Monday, February 23, 2009

Jerry Sloan: Too good to be coach of the year

Now this title may not seem to make too much sense: Isn't the Coach of the Year award supposed to reward, well, the best coach in the NBA?

Not really, if you think about it. Most of the time, the Coach of the Year is just another way of saying "Coach who presided over the biggest single-season-turnaround of the year", unless there's one team that's just too dominant to ignore.

Lets take a look at the last few years for some examples here.

Byron Scott (2007-08)
Scott brought the Hornets from 39-43 a year before to 56-26 this season, in the first season back in New Orleans after being displaced from Hurricane Katrina. Big turnaround + big story = sure thing.

Sam Mitchell (2006-07)
Mitchell led the Raptors to a 20 game turnaround from 27-55 to 47-35 and a division crown, setting records for the expansion franchise. Jerry Collangelo was the real key to this turnaround, as Mitchell has already been fired less than two seasons removed from this honor.

Avery Johnson (2005-06)
Another coach that didn't last long after winning his award, Johnson only led a 2 game swing, from 58-24 to 60-22, but helped a completely reconstructed team around Dirk make the NBA finals. The 2007 playoff upset by Golden State started the ball rolling, and by the end of 2008 Johnson was clearly losing his job.

Mike D'Antoni (2004-05)
D'Antoni's turnaround is the most dramatic we've seen, swinging from 29-53 up to 62-20 thanks to ditching Stephon Marbury and picking up free agent Steve Nash. D'Antoni created the most entertaining style in recent memory, and with fantastic the regular season. As popular belief became that his system would only fail in postseason, he was forced out and headed to MSG.

Hubie Brown (2003-04)
In a shocking development, Brown's Grizzlies were the biggest turnaround of the year, jumping from 28-54 to 50-32 thanks to some Hubie Magic, also known as adding Bonzi Wells and James Posey to a good Pau Gasol core. There's a reason Jerry West won executive of the year, and Hubie retired shortly after this season.

So that's four out of five years where the biggest turnaround coach won the award, and the year Avery won there wasn't an incredibly notable turnaround team. Further examples exist in selections such as Larry Bird in 1997-98, while the occasional dominant force such as Phil Jackson's 72-10 Bulls in 1995-96 fill out the other winner prototype.

So, what about Jerry Sloan?

Jerry Sloan's teams have never fit into either of these buckets, and as you've noticed, he's never won the award as a result. Sloan came into his post with the Jazz, after a poor stint with the Bulls, with the gift of Stockton and Malone, and immediately began running off his record 16 straight winning seasons.

In this consistent performance, there's little room for the big turnaround needed to be a media darling for coach of the year. The one time he had a chance with that angle, bringing the Jazz from 26-56 to 41-41, Avery Johnson's Napoleon angle won the battle.

Perhaps one of Sloan's years would be so dominant that he could win an award that way? Sloan's Jazz had the best record in the West for three straight years from 1996-97 to 1998-99, but Pat Riley, Larry Bird, and, of all people, Mike Dunleavy stood in his way.

The closest I can remember Jerry Sloan coming to actually winning the award was in the 2006-2007 season, where two years removed from a 26-56 season Utah won the division, but the genius of Sam Mitchell ended up on top...for a year or so at least.

Will he ever win it?

I'm not sure how many years of coaching the man has left in him, but this year could possibly be a compelling enough story to make it as possible as ever. Between the long-term injury to Boozer and the half-healthy early work from Deron Williams, if Sloan can squeeze 51 or so wins out of this squad (17-8 in the remaining games), it could be possible.

If not, Jerry Sloan can just take his 16 straight winning seasons straight to the Hall of Fame, for the first award he'll receive, and I'm sure he'll be just as happy.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Notable Stats, February 18th

It's a Block Party: Starring Dwight Howard

Last night, Dwight put up a very impressive line in an OT affair against the Charlotte Bobcats of 45pts, 19rebs (8 offensive), and 8 blocks. While most people are very impressed by the combination of points and rebounds, I'm personally more impressed by the block total.

Teams that Howard personally had more blocks than last night: Timberwolves (5), Wizards (5), Bobcats (4), Bucks (4), Pistons (7), Nets (7), Rockets (4), Grizzlies (5), Jazz (7), Sixers (3), Spurs (4), Knicks (2), Hornets (5), Thunder (3), Clippers (6), Suns (1), Hawks (6).

Teams that Howard did not exceed: Pacers (8 - tie), Lakers (9), Magic (10 - obvious)

Combined games Howard tied or exceeded: Spurs/Knicks (6), Clippers/Suns (7), Hornets/Thunder (8 - tie).

Now that's a dominating big-man performance. Yes, overtime helped his cause, but he was well on his way before then.

Monday, February 16, 2009

Looking back - The new three point line in college basketball

Note: All data referred to is accurate as of 4pm Saturday Feb 14th, because that's when I started running the numbers.

Following the 2007 NCAA Basketball Tournament, the rules committee decided it was time to move back the three-point line. Not to the NBA distance, or the international distance, but who's counting. The women's line remains at the original spot, creating the odd look on collegiate floors across the country.

The goal of this shift was two completely different things depending on who you ask. One answer was that shifting the line back would lessen congestion in and around the lane, and provide quicker and more interesting game-play with room to operate.

The other answer is that everyone and their mother thought they could shoot the old three, leading to boring, low-percentage chuck-fests which were a pretty poor display of the game, so moving the line back should be a deterrent.

So I decided to do a direct comparison between last year and this year in terms of three-point shooting, to see if there's been a notable shift. I looked at makes and attempts on a per-game basis, standard 3Pt%, and the percentage of a teams points that come from made three point shots.

Summary results are as follows. In general, the high and low are outliers, so note the three middle categories.

One thing you can definitely say from this data is that those in the second line of reasoning for the rule change were entirely correct. Attempts, makes, and the trey's importance in a team's scoring are all down this year. At the same time, overall percentage still dropped, so maybe there's still some adjustment to be had in strategies, and usage could drop even further.

On the whole these numbers more that anything else just reinforced what was expected, but some of the other trends I noticed in the process were also interesting:

- Out of the top 25 teams in attempts per game each year, only one team in 07-08 and two teams in 08-09 are actually in the top 25 in three-point percentage.

- In 07-08 Utah State managed to be in the 10th highest percentage shooting team despite being in the bottom 25 of more than 340 teams in attempts. No such anomaly occurred in 08-09.

- In both years, the corelation between reliance on the 3pt shot and overall points per game was less than 5%, or negligible at best. 3P% held a higher correlation to points, around 45% both years, but still not a damning cause-and-effect.

- Nationwide variance in 3pt percentages jumped more than 25% from 07-08 to 08-09, while the range of percentages increased more than 35%, though standard deviation only increased 12%

If anyone is interested in playing with the numbers in a more mathematically savvy way than I have, here's my source data: [Download]

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Notable Stats, February 11th

At random intervals of my choosing, I'll pick a few random chunks of box score that I find interesting. Enjoy.

NBA bench play: The Good
Steve Novak (LAC vs. NYK (OT))

The Line: 32 minutes, 8-10 from the field, including 6-8 from three, for 23 points total, along with 7 rebounds and no turnovers.

Impact: Novak, along with Eric Gordon and others, helped the Clippers beat the Knicks at their own three-point game, with more attempts and nearly twice as many makes, allowing the Clippers to pull out a close one at home despite losing the turnover battle.

Roko Ukic (TOR vs. SA)

The Line: 30 minutes, 9-13 from the field, including 2-3 from three, for 22 points, along with 2 rebounds and 3 assists.

Impact: A big assist from Ukic allowed the Raps, playing without their two best in Bosh and Calderon, to out role-player the kings of role-players, San Antonio, for the win.

NBA bench play: The Bad

Goran Dragic (PHO @ CLE)

The Line: 21 minutes, 4-5 from the field, 9 points, 5 assists, but also 5 turnovers and 4 fouls in short minutes.
Impact: It's hard to imagine a worse defender than Nash, but Dragic's defense on Mo Williams helped him go for 44 points, and his sloppy ball-handling amounted to half of the Suns -10 turnover differential for the game.

Side Note

As I'll be working late for the next month or two, be sure to check me out on twitter, where I can post quickly and randomly without feeling bad about it.

Sunday, February 8, 2009

A different kind of Kobe-LeBron comparison

Note: All data referenced below does not include Sunday's Lakers-Cavs game.

In the days following Kobe's 61pt MSG show and LBJ's subsequent (corrected) 52/9/11 performance, everyone on earth has tried to decide which one was better, which player is more dominant, and so on.

Proponents of LeBron point out that Kobe's line included no rebounds and only three assists, and say he was being selfish, that LeBron was more of the team player. Kobe supporters point out that he shot 10% better from the floor and perfect from the line, so his game was actually more efficient and therefore better.

I'm not here to decide which performance was better, because in all reality it's somewhat trivial. I would, however, like to evaluate their seasons on the whole, and their impact on their respective teams (the two best coming into Sunday's action), using statistics.


I took each player's games and translated the line to a per-36 basis, as this is near each player's average. The only statistics I've used are points, rebounds, assist, and turnovers.

Data was split in a pair of sets, sorted by points per 36 minutes. The first set divided games between the top 10, the middle (29 for Kobe, 28 for LeBron), and the bottom 10, while the second set was similarly divided 15, 19 or 18, and 15. These divisions allow comparison of time-efficient scoring games to others.

Overall the 15 set appears more significant than the 10 set, and is therefore used in most of the comparisons. (Download)


The first thing I noticed was the incredible similarities across scoring sets for Kobe and LeBron. In their top 15, KB and LBJ averaged 34.9 and 34.2 respectively, along with 19.9 and 20.3 in the bottom 15, representing a 43% and 40.5% drop respectively.

Compared to their top 15 games, each sees more than a 20% increase in rebound rate and more than 40% in assist rate in their bottom 15 scoring frequency games, with a bigger bump to LeBron in boards and to Kobe in assists. As a good leader would, the two find other ways to contribute when having an off night scoring.

The two also share more than a 30% increase in turnover rate in their bottom 15 scoring games, when compared to all others. This too isn't a shock, as they'd try to force it in a poor game more than otherwise.


In terms of comparing the change from high frequency to low frequency scoring games for each player, the differences between the two's changes are minimal. On a direct comparison, as you'd expect, LeBron averages more boards and assists, while also having more turnovers.

Comparing the two on an individual level seems to be fruitless.

The Team Effect

Here's where the data gets interesting.

In LeBron's top ten frequency games, the Cavs are 10-0, while in Kobe's the Lakers are only 8-2, with losses to the Magic and Hornets. On the other hand, in LeBron's bottom ten games, the Cavs drop to 5-5, while in Kobe's the Lakers are an astounding 10-0.

This pattern persists when using the 15 game set, as the Cavs 14-1 vs. 9-6, while the Lakers are 12-3 vs 14-1, or on a percentage basis: [Cavs] 93.3% to 60% - [Lakers] 80% to 93.3%.

There are two ways to explain these results in the context of who's the better player, and more important to his team.

Case 1: LeBron James as the MVP

These team effects only prove that the Cavaliers need LeBron James. He is their motor, and there's no stopping them when LeBron is on his game. His ever-improving teammates feed off of his energy, so when he's getting to the basket and being the force he can be, then Mo, Big Z and everyone else can really take it to the opponent.

All these numbers prove for Kobe is that he's stumbled into an amazing supporting cast that covers up all his shortcomings. When Kobe gets greedy, then his team suffers.

Case 2: Kobe Bryant as the MVP

The fact that Kobe can compel his team to victory without having to score off the charts shows his value to the team. Simply the threat of Kobe's jump shot allows Gasol, Odom and Bynum to thrive. The two losses in high scoring affairs for Kobe are actually a result of him needing to take the team on his back, and simply coming up short against hot teams.

The Cavs' numbers show that LeBron can't really help his team without scoring, despite his complimentary stats. When the Cavs are down on an off-night for LeBron, he still tosses up deep shots, which aren't his forte, instead of incorporating everyone else, and the Cavs have little hope.


Both cases are probably valid, but in the end I personally have to give it to Kobe, for many of the reasons in the case stated above. Additionally, there is still nobody in the league that inspires more fear at the end of a game than Kobe Bryant. Nobody since Michael Jordan has compared at the end of the game, and he's getting the ball on the final play ten times out of ten if he's on my team.

That's my MVP.

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

A look at the Detroit Pistons' decline

Much has been made of the decline of the Detroit Pistons since trading away near-MVP-candidate Chauncey Billups for the aging, one dimensional hall-of-famer Allen Iverson. At 46 games into the season, the Pistons sit at 25-21, 6th place in the Eastern conference, compared to last year's 33-13 mark at the same point.

But can all really be blamed on Iverson? He's clearly not a good defender, and not the scorer he once was, but he's still a valuable part of a team. Let's take a look at the side of this story that hasn't been looked at quite as much: the Pistons big men. For the sake of discussion, I'll be including Rasheed Wallace, Amir Johnson, Antonio McDyess, Jason Maxiell, and Kwame Brown.

Changes from 2007-08

Aside from the short-term absence of McDyess due to the Iverson trade and his subsequent release, the only difference in the main rotation of forwards for the Pistons is they now have former #1 pick Kwame Brown instead of a half-season each from journeymen Nazr Mohammed and Theo Ratliff.

Kwame plays the least minutes of the five bigs we're looking at, so the difference shouldn't be enormous, right?

Team stats comparison
Last year, Detroit enjoyed a +2.3 rebound differential per game, along with a block advantage of nearly two per game. This year that rebound differential has fallen to -1.1, with blocks down to around one per game.
The most telling part of the rebound number is that Detroits offensive rebounds have declined greatly (down 11%) while opponents defensive rebounds have increased greatly (up 8%). To me, this implies a lack of hustle by the bigs to get after second chance points.

The Forwards
Please note that all stats referenced below are on a per-48min basis, for consistency.

Rasheed Wallace

'Sheed is considered one of the emotional leaders of this team, especially now that Mr. Big Shot has left the building. He's seeing about three more minutes per game this year, but his numbers almost across the board have seen a drop.
Wallace is down 33% on the offensive glass from last year, and down 25% in blocks, the two main weaknesses above. In less big-man-oriented stats, where Wallace tends to be ahead of the curve for his size, he's also down 39% in assists and 24% in steals. He's also become slightly more oriented to the three point shot than he already was, with a 4% increase in 3pt attempts to go with a 18% drop in 2pt attempts.

I'd never thought I'd be pining for more aggresiveness out of one of the shortest tempers in the game, but 'Sheed needs to get mad and get at it if he wants to help swing the momentum back in the Pistons favor. Although he's still leading the league in technical fouls, so maybe he just needs some direction.

Antonio McDyess

Since his return to the team, McDyess has contributed plenty off the bench. Though he's averaging about five fewer minutes per game, Antonio has seen most of his rate stats go up compared to last year.

He's seen a 10% increase on the offensive boards to go with a 17% increase on the defensive boards. He's turning the ball over 16% less as well, although he's fouling at a slightly higher rate this year, and has seen a slight drop in scoring. The one glaring weakness compared to last year is a 15% drop in blocks.

On the whole, McDyess is helping his team, and could probably help them improve in greater minutes, but as a 34yr old player already on his second life after major knee injury, pushing him any further can't be a good idea.

Jason Maxiell
Last year, Maxiell was heralded as one of the up and coming role players in the league, with great energy and possibly a replacement for Rasheed Wallace down the line. This year, he's taken a notable step backwards in his development, in the eyes of coach Curry, and is seeing five fewer minutes per game as a result.

An obvious reason for this decreased floor time could be the 20% spike in foul rate for Maxiell, to go along with an overall 7% scoring decrease. In terms of rebounding, Maxiell nets about even with a 20% increase in offensive and a 19% decrease in defensive boards. He's also seen huge swings in guard numbers, with a 56% drop in assists but a 76% increase in steals.

With fouls, offensive rebounds, and steals on the rise, and assists on the fall, I think you could say Maxiell is going in the opposite direction of Wallace, almost being too aggresive. which leads to foul trouble. He does lead the team in offensive rebound rate, however, and if he can keep his fouls under control should hopefully take more minutes from Wallace or the remaining bigs.

Amir Johnson

When McDyess was originally traded away, Amir Johnson was stated as a reason the world wouldn't end if he did not return. Coming off his first year as a regular role-player, expectations were high for Johnson coming into this year, and he's received five more minutes of play per game as a result. Thus far, he appears to have come up short in almost every way.

Almost every rate for Amir has declined from last year, with the most notable being a 34% drop in blocks and a 14% drop in rebounds overall, mainly due to a 26% drop in defensive rebounds. Though not much different than last year, Johnson's foul rate is still an outrageous 9.2per48, more than 50% higher than Jason Maxiell's rate.

Clearly, Johnson still has more developing to do, and shaving his minutes back down to last years numbers, as opposed to continuing to start him as the Pistons have of late, could assist this development.

Kwame Brown

Kwame sits as somewhat of a space-filler on this roster, as the Pistons become the third team in three years to try to juice some production out of the former top pick. He averages less than 15 minutes per game, least of the players profiled here.

Kwame is scoring and rebounding at a similar rate to Amir, but with half the blocks. Kwame may foul at a rate of only 2/3 of Amir, but he turns the ball over more than 50% more than Amir.

Brown serves as you'd expect in his role, being a somewhat serviceable fifth big man, not meriting more play but not deserving less at the same time.

The Big Picture

With a progression of forwards like this, maybe it made sense to go small-ball for a while on this team. Curry needs to emphasize to the bigs their continued importance on the team, even though the local and national media only wants to talk about Iverson, Hamilton and Stuckey.

Monday, February 2, 2009

Notable Stats, Groundhog Day

At random intervals of my choosing, I'll pick a few random chunks of box score that I find interesting. Enjoy.

Quick Hits
- Amare Stoudemire posted a +49 for his time on the floor tonight, about equal to the Suns +48 margin of victory. The Kings' John Salmons posted -43 in the same game.

- The Hornets were outscored 38-15 by the Blazers in the 4th quarter at home, going from up 15 to down by 8. This amounts to losing one point of margin every 31 seconds.

- Dwight Howard pulled down six offensive rebounds against the Mavs, equaling Dallas' team total for the game.

- Adam Morrison was the only Bobcats player to avoid a negative +/- against Utah, in 21+ minutes of floor time in a 105-86 loss.

- Darius Miles, in 11 minutes on the court, had one made field goal, one missed field goal, one block, one steal, one assist, and a minus-one +/- rating. Poor showing, but symmetry must be worth something, right?

- Yakhouba Diawara, despite getting the start for the Heat, played a team-low 6:52 out of the ten players who saw floor time, yet was only outdone in fouls by Jamaal Magloire, who at 12:38 had the second-least floor time.

Andrew Byn-who?
In their first full game without the injured Andrew Bynum, Kobe Bryant and Pau Gasol stepped up their game to fill the box score quite nicely.

Pau Gasol

The Line: 12/17 from the field, 7/8 FT adding up to 31pts in 41 minutes. Add in 14 boards (4 O-boards), five assists, two blocks and only two fouls and you've got quite the big man game.
Another angle: To be fair, the Knicks don't even have a decent sized PF, not to mention a center to match up with Gasol, and whoever did guard him sure wasn't getting any help whenever Kobe was on the floor either.

Kobe Bryant

The Line: 19/31 from the field, 20/20 FT adding up to an MSG-record of 61pts in 37 minutes. Three assists to go with two turnovers and no rebounds are the only detractors from this line.
Another angle: Bryant's 20/20 from the line hasn't been seen from a guard since Rip Hamilton against the Bobcats in 2004. Also, while Kobe's 20 first half attempts may seem excessive, just think about Wilt Chamberlain's NBA-record 21 attempts in a quarter, and be happy there's nobody that over-used today.

Sunday, February 1, 2009

Cris Carter and Shannon Sharpe, not in the Hall of Fame?

Several great players were inducted into the Hall of Fame recently, but with two notable exceptions. Somehow two of the most iconic and dominant receivers of my football-watching life, still in the public eye working NFL studio shows, got the snub. I'm not the only one upset by this.

Shannon Sharpe (first ballot)

Why is this even a discussion? Until Tony Gonzalez, another sure-fire hall-of-famer, broke his record this season, Sharpe was the all-time leader in receiving yards from the tight-end position, with over 10,000yds to his name, on top of 62 TDs.

Sharpe had three seasons of 1,000yds receiving or more, the same as HOF TE Kellen Winslow, one more than Ozzie Newsome. At 49.3yds per game receiving, Sharpe is notably above the 37.7yds per game of John Mackey, who was declared the best TE of all time by the NFL Network this summer.

Sharpe reached eight pro-bowls in his career, and was named first-team all-pro four times, both of which are more than the three HOF TE's mentioned above. He has three Super Bowl rings, and was especially important in the third, with two receiving TDs that postseason.

To top it off, when posted its announcement of the HOF nominees a few months back, the lead image was of Sharpe. The editor of the site apparently thought he was as obvious a choice as I do.

Cris Carter (second ballot)

Out of the two, I suppose this is the slightly harder argument to make, but it's still barely debatable. In the minds of most football viewers of my generation, Cris Carter is always the second receiver mentioned after Jerry Rice, and for good reason.

Carter sits in third all-time in pass receptions, after being passed this season by Marvin Harrison, with 1,101. There are no hall-eligible players head of him that aren't in the hall.

After being pass this year by Terrell Owens and last year again by Marvin Harrison, Carter places 7th in career receiving yards, with 13,899. There are no hall-eligible players head of him that aren't in the hall.

Cris Carter is behind only Rice, Moss and Owens in career TD receptions, with 130, although once again Marvin Harrison is about to pass him. There are, once again, no hall-eligible players head of him that aren't in the hall.

Notice a pattern here? Career-wise, Carters numbers are more than enough. Eight consecutive 1,000yd seasons, eight pro-bowls and two first-team all-pro appearances don't hurt either.

In addition to the staggering numbers, Carter is also often credited as being a mentor to both Randy Moss and Larry Fitzgerald, two of the most dominant receivers in the game today.

The knock against Carter is that he never won a ring, which is, as in all sports, a terrible argument. Carter wasn't an Alex Rodriguez disappearing act in the playoffs or anything, catching 8 postseason TDs from SIX different QBs, but the teams just weren't good enough.

Between 1988 and 2001 (I'm not counting the half-years that bookend his career) only nine teams won a championship, and with Carter's Vikings playing in an NFC with the Niners and Cowboys dynasties and the rise of Brett Favre, it's not much of a knock to, as a receiver, not guide a team to the title.

Now, both of these men will likely make the HOF eventually, but the fact still remains that these are hardly debatable choices. The politics need to end, and these men given the honors they've definitely earned.