A Substitute for War

Basketball philosophy

Posts Tagged ‘Kobe

The Fall of the Cavaliers

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Great post on Back Picks about how much worse the Cavaliers have gotten without LeBron.  I was actually fixing to make a similar post myself, but now I’ll just keep it brief:

-The Cavs are on pace for the 2nd biggest fall in SRS (team performance based on point differential and strength of schedule) in NBA history.  Here’s a table, with the top 10 falls and the changes involved:

-You cannot simply dismiss this as the Cavs’ tanking for a good draft pick because the rest of the supporting cast is still in place.  Yes poor performance leads to de-motivation which leads to worse performance, but that’s true of every team in history, and still only once has there been a falloff this bad.

-It is utterly unreasonable to expect anyone with a supporting cast this bad to win a championship.  I’m not saying it was impossible, just that it’s an unreasonable expectation.  People still debate about who is and was better between LeBron and Kobe Bryant, and many give Kobe this edge based on championships, but there is simply no way that any supporting cast Kobe’s won a title with could be this bad without him.  Last year for example, the Lakers went 6-3 without Kobe.

Clearly the impact LeBron was having in Cleveland was up there with any in all of history.

-Going back to the Decision, there is a lot you can blame LeBron for, but I’ve maintained that since the Boston series last year, LeBron must have been thinking “my teammates just aren’t that good, we’re not as close as I thought to being the best, and there’s no reason to think we can get much better”.  You combine that with all the criticism LeBron got for being unable to win the big one, and it’s pretty easy to see why he left Cleveland.  It was much less about going to South Beach, and much more about getting out of a situation that he saw as no-win.

Written by Matt Johnson

January 6, 2011 at 3:26 pm

Gasol, Bosh, and +/- Statistics

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I’m getting a lot of Heat for continuing to have Pau Gasol ahead of Kobe Bryant in my POY/MVP rankings now that Gasol is clearly in an extended slump.  There are multiple factors involved in my decision making process, but something I haven’t heard any one deal with regarding this debate are the +/- statistics.

For those unfamiliar, +/- statistics rate players based on how well their team does when they are on the court compared to when they are off the court.  It was invented in raw form in hockey, but it’s basketball that has really gotten sophisticated with it.  The great thing about +/- stats is that they literally catch everything relevant that happens on the court.  That great screen a guy set that let to the open shot?  Counts.  That great pass before the pass that got the assist (aka the hockey assist, so named because they actually give that guy an assist in hockey)?  Counts.  Box score based stats are forever at the mercy of what scorekeepers do and don’t track.  The gambling thief who keeps trying and failing to get and assist, leading to the opponent getting an easy buck is doing nothing wrong according to traditional box score stats, but +/- stats catch what he’s doing.

Of course there are weaknesses to the stat as well.  First, the very fact that it catches everything when we don’t have box score stats for everything means that it’s advantage in coverage is a disadvantage in explanation.  This opens the door for skeptics to say that any number of factors could be involved in stat’s results, and they’ve got a point.  If a stat says I did something good just by being on the court when my team’s star gets into a zone, that stat is certainly not perfect.  Second, +/- stats tend to be noisier than traditional box score stats.  The guy who scored 30 points efficiently in a game can be said with almost complete confidence to have had a great game.  You can’t say a guy had a great game simply because +/- said he did well, and when we get into the most sophisticated +/- stats, statisticians strongly prefer to use 2 or more years as the sample size.

Also, related to the “black box” aspect of these stats, is the fact that if you point to them without giving an explanation for the cause of the results, you’re admitting that you don’t really know what’s going on.  This is something that bothers everyone.  It’s hard to stick your neck out there just based on a possibly unexplainable number.  It’s easy to chafe against something that essentially calls your understanding of the game into question.

So, this year, Pau Gasol’s raw +/- (how much the Lakers have outscored opponent’s while he’s on the floor) is +265, while Kobe Bryant is only +148.  Every more advanced metric we have along these lines says the same thing – the Lakers are more dependent on Gasol this year than Kobe, and this is not something we’ve seen in previous year.

Also of note, Gasol’s raw +/- is 2nd in the league.  Who is first?  The often mocked Chris Bosh who is well ahead of his more respected teammates LeBron James and Dwyane Wade.

People who aren’t sold on these stats use this as ammunition against the stats, “See, it’s meaningless I tell you!”.  I can’t help but marvel though and how those numbers actually fit with other things people are saying.

The Lakers, everyone agrees, lack depth at big man.  Bynum’s been injured.  They signed an old Theo Ratliff out of desperation.  They’ve just yesterday traded for an old Joe Smith out of desperation.  Do we really think it’s a coincidence that when the Lakers are desperate for big man, the team appears to be extremely dependent on their star big man (Gasol), who just happens to be playing by far the most minutes of any of their players?

The Heat, everyone agrees, have 2 superstar perimeter players capable of being elite scoring option and offensive decision makers who have had some trouble blending their talents together.  We also know that the Heat are struggling to find quality big men.  Do we really think it’s a coincidence that the guy who the team falls off when he’s not on the court, is the quality big man they do have?

Now if you want to make the argument that there should be more to accolades than a statistic that can be so shaped by the depth of the team the player plays on, I think that’s a perfectly reasonable point to make.  I do think though, that it’s unreasonable to dismiss what +/- stats have to say here.

Written by Matt Johnson

December 15, 2010 at 11:23 am

2011 POY Watch 11/29

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My version of the NBA MVP list. Updated weekly.

Player (Last Week’s Rank)

1. Dirk Nowitzki (3)

We had two really strong candidates leading the way before this week.  They fell off.  Dirk is still going strong.  His team is a force to be reckoned with that shows no sign of going away.  And when the team does lose, it’s basically a given that Dirk will have turned in a heroic performance that just comes up short.

2. Chris Paul (1)

Ah man, the Hornets are plummeting back down to earth.  3 losses:  1 a blowout, 1 a choke, and 1 against the worst team in the league.  And Paul didn’t look like a hero in these losses.  He only drops one place for now, but it won’t take much for him to fall further.

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Written by Matt Johnson

November 29, 2010 at 2:59 am

Thoughts on other sites’ NBA MVP Watch-es

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As is probably clear, I’m a bit of a ranking junkie, hence the weekly top 10 list for NBA POY *cough* MVP.  Over at RealGM, we always end up with an on-going thread on the subject.  In fact, I believe we started using the phrase “MVP Watch” before Maurice Brooks.

There are two MVP watch lists I’m aware of at major sites that are reliably updated each week, and so I check them out regularly.  Both are bugging me right now though, so I feel the need to spout.

nba.com’s Race to the MVP

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Written by Matt Johnson

November 22, 2010 at 2:12 pm