TrueHoop: Dirk Nowitzki

Steve Nash's bite-free soccer match

June, 26, 2014
Jun 26
12:54
AM ET
By Christopher Chavez
Special to ESPN.com
Archive
NEW YORK -- On the eve of the NBA draft, Dirk Nowitzki, Wilson Chandler and Steve Nash traded in their dunks for cleats at Sara D. Roosevelt Park in New York City for the seventh annual Steve Nash Foundation Showdown. Nash, who grew up playing soccer in Canada, scored a goal in the first few minutes and never looked back as his squad defeated Nowitzki’s 10-7.

After running up and down the soccer pitch, the three players can rest tomorrow and watch the United States take on Germany for a spot in the round of 16.

“I think it’s going to be a German win,” Nash said. “I think the United States is going to play great to put up a battle. Let’s hope it’s close enough that they get though.”

Germany failed to qualify for the 2012 Summer Olympic Games in London in both soccer and basketball, but Nowitzki has played for the German national basketball team since 1997. One year later, he declared for the NBA Draft and made himself at home in Dallas since.

“Hopefully it’s a tie and both teams get to go through,” Nowitzki said. “That’s what I’m pulling for, but when push come to shove, I’ll obviously pick Germany.”

Chandler is only following the United States team during the World Cup. The Denver Nuggets forward has not lost hope after Portugal scored in the 95th minute to steal a victory from the Americans.

“I think we’ll win 4-3,” Chandler said. “Last game, I was in the airport while on my way here. I turned my back for maybe 30 seconds when it was 2-1 and everyone went crazy because Portugal scored. I turned around was like ‘Ohhh no.’”

Chandler has yet to see the clip of Luis Suarez of Uruguay biting Italian defender Giorgio Chiellini, but remembers a similar incident involving teeth and playing defense against the Golden State Warriors in 2010.

“When I was with the Knicks, we played against David Lee and the Warriors,” Chandler said. “At one point during the game, we both tried coming down for a rebound and my tooth ended up in his elbow. That’s the closest to biting in the game.”

Nash has never experienced the wrath of teeth in the NBA.

“It’s tough. Athletes live on the edge,” Nash said. “ They have to be emotionally under control and that can be difficult. Unfortunately, he’s done it a number of times.”

Fans still swarmed Nowitzki after a game where he kicked more soccer balls out of the park than on goal. Nowitzki chuckled at the mention of Suarez after the game.

“That was a little aggressive,” Nowitzki said. “Thankfully, I’ve never been bitten before.”

Mike Dunleavy, Jr. of the Chicago Bulls did not play, but sat on the sidelines offering words of encouragement to members of Nowitzki’s squad. When asked if a championship title was in the line and there was a guarantee that he would not get caught, he may be OK with biting.

“I’ve never experienced biting in the NBA, but there are a lot of other weird things that have been done and I can’t get into,” Dunleavy said. “I’d also do anything I have to in order to win.”

Several fans in the stands and on the sidelines wore white T-shirts with black bold letters that read ‘Bite-Free Game.’ No players were bitten. No red cards were handed out, although Nowitzki fell to the ground once and contested with the referee.

Nash remained undefeated in his own tournament. More importantly, several NBA players looked to develop awareness for soccer in America with a friendly match in New York City.

“Soccer needs time,” Nash said. “Basketball didn’t grow overnight. Tradition took time to develop over 20 to 30 years and it’s grown every year since.”

LeBron James vs. Father Time

August, 28, 2013
8/28/13
1:44
PM ET
Strauss By Ethan Sherwood Strauss
ESPN.com
Archive
As Charles Barkley is so fond of saying, Father Time is undefeated. It’s obviously true that age eventually beats the great athlete, but decline isn’t so linear. For a while, careers fall into a holding pattern, where learned skill compensates for diminishing athleticism.

The talent leaves the athlete’s body as he learns how best to use his talent. As the game slows down, the body slows down too. It's a race. Sometimes, his diminished quickness can even inspire a more versatile, unstoppable approach.

In 2010-11, Dirk Nowitzki wasn't nearly as mobile as he was a half-decade earlier. The younger Dirk was also statistically better during the regular season, often leveraging an overwhelming advantage against overmatched opponents. Dirk was incredible in his late 20s, but he wasn’t unguardable, and he met his Waterloo in the playoffs.

In his 30s, Dirk learned to master offense out of the high post. Though slower than in his prime, he gained a facility with passing out of double teams. Dirk wasn’t quite the individual offensive force we saw in 2006, but there was no way to shut down or even fluster the older gentleman. That’s why he hoisted the trophy long after many had written him off as perpetually cursed or soft.

We’ve seen a similar process play out with the guy who won titles after Dirk. LeBron James probably isn’t quite the athlete he was with the Cavs. These days, he more than compensates for what he’s lost with an improved outside shot and, when needed, a violent post game. I’d hazard that losing to Dirk in the 2011 NBA Finals helped inspire this growth.

To be clear, LeBron James, at age 28, is still one of the fastest, most powerful forces in sports. If his athleticism has waned, it didn’t wane enough to spare Jason Terry last season. This is a matter of degrees, a step here or there.

One thing I’ve noticed is that LeBron almost never dunks out of a half-court drive anymore. This used to be a common feature of his game. For example, this half-court drive situation accounts for 10 of the dunks in his top 20 dunks of 2008-09 YouTube compilation. Based on the play-by-play records from that season, there were likely more.

Kevin Garnett famously felt the wrath of LeBron’s half-court drive. So did Luol Deng and Tim Duncan. So too, did the Detroit Pistons.

I went through video of LeBron's 419 restricted-area baskets from last season, and found only six such plays. He did it in December against the Magic, twice in January against the Bulls and Lakers, thrice in March against the Bucks, 76ers, and Pacers. There were also three unassisted dunks when LeBron wasn't quite driving from the far out perimeter (Blazers, Lakers and Magic). In the playoffs, LeBron uncorked a nice perimeter driving dunk against Milwaukee, and we have the cool camera angle to prove it.

Again, these plays were once relatively commonplace. Subjectively, younger LeBron appears trimmer, quicker. He accelerates in the half court and semi-transition as though shoved by an invisible hurricane gust. The older version has ebbed on speed and gained on power.

LeBron doesn’t get to the foul line like he once did, but he still spends about as much time at the rim. A beautifully designed Heat offense finds him off cuts and in transition. He doesn’t have to generate his own offense like back when Larry Hughes was the second option. In 2012-13, more than half of LeBron’s buckets at the rim were assisted. In 2006-07, roughly one-third of such shots were assisted by teammates.

Credit the King for knowing how to expertly use his improved offensive help. If young LeBron bluntly imposed himself on the game, older LeBron has truly mastered it. The world’s greatest player just submitted his most efficient season. He shot an unprecedented 64 percent in February. If he lacks a bit of that old burst, nobody misses it yet.

Today's LeBron James is showing the effects of age. For now that doesn’t matter because improved skills and an improved situation have outpaced natural physical decline.

We’ll never see Hall of Famers like LeBron and Dirk combine what they learn over an entire career with what they can do at their absolute athletic peaks. Youth is wasted on the young, as it’s said. We’re fortunate to get the next best thing, to see the greats improve overall, in spite of what age steals.

Right now, Dirk is losing his battle with age. For now, LeBron is winning.

Roy Hibbert is the Pacers MVP

May, 29, 2013
5/29/13
1:15
AM ET
By ESPN Stats & Information
ESPN.com
Archive
Roy Hibbert has been the difference for the Indiana Pacers.

The Pacers took advantage of their size advantage down low, primarily with Hibbert, in Game 4.

Roy Hibbert
Hibbert
The big man had 23 points and 12 rebounds in the Pacers’ Game 4 victory. Hibbert joins Dirk Nowitzki (2011 NBA Finals) as the only players with at least 20 points and 10 rebounds in three straight postseason games against the Heat in the “Big 3” era.

The Pacers did a better job of getting the ball to Hibbert in the post. He scored 14 points on 6-of-10 shooting on post-ups in Game 4 after going 5-of-13 on post-ups with 17 points in the first three games of the series combined.

Hibbert has scored 20 points in the paint in each of the Pacers’ wins this series. In the two losses, he has 22 total paint points. He’s shooting 20-for-28 in the paint in the two wins, including 10-for-13 in Game 4, and 13-for-30 in the two losses.

After LeBron James’s game-winning layup with no time remaining in Game 1 came with Hibbert off the court, there’s been a lot of talk about Hibbert’s impact around the basket on the defensive end.

The Pacers took Hibbert out of the game for the final seconds of the first half in Game 4, and again LeBron took advantage with a drive to the basket for a layup.

LeBron has driven to the basket 18 times with Hibbert on the court this series. On those 18 drives, he has five points on 1-for-3 shooting and has passed the ball 11 times.

With Hibbert off the court, LeBron has scored 11 points on 5-for-6 shooting with three passes on 10 drives.

Hibbert wasn’t the only Pacers player who played tough in Game 4. As a team, the Pacers focused on limiting LeBron in the post. LeBron was 1-of-6 on post-ups in Game 4 after shooting 5-of-9 with 14 points on post-ups in Game 3. LeBron was double-teamed on three of his field-goal attempts in the post in Game 4, compared with only one attempt in Game 3.

Winning the battle down low may be the key for the rest of the series for Hibbert and the Pacers.

Celtics paint-ing nice picture without Rondo

February, 8, 2013
2/08/13
12:04
AM ET
By ESPN Stats & Information
ESPN.com
Archive

ESPN Stats & InformationThe Celtics have sandwiched two six-game win streaks around a six-game losing streak.
Kevin Garnett went over 25,000 points for his career; more importantly, the Boston Celtics continue to win without All-Star point guard Rajon Rondo.

Thursday’s 21-point win over the Los Angeles Lakers extends the Celtics’ win streak to six games (matching their longest streak of the season), and all six wins have come since Rondo went down with a season-ending knee injury on Jan. 25.

In their last 18 games, the Celtics have two six-game win streaks around a six-game losing streak. According to the Elias Sports Bureau, they are the first team in NBA history in an 18-game stretch to win six straight, lose six straight then win six straight games.

On Thursday, Boston did a lot of its damage close to the basket. The Celtics made 21-of-35 shots inside of five feet, their third-most field goals made from that distance this season. Entering Thursday’s game, the Lakers were allowing 35.6 points inside of five feet, the fifth most points allowed per game.

As for the Lakers, they were playing their first game since Pau Gasol injured his right foot on Tuesday. It’s doubtful he would have made a difference, but the Lakers are a .500 team with Gasol (18-18) and now 5-9 without him.

Kobe Bryant scored a game-high 27 points, but did not have an assist -- only the third game this season he did not have one (Lakers are 0-3 in those games).

The Lakers are 8-17 on the road this season, and have lost 13 of 15 road games against teams currently .500 or better.

As for Garnett, he joins Bryant and Moses Malone as the only players in NBA history who did not go to college to score at least 25,000 points. What's more impressive is that Garnett is the first player in NBA history with: 25,000 points, 10,000 rebounds, 5,000 assists, 1,500 blocks and 1,500 steals.

Thursday night game bullets

February, 1, 2013
2/01/13
1:25
AM ET
Arnovitz By Kevin Arnovitz
ESPN.com
Archive
With Stephen Curry and Dirk Nowitzki not dressed, and the Grizzlies waiting on Tayshaun Prince and Ed Davis, the Memphis-Oklahoma City and Dallas-Golden State games didn't reveal anything monumental, but there were still a few takeaways from the action:
  • Russell Westbrook likes his basketball piping hot, and that often elevates his game. But leading by 25 points in the second half, Westbrook needs to know how to calculate the cost-benefit analysis of melting down over what he termed after the game "a miscommunication." Let's say for argument's sake that Thabo Sefolosha hung Westbrook out to dry in the lane, or mistimed his cut which, as a consequence, brought a Memphis help defender to Westbrook as he tried to post up Jerryd Bayless. What possible good is derived from a tantrum? Perfectionism can be an admirable trait for a professional, but is there any part of Westbrook's game that suggests he's a perfectionist?
  • Big guys with skills demand attention, and in that regard Andrew Bogut is already helping the Golden State Warriors' half-court offense, even in limited minutes and even with Curry on the bench in street clothes. A small squad like the Kaman-less Mavericks needs to send help when the Warriors post up Bogut who, even as he shook off the rust, had the wherewithal and vision to either avoid the second defender by gathering quickly then getting into his move for the lefty flip shot, or kicking the ball out if the rotation left an opening on the perimeter or hitting a baseline cutter. (In the second half, when Bogut was visibly exhausted, the Dallas Mavericks opted to play him one-on-one.) Then, of course, there was the defensive end, where Bogut challenged Dallas at the rim. Second-half blocks of Shawn Marion and Brandan Wright at point-blank range were just two of several Bogut-influenced defensive possessions for the W's. On the botched Dallas possession with the game in the balance, Bogut stepped up from the back line to help on a driving O.J. Mayo, then dashed back to Wright when the ball was delivered to Marion. A second later, Marion's zippy baseline pass to Wright underneath would've produced a layup. Instead, Bogut punched the ball away and it landed in Jarrett Jack's hands going the other way. Andrew Bogut: defensive closer.
  • It’s almost always smart to leave a productive player on the floor with two fouls in the first quarter. And it’s equally smart if you’re the opposing team to attack that player and force him to defend. Two possessions after Klay Thompson picked up his second foul midway through the first quarter, Mayo rejected a ball screen from Elton Brand, assuring that Thompson, his defender, would stay with him as he dribbled left. Mayo went right at the body of Thompson, who was whistled for his third foul seven and a half minutes into the game. Jackson again kept Thompson on the floor with foul trouble in the third, when the second-year sharpshooter picked up foul No. 4 midway through the period. Thompson didn't foul again until the final minute of regulation.
  • Future Golden State opponents: When a Warrior sets a down screen for a shooter, chances are that screener is about to streak to the basket once he finishes the business of freeing up his teammate. The Warriors are moving off the ball offensively as effectively as any team in the league this side of San Antonio, and it's one of the primary reasons Thompson is finding clean looks all over the court.
  • With Jason Kidd, the Mavericks ran an efficient quasi-system that allowed intuitive players who had been together for a while to find shots for one another off reads. This season, the Mavs have some good quality parts, but the collection as a whole is a bit disparate. Darren Collison isn’t Kidd and you sense he could use an offense that’s a tad more organized, though down the stretch their flow produced some quality shots, several off penetration. Not every set needs to be commandeered on the sideline, but a little more structure would do this group some good -- even the vets.
  • The first half ended on a bizarre series. Vince Carter launched a corner jumper with about 22 seconds to go before intermission. On his landing, he appeared to slip and came up with a gimpy right ankle. With the shot clock turned off, the Mavericks reset for a final possession. Confident that Carter was essentially a nonentity nursing himself in the right corner, Harrison Barnes essentially ignored Carter, collapsing instead on Elton Brand, who’d flashed to the paint just inside the foul line. All alone in the corner, Carter made a sharp cut along the baseline to the rack, where Brand found him for a massive jam. Was it a bald-faced decoy by Carter?
  • Seven games of Grizzlies-Warriors would be like a prestige cable drama.
  • The high pick-and-roll way up top has become so prevalent that it seems odd when teams run a ball screen at the elbow, an action that was commonplace eight years ago but now almost feels exotic.
  • Oklahoma City will run the Westbrook-Kevin Durant pick-and-roll, but Westbrook far prefers to feed Durant an entry pass in the post, and that’s often what transpires on this call. Truthfully, it doesn't make much difference because Durant will generally succeed either which way.
  • Westbrook was a handful for Bayless, who competes but isn’t a gifted defender. Bayless chose to run under ball screens and Westbrook made him pay repeatedly. Bayless also cheated off Westbrook on a few occasions to put himself in position to help on Durant, but that also produced uncontested attempts for Westbrook.
  • Serge Ibaka runs the floor these days in transition with a finer-tuned sense of timing. He always has been quick and willing to make a rim run, but he wasn’t always mindful of that invisible yarn that existed between the ball handler at the controls of the break, and himself.

Nowitzki, Mavericks 'post' win streak

January, 18, 2013
1/18/13
4:31
PM ET
By Sunny Saini, ESPN Stats & Information
ESPN.com

Glenn James/NBAE/Getty ImagesDirk Nowitzki's improved play in the post has helped the Mavericks to a four-game win streak.
The Dallas Mavericks are in danger of missing the playoffs for the first time since the 1999-2000 season, but they’re riding a four-game winning streak into tonight’s game against the Oklahoma City Thunder (ESPN, 9:30 ET).

During the win streak, they’ve slowed down their pace just a bit and increased their offensive efficiency, to a level that’s better than the Thunder’s league-leading efficiency this season.

They’ve also improved their defensive efficiency by more than five points per 100 possessions -- they were 25th in the league before the win streak and are sixth during it.

A lot of the Mavericks’ offensive woes were due to struggles in their half-court offense. They’ve increased their half-court scoring from 0.85 points per play before the streak to 0.95 in the past four games -- that would rank fifth in the NBA this season.

Dirk Nowitzki’s impact
Dirk Nowitzki has played only 13 games this season but the Mavs have been rolling as he’s looked more like himself. He’s averaging 33.5 minutes per game in his past four, up from 26.6 in his first nine games, and has cut his turnovers per game by more than half.

During their four-game win streak, the Mavericks have made an astonishing 32-point improvement per 100 possessions with Nowitzki on the court, with similar improvements on both the offensive and defensive ends.

Dirk’s improvement in his post play has been the catalyst for both him and the team. He’s shooting 50 percent and averaging more than a point per play in the post during the streak, up from 36 percent and 0.75 in his first nine games.

Stat to Watch
Of the Mavericks' 40 games this season, the score has been within three points in the final 30 seconds 23 of them -- they are 7-16 in those games.

That includes the first meeting between these teams this season, in Nowitzki’s second game back. The Mavericks got a game-tying 3-pointer at the buzzer from Darren Collison to send it into overtime, but Russell Westbrook scored eight points in the extra session, outscoring Dallas by himself to give the Thunder a six-point win.

The book on Rick Carlisle

January, 18, 2013
1/18/13
11:11
AM ET
Arnovitz By Kevin Arnovitz
ESPN.com
Archive
Rick Carlisle
Rocky Widner/NBAE/Getty ImagesRick Carlisle: The pragmatist

Name: Rick Carlisle

Birthdate: October 27, 1959

Is he an emotional leader or a tactician?
A tactician. Carlisle inspires his team and staff with his deep knowledge of the game, not an emotional appeal. They know he’s passionate about winning and losing, but that’s conveyed through his intelligence and command, not huddle histrionics or heartfelt one-on-ones with players or coaches. Those who’ve worked with him, as well as colleagues around the league, marvel at Carlisle’s ability to manage the last five minutes of a basketball game.

Is he intense or a go along-get along type?
You’d be hard-pressed to find anyone in the NBA who would characterize Carlisle as lighthearted. He’s very intense, but he also knows how to corral that sharpness and doesn’t coach angry.

Does he rely on systems, or does he coach ad hoc to his personnel?
Give Carlisle the pieces, and he’ll find something that works. In Detroit and Indiana, Carlisle’s teams were defined by their defense and were all about controlling the possession on offense. He succeeded with both Stackhouse-Atkins and Billups-Hamilton backcourts in Detroit, all four guards decidedly different in styles and strengths. In Indiana, Jermaine O’Neal got the ball on the left block, and Reggie Miller curled off single-singles, stacks and staggered screens. In Dallas, Carlisle went away from play-calling in favor of something that relied on more general principles -- and the instincts of Jason Kidd and Dirk Nowitzki to put those principles into action. To the extent that there’s a commonality over the course of Carlisle's career, it’s “Find the right shot at the right time for the right guy.”

Does he share decision-making with star players, or is he the Decider?
Carlisle is the Decider, but he’s exceptionally good at giving his key players the sense that they own a piece of the enterprise. He takes in a lot of information -- from assistants, star players, owners, numbers guys and trainers -- and that knowledge will often guide his decisions. For instance, things weren’t so rosy in fall 2008 when the Mavericks came out of the gate 2-7. Kidd didn’t want every set being commandeered from the sideline and was pining for more freedom. Carlisle went into the lab with his staff, came up with the "push" offense, which gave Kidd the flexibility he needed, but still generated the right shot at the right time for the right guy. That often amounted to an early jump shot for Nowitzki in a prime spot.

Does he prefer the explosive scorer or the lockdown defender?
Carlisle has always appreciated who’s helping his team on the defensive end of the floor and feels confident he can find good shots for just about anyone -- even a defensive specialist like DeShawn Stevenson. In Indiana, Carlisle found plenty of minutes for Fred Jones, and in Dallas there has almost always been a Corey Brewer, James Singleton or Quinton Ross within close reach if needed for defensive duty. All that said, neither Corliss Williamson nor Jason Terry ever had to worry about losing minutes under Carlisle, who can recognize a well-tuned microwave when he sees one.

Does he prefer a set rotation, or is he more likely to use his personnel situationally?
Carlisle has no problem mixing things up when he identifies an opportunity. When his Pacers team needed to unclog the half court against the Pistons in a grueling conference final in 2004, Carlisle had Austin Croshere make his first start in two seasons to help the spacing. When his Mavericks team needed someone to attack the Heat’s defense off the dribble in the 2011 Finals, Carlisle inserted J.J. Barea into the starting lineup for the final three games of the series en route to an NBA championship. Throughout his tenure in Dallas, if a player has cracked the code in a regular-season game -- say Brandon Bass in a pick-and-roll with Barea -- Carlisle will gladly leave him out there to exploit an opponent’s defensive vulnerability.

Will he trust young players in big spots, or is he more inclined to use his veterans?
Again, Carlisle isn’t prone to personal bias. He wants the guy out there who can help him the most. The situation will dictate the personnel, regardless of a factor like age. In Indiana, the core apart from 38-year-old Reggie Miller was very young, and nobody used more possessions for him during his last season in Detroit than 24-year-old Rip Hamilton. Yet Dallas has largely been a veteran’s shop under Carlisle.

Are there any unique strategies that he particularly likes?
Carlisle might never fashion a trend in the NBA, but he’ll take a current one and perfect it.

The push offense isn’t so much an offensive system as it is solution to a problem. The 2008-09 Mavericks roster featured few players who could break a defense down with penetration and nobody who could be classified as a low-post threat. What Dallas had in spades were one- and two-dribble jump shooters and guys with astronomical basketball I.Q.s and other discernible skills like picking, diving and cutting. So Carlisle, with the aid of then-assistant coach Terry Stotts, devised a strategy to empower the team to find early high-percentage looks against an imbalanced defense.

As a general tactic, this wasn’t new -- several teams had abandoned structure for freedom, Mike D’Antoni’s Phoenix squads the best example. But unlike D’Antoni, Carlisle didn’t have a prober like Steve Nash, nor was his group in Dallas as speedy or stretchy. The Mavs couldn’t run and shoot with abandon, but Kidd could orchestrate an aggressive offense that knew how to sniff out those clean, early looks. That often meant getting wings and big men behind plays into random pick-and-rolls, or pinning Nowitzki’s man early, or hitting Terry on the secondary break for a trailing jumper, or finding Josh Howard (later Shawn Marion) underneath a defense that’s collapsed after an early drag screen.

Given his conventional playbook at his previous stops, this shift to a more free-flowing offense seemed like a departure for Carlisle. But in time, we learned that Carlisle didn’t coach a deliberate, half-court game in Detroit and Indiana because he had a predisposition for it. He drew it up that way because his rosters necessitated more structure. When the circumstances in Dallas revealed themselves and he realized Kidd wasn’t Jamaal Tinsley or Anthony Johnson, Carlisle deftly adjusted to the talent around him and created something special.

Defensively, the Mavericks adopted an inventive zone defense strategy devised by Dwane Casey. They were the rare team that was able to effectively zone up after misses, and would actually employ both zone and man-to-man schemes within a single possession.

What were his characteristics as a player?
A plodding but an intensely hard-working shooting guard who was always prepared and stayed in impeccable shape. Curiously, he tallied only 3.5 rebounds per 36 minutes for a total rebounding rate of 5.4 percent -- one of the lowest in history for a guard his size. By all accounts, this wasn’t for a lack of effort, but a lack of hops.

Which coaches did he play for?
Carlisle played for Pine Tree State lifer Skip Chappelle at the University of Maine before transferring to the University of Virginia, where Terry Holland was the head coach. During his three years with the Boston Celtics, Carlisle came off the bench for K.C. Jones. Rick Pitino had Carlisle for a single season in New York. Carlisle finished his career as a player with New Jersey for Bill Fitch, who eventually offered him his first job on an NBA staff.

What is his coaching pedigree?
After being waived by the Nets, Carlisle got his start breaking down film under Fitch. In 1994, Carlisle joined P.J. Carlesimo's staff in Portland, where he worked alongside the legendary Dick Harter, the man responsible for the Bad Boy Pistons’ “Jordan Rules” defensive strategy. Harter had a tremendous influence on Carlisle, who ultimately adopted many of Harter’s principles in Detroit and Indiana -- strong base defense without much switching, few double-teams, help and rotations only when necessary and, above all, physicality. In 1997, Carlisle joined the coaching staff of former teammate Larry Bird in Indiana. Again Carlisle found himself on staff with defensive guru Harter. When Bird left the sideline in 2000, Carlisle was passed over for Isiah Thomas, but was tapped by the Pistons for his first head coaching gig. After two seasons in Detroit, Carlisle moved on to Indiana for four seasons before landing in Dallas in 2008 after a one-year sabbatical.

If basketball didn't exist, what might he be doing?
Working as a clinical psychologist.

Love, Nowitzki, Rose will be missed

October, 30, 2012
10/30/12
6:09
PM ET
By Ryan Feldman & Justin Page, ESPN Stats & Info
ESPN.com
Several star players could miss the start of the season with injuries. Let's take a look at why each player's team will miss them and why they won't miss them.

KOBE BRYANT

Why they will: The Lakers played 981 minutes without Kobe on the floor last season and saw a five-point swing in the wrong direction per 48 minutes while he was on the bench.

Why they won’t: Bryant has missed 103 regular-season games in his career. The Lakers have a .621 win percentage in those games, including 5-3 last season.

DERRICK ROSE

Why they will: Last season, with Rose in the lineup, the Bulls went 32-7. They scored 100.4 points per 48 minutes with Rose on the court compared to just 92.2 with him off the floor.

Why they won’t: Chicago went 18-9 (.667 win pct) in games Rose missed during the 2011-12 regular season. Excluding the Bulls, the Heat were the only team in the Eastern Conference that had a better win percentage than .667 last season.

KEVIN LOVE

Why they will: The Timberwolves are 5-38 without Love since he entered the league, including 2-18 in the last two seasons.

Why they won’t: They will. Last season per 48 minutes, the Timberwolves scored more points, shot better, had a better assist-to-turnover ratio, and had a +9.0 swing in rebound margin with Love on the court than they did with him off the court.

DIRK NOWITZKI

Why they will: Last season, the Mavs outscored opponents by 6.0 points per 48 minutes with Dirk on the court but were outscored by 8.4 points per 48 minutes with him off the court.

Why they won’t: The two key returning Mavs players, Vince Carter and Shawn Marion, both averaged more points per game in the four games Nowitzki missed last season than they did in the games he played.

AMAR'E STOUDEMIRE

Why they will: In 2010-11, Stoudemire averaged 25 points, eight rebounds and two assists per game with a 50 field-goal percentage, something that has been done 68 times in history. Assuming Tim Duncan and Shaquille O'Neal will be Hall of Famers, 66 of the other 67 seasons were by Hall of Famers.

Why they won’t: The Knicks were 14-5 in games without Stoudemire last season but just 22-25 with him. They scored more points and allowed fewer points per game without Stoudemire.

ANDREW BYNUM

Why they will: Andrew Bynum averaged more than 18 points and 11 rebounds per game last season. The 76ers haven't had a player with those averages in a season since Charles Barkley more than 20 years ago.

Why they won’t: Each of the 76ers' first 12 games are against teams that won fewer than 40 games last season. Seven of those games are against teams that finished below .500 last season.

RICKY RUBIO

Why they will: When Ricky Rubio tore his ACL on March 9, the Timberwolves were the No. 8 seed in the Western Conference with a 21-20 record. But after he went down, the Timberwolves lost 20 of their final 25 games and finished 12th in the West.

Why they won’t: Rubio was very inefficient creating his own offense last season. He averaged just 0.74 points per play, the fewest among the 176 players with at least 500 plays.

JOHN WALL

Why they will: John Wall is one of three players in history to average at least 16 points, eight assists and four rebounds per game in each of his first two seasons. The others? Oscar Robertson and Damon Stoudamire.

Why they won’t: Wall was not efficient as a pick-and-roll ball-handler last season. Among the 41 players to run at least 200 pick-and-roll plays, Wall averaged the fewest points per play (0.69).

MANU GINOBILI

Why they will: The Spurs went 28-6 (.824 win pct) and averaged 108.3 points per game with Ginobili in the lineup last season. Without him, their win percentage dropped to .688 and they averaged nearly 10 fewer points per game.

Why they won’t: The Spurs outscored opponents by 9.7 points per 48 minutes last postseason with Ginobili on the bench. With him on the court, that margin shrunk to +3.2.


Statistical support for this story from NBA.com.

Friday Bullets

October, 12, 2012
10/12/12
2:18
PM ET
Arnovitz By Kevin Arnovitz
ESPN.com
Archive

James and Durant deliver differently

June, 12, 2012
6/12/12
1:40
PM ET
By Ernest Tolden, ESPN Stats & Info
ESPN.com

Garrett W. Ellwood/NBAE/Getty ImagesJames attacked the basket far more than Durant, but Durant owned the perimeter this season.
Three-time NBA MVP LeBron James and three-time defending scoring champion Kevin Durant will go head-to-head in the NBA Finals (ABC and ESPN3, 9 ET), making it the 12th time in NBA Finals history that a matchup involved players who finished 1-2 in the MVP voting for that season.

James leads the Miami Heat into the Finals for the second consecutive season, making it his third-career Finals appearance overall. Durant will make his first-career Finals appearance, leading the Oklahoma City Thunder to the franchise’s first championship round since they were the Seattle SuperSonics in 1996.

As dynamic as these two prolific scorers are, they record their points in different ways. Let’s take a look at the breakdown of each player’s strengths and the history of the matchup.

Easy Baskets

During the regular season, James attacked the basket more than Durant. Among the 1,683 total points James scored, 37.4 percent occurred within five feet of the basket. Only 24.1 percent of Durant’s baskets were scored within that range.

Inside the paint, James was one of the league’s leaders. He recorded 12.2 points per game in the paint, the fourth-highest average among all players this season.

Perimeter Shooting

On the perimeter, Durant has the edge. Of his NBA-high 1,850 total points, 43.4 percent of Durant’s points were scored outside of the paint. By comparison, James only recorded 31.9 percent of his points from outside that area.

Also, Durant is the better pure shooter. From 15 feet and beyond, Durant connected on 42.5 percent of his field goals, trailing only Dirk Nowitzki (44.8) and Chris Paul (42.6) among players that ranked in the top 20 in scoring during the regular season.

The Real Help

James might play alongside former Finals MVP Dwyane Wade, but Durant has benefited the most from his team’s point guard play. Overall, 48.1 percent of Durant’s field goals were assisted during the regular season, compared to just 37.4 percent of James’ field goals.

Much of that was a result of Durant playing alongside All-Star guard Russell Westbrook. Although Westbrook isn’t viewed much as a distributor, he assisted on 171 of Durant’s field goals, the third-most assists by one player on a single teammate’s field goals in the NBA this season. Only Steve Nash (217 to Marcin Gortat) and Chris Paul (187 to Blake Griffin) assisted more of a teammate’s field goals.

History Dominated by James

Game 1 will be the 10th meeting between James and Durant, with the previous nine coming in the regular season. Durant holds the scoring edge with a 27.3 points average, but James has been more efficient from the field shooting 49.7 percent. Overall, James has dominated the most important category, winning seven of the nine meetings. The Heat and Thunder split the 2011-12 regular season series 1-1.

Pacers' starting five is punishing the Heat

May, 18, 2012
5/18/12
1:32
PM ET
By Ryan Feldman
ESPN.com
Archive

Michael Hickey/US PresswireThe Pacers starting five has given LeBron James and the Heat fits in the first three games.
The longer the Indiana Pacers can keep their starting five on the court, the better chance they have to eliminate the Miami Heat in the Eastern Conference semifinals.

Indiana’s starting five of Paul George, Danny Granger, Roy Hibbert, George Hill and David West has been the most successful five-man lineup in this year’s postseason. It has a better plus-minus, has scored more points and has a better rebounding margin than any other five-man lineup in the playoffs.

In eight postseason games, Indiana's starting five has outscored its opponents by 79 points and outrebounded them by 68.

During the regular season, George, Granger, Hibbert, Hill and West started just eight games together, and the Pacers were 7-1 in those games. They played just 229 minutes together and outscored their opponents by 72 points.

In the playoffs, they’ve already played together for 176 minutes, and the formula continues to be successful.

This postseason, Indiana’s starting five:

• Has more than double the second-chance points (70) of any other five-man lineup. (Second are the Lakers and Magic with 30.)

• Leads all lineups in points in the paint (152) and points off turnovers (58).

• Has outscored its opponents by 56 points in the paint (152-96), has 30 more second-chance points (74-44) and 18 more fast-break points (42-24).

When George, Granger, Hibbert, Hill and West were on the court in Game 3, they outscored the Heat 68-40.

The starting five shot 52 percent from the field (including 6-of-10 on 3-pointers) and outrebounded the Heat 32-15. That lineup held the Heat to 33 percent shooting from the field and 1-of-10 on 3-point attempts. They also outscored the Heat 13-0 on second-chance points.

Every other Pacers lineup was outscored by nine.

Since the 2008 playoffs, only four lineups have finished with a plus-minus that’s been as good as Indiana’s +79. Three of those teams reached the NBA Finals and two won the NBA championship, including the Mavericks’ lineup last year of Tyson Chandler, Jason Kidd, Shawn Marion, Dirk Nowitzki and Jason Terry.

Statistical support for this story from NBA.com.

Flop of the Night: Dirk Nowitzki

May, 1, 2012
5/01/12
11:39
AM ET
By Beckley Mason and Zach Harper
ESPN.com
Dirk Nowitzki
Brett Deering/Getty Images Sport
Dirk Nowitzki knows plenty of tricks when it comes to drawing fouls.

HoopIdea wants to #StopTheFlop. To spotlight the biggest fakers, we present Flop of the Night. You can help us separate the pretenders from the defenders -- details below:

Poor Derek Fisher.

Flopping in the playoffs is supposed to be his thing! But Monday night, Dirk Nowitzki showed Fisher a thing or two by convincing officials that the 6-foot guard actually chucked Dirk out of bounds in pursuit of a fourth quarter rebound.

Here he is pulling the same trick in last year's Finals.

Nowitzki is a master at drawing contact when looking to score and a master of conjuring the appearance of contact when he's going for a rebound.

With just three minutes remaining in Monday night's game, Fisher's foul put Nowitzki on the line for two shots to bring Dallas within one point of the Thunder. Of course, the Thunder went on to prevail thanks to eight straight free throws of their own, but moments like these show how flopping threatens the outcome of important games.

There's very little downside for Dirk to flop in that situation, no negative recourse other than that it might take him out of the play for a moment or two. But if he gets the call and can make the free throws, his team is two points closer to stealing home court advantage. As much as we respect the gamesmanship and skill of a player like Nowitzki, do we really want the most important games of the season decided this way?

When you see an egregious flop that deserves proper recognition, send us a link to the video so we can consider it for Flop of the Night. Here's how to make your submission:
  • Alert HoopIdea to super flops with the Twitter hashtag #FlopOfTheNight (follow us on Twitter here).
  • Use the #FlopOfTheNight hashtag in Daily Dime Live.
  • E-mail us at hoopidea@gmail.com

Killer Lineup: Dirk and the D

March, 21, 2012
3/21/12
1:44
PM ET
Arnovitz By Kevin Arnovitz
ESPN.com
Archive



Dallas Mavericks
PG Jason Kidd | SG Vince Carter | SF Shawn Marion | PF Dirk Nowitzki | C Brendan Haywood
Minutes Played: 154
Offensive Rating: 107.4 points per 100 possessions
Defensive Rating: 84.6 points per 100 possessions

How it works offensively
It would be insulting to call the Mavericks' offense rudimentary, but when you cue up the tape and watch a stream of possessions with this group of guys, one thing is so readily apparent:

They make basketball easy.

There's rarely a wasted movement or pass, and each time this Dallas unit crosses the time line, it has a singular purpose: It wants to extend your defense -- and it's going to use Dirk Nowitzki to do it.

It all starts with feeding Nowitzki at his favorite spot on the right side of the floor. Ever since Karl Malone retired, we've heard coaches and analysts refer to the "Karl Malone area" just off the mid-left post. Pretty soon, the "Dirk spot" off the right elbow will become commonplace for basketball commentators and geographers.

Most nights, the Mavs have a matchup advantage with Nowitzki, and they'll get him the ball promptly with either a quick entry pass or a pick-and-pop. Against more advanced defenses -- or just to switch things up -- Kidd will run a little misdirection on the left side (maybe with Shawn Marion), while Brendan Haywood frees up Nowitzki by pinning his defender with a down screen.

Once Nowitzki has the ball in his hands, he can feast on a shorter or less-capable defender. He'll bounce off his left foot, kick with his right and drain fadeaways from that spot all night.

Send a double-team at Dirk, and the gamesmanship begins. Nowitzki is 7 feet tall and he's been doing this basketball thing for a while now, so an extra defender doesn't faze him. Send that guy from the top of the floor, and Nowitzki will find Vince Carter or Kidd.

The Vinsanity ended a long time ago, but Carter is still capable of hitting a wide-open shot or attacking a rotating defender. As for Kidd, whose long-range shot is just beginning to reappear after its prolonged absence, he'll either attempt an open jumper or, more often, quickly identify where there's an opportunity.

Marion is the wild card on the floor for this lineup. After many seasons as a freakishly athletic curio with a wonky release on his shot, something interesting has happened -- Marion has become one of the more indispensable two-way players in the game in the half court. When Nowitzki creates defensive chaos for opponents, Marion is often the guy who will read the floor and exploit an opening. Sometimes, it's a backdoor cut along the baseline to the rim, where Kidd, Carter or Nowitzki will find him. Other times, Marion will rub his defender off a teammate at the left elbow, catch the ball on the move and finish.

There are plenty of other reliable options for this unit in the half court. They like to use a pick-and-roll on the left side between Kidd and Haywood, with Carter as a post option against smaller defenders. Haywood gets a few duck-ins because teams are often forced to rotate to Dirk from the baseline, or just choose to take their chances by playing off the center.

This unit still hasn't played 200 minutes together, as Haywood's playing time varies. Ian Mahinmi continues to develop, while Haywood has coped with a series of nagging injuries (he's currently suffering from a mild knee sprain).

How it works defensively
Just so we understand -- the best defensive unit in basketball includes a 38-year-old point guard, an aging Carter (who, even in his prime, never cared all that much about D) and Nowitzki?

Crazy as it sounds, that's right -- there isn't a lineup in the NBA that has played more minutes and given up fewer points per possession than this five-man unit.

So how does this work exactly?

Step 1: Assign Marion to the opponent's most important offensive facilitator -- whether that person is a point guard, slasher, sharpshooter or multitalented power forward. Marion is a lanky and intuitive defender who's hyperaware of where you want to go and how you want to get there. Those long arms shrink passing lanes to the size of a coffee stirrer and he's difficult to post up.

The luxury of matching up Marion one-on-one against the most dynamic player on the floor allows the rest of the Mavericks to stay at home as base defenders. This isn't a fast group, so there's not a lot of gambling and you'll rarely see a lot of aggressive fronting. What this unit does exceptionally well is communicate. Kidd is constantly scanning the floor for potential problem areas and will shout out instructions to Haywood the instant there's penetration.

Carter is an underrated post defender in the half court, and he's more than capable of bodying up against most wings. Size doesn't slump, so while Nowitzki might not earn a lot of votes for the NBA's all-defensive team, he's taller than most of his counterparts at the 4-slot. And though he might never be Kevin Garnett, Nowitzki's pick-and-roll defense is smart and efficient. He doesn't overextend himself jumping out and he's always thinking recovery.

Haywood isn't the planet's most aggressive pick-and-roll defender -- rather than a hard show, the Mavs' coverages seem to have Haywood defending those actions "flat" -- but his big body and long arms buy Kidd, Carter and Marion plenty of time to get back into a play. Haywood is also a quality rim protector who slides along the baseline with relative ease.

This unit will throw the occasional zone at an offense to stifle penetration, but its most defining characteristic is collective smarts. This lineup doesn't make many mistakes. Despite a lack of speed, they rarely foul and manage to amass a ton of turnovers by simply anticipating where the offense wants to go with the ball. When shots go up, fewer than one-fifth of them are collected by the offense for second-chance opportunities.

Come April, we constantly hear how it's the veteran teams -- not the most athletic ones -- that win rings. This unit of oldsters illustrates why.

The 2012 All-Flop Teams

March, 20, 2012
3/20/12
2:49
PM ET
Mason By Beckley Mason
ESPN.com
Archive
When Shane Battier, the patron baller of HoopIdea, called out former teammate Luis Scola for being one of the most accomplished actors in the league, it got us thinking: Who are the most egregious floppers around?

We asked the TrueHoop Network for help, and the result is our first ever All-Flop Teams.

FIRST TEAM

Chris Paul, PG: Paul quickly emerged as the consensus Most Floppy Player. As this video from Daily Thunder’s Royce Young shows, Paul is truly a fantastic two-way talent. Graydon Gordian elaborates, “I think Royce's video demonstrated two really distinct things Chris Paul does: (a) He stops dead in his tracks, backs up into a player who's behind him and then falls forward, and (b) he maintains possession of the ball and/or makes a pass while going to the ground. He doesn't lose the ball when flopping, which lots of guys do.”

Raja Bell/Manu Ginobili, SG: Controversial decision to include both of them here, but really these two have given so much to the game. Manu with his whiplash-inducing head thrashes as he drives to the basket and Raja Bell with his ability to be thrown backwards by the slightest of contact. Here’s the Raja-Manu mixtape of floppery.

Paul Pierce, SF: Pierce is another two-way player who isn’t afraid to artistically embellish any contact (real or imagined) with a sometimes ludicrous flourish.

Luis Scola, PF: Battier put it best: “The more hair you have, the better. My boy Luis Scola, he’s got that long hair and when it gets sweaty and he starts flopping and flailing, it looks like he’s getting murdered out there.”

Ben Wallace, C: Writes Patrick Hayes of Piston Powered: "Wallace is adept at going for rebounds in heavy traffic, but he also uses that traffic to his advantage. If a shot is missed and he doesn't have a great angle to get to it, he's patented a move where he jumps forward and lurches his body while simultaneously letting out a loud 'OOOPH,' which over the years has pretty regularly convinced officials he was pushed in the back. Often, video evidence suggests otherwise. Wallace's artful flopping on rebound attempts has been just another valuable skill he's brought to the Pistons that doesn't show up in his stats. Oh, and don't ever mention to him that he flops ... he doesn't like that.”

SECOND TEAM

Rajon Rondo, PG: Rondo’s habit of throwing himself into a defender 50 feet from the hoop and firing off a prayer as time expires isn’t why he’s a celebrated flopper. It’s because, as Brendan Jackson of Celtics Hub noted, he’ll fall over as a defense mechanism whenever he gets in trouble with his dribble, especially along the baseline. (Also receiving votes: Tony Parker, Derek Fisher, Deron Williams, Chauncey Billups.)

Jamal Crawford, SG: A unique flopper, as Kevin Arnovitz explains, “There's a reason Jamal Crawford holds the all-time NBA record for 4-point plays. As the sharpshooter elevates and releases his shot, he'll gracefully hinge his hips forward, kick his legs into his defender and often land on his tuchus in the process.” (Also receiving votes: Dwyane Wade, James Harden, Kobe Bryant.)

Corey Maggette, SF: Ethan Sherwood Strauss paints us a picture of a typical Maggette flop: “Two dribbles hoop-ward and he’s already leaning for contact. It’s an offensive foul, or at least it would be were it not for Corey’s sleight of hand. Somehow this ball of muscles flies backward from the 'contact.' It’s a visual trick -- Maggette uses an off arm to redirect his body movement. The ball? That thing’s flying into the stands, chased by the sound waves of Corey’s wounded animal bleat.” (Also receiving votes: Kevin Durant, Vince Carter, Nicolas Batum.)

Dirk Nowitzki, PF: Dirk is a do-it-all flopper. He can flop while driving, shooting, playing defense and rebounding, perhaps the most underrated facet of his flop game. Dirk may never jump higher than when he’s flying away from a rebound after a “nudge” in the back. (Also receiving votes: Blake Griffin, Pau Gasol, Tim Duncan.)

Reggie Evans, C: Evans has a reputation as one of the dirtiest players in the NBA, but don’t try any of that stuff on him. Reggie can induce whistles with the best of them, but only while doing the only things he does well on the court: setting screens, rebounding and exchanging elbows under the rim. (Also receiving votes: Marc Gasol, JaVale McGee.)


One thing you'll notice is that this list contains almost every great player in the league. That's not an accident, part of excelling in the NBA is being able to manipulate officials to benefit your team.

It's not that players are sneaky or devious, they're just pragmatic. The system won't penalize flopping and will sometimes reward it, so what's the downside?

So let's change the system. What kind of penalties for flopping would you like to see, and how would they be implemented?

JOIN THE CONVERSATION

You can give us your ideas and talk with us and other fans in the following places:
And for the truly ambitious: Shoot a short video of yourself explaining your HoopIdea, upload it to YouTube and share the link with us on Twitter or Google+.

From diamond to hardwood: lessons in data

March, 9, 2012
3/09/12
2:55
PM ET
Haberstroh By Tom Haberstroh
ESPN.com
Archive
Dirk Nowitzki
Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images
Dirk throwing out a World Series first pitch isn't the only crossover between baseball and basketball.

What’s happening now in the NBA happened to the MLB about five years ago.

There’s no denying that the basketball world sits on the brink of a data explosion. A good chunk of the basketball community -- NBA execs, writers, students, casual observers -- who attended this past weekend’s MIT Sloan Sports Analytics Conference in Boston left with a feeling of fiery anticipation of what’s on the horizon.

Thanks to an invasion of super-fancy technology and tracking devices like STATS LLC’s SportVU, the basketball community is on the verge of something big and scary and wonderful. SportVU is a camera system being installed in NBA arenas that will track every movement on the basketball court. The ball, the 10 players, the referees, flying bats, everything. All of it will be digitally tracked and the results will be spit out in a report that features about a million data points per game.

These are exciting times in the sport and there’s no question that it can feel daunting as well. But we’re not alone in this journey. Because about a half-decade ago, a tidal wave of data plowed through another sport, baseball, and it’s never been the same since.

There’s a SportVU already in place for baseball and it’s called Pitch f/x. Back in 2007, a similar technology that is crashing the hardwood already hit the baseball diamond and it has altered the way analysts, teams, writers and fans digested the so-called national pastime. Since then, other products from the Pitch f/x company, Sportvision, have arrived on the scene. Pitch f/x tracks pitches, Hit f/x tracks batted balls, and Field f/x tracks the player movement on the field.

Stat geeks -- and I say that with the utmost respect for fellow numerically-slanted brethren -- pounced on the data and tirelessly crunched the numbers so we could make fun charts that you see in the mainstream today. Or instead of looking at batting average rankings, we can now glance at FanGraphs to see which starting pitcher’s slider has the most horizontal movement. And that’s just what’s out in public.

But the data wasn’t useful for just the nerds. Nowadays, in the palm of your hand, fans can follow a Dodgers-Giants game and learn just how fast Tim Lincecum threw his blazing 0-2 pitch to Matt Kemp, precisely how many inches it broke before it reached the plate and where it hit the catcher’s mitt. Not only that, you can watch an animated trajectory of the pitch within a few seconds after the pitch is released from Lincecum’s hand. All on your handy smartphone.

We don’t have anything like that in the NBA, but if you’re looking into the future of the basketball, take a glance at what’s going on in the MLB. Depending on who you ask, it appears that the baseball world, at least in sheer volume of data and what they’re doing with it, is about 5-10 years ahead of the basketball world. We’re catching up though, thanks to SportVU, Synergy Sports Technology and other tracking services.

So what can we learn from the baseball world?

1. Patience is a virtue
After talking to baseball folks in and around the game, it’s imperative that we preach patience. The revolution will not happen overnight. Having the data and being able to do something meaningful with it are two very different things. And it takes time.

Consider this. According to SportVU, each game produces about 800,000 data points for every game. There are 1,230 NBA games played in a full 82-game season (remember those?). Use the trusty multiplication function on your calculator and you’ll discover that we’re talking 984,000,000 data points in a regular season. Throw in the playoffs and we’re getting into the trillions. And you thought the box score had a lot of numbers.

The lesson is that there will be times early on where ambitious writers can find trends on the spreadsheet surface and do something about it. Take for instance Fangraphs and ESPN Insider writer Dave Cameron, who wrote to the Mariners pitching coach and asked him to let Felix Hernandez know that he throws too many fastballs early on, something he discovered playing around with the data. And it worked. Cameron, through Pitch f/x data, actually altered Hernandez’ pitch selection. Something similar could happen with say, Kevin Durant and his shot selection, but it’s going to take months and possibly years before we get to that place.

2. Computer geeks are the new market inefficiency
There’s a reason why Mike Zarren, the assistant general manager of the Boston Celtics, actually announced to the audience during the Basketball Analytics panel at Sloan that he was looking to hire someone who can build and manage a database from scratch. This really happened. As expected, a stampede of super-smart computer programmers and SQL experts rushed over to Zarren after the panel. Zarren survived. I think.

These quants are in demand. More of this will happen in the NBA and that wave has already happened in baseball (just look at the alumni list of Baseball Prospectus and Hardball Times stats guys – several are with teams now). When Pitch f/x fell into their laps, MLB clubs scooped up computer geeks faster than you can say, “Troy Tulowitzki.”

Because when you look at it, there’s a five step process that NBA teams will adopt in the coming years: Acquire the data, harness the data, analyze the data, translate the data, apply the data. Those last two steps might be the trickiest but the first three tasks will be the jobs of computer geeks. Sure, we could come up with tons of fun, but mostly trivial superlatives (who throws the fastest fastball? Which center jumps the highest for rebounds?) just by sorting a column in the spreadsheet. But the more important stuff comes when you have geophysicists trying to build a model that can detect how Jamie Moyer’s arm angle changes for off-speed pitches (the Rays actually did this very thing prepping for the World Series).

3. The myth of scouts vs. stats
With this data in hand, soon we’ll begin to answer questions like: Who’s the best shooter when given a foot of space to fire off his shot? Who tallies the most hockey assists in the game? Who is the most frequent dribbler across the league? Who’s the slowest baseline-to-baseline player in the game?

We could dabble in those questions from now until the end of time, but really, what can you do with that information? With data analysts, we can answer the “what” part of the question, but often times, the “why?” part is the one that matters. Sure, it could be helpful to know who scores the most when entering the paint, but diagramming and preparing for that is what will end up changing the NBA landscape.

And in order to apply the kernels of data, there needs to be a conversation with the scouts and the coaching staff. When the rise of pitch f/x and data analysts didn’t make scouts extinct; they brought them closer together. If a computer geek discovers that Jonathan Papelbon’s curveball generates more swings and misses on the outside part of the plate, good luck trying to tell him how to pitch. That’s where the scouts and managers (or coaches) come in. If they don’t listen or embrace the data, then how will the team ever get any use out of it?

Quants won’t replace advanced scouts in the NBA, just like they didn’t in MLB. It’s all about the quest for information. That’s why at the Baseball Analytics panel at Sloan, the father of sabermetrics Bill James was probably just as eager to hear what former baseball player Rocco Baldelli had to say as Baldelli was to hear James speak. It's a two-way street. Every team seeks information in all shapes in sizes because every team craves that next competitive edge.

The NBA will look a lot different in 2017 when SportVU and other technologies take their place in the game. But as we’re learning in baseball, there will always be a seat at the table for both scouts and the stats. We’ll never have perfect knowledge of the sport, but with a wave of data in our sights, we’re probably moving in the right direction toward that unreachable ideal.

SPONSORED HEADLINES