Friday, October 25, 2013

2013-14 NBA Win Over/Under Predictions

Hi there. We're back with our annual post offering our predictions for picking NBA regular-season win over/unders.

For the record, we were 5-2 in O/U predictions in 2012-13 and the 71% success rate lifted our lifetime winning percentage since we started The Painted Area to a robust 68.1%.

Here are our year-by-year records for the seven years we've been publishing our picks: **********************
For 2013-14, let's go straight to the data. What we've done below is:

a) sorted each conference in order of the posted over/under line for season wins,
b) provided projected '13-14 wins from ESPN Insider Kevin Pelton's SCHOENE projection system, and
c) provided '12-13 wins.

As always, these are for entertainment purposes only.
    (O/U Line  - KP - '12-13)
    MIA   61.5 - 54 - 66
    CHI   56.5 - 50 - 45
    IND   54.5 - 49 - 49
    BKN   52.5 - 50 - 49
    NYK   49.5 - 37 - 54
    DET   40.5 - 49 - 29
    CLE   40.5 - 37 - 24
    ATL   39.5 - 44 - 44
    WAS   39.5 - 35 - 29
    TOR   35.5 - 37 - 34
    MIL   28.5 - 32 - 38
    BOS   27.5 - 29 - 41
    CHA   26.5 - 32 - 21
    ORL   23.5 - 23 - 20
    PHI   17.5 - 24 - 34
    (O/U Line  - KP - '12-13)
    LAC   56.5 - 55 - 56
    SAS   55.5 - 60 - 58
    HOU   54.5 - 53 - 45
    OKC   52.5 - 51 - 60
    GSW   51.5 - 42 - 47
    MEM   50.5 - 49 - 56
    DEN   45.5 - 44 - 57
    DAL   43.5 - 44 - 41
    MIN   41.5 - 51 - 31
    NOH   39.5 - 41 - 27
    POR   38.5 - 41 - 33
    LAL   36.5 - 35 - 45
    SAC   31.5 - 28 - 28
    UTH   25.5 - 34 - 43
    PHX   20.5 - 20 - 25
Here are the predictions we feel most strongly about this season:
  • MIA Under 61.5
  • DET Over 40.5
  • GSW Under 51.5
  • SAC Over 31.5
  • CHA Over 26
  • NYK Under 49.5
  • MEM Over 50.5
Here's our rationale on the team picks:
MIAMI UNDER 61.5 (66 last season)
The Heat are likely to be the oldest team in the NBA and, if they pull off the threepeat, nearly the oldest champion in league history. Miami is coming off three straight grueling trips to the Finals - trying to become the first team since the '87 Celtics to make it back a fourth straight year.

And they are likely a little worse this season, given that Dwyane Wade is still hurting as the season starts, and they lost Mike Miller and mostly just got older otherwise. Wild cards Greg Oden and/or Michael Beasley are their main hopes for improvement.

Regardless of what you think the Heat will do come playoff time, it's hard to imagine they'll have enough juice and motivation to get back to the 60-win mark in the regular season, especially given how much energy is required to execute their defensive scheme optimally.

Out of seven teams which have chased a threepeat in the last quarter-century, only the '98 Bulls have surpassed 61.5 wins, and they did so with 62 W's, and even that was a decline from an average of 70.5 wins in the previous two seasons. Several threepeat chasers landed in the 57-58 range, and that's about what we expect from these Heat.

DETROIT OVER 40.5 (29 last season)
Three of the top five players in minutes for Detroit last season were Brandon Knight, Kyle Singler and Jason Maxiell. Yes, the parts of the new-look Pistons may not match perfectly, but read that first sentence again. Plug in Brandon Jennings (whom we think is a significant upgrade over Knight) and Josh Smith, plus a larger role for Andre Drummond (7th in minutes last year), and we think the talent upgrade is too massive to ignore.

We expect this team to be a solid 40-plus win team, in the running for the 5th or 6th seed. Our only area of concern would be that we wish they'd hired a better coach than Maurice Cheeks. George Karl would've been a great fit for this club, and Brian Shaw would've been preferable, as well.

GOLDEN STATE UNDER 51.5 (47 last season)
We love the Andre Iguodala acquisition, really we do. But departures Carl Landry and Jarrett Jack played significant roles last year. And as exciting as Golden State's surprise playoff run was, it was heavily dependent on Andrew Bogut being healthy enough to provide elite interior defensive play.

This is really a bet against Bogut's health as much as anything. The big Aussie has averaged just 43 games played over the last five seasons. Without him, the Warriors' frontcourt gets mighty thin, and may not be able to stop anybody. They'd rely on Jermaine O'Neal, a man with an equally troubling recent history of health.

Other concerns include the loss of assistant coach Mike Malone, who had major responsibility and was the architect of the team's improved defense, and that the Warriors had the point differential of just a 44-win team (+0.9).

But this pick will likely all come down to Bogut. If he plays 70+ games - something he's done twice in eight seasons, and not since 2007-08 - this pick'll be in trouble. If he's under that, we'll probably be right.

SACRAMENTO OVER 31.5 (28 last season)
Speaking of new Sacramento coach Mike Malone, this pick is mainly about him. The Kings ranked 29th in defense last season, and we expect Malone to improve that standing significantly. This is a team which played very good offense after the All-Star break/Thomas Robinson trade last year. We're a little concerned that going from Tyreke Evans to Ben McLemore is a talent downgrade, but have greater belief in Malone's impact on D.

CHARLOTTE OVER 26 (21 last season)
Again, a positive coaching change plays a big role here. Charlotte has hired Steve Clifford, who is a Van Gundy/Thibodeau disciple, and the early returns have been startling. The Bobcats have surrendered just 84 points per game in preseason (in approximately 95 possessions per game by my estimation) after ranking dead last in defense last season, giving up about 109 points per 100 possessions.

Yes, we know: it's preseason, it's preseason, it's preseason. But Charlotte doesn't have to come anywhere near the elite defensive numbers it's been posting in October. If the MikeCats can simply get up around 20th in the league on D, they should surpass 26 wins easily.

Further, all the evidence suggests this team should be better. Al Jefferson and Cody Zeller are replacing Byron Mullins, and there are some very young players who should show improvement, in addition to what we believe will be a strong coaching change. We'd expect low-30s in Ws, and wouldn't be surprised by mid-30s.

NEW YORK UNDER 49.5 (54 last season)
The Knicks have the biggest spread between their O/U line and Pelton's SCHOENE projection (37 wins). For a team that was so dependent upon three-point shooting for its offense and Tyson Chandler for its defense, we worry that the Knicks have replaced some sharpshooters with league-average shooters and we worry about Chandler being able to stay healthy. Further, the East has gotten stronger at the top, with the Nets, Bulls and Pacers all improving. Not sure we'd predict New York to regress as far as SCHOENE does - we still see them as a 5 or 6 seed, but probably in the mid-40s rather than low-50s after their charmed season in '12-13.

MEMPHIS OVER 50.5 (56 last season)
We don't entirely understand why the conventional wisdom seems to be down on Memphis. This is largely the same club which won 56 last season, with Marc Gasol and Mike Conley still in their primes.

Yes, Zach Randolph's age is a concern, but we like how Le Grizz fortified their frontcourt depth by flipping Darrell Arthur into Kosta Koufos, and believe Ed Davis will be ready to offer more support this season. We also think they've patched some gaping holes in their roster by adding Mike Miller to provide shooting from the wing, and Nick Calathes to contribute at backup point guard. The transition from a solid veteran head coach in Lionel Hollins to a rookie like Dave Joerger is always a variable, but we think Joerger has the makings of a good one.

Alright, folks, just four days until tip off. The League is back, rejoice.

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

The Painted Area's 2012-13 NBA Awards

With the 2012-13 NBA regular season in the books, let’s get right to it with our mythical awards ballot, which was submitted as part of the ESPN Forecast and the upcoming TrueHoop Network Awards:

1. LeBron James, Miami
2. Kevin Durant, Oklahoma City
3. Chris Paul, L.A. Clippers
4. Russell Westbrook, Oklahoma City
5. Carmelo Anthony, New York

First Team
G Chris Paul, L.A. Clippers
G Russell Westbrook, Oklahoma City
F LeBron James, Miami
F Kevin Durant, Oklahoma City
C Tim Duncan, San Antonio

Second Team
G Kobe Bryant, L.A. Lakers
G James Harden, Houston
F Carmelo Anthony, New York
F Blake Griffin, L.A. Clippers
C Marc Gasol, Memphis

Third Team
G Dwyane Wade, Miami
G Tony Parker, San Antonio
F Chris Bosh, Miami
F Al Horford, Atlanta
C Brook Lopez, Brooklyn

It was on January 17, watching LeBron James fully in command of the Staples Center stage vs. the Lakers – running the entire game en route to 39 points on 17-25 FG, 7 rebounds, 8 assists, 3 steals - that I realized we are at the peak. It’s that magical time in a superstar’s career when the arcs of physical and mental excellence intersect.

Soon after, LeBron delivered perhaps the best month of basketball ever played, a February in which he averaged 30-8-8 on ridiculous 64-43-81 shooting as the Heat went 12-1, beginning their march to 27 straight.

All told, at age 28, James produced one of the best regular seasons in NBA history. He has a near-record 31.7 PER, with the ability to guard every position on the floor, for a 65-win team. He deserves to be the NBA’s first unanimous MVP.

Further, LeBron now has the chance to be the first player to produce a 30+ PER in both the regular season and the playoffs, with a championship in TWO seasons. It’s been done only three times total, by Michael Jordan in 1990-91, Shaquille O’Neal in 1999-2000, and James himself in the lockout-shortened 2011-12 season.

Meanwhile, Kevin Durant’s exceptional season was obviously MVP-caliber as well. KD’s extraordinary 50-40-90 shooting at high volumes is the best shooting season in basketball history. In fact, Durant and James BOTH combined efficiency and usage better than any players in league history. Both players are better than 64% in true shooting percentage with very high usage rates. As Basketball Reference shows, that’s never been done before. And now it’s been done twice in the same season.

Also, Durant’s dramatic improvement in passing – from 2.7 assists per game in 2010-11 to 3.5 in ’11-12 to 4.6 this year – is probably the most impressive development in his continued ascendance, especially considering it’s exactly what OKC needed after losing James Harden’s playmaking.

Chris Paul is still the best point guard in basketball, and the leader of one of the league’s top six teams. CP3 is a clear no. 3 in PER (at 26.3) and on my mythical ballot. Beyond his playmaking, Paul was once again one of the NBA’s best clutch scorers, and leads the league in steals (without gambling excessively) for the fifth time in six years.

Beyond Paul, the choices get quite difficult, especially because so many guards – including Russell Westbrook, James Harden, Kobe Bryant, Dwyane Wade, Tony Parker and Stephen Curry – had strong seasons which are difficult to separate. Westbrook had a better combination of defense and durability (he’s still never missed a game) than the other contenders to narrowly earn my nod. In the big picture Russ is still underrated, if anything, as a driving force in Oklahoma City’s excellence.

Efficiency at the power forward position drove Carmelo Anthony’s career-best season, in which he’s led the Knicks to a surprising 53-28 record while closing in on his first scoring crown. Anthony is shooting a career-best .379 behind the arc despite hoisting 6.2 threes per game, by far and away the most of his career. He also has a career-low turnover rate even with a league- and career-high in usage (Melo had the lowest TO rate for any of the league’s high-usage players).

Since 6-10 are really not that far from 4 and 5 in our book, we’re going to go ahead and rank our next five here: 6. Kobe Bryant, 7. James Harden, 8. Dwyane Wade, 9. Tony Parker, 10. (tie) Tim Duncan and Marc Gasol.

On our All-NBA teams, the guards were pretty much impossible to separate, and we agonized over Duncan vs. Gasol for quite a while as well. Both excelled as anchors for top defensive teams, Duncan was more productive (more productive, ever, than any 36-plus player other than Karl Malone), while Gasol played more minutes. Essentially a coin flip for us.

The real stunner at the center position is that there’s no Dwight Howard to be seen; he could be left off the All-NBA Teams for the first time since 2006.

1. Mike Woodson, New York
2. Gregg Popovich, San Antonio
3. Mark Jackson, Golden State

As usual, there are about a dozen worthy, plausible candidates for Coach of the Year. That said, I’m surprised that Mike Woodson doesn’t seem to be earning much consideration for the award. For a guy considered to have a lack of imagination during his time in Atlanta, he’s been rather creative in maximizing his aged roster in New York.

Whether it’s been coaxing Carmelo into his best season by playing him at power forward, playing two point-guard lineups, or unleashing a three-point-heavy spread offense, Woody’s consistently pushed the right buttons. And, not that it’s relevant to the Coach of the Year discussion, but the Knicks have played a style that’s fun to watch for the first time since the Pitino era, a quarter-century ago.

More than anything, the 53-28 Knicks are simply much better than I thought they’d be. The 45.5 over/under number for seasons set by Vegas before the season seemed about right. In fact, we went back and took a look at the preseason over/under lines for season wins, to gauge which teams exceeded expectations the most.

Here were the top five teams:
    HOU 13.5
    GS 9.5
    NYK 7.5
    MEM 6
    LAC 5.5
Of course, Houston was a bit of an aberrant case, as they acquired James Harden right before the season, but their line went up just slightly, from 29 to 31.5.

From there, the Warriors and Knicks were big overachievers, which was our sense of things. The overachievement factored into our votes for both Woodson and Mark Jackson – we never thought the Warriors would experience so much improvement without a strong contribution from Andrew Bogut.

The Gregg Popovich vote speaks for itself at this point – he again won in the high-50s despite significant injuries, and most importantly, turned the Spurs back into a top-five defensive team for the first time in several years.

George Karl was the toughest omission, given how he’s constructed a style that’s a perfect fit for his roster - as he always seems to – and led a team without an All-Star to the fourth-best record in the league, at 56-26.

We can’t even quibble with likely winner Erik Spoelstra, given how well he’s methodically molded his team into an offensive and defensive juggernaut over the past three years.

1. Marc Gasol, Memphis
2. Roy Hibbert, Indiana
3. Tim Duncan, San Antonio

Probably the hardest DPoY pick in several seasons. There was no obvious choice, especially because the two dominant defenses in the NBA – Indiana and Memphis – were true team units. We ended up going with the anchors of the three best defensive teams by opponent points per possessions, and it should be noted that all three were supported by elite perimeter defenders, such as Tony Allen, Paul George and Kawhi Leonard, among others.

Recent research unveiled at the Sloan Conference emphasized the importance of deterring shot attempts in the paint, which reinforced the defensive preeminence of big men to us. When in doubt, we go big for DPoY unless the perimeter defense is simply too extraordinary to overlook.

1. Damian Lillard, Portland
2. Anthony Davis, New Orleans
3. Andre Drummond, Detroit

First Team
Damian Lillard, Portland
Anthony Davis, New Orleans
Andre Drummond, Detroit
Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, Charlotte
Jonas Valanciunas, Toronto

Second Team
Bradley Beal, Washington
Dion Waiters, Cleveland
Harrison Barnes, Golden State
Maurice Harkless, Orlando
Pablo Prigioni, New York

A little bit of a strange year for rookies, in that I had no problem giving Damian Lillard my ROY vote, yet I tend to think that about five of his fellow rookies will end having better NBA careers. But Lillard wins on the strength of what Hubie Brown calls “attendance”, and age, really. Don’t get me wrong, Lillard was impressive in shouldering a big load for the Blazers, as a lead guard who averaged nearly 39 minutes while playing in all 82 games.

But, at age 22 with three-plus years of college play under his belt, Lillard is a more polished product than the promising youngsters in the class, such as potential stars Anthony Davis (just turned 20) and Andre Drummond (19), as well as Bradley Beal (19), Michael Kidd-Gilchrist (19) and Jonas Valanciunas (20). Indeed, if there were a 2012 re-draft, Davis and Drummond would surely go 1-2, with Beal right behind them.

I had a very difficult time choosing two among MKG, Valanciunas and Beal for my last two First Team slots. Defense was the deciding factor for Kidd-Gilchrist, and superior overall production flipped the coin in favor of Valanciunas over Beal.

It’s probably unfair to Beal - who I consider the third-best prospect in this class – who improved markedly after John Wall showed up to liberate him, but the early-season struggles still count against him, and he also missed 26 games.

In any event, Valanciunas certainly deserves more consideration for All-Rookie First Team than he’s been getting (which is very little). Jonas had the 4th-best PER (15.5), by a good margin, out of rookies who played more than 20 minutes per game.

1. J.R. Smith, New York
2. Jamal Crawford, L.A. Clippers
3. Amir Johnson, Toronto

Yet another decision that was difficult to unspool, with so many worthy candidates. If anything, the Clippers or Nuggets second units probably deserved to share this award this year – their outstanding work by committee outshined any individual performance off the bench in 2012-13.

But J.R. Smith earns the award in part via the sheer volume of his work. He managed to lead the Knicks in minutes, by being one of the few players avoid injury, logging 33.5 minutes per game in 80 games played, lighting it up for 18.1 ppg in that time, second only on the Knicks to Carmelo.

Friday, April 12, 2013

In Favor of NBA Goaltending Rules > FIBA's

In FIBA basketball, goaltending rules allow for the ball to be live after it hits the rim. In other words, what's known as basket interference in most of American basketball is a legal play in the international game.

Many, including outgoing commissioner David Stern, have called for the NBA to adopt the FIBA rules regarding basket interference.

I favor the American goaltending rules, and the wild finish to Tuesday's Rockets-Suns game helps illustrate why. For a quick recap, the game was tied 98-98 in the final seconds, when James Harden launched a three which bounced high in the air before hitting the rim again. Jermaine O'Neal knocked the ball away while it was still "within the cylinder" above the rim for the rare buzzer-beating goaltend on a three, which won the game for the Rockets. Here's a look at the play:

It's not a perfect illustration for a couple reasons: 1) The shot had little chance of going in on the second bounce and 2) O'Neal's hand appeared to partially come up under the rim, which is a goaltend under any rules, including FIBA's.

So, imagine a slightly different play, in which:
• Harden's shot had a softer second bounce, with a 50-50 chance of going in, and
• O'Neal simply knocked it away off the rim cleanly.

By FIBA goaltending rules for basket interference, that slightly different play would have been legal. Would that have been a fun play to watch? A satisfying way for regulation to have ended? To me, it would not.

A ball bouncing around and rolling on the rim, especially in an important moment -- Did the shooter put the ball up softly enough? Will he get the roll? -- is an exciting play!

There seems to be a sense that the FIBA rules would unleash an extra level of above-the-rim play in the NBA. But in reality, most instances of legal basket interference in FIBA basketball look an awful lot like O'Neal's play on Tuesday: a defensive big man reaches up and easily knocks the ball away off the rim, at about 10'1" in the air.

There's a theory that the superior athleticism of NBA players would lead to more spectacular putbacks on offensive rebounds with FIBA rules, but based on what we've seen from NBA players in Olympic and World Championship play, there are a few extra "guide-in" followups of balls on the rim.

Ultimately, the rule is not a major deal, as it affects a small percentage of plays. But I think the "shooter's roll" is more fun to watch than a "No soup for you!" denial by a big man reaching up to the rim.

Friday, March 08, 2013

Effective Age Snapshot: Heat Would Be Among Oldest NBA Champs, Thunder Still Among Youngest

Today, we're examining the "effective age" numbers for this season's top NBA teams. Effective age is a metric used by ESPN Insider Kevin Pelton to measure a team's average age, but weighted by minutes played, rather than a straight average (which artificially inflates the average number for a team like New York, for example, if senior citizens like Marcus Camby (38) and Kurt Thomas (40) are given the same weight as heavy-minutes players such as Carmelo Anthony, J.R. Smith and Ray Felton (all under 30)).

Below, we offer the effective ages of the top eight NBA teams currently. (Note that we based our calculations on Basketball-Reference's rounded age number, set to the player's age on February 1 of a given season.)
    Effective Age, 2012-13 NYK 30.26 MIA 30.11 SAS 28.80 LAC 28.77 MEM 26.86 DEN 26.11 OKC 25.92 IND 25.77
(As an addendum, the Lakers stand even older than the Knicks, at 30.69.)

Based on their current effective age number, the Heat would rank as the sixth-oldest champion in 67 NBA seasons if they were to repeat in June. Here are the top 10 oldest NBA champions:
    YEAR TEAM eAGE 1998 CHI 31.7 2011 DAL 30.9 1997 CHI 30.7 1969 BOS 30.5 2007 SAS 30.4 1999 SAS 30.1 1996 CHI 29.9 1990 DET 29.5 1972 LAL 29.5 1968 BOS 29.5
The Heat have gotten markedly older in 2012-13. Here is their progression in the LeBron Era:
    2010-11: 28.99 2011-12: 28.27 2012-13: 30.11
In 2011, we plotted out the effective ages for every NBA champion. Miami's 28.3 mark last season put them around 27th of 66, pretty squarely in the middle of the pack, considering that NBA ages have gone up as enhancements in salary, training and medicine have allowed players to play longer.

Now, the Heat have quickly become one of the oldest NBA contenders. Of course, a major reason behind this increase is the big transfer of minutes from Joel Anthony (29 last season) to Ray Allen (37). [Note: all ages in this post will be the Basketball-Reference Feb. 1 number.] But the Heat have also done very little to replenish their supporting cast with youth, mainly choosing to roll over the roster with everyone getting a year older. There are several thirtysomethings, and the only two rotation players younger than 28 are Mario Chalmers (26) and one of the worst rotation players in the league, Norris Cole (24).

Should this be a cause for concern for Miami's title chances in 2013? As the Heat roll through the league on their current 16-game winning streak, with their offense reaching near-historic levels, we'd definitely say no. They're still well within the range of other champions, and it's not unreasonable to think that teams might continue to get a little older as players continue to play longer.

But going forward, the birth certificates have to be a little troubling for Heat fans. Take another look at that list of oldest champions above. A couple of those teams ('98 Bulls and '69 Celtics) were (legendarily) at the very end of the line, and a couple ('11 Mavs and '69 Celtics again) were, shall we say, rather fortunate title-winners.

The Heat are likely committed (there are various player options and potential for retirements) to geezers like Allen (37), Shane Battier (34) and Rashard Lewis (33) through 2014, and Mike Miller (32), Udonis Haslem (32) and Joel Anthony (30) through 2015. Not to mention, a player who provides Miami with vital athleticism, Dwyane Wade, is also 31.


Given the way the Pacers have played over the last three months (28-12 after a 10-11 start), especially on the defensive end, they are an increasingly intriguing darkhorse challenger to the Eastern throne in 2013, though the Heat are still heavy favorites.

But what's striking for the future is that Indiana has quietly become an even younger team than the famously youthful Thunder (though Lance Stephenson (22) filling in for an injured Danny Granger (29) for several months does probably drive the number especially low). If the Pacers can keep their core together, they appear to be a team poised for improvement, while Miami is danger of decline. Lots can happen to shake things up on the offseason movement carousel, but it's something to watch going forward.


Now compare Miami's approach to that of San Antonio, which has gone through this three-year age progression:
    2010-11: 28.80 2011-12: 27.52 2012-13: 28.80
It's possibly surprising that the Spurs are younger than the Heat overall, given that the headliners in S.A. are the aged Big 3 of Duncan (36), Ginobili (35) and Parker (30). But San Antonio has done a fine job of filling in the gaps with under-30s like Kawhi Leonard (21), Tiago Splitter (28), Danny Green (25) and Gary Neal (28).

In fact, when looking back on the 2012 Western Conference Finals with Bill Simmons, Tony Parker suggested that a problem for the Spurs might have been that they were too young rather than too old, given that Leonard and Green were both in their first seasons of NBA playing time. Indeed, it's conceivable that a Heat-Spurs Finals could well be decided by whether the likes of Allen, Battier and Haslem are still spry enough to keep up with Leonard, Splitter and Green.


On the other end of the spectrum, Oklahoma City (at 25.92) is still in line to be one of the very youngest NBA champs ever. Here are the top 10 youngest:
    YEAR TEAM eAGE 1977 POR 24.5 1950 MIN 25.1* 1949 MIN 25.7* 1956 PHW 25.7 1947 PHW 25.8* 1952 MIN 25.8 1975 GSW 25.8 1955 SYR 26.1 1971 MIL 26.1 1980 LAL 26.2
* Effective age weighted by points rather than minutes

Given how early careers ended in the NBA's pioneer days, this year's Thunder would essentially be the third-youngest NBA champion behind the '77 Blazers and '75 Warriors.

Meanwhile, here is the Thunder's three-year age progression:
    2010-11: 23.74 2011-12: 25.10 2012-13: 25.92
We're surprised that OKC's number didn't go even higher, given the James Harden (22 last season) for Kevin Martin (29) trade. But Serge Ibaka (23) has stepped into a larger role, and minutes from the likes of Derek Fisher (37 last season) and Nazr Muhammad (34) have been transferred to Reggie Jackson (21) and Hasheem Thabeet (25).

It would still be a truly remarkable accomplishment if the Thunder were to win with such a young team, especially as NBA ages seem to go up, and especially with a nucleus that's just 24 (Kevin Durant), 24 (Russell Westbrook), and 23 (Serge Ibaka).


One last note before we go. One of our favorite tidbits from the full list of champion ages is this progression of five consecutive championships during the heart of the Celtics dynasty:
    YEAR TEAM eAGE 1961 BOS 28.3 1962 BOS 28.0 1963 BOS 28.3 1964 BOS 28.4 1965 BOS 28.3
Red Auerbach was able to keep the team at essentially the same age, right in the sweet spot for championship effective age, for five straight seasons! Really a pretty amazing job of shifting roles gradually, as both coach and GM, especially given that it was a pre-free agency era.

We'll see if the Heat come to regret not finding ways to similarly infuse new sources of youth into their rotation.

Friday, February 22, 2013

Trade Deadline Musings: What If Thomas Robinson Just Isn't That Good?

I've been surprised by the vehemence of the negative reaction to Sacramento's trade of Thomas Robinson to Houston for Patrick Patterson (the core players of this deal). I feel like there is a lot of noise obscuring a fair reading of this question: Did Sacramento make its team better with this trade?

The Maloofs are inarguably complete disasters as owners, close to destroying one of the league's best fan bases. Geoff Petrie has suffered an inglorious slide from the turn of the century, when he was arguably the best GM in the league, to now, when the Sacramento front office has fallen far behind the times as other teams have modernized rapidly. But I believe the (fair) perceptions of the Maloofs and Petrie are affecting a fair evaluation of this trade.

Let's concede two points:
1. The Kings likely could have gotten a better deal for Robinson. No one in the media knows for sure, and it's always easy to suggest that Mythical Trade X was out there, but sure, I'll concede that Sacramento likely could have received a better swap of assets than what Petrie achieved.

2. Robinson has a better contract than Patterson, in that T-Rob has three years left on his rookie deal, while P-Pat has just one. No doubt.

But a lot has been made of the Maloofs saving $3 million this year on this deal (which actually amounts to $1M when pro-rated). This streamlines right into the narrative because the Maloofs have demonstrated that they are cheap, awful owners, but really, this savings doesn't seriously impact the future of the Kings if they made their team better with this trade.


So, Thomas Robinson. For all of the criticism of this trade, what if it turns out that Robinson just isn't that good?

I'm not claiming to be the world's best talent evaluator - there are plenty of hits and misses in The Painted Area archives - but I was not that high on Robinson coming out of Kansas, and he's been about the same guy I expected in Sacramento. Robinson struck me as a player who was an elite college athlete, physically dominant in NCAA ball (especially as an older, third-year player), but there was a marked contrast when matched up against an elite pro athlete such as Anthony Davis.

T-Rob struggled to convert against Kentucky, against whom he went 11-29 on FG in two games, and this has carried over the pros, where he's had 10.8% of his shots blocked, and converted a poor 54.4% of shots at the rim. Robinson *looks* like an elite NBA athlete, with his chiseled physique, but I don't believe that he actually is one.

Overall, Robinson rates a fairly dismal 23rd among rookies in PER (10.9) and 26th in EWA (basically PER taking total minutes into account), despite being one of the older, more-experienced rookies taken in the lottery. What's more, when I open up my trusted copy of Pro Basketball Prospectus by ESPN's Kevin Pelton, I find that the translated stats from Robinson's junior season projected his production as an NBA rookie pretty much dead on - with very good rebounder and very inefficient scorer being the two headlines. (Though it is worth noting that Robinson's stats from his sophomore season, when he played far fewer minutes, give him a more favorable projection.)

Both my eyes and the numbers suggest that Robinson is a little bit more than 'just a guy', a solid rotation big overall.

Patterson, meanwhile, has a career PER of 14.2, including 15.6 this season. Robinson is a far better rebounder, but Patterson is a far better shooter, and has been more productive overall. He'll likely fit better next to DeMarcus Cousins on offense (though Patterson doesn't help SAC's dismal rebounding), and also certainly fit far better next to Omer Asik in Houston than Robinson will.

I'm not suggesting Patrick Patterson's an All-Star, but I think he's a better player than Robinson. I've seen some sentiment that Patterson may be better today, but Robinson surely has greater upside. I mean, first of all, Patterson's only 23, just two years older than Robinson; he's not necessarily a finished product in his own right. And again, I just don't see the evidence of great Robinson upside. Just because he was the no. 5 pick in last year's Draft doesn't make it so.

And T-Rob's being the no. 5 pick in last year's Draft is yet another fact which I believe is obscuring a fair evaluation of this trade. "How can a team give up on its lottery pick during his rookie season?!", the masses are wailing.

Well, I mean, isn't this what we *want* GM's to do? Don't we ding decision-makers for sticking with the guys they chose strictly for the reason that these are the guys they chose? Isn't it better to get rid of lottery picks who can't play sooner rather than later? Is, for example, the Sixers' continued multi-year charade of treating Evan Turner like he can play strictly because he was the no. 2 pick the preferred route?

The Draft was where Sacramento made the big error with Robinson, in drafting him ahead of players like Damian Lillard and Andre Drummond. But, honestly, the fact that he was the no. 5 pick in last year's Draft is irrelevant to the substance of this trade, at this point.

I think we can get caught up in evaluating trades against the Platonic ideal of what could have happened sometimes, rather than just evaluating them on their faces. Could the Kings have gotten more for Robinson? Probably. Is Patterson better enough to justify the difference in salary in a couple years? Possibly not, but possibly so.

I believe that Sacramento is a better team, both short-term and long-term, following this deal, though just incrementally. I think it's a pretty good deal for the Kings, which could well turn out to be not-so-great. But I just don't see this being anywhere near the colossal disaster as it's being portrayed by many.

I think that the fact that the Maloofs are terrible owners, and that Petrie has a subpar track record recently (such as the 2011 Jimmer draft trade which was a true disaster), and that Robinson was the no. 5 pick last year, are unfairly contributing to the portrayal of this trade as an unmitigated disaster. The next owners of the Kings franchise, be they in Sacramento or Seattle, will still have plenty of heavy lifting ahead, but this trade will not set them back materially.