14. LA Lakers $1,468,112

28. Portland Trail Blazers $2,484,539
29. NY Knicks $2,719,063
30. New Orleans Hornets $4,977,440

This can be used for any sport and can tell you a few things. But the late, great Doug Pappas went one better with “Marginal Wins per Marginal Dollar. (Pappas’ “Business of Baseball” was one of the first sports blogs I started reading regularly and his is one voice that has not, and maybe cannot, be replaced.)

Let me explain his concept, as applied to basketball: Let’s say the biggest idiot you work with (I know, there’s a lot to choose from) was given control of an NBA team. Said person is cheap and doesn’t care about winning (insert your Donald Sterling joke here). Well, the NBA not only has a soft salary cap, they have a salary floor (this season that’s $32.9 million). What’s more, as bad a team as your coworker fields, they’ll probably win about 10 games, only one NBA team has ever done worse.

Pappas figured that to calculate wins per dollar from the worst that could be expected was a better way to figure who was spending wisely than just the basic system seen above. He was right.

And Kevin Broom deserves some courtside seats next to Jack for pulling together Marginal Wins per Marginal Dollars for this season as well (using the league minimum payroll and a 10-win pace).

Thing is, you see a lot of the same teams so far this season:

1. Phoenix Suns $207,000
2. San Antonio Spurs $263,812
3. Seattle Supersonics $400,334
4. Cleveland Cavaliers $405,692
5. LA Clippers $419,676
14. LA Lakers $955,636

27. NY Knicks $2,512,677
28. Atlanta Hawks $2,906,998
29. New Orleans Hornets $20,583,951

(As a side note, the expansion Charlotte Bobcats were not included in this because they are allowed to operate under the salary minimum this year.)

Still, it tells you that most of the top teams in the NBA don’t spend their money blindly — they are looking for value. That’s what smart owners in any sport do. I’d also argue that NBA “moneyball” stats can help a team do that more efficiently.

On Tap: The Golden State Warriors

 —  January 21, 2005

Didn’t we just watch this game?

Actually, tonight’s game should not be a repeat of last Saturday’s for a couple of reasons. The key one is that Jason Richardson has returned to the Warrior lineup, and did so with a vengeance against Denver Monday, scoring 42. The Warriors are a jump-shooting team (71% of their shots come from 15 feet or more) and they don’t shoot well as a team, but Richardson does (48% eFG%). Richardson has the best PER on the Warriors by far, 18.59.

His return gives the Lakers some serious match-up trouble tonight. Speedy Claxton and Richardson will start in the backcourt, then Derek Fisher — he of the 29 points last game — comes off the bench. Atkins (and Brown) will struggle with Claxton and we’ll see if Butler can hang with Richardson. Sasha’s been getting minutes with Kobe out, but he may be overmatched one-on-one against any of the main three in the Golden State backcourt. The Lakers are going to need Chris Mihm and Odom to slow any penetration and block a few shots, but without getting in foul trouble. Some zone defense may help as well.

Odom really took charge of the offense for the Lakers last game against Golden State, including hitting the shot over Robinson to win it. However, last game he saw one-on-one defense almost exclusively, let’s see how he and the rest of the team handles the double teams that will come.

The Lakers are going to need a good games from Odom and Atkins if they are going to attack the Warriors’ defensive weaknesses (based on oPER). Last Saturday, they were the Lakers two leading scorers. If Atkins plays the kind of all-around game we saw against Minnesota, things may bode well for the Lakers. Also, this is a game where Mihm should be able to get some points inside.

Every game the Lakers win with Kobe out helps not only in the playoff chase but also in team confidence. Tonight can be another step down that road, especially with more difficult games against Seattle and New Jersey looming next week.

Carlos Arroyo Not Coming West

 —  January 21, 2005

For those of you who have been lusting — or if that’s too strong a word, lets say drooling — over the prospect of Carlos Arroyo in a Laker uniform, you’re dreams are not coming true. Same with those dreams about Eva Longoria, but that’s a different matter.

As first rumored by Peter Vecsey in the New York Post today Arroyo has been traded to Detroit in a swap for Elden Campbell and a first-round pick. This isn’t a surprise, Utah wanted both a big guy to grab boards and get rebounds in the paint, plus some cap flexibility, and they get that. At first glance this deal gives the Pistons some depth at the point, but not having Campbell to body up and foul Shaq in the playoffs may come back to haunt Detroit.

I think Mitch would like to make a trade for a point, maybe a four, but there just are not good options out there for him.

The Other Bryant

 —  January 21, 2005

Sometimes I think we forget that Kobe is a second-generation NBA player, his father a 76er back in the 70s who went on to play eight years in Italy. Basketball-reference says similar players to him now are Hedo Turkoglu or Detlef Schrempf.

Jellybean is still on the court today, coaching the Boston Fury of the ABA (one of the minor leagues floating around out there). At age 50, he even played a few games for his team and averaged almost 20 points and 5 rebounds per contest.

There’s a nice story in today’s Providence Journal about him.

I hope his team sticks it out. For those who haven’t followed the ABA — and my guess is that’s most of you (I have just by reading the papers in Long Beach) — here’s a brief run down: The league was resurrected a few years back, complete with the red, white and blue basketballs and some rules designed to generate high-paced, high scoring games. Last season, the Long Beach Jam won the title but — in a sign of the financial struggles of the league — it almost didn’t come back for this season.

In a business decision rivaling New Coke, the ABA’s owners decided heading into this season the best way to deal with financial uncertainty in the league would be rapid expansion. The ABA grew from eight teams last season to 37 this season, including one at the Forum in Inglewood and one in Orange County that never had a home. The whole thing went about as well as you can imagine — already a number of teams have folded, including Orange County. Team owners have serious regrets. The league, at least in this form and likely in any, will not be back next year.

Somehow, I still think Jellybean will land on his feet somewhere. And will land on a basketball court.

A Better Stats 101

 —  January 20, 2005

Kevin Pelton, one of the people at the forefront of the new statistical wave is basketball and the guy behind the official Seattle Supersonics Web site, has put together a “Statistical Analysis Primer” that blows my Stats 101 out of the water.

His has a few more equations than my attempt (I intentionally went for a Stephen Hawking write-a-math-book-without-the-equations style) but he has better, cleaner explanations and not so many equations that your eyes will glaze over if you hated math.

If you didn’t hate math, in fact you enjoyed it and like the idea of applying it to basketball, check out the APBRmetrics discussion board. I belong there but post rarely — one should know when one is not the smartest person in the room and just try to learn. Great discussions going on over there.

And, if you want to read some random stats applied to blogs, there’s this bit, which ends up comparing this site to Dirk Nowitzki.