Gulp. Stan Van Gundy to Detroit.

SVG

Pictured: A brilliant basketball man.

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:

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.

UARPM100 for 13-14 Updated to Reflect Team Strength

Last post, I mentioned that Kevin Durant was the UARPM100 MVP, and I gave a top 10 list of players in Wins Above Replacement as well. After looking through the numbers, something that occurred to me was that the number of total wins under those numbers didn’t sum up to team level wins. That was primarily an effect of including raw per minute plus-minus numbers as part of the UARPM formulation. Basically, good teams had too many wins, and poor teams had too few wins. So I decided to correct that.  I adjusted the UARPM100 numbers using a per minute adjustment for each player on the team so that total team plus-minus was equal to team SRS (basically point differential adjusted for strength of schedule) via Basketball-Reference. The final numbers are posted on the UARPM100 page.

The top 10 is basically the same, with Carmelo Anthony jumping into the 8th spot, and DeAndre Jordan sliding to 10th. The total number of wins are reduced across the board, and they are no longer set to above replacement, because I decided it’d be more interesting to just have total wins contributed. You can easily turn wins into Wins per 48 minutes by dividing by minutes played and multiplying by 48. Durant and LeBron were nearly exactly the same in per possession impact by UARPM100, with Durant’s heavier minutes load giving him the edge in wins. Chris Paul also remains the best per-possession player in the league, even after the team adjustment.

Here’s the updated top 20:

RankPlayersMINUARPM100Wins
1Kevin Durant31226.720.0
2LeBron James29026.718.6
3Kevin Love27966.417.6
4Stephen Curry28466.117.3
5Blake Griffin28635.215.8
6Chris Paul21717.214.7
7Joakim Noah28204.614.3
8Carmelo Anthony29824.114.3
9James Harden27774.514.1
10DeAndre Jordan28704.213.9
11Paul George28984.113.9
12DeMarcus Cousins22985.913.7
13John Wall29803.513.1
14LaMarcus Aldridge24994.713.0
15Kyle Lowry28623.512.6
16Dwight Howard23964.612.2
17Goran Dragic26683.611.9
18Anthony Davis23584.411.7
19Al Jefferson25533.811.7
20Serge Ibaka26663.411.6

All in all, this seems like a pretty credible list. For what it’s worth, Rookie of the Year award winner, Michael Carter-Williams produced 6.1 wins under UARPM100, well ahead of runner-up Victor Oladipo who clocked in at 4.7 wins. The voters appear to be doing a pretty good job.

Kevin Durant is the UARPM100 MVP

I recently updated my UARPM100 numbers to reflect the end of regular season statistics. You can see the final numbers here. After all the games were played, Kevin Durant was the UARPM100 MVP in my version of Wins Above Replacement (WAR). Durantula provided roughly 21.8 wins over what we’d expect from a replacement level player taking over his minutes, while LeBron James came in as a close second providing 21.5 WAR. LeBron was a bit more productive per possession, by UARPM100, than Durant (+7.6 to +7.1), but Durant played more minutes, which ultimately made the difference.

Interestingly, Chris Paul was tops in per possession productivity clocking in at +8.1 points per 100 possessions better than average. CP3 missed a number of games with injury, which knocked him out of MVP consideration. Paul was still able to contribute 16.8 WAR despite only playing 61 games, which is pretty amazing.

The top 10 in WAR via UARPM100 were:

1. Kevin Durant, 21.8 WAR

2. LeBron, 21.5 WAR

3. Kevin Love, 19.4 WAR

4. Stephen Curry, 18.9 WAR

5. Blake Griffin, 18.2 WAR

6. Chris Paul, 16.8 WAR

7. Joakim Noah, 16.1 WAR

8. DeAndre Jordan, 16.0 WAR

9. James Harden, 15.7 WAR

10. Carmelo Anthony, 15.1 WAR

(Way to waste a really great season from Carmelo, Knicks.)

Also notable: Goran Dragic, who recently received the NBA’s Most Improved Player award, finished 20th overall in WAR. In 2012-13, Dragic put up a +1.3 UARPM100, while this season he put up a +3.8, along with the aforementioned 20th place finish in WAR. A pretty big leap, and one of the more difficult things a player can do- go from being the pretty good player he’s been his whole career- to jumping into the top echelon.

Prior Informed UARPM100 Through Roughly 30 Games

In my last post, I mentioned that I would, from time to time, produce UARPM100 numbers that were prior-informed by xRAPM numbers from Stats for the NBA. Today, after roughly 30 games played for each team, I’ve gone ahead and produced those numbers.  Enjoy!

Another Update to UAR: Introducing UARPM100

Last time out I explained, in detail, how I calculate Usage Adjusted Rating (a usage adjusted version of Alternate Win Score). I liked the results, but I thought that they could be better. In order to try to better value defense, I decided to try to include a weight to factor in minutes per game played. I made this decision based on the idea that coaches, generally, won’t play someone a lot of minutes if he’s got shaky counting stats- which basic UAR covers- unless he’s providing other value. So I added a factor that gives a slight boost to players who play 20 minutes or more per game and gives a slight negative to players who play under 20 minutes a game.

In addition, I took the UAR with the minutes per game adjustment (70%) and blended it with non-adjusted +/- per pace adjusted 48 minutes (20)% and added a zero-weight to regress it to the mean (10%), as this was the blend that best correlated with xRAPM. Then I made the metric 100 possessions, instead of per 48 minutes pace adjusted. I call this new metric UARPM100, which is a bit of a mouthful, but it conveys the information contained within the metric, so I’m sticking with it.

I ran a correlation of UARPM100 over past years against xRAPM from Jeremias Englemann at stats-for-the-nba.appspot.com. The r-squared for UARPM100 against xRAPM was roughly .67. The r-squared becomes much, much stronger if prior year xRAPM is blended with UARPM100. The r-squared for blended prior year xRAPM and UARPM100 is roughly .82 with in-year xRAPM, which is obviously very strong. Given my belief that xRAPM is probably the best one-number metric in the public domain, I feel pretty good about UARPM100′s results. Here are the results for UARPM100 through the December 16, 2013 games (minimum 120 minutes played):

Going forward, I will be updating UARPM100 as close to daily as possible. Periodically, I will also post UARPM100 that’s prior informed by 2012-13 xRAPM.  Hope you enjoy!

 

Usage Adjusted Rating, Further Explained

Usage Adjusted Rating, as I discussed previously, has Alternate Win Score (AWS) as its base. Alternate Win Score is a simple per minute measure of performance, which has proven to be the best linear weights metric for prediction across high continuity and low continuity contexts. High continuity contexts are situations where a team is the largely the same as it had been when the players compiled the statistics being used to make predictions. Low continuity contexts are the opposite. AWS, as Neil Paine has demonstrated, is the best linear weights metric for prediction when dealing with both of those situations. So how is Alternate Win Score defined?

AWS equals Points+0.7*(Offensive Rebounds)+0.3*(Defensive Rebounds)+Steals+0.5*(Blocks)+0.5*(Assists)-0.7*(FG missed)-(FG made)-0.35*(Free Throws Missed)-0.5*(Free Throws Made)-Turnovers -0.5*(Fouls Committed) all divided by Minutes Played.

I wanted to make some tweaks to this basic formula. Namely, I wanted to include a usage-efficiency tradeoff. As I mentioned in the previous post, APBRmetrics forum poster v-zero provided a way to do that. I incorporated his math into the formula for AWS and after some tweaking, I arrived at UAR.

About that tweaking. Some people have expressed interest in knowing exactly how I arrived at the numbers I came up with. So here goes. I broke AWS into two separate figures. The scoring (and offensive turnover) portion and the Non-Scoring aspect. The Non-Scoring portion of UAR simply is equal to .7*OREB+.3*DREB+Steals+.5*Blocks+.5*Assists-.5*Fouls Committed per pace adjusted 48 minutes.

Then I moved on to the Scoring portion of UAR, which includes turnovers because turnovers use a possession just the same as a shot attempt or free throw attempts, except turnovers obviously always result in 0 points. I calculated the league average for points per possession (PPP), using the simple formula for possessions (FGA+.44*FTA+TOV), and similarly calculated the league average for possessions per 48 minutes (USGper48), again using the simple possession definition. I then used the coefficients v-zero provided to create what I call average ScoreRating, which is simply 5*(PPP)+.076*(USGper48).  For this season, thus far, the league average for that number has been roughly 6.2. Next I calculated the Score Rating for every player in the league and subtracted out the league average rate, so that if you’re an average scorer you break-even in Score Rating, if you’re above average you contribute a positive value through your combined scoring volume and efficiency whereas if you’re below average, you detract value from your team through your inability to score. I also had to multiply Score Rating by a coefficient in order to properly value scoring in UAR relative to the NonScoring parts of UAR. The Scoring Rating needed to be worth roughly 2.7 times the Non-Scoring Rating, based on some math resulting from the Four Factor weights discovered by Evan Zamir here. In order to get the scale right, the coefficient turned out to be roughly 2.4. This owed to the league average for Score Rating being 6.2 and the league average for Non-Score Rating being about 5.5. Then I set total league average UAR to 0.

These numbers change year over year but they are pretty consistently in this range.  I then added the Scoring and Non-Scoring parts together to get UAR.  The equation for this year basically looks like this:

UAR = (2.4*(5*(PPP)+.076(USGper48))+ (7*OREB+.3*DREB+Steals+.5*Blocks+.5*Assists-.5*Fouls Committed per pace adjusted 48 minutes)-((lg avg Score Rating)+(lg avg non-score Rating))

The numbers, as I said, vary year over year depending on what the average numbers league wide are.

Derrick Rose Hurt Himself Again and Everything is Awful

Derrick Rose hurt his right knee (the other one, not the one he injured over 18 months ago) in a non-contact injury during the third quarter of tonight’s tilt with the Portland Trailblazers. Rose was just running along normally, making an off-ball cut into the paint on offense and his knee buckled beneath him.

I don’t know how bad the injury is at this point, but I do know Rose couldn’t put any pressure on his leg as he left the floor to go back to the locker room.


I also know that I can’t go through this again. I’m an NBA fan, but I’m first and foremost a Bulls fan, and this is just awful. There were so many years of just terrible, ugly basketball following the Jordan glory days abruptly coming to a halt, then there was improvement to mediocrity with dreams of something more. Derrick Rose was that promise of something more and for the too brief moments he’s been healthy since he entered the league, Rose has delivered on that promise. But he just missed over 18 months with a knee injury and now he appears to have hurt his *other* knee pretty badly. If Rose is done for the year again, the Bulls are, obviously, cooked. If his tests come back with bad news, the Bulls absolutely need to blow things up and fast. The franchise’s only hope for relevance will be to draft a new savior.

This is maybe (hopefully) overreaction, but the creeping doubts that had been lingering about Rose’s return had, for me, been on the verge of full blown panic about whether he will ever be the same player. Now, with this newest injury, the concern is about whether his body will stop betraying him long enough to let him continue to play professional basketball at all- never mind whether he will be able to do it at a high level again.

This is just the absolute worst. There is no positive spin on this. The Bulls blew a 20 point lead and Derrick Rose, for the second time in under 2 years, could not walk off the hardwood without assistance. Ugh. Why???

 

Introducing Another Box-Score Based Stat: Usage Adjusted Rating

I recently began tinkering with a new boxscore based catch-all stat after reading a post on the APBR metrics board. The post, by a poster named v-zero, indicated that he had come up with a simple formula for including a usage and efficiency tradeoff in linear weights based metrics. This immediately got me thinking about Alternate Win Score, the best simple box-score based all-in-one stat for predicting future outcomes. The formula for Alternate Win Score, via Neil Paine of Basketball Prospectus is: (pts+0.7*orb+0.3*(reb-orb)+stl+0.5*blk+0.5*ast-0.7 * (fga-fg)-fg-0.35*(fta-ft)-0.5*ft-tov-0.5*pf)/mp. I quickly got excited about the possibilities of including the linear usage and efficiency trade off described by v-zero in that metric to create a better metric for rating players, relatively quickly.

So that’s what I did. Introducing, the rather boringly titled, Usage Adjusted Rating. I pulled the data, updated to include numbers from last night’s game, from the NBA.com/Stats page using the pace adjusted per 48 minutes numbers. I then set a minimum minutes cutoff of 50 (roughly 5 per game in the young season) and ran the numbers. Here they are:

(For your reference, league average UAR translates to roughly 5.5-5.6)

So far about 14-15% of the way through the season, Anthony Davis looks like the most productive player in the entire league on a per minute basis. He’s not even old enough to drink. Goodness. Also, Jordan Hill, look at you! Anyway, this is by no means a perfect metric. It still has all the same problems that plague other box-score based metrics- namely, not properly evaluating defense- but it’s another fun way to look at it. I plan to try to keep the numbers updated as close to daily as I can (they will be located in a new page in the menu of the site) and maybe I will make a weekly feature out of writing about the Usage Adjusted Ratings. Maybe I’ll even come up with a better name for it. Help me out in the comments!

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Stats used for this post derived from NBA.com/Stats

Vantage Sports is here and it will blow your mind

There’s been quite a lot of talk in the NBA blogosphere and on basketball Twitter about SportsVU- the optical tracking technology the NBA purchased and installed in all 29 arenas- recently. The NBA released a few morsels of interesting information- measures of assist opportunities, drives, and rim protection being the primary headliners. What the NBA revealed, however, also left a hollow feeling among many hardcore basketball heads about all the other information to which we, as fans, are still not privy. Well until (possibly) now. Vantage Sports is here to change the game.

What is Vantage Sports? It’s basically Synergy Sports and SportsVU on steroids. I had an opportunity to speak with CEO of Vantage Sports, Brett McDonald, last week about his ambitions, the product he’s built, and how he wants you and me, devoted NBA fans, to get our hands on it. Vantage has hired a staff of highly-trained game trackers and devised a system for tracking every possible piece of information you might want to track on a given play. How do I know they track everything you’d want to know? Well, they built their tracking framework by going to NBA teams and asking them in a perfect world, what are all of the things they would want tracked. They also brought in Ryan Blake, Senior Director of NBA Scouting Operations, and worked directly with him to build their tracking template. You can also get a feel for the types of things that Vantage is tracking by taking a gander at their blog here. Or you can watch this video:

That’s right. Every drive, every shot against, every screen set, every pick and roll, heck, every in and out dribble, it’s all documented and in the data set.

In addition to their staff of game trackers, Vantage has proprietary optical character recognition (“OCR”) software they built to double check and clean their data. In an audit conducted by the NBA, the Vantage data was determined to be 99.7% accurate. Given that they track over 16,000 unique events per game, a .3% error rate is pretty darn impressive.

It’s important to note, again, that Vantage built their product for teams and players. They have 13 NBA teams who subscribe to their service as well as a number of individual players. They have an iPad app for the teams and players which gives incredibly detailed scouting reports for their upcoming opponents. Vantage has built a web based version of that app, which they want to sell as a consumer facing product, called ProScout. For an idea of what this will look like, check out www.vantagesports.com. It’s a demo version of ProScout with Stephen Curry as the player under the microscope.

The biggest thing I took away from my conversation with Brett was his desire to turn the sports information paradigm on its head. Normally people with great data-based insights into the game work in the public domain and then get noticed and hired by a team and they, along with their insights, disappear from public view. Vantage Sports has gone the other way. They built their product for teams and players, so it is about as comprehensive as you could possibly hope, and now they want to make it available to fans and media. Of course, this product is so valuable and informative that it comes with a price tag. The price tag, though, is relatively modest. If you check out the Vantage Sports Kickstarter, live today, you will see that to get full ProScout access for every player in the league, it is a $100 commitment. If you’re a diehard NBA fan- basically if you’ve got League Pass- this is an absolute must-have, in my estimation.

I would really recommend checking out the full Kickstarter page and watching all the videos. If you’re at all like me, you’ll be giddy about the possibilities a service like Vantage Sports opens up. If it sounds like I’m pitching for Vantage Sports, I am, but not for money, but because this is a product I want to see succeed. I want it to succeed for the most selfish reason of all. I want access to all that delicious data.

Friday Night Films: Kevin Love to Corey Brewer is a Beautiful Thing

When I was on the Bulls vs Blazers podcast a few days ago, I recommended the Mavericks-Timberwolves matchup as my game of the week to watch. Both teams are high powered offenses that offer little in the way of defensive personnel. I expected a high scoring game, with plenty of well-spaced offensive sets and the game certainly did not disappoint, as the Wolves bested the Mavs 116 to 108. What I did not predict, but greatly enjoyed watching, was Kevin Love finding Corey Brewer at seemingly every opportunity.

Love has always been a tremendous passer, especially when it comes to throwing outlet passes off the defensive rebounds he is so adept at grabbing. At the time Love was drafted, he drew glowing comparisons to Wes Unseld for his ability to toss chest passes the full length of the court off of his rebounds. With the return of Corey Brewer to Minnesota, the Wolves appear to have found Love a perfect target for those brilliant outlet passes. Against the Mavericks, in the first half of the game, Brewer received 4 outlet passes from Love resulting in 3 made baskets and a trip to the foul line.

When you watch the outlets, you can see in each one that as Love is going up for the rebound, Brewer is already leaking out to beat the Mavericks defense down the floor.

In the clip above, the first of Love’s four outlets to Brewer, Brewer contests Shawn Marion’s corner three attempt with a somewhat lackluster closeout, but then he immediately begins sprinting down the floor, anticipating the Love rebound and bullet pass, which comes and hits him right in stride, allowing him to get the easy, uncontested finish.

On the second outlet, above, we see a similar situation, though instead of being the man closing out, Brewer watches as the action moves away from him and towards the painted area. He sees a heavily contested shot go up in the paint and knows Love is there. Relying on Love’s tremendous defensive rebounding ability, Brewer makes the educated guess that Love will end up with the ball and hit him in stride again for another easy two points, which is exactly what happens.

In this clip, Love gets an uncontested defensive board, as all of Dallas’s personnel are at the foul line or further away from the basket. Dallas has three men back in transition defense, as Love throws the outlet ahead to Brewer. Despite this, Brewer is able to get the ball in full stride and get a head of steam going towards the Mavs. The Mavs are put on their heels and unable to react in time, leading to Jose Calderon fouling Brewer at the rim.

Similar to the previous clip, on this play Love gets the ball to Brewer leaking out in transition with the Mavs having guys back in transition defense (Dirk Nowitzki and Monta Ellis), but it simply doesn’t matter. Brewer is moving too quickly and Love’s pass is too on the money for the defense to have time to properly react and stop Brewer from getting to the rim. The result is a dunk for Brewer at the 1st half buzzer.

Love was also able to find Brewer for an additional couple of baskets in the first half, one of which came off a great pass and smart cut out of the Horns set Rick Adelman is so fond of running.

Love catches the pass on the left elbow and then Rubio and Pekovic both set down screens on the right side of the court for Brewer. Jose Calderon, who gets switched onto Brewer, anticipates the cut and jumps the passing lane, only to see Brewer smartly bend his cut the other way towards the basket, allowing Love to fit in a nifty bounce pass to give Brewer the easy two points.

Finally, Brewer was even able to get a wide open jump shot from Love’s passing and the defensive attention the big man draws. Here the Wolves run a number of cross screens, none of which is set very solidly, but Love is nonetheless able to establish deep position in the paint on Shawn Marion. Love’s positioning near the rim draws Jae Crowder’s attention away from Brewer as Love receives the pass from J.J. Barea, and as a result, Love hits Brewer with a quick pass in the corner for a wide open look, which he knocks down.

If these early returns are any indication, Flip Saunders and the rest of the Timberwolves front office should be applauded for the decision to reunite Corey Brewer with Kevin Love.

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