TrueHoop: Tyson Chandler
After five years of using the SCHOENE projection system to predict the upcoming NBA season, I have a pretty good sense of where SCHOENE will differ from conventional wisdom. Still, sometimes the results surprise even me. Such was the case when I saw the initial version of the Knicks projection featured in today's Insider team forecast: 37 wins. Tom Haberstroh did a good job of explaining New York's potential pitfalls in the forecast, but I wanted to take a closer look at some of the statistical factors causing SCHOENE to project such a steep decline.
1. 3-Point Outage
As Tom noted, no team in NBA history has been more dependent on the 3-pointer than last year's Knicks, who made a league-high 891 triples. Over the summer, New York lost its two most accurate 3-point shooters (Steve Novak, 42.5 percent; and Chris Copeland, 42.1 percent) as well as Jason Kidd, who made 114 3s. The newcomers replacing them (Andrea Bargnani, 30.9 percent; Beno Udrih, 33.3 percent; and Metta World Peace, 34.2 percent) combined to make 33.4 percent of their 3s, a rate worse than league average.
Add in regression from the Knicks' holdovers and SCHOENE projects them to make nearly 200 fewer 3-pointers this season. Take away those triples and New York's offense could look a lot more like the 2011-12 incarnation, which finished 19th in the league in offensive rating.
2. Fewer Looks, Makes for Melo
Because the Knicks lost two of their lowest-usage players, Kidd (responsible for 11.7 percent of the team's plays) and Novak (13.1 percent), SCHOENE projects Carmelo Anthony's league-high 35.6 percent usage rate to decline all the way to 30.2 percent. Yet Anthony is also projected to be less efficient because SCHOENE factors in his down 2011-12 season.
As a result, SCHOENE estimates just a 16 percent chance of Anthony playing as well as last season or better. If his improvement last season was a real effect of the improved spacing around him -- and New York can replicate that without its best shooters -- Anthony could easily outperform his projection.
3. The Effects of Age
Anthony isn't the only Knicks player with a pessimistic SCHOENE projection. In fact, of New York's likely rotation, only J.R. Smith saw similar players improve at the same age. Players similar to Amar'e Stoudemire declined by 6.1 percent the following season, while players similar to Tyson Chandler saw a 5.4 percent decline.
Chandler might be the most important factor. If the Knicks are going to score more like they did in 2011-12, they'll have to defend like they did in Mike Woodson's first half-season at the helm, when they finished fifth in defensive rating and Chandler won Defensive Player of the Year honors. If he suffers through another season where injuries limit his productivity, that will be difficult if not impossible.
On Tuesday, New York will try and extend its win streak to five games against the Boston Celtics, who have lost four in a row.
The Celtics will be without Kevin Garnett for the next two weeks, and the Knicks could be without center Tyson Chandler. On defense, the Celtics have been more than 7.0 points per 100 possessions worse without Garnett; the Knicks have been slightly better without Chandler (+1.3 points per 100 possessions on defense when he’s off the court).
Although the Knicks, at least statistically, are better without Chandler, their interior defense has struggled without him. In the past six games -- all without Chandler -- the Knicks have allowed opponents to shoot 70.0 percent inside five feet. Before Chandler’s injury, the Knicks allowed opponents to shoot 60.3 percent on those attempts, which is slightly above league average.
Chandler’s absence could be even more beneficial to the Celtics because they are one of only five teams this season that has outscored the Knicks inside the paint. In two games against the Knicks, the Celtics have averaged 45.0 points in the paint -- and Chandler played at least 40 minutes in both games. The 45.0 points in the paint is Boston’s third-highest average against one opponent.
The Celtics obviously will miss Garnett on both ends of the floor. Specifically on offense, Garnett has been the Celtics go-to guy in pick-and-roll sets. Garnett has scored 217 points from pick-and-roll screeners, the eighth-most points in the NBA this season. A distant second on the Celtics is Brandon Bass with 82 points.
Stephen Curry has put up amazing numbers the last two games.
The show of the night on a wild NBA evening (one that included two buzzer-beating shots and a triple double) was the New York Knicks-Golden State Warriors matchup that featured a couple of rack-up-the-stat-sheet efforts.
Let’s take a look at some of the statistical highlights.
The Stephen Curry Show
One night after scoring 38 points, Stephen Curry poured in a career-high 54 in an epic effort in defeat.
Let’s run through all of Curry’s superlatives, with help on these notes from the Elias Sports Bureau.
His 54 points were the most by anyone in a game this season, surpassing the 52 by Kevin Durant against the Dallas Mavericks.
They were the third-most by an opponent at the current Madison Square Garden, which opened in 1968. The only two players with more are Kobe Bryant (61) and Michael Jordan (55).
His 54 points were the fifth-most by anyone in a loss to the Knicks, trailing three games by Wilt Chamberlain (the most being a 67-point game in 1962) and one by Rick Barry. Both Chamberlain and Barry did so as members of the Warriors franchise.
His 11 3-pointers were a Warriors franchise record, and one shy of the single-game NBA record set by Donyell Marshall and tied by Bryant.
Curry's effective field goal percentage in this game was 83.9 percent. That was the second-highest by anyone who took 20 shots in a game this season, surpassed only by the 87.5 percentage he shot on Tuesday.
Our video review via Synergy Sports showed that Curry made his shots on all different types of plays. He was 4-for-5 as a pick-and-roll ballhandler, 3-for-4 as a spot-up shooter, 2-for-2 in transition, 1-for-1 off screens, and 1-for-1 in isolation.
Chandler owns the boards
Tyson Chandler had a career-high 28 rebounds, one shy of the most by anyone in an NBA game this season (Nikola Vucevic had 29 for the Orlando Magic).
It was the most rebounds by a Knicks player since Willis Reed tied Harry Gallatin’s club record with a 33-rebound game in 1971.
Chandler set the tone in the game's first 10 minutes, grabbing 13 of the Knicks first 14 rebounds in the game.
The Knicks dominated the offensive glass in this game, outscoring the Warriors 27-2 in second-chance points, including 9-0 in the fourth quarter.
Smith was spot-on
Knicks guard J.R. Smith scored 26 points off the bench. The key to his success was his effectiveness on spot-up jumpers. He was 7-for-9 when spotting up, including 6-for-8 from 3-point range.
The Knicks next face the Washington Wizards on Friday. Their next home game
is Sunday against the Miami Heat.
We’ll see what LeBron James has in store this time. In 2009, two days after Bryant scored 61 against the Knicks at MSG in 2009, James poured in 52 of his own for the Cleveland Cavaliers.
Curry and the Warriors have a day off before they continue their road trip on Friday against the Boston Celtics. In two career games in Boston, Curry has totaled 22 points.
Sanders, of the Milwaukee Bucks, leads the NBA in blocks per game at 3.11. Why is that interesting? He’s doing it while averaging 25.5 minutes per game.
Since the NBA started tracking blocks in 1973-74, there have been eight previous instances of a player recording three or more blocks per game while averaging fewer than 30 minutes (minimum 2,000 minutes).
But there have been only three instances in which a player averaged fewer than 30 minutes and led the league in blocks per game.
Sanders will clear the 2,000-minute mark if he stays healthy and plays at roughly his current pace for the remainder of the season.
At his current 25.5 minutes per game, he would set the mark for fewest minutes per game for a player who led the league in blocks per game, edging out Manute Bol and Mark Eaton.
There have been 16 previous seasons in NBA history in which a player posted a Player Efficiency Rating (PER) of 30.0 or better (minimum 45 games played). James’ PER is a league-best 30.37. Assuming he can keep it up, James would become the second player in history with four or more seasons with that mark, joining Michael Jordan.
For the third time in the past three seasons, New York Knicks center Chandler is making a run at the record books. Chandler’s True Shooting Percentage -- which takes into consideration 2-point field goals, 3-point field goals and free throws -- is in rare territory once again, at 70.1 percent on the season. That is just fractionally behind his own record from last season (70.8).
David Dow/NBAE/Getty ImagesKyrie Irving and Jrue Holiday will join forces in their first All-Star games
James Harden becomes the first Houston Rockets All-Star since Yao Ming in 2011. Harden ranks fifth in the NBA, averaging a career-high 25.9 points this season. His scoring has increased by 9.1 points per game from last season, the highest increase among all players from last season to this season.
The NBA’s reigning Sixth Man of the Year award winner has been one of the best pick and roll ball handlers this season. Among the 107 players with at least 50 such plays, Harden ranks second in the NBA, averaging 1.03 points per play.
After playing just five games during an injury-plagued 2011-12 season, Brook Lopez makes his first All-Star team in his fifth NBA season. Lopez averages an NBA-high 18.6 points among centers this season.
According to the Hollinger PER (Player Efficiency Rating) rankings, Lopez ranks fourth in the NBA with a mark of 25.4. Only LeBron James (30.3), Kevin Durant (29.1) and Chris Paul (26.1) have recorded a higher PER this season.
In his second NBA season, Kyrie Irving becomes the first Cleveland Cavaliers All-Star since LeBron James in 2010. According to the Elias Sports Bureau, Irving will be the sixth-youngest player in NBA history to play in an All-Star Game at 20 years and 331 days old on February 17.
After winning Rookie of the Year last season, Irving has blossomed into one of the best guards in the NBA this season. He ranks fourth among point guards with a 22.5 PER.
Jrue Holiday becomes the second member of the Philadelphia 76ers in as many seasons to earn his first All-Star selection (Andre Iguodala, 2012). Holiday is averaging career highs in points (19.4), assists (8.9), field goal percentage (46.1) and rebounds (4.1). He and Russell Westbrook are the only two players averaging at least 19 points and eight assists this season.
Holiday has assisted 40 percent of his teammates’ field goals when he’s been on the court this season. That assist percentage ranks fifth in the NBA.
Paul George leads the Indiana Pacers in scoring, averaging a career-high 17.4 points this season. Despite his emergence on offense, George has made his biggest impact on defense. George ranks second in the NBA with 3.5 defensive win shares according to Basketball-Reference. Defensive win shares estimates the number of wins contributed by a player due to his defense.
Joakim Noah is one of two Chicago Bulls selected as All-Star reserves (Luol Deng). Noah is averaging career highs in points (12.1), rebounds (11.3), and assists (4.2), which leads all centers. Noah has recorded at least 10 points, 10 rebounds and five assists in 11 games this season. Only LeBron James has recorded more such games with 13.
Noah has anchored a Bulls defense which ranks third in defensive efficiency, allowing just 97.5 points per 100 possessions this season. He leads the NBA in defensive win shares with 3.7 and ranks eighth in blocks with 2.1 per game.
In his 12th NBA season, Tyson Chandler was finally selected to his first All-Star team. The reigning Defensive Player of the Year is averaging a career-high 11.9 points and 10.6 rebounds this season. Chandler leads the New York Knicks with 17 double-double and is one of just nine players averaging at least 10 points and 10 rebounds this season.
Chandler leads the NBA with a 70.6 true shooting percentage this season. True shooting percentage measures a player’s shooting efficiency taking into account two-point field goals, three-point field goals and free throws, a category Chandler has led in each of the previous two seasons.
ESPN Stats & Information
The Knicks were nearly nine points worse per 48 minutes with Stoudemire on the court last season. They were significantly worse on both ends of the court with Amar'e. The biggest difference came in the turnover department, where the Knicks committed one more turnover and forced three fewer turnovers per 48 minutes with him on the floor.
Their four worst defensive lineups (in terms of points allowed per 48 minutes) that played at least 15 minutes together last season included Stoudemire. The worst lineup also included Mike Bibby, Tyson Chandler, Iman Shumpert and Bill Walker, and was outscored 42-29 in 16 minutes. That also happened to be the Knicks' worst lineup overall (in terms of plus-minus per 48 minutes).
Overall, Stoudemire was a part of the Knicks' three worst lineups.
The Knicks have often been exposed defending isolation plays this season. They've allowed the most isolation points in the league.
Amar'e isn't known as a one-on-one defensive stopper. Last season, he ranked 120th in points per isolation play allowed of the 184 players to defend at least 50 isolation plays.
One area in which the Knicks are struggling this season is rebounding. They're the 6th-worst rebounding team, grabbing just 48 percent of available boards. They've only outrebounded eight of their 30 opponents -- only the Boston Celtics have outrebounded fewer opponents (6) this season.
Conventional wisdom would suggest that Stoudemire -- a 6-foot-11 athletic power forward who averages nearly nine boards per game for his career -- will help the Knicks in the rebounding department.
But that may not be the case.
Stoudemire only made the Knicks a slightly better rebounding team when he was on the court last season, as they grabbed 50.4 percent of available rebounds when he was on the court compared to 49.5 percent when he was on the bench.
Last season, Amar'e grabbed 13.7 percent of available rebounds, an improvement from the 2010-11 season. This season, the Knicks have added assets like Kurt Thomas, Marcus Camby and Rasheed Wallace that have helped on the glass. Each of them, along with Chandler, have a rebound percentage higher than 13.7 this season.
With Chandler, Thomas, Camby and Wallace (when healthy) all sharing frontcourt minutes, Stoudemire's presence may not help the Knicks much on the glass.
Different offensive game plan
The aspect in which the Knicks really change with Amar'e is their shot selection. When he was on the court last season, 50 percent of the Knicks' shot attempts came in the paint and only 22 percent of their attempts were 3-pointers. But when Stoudemire was off the court, only 42 percent of their shot attempts came in the paint and 35 percent of their attempts were from beyond the arc.
That trend has continued this season without Stoudemire, as 35 percent of their attempts are 3-pointers and only 38 percent of their shots are in the paint.
Adding Amar’e to the rotation could disrupt a Knicks offense that currently ranks second in offensive efficiency and is on pace to be the Knicks’ most efficient offense in the last 40 seasons.
ESPN Stats & Information
Nathaniel S. Butler/NBAE via Getty ImagesCarmelo Anthony is putting up bigger, and better, numbers this season.
The New York Knicks are coming off a loss on Monday to the Houston Rockets. They’re hoping to have Carmelo Anthony back against the Brooklyn Nets after missing the past two games with an ankle injury.
In two games this season against the Nets, Anthony has scored 80 points -- including a season-high 45 on Dec. 18.
In those two games against Brooklyn, Anthony made eight of 12 3-point attempts. Shooting behind the arc is one area of his game that has improved significantly.
Before this season, Anthony was a career 32 percent shooter behind the arc. That average has shot up to 45.5 percent (51-112) this season.
Long-range shooting isn’t the only area of Anthony’s game that has improved. He’s also shooting a career-best 46.8 percent on mid-range shots (which are 2-point field goal attempts taken outside the paint). Last season, he made just 38.9 percent from that distance.
Combined with making more than six free throws per game, Anthony’s true shooting percentage this season is 59.2, which would be the highest of his career. (True shooting percentage is a measure of shooting efficiency that takes into account field goals, three-point field goals and free throws.)
An improved True Shooting Percentage has resulted in higher efficiency from Anthony. His offensive efficiency this season is at a career-high 115.1 -- meaning the Knicks score 115.1 points per 100 possessions with him on the court. His highest offensive efficiency entering this season was 110.7 in 2008-09. When Anthony is not on the court, the Knicks efficiency drops to 102.6
Among players to log at least 100 minutes this season, Anthony’s offensive efficiency ranks third behind Nick Collison (115.5) and teammate Tyson Chandler (115.2).
Another reason the Knicks would like to see Anthony return? He ranks fifth in plus/minus at +167. He’s been on the court for 712 minutes compared to 445 off it and the difference has been noticeable. Per 48 minutes, the Knicks are outscoring opponents by 11.3 points with Anthony on the court, but are getting outscored by almost two points with him off the court.
Anthony is second this season averaging 27.9 points per game. If he maintains that for the entire season, he’d be just the fourth Knick to average at least 27 points per game for an entire season and the first since Patrick Ewing in 1989-90.
Christopher Trotman/NBAE/Getty Images
There was a little too much of this on Thursday night for the Heat's beleaguered defense.
Chris Bosh says it’s the frenetic pace. LeBron James says it’s about communication. Shane Battier says it’s all in the head. Erik Spoelstra says it’s execution.
However you diagnose the Miami Heat’s defensive meltdown against the New York Knicks and the champs’ general listlessness all season, they’re a disaster on that end of the floor.
There are no shortage of explanations, but Miami’s woes are especially bizarre because, with the exception of Ray Allen, the personnel is largely the same as last year’s championship team, which ranked No. 4 overall in defensive efficiency. Theoretically, most of the principles are the same, but somewhere between application and result, the defense is drifting off-course.
Occasionally when you look at a colossally bad defensive performance, a single, obvious flaw reveals itself. What’s notable about Thursday night’s train wreck is how diverse the lapses were.
The switch-outs that guided the Heat to success in the 2012 playoffs allowed Miami to respond quickly to opponent’s actions. Against the Knicks, those switches created confusion both at the point of attack and in the back-side rotation. The Heat have a lot of guys who can defend bigs, smalls and space, but right now that flexibility isn't producing results.
For the most part, the Heat got back in transition promptly on Thursday night, but virtually every Miami defender would backpedal to the middle of the floor to stop the ball with no one splaying out to the wings where the Knicks had been spotting up and blistering opponents all season.
On those rare occasions when the Heat accounted for perimeter shooters while Raymond Felton and Tyson Chandler ran a high pick-and-roll, there was nobody to bump (or “chuck”) Chandler off his course to the rim.
And the rotations behind the Heat’s traps of Felton (a questionable strategy in itself) made the Heat appear like a bunch of second-year players straight off the bus from their first training camp. When the Knicks have long-range threats like J.R. Smith, Steve Novak and Jason Kidd spread along the perimeter, it’s unconscionable to have a third guy drifting away from one of those shooters toward a trapped Felton at 27 feet, leaving the two remaining defenders to account for Chandler diving toward the rim along with three shooters primed for a catch-and-shoot.
James isn’t himself without blame. He’s an all-powerful defensive god when his antenna is up and he’s reading every movement, potential action and passing lane on the floor. When James is locked in, there isn’t a defender in the league who makes smarter risk-reward decisions like when to shoot the gap on a post feed and when to stay home; when to zone up on the two guys he’s covering on the weak side, and when to call, say, Mario Chalmers to fill his spot so he can meet a driver at the rim.
One of the great pleasures of Heat basketball is observing James play half-court defense in a big game. Try it sometime -- instead of watching the ball, focus solely on what James is doing. But had you done that last night, you wouldn’t have caught a glimpse of that sharpness. James was working -- primarily because he spent a ton of time on the ball -- but those secondary decisions weren’t made with a lot of precision. Even on a bad night, James is still a plus-defender. But if you’re looking for a reason why a No. 4-ranked defense falls to No. 23, decision-making by principal defenders is a contributing factor because, tempting as it might be, you can’t blame Allen for everything.
It’s an empirical fact that the Heat are playing horrific defense, but we’re also pretty certain they feature the personnel to play elite defense. There's actual evidence of this somewhere in a glass case inside AmericanAirlines Arena. So how manageable are these issues? Are they merely coasting rather than playing on a string, which is how the Heat characterize their defensive proficiency when everyone is where they’re supposed to be and all five guys moves as one unit in the half court? Would a healthy Battier and a few more minutes of Joel Anthony do the trick?
This time last season, the defense wasn’t exactly locking opponents down. The Heat weren’t running shooters off the 3-point line and they were gambling more loosely than Floyd Mayweather. Miami took some lumps early but privately understood that Spoelstra was engaged in some experimentation. The Heat were trying to figure out if they could morph a fairly conventional scheme into one that could maximize speed and instincts without sacrificing the integrity of the entire defense. It took a while, but the strategy bore a Larry O’Brien Trophy.
Is that what’s going on here in the early going? Is an outing like Thursday night just a symptom of a team that’s futzing around in the laboratory trying to come up with new solutions?
Chalking up bad defense to systematic failures (Defenders aren’t pushing guards down on the pick-and-roll; Nobody is sinking to the level of the ball when it goes inside; etc.) is usually more satisfying than attributing them to generalities like energy motivation, but there’s something that rings true in the postgame statements from James and Bosh about the Heat’s lack of urgency. The game tape looks like a snuff film, but even watching all the Heat’s tactical errors on defense, you find yourself saying, “They know better than this.”
The knowing part is simple, as are the basic adjustments required to fix what’s broken. This isn’t about buying into a system -- that sale was made a year ago. It’s not about hiding older, poorer defenders, abandoning a pick-and-roll coverage that isn’t working or modulating the pace.
This new project is about fully appreciating that immortality doesn’t exist in sports. You never know demise until it’s too late.
ESPN Stats & Information
Another way to prove Martin has been the most efficient scorer in the NBA this season is his true shooting percentage, a measure of shooting efficiency that takes into account field goals, 3-pointers and free throws. In that regard, Martin ranks first in the league among players with at least 250 minutes.
WHY HAS MARTIN BEEN SO EFFICIENT?
He doesn’t have to create his own offense as often this season.
Martin is playing off the ball more this season alongside Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook, as compared to last season when he had the ball in his hands more often. His usage percentage -– an estimate of the percentage of team plays used by a player while he’s on the floor -- is 22.3, his lowest since 2005-06, his sophomore campaign with the Sacramento Kings.
Martin is second in the NBA this season in catch-and-shoot points (behind O.J. Mayo). He’s shooting 52.1 percent on catch-and-shoot jumpers and has a 75 effective field-goal percentage on those shots.
Now that he isn’t the focal point of his team’s offense, Martin is able to let his offense come to him. As a result, his shooting numbers have blossomed in Oklahoma City.
In 2011-12, Martin shot just 34.9 percent on catch-and-shoot jumpers, which ranked 134th of the 175 players with at least 100 catch-and-shoot jumpers. Catch-and-shoot accounted for 37.5 percent of his jump shots last season, while it accounts for 51.1 percent this season.
Need more evidence that Martin isn’t nearly as ball-dominant anymore? This season, 31.4 percent of his plays are spot-up, as compared to 19.3 percent last season. Isolation accounted for 22.4 percent of his plays last season, while that number is down to 17.9 percent this season.
THUNDER ARE BETTER WITH MARTIN
The Thunder have been a much better team with Martin on the court. They're scoring 19.9 more points per 48 minutes than they are with Martin on the bench. They're shooting better, especially from beyond the arc, and getting to the free-throw line more than twice as often with Martin on the floor.
How impressive is Martin’s season thus far? Let’s put it in perspective:
• Only one player in NBA history has had a true shooting percentage higher than Martin’s current 70.2 percentage (Tyson Chandler – 70.8 last season).
• Martin currently averages 17.6 points per game with a 48.7 field-goal percentage and 53.6 3-point percentage. Nobody in NBA history has finished a season with those numbers. Detlef Schrempf (in 1994-95) is the only player to average at least 15 points per game with a 45 field-goal percentage and 50 3-point percentage.
• Thus far, Martin has a career high in field-goal percentage, 3-point percentage, free-throw percentage and offensive rating this season.
If Martin continues on this pace of super offensive efficiency, the Thunder won’t regret trading Harden for him.
Statistical support for this story from NBA.com
- LeBron James rang up 12 assists in Denver on Thursday night, and was deadly on the kickout to spot-up shooters. The biggest dime of the night came in the closing minute with the game in the balance. James could've played one-on-three against the Nuggets' collapsing defense. Instead, he dished the ball off to Norris Cole who was wide open and drained the shot. What did critics have to say about James' passing up the big shot? Not a thing. What a difference a ring makes.
- So let's get this straight: The Clippers are without Grant Hill and Chauncey Billups. Chris Paul and Blake Griffin are playing career-low minutes -- and Griffin's overall numbers are down. Lamar Odom has a Player Efficiency Rating that starts with zero. Their backup point guard, nicknamed Mini-LeBron and posting a PER of 22.6, is playing fewer minutes than Willie Green. All the while, the Clippers are killing the competition.
- At the New York Times, Beckley Mason writes that the Boston Celtics provide an interesting template for the Brooklyn Nets.
- Tom Ziller of SB Nation on the Knicks: "I don't get the sense this is a massive house of cards, unlike other teams that blaze off to incredible starts. Among the rotation players, only Smith and Kidd are playing way over their heads, and that's all related to the above-mentioned shooting. Felton has been surprisingly good compared with last season, but it's in line with what he did in his previous half-season in New York. It's not a Mike James bargain with the devil type of start he's having. Ronnie Brewer has always been solid. Rasheed Wallace is ... Rasheed Wallace. Tyson Chandler is elite. Carmelo Anthony is very good. Mike Woodson is criminally underrated as a coach."
- Is that a Raymond Felton sighting, shredding the Spurs on the pick-and-roll?
- A bad bench can undo a lot of hard work by your starters.
- Just because you hit a huge game-winning shot to beat the Lakers earlier in the week doesn't mean you're exempt from household chores.
- Damian Lillard is looking for a Portland-based barber. Lucky for him, grooming is optional in Multnomah County.
- At 0-7, the Wizards have a ton of question marks. Could Shaun Livingston be one of the answers?
- One idea being floated in Milwaukee: Scarf down a double-cheeseburger to help pay for a new arena. (Hat tip: Bucksketball)
- As HoopChalk's Jared Dubin points out, a sniper doesn't always have to catch-and-shoot the ball coming off a pin-down. Passing is almost always an option -- and a smart one.
- Liberty Ballers' Michael Levin reports that the 76ers are close to becoming the latest NBA team to own their own D-League franchise. I love the idea of the NBA replicating an MLB-style minor league structure, with each big-league team having its own exclusive affiliation with a "AAA" club. Already, the stigma of being "sent down" to the D-League is dissipating. Many of NBA organizations that have one-to-one partnerships with D-League franchises are using them as laboratories to teach their less refined young prospects the system run by the big club (see Houston Rockets). Development has long been sorely lacking at the NBA level. Some of that is the fault of NBA teams, but much of the shortfall is circumstance. It's hard to devote a ton of resources to developing the skills of your second-round pick when you're preparing for a back-to-back with the Thunder and the Spurs. But give a prospect some high-grade instruction down on the farm, and you're likely to see more tangible progress in his game.
- More vegan propaganda from John Salley. I've been dabbling myself. If there were more joints like this in my city, it would be easier.
LaMarcus Aldridge, Carmelo Anthony and Stephen Curry: Gridlock or glory?
Think about your favorite team then ask yourself, "What are things going to look like for the next three to five seasons?"
A degree of uncertainty will find its way into every situation, but smart teams have plans. They might be in championship-or-bust mode like Miami, Oklahoma City or the Los Angeles Lakers. They might be straight-up rebuilding like Detroit or New Orleans.
Some teams pursue a more targeted plan. The Clippers want to perform well enough to maintain Chris Paul's faith in the organization, lock him up on July 1, 2013, then keep building from there. Others, like Phoenix, lost the flash drive with the PowerPoint on the way to the presentation.
Then there are those NBA teams standing at the junction, examining the map and looking at the routes. Do they stay on course? Take the scenic route, or the practical one? Get cute and try a shortcut? Slow down and move more deliberately and keep their options open?
Such is the challenge for several NBA teams entering the 2012-13 season, with some facing a better set of options than others.
New York Knicks
The Knicks' crossroads are grander and better paved than most teams in their predicament, by virtue of playing in one of the league's two premier markets. It certainly ain't the cooking in the front office, which has prepared a roster slated for another quick April ouster from the postseason.
Let's rewind: Two years ago, New Yorkers were giddy and comparatively patient. The Knicks didn't bag LeBron James in 2010, but it wasn't for a lack of trying or bad bookkeeping. They signed Amare Stoudemire and, that winter, the Garden was alive for the first time in ages. The acquisition of Carmelo Anthony midseason signaled the Knicks' official return to relevance (even if the team was playing well prior to his arrival and forked over a king's ransom to get him). Aware that the 22nd-ranked team defense would be a train wreck, the Knicks anchored the middle with Tyson Chandler in the summer of 2011.
Despite the defensive improvement last season, the Knicks couldn't score and the old dysfunction returned, pausing for only a seven-week hiatus when Jeremy Lin single-handedly thawed winter.
That brings us to the 2012-13 season. Lin is in Houston, Stoudemire is sidelined and the Knicks are indisputably Anthony's team, which was always the design in New York. If nothing else, perhaps Stoudemire's injury coupled with the success Anthony had as a power forward in Olympic competition will finally convince Melo that he's a new-wave 4. Improving the Knicks will require some innovation, because Anthony, Chandler and a band of reclamation projects, post-prime players and question marks in the backcourt won't make much noise in the playoffs. If they fail to play into May, the Knicks would begin to look a lot like Mike Woodson's Atlanta Hawks -- a team with discernible talent, but no championship aspirations.
What happens then?
The Knicks could resign themselves to a nice house in the East's upper-middle class district or, much like the Lakers did in sheer defiance of what was thought possible, they could trade on the allure of their market and coax a game-changer to New York. It won't be easy. They'd either have to part with Chandler, convince a team with cap room to absorb Stoudemire's outsized salary along with a few goodies, get a superstar approaching free agency to hold his existing team hostage in exchange for a ticket to New York -- and probably some combination of the above.
The Knicks wanted superstars to elevate their brand and incite championship aspirations among their beleaguered fans. Now it's time to manage those expectations and find an acceptable alternative should the team fall short of them.
Golden State Warriors
The new regime in the Bay is committed to a serious rebranding campaign. It's not just the smart new threads and the Sn°hetta-designed jewel box slated for downtown San Francisco. The Warriors finally seem primed to be more than the NBA's novelty act. They're practicing defense again in Oakland, using analytics for the first time to make personnel decisions and, aside from a hiccup or two on the cap-management side, forging something that looks like a future.
The Warriors traded roboshooter Monta Ellis for Andrew Bogut, one of the five best defensive big men in the game ... when he can move on two feet. Stephen Curry has proven he's far more than a spot-up shooter ... when he can move on two feet. Add a little seasoning to Golden State's young wing tandem of Klay Thompson and Harrison Barnes, and you can pencil them in for the opener across the bay. David Lee makes a mint, but he contributes consistently and the Warriors have virtually nothing else on the books in two years, so why worry?
But that's the thing about cap flexibility -- it's a luxury that can lure smart people into iffy decisions. When you're a front office strapped for cash, you have to be selective in your decision-making. But when you have clean books, you can be tempted to populate the ledger with all kinds of stuff that isn't good for you.
The biggest decision facing the Warriors over the next week is whether to extend Curry. If not for his wonky ankle, this is a no-brainer for Golden State and even with all the concern, still is. But the cap can be unforgiving, and paying max or near-max money to a chronically-injured player can be devastating to a team's long-term ambitions. Bogut, the team's highest-paid player, has a bum left ankle and there's no timetable for his return.
The Warriors don't have to make a contractual call on Bogut for two more seasons, but it's hard for a team to forge a path without a vision of its future core. And, practically, it's difficult to achieve goals if there's $30 million worth of stars in street clothes -- just ask the Houston Rockets.
That's the gamble for the Warriors: Do they construct a team for the foreseeable future around the inside-out threat of Curry and Bogut, knowing it's very possible their two best players might not share a court for weeks, maybe seasons, on end?
Do the Warriors commit to Curry, then wait and see on Bogut once they have a clearer prognosis on his health, knowing they'll likely have some money to find an alternate big man? Do they look at their promising young wings as the guys who will usher in the new era, a Klay Thompson-Harrison Barnes ticket rather than Curry-Bogut? Can Golden State craft a clever contingency plan whereby there's some insurance in the backcourt should Curry's ankle be an indefinite concern?
Or do the Warriors act without prejudice, knowing that the revenue they'll generate in the most state-of-the-art arena in North America (with some of the most expensive seats in sports) can compensate for a lot of dead payroll?
Portland Trail Blazers
The rug was pulled from the Rose Garden floor some time ago. What was once the most tantalizing roster in the league has been stripped of its jewels, with Brandon Roy's retirement and relocation and Greg Oden's injuries.
Beyond those bad beats, the Trail Blazers no longer play the flavor of deliberate, possession-focused basketball they did under Nate McMillan, for better or worse. Last season, the Trail Blazers were adrift. They no longer controlled the rim -- on either end -- and many of those familiar patterns that were solidified during the Age of Promise went missing.
LaMarcus Aldridge is a refined, reliable power forward -- probably a Top 15 player -- but is he truly the centerpiece of a contending team? What if the best blueprint of the team going forward has him at center in a more agile offense? Is he flexible and resolute enough to not only tolerate that adjustment, but embrace it?
The first question is a difficult one, though one that can be answered more optimistically if Damian Lillard can evolve into a lead guard who can simplify the game for Aldridge. The Trail Blazers' big man has spoken glowingly about how easy the game came to him after being paired with Andre Miller in Portland. It's unfair to expect Lillard to find that kind of command before he gets a couple of years of NBA basketball under his belt -- and right now he's more of a pick-and-roll scorer than a manager or distributor -- but Aldridge can screen-and-pop with the best shooting big men in the game and should be able to make ample use of Lillard's talent.
The Trail Blazers also re-upped Nicolas Batum long term, defensible given the spreadsheet. Throw in Wes Matthews -- probably a better third guard than a fixture at the 2, but the team's third or fourth best player -- a raw rookie center, and a couple of imports. Is that a foundation that can grow into legitimate power in the West? If you're a Trail Blazers fan or executive, how many teams would you happily exchange futures with? Three years ago, that number was minuscule. Today, you're making a lot of outgoing calls.
A creative Terry Stotts will work hard to develop the Lillard-Aldridge tandem to its full potential, and it could be something special. But if the chemistry doesn't translate into a winning combination, and Aldridge grows uncomfortable as Banana No. 1, do you reshuffle the deck? And, if so, is Aldridge an asset you'd discard if the right offer came along? Could you afford not to?
The Trail Blazers don't figure to win much in 2012-13, and will likely have another high pick in June to add more young talent -- as well as some money to throw around -- but it's going to be a painstaking process.
Entering the offseason, the Sixers' crossroads looked something like a busy London roundabout. The team could take any number of routes, and there was an intelligent case to be made for each of them.
Hard-bitten realists argued it was time to blow up a core that was unlikely to finish higher than a Hawkish No. 4 or 5 seed. Romantics felt that the Sixers' young talent had finally cracked the code on Doug Collins' safety-first system. If the versatile roster could come back largely intact in 2012-13 and buy in for a full season, they could take what was already a Top 3 defense, win the Atlantic then, come spring, play with the elite.
Instead, the Sixers made a lateral move in trading Andre Iguodala, their best defender and ball-mover, for a true inside threat in Andrew Bynum. They also lost Lou Williams, one of their few creators outside of Iguodala.
So who are the Sixers now and what can we reasonably expect them to become, especially with Bynum playing out the final year of his contract?
Performance will dictate everything. With Bynum anchoring the post, Philadelphia will no longer need a cab to get to the rim. For a team that relied on an unhealthy diet of midrange jumpers, that's no small thing. But indispensable defenders like Iguodala don't come around every day. Systems matter, but you can't just plug Evan Turner into the small forward slot and expect the same results. Bynum is not exactly Collins' idea of a big-man defender. On pick-and-roll coverage, Bynum is a chronic dropper (in fairness, that has generally been the scheme employed by the Lakers), and he'll be pressed rather persistently by Collins to put some more bite into his defensive game.
Let's say the Sixers drop a few of spots defensively, rise a few offensively and their final tally looks a lot like previous seasons. What then? You probably try to lock up Bynum long-term, but is there anyone else on the roster who you'd automatically wave through the door? Do you punt on Turner? What do you need to see from Jrue Holiday to warrant handing him the reins for the next five years? Does all that add up to contention?
Philadelphia will have plenty of flexibility going forward, but cap room isn't an end unto itself. At some point, the Sixers need to figure out what the plan is along the perimeter, and whether their existing platoon of curios and vets can do the job around Bynum.
Head coach Dwane Casey got the hard work out of the way in Season 1, taking a team ranked dead last in team defense and catapulting it to 12th by installing some conservative principles and demanding full effort from the entire roster.
There were other bright spots, with more on the way. When Andrea Bargnani was healthy, he played some of the best basketball of his career. Once Jonas Valanciunas gets a feel for the NBA game, he'll demand attention down low. New acquisition Kyle Lowry can generate instant offense, which should also help.
There's a lot to like here, but still a ton of work to do to improve upon a 25th-ranked offense. The Raptors desperately need to open up some space in the half court to prevent the rigor mortis that bogged them down last season. Bargnani, when he's out there, helps inordinately, and Lowry can hit a shot from the perimeter and break down defenses off the bounce. But the Raptors simply can't build the kind of offense they want with their current supply of wings -- and that sober reality starts and ends with DeMar DeRozan, who enters the final guaranteed year of his rookie deal.
DeRozan, the Raptors' leader in minutes played each of the past two seasons, has never posted a player efficiency rating (PER) above the league average and it's not as if he's making up for it as a defender. He's not a proficient outside shooter, makes iffy reads on the pick-and-roll and is a ball-stopper in isolation with a less-than-stellar track record of converting those opportunities into anything -- a creator without much creativity.
To put it bluntly, there are very few things DeRozan is doing to help the Toronto Raptors win basketball games and it's hard to imagine an efficient offense that relies on him for a significant chunk of possessions.
The Raptors raised eyebrows by selecting Terrence Ross with the No. 8 pick in June. While Ross is no polished product on the offensive end, he's a Casey type of player, with quick feet on defense and a heady awareness of what's happening on the floor. Ross could watch tape of Tony Allen and craft a career as a stopper with a few offensive tricks. He'd be a natural replacement for DeRozan, provided he can find his shot or, at the very least, recognize his limitations and minimize mistakes. That would be an easier proposition if there was another wing on the floor who could create.
If the Raptors let DeRozan walk, they'd have some dough to find someone -- anyone -- who can score efficiently at the wing. Once that happens, the ball will start to move again in Toronto, this time with a stalwart defense to complement it.
According to AccuScore, which ran 10,000 computer simulations, the 1992 team would win 53.1 percent of the time and by an average margin of one point per game.
No one will ever know the true answer, but let's take a look at the Next Level analytical facts about the rosters at each point of their careers to help make the case either way.
REBOUNDING AND DEFENSE
Much has been made about the current team’s weak frontcourt. The 1992 team had four players who grabbed at least 15 percent of available rebounds in 1991-92 (Charles Barkley, Patrick Ewing, Karl Malone, David Robinson). The current team has three players at that rebound rate last season (Tyson Chandler, Blake Griffin, Kevin Love).
The 1992 team had two players (Ewing, Robinson) who blocked at least 5 percent of the shot attempts they faced in 1991-92. No 2012 player had a block percentage higher than 3.4 last season (Chandler).
Four current members had a true shooting percentage (a measure of shooting efficiency that takes into account 2-pointers, 3-pointers and free throws) of at least 60 last season (Chandler, Kevin Durant, James Harden, LeBron James). Chandler (70.8 in 2011-12) led the NBA each of the past two seasons. Only one of the 1992 members had a 60 true shooting percentage (Barkley), although three others fell just short of that threshold in 1991-92 (Malone, Robinson, John Stockton).
Five Dream Team members assisted on at least 25 percent of their teammates’ field goals in 1991-92 (Larry Bird, Clyde Drexler, Michael Jordan, Scottie Pippen, Stockton), plus Magic Johnson had a 49.3 assist percentage in his most recent NBA season (1990-91). LeBron, Chris Paul, Russell Westbrook and Deron Williams had a 25 assist percentage or better last season, but none were as high as Stockton (53.7), who was in the midst of leading the league in assist percentage for 10 straight seasons.
AGE, EXPERIENCE AND CHAMPIONSHIPS
The 1992 team was about 2½ years older on average (28.8-26.2). Other than Bird and Magic, every Dream Team member was 30 years old or younger. Every member of the current team is 29 or younger, other than Kobe, who is 33.
But the NBA experience level is about the same. The 1992 team had, on average, 7.3 years of experience per player. This year’s team has 7.1.
As far as NBA titles, give the edge to the 1992 team. Its players had a combined 12 championships as they entered the Olympics -- five by Magic, three by Bird and two each from Jordan and Pippen.
The 2012 version has seven championships among them, carried by Kobe’s five. LeBron and Chandler each have one. The current team has members of each of the past four NBA champions, while the 1992 team had members of the then-past two champions.
Using average win shares per 48 minutes in their previous NBA seasons, (including Magic’s 1990-91 season and not including Christian Laettner), the 1992 squad’s average is higher by 9 percent (.215-.198). Prefer player efficiency rating to win shares? The Dream Team’s PER was 3 percent higher (23.8-23.0).
IN THEIR PRIME?
Other than Laettner, all 11 Dream Team members are Hall of Famers. And only two could be considered in the twilight of their careers. Bird had just finished his last NBA season, while Magic had retired the previous year, although he made a brief comeback in 1995-96. As for this edition, one could make the case that all but the 33-year-old Kobe on the roster could appear on another Olympic team again.
The 2012 team gets under way with an exhibition game Thursday against the Dominican Republic on ESPN at 9 p.m. ET. Only time will tell whether this team is the modern-day Dream Team.
Michael Hickey/US PresswireThe Pacers starting five has given LeBron James and the Heat fits in the first three games.
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.
Melissa Majchrzak/NBAE/Getty Images
Derrick Favors is a big part of the Utah Jazz's a high flying future.
Tiago Splitter is rolling to the right side of the rim, wide open -- but only for a moment -- because here comes Jazz big man Derrick Favors flying across the court.
The ball moves, but so does Favors. In an instant later, he is all the way on the left side of the key, where Gary Neal starts to turn the corner off a pick-and-roll. Favors glides into position, his quick feet wide and balanced, his long arms waving to obscure Neal's vision and deter any thought of driving.
There's a reason the Spurs finished the season with the best offense in the NBA, though. They find good shots. With Favors on the left, the ball goes back to Splitter on the right. Somehow, Favors recovers once more, this time meeting the Brazilian at the summit of his rim attack for a clean block.
It was only one play in a first-round series that deserves to be remembered only for its lopsidedness. The Spurs are, by far, the better team. But Jazz fans have plenty to like, and through the four straight losses, Favors still managed to show eye-popping potential.
In fact, on court/off court ratings from NBA.com suggest the Jazz rarely had success scoring or defending against the Spurs when Favors wasn’t on the court, because even mighty San Antonio has little in the way of answers for Favors' rare combination of size and athleticism.
The ability to make the play described above is unique amongst Jazz big men and exceedingly rare in the NBA. It’s the very kind of recognition, effort and athleticism that made Tyson Chandler, who combines stalwart rim-protection with astute pick-and-roll defense, this year’s Defensive Player of the Year.
And even though Favors defines “raw” on offense, his potential remains high. He has the ability to reliably catch the ball 15 feet from the hoop, and use one power dribble to finish with power. Most players never become the next Amare Stoudemire, obviously, but Favors is on the short list with the tools to even try.
Even though fellow Jazz forwards Paul Millsap and Al Jefferson are dynamite inside players, neither can reach the (literal) heights that Favors does as the dive-man in a pick-and-roll. It may seem basic, but precious few big men in the NBA can catch and finish anything on dives to the rim -- the list includes Josh Smith, Blake Griffin, Kenneth Faried and very few others.
Already, Favors distorts defenses. When he moves through the lane, teams go to great lengths to keep him from catching the ball, knowing that when he gets it, his dominance of the airspace will come to bear. This draws defenders his way, creating opportunities for teammates. A Tyson Chandler lob or cut presented a similar threat and was a big part of the Mavericks offense last season, though even Chandler doesn't have Favors' quick first step.
Meanwhile the Nets, the team that drafted Favors third overall then traded him before the end of his rookie season, are desperately hoping to get a top pick again this season. If they do, they will likely draft someone like Anthony Davis or Thomas Robinson -- a player who will rebound, finish above the rim and offer much needed resistance against drives into their paint.
A player like that can anchor a franchise.
A player like the one Derrick Favors is becoming in Utah.
- Concussions are becoming a near-weekly occurrence in the NBA, with Kevin Love as the most recent victim. Will there come a time when basketball players wear protective headgear? Here's a vintage video of the inventor of the football helmet demonstrating -- rather bizarrely -- his creation.
- At Grantland, Jonah Lehrer examines Regenokine, the therapy administered to Kobe Bryant to treat his arthritic knee. A debate rages: Is "biological medicine" a game-changer or quackery?
- Everywhere Tyson Chandler has ever played, his team has improved itself defensively. There are probably 15 infields in Major League Baseball who could use him up the middle.
- Rob Mahoney of The Two Man Game on the Golden State Warriors: "In their current form, the Warriors are a perfectly miserable basketball team. There were some decent individual efforts on Thursday, but overall the team’s operation is reminiscent of a confined gas; they’re objects floating within the limits of a particular space, toward no end in particular and without any coherence of movement or purpose."
- Nate Drexler of Magic Basketball sizes up the pick-and-roll D of two possible Orlando first-round opponents -- Boston and Atlanta.
- A fun spring read for you: Neal Pollack's "Jewball," basketball noir/historical fiction at its finest.
- Devin Dignam of Wages of Win offers more evidence that tanking doesn't work though, once upon a time, it used to.
- Ian Levy wonders if the frontcourt tandem of Brandan Wright and Ian Mahinmi could give the Mavericks some juice come playoff time.
- Carlos Boozer had a standout game on Thursday night for Chicago. He's also released a new single, titled "Winning Streak." Where does Booz rank in the hierarchy of NBA rappers?
- Ray Allen's mom is fresh and ready for her third consecutive Boston Marathon on Monday. In doing so, she'll be raising money to combat Diabetes in honor of her grandson, who suffers from the condition.
- I'm willing to offer up a mea culpa on my wholesale dismissal of Iman Shumpert as an NBA player. He's a tremendous defender who has a decisive impact on the game. But he's still an offensive liability completely unaware of his limitations. Fortunately, the coaching staff in New York seems to recognize those deficiencies.
- NBA players who toil in one city, but maintain their primary residence in the other face the dreaded "Jock Tax."