LaMarcus Aldridge's Big Leap Forward
Kevin Arnovitz speaks to Blazers big man LaMarcus Aldridge about the new mood in Portlandia, Roy Hibbert's comments about Aldridge's post moves and teammate Damian Lillard's musical stylings.
Some jerk beat Chris Bosh to registering the domain www.chrisbosh.com. So Bosh went after the cybersquatter. All sorts of legal wrangling later, Bosh has won damages, his domain ... and a zillion other domains the same guy had been squatting.
There are nearly 800 names in the list, and Bosh and his internet consultant, Hadi Teherany of Max Deal, say they'll return them all to their rightful owners for free.
Which means a good chunk of the basketball world will be owing Bosh a favor. The list is thick with basketball players in the NBA, overseas, college and high school. There are also some football players, political sites, Britney Spears' child, singers, a site or two that sound raunchy, and the Mexican wrestler "El Octagon."
Just a few of the many NBA names on the list:
(Also on the list is AaronAfflalo.com, even though that Denver player spells his first name "Arron.") The vast list of names also includes instructions for athletes and celebrities to get their names back from Bosh, if they wish. Paging El Octagon ...
Happy Birthday, coach.
His family says they will celebrate quietly.
The tallest of his red-headed former pupils, Bill Walton, has written Wooden a heartfelt and funny letter full of memories and ... play-by-play of some of Walton's favorite new albums. He even implies that Bob Dylan's newest includes two songs Dylan wrote "specifically for" John Wooden. I read the lyrics of those songs -- and I'm sure Walton couldn't mean that literally.
By total coincidence, yesterday I bought a classic Wooden book: "Wooden: A Lifetime of Observations and Reflections On and Off the Court."
There are several great tales in there, but one really stuck with me.
Wooden, of course, is almost synonymous with UCLA. But here's the amazing thing. At the time he was offered the UCLA job, he was also in the running to become head coach in Minnesota, which was closer to home for him. There were some complications with the Minnesota position, though, which he wanted to get straightened out first. They said they'd call by 6 p.m. with the details of his final offer. UCLA was due to call at 7.
Minnesota didn't call, so when UCLA called, Wooden said yes to his second choice.
As he hung up the phone, it rang, and it was Minnesota. A blizzard had knocked out all the phone lines, so they had been unable to get through, but now they were offering everything he had asked for.
Had I been able to terminate my agreement with UCLA in an honorable fashion, I would have done so immediately. But I had given my word just a few minutes before.
If fate had not intervened, I would never had gone to UCLA. But my dad's little set of threes served me well: "Don't whine. Don't complain. Don't make excuses."...
I believe that things are directed in some sort of way. I'm not exactly sure how. I also believe that things turn out the best for those who make the best of the way things turn out.
Talk about making the best of it: John Wooden went on to lead UCLA to what may have been the greatest coaching run in college sports history.
On Friday, TrueHoop had a post about Kevin Durant's statistics sending conflicting messages. They show that Kevin Durant is literally among the very best players in the NBA, of any age. Other numbers show, however, that the Thunder have somehow been a lot better when their franchise player is ... not in the game at all.
Why? It's a mystery.
Kevin Durant didn't like the topic much, and tweeted over the weekend, apparently in response:
Everybody that is doubtin me as a player and my team as a whole..all i can say is that we all are tryin and workin our hardest!
What more do u want? let me be the player i am...i come to practice everyday..and push myself to my limit, God has put me n a gr8 position!!
I love all the REAL basketball fans who appreciate hardwork, passion and love for the game..and not jus "plus and minuses"...wateva dat is!
Kevin Durant, I feel your pain. The post might have seemed like an attack, but this is no tale of hate.
Keep it up. Kevin Durant's effect on his team hasn't been great in his first two years, but time is on his side.
(Layne Murdoch/NBAE/Getty Images)
Forget the parts of the article about what a hard worker and great teammate you are. Forget where I said I thought you would be a star. Let's get into the article's main point, and the news that might be hard to swallow.
Here's the deal: For two years, when you have been in NBA games, you have put up amazing numbers, but somehow your team has been better when you sat. When you have been out there, opponents have outscored your team pretty bad. When you sit, they don't outscore your team as much. That's what plus/minus is.
(The final score, by the way, is also plus/minus. If you play the entire game, and the team wins by twenty, you're plus-20. It's not one of those stats you want to ignore. Not when for two years it has been saying the same thing.)
Now, I hear you saying, hey, that's because I'm a starter and I play against the likes of LeBron James and Kobe Bryant, while many of my teammates with better plus/minus numbers play against scrubs. That's not it either, though. For one thing, all your fellow starters have better plus/minus numbers, some of them much better.
Also there's a way that some experts have of adjusting those plus/minus numbers for the quality of the competition you play against (and for your teammates). In your case, those adjustments don't change the picture much at all. We can argue about how those adjustments are made. People have different approaches, but in all of them your effect on the team looks just about the same as the raw plus/minus.
It might not feel like it, but if I were you I'd want to know more about this, not less.
Think of it as someone letting you know you have something stuck in your teeth before you go on TV. Nobody wants to hear that, but anyone who cares about you would tell you anyway.
If I were your coach, your GM, or anyone else really invested in a great Thunder future, I'd want to dig deep into this issue -- in there somewhere are the keys to a lot more Thunder wins.
Now, are we saying this means you're a bad player? Hardly. See the word "conundrum" in the headline? Nobody knows what the hell is going on. It doesn't make sense. You're blatantly one of the best prospects to enter the NBA this decade. But, for reasons that are something of a mystery, you have not helped your team.
To the Video
I love this debate, because what it forces us to think about is what actually gets results on the basketball court, as opposed to what seems like it ought to work.
Watching you play -- that length, that shooting, that talent -- we all see something that seems like it ought to work. What has been going wrong? That's really a question for your coach. Coaches know this kind of stuff.
There are a zillion different things that happen when your team has the ball: isolation, spot-up shooting, catching and shooting off a screen, posting up, cutting, offensive rebounding. You're good at all of those, and I've seen numbers to prove it.
But, in my experience, there's literally nothing NBA coaches talk about as much as the pick-and-roll. Running it, and defending it.
Thanks to Synergy Sports, I have spent the last three hours watching video of you in the pick-and-roll last year.
On offense, when you're the ball handler in the pick-and-roll, the numbers show you're not very effective. And the video makes clear why: The idea, of course, is for your team to get a good look. Your superpower, however, is to get off a decent shot even when you're covered.
The way you're running the pick-and-roll, it looks like you're relying a little too much on your superpowers. In short, those picks are not getting you open, which is reflected in a low field goal percentage and a high turnover rate.
If you were sitting right here next to me, watching video, I imagine Coach Scott Brooks' voice would ring in your ears. Sometimes you go around the screen lackadaisically, failing to make things hard for your defender at all. Sometimes you don't wait for the screen to arrive. Sometimes the screener is set up at one angle, and you drive at another, so the screen has hardly any effect.
But the end result of all of those is you, with the ball on the move, and not open at all. (You'd have been better off, in most cases, just isolating ... at least that way Nenad Krstic's guy wouldn't be in your grille, too.)
And when you're far from the hoop, on the move, with one or two guys on you ... you bust out the superpowers. I saw about a dozen examples from last season alone of you taking that double-team to the hole, where two more defenders are waiting, and you shoot one-on-four. (The fact that you make those sometimes is amazing, but more impressive is the shovel pass to the rolling Krstic, or, one day, the kick-out to the dead-eye teammate the Thunder don't have.)
More common than driving against four guys, though, is taking a mid-range jumper against two. You make this shot more than most, but nobody makes it much at all. Efficient offenses take as few of these as possible.
What's especially clear in this video is that teams are more than happy to use pick-and-rolls as excuses to double-team you hard. A lot of times, it works, as they have succeeded in forcing very tough shots.
The Defense Issue
All that talk about offense, in the original post and this one, is probably silly. The same statistics that show your team is not as good when you're playing also hint at why: When you play, the offense is a little bit worse. But the defense falls off a cliff. When you're playing, your team gives up 111 points per 100 possessions. When you're on the bench, they give up 103. That's one of the biggest gaps in the whole NBA.
Again to the video. And again, the Synergy Sports stats show you're good at most categories of defense, except the two most common ones: Making spot up shooters miss, and defending that darned pick-and-roll.
Every coach in every game, more or less, has different pick-and-roll defense strategies. There
are books and books on this stuff. Against certain kinds of players you go over. Against others you switch. Sometimes you can go under. You can also blitz the ball, or lock-and-trail ... this might be the major thing NBA coaches worry about.
What nobody ever recommends, though, is getting lost. When your man is the screener, there is an art to jumping out to slow down the ball handler, so your teammate can catch up to the ball handler. Once he's there, you have to scramble back to your man, who is usually on his way to the hoop.
The key is to spend as much time as possible guarding somebody. Get your body into the ball handler until the last possible moment, and then boom, explode back to your original guy, while making the pass as difficult as possible.
In executing this little maneuver, you tend to spend quite a lot of time guarding nobody. I could show you video of many plays when you never get close enough to really slow down the ball handler, but at the same time, your original man is also wide open. You? You're somewhere in the middle.
Other times you seem to be counting on your long arms to save you, either by playing for the block (letting someone drive, then swatting) or steal (instead of preventing the pass, trying to poke it away on the catch).
This is no crisis. I could fire up video of any NBA 20-year-old (as you were in this video) and see similar things.
Remember when Team USA lost to Greece in the World Championships a few years ago? The Greek team realized that LeBron James and Carmelo Anthony had not mastered defending the pick-and-roll, and exploited it all night. You're in good company.
I'm sure you'll work at this as you have so many other aspects of your game, and I'm sure with age, maturity, savvy and an ever-improving collection of teammates the results will turn around. But I wouldn't ignore this kind of stuff. The plus/minus numbers seem to be telling us that mastering the pick-and-roll, at both ends of the floor, is a key to winning.
In the meantime, realize this: What we have been talking about is how you have played at ages 19 and 20. What does that mean for how you'll play when you're 25? Nobody really knows. Maybe nothing.
But if I were you, I'd answer the critics like this: You're one of nine players in the history of the NBA to play heavy minutes and have a PER over 20 when you were just 20 years old. The others turned out all right. Your little club includes LeBron James, Magic Johnson, Shaquille O'Neal, Chris Paul, Spencer Haywood and the like.
It's not hard to imagine that one day they'll brag about being in that club with you.
Rumeal Robinson is the latest in a long line of former professional athletes to fall on financial hard times. People sometimes wonder how such a thing could happen. Here's one way, as reported by Gus Garcia-Roberts of the Miami New Times:
He made more than $5 million in NBA salary alone, but blew much of it on a strip club habit that would have made Pacman Jones blush. "He would go on binges of two whole weeks where he spent $20,000 a night at a strip club," says Barrows, his brother. "Not only that, but he'd also have a bunch of the strippers come back to his place, get buck naked, and clean his house for $500 or $1000 each."
There is almost no one like Kevin Durant. You can make a case he was the best freshman player in the history of the NCAA, and in the two years since he has only gotten better.
He's 6-9. He moves like a gazelle. No one can stop him getting his shot. He's a tremendous teammate and an unbelievably hard worker. He also just turned 21, but has already spent two years feeling out the superstar role.
There is almost no surer superstar prospect in the NBA, and yet for some reason Kevin Durant's team plays better when he's on the bench.
(Andrew D. Bernstein/NBAE via Getty Images)
For players his age, his scoring is top-five all-time.
Given that he's a half-decade from the age players typically start to peak, it's not hard to picture him becoming an MVP. The most respected single number to express a player's total contributions -- PER -- ranked him as the 20th best player last season, while projecting him to leap to fifth in what would be his senior year in college.
The expectations are now approaching ridiculous; the future the Thunder have been grooming Kevin Durant for has made some cameos, and he just spent an off-season marinating in his legendary work ethic.
NBA General Managers have selected Kevin Durant as the player most likely to have a breakout season, and he's everybody's pick to be the next player to join basketball's two most exclusive clubs: Team USA and the All-Star team. It's no surprise that Durant is on billboards and the covers of video games. (A surprise of the off-season was word that the Thunder won't be on national TV much; Durant has the trappings of a player the world will crowd around television sets to watch.)
And yet, a shocking piece of news: The Thunder have, over the last two years, consistently performed worse than normal when Durant is on the floor. Any way you slice the +/- numbers, he's one of the Thunder's worst players.
You read that correctly. Kevin Durant, uniformly regarded as an out-of-this-world NBA player, has been killing his team.
Sometimes +/- can punish players simply for being on bad teams, but this is more than that. Mavericks' statistical expert Wayne Winston's in-depth lineup data shows that every one of Durant's key teammates -- Russell Westbrook, Jeff Green, Nenad Krstic, Nick Collison -- gets better, in many cases far better, results playing with less heralded teammates Thabo Sefolosha or Kyle Weaver while Durant sits.
In fact, almost nobody on the Thunder has a +/- rating as poor as Durant's. Winston rates Durant's performance "in the lowest 10% of all NBA players."
An Assault on Conventional Wisdom
The first line of analysis, of any player, are real experts: People who assess talent for a living.
Three out of three I talked to shrug. If you are trying to tell me that Kevin Durant is somehow a terrible player, they say, go ahead. But don't expect me to listen to you.
They are unanimously emphatic that Durant is an absolute gem of a keeper. You can't teach size and mobility. It's hard to teach that kind of feel for getting the ball in the hole. There are times in games when nothing matters more than being able to reliably create your own shot and he already has that. The things he doesn't have -- and nobody denies they exist -- can and will be learned. Players who start their careers like Durant, and keep working, tend to improve dramatically, they say.
Meanwhile, the things that make him inefficient -- mediocre passing, forcing some shots, turnovers, not making teammates better, and of course bad defense -- are all things that improve not just with work but also with better teammates. With the mere passage of time, thanks to an armada of draft picks, cap space, and high-potential young players to develop with him, these things will get much better on their own.
Surrounded by better shooters, for instance, Durant would face fewer double teams and more assists, and less of a need to create for himself and turn the ball over. With better teammates, his team would score much more easily. On defense, meanwhile, veterans have a long track record of getting more consistent results -- the referees may be a factor, but probably even more important is the physical development that allows players in their prime to take nightly poundings and keep on fighting.
Those three experts all had different theories to to dismiss the +/- numbers:
Theory #1: Any player playing long minutes on a bad team would have a bad +/-.
This makes sense at first. Think about +/-. You're on the court when the team gets slaughtered, and you get a bad +/-. Kevin Durant plays a lot. The Thunder have been killed a lot. There's nothing to see here, right?
Russell Westbrook doesn't have nearly Durant's reputation, but he has had a much more positive effect on the Thunder.
(Larry W. Smith, NBAE via Getty Images)
As it happens, most Thunder players do have bad +/- numbers. But the Thunder perform particularly poorly when that one player is on the court.
In fact, the Thunder has plenty of lineups that perform well. "In most situations," reports Winston, "holding some things constant and putting Durant in makes things worse, not better."
The Thunder's big three, for instance, are Russell Westbrook, Kevin Durant, and Jeff Green. Last season, in the 387 minutes Westbrook and Green were on the floor without Durant, the team outscored opponents by a dozen points. In the 1,683 minutes all three of them were on the floor together, they were outscored by 245 points.
Combinations of Green, Westbrook and Nenad Krstic -- without Durant -- are uniformly good. Meanwhile, it's hard to find any common combinations of players with Durant that stand out. An exception: When Durant plays with Green, Westbrook and Collison. Those four played nearly 700 minutes together during which they outscored opponents just a little, by 18.
One mitigating factor: Durant missed some games last season, including a very soft part of the schedule where the team rolled aga
inst weakling opponents like the Timberwolves, Kings and Wizards. So, while his teammates were looking good in +/-, Durant was holding constant.
Theory #2: Any player with those teammates would have a bad +/-.
Again, sound good, but his teammates manage to be part of many good lineups and player combinations.
Of particular interest here is Russell Westbrook. The Thunder are very good when Westbrook's on the court, and generally pretty bad when he's off. (Wayne Winston says this effect is so pronounced he could build a strong case that Westbrook should have been rookie of the year over Derrick Rose.)
How does Westbrook do it?
In some ways, he's the opposite of Durant. He is not a gaudy scorer -- in fact, he's a pretty bad shooter. He also has a high turnover rate, which is typically murder on team efficiency.
Yet Westbrook is a good defender. He draws a ridiculous number of fouls on both ends of the floor. He gets the team in the bonus, which in turn earns all of his teammates free throws. He rebounds well for his position, particularly at the offensive end, which can often lead to easy baskets.
Westbrook also has a statistical advantage over teammates like Durant and Green: He didn't start for the first 13 games last season under P.J. Carlesimo, when the Thunder were terrible. Carlesimo wanted to run and gun, but they were poorly equipped for the task. They lost badly, again and again.
By the time Westbrook started, the team was playing a more sensible style under Scott Brooks.
On the other hand, it's not like the first month of the season gave Durant wholly wacky +/- numbers. Winston keeps his +/- ratings per month. Durant had a -11 for the first month of the season, and then improved for three months in the middle (-6, -2, -7) before finishing about where he started (-10, -13).
Theory #3: It's hard to play with a superstar.
Just as it's undoubtedly a challenge for young Kevin Durant to perform the duties of a superstar, it may also be hard for his young teammates to know how to account for his abilities.
In other words, when Durant is benched, Westbrook, Green et al can make basketball decisions more or less as they have their entire basketball lives.
When Durant, superstar-in-the-making, is on the court, his teammates would presumably be aware of that. Hesitant jumpers, seams in the defense unexploited and shot-clock wasted finding Durant when he doesn't have the team's highest percentage shot ... you can find examples of all that on video.
This could explain why the Thunder are not just (far) worse on defense when Durant plays. They're also, surprisingly, slightly worse on offense.
Theory #4: Anyone that young, playing those kinds of minutes, is likely to see his team get outscored.
There may be something to this.
Kevin Durant has played 5,653 minutes in his first two NBA seasons. Good teams generally don't play 19- and 20-year-olds those kinds of minutes. In fact, bad teams don't often do it, either.
There may be an inevitability to his poor performance. Since the mid-1990s only a handful of players as young as Durant have played the kinds of minutes he has over two seasons -- and only LeBron James has more field goal attempts. Durant has been in an unusual situation that almost never produces good results until the player matures.
At the same age as Durant, some had better bottom line results than Durant -- LeBron James, Carmelo Anthony, Chris Bosh, Dwight Howard -- but they all had more veteran teammates. Young Kevin Garnett in Minnesota, on the other hand, had Thunder-style youth around him, and performed only slightly better than Durant (according to Win Shares) in terms of helping his team win while he was on the court.
But again, if you're in Kevin Garnett territory, the player Winston calls the best of the decade, in terms of adjusted +/-, it's hard to worry too much about Durant.
Kevin Durant, Great Player?
It shakes out as something of a debate between what we see with our eyes and what the team actually does. Based on how others have played at his age, it strikes me as likely that Durant will blossom precisely as predicted. But there's no denying that years one and two have proved little-to-nothing about his ability to help a team, despite his glossy reputation.
There is an undeniable reality that flashy scorers, like Durant, have long gotten the benefit of the doubt when it comes to assigning greatness. Scoring is considered, essentially, a "big thing" for a player to be able to do. Durant's good at it, too. Durant's effective field goal percentage last season was a healthy 51%, even as he shot a ton. Garnett, James, Kobe Bryant, Amare Stoudemire ... at the same age, they all made a lower percentage.
But if scoring is a big thing, what about the "little" things, like, say, defending the pick and roll, closing out on shooters and finding open teammates in rhythm? It could be that a young Durant has been doing the little things poorly enough that they overwhelm the big thing he does well.
Knowing that just about any NBA general manager would trade his own children for a prospect of Durant's caliber, I asked Winston if he'd advise his team to accept if the Mavericks were (in some alternate universe) offered Durant for free. "I'd say probably not," he replied. "I would not sign the guy. It's simply not inevitable that he'll make mid-career strides. Some guys do. But many don't, and he'd have to improve a lot to help a team."
And when I relayed Winston's comment to one of the NBA's most respected talent evaluators, his response was simply: "He's crazy."
Over the next few years, one of them will be proved wrong.
Rush Limbaugh has, through the years, said several callous things about the NBA, most of which I happily know nothing about. Chris Bernucca of Pro Basketball News, though, has been paying attention, and has strong reactions.
Bernucca has been inspired consider his own love of the NBA, and concludes there's more to it than the love of the game:
By loving the NBA, I limit my contact with white supremacists, nutty nationalists, merciless lawmen and legislators, 18th-century ideologues, Jesus freaks, old-fashioned fearmongers and DEA wannabes.
Click the link above for the necessary context.
A call, in baseball, to have machines call balls and strikes. If they're way more accurate, why wouldn't you?
Machines are, I assume, a long way from being able to referee NBA games. But when the time comes, and the machines are simply better at telling us if that was a 3-pointer or his foot was on the line, or if that ball was on its way up when it was blocked, what's your preference? Something impersonal but more efficient -- or something with a pulse you can talk to?
And isn't this debate a little reminiscent of that moment at the grocery store when you decide whether or not to line up for the self checkout?
Total rebound percentage is a powerful number to know.
If a certain player is on the floor, what percentage of the missed shots does he grab? Big deal. Important to winning games.
And if you want to be really good at it, it turns out you had better be young. Like brand new to the NBA.
If you just look for the best seasons ever, in terms of rebounding percentage, the players are young. (UPDATE: NOT SO! See note below.) Super young. In the entire top 20, only one player was older than 23 as of February 1 in the season in question.
Arvydas Sabonis, a real outlier, cracked the list in the season when he was 31.
Besides Sabonis, nowhere in the top 50 is there even anyone as old as 25. There are a few (Dikembe Mutombo, Antonio Davis, Corie Blount) of 25-year-olds in the second 50, but no one in the entire 100 (besides Sabonis) as old as even 26.
Another wrinkle: If you look at players younger than 22 (who have played at least 500 minutes), since 1946, here's the all-time leader list. 10 of the top 15 are active in the NBA right now. Isn't that amazing?
It's not a high-schooler effect, either; All the guys near the top of this list went to college. Young players now are apparently better than young players used to be at getting rebounds, for some reason.
As much as we like to think of rebounding as the sacred art of savvy veterans, it certainly looks like youthful desire and athleticism are the real keys. Those coaches who lock all rookies on the bench could be missing out.
UPDATE: So, well, this is embarrassing. My first point about how how the best rebounders are young is just plain false. Turns out that as I did that search on Basketball-Reference, I had searched only among rookies. Yes, my magical insight was based entirely on a careless error.
Once that error is corrected, the picture changes in a major way, and we learn that if you want to be at the top of this list, instead of being young, you have to be Dennis Rodman.
Worth noting, though, is that of the non-Rodman leaders in this category, almost all are under the age of 30. Youth is still a factor of sorts: Only seven players made the top 100 after the age of 30. Rodman is a total freak here. He did it eight times after 30. Dikembe Mutombo appears four times, Marcus Camby three, Charles Barkley and Swen Nater twice each, Alton Lister and Chris Dudley once each.