Tag Archives: basketball

Trade Grade: Harris to Detroit

Earlier today, news broke that Orlando had traded Tobias Harris to Detroit in exchange for Brandon Jennings and Ersan Ilyasova.

Detroit Pistons

This trade immediately turns the Pistons into long-term Eastern Conference contenders. No, they’re nowhere near even an NBA Finals run, but this trade gives them a great shot at a playoff series victory or two if they can vault up past the eighth seed to avoid Cleveland in the first round.

It’s not like what happens this season matters that much. If Detroit wins a playoff series, great! If it wins two, even better! The best thing about this trade is that it’s not some insane win-now move for a team that won’t win anything; it’ll help the Pistons a ton in the future.

Ilyasova and Jennings, 28 and 26 respectively, are veterans. Ilyasova is signed for the rest of this year and has an unguaranteed salary in 2016-17 while Jennings is on an expiring contract. Neither of those two guys will be around for very long.

Harris, on the other hand, is in the first season of a four year, sixty-four million dollar contract. It seems like a lot of money, and it is, but thanks to the rapidly rising salary cap, sixteen million dollars a year isn’t much to spend on a player like Harris.

Best of all, Harris is 23 years old. The other players worth keeping the Pistons have are all at similar ages: Kentavious Caldwell-Pope is 22, Stanley Johnson is 19, Andre Drummond is 22, and at 25, Reggie Jackson is the elder statesman of the bunch. Together, these five players form a rapidly improving core and will be in their primes at roughly the same time.

Harris is a tweener, and toggles between each forward position. When he plays power forward, the other four members of the core are able to play as well; when he plays small forward, Marcus Morris can play at the four. Either way, there should be plenty of minutes freed up for him, especially with Ilyasova’s 27.6 minutes at power forward now gone.

Detroit has acquired a 23-year old player who’s already a solid starter and is locked into a cap-friendly deal for the next three seasons. All it had to give up to get him were a couple of veterans who didn’t fit the team’s timeline for contention. Overall, this was a coup for the Pistons.

Grade: A

Orlando Magic

It’s tough to see what Rob Hennigan was thinking here.

As we discussed above, Ilyasova and Jennings are veterans without upside and with no guaranteed money beyond this season. Harris, on the other hand, is a twenty-three year old oozing with upside, and is signed for three more seasons.

Remember what we said earlier about Harris fitting in with Detroit’s core age-wise? Yeah, he fits even better with Orlando’s: Victor Oladipo is 23, Elfrid Payton turns 22 next week, Mario Hezonja is 20, Evan Fournier is 23, Nikola Vucevic is 25, and Aaron Gordon is 20.

Harris could have grown and matured alongside a core that is under Orlando’s control for at least another season and a half. In the NBA, continuity is priceless, as we’ve seen with elite teams like the Warriors and Spurs. In the present day climate, with increasingly short contracts, continuity is elusive, and the Magic, for some strange reason, decided to give up a big part of theirs.

And what did they give him up for? Almost nothing! At best, Jennings and Ilyasova are “veteran mentors” who can “show the youngsters how to win”. The only problem with that explanation is that Jennings and Ilyasova have been on winning teams only once apiece, on the 2009-10 Bucks team that won a grand total of forty-six games.

Speaking of that team, interestingly enough, it was coached by none other than Scott Skiles, who also happens to currently coach the Magic.

Anyways, if Ilyasova and Jennings aren’t particularly good, and if they don’t have much experience winning, and if they won’t be around long-term, then why in the world would Orlando trade for them?

This deal seems a lot like a win-now move, except that Orlando is worsening its future while worsening its current team too. One other problem with this win-now move? The Magic currently sit in eleventh place in the Eastern Conference, with a record of 23-29. To make the playoffs, they’d have to vault over three teams, including the Pistons, just to get the eighth seed, where they’ll promptly be slaughtered by Cleveland in the first round.

The single possible benefit for the Magic in this trade is acquiring Ilyasova’s unguaranteed contract for 2016-17. In the offseason, they’ll be able to trade Ilyasova to a cap-starved team and pick up an asset for their help as a cap-declogger. However, the asset that they receive in return for Ilyasova is unlikely to be anywhere near as valuable as Harris is.

Again, there’s little upside to this deal, and a ton of downside. The Magic aren’t winning now, but this trade hurts their chances at winning in the future.

Unless there’s something about Harris that the public doesn’t know, this trade was a grave mistake for the Magic.

Grade: D

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Should Boston Trade for Horford?

Lately, rumors have been rampant that the Hawks intend to blow up their team. I don’t really understand why they would, as they’re currently in fourth place in the Eastern Conference and eighth in the NBA in point differential at +2.7.

Yeah, three of their five starters are hitting free agency this offseason, and yeah, they don’t have a chance at winning the championship, but as of right now, they’re locks to win between six and ten playoff games.

Perhaps the Hawks are done settling for mediocrity and have decided that they either want a really good team or a really bad team. It makes sense, but it’s too bad that the NBA’s rules make being a run-of-the-mill good team something undesirable.

Anyways, what’s more interesting is that the Celtics have been rumored to be interested in trading for Al Horford. Does it make sense for them to do so?

Horford isn’t a superstar, but he’s definitely an elite player, and besides, unlike many players, his skill set allows him to fit into almost any team. Horford is something of a stretch-center, in that he’s capable of defending centers while being able to shoot threes on offense.

Naturally, that malleability is appealing to the Celtics, but what would they have to give up to get him?

Despite reports of Atlanta’s asking price for Horford being “borderline ridiculous,” as the trade deadline nears, it will likely drop to more reasonable levels. For Boston, that’ll mean an offer along the lines of the Dallas top-7 protected first rounder and a couple of rotation players.

Giving up two rotation players, such as Jonas Jerebko and Jared Sullinger, along with the Dallas pick will hurt, but a three-for-one will benefit the Celtics in another way. With all their picks and their current roster, the Celtics will soon have so many good players that they won’t be able to play them all. In fact, that’s a problem they face now, as solid players such as Jerebko and David Lee play less than sixteen minutes a game.

Trading for Horford means trading away three solid players for one very good one. For many teams, that wouldn’t be a good idea, but for the Celtics, it’s another bonus to the deal.

Some may say that it makes no sense for Boston to trade for Horford because it’s foolish to go all-in when they don’t have a chance at the championship. However, would it really be all-in?

If the deal we discussed earlier comes to fruition, the Celtics won’t come close to being “all-in”. They’ll keep their best long-term asset in the unprotected Nets first rounder, and their core of Marcus Smart, Isaiah Thomas, Avery Bradley, and Jae Crowder will remain untouched.

The main roadblock to a Horford-to-Boston trade is Horford’s impending free agency. Still, that’s not a deal-breaker. The Celtics may trade for Horford anyways if they’re confident in that their team and culture will appeal to him and entice him to resign. Alternatively, similarly to the Goran Dragic trade last season, the Celtics can extract an unspoken promise from Horford that he’ll return in free agency.

Overall, it would make sense for Boston to trade for Horford, assuming that they don’t have to give up the Nets pick or part of their core, and if they know they’ll be able to keep him long-term. Otherwise, it’s too high a price to pay for three months of a very good center and a better shot at a run to the Eastern Conference Finals.

 

A Critical Review of ESPN’s Virtual Three-Point Line

Just before January 30th’s Cavs-Spurs game, Heather Cox, an ESPN sideline reporter, had an exciting announcement: ESPN would now be using a “new technology”, a virtual three-point line.

Cox later mentioned that the supposedly “new technology” was based off of the 1st and 10 technology in football, a blatant contradiction.

Anyways, Cox explained that the virtual-three point line would light up after every three-point attempt and remain lit up until the next possession if the shot was made.

To further explain this innovative technology, here’s a GIF so you can see it in action:

ESPN Virtual-Three Point Line GIF

This “cool technology” (as Cox put it) is such low-hanging fruit that I almost feel guilty for making fun of it. Almost.

I’ve gotta wonder whose brainchild this one was. Perhaps some random executive’s seven-year old kid pressed a few random buttons during “take-your-child-to-work day”; after all, what other explanation could there be?

Perhaps I’m judging a little hastily. Maybe I’m wrong about this technology. Let’s talk about why it’s useful.

One of the best things about it is that it caters directly to one specific subset of the population: the people who can’t see a player taking a jump shot but who can see a red line lighting up right next to the shooter. That demographic is obviously a huge part of the sports-watching population and ESPN did well to creatively cater to its needs.

Another demographic that this technology helps is the one consisting of people who can’t see the basketball going through the net or hear the announcers telling the audience what just occurred but who somehow are able to see the three-point line up. Yet another wise business decision by ESPN.

For those of us who don’t belong to either of those groups, this technology is still useful. After a three-pointer, the line lights up for a few seconds. In the meantime, many teams try to get fast-break points against opponents who have fallen asleep. They’ll quickly inbound the ball and push up the floor as fast as possible. For much of the time the three-point line is lit up, the viewer can’t see it as action occurs on the other side of the court. I, for one, still think that the technology is useful because, somehow, I find it reassuring to know that the three-point line is lit up, even though I can’t see it.

I know that this technology is based off of the 1st-and-10 technology, but I wonder how ESPN implements it during the game. My best guess: Some poor intern at a computer has to press control-b every time a three-pointer is attempted.

Cox added at the end of her explanation: “I certainly hope you enjoy this new toy as much as we do.” Yeah, Heather, I’m definitely enjoying this “new toy”, but probably not for the reasons you intended.

Is Thompson the Best Catch-and-Shooter in the NBA?

Just over a week ago, on NBA Countdown, Jalen Rose was discussing the upcoming game between the Warriors and Bulls. While doing so, he asserted that Klay Thompson is the best catch-and-shooter in the NBA. Is he right?

Before we can answer that question, first we need to determine exactly what a catch-and-shooter is.

The NBA defines a catch-and-shoot attempt as “any jump shot outside of ten feet where a player possessed the ball for two seconds or less and took no dribbles”. That’s a reasonable definition. To ensure that only real catch-and-shooters showed up in the rankings, I tweaked the requirements; this list is limited to players who play at least twenty-four minutes a game while attempting at least three threes per game. This leaves us with fifty-eight players in the NBA who qualify as true catch-and-shooters.

How does Thompson rank under those parameters?

The answer? Very well, but not the best.

He’s eleventh in effective field goal percentage (eFG%) with 61.4%. He’s behind superstars such as Stephen Curry, Damian Lillard, and Kawhi Leonard, well-known three-point specialists including J.J. Redick, Khris Middleton, and J.R. Smith, and guys who you wouldn’t expect to be there like Jerryd Bayless and Patrick Beverley.

Thompson is tenth in catch-and-shoot three point percentage, again behind Curry, Leonard, and others. Again, he’s in the top fifth of the league, but he’s not quite the best.

However, Thompson is able to maintain his efficiency over far more three-point attempts than others. He leads the league with 6.3 catch-and-shoot attempts per game, 0.9 more than his closest competitor, Wesley Matthews. Matthews is closer to ninth place Curry than he is to first, showing how efficient Thompson is.

Similarly, Thompson leads the league in catch-and-shoot three-pointers made per game, with 2.8. This time, second place Curry is closer to eleventh place than he is to first.

Although we can’t say that Thompson is the most efficient catch-and-shooter in the NBA, his ability to maintain a relatively high level of efficiency over so many attempts speaks to his immense proficiency at catch-and-shooting.

In the end, while it’s not cut-and-dried, it’s a reasonable assertion to make that Klay Thompson is the best catch-and-shooter in the NBA.

How Did the Warriors Beat the Spurs?

I don’t think anyone was expecting the utter devastation the Warriors wrought upon the Spurs. I don’t think anyone was expecting Stephen Curry to explode for thirty-seven points in only twenty-eight minutes. I don’t think anyone was expecting San Antonio’s point differential to go down a full point. I don’t think anyone was expecting any of this.

The important question is: How did this happen?

The answer, simply, is that rather than running their usual motion offense, the Spurs decided to try their hands at running a bakery. The problem is that the only pastries they knew how to cook were turnovers (mostly apple ones). All (bad) jokes aside, the Spurs continually hemorrhaged possessions last night, giving the ball to the Warriors in a variety of ways.

Naturally, the multitudinous turnovers were a problem for San Antonio, but the fact that it’s bad to turn the ball over isn’t enough to explain the blowout. After all, it’s not like Golden State took particularly good care of the ball; it had twenty-one turnovers to San Antonio’s twenty-six (which is eighth-most out of 1348 team games played so far this season!).

In fact, just turning the ball over alone doesn’t matter all that much. Take a look at a graph:

Screen Shot 2016-01-26 at 6.22.05 PM

In this scatter plot, the x-axis is turnovers per game while the y-axis is winning percentage. As you can tell from the relatively even scatter of the graph, there’s only a very weak negative correlation (the r is -.36) between turnovers and winning percentage.

If turnovers don’t inherently affect winning, then why did they hurt the Spurs so significantly against the Warriors?

When a team turns the ball over, that often leads directly to a fast break, a facet of the game in which the Warriors excel. In fact, Golden State leads the league in fast break points with 20.7 per game, an impressive 2.76 standard deviations above the mean. To illustrate that number, take a look at a scatter plot of NBA teams and how many fast break points they have per game:

Screen Shot 2016-01-27 at 7.56.57 PM

Look how far the Warriors (the star in the upper right corner) are away from everyone else. In fact, they gap between them and sixth place is larger than the gap between sixth place and thirtieth!

Golden State is so aberrant in this regard, that, as shown by the following box plot, it qualifies as an outlier:

Screen Shot 2016-01-27 at 8.03.08 PM

As we can tell, Golden State’s offense relies a lot on fast breaks, and we’ve already covered how turnovers often lead to fast breaks. Now let’s take a look at San Antonio’s defense.

The Spurs allow 11.2 fast break points per game, ranking sixth in that category.  As seems to be customary between these teams, two strengths are in direct conflict.

In this case, the Warriors’ strength won out. They scored nineteen fast break points, about two points under their average, but roughly eight points more than the Spurs’ average.

Now, one important aspect of a fast-break is the “fast” part. The Warriors rank first in the NBA in pace, while the Spurs are the eighth slowest team in the league. Since Golden State was able to take control of the pace of the game, San Antonio was out of its element. It didn’t help matters that the Spurs’ average age is 30.5, the oldest in the league by over a year. In fact, that’s likely a significant part of why they play so slowly.

Anyways, to sum it up, the main reason the Warriors were able to dismantle the Spurs on Monday night was because they were able to take control of the pace of the game through forcing turnovers. Those turnovers allowed them to score plenty of fast break points, erasing one of San Antonio’s biggest strengths.

Here’s a bonus question: Did this game provide a blueprint for how to beat the Spurs?

I’ll put it simply: Do many teams have a guy who can do things in transition like this?

Yeah, I didn’t think so.

And aside from the otherworldly talents of Curry, the Warriors, as we’ve discussed, have a lot more going for them that other teams simply don’t have.

But even the Warriors haven’t figured out the formula to beating the Spurs.  San Antonio had nearly double its usual turnovers and Tim Duncan was sitting out. There were plenty of other factors that contributed to the blowout that are unlikely to recur all at once.

Although this clearly is not a death knell for the Spurs, it could be a chink in their formerly unbroken armor, and perhaps particularly skilled teams will now be able to exploit it.

 

Notes From Bulls-Warriors

Last night, in addition to the Knicks-Jazz game, I watched the Warriors and Bulls square off in Chicago. Here are a few observations from the game.

Derrick Rose looked spectacular. His performance hearkened back to his MVP season in 2011, not only in what he did, but in how he did it. His first four baskets came on a twisting layup, a wild bank shot, a floater, and another banker.

Rose finished with twenty-nine points, many coming on those same sorts of ridiculous shots that barely anyone else in the NBA would even bother attempting.

The Warriors have become a spectacle. Throngs of fans show up early to games when the Warriors come to town, hoping to see magic happen. Stephen Curry is at the center of it all, but even so, it was surprising when the Bulls fans filling the United Center let out a mildly disappointed “Oh” when he missed his first three-point attempt.

The Bulls did one particularly strange thing early in the game. Many teams like to trap Curry on pick-and-rolls, knowing that to let him free is an invitation for a swished three-pointer. That trapping leads to four-on-threes for Golden State, but those are preferable to giving up an open shot to Curry.

While it makes sense to trap Curry, the Bulls strangely decided to trap Klay Thompson off a pick-and-roll, leading to a four-on-three led by Curry. Why in the world would they choose to do that? One has to assume that it was a gaffe of some sort, perhaps a miscommunication between the two defenders.

Shaun Livingston had a very nice game. He shot six-for-eight, scoring twelve points with five assists over sixteen minutes. Livingston, despite being a point guard, is 6’7″, and he used that size to his advantage last night, posting up smaller guards with ease.

Adding to his value, unlike most 6’7″ players, Livingston can defend point guards. Even better, he fits in well with Golden State’s whirring machine of defensive perfection as he’s able to switch seamlessly with all the other similarly sized players the warriors have (click here for a breakdown of Golden State’s switching capabilities on defense).

Midway through the second quarter, Rose dove at Curry’s knees on a closeout, leading to three free throws. I don’t know about you, but I never realized that Steph Curry was actually Rob Gronkowski.

The Warriors ended up destroying the Bulls 125-94. This win is a big boost for Golden State; after smashing the Cavs apart in Cleveland on Monday by thirty-four points, beating another top contender in the East by thirty-one is a something to be proud of. Even better, it comes on the heels of a poor three-game stretch consisting of a pair of road losses to the Nuggets and Pistons sandwiching a home win against the Lakers.

This victory sends the Warriors home for a three-game stay at the Oracle Arena against three playoff teams, including Monday night’s matchup against the Spurs, which promises to be one of the best games in the NBA this season.

Notes From Wizards-Clippers

I’m in DC right now, and a couple of nights ago, I took the opportunity to see the Wizards square off against the Clippers in the Verizon Center. Here a few observations from the game.

There were a couple of strange things that occurred during the game. For instance, at one point in the second half, plastic cows attached to mini parachutes were dropped from the rafters. Why? I think it had something to do with a Chick-Fil-A promotion, but honestly, I’m not sure.

The halftime show was immensely enjoyable. A pair of goals were set up at the free throw lines and a three on three game of soccer was held. The fun part was that, since each player was encased in a plastic bubble, it was impossible to get hurt, so the game was spent watching the players ram into one another. Always a pleasurable experience.

During the pregame warmups, I had a good time watching Josh Smith practice his free-throw shooting. Sorry Josh, even sinking sixty free throws in a row won’t make up for this travesty:

The game itself wasn’t overly exciting. Despite the absence of Blake Griffin, the Wizards were unable to take a single lead. The Clippers opened up the game on a 13-2 run and didn’t look back.

Cole Aldrich, of all people, had a solid game. He produced thirteen points, six rebounds, three assists, four steals, and a block over twenty minutes. Aldrich’s main contributions to the game were the four times he tried and failed to throw down a big dunk, leading to plenty of taunts from the stands.

DeAndre Jordan was particularly entertaining for a couple of reasons. One, whenever he has a big dunk, he hangs on the rim for a moment, letting his lengthy limbs loose:


Two, Jordan has a magnificent deer-in-the-headlights look whenever he goes to the free throw line. On his first two attempts, his anxiety, nervousness, and dread were plain to see:

As expected, he missed those free throws, although he rallied to make three of his next four to finish the night with a solid three of six at the line.

Throughout the night, the Wizards were discombobulated on offense. There were many possessions that ended late in the shot clock with a contested heave from John Wall. Even when a Wizard had a wide open three-pointer, more often than not, the shot clanked off the rim.

There was one notable near-achievement from a Wizards player: Jared Dudley, a starter, nearly earned a thirteen trillion. He played thirteen minutes, and recorded a grand total of zero points, rebounds, assists, steals, blocks, and fouls. The only thing keeping Dudley from a historic performance was one measly turnover. Alas. Better luck next time, Jared.

It’s indicative that I talked more about the sideshows, both literal and figurative, from the parachuting cows to DeAndre Jordan’s gangly legs, than about the game itself. I guess it was just that kind of night.

Still, despite the uncompetitive game, I had a good time, and it certainly was a…

This article can also be found at Jock Journal.