A Substitute for War

Basketball philosophy

Posts Tagged ‘Kevin Garnett

Searching for Bill Russell ~ Starring Anthony Davis (2012)

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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

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The NBA’s 50 Most Interesting People of ’10-11 (Part I)

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A countdown of the 50 most interesting people in the NBA this year based on what they have and have not

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done. This post will count down from 50 to 31.

50. Joel Anthony

Who’d have thunk that the 4th most important player after Miami’s Big 3 would be an undrafted guy who spent more time on the bench than on the floor in college? Dude’s become a living symbol of team balance. The Heat have so much focus on scoring with their 3 stars that not only can they afford to have a 2 PPG guy as stater – they STILL are putting too much emphasis on scorers even with a guy like Anthony.

49. LaMarcus Aldridge

With Roy falling on hard time, Aldridge has emerged as the Blazers’ star, as they continue to both disappoint and overachieve. Aldridge has yet to really capture our attention with star-like intrigue, but his new prominence is noteworthy.

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8 thoughts on the Thunder’s elimination

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Kevin Durant of the Oklahoma City Thunders at ...

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1. For the second year in a row, the Oklahoma City Thunder exit the playoffs in a way that leaves us all excited for the future. One of the biggest turnarounds in history last year to get to the 1st round, now they get to the conference finals. They remain precocious as hell, and short of some major blow up in the off-season, I expect they’ll be the favorites to win the Western Conference next year, as well as to be the dominant team in the West going forward.

2. I think people need to keep some perspective though. This was a Thunder team that achieved their record in the regular season largely by beating mediocre teams (they struggled against the elite), and that were very fortunate that instead of having to face the best team in the conference in the second round (as a #4 seed should), they played an 8 seed. And even then, they only beat the 8 seed with the help of home court advantage. It’s wrong to talk about the series with the Dallas Mavericks as if it was the gentleman sweep that a 4-1 victory implies – the Mavs had to turn it on completely and get a bit lucky just to win 2 of 3 home games. However, the fact remains that after getting a fortunate draw, they managed only 1 win when faced with a true contender.

Bottom line is that no one should look at this Thunder team like one that took the playoffs by storm this year.

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Kobe Bryant: the most overrated defender imaginable

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Kobe Bryant subs out vs the Washington Wizards

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Alright, the 2010-11 NBA All-Defensive Team has been announced, and with Kobe Bryant receives his NBA record 9th 1st Team award by that voting body.

Let me tell you a story, about a player who has strong overall impact, great team success, and a kickass narrative that says he always gives 110% on both ends of the court when it’s quite clear that he let’s his defense slide a large chunk of the time.

I don’t enjoy singling someone out in hater fashion, but it needs to be pointed out how glaring things have become in this case. People are going to look at Kobe as one of the great perimeter defenders of all time because of this metric, and the truth is, it’s based almost entirely on reputation. It’s impossible for me to imagine a player in modern NBA history whose defense has been this overrated.

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Written by Matt Johnson

May 9, 2011 at 5:07 pm

Supersized Humans, Missing Giants

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An article from the New York Times has cause a little bit of a stir in the basketball world, really because it gives more scientific credence to something we already know: People have been getting bigger.

Here’s the most dramatic big picture quote from the article:

I don’t know that there is a bigger story in human history than the improvements in health, which include height, weight, disability and longevity,” said Samuel H. Preston, one of the world’s leading demographers and a sociologist at the University of Pennsylvania.

Here’s one with some numbers:

To take just a few examples, the average adult man in 1850 in America stood about 5 feet 7 inches and weighed about 146 pounds; someone born then was expected to live until about 45. In the 1980s the typical man in his early 30s was about 5 feet 10 inches tall, weighed about 174 pounds and was likely to pass his 75th birthday.

Hot damn! So when do I get my 8 foot center?

The future is now, and there are no flying cars

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Written by Matt Johnson

May 6, 2011 at 4:27 pm

Dwight Howard in Tragic Kingdom

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Image by Carmela Nava via Flickr

And so here we are. Again. Another star at the crossroads.

Odd that a year ago at this time, the idea of superstars changing teams seemed such a longshot, and now it feels so inevitable in the case of Dwight Howard. A lot’s happened in a year, true, but there is more to it than that.

Here today, gone tomorrow

With the apparent trend toward superteams in Miami and New York, there is a fear that every superstar will seek join or form a superteam. This trend though is quite a bit more fragile than most realize. What makes joining such a team sexy to players, is the idea that by simply joining with talent, great team success is sure to follow immediately. This idea is strongly influenced by what happened in the ’07-08 season where the Boston Celtics essentially jettisoned the vast majority of their team to acquire two stars (Ray Allen and Kevin Garnett), and went from being a 24 win team, to having the single best season of the past decade. Then there was also the Lakers acquisition of Pau Gasol and their subsequent move from a solid team to a potential dynasty. These ideas seem to prove that stars who don’t win are simply suffering from a lack of supporting talent around them.

Suppose though that these nouveau superteams fell on their face? Read the rest of this entry »

Written by Matt Johnson

May 1, 2011 at 5:55 pm

Howard is the DPOY, but he’s no Garnett

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Kevin Garnett led the league in defensive rebo...

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Dwight Howard just won his 3rd straight Defensive Player of the Year, and I don’t disagree with the choice. In fact, I don’t disagree with any of the three votings that gave Howard the award. However, with Howard becoming the first player to win the award three times in a row comes discussion of how Howard stands compared to the best defenders of other eras, and there is a problem with this: Howard isn’t even the most impactful defender of this era, that would be Kevin Garnett.

Let’s start out by acknowledging that Howard and Garnett don’t play defense the same way. When we think of the great defensive big men, we tend to think of blocked shots. Howard fits that bill significantly more than Garnett. Although lets pause and consider that Howard’s 2.3 BPG this year, is only just ahead of Garnett’s 2.2 BPG peak – and that Howard’s never actually averaged 3 blocks per game in his career. If Howard were putting up these blocking numbers in other eras, we wouldn’t look at him as anything like the shotblocking ideal he often gets talked about today.

Still, thinking about defense in these terms, it’s not at all hard to see why people think Howard’s the superior defender when comparing peak to peak, and especially now as Garnett ages. Add in Howard’s current rebounding edge, and the fact that Orlando always ranks well on defense despite Howard’s supporting cast not having a stellar defensive reputation, and the debate is over before it begins in a lot of people’s minds.

Garnett, Russell & the Horizontal Game  Read the rest of this entry »

Written by Matt Johnson

April 23, 2011 at 12:07 am

We never have proof, but we do have evidence: On Howard vs James

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The talented Ethan Sherwood Strauss over at Hoopspeak just wrote a piece on the “dirty little secret” about Dwight Howard‘s MVP candidacy relative to LeBron James:

My suspicion is that story plays a role here, too. While many metrics-oriented writers have no issue with the Decision, they’re realists about what that does to LeBron’s MVP chances. Also, the Heat did not help his case by ducking preseason expectations. So it makes sense to back the politician, er, player who can win.

But, some stat-steeped writers just plain prefer Dwight Howard as an MVP. The oft-cited reason is “defense,” and Howard is great at it. Orlando is a top defensive unit, despite carrying some doughy sieves (I call them “funnel cakes”) on the roster.

Dwight’s defense is laudable, though I ask: Is there really a way for us to know if he’s defensively better than LeBron? While center is probably a more important position on that end, James can play multiple positions. LeBron’s defensive plus-minus exceeds Dwight’s which could mean a whole lot and could mean absolutely nothing. And, how much of Orlando’s stingy success is attributable to Stan Van Gundy’s team principles? Scott Skiles seems to always turn lackluster rosters into rabid rim shrinkers. Coaching could trump talent when it comes to cohesive basket prevention. Choosing Howard on the basis of his defensive superiority is fraught with subjective judgments, even if the goal is to better appreciate winning basketball.

I think he hit upon something key with his general thesis. There is absolutely a tendency for people to use defense as a black box trump card. Of course I can’t just leave it at that: The reality is that that we can’t really even prove Dwight over Derrick Rose or anyone else either. We have no method of measuring a player’s impact with absolute certainty. That may seem like I’m be ridiculously cautious, but the truth is that every single person involved in this analysis is supplying a layer of causal narrative on top of observations and stats, which is something I elaborated on last week here. We do however, have evidence that we can use supporting the “Dwight’s better on defense” argument:

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Written by Matt Johnson

April 13, 2011 at 1:19 pm

The Nash Disequilibrium, or Why I Use +/- Statistics

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Image by OakleyOriginals via Flickr

I felt the need to write this as a result of the article I wrote on Kobe Bryant and his adjusted +/- statistics this season. That article showed my perspective as someone who uses these stats – this one gets into why one should use them.

I’m a math kind a guy. I’ve been making statistical rankings of basketball players and other such trivia for forever. When the internet was first reaching prominence, many did see how they would use it, though they actually did end up using it obviously. I was dying for it though from the start. To have access to data like basketball-reference.com has is like a geek nirvana for me.

Now, I always knew that in basketball, the stats didn’t cover everything, but I always figured that what they missed was relatively small and not ridiculously biased. And then in ’04-05, I found myself utterly fascinated by the Phoenix Suns and Steve Nash. Every metric I’d ever come up with or ever seen said that Nash wasn’t the best player on that team, but my common sense just found this absurd. He was the one directing that offense, not the scorers. The team had launched forward far beyond what anyone expected because of an improvement in team offense that was completely unbelievable, and the team had made but one major change and one other major decision: Sign Nash, and put the ball & decision making in his hands.

And Now for Something Completely Different

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Written by Matt Johnson

March 26, 2011 at 12:04 am

The Building (and the Luck) of the Celtics

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current logo 1996–present

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The Sloan conference, as one would expect, is producing tons of great food for thought. The latest article on TrueHoop reports on Boston Celtic co-owner Wyc Grousbeck‘s statements about building the current stellar Celtic teams. The gist:

Grousbeck and his partners bought the team in 2003 and apparently decided that while the team was good it wasn’t good enough to win a title, so they tore it apart and re-built it with the specific idea of acquiring a Big 3 with one true superstar among the trio. These guys sound like visionaries don’t they? The TrueHoop piece mentions the risk involved in such a move, but that just makes the ownership group look all the more bold and unwilling to accept any form of mediocrity

I don’t mean to knock the Celtic management, but I think it is wise to look at the details here to get a more nuanced perspective on thing.

Rebuilding not with a bang, but a whimper

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