So I've spent the last few days
drinking and writing term papers, so you may have noticed a distinct lack of my posts around here. Still, the internet don't stop just because I'm not writing, so there's plenty to talk about.
You might remember that during their finals appearance this summer, much was said of the Orlando Magic's distinct style of play: they took a lot of threes. Their similarity to the Championship-Era Rockets was noted around here (Dwight's obviously no Dream offensively, but his dominance on the boards and as a shot-blocker is close): a fantastic inside presence surrounded by three-point shooters and not much else
Hoopdata is a great site and resource, providing all kinds of data on shot types. Here is their look at the team data for 2009-2010, and we see a virtual repeat of 2009's story for the Magic. Despite the changes to the Magic during the offseason, they still take the most threes in the league and, importantly, exceedingly few midrange shots.
While the success of the Magic's strategy is frequently talked about, the Rockets are another team that adopts this model (they're 2nd in the league in long-twos-to-3PA ratio), and the reason should be obvious: the three-point shot is the most efficient field goal attempt in the game, followed by shots near the rim. For a team run by the NBA's leading team of basketball nerds and led on the court by such all-around smart guys as Shane Battier and Rick Adelman, the appeal of the inside-outside game is great.
Instead, we hear about how "scrappy" the Rockets are, and how they get by on so much less than everybody else. What I challenge all of you - fans and any writers reading this - to do is to stop going to this easy analysis.
I think what the data indicates (and what tells a far more interesting story), is that the Rockets have constructed a team based around hitting the most efficient shots they can. Ariza, Brooks, and Budinger all make livings behind the arc and driving into the lane. Battier is an excellent spot-up shooter. Landry, Scola, Lowry, and Hayes score around the rim. The team is built around this efficient model, and midrange shots, while not disused (indeed, the Rockets - particularly Scola, Andersen, Ariza, and Brooks - are more than happy to shoot between the paint and the arc) are obviously not the focus of the offense. Morey built the team for this purpose, and Adelman's strategies take advantage of this focus.
It's not really that the Rockets are scrappy or that they play hard, it's that they do all of the things that a team needs to do in order to win games. Yes, playing hard is a big part, but the Nets or T-Wolves could play harder than anyone and still lose most of the time. The Rockets rebound, get steals, defend on the ball, and (most importantly) don't fuck around with bad shot attempts, and that's why they're winning.
McGrady missed an exam scheduled for the weekend because of his sore back, but his practice and MRI today are scheduled to go on as planned.
Howtowatchsports.com looks at alternatives to the current NBA pay structure.
NBA.com's John Schuhmann has a great article on adjusted plus-minus and defense here. The Rockets were far and away the best team in the league at slowing down the "big four" (Kobe, LeBron, 'Melo, and Dwyane Wade) from 2007 to 2009:
As the only team in the top five against all four players, the Rockets have clearly been able to defend these guys pretty well. And Battier, of course, has been the stopper there since he arrived in 2006. Back in August, I wrote how Ron Artest was more effective defensively against the Lakers last season, but he wasn't the one guarding Bryant on most of those possessions. Battier was.
Yes, there is statistical evidence that Battier and Bowen are/were very good one-on-one defensive players. Their reputations are well deserved. Artest is also a good defender, but isn't the one-on-one stopper that the other two are. In fact, Bryant may be better in that regard (at least when he's focused on that end of the floor).
More interestingly, I think, is the revelation that the New Jersey Nets were the best team at slowing down Bryant:
That's all kinds of fascinating, because from the 2006-07 season to the 2008-09 season, the Nets ranked 15th, 22nd and 23rd in defensive efficiency, respectively. The back-to-back Finals teams earlier this decade were great defensively, but the Nets fell off after the departures of Kenyon Martin and Kerry Kittles.
The Lakers won five of the six games the two teams played in the last three years, but in none of the six did Bryant shoot better than 33 percent from the field.
Vince Carter was the primary defender on Bryant in those games (something to keep in mind when the Magic and Lakers meet again), but fellow ex-Nets Richard Jefferson, Jason Kidd and Antoine Wright also took their turns. As a team, the Nets did a great job of keeping Bryant out of the paint and forcing him to shoot jumpers. And when he did, they borrowed a page from Battier's book and got a hand in his face almost every time.
I confess that I sometimes read ClutchFans' GARM, and (among the usual irrationalities) I've been surprised by a slight uptick in the number of posters railing against Battier in the past few weeks. Battier's defensive numbers haven't been as good this year (though that's true of everyone on the Rockets; perhaps this is evidence of Yao's heretofore largely misjudged defensive value), but his scoring rates are as good as ever, and he continues to run the offense and defense like a champ. And anyone who doubts the No-Stats-All-Star's defensive prowess needs to read this article. Or just watch the tape from Games 1 and 4 of the WC Semi-Finals last season and witness the greatness.
Oh, yeah, and Schuhmann says that Rudy Gay sucks. Yep.
Okay, this is from a while back, but after the Minnesota Game Dwyer wrote:
Speaking of shooting too much, Trevor Ariza shot 6-19 in the win, 4-13 from behind the arc, and finished with 18 points. Too much.
Maybe those T-Mac comparisons from the Sacramento announcers weren't too off after all.
The Hornets have new uniforms for Mardi Gras.
In a stunning display of greater competency than any of us around here, Canis Hoopus investigated Houston's luxury tax situation last week, as well as Morey's probably reasoning on releasing Pops (who, btw, is now playing with Toronto).
Houston is a team that is just over the luxury threshold, so they feel different economic constraints than other teams. For example, last Friday, they waived forward Pops Mensah-Bonsu. Pops was making $825,497, which is probably a fair salary. However if he was on the roster on the final day of the season, Houston would be effectively be paying him twice that, $825,497 for salary plus $825,497 in luxury tax. At 3.3 minutes/game, they decided he wasn't worth the $1.65 mil and the roster spot. Pops had $50,000 guaranteed, and since they were over the lux, they decided paying him that money (again, doubled if they remain over the lux) was a better economic decision than retaining him.
Dave Berri says that Portland is the best team in the West, and a lot of it has to do with the growth of LaMarcus Aldridge (hook 'em!):
Perhaps what we are seeing from Aldridge is just the standard progression we generally see with young players. If this is true, then a) Aldridge won’t be considered overrated in 2009-10, and b) the Blazers have one more extremely productive player.
ESPN is rushing to put Brandon Jennings on national television:
But still, we're not even a month into the season, and itineraries are being altered to make sure Brandon Jennings gets on TV. Regardless of whether or not you think he's the Second Coming, or for real at all, there's no mistaking that fans want to see him. Kudos to the league for figuring this out so fast.
Hey, when is ABC and ESPN going to respond to the public's demand for the Chuck Hayes Show?
The Knicks decided that they don't need AI, after all, and Kevin Pelton agrees:
In this context, the Knicks' pursuit of Iverson looks like an overreaction to a slow start that isn't reflective of the team's talent level. Slumps or no, New York has room to improve its core talent, but the backcourt seems like an odd place to look, given it was the team's strength a year ago. In particular, the Knicks' existing guards already offer similar skill sets to Iverson's. Robinson is a prolific scorer in a point guard's body, just like Iverson, except that he was the more effective of the two players a year ago. A similar description also applies to rookie Toney Douglas, who has been an efficient scorer off the bench this season. Even if Iverson is an upgrade on Douglas, it's not worth cutting into the playing time of a youngster who is a part of the team's future.
In basketball terms, I'm far from convinced that Iverson is finished. In the right scenario, I think he can help a team. For New York, however, Iverson appears to solve a "problem" that doesn't really exist while doing little to help the Knicks' issues at the defensive end of the floor. The team would be better served by exercising patience as the players on hand return to their usual level of play.
Last, I leave you with two videos: Kobe hitting a miracle shot...
...and (in honor of his impending MRI) a video of Tracy McGrady working out, set (for some reason) to the tune of Jay-Z's Run This Town. So now you can watch T-Mac grimace in pain while Kanye raps about being rich.