Harvard takes up question of fouling late when up by three

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horry_lastsecond.jpgIt’s one of the most divisive of question in basketball, right up there with “is David Kahn as bad a GM as Isiah Thomas?”

You’re up three, there’s 10 seconds left in the game and the other team has the ball. Do you foul and send them to the line for two free throws? If so, when? Or, do you show faith in your defense to contest the three and not foul at all, going for it in one play?

There is no consensus, although most observers want the foul. Orlando chose not to foul up three in Game 4 of the 2009 NBA finals, and Derek Fisher got lose (after the Magic double-teamed Kobe) to tie the game with a three. Many coaches will foul, but often not until only a few seconds are left on the clock (Phil Jackson’s stated rule of thumb is under 5 seconds left, although he has let his team play it out and defend the arc on numerous occasions).

But with the odds of making a three roughly 35 percent (give or take, depending on the shooter), and that is just to tie, are you better off defending the arc, contesting the shot and just going for the win?

The Harvard Sports Analysis Collective looked at the data — every college game with this situation last season — and said, to quote Bill Murray in Meatballs, “It just doesn’t matter.” (Hat tip to Deadspin)

In the 2009-2010 season, I found 443 instances where a team held the ball down three points during their last possession of a period (either the end of the 2nd half or an overtime period). In 391 of those cases, the team leading did not foul. In 52 cases, the team chose to foul…

Of the 52 teams that committed a foul, six lost the game for a winning percentage of 88.46%. Of the 391 teams that did not foul, 33 lost the game for a winning percentage of 91.56%. … In this sample, teams that did not foul won slightly more often. For the less statistically inclined, this means that there is no significant difference between the two strategies.

This makes some sense, there is not likely a huge disparity, and the first lesson is you would rather be up three than down three late in a game.

But the Harvard study does not factor in the time component, and that is key. Up three and foul with 10 seconds to go and you have created a free throw shooting contest (the other team will foul the second you inbound). Both sides are likely to get to the line a couple times.

But if you can foul — not in the act of shooting — with Jackson’s five seconds or less? Then you essentially force the other team to make the first and miss the second, trying to get the rebound. In that case, in the Harvard college study, teams won 94 percent of the time. That’s odds any coach would take. So unless you’re at a huge rebounding disadvantage, it seems the wise strategy to foul late.

Or, to put it another way, you can’t really go wrong doing what Phil Jackson does.

Is DeMarcus Cousins MVP worthy? “It’s mine to grab”

DeMarcus Cousins

Last season, DeMarcus Cousins received zero MVP votes (the same as every year of his career). Even though he averaged 24.1 points, and 12.7 rebounds a game, which was enough to get him his first All-Star berth, MVP is another thing entirely. Only players on winning teams tend to draw the attention of MVP voters.

This season, can Cousins — arguably the best center in the game — get in the conversation?

He thinks it’s more than just that, he told Kevin Ding at Bleacher Report.

The topic is the 2015-16 NBA MVP award and whether it could be reachable for DeMarcus Cousins.

“Reachable, man?” Cousins told Bleacher Report, his voice rising high. “It’s mine to grab.”

As noted above, the only way Cousins gets into the conversation — fair or not — is if the Kings are in the playoffs (at the very least). He understands that.

“It’s going to take a full team effort,” Cousins said. “I’ll try to play at a high level and bring my team along with me.”

Vlade Divac built a Kings’ team designed to start winning now — as you would expect from a team a year away from moving into a new arena they need to fill. Owner Vivek Ranadive is not about selling hope anymore, he wants to sell wins.

I think Cousins can help provide that.

I’m less sold on the cast around him being able to help.

PBT Extra bold prediction preview: Markieff Morris will be a happy Sun

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After a bumpy season where the he fought with Suns coaches, then a summer where he and his twin Marcus felt they were blindsided by a trade, Markieff Morris has been plenty vocal about his unhappiness in Phoenix. To the point it has cost him some serious cash.

So what should we expect from Markieff Morris’ upcoming season?

Relative calm, I tell Jenna Corrado of NBCSports in this latest edition of PBT Extra previewing the NBA season.

The reasons are twofold. First, he has to realize the Suns aren’t trading him anyway (especially not while he publicly demands a trade, lowering his trade value). Second, can you imagine how new locker room leader Tyson Chandler is going to react to that? Chandler was brought in to fill a leadership void in the locker room, and you can bet he will make his displeasure at such team-disrupting antics known.

Still not sure if that’s enough to get the Suns to the playoffs.