Bucks using “facial coding expert” to help judge mental make up of draft picks, players

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We’re big fans of on-the-court analytics here at PBT — from the moment Dean Oliver wrote “Basketball on Paper” through today there has been a statistical revolution that has swept through the NBA. It provides a window into the game and helped efficiency become valued over volume (among many other steps). The best coaches and GMs blend numbers — for an easy example, which lineups work and which ones don’t — with the eye test based on years of watching and analyzing players and games, to come to their conclusions on everything from in-game minutes to draft picks.

But the dated, missing-the-point comeback of the non-analytics crowd — “numbers can’t measure heart” — has some truth to it. Analytics won’t tell you how a personality fits in a locker room, or which guy has the drive to put in the minutes off the court to improve his game.

The Milwaukee Bucks are trying to change that.

They have brought in a “facial coding expert” and his analysis was part of the reason the Bucks drafted Jabari Parker No. 2 last draft over the tempting Dante Exum. It’s all detailed in a fascinating piece in the New York Times.

So in May, the team hired Dan Hill, a facial coding expert who reads the faces of college prospects and N.B.A. players to determine if they have the right emotional attributes to help the Bucks.

The approach may sound like palm reading to some, but the Bucks were so impressed with Hill’s work before the 2014 draft that they retained him to analyze their players and team chemistry throughout this season…

Hill measures the players on the seven emotions and categorizes smiles, for example, four ways: true, robust, weak and micro. Consider Oklahoma City Thunder guard Russell Westbrook. According to Hill, Westbrook shows a high number of weak smiles or “satisfaction,” and enough “true” smiles, which equate to “joy” and contribute to what has been a highly effective season — averages of 28.6 points and 7.4 assists per game.

Before you mock Hill and this idea completely, you should know the NFL and major corporations have used this for years (much of Hill’s work is on focus groups for companies putting out a new product).

Does it work? My psychology minor in college does not exactly qualify me as an expert. I have no idea. Maybe it’s the NBA version of former Dodgers owner Frank McCourt paying a Russian psychic big money to channel “V Energy” to help the team. The Times interviews people who are skeptical and the issue for them is a legitimate one — there is a lot of noise in the results. Coaches read body language/facial expressions too and that can change how a player is used or developed, and that’s just one example.

I do know most teams thought Parker should go in the top two spots in the last draft and was considered the most NBA-ready player of the high picks in the last draft no matter what his face was saying. His play before the knee injury proved that scoring 12.3 points and grabbing 5.5 rebounds a game, while running away with the Rookie of the Year crown. (That race is now wide open.)

In the ultra-competitive NBA arena teams are going to look for any edge. Maybe this is an edge. The hardest thing to read about any 19 or 20 year old is their mental makeup and how driven they really are — they all have been coached to say the right things, but what are their real intentions? Especially since once they get to the NBA they are going to have a different level of money and attention then they are used to, can they be professional and work through that?

Maybe Hill and his face reading metrics can help with that.

You can bet on this much: After this article the Bucks are not going to be the only team calling him before the next draft.

Celtics top Cavaliers in Game 5, setting up Game 7 in Boston?

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LeBron James and a couple Cavaliers teammates left the court well before the Celtics dribbled out their 96-83 Game 5 win Wednesday.

The Cavs are already moving on.

Game 6 will be Friday in Cleveland, and the Cavaliers – down 3-2 in the Eastern Conference finals – must win to avoid elimination. The way Boston has played on the road, it’s even easy to look ahead to Game 7, which is scheduled for Sunday in Boston.

Still, the Celtics bought themselves leeway with their decisive win in Boston tonight. They led by double digits the final 20 minutes, breaking the Cavs’ momentum after two straight wins in Cleveland.

“It’s tough going on the road, playing against somebody else in their house with their crowd,” said Jayson Tatum, who had 24 points, seven rebounds, four assists, four steals and two blocks tonight. “So, we were just comfortable. We came back home and defended home-court like we have all playoffs.”

Boston is now 10-0 at home this postseason – but just 1-6 away. Fueled in part by that historic split, no game in this series has been close. All five have been decided by at least nine points, and the average margin of victory – 18 – is in the 97th percentile for largest ever in a 3-2 best-of-seven series.

So, just as two big Celtics wins in Games 1 and 2 didn’t deter the Cavaliers, this one likely won’t, either. The Cavs should be heavily favorited in Game 6.

Beyond, if it gets that far? That’s a much bigger tossup.

Teams up 3-2 in a best-of-seven series have won 85% of the time. But Boston is missing a key reason it secured home-court advantage, including a chance to break the 2-2 at home rather than on the road – Kyrie Irving. And LeBron James is downright scary in a Game 7, even on the road.

The Celtics at least took care of business tonight, showing a far greater sense of urgency than Cleveland. Brad Stevens changed his starting lineup, inserting Aron Baynes for Marcus Morris, and tightened his rotation to just seven players until garbage time. Boston ran the floor much harder than the Cavs, decisively outrebounded them and beat them to loose balls. Even in altercations, the Celtics had a man advantage.

LeBron (26 points, 10 rebounds five assists and six turnovers) never made his presence felt in the way usually necessary for the Cavaliers to win. Cleveland’s four other starters combined to score just 24 points, two fewer than LeBron did himself.

After Boston seized control early, the Cavaliers made few adjustments in strategy or effort – as if they’re saving those for later.

LeBron James says we don’t know full story of his upbringing, but he’ll reveal it after retirement

AP Photo/Ron Schwane
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LeBron James was on the cover of Sports Illustrated in high school – as a junior.

He has been in the spotlight ever since, somehow living up to the outsized expectations set while he was a teenager. His story has been told and retold – how he and his mom moved around Akron as she struggled to provide for him, how his athletic ability lifted himself and those around him.

But are we missing key details?

Upon passing Kareem Abdul-Jabbar for most shots made in the playoffs, LeBron reflected on his journey.

LeBron:

To know where I come from, you guys know a little bit of the story. But you guys don’t know the full story about where I come from and the struggle that I had. You guys know about the single-parent struggle, and y’all done heard that story. But there’s a lot more to it, which I’ll talk about when I’m done playing ball.

But to know where I come from, small city 35 miles south of here, and to hear I’m in the same category or talked about and jumping these greats in the playoffs — it’s like I was a kid and I watched the playoffs so much and I was like, I would love to be a part of that, that moment, that atmosphere. I think it’s pretty cool. You hear the scoring, the field goals made, and for a kid that really doesn’t care much about scoring.

Like with LeBron’s secret motivation a couple years ago, I’m totally intrigued. When LeBron decides to share, I’ll be all ears.

Larry Nance Jr., Marcus Morris and Terry Rozier exchange shoves after whistle (video)

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Marcus Morris fouled Larry Nance Jr. in Celtics-Cavaliers Game 5 tonight. Nance didn’t like that, got up and shoved Morris. Morris and Terry Rozier didn’t like that, and both shoved Morris.

All three received a technical foul, which seems fair.

Klay Thompson, Andre Iguodala questionable for Game 5

AP Photo
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Andre Iguodala missed the Warriors’ Game 4 loss to the Rockets with a leg injury.

It’s not certain he – or Klay Thompson, who played through a knee injury suffered in Game 4 – will be available for Game 5 tomorrow.

NBC Sports Bay Area:

Klay Thompson, who suffered a left knee strain during the first half of Game 4, is listed as questionable, the team announced Wednesday afternoon.

Iguodala missed Game 4 with a left lateral leg contusion and is questionable for Game 5.

Anthony Slater of The Athletic:

Warriors coach Steve Kerr on Iguodala:

He’s feeling a little better today, and he’s out on the floor. Not doing a whole lot, but making progress.

Kerr on Thompson:

Klay is moving around really well. I think Klay is going to be fine.

That sounds better than “questionable” for Thompson.

The Warriors need one, maybe both, of those two on the court. Golden State’s depth, especially on the wing, is looking shaky.

In Game 4, Golden State outscored Houston by 20 in the 31 minutes Stephen Curry, Thompson, Kevin Durant and Draymond Green played together. In the in the 17 minutes they played without even one of those stars, the Warriors got outscored by 23. Nick Young, who received more playing time when Thompson left the court area due to his injury, looked particularly overwhelmed.

James Harden‘s defense is a huge bellwether in this series. The Warriors spend a lot of focus trying to exploit him, and if that fails, the shot clock gets low before they move into another action. If Thompson is even just slowed, that’d make it easier for Harden to keep up.