Monday, July 25, 2011

Casual Media at its Finest

If you learn nothing else from this blog, please learn how bad the title of this picture is. The word "mediocre" is pretty much the last thing to come to my mind when I look at those statistics. But, for ESPN, MLB Network, etc, there is a large focus on win-loss record.

The above picture is a perfect example of why NOT to focus on win-loss record. Lincecum has an ERA under 1, a K/BB rate of almost 3, and is holding opponents to an abysmal .223. But, because of the Giants' poor offense, he has only an 8-8 record. Most of that is, in all likelihood, out of Tim Lincecum's control. This is exactly why we focus on statistics like FIP for pitchers. Team defense and offense can affect how a pitcher's "traditional" stats look. It is much more important in evaluating a pitcher to look at what he CAN control.

Sunday, June 26, 2011

Offensive Four Factors: Sacramento Kings

Coming off of Tyreke Evans' impressive rookie year and the selection of DeMarcus Cousins in the 2010 NBA Entry Draft, many figured the Kings had the potential to take a step forward towards relevance.  Unfortunately a number of injuries, the incompetence of Paul Westphal, and the severe regression (more on this later) of Tyreke Evans, made for another disappointing season.

Sacramento Kings

Offensive Rating - 103.5 (25th)

Effective Field Goal Percentage - 48% (26th)
Turnover Percentage - 14.4% (26th)
Offensive Rebounding Percentage - 29.9% (1st)
Free Throw Ratio - 20.8% (28th)

The first thing that jumps out at me is the huge gap in their performance across the various metrics.  Sacramento was 1st in the league in Offensive Rebounding but in the bottom 5 in everything else.  This has been said for some of the league's other poor offenses, but Sacramento's ability to crash the offensive glass saved them from a historically bad offense.

Much like the teams in the bottom 5, Sacramento's main problems came from their inability to score the ball efficiently.  Sacramento's two highest usage players were Tyreke Evans and DeMarcus Cousins.  Neither of these two players scored the ball well.  The two players had the same eFG of 43.2%, a terrible number for anybody, but especially for players tasked with leading an offense.  Marcus Thornton was quite good offensively in his time with the team, but that was only in 1000 minutes, so his relative efficiency was but a drop in the bucket.  Beno Udrih also had an impressive year offensively, but his usage was incredibly low.

This leaves Evans and Cousins as the key culprits in both shooting the ball and protecting the ball.  Cousins featured an 18.5% turnover percentage, and Evans a 14.9% mark.  This did well to seal the team's fate as a group that struggled in protecting the basketball, and low turnover numbers from players like Beno Udrih, Francisco Garcia, Marcus Thornton, Omri Casspi and Carl Landry was not able to offset the damage done by Evans and Cousins.

The team's only bright spot offensively was its ability to crash the offensive glass.  Samuel Dalembert, Carl Landry, and DeMarcus Cousins (his only bright spot) all had double digit OREB%.  As I mentioned earlier, this saved them from a historically bad offense.

Getting to the line with any consistency was also a major issue for the Kings.  DeMarcus Cousins led the way with 5 trips to the line per game.  Their other leaders were Carl Landry (4.1 attempts), Marcus Thornton (4.4 attempts) and Tyreke Evans (4.7 attempts).  Other than these three, no rotation player got to the line more than 3 times every game.

Sacramento experienced a perfect storm of offensive incompetence.  The combination of poor shooting, a high turnover rate, and an inability to get to the line cemented their fate as offensive cellar dwellers. Even with the selection of Jimmer Fredette and the acquisition of John Salmons, this team will need massive improvements from both Evans and Cousins to show any sign of respectability.  

Monday, June 20, 2011

Offensive Four Factors: Charlotte Bobcats

Coming off the best season in franchise history which saw Charlotte make the playoffs for the first time, there was some optimism that the team could build off of that experience and slowly position itself as a sleeper in the East.  This never materialized, as 2010-11 saw Charlotte miss the playoffs yet again.  This was due in large part to an anemic offense.  We'll attempt to explain why.

Charlotte Bobcats

Offensive Rating - 103.4 (26th)

Offensive Four Factors Performance:

eFG: .482 (25th)
TOV: .141 (24th)
OREB: .257 (18th)
FTA/FGA: .237 (7th)

As is the case with the league's other bad offenses, the problem begins with shooting.  It is rare to find a team perform shoot poorly yet still do well offensively.  Unfortunately for Charlotte, they matched up poor shooting with a high turnover rate and mediocre offensive rebounding.  Let's take a look at why they struggled putting the ball in the hoop.

If we look at a combination of USG% and Minutes Played, the 4 players who had the biggest impact on their season were Boris Diaw, DJ Augustin, Stephen Jackson, and Gerald Wallace.  Of those 4, Diaw had the lowest USG% (only 16.8% - meaning he was rarely the focal point).  Neither of the 3 remaining players did well in terms of efficiency.  Augustin had an eFG of 47.4%, Jackson's was 46.8%, and Wallace's was 46.3%.  All three of these players had similar profiles in terms of their shot attempts - all three were poor 2 point shooters on varying degrees of volume and all were decent 3 point shooters on varying degrees of volume.

Lacking any credible inside threat allowed defenses to adjust accordingly, and the possessions that didn't end in a turnover typically ended in a low efficiency shot taken by one of those three players.

Charlotte was also poor at limiting turnovers.  The biggest culprit here was Stephen Jackson, who had a TOV of nearly 15% compared to the 11.4% league average for small forwards.  The big issue here is not just his turnovers in a vacuum, but that he was by far Charlotte's number one offensive option.  The other culprit of Boris Diaw.  Diaw will always have a higher TOV than most bigs given his style of play, but that is no excuse.  Teams that have difficulty shooting the ball need to protect the ball incredibly well to have any success, and having two players who are some of the worst at their positions in terms of protecting the ball makes matters worse.

Charlotte's offensive rebounding was a tinge below average.  I suspect that part of this was due to the inexcusable decision to limit Tyrus Thomas' minutes early in the season (and then, of course, his season ending injury).  The other factor here was Boris Diaw (again).  Diaw put up a putrid 4.5% offensive rebounding rate, and given that he played all of his minutes at either the 4 or the 5, we can quickly pick up why Charlotte struggled on the offensive glass.

Getting to the rack was the only bright spot in Charlotte's offensive resume this past year.  However, when we look at the free throw rates of some of their players, we see some confusion, as outside of Gerald Wallace's (1872 minutes) 5.6 attempts/game and Kwame Brown's (1714 minutes) 4.9 attempts/game, the only player who got to the line with any frequency was Stephen Jackson at 4.6 attempts/game.  This is where their inability to protect the ball coupled with their inability to grab offensive rebounds hurt them.  Even though they got to the line a good deal as a proportion of their total field goal attempts, their raw free throw attempts were low, simply because they had fewer possessions per game.

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Offensive Four Factors: New Jersey Nets

Our series will continue with the New Jersey Nets, a team who was unable to add a marquee free agent despite their imminent move to Brooklyn.  Adding Deron Williams was a minor coup, although he did little in the way of bringing up some of their horrible offensive numbers.

New Jersey Nets

Offensive Rating - 103.1 (27th)

Offensive Four Factors Performance

eFG%: 47.4% (27th)
TOV: 13.4% (t15th)
OREB: 26.1% (15th)
FTA/FGA: .215 (24th)

Once again, we see one of the league's worst offenses driven by their inability to score efficiently.  Despite being more of a jumpshooter, Brook Lopez was not the problem here.  The problem was with the point guards and the wings.  Devin Harris had an eFG of 45.2%, Jordan Farmar had an eFG of 47.5%, Travis Outlaw had an eFG of 42.7%, and Deron Williams had a putrid eFG of 39.6% in his short stint with the Nets.

However, I would expect there to be a decent bounceback next year, as Deron Williams will certainly recover (career eFG of 50.6%), and as long as he stays healthy, he should figure to cut deeply into the minutes that Jordan Farmar gets.  Of course, Devin Harris is no longer with the team.

Turnovers were once again driven by the guards - as Lopez and Humphries did well in protecting the ball.  The problem was Jordan Farmar's 16.7% turnover rate and Devin Harris' 17.5% turnover rate.  Deron Williams is not as good at protecting the ball as other elite point guards, but his shot creation and playmaking ability should ostensibly help going forward.

Offensive rebounding is the area where Brook Lopez's perimeter tendencies really come into play.  He had a putrid 7.8% offensive rebounding rate.  The Nets' league average OREB rate was driven by Kris Humphries and Derrick Favors (who is no longer with the team).

The Nets were towards the bottom of the league in terms of getting to the line.  This seemingly was driven by having wings who were primarily spot-up shooters.  Deron Williams will help, but the combination of a perimeter-oriented big + jump shooting wings will likely keep them at the bottom of the league in their ability to get to the line.  This isn't necessarily a big deal if the team can improve offensive performance in other areas, but unless they make another move this summer, I don't see the possibility of appreciable offensive improvement.

NBA Finals: 4th Quarter Analysis

As is often the case in the media, the 4th quarters of the NBA Finals were analyzed over and over again by ESPN and ABC. In this year's case, that emphasis on 4th quarter analysis was well placed. Every one of the six games was in doubt come the 4th quarter. So why did Dallas perform so well in the 4th quarters? We at Wanting It More have collected all of the 2011 NBA Finals 4th quarter statistics to give you a better idea.

The main focus of the media in 4th quarter analysis was on LeBron James. It appears the LeBron criticism was well founded. Not only did LeBron have the 7th highest point per possession rate among players with a significant amount of possessions used, LeBron used less possessions offensively than Dwyane Wade, Chris Bosh, Dirk Nowitzki, and Jason Terry. He used less than half the amount of possessions Wade and Dirk used, and he barely used more possessions than JJ Barea, Mario Chalmers, and Udonis Haslem. Considering how close the games in the Finals were in the 4th quarter, it is difficult to come up with a scenario in which the Heat could win the series with LeBron using so few possessions. Now, he did have a lot more assists than even the 2nd closest player, but even then, he used far less possessions than Dirk and Wade, still less than Terry, and the same amount of possessions as Bosh. And he did all of this with having the most 4th quarter turnovers in the series (tied with Dirk).

The numbers confirm that Dirk was dominant. Dirk had an excellent 57 true shooting percentage on an inordinate amount of possessions. His turnover rate was respectable given his usage (13%), but most importantly, he was by far the most aggressive player in the 4th quarter of games, shooting twice as many free throws as anyone (other than Chris Bosh- 24 to 13).

The player that quietly had excellent 4th quarter performances is Tyson Chandler. Chandler had NINE offensive rebounds in the 4th quarter of games. The Mavericks had 13 "extra" possessions in the fourth quarter of those games, nearly all of those being a result of Chandler's excellent offensive rebounding. Given the close nature of these games, it wouldn't be a stretch at all to consider Chandler the difference maker.

Between LeBron's passiveness, Bosh's poor efficiency, Dirk's outstanding offense, and Chandler's offensive rebounding, it is clear why the Mavericks dominated the 4th quarter of the Finals. And it's important to note that it all showed up in the box score.

Sunday, June 12, 2011

Offensive Four Factors: Washington Wizards

Much that was said about Washington throughout the season focused on off the court issues.  Whether it was shenanigans with Gilbert Arenas or talk about the deadline deal with Magic, little was actually said about the team's play, which makes sense, considering this was one of the worst offenses in the league.

Washington Wizards

Offensive Rating - 102.4 (28th)

Offensive Four Factors Performance

eFG%: 47.1% (29th)
TOV: 13.9% (23rd)
OREB: 28% (9th)
FTA/FGA: (23rd)

Much like the Bucks and Cavaliers, Washington's offensive struggles were primarily caused by their inability to make shots.  Washington gave 2000+ minutes to John Wall, Javale McGee, Andray Blatche and Nick Young.  Young was the only player with high usage and a somewhat decent eFG% at 49.7%.  This was mostly driven by shooting 39% from 3 at a pretty high volume (4.2 attempts/game).  Other than Young, Washington's high usage players all were abysmal in terms of shooting - below are the shooting numbers for John Wall and Andray Blatche.

John Wall - eFG% 42.7, TS% .494
Andray Blatche - eFG% 44.7, TS% .497

Both of these players were called on often and neither performed with any efficiency.

Washington's turnover problems were primarily the result of 3 players: John Wall, Andray Blatche, and Kirk Hinrich.  Hinrich was only with the team for 48 games and didn't have too high of a usage but still had a pretty terrible year in terms of protecting the ball.  Blatche was Washington's highest usage player and had turnover numbers right in line with Washington's as a team.  The worst culprit, however, was John Wall.  Wall turned the ball over an estimated 18.6 times in 100 plays.  This figure is one of the worst in the league, especially for a guard, and especially for a player that played such a large role in his team's offense.

Washington's offensive rebounding was quite good, driven largely by the play of garbageman Javale McGee.  The last factor was most in line with Washington's shooting and ballhandling woes, as their team FTA/FGA was 23rd in the league.  John Wall was the only Wizard who got to the line with any frequency.  This makes sense given the huge gap in his eFG% and his TS%.  The inability for any other Wizard to get to the line also makes sense, given their tendency to take lots of jumpshots.  Unfortunately for Washington, few of these shots went in.

Offensive Four Factors: Cleveland Cavaliers

Offensive Four Factors - Cleveland Cavaliers

Our next post in this series will highlight the offensive of the NBA's second worst offense, the Cleveland Cavaliers.  Marred by the loss of LeBron James, most NBA prognosticators felt that a serious drop in offensive efficiency was in order - it's safe to say these people were correct.  The Cavaliers offense scored barely over one point per possession.  Let's figure out why.

Cleveland Cavaliers

Offensive Rating - 102.2 (29th)

Offensive Four Factors Performance

eFG%: 47.2% (28th)
TOV: 13.4% (15th)
OREB: 24.2% (25th)
FTA/FGA: .233 (11th)

The two things that jump right out were their poor shooting and poor rebounding numbers.  The 5 players who played the heaviest minutes were JJ Hickson, Ramon Sessions, Anthony Parker, Daniel Gibson and Antwan Jamison.  None of these players are particularly great shooters, especially Sessions, Hickson, and Jamison, the three players who took on the heaviest offensive roles.

The same holds true for rebounding.  Outside of Anderson Varejao, Cleveland had little in the way of competent big-man play.  There are teams who are able to offset the handicap of poor shooting with above average offensive rebounding.  Cleveland was not one of those teams, as they performed well enough in the other 2 factors.

Much like Milwaukee's low turnover numbers helped save them from a historically bad offense, Cleveland's ability to get to the line with a decent amount of frequency coupled with their league average ball protection helped save them from being a complete and utter laughing stock.

Offensive Four Factors: Milwaukee Bucks

This is our first post in a series what will chronicle the offensive performance of each team in the 2010-2011 NBA season.  We will perform our analysis based on the four factors as detailed by Dean Oliver and distilled in our previous post.

Milwaukee Bucks

Offensive Rating - 101.6 (30th)

Four Factors Performance

effective Field Goal % - 46.7% (30th)
Turnover % - 13% (9th)
Offensive Rebounding % - 24.7% (22nd)
Free Throw/Field Goal Attempts Ratio - 21.7% (21st)

The explanation for Milwaukee's putrid offensive performance is pretty simple - they didn't make shots.  While a league worst Effective Field Goal % provides the bulk of the explanation, we do need to dig a little bit to gain some context.  Although there's a relationship between eFG% and ORating, there are some cases this year where teams have made up for poor shooting (Portland, for one).

The problem with Milwaukee was that they complemented their terrible shooting with poor rebounding and penetration numbers.  They ranked 22nd in Offensive Rebounding % and 21st in Free Throw Attempts as a percentage of Field Goal Attempts.  Both of these events can help an offense that cannot shoot well.  Unfortunately for Milwaukee, they did neither of these well enough to offset their shooting woes.

The bright side is that they protected the ball very well, having the 9th lowest turnover % in the league.  Possessions are paramount for any team, but the importance of a single possession is magnified when that team struggles to the degree that Milwaukee struggled.  Luckily for them they were able to protect the ball well enough.  Ballhandling more in line with the rest of their offensive numbers had the potential to lead to a historically bad offense.

Tuesday, May 31, 2011

The Offensive Four Factors

The Four Factors are what Dean Oliver identified in Basketball on Paper as the key to winning basketball games.  Over the next series of posts we will break down each team's production both offensively and defensively according to these metrics.  We will begin with offense.  

The Four Factors are:

Shooting (eFG%) **Insert link to eFG% post**
Rebounding (OREB%)
Ball-handling (TOV%)
Drawing Fouls (FTA/FGA)

We will look at each team on a case-by-case basis, providing a brief explanation of their relative performance in each factor.  We'll start at the bottom of the league with the Milwaukee Bucks and work our way to the top of the league with the Denver Nuggets.  A new team will be profiled each day.  Each team will be looked at in great detail.  The goal is to provide context for each team's performance on the court.

Friday, May 27, 2011

Dispelling Myths: LeBron James

At Wanting It More, our main goal is to make people think about sports differently than what is traditional based on media perception. In this series, we will focus on specific players and our individual opinions on them based on certain criteria. This first post focuses on one of the most controversial figures in sports currently.

I'm a huge fan of Detroit sports teams. It comes with the territory of growing up and living in Michigan. I'm a big Pistons fan, but growing up just after the Bad Boys era, my NBA interest was peaked by the Bad Boys primary antagonist: Michael Jordan.

I will confess... I grew up a Bulls fan. And Michael Jordan's greatness had everything to do with it. The Pistons weren't any good and Michael Jordan was simply the man. He's everything you wanted being a big sports fan. He was ultra-competitive, great, and had an unmatched desire to win. He's a big part of the NBA fan I grew up to become.

To me, LeBron James is now what Michael Jordan used to be in a lot of ways. Most importantly, he's simply the best basketball player in the world. And, in my opinion, he has been for quite some time. LeBron soul crushed the Pistons in the 2007 NBA Playoffs. Specifically, he dominated in Game 5 which will forever be one of the finest individual game playoff performances you will ever see. As a Pistons fan, I was crushed. As a basketball fan, I was amazed. I understood that, despite my team allegiances, we were witnessing the beginning of something very special. LeBron's absolute refusal to lose that game was reminiscent of that player I grew up loving.

In the next few years, my love for LeBron as a player only grew. He dominated games on a level that you just do not see very often. It was clear to me that I was watching a once in a generation type of player. He was absolutely unstoppable driving to the basket and he had an innate ability to finish around the rim whenever he got there (which was seemingly every possession).

LeBron's ability to shoulder a huge load offensively (usage) at such a high efficiency (TS%) with a low turnover rate is something that we haven't seen from a wing player since His Airness. Combine that with his incredible defense, and the Michael Jordan comparisons should not be surprising.

Fast forward to last summer, and LeBron saw a lot of criticism for the way he handled The Decision. Plenty of that criticism was deserved. He probably should have told the Cavs ahead of time. He probably should have not made such a spectacle of the decision, even though it generated millions of dollars for charity. What I don't understand is the criticisms directed at his "taking the easy way out."

LeBron gave Cleveland everything he had. He didn't complain, he just played amazing basketball for seven years. Cleveland just failed to put the necessary pieces around him. The easy way out would have been to stay with his hometown team and not have as much pressure around him. But he took a risk. He chose to team up with Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh, fully knowing that the Miami Heat would have incredible expectations from year one. But LeBron wanted to win. He wanted to cement his place in history.

With his performance in the last two series, I believe that he's well on his way. LeBron's performance against the Chicago Bulls was nothing short of spectacular. He took on the responsibility of guarding the reigning MVP while still shouldering a heavy load offensively. LeBron's effort on both sides of the ball was reminiscent of another player that I grew up loving so much. And he did it seemingly effortlessly. While the Bulls were grabbing their shorts late in games, LeBron looked like he did when the games had begun.

Today, LeBron James is just a series away from winning his first championship at age 26. And unlike LeBron's first attempt in 2007, his team is a decided favorite in the NBA Finals. Michael Jordan won his first championship at age 27. And given the Heat's younger core and the fact that they've found a way to co-exist as the season has gone along, it shouldn't surprise anyone if the Heat rattle off a lot of championships in the next 6 years.

Will LeBron James ever surpass Michael Jordan? Maybe not. Scottie Pippen doesn't necessarily agree with that sentiment, though. But, given his production and career arc, LeBron James is well on his way to doing something special and cementing his name forever in the record books among the all-time greats. And, at some point, people are going to have to give him the credit he so greatly deserves.