Category Archives: NBA

Trade Grades: Cousins to New Orleans

Holy moly: DeMarcus Cousins (along with Omri Casspi) was just traded to the Pelicans for Buddy Hield, Langston Galloway, Tyreke Evans, a 2017 first round pick and a 2017 second round pick. Let’s break it down.

New Orleans Pelicans

A frontline consisting of Cousins and Anthony Davis, two top-fifteen players is insane. Is it possible to defend against two dominant offensive big men whose offensive arsenal seems unstoppable? Only a few teams have even a single player capable of defending one of these two superstars–none have enough to guard both. This pairing has the potential to be a big man version of Golden State’s Splash Brothers. All they need is a catchy nickname and they’ll be set.

There is a risk that Davis and Cousins can’t coexist on the court. Each is a ball-dominant player and average over twenty field goal attempts per game. Each is best destroying worlds near the basket, but there isn’t enough space for two behemoths down there. The Pelicans will need to spread the floor to allow them to play together. Cousins is shooting 35.4% from 3 this season, but Davis is barely over 30%, constricting New Orleans’ spacing. Still, with two elite talents on the floor, Alvin Gentry can and will find a way to make it work, likely through staggering their minutes somewhat, and using Cousins as more of a stretch-4 when playing with Davis. Of course, this runs the risk of robbing Boogie of a lot of his value, but superstar-level players tend to excel despite adverse situations, as Cousins can attest to based on his years in Sacramento.

We’ll delve more into the other players in the trade in the Sacramento section, but suffice it to say, the cost of acquiring Cousins was less than daunting for New Orleans. Plus, trading Evans frees the Pelicans up from feeling obligated to overpay him when he becomes a free agent after this season.

If the Pellies fail to resign Cousins, whose contract is up at the end of next season, then even without giving up much in the way of elite talent, their grade would be a D. However, if they manage to resign Boogie (or agree to a long-term extension with him this summer), New Orleans has hit a home run. Chances are the Pelicans will resign Cousins (they wouldn’t have traded for him if they weren’t confident that they will) so, while factoring in the slight risk that Cousins and Davis don’t mesh on the court, this heist is still an easy A.

Grade: A

Sacramento Kings

Hoo boy, this looks awful from the Kings’ side. Not only did they sell Cousins for thirty cents on the dollar, Vlade Divac and others have spent the last few weeks telling anyone who’d listen that they were planning on keeping Cousins around for the long-haul. This accentuates the abysmal reputation of the Sacramento front office, which will only make it more difficult for the team to land quality players.

Speaking of those quality players, trading Cousins was supposed to bring in a few of them to usher in the next era of Kings basketball. It didn’t exactly work out that way.

Evans and Galloway are both solid, if unspectacular players. Both are free agents at the end of the season (Galloway has a player option), and both will likely bolt Sacramento as fast as possible. That leaves Hield (the sixth overall pick in last season’s draft), and a first round pick as the main return for one of the best players in the NBA.

A 2016 first round pick (Hield) and a 2017 first round pick is already an underwhelming return for Cousins. However, after this trade, the Pelicans should exit the lottery, or at least head to the bottom of it, worsening the pick the Kings will receive. Hield isn’t particularly valuable either. He’s twenty-three, the same age as Anthony Davis, limiting his upside. While Davis leads the team, Hield averages 8.6 points over twenty minutes per game. Hield offers value as a sharpshooter, nailing 36.9% of his three point attempts, but you don’t trade DeMarcus Cousins for a package “headlined” by a three-point specialist.

Sacramento practically gave away a superstar, and gained little in the way of elite talent or valuable draft picks in return. Other teams, especially the Celtics, almost certainly offered more than the scraps that the Pelicans sent to the Kings. Unless there’s some behind-the-scenes stuff that hasn’t been leaked, this trade is indefensible.

Grade: F

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Which Comeback Was Most Unlikely?

Last night was ridiculous. Only Brady and Belichick can go down twenty-five points in the Super Bowl without their fans losing hope. And to score thirty-one straight points to do it? And to win the first ever overtime Super Bowl? And to do it while setting records left and right? Holy crap.

Then again, the Patriots are really just continuing a trend that’s been going on since June. This past year has been filled with tremendous comebacks and upsets. Like the Pats, the Cubs, Clemson, Trump, and the Cavs have all accrued huge deficits and overcome them. But which comeback of these five was the most improbable of all? Let’s figure it out.

5. Donald Trump (28.2% chance of winning)

This was a difficult probability to determine. While we can rely on Vegas and ESPN’s win expectancy for sports, there are a number of conflicting predictions out there. Accordingly, I went with Nate Silver and FiveThirtyEight’s empirical prediction model, rather than predictions from places such as the New York Times (15%) and the Princeton Election Consortium (1%) that were less based on statistics.

Although the Trump’s victory seemed unbelievable and shocking at the time, statistically, it wasn’t all that unlikely. Accordingly, all four sports comebacks were more miraculous than the election results.

4. Chicago Cubs (21.7%)

The Cubs’ comeback seems unlikely, and it was, but they were favored in each of the fateful final three games, by significant margins. Vegas expected Chicago to win each of the individual final three games, so the fact that it did isn’t too surprising.

Based on the money line, Chicago was expected to win 67.7% of the time in Game 5, about 59% in Game 6, and 54.5% in Game 7. Combined, they had barely better than a one in five chance of winning three straight games and emerging victorious at their nadir, which, while improbable, isn’t quite the act of God that it appeared to be.

3. Clemson Tigers (9.6%)

Clemson’s low point came after a Calvin Ridley reception gave Alabama a first down. At that point, in the middle of the second quarter, Clemson was down two touchdowns against a dominant defense. Despite this, the Tigers came roaring back to draw within three.

Later on, O.J. Howard’s 68 yard touchdown catch pushed their odds of winning back down to 14%. Once more, Clemson fought hard and eventually took the lead for the first time, gave it up, and finally regained it with one second remaining.

This was an impressive victory against the Evil Empire of college football, and the situation for Clemson was dire for large chunks of the game. However, the deficit was only fourteen points at its largest, so it doesn’t seem like the Tigers had a major comeback, even though their win expectancy reveals they did.

2. Cleveland Cavaliers (5.9%)

Both the Cavs and Cubs had to win three straight games, including two on the road, to break a mammoth championship drought. So why was Chicago nearly four times as likely as Cleveland to end its season with champagne?

The main reason is that the Cubs were superior to the Indians, while the Cavaliers were inferior to the record-setting Warriors. Furthermore, basketball is much less reliant on luck than baseball, so Cleveland needed to legitimately beat a dominant, otherworldly Golden State squad three straight times–a lucky, fluky win wasn’t possible.

Because of this, the Cavs’ championship comeback was the most unlikely of all until…

1. New England Patriots (0.03%)

The Pats had a huge comeback over the Falcons last night: after going down 28-3, New England roared back to score thirty-one points unanswered. The Falcons had a win probability of over 92% for thirty straight minutes, including a twelve minute streak when it never dipped below 98%.

The situation was bleakest after an incomplete pass from Julian Edelman left the Pats facing a 3rd and 3 from their own 46 with just over six minutes left in the third quarter while down 28-3. ESPN gave the Patriots a 0.03% chance of coming back to win the game at that point.

Even if you want to use the least optimistic Trump prediction, which gave him a 1% chance of winning the election, last night’s Patriots victory was three times as unlikely as Trump’s triumph.

Any way you slice it, this Super Bowl comeback was nearly impossible, and was the most improbable of the last year’s five unlikely moments. Of course, that’s just from a quantitative standpoint, which can’t capture the in-the-moment insanity that accompanies any spectacular event, along with all the other qualitative factors that go into making a memorable moment. Which one do you think was the craziest comeback of all? Let us know in the poll and in the comments!

Sources: FiveThirtyEight for Trump, ESPN for Clemson and New England, and oddsshark.com for Chicago and Cleveland. 

Lessons Learned From the West’s Round One Losers

Only eight teams remain in the NBA playoffs, and the teams that lost in the first round are left searching for answers, and wondering what might have been. Let’s take a look through the lessons we learned from their losses in Round 1.

Houston Rockets: Chemistry, You the Real MVP

This dysfunctional Rockets team had a promising season derailed by infighting, laziness, and a bad attitude overall. Last season, they were a top-ten team in DRtg, but this season their ranking has fallen all the way down to 21st.

During these playoffs, for the first time ever, the NBA is tracking hustle stats. In other words, it’s capturing the little things that players and teams do that don’t show up in the box score but are still valuable nonetheless.

Over their five playoff games (a sample that can’t be trusted due to its small size and the Rockets’ opponent being solely Golden State), the Rockets’ hustle stats were abysmal, showing up in the bottom quartile of playoff teams for over half of the statistics tracked.

Combining that overall lack of enthusiasm with the toxic locker room (rumors surfaced that Harden and Howard each tried to get the other traded away a couple of years ago), it’s no wonder that the Curry-less Warriors were able to dispatch these Rockets with ease.

Memphis Grizzlies: Don’t Start Jordan Farmar in the Playoffs (Or Ever)

Jordan Farmar was Memphis’ starting point guard during their four-game sweep at the hands of the Spurs. With Marc Gasol and Mike Conley injured, Jeff Green traded, and other absences, there’s nothing that the Grizz could have done to avoid their defeat against a historically great team. Let’s move on.

Dallas Mavericks: Get a Few Decent Teammates For Dirk 

Two of the guys who suited up alongside Dirk for the Mavs’ Game 5 loss to the Thunder were Justin Anderson and Raymond Felton. That’s not good.

Yeah, Chandler Parsons and Deron Williams were both out with injuries, but neither of them is likely to be back next season as each has a player option. Even worse, Dallas doesn’t have a first round pick this season thanks to last season’s disastrous trade for Rajon Rondo.

At this point, Mark Cuban has very few avenues through which to acquire talent to pair with Nowitzki. No wonder Dirk opted out of his contract next season. He says he doesn’t plan to leave, and it’d be a major surprise if he did, but he’s making a point to his franchise. Unfortunately for Nowitzki, Cuban won’t be able to learn this lesson from this season’s playoff defeat, even if he wanted to.

Los Angeles Clippers: Sacrifice More Cattle to the Injury Gods

Everyone thinks that injuries are part of the game, and that they’re often unavoidable. But really, it’s clear that the Clippers could have easily prevented the injuries their two stars sustained. They just didn’t sacrifice enough cattle to the Injury Gods.

You’d think that this kind of cheapness would have disappeared after notorious cheapskate Donald Sterling was removed as owner of the team. Steve Ballmer is the richest owner in the NBA–he shouldn’t have any problems with buying enough animals to give over the Injury Gods, but somehow, he did. It’s surprising that the obscenely wealthy Ballmer keeps on sustaining major injuries in the playoffs, while Sterling rarely had any playoff runs adversely affected by injures. Admittedly, the Clippers under Sterling almost never got to the playoffs, but still.

All jokes aside, just like Memphis, there’s little Los Angeles could have done. It’s not like Derrick Rose’s torn ACL, where Tom Thibodeau left him in the game, as the first seed in the playoffs, up by twelve points with ninety seconds left in Game 1 of the first round of the playoffs. These injuries seem to keep on happening to the Clippers, but without any problem they can solve (past encasing Griffin and Paul in bubble wrap), they’ll just have to wait until next year and hope that no one gets injured.

My NBA Awards Ballot

Last Wednesday night was absolutely ridiculous. Two record-setting performances occurring side-by-side on national television at the close of the regular season—that’s what we hope for when we watch basketball.

Anyways, after an exciting end to the regular season, as the playoffs begin, it’s time to dole out awards, most real and some made up. Let’s get started!

MVP: Stephen Curry

This was the easiest decision of all. Curry had a season for the ages, set records left and right, and led the best regular season team in the history of the NBA. There’s nothing more to say.

Best of the Rest: (2. Kawhi Leonard 3. LeBron James 4. Russell Westbrook 5. James Harden 6. Draymond Green 7. Kevin Durant 8. Chris Paul)

ROY: Karl-Anthony Towns

This was an easy trophy to award. Nikola Jokic was solid and Kristaps Porzingis was exciting, but the #1 overall pick had an exceptional all-around season for the up-and-coming Timberwolves.

Best of the Rest (2. Kristaps Porzingis 3. Nikola Jokic

LVP: Kobe Bryant 

It’s challenging to become the least valuable player in the NBA. It’s not enough to simply be bad; to win, a player needs to derail his team’s season due to his sheer awfulness.

Bryant doesn’t quite fit that mold; the Lakers weren’t expected to compete this season, so Bryant’s poor performances didn’t really affect anything. However, the pomp and fanfare surrounding his departure from the NBA hindered his team in accomplishing its goal for the season.

Kobe shot 35.8% this season on 16.9 attempts per game. Those seventeen inefficient shots each game could have gone to one of the Lakers’ many young players who need to gain NBA experience to reach their full potential.

Sure, Ty Lawson’s arrival threw a Rockets team that was expected to contend for a title completely off-kilter, and Derrick Rose’s high-volume, low-efficiency approach hurt the Bulls, but those two only affected this season. Bryant’s hideous campaign could hurt his team for years to come.

Best of the Rest: (2. Ty Lawson 3. Derrick Rose)

COY: Steve Kerr

This was the toughest category to choose. There are so many worthy candidates that picking just one feels like I’m doing a disservice to the others. At least six coaches deserve recognition for their performances this season.

Brad Stevens led a group of overachievers to forty-eight wins, carefully crafting effective lineups out of a variety of players.

Charlotte’s coach, Steve Clifford, turned the Hornets into a top-10 team by efficiency on both ends of the floor, one of only five teams to accomplish that. The other four? Golden State, San Antonio, Cleveland, and Los Angeles. Not too shabby.

Rick Carlisle took a Dallas team devastated by DeAndre Jordan’s betrayal to the playoffs, with superstars like 37-year old Dirk, Wesley Matthews coming off tearing his Achilles, and Chandler Parsons leading the way.

All Gregg Popovich did is turn in one of the best regular seasons in the history of the NBA while resting key players often in preparation for the playoffs.

Terry Stotts managed to get the Trailblazers the fifth seed in the West after losing eighty percent of the previous year’s starting lineup.

Meanwhile, Steve Kerr, after missing the first half of the season due to a back injury, helped the Warriors reach a record seventy-three wins.

These six coaches each are worthy of being the coach of the year, but since there can only be one, the record-setting individual is the best choice.

Best of the Rest (1A. Terry Stotts 1B. Gregg Popovich 1C. Rick Carlisle 1D. Steve Clifford 1E. Brad Stevens)

Best Game: Warriors 121, Thunder 118, OT, Feb. 27

This was another tough category to decide. Kobe’s final game was dramatic, with his push to end his career with sixty points a marvel. The marathon Pistons-Bulls game from December, a contest that went into four overtimes, was riveting. However, neither can compare to the exhilarating game between the Thunder and Warriors in late February.

That game had it all: Big deficits and big comebacks, clutch free throws, and what might be the season’s most thrilling play:

Ridiculous.

Best of the Rest: (2. Pistons 147, Bulls 144, 4OT, December 18 3. Lakers 101, Jazz 96, April 13)

EOY: Danny Ainge

Ange put together a loaded roster overflowing with young talent. His trades have given the Celtics one of the brightest futures in the league.

Bob Myers did little this past year, but his drafting over the preceding few years gave the Warriors their best players. R.C. Buford made his usual solid moves on the periphery, but landed LaMarcus Aldridge in free agency, changing the Spurs from one of the best teams in the league into one of the best teams of all time.

Myers and Buford both had customarily excellent years, but Ainge’s overall body of work is overwhelmingly spectacular.

Best of the Rest: (2. R.C. Buford 3. Bob Myers)

Best Hair: Jeremy Lin

This was a hotly contested competition this season, but in the end, there was no other choice.

Sure, Joakim Noah has a serious case for the trophy:

joakim-noah-letting-his-moppy-hair-flow_original_crop_north

And Elfrid Payton does too:

NBA: Orlando Magic at New Orleans Pelicans

But no one can compare to Lin’s magnificent spiked mohawk:

jeremy-lin-hair

Not only is Lin’s hair awesome-looking, it has plenty of practical applications as well. Here’s Lin’s hair stabbing Jerryd Bayless in the eye while driving to the basket:

Lin-Jeremy-spiked-hair-pokes-face-of-Bayless

This pointy, menacing mop of hair sent Bayless reeling, giving Lin a clear path to the rim.

hair3.0.0

That’s a nearly unprecedented combination of wonderfulness and utility, similar to Jacob DeGrom’s flowing mane, giving Lin the prized Dr. J Memorial Trophy.

MIP: C.J. McCollum

Best of the Rest: (2. Isaiah Thomas 3. Kemba Walker 4. Stephen Curry)

SMOY: Jamal Crawford

Best of the Rest (2. Enes Kanter 3. Andre Iguodala)

DPOY: Kawhi Leonard

We finish off this awards ballot with our dear friend, the Sharktopus:

kawhisharktopuscarivanderyacht

Out of players who played in at least forty games, Leonard ranked 8th out of 325 in FG% difference, at -5.7%. That means that players that he defended shot 5.7% worse than they did against the rest of the league.

Draymond Green, Leonard’s main competitor for this award, ranks 6th, at -6.2%. How does Leonard have an edge?

Leonard is a great offensive player, but on defense, he’s able to shut down the best players in the NBA. Green’s defense is most valuable because he plays passable defense against centers, which gives the Warriors a big edge on the offensive end. However, when determining the DPOY, candidates should be judged solely on their defensive merits, not how their defensive flexibility creates an unstoppable offense.

Best of the Rest: (2. Draymond Green 3. Paul Millsap)

NBA Playoff Predictions

Round 1

Cleveland over Detroit (5 games)

Toronto over Indiana (7)

Charlotte over Miami (6)

Boston over Atlanta (6)

Golden State over Houston (4)

San Antonio over Memphis (4)

Oklahoma City over Dallas (4)

Los Angeles over Portland (5)

Round 2

Cleveland over Boston (7)

Charlotte over Toronto (6)

Golden State over Los Angeles (4)

San Antonio over Oklahoma City (7)

Conference Finals

Cleveland over Charlotte (5)

Golden State over San Antonio (7)

NBA Finals

Golden State over Cleveland (5)

Notes From Spurs-Warriors

Last night in San Antonio, the Spurs turned in a stifling defensive performance, holding the explosive Warriors to a mere seventy-nine points, over thirty-five below their season average.

LaMarcus Aldridge had a spectacular game, scoring twenty-six points while grabbing thirteen rebounds, and there was nothing Golden State could do to stop him. That’s what happens when Andrew Bogut is out. Draymond Green is a great player, but he never got a break from defending San Antonio’s big men. Furthermore, while Green’s low center of gravity allows him to capably guard much bigger players, it does nothing to stop them from shooting fadeaways over him, as Aldridge did repeatedly last night.

Still, that clearly wasn’t the problem last night, as the Spurs were able to score only eighty-seven points. The Warriors’ problem was that they were unable to score. More importantly, Stephen Curry was shut down and held to fourteen points on eighteen shots, an abysmal 34.7% true shooting percentage. For context, Curry’s TS% on the season is a league leading 67.5%, while players not noted for their sharpshooting, such as Rajon Rondo (49.8%), Kobe Bryant (46.3%), and Emmanuel Mudiay (42.7%, the worst mark in the league), have shot better over the course of the season than Curry did last night.

Now, the Warriors had lost six times before last night, but how repeatable are those losses? The Blazers beat the Warriors by shooting 17-30 from three and the Lakers beat them when they shot 4-30 from three. The Mavericks beat the Warriors when they were without Curry and Harrison Barnes and the Nuggets beat them by two when they were without Green. The Bucks beat the Warriors when they were coming off a double-overtime game the night before and the Pistons beat them by eighteen in the only game that there wasn’t a clear reason for why they lost.

None of these games, other than the one against Detroit, provide any valuable insight into how to beat Golden State. At first glance, last night’s game looks very similar to the Lakers game: the Warriors shot 25% from three, with Curry and Klay Thompson combining to go 2-19 from deep. Is that really something the Spurs can count on in the playoffs?

Here’s where the eye test comes in handy. Last night, Curry and Thompson weren’t missing wide-open shots; the Spurs didn’t give them any space. San Antonio hounded the Splash Brothers both on and off the ball, not giving them any room to operate. Helped by Kawhi Leonard and their league-best defense, the Spurs only allowed twenty-nine combined points from Thompson and Curry.

As always, the important question is whether or not this game provides a blueprint for how to beat the Warriors. To me, it’s somewhere in the middle.

On one hand, playing close and physical with Curry and Thompson is a recipe for success. However, not every team has the reigning DPOY on it.

I think it’s fair to say that last night’s game provided a way to beat the Warriors, but one that only the Spurs can follow. It’ll be interesting to see whether or not San Antonio will be able to maintain its defensive success in its next meeting with Golden State, on April 7th in Oracle Arena.

Eastern Conference Playoff Bubble: Who’s In and Who’s Out?

As the NBA heads into the final stretch of its season, playoff seeds are beginning to crystallize. By my count, eleven teams have already essentially clinched a spot in the playoffs, leaving five positions available for the other nineteen teams.

In the Eastern Conference, there are two playoff berths available for four teams and Washington, Indiana, Detroit, and Chicago are set to duke it out over the next month to make it into the postseason.

Which teams on the Eastern Conference playoff bubble will make it in? Which ones won’t? Let’s take a look.

In the East, the seventh and eighth seeds are up for grabs. Currently, the Pacers and Pistons hold those two spots, but the Bulls are tied with the Pistons for the eighth seed. The Wizards are lurking one-and-a-half games behind the Bulls and Pistons after recently pulling out of a tailspin; after making it back to .500, they lost five straight games before a dominant forty-three point blowout against the Pistons earlier this week on national TV and a twenty-one point victory against the Bulls last night.

Washington is the furthest from a playoff spot, but there remains hope in D.C. thanks to a fairly easy schedule to close out the season. Of its fifteen remaining games, only two are near-certain losses (@GSW and @LAC). In addition, the Wizards play three times against the Hawks, although two of those games are at home, and once against the surging Hornets in Washington.

Though Washington is one-and-a-half games out of a playoff spot, there still remains a head-to-head opportunity to make up ground on its direct competitors. The Wizards will play in Detroit on April 8th, a game that will be vital to their playoff aspirations.

The Pacers are elevated above the fray, sitting two-and-a-half games above the Bulls and Pistons and four above the Wizards. With a strong finish, Indiana could even push its way into the fifth or sixth seed, and with a creampuff schedule down the stretch, there’s a very real possibility that it could happen.

The Bulls have the easiest schedule of all, but they currently face severe problems with injuries. Jimmy Butler returned only a couple of days ago from a knee injury, Derrick Rose is dealing with a groin injury, and Pau Gasol has an injured knee. If Chicago is down its best three players, it won’t matter how easy their schedule is.

The Pistons begin a nine-game homestand against the Hawks, but their schedule is the most challenging of the teams they’re competing against. Eight of Detroit’s fifteen remaining games come against playoff teams, and that doesn’t include the games against its direct competitors. It plays in Chicago on April 2nd and against Washington at home on April 8th.

The question remains: Which of these teams will make the playoffs?

It seems to be a forgone conclusion that the Bulls will miss the playoffs since the 2007-08 season. They have too many injuries to adequately compete, and if they lose to the Pistons on April 2nd, they won’t have the tiebreaker against either the Pistons or the Wizards. Chicago will compete to the end, and it’s certainly within its capabilities to scratch out just enough victories to make it to the playoffs, but the postseason seems out of reach at the moment.

The Pacers have a stranglehold on a playoff berth. They’re as close to the #4 seed as the Pistons and Bulls are to them. It’s far more likely that Indiana moves up the ladder to nab a higher seed than they collapse and miss out on the playoffs.

The most intrigue comes with the battle for the eighth seed between the Wizards and Pistons.

I’m torn on this prediction, and although it’s safer to bet on the Pistons maintaining their lead, the Wizards have the tiebreaker and the ineffable, possibly nonexistent “mental edge” after the blowout earlier this week. Instead, I think that whoever wins that April 8th game in Detroit will take home the eighth seed. Washington should be the underdog in that game, so I guess my prediction is Detroit, but if it can defy expectations and win that game on its way to the playoffs, I bet there’ll be a big…

(at least until they get blown out by the Cavs in the first round)