In one of the more amazing games of the playoffs, the Pacers almost knocked off the Heat at home. Up by one point, with 2.2 seconds left, the Pacers were faced with how to best defend the Heat. As we all know now, the Pacers chose to sit Roy Hibbert and play Sam Young, a perimeter defender, instead of their big shot blocker. Would Hibbert have made a difference? Maybe…Let’s take a look at the final play and see what we can gleam:
-The Heat had Shane Battier inbound the ball near half court and David West guarded that pass. West played up on the pass but allowed Battier pass the ball towards the three point line and denied any passes toward the foul line or the corners.
-The Heat put in shooters Norris Cole and Ray Allen at opposite ends of the base line. George Hill was on Cole and Sam Young played Ray Allen.
-Chris Bosh was at the top of the key with Tyler Hansbrough on him.
-LBJ stood at the foul line elbow with Paul George guarding him.
-The Heat then ran a motion play to get someone open. Allen ran from the baseline across the three point line around Bosh (who was also cutting to the corner vacate by Allen) and in front of James.
-As Hansbrough switched to Allen near the foul line, James ran a quick curl and Hansbrough’s presence actually slightly blocked George from defending the pass.
-When James caught the pass near the top of the key after the curl, George stepped up almost adjacent to LBJ’s right side, giving James an open lane on the left. In an even race to the basket with George, James glided to the basket easily for a basically uncontested layup.
-The motion play had vacated the paint of any help defenders. The closest help defender was Young, who had been sort of guarding Bosh in the corner. LBJ was going too hard and too fast for Young to get there in time or do anything.
Having seen how the play worked out, where would Hibbert had made a big difference? If Hibbert was man on man with Bosh, he probably would’ve had to switch onto Allen (as Hasnbrough did) and would not likely have been a factor on the play. If they had Hibbert just guard the paint and not tightly stay with a small faster player, Bosh (or some other Heat player) would’ve had a wide open jumper. This scenario would’ve been preferable to LBJ’s wide open layup but also not an ideal (the ideal would’ve been Cole or Allen shooting a contested long jumper).
In the end, no matter what the Pacers did with Hibbert, the game was lost when George overplayed James. Had George given James a few feet cushion, this would’ve force LBJ into a makeable but lower percentage jumper. Even if Hibbert was somehow guarding the rim on the play, blocking a wide open James would be tough and, though Hibbert could conceivably block him (just ask Carmelo Anthony), it is most likely that James would’ve gone to the foul line. This is better than the actual result but not great either. Actually, the best move would’ve been to put the long armed Hibbert on the inbounds and deny a clean pass to anyone (particularly LeBron). This is easier said than done but, with 2.2 seconds left, the harder the Pacers made the commencement of the play, the harder it would’ve been for the Heat to execute. Frank Vogel made some mistakes hear but the notion that Hibbert in the paint would stop James is not very likely.
This season flew by like a flash and we are once again faced with the playoff season. As usual, we’ll go through the match ups and make are somewhat fearless but equivocating predictions. Before we really dig in, we should acknowledge the non-shocking revelation that we are headed to a rematch of last year’s Finals. Miami and OKC are the leaders in SRS rating and OKC actually rates a good deal higher than the Heat (9.15 to 7.03). In the East, Miami does not look like it will be tested much, while OKC will have to run a gauntlet to get to the Finals.
In fact, the Knicks, as the two seed in the East have nearly an identical SRS rating (3.73) to the West’s eight seed Rockets (3.69). That stat is a beat of a cheat because the six seed Warriors (1.32) and seven seed Lakers (1.49) have worse point differentials than Houston. Still, no one would seriously contest that the Rockets, Lakers, and possibly the Warriors could beat any East team not named the Heat in a seven game series. Nevertheless, Heat’s lack of competition is not necessarily a bad thing for their competitive juices. In fact, the Lakers spent most of the 1980s blowing away Western playoff pretenders before battling with the Celtics or 76ers in the Finals and it did not affect them Lakers adversely. With all that said, let’s take a look at the NBA match ups and see how we will get to the Finals most people expect. As always, we also will look at each series from an historical perspective and review the most recent playoff match up between each franchise. Continue reading 2012-13 Playoff Preview…
1. Denver Nuggets: When you look back at the past decade of Denver Nuggets history, yet another first round loss might seem like stagnation. The Nuggets have made the playoffs each of the last nine seasons but made it past the first round only once (2008-09 when they lost to the Lakers in the Conference Finals). But there is progress. Really! Trading Carmelo Anthony and Nene has gotten Dener some nice young players (Wilson Chandler, Danilo Gallinari, Javale McGee and some other parts) and has reset the clock on Denver. Throw in a great draft pick in Kenneth Faried and Denver is still oozing young talent.
The cap situation is fairly stable too with Gallinari locked in at a good price and Faried and Ty Lawson still on rookie contracts. This will allow the Nuggets to re-sign McGee, who is a question mark but is young enough that to have a tom of upside and it young enough that he won’t be immovable if he doesn’t develop. The other decision will come with Andre Miller, who has aged really well and was a big part of the team. Given his age and willingness to stay in Denver, Miller should be back on a cheapish contract. None of this makes Denver a title contender but they are now in place to convert some of depth for a star if one becomes available by trade. If not, they still have a 48-50 win team.
2. Dallas Mavericks: It wasn’t the weakest title defense we’ve seen but this wasn’t too impressive. Dallas floundered early and was ultimately swept by a young Thunder team. The popular wisdom is that Dallas punted on the title defense because they didn’t want to overpay for Tyson Chandler, who has had some injury issues in the past. Rather, Dallas planned to get by with patchwork short-term signings and then go for Dwight Howard and Deron Williams in the summer. The plan looks worse in retrospect than it was at the time. Chandler was a great defensive presence but a repeat seemed unlikely. In fact, the Mavs’ defensive efficiency was totally unchanged from 2010-11 (the Mavs were 8th both years). Rather, the fall off came on offense when the efficiency plummeted from 8th at 109.7 in 2010-11 to 22nd at 103.3 this year. How did this happen? Let’s take a look the per/36 minute stats of the major players from each season:
-PG, Jason Kidd: 8.5 pts, .361 FG%, .340 3-FG%, 4.8 rebs, 8.9 asts, 14.4 PER
-SG, Jason Terry: 18.2 pts, .451 FG%, .362 3-FG%, 2.1 rebs, 4.7 asts, 15.9 PER
-SF, Shawn Marion: 16.0 pts, .520 FG%, .152 3-FG%, 8.8 rebs, 1.8 asts, 17.0 PER
-PF, Dirk Nowitzki: 24.2 pts, .517%, .393 3-FG%, 7.4 rebs, 2.7 asts, 23.4 PER
-C, Tyson Chandler: 13.1 pts, .654 FG%, 12.1 rebs, 0.6 asts, 18.4 PER
-G, JJ Barea: 16.6 pts, .439 FG%, .349 3-FG%, 3.4 rebs, 6.8 asts, 14.8 PER
-C: Brendan Haywood: 8.7 pts, .574 FG%, 10.2 rebs, 0.5 asts, 11.7 PER
-G: DeShawn Stevenson: 11.9 pts, .388 FG%, .378 3-FG%, 3.3 rebs, 2.4 asts, 9.8 PER
-PG, Jason Kidd: 7.8 pts, .363 FG%, .354 3-FG%, 5.2 rebs, 6.9 asts, 13.1 PER
-SG, Jason Terry: 17.1 pts, .430 FG%, .378 3-FG%, 2.4 rebs, 4.1 asts, 15.7 PER
-SF, Shawn Marion: 12.6 pts, .446 FG%, .294 3-FG%, 8.7 rebs, 2.4 asts, 15.0 PER
-PF, Dirk Nowitzki: 23.2 pts, .457 FG%, .368 3-FG%, 7.3 rebs, 2.4 asts, 21.7 PER
-C, Brendan Haywood: 8.8 pts, .518 FG%, 10.2 rebs, 0.6 asts, 12.9 PER
-G, Vince Carter: 14.4, .411 FG%, .361 3-FG%, 4.8 rebs, 3.2 asts, 13.6 PER
-G, Rodrigue Beaubois: 14.8 pts, .422 FG%, .288 3-FG%, 4.7 rebs, 4.8 asts, 15.3 PER Continue reading First Round Fall Out (Western Conference)…
While the playoffs rage on, it is still a fine time to stop for a minute and consider those who have already been knocked out. So we begin our annual Fall Out series, in which we assess the departed and their future prospects. The losers have been gone for at least a week and this gives us a little more perspective and avoids quickly pronouncing failure and success. Today, we look at the Eastern Conference:
1. Chicago Bulls: Losing in the first round as one seed really hurts. In the case of Chicago, the hurt is slightly different than those of past one seeds to be knocked out. There was no shocking upset here but rather a loss off Derrick Rose, which made an upset much more likely. One could imagine that the loss still was a bit surprising because even without Rose the Bulls were a very good team this year. Even so, the Bulls were going win a title without Rose. Instead, the Bulls are left with losing a shot at a title and spending next season without their best player, as well as a possibility that Rose won’t be the same player when he comes back. In short, the whole situation sucks. Going forward, the Bulls will probably be in the playoffs in 2012-13 but the gaping hole at the point will prevent any meaningful contention.
At the moment, the team is pretty much locked into the roster it has. Carlos Boozer, Joakim Noah, and Luol Deng have contracts for at least three more seasons, all at pretty big money. While all three could be traded, only Noah has both the youth and reasonable salary to command actual good value in return. Noah my actually be worth trading too since his strengths (defense/rebounding) can possibly be replaced by Taj Gibson on the cheap. Noah, in turn, could fetch a scoring guard that the team needed before Rose got hurt and even more so. We aren’t saying Noah should definitely be traded for a shooting guard but he is the prime candidate if the right opportunity presents itself.
As for Boozer, he is destined to be considered another Bulls big ticket free agent bust a la Ron Mercer and Ben Wallace. But Boozer is nowhere near so disappointing a bust. His raw numbers look down because he played his fewest minutes per game since his rookie year (29.5). In reality, he improved upon his 2010-11 numbers and his PER shows him as an asset at 19.7. Yes, Boozer has his downsides: he won’t ever reach his career highs of five years ago and his lack of defense is notable on the Bulls and, at 30, he isn’t going to be getting any better. Nor is any team going to assume the three years and $46 million without sending back a bad contract. The only way to clear Boozer from the cap is to amnesty him and the production right now justifies his roster spot.
Chicago should hover at the 45-win mark next year but all eyes will be on Rose’s return. That is a bit of limbo for fans but it is more hope than most NBA teams have.
2. New York Knicks: Weird season for the Knicks. It was several seasons in one really. We won’t recap the rollercoaster events but, at the end of the day, the Knicks are Carmelo Anthony, Amare Stoudemire, Jeremy Lin and some role players. The first test of the off-season will be to see whether the NBPA’s challenge of the restricted free agency rules for waiver wire picks ups (Lin and Steve Novak) will be left intact. If so, the Knicks can basically offer Lin and Novak more cash than anyone else. If not, both players will hit the open market and the Knicks could be outbid by teams with cap room. The reports indicate that the NBPA challenge is a longshot because the CBA did not specifically provide for unrestricted free agency for such players. Hopefully, these sources are correct because the Knicks will be totally screwed if they lose Lin, the only above-average NBA point on the roster.
Assuming Lin does return, the other issue is that Knicks are locked into a roster that is not a title contender. Carmelo should be the same really good scoring forward for the next three years but Amare is a problem. His numbers were down markedly this season and he looked a lot less athletic. A look at Amare’s similarity scores at Basketball-Reference show a few players that fell off to a lower level for a variety of reasons (Elton Brand, Marques Johnson, Grant Hill). Hopefully, Amare’s explosiveness returns but it’s safe to say that most GMs would greatly prefer having Booze and his contract going forward than Stoudemire and his contract.
At best, we are looking at the Knicks staying on the 45-win treadmill next year unless they keep Lin and Lin turns into Steve Nash and Amare gets back some of his mojo. This won’t be a boring team. The team they have is entertaining and far preferable to the crap that had been at MSG the last decade but the realistic ceiling is low. Continue reading First Round Fall Out (Eastern Conference)…
1. Celtics-Hawks: So far, the First Round has been entertaining for individual games but no series has really quite gotten to the point that the outcome has been in much doubt. In other words, no series have been tied at 2-2 but instead all were at 3-1 or 4-0 sweeps coming into Game 5. Fortunately for the casual fan, the Hawks win tonight in Atlanta has made its series with Boston a little more fun. Based upon the play so far, Game 6 will be yet another low scoring, low paced battle of attrition. The Hawks got a huge lift from Al Horford’s return to form. He fit right in with the Hawks and Atlanta was +10 with him on the floor. Boston is still obviously the favorite but with Paul Pierce hobbled and Horford looking tough, the Hawks have a serious shot of bringing this back to Atlanta for Game 7.
2. Least Dramatic First Round Ever?: As noted, no series in the First Round has gone to 2-2 and we are looking at possibly no Game 7s and only a few Game 6s. Is this atypical? Well, since 2002-03 (when the NBA first made the First Round best-of-seven) getting Game 7s in the First Round is far from a foregone conclusion but the NBA usually delivered at least one Game 7 a year but never more than two in season. In fact, last year was the first time there was no Game 7 in the First Round (though there were four Game 6s). The most boring First Round of the seven-game era was 2003-04 when four series were sweeps and three series went only five games. The lone outlier was Heat-Hornets, which went seven but was not particularly exciting with the exception of a game winner hit by some rookie named Dwyane Wade. The most Game 6s and Game 7s in one year came the year before in 2002-03, when five series went six games and two went seven and the one other series went five games.
3. Age Limit Again: Turning away from the playoffs for a second, I couldn’t help but notice the concerted push by both the NCAA and NBA to try to raise the age limit to enter the NBA draft from 19 to 20, effectively forcing most players to spend two years in college and not one. David Stern has avoided any moral judgments in taking this stance and called this a financial issue: ”Our rule is that they won’t be eligible for the draft until they’re 19. They can play in Europe, they can play in the D-League, they can go to college. This is a not a social program, this is a business rule for us. The NFL has a rule which requires three years of college. So the focus is often on ours, but it’s really not what we require in college. It’s that we say we would like a year to look at them and I think it’s been interesting to see how the players do against first-class competition in the NCAAs and then teams have the ability to judge and make judgments, because high-ranking draft picks are very, very valuable.”
Mark Cuban is also on board but frames this as a moral issue, where the limit would benefit those barred from coming to the NBA: ”It’s not even so much about lottery busts, it’s about kids’ lives that we’re ruining. Even if you’re a first-round pick and you have three years of guaranteed money, or two years now of guaranteed money, then what? Because if you’re a bust and it turns out you just can’t play in the NBA, your ‘rocks for jocks’ one year of schooling isn’t going to get you far. I just don’t think it takes into consideration the kids enough. Obviously, I think there’s significant benefit for the NBA. It’s not my decision to make, but that’s my opinion on it.”
Most recently, Steve Kerr wrote a piece in Grantland.com, outlining all sorts of reasons why the age limit helps. Kerr is a thoughtful guy and touches on both financial and moral reasons why forcing the athletes to get some college experience benefits everyone. His arguments overlap with both the comments of Stern and Cuban. Let’s review Kerr’s six identified arguments and see if they hold muster:
1. High school players aren’t mature enough to be ready to play in the NBA: Kerr argues that the transition to the NBA is so hard that teenagers need at least two years to adjust to all aspects of the NBA and being adults. As a consequence, the NBA risks having a choppier product than if the players have spent a few years in college. It is true that most high schoolers are not ready to play immediately in the NBA (in fact, most college seniors aren’t ready). No evidence is presented, however, to support that having a few teenagers on the roster drags down quality of play. The fact is that number of high schoolers to be drafted were very low and consisted mostly of players so gifted that they were quite good by their second seasons (and LeBron James and Dwight Howard were really good as 18-year old rookies). So, while in the abstract this argument has merit, I don’t think this holds muster. Good players are good players and good coaches teach players, no matter the league they play/coach in. Sure, some players could be missing out on basic life experience by going to college for two or three years but the alarming rate of post-career bankruptcies of players in all sports doesn’t support the theory that coping is a skill necessarily learned in college.
2. The NBA has a financial interest in seeing young players compete so that they can avoid costly speculation in the uncertain high school/teenage athlete market: This is the core of Stern’s statement but is actually Kerr’s weakest argument by far. The history of high schoolers in the NBA draft shows a much high success rate than most other pools of tools. It is almost prosaic to go over this but here is the rundown of United States high schoolers (with no college or juco experience at all) taken in the NBA draft since 1995:
1995: Kevin Garnett (4th)
1996: Kobe Bryant (13), Jermaine O’Neal (17)
1997: Tracy McGray (9)
1998: Al Harrington (25), Rashard Lewis (32), Korleone Young (40)
1999: Jonathan Bender (5), Leon Smith (29)
2000: Darius Miles (3), DeShawn Stevenson (23)
20001: Kwame Brown (1), Tyson Chandler (2), Eddy Curry (4), DeSagana Diop (8)
2002: Amare Stoudemire (9)
2003: LeBron James (1), Travis Outlaw (23), Ndudi Ebi (26), Kendrick Perkins (27)
2004: Dwight Howard (1), Shaun Livingston (4), Robert Swift (12), Sebastian Telfair (13), Al Jefferson (15), Josh Smith (17), J.R. Smith (18), Dorell Wright (19)
2005: Martell Webster (6), Andrew Bynum (10), Gerald Green (18), C.J. Miles (34), Monta Ellis (40), Louis Williams (45), Andray Blatche (49), Amir Johnson (56)
I don’t see too many busts here. In fact, I see many more Hall of Famers than busts, as well as some really good value picks late in the first round and in the second round. If anything, the high schoolers have usually been undervalued with only a few notable exceptions. In 2005, the last year of high schoolers, every second rounder from high school was, at least, a useful pro. If this financial uncertainty is the main argument for a draft limit, we have to call BS on this. The argument seemed thin in the article and non-existent when the actual lists are reviewed. If high schoolers were crapping out to often, they would just not be drafted high. No need to “save” GMs from themselves on this issue.
Kerr doubles down on this argument, stating that he doubted it made any difference to any player that any great player that he got his max contract at 24 as opposed to 22. College is great if you want it but I don’t know a single player who would sneeze at losing out on $4-10 million those extra two years in college would cost him. Even more telling, ask Rashard Lewis whether he would give back those two years. Had Rashard Lewis been two years older when he came to the NBA, he would’ve hit the free agent market for his big contract at 29 and not 27, which could’ve cost him the max contract he did get from Orlando.
3. Player development is hurt by not going to college: Kerr states that the NCAA prepared players for the pros and demonstrates this by showing that Magic Johnson, Larry Bird, and Michael Jordan had much better numbers as rookies than even the best high schoolers like LeBron and Dwight Howard. This is true but does not prove the the better numbers resulted from the older players having played in college. Most players consistently improve from ages 18 to 27 and so the older you are when you enter the league, the better you will probably be. LeBron improved quite nicely from age 18 to age 23 without college tutorials. It is definitely true that some players could use the college environment but I, as a fan, would hate to miss out on two years of LeBron or Howard just to make sure that some more marginal players stay in school.
4. College stars create fan interest for the pros: Kerr notes that college stars like Patrick Ewing were hugely anticipated coming into the NBA and that this helps fan interest. This is true on some level but college stardom only matters if the player is actually good as pro. Bobby Hurley, Christian Laettner, and Tyler Hansbrough were huge college stars. Conversely, no one knew who Karl Malone or John Stockton were in college and they became NBA legends. but Any NCAA fanfare quickly burns away if the player doesn’t dominate as a pro. Laettner was a solid pro but was almost totally forgotten one it was clear that he was not going to be great. A great college player will have a certain aura about him if he is also great as a pro but do you really think anyone cares that Kobe Bryant didn’t go to Duke now?
5. College fosters a sense of team that high schoolers don’t get through the whole crazy AAU process: Maybe this is true to some extent but why can’t this same sense of “team” be found in the pros?
6. College provides mentors in coaches that are key to development: This argument sort of overlaps with some of the other arguments but a great coach can really help a player develop. But not every college player gets to play with Dean Smith or Lute Olson. A great coach can help but this is a very minor subsidiary point.
Overall, I think most of the reasons given for limiting high school player access to the NBA are strawmen arguments. Baseball forces players to declare after high school or wait three years because they have an anti-trust exception and can do whatever they want. The NFL limits access on the more compelling pretense that 18 and 19 year olds are not physically as strong and could get really hurt in the violent NFL. I see Stern’s position as illusory. He doesn’t want his league to get bad press for having too many young players and thus will support an age limit to make the NBA look more socially responsible. I can understand why he does this and can’t say this is a bad business move but the pretenses for the rule are thin at best. In an ideal world, the NBA would come up with a rule to let the best players (like LeBron) come out early but I guess we don’t live in an ideal world.