A Substitute for War

Basketball philosophy

Archive for April 2012

The Bobcats’ all-time worst NBA season: Blame the last decade’s moves, not this year

leave a comment »

Primary logo (2004–present)

Primary logo (2004–present) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Well, it’s official. The Charlotte Bobcats finished with the all-time worst winning percentage for an NBA team (.106), at 7-59 in this shortened season. Their adjusted point differential (SRS) of -13.96 also broke the futility record.

How did this happen? On the surface, the Bobcats certainly “tanked” this season – after trading veterans Gerald Wallace and Stephen Jackson for long term draft pick depth, they handed the team over to young players like Kemba Walker, Gerald Henderson, Bismack Biyombo and BJ Mullens (Corey Maggette was the “veteran leader” of the team, but let’s just say there’s a reason his nicknames from previous teams include “Bad Porn” and “The Mole”). GM Rich Cho has been relatively open about how he told the Bobcats franchise that if they wanted to win, they’d have to take a step back for a few years. In other words, they’d have to tank for draft picks.

But in reality this season for the Bobcats was swallowing much needed medicine to get healthy more than the sickness.  Read the rest of this entry »

Written by jr.

April 28, 2012 at 2:06 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

Tagged with

MJ’s NBA Regular Season Award Winners 2011-12

with 6 comments

Basketball player LeBron James during the game...

Basketball player LeBron James during the game Washington Wizards versus Miami Heat (Photo credit: Wikipedia)


1. LeBron James

2. Chris Paul

3. Kevin Durant

4. Kevin Garnett

5. Steve Nash

We’ll start from the top. I never saw LeBron as seriously threatened for this award this season, and I say this as someone who put both Dwight Howard and Derrick Rose ahead of him last season (in retrospect, Rose would get downgraded, but not Howard). One can knock LeBron’s impact relative to his time in Cleveland, but put next to the all-too-mortal impact of the rest of the league, no one deserves it more.

Paul floats into the 2nd spot for an extremely impressive transition to the Clippers, but it wasn’t the total transformation it needed to be to elevate him above LeBron. Enough to get him past Durant though. I do love KD, but people do need to realize how much help he has. That might sound weird coming from a guy with LeBron at #1, and believe me I factor the same thing in for LeBron, but there really is no good reason at all for people to assume Durant’s doing more with less.

The Garnett and Nash picks probably seem strange to many. Bottom line is that we’ve got a lot of teams led by ensemble right now, and other teams led by spotlighted stars I have mixed feelings about. Garnett & Nash continue to bring it, having profound, caveat-free impact.

Defensive Player of the Year

1. Kevin Garnett

2. Luol Deng

3. Andre Iguodala

First off, Tyson Chandler is getting so much hype right now, I feel the need to address his omission. I’m very impressed with the guy, but there’s also clearly circumstances playing in to looking like he has a bigger impact than he actually does. Dallas fell apart on offense this year, not defense. New York’s defense improved, but the meat of the improvement comes from steals and turnover creation not with the typical changes caused by a big man. Chandler is involved in allowing his perimeter players to gamble…but so are they.

Garnett’s been the clear per minute DPOY for his entire half decade in Boston. Howard’s been my pick the previous 3 years simply because of how much time Garnett missed. This year Garnett was healthy, and Howard had issues. He is the clear choice for me.

Deng and Iguodala are, I’m sure, controversial picks, Deng especially. I don’t feel terribly strongly for them above Chandler, or even the partial Howard we got this year, but they deserve some love. People can argue about a perimeter defender’s value, and with Deng whether it’s just quirks of luck that put him in such a prominent position, but he remains the guy who coach Thibodeau relies on more than anyone else.

Rookie of the Year

1. Kyrie Irving

2. Ricky Rubio

3. Kenneth Faried

I’ll once again begin by stating that this is actually the hardest award to pin down a criteria for. When people call it simple, that only means they haven’t thought it through. Quite amusing is the fact that Rubio dropped off people’s radar with his injury, but he actually played about as many minutes as other top rookies like Irving, and considerably more than Faried.

My criteria at this point is essentially: Most Hype-Worthy Future Star. Which means, who has shown the most potential while eliminating the most doubt.

So Irving leads the way over Rubio largely because Irving has really shown a complete game that makes him a sure thing, whereas Rubio with his scoring and injury still has a bit more doubt. Faried, doesn’t have me frothing at the mouth quite like the other guys, and I want to see what his role is from season’s start next year, but what he did this year is jawdropping and I’d have no problem with people giving him ROY votes. His PER instantly dwarfed everyone on the team, and is the 2nd highest of the past decade AHEAD of Blake Griffin last year (and just behind Chris Paul). Love his motor, and I won’t be betting against him.

 Most Improved Player

1. Nikola Pekovic

2. James Harden

3. Ersan Ilyasova

Some great candidates this year, with Harden being the most glamorous contender. He is easily the best player of the lost, but Pekovic’s improvement is about as drastic as you’ll ever see. He went from a scrub far from assured that he could make it in the league to a near all-star level player overnight. 10+ PER jump. Crazy, and it’s Pek’s arrival that really has me thinking about the Timberwolves as a big-time contender going forward. Kevin Love and Rubio looked amazing already, now we have a 3rd star in the making.

By the way, Jeremy Lin is not on my radar for this award. Perhaps I’ll post in more detail later, but the notion that we Lin’s rise to prominence was due to improvement is a falsehood. Scouts clearly had no concept he was capable of this until he got his opportunity, and then instantly did exceptional. He’s really more a ROY than a MIP.

6th Man of the Year

1. James Harden

2. Jason Terry

3. Al Harrington

The James Harden show. It’s funny because when a 6th man is as good as Harden, people are reluctant to vote for him…despite the fact the whole reason the award exists is because we know that sometimes starter-level players start from the bench for the good of the team and they deserve recognition for their sacrifice. Giving Harden the 6MOY is literally the very LEAST we can do.

I will give a brief shout out to Terry to, who truly has become the dividing line for the award: If you’re off the bench and better than Terry, you’re seriously sacrificing for your team. Terry himself is a solid player who is good enough to start, but clearly not on the level of guys like Harden or “should have been winning 6MOY every year” Manu Ginobili.

Coach of the Year

1. Greg Popovich

2. Tom Thibodeau

3. Frank Vogel

Pop & Thibs are so far above anyone else, it felt weird to make a top 3. I really had a hard debate between the top two, and for most of the year was siding with Thibs. After all: The most shocking fact of the year is that the Bulls without the league MVP were still elite. That’s all about Thibodeau’s coaching.

However, what that really tells us is that the impact of Thibodeau LAST year was even bigger than we realized when we gave him the COY. In terms of a coach making brilliant adjustments in this current year, that really is Pop, which is astonishing. He’s the godfather of current coaches with a coaching tree taller and thicker than any I can recall in the pros…and after all these years he’s still more flexible than anyone else. Amazing.

Executive of the Year

1. Nick Olshey

2. Masai Ujiri

3. Kevin O’Connor

Always tough to choose here, but I always also find it necessary to do. Extremely important part of the game, even if it’s really best to judge over much longer periods than one year.

Olshey gets the nod because he made the big move of acquiring Chris Paul, and also did smaller things like acquiring Chauncey Billups. Was there some luck involved? Sure, but while David Stern might have nixed the Laker deal, Olshey still got it done before the other 28 teams.

Ujiri & O’Connor basically have made the best of rough situations. I’m reluctant to give the nod to a GM who simply helps his team unexpectedly tread water because that undoubtedly has much to do with the coach, but credit where credit is do for navigating high maintenance stars well.


Written by Matt Johnson

April 28, 2012 at 10:58 am

Posted in Uncategorized

The logical solution: End World Peace

leave a comment »

Today Ron Artest (aka Metta World Peace) violently attacked another basketball player. This time Oklahoma City player James Harden was the victim with brutal elbow cocked and swung with full force into the side of Harden’s head. If that seems like deja vu, it’s because this keeps happening. While Artest might be most known for the Malice at the Palace where he started a brawl  by running up into the stands and punching an innocent fan, in total he’s been suspended 12 times. And now he’s done it again.

I’ve been waiting tonight to see some opinions about what should be done, and I’m disappointed. Over on ESPN, they had 5 analystsgive their takes. Their answers varied from 3 to 15 games. Folks this is crazy. The solution is so simple, and yet people are afraid to say it.

Screenshot of ESPN showing the Pacers-Pistons ...

Screenshot of ESPN showing the Pacers-Pistons brawl, at the moment where Ron Artest is charging into the stands, about to punch Mike Ryan who he mistakenly thought was responsible for throwing a cup at him. (Photo credit: Wikipediale are afraid to say it:

Ban Ron Artest

Lifetime ban. No way back in.

Now when I say this, I recognize people think I’m some sort of extremist. Perhaps I’m someone who wants to see the NFL turned into a flag football league or something reactionary like that. Hardly.

Look, the idea behind a punishment is that it’s supposed to have some kind of effect. Since we’re talking about a player being punished for the umpteenth time, this isn’t a situation that makes any sense to look at from a lens of discouraging other players. Whatever is done here  is just about what needs to be done next with a player whose rule breaking with regards to hurting other people is more prolific than any player in history than I can think of.

So now consider: Does anyone think that suspending Artest for 3 games will prevent this from happening again? What about 5? 10? 15? Heck, 50? 150 games? I can’t imagine anyone actually thinks that.

Most of us have lost our temper badly at one time or another. When we do, we cease to be able to control ourselves, no matter how much we know intellectually we shouldn’t be acting this way. Watching Artest today was the picture of a man who simply had no intellectual control over what he was doing. There was no thought to the punishment he was going to get.

As a person, this makes me sympathetic to Artest’s plight. When he has a cool head, he has a warm, giving heart. Beyond that, I’m well aware of all the therapy and self-improvement Artest has put into his brain over the years. I know he’s trying, and as a person that counts for something.

Were I running the NBA though, I could not think of this first and foremost as how to help Artest. Artest is hurting other people, and so his victims are the primary concern. Playing in the NBA is a right, not a privilege, and if you can’t control yourself you lose that privilege.

The same would be true at any job: Break the rules often enough, you get fired. There’s a tendency to believe that “banning” a player is somehow more drastic of a step than that, but it really isn’t. Ain’t nobody going to jail, despite the fact that Artest isn’t exactly screwing up TPS reports here, he’s committing violent assault, habitually, on his coworkers. Anyone who thinks that is not a big enough deal to justify a firing needs to get perspective.

More punishment is not going to change Artest.

Were this earlier in his career, and we hadn’t explored the therapy options, I’d be open to trying that route. But it’s not, and we have, so I’m not. 8 Years after Malice, this is still happening. More punishment at this point is just lip service. It is a way to make clear that the NBA won’t tolerate this nonsense while doing absolutely nothing to discourage said nonsense.

It is cowardice

The only two logical solutions left then are 1) stop punishing Artest altogether, or 2) stop letting Artest be in a position where he can hurt other players. No one believes (1) is the right approach. That leaves door #2, which Metta World Peace should take care not to hit him on the way out.

I wish him the best of luck with the rest of his life, but there simply is not a good reason for the NBA to stay in the Ron Artest business. We’ve long since past the point where any pros attached to allowing Artest to stay are outweighed by him hurting even one more person. His  actions today serve to remind us that the inaction of the NBA has indeed further elevated the pain and suffering caused by Artest far beyond any good he has ever done in this sphere.

Written by Matt Johnson

April 23, 2012 at 12:52 am

Posted in Uncategorized

NHL Playoff Preview – Ranking what playoff series interest me the most, 1 to 8

leave a comment »

Evgeni_Malkin, Pittsburgh Penguins, USA

The Penguins are the odds-makers favorites for the Stanley Cup, but are in danger of losing in Round 1 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I can’t pretend to know hockey in depth enough to make a real analysis one each series. Therefore I will be a narrative whore and rank the series according to how much they intrigue me and how much I want to watch them, with analogies, one phrase descriptions and key match-ups for each.

1. Pittsburgh Penguins (4th, East) vs 5 Philadelphia Flyers (5th, East)

The marquee match-up with star power and bad blood to spare. Two contenders for whom a 1st round loss is a massive failure.

Why Pittsburgh will win: Star talents stepping up and great goaltender

Best analogy for Pittsburgh: The most popular girl in her class, gets a mix of adorers and hatred for the attention

One phrase description for Pittsburgh: Superstar talent

Why Philadelphia will win: Greater offensive depth and a mean streak

Best analogy for Philadelphia: A younger brother of the perfect son, constantly ignored for his strengths and brilliance, has a opportunity to kick the perfect son’s ass

One phrase description for Philadelphia: Explosive and angry

Match-up that could decide the series: Gs Marc-Andre Fleury (PIT) vs G Ilya Bryzgalov (PHI). With both teams’ offensive talent, the goalies stepping up will be key.

Prediction: Pittsburgh in 7 games Read the rest of this entry »

Written by jr.

April 11, 2012 at 9:21 am

The collapse of the Philadelphia 76ers and why Scott Brooks is outcoaching Doug Collins

leave a comment »

Doug Collins, coach of the Philadelphia 76ers ...

Doug Collins, coach of the Philadelphia 76ers at Verizon Center. Washington Wizards v/s Philadelphia 76ers November 23, 2010 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

One of the more relevant stories in the NBA post All-Star break is the crumbling of the Philadelphia 76ers season. After a phenomenal start to the season, they’ve lost their division lead and may even be in a struggle to make the playoffs. For an excellent post on the behind the curtains reasons for this fall, I suggest Kate Fagan‘s post from earlier this week.

In short, what appears to be the situation is the team checking out mentally on Doug Collins due to his hyper-emotional, micromanagement style. This short fuse is not a huge surprise for those familiar with Collins’ history, or similar coaches like Larry Brown and Scott Skiles. A new coach with an uber tight leash can get maximum effort out of players for some time, but eventually they stop enjoying playing the game and without that, the motivation to win and compete slides away.

Essentially, it’s using the stick instead of the carrot. Mike D’Antoni lost the New York Knicks for the same reason earlier this season.

On the other end, the coach I see as the most underrated in the league right now is Scott Brooks. Read the rest of this entry »

Written by jr.

April 7, 2012 at 3:59 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

Searching for Bill Russell ~ Starring Anthony Davis (2012)

with 6 comments

That didn't really happen did it?

The more I learn about basketball’s history, the more impressed with Bill Russell I am. Like many, I at one point found it hard to believe that Russell could truly be a more valuable player than Wilt Chamberlain. Now, the primary reason for that was that I couldn’t imagine Russell’s more one way game matching the two way dominance of Chamberlain, and if you know me, you know that since then I’ve written fairly extensively on just how flawed Chamberlain’s offense was. There was also the matter though of me just having a false ceiling in my head for just how dominant a team can get on one side of the ball.

If you go by the estimates of offensive and defensive team efficiency given by basketball-reference.com, the curve of extremely good results seems very well behaved. Here are the best sides that side lists based on percentage edge over median:


You can see the teams here are all in the same ballpark. You might also notice that Steve Nash is on 3 of the top 5 offenses, which is quite remarkable. Most importantly though, you might notice how modern all these teams are. Nothing from earlier than 1993. Remarkable, no? Well, it is remarkable, but there is a catch: basketball-reference only provides estimates from 1974 on. What happened before that?

Bill Russell did 6 impossible things before breakfast

Read the rest of this entry »