Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Brian Shaw and Family

This is a touching video I found.  Sometimes we get so caught up in games and stats that we think of basketball players as robots.  Brian Shaw was one of my favorite players on the Lakers a decade ago, but I never knew about his past.  He seems like a genuine, caring dude.  I wouldn't mind if Brian ends up coaching my favorite team next year.     

Also, nice job by David Aldridge, one of the best reporters in the business.              

The Importance of Being Average

 Although the Orlando Magic (44-26) are currently fourth in the NBA’s Eastern Conference, they have just as good a chance of making it to the NBA Finals as any other team in the conference.  They have by far the best center in the league in Dwight Howard.  They'll probably face the Atlanta Hawks in the first round of the playoffs, and they'll probably get a nice rest before their second round series after they outscore the Hawks by a combined 100 points in a four game sweep (one point for each million Atlanta overpaid Joe Johnson last summer).  And most importantly, they finally have an average power forward.  His name is Brandon Bass, and he does "power forward things."
Image Via blogs.orlandosentinel.com

For the past few years, Orlando has put four 3-point shooters next to Dwight.  Dwight's ability to dominate the interior on both ends of the floor made this a decent strategy, albeit a gimmicky one.  Usually, a power forward's job is to crash the boards and mix it up in the paint.  Orlando's power forward never did that, because Orlando's power forward was Rashard Lewis, who was an excellent 3-point shooter, a small forward masquerading as a power forward, and Joe Johnson's hero ("If Lewis is getting paid $118 million to shoot jumpers, imagine what I can get to be the leader of a mediocre Atlanta team that will never be a threat anyway!").

Rashard Lewis is a solid player, but he is what he is.  What he is isn't what a dominant center has historically needed.  Shaquille O’Neal had Horace Grant, Udonis Haslem, and A.C. Green when he had his greatest successes.  Hakeem Olajuwon had Otis Thorpe.  David Robinson had his best team success pre-Tim Duncan with Dennis Rodman in 1995.  Wilt Chamberlain finally beat Bill Russell in 1967 when he had Luke Jackson backing him up.  Kareem Abdul-Jabbar had his greatest successes with lunch-pail players like Kurt Rambis doing the dirty work.  Dominant centers have been at their best when they've had a traditional, role-playing power forward next to them that can play solid defense, grab rebounds after the center has went to alter the opposition's shot, make smart passes, and be efficiently opportunistic when the center draws a double-team.

The past few years, Orlando has gone deep into the playoffs only to lose because their offense slows down against playoff defenses that close out hard on the 3-point shooters. Critics have blamed Howard for this, citing that he is their offensive anchor, and therefore is responsible for the team’s drop-off in offense.  I get that before this season, Howard didn't have the best post arsenal.  But the guy who covers for the team's unorthodox defensive lineup (Lewis should steal Joe Johnson's ill-gotten money, put it in a bag with $59 million of his own cash from the Orlando contract, and mail it to Dwight, because no GM in their right mind would sign Lewis to that amount of money to put him at power forward if they didn't have a top 10 defensive center all-time on their team already) while still expending large amounts of energy running the floor and crashing the offensive glass should not have to shoulder that much blame.  That's too much to ask of anybody, even an amazing athlete like Howard.

This year, Howard has shown massive improvements as a scorer.  He has improved as an offensive anchor.  The new Howard is unproven in the playoffs though.  Now that Orlando has thankfully traded Lewis, Bass should see more minutes alongside Howard in the playoffs.  Why?  Because with the help of Bass, Howard won’t need to expend enormous amounts of energy on both ends of the floor; he'll have a tough guy inside covering for him and helping him out on defense.  This will allow Howard a fair shake at proving himself as an improved playoff isolation scorer, because he'll have more energy to do so.

There is regular season evidence that suggests Bass is the key for Orlando.  According to this website, Orlando plays a large amount of minutes with a lineup of Jason Richardson, Jameer Nelson, Hedo Turkoglu, Bass and Howard.  That lineup plays the most minutes for the team.  Ryan Anderson is the other player that gets significant minutes at the power forward position.  He's the inexpensive version of Lewis- a 3-point shooter who spreads the floor in the same gimmicky fashion as Mr. Moneybags.  When Anderson is on the floor in place of Bass (with Howard, Richardson, Nelson, Turkoglu), the team has a worse plus/minus rating.  They get better on offense with Anderson, but much worse on defense.  That lineup with Anderson plays the third-most minutes of any lineup for Orlando.

Unlike in The Matrix, Mr. Anderson's impact probably won't translate for Orlando in the playoffs anyway.  As was said earlier, playoff defenses will learn how to shut down those gimmicky 3-point shooters as a series progresses.  If Dwight has enough energy to dominate on offense consistently, Orlando's offense will be fine, because teams usually don't find a way of defending a true offensive anchor (which is what Dwight may very well be now).  The impact of Bass will most likely stay constant, however, mainly because a role player's defensive effectiveness is controlled by that player's effort.  (And also because his name is Brandon Sam Bass.  How bad-ass is that?  How bad-ass would it be if he legally changed his name to Brandon Bad-Ass Sam Bass?) 

Bass' contributions offensively will be felt as well.  As I said in a previous post, there are different ways of playing off-ball than just shooting 3's.  Bass can still knock down mid-range jumpers.  Or cut to the middle.  Or offensive rebound.  You know, just some average power forward things.

I don't know if Orlando can beat Miami, Boston, or Chicago.  But Brandon Bass helps give the Magic a better chance to win a title than they've had in recent years.

Sunday, March 13, 2011

In Context: Kevin Love's rebounding

Image via Wikipedia
Don't hate the player named Love who people love to hate on because they feel he pads his stats.  Hate the game.  Or hate me for leading with such a weird first line.   

Minnesota's power forward Kevin Love keeps racking up double-doubles this season.  He's up to 53 in a row now, which is a new post-merger record in the NBA.  He recently broke the record, set by the great Moses Malone.  People have criticized Love for stat padding, citing how fast Minnesota plays (first in pace), how inefficient they are at putting the ball in the hoop (27th in field goal percentage), and how bad Minny's other rebounders are as the reason why Love's rebounding averages are so astronomical.  I find these people astro-comical (Yeah, that's a new word.  Use it.  It's fine.  It means out-of-this-world funny.) 

How is Love stat padding though?  He's the most efficient high-minutes and high-volume scorer on the team.  His TS% is almost 60 percent while he averages 20.9 points per game.  He's able to shoot three 3's per game at nearly a 43 percent clip, yet grabs 4.7 offensive rebounds per game, lending credence to the argument that one's role on offense does not determine one's ability to grab offensive rebounds.  Standing 25 feet away from the basket as you spot up for 3 isn't the best strategy when trying to grab offensive rebounds.

Love's critics need to watch Love more closely.  I understand their concern about Love getting "cheap" rebounds by tipping in his own misses after shooting a bad shot up and knowing where it is going to land, but you can't grab almost 16 boards per game doing that, and you can't do that on the defensive glass either.  He gets many of his rebounds because he's so good at getting position, has magnet hands, and is strong enough to hold position against opposing rebounders. 

Don't look at the number; look at the rebounding skills Love possesses.        

Kobe Crafting on the Beach

Image via Wikipedia
Kobe Bryant was refining his talents in South Beach.

Following last week's much-hyped game against the Miami Heat, Kobe Bryant decided to shoot some extra shots and work from different spots in AmericanAirlines Arena.  He didn't shoot well (8-21) against Miami, a team that boasts arguably the two best wing players in the league, Lebron James and Dwyane Wade.  Instead of crying about it (My ever-so-subtle shot as Chris Bosh.  Warning:  There may be more.), Kobe practiced right on The King's court, shirking his responsibilities as a pampered superstar to go out and party in beautiful Miami.  The dude is more than halfway between 32 and 33 years old, with over 47,000 minutes played on an NBA court.  His athletic ability has declined about as much as ticket sales for the Heat increased this summer, yet he continues to work on his game, trying to stay on par with the young guns in the league.

"It's my job," he said.  But he's made more money doing this job than most will make in their lifetime of jobs.  He's proven everything that he possibly could prove.  He's won, won without Shaq, won scoring titles, set records, won an MVP, accumulated massive career stats, scored 81 points against a team led by the great Chris Bosh (Okay, I'm done), etc.  It's not because it's his job; it's because it's his craft.

Even in decline, he's looking for ways to defeat father time (Kobe counts Greg Oden as his biggest fan).  He can't accelerate around defenders and finish with dunks like he used to, so he works on his skill-set, which he'll rely on in games to create space for his shots.  He'll make defenders move one way so it's easier for Kobe to move the opposite way.  All of this adds to his longevity.  With all the accomplishments listed above, it's clear that Kobe loves basketball.  He loves it. 

I don't know what this makes Kobe.  I don't think we get much insight into who he is as a human being.  Just because he loves basketball doesn't mean we can say "Kobe is the best!" when that goes against rational observation and empirical data.  Even as a Lakers fan who is appreciative of all the great times Kobe has given my team, I know he isn't the best in the game anymore.  He may never have been the clear-cut best in the game.   

I think we need to appreciate the man's dedication to his craft though.  The 47,000 minutes he's been here thus far is because of the minutes he's spent on the beach....                     

Thursday, March 3, 2011

The Real Reason Behind the Polarization of Derrick Rose

Kobe Bryant has some competition.  He has a rival in a Chicago Bulls uniform, a Bull who plays guard.  Kobe's flashy, young competitor played against him in the All-Star game for the Eastern Conference.  The youngin' headlines a team that Kobe's Lakers might see if they are fortunate enough to make it out of the West.  He's a flashy, athletic star who can dazzle fans like a young Kobe Bean Bryant.

Picture via http://pippenainteasy.com/files/2010/02/derrick-rose.jpg
Michael Jordan is retired from playing professional basketball, Keith Bogans just missed making the all-star team (Juusstt missed...kind of like all of his shots), and I didn't sign with Chicago last summer because I hate cold weather.  The Bull I'm talking about is Derrick Rose- a player who is right on Kobe's heels as he elevates both his game and his status among the league's most polarizing figures.   

MPPs of the League

Rose is an amazing force for Chicago.  The Eastern Conference is more top-heavy than the skin drooping off Libyan ruler Muammar Gaddafi's face, yet Rose has the Bulls near the top of the standings in the Eastern Conference.  While Boston and Miami sent a combined seven all-stars to Los Angeles over a week ago, Chicago sent only Rose to represent Chi-town's teams.  Analysts, media members, and fans have taken notice of this, and combined with his third-year quantum leap in terms of stats and play, Rose is being touted as a legitimate MVP candidate.  However, there are hardcore basketball minds (examples here and here and here with Mr. Berri) who find it ridiculous that Rose should be an MVP candidate this season.  As the two extremes talk, one thing is clear:  the parties can't co-exist and they can't find a middle ground with Rose.  Because the two sides can't agree, a U.S. government lock-down seems imminent.  Well, I'm sure that's part of the reason why...

Rose is now one of the most polarizing players in the league.  My quick list of MPPs:

1.)  Kobe Bryant- Kobe gets the edge due to experience and the persistent all-time comparisons that he gets.
2.)  Derrick Rose- He has a website dedicated to him getting the MVP award.  Of course he's going to be polarizing.

3.)  Kevin Garnett-  Once of the league's most popular players, Garnett's antics since winning a title have left a sour taste in people's mouths.  Boston loves him.  Small, European guards hate him.

4.)  Kevin Durant-  People love that he is a hard-working, humble kid with all the talent in the world who plays on a small-market team.  People are skeptical that he is a hard-working, humble kid with all the talent in the world who plays on a small-market team.  Too good or too good to be true?

5.)  Steve Nash-  I thought by now people would understand how great the guy is and how valuable a player he is.  It's amazing what I read on forums about the guy though.

Lebron James just missed the cut.  He would have been high, but the city of Cleveland has so much hate for him that aliens would need to come down and serenade Lebron with hymns of praise just to even out the love/hate ratio of LBJ in the world.  When you need to introduce new beings to a planet in order to even out the amount of love and hate you get, you aren't really polarizing.


First, I want to see if he is a legitimate MVP candidate.  Then we can go on to why he is polarizing based on his candidacy.

I'm not going to advocate Rose being selected MVP of the league, simply because I haven't gone through all the candidates.  I'm going to merely see if he seems like a candidate.  I'm saying "candidate," or derivatives of the word, way too much for my own liking.   

Rose's adjusted plus/minus numbers look pretty damn good right now.  I'll refer you to this blog, since Doc makes better sense of APM numbers than I do.   APM has its problems, but like all stats, it indicates something.  Use it as an indicator, and you're fine.

Rose also produces raw stats.  24.6/8.2/4.4 is a gaudy stat-line for any player.  He's a top ten scorer in the league in terms of volume and is close to league-average for efficiency.  That's not remarkable, but it's pretty damn good for a point guard who is also ranked in the top ten in assists per game average.  The dude simply produces.

The stats mean nothing without context though.  What type of player is  Rose?  He's a slashing point guard with burgeoning 3-point shooting marksmanship and the ability to move into spaces in the mid-range to get a shot off.  He has improved his ability to get to the free throw line as well, mainly because instead of using his possibly league-best body control to contort around defenders to get shots off, he's more accepting of the contact.  He's not Chris Paul or Deron Williams when it comes to vision or passing, but he makes plays for others in a more sophisticated way than just some good scorer drawing attention and kicking it out to a shooter.  He can settle down an offense and be a real point guard.  He's an explosive athlete and one of the best ball-handlers in the league.  He's Steve Francis with a brain.   

What does that skill-set and production do for Chicago?  That's the issue.  Well, it does a lot.  Rose needs to handle the ball an enormous amount of the time, initiating the offense, creating for himself, and setting up his teammates.  Chicago has good passers in their line-up, but they have virtually zero play-making or ball-handling outside of Rose.  Keith Bogans was used as a prop in my opening stanza in this post.  Luol Deng's handles are made more for slashing and attacking the basketball, not probing a defense or bringing the ball up the floor.  Kyle Korver is an off-ball shooter.  C.J. Watson is Chicago's solid back-up point guard and is tenth in minutes played per game for the team, as Rose plays over three-fourths of every game he appears in.  That puts more pressure on Rose to produce something magical than Dr. Dre must feel as he finishes producing his decade-of-hype-album Detox.

Rose needs to break traps, get the ball to his scorers in certain positions (Deng on the wing, Korver off screens, Boozer on the pick-n-roll or in the mid-post, etc.), probe defenses, make post-entry passes, and make plays.  His team is as flawed as the mid-'90's Orlando Magic teams were where Penny Hardaway was misused.  Whenever I watched Penny, he looked like a shooting guard with really good passing ability.  He was thrust into being point guard for ORL because of the hype of being the new Magic Johnson and because of team necessity.  Dennis Scott and Nick Anderson were elementary ball-handlers, and there was no depth on the team.  Penny had to do so much heavy-lifting for that team.  Rose is at an advantage because he is an actual point guard and he can defend his natural position on the other side of the floor, something Penny didn't get to do in most matchups.  Penny's main advantage in the half-court was being able to dump the ball to Shaq, an all-time great offensive anchor himself.  Chicago doesn't have anything close to O'Neal.

Rose has so much responsibility for Chicago because the team is actually flawed offensively.  Deeply flawed.  With only one guy being able to effectively handle the ball while passing, play-making, driving, and shooting, an offense can only manipulate a defense so much.  Scoring is taxing on that player since he doesn't get to play off-ball.  Thus, Chicago is average offensively despite having a home-run hitter on their team.  Somebody like Berri says that Rose should give up some field goal attempts because players like Boozer are more efficient, but that philosophy ignores the physics of basketball.  How do Deng and Boozer and Korver and Noah get those extra shots?  How does Rose simply "give" shots to other players when he's the one that needs to manipulate the offense.  Nobody manipulates the offense for his benefit.

Then we get to health.  Chicago hasn't even had their full line-up in for much time, dealing with injuries to big men Carlos Boozer and Joakim Noah.

While Chicago's defense has been stellar and given the most credit for Chicago's record by Rose's detractors, Rose is a part of that defense.  That way of thinking also ignores the fact that Rose doing all the heavy-lifting on offense means more energy for the other players for defense.  A team needs both offense and defense, and Rose leading a defensive-oriented team with his offensive prowess makes what he does even more valuable.  Isn't that what the MVP is all about?  Value to a team?

Yeah, I think Rose is an MVP candidate.

Roses are Red, Violets are Blue....

I'm going to posit that the detractors of Rose are skeptical of Rose's MVP argument for two reasons.  One is that they don't understand the difference between how good a player and how valuable he is to a team (also, they probably don't think Rose is that good as a player).  That is self-explanatory.  The other, even more ignorant reason, is because they don't want to give the MVP to a player who hasn't paid his dues, who hasn't struggled or missed out on the MVP or has legendary moments that need to be immortalized with something tangible.  Despite being a hyped number one pick, Rose was not destined to be an MVP.  Not this early at least.   

Lebron was destined.  Kobe's three titles and 81 points and struggles on the Lakers despite being arguably the best player in the league had to be rewarded.  Dirk's time had come after giving a half-decade worth of consistency as a unique type of player in NBA history as well as being one of the greatest foreign players ever.  Nash had paid his dues in the league, had struggled to find a niche; Phoenix's different style of play relative to the competition of the year may have been ground-breaking, and its catalyst may have needed to be recognized.  Garnett, Duncan, Malone, and O'Neal had paid their dues.  Iverson was controversial enough that a feel-good story about a story-book season in an era that ushered in a street-ball attitude got a street-baller like Iverson an MVP trophy (plus, umm, he was good).  Jordan is Jordan is Jordan is Jordan is Jordan.  Barkley, Olajuwon, and Robinson paid their dues as well.  As did Magic, Bird, Moses, and Dr. J.  In the modern era, an MVP has never had the same background as Derrick Rose, has never had the same lack of struggle or lack of the need to be immortalized.

People think Rose doesn't need to be immortalized yet.

I'm not saying Rose should be MVP.  But to deny him because of that is ignorant.  Whether you think Rose is going to go down as a top-20 player all-time or top-5 point guard all-time should have no bearing on what you think of Rose's value to the 2011 Chicago Bulls in the regular season.  If he deserves the award, he deserves the award.