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Posts Tagged ‘San Antonio Spurs

Kawhi Leonard and big hands

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Kawhi Leonard is now one of the youngest Finals MVPs after dominating the last 3 games of the Finals. He’s also one of the great draft steals in recent memory, with the Spurs picking him up at #15 in the 2011 draft.

The success of a player like Kawhi is a challenge to the other 29 teams in the league, or at least the ones who passed on him. Kawhi not only fell to 15 but it was a draft getting called one of the worst of all time and where teams picking in the lottery were dieing for a star talent. They passed on him for players they barely liked.

All of these teams have to look at Kawhi and ask how do we pick this player next year instead of passing. They have to re-evaluate their draft methods that led to passing on him.

Interestingly, one of Kawhi’s attributes that is getting targeted is his gigantic hands. Now, Kawhi’s big hands clearly make him better. However, it’s one piece of the larger puzzle.

First, consider that one of the biggest ways Kawhi’s big hands help him, is they make his wingspan longer. Leonard has a 7’3 wingspan, with an average PF’s being around 7’2 and average SF at around 6’11, this is a significant advantage at SF. Having a long wingspan makes a player better by extending his reach on defense and helping him deflect steals, but this is nothing new, teams have been obsessing over the length measurable for a long time including at the 2011 draft.

There are other ways big hands can help a player. Arguably it helps a player secure rebounds and dribble the ball better. However Leonard’s ballhandling remains one of his weaknesses and are not a major reason why he’s a draft steal. His rebounding is exceptional thanks to his strong hands. There was other reasons to believe Leonard was a stronger than average SF however, at the combine he measured 227 pounds, while the average SF prospect at the combine measures about 210 pounds, to an average PF’s 230. So Leonard has the length and weight of a power forward, but moves laterally like a shooting guard. Leonard’s hands may make him even stronger than his power forward-like weight suggests.

It’s not that Leonard’s hands aren’t important, it’s just there’s many things that will make a player like Leonard successful. In addition to his hand size, there’s

– How strong he is
– How long his arms are
– How well he moves laterally on defense
– Above average athleticism driving to the basket and playing in transition
– The ability to hit the 3pt and increasing ability to have offensive sets run through him
– Extremely strong basketball instincts/feel for the game
– A perfect demeanour and work ethic

In light of this, Kawhi would likely still be a major draft steal if his hand size was normal, making him slightly less long and strong, but nonetheless still stronger and longer than most SFs while being a great full court athlete with 3pt range and feel for the game. He’d still have many of the strengths that all-stars like Paul George and Luol Deng have had, who aren’t as known for their hand size.

Written by jr.

June 16, 2014 at 5:22 pm

The Spurs and their market inefficiencies

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The term “market inefficiency” was popularized in sports after Moneyball and the baseball statistics-revolution in the early 2000s. It largely means a team can “tip the scales” in their favor, instead of using resources and succeeding as much as the other teams in the league, they can do better by valuing things other teams undervalue. In baseball, some examples have been targeting hittings with high walk rates or shifting defenses according to the batter, before the crowd caught up to these tricks.

Logically, the Spurs incredible run of success should be tied to the concept of market inefficiency. The Spurs front office is better than everyone at everything. They are the Tiger Woods of front offices. They are the best at drafting, best at developing players, they allocate salary the most efficiency, from a coaching perspective they have the best offensive and defensive gameplans, and they’re the most forward trying to maximize a player’s health and longevity with strategies like limiting their minutes.

The drafting and identifying talent however, is really their most standout trait. None of the other stuff would be enough if they hadn’t taken HOFers Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili in the 20s and 50s, Kawhi Leonard in the teens, Tiago Splitter and George Hill in the 20s, etc., along with seeing Danny Green’s talent when he’d been cut by the Cavaliers. Nobody is even close to the Spurs when it comes to drafting. It’s as if they’re using a cheat code.

So what are the Spurs doing? Here’s my take

Feel for the Game (or Fluidity)

This is really the Spurs “corner”. There are still some people who think fluidity is athleticism instead of mental instincts-driven, but even if you do, the pattern still applies, Spurs horde the stuff.

It’s not just that the Spurs stars like Tim Duncan, Parker, Ginobili, Leonard are fluid, aesthetically natural players, it’s that their entire roster is. Patty Mills, Danny Green, Marco Belinelli, Tiago Splitter, Boris Diaw, Matt Bonner, etc. Along with some of the great Spurs role players of the past like Bruce Bowen, Robert Horry, Rasho Nesterovic, Stephen Jackson and so on. I find fluidity to be most visible on drives to the rim or posting up, so if you are not convinced, try to look at those during these Finals or online. As far as I can tell, you don’t make the Spurs roster without a very good to great fluidity or feel for the game.

It bears noting that feel for the game is not a one-way ticket to success. Some of the prospects I feel are most overvalued in the upcoming draft are ones with strong feel for the game, such as Tyler Enins and James Young. There’s enough room to take the high mocked draft pick with the feel for the game and still bust. Evan Turner has a near elite feel for the game, but without either the speed to drive, ability to move well on defense or outside shooting, along with a poor attitude to boot, he’s a disastrous 2nd overall pick. Likewise Adam Morrison’s feel for the game was his strong suit, but between league worst physical tools and an overrated jumpshot, he didn’t make it. Michael Beasley is an interesting example of a feel for the game/fluidity-strong bust. I’ve made the case that except for young players, the notably fluid prospects who play dumb in the NBA, are all guys with “personality flaws”. It doesn’t matter that Beasley, Josh Smith, Lance Stephenson, Charlie Villaneuva, etc. have the feel/talent to be smart players, because they were destined to be erratic because of their personality off the court. Luckily for the Spurs they don’t have to worry about players who’s IQ underperforms their feel like Lance or Beasley, because they also are obsessed with character and work ethic and players who fit into a team culture.

The Athleticism loophole

Ok, so we know the Spurs target feel for the game. We know they love outside shooters as much as anyone, which isn’t really a market inefficiency because everyone else values that too, or at least they do now. Between their outside shooting and the post play of Duncan, Splitter and Diaw, the Spurs inside-outside skill level leads the league as strongly as their feel for the game.

If putting their resources into skill and feel, it’d be logical if the return cost for them, is being a less physically gifted team. The only players who both elite physical tools and the elite skill/feel for the game that’s the hallmark of the Spurs system, are monsters like Lebron James, Kevin Durant, James Harden, Paul George, etc. Since the Spurs can’t just get their hands on those guys, if they really wanted elite athletes or bodies who DON’T have the Spurs-like skill and feel, they’d have to pick up players like Thomas Robinson or Gerald Green for their bench. They don’t do this.

On one hand, the Spurs are indeed less athletic than most teams. We saw the Thunder manhandle them athletically in games 3 and 4 of the WCF. The Spurs most likely rank 30th in the league in dunks and alley oops. It’s not their corner.

However, there’s ways around this. First, just because the Spurs aren’t great athletes, doesn’t mean they lack the ability to attack the basket. Because Parker and Ginobili are both some of the best ballhandlers for their position, they’re still impressive driving threats, arguably elite for their position in their athletic primes. I’ve been arguing for a long time that on the offensive end athleticism and ballhandling have a serious overlap. Because although one is a physical talent and the other is a skill, the net result of both is mostly freedom of motion. Driving past a defender with ballhandling, does the same for a player as driving past him with an explosive first step. There are other ways athleticism and ballhandling help a player such as finishing at the rim or retaining the ball from turnovers, that do not overlap as well, but I feel on the offensive end this freedom of motion and penetration ability has a key overlap, at least for perimeter orientated players – Which is the majority of the league as it includes not only PG, SF and SF, but including all the PFs or Cs who play like SG/SFs. It’s why sometimes athletic wings without the ballhandling have the offensive game of a worse athlete (ie Wesley Johnson and Gerald Green being spot up 3 point shooters), or the opposite, wings with great ballhandling can play like they are more athletic (James Harden, Chris Paul, along with Parker/Manu are good examples). I’m guessing one of the reasons the Spurs were able to see Parker and Ginobili’s talent when they drafted them, is they were bigger believers in their NBA driving ability than others and believed it could replicate more elite athleticism.

Secondly there’s other ways to be physically significant including length, strength and lateral mobility, the combination of which the Spurs do a very good job targeting. None of the Danny Green-Kawhi Leonard-Tiago Splitter combination have elite explosiveness for their position but they bring other crucial physical elements to the Spurs. They add length to the team (Green and Leonard are longer than the average SG, Splitter is average), strength (Leonard and Splitter are stronger than the average SF, Green is average) and lateral mobility (all three are impressive for their position). In other words, the Spurs didn’t need to draft high flying athletes to add badly needed physical reinforcements in the draft, they were able to go around it with length, strength and lateral mobility. This is added to the fact that Parker and Manu can still drive to the basket and Duncan still has elite size for a big. If looking at “physical impact” as a combination of driving to the rim, length/strength and movement on defense, the Spurs may not lead the league when physically freakish teams like the Heat and Thunder are out there, but they’re a more gifted team in that area than if one only uses “high-flying athleticism” as a judge of physical value. I suspect the reason the Spurs are so good at drafting isn’t just their priority of feel for the game, but having a clearcut value system for physical talents and skills as well. Kawhi Leonard, Danny Green and Tiago Splitter aren’t just steals because of their feel for the game, but because when one added that to how much of the rest of their talent they had such as length, strength, lateral movement, speed attacking the rim, outside shooting ability, finishing skill at the basket, etc., that’s when they started to look like clear starting caliber talents, or star talent in Leonard’s case.

Fittingly, Tim Duncan himself embodies the “Spurs model” in drafting a prospect. First, Duncan combination of skill level and feel for the game was one of the best in history for a PF or C. His “traditional” athleticism (above the rim, speed) was never elite for his position, but he was still physically gifted because of his massive frame, length and lateral mobility combination. And with the skill and feel there, along with perfect character, he didn’t need more than that to be a dominant superstar.

Written by jr.

June 3, 2014 at 12:40 pm

The Spurs secret sauce in Danny Green, Kawhi Leonard and Tiago Splitter and searching for the next versions of them

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Kawhi Leonard | San Antonio Spurs

Kawhi Leonard | San Antonio Spurs (Photo credit: Basketball Schedule)

The Spurs are 2 wins from the 2013 NBA championhip, which amazes all of us because it looked like age closed their window when defeated by the Lakers in 5 in 2008 – which was oh, FIVE YEARS AGO! How did the Spurs get back to this point? While Tony Parker and Tim Duncan are still stars, the real story is that they found three blue chippers to start at SG, SF and C in Danny Green, Kawhi Leonard and Tiago Splitter. A case can be made all three are top 10 starters at their position.

The league is predicated on the idea that getting stars and starters takes lottery picks, which teams routinely leading the league like the Spurs, don’t have. The Spurs found a loophole to this by drafting Splitter 28th in 2007, Leonard 15th in 2011 and signing Green in free agency, the Cavaliers waiving him a season after drafting him in the 2nd round at 46th overall.

What did the rest of the league miss in these three for the Spurs to pick them up? Here’s my take:

First, what all three have in common is an great, if not elite feel for the game – which is nothing surprising considering the Spurs history. All three are smooth, crafty, natural offensive players. Furthermore they show excellent instincts, positioning and timing defensively. I would argue Green has the most impressive feel for the three, followed by Leonard and Splitter trailing, but all three are above average for their position hands down.

Danny Green in addition to this, has turned himself into one of the best shooters in the NBA. This year he hit 42.9% from 3 on 5.2 attempts a game (6.8 attempts per 36 minutes), an exceptional combination of volume and accuracy. Green’s weakness is he’s not a slasher, due to average athleticism and ballhandling. His offensive game is predicated on spot up shooting. Green is big for a 2 at 6’6 with a 6’10 wingspan, which helps him on the defensive end and finishing at the basket. His size also gives him some post potential in the future at the 2.

Here are my talent grades for Green:

Physical impact talent grade: 3 / Weak

Skill impact (shoot, post, pass) talent grade: 9 / Elite

Feel for the Game talent grade: 9 / Elite

Total talent grade: 21 (Blue Chip starter talent grade)

With a score about 19 as my threshold for a blue chipper and surefire starter, Green cleanly breaks the mark. Green’s shooting and feel is so good, that in combination with the ability to play SG and SF, it’d be enough for him to start – albeit his size and defense also helps him. How foreseeable was Green’s success? Green becoming an elite shooter is not a big surprise. His 41.8% and 37.3% 3pt marks as a junior and sophomore at UNC are fine, but the really impressive numbers are his FT%. He hit 85.2% as a senior, 87.3% as  junior and 84.8% as a sophomore from FT. FT shooting in the mid 80s or higher in college is typically reserved for elite shooting talents. One of the likely reasons Cleveland waived Green is he only hit 27.3% from 3 as a rookie on 22 total attempts. Since the NBA 3pt line is longer than the NCAA, an adjustment period even for an elite shooting talent is unsurprising. Among recent examples Kevin Durant hit 28.8% from 3 as a rookie and Kevin Martin 20.0%. Based on his 3pt shooting role at UNC and his FT%, I’d likely have Green at least an 8 / Great in skill impact (shoot, post, pass) talent . I may have gone a point lower in physical impact talent grade, based on how much of a spot up shooter he was at the time. Even with those downgrades, Green projects as a blue chipper.

Is there anyone similar to Green in this draft? Two players I see as similar are New Mexico’s Tony Snell and the Russian Sergey Karasev. Both players like Green have a great if not elite feel for the game, as smooth and instinctive players. Snell is a great spot-up shooting talent, not so much because of his 39.0% and 38.7% 3pt seasons his junior and sophomore years, but hitting 84.3% and 83.1% from FT those seasons. He does not have the ballhandling to be known as a slasher, but is a good athlete and has a 6’11 wingspan, with the likely ability to defend SFs or SGs. The athleticism and length combined with his feel, likely give him huge defensive potential. When added to his sharpshooting, his “3s and defense” starting potential and similarity to Green at UNC is clear. Karasev is also an elite shooter, hitting a cumulative 36.5% 3pt/85.6% FT this year, again the FT especially impressive. At 6’7 with a 6’9 wingspan he likely has the size to play the 2 or 3, albeit is an underwhelming athlete which could hurt his ability to get to the basket despite impressive ballhandling. I see Karasev as a higher upside offensive player than Snell, because his ballhandling may be able to help him create his own shot more on the perimeter, plus may help him have a slashing game despite athleticism problems. However for athletic reasons, his defense may be less reliable. Either way, if he can shoot at a great, elite level, with his feel, it should be enough to carve out a starting role on the wing. The player people might think of Danny Green most when seeing, is fellow UNC player Reggie Bullock. Bullock is a spot-up shooter with a good feel for the game at 6’7 with a 6’9 wingspan, in a similar role as Green’s. The only pause I have is that despite his 42.9% 3pt, his 76.7% FT is more worrying than Green, Snell or Karasev’s. If everything goes right with his shooting translating, I can see Bullock being a comparable player to Green. But I see it as a bigger risk his range doesn’t translate and he struggles to find his place in the league, than I do for Snell and Karasev.

Kawhi Leonard aside from his great feel, has a lot to like about him physically. He has the explosiveness to attack the basket despite average ballhandling, while he’s 6’7 but with a huge 7’3 wingspan and elite strength, making him an imposing physical figure at SF. Leonard’s physical talents and instincts have allowed him to be a standout defender and rebounder for a young player.

The biggest reason Kawhi was underplayed going into his draft year, is his shooting. He shot only 29.1% 3pt/75.9% FT as a sophomore, not being known as a perimeter threat. In the NBA the Spurs have fixed his shot, Kawhi since putting up 37.6% 3pt/77.3% FT as a rookie and 37.4% 3pt/82.5% FT as a sophomore. His ability to hit open 3s and space the floor at SF when combined with his defensive presence, gives him huge value as a role player.

Here is my talent grades for Kawhi:

Physical impact talent grade: 8 / Great

Skill impact (Shoot, post, pass) talent grade: 7 / Very good

Feel for the Game talent grade: 8 / Great

Total talent grade: 23 (Blue Chip starter to Perennial all-star talent grade)

This is a superb score. I would be very surprised if Kawhi didn’t make an all-star game in his career.

Going back to his San Diego State University days, his shooting was hard to predict. When a perimeter player isn’t a 3pt shooter in college, I typically don’t get below a grade of 4 / Lacking, in order to give them the benefit of the doubt they can develop. Since Leonard hitting 76% of his FTs is respectable and SFs hit 3s less than PGs or SGs, I’d likely have given him a grade of 5 / Average for his shooting career, based on my methods now. I may have given him a 7 / Very good in physical impact talent grade due to questions about his ballhandling. Despite this, even taking 2-3 points off, leaves Leonard as a blue chip talent. Leonard coming out of college looks a case of a somewhat risky pick, but one with value. If Leonard’s jumpshot had gone in the other direction and been broken in the pros, he may have still challenged a starting spot in a Gerald Wallace-like role providing size, athleticism, rebounding and slashing at SF. However it’s clear that if his shooting became good/great, it would lead to this star upside. Using my baseball pitcher analogy from last week, Kawhi coming out of college would be the pitcher who already proved he had a great combination of velocity and the ability to find the plate, but needed to widen his repertoire of pitches. That’s the right type of player to take.

Is there anyone in the 2013 draft like Leonard? A player who stands out is fittingly, fellow San Diego State prospect Jamaal Franklin. Franklin like Leonard has both great to elite feel and a strong combination of athleticism, strength and length at his position, which looks to be more SG than SF. This gives him a lot of potential defensively and on the glass and attacking the basket offensively. Franklin’s weakness is shooting, only hitting 27.9% from 3pt and 32.5% his junior and sophomore year. But encouraging is 79.0% and 80.0% his junior and sophomore years from the FT line. If Franklin’s outside shooting can turn around to Kawhi’s level, he may end up playing like him. If his shot is broken, it’s likely he’s more of a defense/rebounding role player. A few concerns with Franklin is his shot selection in college was more wild than Kawhi’s despite his feel and seems like someone who has some crazy in him. Playing 3 years to Kawhi’s 2 also makes his 3pt shooting woes look worse. Nevertheless Franklin’s upside if he can follow a similar improvement as a shooter, is significant.

Tiago Splitter is a true 7 footer in shoes with a 7’2 wingspan and 9’1 standing reach, fine for a 7 footer albeit not long enough to be more than a decent shotblocker. He also has wide shoulders and strength and a good lower body. Splitter is also a good athlete, having the mobility to roll to the basket on the pick and roll. Splitter is not dominant in length, strength or athleticism, but it’s having a decent amount of all three that’s rare and allows him to physically impact the game offensively and defensively. His length and strength combined with his high feel for the game, is an impact combination defensively.

Splitter does not have shooting range and isn’t a true go-to post player, but he does have excellent hands and touch finishing at the basket. At C I consider strong hands/touch and the ability to finish, enough for an average skill level compared to others at the position. The ability to finish plays when they catch it, is a valued skill at the position.

Here is my talent grades for Splitter:

Physical impact talent grade: 7 / Very good

Skill impact (Shoot, post, pass) talent grade: 5 / Average

Feel for the Game talent grade: 7 / Very good

Total talent grade: 19 (Blue Chip starter talent grade)

Splitter doesn’t grade out as exciting a talent as Kawhi or Green, but finding any blue chip C is difficult and valuable.

I can’t say with authority how Splitter looked in 2007 when he was drafted, since I wasn’t paying attention to him then. However by most accounts I’ve read, his feel and positioning were considered excellent at the time, as did his touch, which 58-62% FG seasons back it up. He likely was less physically developed at the time, but showing mobility, length and a wide frame. Overall it seems fair to suggest a true 7 footer C with a wide frame, strong feel for the game and great hands finishing at the basket would project as a blue chipper or very near it by this method at the time. In the case of Splitter as an established 7 footer in the ACB and Euroleague by 2007, it seems like the Spurs grabbing him so late isn’t because teams missed his talent, but by having more patience to wait for years for him to get out of his contract in Europe, eventually bringing him over for the 2010-2011 season.

Are there players in this draft like Splitter? Alex Len has some similarities. Len is a true 7 footer with a high feel for the game, who’s post and shooting game is raw, but seems to have good hands and touch. Len may never have a more versatile offensive game than Splitter, but if he can finish plays at the basket, when combined with his feel it could give him an offensive role. Len physically also has good mobility, with a body that needs to add strength but has the frame to – this seem similar to a young Splitter. He is longer than Splitter which gives him more shotblocking potential. Jeff Withey could also be similar, with excellent feel and positioning like Splitter and an offensive game similarity predicated on touch, instead of high volume post and shooting skills. Withey is mobile and athletic, arguably more explosive than Splitter – But also skinnier and unlikely to bulk up at his age. I see Len and Withey as likely starters due to their feel, length and touch at the basket. I suppose they have more star upside than Splitter if they can add a perimeter shooting game.

With Green, Leonard and Splitter at SG, SF and C for the foreseeable future and a number of great years left in the tank for Tony Parker, the Spurs level of success isn’t going anywhere. Chances are that as the Tim Duncan, Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili era winds down, the Spurs will make a seamless transition into what the Indiana Pacers are now, a team with less true starpower but filled with quality two way starters. Chances are the Spurs are going to be on the prowl for years for players with an great to elite feel for the game, in combination with other more widely adknowledged tools like Green’s shooting, Leonard’s size/athleticism and Splitter’s size/touch.

Written by jr.

June 13, 2013 at 12:04 pm

NBA Finals Thoughts

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Miami Heat

Miami Heat (Photo credit: Keith Allison)

When predicting the Finals or previous rounds, I try to take a perspective of “How would you feel about this match-up if you’d heard about it before the playoffs?”, meaning not to fall prey to overreacting to previous rounds. Clearly most would have greatly favored Miami going into the playoffs over San Antonio or anyone else.

With that said, the Spurs defense has impressed me far more in the playoffs. The Spurs have not been able to win games “ugly” and with defense in the playoffs for years like they did against Memphis and Golden State and now they can. The development of Kawhi Leonard and Tiago Splitter has brought the Spurs defense back to relevance. On the other hand the Heat’s switch to a smaller lineup phasing Joel Anthony out of the lineup, has prevented them from consistent elite defensive results. If the Heat were a shut-down defensive team the Pacers series would’ve been much shorter because like the Grizzlies, the Heat could’ve just exposed the Pacers flawed offense. Although at times the Heat defense stepped up such as in Game 7, overall I trust the Spurs defense more.

One of the reasons the Grizzlies went down so easily to the Spurs is predictability. The Grizzlies leaned far too much in 3 players in Mike Conley, Jr., Zach Randolph, Marc Gasol. The Popovich defensive game-planning were able to key on them. The spacing, passing and off ball play of the other Heat players aside from Lebron, will make it difficult to push the Heat into the flat offensive gameplan they want them to.

The Spurs players’ production has largely been expected compared to regular season play. However the Heat have had different production. Wade and Bosh have been worse, Chris Anderson has been better, and Battier hasn’t been playing. The Heat with Wade and Bosh playing back at regular season level can make a step up as a team compared to what we’ve seen. The biggest way they get worse is if Lebron’s play drops off. For the Spurs to step up their play it’d be by Manu upping his play, albeit he’s been off all year.

If the Heat role players match the Spurs’, the Heat likely win the series just because of Lebron. Lebron and equal help probably doesn’t lose. The way the Heat lose is either Lebron disappoints like in 2011 or he gets no help. The Spurs need to decide whether to shut down the Heat role players while letting Lebron do what he wants, or trying to stop Lebron.

Although it’s unfair, if Lebron loses the Finals twice in three years at his apex as the favorite and with home court advantage it will be hard to live down. Nevertheless making 3 straight Finals puts the Heat in a rare and proud class. I see the Heat losing next year. This Heat team reminds me of the 2010 Lakers where making the Finals 3 straight years was showing on them. Even if they grinded out a 2nd title, that run showed signs of how it’d end the following year. The reason the Heat losing the 2011 title hurts them so much is that their window would never run into infinity with their big 3 running into double digits for seasons played, which is usually when players decline. As superhuman as he is, even Lebron’s prime may end sooner than people believe. Lebron has played over 36,000 minutes in the regular season and playoffs combined and is set to tack on 3000-3800 a year from now on. Normally 40,000 thousand is a dangerous number for when players start to slip. Put it this way, if Vince Carter and Antawn Jamison retired right now, Lebron would pass them by the end of next season with minutes played similar to this season. He’d take about 2 seasons to catch Steve Nash and 3 seasons to catch Dirk Nowitzki and Paul Pierce if they all retired now. Like recent Kobe Bryant, Tim Duncan and Kevin Garnett, Lebron will likely be a fantastic player deep into his 30s, but the apex version of Lebron racking up MVPs, may only last 1 or 2 more years, with 3 seeming the absolute max.

Admittedly I don’t have a great feel for who wins this series. I don’t feel the matchup favors one team or the other. So I’ll predict this – The first two games in Miami are split. San Antonio wins 2 of 3 at home, which leads the Spurs to have a 3-2 lead going back to the 2 games in Miami. From there it’s probably a toss-up whether San Antonio closes out the series or if Miami wins back to back at home.

Prediction: Miami in 7 games

I pick Miami because of home court advantage favoring them in the 7th game if they get there and because of the greatness of where Lebron’s game is right now.

Written by jr.

June 6, 2013 at 1:08 pm

33pt Thursday: Was “Feel for the Game” the secret to the Red Auerbach era Celtics and Greg Popovich era San Antonio Spurs legendary drafting?

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Tony Parker and Greg Popovich

Tony Parker and Greg Popovich (Photo credit: Tiago Hammil)

I believe feel for the game is ultimately under-represented in NBA personnel decisions, particularly in the draft. However that does not mean nobody has ever considered the subject. When I look at two incredibly eras for franchises, feel for the game stands out consistently in draft picks/decisions – and that’s Red Auerbach’s Celtics and Greg Popovich’s Spurs.

Now, this could be simply a matter of the Celtics and Spurs being fantastic at finding great players and it just so happening that most great players excel in feel for the game, therefore their successful acquisition correlating with feel for the game friendly players rather than being a cause of it. But for fun, let’s look at the histories of some of their picks:

Auerbach joined the Celtics in 1950. Bob Cousy was actually passed on by the Celtics, but ended up with them anyways after his team the Chicago Stags folded. Cousy was the Celtics’ first player with supreme feel for the game, the first truly great offensive mind in the game at the guard position. Bill Sharman, a draft pick soon after was another with a strong feel for the game offensively.

In 1956 the Celtics made arguably the biggest history changing NBA trade ever, trading for the rights to Bill Russell for Ed Macauley and Cliff Hagan. Bill Russell of course is in the conversation for greatest feel for the game of all time. His awareness of the court makes him the greatest defensive genius in NBA history, while his elite passing game for a big proved his awareness offensively. Read the rest of this entry »

A Parable of Noah and Solomon

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Joakim Noah

Image via Wikipedia

And so it came to be that not long after the foul word used by the man they call Kobe, Noah himself did use the same word. From on high, the Association gave the decree to punish Noah as had been done before to Kobe. But from the crowd came an cry after it became known that the penalty for Noah would be only one half that of what Kobe was made to suffer. In response, the man in the high castle known only as Stu spoketh to his people:

He was provoked, and he used a statement to a fan that passed by him. So it’s different circumstances. We’ll continue to evaluate each one of these incidents separately and make a determination. But we felt in this case a higher fine wasn’t warranted.

Wise Stu

(Okay I’ll drop the bad Biblical language now) The comeback to this statement by the league that struck me came from Jeff Van Gundy on ESPN’s telecast of Game 4 between the Mavericks and Thunder: “They should have explained that in the initial fine of Kobe Bryant.

Obviously, if the league had laid out precisely how much every kind of fine was to start with, and then followed those rules, they’d have a bit more credibility when faced with criticisms of bias.

Personally?  Let me give my Huzzah to Stu Jackson and the NBA on this one as it shows them performing with a wisdom they didn’t show previously.

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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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Letting the Lamppost Illuminate

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Image by motiqua via Flickr

He uses statistics as a drunken man uses lamp-posts…

For support rather than illumination

Andrew Lang (1844-1912)

I’ve been rather crucified lately for having Kobe Bryant so low on my MVP list, and I completely understand why. He’s the player many consider to be the best in the game, his team has an elite record, and as we approach the final stretch of the regular season, both he and his team appear to be entering back into their familiar, championship-winning groove. How can he be not anywhere near the top 5 in the MVP race?

And I answer, knowing that my response hurts my credibility among quite a few not simply because they disagree with me, but because a significant influence on where I place Kobe is his poor performance in adjusted +/- statistics (APM).

Remaining Sober

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Written by Matt Johnson

March 19, 2011 at 9:52 am

Team Volatility

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I typically like to have some kind of tight argument in my posts here, but this one is loose. I welcome any feedback from people who’d like to see the data presented in a different light. With the major trades occurring at the trade deadline, I thought it of interest to to take a look at the data surrounding how volatile teams are in terms of player movement. In the above graph, the vertical represents team wins this season, the horizontal represents the amount of players who’ve played for the team in the past 3 years, and the size of the dot represents the payroll of the team right now.

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Written by Matt Johnson

March 13, 2011 at 12:22 am

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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