Tag: Statistics


So, just how bad are the Cavaliers?


The 8-37 Cavaliers have lost 18 straight games and 28 of their last 29 on their way to claiming the worst record in the league. That’s the bad news. The worse news is that the Cavaliers are considerably worse than their record indicates.

As bad as the Cavs’ record indicates, the team’s win margin is far uglier: The team is a respectable 2-3 in games decided by three points or less (meaning that a full 25% of the team’s wins have come by three points or less), and the Cavs are an abysmal 0-24 in games decided by 10 points or more. To provide some perspective on that last statistic, the 10-34 Timberwolves are 6-15 in games decided by 10 points or more. The Vegas spread for Tuesday’s Cavaliers-Celtics game was 17 points, and that ended up being a push.

If it wasn’t for the team’s 7-8 start (which was the product of a miracle win against the Celtics and weak scheduling), the Cavaliers would almost certainly be in the hunt for the worst record ever. As it is now, the Cavaliers are chasing the dubious “honor” of being one of the only teams to finish the season with the lowest offensive and defensive efficiency in the league. I’ll let Zach Lowe of The Point Forward explain:

As the Celtics approached 70 points during the first half last night, I found myself wondering if Cleveland might wind up dead last in both offensive efficiency (points per 100 possessions) and defensive efficiency (points allowed per 100 possessions).

The Cavs have been last in offensive efficiency for a while now — a remarkable thing, considering how bad Milwaukee’s offense has been — and Tuesday’s night’s effort in Boston dropped Cleveland to into a tie with Toronto for the next-to-last spot in the defensive efficiency rankings. Only the Suns stand in between the Cavs and a unique level of infamy.

That naturally prompted a question that both Neil Paine of Basketball-Reference and I tackled this morning: Has any team finished last in both categories?

Turns out, two have pulled the trick in the three-point era (starting in the 1979-80 season):

• The 1986-87 Los Angeles Clippers (12-70, Player Efficiency Rating Leader — Michael Cage, 17.1): 101.2 points scored/100 possessions vs. 112.3 points allowed/100 possessions. Net difference: -11.1.

The 1992-93 Dallas Mavericks (11-71, PER later–Derek Harper, 15.9): 99.5 points scored/100 possessions vs. 114.7 points allowed/100 possessions. Net difference: -15.2.

Currently, the Cavaliers are losing games by an average of 12.1 points per game, which would be the fourth-worst mark since the 1979-80 season if the season ended today. And that point margin will likely be worse by the end of the season.

In short, the Cavaliers have not won in over a month, they are losing by historically wide margins, they were the worst team in basketball when healthy and have suffered a slew of injuries, and they will need to beat either the Nuggets, Heat, or Magic to prevent going winless in January. Times are bleak in Cleveland, and there won’t be many happy times for Cavalier fans before the 2011 draft — which the Cavaliers are assured a high pick in, at least.

Dwight Howard will continue blocking shots out of bounds, thank you very much

Image (1) dhoward_rebound-thumb-250x156-18908.jpg for post 6270

At last year’s MIT Sloan Stats and Analytics conference, there was some controversy and discussion surrounding a paper about the value of Dwight Howard’s blocks. John Huizinga studied shot blocks based on their possible outcomes — the offensive team keeping possession of the ball, the block leading to a defensive rebound and a change of possession, or a goaltend resulting in two free points for the offense.

Because of Howard’s tendency to swat shots out of bounds rather than tip them to his teammates and his high rate of goaltends, Huizinga found that Howard, on a block-by-block basis, had the least valuable blocks in the entire NBA.

Howard’s goaltending was a much bigger issue than his tendency to swat shots out of bounds in the study, and I don’t think anyone would argue that goaltending is bad, including Howard. However, the Orlando Sentinel’s Zach McCann reports that Dwight isn’t about to apologize for swatting shots into the stands rather than politely corralling them or redirecting them to a teammate:

On Wednesday night, Howard answered about his philosophy when blocking shots. Here’s what he had to say:

“They told me to grab them, but sometimes blocking a shot and sending it out of bounds shows a team it’s not going to be easy to come in the paint,” Howard said. “Grabbing it, that’s like being a showoff or something like that, even though it is kind of cool.”

So not only is Howard trying to block shots, he’s trying to make defenders shy away from him later in the game. He wants to send a message.

“Every block,” he says.

Howard might have a point, because Magic opponents have been absolutely terrified to take the ball to the rim this season. According to HoopData.com, the Magic only allow 15 shot attempts at the rim per game, which is the lowest mark in the NBA by a significant margin — the Thunder allow more than twice as many shots per game at the rim than the Magic. It’s impossible to give intimidation an exact statistical value, but there’s no question that what Dwight Howard is doing on defense is working.


Is Carmelo Anthony an elite player?


Thumbnail image for Anthony_game.jpgTom Haberstroh of ESPN.com (insider required) makes a fairly convincing case that he’s not:

At first glance, Anthony seems like a member of the NBA’s elite, largely due to his scoring prowess. But a deeper look at the points column and elsewhere in his game reveals a player who lives on an undeserved reputation more than his actual impact on wins.
It’s tough to argue with his 28.2 points-per-game average in ’09-10, but in the game of basketball, how a shooter gets his points is more meaningful than the raw number itself. To see that, we need to peel back the layers…
…after stripping out the inflationary effect of fast pace and boiling down Anthony’s numbers to a per possession level, his scoring punch looks pedestrian. How pedestrian? Anthony’s career offensive rating, an efficiency measure that calculates how many points a player produces per 100 possessions he uses, checks out at 107, which sits right at the league average. For reference, 2003 draft-mates James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh have earned 114, 111, and 113 lifetime offensive ratings, respectively.

There’s much more in the full article, which I encourage you to read if you have insider. The value of players with ultra-high usage rates and average to below-average efficiency statistics is extremely hard to gauge — call it the Allen Iverson paradox, or the Monta Ellis effect. 

What it generally comes down to is a chicken-or-egg question; are these players selflessly sacrificing their efficiency by creating shot opportunities that none of their teammates would have been able to, or are they taking possessions away from their more efficient teammates? 
The Nuggets have certainly surrounded Anthony with talented teammates over the years, but the synergy between Anthony and his teammates hasn’t always been there. The Nuggets do a good job of setting Anthony up with easy looks around the basket, but their offense also devolves into what the Nuggets themselves refer to as “random offense,” which generally involves Anthony taking the ball in isolation or standing on the wing and watching one of his teammates take the ball in isolation. That’s not the way to get the most out of Anthony’s talents, and his efficiency numbers reflect that. 
The question is whether the way Anthony plays now is the way he wants to play or the way the Nuggets’ system forces him to play — if the Nuggets (or another team) can work more ball movement into an Anthony-centric offense, he might earn the max deal he’ll almost certainly get after all.