Posts tagged ‘NBA’

March 2, 2011

Chris Paul Version 2.0

by Jeeves

In my mind, going into the 2009-2010 season, Chris Paul was with out a doubt the best point guard in the NBA. He was unbelievable to watch. He had a quick first step, he could shoot, he could dribble, he could command an offense, he could do everything. Unfortunately for NBA fans everywhere, he tore his meniscus part way through that year.

The injury didn’t mark the end of Chris Paul, phenomenal basketball player. It has, it seems, affected the way he plays and has damaged his stake to the claim of best PG in all the land. Before we jump into things, let me establish a baseline for Chris Paul. The following table is a listing of some key stats from the 2008-2009 season, which I consider the peak of his basketball powers:

Year FGA FG% FTA Reb Ast Pts USG% TOV%
08-09 16.1 50.4 6.7 5.5 11.0 22.8 27.5 13.5

We’ll consider that the baseline of awesomeness.

Sadly, CP3’s numbers have all taken a tumble. The big box score numbers (pts/reb/ast) have fallen to 16.0/3.9/9.6. If those were the only numbers that had slipped from the baseline of awesomeness, well, I’d just chalk it up to Paul finding his game again after surgery and assume that by next year he’d be back to normal. Digging deeper, though, it looks like Chris Paul has fundamentally changed his game. It looks like he’s lost a great deal of his assertiveness.  Compare these two tables:

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February 8, 2011

Have the Magic Fallen from the NBA’s Elite?

by Jeeves

Over the weekend the Orlando Magic lost at Boston which marked their 7th straight loss against a team with a winning record. The loss also brought their record down to 32-20 and has inspired fervent discussion whether it’s time to demote the Magic from the East’s top tier to its second tied. It’s certainly a frustrating time in Orlando; their recent stretch of play has them at 3-5 in their last 8 and 7-8 since their 9-game winning streak. Their poor form has dropped them below the Atlanta Hawks in the standings and has seemingly (operative word is seemingly) locked the Magic into either the 4th or 5th seed.

The question at hand is whether or not the Magic, in their current iteration, remain a legitimate title contender. Since the trades that brought over Jason Richardson, Hedo Turkoglu, Earl Clark, and Gilbert Arenas, the Magic have compiled a 16-10 record which is good for a .615 winning percentage. The Magic, coincidentally began the season 16-10 as well. This clip clearly pales in comparison to the 59-23 (.720 WL%) record the Magic compiled in each of the last two seasons. Clearly, the Magic aren’t playing up to their past standard, you don’t need me to tell you that. Now that we have established that fact, lets take a deeper look into the numbers to see why they are struggling and what we can expect in the future.

The first thing to note (and which greatly simplifies our comparisons) is that Orlando has maintained the same pace (qualitatively, speaking) over the last three years. This year, they average 92.1 possessions a game which nearly matches the 92.0 and 92.3 mark they put up in 09-10 (referred to as 2010 from here on out) and 08-09 (referred to as 2009 from here on out) respectively.  The table below sums up their offensive and defensive outputs over the last three years:

PPG Lg Avg Diff Opp. PPG Lg Avg Diff Score Margin
2011 100.1 99.3 0.8 94.7 99.3 4.6 5.4
2010 102.8 100.4 2.4 95.3 100.4 5.1 7.5
2009 101.0 100 1.0 94.4 100 5.6 5.6
2011 Post Trades 103.54 99.3 4.24 96.55 99.3 2.75 6.99
2011 Pre Trades 96.57 99.3 -2.73 92.85 99.3 6.45 3.72

(Note: I did not recalculate the league average values for before and after Orlando’s trades. I assumed it to be the same, which should only have a marginal effect on the analysis; this isn’t baseball after all)

If you take 2011, 2010, and 2009 all at face value, you would be absolutely lost as to why Orlando is struggling  so mightily this year. In all three instances, Orlando appears to be an elite defensive team with a decent offense. Taking 2011 as a whole, however, masks the two halves that have made up the Magic’s season, so far. Before the trades, the Magic were a defensive juggernaut ranking near the top of the league coupled with a very poor offense. After the trades those two profiles reversed; the Magic would now rate as a top-7 offensive team but only a top 10 defense. That isn’t to say that the Magic aren’t still a good defensive team, they are, but they no longer are elite. That eliteness on defense is what carried them in the past to their gaudy regular season records.

Even with the stark split of the stats between the pre-trade Magic and the post-trade Magic, the results, as mentioned before, are the exact same: 26-10. Removing random chance as a legitimate factor, I believe relative strength of schedule can explain this anomaly. Before the trade, the Magic played 11 teams with (current) winning records and 15 teams with (current) losing records. After their trades, that split is 13 and 13. 2 games doesn’t mark a huge difference, but it does contribute. If you designate the Celtics, Bulls, Heat, Hawks, Thunder, Lakers, Spurs, Mavs, and Hornets (all teams with a winning percent greater than .600) as “elite teams” an analysis of the strength of schedule becomes slightly more significant. In the Magic’s first 26 games, they played one of the “elite teams” 6 times, constituting 23% of their games. In their most recent 26 game stretch, the Magic have played an elite team 10 times (39% of their games). If you do the reverse analysis and look at the number of games played against the bottom of the league (say the worst 10 teams: Nets, Raptors, Cavs, Wizards, T-Wolves, Kings, Pistons, Clippers, and Bucks), you find that the Magic played more poor teams (11) before the trade than after (8). I believe this imbalance in their schedule, when it comes to elite and abysmal teams, is the main factor in why the post-trade Magic have the same record as the pre-trade Magic.

From what we’ve seen, I feel confident in saying that the Magic, before their trade, were a mediocre team compared to their 2010 and 2009 versions. They defended well, and pumped up their record courtesy of an easier schedule. The post-trade Magic are much improved, yet, have been held back by a tougher schedule to date. All this leads me to believe that the Magic are, in fact, no longer an elite team. They are still a good team, and are better than they were earlier this year. It is possible that they improve over the home stretch, but if the playoffs were to start today, I wouldn’t put any money on them advancing to the Conference Finals. At this point, it would be questionable whether they are even able to beat an Atlanta team whom they absolutely massacred in last year’s playoffs. It isn’t time to abandon ship in Orlando, but unless their defense picks things up a bit, it certainly is time to start tempering expectations.

February 2, 2011

The Chicago Bulls: Not Quite Road-Warriors, as of Yet

by Jeeves

The Chicago Bulls have been playing great basketball so far this season. They have compiled the 4th best record in the NBA and are within spitting distance of the top two teams in the East (.5 games back of Miami and 3.0 behind Boston). All this has been done while integrating a handful of new players into a completely new system and juggling the rotation around the absences of Carlos Boozer (18 games missed due to injury) and Joakim Noah (23 games missed due to injury). To say they’ve out done expectations would be an understatement. The pundits, generally speaking had the Bulls pegged as a solid playoff contender, but nowhere near title worthy. Marc Stein, of ESPN, had the Bulls 9th in his Preseason power rankings and Britt Robson, of SI, had the Bulls 12th in his poll. They were viewed as a fringey contender, one that, perhaps, could make a deep run in a year or two.

As the Bulls stand now, they have to be viewed as one of the favorites to come out of the East. They may rank a bit behind Boston and Miami, but they have to be taken at least as seriously as Orlando. I would be zero percent surprised to see the Bulls in the ECF. I would, however, be surprised if they make it that far while maintaining their pedestrian road record. The Bulls home record (3rd best, behind only Boston and San Antonio) buoys their 10-10 road record. It should also be noted that only the Clippers have played fewer road games than the Bulls which can be used to further discount the Bulls’ overall record. This isn’t a horrendous mark, especially considering they didn’t have Boozer during the annual rodeo trip, but it’s not befitting of a title contender. The average NBA Finals team since the year after the lock-out has had a record of 24-17  on the road, with a numerical mode of 27-14.

Derrick Rose and company embark on a 5 game road swing through the Western Conference. Though the team is still not at full strength, it provides an opportunity for the Bulls to at least show that they are legitimate Finals contenders and not just Conference Finals contenders. The Bulls play, in order, at the Clippers, at Golden State, at Portland, at Utah, and at New Orleans. There is not a single back-to-back in that stretch which will aide the Bulls as they try to improve their road mark.

While maximizing their wins on this West Coast swing would obviously be best, I’m most interested to see how they perform against the Jazz and the Hornets. They are two of the better home teams in the league and either game would count in my books as the Bulls second impressive road win of the season. I don’t mean second most impressive; I mean their second impressive, period. The Bulls beat a full strength Mavs team way back on November 11th. Other than that game, their best road win is either their win in Memphis or their win in Phoenix, two teams that are around .500.

These 5-games won’t make or break the Bulls in the public’s eyes; their sparkly 33-14 record takes care of that. This stretch, though, represents their best chance to legitimize their championship aspirations that is, at least, until Noah returns.

February 2, 2011

Kobe Bryant and the Dominique Wilkins Game

by Jeeves

The other night against the Celtics, Kobe put up a fairly interesting stat line, one which I didn’t notice until now. For the game, (in the money stats) he had 41 pts, 0 ast, and 3 reb. The 41 points, while a high number, is clearly nothing out of the ordinary for Mamba. The lack of assists and rebounds, though, is what caught my eye. This line brought me over to the play index at basketball-reference, as I am apt to do, to see just how uncommon that game was.

I initially punched in (a minimum of) 40 points and zero assists as that was what caught my eye off the bat. Unfortunately, that search yielded far more results than I expected; 60 to be specific (since the beginning of the 1986 season, as the play index does not go farther back in time). Sunday’s game was actually Kobe’s third of at least 40 points with 0 assists; it pulled him into a first place tie with Patrick Ewing, Karl Malone, Dirk Nowitzki, and Glen Rice. So while 40 points with 0 assists is pretty rare, it isn’t as rare as I thought.

So I added in the rebounding component just to see what came out. With a set maximum of 5 rebounds, that list was pruned down to 14, which I think is something worth writing about. Kobe joined 13 others (nobody has been able to repeat the feat), the most recent of which was Michael Redd when he went off for a stunning 57-2-0 against the Jazz in 2006. Redd’s game is also of note, due to the fact that no one has scored more than his 57 without recording an assist (since 1986, which, again, is as far as the play index covers).

I’m unsure what to make of Kobe’s stat line in the grander scheme of things. Clearly, it’s a fairly rare achievement; one the NBA hasn’t seen in 5 years, yet I feel it would be foolish to say that his stat line is emblematic of the reason why the Lakers lost on Sunday. Yes, it makes for a nice rip job on Kobe, he hogs the ball and ices out his teammates which allows the Lakers to keep things fairly close, but it is disingenuous. In Kobe’s other two 40+ point, 0 assist games, his team was victorious, so perhaps there is no greater narrative and the meaning (but what does it mean???) to take out of it all is Kobe had himself an interesting game.


My ruminations over at the play index also helped me uncover what I will refer to from now on as the Dominique Wilkins Game. The Dominique Wilkins game is one where a player scores at least 35 points and fails to record an assist. ‘Nique is the all-time leader with 14(!) such games. I think it’s safe to say that he had at least another one of those games in his first 4 seasons which, unfortunately, aren’t covered in the Play Index. The Dominique Wilkins game has happened far more often (207 times since ’86) so here’s hoping I get to one day soon write a post about someone posting a Dominique Wilkins game.