A Substitute for War

Basketball philosophy

Posts Tagged ‘Scott Skiles

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

Dissecting Jim O’Brien’s 2010-2011 Pacers failure

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This morning the Indiana Pacers fired Jim O’Brien. O’Brien had a target on his back for years by Pacer fans and their collapse out of a playoff spot the last few months after a good start finally did it.

Much of the O’Brien criticism were based on inconsistent rotations involving players like Darren Collision and Josh McRoberts. But I’d criticize O’Brien more for a stubborn coaching strategy, shown by some team contradictory team peripherals which caught my eye:

First of all, the Pacers are a defensive orientated team. They have one of the largest gaps between defensive rebounding % (6th) and offensive rebounding % (25th) in the league. The low ORB% indicates leaving players back for transition defense instead of sending them to grab offensive rebounds. The high DRB% indicates sending everyone to grab defensive rebounds instead of having leakouts for fastbreak points. Defense first coaches like Scott Skiles, Larry Brown and Tom Thibodeau have their teams play a similar way. The idea is that while they give away these high efficiency shots at the rim from fastbreak and putback shots, they prevent the other team from getting them just as much. This pushes their DRTGs up and their ORTGs down. Unsurprisingly, the Pacers are 9th in DRTG and 24th in ORTG.

But here’s the contradictory part: The Pacers are 7th in pace as of this morning. Usually defense first teams play at a snail’s pace, especially the ones emphazing DRB% over leaking out. With their defensive rebounding focus the Pacers aren’t scoring a ton of easy fastbreak points, so what explains the fast pace? Rather, rushing the ball up the court and taking quick 3s. The Pacers have one of the largest disparities between shots made from 3pt and at the rim, ranking 7th in 3PM and 27th in FGs made at the rim, according to hoopdata.com. The Pacers ranking 29th in FTs per FGA according to basketball-reference.com also shows their lack of offense inside. This 3pt heavy offense is no surprise for those who’ve followed O’Brien’s career. Read the rest of this entry »

Written by jr.

January 31, 2011 at 3:00 pm