Let me get this out of the way at the start: I love Mike Dunleavy Jr. He’s really, really good. You should love Mike Dunleavy Jr., too. Here’s why:
Through 4 games, Tom Thibodeau’s defense is outside of the league’s top 10 in points allowed per 100 possessions and that is, obviously, very surprising. Granted, Chicago is 11th in defensive efficiency, so they are barely outside of the top 10, but given that under Thibodeau the Bulls have finished 1st, 1st, 5th, and 2nd in overall defense in the last 4 seasons, it is a bit surprising to see them anywhere but the very tip top of the league’s defensive rankings, even at this early juncture.
The subject of this article might not seem the most timely, given that Pau Gasol just beat the stuffing out of the New York Knicks in the Chicago Bulls’s season opener, recording an efficient 21 point, 11 rebound night in just 29 minutes of play. In fact, this might all end up being a bit of nagging worry that doesn’t amount to much of anything at all. But although the Knicks’ interior defense is incredibly bad, there were some not so great signs for Pau’s prognosis in that game, ones that were also evident during the pre-season as well.
Like Andrew Johnson, I did some season projectin’ for the season starting tonight. The basic method was to take ESPN’s Real Plus-Minus (RPM) numbers and run them through a simple aging curve and then to project out the season minutes.
This post was guest-written by Sam Phelps.
When a person mentions the name Vince Carter to a typical NBA fan, they immediately think of insane dunks and highflying acts in general. He was one of the most exciting and popular players in the NBA during his prime, and he might just be the most impressive dunker to ever play the game. At 37 years of age, that Vince Carter is not going to the Memphis Grizzlies. However, people in fantasy basketball are very intrigued about what he could possibly bring to the table to make this team a legitimate title contender.
Memphis is lifted by the mantra of “Grit and Grind” for the last few years, and that could be for better or worse. Simply put, Memphis has been able to have success in the last few years by playing solid defense and finding some of the ways to win. Their biggest issue has been scoring consistently, but Carter is somebody who can definitely bring some value to the team right away.
Carter has done what very few players in NBA history have been able to. He has transformed his game into something that is much more perimeter oriented. He is one of the best shooters in the game right now, even if the average fan still thinks of him as a guy who can only drive. People in fantasy basketball were very impressed with the scoring ability with the Dallas Mavericks, and now he is going to get even more looks with Memphis.
By the time his new three-year contract worth $12 million plays out, Carter will be 40 years of age. He seems to be a bit rejuvenated now that he relies less on attacking the rim and taking punishment in the paint. As long as he can spot up and shoot while still having enough athleticism to keep defenses honest, he’s going to have success. This is the perfect fit for him in Memphis, and they will get more production out on the perimeter than they did a season ago.
In the very crowded Western Conference, Memphis continues to get overlooked. If they can play well and peak at the right time, Carter could make the difference between them being an average contender and then being a legitimate contender.
[Ed. note: This piece originally ran on July 23, 2014 on a site where all traces of my former presence, along with that of all of the other members of the team, has been wiped away. I didn’t want it to disappear from the internet, so I’m reposting it here, where I have control over what happens to it.]
I am dumber than I like to think that I am. From time to time, it’s important to remind myself of this. This article is me doing just that.
It is often easy when writing about sports to fancy yourself just as qualified as anyone else, including say general managers and talent evaluators, to say whether a player might be bad, average, good, or great. This is, for the most part, harmless, and in some cases, it is possible to outperform the average or bad general manager, if you’re pretty good at scouting talent (like all of the armchair GMs among us would like to believe we are). But this attitude can morph into the worst kind of narcissistic hubris, and well, make you (and when I say “you,” understand that I mean “me”) come off as a bit of an ass. Now, front office types do not have a corner on the market for knowledge about the game, and this should not read like an argument or claim that they do. What I’m wrestling with is that none of us has a perfect understanding of the game, and we’re all learning new things every day we’re lucky enough to watch the world’s other beautiful game. It’s easy to be blind to that. It’s so easy, especially in the super overreactionizer that is Twitter, to have a strong reaction to something and spew it out without really stepping back to question your own assumptions.
It’s quite hard to challenge those assumptions regularly; it’s so much easier to allow them to calcify and constrict my thinking. It requires no effort at all to fall back on my default setting: I know this and that and this too about basketball. But, then, every once in a while, I get to take a moment and breathe and really think, and what I always come back to is this quote from Socrates:
I know one thing: that I know nothing.
It is probably the most important sentence I’ve ever heard about the nature of knowledge. I should always be striving to learn and understand better. Whenever I decide I know something, I’m lost, because I’ve stopped learning.
This is all a bit abstract, so let me be more concrete. When the Chicago Bulls, my favorite basketball team, traded a bunch of assets to acquire Creighton star Doug McDermott, I basically had a Twitter meltdown. McDermott is probably one of the best shooters in the world on a team that was terrible at scoring last year, but all of my favorite statistic-based models cast lots of doubts about whether Doug could play at the NBA level. He didn’t pass very much, he basically never got blocks or steals, and his rebounding was merely decent. McDermott’s low block and steal rates and just okay rebounding made me worry about his athleticism, as those three stats have traditionally been pretty reliable at predicting which players will have the athleticism to hang in the league and those who won’t. The concerns about McDermott’s athleticism matched my own eye test concerns about him. So I decided I knew who Doug McDermott was as an NBA player before ever seeing him play in the NBA. I ignored people, like my friend Ricky O’Donnell of BlogaBull, who pointed out Creighton’s ultra-conservative defensive scheme as a reason for his low defensive counting stats. I scoffed off people who told me he was a good body position defender. I disregarded the common-sense idea that when you’re scoring as much as McDermott did and moving all over the court non-stop with literally five defensive players all aimed at stopping you, maybe defense takes a bit of a backseat. I stopped thinking and started ranting. I was lost.
The statistical models I love have had a pretty good success rate, especially when compared with the average general manager in the NBA, but they’re not infallible. There are plenty of misses, just as there are with any attempt to predict the future of very young men making the transition to a totally new atmosphere and level of competition. There are simply too many things we can’t know at the time of the draft which effect how well a player will do at the next level. How they played in college or internationally and their resulting counting stats is a big piece of that puzzle, but it is only part of it. I ignored that, too.
I watched Doug McDermott in summer league, and many of my concerns still linger. He probably won’t score as prolifically as he did in college and his lateral quickness is not great. But McDermott is so, so smart. He makes extremely quick decisions with the ball, which is a still undervalued skill and its value is multiplied exponentially by the threat he represents as a shooter and floor spacer, especially given his lightning quick shooting release. He’s going to bend defenses, just by virtue of these two skills. He’s also a much better passer and decision-maker than his low college assist totals would suggest. Additionally, McDermott is, as I was told, a solid body position defender, who will mostly funnel players towards his help defense- perhaps not coincidentally, the Bulls have two of the league’s very best help big men in Joakim Noah and Taj Gibson. Yes, McDermott will give up blow-bys to more athletic players and yes, that will be frustrating when it happens, but it won’t hurt as much as it might on another team because of those two big mobile guys behind him. Context matters very much in basketball, and well, maybe on draft night and after I didn’t think enough about the context in which McDermott will be operating. The defensive warts can be more easily hidden in Chicago than nearly anywhere else and his skill-set is a much needed one on any team, but especially for these Bulls.
Film Crit Hulk is one of my absolute favorite writers, and he has a tremendous piece which centers around a bit of advice given to him by the famed director, Quentin Tarantino. During a conversation in which a younger, perhaps less thoughtful Hulk ranted against a movie he “hated,” Tarantino told him, “Never, under any circumstances, hate a movie. It won’t help you and it’s a waste of time.” Tarantino went on to more fully explain that there is value and things to learn and enjoyment to be found even in the bombs or, for our basketball-watching purposes, busts. Tarantino finished his advice by saying of movies, “They’re gifts. Every f*cking one of ‘em.”
I am much less sure than I was about what sort of player Doug McDermott might be than I was on draft night. Part of that is a function of his summer league play, but a bigger part of it is me allowing myself to embrace that I don’t know nearly as much as I sometimes think and act like I do. What I do know is that regardless of whether he turns out to be a “bomb” or another “hit” for the Bulls front office, I’ll learn from watching him play. I’ll learn from seeing his struggles or successes and the how and why behind them. I’ll be entertained, as I always am, by the process. Doug McDermott is a gift, just like every player which I have the privilege to watch and root on.Read More
I wanted to get this up now that it’s done. I may blow this out into a larger series with fuller explanations of how I arrived at these win totals, but the short version is that it was roughly the same method as last year’s xRAPM predictions, only using ESPN’s Real Plus-Minus (which is largely the same as xRAPM). I also ran the numbers through the actual schedule, so SOS is somewhat adjusted for. Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to include back-to-backs and their influence into the projections, but this should be a decent projection anyway.
Enjoy responsibly.Read More
Stan Van Gundy was, to my mind, the best coach available on the market this offseason, and for the last few offseasons frankly. That stance, of course, comes with the caveat that there are many assistant coaches and coaches at different levels of basketball with whom I am unfamiliar and therefore, I exclude from any consideration in the “best coach available” discussion. There may be some diamonds in the rough who need a shot to show how good they can be. But I don’t know enough about the coaching development chain to say much about those guys. Still, SVG has proven himself as a great coach in the NBA.
Van Gundy ought never to have lost his job in the first place, but it’s a superstar league and the Magic wanted to appease Dwight Howard, before realizing how futile a game that really was. SVG has a winning percentage of 64.1% in the regular season over 579 games and he is 9 games over .500 in the post-season (48-39). Winning percentage alone, however, is not the only mark of a great coach. If you need any proof of that, check out Avery Johnson’s career after his Dallas turn, Vinny Del Negro’s run with the Clippers last season, or Scotty Brooks’ campaigns the last few seasons. Talent can overcome imperfect or even downright incompetent coaching, at times. Van Gundy isn’t that sort of coach. He’s exceedingly competent, curious, and supremely adaptable. So the following should hardly be surprising:
NBA: Congrats to Stan Van Gundy & Pistons on their deal. Stan was one of first to approach me about doing more analytics, back in 2004.
— Dean Oliver (@DeanO_ESPN) May 14, 2014
Stan Van took two separate and totally different style squads through deep playoff runs, ending in the Conference Finals and NBA Finals, respectively. In Miami, he paired Dwyane Wade’s pell-mell drives to the hoop with a still dominant Shaq’s low-post scoring to reach a top 5 offense and a 7 game conference finals loss to Detroit. It was a distinctly traditional offensive setup, and Van Gundy made it work incredibly well.
Then, from 2008-2011, he helped Dwight Howard reach his peak, which he has still not surpassed or even really approached, with a 4-out spread pick and roll attack which both incorporated the biggest lessons of the modern basketball analytics movement (the importance of spacing, along with the value of the three point shots and dunks) and best catered to the talents of his team. It’s also worth noting that no coach since SVG has been able to get Dwight to buy in to the pick and roll game as thoroughly as he did in Orlando. In 2009, the Magic overachieved in the playoffs, knocking off LeBron’s Cavaliers juggernaut– +8.68 SRS, well ahead of the second best team, the eventual champion Los Angeles Lakers– in the Eastern Conference Finals, only to get beat by that Lakers team in 5 games. It would be easy to be disappointed by the Magic’s performance in that Finals, but really, they shouldn’t have even been in that series at all. Orlando had already overachieved by reaching the Finals. Of course, that’s not the attitude a coach or his team should have in that series, but for fans and media analyzing Van Gundy’s resume, it’s important to note that important context.
So, in short: Detroit has nabbed a great coach. Van Gundy, after being burned by both his former Florida employers and unjustly let go, also managed to negotiate control over Basketball Operations for the Pistons. I don’t know how SVG will do on the management side of things, as there’s no history to go on. Given his understanding of how teams fit together and how to maximize the talents he’s provided, though, I suspect he’ll also do a heck of a job there, as well. He would be hard pressed to do worse than Joe Dumars the last few years.
I see most things in the NBA through the lens of how they will effect my beloved Chicago Bulls. Stan Van Gundy entering the Central Division scares the hell out of me. I’d imagine most fans of other Central Division teams feel likewise, which is as good an indication as any that Detroit has done very well for themselves here. Now it’s time to fire up the trade machine, because there’s almost no way SVG is keeping this trainwreck together next season.Read More