Make or Miss Podcast #24: Finals, Love, World Cup (with draft bonus)
Long time, no see, hear or read. Along with everyone else, I took a little time to decompress from the NBA finals, as well as throw myself into the World Cup. But good news, WOH is back with a brand new invention. Or really, just a new podcast with Rob, where we spend 90 minutes, first talking about the rumored Kevin Love deals with Golden State, (I get my Klay Thompson hate ON), break down the Spurs victory in the finals, before finishing up with some World Cup talk. We recorded pre-draft and pre USA NUMBER 1's winning-by-losing effort against Germany, so that's why it might sound dated.
Naturally, as the rules of the game have changed, different player types and skillsets become more valuable. Axiomatically, other types and skills become relatively less valuable. However, many of the tropes heading into the playoffs reflect the lessons of a different era of basketball.
In the era of the three pointer and the endless pick-and-roll, "live by the jumper, die by the jumper" or "let the big dog eat" just don't have currency anymore. Yet the constant repetition of these refrains not only misinforms, it actually influences teams into playing worse.
Realized it's been a month or so since I last updated the Isolated Rim Protection Metric, so reran the numbers through games of Saturday, March 22. Google doc with the results is here. Nothing terribly surprising in this iteration. Roy Hibbert still crushes the rest of the league in this measure. Robin Lopez continues to show up surprisingly well (2nd in per game value), even though Portland has given up large numbers of paint points all year.
Mid-Season Updates to Rim Protection and True Usage Stats (SportVU aided)
As you might have noticed, NBA.COM now includes (some) SportVU player tracking data in each game's box score (e.g.). I'll have a longer piece soon on using and interpreting this box score level data. But, now that we're at the All-Star Break, now seems like a natural time to update the Isolated Rim Protection and TrueUsage/TrueTurnover Rate metrics I've been looking at all season.
Slowly but surely, the air is leaking out of the Timberwolves season. Not so much a punctured balloon, but an unattended bagpipe, complete with discordant moans and sighs. The realization is dawning that despite high hopes and a quick start, this is going to be yet another year of squandered opportunities and frustration. With only so many mulligans available in the competitive West, matchups against teams which would be just as happy, organizationally speaking, to never win again are actual rather than cliche "must wins." To put it in less overwrought terms, you have to beat the ****** Pelicans when they're missing 3 of their top 6.
I've probably written more about Portland on this blog than any other team aside from perhaps the Timberwolves, and I've definitely watched more Blazers games than any other team this season. They not only have for my money the prettiest offense in the league, but also my favorite player (Nic Batum, don't think there isn't a 5,000 word opus on him coming sometime this season). And there games are almost always entertaining. But that entertainment value contains the kernel of their own downfall; Blazer games are fun because no on e can stop them, but they can't stop anyone either.
As you might have heard, the Minnesota Timberwolves are 1-12 in close games, and are floundering around .500 (currently 23-24) when their Pythagorean Record (what their record "should be" based on season long point differential) is 30-17. Generally speaking, large divergence from expected W-L is mostly down to luck. Very few players and teams have consistently shown an ability to out- or under-perform this measure, though one notable exception is Dirk Nowitzki, whose game translates to late game situations better than any player in recent memory. However in the case of the Timberwolves, there is something more than bad luck at work.
One of the biggest issues with theIsolated Rim Protection metric has been been adjusting for shot "deterrence" and pace. Basically, from the defensive perspective, the best shot at the rim is the one not taken at all. And while I had accounted for this previously with a team adjustment, that was fairly blunt, as it is clear as day that there is a great difference in the intimidation factor presented by a Dwight Howard and by his current backup Donatas Motiejunas .
Related to the piece I had up on ClipperBlog yesterday (thanks to Andrew Han for running it), I recalculated "Isolated Rim Protection" values up through games of Monday the 20th. Based on a suggestion from Rob, I ran the whole league, not just big men, though obviously "rim protection" is a far less important stat for wings and guards than for bigs. But, looking at the whole league (well, players who had played at least 20 games and at least 10 minutes per game) reveals the contribution each "position" on the floor tends to have in protecting the paint:
Winning the One-on-One Battle But Losing the Match-up War
I'm a big believer in the NBA being a match-up league. Players' have preferred spots and skills, and to the extent particular opponents are good or bad at stopping or attacking those things, this interaction between discrete strengths and weaknesses determines much of who has good or bad performances. However, too often we get focused on only one half of a match-up and forget that mismatches can go both ways.