NBA's statistical revolution bringing real change, more winning

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Advocates for the use of statistical analysis in basketball are called many things: stat geeks, dorks, nerds, people who JUST NEED TO WATCH THE GAMES!!!, etc. Jokes are made about pocket-protectors, mothers’ basements, and middle-aged virgins.

And for what? The field and the data are hardly assuming of anything other than numerical findings, and best of all, the data provides a completely different approach that works in conjunction with, not in opposition to, more conventional basketball analysis. But the old guard has decided that members of the analytics community be classified as public enemies, mostly so claims that a team “lives and dies by the three” or “just knows how to win games” aren’t debunked by, y’know, facts.

Funny how those fact things can get in the way sometimes.

Dean Oliver, author of Basketball on Paper and Director of Quantitative Analysis for the Denver Nuggets, used the “advanced statistical measures as fact” bit as a motif during his panel discussions at the Sloan Sports Analytics Conference. Not because advanced metrics are Truths with a capital T, but because they offer additional information that helps in decision-making.

Whether you’re assessing player value, determining a player’s strengths, figuring out which lineup to use, you want to amass as many facts as possible in order to make the best decision that you can. That’s all that the advanced stat movement is doing, essentially: giving more information from innovative angles to help people who make decisions about the game do so more effectively.

Shockingly, having that information available is helping the stat-savvy teams win a whole bunch of basketball games. From David Biderman of the Wall Street Journal:

According to interviews with every team, The Wall Street Journal found
that half the league’s teams this season have at least one of these
statisticians who helps make in-game, draft-day and trade-deadline
decisions. Many of these teams are among the NBA’s best. The list
accounts for all six division leaders, including the Orlando Magic and
Dallas Mavericks, who have a data analyst traveling with the team.
These 15 teams that have invested heavily in statistics have combined
to win 59.3% of their games this season. The 15 teams without such
analysts have won 40.7% of their games, and only three–the Phoenix
Suns, Utah Jazz and Atlanta Hawks–are on pace to make the postseason.

Look, there will always be radicals in every field. Some will claim that their metric is all-knowing and all-important, and it will make everyone in the analytics community look bad. But the important thing to remember is that those people represent an extreme minority; the rest of the “stat geeks” are perfectly rational, cogent people that are as willing to admit the flaws of their analysis as they are its strengths.

That’s where the community at large is being woefully misrepresented, and it’s a damn shame. This is the future of sports, and there’s no more fitting way for sport to evolve in the information age than by amassing the largest amount of data, both raw and analyzed, for usage and consumption.

Russell Westbrook fined $10,000 for confrontation with Gobert, no suspension

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The rule in the NBA is clear and strictly enforced (just ask Amar’e Stoudemire and the Suns): Leave the bench during an altercation and you get suspended for a game.

Monday night, in the fourth quarter of the chippy game Monday where the Jazz beat the Thunder, Russell Westbrook was set to check into the game when there was a little dust-up between Rudy Gobert in Raymond Felton, and Westbrook came in and escalated it. Did he leave the bench, or was he coming into the game and that’s different.

The NBA decided he was coming into the game already — Westbrook got a $10,000 fine and an after-the-fact technical, but no suspension.

OKC needs Westbrook — and an aggressive Westbrook who is knocking down his midrange shot — to have a chance to avoid elimination in Game 5 Wednesday. The Thunder have had their strengths turned against them, and have not shown the versatility to adjust in this series, and if Westbrook and company cannot change that Wednesday their season will end.

Nets hire Pablo Prigioni as assistant coach, Tiago Splitter as scout

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NEW YORK (AP) — The Brooklyn Nets have hired former NBA player and Argentine guard Pablo Prigioni as an assistant coach.

The Nets also announced Tuesday that former Spurs center Tiago Splitter was hired as a pro scout.

Prigioni spent most of his professional career in Spain and won a bronze medal with Argentina in the 2008 Olympics before coming to the New York Knicks in 2012 as a 35-year-old rookie. He spent four years in the NBA with the Knicks, Rockets and Clippers.

Splitter helped San Antonio win the 2014 NBA championship before spending the final two seasons of his seven-year career with Atlanta and Philadelphia. The Nets said Splitter, who also played for Brazil’s national team, will have added duties related to player on-court development.

 

Celtics to get Marcus Smart back for Game 5 Tuesday

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It’s a series that has hinged on defense — Boston has played it well for the majority of five games, bottling up Milwaukee in the halfcourt. The Bucks only played it with real energy at home (and only for about six of the eight quarters the last two games) but when they do they have overwhelmed the Celtics, then converted turnovers and missed shots into transition and early clock opportunities the other way.

For Game 5 Tuesday night, Boston gets its best perimeter defender back — Marcus Smart. He has been out since before the playoffs following thumb surgery last March.

Stevens, via NBC Sports Boston:

“He hasn’t played in six weeks, so it’s hard to say how much (time he will get) but will certainly play,” Stevens said. Stevens said there would not be a minutes restriction on him, but added that the fourth-year guard wasn’t going to play 35 minutes.

Smart is a very good perimeter defender who is very physical and usually assigned to the other team’s best guard (or wing, depending upon the matchup). When Smart was on the court this season, the Celtics allowed less than a point per possession and were 3.6 points per 100 better defensively than when he sat.

Smart likely will get time against Eric Bledsoe and Kris Middleton of the Bucks. Just his presence brings needed depth to the Celtics in what is a critical Game 5 in a series tied 2-2.

Report: Pelicans have discussed offering DeMarcus Cousins less than max over two to three years

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Last month, Anthony Davis said he heard DeMarcus Cousins planned to re-sign with the Pelicans. Cousins was out a torn Achilles, and New Orleans was rolling with Davis playing more center. But New Orleans’ ceiling looked higher with Cousins, and Davis made clear he wanted to keep Cousins – in itself a big deal. More important than keeping Cousins is keeping Davis, which requires keeping Davis happy.

Then, the Pelicans swept the Trail Blazers, becoming the lowest seed to sweep a first-round series.

Is everyone still sure Cousins warrants a max contract, which projects to be worth about $176 million over five years?

Zach Lowe of ESPN:

The Pelicans have broached internally the idea of offering Cousins a two- or three-year deal at less than the max, per sources familiar with the discussions. I would not expect that to go over well with Cousins’ camp. But the Pelicans have the dual leverage of winning without Cousins and a tepid market for him.

Only a half-dozen or so teams have max-level space this season, and most won’t pursue Cousins at that level, sources say.

I wouldn’t be surprised if the Pelicans leaked this to test the waters. Word will get back to Cousins, and they can gauge how strenuously he objects. If they want, they can deny ever considering this and try to avoid offending Cousins.

But New Orleans has leverage.

It will be a tight market. Many of the teams with significant cap space are young and rebuilding, and they won’t want Cousins’ attitude. Even teams ready to win might not bring him into the locker room. Returning from a torn Achilles – hard for any player – will be especially difficult for the 6-foot-11, 270-pound Cousins.

That said, Cousins has leverage on the Pelicans, too. He’s extremely talented, and players that talented are hard to come by. New Orleans would still essentially be capped out if he walked, left with only the mid-level exception to replace him. Cousins and Davis play well together, and Davis – who can become an unrestricted free agent in 2020 – wants Cousins around.

Confronted with a similar situation with Jrue Holiday last summer – capped out and no mechanism to adequately replace him – the Pelicans spent big. But Holiday wasn’t hurt and didn’t have any fit concerns with Davis.

For New Orleans, it’s clearly worth securing the 27-year-old Cousins for the next couple years. The upside is too high. But, especially given the injury, guaranteeing him money into his 30s is undesirable.

On the flip side, Cousins should want long-term security. This might be his last chance to get it.

So, maybe both the Pelicans and Cousins can meet in the middle. But finding that point is never simple.