A Substitute for War

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Posts Tagged ‘Orlando Magic

The Blazers signing Chris Kaman: Somehow much worse than the Magic signing Ben Gordon

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A lot of people jumped on Ben Gordon’s contract with the Magic (2 years, 9 million with the 2nd year unguaranteed) as the WTF free agent signing of the summer so far. It was an inexplicable bad decision but I feel Portland giving Chris Kaman 2 years, 10 million (again, the 2nd year unguaranteed) was easily worse.

First, Kaman is effectively the C version of Gordon. He’s aging and inefficient offensively, very poor at defense and isn’t known as a veteran leader. It’s been understood for a few years by smart basketball people online Kaman and Gordon aren’t helping you win games.

But at least in the Magic’s case they’re probably tanking anyways. They were a 23-59 team who traded an all-star caliber guard in the East in Arron Afflalo, for the younger more erratic Evan Fournier. They also cut Jameer Nelson who was a stabilizing presence in the locker room. Afflalo and Nelson easily led the team in 3pt makes, despite their shooting the Magic ranked 21st in total 3 point makes for the season. At the same time they drafted Elfrid Payton and Aaron Gordon and are likely to play them over 30 minutes per game. Both players have shooting and spacing the floor as their biggest weakness. So at their perimeter positions the Magic’s floor spacing has gotten much worse. They ranked 29th in offense last year despite having Afflalo and Nelson’s shooting, replacing those minutes with Payton and Gordon more likely than not makes their offense even worse. The Magic did sign Channing Frye today who’s 3pt shooting and spacing should help in the frontcourt. In general due to the loss of Afflalo and likely giving major minutes to two rookies in Payton and Gordon, The 4.5 million they spent on Ben Gordon has less opportunity cost both because they were unlikely to win and because they were far under the salary floor. Enough that after the move if they wanted they could still make “salary dump for draft picks” deals with another team, like Utah absorbing Richard Jefferson and Andris Biedrins for 2 1sts. That becomes more difficult after signing Frye, but this decision isn’t related to whether signing Gordon was smart or not. As for Ben Gordon’s contribution to the team whether the Magic intend it or not (I wouldn’t rule out intent considering I’m convinced Sam Hinkie signed Byron Mullens to be his “tank secret weapon”), playing Gordon’s brand of ball stopping inefficient offense and negligent defense is likely to increase their loss column next year and get them a higher draft pick. By midway through the season if the Magic are poor again they’ll be happy to have Gordon’s loss-friendly contributions. The Ben Gordon contract certainly isn’t good, but it doesn’t hurt what they’re trying to achieve going forward either.

The Chris Kaman signing differs from this in a lot of ways. The Trail Blazers won 54 Gs last year and are on the precipice of contention. Their starting lineup of Damian Lillard, Wesley Matthews, Nicolas Batum, Lamarcus Aldridge and Robin Lopez is one of the most complete in the league. They just need bench contributions. The MLE they spent on Chris Kaman was their big chance to improve their big weakness behind their starting lineup. Therefore it has a huge opportunity cost.

First, 5 million on Chris Kaman is an overpayment for a player little evidence suggests has helped teams win more than a replacement caliber player lately. Secondly, I just don’t see what Kaman does for Portland. The team ranked 2nd in offence and 16th in defense last year. Kaman is a poor defender so he should add to their weakness. The Blazers need more speed and athleticism on defense and Kaman won’t help there. Offensively Kaman’s biggest contribution is floor spacing at PF/C, but the Blazers already spaced the floor exceptionally well and have a much much better version of Kaman offensively in Aldridge. The Blazers succeed at ball moving and not turning the ball over (ranking 3rd lowest in TOV%), Kaman hasn’t passed the ball overly willingly and has been turnover prone. Also note that the Blazers style of play is modelled after Rick Carlisle’s Dallas 2011 Mavericks, with Lamarcus Aldridge in the place of 2011 Dirk, as the high post shooter/scorer who’s spacing the floor for his teammates. Of course, the Mavericks tried signing Chris Kaman to get value of his skill level in a new system… and it didn’t work. He used possessions inefficiently because of turning the ball over, didn’t pass the ball and didn’t play defense. So why would it work with a 2 years older Kaman on the Mavericks clone the Blazers?

My feeling on Kaman is if anything he’ll make the Blazers worse defensively and he’s as likely to hurt the Blazers offense as help it, by hurting their ball movement, efficiency and turning the ball over. Compare this to other MLE options like signing Thabo Sefolosha to help the Blazers wing defense off the bench, or signing Greivis Vasquez/Darren Collison to run the 2nd unit as a 6th man. To me the value of these signings compared to splurging on Kaman isn’t close.

But what makes the Kaman contract really insane is the timing. They signed him on July 3rd and made him one of the first MLE sized players signed. Why not wait? At the end of July and early August there’s usually free agents who’s agents oversold their client’s strength and now have to settle for a smaller contract than what they begun looking for. That’s when you can get players better than Kaman for 2.5-3 million a year. Signing Kaman for 5 million is already such an inefficient use of finances that it’s hard NOT to beat it efficiency wise later in the summer. By waiting the Blazers may have been able to end up with either 2 bench players as good as Kaman for the same 5 million price, or one player better than him for the full MLE. Either way, spending 5 million ASAP in free agency on a player who hasn’t made a winning impact in years, for a team who desperately needed to use its MLE right, is crazy.

Written by jr.

July 7, 2014 at 4:56 pm

Is Rob Hennigan making feel for the game the center of Orlando’s strategy?

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I’ve made a point on this blog of emphasizing feel for the game as a key to player talent and success. I see it being as important as athleticism to a player.

The team who has the biggest trend of targeting feel for the game players is the Spurs. Here is an article I wrote describing how I see it as the key to their infamous draft steals. I am just about convinced they go out of their way to grab instinctual and feel for the game heavy players.

Since Rob Hennigan became GM of the Magic, they look to be following the same path. Check out his moves so far:

2012 draft – Took Andrew Nicholson in 19th overall in the 1st round.

Nicholson plays at a permanently slow, controlled pace – in a good way. He has what can be called an “old man’s game”, a good indicator of feel for the game. Feel for the game overwhelmingly is what makes Nicholson unique.

In the Dwight Howard trade he acquired Arron Afflalo, Nikola Vucevic and Moe Harkless among draft picks.

Afflalo’s strength is overwhelmingly his feel for the game. He is a natural mover and scorer. Like Nicholson lack of explosiveness to attack the basket and physically impact the game limits his upside, but his feel and instincts are high end.

Vucevic is another instinctually impressive player. You can see the calm he has in the post and around the basket. Furthermore his terrific rebounding numbers largely seem instinctually based, without elite athleticism or lift – similar to Kevin Love’s rebounding.

What about Moe Harkless? You guessed it. Smooth. Fluid. At ease when he drives instead of out of control for a raw player. Above average feel for the game again.

At the trade deadline, Orlando grabbed Tobias Harris and Doron Lamb as the young prospect haul for JJ Redick.

Tobias has the best feel for the game out of all these Orlando players. In fact I would argue Tobias has one of the best feel for the games in the entire league. Look at how natural and fluid this man plays. He manages to get to the rim not because he’s explosive, but because he’s that smooth.

Like a broken record, Doron fits the profile of all these other Magic players. He’s not the fastest or biggest guy, but he has a combination of skills – and more importantly, a natural feel and fluidity to his game. He’s struggled mightily translating his shot this year but I’d expect Doron to pan out over the long run.

All these players being feel for the game heavy, makes me strongly think Rob Hennigan is doing this on purpose. While feel for the game is not the only thing that matters for player success, if added to other skills like athleticism, size and perimeter skills, players are cooking with gas. I’m very impressed by Hennigan with the Magic. This might be a playing chess while everyone else is playing checkers situation.

Written by jr.

March 25, 2013 at 2:33 pm

Dwight Howard: Not the only reason the Magic have been a great defensive team

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Washington Wizards v/s Orlando Magic February ...

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It seems no-one can doubt that Dwight Howard is the best defensive player in the NBA. But just how much is Howard responsible for the Magic’s perennially top 5 DRTG rankings?

For many, it’s all Howard. Because it appears nobody other member of the Magic is defensively significant. The Magic won 59 games and made the NBA Finals with Jameer Nelson, Courtney Lee, Hedo Turkoglu and Rashard Lewis in the starting lineup. Nelson is an undersized PG, Lee a rookie at the time, Turkoglu is one of the NBA’s slowest SFs, and Lewis is an out of position SF. Thus the Magic dominating defensively with that team is quite a feat on Howard’s end.

But not so fast. Defense is a tricky subject. Half of good defense can be from the system. The following choices can be made. If a team holds back on offensive rebounding, they can all but guarantee transition defense against the opponent’s counterpunch. If everyone is sent to the defensive glass instead of a player or two leaking out as an outlet, defensive rebounding and the ability to close off space to prevent putback points can improve. Thus a team can take off a few points from an opponent by strategy alone. But it also comes at the cost of those easy points offensively. If a team wants to make it a halfcourt game defensively, they’ll probably be forced to make it one offensively as well. Read the rest of this entry »

Written by jr.

January 31, 2012 at 7:27 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

NBA Playoff Preview – The Biggest Questions

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Twas the night before the playoffs and all through the house, not a soul was stirring, not even Eddie House…

Rajon Rondo, the 21st pick of the Boston Celtics

Is Rajon Rondo the playoffs biggest X-factor?

Matt won’t be back till next week, so you’re stuck with me for A Substitute for War’s lack of playoff preview wisdom:

First, here are my opening round predictions:

East: Chicago over Indiana in 5, Miami over Philadelphia in 6, Boston over New York in 6, Orlando over Atlanta in 5.

West: San Antonio over Memphis in 5, LA over New Orleans in 5, Portland over Dallas in 6, Oklahoma City over Denver in 5.

Since that’s over, instead of spending a couple thousand words telling you why Chicago is better than Indiana or LA is better than New Orleans, I’ll spend some time dissecting the favorites and what they need to prove to win the title:

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Ranking the NBA title favorites before the ides of March

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After a day of elite on elite action on a Sunday with a little more than a month to go in the regular season, seems like a good time to evaluate the title contenders.

First let me give an updated chart of how the elites have done against each other. (My original table from last month was in the Guts & Domination post.)







It’s ordered by the significant margin wins based on the theory that those are the truly telling results. This seems fine to me generally, but reader lpb has pointed out that Chicago’s record is heavily skewed based on what happened early in the season. In the last 3 months, the Bulls are a remarkably 10-0 against the other elites, with half of those being >5 margin wins. Damn impressive. Still not enough for me to pick them to win the title.

The Favorites, from most to least

1. Boston Celtics

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Guts & Domination Revisited: NBA ’10-11 Elite vs Elite Records

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With 4 of the top 8 teams playing against each other today, I thought it was a good time to look at how the top teams are doing against each other.  Here they are, with the explanation and takeway conclusions below.

What I Did & Why I Did It

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Questioning whether the Spurs dominance will translate into the playoffs

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San Antonio Spurs logo

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Nearing the all-star break, the San Antonio Spurs have the best record in the league at a crisp 42-8, an astonishing 69 (!) win pace. With the Lakers having the hardest remaining schedule in the league so far it appears no-one will challenge them for the #1 seed in the West. The Spurs also have the best SRS in the league albeit it indicates the they are playing at a level below their W/L pace.

Yet I am not convinced.  I believe one of the reason even point differential can prove misleading towards projecting playoff success, is what it takes to succeed in either is often different. This appears in other sports as well. Most recently the New England Patriots put up one of the greatest offensive regular seasons ever statistically, but looked pedestrian in the playoffs offensively. In truth the Patriots lacked deep ball passing and power running dimensions to their game and the Jets exposed these weaknesses by solely covering the short passing game. The playoffs showed what regular season stats did not – the Patriots offense was flawed.

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The Orlando Panic

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Yesterday was one heck of a day for the Orlando Magic.  Not one but two blockbuster trades.  Away go two of the team’s starters (Vince Carter and Rashard Lewis) plus two more rotation players (Marcin Gortat and Mickael Pietrus).  In come Gilbert Arenas, Jason Richardson, Hedo Turkoglu & change.  Stunning, I cannot remember a team so drastically remaking itself so quickly after so much success.

My initial thought was that this wasn’t wise.  Typically when we see teams that almost win the whole shebang do violent changes to themselves in the name of “we’re still not good enough!”, it doesn’t work.  A great team that functions a particular way isn’t likely to be able to re-made with a very different set of talent and become significantly better, and it has a very good chance of getting worse.  If the franchise really believes that the team’s current slide signifies that the team’s better days are behind it, then I get why they’d make the change – but why would you react so dramatically after such a small sample size?

More likely is that the team had simply been unhappy with Lewis and Carter because of their poor play in last year’s playoffs and they just wanted them gone for comparable talent.  I get that, but if I were running the franchise I’d try to look at very specific weaknesses and address them with as minimal disruption as possible.

The most interesting part of the trade to me is the acquisition of Arenas.  To be honest, when I watched the Magic struggle against the Celtics last year, the thing I kept thinking about was not Lewis or Carter, but Jameer Nelson.  Nelson was playing better than Lewis and Carter at the time, but Nelson’s issues to me seemed more systematic.  The best thing you can do for Dwight Howard is get him guy’s with great court vision.  If Howard had a Rajon Rondo (or obviously a Nash, a Kidd, a Paul, etc), I think he has those super-dominant games we see him have against every team much more consistently.  Do that, and the Magic probably win some titles.

So what do the Magic do?  They keep the mediocre-passer, great-scorer Nelson, and acquire another mediocre-passer, great-scorer in Arenas.  Yikes.  It’s as if they read in the manual that it’s good to have a great combo guard scorer 6th man, without considering that that really only makes sense when your starting point guard isn’t also a combo guard.

Sigh.  Well, I’m certainly not going to guarantee this won’t work.  The team is going to end up looking significantly different, and there’s always the chance that it settles into a functioning system that is superior to what was before, but I really doubt I’ll ever come to the conclusion that these trades were the result of a master plan.

As far as the other teams involved.  Washington clearly made a smart trade – the goal was to reduce their long term cap hit from Arenas who couldn’t possibly fit into the Wizards’ future.  Phoenix, unlike Orlando, is far enough away from contending that a big shake up makes sense presuming they want to become contenders again – it may or may not work, but with Nash at the helm, at this point it seems a lock that the offense will always be good, and Gortat may give major help to the defense.

2010-11 NBA Predictions: The Championship

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Since this blog starting out pretty much at the beginning of the basketball season, I’ll spare the world an exhaustive look at each team in the league, and just answer the big question:  Whose left standing at the end?

We’re largely seeing a debate between Miami and the Lakers, with the occasional shout out to the CelticsThe GM’s took gave a strong majority to the Lakers.  The ESPN writers had the Lakers and Heat in a dead, well, heat.  The debate between those two teams itself is drawing people to meta-analysis, which if you know me, you know I can’t stay out of.

Silver Screen and Roll wrote an article essentially saying that this difference of opinion is about the war over advanced stats.  Stat geeks vs old school guys.  He points out that the GMs are mostly old school, and then breaks down the ESPN writers based on their affiliation with modern stats.  He then caps it all of preparing us for a potential Armageddon where we can definitively say who was right or wrong because now LeBron doesn’t have weak teammates as an excuse for losing out to Kobe’s Lakers.

Alright so, I’ve got a variety of problems  with this but he does have some interesting thinking here that isn’t entirely wrong.  The correlation between stat geeks and picking the Heat is real.  The big problem is though, that I don’t think the correlation is due to stat geeks simply assuming that you can combine great players and automatically have a good team.  Rather, I’d say that this is more about how the two sides think generally. Read the rest of this entry »

Written by Matt Johnson

October 29, 2010 at 2:20 pm