The 2012 Heat: A Lion in Autumn

Posted on Fri 23 December 2011 in 2012 Season Preview by Aaron McGuire

The Miami Heat have two more seasons as odds-on title favorites. Then it gets a bit murky, and if everything doesn't go right, they may very well end up worse off than the last 3 Cavs teams LeBron played on -- except instead of LeBron in his prime, they'll have him on his way down. With even less roster flexibility. Sort of weird. Strange. Ridiculous. And -- as I outlined in my new piece for 48 Minutes of Hell outlining the Spurs' ongoing difficulties compensating for Duncan's decline on the offensive end -- it's essentially rooted in a single concept. The respect defenders have for him. And something that, in a few years, may be nothing but a fond memory for any talent tasked towards defending the Miami Heat. Let's explain.


In the same way the post about the Spurs offense focuses on Tim Duncan, this post will focus on Dwyane Wade. To begin, a fact -- Wade turns thirty in less than a month. His current contract with the Miami Heat is going to take him all the way to the age of 34. There are only 6 guards at that age or older who played more than 30 minutes per game last season Raja Bell (34), Andre Miller (34), Chauncey Billups (34), Ray Allen (35), Steve Nash (36), and Jason Kidd (37). With the key exception of Andre Miller, all of those players are old men whose games at this point rely on a combination of shooting talent and key pocket passing. Most of them who were once good defenders have fallen off in at least a few key ways -- for instance, while Kidd still does his defensive work quite well in isolation and bothering the pick and roll ball handler, he's slowly degenerated at defending spot-ups and post-ups as he ages. Ray Allen has done a similar turn, though he fell off somewhat hard on isolation and spot-up defense while maintaining his surprisingly solid ability to stifle the few guards that try and post up on him. The pattern of spot-up defense being their worst ranked defense holds true for all of the members of this list. As far as I surmise, as a star SG's quickness wanes, they begin to lose the ability to properly recover on spot-up defensive possessions.

This is relevant to Wade for many reasons, but the primary one is that he's already beginning to show signs of rust in how he recovers on spot-up assignments. I noticed this in the finals last year and the numbers bear it out -- as with all the defensive players above, Wade's worst defensive category per Synergy is on defending spot-up shots (ranked a dismal 261st in the league), dragging the overall Synergy assessment of his defense despite sparkling numbers in most other categories. And let's not beat around the bush -- of all the "passes the eye test" defenders in the league, Wade passes all of them. As a guard, he's rated the 10th best defender on the pick and roll ball-handler and forces a turnover nearly 20% of the time. The Heat were an incredibly good defensive team last year, and Wade was one of the biggest reasons. LeBron and Wade formed the best two-man defensive unit at obliterating the pick and roll in the league, with LeBron forcing turnovers on a ridiculous 30% of the plays he defended the pick and roll. The two of them combined to be as efficient at defending the most effective play in basketball as a generation-defining big man, and together kept teams away from easy baskets as effectively as Andrew Bogut or Dwight Howard did for their squads. If you wanted to make a list of singularly important reasons the Heat were such a great team last year, pick and roll defense should be extremely high on the list

Now, this isn't to say Wade is necessarily about to fall off a cliff. He's simply beginning his long rusting process. He's no longer in his prime, or improving -- every year that passes is a year where Wade will at best stay level with where he is now. At worst, he'll take one more step down the ladder. From the Heat's big star to the Heat's big albatross. He's showing some signs in the way his defensive skillset is aligning with age, yes, but the 2012 version of Dwyane Wade should be roughly as good as the 2011 version, if not perhaps a bit more willing to cede usage to LeBron and Bosh. But his defensive rust isn't the main point of this post, merely a useful observation that helps lend credibility to the nagging problem now that's going to become significantly worse for the Heat in a year or two. Wade will almost certainly lose his legs on defense slower than he'll lose his legs on offense. My reasoning, as follows.

  • He's an exceedingly poor outside shooter. I don't mean this in a disrespectful way. But Wade is and always has been a terrible shooter, at least from the long range. Wade is a career 29% shooter from distance. Last year, in an effort to increase his impact as a spot-up shooter, the Heat tried to set him up more often -- he was assisted on 33% of his 16+ foot shots last year as opposed to 27% the year before. This had the end result of raising his percentage from 30% to 33% -- a not-insignificant raise, but still absolutely atrocious. It's bad enough if you're shooting threes at a 33% clip -- if you're taking almost 7 shots a game from the deathly inefficient long-two range, you had better be making them at a good clip, or you're hurting your team's offense. This isn't to say he's an altogether bad shooter -- his close-in shots are pure in form and quite effective. But once you get outside of 10 feet from the basket, he's a subpar shooter. Once you get outside 15 feet, he's legitimately awful. And it's only going to get worse as he gets older -- Jason Kidd had 35-40% type seasons from three before his late career revival behind the line. The chances of Wade completely reinventing his dismal outside shooting are slim -- had he the ability, don't you think he'd have done it already?
  • He relies on drawing free throws. This is perhaps the most harmful part of Wade's game -- it's extremely valuable right now, and will continue to be for several more years, but as his athleticism wanes and he becomes unable to throw his body into defenders, he's going to experience a lot of trouble consistently getting his points. Since his rookie year, Wade has gone to the line an average of over 9 times per game. The loss of the "rip move" free throw technique is going to hurt Wade's game quite a bit -- for all the talk about how it'll hurt Durant and Duncan, Wade and Kobe are going to experience some very immediate problems if they can't just wildly throw their body forward and tear through the arms of their defenders for an easy two. Compounded, you have a player who's risking injury every time he drives the ball. As he ages, he'll be unable to draw the same kind of contact-fouls he gets now. The eradication of the rip-through foul takes away the primary worth that he had when defenders covered him too closely on his long shot. His scoring game is going to experience a dropoff as he works through the loss of his free throws, and it's going to start soon -- consider: Kobe, of all people, has seen his free throws per game go down dramatically in the last 3 years, going from a 2002-2008 average of nearly 10 per game to an average of 7 the last three years. With the eradication of the rip move, Kobe and Wade are going to see a further decrease this year. That's going to begin to change his game.
  • He's undersized. Alright. You're going to balk at this, because Wade is the epitome of a tall 6'4". His muscles are basketballs unto themselves. Just as his game passes the eye test, the fact that he's undersized barely registers when you watch him cut up opposing defenses. His weight is huge -- he's a big two, definitively. But in terms of raw height, it's true. Wade is a bit short for an NBA two. Kobe Bryant, Ray Allen, Manu Ginobili -- all of these players are taller than Wade, and even Steve Nash is the same height. The average NBA shooting guard is around 6'5" or 6'6" -- he can still defend and score on the average shooting guard because he's a tenacious and super-athletic 6'4", but as his athleticism wanes, defenders will find it a lot easier to simply shoot over him or take advantage of their size. And on offense, the more Wade's game becomes shooting over players rather than simply forcing them to foul him and charging through them with his athletic gifts, the worse he's going to get at producing. Even with his solid post-up game, he's going to have quite a lot of trouble employing it at the height disadvantage he's working at on most nights. The shooting guards Wade matches up with tend to be his height or taller -- defending him is a lot easier once you get past his penchant for drawing you into silly fouls, and once his quickness goes, he'll be unable to drive past defenders quite as easily. His height isn't a big deal now, but in two years it really could be a problem.


The long and short of it is this. Wade is aging. Quickly. Again, he's 30 in less than a month. His game depends on athleticism in a way Kobe's sweet-shooting ball domination and Ray Allen's spot-up brilliance never did. His value as a shot creator isn't rooted in the purity of his stroke or even the efficiency of his shots -- it's mainly valuable through the aura of intransigent power that permeates Wade's image. Much like the Duncan banker, coaches and players flock to double Wade and apply extra defensive pressure -- not because he's a particularly good shooter from the long range, but because he can take heavily guarded shots (and make them sometimes) and, well, it's Dwyane Wade.

You simply don't leave him unguarded. He'll kill you! Rip your defense to shreds! He's DWYANE WADE! But just as the slow death knell of the Duncan banker means more for the Spurs offense than simply the loss of efficiency, so too will the effect of age on Wade's second gear and his ability to score. As his aura of invincibility fades, players will gradually stop playing him quite so hard. When they do, Wade will have problems making them pay. If he's not driving the ball into the teeth of the defense successfully or drawing free throws, what exactly is he going to do? He's not like, as I said, Ray Allen -- he's not simply going to shrug and drain threes in their faces with his ice cold tiger blood. That's not how he does it. Wade is a superstar, but one for whom the comfort of his descent will be lessened by his generally awful grasp of the outside shot. He will be limited to a variety of moves that, post rip-move, will be slightly less valuable and slightly less prone to success. And he'll be defensively less useful the older he gets, as well -- once his lateral quickness fades, he's going to have quite a bit of trouble being the quasi-big man sort of value he is right now on the defensive end.

But most of all, when teams begin to simply let him shoot, the spacing that allows the Heat to overwhelm teams will become quite a bit less potent. The entire reason LeBron was still so effective in Miami wasn't that he's a good off-the-ball shooter (he's as bad or worse than Wade at spotting up), it was that the amount of respect Wade gets from opposing defenses opens up the court for LeBron to do his thing. LeBron had a similar effect on Wade. It wasn't pretty, in a pure basketball sense, but it WAS effective. As Wade ages, and loses that second gear that makes defenses so hesitant to lay off him, that spacing advantage vanishes. And so too do LeBron and Bosh see their efficiency decrease, and their three point gunners see their shots get a bit harder, and a whole lot of other problems. And as he falls off on defense, well... they don't have quality defensive big men to replace the pick and roll mastery that the LeBron/Wade twosome brings to the team. Without Wade having a big-man level defensive contribution, their defense begins to fall apart. The immortal Heat begin to look, really, quite mortal.

This brings me neatly to the concluding point. As the 2011 Mavs most recently taught us, title windows are not static entities. They bend. It's hard to ever say the title window is truly shut, per se, so long as the team makes the playoffs in full health. There's nothing to say the Heat won't be able to make a few key roster changes, or alter their player's roles to accomodate Wade's decline (as well as the impending declines of Battier, Miller, and Haslem) -- Pat Riley is a good GM and Spolestra is a deathly underrated coach. If there's a set of two who could do it, it'd be those two. But the key is that i_n two years, this isn't a title favorite. Barring a complete and total stop on every other talented rising team in the league, the Heat two years from today will not be the favorite. I can't really stress this enough. The LeBron "not 2, not 3, not 4 ..." line looks even more ridiculous now. They may win 3 or 4 rings in a dominant stretch as LeBron makes good on his talent and Bosh/Wade morph into perfect complimentary pieces. It's a possibility. But the Heat's window as a top-tier contender is remarkably small for a team billed to be a dynasty for a new generation, and Wade's shaky injury record (which, for the record, _I didn't even discuss in this piece) makes it even more tenuous. Not to mention that Wade's game is unfortunately poised to age less like a fine wine and more like a carton of delicious eggnog. It's rather remarkable.

This season, though? Different story. They'll be the best team in the league, and probably win a title.

And that's not really remarkable. It's simply inevitable. Merry Christmas, Heat fans.

One last thing, before I go. I was featured at Fear the Sword earlier this week in a recap of the Cavs' last preseason game. And, to state the obvious -- I'm incredibly excited and honored to be joining the staff at 48 Minutes of Hell, one of my favorite blogs ever. It's kind of a dream for me. Wanted to add this footnote, though, just to clear something up: my new post at 48MoH doesn't affect the Gothic in any way. This is still the blog I started and pay for -- I'm not giving it up or lowering the quality of my contributions. The 48MoH stuff will be alongside my work here, not a replacement. Regardless, this may be the last you hear from me until Christmas, when we'll roll out the win-prediction model I described the other day. So, in case I don't catch up with you til then: a very happy holiday season to all our readers. As long as you'll be reading, we'll be writing. Stay frosty.

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Oklahoma City: the Burden of Expectation

Posted on Thu 22 December 2011 in 2012 Season Preview by Aaron McGuire

A bit of a content update that I probably should have specified from day one. You may have realized it already, but there won't be a full complement of full-post freeform Gothic Ginboili team previews this season. After all, we're T-Minus three days from the season. The only teams with the coveted full-post previews so far are the Dallas Mavericks, Los Angeles Clippers, New York Knicks, the OKC Thunder (below) and the Miami Heat. The Heat preview (good eye) isn't there yet, but it'll be dropping tomorrow. Instead of reviewing every team in full, I'm building a win prediction model that will form the underlying prior distribution on our full season team ranking algorithm. If it sounds complicated, just trust me: it isn't. Promise. We'll be dropping this prediction model later this weekend / early next week, and some blurbs talking about what we expect from each of the non-full-coverage teams.

Without further ado, please join me in welcoming the new prohibitive favorite for the 2012 Western Conference title, both playoffs and regular season. Your 2012 Seattle Supersonics!

I promise I won't make that joke again.

The Thunder, last season, were a very good team. Not a great team, but a very good one all the same. They ended the season the slightest bit short of the 2 and 3 seeds held by the Lakers and Mavs -- two wins, to be exact. OKC was a conventional team, but one that was devastatingly effective after the Jeff Green trade. It's actually slightly shocking that they ended the season as well as they did. The importance and lopsidedness of the trade obscured it, but they essentially traded Green for nothing, as incoming Kendrick Perkins spent the entire rest of the year injured and hobbling. With Perkins as hobbled as he was for much of the late season (and essentially offensively useless without an understanding of the Thunder playbook), it was actually a pretty impressive feat for the Thunder nevertheless to roar to the WCF and win a game on the future Champs' home court. The general shape Perkins was in -- one that made him essentially a nonfactor on the floor for most of his time -- didn't stop the Thunder from slicing the good vibes post-trade Nuggets in the jugular and breaking the Grizzlies' backs in a tough, hard-fought seven.

Given all this, I wonder if perhaps we're beginning to underrate the Thunder by proxy. Armchair analysts can cling to the idea that the Thunder have a lessened chance at winning the west because they're simply too young. Or, on the other end, they simply take it as a given that the Thunder will win the west and refuse to talk about it -- something I was in danger of doing before realizing there was no discernable reason to NOT cover the Thunder in a big post, and at a minimum, worth a post verbally chastising myself and wondering why I even considered not looking at them. After all, there may not be a single team in the league that deserves more credit right now. Seriously, Sam Presti has made all the right moves. It's one thing to build a contender: Danny Ferry built a contender brilliantly in Cleveland (overlooked by widespread myths like "they're 20-win teams without LeBron!" and "Mike Brown is so awful!"). And Otis Smith built a contender in Orlando until mid-2010 when he went insane, pulled an infinitely recursive series of panic trades, and began blowing up the hard work he'd done for absolutely no discernable reason.

But Sam Presti? He didn't just build a contender, he built a dynasty. Durant + Westbrook + Harden + Perkins may be the single most high-upside four man core in the league. And not only that, but Presti has surrounded them with high-impact low-usage roleplayers on smart rookie deals that teams crave in cap-clearing trades. Absolutely incredible job with this team. Especially with the roleplayers. If you want to distill the Thunder's advantages down to a single reason as to why the Thunder will be the best team in the west this year, you really don't really have to look any farther than the well-rounded depth of their young roster. There's not a single position where any western contender can approach the Thunder's depth and well-built versatility.

At point guard, they have Westbrook and Maynor -- Westbrook is an all-star caliber guard despite his occasional bursts of iffy black-hole type offense, and Maynor is a pro's pro. His per-36 averages are 10-4-7 to a minuscule 2 turnovers -- coupled with his 38.5% three point shooting and his 73% free throw shooting, you have the best backup point guard among all western contenders, and one of the top 3 starting point guards. So you can check off the point guard box as an advantage 5 nights out of 6.

What about the shooting guard slot? The Thunder are, on paper, weak there -- they have the slightly disappointing James Harden backing up the eternally offensively worthless Sefalosha. The weakness is ridiculous once you get to brass tacks, though -- Harden's game is, without question, nasty. To expound on this: last season Harden's play made me finally typecast his game. Now, whenever someone tells me something about James Harden, my mind flips to a stock photo of a heavily bearded franciscan friar with a bit of a paunch masquerading as Manu Ginobili. Really. The whole season seemed to emulate Manu's pre-breakout sophomore season in 2004, and he completed the deal with two excellent games in the Lakers series that year -- referring, of course, to Manu's nasty 15-5-6 game that helped the Spurs take near-decisive 2-0 advantage in a series that came down to a single shot. This was followed by his 21-8-5-1 outing in a close loss where he was without question the best player on the team. To Harden's credit, he had two such performances against Dallas (and his fouling out in Game 4 cut off the potential for a third and changed that game completely). First in the Thunder's only win, he put up 23-7-4-1 and put the team on his back with clutch threes and excellent defense. Second in the series clincher for Dallas, he put up 23-5-6 and made Terry's defense look absolutely silly (though it wasn't quite enough to flip the series). Harden is a baller. He probably won't start, because he needs to get his shots to be effective and having Durant/Westbrook on the floor necessarily cuts down the shots available for perfect sixth men stars like Harden to be effective. But he's currently one of the top 5 shooting guards in the West, and Thabo is a good defender. That's a solid rotation. I'm not really sure of any western defender that can beat it other than the Spurs, and even then, that's assuming a healthy Manu and Anderson's continued development. Still, 1 out of 15 teams with a better rotation. What's weak at a glance turns out to be a huge advantage for the Thunder.

As for everywhere else, you'll find the same general trend. The Thunder have Durant playing 38 per game at the small forward position and Daequan Cook as his pace-changing spot-up backup (a type of player contenders don't necessarily NEED, but one that serves as an effective pivot piece to open the offense for their scrubs when one or two of the stars are on the bench). There's not a single small forward in the West that's in Durant's zip code (seriously; LeBron, Iggy, Melo, Deng, Pierce? All in the East -- Sure, Rudy Gay and Danilo Gallinari are good, but they're no Durant, and neither team has suitable backups for either after the departures of Wilson Chandler and Shane Battier).

Then you get to the big man rotation, which used to be a serious weakness for the Thunder as soon as one year ago. Now? Relative strength They've rid themselves of the collapsed black hole formerly known as PF-miscast Jeff Green, and are left with a three man primary rotation of Nick Collison (great defender, slightly dirty, funny guy), the puzzle-clicked-into-place-when-he-switched-down-to-the-four Serge Ibaka (decent weakside D with negative isolation and post contributions, developing into a good catch-and-shoot midrange guy, amazing rebounding talent), and Kendrick Perkins (top five defensive C when healthy, really the only player in the league who can consistently bottle up star post players, best screen setter and among the best PnR defenders in the league). Tell me, please -- what Western contender has a better big man rotation than that? I'd have said Lakers, but then they traded Odom away for a bag of peanuts and a signed Tiger Woods golf ball. No other contender in the West has a big rotation that's as altogether solid as the Thunder, and they still have room for improvement. Cole Aldrich has impressed in workouts and the preseason, and has the potential to be a bruising backup that keeps Perkins' legs fresh. Nazr Mohammed is a decent backup stopgap at this point in his career. And even if you ignore all of this, they have three quality big men whose games fit together well enough to be put in almost any permutation.

Take it together and tell me if you can disagree: the Thunder have -- top to bottom -- a top 2 roster at every single position in the West. Odd, but the truth.

About the only real problem facing the Thunder right now? The stratospheric expectations the entire basketball world has for this team. It's become an unstated fact among anyone paying attention that the Thunder are a lock to win the West this season, at least in the regular season. They're easily the least questionable contender in the West, and more than in any other season, they enter the 2012 season in a conference with no clear number two, three, or four. To quantify it -- these numbers are completely off the top of my head, but the Thunder are essentially a 50-50 shot to win regular season. At worst. Which isn't an overwhelming number, until you realize there's really nobody under the Thunder who has a decent chance of winning the West in the first place unless a lot of pieces fall into place. The other day, our friend Andrew Lynch had a novel idea -- he decided to crowdsource through twitter the percentage chance that various teams win the West. The Thunder had 36%. A decent showing, but look at the teams directly behind them. It's probably an understatement.

  • Dallas Mavericks (20%): Not going to lie, a bit shocked the Mavs rated this highly. As I said in my full Mavericks preview, I don't think they'll be bad. But they're going to need a hell of a lot to go right to actually have a legitimate one-in-five shot of winning the West. Crazy lineups, insane play calls, et cetera. Just read the preview for more.
  • Los Angeles Lakers (14%): This is a bit more reasonable. Full disclosure: my ballot was OKC 45%, DAL/LAL/SAS/MEM 12%, Other 7%. I don't think a sub-15% chance is too off base for the Lakers -- Kobe is battered, Bynum is a ticking time bomb, and Gasol may only have one more elite season left in him before he's too physically fatigued and brittle to contribute in the same way he used to. Ron Artest is horrifyingly out of shape and the Lakers have yet to upgrade from the Blake/Fisher duo at the point. There are an insane number of questions about this team. You can't put them higher than this.
  • Memphis Grizzlies (13%): The other fringe contender whose general stock is being overrated by the commentariat for their lights out performance late last season and through the playoffs. Reminder, though -- the Grizzlies big rotation is completely broken now that Darrell Arthur is out for the season. Their 3rd best big man -- I kid you not -- is HAMED HADDADI. Unless they intend to play Gasol (coming off 32 MPG) and Z-Bo (coming off 36 MPG) for 40 minutes per game their big man backup rotation is 100% busted. They're also harmed by their owner -- Heisley has said in the past that he'd refuse to pay the luxury tax even if his team is contending. He repeated this assertion to a Yahoo News reporter earlier this week. They only have $3 million dollars of salary before they hit the tax line. The Grizz being a title contender essentially will now rely on Gasol/Z-Bo playing insane minutes totals while putting the franchise hopes on Hamed Haddadi becoming a servicable big man. Good luck with that.
  • Other (9%): I'd assume this is primarily this high from Portland fans who hope beyond hope that this is the year they get lucky, Clippers fans who love dunks while hating defense, and Jazz fans who will forever be the most insanely committed fanbase in the league. I have a friend who is 100% convinced that Gordon Hayward will someday pass Manu Ginobili. I've met a Jazz fan who thinks Karl Malone is the best power forward of all time, with second place being reserved for Carlos Boozer. Jazz fans are a special kind of crazy. Love them, though.
  • San Antonio Spurs (8%): Probably the non-OKC bet I'd short if I was given these odds and for some reason couldn't short the Thunder. The Spurs -- despite coming off of 61 wins -- have more avenues for improvement of any member on this list. Kawhi, Anderson, and Tiago should bolster the defense a bit. A midseason acquisition of a big -- something that I believe will happen -- will help as well. Pop will have the big three sit games to get the young guns minutes and keep them fresh. I could see this Spurs team surprising. Perhaps that's just the homer glasses, though.

Really, what teams on this list should scare the Thunder? The Mavs beat them last year, but lost their best perimeter defender to the Nets and their best overall defender to the Knicks. They're going to be older than any title winning team in the last 20 years. Success will require insane things from Coach Carlisle. The Lakers are a mess right now and Kobe's injured already. The Grizzlies are banking on 36-40 MPG from two bigs that can't play that much without wearing down. The Spurs need all their young talent to go right to have a real title shot. What should scare them, if anything, is that at least one of these teams is probably going to buck the worst case scenario and end up as a solid second option to the Thunder -- but with their underlying weaknesses, I don't really see how any of these teams pass them.

And thus we arrive at the general point. The Thunder, warts and all, have arrived at the pinnacle of their development stage. Rising challah no longer. The Thunder have been removed from the oven -- whether they like it or not -- and placed upon the table. They're hot, steaming, and cut for consumption. There's no "well, they just need to develop more" or "they need to learn to play together" -- they have that. They're ready. From this point forward, the Thunder are the West's best hope for a dynasty. And with that comes expectations. They now need to win, dominate, and make this league their own. Every year they don't, they chip away at the aura of inevitability. They begin to look a lot more like the 90s Sonics than the 00s Spurs. The 90s Jazz than the 00s Lakers. The 90s Suns than the 00s Mavericks. Et cetera. And that sort of disappointment really has a nasty way of infecting a legacy -- just ask pre-Heat LeBron James about that one.

In short, the Thunder are a superpower, now. It's time to deliver. And this season will, more than any before it, give us a true read on what the Thunder are made of. Is the togetherness, the talent, the on-court love for each other for real, and if so, can it bring them to the promised land? Is Durant really a generation-defining star? Will we ever stop having reasons to unfairly criticize Westbrook? There are more than enough storylines to follow with this entertaining bunch. But the biggest one is the simplest one. How do they respond to being the odds-on, bet your bottom dollar favorite?

We don't know yet. But I'm excited as hell to find out.


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New York's Three-Point-Plan: Defend. Ascend. Contend.

Posted on Tue 20 December 2011 in 2012 Season Preview by Aaron McGuire


When Ewing left, the rebuild began. It was slow, a process. But the free agents did come. In twos, in threes, in all sorts. Stephon, Eddy, more and more. It was then that the media -- the Beast -- cried. "The Knicks are back," they said. But it was Isiah Thomas, the false prophet, moves all for naught. The Knicks rebuilt, for a time. They were not back. They were not front. They were merely there; the New York Knicks, the NBA's resident big market stooge. The team that lets Kobe score 60, LeBron score 50, et cetera, et cetera. Career highs in the holiest of holies, Madison Square Garden nothing more than a mystical place for faraway stars to style on a terrible, terrible team. And it was not good. And it was not right. The Knicks proceeded on, and atoned for the sins of their forefathers. They traded their contracts, forged space, and waited. And thus did the Apostrophic King take his leave of the Phoenician Point God for good, departing with a nod and a wave as he fled to the greener pastures of New York. And so they were back. But the new Knicks struggled. They were not back. For they could not defend. They had naught but scraps around the King, such as it were, and the Media was not happy.

The Beast demanded a star, at any cost. And thus the Knicks traded their scraps, realizing upon departure their intrinsic value. And thus did they acquire the Rounded One. The Rounded One scoured upon the NBA tales of his scoring, his shooting, his post ups; signed, sealed, delivered. But the team was not complete. For they still could not defend, and they still could not contend. And thus did the summer come early, in an ignomious sweep to a wizened team. It brought with it a deathly fast, peppered with tales of a new Point God or a gentle giant come to the land of King. But not for one year. Knicks fans must be patient. The Knicks must still build. But in the 11th hour, the land of King realized its folly -- for the scorers and coach and team they'd assembled, they would not be Back until they engaged in the careful art of Defense. And thus did the Knicks add the Erstwhile, Fragile Champion. And thus did the tale conclude. The Beast who cried wolf was appeased. And finally, it was correct.

Indeed, the Knicks were back.


... Uh, not without its own risks, mind you. Ahem. The Knicks, for all their glamour and glory, are about two missteps away from a first round exit every year for the next three. While I don't think that Amare's knees are nearly as bad as advertised, that's simply a fact. His injuries the last few years have been the epitome of flukish. There was the freak retina injury, the freak back injury in the playoffs last year, et cetera. In the main, Amare's knees have been (knock on wood) very healthy since his surgery. But he's an aging star big man, and that essentially is a free pass to one or two injury-tarnished seasons sometime in the next few. And Chandler? He's a different story, and injury prone doesn't even begin to cover him. Chandler's knees and feet are bad enough that he failed a physical about two and a half years back in a trade that would've sent him to Oklahoma City. The reason OKC rejected him was his toe, which their doctors said could shatter with one misstep. Hasn't happened yet, but it's a sort of ominous raincloud that casts darkness over all he passes -- teams that take on Chandler expecting big things are playing Russian Roulette with their money, and Chandler's toe is the loaded gun.

Amazingly - given his previously failed routine physicals and his generally lacking play in all but two seasons of his career - I still like this signing for New York a lot. I really don't mean to harp on his health and his spotty history to make it sound like I'm low on the Knicks -- provided Tyson stays healthy, the Knicks have put together a team that will contend. Tyson Chandler adds a little bit of everything to the Knicks roster, and will provide New York with the perfect litmus test in his final season under contract to see whether Mike D'Antoni is really going to be the man leading New York's core boldly into the future. I expected them to wait until next summer in a somewhat misguided ploy to angle for CP3 or Howard, but blowing their cap space on Chandler now is honestly one of the smartest (and, I might add, most unexpected) moves the Dolan Knicks have ever pulled. It's risky, of course. But smart all the same, and a proper risk to take for a team as win-now as the Knicks are.

The Knicks weren't the worst defensive team ever last year, so Chandler and their other additions make me hopeful that New York will finally combine a blistering offense with at least a league-average defense. Not much better than that, but league average all the same. The 2011 Knicks were actually a top 5 team in defending shots made 3-9 feet from the basket -- in essence, bankers and runners, and short shots where the Knicks contested. At the rim, they were slightly subpar -- they allowed about 65% at the rim to an NBA-average 64%, and (most importantly) teams shot more of these efficient at-rim shots (26.5 a game) against the Knicks than all but 3 other teams in the league. The addition of Chandler ensures that won't happen this season. Chandler is a defensive presence that commands respect in the league -- teams avoid the paint when he's in the game. Teams attempted only 22.9 shots at the rim against the Mavs. That's a number the Knicks won't match (but should approach) over the course of 2012.

To figure out Chandler's total impact, let's break down and compare the individual components of the New York defense and the Dallas defense under Chandler. To wit, a table -- because I love tables -- comparing the 2011 Knicks and the 2011 Mavs on their team-total Synergy stats.

===================== KNICKS ============= MAVS ==========
------------------- PPP   Rank -------- PPP   Rank -------
Overall             0.92    21          0.88     7     -14
Isolation           0.87    21          0.81     6     -15
P&R Ball Handler    0.83    14          0.82    11     - 3
Post-Up             0.89    20          0.84     5     -15
P&R Roll Man        1.07    26          1.10    28     + 2
Spot-Up             1.07    29          0.94     5     -24
Off Screen          0.92    19          0.78     1     -18
Hand Off            0.94    20          0.78     3     -17
Cut                 1.21     9          1.21     9     - 0
Offensive Rebound   1.09    18          1.10    20     + 2
Transition          1.14    13          1.20    24     +11

The number at the end is the gap between the Mavs leaguewide ranking and the Knicks leaguewide ranking. As expected, the league's #7 defense was better than the league's #21 defense in a lot of ways. For the Knicks defense, which of these types of plays will Chandler's addition most help? Isolation is the obvious start: it's not a big-man-dependent stat, but given that the Knicks allowed so many shots at the rim, adding a lock-down isolation big will keep teams from pounding the Knicks down low like Dwight Howard did throughout the season. Bigs that went one on one and isolated against Amare were more likely than not going to get a good shot. Bigs that iso against Chandler won't. Chandler should also help on post-up defense: The Knicks were atrocious at defending post-ups last season, mostly from the time Turiaf wasn't on the court. Whenever Amare or Mozgov defaulted as their Knicks' primary post defender, skilled and unskilled bigs alike could easily juke them and needle enough free space to put up an easy layup or close jumper. With Chandler's presence in the middle, not only will teams be dissuaded from trying the post-up plays in the first place, teams that do try it will find their post men unable to get the kind of space they used to get. Post men will be strongly challenged. The post man.... never rings twice.

(By the way, I've completely avoided mentioning the largest gap between the Mavs and the Knicks: the 2011 Knicks were utterly and completely incompetent at defending spot-up shooters. It was a product of many things -- lazy rotations, a lack of individual impact players, Knicks players preferring to roam for blocks over staying with their man, et cetera. But the numbers at Hoopdata tend to point the blame at the Knicks' perimeter players. I don't want to rehash a great post by a great writer, though, so I direct all readers still checking this out to take a gander at Jared Dubin's fantastic Knicks preview piece where he discusses the Knicks' problems on perimeter defense. He puts the argument in far better terms than I could, and does it well.)

At the end of the day, the Knicks should be helped in three crucial ways by Chandler's acquisition:

  1. The Defense. I already went through this, but just to recap -- Chandler will help their defense by himself, but his presence and the respect players have for him will allow the Knicks' perimeter players to gamble more efficiently knowing they're backed by a bruiser in the post (one of the oldest stories in basketball). His presence will also make teams take fewer great shots at the rim in favor of worse shots in the midrange and long range. This will, necessarily, mean the perimeter D will have a few more shots per game that fit the description of "bad shots that the team has to take." That will in and of itself make things a bit easier on the Knicks' perimeter D, and in the end, probably combine to make them a league average defense this season.
  2. The Rebounding. An underrated facet of the game that the Knicks were abhorrent at last year was rebounding the basketball. The Knicks rated -- despite 1/3 of a season with the best rebounding small forward in the game and a full season with the best rebounding shooting guard in the game -- 28th in the league in total rebounding rate. 28th! The only teams worse were Phoenix and Golden State, both of whom were actually extremely close to the Knicks. A full season with Melo will help matters, but more than that, a full season of Tyson Chandler could very well erase the problem altogether and turn it into a strength. By any measure, Chandler is a great rebounder -- he was the 11th best rotation player C in the league at offensive rebound rate, and the 12th best rotation player C in the league at defensive rebound rate. He gets it done. Other than Kevin Love or Dwight Howard, there are few other players the Knicks could've gotten that could help their rebounding this much in a singular fashion.
  3. The Burn. By the end of last season, Amare was essentially on his last legs. While Turiaf played about 20 MPG, he could only serve the Knicks for 60 games last season, and Amare ended up playing almost 37 MPG, tying his career high for MPG despite being a big man on the edge of his 30s. His game suffered from it, as well -- his averages gradually declined from their December peak of 30-10-3, culminating in a quite poor season finish. He averaged on the order of 23-6-3 his last 20 games, shooting 47% and wheezing to the finish line. Chandler? He averaged a cool 28 MPG, a good 5 minutes under his career averages in New Orleans. The Knicks having a big like Chandler to place on the court means they can, necessarily, scatter Amare's minutes a bit more and take him down to a more reasonable 32-33 MPG. In a season where teams are going to be scrambling to keep healthy, signing a big man that can help the team spell Amare was incredibly important -- not just for the improvement Chandler brings over their current rotation, but also in preventing Amare from burning out and ruining the Knicks' big investment in him. Signing Chandler doesn't just help the Now -- it may in a roundabout way save Amare from major injury this season, and keep the Knicks from losing the Amare investment altogether.
Lots of reasons to be hopeful. Lots of reasons to keep watching.

Overall, the Knicks are back. I'm not usually one to agree with the New York media, but it's true -- the Knicks have gotten a lot better. They're the prohibitive favorites to win the Atlantic. They've got two offensive superstars and a defensive stud that fits perfectly with them. They're a tough matchup for the reigning eastern champion Miami Heat, and they have a two to three year title window with their current pieces. They aren't favorites, nor a sure thing. It could still all blow up. But they're good again and they should contend for a title. All with an engaging, entertaining team worthy of the fans and fanfare the Garden provides.

What more could a Knicks fan want, really?

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Challenging Orthodoxy with the 2012 Dallas Mavericks

Posted on Sun 18 December 2011 in 2012 Season Preview by Aaron McGuire

The Dallas Mavericks won the 2011 NBA Championship. It was a pretty big deal, you might've heard about it. They've also been one of the most active teams in the offseason -- they've lost the linchpin of their defense, Tyson Chandler, but gained the reigning sixth man of the year Lamar Odom. They lost the diminutive Barea (he of filleting the Lakers and getting killed by Bynum fame) but added the eternal wildcard Delonte West. They let DeShawn Stevenson and his shocking defense walk, but replaced him with Vince Carter -- half man, half... geriatric? That's not how that's supposed to go! Regardless. The Dallas Maverick team that takes the floor on Christmas day to receive their rings and raise the blue and white to the rafters will bear few similarities in style to the team that reigned supreme last June.

Missing a whole wealth of pieces, Rick Carlisle will find himself tasked with quite the challenge -- while the pieces may be there, alchemizing together a cohesive contending unit from this menagerie of mismatched parts is going to be a thing to see. But among their key losses and gains, Dallas is stirring together an odd, odd brew. The 2012 Mavs look to be a potent and unpredictable blend of heterodox rotational flaws and opportunistic lineup tinkering. It could blow up. It could be dominant. We don't really know. I've never been a Mavs fan, nor ever will I be. But I'm excited to see how this plays out, and you should be too.

Other than simply wanting to see them on the court and watch how Carlisle forms this team, I don't really know what to think about these Mavs. I could see them implode and I could see them take the league by storm. I'm comfortable saying that they're the most intriguing team-to-watch entering next season, but that's really about it. Last year's Mavericks won a title with a somewhat rare combination in the context of the last 20 years, but a generally traditional one historically -- superstar offensive player, superstar defensive player, great distributor, a fantastic coach, and a whole lot of strangely high-quality bench guys. This team? This team is confusion. The opposite of the orthodoxy. Mismatched players all over the place, and replacement parts that render traditional positions almost irrelevant.

If Carlisle really can repeat with this team, I feel pretty confident saying it will require the most innovative lineups Carlisle has employed during the entirety of his coaching career. As a teaching example, consider: there are going to be moments this year where Lamar Odom is the de-facto point guard on offense. The distributing center of the team. Kidd can't play more than 30 mpg in a compressed season like this one, and while the Mavs are flush with backup guard talent, none of their backup guards are particularly good distributors. Delonte West is the closest they have to a backup point guard, and as someone who's a huge fan of Delonte, everyone who knows his game knows just how much better he is as a two than as a one. He can make passes, and he can be a serviceable point, but his true value is as an off-the-ball bulldog defensive 2. Vince Carter's passing game long ago left to roam the ether. Beaubois is a promising scorer but he's shown minimal passing ability.

So where does that leave you? A short stint with a lineup where Lamar Odom is the primary ballhandler, employing Dirk and Marion as roll men with Delonte and Carter in the wings if the play goes sour? Does the team manage a point-by-committee sort of strategy? And who defends what? Dirk's defense has gotten better over the years, but at this point Odom is essentially the best defensive talent in the Mavs' big rotation. Do you cross-match Odom on the opposing center and hope he can draw them out of the paint? Do you keep Dirk at center and live with the terrifying defensive results? I really don't know, and I'm not sure anyone else does either. And that's part of what makes this Mavs team so interesting. Try to wrap your head around how these prospective lineups could look, on both ends of the court, with my interpretation of why it could work and how it would be played.

  • MAIHINMI, DIRK, ODOM, CARTER, WEST; Odom as primary ball handler, Dirk as the roll man. West move off the ball to get in position for threes. Maihinmi operates to get the opposing center out of the paint for Dirk and Odom to drive. If there's an opening, Carter slashes to the rim.
  • DIRK, ODOM, TERRY, WEST, KIDD; Smallball with a twist -- Odom is a tall four, allowing for a Dirk-Odom frontcourt to switch off on defense and keep the post at least moderately covered. Every single player on the floor can shoot and make spot-up threes. Nightmare to cover.
  • HAYWOOD, ODOM, DIRK, TERRY, WEST; Giganto-ball. Haywood can't do much of anything but camp the paint, but Odom and Dirk are limber enough to switch between the 4 and 3 on defense depending on who's the more quality player. Odom and West switch off as handlers. Terry slashes in concert with a Haywood screen and an Odom fake.

If I had to pick one word to describe my impression of these lineups, it'd be chaotic. Unpredictable. Every one of these lineups could be an absolute disaster, but they could also be fantastic. Dirk defending centers is going to be horrible. Odom is not a day-to-day player -- any Laker fan would tell you he has his off days, and on this team, his off-days could destroy them. I'd put money on seeing derivatives of these strategies used by Carlisle this year, and that's part of why this team is so hard to pick for or bet against. You simply can't say for certain how Carlisle is going to use these pieces or how effective they'll be. There's no other contender in the league right now juggling lineups as untested and experimental as the 2012 Dallas Mavericks. Not one.

And that's only about their new pieces. That's not to say there aren't questions about their old pieces. Those there are, and big ones too. If you weight their roster's ages by the number of minutes they played, the Mavs won last year's title with a weighted age of 31.0. You may be surprised to know that the 2011 Mavs were one of the top 10 oldest teams in the last decade, let alone last year. To wit, the list:

        YEAR  TM     WP%  WT-AGE
  1     2001  UTA  0.646    32.2
  2     2000  UTA  0.671    31.6
  3     2008  SAS  0.683    31.5
  4     2001  MIA  0.610    31.2
  5     2000  SAS  0.646    31.1
  6     2003  UTA  0.573    31.1
  7     2011  DAL  0.695    31.0 
  8     2010  DAL  0.695    30.9
  9     2009  SAS  0.659    30.7
 10     2007  SAS  0.707    30.6

So, yes. They were extremely old. This would be a problem in any case, but may be even more of a problem next year. The Mavs aren't getting younger -- they've gotten even older. The team lost the services of Tyson Chandler, J.J. Barea, and Deshawn Stevenson -- 28, 26, and 29 respectively. Not only will all their rotation players be older, they've added older talent. Carter is 34. Odom is 32. Delonte is 28. The Mavs stand a serious chance of shattering the 2001 Utah Jazz record for oldest rotation in the 2000s, and challenging the 90's record of the 1998 Houston Rockets (32.3). The only title team in the last 20 years that was older was the 1998 Chicago Bulls, at 32.0 weighted age -- a number the 2012 Mavs will easily match, and most likely rise far above. There are no remaining pieces on the Mavs' roster that were under 30 and got over 500 minutes over the course of the 2011 season. Zero. Barring a massive surprise from Mahinmi or Beaubois, Delonte West may be the only player under 31 to get over 20 mpg.

Putting it in those terms, you start to realize just how strange the 2012 Mavs experiment is going to be -- you have a roster that may very well shatter records for the oldest weighted age in the last two decades. You have a team with no positionally orthodox options for a coherent rotation. A team fielding a 38 year old point guard who can't shoot, a far-past-his-prime catch-all Shawn Marion as the best defensive player on the team, and depending on Lamar Odom for consistent contributions. You have all the storylines you can care to write -- Dirk as the reigning finals MVP trying to keep his game from falling off a cliff as he slowly succumbs to age, a team poised to blow itself up the minute 2012 free agency starts in an effort to snag either Deron Williams or Dwight Howard, Delonte West battling his bipolar demons, Lamar Odom angry at one of the Mavs' biggest western rivals because the Lakers management that would dare try and trade him, Vince Carter's ongoing quest to NOT sabotage every team he's ever played for... et cetera.

So many storylines. So little certainty. So much left to question. The 2012 Mavs are the most interesting team in the league. I don't mean that in a good way, but I don't mean it in a bad way either. Here then lies the grave of the 2011 Dallas Mavericks. Dead before they've even gotten their rings. In its place stands a noble experiment the likes of which we haven't seen in years. Because though Dallas fans wouldn't want to admit it, it's true. The champs are dead. But long live the 2012 Mavs, anyway.

A short content update. Alex is working on a season preview 5-on-5 for another blog, and I recently posted a piece examining the Cavalier rookies in the ostensible first game of the 2012 season, a preseason tilt between the Pistons and the Cavs. Do give it a look. There's some big news on my end coming this week, but I'm not going to spoil it, so I'll leave you wondering. Have a good night, friends. More tomorrow. And Christmas? That's in a week, if you believe it, and the season comes with it. Stay thirsty.

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Paul to the Clippers: the (big) easy way out.

Posted on Thu 15 December 2011 in 2012 Season Preview by Aaron McGuire

Remember my post from less than a week ago, where I started with a misleading paragraph meant to make you think I was describing the Chris Paul to the Lakers trade? The one where I was actually talking about Albert Pujols in an attempt at some classical misdirection comedy? Well. I'd ask you to read that introduction again, and actually apply it to Chris Paul this time. Because virtually everything I said for the Lakers -- that they weren't really expected to land Paul, that they took a bigger risk than was being reported, that there's this sense where you wonder if you're dreaming -- effectively summarizes how I feel about Paul going to the Clippers. Countless words have already been spilled on it, but I feel that there's a lot that's being left out of the conversation right now. So, I'll be the contrarian folk hero who quixotically tries to add a bit to the discussion. Paul to the Clippers. Really. This actually happened. Let's discuss.

• • •

I have a lot of disparate thoughts floating around in my head regarding Chris Paul's move to the Clippers. But I'll start with something that's escaped major mention in the mainstream coverage of the trade. This is a great pairing, don't get me wrong, but regardless of how electric Griffin and Paul can be together? The 2012 Los Angeles Clippers really aren't going to be significantly better than the 2011 Hornets, when healthy. It's a fact. They'll be more fun to watch for the general public, and they've got a more engaging core. But they've only really accomplished the first step of becoming a contender -- they now have a stunning two-person core with a load of ill-fitting flotsam around them. The sensationalist ramblings of how the Clippers have immediately become the team to beat in the Pacific or among the class of the Western Conference strikes me as misguided at best and completely absurd at worst. They'll be good, but they're going to be 2011 Hornets type good, not 2011 Thunder type good. And the 2011 Hornets were a really good team. Chris Paul ran the offense as Chris Paul is wont to do, and Monty Williams built a brilliant defensive system around the pieces he had.

To wit: the 2010 Hornets were, defensively, one of the worst teams at utilizing their talent in the league. They ran man-to-man defense with poor man defenders and had no coherent system. Monty came in last season and not only changed the system, he completely threw out the old defensive playbook. Gone was the strand-your-man defensive stylings from late in Scott's tenure and Bowers' misguided reign. Instead, Monty instituted a new and somewhat revolutionary system. When they were in the game, he parked Chris Paul on the opponent's primary ball handler, Trevor Ariza on the opponent's primary perimeter scorer (dependent on who was hot as well as who was the "star"), and Emeka Okafor on the opponent's primary big man. Everyone else? Rotations. Lots of them. The Hornets defense was extremely fluid, leading to constant cross-matching and a wealth of strange but creative rotations. David West on a star shooting guard, Jarrett Jack on a big man, etc -- there were a lot of strange (and usually deathly poor) cross matches last year with the Hornets. The thing is? It worked. The Hornets were a top-10 defensive team in the 2011 season, despite starting David West and Marco Bellinelli, and despite CP3's defense falling off ever so slightly from his 2009 peak. But they were also -- despite CP3's best efforts -- a bottom 10 offensive team. And this is where I have to stop this and emphasize a few key facts about these Clippers compared to last year's Hornets, or anything close to the most successful Hornets team Paul ever had, the incredible 2008 Hornets from when Paul was at the height of his powers.

  1. Chris Paul isn't quite what he used to be. Paul, when healthy, is the greatest point guard talent in the NBA. He's a complete package and there's really not a guard in the league that can even approach his level. But it's also true that Paul hasn't played consistently to his 2008 level since... well... 2009, ish. It's somewhat hard to find an aspect of his game that's been the same since his 2010 knee surgery. While the commentariat is generally reluctant to admit it, Paul has declined. He was healthy virtually all of last year, yet put up numbers generally paling in comparison to what he did in 2007-2009. He shot worse (eFG% lowest since 2007, despite the lowest usage% of his career), he wasn't nearly as proficient at distributing the ball (45.8% aRATE vs 54.2% at his peak -- and this is despite some ridiculous home bias present in his assist totals), and he set a career high in TOV% (13.9%, compared to a career low of 12.2%). All of these are marginal effects in and of themselves, but with Paul's game not improving in any way to offset them, they combine to make a player who's different -- in a bad way -- from the MVP candidate we witnessed in the late 2000s. And his excellent playoffs versus the Lakers doesn't erase that. Was he still the best PG in the league? Sure, but by a rather slim margin.
  2. Blake Griffin is David West 2.0. While there are some big differences in the way they approach the game (one is a pick and pop guy, the other a dunk artist; one is timid on the boards, the other is a rebounding beast; one can rotate on defense, the other is apparently offended by the concept of defense altogether), Blake bears a startling similarity to the type of player West was at his best alongside Paul. The manner in which West gets his points is different than the manner Blake gets his, but you can pencil in either for about 20-25 ppg, a decent rebounding performance, and awful defense. Monty finally fixed West's defensive issues by forcing him to rotate more, the one defensive skill West really has. He's a good rotating defensive big even if he's essentially awful when placed on an island with his man. Blake was the same, except minus the "one defensive skill" -- Blake simply didn't have a defensive skill last year, and it showed in how easily his men scored on him. Unfortunately for the Clips. Anyway. Blake is a much better David West, with a lot of upside potential. But replacing an all-star caliber big man with a better one is sort of like upgrading from a 30" TV to a 33" -- it will help, it will be noticeable if you're looking for it, but in the long run your team isn't going to gain 5-10 wins solely from jumping up from an all-star reserve quality big man to an all-star starter.
  3. DeAndre Jordan is worse than Emeka Okafor or Tyson Chandler. Alright. I know there's a big movement to essentially attribute all of Chandler/Okafor's success to Paul's oops and setups. And I agree that DeAndre's offense will improve this year with Paul setting him up. But DeAndre Jordan isn't half the defensive big man that either Okafor or Chandler is, I'm sorry. And both Chandler and Okafor have tertiary skills that destroy Jordan's tertiaries -- Okafor with his close-in bank shot and startlingly effective shot distribution chart, and Chandler with his (sometimes illegal) incredible screens. Jordan's tertiary skills are basically "he's best bros with Blake Griffin", and while that's cool and all, he's going to need to develop some part of his game other than his average to subpar rebounding and his block-heavy (not altogether effective) foul-heavy defense.
  4. The supporting cast is terrible. This is a problem that dogged Paul in New Orleans, and honestly, the Clippers if anything make that worse. The team he's leaving had: a good catch-and-shoot three point shooter ready to make bombs (Bellinelli), a solid defensive three who can drive and finish (Ariza), and a shockingly effective bench mob type of guy who was never a good defender but always found a way to contribute around the court (Landry). This team? A lot of print has been shed about the Billups signing, but I don't really see that as all that relevant. Billups is not a good catch and shoot gunner -- he's more of a LeBron-type three shooter, where his best threes are off the dribble in the rhythm of his own offense. He's one of the players who is going to be helped least by playing with a setup man like Paul. Caron Butler would be great, if this was 2008. But it isn't. He misses half the season on average, he has balky knees, and he's far over the hill and fading fast. Beyond them? They have nothing. The rest of the roster is going to be composed of D-League call-ups, Foye, Gomes, and point guards they can't play. That's worse than even New Orleans had last year, and far worse than the motley crew Paul dragged to the seventh game versus the Spurs in 2008.
  5. Vinny Del Negro. The number one reason this Clippers team is worse off than the Hornets teams of yore? Vinny Del Negro. I'm one to be hard on Byron Scott essentially 24-7, but if you had to let me choose between Monty Williams, Byron Scott, and Vinny Del Negro? I'd pick Monty, obviously, as he's one of the brightest young coaches in the league. But I'd also pick Byron Scott eons before I'd ever want Vinny Del Negro getting close to my team. Del Negro is one of the worst play calling coaches in all of basketball. He's not a good manager of minutes, nor is he good at developing coherent defensive schemes. Vinny was just under the season threshhold for me to count him as a "significant" coach in my previous look into coaching as it relates to team injuries, but if you look at the overall stats for all the coaches I looked at, Vinny was well above the mean in terms of games lost to injury per season -- it may not be statistically significant, but would you really put it past Vinny to play guys who are sloppy and unprepared for NBA action? I really wouldn't. And he's going to be coaching a player without a meniscus along with a PF that absolutely needs to learn how to defend? Good luck with that, Vinny. Monty helped the Hornets overachieve last year. If anything, Vinny is going to work his hardest to do the opposite.

They'll be good. 2011 Hornets good, that is. Not contender good, yet.

• • •

Having said all that, it's time to explain the title of the article. It's true that every team involved took a risk here. Stern risked his reputation to veto the Laker deal, then approved this knowing that the debacle has added a slightly skeevy tint he's never going to be able to wash out to his overall legacy. While the Hornets got back a rather amazing package (Gordon will probably be the best shooting guard in the league in two years, a top-10 pick in the most loaded draft since 2003, a promising prospect in Al Faroq Aminu, and an expiring contract to save future cap room in Kaman), don't think they aren't taking a pretty big risk here. Gordon is a star player and in two years he'll be up for free agency himself. His hometown team -- the Indiana Pacers -- has specifically angled to have max-deal cap room right when Gordon gets to free agency. This trade looks significantly worse for the Hornets in 2014 if Gordon spends two years leading them to middling sub-playoff performances that nevertheless keep the Hornets from getting the quality draft talent they need. It looks worse still if after leading them to that kind of a middle-tier hell, Gordon gets up and leaves for the Pacers. There's a big risk of that happening. The Clippers, on the other hand, essentially gutted their team to put together a two-man core starring a mileage-heavy point god with no meniscus in his left knee and a no-defense rookie phenom. What if Paul blows out his knee? What if they find they need more pieces, but DeAndre Jordan and Caron Butler's insane deals keep them from doing it? What if they peter out at a ceiling no better than the 2007 Hornets? Gigantic risks all around.

I'd argue, though, that if you look past the risks and go a bit deeper into each side's motivations this is a deal that is best summarized as "the easy way out" for essentially every party involved. For Paul, he gets his big market he wanted, even if it's not the franchise he wanted -- he gets to leave New Orleans, say some nice stuff about the city, and move on with his life. He gets the instant "it's the Clippers" excuse if Blake and him don't pan out as a dominating twosome, and he gets his free agency in two years if the situation simply doesn't work out. It's great for him. It's simple, it's easy, and there's no real penalty for failure. The Hornets took the easy deal, able to sell to their fans that they got the best package available and they're building for the future even if they just pulled a bush-league move with their season tickets. They've sold out their 2012 season tickets already, from what I've read -- this was sort of on the expectation they'd have Paul, or at least some kind of decent basketball to put on the court. Now? They're the consensus worst team in the league and they've harmed the franchise's ability to stay relevant in a market that wants them moved out. The original Laker deal was far, far worse than the Clips deal for the future of the Hornets franchise. That's impossible to argue.

But contextually, trading Paul for a decent roster that makes playoff revenue isn't the worst fate for the Hornets, and for a franchise on the verge of getting thrown out of their city, it might be the best-case scenario. Turning the team into an unwatchable horror show gives me shivers of the Seattle Supersonics back before Bennett moved them out. And ripping an already-moved franchise from the city of Katrina seems like a terrible, terrible move for the Hornets as a franchise. But it also seems like something virtually guaranteed by this deal. Was it the best deal? Sure, in the long term, and if you don't care if the Hornets stay in New Orleans. It was the easiest call you could possibly make if you're that front office, or the NBA people who vetoed the Laker deal. If you're the fans, though, you're in for a terrible hard slog and left feeling that New Orleans is far more likely to lose the franchise now than they were before this ordeal. And the Clippers? That's the easiest one to explain. They essentially have had the 2nd most bumbling offseason of any team yet, what with the massively overpaid Jordan deal, the awful Caron Butler signing, and the signing of Chauncey Billups to a team where he can't actually be of any use. But the price? The Clips gave up 4 of their top 5 trade assets and essentially got destroyed at the bargaining table -- if they'd held out and kept Gordon, they'd be the second best team in the Western Conference. Instead they went the easy route -- they gave in, shrugged it off, and now have a markedly worse team with pieces that don't make sense together. But they have Chris Paul and Blake Griffin, and you can sell that.

Which, in the end, is all that matters. Sterling can sell Los Angeles that, easily. And even if the pieces he gave up mean the team is hardly better than the Hornets team that probably was (with West on board) a second round team that push the defending champs to 5 or 6 games before bowing out, the Clips have two stars and Sterling doesn't really care what they do beyond that. He cares about his money. He cares about making the Clippers profitable. With Chris Paul and Blake Griffin, the Clippers are the most marketable team in the NBA. They'll thrill crowds with dunks and pretty passing, even if their defense is crap and their coach is arguably the worst in the league. Sterling doesn't really care how far they get in the playoffs, or if they'll ever be a champion -- his ultimate goal is to have a franchise that makes money. And thanks to this trade, he's now the owner of the single most marketable superstar combo in the league. Did he give up too much to get it, and leave the team (basketball-wise) relatively adrift? Yep. Does he care if the basketball isn't nearly as good as its potential? Does he care if CP3/Griffin is potentially a horrible and underachieving disappointment, if he makes his money? I don't think so.

And if you really think about it, you probably don't think he does either.

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2011 Transaction Analysis #3: Big Deals

Posted on Wed 14 December 2011 in 2012 Season Preview by Aaron McGuire

Season's back, everyone! And you all know how we like to celebrate. Excruciatingly long posts analyzing intricacies and untapped facts, ahoy! In this mini-feature, watch as Aaron shares his inexpert opinions on every amnesty, trade, and signing -- big and small -- that goes on before the season starts. We're going to cut it into several parts -- this is a to-be-updated post on the larger deals of this transaction period. In an amusing and somewhat unintentional twist, every player in this post isn't just one of the larger prizes from free agency, they're also all big men. So, big deals in more ways than one, I suppose. This post outlines my thoughts on the signings of David West, DeAndre Jordan, Marc Gasol, and Nene. Let's get to it.

• • •



David West to IND on a 2-year $20 mil contract.

Wow. Absolutely love this signing for Indiana. Really. This is one of the bigger signings of this free agency period, because in one fell swoop the Pacers did two huge (and connected) things. They started by shoring up the biggest hole in their roster going forward. They also kept David West from going to Boston, his second most-desired landing spot. In landing West and keeping the Celtics from getting their hands on him, Larry Legend essentially wrenched open the Pacers' window for contention while reaching his zombified hand up to slam the Celtics' window shut. This isn't to say the Celts won't be good this year -- they will, and they've got about as high a title shot as any team in the league that doesn't star LeBron and Wade. The Celtics certainly have one last run in them before Wyc Grousbeck brutally dismembers the team for cap space next summer. But in terms of comparing the Pacers and the Celtics directly?

Larry Bird's new team is poised to make a leap and supplant his old one as the tertiary fringe contender in the East as early as next season. It's that simple. The teams are not constructed the same way, at all, but in terms of quality relative to the very top margins of the east the 2011 & 2012 Celtics are about as far from the Heat as the Pacers are going to be going forward. The price here is the best part -- the Pacers have picked up an all-star caliber starting big man on a limited-risk 2-year deal that has them retaining cap space, staying under the tax, and giving their new star forward a contract that's barely more lucrative than the one J.J. Barea got from the Wolves. Does this sound borderline insane to you, too? Because it seems pretty insane to me. And make no mistake -- West was, last year, an all-star caliber forward. He's got one of the purest midrange shots of any big in the game, and his presence on the Pacers is going to drastically open the lane for Hibbert to start exercising his surprisingly refined post game more. And more importantly, perhaps, increase his confidence in using it.

Up until now, the Pacers have had to play Hibbert primarily with Foster, Hansbrough, and McRoberts -- in adding West's strong midrange game and generally good rebounding, Hibbert finally is going to have a big that as a general rule draws men far out of the paint instead of drawing them in. As last season went along, teams began to game plan for Hibbert's post game, and they found that in overcommitting on him in the post they could throw him off his game and generally force a bad shot or a turnover. With West waiting in the wings and Hibbert's generally adept passing to get him the ball, teams are going to lose their best way of game-planning for Hibbert's post game. In doing so, the Pacers big man rotation goes from a general weakness to a big point of strength, and one that the team can build on in the future. Although it's well worth noting that defensively, West-Hibbert is never going to be a rotation to tip your cap at. So the Pacers have a lot of work to do in transforming an excellent young team with serious assets into a star team with the defense and fundamentally sound play. Migrating there will take them a few steps from here. But unlike a few years ago, the Pacers now have essentially all the pieces they need to start contending. It's up to a quality coach and some quality minor pickups to hash it all out.

Underrated fringe positive, too? Now that Eric Gordon is stuck in a bad situation, he'll enter unrestricted free agency in two years. Exactly when West's contract runs out and the Pacers get a wealth of cap space back. Has there really been a better time to be a Pacers fan? After years of brawl-fueled irrelevance, the Pacers look like a well managed group that's on the fringe of putting together something really special. It's exciting. And I'm really happy to see it.

• • •


Marc Gasol to MEM on a 4-year $58 mil contract.

Good contract. As I outlined in my prior player capsule featuring Gasol, he's currently a bit overrated. Gasol spent the entirety of the 2011 playoffs facing big men whose games are tailored to his defense. The bruising defensive stylings of Marc Gasol were hard on a late-career Duncan that relies on his finesse -- or, really, any of the Spurs bigs he had to guard. Is he worth this contract, though? I'd say yeah, in spades. The new CBA hasn't eliminated the owners' tendency to overpay for players lacking in talent and potential, but by convenience of the chopped max years, the owners are making more reasonable deals every day. This is just one such example. There isn't really much to talk about related to Gasol himself (good center, deserves the money, that's it). So let me explain why this is an example of owners making better deals. Gasol is currently 26 years old -- a good age, but not a great age. Because max contract lengths have been cut a year, the most that the Rockets could offer him was a 4-year contract -- which Memphis proceeded to match. Done deal.

Under the old CBA, that 4-year contract becomes a 5-year contract, and takes him to the age of 31 -- Gasol will probably still be a reasonably productive player at the age of 31, and would then be up for a max extension that he'd most likely get. There's no shortage of teams willing to pay a premium for a good big man with absolutely no emphasis on the future. In THAT theoretical deal, a 5-6 year contract taking him to the age of 36 or 37, he'd most likely be a huge albatross by year 2 of the deal and completely worthless to his team by year 4. But with the new contract structure, this 4-year deal is going to take him to the age of 30 -- he'll then be up for a 4-5 year deal that takes him to 34-35, which may end up with a year or two of him not really producing up to his contract, but nowhere near the 3-4 year reign of terror a theoretical 31 year old $15 mil per year Marc Gasol would be making in an alternate reality where the old CBA was simply extended with no alterations.

This isn't good for the players, mind you. A ton of players in the NBA make the bulk of their lifetime income on the added benefit that those last two or three years of unproductive albatross status has for their checkbook. By reducing the size of contracts, GMs necessarily are making marginally better decisions, simply because they aren't able to sign those last few years. I don't really think it's particularly GOOD for the league that the only way they can curb stupid decisions is to hurt the players and altogether remove the option of making those last few years. It's more a sign of the batshit crazy management that some teams have in the first place, and the generally strange free agency market imposed by agents teetering on the brink of insanity. But it does lead to entertaining times, so I suppose we can deal with it.

• • •


DeAndre Jordan to LAC on a 4-year $43 mil contract.

DeAndre Jordan isn't a $10 million dollar a year player yet. He isn't even a $7 million dollar a year player, if I'm honest -- the Warriors continued an offseason of insane decisions by offering him this ridiculous contract, while the Clips decided to continue their quixotic offseason pursuit of a continual one-upping of their worst decisions by taking them up on it. Look. It may turn out well. Jordan is young. He has a decent amount of promise, and like Mike Conley, it's entirely possible he lives up to this deal. It looks highly unlikely, but it's always possible. But this contract is simply ridiculous. His defense is somewhat overrated -- I'm currently working on a piece examining block value and trying to flexibly graph / measure the defensive aptitude of various NBA players, and I recently came to looking at his numbers. His results on the block are relatively good, but teams still pound the ball down low when Jordan's in the game because he has a nasty habit of fouling every time he plays on-the-ball defense.

This wouldn't be a problem if he was a backup, or if he was a spot defensive guy working on help beside a defensive mastermind. This becomes a big problem when he's playing alongside one of the worst defensive big men in the league (and I'm not going to get into this right now, but Blake Griffin was awful last season on the defensive end and somehow managed to get worse as the season went along -- he fully deserves that title) and needs to roam just to make sure teams don't have open hunting season on Griffin's lazy rotations and weak closeouts. This becomes a bigger problem when you realize that Jordan's entire offensive game is based on the dunk -- the man has never seen a jump shot he can make in his life, and his game has essentially stagnated since he came into the league. He's played more minutes, but without really increasing how effective he is. Now that the Clippers have CP3, this move is a bit more defensible -- in CP3/Blake/Jordan they have a big-ish three that can begin to build a contender. But with contracts like the inexplicable one they gave DeAndre, they're hardly going to have the room to augment that core.

Which is really the big problem here. It's one thing to overpay DeAndre Jordan in a vacuum -- just a normal everyday Clippers move. It's another when you're under a strongly restrictive CBA that's going to negatively impact the Clippers' ability to make moves to augment their contending core in the future. Now that they have CP3 and sent out every draft pick known to man, they need to build through free agency and trades. They have lost all their trade chips. So now it's all up to the Clippers to make the smart free agent signings you need to build a contender around their young superstar core. Yes. I just wrote "It's all up to the Clippers" seriously. It's a brave new world we're living in now, folks.

• • •

Nene to DEN on a 5-year $67 mil contract.

It may seem odd looking at the lofty total, but Nene actually took a slight pay cut to play with Denver -- something very few players would ever do. The Nets were offering $65 to $70 million over 4 years, a significantly larger scale of contract on a year-to-year basis than the relatively tidy 13.5 million a year he's getting from the Nuggets. I can't altogether endorse the contract as reasonable, although I admit that Nene may be a bit underrated. His contributions are obvious through neither his defensive chops (not great, but not bad) or his box score statistics (15-8-2) but rather in his generally incredible efficiency and his ability to fill in the gaps on an offense. He's essentially as good as the players you surround him with -- last season, for instance, he was assisted on 70% of his baskets, one of the highest numbers for a 14+ PPG scorer in the league last season.

So, perhaps that was his incentive in taking the 5-year contract for a bit less money to stay with the Nuggets -- playing for Karl and the Nuggets has worked out pretty well for Nene, and while he's never really been an integral part of an important or legendary team, he clearly has a good rapport with the guys he plays with and relies on them so strongly for his own offense that he didn't want to test the waters elsewhere. His defense, as I glanced over earlier, isn't bad but isn't good. Larger players bully him badly in the post and he isn't really instinctively skilled enough to stay on the rangey stretch four types, but when he's given the space to roam the court he can be an asset in help defense and helping your team keep the pick and roll on lockdown. Overall? The Nuggets have a good team entering the 2012 season, and Nene is going to be a big part of that. He turned down a relatively awful situation in New Jersey for it, which may have been a better move for his overall legacy and his general rapport. For a player that relies so much on the pieces around him, getting himself locked into a New Jersey team that may not have Deron Williams one year from now would be essentially setting himself up for abject failure if Deron was to leave.

I don't really know what else to say. It isn't a terrible signing, and it's cheaper than I suspected it would be. So I suppose, all in all, the Nuggets won. Nene remains in Denver. Fun times were had by all.

• • •


Eddy Curry to MIA on a 1-year veteran's minimum contract.

Did I title this post "big deals" and keep Curry out of the small deals posts just to make another Eddy Curry joke? The world may never know the answer to that. We do know one thing, though. There's really no bigger deal than Eddy Curry. And there never will be.

• • •

That's it for this edition of transaction analysis. Next time, I'll be covering the Knicks moves and the Mavericks' moves in two freeform long posts analyzing my expectations for and general thoughts on both the Chandler-Melo-Amare Knicks and the Dirk-Odom-Delonte Mavericks. And that one trade that sent Gordon the Tank Engine to New Orleans in exchange for Prince Paul. Watch out for that. Goodnight, everyone. Hope you all are enjoying our coverage -- there's a lot more coming from where this all springs from.

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2011 Transaction Analysis #2: More Small Deals

Posted on Sun 11 December 2011 in 2012 Season Preview by Aaron McGuire

Season's back, everyone! And you all know how we like to celebrate. Excruciatingly long posts analyzing intricacies and untapped facts, ahoy! In this mini-feature, watch as Aaron shares his inexpert opinions on every amnesty, trade, and signing -- big and small -- that goes on before the season starts. We're going to cut it into several parts -- this is a to-be-updated post on the smaller deals and amnesties. There will be another post later tomorrow with the big deals, then a few posts to individually examine the monstrous deals. Watch out for it.

• • •



Glen Davis to ORL on a 4-year $26 mil contract, Brandon Bass to BOS, Von Wafer to ORL.

This ranks as one of the most absurd and confusing trades made during this compressed offseason so far. Really. I easily see why Boston did it -- they got the best player in the trade on the shortest contract. Pretty much a no-brainer. Bass expires after this season, so they maintain the course to having monstrous cap space next summer. Davis was never ever going to sign a one-year deal. So, the Celtics maintain flexibility and keep their books clear for next summer while upgrading their backup forward position. Not too shabby. The Magic, though? Reports are that Dwight really likes Big Baby, and that's why they made this trade. Which would be at least understandable, if Dwight hadn't already requested a trade. Really. What is Otis Smith doing? Does he think spending a season with Big Baby is going to make Dwight decide to re-sign with the Magic? The other big irony to this trade: reports came out last night that Dwight's trade request came partially because he felt he didn't have enough pull in the organization. Really, Dwight? Really? You essentially played GM and traded for Big Baby, then bemoan not having enough organizational influence. Cry me a river. Cripes. Also: Von Wafer to Orlando, in a move that I assume must be paired with the acquisition of Michael Redd (Wine). Dwight's pious, right? This is going to help keep him, right???


Grant Hill to PHX on a 1-year $6.5 mil contract.

This one makes me sad, because one of my offseason hopes was that he'd sign with the Spurs. Not because he'd really improve our team, but just because I wanted to watch Grant Hill more this year and watching the gradual implosion of the Phoenix Suns is one of the saddest things you can watch in today's league. Hill was very solid last year for Phoenix, and while you've got to think he underperforms that contract (by quite a lot) he's still Grant Hill. One of the classiest players in the game and the only Duke grad that this Duke grad can say he legitimately enjoys watching. And on a one year deal, it doesn't really matter if you're overpaying him. Guess I'll have to carve out time to watch Grant, Nash, Gortat once again.


Chuck Hayes to SAC on a 4-year $21.3 mil contract.

Short of the Jerebko move (which I like inordinately much due to my feelings on Jerebko's potential) this may be my favorite free-agent move of any team this free agency period. Yes, Hayes essentially is being signed as a backup center. I don't care. Paying $5.3 million a year for one of the best one-on-one big man defenders in the league is a bargain no matter how you shake it. Is Hayes undersized? Sure. But he's a tenacious defender who rebounds quite well for his size and defers offensively to the other options on the floor, which is exactly what you need next to the generally ball-hogging young pieces on the Kings right now. He's a great long-term replacement for Dalembert, and I'm still rather surprised they got him to agree to a deal for that pittance. Should pay off in spades in a few years when the Kings are knocking on the playoff door.


James Jones to MIA on a 3-year $4.5 mil contract.

Essentially, Jones signed a three year deal to the vet minimum to remain with the Heat. It's not rare for vets to sign at a discount to play with a contender, but this still strikes me as a bit much. Yes, he's offensively limited -- over 80% of Jones' shots came behind the three point line last year, one of the highest marks in the league. The fourth highest, in fact. The comprehensive list: James Posey (88% from behind the 3-pt line), Brian Cardinal (87%), Daequan Cook (85%), and James Jones (83%). But he was good at it! Jones shot almost 43% from three last year -- that's absurd, and normally, would get you paid something more on the order of $2-3 million a year than a measly $1.5. Still, it's unlikely he's going to regret his choice too much -- he's probably going to win a ring in the duration of his contract, and those tend to make everything go down sweeter.


Daequan Cook to OKC on a 2-year $6.4 mil contract.

This is, in my view, a better approximation of what Jones would've gotten had he chosen to sell his talents on the open market. Cook has a similarly limited game -- you may remember him from "the throwaway stat in the last trade paragraph." Takes 85% of his shots from three, makes 42% of them. That's Cook. He shoots, he doesn't turn the ball over much, and he does virtually nothing else on the court. The upside of Cook compared to, say, Jones or Posey? Cook is only 24 years old -- there's some upside potential with Cook. More likely? He stays as he is, a useful bench guy who takes absolutely nothing but three pointers and prospers on them. And at $3.2 mil a year, can't really say he's overpaid.

Mario Chalmers to MIA on a 3-year $12 mil contract.

I don't really mind this signing, though I think it may prove to be poor in a year or so after Norris Cole has proved himself to be a top-10 point guard in the NBA. Analysts like Hollinger tend to hate Chalmers, but I'm of the view his contributions go beyond the traditional box score. Not that his box score stats are really all that bad, but most of his value comes in his ability to get physical with most NBA guards. Chalmers is one of the more underrated defensive guards in the league -- easily top 15, and had he gotten all of Bibby's minutes in the 2011 finals, I think the Heat may have won the series. Really. I'll go into this more in my player capsule, but the long and short of it is that Barea scored something on the order of half the points per minute on Chalmers as he did on Bibby, and had they cut Barea's points from Bibby's time on him in half, you'd have a 3-3 series if not a 4-2 Heat series. Not that I really regret that they didn't, but still. Have to use your assets correctly, Spo. Decent contract. Miami should be glad it kept him. (P.S. No, Norris Cole will never be a top 10 PG in the league. I think he'll be well above average, though, and much better than Chalmers.)

Jeff Green to BOS on a 1-year $9 mil contract.

Want to know how you know this is an insane contract? The Celtics are a tax team. They're paying $18 million to keep Green around for one year. Want to know the number of players who make more than $18 million in the NBA today? Ten. Ten players make more than the Celtics are going to be paying just to keep Jeff Green on a one-year rental before he bounces for cap room. Granted, they explicitly offered him more than he was worth to ensure he'd accept a one-year deal and keep their 2012 cap room intact. I get that. But dear god, $9 million for a year? Just absurd. At least it's only one year -- here's hoping nobody overpays him next summer! (Spoiler Alert: Jeff Green will be horrifyingly overpaid next summer.)


Marcus Thornton to SAC on a 4-year $31 mil contract.

I'm not nearly as high on Thornton as most who watch him are. He's a no-defense gunner whose only other skill besides scoring is his generally decent rebounding from the guard position. At a shade under $8 mil per year, can't say I really like this deal at all for Sacramento. It's true that he's shown a lot of promise as a Terry-type scorer, but my god, his defense is atrocious and burst scorers from the two are a dime a dozen in the league today. He's a really talented scorer, don't get me wrong, but my lord. $8 mil per year? Don't think he's that kind of good. Still. There is some upside, so he may grow into the deal -- I suppose we'll have to see.


Jeff Foster to IND on a 1-year $5 mil contract.

Fair value. Foster is a good backup big, though he's old enough that you wouldn't want to dump more than 2 years into the deal. They didn't. So it's fine. Foster should play well behind Hibbert and West, though we'll have to see. Not much else to say. Good move to bolster the Indiana bench.


Jason Richardson to ORL on a 4-year $25 mil contract.

What? My first thought was "I honestly can't believe this signing." I looked it up. True facts. It happened. I could buy it if J-Rich was fresh off his virtuoso 2010 playoffs, but my lord, he looked absolutely finished last year. He was decent directly after coming to Orlando, but his legs essentially gave out from under him as the season went on and it culminated in one of the most toothless playoff performances of Richardson's short playoff career (10-4 on 33% shooting? Bad news.) I'd feel slightly better about this if it was a 2-year contract or something fewer, but Orlando essentially knotted J-Rich up for four years on a cap-eating $6.2 million a year contract. For what purpose? Does anyone really think a 34-year-old J-Rich is going to be worth $6.2 million, or anything close? It's exactly the same as those pre-CBA bloated MLE deals. Richardson has played 27,300 minutes in his career if you count the playoffs. My god. No idea what Otis is doing.


Luc Richard Mbah a Moute to MIL on a 4-year $19 mil contract.

The contract seems a bit big for a player who has absolutely no ability to perform on offense, but really, it seems reasonable when you consider that Mbah a Moute is one of the league's best defenders at the three. Can't shoot worth a lick, but the Spurs have lusted after him for years because essentially as good as Bowen ever was and if a good shooting coach like Chip Engelland could get to him, he could learn the corner three and be a young Bowen for a new generation. As it stands, is he worth the deal? Maybe not, especially on the Bucks (whose shooting coach is so goddamn awful, I have my personal suspicions that it's Gilbert Arenas), but he's worth it to some teams and my guess is he'll be a valuable trade chip someday if nothing else. Such a great defender to watch.

Anthony Carter, Aaron Gray, and Rasual Butler to TOR on 1-year vet-min deals.

I don't know how the rest of the league is going to deal with this three-man wrecking crew. In fact, I think we probably should just award the chip to the Raptors now and make this season a race to find out who's the 2nd best team in the league. Someone, make some Raptors championship rings right now. Use crystallized syrup to make the maple-leaf jewels on the top. Someone has to do this. Please. I'm begging you.


Kurt Thomas to POR on a 2-year vet-min contract.

Surprisingly, Big Sexy has been really good these last few years. He played a key role on the surprising 2010 Bucks and was a valuable defensive big for the 2011 62-win Chicago Bulls. Physical defender, solid pick and pop player, and for the vet-min you weren't getting a better center than this. He should be a good asset for a strong 2012 Blazers team that preps itself for life without Roy and Oden's last stand. Good pickup. Second year may not turn out well, but they can probably waive him if he's truly a catastrophe this year and -- again -- vet min for a productive backup center? Match made in heaven for a center-thin Trailblazers team.


Mike Bibby to NYK on a 1-year vet-min contract.

Mike Bibby is my least favorite player in the league. He is my least favorite player in the history of the league. There has never been another player I've hated more than Mike Bibby in the annals of history... past, present, or future. He turns all that he touches to dust. His gaze makes small children burst into flames. His saliva contains the root of all cancer, and it is my personal belief that cancer exists only because Mike Bibby's lips once sat upon the skin above the cancer, in the patient's sleep. This is Mike Bibby's legacy. ... Anyway, other than that, good move for New York.

Jared Jeffries to NYK on a 1-year vet-min contract.

This fine young lass may be kind of pissed off about it, but it's a good move for that kind of money. Jeffries is hardly a good player, but he's an OK defender and a warm body the Knicks can put in behind their two injury-prone big men. They need backups, and Jeffries fits the bill. Also: I misspelled his name as "Jeffires" two or three times -- I think someone needs to write a story about Jeffries devolving into a pyromaniac at Landry's behest and going crazy on the Occupy Wall Street movement in an attempt to spread the word about his mad "Jeffires." Keep spitting your Jeffires, Jeffries.


Sasha Pavlovic to BOS on a 1-year vet-min contract.

I don't get why teams still think Sasha can play professional basketball. He's been horrible since roughly 2007 and worse than any D-League call-up since about 2009. Why he keeps getting contracts (and then somehow parlaying these contracts into more playing time than most D-League guys) is a mystery to me. He must be really, really good at practice or something. And he must keep latching on to those coaches who hate rookies (see: Doc Rivers, Mike Brown). Really, tho? God only knows why he's still in this league and God only knows why I'm still writing about him. Next!

Spencer Hawes to PHI on a 1-year $4.5 mil contract.

Hawes is simply a terrible player, but at least it's a one year deal. Still not at all worth it, but Philly is thin on bigs so I can buy this as a semi-reasonable signing. Also, this signing allows me to post the following picture, which may very well be worth his price tag alone.

• • •



Chauncey Billups to LAC for a 1-year $2 mil contract.

Like the move, though with some reservations. Chauncey warned the league that he didn't want to be taken off waivers, and that he'd essentially go psychotic on whatever team picked him up off waivers. He was given a personal warning by Stern, and all signs are that he's OK with getting picked up by the Clippers, but there's still some significant blow-up potential here. Honestly, though? This is a pretty good situation for him. The Clips have Mo Williams and Bledsoe at the guard, and when that's your only competition, even a rapidly aging Billups starts to look somewhat palatable. Not to mention the fact that they're a rising team that has a shot at a playoff berth and a possible title in coming years if Chris Paul makes it there. Honestly, in terms of under-cap situations, Billups couldn't have done much better. This was a good pickup for the Clips as long as Chauncey doesn't try and destroy the team, and if Chauncey is reasonable about it, he'll realize he shouldn't do that anyway.


Anthony Parker to CLE for a 1-year $2.25 mil contract.

This pickup honestly irritated me. Hollinger pointed out that the contract is contender-friendly and may very well be able to be moved for another first round pick at the deadline to a contender looking to shore up their bench. And that's true. But Parker is exactly the kind of player Cleveland should be running the other way from right now. He's a fading vet who was never particularly good to begin with, and at this stage of his career, is mainly known for indiscriminate chucking from three and the long two. We need to get possessions to Tristan Thompson, Kyrie Irving, Manny Harris, Christian Eyenga, and Anderson Varejao. We don't need to give possessions to Anthony Parker or Antawn Jamison. The Cavs need to rely on their young talent, sink or swim. I don't see where a 36-year-old fading chucker really fits in with that.


Josh McRoberts to LAL for a 2-year $6.1 mil contract.

McRoberts isn't Odom, but he's a big improvement over the Derrick Caracter / Ater Majok frontcourt the Lakers had going behind Gasol and Bynum (both of whom are virtually guaranteed an injury at some point in the shortened season). He's also young -- at 24, he's younger than every key piece on the Lakers roster pre-McBobs but Bynum. He still has a bit of upside potential (though I'd emphasize IT IS VERY SMALL UPSIDE POTENTIAL), and overall, I see this as a pretty strong move for the Lakers. He came pretty cheap for a guy who could still get a bit better, and while (again) he's nowhere close to Odom, he's not nearly as bad as their alternative.


Kwame Brown to GSW for a 1-year $7 mil contract.

Brown was OK last year. Not good, but OK. Was he $7 million dollar OK? Hell no. The Warriors were looking pretty sparkling coming off of this season -- they had new ownership, Jerry West advising, a new coach to replace Don Nelson, a franchise star with Curry, and in general looked to have a bright future. Now? Not so sure. Yeah, they were "in the mix" for CP3, Tyson Chandler, and a variety of other big name free agents this season. Instead? They made the absolute stupidest amnesty decision they possibly could, they offered DeAndre Jordan a legitimately insane contract for no particularly good reason, and they just signed a fringe center for $7 million for one year. I know -- I've said it before, I'll say it again. One year deals aren't that bad. But my god, who were they bidding against? Why the hell did they give him that much? The fact is, as promising as things looked, the Warriors management has yet to prove anything -- if anything, they've made me worried they may very well be more incompetent than the buffoons they replaced. Here's hoping they prove us wrong. But right now, they've essentially clinched the title of "stupidest team of the offseason", and unfortunately for Warriors fans, the gap between them and the rest of the league isn't all that close right now. Well, sort of.


J.J. Barea to MIN for a 4-year $19 mil contract.

On the subject of "horrible, horrible" front offices, let's turn to Minnesota. Maybe it was a bit mean to say the Warriors have been the worst-managed team in this free agency period by a large margin. In fact, I'll remove the maybe. It was. Because much to the dismay of Minnesotans everywhere, the Timberwolves continued their season-to-season stab at being the most inexplicably dumb team in the league. The Warriors HAVE been worse than the T-Wolves this free agency period, but the T-Wolves are hardly a chasm away -- they're nipping at the Warriors heels. And it starts and ends with this abomination of a contract. When Alex said in his Chauncey story that Kahn is trying to create a 5-PG offense, it's not all that far from the truth -- Kahn has put together a ridiculous, mismatched roster with stupidly weird fits at every possible position and an impossible headache for coach Rick Adelman to try and unfold. I think he'll probably succeed, to some extent, but it's impossible to call this signing reasonable and further impossible to make any sense of the sort of team Kahn is trying to build. He's passed the level of "well, maybe he's just unique" -- he's putting together a roster that makes no sense with pieces that don't fit and calling himself a genius. May not be a genius, but you're sure something, David.


Rudy Fernandez and Corey Brewer to DEN from DAL for... a second round pick??

Not sure what the motivation was here by the Mavs. I don't dislike this deal for them, because with the West/Carter acquisitions they were a bit heavy in the wings, but you'd think they'd have been able to get more than what they got. Not to mention something Hollinger pointed out that I honestly hadn't remembered -- the Mavs acquired Rudy Fernandez after the Finals by trading their first round pick for him. So, the Mavs traded a first round pick (which turned into Jordan Hamilton, a decent upside late first rounder) for Rudy Fernandez only to trade Rudy for half of a second round pick. I... what? Really? Brewer, on the other hand, was the "prized" pickup around the trade deadline last season that was supposed to be the pickup that put the Mavs over the edge. It wasn't, at all. Since, you know, he barely played in the playoffs at all. But, well, it wasn't a bad pickup and I can't really blame them that it didn't turn out well. He should be fun on the Nuggets, as will Rudy (if he doesn't bolt for Real Madrid immediately after hearing of the deal), but on Dallas' end this trade simply makes no sense whatsoever. Sorry, Cuban.

• • •

Cheers, folks. More trades tomorrow -- this next post will cover the biggies, I think. Though I may eschew a formulaic post in favor of a series of big avant-garde dystopian fictions about teams that have made big acquisitions. (Scratch the dystopian fiction part, and you may approach an approximation of what's actually going to happen!) This post will most likely be continually updated with new small trades as they happen, or as I realize I've missed them. I'll update you as necessary. Stay frosty.

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2011 Transaction Analysis #1: Small Deals & Amnesties

Posted on Sat 10 December 2011 in 2012 Season Preview by Aaron McGuire

Season's back, everyone! And you all know how we like to celebrate. Excruciatingly long posts analyzing intricacies and untapped facts, ahoy! In this mini-feature, watch as Aaron shares his inexpert opinions on every amnesty, trade, and signing -- big and small -- that goes on before the season starts. We're going to cut it into several parts -- this is a to-be-updated post on the smaller deals and amnesties. There will be another post later today with more small deals, and a post tomorrow on big deals. Watch out for it.

• • •



Shane Battier to Miami on a 3-year $9 mil contract.

I like this move a lot more once I saw the money involved. $9 mil for 3 years of Battier? Even at his advanced age, it's a decent signing. Still, though, I have to cry foul that this is a good fit. The Heat have LeBron and Wade to play the wings -- Battier is a pure three, far too large and immobile to play the two at this stage of his career. I've heard rumblings he can play the four in Miami but I'm really not convinced -- he's not large enough to guard most good fours in the league, and his defense has been quietly getting worse the last few years. He's no longer quite the force he was in his prime on defense, and while his offense should fit nicely with the Heat (low usage, can shoot the three) I simply don't see any way you can play LeBron-Wade-Battier for long stretches to any real success. For that contract, though, he's a good asset and should improve the Heat. Not as much as a legitimate big man, but enough to make him worth it. I'll admit, though: I'm sad he didn't finish his career in Memphis. That would've been kind of amazing.


Caron Butler to LAC on a 3-year $24 mil contract.

... what? Caron Butler has averaged 57 games per season the last 4 years. If he misses his "average" number of games next year, he'll miss 26 games if you use the calculation I made in my injury-projecting post. Even if you don't, my god, why make this signing? Butler's knees are a problem, he's already quite old, and you have no guarantee he's going to stay healthy for the duration of his contract. Also, you've made it so you can't sign Dwight Howard or any marquee free agent next summer. This is a classic "let's remind everyone that we're the Clippers, we're never going to amount to anything" type of signing that Sterling's brood is known for. I'm sorry Clips fans. But I do not see this working out very well for you.


Mike Dunleavy to MIL on a 2-year $7.5 mil contract.

Holy crap, is this a good deal. I'd love to make this a paragraph on how much I dislike Dunleavy as a player, and it's true that he's a major injury risk, but for $3.75 million a year, who the hell cares? He shot 40% from three last year and came very, very close to having a true shooting percentage of 60%. He's going to the Bucks, a team with virtually no scorers last year. Jennings-to-Dunleavy is going to be hilarious and stupid, but he's a good get at that kind of money and should easily live up to that contract. Looking forward to see him in a Bucks jersey.


Tayshaun Prince to DET on a 4-year $30 mil contract.

This may be the only legitimately awful move the Detroit Pistons have made this free agency period. I understand that $7.5 mil a year isn't the worst contract in the world, but my god, this contract takes Prince to the age of 35. His defense has fallen off quite a lot in recent years, and while he's one of the least injury-risk type players in the league, does anyone really think that's going to last? My best guess is they move this contract for picks to a contender sometime in the next year or two, but looking forward, I just don't know why they felt the need to make it.


Jonas Jerebko to DET on a 4-year $16 mil contract.

This is a stealthily good signing. While Jerebko lost a year to injury, he was a revelation his first year with the Pistons and he's a great piece to augment the growing youth movement in Detroit. I may make a post entirely dedicated to the Pistons some point soon -- I really, really like the way they're set up for the future and think they could be back to contention in one or two years. Jerebko is a big part of that. $4 mil a year is a good deal for a player who does as much as he can do when he's healthy, and as he was healthy in Europe, there are few concerns that his season-ending injury from last season will be the norm throughout his career. Good contract.


Tracy McGrady to ATL on a 1-year vet minimum contract.

While T-Mac has been a disappointment ever since he got to Houston, on a vet min deal, I think he's actually a pretty good pickup for the Hawks. He's no outside shooter, but he's a good passer whose high spots are really, really high. Even last year for the Pistons, there was definitely some value in his play. He had games where he was suddenly old T-Mac again, bounding around the court and draining ridiculous shots and delivering the pocket passes that made him so fun to watch pre-injuries. He also had games where he looked like he had no idea how to play the game of basketball. As a min-paid first guard off the bench? There's value there. Good signing, I think.


Shannon Brown to PHX on a 1-year $3.5 million contract.

I can't say I love this deal. Brown has been an incredibly overrated player in LA for years, and even at $3.5 million, I don't know if he'll offer any return to value. Brown can't play the point, and the Suns have Childress and Dudley ahead of him in the depth chart. Pietrus, too -- except he got traded (see below). Will Brown add anything to the Suns that those players don't have? Hardly. He can't shoot and he's somewhat of a headcase. The only redeeming factor here is the length on the deal. One year means that if it doesn't work out, he's out next year. Still a rather confusing signing to me, but on a one-year deal, I suppose it's sensible.

T.J. Ford to SAS on a 1-year vet minimum contract.

Jason Collins to ATL on a 1-year vet minimum contract.

Jason Kapono to LAL on a 1-year vet minimum contract.

These are all similarly useless signings, but bear mentioning just because they do have the potential to help slightly lessen potential weaknesses for the Spurs and the Lakers. On the Spurs end, Ford is a terrible workaday player but will be an improvement over Chris Quinn. On the Lakers end, Kapono is a completely worthless player inside the three point line but if Kobe scares him into doing nothing else but taking corner threes, he'll be worth it. And Collins is an awful player against almost everyone, but has a magical power where Dwight Howard suddenly plays horrible when Collins is on the court. In the long run, these three deals mean less than nothing, though. Thumbs down to every team for making me write about them!


Marquis Daniels & Chris Wilcox to BOS on 1-year vet min contracts, Keyon Dooling to BOS from MIL for a 2nd round pick.

Good moves for Boston. Daniels was injured all of last season and may be fully gone by this point, but the Celtics bench is absolute trash right now and Daniels has the upside of being a great defensive player when he's healthy. His offense is a horror scene, but the type of defense he gives you off the bench is absolutely fantastic for the money you're paying him. He's going to get injured, inevitably. Dooling was a serviceable backup point in Milwaukee who got forced to be a starter -- he's as much of a lost cause as Daniels is in terms of upside, but as a bench guy on a contender, he could be decent. Wilcox? He was actually decent for the Pistons, though he's extremely old and most likely will fall off significantly this year. None of these mean all that much in a vacuum. But in a season where guys are going to be out for injury, you can't have a bench as thin as the Celts had and expect to survive. Picking up these guys helps that. Not to mention that if nothing else, Daniels on the Celts just feels right at this point. He should retire a Celtic.

TOR receives Mikhael Pietrus & cash, PHO receives conditional second round pick.

It's a bit sad that all Phoenix could get for Pietrus was a conditional second round pick they'll never recieve, but they kind of torpedoed his trade value by barely playing him at all last season, so this probably is as fair a return as they can expect. On the Raptors side, they're being paid to take on a $5.3 million dollar expiring contract for a low upside three point shooter in a position they had no talent at last season. Pretty good haul for the Raptors, all things considered. Pretty sad move for the Suns. A Sarver-type move if there ever was one. If they're willing to spend, the trade does also give them a $5.3 million dollar trade exception, but does anyone on earth actually think the Suns are going to actually use it for frontcourt help? I'd hope they do, but I really doubt it.


Jeff Pendergraph to IND on a two year minimum contract.

Not bad. Pendergraph has been a relatively useless player in the league so far, so it's doubtful that the move is going to be anything more than a move for bench filler. But the kid was drafted in 2009, and while he doesn't have a huge amount of upside, he doesn't need to -- on a min deal he gives you min production with the possibility for slightly more. Good move by the Pacers.

Sebastien Telfair to PHO, Jamaal Tinsley to UTA, Jamaal Magloire to TOR, Roger Mason Jr. to WAS, Vladimir Radmonovic to ATL, Earl Watson to UTA, Juwan Howard to MIA, Derrick Brown to CHA, Tony Battie to PHI.

I don't think there's a single signing here that's of any consequence. One liners for each: Telfair is done, Tinsley is worse, Magloire (former All-Star! YEAH!!!) might as well not be on the court, Vlad Rad has been done for years, Earl Watson can't find the broad side of a barn with the rock (but defends decently well), Juwan is forty five and a half years old, Derrick Brown is a decent player who may develop into something (but probably won't), and Battie will continue to do absolutely nothing to solve the problem for a team with no big men. There. Gone over all of them. Wait... did I miss one?

... ROGER MASON JR GOT A NEW CONTRACT?!?!?!?!??!?!?!?! WHAT?!?!?

• • •



Waived -- $8 mil out of $21.5 mil left on his deal.

Kind of a no-brainer, but I'm absolutely shocked they got him to agree to take that much off his contract. My guess is they told him it was either a waiver or amnesty, and amnesty would make it impossible for the Bulls (Rip's preferred landing spot) to pick him up. The other good thing? The minimal size of the buyout suddenly makes the Pistons players in the 2012 free agency circus, if they amnesty Gordon or Villanueva and resist offering Stuckey too much to stick around. Still. Rip didn't want to be in Detroit, and they didn't want him either. Again: no brainer.

Amnestied -- $4 million over 1 year left on deal.

WELP! Never mind! This one occurred after the Billups amnesty, so even though it looks like I wrote this before the Billups paragraph, I didn't. I said that the Billups amnesty was going to be the worst one we'd see this cycle. I thought that was a fairly good bet, but my god, I didn't expect the Warriors to botch things up this thoroughly. Biedrins -- a terrible player at this point in his career, has $27 million over 3 years owed to him. Bell? He had $4 million on a 1 year deal. WHY IN GOD'S NAME DO YOU AMNESTY HIM? Okay, yeah. I know WHY they did it. Because they wanted to offer Deandre Jordan a bloated offer sheet in hopes that the Clips wouldn't match. Realistically? The Clips will match, and the Warriors will have utterly wasted their shot at having incredible cap space the next two years in order to throw money at a player they're never going to get. They also rescinded their rights to Reggie Williams, a valuable piece for the backcourt depth he provides, and cut Jeremy Lin. What the hell are they doing?

Amnestied -- $5.1 million over 1 year left on deal.

While I'd initially expect Thabeet wouldn't be the worst contract on the Rockets' roster, I'd be wrong. Thabeet's $5.1 mil in 2012 is easily the worst contract on the Rockets' roster, and nobody else is really anywhere close. It's kind of amazing how a franchise can make as few big-time mistakes as Houston does and still miss the playoffs year-in and year-out. Still. Thabeet will get taken on a flyer by some under-cap team starved at center (Timberwolves, perhaps?) and will continue to be a marginal NBA talent who has dramatically underperformed even the most pessimistic views of how he'd perform in the league. Simply abominable.


Amnestied -- $14.2 million over 1 year left on deal.

This is probably one of the worst amnesties we're going to see. People forget this, but the Knicks had an out option on Billups' contract -- the Knicks could've let his option expire and eschewed using amnesty altogether. They didn't. They picked up his option and amnestied him, which is fine for Chauncey (as he now gets all of the $14.2 million instead of just part of it) but bad for the Knicks, as they've wasted their amnesty. If Amare's knees go out, the franchise is screwed to high heaven now. Not like it matters much -- a Melo-Chandler-Shumpert core isn't going to be contending for much, Amare is a key part of the Knicks' puzzle. If he goes down, so too do the Knicks' dreams of contention. Regardless. I feel bad for Chauncey. You have to think he feels a lot of anger towards Melo, at this point. Melo's team trades him, taking him from a team he loved, then makes the WCF with him. Lets him get settled back into his hometown team, then wrests him from Denver to go to the shell of a contender in New York. Then... amnesties him, forcing him to go to some crummy under-cap team that bids the highest for his services? Awful luck. I don't like Billups much as a player at this point in his career, but I feel bad for the guy. I realize this would be impossibly silly given the Miller trade and Ty Lawson, but I hope Denver resigns him. He wanted to retire with the Nuggets, and he should get that opportunity.


Amnestied -- $62 million over 3 years left on deal.

No-brainer for the Magic. They wanted the flexibility, and Arenas showed himself to be a completely worthless asset in his time in Orlando. I was partial to the idea that they keep him around for one last run with Dwight, but post-Bass trade, applying amnesty to the Arenas deal put them slightly under the tax and allowed them to use the full MLE and make a few runs at good players for the spot. Not bad. In his case, it looks like he's not going to get taken off waivers -- if so, he'll probably be picked up near the end of the year by a contender hoping for a piece to get them over the edge. He won't be that piece. But it'll be fun to watch.

Waived -- $4 mil out of $18 for Carter, and none out of $788,000 for Lawal or Dowdell.

Interestingly enough, the Suns decided to waive Carter and Lawal outright instead of using their amnesty card -- given how little they had to actually pay, it wasn't a bad move for them. There was absolutely no reason for the Suns to keep Carter around after his horrific performance last year. Lawal has been terrible as an NBA player and during the lockout looked relatively overmatched in the Euroleague -- he needs time in the D-League and overseas to get his feet under him before he can come back to the NBA, if ever. Still. Good move for Phoenix. They'll miss you, Vince. New move, too -- they waived Zabian Dowdell, because although he's been promising so far he's got knee problems and the Suns wanted to go in a different direction. I really do hope Dowdell gets picked up by someone, tho -- he's a nice guy and his story was one of the better ones on the 2011 Suns, a team with a lot of good stories. Good luck, Zabian.

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Compression Effects: the injuries of 2011, today!

Posted on Thu 08 December 2011 in 2012 Season Preview by Aaron McGuire

I wasn't planning to write another post about injuries this week, but I was talking with a friend of mine about Chris Paul and a thought came into my head that I didn't want to sit on. One of Chris Paul's most notable traits (unfortunately) is his somewhat sketchy injury history. While he only missed 2 games last season for a scary-but-minor concussion, thinking about all the dings and dents of an NBA season and the possible repercussions on Paul got me to thinking about how those will look this year. To start -- the season is compressed, and every game mathematically matters more. Andrew Bynum was suspended five games for his hit on J.J. Barea in last year's playoffs. In a full season, that's 6.0% of a player's possible games. In a compressed season? 7.5%. Not an insignificant difference, by any means. The effect of individual games being worth more in the overall picture is pretty straightforward. But as for that being the only effect? Not quite.

That's only true for suspensions, which are a designated number of games. What about injuries? When a player gets a hip strain or a sprained ankle, they aren't out some prescribed number of games. It isn't like the NFL, where a concussion means a designated number of games out of action. An injury to a basketball player simply means you're out until you're in playing shape again, whenever that may be. Usually, it takes some set number of days of sitting out and recuperating. Some medical treatment. Some downtime. Some coaches bring players back on less rest, some coaches use more -- my last post on injuries tries to get at the heart of the coaching side of NBA injuries by looking at raw numbers and assigning them to coaches. In this post, I'm more interested in simply translating some player-side numbers from 2011 to the compressed season. This is more like my previous analysis of compression trends, except instead of trends, this involves cold hard facts.

The guiding hypothetical to this post: if players were to go through the exact same injuries in the 2012 season as they went through in the 2011 season, how many more games would they miss? Good question, voice in my head. Let's go find that out. To the spreadsheet, once again.

• • •


I'll start by describing the data methodology. I didn't do every injury from last season -- that would take a really, really long time. This still took a pretty long time, but not nearly as long as it could have. For this spreadsheet, I started about midway through page five of this topic, where an international NBA fan essentially kept a running tab on the NBA's injury reports. In another tab, I had SBNation's player profile feature up -- SBNation's player profiles have an incredibly useful feature where in the bottom corner of the right sidebar you can find a record of a player's injuries and transactions. Whenever I saw a player come up in the forum topic, I looked up the player on SBNation and ensured they missed time. I then put all instances of their missed time into the dataset. Which, again, can be found here.

In the interest of non-overweighted numbers, I ignored players that missed so much time that translating their injury would mean they miss all or most of the season -- single injuries that led to more than 35 games of missed time were excluded from the data. I also excluded injuries that occurred before December 25th, 2010 -- reason being that it would skew the relative weights. I excluded most injuries only spanning two days with one or fewer games missed -- I still have one or two one-game missed periods, but those are all at least 3 days. When I'd compiled the starting and ending dates of all 2011 injuries in my dataset, I then opened the NBA's official calendar (example here) for each team and, team by team, counted out how many games they would have missed if they'd suffered the injury they sustained in 2011 in the 2012 schedule. The results, while not surprising, are a bit eye opening, and put some actual numbers to the intuition.


The overall trend isn't staggering by any means, but it puts some hard numbers behind the general idea that the same injury is going to mean more to a team in 2012's compressed schedule than it would have in any normal season. Let's ignore, for the moment, that a single game is (percentage-wise) more impactful in 2012 than in 2011. We assume that 2011 was a normal season for injuries, a relatively safe assumption. The following chart gives a look at solely the incremental games missed if any of the 101 injuries in the dataset had occurred in the 2012 compressed schedule as opposed to a normal 82-game schedule. That is to say, how many extra games were missed solely on account of the compressed schedule? Click the graph to go to the chart in the spreadsheet.

Quite a few. Over the course of the whole season, 622 games were lost to injury according to my dataset. Were those games played under the compressed 2012 schedule, that 622 would balloon to 731 games lost to injury. A difference of 109 games over the entire league, a significant result in and of itself. Using per injury numbers, you find that simply changing the schedule from 2011 to 2012 leads to a total of 1.11 more games lost for each injury in the dataset. When you consider how many of the injuries in this dataset are actually relatively small-time injuries, that number starts to seem a little large. To wit, a scatterplot with the number of games missed to injury on the x-axis and the number of incremental games lost on the y-axis. Again, click for the spreadsheet.

This chart reveals the most deadly part of the incremental additions. They aren't really distributed in a predictable way. There's a slight upward trend if you do a simple trendline, but in general the added 1-2 games of loss you experience when translating injuries from the 2011 schedule to the 2012 schedule is going to happen essentially without regard for how many games your injury is. That's a big deal. You can expect an extra game or so for even the most minor injuries -- for example, the 2-game loss Chris Paul had last season for his minor concussion? That balloons to four in this dataset. Chris Bosh's short four game stint with a sprained ankle in late January last season? That's eight games in 2012. Dirk's nine game swoon during his ankle sprain? Eleven, meaning that the Mavericks would play a whole 16% of their 2012 schedule without Dirk if he had that injury this year. Tough cookies.

And that brings us back to the percentages -- raw games is a good way to look at the extra losses, but doesn't account for all the lost value inherent in the season simply being shorter. Taking the average numbers from before, the average injury in this dataset took up 7.74% of the player's season. (Notice I say average injury. Many players had multiple injuries -- it took up more of their seasons.) We've already established that on average, players missed more games for the same injury. If you compound that effect with the effect of the compression itself, you find that the average injury translated to 2012 takes up 11.3% of the player's season in the translated schedule. That's a big difference, and remember, we're talking about the exact same injuries. We aren't accounting for the time it takes for them to get back. We aren't accounting for the added stress of too-close for comfort travel. And we aren't accounting for added injuries at all, these are exactly the same injuries.

... anyone else concerned for the league's resident old folks? Juwan Howard, take a day off.

• • •

In short? Expect every injury to matter a lot more in the 2012 season than they did in 2011, for reasons of scaling and the compressed nature of the schedule itself. Injuries mattered, last year, but in 2012 they're going to be more influential. And if 1999 is our guide, there will probably be quite a few more of them. Which creates, in turn, a cascading effect -- each injury is more important, which makes coaches want to bring players back as quickly as possible, which leads to more injuries. It's a vicious cycle, and one the NBA probably should have thought about a bit before releasing this meat-grinder of a schedule. But it's one that we as fans will happily live with -- if we have to have a stupidly compressed schedule for the sides to agree to have a season, I don't know about you, but I'm good with it. Well. Maybe not good. But I can deal with it, you know?

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Get Like Gregg: One Man's Quest to relate Coaching to Injuries.

Posted on Tue 06 December 2011 in 2012 Season Preview by Aaron McGuire

So, I was thinking. A dangerous habit, I know. Last year's underrated Cavs story was just how hard Byron Scott pushed the team in practices and off-the-court training. I'm talking suicide sprints after every loss, players throwing up in training camp, etc. Now, the 2011 Cavs were an awful team. But Byron Scott's "bad cop, crazy cop" routine made no sense to me. If your child is bad at a school subject, screaming at them and forcing them to do thousands of extra homework problems isn't going to do much of anything. Besides leaving them with crippling psychological disorders, anger management problems, and Samardo Samuels.

Overall? This had me rather worried about Kyrie Irving and the 2011 Cavs. Kyrie, as everyone knows, is coming off a injury-torn season where he played only 11 games of college ball. Not very pleasant, but he performed lights out when he played. What if Byron Scott's insane practices hurt him? The whole tangent got me to thinking about ways I could, perhaps, poke at a measure of coach-centered effects on injuries. As with my last big statistical post, this isn't an advanced model or a particularly advanced concept -- essentially, I'll be taking data from our pals at Brewhoop and repackaging it to describe coaches. Current coaches only, and for the majority of this post, only a smaller subsample of those coaches. Ones with enough seasons that I feel we can start to make some conclusions. There will be three parts -- an intro, some analysis of the big outliers, and a short discussion.

For my spreadsheet, check out the Google Doc. Let's get to it.

• • •

Part I: Introduction

For this part, turn to Sheet "GAMES LOST (sig)" in the spreadsheet.

Here are the results of my labors. In this spreadsheet, there are two main sheets -- a summary of all active coaches (plus one or two recently-inactive ones for completeness), and a summary of those who coached more than 3 seasons in the time period of this analysis (2001-2011). The most important of the two is the second -- the one that culls out the small-sample-size coaches and leaves us with some we can begin to make actual conclusions about, slim though they may be. To start, here's quoting the excellent folks whose post provided the numbers to do this analysis, summarizing how they arrived at the numbers (and it's recommended reading in its own right):

For this, I used the data from the excellent Basketball Reference. I started with the first team alphabetically by city (Atlanta), starting with the 2000-2001 season. I opened three BR tabs (no, not Bleacher Report) for the roster/stats of that year's team, the player transactions they made during that year, and finally the schedule of the team. I first looked at the transactions to see if any player movement occurred throughout the season for that particular team. Then, I looked at the roster and only examined the players who played an average of over 20 minutes per game, and only the top nine players if there was more than nine 20 minute players (the numbers will be different than Pelton's piece because he looked at all players, not just the top nine). Obviously players don't miss games just because of injury--suspensions and DNPs also factor in--but by restricting the sample to a team's top nine I tried to only look at rotation players who would be expected to play in every game. I then subtracted the amount of games they played from total possible games they could have played. If a player moved during the season, I looked at the schedule and dates of when they were traded to find out how many possible games they could have played with their team before being traded/waived, and subtracted from there. The same goes for if a team signed a new player somewhere in the middle of a season. If a player wasn't moved at all, I kept their total possible games at 82.

While it's relatively ad hoc (and does necessarily ignore suspensions, though it looks like he accounted for the suspensions having to do with the Palace brawl), it's a systemic and relatively robust way to account for lost games. The alternative is to spider through this particularly good NBA injury database, but honestly, given the already dubious assumptions I'm making in essentially "assigning" to coaches all injuries that occurred under their watch, I'm not prepared to spend a 5-6 hour period spidering that database and going through the massive hassle of linking it with my personal database. So that goes by the wayside for now. I took the data he presented in that post, then connected it with coaches -- if a coach only coached for a partial season, I pro-rated the number of missed games based on the percentage they coached -- IE, George Karl coached 40 games in 2005, so he is assigned a pro-rated 40/82 (48%) of their 74 missed games that season, and his # of seasons coached is adjusted accordingly.

Some basic stats from the analysis, to start -- according to the data, we have a baseline of 70 missed games a season for an average long-tenured coach, and 69 missed games a season among all coaches in the dataset. That may seem odd, at first, but think of it this way -- the fact that the averages are so close is actually a really good thing. It provides some evidence that there is an actual population mean, and that there's a fair chance that we're looking at a long-tail normal distribution (i.e., despite a true population mean, the data range is wide, spanning from far below the mean to far above the mean). It also gives us an effective midpoint. The average number of seasons coached by a coach in the dataset is 6 seasons among all coaches, and 8 seasons among coaches with > 3 seasons.

• • •

Part II: the Outliers

For this part, turn to Sheet "GAMES LOST (sig)" in the spreadsheet.

Instead of doing the workaday sort of analysis, the data here is odd and foggy enough that I feel a specific examination of some coaches significantly beyond the threshold from the average is in order. As a general rule, I'm going to look at coaches that are clocking in at an average of either 20 more games missed than the average or 20 games fewer missed than the average. Let's get to it.

GREGG POPOVICH, SAS -- 40 per year (11.00 seasons)

This one seems reasonable to me. Pop has never had a particularly bad reputation in terms of practice conditions, and (as Sean Elliot describes) hops through pretty large hoops to make sure his players don't play injured (and risk more injury). An ounce of prevention is worth a liter of cure, I always say. It doesn't really shock me that he's the best at managing injuries, though the magnitude by which he takes the spot surprised me. As did his consistency. Not only does he have the lowest raw average, he also has a standard deviation among the lowest in the set. Partially this is a figment of the relatively larger sample size, but it's worth noting -- Pop is essentially everything you'd want if you bought these numbers. Low average games lost, and (relative to everyone else) low uncertainty about the estimate. Plausibility: High.

MIKE D'ANTONI, NYK/PHX -- 46 per year (7.74 seasons)

Now that's a bit of a surprise. The coach who oversaw Amare's microfracture is somehow among the lowest in missed games per season? Bonkers. Until you think about it a bit more. D'Antoni is a lot of things, and he does run his teams at a fast pace, but the correlation between pace and injury rate is shaky at best and fallacious at worst. D'Antoni spent years coaching for the Suns, an organization renowned for their best-in-class medical staff and their very own resident player-friendly health expert in Steve Nash. His loss numbers aren't actually up in New York yet, though, and that's what makes me wonder if (perhaps) D'Antoni didn't just take his offense from Phoenix -- he may also have taken their best-practices coaching and knows how to best keep his players from getting injured. Far be it from me to assert that the D'Antoni Knicks are going to be impervious from injury or anything like that. But might he have picked up some institutional knowledge from the Suns that he spread in the Knicks organization? Plausibility: High.

STAN VAN GUNDY, MIA/ORL -- 49 per year (6.25 seasons)

I actually was expecting this, even though I don't know if many people would. Three reasons. First, SVG is a loudmouth, but he isn't actually a mean coach -- his players love him, almost without exception. SVG doesn't leave his players out to dry, and more often than not, criticizes himself and his game plan above his players. When he complains about playing on Christmas day or about the number of back to back games the Magic play in a season, he's not doing it solely for his benefit, he's doing it for the players. Second, he's coached Dwight Howard. Big men are injured more than virtually any other position in the league -- if you cull through injury reports, you'll find proportionally more big men than you'd expect. Dwight, though? He puts in 36-40 MPG and has missed a grand total of 7 games in his career, many from suspensions. If you play Dwight, you've necessarily got fewer minutes available for big men, and that means less chances for your 7th man stiff of a big man to tear his ACL or shatter his knee. Third? He's an extremely good, underrated X's and O's coach who strikes me as one to make practices more about learning his system than simply running his guys to the ground. So it didn't really surprise me that he was low. Plausibility: High.

• • •

And now, for the other end of the spectrum -- coaches whose averages were 20 games HIGHER than the average. Two of them.

MIKE BROWN, LAL/CLE - 99 per year (5.00 seasons)

This is the only result that really shocked me. Why? I honestly thought Brown was going to turn up pretty well out of this analysis. I've never really heard anything rough about his practice schedule, and he got to coach LeBron at his prime, where he barely missed a thing year after year. Then again. Big Z, Ben Wallace, Antawn Jamison, Shaq, Delonte -- the Cavs had a lot of injuries and turmoil during his tenure, and while I think he's better suited as a teaching example for why this sort of analysis is inherently flawed (is it really his fault that these players got injured?) it makes sense that he's this high. He also has fewer seasons than anyone else 20 games outside the average, so you'd think if it isn't an accurate representation of his coaching talents, it'll even out by the time he has as many seasons under his belt as Pop, Sloan, or Scott. Plausibility: Low.

BYRON SCOTT, CLE/NJN/NOH - 99 per year (9.62 seasons)

Scott was the impetus for this post, sure, but even I didn't expect the numbers were going to work out this well for my case. Scott's system is a meat grinder for young players and especially guards -- I have a friend in New Orleans who honestly thinks Scott might've damaged CP3's knees permanently with how hard he played him, and while I don't know if you can blame him for 100% of that, you can certainly blame a system where he punishes losing with suicide sprints and snidely putting down his players to the press. Well, okay -- you can't blame that second part, that's just a dick move on his part. Regardless. Scott's teams don't actually play all that fast, and as I said earlier, the research I've seen seems relatively lukewarm on the idea that pace has a real impact on how injured your players get in the first place. But of all the coaches in the sample, there's not one coach's numbers I buy more than Scott's. A lot of seasons, a lot of variance, but nothing about it seems off to me. And everything about it seems depressing to me, knowing that he's going to be coaching a team chock-full of young talent. Someone get me a stiff drink. Plausibility: Through the Roof.

• • •

Part III: Conclusions

Honestly, having said all this, I think there's enough material here and in the spreadsheet for you all to draw your own conclusions. I would just like to offer a few big caveats to this post before you do. First is the most important one -- I wouldn't be comfortable presenting this to my boss. I'm a statistician, and these numbers (while honestly extremely interesting) aren't nearly rigorous enough to be anywhere close to, say, an academic paper or even a predictive model.

The fact is, injuries AREN'T endemic to the coach, and it could be very reasonably argued that all the findings of this post are a factor of luck more than anything else. I wouldn't necessarily argue against that, even. However, I do think that it's within the realm of possibility that certain coaches run their practices and their training camps in a way that makes their teams more injury prone. And I think it's within the realm of possibility that others do the opposite. I wouldn't claim that these numbers "prove" anything -- I just think examining the outliers in an analysis like this and seeing if they pass the smell test (which, I'll note, 4/5 of them did) is a valuable way to look at this sort of stuff.

In any event, I hope you found these injury trends interesting. I won't be using this data for my pre-season win prediction model I'm working on, because I don't think it's nearly robust enough for that, but I do appreciate the fact that the analysis challenged my preconceptions about Mike Brown's coaching and confirmed my darkest fears about Byron Scott's coaching. Well, no, I'm not ACTUALLY that appreciative about that, damnit. But at least I know what to expect. As always -- any questions, let me know. I'm a really busy person lately, but I'm always happy to spend a bit of time answering questions or clearing up inaccuracies. Best way to reach me is either through the comments here or through twitter, @docrostov. Stay frosty.

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