A Substitute for War

Basketball philosophy

Posts Tagged ‘tanking

Philadelphia vs Kentucky

leave a comment »

Predictably the Philadelphia 76ers all time roster is compared to the top ranked college team Kentucky. For once it appears people are taking the question seriously whether Kentucky would win since Philadelphia is rolling out so many players who shouldn’t be in the NBA.

So let’s take a closer look:

Frontcourt offense

This is where Kentucky is closest to Philadelphia. Philadelphia’s roster of Nerlens Noel, Luc Richard Mbah a Moute, Brandon Davies, Henry Sims are not scary compared to Kentucky bigs like Karl Anthony-Towns, Willie Cauley-Stein or Dakari Johnson. A case can be made for Karl Anthony-Towns as already the most most dynamic offensively, though in college Brandon Davies was a solid 18/7 big offensively his last year at BYU and has developed since. Offensively, rookie bigs can regularly outperform unskilled veteran bigs, thus Kentucky’s bigs performing as well as this year’s Sixers bigs next year in the NBA would not be a major surprise.

Perimeter offense

The Sixers get a major leg up on Kentucky here. Andrew Harrison, Aaron Harrison may end up as NBA talents, but outside shot happy guards that tend to be dime a dozen in the NBA. Alex Poythress has poor offensive skill by NBA standards. The other Kentucky perimeter players appear to be far away from ready for NBA production.

Michael Carter-Williams and Tony Wroten were both college standouts and that was before NBA experience and physical maturation. Their ability to penetrate to the basket stands out at an NBA level and would likely dominant at a college level. Wroten would physically punish smaller college players with his size. The 3rd guard in the rotation Alexey Shved likewise has an off the dribble-centric game that would be difficult for college defenses to handle. K.J. McDaniels was an offensive standout in college and his 3pt shooting has improved in the NBA. Hollis Thompson  shot over 43% all 3 of his seasons at Georgetown which would provide the Sixers with a dangerous catch and shoot and spacing threat against college players.

Compared to college competition, the Sixers perimeter would have dynamic ability to penetrate, outside shooting and a huge strength advantage. They would likely dominate on offense.

Frontcourt defense

For college competition the massive Kentucky front court including Willie Cauley-Stein, Dakari Johnson and Karl-Anthony Towns is considering a potentially dominant advantage over their peers. But the 76ers still have the edge. Nerlens Noel is one of the most prolific defensive college players in recent memory due to his blocks and steal totals, whereas Luc Richard Mbah a Moute has been a defensive standout in the NBA for years, which would make him better than any college player on that end currently. Henry Sims also provides size and physical maturity which becomes a bigger advantage against college.

The Sixers frontcourt combination of Noel’s shot blocking, Mbah a Moute’s intelligence and mobility and Sims size, would make them near perfect defensively for the college level.

Perimeter defense

Like the frontcourt, Kentucky’s defensive strengths on this end are just amplified by Philadelphia. Andrew and Aaron Harrison are 6’6, but so are Michael Carter-Williams, Tony Wroten and Alexey Shved while having more athleticism. Alex Poythress is an impressive athlete defensively, but K.J. McDaniels stood out more as a defensive playmaker last year. The Carter-Williams, Wroten and McDaniels combination provides a level of speed, strength and anticipation that the Kentucky perimeter does not match on this level.

When adding these perimeter players to bigs like Noel, Mbah a Moute and Sims, the Sixers defense as a whole is light years ahead of college competition. They would have an entire roster of over 6’6 players who are faster, stronger and more experience defensively than their peers. The Sixers currently rank 20th in DRTG in the NBA indicating this is a competent and professional quality defense.

Offensively the Sixers may be horrible for NBA standards but putting Carter-Williams, Wroten and Shved against college players would still lead to non stop penetration. Options like Brandon Davies and K.J. McDaniels or Hollis Thompson shooting 3s, would still be quality looks. It’s likely this is still better than any college team offensively thanks to the penetration of those guards. Kentucky’s defense is inexperienced and for mental and physical reasons would be at a disadvantage trying to keep up with these options. The Sixers defensive advantage over college competition is as big as usual for NBA teams, whereas for their weakness offensively, they would still rate easily ahead of a team like UK on that end. Not only would the Sixers have strong half court skills like penetration, shooting or post ability, but their elite defensive ability to generate steals and blocks combined with superior athleticism would likely make them an unstoppable fast break engine going the other way.

Ultimately another way to argue against this, is if one watches a Philadelphia NBA game and watches a Kentucky game, the level of play is higher in the former for reasons outside of talent level. Philadelphia has to operate at a physical intensity and attention to detail, they have to play with a longer 3pt line and shorter shot clock. The team carries themselves like professionals and not college students. It still isn’t close.

Written by jr.

November 19, 2014 at 2:33 pm

Philadelphia vs Atlanta and the Finish Line + Ensemble title caliber teams

with 5 comments

The Philadelphia 76ers plan to win a championship begins with tanking. The philosophy is to avoid the “middle ground” – meaning to be really bad, to get enough high draft picks/stars to eventually contend and win a title.

Many people who support this plan, point to a team like present day Atlanta as an example of what should be avoided. Atlanta has a good, but only 1st/2nd round caliber playoff team. Without any high draft picks since 2007, they’re lacking in star power. Atlanta is seen as “stuck in the middle” without the upside of teams like Philadelphia or other tankers like Orlando.

However there may be more logic behind the Atlanta plan than it appears. Put it this way – Atlanta may be getting less firepower in the draft, but they’re also closer to the finish line than Philadelphia.

Last year Philadelphia won 19 games and had a 16 win “pythagorean” point differential, but by trading Evan Turner and Spencer Hawes and likely trading Thaddeus Young sometime between now and the trade deadline, their team is probably worse than it was. Atlanta had 38 Ws and had a 40 W pythagorean but their 16-13 record with Al Horford, translates to a 45 W pace. So let’s say we peg Philadelphia as having 15 win talent and Atlanta as 45 W talent going into this offseason. If the goal is to pass 55 Ws for contention to become realistic, that means Philadelphia has to improve by 40 Ws in talent while Atlanta has to improve by 10. This is a huge difference. Improving by 40 Ws requires not just one successful draft pick or free agent signing, but multiple ones. Philadelphia could do great work and still find themselves just at the 45 W position Atlanta is right now. They’re getting more firepower in the draft, but have a far greater task to achieve with it.

As for Atlanta, improving by 10 Ws? Sure it’s difficult, but it can be done. I’ve liked some draft picks they’ve made recently like Dennis Schroeder and Adreian Payne. Neither has to be a superstar to push the Hawks towards mid 50 W status. Finding a “core” player Mike Conley, Jr. or Roy Hibbert from either of those picks could push them to the next level. The Hawks also have cap flexibility to sign other free agents, such as when they signed Paul Millsap last summer or Thabo Sefolosha this summer. One more Millsap type acquisition next year could be enough to elevate them. They’re not a guarantee to get there, but neither is a team like Philadelphia or Orlando guaranteed to make it all the way to contention. They don’t have to run the race as fast as Philadelphia if their starting point is much closer to the finish line.

Another argument against Atlanta is to ask so what if they win as much as the Indiana Pacers and Memphis Grizzlies have lately, since those teams have neither made the Finals or won the championship. This is true but both teams have more attempts at the bat in upcoming years. As I’ve said in the past, the concept that “you need a superstar to win a championship” has a flaw in how fast the league changes. If you go back 20 years, there’s no analytics-driven GMs, the league is more obsessed with long 2 point jumpers than a slash and kick 3 point game, the CBA and player salaries is unrecognizable, the draft is vastly changed by everyone declaring after 3 or 4 seasons. The NBA in just 20 years has made a “checkers to chess” transformation. The average GM 20 years ago and back is now a terrible GM in 2014. The evidence that teams like the Pacers and Grizzlies can’t win a title is flawed because it relies on decades of NBA history when the league and game was different.

So what if we use more recent evidence? Well first, I would argue 2 of the last 11 champions in the 2004 Pistons and 2014 Spurs are “ensemble” style teams. 2 out of 11 is over 18%, which is a perfectly livable percentage for teams like the Pacers, Grizzlies and Hawks. But this percentage may actually understate things. A position I’ve taken for a while is there can be non-championship winners, that can be as meaningful for determining who can win the title, as much as the teams who did it. How is this possible? Consider the 2013 Spurs, who came within a rebound from sealing it in Game 6. The Spurs should count as much as the 2013 Heat. The difference between those teams in regards to who won, has nothing to do with the Heat having a superstar. The series was a tie someone had to win.

Furthermore in between 2004 and 2014, the 2005 Pistons and 2010 Celtics were two “ensemble” style teams who were leading in the 2nd half of Game 7 of the Finals, making them the next closest behind the 2013 Spurs to winning the title. Again, it’s unlikely to mean much at all that they got beat by the team with a superstar. By beating the other team in 3 games up to that point, they were capable of winning the last quarter or last 15 minutes of the game or so. With such a dead evenly played series, whoever won the last 12 or 15 minutes was likely to be from chance more than anything. It’s unwise to mean the difference between the 2005 Spurs and Pistons or the 2010 Lakers and Celtics has much to do with the superstar make-up of the Spurs and Lakers, especially considering Tim Duncan and Kobe Bryant shot poorly from the field in those games. On that note, if someone isn’t as big a believer in the Pistons chance to win Game 7 on the road in 2005, one could also point to the Spurs crucial Game 5 win in Detroit, where Robert Horry’s freakishly clutch shooting spree allowed the Spurs to get to and win in overtime, thus securing a 3-2 lead instead of trailing 3-2 going back to San Antonio. Again, this has little to do with the Pistons lacking the superstar.

So effectively, 18% (2) of the last 11 champions were ensemble-style teams. If including just the 2013 Spurs as title caliber along with those 11, 3 of those 12 (25%) were ensemble teams. If including the 2005 Pistons, 2010 Celtics and 2013 Spurs as more or less equally title caliber as the 11 who won, 5 of 14 (36%) were ensemble teams. All of this makes a Pacers or Grizzlies or Hawks title with an ensemble make-up certainly seem more plausible. It’s conceivable the next 10 years has a swamp of ensemble-style champions, either by chance swinging the other way or a fundamental change in the league’s balance of power because of the CBA and analytics-driven GMs.

Written by jr.

July 29, 2014 at 4:58 pm

Posted in Basketball

Tagged with , , ,

On whether NBA teams need a superstar to win a title and yet another tanking idea

leave a comment »

I wrote a few articles around the net. On morningpickup.com I wrote about whether why NBA teams may not need a superstar to win a championship


On wagesofwins.com I wrote about a tanking-fix idea (maybe my favorite I’ve come up with yet!)


Written by jr.

December 27, 2013 at 12:37 am

Posted in Basketball

Tagged with , , ,

Analyzing the talent level of Michael Carter-Williams

leave a comment »

Michael Carter-Williams is strongest out the gate for the 2013 draft class, putting up a 22 point, 12 assist, 9 steal game in his first game and 26 points, 10 assists, 3 steals in his 3rd. Against two great defenses in Miami and Chicago, no less.

But as recent rookies Brandon Jennings and Jeremy Lin have proved among others, a start this hot does not guarantee long term stardom.

Here was how I rated Michael Carter-Williams talent level in June in my three categories Physical Impact Talent, Skill Impact (shoot, post, pass) talent and Feel for the Game talent, using these grades:

11: Transcendent, 10: Incredible 9: Elite, 8: Great, 7: Very good, 6: Decent, 5: Average, 4: Lacking, 3: Weak, 2: Very poor, 1: Awful

What the overall grades mean:

25+: Perennial all-star talent, 23-24: Blue Chip starter to Perennial all-star talent, 19-22: Blue Chip starter talent, 17-18: Rotation player to Blue Chip starter talent, 14-16: Rotation player talent, 12-13: Deep bench to rotation player talent, 11 or lower: Deep bench player talent


Physical impact grade: 6 / Decent

Skill impact (Shoot, post, pass) talent grade: 4 / Lacking

Feel for the Game talent grade: 7 / Very good

Total talent grade: 17 (Rotation player to Blue Chip starter talent grade)

For players with a grade of 17, due to variables like shooting development, I estimated these probabilities of having talent higher or lower than this:

< 1% Perennial all-star talent (grade of 25+)
< 1% Blue Chip starter to Perennial all-star talent (23+)
15% Blue Chip starter talent (19+)
65% Rotation player to Blue Chip starter talent (17+)
98.5% Rotation player talent (14+)
99.5%+ Deep bench to Rotation player talent (12+)

Carter-Williams’ appeal was based on a combination of physical talents and feel for the game. As a good, but not elite athlete with ballhandling skills, he has talent attacking the basket off the dribble. His length is an asset defensively, but a thin frame may hurt him finishing plays at the rim.

His biggest strength is his feel for the game. He is a crafty and smooth player, allowing him to find space in the defense and to see the court passing the ball. His steals so far is also arguably a product of anticipation and vision.

This clip shows how MCW’s speed and feel, has helped him attack the basket and find teammates:

Why Carter-Williams didn’t rate higher is his shooting. He shot 30.7% from 3 and 67.9% from the FT line over two years at Syracuse, including 29.4% from 3 and 69.4% from the FT line his sophomore season. The 3 point shooting numbers are poor for the NCAA line, but the FTs were even more worrying as typically good shooting prospects, are at least in the 70s.

That shooting is the biggest difference in his NBA career so far, hitting 47.1% from 3 in his first 3 games, going 8 for 17 from outside. Considering most prospects need time to translate to the longer NBA line, this has been impressive. Carter-Williams has only gone 66.7% from the FT line by hitting 10 for 15. Both of course, are at a risk of small sample size trickery. MCW hitting 5 for 17 from 3 instead of 8 for 17, would have made his 3P% 29.4%, identical to his final year at Syracuse. On the other hand, hitting 12 for 17 from the FT line would have made his number 80% from there, more representative of a great FT shooter. To give you an example of how Carter-Williams could fall apart from 3, after Jeremy Lin started 1-10 from 3 his first 3 “Linsanity” games, he went on to go 12 for 26 from 3 in his next 8 games (46.2%),  a larger sample size than MCW has had, before reverting. A more positive comparison for MCW is Chandler Parsons who had a 4 years college career where he averaged 33.7% from 3 and a weak 61.1% from the FT line, but has gone on to average over 36.6% from 3 on 4.1 attempts a game in the NBA, making him one of the better shooting options at the SF position. Shooting like MCW in college is not a death sentence, it just makes it less likely.

If Carter-Williams settled into an above average shooter at the position, deserving of a grade of 6 or higher in my skill impact (shoot, post, pass) talent category – I would rate him as a “blue chip” talent, roughly enough to be an above average starter. It’s surprising that a player with his college shooting career would shoot at an above average NBA rate, but the unpredictably of shooting is largely the reason for giving out that estimate of 15% chance at a blue chip talent. The only way I can see Carter-Williams surpassing even that to  become a perennial all-star and franchise player, is if he becomes one of the best shooters in the NBA. Nothing is impossible, but after his Syracuse results I’d need a larger sample size than 17 shots to put that in play. The worst case scenario is that Carter-Williams’ shooting falls apart and more, where the inability to hit open shots leads defenders to play way off him, Rajon Rondo-style.

To me, early Jeremy Lin is the all-around best comparison. Like Lin, Carter-Williams has the athleticism to attack the basket, size for his position and a strong feel for the game. And like Lin, the rest of his career will depend on shooting. Lin’s regression as a shooter made him a poor fit with James Harden and cost him his starting spot to begin this year, though by hitting 4 from 10 to start this year from 3 he may be on the rebound. My guess is that MCW at best is an above average, but non all-star PG, but at worst is a 3rd guard and average contributor. To Michael Carter-Williams’ credit, he has started his career with confidence and has seized the opportunity given to him by lack of offensive options above him in Philadelphia. His start sets the table for the rest of his career. He’s booked his place at the table for the long term, but how close to the head of the table will he be?

Written by jr.

November 3, 2013 at 3:26 pm

An ‘anti-tanking’ idea for the day

leave a comment »

I’m not the most fervent protester of NBA teams tanking for high draft picks, but it’s a subject matter appear to be passionate about. Teams losing on purpose and an incentive for it rubs fans the wrong way. Steve Kerr wrote a nice article on NBA.com suggesting some ideas.

How about if a team wins a lottery spot, they’re ineligible to get one the following season? As it stands now, after the top 3 lottery slots are picked, the rest of the draft is ordered by record. Therefore the team who is ineligible for the lottery, if the worst team in the league would be guaranteed the 4th pick, the 2nd worst team could be 4th or 5th, etc. according to the odds on this page if the top 3 for each placing is discounted.

Why would this change tanking? First, without the carrot of a top 3 pick, the teams who are ineligible would have less incentive to tank unless they’re desperate for a 4th or 5th pick. Now a retort to this is that it may make other teams more likely to tank, if their odds increase. However I would argue the ineligible teams’ odds should be evenly distributed between all the eligible lottery teams. Since everyone’s odds increase the same, there wouldn’t be more incentive to tank by the other teams.

Another change is that tanking becomes a pick your poison situation. Take the example of the 2013 draft’s prospects having much less hype than the 2014 high school class. Now if teams tanked for a top 3 pick in 2013, they’d cost themselves any chance at picking top 3 in 2014. For the teams who believed in the 2014 draft, this would be a huge cost to them, to the point where they may go out of their way to play better to avoid losing their top 3 lottery ticket in 2014.

This rule also discourages “multi-year” tanking. Teams like the present day 76ers and Magic, or in recent years the Bobcats or Kings, have gone out of their way to be terrible multiple years in a row. With losing lottery eligibility every 2nd year, this becomes a less desirable plan.

Now, rules regarding traded picks would have to be clarified. I would argue that whoever owns the pick on lottery day, is the one who is penalized the following year if they win a lottery spot. Thus a team trading a pick before the lottery, aren’t in danger of losing the following year’s lottery chances, only the one who trades for it.

While the above works as a rule change, I’d slightly prefer this version: Instead of the team winning a top 3 lottery spot becoming eligible to be top 3, they become ineligible for a top 5 spot, meaning their highest possible pick is 6th the following year. This makes the incentive to tank for ineligible teams even smaller – and the ‘cost’ of winning a lottery spot in any year, even steeper.

I feel this accomplishes much of what you want in an anti-tanking idea. It lowers the incentive to tank but the bad teams are still more likely to get high draft picks, particularly #1.

Written by jr.

August 13, 2013 at 12:52 pm

Posted in Basketball, NBA Draft

Tagged with , ,

Video Blog #1 – A few ideas to prevent tanking in the NBA

leave a comment »


My first video blog. I enjoyed the process so I will try to post a bit every week or two if I can. Look for draft videos and playoff analysis in the upcoming weeks, but this week’s topic is related to 3 ideas to fix the lottery enough to prevent tanking. All are related to the idea of “diluting the reward” and finding a middle ground between the current system which most agree benefits losing teams too much and the popular idea of making all 14 teams have equal lottery odds, which is too much in the other direction and doesn’t benefit enough the teams who need it the most. The key is to change but not wipe out the present system.

– Julien

Written by jr.

May 2, 2012 at 1:01 pm