A Substitute for War

Basketball philosophy

Posts Tagged ‘Kobe Bryant

The year of coaching narratives and the right fit

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Mike D'Antoni coaching the New York Knicks in ...

 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I’ve made a handful of posts regarding the value of coaches in the NBA. My general belief is coaches are more often than not overrated. There is usually no escaping a team’s talent level in the NBA. Furthermore something I’ve been fascinated by is the connection of offense and defense in the NBA. I do not favor isolating team ORTG and DRTGs, because I believe teams can have “identities” or push their energy and planning towards one side of the court, elevating either the ORTG or DRTG, but at the cost of the other end. As a good example this year’s Indiana Pacers are 1st defensively and 29th offensively. Why so futile offensively with talents on that end like Paul George, David West and Roy Hibbert? They’re probably playing below their heads offensively for the same reason they’re playing above their heads defensively: Because they’re a defensively orientated team. On the other hand, the Houston Rockets are 9th offensively and 19th defensively despite having one of the best defensive centers in the league in Omer Asik and little offensive talent outside of James Harden. Chances are with a different style of play they could be better defensively but at the cost of offensively. The end result of the Pacers and Rockets is that they’re playing almost exactly as expected, the Pacers in the mix for the 2nd-4th seed and the Rockets in the mix for the 8th. While I respect Frank Vogel and Kevin McHale, I see little reason to believe they’re coaching has made their teams better. It makes more sense to say Pacers are great because they have 3 all-stars at SF, PF and C in George, West and Hibbert, the Rockets because they have one of the league’s best players in Harden along with a few decent supporting pieces like Asik, Chandler Parsons, Jeremy Lin – and the coach and system did enough for these rosters to play up to their ability, no matter whether it was with offense or defense emphasized.

Despite this being my general philosophy with coaching, there hasn’t been a year recently where coaching has seemed more relevant than 2012-2013. Coaching has been a crucial part of the story of the Los Angeles Lakers, New York Knicks, and Brooklyn Nets, 3 high profile markets and situations. Let’s start with the New York Knicks. A year ago they fired Mike D’Antoni with the middling results under him and have been playing like a top 3 seed ever since. Woodson’s approach has been to simplify the team. The Knicks understand that to win, they play defense first and then move the ball on the offensive end, from Melo to the array of 3pt shooters to Tyson Chandler finishing inside. A similar simplifying has happened in Brooklyn. Avery Johnson micromanaged his point guard Deron Williams and wanted to run a system heavy team. With Carlisemo the Nets seem freer to make their own decisions on the fly. What’s important about the Knicks and Nets improvement to me is that both teams seem happier. On the surface, to me much their improvement has been emotional. The Knicks have a perfect culture in the style they play. They seem to have great chemistry, share the ball and all commit on defense. The Knicks are now a bonded team in a way that should be emulated by other franchises. Likewise the Nets are playing together on both ends since P.J. took over. Importantly, Deron Williams is a player who’s numbers have greatly improved under their new coach. The freedom in style of play seems to have rubbed off well on him.

Another good example of a “free play” coach is Scott Brooks. Brooks has been criticized at times for being hands off on his players and letting them play. He doesn’t pull in Russell Westbrook’s boundless energy by making him walk up the court and run pick and rolls. He lets the players figure it out and makes sure they play hard and move the ball and this seems to fit their team the most.

But compare this to Tom Thibodeau’s Chicago Bulls, who are the posterboy for elite coaching in the NBA. What’s interesting is that Thibodeau has the mentality of a coach, that the Knicks and Nets arguably succeeded by abandoning. He’s the uber-intense, micro-managing system coach. Yet his style works perfectly for the Bulls. Perhaps it’s because they have the roster to pull it off, mainly thanks to the psychotic competitiveness of Derrick Rose and Joakim Noah leading the way. Tom Thibodeau on another team may not have found any more success than Doug Collins in Philadelphia or Scott Skiles on the Bucks, but for the Bulls he is perfect.

Now let’s talk about the mess that is the Los Angeles Lakers. Mike D’Antoni has undoubtedly failed his second franchise in a row. If recent reports are to be true, they are a chemistry disaster. Pau Gasol is a headcase who’s gone off the deep end and the Kobe Bryant-Dwight Howard relationship sounds like it’s going as well as the one between Daniel Day-Lewis and Paul Dano’s characters in “There Will Be Blood”. I believe D’Antoni is the wrong fit for this system that reasons that have little to do with his strategically system. He’s a bad fit because of how he’s clearly not the type who could keep Kobe’s ego, Dwight’s lack of assertiveness and Gasol’s sensitivity from sprawling the team into mental chaos.

One thing this situation made me appreciate is Phil Jackson’s greatness. Look at that Lakers core from a few years ago with Kobe Bryant, Pau Gasol, Lamar Odom, Andrew Bynum and Metta World Peace. Based on what we know about those players, that’s a ticking time bomb mix of alienating ego (Kobe), mental fragility (Odom and Pau), distracted immaturity (Bynum) and an actual crazy person (World Peace). Kobe, Odom, Pau and Bynum have befallen to the absolute worst of their character flaws without Jackson, while MWP funnily enough has been the most sane. Phil managing to keep a team with THOSE 5 players afloat from a chemistry and emotional perspective, has to be one of the most underrated coaching achievements of all time. And this is not the first time Phil has done a great job keeping locker-rooms with big heads together, turning the uneasy Shaq-Kobe relationship into 3 titles, as well as keeping Scottie Pippen on board with playing #2 for 6 titles with Michael Jordan (and later, getting Dennis Rodman on track after he had gone off the rails in San Antoni). This is ultimately why Phil Jackson is the greatest coach of all time. Although he had more talent than any coach in history, he did an amazing job playing caretaker to some situations that may have blown up without him.

What this all tells me is that coaching is important, but perhaps coaches shouldn’t be judged in a vacuum. Instead it’s about fitting the players to the coach. Both in style of play and in the way those players approach the game. Sometimes you need a Scott Brooks to leave his hands off and sometimes a Tom Thibodeau to put his hands on.

But with that said. While he’s not in the right spot, let’s face it. Mike D’Antoni is still doing a really, really bad job.

Written by jr.

January 24, 2013 at 8:13 pm

Stats Tuesday: Should “replacement efficiency” be used instead of league average efficiency, in NBA comparisons?

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Derrick Rose at a promotional appearance.

The value of Derrick Rose’s efficiency in his MVP season is questioned by the advanced stats community (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

A hot topic among basketball nerds is what to do with players who shoot either a league average efficiency or a below average one. Our instincts tell us a player who shoots an average shooting efficiency when he has teammates who’s efficiency is well above average, is a problem. Because it indicates the player could be passing the ball more to these more efficient players, thus raising his team’s efficiency. It indicates that if the team’s efficiency is above league average, that the credit for this should be relegated to the players taking above average shots in efficiency, not the one taking a ton of possession at an average efficiency that doesn’t move the meter.

To use an example, in the last non-lockout year (2010-2011) league average True Shooting Percentage/TS% (incorporating 3s and FTs, essentially creating a points per shot metric) was .542. The MVP, Derrick Rose, had a TS% of .550. Kobe Bryant’s score was .548, Carmelo Anthony’s .557. They are considered superstar scorers in this season because of their volume points per game. But using a strict model of comparing volume and efficiency can create some shocking results. Take the two examples of Tyson Chandler and Nene, both not known for scoring talent, but among the league leaders in efficiency in 2010-2011. Chandler takes 7.26 shots a game in the regular season on the Mavericks (using the calculation FGA + 0.44*FTA) at .697 TS%. Multiplying Chandler’s volume of shots (7.26) times league average efficiency for points per shot (.542 TS%) adds up to 3.94 points. At Chandler’s real efficiency (.697) he scores 5.06 points, for a margin of approximately +1.12 points from average. Nene likewise has 11.1 shots at .657 TS%, using the same calculation as with Chandler he ends up adding +1.27 points compared to what his shots taken at average efficiency would create. However look at what happens when the same calculation is done with Rose, Melo and Bryant. Rose, taking 22.74 shots would create 12.3 points if had shot at league average efficiency, while at his real efficiency of .55, creates 12.5 points, a whopping difference of +0.2 in the points column. Carmelo, using 22.98 shots a game at .557 TS%, using the same calculation ends up adding about +0.35 pts compared to if those shots had been taken at an league average level, while Bryant at 23.1 shots converted at .548 TS%, ends up adding a measly +.14 points compared to the average conversion of those shots. All 3 of Rose, Melo and Bryant’s scores not only trail Chandler and Nene’s numbers, but they’re not even in the same ballpark.

This is why statistical attempts to quantify scoring have met such difficulty. Read the rest of this entry »

Written by jr.

October 9, 2012 at 10:32 am

2011 Player of the Year – Final

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The Player of the Year Watch has gone on all season long. Here we have the Final ranking.

Player (last rank)

1. Dirk Nowitzki (1A)

This is an easy choice for me. When it comes to literally lifting a team, Dirk has been the personification of this all year long. With the way LeBron came on against Chicago, I thought he was going to make me toss that aside but it didn’t happen.

I’ll admit that I actually thought that Wade was the MVP of the Finals over Dirk, but over the course of the entire season, nobody contributed value like Dirk.

2. Dwight Howard (3)

My regular season MVP got knocked off his perch down to the 3rd spot after the Conference Finals. However he floats back up a spot after LeBron’s weak Finals play. I’m always hesitant to let someone who has already been eliminated rise in my rankings, particularly when they were eliminated in an upset in the first round, however I can’t find real fault in Howard’s playoff performance, and what happened in the Finals did sway my opinion on LeBron’s season.

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Silly superstars, Treys are for Kicks!

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Image via nba.com

As the Dallas Mavericks progressed through the playoffs it was noted how well their offense was faring, and how strong the team’s 3-point attack was. The team shot 39.4% from 3-point land in the playoffs while shooting more than 20 3’s per game. This is devastating and obviously deserving of attention. Of course with Dirk Nowitzki, one of the great shooters of all time leading the way, would you expect anything less?

Yes, actually you would if you’ve been paying attention.

First off, Dirk has never shot 3-pointers like a mad man. While Ray Allen and, ahem, Antoine Walker shot in excess of 600 3-pointers a season Dirk peaked in the high 300s. Still though, when you’re shooting about 5 3-pointers per game, that’s a serious focus of your game.

It’s fascinating then to see how unimportant 3-pointers have become to Dirk’s current game as they’ve become more important to the Mav team as a whole. Dude’s been averaging about 2 3-pointers per game the past few years. How low is that? Well obviously it’s a heck of a lower than the amount that guys like Kobe, Durant, and Rose shoot, despite the fact none of them is the level of shooter than Dirk is (though admittedly Durant is getting close). Even superstars criticized for their lack of outside shooting like LeBron and Wade shoot 3s more than Dirk.

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Written by Matt Johnson

June 17, 2011 at 11:49 pm

The Mental LeBron James

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Image via Baltimore Sun

While I’ll readily admit that people go overboard when throwing players under the bus as chokers, cowards, etc, the fact remains that the mental side of sports is huge. Any fan who claims to not think about the psychological strengths and weaknesses of athletes is lying either to others or themselves.

The urge to play armchair shrink is irresistible, and really why does it need to be resisted? Yes you want to keep perspective and not go overboard, but when a player has had the kind of strange play LeBron James has, it’s simply unreasonable to insist only Xs and Os can be the cause.

Without further ado, my take on LeBron’s NBA Finals and his mentality in general.

It all started innocently enough

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Written by Matt Johnson

June 15, 2011 at 7:58 pm

The Wade-Particle Duality

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Trying something a little different here. Typically the conversations I have with ElGee over at BackPicks.com are among the best basketball geekage I can get into anywhere. Thought y’all might enjoy them too, so take a gander and let me know what you think. Oh, and the conversation below happened yesterday, before Game 4, just in case you’re confused.

Image via thenerdiestshirts.com

MJ: I’m loving watching Wade return to his peak self. He has what I call all-over-the-place-ness.

LG: Very elegant description there Matt. Be sure to use that in your teaching: “this electron has “all-over-the-place-ness”.

MJ: It’s a technical term. Actually there is a word I could have used for this generally: ubiquitous. It just doesn’t seem like it conveys the frantic nature of a basketball player doing what Wade does. Got a better way to describe?

LG: Hmmm. Well, in LeBron‘s case, I think what he does is “make the court look smaller”. In Wade’s case, he is like a fast moving particle. Dude is just all over the freaking place.

MJ: Wade the photon, movin’ all probabilistic.

LG: I got it! NERD ALERT…

MJ: Goggles on!

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Written by Matt Johnson

June 8, 2011 at 5:45 pm

The Accidental Hater

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Image from Chapelle's Show

With Shaquille O’Neal‘s retirement I feel compelled share what unique place Shaq Diesel occupied in my mind.

This won’t be something everyone enjoys because it’s a quite negative place. However, I do think that it represents a side of Shaq’s career that needs to be told along with the good. Is it sour grapes? Call it what you will.

Call me Magic

I was born and raised a Laker fan in Los Angeles. Magic Johnson was the first player I ever knew of. He was the star of the city, and hey, with my last name and my penchant for basketball, how could I now want to call myself “Magic”.

Fast forward to Shaq’s feud with Kobe Bryant. I begin to get more and more irritated. While Kobe’s ball hogging tendencies made me a touch sympathetic to teammates complaining, Shaq’s behavior was so awful that he was the one I felt the frustration toward.

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