Thursday, September 29, 2016

The League's Most Interesting Team

       The NBA is in a very good place at the moment. Franchise value is skyrocketing, viewership is up, and a new TV deal has NBA salaries and league revenue higher than they’ve  ever been. Most importantly, the product is as compelling as its ever been. Every team has a player or storyline that will make the season interesting. So I decided to crown the Most Interesting Team in the league. What makes me qualified to do this? Why, I have the internet and a keyboard and I have a knack for spotting interesting things. What makes a team interesting? A lot of things, none of which are winning a lot. We all know the Warriors are going to win 60+ games and will be the 1 seed in the west. That’s not interesting. So with that lets start with some of the more interesting teams in the league.

5: Minnesota

       The Northern-Most NBA team has a ton of interesting things going for it. Reigning rookie of the year KAT looks like he may be able to do virtually anything on a basketball court. Year 3 Andrew Wiggins. Zach LaVine wont have to play the point anymore. Things are trending positively for the Wolves. But what puts the Wolves on the list is how this team will operate under new coach Tom Thibodeau. How far along is Andrew Wiggins? Will KAT play all the positions?(Don’t be surprised if you see him facilitating from the elbow more). How will Ricky Rubio and Kris Dunn coexist? (Very Easily). Shabazz Muhammad, Sixth Man of the Year candidate???? In a contract year, I wouldn’t be surprised. That’s if Thibs doesn’t lock him down with an extension now which may actually be the smart thing. See? No shortage of things to hold your interest here.

4: Milwaukee

       The Bucks are the NBAs most amorphous team. They have a 6’11 Guard Forward. They could conceivably  play a lineup with an average height of 6’9. They have some of the most intriguing talent scattered across the entire roster at every positionless position. Their least interesting player is a 6’6 point guard whose about to have his touches taken by a 6’11 everything. Giannis Antenkuenpo may very well be the new face of the positionless shift in the NBA. The amount of ways you could play him are already impressive; putting him on this team makes the possibilities just about endless. The chemistry that him and Jabari Parker will be so enjoyable to watch form throughout the season. And I haven’t even mentioned Thon Maker, the most known unknown player of the 2016 draft. A 7’1 project that makes a ton of sense for this team. With that many huge people playing positionless basketball the defense could be suffocating. We wont talk about the offense.

3: Denver

       The Nuggets are easily the most slept on as far as interest goes; It makes no sense. The makings of a devastating Pick and Roll offense is all right there. A dynamic guard and skilled big in Emmanuel Mudiay and Jusuf Nurkic and tons of shooting. Some of that shooting is still theoretical but I’m betting it doesn’t take Jamal Murray long to find the touch from outside. Squint hard enough and you can see shades of the 09 Magic team that went to the finals. Crazy thing is this team has a higher ceiling than that Magic team. Nurkic may not be the physical specimen that Dwight Howard was but he is unquestionably more skilled different facets of the game and Mudiay looks nothing like a meerkat.

2: Los Angles

        The team in Hollywood dodged a bullet and got to keep their pick on draft night. A Kobe farewell season kept the pick in the tops 2s and the Lakers rounded out their young core with Brandon Ingram. This will be the first time that the Lakers will be in full on development mode. D’Angelo Russell will finally have the touches Byron Scott and Kobe kept from him. Julius Randle is going to be a wrecking ball bringing the ball up in transition. Brandon Ingram shouldn’t have to create to much of his offense which should ease him into the NBA. What would make this team that much more interesting is a trade of one of those in that young core. Jordan Clarkson just signed a 4-yr/$50M but I’m not high on his pairing with Russell. If only there was a team that had too many bigs but not enough guards...

1: Philadelphia

          And the most interesting team in the league has to be the Philadelphia 76ers. How could they not be? They have a logjam of unicorn bigs. Two point forwards hybrids, an old school offensive big, an old school defensive big, and possibly a 7’ Hakeem Olajuan. I would personally love to see Philly keep all of them just to see a Bayless-Simmons-Saric-Noel-Embiid lineup but that’s probably not feasible. Noel going to the Lakers for Jordan Clarkson gives the team a little more balance and shooting but anything this team does will be enthralling. The purveyor of The Process may be gone but he leaves behind a treasure trove of assets and players with varying skillsets. They could try and swing Noel or Okafor and some of those picks for a impact player or they could do nothing and turn those picks into prospects and trim the roster down to something that meshes a little better. Either way, we finally get a good look at what Embiid might be in actual NBA games with actual NBA players and honestly, that alone is reason enough to top this list.

Thursday, February 6, 2014

More fun with Stats

We are in an exciting period for basketball analytics. The SportsVU cameras are giving us gobs of data and some great minds over at Harvard are using that data in a new and exciting way. Kirk Goldsberry of the amazing site Grantland has detailed an exciting new model to look and predict a possessions value on a second-by-second basis (Check that out here). That new model takes into a just about every possible action that occurs during a possession and spits out the Expected Possession Value(EPV).

This new stat is pretty exciting for a number of reasons but what excites me most is that this model can actual put a value on decision making in real time. By calculating a players tendencies to pass or shoot at any given position on the court we can, using this model, actually weigh a players decision to pass or shoot accurately. The implications of this stat are huge. EPV gives us our most accurate look at decision making to date. Eventually, coaches could identify the exact moments during an offensive set or action that would produce the most points for that possession with the given personnel. With this data it could be a possible to create new offensive and defensive philosophies that the NBA has't seen yet. This data will make clever coaches even more clever.

Coaches aren't the only group of people that would benefit from this new wealth of information. This will change the way we value decision makers on the court. It is generally understood who the best decision makers are in the league. The article from Kirk Goldsberry points out that Chris Paul holds the most "points added" crown for the 2012-2013 season and that would seem to makes sense. In his case this stat only affirms what we see with our eyes. But for the fringe players and D-Leaguers these stats could be the difference between a 10 day contract or a trip overseas.

You might have noticed the copious use of 'could' and 'would' throughout this article. This is largely because all of this probably wont be happening for at least few years at the very earliest. Goldsberry notes that the amount of data that would need to be collected is just too huge for most NBA teams to analyze. The biggest deterrent for owners will probably be the cost of implementing this data into their organization but as technology advances that cost should be mitigated.

If anything, the people over at Harvard have only demonstrated that we still have tons of potential new uses for the data the SportsVU cameras gives us and that's pretty exciting in and of itself.

Tuesday, February 4, 2014

Bird in the Hand

You don't have to look hard at the numbers to see Kevin Durant had a monster January; 36-6-6 tends to speak for itself and don't get me started about the percentages. Durant was so good that his greatness called into question the necessity of his sidekick, Russell Westbrook. This is not new. There will always be a pocket of people who believe the best thing for the Thunder would be to deal Westbrook. Durant being amazing without him only provides a large stage for those people to shout on.

On the surface this seems like a ridiculous proposition. We all saw how the Thunder operated without Westbrook in last years playoffs. Even with a greatly improved Reggie Jackson its easy to imagine the same outcome for the Thunder sans Westbrook. There is an interesting aspect to the "trade Westbrook" narrative however. Could the Thunder possibly get more value out of the salary they are paying Westbrook? My initial reaction would be to shout from the highest mountain a resounding no. But every interesting narrative deserves to be looked at in depth right?

Luckily for me, there is a nice metric in WARP that measures the Wins Above a Replacement Player. If you don't completely understand it I completely understand and would direct you here for an in-depth look at this stat. Combine this with player salary and you can find how much teams should be paying players per WARP and that's exactly what the good people at Hooponomics did back in 2012. Using their method and HoopsHype's salary data for the 13-14 season, I found that teams should be paying about 1.76 million dollars per WARP. Multiply that by Westbrook's projected WARP and you would see that he should be making about 20 million per year. That would be about 6 million more than he is getting paid right now.

I understand that this isn't a perfect way to look at the value of Westbrook but I think the point remains. The value Westbrook produces would be hard to reattain in a trade. A bird in the hand is worth two in the bush right? Personally, I think that with KD being KD the flaws in Westbrook's game are magnified. It seems almost sacrilegious for a point to waste even one possession when they're sharing the same court as a Hall of Fame scorer. But I think it's important to realize that these two are probably still learning to play together as both of their games grow. Sure, there will be the occasional bad jumper early in the shot clock from Westbrook, but for every bad play I'm willing to bet he will have three more plays that will make up for it. He may even involve KD in one or two of those plays. 

Thursday, January 30, 2014

NBA Pool Players

Team USA basketball is some of the most compelling basketball you can watch. International play brings together some of the best basketball players in the world and sticks them on the same team; is there anything more compelling than great players playing with other great players? Any way, the player pool for the upcoming World Cup has been released and I thought it would be great to analyze the potential roster. Check out the full list of names here.

So there are some obvious player that are locks to make the cut for the Spain World Cup. All signs point to the two Kevin's (Durant and Love) making the trip to Spain later this year. So with the out the way here are who I think we will be sending to Spain to bring back the gold. Or is it a cup now? I can never keep these awards straight.

Guards: Westbrook, Curry, Irving, Rose

Forwards: Durant, George, Iguodala, Harden

Bigs: Davis, Love, Aldrige, Cousins

You may be noticing some big names missing from this roster, namely Lebron James, Chris Paul, Deron Williams etc. Well, I'm operating under the assumption these guys wont be up to international play that does't involve the Olympics. Anyway, here's some quick notes on this roster.
  • Anytime you have the chance to send Stephen Curry to a place with a shorter 3 point arc you take that chance and watch the points rain in.
  • Rose working his way back in international play just seems like the right decision. He wouldn't have to carry a huge offensive load and he could start experimenting with a style of play that won't destroy his knees.
  • Who scores on a lineup featuring Iggy, George and Love? The correct answer is no one.
  • Anytime you can send DeMarcus Cousins to a foreign country to represent your country you should do it.
  • I may be crazy for leaving off Blake Griffin. The more I think about it the more I hate myself. He is having himself a season right now but my big selection is more about them more than its about him. I just like the way those other bigs fit in international play.  
Something more on those last one. Griffin could very well make the roster over DeMarcus but I really think that Cousins could use this experience so much more than Griffin. These past few seasons of international play the young players that make the team have come back and have seen a leap in their play. As crazy as it seems, I could see Cousins picking up some good habits from a team that should be winning a lot. Him bringing that experience back is nothing but a positive.

Anytime you can put together a team of the younger, most talented players in the league its a good thing. No matter who we send the games should be fun and hopefully they can bring back that golden cup medal for America.

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Ode to a Villain

I will never like David Stern for obvious reasons. Being from Seattle, this shouldn't come as a shocking revelation. Once Stern steps down as commissioner the lasting image I will have is this press conference, but particularly what he said not 5 seconds into this particular presser. This is Stern at his Sterniest; the NBA's lovable villain.

I'm willing to bet that Stern is the smartest person in whichever room he walks into. He is meticulous in choosing exactly the right words to convey what he wants to. If you're to slow on the uptake you will completely miss the words behind his words. That's why that statement in that presser cuts pretty deep. The funny thing is that this is exactly why people will miss him when he is gone. 

Stern understands that no matter what he does there will be a segment of people that dislike him no matter what; such is the life of a figure head. So Stern, in all his wisdom, decided to own that disdain and relish in it. he wanted to, Stern could probably stay commissioner for another 30 years, surviving off of draft night boos alone. The way he owns his title of villain is actually what makes him lovable; in a sick kind of way. Its almost as if he's been cast in the role of the villain and has been nailing it for the past three decades. Its impressive really. But there is some serious substance behind that villainous mask.

If you take Stern's total tenure as commissioner it's impossible to say that he didn't do his job. According to forbes, league revenues have increased from $118 million when he first entered office to $4.6 billion, with a B. People can point to Stern as the primary reason why the league has grown in popularity beyond North America. As an aspiring marketer, it's hard not to admire what Stern has built the league into. I'm 100% sure that we will be getting a completely new style of commissioner-ing when Adam Silver takes over and thats ok. Not everyone can wear the villain hat as well as Stern.

Thursday, January 16, 2014

Can you blame him?

Full Disclosure: I think Kyrie Irving is really good. I would go as far to say as he deserves a max deal, even though the teams led by him haven't gotten a game over .500. I know that sounds strange, but hear me out. This season, Irving has a usage rate of about 29%; a number higher than most superstars. Now you may be saying to yourself  "if he is using that many possessions, most of the blame for the losses should be on Irving's shoulders." and to that I would ask can you blame him? For the Cavs to succeed as currently constructed Irving needs to be 06-07 Lebron and that is completely unfair to him.

Some players just should't be high usage players. Rudy Gay would be the poster boy for that statement. Ever since his move to Sac-Town, his usage has fallen from around 30% to 24% and his numbers are already showing signs of improvement, particularly his shooting percentages. Irving would benefit from a similar dip in usage. To do this though you would need more quality players and turning Andrew Bynum into Loul Deng is definitely a solid starting point. With some smart moves and some player development, the Cavs could see Irving's usage drop and see some serious on court improvement. But as for right now, Irving is doing to much; can you blame him though?

Thursday, January 2, 2014

A (Running) Conversation on Eric Bledsoe

Me: So it's been a pretty fun season so far.

Kevin: Oh for sure, it seems like every team is going through some interesting point in their long-term plans.

Me: Can you say that either of the New York teams have long-term plans though?

Kevin: That's beside the point. Every team has something going on; take the Suns for instance.They just blew out the Clippers at home and are 6th in the West right now. You know who the lead guard for that team is?

Me: Eric Bledsoe and Goran Dragic of course. At this point in this teams evolution, you can't mention one of these guys without the other. Still not all that convinced Bledsoe is a legit l guard though. I know it sounds crazy but the lineups where he is the sole point on the floor have some funky numbers.

Kevin: Before I tell you how wrong you are I'll let you explain yourself.

Me: Well, with the recent success the Suns have been having and knowing that Bledsoe is a massive part of that I started doing some random digging on the wonderful NBA Statistics site. So I looked at lineups were Bledsoe was the lead guard and compared it to the starters and the Goran Dragic led lineups just for fun. Luckily this worked out because both lineups consisted of Gerald Green, Channing Frye, P.J Tucker, and Miles Plumlee.

Kevin: That works out I guess for comparison sake. But your still wrong.

Me: Let me finish. So I looked at the four factors of these lineups and found out exactly what you would think the numbers would be. The Bledsoe led lineups fell behind the most in the offensive category stats while the Dragic lineups fell behind in the more defensive stats.

Kevin: So what you're telling me is that because there is a fall off in production when the team runs one lead guard you don't buy Bledsoe as a solo point? That is your first major mistake sir because it fails to take into account the system they employ. Mr. Andrew Lynch had a great piece on that very system (Read it here). If you had read that piece you would understand that the Suns use their two-point lineup as the fulcrum of their offense. Which means that as the Suns run a solo point there is more decision making placed upon Gerald Green. That just spells some sort of production fall off.

Me: Whose to say that the Suns run the same types of things when they play one point guard.?

Kevin: We would know if you would buy us League Pass so we could watch more.

Me: One day bro. But I understand that you have to,ideally, take into account system when discussing any player. But this is a somewhat unique system the Suns run. I'm just not sure that Bledsoe would thrive as much as a lead guard in a more traditional system.

Kevin: Good thing he is with the Suns then. I personally love two point guard lineups. Dribble drives are some of the most exciting plays in basketball and with two Points you can really stretch the defense if you get creative.

Me: For sure. Those are some of my favorite lineups and when you get right down to it the line between a 1 and a 2 has been pretty blurry for a while now. But that's a conversation for another day.

Kevin: I'm glad we are starting to agree. One of the most interesting aspects of this team is its immediate future. Do the Suns think that they are one or two pieces away from seriously contending? What do they have in Alex Len? Is t

Me: Well, Hornacek has the team playing well within the system. Right now I would say they could end up being the Starless Era Nuggets; a team no one wants to see in the playoffs.

Kevin: Sounds about right. And I guess at some point you have to take individual production into account and Bledsoe is averaging 18 and 6 right now.

Me: I'm glad I'm starting to get through to you.