The Meaning of Every NBA Game on Wednesday Night

Credit: SBNation.com

The final day of the NBA regular season is tomorrow, and with playoff seeding in the Western Conference and lottery seeding still up in the air, nearly every game has some impact on the future of the NBA. I ranked the games in order of importance. That is: games that really impact nothing will be ranked lower, even if they might contain some of the more entertaining basketball of the night. Games that mean more will be ranked higher, even if two of the three worst teams in the NBA are involved.

Without further ado, I’ll start with the leading team in the West:

15. OKC @ MIL

Simply put – this game impacts nothing at all directly. It might be entertaining, but ultimately meaningless in seeding for draft or playoffs, which is unlike every other game.

Oklahoma City clinched the top seed in the Western Conference. They cannot surpass Miami for home court. Expect them to take it easy. Their first round opponent can be any of Houston/LA Lakers/Utah depending on the results of other games. Aside from that, the other game that they might care about is the Celtics-Raptors game, as Toronto owes Oklahoma City a reverse-protected draft pick. If Toronto wins their final two games, the pick could end up as low as 12. Kevin Durant is also technically in the race for the scoring title, but would need to score 70 to surpass a resting Carmelo Anthony.

Milwaukee has lost 10 straight and probably wants to get a win before facing the Miami buzz saw. Otherwise, they can’t move up or down, and their draft position is locked.

14.  PHI @ IND

The Sixers have too much pride to play for ping-pong balls, but that’s the only significant purpose this game serves for them. The team can end up with as high as the 10th best lottery odds outright with a loss, combined with at least one win each from Toronto and Portland in the next 2 days. If they win, they could end up as low as 12 outright. This will be Doug Collins’s final game as head coach of the team.

Indiana has clinched the 3-seed and will play either Chicago or Atlanta in the first round. While they have nothing to play for, because of the Boston Marathon Attacks they will not be playing on a back-to-back or even for a few days, so they may play their starters for at least a decent chunk of time.

13. BOS @ TOR

Boston is confirmed for the 7-seed and their draft position at 16. They’ll likely spend the game resting their players and preparing for a grueling series with the Knicks, or at least they think they will.

Toronto has nothing to play for but a win in their final two games. While they technically have a chance at a top-3 seed, they most likely will end up giving this pick to the Thunder, to whom they owe a reverse-protected pick. With wins in their final two games, the Thunder will end up with a first rounder with lottery odds in the 10-12 range.

12. MIN @ SA

Minnesota might be playing the lottery. Currently with the 9th best odds for the number one overall pick, they could conceivably end up in a tie for 7th with Washington and Detroit if both of those teams win. It might be better for them to lose, however winning will not send them lower than 9th. Which is good, since this year has done enough damage to the franchise’s future.

San Antonio clinched the 2-seed in the West and the third best record overall. They don’t have a draft pick owed to them, so they likely will sit Duncan/Parker again. They could face any of Golden State/Houston/LA Lakers in the first round, but the opponent will be determined by results of other games. Expect them not to go all-out for a win.

11. NOH @ DAL

New Orleans probably will play lottery odds. NOH can end up moving up or down in the draft (between 4 and 6) depending on other results, though more than likely they’ll end up where they are, 5th.

Dallas is locked into the 13th best lottery odds and has no chance at the playoffs. As pointed out to me by @pucktacular on Twitter, they will be playing to finish .500. About all I can say about them.

10. DET @ BKN

Detroit is in the mix for lottery odds as high as 6th, if Sacramento wins and they lose. Currently they sit tied for 7th best with Washington. If they win, they could end up as low as 9th. Regardless, they are only playing for draft position, though there’s a big range. A loss is the best case, but that might not happen with Lawrence Frank and Joe Dumars looking to save their jobs and an opponent who might also not be looking to win. They’ve played better as of late.

Brooklyn is guaranteed to finish as the 4-seed. They will likely rest at least some players and watch to see who they’ll play in round one.

9. WAS @ CHI

Washington, like Detroit, can finish with lottery odds as good as 6th and as bad as 9th. Currently, they sit tied for 7th best. A loss is the best case; while the Wizards played better in the second half, they’ve been in a rut since Brad Beal was lost to injury.

Chicago can clinch the 5-seed in the East with a win in this game plus an Atlanta loss in either of their final two games. If Chicago loses this game, they can still end up as the 5-seed if Atlanta loses both of their remaining games. If they end up 5th, Chicago will play Brooklyn. If they end up 6th, Chicago will play Indiana.

8. ATL @ NYK

Atlanta, if they win on Tuesday against Toronto, can clinch the 5 seed with a win. That would secure a Brooklyn-Atlanta first round series, also known as the NBA TV invitational. A loss in either game could open the door for Chicago, which owns the head-to-head tie-breaker with Atlanta based off winning the regular season series 2-1, to take the 5-seed if they win their final game. If Atlanta loses both, they will end up as the 6-seed regardless of what Chicago does and play Indiana.

The Knicks have clinched the 2-seed and will play Boston in round one. They’ve suffered so many injuries that they likely will sit out most of their best players Wednesday, including Carmelo Anthony, who will win the scoring title provided that Kevin Durant scores under 70 points the same night.

7. GS @ POR

Portland might be playing the lottery. Depending on the result of their game against the Clippers on Tuesday, POR could possibly end up with a pick as high as 10 in the upcoming draft. They’ll need to lose both and have Toronto win to make this possible. Philadelphia winning would also help their cause. They have ensured they keep their first round pick, which is top 12-protected.

Golden State clinches the 6-seed in the West with a win or a loss combined with a Houston loss. With a loss and a Houston win, they end up 7th. Expect them to play hard to avoid San Antonio and OKC in the first round. Stephen Curry has the three point field goal record in sight, needing only 2 to have made the most in a season in league history. Golden State owes a first rounder to Utah, which may get better or worse with the result of this game.

6. PHX @ DEN

Phoenix has a lot of stuff going on. First, if they win they are guaranteed the 4th best lottery odds. If they lose, they could end up with the T-3rd best odds if Cleveland beats Charlotte. They have sat starters or played them limited minutes in games where it has been advantageous for them to lose for draft position. Expect the same here. Second, they will obtain the LA Lakers first round pick with a LAL loss and a UTA win. They could end up with two lottery picks, including one with top 3 odds, if everything goes right. Big day for them.

Denver has clinched home court but not their seed. They can clinch a top 3 seed in the West with a win or an LA Clippers loss in their final 2 games. Their opponent as the 3-seed can be either Golden State or Houston depending on the results of other games. If they lose and LAC wins out, DEN ends up 4th. If they finish 3rd, Golden State or Houston will be their opponent. If they finish 4th, Memphis will be the opponent. Expect them to play hard enough to win, which won’t be difficult for them at home against a setting Suns team. (I’m sorry for the pun)

5. ORL @ MIA

Orlando should be, and probably will be, playing the lottery. A loss for Orlando will guarantee at least a share of the odds at having the best chance at the #1 overall pick. While they’ve played Miami well, I imagine they are going to roll over to try and ensure those odds for this game. There’s too much to lose by not doing that.

Miami has clinched home court throughout the playoffs already and is just fine-tuning.

4. CLE @ CHA

Both teams will be playing for ping-pong balls which should make this a very, very interesting game (but from afar only). Cleveland currently has the third best lottery odds and has been playing the lottery for a month straight. Don’t be surprised if Kyrie Irving or other players sit out. This reportedly may be the end of the road for Byron Scott as Cavs coach.

Charlotte should be playing the lottery. Charlotte currently is tied with Orlando for the best lottery odds. A loss will ensure that they have a share of the best lottery odds. While they’ve been better to watch as of late, this team needs help and should probably try to lose. But can they out-lose Cleveland?

3. LAC @ SAC

The Clippers need to win their final 2 games and hope that Denver loses their final game in order to get the third seed. They can guarantee home court by having a record at least equal to Memphis’s. Winning both ensures home court. If Memphis loses their final game, LAC would only have to win one game. They cannot drop below 4 via being a division champion, and because they won the Pacific Division if they have the same record as their first round opponent they will have home court advantage.

Sacramento could possibly (but at this point, we really don’t know, and GOD I hope this isn’t the case) be hosting its final NBA game with this specific franchise. That should be motivation enough to go for a win. Lottery odds are inconsequential, though with a win they could potentially move back 2 spots in the draft to 8th by virtue of a tie with Detroit and Washington (if they each lose). A loss, combined with a win from NOH, could give them a share of the 5th best lottery odds. Again, I imagine the priority from the players is to win here.

2. UTA @ MEM

Utah has to win this game to make the playoffs. They also need help from Houston, who they’ll need to beat the Lakers. Losing will result in the 14th draft pick and no playoff appearance.

Memphis is in an interesting spot. They are guaranteed the 5-seed, but depending on the result of the LAC/POR game on Tuesday they will either (a) know they can clinch home court advantage with a win, or (b) have the chance to earn home court with a win. Either way, because the Clippers play at 10:30 (that is, after the Grizzlies play), the Grizzlies will have to play to win if they want at least a shot at home court.

1. HOU @ LAL

This game has by far the most wide-reaching implications. To make things easier, bullet points!

  • Roughly half the league has a rooting interest in the game, so it’s got that going for it.
  • Houston clinched a playoff spot and can end up as the 6-, 7-, or 8-seed in the West. With a win, they can end up at 6 (with a GS loss) or 7(with a GS win). They likely want to avoid the Thunder, so they’ll play to win. If they lose, they end up in the 8-seed.
  • LA Lakers can end up as the 7-, 8-, or 9-seed and out of the playoffs entirely. If they win, they will finish 7th and play SA in the first round. If they lose, they finish 8th (if Utah loses in Memphis) or 9th (if Utah wins).
  • #WinItForKobe
  • The UTA-MEM game occurs before this one, so LAL will know whether or not this is a must-win game. However, avoiding the Thunder is optimal, so no matter what they will play to win.
  • If LAL makes the playoffs – Cleveland receives LAL’s first round pick – the pick would be swapped with Miami’s first rounder, which then goes to Phoenix.
  • If LAL misses the playoffs – Phoenix receives LAL’s first round pick – they have the pick no matter what so long as LAL is in the lottery. The Cavs would still have the Miami Heat pick. This pick is more protected than the vice president in an undisclosed location.

The NBA has a lot on the line this week – be sure not to miss it!

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The Fast Break Jam Episode 3: I Can (Almost) See Clearly

LISTEN HERE

On this week’s podcast, Jameson and I are joined by Skyler Gilbert, noted Lakers fan and author of the last two awesome posts on this site. We talk about current NBA stuff, the trade deadline, the Lakers, the winners and losers of the Dwight Howard trade (and we don’t all agree), and teams unofficially eliminated from playoff contention.

In hindsight, the Sixers now are officially on the list. Enjoy!

The Fast Break Jam Episode 2: Safely Landed

LISTEN HERE

On this week’s podcast, Sean Highkin from The Classical and TrueHoop Network blogs Hardwood Paroxysm, Portland Roundball Society, and Magic Basketball, along with Jacob Frankel from this blog space and TrueHoop blog Hoopchalk stop by with Jameson and myself to talk all-star weekend, trade deadline, and some other slightly basketball-related things.

Yes, Nate Robinson Really Won A Player Of The Week Award

Nate Robinson won the Eastern Conference Player of the Week award for this past week (1/28 – 2/3).

I could only imagine this is a joke, because while Nate Robinson is better at basketball than 99.9% of people who happen to be roughly 5 inches shorter than me, he’s not good relative to people who are mostly taller than me who also happen to be really, really good at NBA basketball. He had a good week, although a 4-16 performance in a loss in Brooklyn doesn’t help his case.  And he did average nearly 18 points per game and started 2 games, nearly leading the conference in steals and assists for the week.

But you could argue (and I will, just because) that no fewer than 3 teammates (specifically Luol Deng, Jimmy Butler and Taj Gibson) actually had a more productive week. Taj Gibson played an entire game one night and played 45 minutes the next AND put up monster stats. Jimmy Butler continues to make an impact both as a starter and as a reserve. And Luol Deng still manages to be standing, so I’m fine with any recognition he receives in the meantime.

Anyway, this is all seemingly harmless because no one actually cares about player of the week awards. But this one particularly bothers me, because Nate Robinson continues to win awards he has no business winning. Mainly: he’s the only 3 time slam dunk award winner in NBA history, despite deserving *maybe* one of those awards (this is personal for me – I was so crushed when Iguodala lost that one contest). So maybe I’m a bit bitter. David Lee won for the Western Conference. Related: these two were teammates in both Golden State and New York.

Anyway, I felt that the collective surprise from the announcement was enough to put up this post, since I wasn’t doing anything and thought it to be a momentous occasion. For now, I leave you with twitter’s response to the news:

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.

The Tale of the NBA’s Top Two Offenses: An “Advanced Statistics” Explanation

Credit: NBA.com

(note: all stats were as of Wednesday morning)

The Oklahoma City Thunder and New York Knicks are the league’s top two offenses this season by offensive efficiency, according to ESPN’s advanced stats page. Each average over 110 points per 100 possessions, which is really, really good. But aside from the color scheme on the jerseys, these teams have little in common on offense, and their divergent paths to offensive greatness show that a strong offense can be achieved in more than one way.

First, I should explain what goes into offense in general, because I feel the best way to explain their success is through so-called “advanced statistics,” which are only slightly more advanced than their counting counterparts. Dean Oliver’s discovery and subsequent explanation of the four factors changed NBA thinking much like the discovery of the overall static nature of BABIP and pitching-independent-of-fielding were in baseball, though the four factors approach hasn’t nearly been discussed as much. It breaks down offense (and defense, for that matter, but we’ll focus on the offensive component for this post on offense) into four main factors, as explained by basketball-reference.com here, along with the statistics used to define those measures:

  • Shooting – via Effective Field Goal Percentage (eFG%)
  • Turnovers – via Turnover Rate (TO%)
  • Offensive Rebounding – via Offensive Rebounding Rate (ORR%)
  • Free Throws – via free throws made per field goal attempt*

*I actually prefer to combine shooting and free throws into true shooting percentage, (TS%), which takes into consideration both free throws and field goals into one tidy percentage. The math here is a bit more difficult to understand, though, and a formula can be found here. So I’ll use TS% as the base, and break that down into the two parts. If you’d rather just use eFG% and FT/FTA, go ahead.

One idea behind the four factors is the idea of a possession. A basketball game consists of possessions for each team, where each team has the ball in its control. A possession can only end in 3 ways:

  • a made shot
  • a missed shot resulting in a defensive rebound, or
  • a turnover.

Made shots add to a team’s scoring total, and since that’s the objective, scoring as often and efficiently as possible should be the team’s offensive goal. Offensive rebounds result in the continuation of a possession, and often result in high-percentage shots. And turnovers end possessions in the worst possible way – without a shot going up – and often result in easy opportunities for opponents. As mentioned above, offensive efficiency is based upon points per 100 possessions, so that’s where this all links in. Teams that run faster use more possessions, so measuring offense per 100 possessions makes it so that teams who run at a high pace don’t have inflated numbers.

All of the statistics used in the four factors are slightly more complicated, but not at all overly complicated, versions of regular stats such as field goal percentage, turnovers, and offensive rebounds. Effective field goal percentage, for instance, counts three point makes as 1.5 two point makes because a three pointer is worth 1.5 two pointers. Turnover rate is just the amount of team possessions that end with a turnover. Offensive rebounding rate is the percentage of missed shots the offense rebounds. Again, nothing too complicated.

But knowing the fundamentals of how an offense works (or doesn’t) really can make what the Thunder and Knicks are doing make sense.  I’ll break this down by factor, starting with true shooting.

Credit: Newson6.com

True Shooting Percentage

Oklahoma City – 1st

It doesn’t really take advanced statistics to explain why Oklahoma City is so good on offense. They currently sit 2nd in the league in basic FG% and 3FG% (behind Miami, and not New York, interestingly enough). They also have two of the most dynamic players in the league in Russell Westbrook and Kevin Durant, along with sharpshooting wingman Kevin Martin and the rapidly improving Serge Ibaka. But the real reason Oklahoma City leads the league in true shooting: free throws. They lead the league in free throw percentage by 4 percentage points, which is ridiculous. They then combine that with the second most attempts, which makes that ridiculousness even more devastating. Despite being second – barely – in three point shooting, they don’t take enough shots from there for their shooting to be lethal (and for good reason – it would hurt their percentages, and likely their offense). But it doesn’t matter, because they get to the line so darn often.

New York – 5th

New York, unlike Oklahoma City, takes a little more digging to figure out how great they are. They rank 11th in FG%, 3rd in 3FG%, and 19th in FT%. But this is where weights, and more advanced statistics, really tell the story. The Knicks take more threes than any team in the league, and it’s not really close. At 29.5 a game, they average 2.5 more attempts than the second best team (Houston). Their new offense, complete with shooters (including Ronnie Brewer’s surprisingly stellar imitation of one) surrounding Tyson Chandler and Carmelo Anthony, created this monster. They also convert the third highest percentage on threes, so they make the most of their three point shooting. The rest of their offense is *just* good enough to keep the true shooting percentage high.

Offensive Rebounding Rate

Oklahoma City – 16th

About offensive rebounding so far this season – a lot of good offensive teams aren’t really focused on grabbing offensive rebounds. Oklahoma City ranks right around average. Offensive rebounding seems to have been de-emphasized around the NBA, as teams often look to send everyone back to the defensive end of the floor instead of allowing an easier chance for scoring in transition. Maybe more relevant is that as many good offensive teams fall below the NBA median for offensive rebounding as fall above the line.

New York – 26th

New York’s rebounding issues have been overblown, mainly because they regularly have just one capable offensive rebounder on the court at a time (Tyson Chandler) or none (if Rasheed Wallace is playing, since he generally floats on the perimeter). Like Oklahoma City, they don’t emphasize rebounding here.

Turnover Rate

Oklahoma City – 30th

And this is Oklahoma City’s biggest weakness, continuing a trend. The Thunder ranked 29th in total turnovers last season (ahead of, coincidentally, New York) and, more importantly, 30th in turnover rate. The Thunder’s two primary ballhandlers, Westbrook and Durant, create a lot of offense but, in the process, create a lot of turnovers as well. Just as guilty is Kendrick Perkins, who really shouldn’t be playing anyway, but that’s another story for another time. The gist: while creating tons of high-percentage looks, the Thunder can also be sloppy with control of the basketball and end up with the worst offensive output more often than any other team in the NBA. As it turns out, it doesn’t hurt that much because, again, they create better shooting outcomes than any other team.

New York – 1st

And this is where the Knicks break the code. They currently are on pace to break the record for fewest turnovers per game by an NBA team, last year’s offensively anemic Sixers squad. They also have a better turnover rate than those Sixers. But they combine it with, well, good offense. It’s what takes them up to number 2 overall – they shoot a lot of high quality shots and never have the worst offensive outcome, a very potent formula.

I’m not the first to take notice of the Knicks penchant for not turning the ball over and for shooting threes. Jeff Fogle, at his blog Stat Intelligence, has tracked the Knicks turnover and three point numbers and noticed a startling trend (in a good way, for Knicks fans at least): the Knicks have actually converted more threes than they have committed turnovers. In his “KRIB Index” posts, Fogle has kept track of every team’s 3’s-minus-TO’s stats and noticed the Knicks are far and away the best in this category. Notably, no team has ever come close to having more threes than turnovers. If the Knicks keep up their current pace, they could be the first team to ever reach that holy grail.

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As you can see, there’s a lot of avenues to having a good offense, but most important is that a team shoots really well. Basketball really is a make or miss game. Both the Knicks and Thunder rank in the top five in shooting. But in the other important areas, the Thunder come back to the pack while the Knicks surge up the offensive charts.  The rebounding and ball-control can certainly help, especially if they’re done at an elite level. The Knicks are certainly proving that, so far.

The Ups and Downs of Depth

The Los Angeles Clippers recently welcomed back Chauncey Billups, who suffered a torn ACL last season. Without Chauncey Billups, the Clippers started Willie Green and went 11-deep. They have a top 10 defense and offense, which is a general indicator of being a great team. When Billups returned, Green went to the bench without so much as a peep from him. The Clippers still go 11-deep, but Green is on standby in case someone gets hurt. Everything’s peachy, and if something happens, the Clippers are well-prepared. This doesn’t include Grant Hill, who remains injured and would only add to the Clips’ depth.

The Milwaukee Bucks recently welcomed back Luc Richard Mbah a Moute from injury and had a roster stocked with lanky, talented big men. But they were all confined to one position. Coach Scott Skiles, until recently, started his veterans on bigger contracts and rotated the backup youngsters in when he saw fit. But the vets, especially Ersan Ilyasova, struggled in their time, so Skiles had no choice but to play some combination of Larry Sanders, Ekpe Udoh, and John Henson. Then they all played well, so Skiles had to find time for all of them despite their duplicating abilities. While generally a nice problem to have, the Bucks lack depth in other areas, and the overall impact the combination of bigs can make is limited by their positional limitations. With LRMAM back, who might end up being in the mix with the young bigs, the roster gets a bit messy. And Drew Gooden, who should be available to play when he’s not requesting pictures of Bulls jerseys in toilets, is toiling away on the bench and inactive list.

Here, we have two differing pictures of depth, one of a team whose depth actively helps the team’s fortunes, the other whose depth may actually hurt the team. What are the differences?

First and foremost, the Clippers have had the need to use their depth early on, with the injuries I mentioned earlier playing not to their advantage but also not to their detriment. Milwaukee’s bigs have shared the same amount of time pretty much all year. Second, the Clippers go 2-3 deep at every position but not further than that, which allows for a relatively smooth time spread. The Bucks have about 7 forward/center types, so there’s just not enough time to spread around. Furthermore, I’d argue that Vinny Del Negro managed minutes until this point better than Skiles. Skiles has essentially jerked around everyone in that rotation except for maybe Larry Sanders and changed their minutes from game to game. John Henson had gone from DNP-CD to major minutes to one minute to starting all in about a week in a half, for instance.

Finally, the Clips’ bench is mostly comprised of veterans brought in specifically to fill bench roles. Jamal Crawford was paid to be a sixth man. Lamar Odom was given the same role, but for the big spots. Willie Green was brought aboard to be a stop-gap. Ryan Hollins and Ronny Turiaf were signed to fill out the bench with size, and they know that. Meanwhile, the logjam in Milwaukee includes three players on rookie contracts looking to earn playing time, a starting center looking for one more decent-sized contract, one former starter who is making more than $6 million a season to not do anything, and a former starter looking to earn his $40 million. The team’s performance is naturally going to be a bit hectic, especially if there’s no real rotation or hierarchy.

Depth is such a vague term when you think about it. It can refer to a team having 3 or 4 solid bench players (like, say, the Thunder) or 7-8 of them (like either of those two teams). The Bucks and Clippers clearly have deep teams, filled with a bunch of solid players, but for only the Clips has this depth been an advantage. For the Bucks, there’s still a lot of sorting out to do.

Ten NBA Thanksgiving Trends

The NBA season is not even a month old, yet a bunch of important things already happened. The Lakers have used three coaches. The Thunder broke up their core. The Clippers, Grizzlies, and Knicks have put their names into the contender basket. Andrew Bynum hurt himself bowling. We’ve had a 3-overtime game and one night with four overtime games. The Wizards have won a ga… no that hasn’t happened quite yet. But it almost did!

Anyway, even though it would be dumb to make any conclusions about anything meaningful 10-12 games in, we’re far enough into the season to ask questions about things that have stood out or changed from our expectations. So I decided, on this wonderful Thanksgiving day, to take a look at ten notable nuggets from the beginning of the year.

1. Milwaukee’s Turbo Offense

The secret to Milwaukee’s high-scoring offense is that it’s not actually great at all. But the team, which in the not-too-distant past played at a snail’s pace, suddenly leads the league in pace by over a possession per game. Milwaukee averages over 101 points per game (good for 6th in the league) but is just 16th in offensive efficiency. It makes sense to run faster, with lightning quick guards Brandon Jennings and Monta Ellis leading the way. But no one knew just how quickly Milwaukee would move up and down the court, especially since Scott Skiles has the (rightfully earned) reputation of a defensive coach.

Also, Milwaukee’s off to a decent 6-4 start despite not getting anything from their starting frontcourt in most games. Ersan Ilyasova may have picked up Andris Biedrins Syndrome during the summer, as he somehow lost his jumper and all his confidence over the summer. His starting job may be in jeopardy, especially if John Henson plays anywhere near as well as he did against Miami. If that happens, look for even a quicker pace going forward.

2. New York’s Turnover Turnaround

The Knicks finished last season with the most turnovers per game of any NBA team. Linsanity had something to do with that, but not everything. So now that the Knicks have committed the fewest turnovers per game so far this season, you have to wonder whether this will hold up.

The answer: not likely, but they should remain among the best in the league in protecting the ball. They currently average 10.7 per game, which would be an NBA record. But with an offense predicated on iso-Melo and a bunch of shooters who (mostly) know their roles, the team will certainly be hard to turn over. Jason Kidd rarely makes bad decisions, Melo rarely passes (kidding – despite his low assist numbers, all indications are that he has passed effectively), and none of the players are turnover fiends.

We could also talk about the shooting and rebounding, but that’s a topic for another day. The reversal in turnovers would be unprecedented, so that’s something that deserves watching.

3. Portland’s Horses

The Blazers bench is, well, something horrid. So Terry Stotts hasn’t used it much at all, setting an alarming rate for his starters’ minutes in a year in which wins likely won’t mean much for the team down the road.

Portland’s front four (LaMarcus Aldridge, Nicolas Batum, Wesley Matthews, and Damian Lillard) are each averaging 37+ minutes per game, which puts all four in the top 16 in the league in minutes per game. Only Meyers Leonard has played every game among non-starters, with Stotts’ rotation changing seemingly every night while he looks for a decent combination. With the starters carrying the load, the Blazers have started a decent-enough 5-6, but they can’t keep up the minutes for the whole year I imagine.

4. Jrue Holiday’s Possession Dominance

Jrue Holiday might not even be in the top 10 in usage rate, but it sure seems like it. The Sixers, who are off to a somewhat surprising 7-5 start without Andrew Bynum, have given Holiday almost all play-making responsibility. He has responded by putting 8.6 assists per game, while also leading the league in turnovers and playing over 38 minutes per game. Holiday, who never had anything resembling this much usage, has responded rather well. The turnovers are concerning though – even if he’s gotten better recently. The Sixers’ season might not be a waste if Holiday performs at a near all-star level.

5. Charlotte’s Offensive Competence

I’m not saying the Bobcats have a good offense – they rank just 21st in efficiency. But if they can maintain this offensive pace, they’ll exceed pretty much all expectations. Most, if not all, NBA observers expected the Bobcats offense to only be marginally better than it was last year. But Kemba Walker has completely transformed his game, and Byron Mullens now shoots threes, and MKG hasn’t been bad.

6. Chicago’s Shooting Struggles

This just in: Chicago misses pretty much everyone it dumped this summer. More than anything, it misses C.J. Watson and Kyle Korver, who actually knew how to shoot the ball and did so regularly. The Bulls average only 12.5 threes attempted per game, which is by far the worst in the league. They also rank 29th in 3FG%, which does not bode well for their prospects. While Derrick Rose will create space upon his eventual return, he might not have anyone to pass it to. Hinrich has been awful. Deng still has a wrist problem, and with his minute load he may disintegrate into dust particles by mid-season. Belinelli is nothing if not consistently meh. And Rip Hamilton might be moved for cap reasons at some point during the season despite maybe being the team’s foremost perimeter threat.

In other words: Chicago’s problems won’t be magically solved when Rose returns, especially if he returns at less than 100%. If Hamilton is dealt, that’s another blow.

7. Josh Smith’s Contract Year Letdown

I had HIGH hopes for Smith this year, given his free agent status. So of course, he comes into the season and becomes more Josh Smith-y, with more long jumpers and anemic play. I expected him to stop some of that play, partly because he’ll get paid more and partly because the Hawks suddenly were flush with shooters surrounding him and Horford. He has been nothing short of massively disappointing.

Of course, Smith has time to turn it around. But maybe he will just never understand that his long-range shooting kills his team. Maybe he doesn’t realize how good he and his team would become if he just resisted taking even half of the shots he currently takes.

8. O.J. Mayo’s Contract Year Redux

Mayo moved to Dallas on what most believed was a below-market deal over the summer. So far, he’s proving most people right. Though Mayo is shooting a fluky 52% on nearly 6 threes per game, he finally is showing the scoring potential that had NBA-types salivating when he came out of high school. Still: if he can maintain an above-average three point conversion rate – and I don’t see why not – he’ll get way more than $4 million on the open market.

9. Denver’s Dominant Rebounding

The Nuggets lead the league in rebounding differential (+8.5 per game), mainly because they are absolutely gunning for offensive rebounds. Kenneth Faried averages 5.5 offensive boards per game alone, which leads the NBA. JaVale McGee and Kosta Koufos combined for nearly 6 from the center position. And they need it too, because their shooting has been so, so bad. You figure Danilo Gallinari and Ty Lawson won’t shoot in the low 20s in three point percentage for the whole season, but if they do, the Nuggets will get a lot of those misses.

10. Three Point Shooting Everywhere

This just in: NBA teams are shooting more and more threes as time goes along. So far this season, teams are averaging 19.3 threes attempted per game, a full attempt more than last year. Granted, the lockout may have depressed three point attempts as it did shooting numbers on the whole. New York and Houston lead the way with 27.7 and 26.7 attempts per game, respectively. Last year’s leader, Orlando, is actually one of the worst in the league in attempts this year (with a new coach and no Howard or SVG, that’s to be expected). Most teams are slowly but surely realizing the value of strong shooting to offense as a whole, and this year seems to have a ton of shooting. Ones that are desperate for shooting may have to pay up for the like of J.J. Redick, as it’s suddenly a hot commodity.

The Royce White Saga Continues

A little over a month ago, I wrote a quick bit about why teams were smart to pass up on drafting Royce White. But I also noted, along with many others, that I wanted Royce to succeed. However, that hasn’t happened yet. In fact, the Rockets, with no playing time available for him or fellow rookie Donatas Motiejunas, planned to send both to the D-League (along with guard Scott Machado). Royce, apparently, hasn’t reacted well. From the Houston Chronicle’s Jonathan Feigen:

With the Rockets planning to send White along with fellow rookies Scott Machado and Donatas Motiejunas to the NBA Development League, White skipped Monday’s game and Tuesday’s practice amid signs that he has not practiced for days.

Rockets acting coach Kelvin Sampson said he did not know why White did not attend Tuesday’s practice and did not speak with him on Monday when Motiejunas and Machado were told of the plans to send them to the Rio Grande Valley Vipers.

Meanwhile, White refuted that the Rockets had no knowledge about his absence, via a statement he released (and via David Aldridge, who published highlights of it on his twitter account). White says the Rockets know exactly what’s going on, and they aren’t being helpful or forthcoming:

As you already know, White suffers from an anxiety disorder which prevents him from flying to most games. But his anxiety issues may also arise for other reasons. For instance, while not confirmed, anxiety troubles and straightening out his travel accommodations led to White missing much of training camp. Again: this is the “baggage” that comes with drafting a high risk/high reward player like White. What will happen is not simple.

But the real question is: why is Royce White going to the media for this? While Feigen speculated (and teammates confirmed) that Royce had been missing practices, they only offered supportive comments and advice. They noted what Houston media had suspected for a few days, but resisted throwing a teammate whose condition they likely have little understanding of under the bus. Again: what is the problem that prompted Royce to send out a statement defying his team?

The only person who denied knowing what had been going on with White was interim head coach Kelvin Sampson. Sampson, replacing Kevin McHale for the time being (who currently is attending to a serious family matter), mentioned he wasn’t sure what was going on with White. When reporters asked Daryl Morey, he issued a statement essentially saying they had no comment on his missing practice but are committed to White. White apparently disagrees with this notion. But why? Did the Rockets renege on their deal? Have they insulted him by sending him down to the D-League? By keeping the matter private, did they somehow offend him? Who knows. I certainly don’t, and I’m in no position to pass judgment.

No matter his rationale, Royce White’s approach to his NBA career so far won’t endear him to many. Much of that approach is out of his control. But today’s statement wasn’t. It was pointed at the Houston organization. It blamed them for not providing him a chance to have a successful start to his career, even though they’ve allowed him to miss practices and training camp without much fanfare and have made an agreement to arrange for alternative travel arrangements. White obviously needs concessions for his condition, but the Rockets have openly made efforts to assist him. The Rockets also drafted him and signed him to a multi-million dollar deal. From the outside, they have been nothing but supportive.

Moreover, White’s timing couldn’t have been worse. His team’s coach is on indefinite leave, as he spends time in Minnesota with his daughter who, according to Ernie Johnson, became very ill over the weekend. It comes as he receives a D-League demotion, with his teammates gladly accepting the changes. It comes when a fellow talented rookie who plays his position in Terrence Jones struggled to get more than a minute or two of playing time. But Jones played during all of training camp and hasn’t missed many practices, if any at all.

Everything here, then, makes me re-consider my position that Houston, despite the geographical challenges, was a nice place for him. The rapid roster change, the coaching situation, and the limited playing time certainly work against him. But I have to wonder whether there’s a team out there where does fit at this point, because so far the Royce White era in Houston has been a disaster.

Well, That Was Quick – Lakers Fire Mike Brown

Credit: Examiner.com

Following one middling year, five regular season games, and countless death threats, Mike Brown has been fired by the Los Angeles Lakers, according to reports originating from Sam Amick of USA Today.

According to other sources, Bernie Bickerstaff will serve as coach for tonight’s game.

The news comes just days into a season filled so far with unmet expectations. The Lakers started the season 1-4, losing to four decent or better teams and only beating the lowly Pistons. The Lakers struggled with integrating the Princeton offense and appropriately working on both ends of the floor. He brought in Eddie Jordan, among others, to initiate the new offense. While the numbers worked out okay, the Lakers clearly struggled with the intricacies the Princeton has. And their defense suffered, which is to be expected when the entire camp is spent learning the new offense.

Of course, firing a coach after just 5 games makes little sense in general, especially since the coach could have been relieved over the summer if he wasn’t the preferred choice. Moreover, five games clearly isn’t enough to really gauge what Brown could have done with the team. Dwight Howard missed most of camp. Steve Nash has missed the last three games. But if the players called for it and ownership approved, I can’t help but agree with the decision. Brown has been seen mostly as a bad fit as Phil Jackson’s replacement.

At this point, the Lakers seem primed to go after a big name coach. Jerry Sloan, Mike D’Antoni, and Brian Shaw seem to be the most likely candidates, although Stan Van Gundy and Phil Jackson will inevitably be approached about interest in the job, though not necessarily from the Lakers.

Among these candidates, I personally believe D’Antoni to be the best candidate. He led legendary offenses in Phoenix with Nash at the helm, has a past with Kobe based on their Italian backgrounds, and generally has the approval of his non-Melo players. Moreover, in New York his team had a top-10 defense with the backbone of Tyson Chandler before his firing. Dwight Howard, when healthy, is the best defensive player in the league, even better than Chandler. Sloan’s terse demeanor will wear off poorly on Dwight and probably everyone else too, while Shaw most likely will be trapped in his contract in Indiana (coaches for pseudo-contending teams rarely get let go midseason).

No matter who is hired, it will be a sexy name. And there will be more drama, because it’s the Lakers, and a good amount of success, also because it’s the Lakers.