Alex Ovechkin and Kobe Bryant, a Tale of Two Stars

This piece is written by Adam Koscielak. You can follow him on twitter @adamkoscielak. He’s Polish and funny and a good person. I don’t necessarily agree with all of the points of this article, which discusses my favorite athletes of two different sports but it’s worth a read.

One, a high school player with question marks all over him, the other, a Russian young superstar with exclamation marks everywhere. One, chosen thirteenth, ever a motivation, the other, chosen first, ever a burden. One, a basketball Shooting Guard, the other a Hockey left winger. Both of them, absolutely stellar, both of them turning a team game into an individual skills display.

What can you say about both of them that hasn’t been said already? Kobe shoots too much, Ovie shoots too much. Kobe is overconfident to a fault, so is Ovie. From that perspective, they’re pretty similar, but when push comes to shove, they are different. Kobe, ever the overachiever in a sense, Ovie, ever the underachiever.

Kobe Bryant never really had all the physical tools to be a dominant player in the NBA. Sure, in this prime he had wicked athleticism, but he was also hellishly skinny. Perhaps, his success early on was Shaq, or perhaps, it was just his will. We will never have the right answer for that, perhaps because there isn’t one. The Black Mamba does, as the Black Mamba pleases, I guess. But what he could do with that high school frame, what his hard work turned him in to, is unquestionable.

Meanwhile, Ovechkin was a monster from day one. Physical, with a wicked slapshot that would send shudders down your spine. Ovechkin was the next big thing, a big thing that was put on pause by a lockout season, and had to compete with another big thing in Sidney Crosby. Ovechkin, a physical specimen and a seemingly unstoppable beast, fueled by fire. Crosby, a thin kid that just happened to have the craftiness of a mid-income man’s Wayne Gretzky (which means, he was pretty fucking crafty). Ovechkin’s war was with the future. Kobe’s meanwhile, was with the past.

Kobe could only be compared to one player, really. Not because of sheer greatness, I mean, there are better players on the all time list, contrary to what some delusional fanboys would believe, but because of style. Kobe visibly idolized Jordan. Kobe visibly came up in high school, wanting to be like Mike. And his game reflected that. Never afraid of taking the big shots, never afraid of going to the hole, or shooting a three. Kobe was the premiere wing player, until LeBron James came along, and even so, the narrative between them only started around 2006 or 2007. From then on, Kobe was battling two opponents. Ghosts of the past in Jordan, and future spectres in LeBron. The thing is, that in this rivalry, LeBron was the more physical one. LeBron was the Ovechkin, to Kobe’s Crosby, even if LeBron’s game was more like Crosby’s, and Kobe’s, like Ovechkin’s. Kobe was always the “skill guy” while LeBron was the “brute force” killer. Just read commentary from that time. Sure, bloggers knew better, but the public always saw LeBron as a guy who did it all with his athleticism, and Kobe as the guy who outsmarted his opponent (by taking contested post-up shots, nonetheless).

But Kobe has something that Ovechkin, in today’s star-studded NHL may never get. Championships, or as one would say if he were to be obnoxious; RINGZZZZZZZZZZZ. A few years back, I even went as far as equating Ovechkin with LeBron, when it comes to scrutiny. Both never got it done when it all came down to getting it done, at the time. Both seemed to be absent when the minutes waned, both had their embarrassing moments, with Ovechkin having an unforgettable loss to the 8th seed Habs in his resume, ever a stain. Kobe rode the shoulders of a giant earlier, and later became a giant himself. Part of it is Mitch Kupchak’s genius. Part of it is sheer luck (see, Artest, Ron, putback) but Kobe found a way to win, and for that he will always be revered, just as Ovechkin will be scrutinized.

Then again, can you compare basketball and hockey, when it comes to winning those elusive rings? Hockey is a fluke sport in many ways. Sometimes, a goalie turns into a immovable object (see, Halak, Jaroslav) other times, a forward turns into an unstoppable force (see Toews, Jonathan). The unpredictable world of a sport where goals are random occurences, is hard to compare with the paced and repeatable sport of basketball. After all, it’s hard to beat a basketball on fluke that doesn’t involve injuries or suspensions. Sure, there are the Ron Artest putbacks, but they are still products of hundreds of other possessions, a regularity. In hockey, there’s no regularity. There are games spent in the neutral zone. There are games, where you bombard the net, but the puck will refuse to go in, and the other teams takes advantage of the one chance they get. A bounce, a powerplay, a breakaway, or one simple play. There are 18 players rotating on the ice, and each of them has the potential to make or break the game with a stupid play. (see, Conklin, Ty; Smith, Steve) Basketball’s chaos is organized, regular. Hockey has the regularity of an arhythmic heart. In basketball, a player can easily take credit for his greatness, after all, rarely does the 10th man radically shift a game, usually, it’s the first man. In hockey, the only true hero is the goalie, a man with as much pressure as praise. The rest is a crapshoot. And in this crapshoot, it’s kind of impressive that Ovie in his great seasons, managed to emulate what Wayne Gretzky done, and make an extremely team based sport take on the look of individual heroics. And not far behind is Kobe, who, in a sense, highlighted the individuality of the NBA. His teammates were mere helpers on his quest, and only know, playing with the ultimate teammate in Steve Nash, no less, he’s beginning to understand what it means to be a team player, even if he does so with a bit of selfishness.

And so, the main difference will always be, the achievements they made. Some of them, due to pressure. Some of them, due to work ethic. After all, Kobe can spend hours in the gym, if he feels he’s fucked up, while Ovie hangs around in clubs, ever confident in his abilities on the ice. Is Alex Ovechkin the Kobe Bryant of the NHL? No. Is Kobe Bryant the Alex Ovechkin of the NBA? No. They are quite the polar opposites of each other, but they will always be among the most polarizing figures in their respective sports. Perhaps, in 20 years we’ll have a debate. “Was Kobe greater than LeBron.” Perhaps, in 20 years we’ll ask what the hell  happened with Alex Ovechkin at some point. Or we’ll be fighting over him and Crosby until we rip each others throats out. While Kobe’s legacy is slowly nearing to a conclusion, Ovie has another ten years or so to show what he is about. Are his great years just a fluke, a wildcat offence of the NHL? Has everyone finally adjusted to the way he plays, neutralizing him in large part? Or will he bounce back after a weak year, with renewed passion.

Just like that, the tale of two superstars closes with as many questions as before. Different questions, perhaps, but questions. The future will determine, what the legacies of the two will be. Will Kobe be one of the ultimate winners, or will generations ahead prove his achievements to be nothing of note? Probably the former. Will Ovechkin ascend back into the competiion with Sidney Crosby, or will he fall into the “a few good seasons” category of a player? Everything is ahead.

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The Bucks Re-Sign John Hammond, Who Must Get The Bucks Off The Treadmill

Credit: csnbayarea.com

The Bucks agreed to a contract extension with GM John Hammond for the next 3 years, arriving at a solution for one of their many questions that the team had for its immediate future.

Milwaukee entered the season with a deep, eclectic roster with not enough playing time for all its capable players. The coach and GM each had one year remaining on their contracts with no promise of an extension. As such, the range of on-court possibilities ranged from “sneaky good mid-tier playoff team” to “convoluted train wreck” with seemingly equal probabilities in the area between. They also had no known plan for sustained success – they had young players and old players and new players and familiar players and no one had any idea what was going on. They were stuck on the proverbial treadmill of mediocrity, and no one knew whether or not they’d make changes to escape that bloody area.

In spite of Scott Skiles’ best efforts to get a roster that he hated to hate him back, with rotations that resembled Russian Roulette and with death stares that would make Kobe jealous, the team leaned to the good side of the range of possibilities before he and the team decided the time came to part ways. But now that the team has committed to Hammond as its GM long-term, it allows Hammond to make moves during the season that could impact either this year or his next three. The roster he built has some promise, but it also appears directionless, something he needs to remedy.

So to see what options Hammond has, I decided to break down the players on the roster into arbitrary groups (based upon the roles they play now and the roles they may occupy going forward) and evaluate their futures with the Bucks.

The “Core”: Brandon Jennings, Ersan Ilyasova, Larry Sanders (aka LARRY SANDERS!)

While Jennings is a free agent to be, he’s restricted, and Hammond apparently is unwilling to let him go. While he could stand to be a more efficient shooter, his shot distribution is good enough that he doesn’t hurt the offense overall, unlike his backcourt complement. However, he doesn’t create shots for teammates well enough on his own to carry an offense, and Monta Ellis averages about as many assists as Jennings does for the Bucks.

Ilyasova, when he’s right, gives Milwaukee the same production that more heralded power forwards give their teams on a regular basis. But he doesn’t play well enough on a consistent basis to be included with the likes of LaMarcus Aldridge, Zach Randolph, David Lee, and David West (and maybe a few others). But his contract isn’t onerous, and he’s the one player on the roster whose production is irreplaceable.

Meanwhile, Sanders has emerged from the bog of cloned bigs as a long-term starter, which his known shot-blocking abilities enabled on a large scale by a reduced foul rate and a competent offensive skill set. He might be nothing more than a complementary offensive player, but as someone like Tyson Chandler can show you, a complementary offensive player can be devastatingly effective. And that defense is something else. I was completely wrong about Sanders – I thought him to be someone whose temper and fouling tendencies reduced him to being a backup, one that would have gotten lost in the bog. Instead he’s the one big who clearly got out of it.

However – and this is a big caveat – this does not mean any of these players should be unmovable. For instance: what if someone were to offer a “star” wing, but Ilyasova or Sanders had to be in a deal? The Bucks, in major need of a wing, could still swing that deal. This is not an impenetrable core by any stretch, and should be handled accordingly. But the Bucks presumably intend to build with these three players as major pieces.

The Free Agents To Be: Monta-Ellis-have-it-all-including-an-ETO, Beno Udrih, Mike Dunleavy, Samuel Dalembert

The Jennings-Ellis experiment certainly could have gone worse. For instance, the duo could have fought over who gets to control the offense and/or launch the majority of the team’s shots. They also could have collectively decided to not play defense together. But Ellis tried on defense sometimes and shed some of his ball-hogging tendencies. However, his raw numbers have dropped, as has his efficiency, and considering what little else he brings to a team despite his having it all I would not find it surprising if the Bucks either trade Monta by the deadline or wish that he would exercise his early termination option (ETO for short). They may want to move him before he walks for nothing; his walking would open a lot of cap space for this summer’s free agent class, but the class is fairly weak (especially for possible Milwaukee targets).

Udrih and Dunleavy put the Bucks in a bit of a catch-22. They anchor what’s currently Milwaukee’s greatest competitive advantage: a second unit which outclasses most others and gives them maybe their best chance of scoring an upset once the postseason comes around. But they also combine for nearly $11 million in expiring contracts, which would be useful in trying to acquire a core piece, especially one from a team that intends to contend despite trading a potential core member. And neither seems likely to sign in Milwaukee long-term, especially if they find better deals elsewhere. If either end up in other cities, it’ll likely be because the team made a move for the future.

Meanwhile, Dalembert has burnt down half of the bridges in the league, and he’ll likely be traded/bought out at some point regardless of the team’s direction.

The Competent Role Players: Luc Richard Mbah a Moute (henceforth referred to as LRMAM), Ekpe Udoh

LRMAM and Udoh each play a significant defensive role, but neither should be considered unmovable now or later for any purpose. Both are also on reasonable multi-year deals, so they can also be moved in deals over the summer.

The Young Players Without A Cause: John Henson, Tobias Harris, Doron Lamb

The team’s three most recent draft picks all have some NBA skills, but also have real weaknesses. I was tempted to include Henson as a part of the core, but his inconsistent playing time and his repetitive skill set with Udoh and Sanders caused me to include him in this group. Henson is tall and skilled, but he’s lighter than air and weaker than Popeye without his spinach. Tobias Harris has about as good of a post game as you’ll find from a perimeter player, but the value of a post up game for a complimentary perimeter player is, well, hard to gauge. And Doron Lamb could shoot in college, but can he do that in the NBA and defend bigger wings? All could be available in deals intended to make the Bucks better now, though if that’s not the plan Hammond would do well to hold onto all three, even if they stick to the bench for long stretches.

The Last Arenas?: Drew Gooden

Drew Gooden is one of the remaining few players eligible for the amnesty provision for whom it may actually be used. He mostly toils away on the Milwaukee bench, despite still being capable of providing decent offense for nearly any NBA team. The young bigs that all need playing time essentially ended the Drew Gooden Point Center era. Which is a rotten shame. Anyway, his contract seems onerous enough (with two years remaining after this at nearly $6 million a piece) that no one will trade for him. He would come in handy, however, if Milwaukee made a move for this year which involved one or two of its young bigs, as he could still productively fill in. He might as well if he’s there. The Bucks can amnesty him over the summer to create more cap room. If Hammond plays his cards right he could find enough cap room to re-sign Jennings to a huge contract and fit another max deal. If there’s no targets Hammond can always keep Gooden around.

The Blergh: Marquis Daniels, Joel Przybilla

Let’s just move on from here.

Anyway, as you can see, the roster situation is fluid. Now armed with the power to make roster changes, Hammond must do something to either build for tomorrow (which seems like the obvious course of action) or to give them a better chance today and for the rest of the season (which seems to be the owner’s wishes). Regardless of which he direction he decides to take the team, one thing seems evident: he must do something, or otherwise today and tomorrow are both in jeopardy, as they have yet to commit to either winning or rebuilding.

Bobcats Let Them Shoot

After reading a post on Queen City Hoops (a name eerily similar to ours) about the Bobcats letting the Pacers shoot threes, I went to check if the Bobcats let the Rockets do that to them today.

Oh, yes they did.

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These are all screenshots (thanks to NBA.com/Stats) of different looks the Rockets got. Look! I stopped screenshotting with 8 minutes still remaining in the first half! I already had got my point across.

ALL OF TEH OPEN THREES

GOTW Preview: Miami Heat @ Los Angeles Lakers

A day after Lebron games scored his 20,000th career point, TNT airs a game that many people circled on their calender when the schedules were released last summer. Ever since the Lakers traded for Dwight Howard, this was the dream final that everyone envisioned. The two teams in this match-up, the Heat and the Lakers have between 5 and 8 stars between them (depending on how you view Pau, Nash, and Ray Allen). And be honest. When it comes to NBA 2k13, these are the two teams that you hate facing. When you join an online match-up and you end up facing the Lakers or the Heat, you either quit out of the game, or at least contemplate it. Talent-wise, it doesn’t get better. One of these squads has the top scorer of the last decade, the top defender of the last decade, the top passer of the last decade, the top perimeter defender of the last decade, and the most-skilled post big-man of the last decade. The other team has perhaps the greatest athlete ever to play in the NBA, a shooting guard that has been toe-to-toe with Kobe and before this season had actually been statistically better, the best shooter of all-time and a top-3 power forward in the NBA today. This match-up may have more stars than have ever been on a court in an NBA game in the entire history of the league.

It has not been as easy for either of these teams this season as one would have expected before the season, especially the Lakers. The Los Angeles Lakers (17-21) have struggled immensely this season, with drama following their every move. First it was losing their first three games, then news that Nash had broken his leg, then the firing of the head coach. Phil Jackson was supposed to be the “savior”, to come back from retirement and reunite with Kobe and lead the team to their true potential. Mitch Kupchek and Jerry/Jim Buss shocked the NBA world when they chose Mike D’Antoni instead. They’ve had a very bumpy ride on the journey they call their season with Pau Gasol trade rumors clearly impacting his play, Kobe’s off-ball defense woes, and injuries sidelining Steve Nash and Steve Blake for extensive periods of time. Just earlier this month, the Lakers endured a freak game that injured their top three big men in minutes, including Jordan Hill for the whole season. They take a two-game win streak into tonight’s game against Miami, hoping to build on wins versus the Cavs and the Bucks.

The Miami Heat (25-12) lead the Eastern Conference, but that isn’t enough for the lofty expectations of their fans. Rebounding issues have highlighted the reason that they’ve stumbled of late. In their last eleven games, the Heat have only won three of them in regulation and have only out-rebounded their opponent in two of those last eleven games, a series of games that includes the Heat getting beaten down on the boards by Chicago (48-28), Indiana (55-36), and Utah (40-23). They’ll need to be sharp on the boards against a Lakers squad that presents two 7-footers.

Injuries:

  • Dwight Howard – Probable. Dwight is all but a sure thing to play after coming back from a shoulder injury on Sunday against the Cavaliers. In two games since he’s returned, Dwight has averaged 26.5 PPG, 15 RPG, 79% from the field and 2.5 BPG. Some say that he’s finally found his form for the first time since he’s moved across the country.
  • Pau Gasol – Probable. A concussion has taken away the last five games from Gasol, but ESPNLA is reporting that team doctors have cleared him this morning and he’ll be good to go tonight. However, there are conflicting reports as to whether Gasol will be comng
  • Shane Battier – Probable. Battier missed two games with a hamstring injury but returned against the Warriors last night, playing 10 minutes (well below his season average of 24.6 MPG). Since it’s the second game of a back-to-back, it isn’t out of the question for Battier to miss this one for precautionary measures.

What to Expect:

One of the places that the Lakers have struggled, and it’s been discussed heavily, is transition defense. That plays directly into the Heat strengths. Kobe Bryant and Steve Nash need to commit themselves to get back on defense to prevent the team that does this and this from doing those things. I think it can also be expected for the stars to play well… or at least heave a lot of shots. They’re on ESPN, in the marquee match-up of the entire season. You can expect players like Kobe, Dwight, and Wade to try to assert themselves early and make a statement. Lastly, it’s important to look for who Kobe Bryant is guarding early in the game. In the past against the Heat, the Lakers have stuck Bryant on Wade, Metta on Lebron, and Bynum (now Howard) on Bosh. Lately, however, their defensive philosophy has changed a bit due to Kobe’s struggles with off-ball defense. He’s been guarding the main ball handler for the majority of games in the last week or so. If that trend should continue, it would put Kobe on Lebron James, something that he may not be able to handle. Honestly, I’d expect the trend to end and we’ll have a long night watching Dwyane Wade run around screens, stranding Kobe across the court.

The X-Factor:

On his 31st birthday, Dwyane Wade’s going to need a big day. When D-Wade scores at least 18 points this season, the Heat are 16-4, as compared to 9-8 when he doesn’t tally that many. Wade’s just got to be active in many facets of the game tonight. From time-to-time he seems a bit lackadaisical out there, with little energy. When he plays the way that he’s capable, Dwyane Wade is a top-5 player in the league today and a huge difference maker.

The Predictions:

Some of the other contributors for Hoop City Blog assisted me with this section and gave me their picks for the game.

  • Skyler (twitter @skylerjgilbert) – I think the Lakers are going to come out strong and and give themselves a fighting chance. It wouldn’t surprise me if Kobe came out looking to be a facilitator. In the end, I think the Hear are just too much for LA, however. Lebron James has at least 20 points in all but one game this year and is likely to win another most valuable player award. The Lakers will give up too many fast break points down the stretch. MIA 111, LAL 105.
  • Sam (twitter @sam_vecenie) – My prediction for tonight is a Lakers win. The Heat just got up for a somewhat big game against the Warriors last night and might be feeling the effects of a back-to-back tonight. This game will be defined by whether or not Dwight Howard is able to take over. If he is able to assert his will in the middle, the Lakers should win. If not, they will lose. I think he plays well tonight, the Lakers win, and chaos ensues as fans continue to believe the Lakers are back, but bloggers continue to laugh at their inherent flaws. 97-95 Lakers.
  • Quentin (twitter @qhaynes22) – MIA 104, LAL 96. LeBron has a huge game, Kobe had a solid game, but Howard keeps LAL in it with a 20-20 game before Wade and Bosh help MIA pull out the W.

Skyler Gilbert is a contributor for Hoop City Blog. He’d like to thank 82games.com, hoopdata.com, and basketball-reference.com for helping him compile the statistics used in the article. You can follow him at @skylerjgilbert. Also, it’s weird for him to be referring to himself in the 3rd person so he’s going to conclude this article.

Why Do I Like Joakim Noah?

I’ve never met anyone else who likes Joakim Noah.

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Some people just can’t get past the hair. Others hate the way he evilly sneers as he runs up and down the floor. Basketball purists complain about his awkward, side-spinning shot that should never result in a made field-goal. Seemingly, he just annoys everyone I’ve ever met that has watched him play.

Explaining why I like him is difficult. It doesn’t really make sense why I would. He was responsible for beating the best Ohio State (my alma mater) basketball team of my lifetime. He spoke at length about how much he dislikes Cleveland (my favorite team). One would think that these would be very fair reasons why to hate someone. But I can’t do it.

He is a walking contradiction. His hair projects a free-spirited personality, but his on-court intensity gives the impression of anything but. Never expressionless, he plays with a ferocious passion that is only matched by that of his coach, Tom Thibodeau. At least once a game, Noah will let out a primal scream that awakens everyone in the arena from the slumber that normally accompanies watching the Bulls play without Derrick Rose.

Noah certainly doesn’t play a pretty brand of basketball, but his results are undeniable within Thibodeau’s system. Chicago’s defense ranks third in the NBA in defensive efficiency, and it is Noah who is the lynchpin. His boundless energy is evident within every defensive possession. He recklessly dives all over the floor for loose balls. The vigor with which he is able to block shots with force yet gracefulness in order to keep the ball in-bounds is remarkable for a man of his size. Few players in the NBA create more extra possessions for their team than Noah does. He is one of three players in the NBA to average at least two blocks and one steal, to go along with averaging 3.8 offensive rebounds per game.

I was trying to think of a player to compare Noah to, but I couldn’t think of anyone. He’s completely unique there because of his personality and talent. In order to find a comparison, one must leave the world of the NBA.

The only applicable comparison I can find is to the rapper 2 Chainz. Just like Noah, 2 Chainz is disliked by many. Some complain about the utter absurdity of his lyrics, or more generally his inability to rap about anything substantive at all. His appearance is patently ridiculous; with long hair halfway down his back and sunglasses that he wears so often that they are seemingly glued to his face.

2 Chainz was even something of a late bloomer like Noah, who was the beneficiary of late growth spurts that pushed him to his present height of 7’0.” Normally rappers are discovered in their early 20s and, with some luck, produce their best music in their late 20s to early 30s. Tauheed Epps (2 Chainz birth name) wasn’t really discovered until he was 30, at which point he was still going by the name of Tity Boi. In Epps case, a simple re-branding was all it took for his career to take off.

2 Chainz took off near the middle of last year. Just like Noah plays, he raps with an inexhaustible energy that is infectious upon listening. It may not be the best method of rap, but it’s fun. Just as no one will ever confuse Noah for Dwight Howard, no one will ever mistake 2 Chainz for Jay-Z. My assumption is that if you don’t like 2 Chainz, you probably don’t like Joakim Noah either because of a lot of their inherent “flaws.”

I don’t see these quirks as flaws. I enjoy watching Noah’s extreme exuberance on the court while playing the Heat just as I enjoy listening to 2 Chainz’ ridiculous enthusiasm while rapping hilariously misogynistic lyrics over “Birthday Song.” I enjoy how Noah embraces his appearance by wearing comical outfits (his draft day outfit) just as I enjoy 2 Chainz’ absurd insistence to wear sunglasses even when he’s indoors. I think I like the fact that someone can have these quirks and still be an star basketball player. Not everyone needs to be a carbon copy of each other to be successful. I hope that Noah never shaves that hair and never gets that front-tooth gap fixed. I hope he continues to annoy everyone else by wearing his emotions on his sleeve. He wears his individuality as a badge of honor, and that’s something that should be enjoyed by everyone.

Even though I have a million reasons to dislike Joakim Noah, I just can’t help but enjoy his existence.

GOTW Preview: Indiana Pacers @ Brooklyn Nets

At 6:00 eastern time at the Barclays Center in Brooklyn, two red-hot franchises will face off as they, like several either teams are doing everything in their power to move up the standings in the Eastern Conference.

The Match-up:

The Indiana Pacers (23-14), winners of four straight, are coming off of a 96-88 victory over the Charlotte Bobcats that saw forward David West record his first career triple-double. They benefited from superb point guard play that saw George Hill and back-up D.J. Augustin put up 19 and 18 points, respectively. They’ll be going to the homes of the Brooklyn Nets (21-15), who have won six in a row and seven of their last eight since firing coach Avery Johnson and replacing him with interim coach P.J. Carlesimo. Brooklyn had a nice showing on Friday night when they beat the Phoenix Suns 99-79. Joe Johnson chipped in 19 points in that game and MarShon Brooks added 17 points off the bench while filling in for Gerald Wallace, who came out of the game in the first quarter when P.J. Tucker contested a dunk attempt and Wallace landed hard on his right arm. Initial testing on the arm came up negative, but Wallace did suffer bruised ribs.

Injuries:

  • Gerald Wallace – Out. Wallace has been ruled out of this game with bruised ribs, sources near the team says.
  • Deron Williams – Questionable. Williams suffered a thigh contusion against the Suns on Friday. The star point guard is a gametime decision. ***Update: Williams will start, but may be limited in minutes***
  • Paul George – Probable. George is the leading scorer for the Pacers (16.9 PPG) and has shown great recent success against the Nets, scoring 19.5 PPG and shooting 66.7% from the field in the Pacers’ last four meetings against the Nets. Paul George missed Saturday’s game against the Bobcats with an undisclosed illness, but is expected to return with the team against the Nets. ***Update: George will play, according to the Indianapolis Star***

What to Expect:

Indiana has the top defense in the NBA, allowing only 98.6 points per 100 possessions, the best defensive rating in an 82-game season since the 2003-04 season. Their combination of long and quick players on the perimeter and Roy Hibbert causing havoc under the basket has slowed even the best of offenses in recent weeks. Both teams ranked among the slowest in the NBA by comes to pace, so don’t be expecting a “flying death machine” like Miami or the LA Clippers. The Nets have had an up-and-down year and are currently riding a hot streak. They have two guards in Deron Williams and Joe Johnson that have been putting up high-usage, albeit inefficient seasons. This game should be close right up to the end as they are pretty equally matched.

The X-Factor:

Joe Johnson is the X-Factor of this match-up. Much has been made of the struggles Joe Johnson has had in his first year with the Nets, most alarmingly is his worse-than-average PER of 14.5. For a player making $19.5 million this year, that’s just unacceptable. However, when Johnson has been productive, Brooklyn is a different team. The Nets are 16-5 when Johnson shoots at least 42% from the field and only 5-10 when he shoots worse than that.

The Predictions:

Some of the other contributors for Hoop City Blog assisted me with this section and gave me their picks for the game.

  • Skyler (twitter @skylerjgilbert) – I expect the Pacers to stop the Nets run and pull this one out. Brooklyn depends too much upon Joe Johnson and Deron Williams (who may not even play). Indiana’s perimeter defense will shut them down. 89-79 Pacers.
  • Sam (twitter @sam_vecenie) – For me, it pretty much just depends if Paul George plays, as he missed their game last night against the Bobcats with the flu. George has been on fire recently and looks like he’s turned the corner as a go-to option for the Indiana offense. If he plays, the Pacers will pick up a close win around 93-90. If he doesn’t, this should be a win for the Nets, who have won seven of their last eight under PJ Carlesimo. Without George, I’ll go with a 95-86 win for the Nets.
  • Chris (twitter @chrisjandb) – Indiana is on fire lately with a smothering defense. Opponents are only shooting 42.3% against them the last 10 games. IND 92 BK 86.
  • Quentin (twitter @qhaynes22) – I expect David West to have a big game. Pacers 94, Nets 87.
  • Jameson (twitter @jamdraper) – Brooklyn wins 94-89. Paul George not playing/playing ill hurts the Pacers.

Skyler Gilbert is a contributor for Hoop City Blog. He’d like to thank 82games.com, hoopdata.com, and basketball-reference.com for helping him compile the statistics used in the article. You can follow him at @skylerjgilbert. Also, it’s weird for him to be referring to himself in the 3rd person so he’s going to conclude this article.

Metta: No Longer the Problem, but the Answer.

Let’s face it. The Lakers are lost. Dwight is hurt, Pau is hurt, Kobe and Nash have been getting killed by more youthful legs on the defensive end of the court, and the bench has been more inconsistent than Jeff Green’s heart. If you ask any Lakers fan for a bright spot on this season they’ll either say Kobe, because they’re ignorant and stereotypical Laker fans that still think that Kobe Bryant is a deity on Earth, or they’ll tell you about the crazy guy who once thanked his psychiatrist after winning the NBA championship. That’s right. Metta World Peace.

The last two years have been the worst of Metta’s career. He’s averaged single-digit points per game, a far cry from the numbers that he put up as members of the Pacers or Kings. Last season he shot 30% from mid range and 30% from three-point range. That kind of inefficiency makes followers of the team yelp and cringe as it either clanks off of the back rim or air-balls. This season’s seen vast improvements to those numbers. He’s up to 47% and 37% shooting mid-range and threes. A statistical analysis of Metta’s point totals is indicative of the improvement in his offensive game.

  • 2011-2012: PPG: 7.7, St. Dev.: 5.9, Min: 0, Q1: 3, Median: 7, Q3: 10.5, Max: 26.
  • 2012-2013: PPG: 13.8. St. Dev.: 5.7, Min: 2, Q1: 10, Median: 13, Q3: 18, Max: 24.

A game that would have placed at the 75th percentile for Metta last year would only be good enough to muster about a 25th percentile performance. Another noteworthy observation from this analysis is that the standard deviation hardly changed at all. Generally when an older player sees his role in the offense increase, he becomes less reliable. They tend to play more poorly on the second half of a back-to-back as they cannot recover as quickly as they could when they were younger. Take 15-point games for instance. He had 8 of them last year, in 64 games played. That’s 12.5% of the time. This season he has scored at least 15 points 17 times, in 35 games played, 48.6% of the time. His productivity and consistency is valuable to the Lakers in a year marred by drama, injuries, and coaching changes. If you exclude the games this week where Gasol and Howard were injured, the Lakers are 9-1 when Metta scores at least 17 points and 6-17 when he doesn’t. Significant.

The 2004 Defensive Player of the Year has been making an impact on that end of the floor too. Again comparing to last year, he has 9 games already this season with at least 3 steals after having only 6 all of last season. His energy level is still Chip Kelly-esque. That’s a huge boost. For the few stints the Lakers have played outstanding defense this year, it normally starts by World Peace making a gritty hustle play that gets the crowd on their feet to motivate the team to play good basketball. Just in the last two weeks, he’s held Nicolas Batum to 10 points, Danilo Gallinari to 6-20 shooting, and Jason Richardson to 9 points on 11 shots. The Lakers defensive efficiency increases twofold when Metta’s on the floor. You get the point, though. He’s no slouch on D.

One of the biggest changes to Metta’s game this year that he hasn’t been involved in too much in the past is his new-found role at the power forward position. In Mike D’Antoni’s offense it’s a perfect fit if he can handle it (think: Marion). According to 82games.com, Metta is forcing his counterpart into 3.8 turnovers per 48 minutes, which even more spectacular when you consider that power forwards generally commit the fewest turnovers out of any position (don’t handle ball as much as guards and aren’t as clumsy as centers). Metta’s immense strength and lightning-quick hands make him a nightmare for an offensive player in the post against him. At this point, with the direction the league is going, it seems like power forward is the best fit for Metta. The Lakers see a staggering increase in production when he’s there. Consider these metrics:

  • Metta World Peace off the floor: ORtg = 99.9. DRtg = 112.1
  • Metta World Peace at SF: ORtg = 104.2. DRtg = 97.9
  • Metta World Peace at PF: ORtg = 111.6. DRtg = 94.8

World Peace’s time at the power forward position doesn’t really fall victim to small sample-size too much. He’s played there 219 minutes this season, about 13% of the Lakers total minutes. Metta’s presence on the floor has been as important as anyone’s. The energy and the recently rediscovered offensive efficiency is what this old and slow team needs.

Skyler Gilbert is a contributor for Hoop City Blog. He’d like to thank 82games.com, hoopdata.com, and basketball-reference.com for helping him compile the statistics used in the article. You can follow him at @skylerjgilbert. Also, it’s weird for him to be referring to himself in the 3rd person so he’s going to conclude this article.

Jimmer Fredette, he’s actually good?

There are many similarities between J.J. Redick and Jimmer Fredette. They both wear the Imagenumber 7. They both were insanely good in college. Both of them have a name that starts with the letter J. They also both came into the league and were known as shooters and were discounted by many into the 2nd season of their career. However when you look at the numbers both of them were very effective on the offensive end in the limited time they were on the court. The reason J.J. didn’t play very much however was due to his lack of ability on the defensive end. His coaches were Brian Hill and Stan Van Gundy two guys who will not put you out on the court for long periods of time unless you have the ability to play defense. J.J. couldn’t get on the court due to his inability to play defense. Jimmer can’t get on the court due to the Kings being a franchise that can’t do the simplest things right at the moment (THANKS MALOOFS! YOU’RE AWFUL!) and that’s sad because Jimmer is having a pretty good 2nd season.

Jimmer has played in 32 games this season and has a PER of 16.9 which is a little above average. He also has a TS% of .563 and an eFG% of .495, both up from last year, which is quite impressive for a sophomore player whose usage went up from 20% last year to 25% this year. Most young players see a decrease in efficiency when used more, Jimmer just did more good things. What’s amazing is despite Jimmer being a successful player on offense this year there are people out there who still think he’s going to be out of the league soon. I call this the Maloof affect. The Maloofs are a cancer and infect everything around them and destroy it. The Maloofs have made the Kings and everything about them and it is hurting the career of guys like Demarcus Cousins and Jimmer Fredette.

Jimmer still has plenty of flaws in his game just like any other player. He’s far from the best defender in the world and he struggles at finishing at the rim only making 26 of his 63 attempts there. However he can improve on these things just as Redick did. Redick is currently the most sought after player on the trade market and everybody out there thinks they could use him on their team. Jimmer has already shown that he has the shooting ability to be useful to a team. Add an ability to finish at the rim and improve on defense and he could be even better. 

The Correlation between the Ratio of Threes to Midrange Jumpers and Its Effect on Team Offense.

There has been a lot of discussion this year about the efficiency of a three-point shot compared to a long midrange jumper. It’s been said that the two most efficient shots in basketball are shots at the rim and three-pointers, and it seems to be agreed that clearly teams should shoot a higher amount of threes than midrange jumpers because the league-average percentages of making each shot is similar (37.9 for 16-23 foot jumpers compared to 35.7 for three pointers), and obviously you get an extra point for making a three. I decided to take a look at the ratio of threes a team takes compared to shots from 16-23 feet, and looked at their offense to see if there seems to be an effect on it. Here’s what I found:

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-Of the top 14 pace-adjusted offenses in the league, 12 had a ratio higher than league average.

-Specifically, seven of the top eight scores via the ratio given above are in the top 10 in pace-adjusted offense.

-Also, near the bottom, nine out of the bottom 10 scores rank lower than league average in offense.

-Specifically here, 7 out of the bottom 10 rank 20th or lower.

There is definitely a strong correlation towards shooting more threes than long midrange jumpers and having an effective, efficient offense. This works both for teams that tend to get out in transition (teams such as Houston and Denver) and for teams that play mostly in a half-court setting (like Brooklyn and New York). This means that teams should probably start reducing the amount of 16-23 footers they take and increasing their three-point attempts. Here’s a breakdown of some teams by this metric:

The upper echelon:

Houston:  The Rockets are pretty much the prototype for the new age of abandoning the midrange shot. Playing exactly as general manager Daryl Morey intends them to, this team ranks first by far in threes per 16-23 footer at 2.386 and seventh in pace-adjusted offense. They will continue to play this way the rest of the year.

Los Angeles Lakers: The Lakers also grade out well here, at second by this metric and sixth by pace adjusted offense even though it hasn’t really helped their season. Their high score in this ratio really isn’t a surprise due to Mike D’Antoni’s presence, however I was surprised to find that their ratio of threes per 16-23 footer only took a slight dip during the five games Mike Brown coached at 1.533. They were even at an above average pace during the five games that Bernie Bickerstaff coached this season at 1.31. As long as D’Antoni’s there, look for the threes to continue to fly.

New York Knicks: I expected the Knicks to be second by this metric before calculating the numbers because of their propensity to shoot from beyond the three point arc. They have been the team that has best utilized the strategy of shooting a heavy amount of threes and low amounts of 16-23 footers. Ranking in at 1.599, they’re at third in this metric and second in total offense. They’ve been the most prolific team shooting threes this season, and for them to compete I don’t expect that to stop.

Brooklyn Nets: I was extremely  surprised that the Nets rated out so highly in both their ratio of threes to 16-23 footers and in their pace-adjusted offense, but I guess I shouldn’t have been. With both Joe Johnson and Deron Williams in the top 15 of three-pointers attempted per game, this team does tend to chuck it from long range. I think I was more surprised that they are tenth in pace-adjusted offense right now. Having seen quite a few of their games this year while they were under the tutelage of Avery Johnson, I was using the term clogged toilet to describe the lack of movement in their offense. A lack of movement does tend to lead to more chucked up shots from distance, however normally it leads to those shots being contested meaning a lower ranking in offensive categories. I think the Nets are a very good example of how a team shooting threes compared to twos can keep a high offensive ranking despite not actually being a good team offensively.

Denver Nuggets: The Nuggets are the only team who can say they take more shots at the rim than from beyond 16 feet. In fact, they shoot the least shots from beyond 16 feet at only 31.8 per game and the most shots at the rim at 34.2 per game. Not a surprise coming from the team who nearly went a full game without making a shot from outside the paint earlier this season. However, despite that they do still come in at fifth in this metric at 1.427. They are known as one of the most efficient offenses in the league and this seems to echo that.

Miami Heat: I was surprised to find the Heat only coming in at eighth with three-point shooters such as Ray Allen, Shane Battier, Mario Chalmers and Mike Miller. In fact, those four shooters alone combine to have a ratio of 5.762 threes per 16-23 foot jumper! What brings this ratio down is Chris Bosh and Dwyane Wade’s strong midrange games and general inability to shoot threes. This team also doesn’t get a high amount of looks at the rim surprisingly (only 24th in the league). But overall this offense is very efficient because of their shooters (especially adept at corner threes) and because of their ability in transition.

The Middle of the Pack: 

The correlation of these ratios to offensive efficiency tends to break down a little bit in the middle of the pack. Within the middle 10 teams based on the ratio, we see offensive efficiency ratings anywhere from first to 29th. There are a couple surprises here, especially at the top end of the offensive efficiency rankings.

Los Angeles Clippers: The Clippers are one of the best offensive teams in the league ranking in at 4th, but only have a slightly above-average ratio of threes to long midrange shots. Their efficiency comes around the rim. They take the 10th most shots at the rim in the league, connecting on 68.3% of those shots which is good for third in the league. Obviously, this high percentage has a lot to do with being able to dunk all over everything and everyone.

Oklahoma City Thunder: This is the result I was most surprised by. With high percentage three-point shooters such as Kevin Durant, Kevin Martin, and Thabo Sefolosha (along with Russell Westbrook), I figured that they would rank much higher in this study. However, Durant and Westbrook tend to bring their ratio more towards the league average. This offense, first overall in the league in pace-adjusted offense, could be even better if Durant starting taking more threes in comparison to long midrange jumpers. Durant is actually shooting a higher percentage beyond the three point arc than from 16-23 feet (41.4% to 40%). It’s really scary to realize that this offense could be better.

Golden State Warriors: This was also surprising. The Warriors, replete with Klay Thompson and Stephen Curry, among others, bomb from deep with reckless abandon. However, they also bomb from midrange with the same aplomb. They have taken the fifth most shots this season from 16 feet or beyond. They shoot the third fewest shots around the rim, which is offset by their shooting the fourth highest percentage from beyond the arc in the league, with an eFG% of 58.6, and 42.3% from 16-23 feet.

The lower end: 

Washington Wizards: This team is quite a study in ineptitude of offensive efficiency. They are 30th in pace-adjusted offense, have taken the most shots from beyond 16 feet, shooting second-worst in the league from beyond the arc and worst in the league from 16-23 feet. They’re 25th in this ratio. Along with that, they have taken the least shots at the rim in the league, meaning they aren’t even adjusting by trying to shoot closer. I imagine their field goal percentage will improve as John Wall returns and creates easier looks for the rest of his teammates. They are pretty much the perfectly inefficient offense in every way.

Utah Jazz: The Jazz are the team that most debunk this method of looking at offensive efficiency. They are 26th in their ratio of threes-to-16-23-footers taken, but they are 11th in pace-adjusted offense. Why? They’re ninth in three-point percentage, and fifth in field goal percentage at the rim. This is a team that can easily improve upon their offensive efficiency. They should start replacing some of their 16-23 footers (where they’re 20th in the NBA percentage-wise) with three-pointers in order to improve their offense. This has been a maddening team so far this season, and I think that shooting more threes compared to midrange shots should help improve.

Boston Celtics: This is a team that should rank higher. With adept three-point shooters such as Paul Pierce, Jason Terry, Courtney Lee (before this season), and Avery Bradley (should help this), this team should shoot more threes (they’ve had the third fewest attempts in the NBA so far).  This ratio will never be super-high due to the hyper-efficient midrange game of Kevin Garnett, but with Bradley back this ratio should rise along with their overall offense.

Chicago Bulls: The Bulls have a lot of above-average-to-strong midrange players (Luol Deng, Richard Hamilton, Carlos Boozer particularly) and very few good three-point shooters (why Marco Belinelli has been getting minutes this season for a good team). This is an offense out of necessity that has to shoot midrange jumpers instead of threes. It’s not an efficient offense, but I’m not sure the pieces are there for there to be.

So, all told, it seems there is quite a correlation between shooting more threes than 16-23 footers and having an efficient offense. The higher this ratio, the more likely the team is to have a strong offense. The lower the ratio, the less likely there is a chance of having a strong offense. Teams should start adopting the Rockets model, eschew the midrange game in order to shoot more threes, and in that way they will create a more efficient offense. There are differing team situations of course, but mostly this is something that can work for a lot of teams. What do you think of this? Stupid? Obvious? Waste of time?

(all shot location stats taken from HoopData, offensive efficiencies are Hollinger’s)

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With that, I’ll introduce myself. My name’s Sam Vecenie and I write over at Fear The Sword, SBNation’s Cleveland Cavaliers blog. I’m 22, in graduate school at Carnegie Mellon for an entertainment-based degree, and moving to Los Angeles in a year. If anyone has something specific they want me to write about, or if you simply care to correspond with me for some reason, do so via my Twitter account, @Sam_Vecenie. I’m planning on writing a decent amount about collegiate prospects while I’m writing on this site, so also if anyone has someone specific they want me to break down for them, I’m all ears.

Good to be here.