Wednesday, December 31, 2008

The Disappearance of KG's Offensive Ferocity

A third of the way through the NBA season, the heralded Celtics’ weaknesses are beginning to show through. In losing three of four on a west coast trip, many think the sky is falling for this team. It is not. Most of the analysts are quick to point to the turnovers (Most turnovers per game in the NBA), which is very valid. Between errant passes and offensive fouls, the Celts are turning the ball over at an alarming rate, and their decent assist numbers still leave them in the bottom of the league in Assist-to-Turnover ratio.

That said, I’d like to point out another issue for the team: Kevin Garnett.

Defensively and from a leadership perspective, KG is still KG, yelling, pounding the floor, rotating hard and fast on defense. On offense, on the other hand, he’s playing less of a PF-style game than Lamar Odom these days.

While many commend his willingness to defer to teammates in the offense, let Rondo run the show, and knock down mid-range shots, I disagree. KG is a 6-11, 250lb freak of nature, and should play as such on offense. He should be able to generate half his point in the post, easily, especially against some of the lesser big men in the league these days.

In reality, KG seems content to, aside from the occasional alley-oop, take more and more mid-range and even long-range jumpshots, which may be the way to go with Shaq or Joel Pryzbilla defending, but otherwise is counterproductive. Some games this method works out very well, as KG hits a high percentage of jumpers (November 12th vs. Atlanta), but the law of averages makes the other games painful.

Let's look at the shot charts (CBS Sportsline) for KG for the four game west coast trip:

Top: Lakers (Left), Warriors (Right)

Bottom: Kings (Left), Blazers (Right)

The Lakers game is a great example of the deceiving deep KG game. He's great from midrange, pulling Andrew Bynum or Pau Gasol out of the lane and making them pay for leaving him open. Kobe simply wouldn't let the Celts win this game, however. The Kings game is another example of good mid-range shots, and the Celts own big here.

Look at the number of outside shots taken by KG against the Warriors, the smallest team in the league, and will little success, because a small quick team can be quick enough to challenge an outside shot. By the time the Celts reached Portland, they realized KG in the post was vital to the offense, but ran into Greg Oden and Pryzbilla, which ended poorly with fadeaway jumpers.

In general, a pattern of outside shooting that I'll hope the Blazers game was a sign the team is getting away from.

Here's a rundown of KG shot selection for the four game trip, plus five close or OT games from the past month or so:
  • @LA (L): 3/3 Dunks, 1/1 Layups, 7/10 Jumpers
  • @GS (L): 1/1 Dunks, 1/1 Layups, 3/12 Jumpers
  • @SAC (W): 1/1 Dunks, 3/3 Layups, 7/8 Jumpers
  • @POR (L): 1/2 Dunks, 0 Layups, 6/14 Jumpers
  • @ATL (W, Dec 17): 1/1 Dunks, 1/3 Layups, 5/11 Jumpers
  • @IND (W, Dec 7): 1/1 Dunks, 0 Layups, 5/10 Jumpers
  • @CHA (W, Nov 29): 0 Dunks, 1/1 Layups, 3/11 Jumpers
  • @MIL (W, Nov 15): 1/1 Dunks, 0 Layups, 5/14 Jumpers
  • vs. ATL (W, Nov 12): 1/1 Dunks, 1/4 Layups, 8/11 Jumpers
In total attempts: 11 Dunks, 13 Layups, 101 Jumpers. For a Power Forward that's known as a beast, that's sad.

This lack of aggression on offense has also led to a severe drop in free throws, also known as free points. In the period from the 2000-2001 season through 2006-2007 season (with MINN) KG shot an average of 6.10 FTA/G, shooting 79.5% from the line. Last year with the Celts, this dropped to 4.73 FTA/G, shooting 80.0% from the line. Currently, KG is at a clip of 2.69 FTA/G, less than half his prior average, shooting 83.7%.

This lack of free throws by Garnett not only means more difficult points for the Celtics, but means that opposing big men aren't racking up as many fouls. As opposing starting bigs get to play more minutes, they help disrupt the slashing of Rondo, the rebounding of Perkins, and so on.

As much as I love seeing KG beat his chest, I'd love more to see him doing it after an And-1 foul than yet another 15ft jumper. Maybe that will get this team back on track.

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Thoughts on the upcoming Winter Classic

On New Year's Day, the Red Wings head to Wrigley to take on the Blackhawks in another installment of the "Winter Classic", a new NHL tradition for a league desperate for increased national face time.

It's working. Tickets originally priced at a maximum of $325 are selling for nearly a thousand dollars on StubHub, especially in a city with a revived love for its Blackhawks.

As just a casual hockey fan, I've still been checking the Chicago forecast daily hoping for a snowy New Years Day, just to enhance the experience. There's nothing quite like hockey with snow coming down in HD while fighting off a hangover. Snow looks unlikely now, but the excitement still builds.

Despite all this grandeur, I, being the over-thinker I am, began to think about the actual logistics and reality of dropping a hockey rink into the middle of a large baseball field.

Hockey, due to the nature of playing with a small puck in an enclosed area, can be difficult to follow for the average viewer. The league tried to assist in this over the years, but wisely decided to let the game be the game.

Wrigley field holds, when configured for baseball, over 40,000 people, nearly double the United Center's 20,500 hockey capacity. Many of these seats are nowhere near the shallow outfield where the ring is being placed. It's not just the capacity that's the issue, its the distance away from the ice of seats near the infield that concerns me. Baseball stadium seats are designed to focus attention toward home plate (unless you're at Fenway Park), not towards midfield. I can't imagine all the seats are particularly conducive to watching hockey.

On the other hand, playing the game in a football stadium was and is a perfect fit, as the rink is simply proportionally smaller than a football field, and all the natural focus would lead to a great viewing experience.

I'll clearly watch the game this year, especially with two hot contending teams, but I'll continue to root for 2010's game to match up the Flyers and Penguins at Beaver Stadium, which would be truly classic, once again.

Monday, December 29, 2008

A Manifesto of Sorts

Sports are important.

No, sports will not cure cancer, create peace on earth, balance the federal budget, or pay your mortgage. This does not, however, mean they should be thrown in the pile with board games, popular music, or other common diversions.

Sport draws people across all walks of life in ways politicians can only dream of. My grandfather in Boston, a working mother in Phoenix, and an eighth grade boy in Nashville can only realistically discuss one topic: sports.

Sports support local economies of smaller towns and cities like Foxboro, MA (Patriots) and Green Bay, WI (Packers), and provide millions of dollars a year to construction companies and the like.

Sport allows a common medium for analogies we all understand. Everyone understands pulling the goalie in a moment of desperation, just as everyone understands throwing a curveball in deception.

But beyond all these far-reaching consequences of sport, the games themselves merit plenty of discussion.

Sports are more than just numbers.

Sports are only as interesting as the athletes that play them. Without unique style, charisma, ineptitude, and evil, the game has little interest beyond spectacular plays. Press conferences serve as both dramatic and comedic gold at once, and I'd have it no other way.

A diving catch in center field; a floating touch pass over the outstretched arms of a defender; picking up the arm angle on a breaking ball; denying a big man deep post position: None of these vital parts of sport appear in the box score.

That said, numbers are still very important.

Some say over analyzing statistics ruins the nature of sport. On the contrary stats keep us honest in our heartfelt praise and criticism of our teams and athletes.

Stats help remind us that no matter what Peter King tells us, Brett Favre was at no point in 2008 the best quarterback in the NFL. They explain the streaky batting behavior in baseball as simple variance over a sample, instead of sources of panic.

Stats also provide a level playing field for comparison. Jimmy from Rhode Island and Barry from Indiana will never be able to agree on whether Tom Brady or Peyton Manning is a better team leader, but thanks to statistics they can agree who had a better year passing.


In this blog I'll attempt to look into all of these facets whenever it's particularly interesting. Being in the Northeast, there may be more Celtics, Red Sox, Patriots, and Rangers discussion than there should be, but it's my most thorough experience.

Don't underestimate sport in your life.