2009 Report Card: Wilson Chandler

Only one player in Knick history has averaged at least 33 minutes a game at the age of 21: Wilson Chandler. Albeit Chandler’s franchise record was more a result of necessity than talent. D’Antoni gave the youngster plenty of court time because of a scarcity of shooting guards/small forwards. Once the team traded Jamal Crawford, New York lacked a true shooting guard until they grabbed Larry Hughes late in the season. Considering that D’Antoni preferred Nate Robinson to come off the bench, the options were Chandler, Richardson, Jeffries, or Hughes. Chandler was obviously the right decision considering the team’s lack of defense and how much a developing Chandler could mean to the future of the franchise.

One question that remains is how Chandler will develop. On the optimistic side, he did make strides in multiple areas in 2009. Chandler improved his free throw shooting (63.0% to 79.5%), three point shooting (30.0% to 32.8%), scoring (13.4 to 15.6pts/36), assists (1.7 to 2.2 ast/36) and fouls (4.4 to 3.3 pf/36). But these numbers are pedestrian. The young swingman doesn’t do anything great, and his rebounding, blocks, and steals are about what you’d expect from an average 6-8 small forward. His scoring volume is above average (15.6 pts/36) but his efficiency is below (48.0% eFG, 51.5 TS%). Perhaps that’s Chandler’s lot in the NBA: to be the generic player.

For Chandler to make strides and become a genuine NBA starter, he’ll need to make another step in his development. One area could be his three point shooting. Connecting once on every three attempts is too low especially for someone that’s likely to see a lot of attempts in D’Antoni’s system. But a more critical leap would be for Chandler to get to the line more often. Last year he was second to last on the team in FTM/FGA, a measure of a player’s ability to draw contact on the offensive end. Frequently when he gets the ball in the paint, he ends up with a turn around jumper, instead of making a strong move to the hoop. Chandler needs to summon “Ill-Will” when he’s within 6 of the basket.

In order to get a glimpse of how his career might pan out, I queried a list of players comparable to Chandler at the age of 21, and this is the best I came up with. While names like Drexler, Mashburn, and Stackhouse appear, so do Gary Trent, Lamond Murray, and Rex Chapman. Using my similarity scores, I came up with a second list. Again there are a few players with above average careers: Richard Jefferson, Rasheed Wallace, Dirk Nowitzki, and Charlie Villanueva. But two very similar to Chandler show a cautionary tale. Shawne Williams is clinging to a roster spot in Dallas, and Chucky Brown never had a seasonal PER above 14. One thing to note about the below list of similar players is that Chandler’s TS% is almost the lowest of the bunch (except for DerMarr Johnson and Jeff Green).

z-Sum FLName Year Tm PER TS% eFG% PTS ORB TRB AST STL BLK TOV
.000 Wilson Chandler 2009 NYK 12.9 .515 .480 15.6 1.2 5.9 2.2 0.9 1.0 1.8
.037 Shawne Williams 2008 IND 12.8 .522 .485 16.3 2.0 6.6 2.2 1.0 1.0 2.2
.059 Richard Jefferson 2002 NJN 13.4 .524 .468 13.9 1.6 5.5 2.6 1.2 0.9 2.0
.076 Chucky Brown 1990 CLE 11.9 .525 .470 14.7 2.2 6.2 1.3 0.9 0.7 1.9
.080 Marvin Williams 2008 ATL 14.5 .540 .462 15.4 1.5 6.0 1.8 1.1 0.4 1.7
.082 Rasheed Wallace 1996 WSB 11.8 .530 .511 13.2 1.9 6.1 1.7 0.8 1.1 2.1
.093 DerMarr Johnson 2002 ATL 11.3 .513 .479 12.5 1.2 5.1 1.7 1.3 1.2 2.1
.097 Al Harrington 2002 IND 14.3 .526 .476 15.8 2.6 7.6 1.5 1.1 0.6 2.1
.104 Dirk Nowitzki 2000 DAL 17.5 .564 .513 17.6 1.2 6.5 2.5 0.8 0.8 1.7
.105 Charlie Villanueva 2006 TOR 16.4 .521 .500 16.1 2.8 7.9 1.3 0.9 1.0 1.5
.108 Jeff Green 2008 SEA 9.9 .492 .443 13.4 1.6 6.1 1.9 0.7 0.8 2.5

I’m inclined to give Chandler a good grade this year because he was a 21 year old who played out of position & made improvements over his first year. However the bar is now set higher on the expected returns for 2010. I won’t be as charitable in his next report card if he doesn’t show more signs of development.

Report Card (5 point scale):
Offense: 2
Defense: 4
Teamwork: 3
Rootability: 4
Performance/Expectations: 4

Grade: B+

NOTE: I found a flaw in the similarity scores, and corrected it.

Similarity Scores, Part 1

Kobe Bryant is the next Jordan. Dwight Howard is the next Alonzo Mourning. Mardy Collins is the next Jason Kidd. Comparing two players allow us to communicate lots of information with a few words. If someone says that LeBron James is like Oscar Robertson, you would imagine LeBron being strong, versatile, agile, great, etc. Or perhaps that’s how you might picture the Big O, depending on how old you are.

Comparing two players is also useful when you’re evaluating players. Find a historical player similar to a youngster, and you have a good idea of how he might develop. However identifying similar players can be difficult and subjective. Is LeBron the next Jordan, Magic, or Robertson? In order to take some of the guesswork out of the equation, I’ve created a similarity score using statistics. Since per-game and accumulated stats are dependent on playing time and don’t adequately reflect a player’s skill level, I’ve decided to go with standardized (z-scores) per minute stats. Originally I used just about every stat the NBA officially keeps track of, but the results didn’t pass the smell test. It didn’t make sense for personal fouls to be worth the same as points. Therefore I decided to use weighted stats, and broke them into three categories.

The first and most important category is scoring. No other historically recorded statistic is more integral to a player’s worth. Some players are expected to run the offense and have a high number of assists, while others are on the floor primarily to rebound, but few do both. However just about everyone on the court is expected to score at some point or another. Even players that score infrequently or inefficiently should be more similar to those of the same ilk. Hence I made scoring worth approximately half a player’s comparison score.

Originally I had added many aspects of scoring, but I found that they tended to take away from the main focus: efficiency and volume. Oddly I also saw better results when I limited scoring to just three stats: TS%, eFG%, and PTS/36. Since the first two are compilations of different aspects of scoring, I feel justified leaving things out like free throw percentage or three pointers attempted. And the results seemed to get better when I gave more priority to the percentages, and less to points. This is due to a wider variety in efficiency than volume. Lots of players can average 20pts/36, but few can do it at 60% TS%. Currently TS% and eFG% are both worth twice as much as PTS/36.

I split the rest of the stats into two sections which I call (for lack of better terms) “Small Man” and “Big Man”. “Small Man” is worth about a third and consists of three parts: AST/36, STL/36, TO/36. I found that assists tend to separate contrasting players better, and ranked it equal to the other two combined. “Big Man” is worth about a fifth and is OREB/36, DREB/36, BLK/36 and PF/36. Rebounding combined (but not individually) is more valuable than blocks, and fouls are minuscule, but present.

In the end, I’ve come up with a system that although has subjective elements, should provide objectivity across the board. The similarity scores use the same equation for every player, so there isn’t any bias in that respect. In other words I could try to make Jamal Crawford more similar to Michael Jordan, but that would likely make other players that are more close to him get even closer. In future I may tweak the weights, but essentially the process is the same.

Since I plan on adding these to the report cards, let’s start with the guy I missed, Chris Duhon’s 2009 season compared to others at the age of 26.

z-Sum FLName POS Year Tm G PER TS% eFG% PTS TRB AST STL TOV
0.000 Chris Duhon G 2009 NYK 79 12.2 .570 .515 10.9 3.0 7.0 0.9 2.7
0.044 Vinny Del Negro G 1993 SAS 73 13.9 .563 .514 12.8 3.8 6.9 1.0 2.2
0.052 Brad Davis G 1982 DAL 82 14.5 .569 .524 13.7 3.1 7.0 1.0 2.2
0.096 Steve Henson G 1995 POR 37 12.1 .613 .564 11.3 2.5 8.1 0.9 2.8
0.101 Vern Fleming G 1989 IND 76 15.8 .572 .517 15.3 4.4 7.0 1.1 2.7
0.105 Rex Walters G 1997 PHI 59 13.0 .571 .543 13.9 3.7 3.9 1.0 2.1
0.107 Jacque Vaughn G 2002 ATL 82 13.1 .547 .498 10.5 3.3 6.8 1.3 2.2
0.116 John Crotty G 1996 CLE 58 13.0 .590 .482 10.0 3.2 6.0 1.3 3.0
0.117 Luke Walton F 2007 LAL 60 14.7 .551 .517 12.4 5.5 4.7 1.1 2.1
0.120 Sherman Douglas G 1993 BOS 79 13.5 .518 .504 11.5 3.0 9.5 0.9 3.0
0.121 Phil Ford G 1983 TOT 77 10.4 .525 .480 11.7 2.3 6.5 1.2 3.0

The first thing to notice is the z-sum table, which is the similarity score. The lower the number this is, the more similar the players are. Duhon is most similar to Del Negro and Davis, with a drop off to Henson & the others. So what does something like this tell us about Duhon? Looking over the list we see lots of mediocre players and no All Stars. So the chance that Duhon will develop into something superior to his current form is rare. As for the comparables, in two of the next three years, Del Negro would have his most productive seasons. And much like Duhon, Davis languished as a reserve before catching on in his 26th year. He would become the starter for the Mavericks, and ride out a few bad seasons until the team turned things around in the mid-80s.

Stay tuned for Part 2…

2009 NBA Draft Day

REMINDER: Don’t forget to enter the KnickerBlogger.Net 2009 Draft Contest before the draft starts!

With the draft less than 12 hours away some recent developments have changed how the night might proceed for the Knicks. Most pertinent is Minnesota trading for the #5 pick. There were rumors that New York was looking to acquire this asset from Washington, but with the pick traveling north that option has vanished. More importantly this move might affect who is available when the Knicks turn comes around. Originally it was assumed that Washington would take PF Jordan Hill with this selection. However it’s unlikely that the Timberwolves will take him because they already have two young frontcourt players in Jefferson and Love. They sent PG Foye and GF Miller in the deal, and with a guard heavy draft it’s likely that Minnesota will select two guards. Therefore it’s possible that both players Minnesota takes tonight are ones the Knicks were targeting.

There have been a few other rumors that New York was trying to add a late first round pick, but as of this writing nothing has been made official. With a draft that is more deep than top heavy, the pick could net a rough gem like Austin Daye, Marcus Thornton, or Nick Calathes.

Chad Ford reported that the Knicks are likely to send Quentin Richardson to Memphis in exchange for Darko Milicic in the next few days. This is a smart short term move for the Knicks. For the first time in years, the Knicks will have a shotblocking center, something they sorely lacked in the Isiah Thomas era. Milicic has averaged 2.6 blk/36, but his other numbers have disappointing. Last year Darko’s TS% was a respectable 53.3, but that was about 50 points above his career average so it’s possible that his good shooting was just a career fluke. He’s never averaged more than 24 minutes per game over the course of a season, so it’s unlikely that Milicic will earn a starting spot. However he’ll provide some much needed interior defense to a team that is starving for it. Milicic has only one year left on his deal, so it will not affect the team’s 2010 plans.

In other NBA news, the Hawks have netted ex-Knick Jamal Crawford, while the Cavs are on the verge of grabbing Shaquille O’Neal. The latter deal is quite interesting from a number of perspectives. Cleveland is hoping that adding Shaq will help fuel a Cavalier championship and keep LeBron from leaving via free agency. From Shaq’s perspective he gets to match up against rival Dwight Howard and Magic Coach Stan Van Gundy, who he has feuded with in the press. And should the Cavs beat the Magic in the Eastern Conference Finals this year, Shaq will go up against the Lakers and another rival Kobe Bryant.

Finally yours truly appeared on a Hardwood Paroxysm’s podcast last night for about 10 minutes, answering questions about the draft & the upcoming season.

*** BREAKING NEWS (1:30pm): Yahoo reports the Knicks acquired the Lakers’ first round pick (#29). According to the article the Knicks are looking to target a big man with this pick.

I Want To Draft Like It’s 1999

An NBA draft where the #1 overall consensus is a power forward, and a ton of guards are to be had including an intriguing foreign guard? No I’m not talking about this Thursday’s NBA draft where Blake Griffin is likely to go #1, there is a lot of depth at guard, and everyone is wondering where Rickey Rubio will land. I’m talking about the 1999 draft where Elton Brand went first, guards were taken in 7 of the next 10 picks, and Manu Ginobili quietly landed to the Spurs in the second round.

Of the top 10 picks, 9 of them had solid to spectacular careers, but only one of those stayed long enough to be seen as a success for the team that drafted him: Shawn Marion. A lot of these players were traded to other teams before they could really help the team that drafted them like Brand, Francis (a draft day holdout), Odom, Hamilton, Andre Miller, and Jason Terry. Number 5 pick Jonathan Bender never lived up to his potential due to injury. Wally Szczerbiak stayed with Minnesota, but was taken too high at #6. Baron Davis stayed with the Hornets for 5 and a half seasons, but was traded midyear to Golden State where he engineered one of the biggest first round upsets in history.

Although there was plenty of value at the top 10, the next 10 was filled with busts. Only Ron Artest (#16), Corey Maggette (#13) and James Posey (#18) were worth noting. As for the rest of the draft, there were two European superstars taken late in Kirilenko (#24) and Manu Ginobili (#57), and a few fillers (Jeff Foster #21, Kenny Thomas #22, Devean George #23, and Gordon Giricek #40).

Knick fans remember this draft for grabbing Frederic Weis one pick before Ron Artest, but that may not have been the biggest bust of the draft. As I previously mentioned the top 10 all netted solid players except for Bender. If you want to excuse him for injury, then nearly every pick 11-14 (except for Maggette) could be seen as failures as well. Trajan Langdon at #11 is a candidate, although he’s had a good career overseas. Aleksandar Radojevic (from the powerhouse Barton County Community College) was taken 3 picks prior to Weis. And the Timberwolves struck out the pick before New York’s with Duke’s William Avery.

So how might this draft have turned out? Here’s my re-draft, not necessarily in order of how they should have been taken. But rather in how one alternate earth might have been for the first 16 picks.

#1 Chicago – Elton Brand
The Bulls made the right pick. Actually in our reality they made 2 right picks with Artest at #15. The problem was that they gave up on that team too early. Chicago could have been a mid-west powerhouse with Brand, Artest, and Brad Miller with a supporting cast of Jamal Crawford, Fred Hoiberg and Jake Voskuhl. The problem was the team was still young & surrounded with little else. Marcus Fizer? Khalid El-Amin? Corey Benjamin? Bryce Drew? Michael Ruffin? Dragan Tarlac? Dalibor Bagaric? No wonder they won 15 games in 2001.

#2 Vancouver – Lamar Odom
Vancouver didn’t deserve Steve Francis, but they didn’t really need him either. They had grabbed Mike Bibby in the draft before, and as New Yorkers learned Francis didn’t play well with other point guards. Instead they should have grabbed Odom. The Grizzlies had an awful team, but Bibby, Odom, and Shareef Abdur-Rahem would have been a respectable threesome. Looking at their history, they were doomed to failure by their poor drafts Reeves #6, Abdur Rahim #3, and Antonio Daniels #4 is hardly the core you want to build a franchise on.

#3 Charlotte – Baron Davis
Davis was the right pick here.

#4 Los Angeles Clippers – Steve Francis
Now these two deserved each other.

#5 Toronto – Ron Artest (traded to Indiana)
The Raptors originally drafted Bender and traded him for Antonio Davis. Why would Toronto do such a thing? They have Vince Carter, Tracy McGrady, and Doug Christie. So there goes the shooting guards and small forwards. They could use a point guard, but that isn’t a priority with Carter & McGrady taking up a big share of the offense. They need a big man, but there really aren’t any in this draft (Jeff Foster?). I see why they traded this pick, they had two dynamic scorers and needed some front court depth (past Charles Oakley). So I have the Raptors trading this pick still, and Indiana selecting Ron Artest instead. The Pacers would end up with Ron after a few seasons later anyway. The Pacers would have Artest to defend Allan Houston in the 2000 Eastern Conference Finals (which Indana won) but they could also use him to shut down Kobe Bryant in the Finals (which they lost in 6).

#6 Minnesota – Manu Ginobili
I’m going to go out on a limb here. Before Garnett went to Boston and won a title, people argued how the league would have been if he had swapped teams with Tim Duncan. That the two were equally good, and Duncan won those championships because of his supporting cast. So let’s see how Garnett would have done with the Argentine at his side. Also in this Bizzaro universe Kevin McHale would be a genius.

#7 Washington – Rip Hamilton
Washington really sucked. It doesn’t matter who they draft here. The guy is going to be gone by the time Jordan arrives. Might as well be Rip so that the Pistons improbable championship still occurs.

#8 Cleveland – Shawn Marion
Cleveland took who they thought was the best guy on the board, Andre Miller. And normally I agree with such a signing, except the Cavs had two young (but undersized) guards on their roster already: Brevin Knight and Earl Boykins. Miller’s arrival meant that both would be gone within a year. Cleveland let Boykins go, but traded Brevin Knight for Jimmy Jackson, Anthony Johnson and Larry Robinson. All three would be off Cleveland’s roster by the next season. I hate it when a team overloads at one position and fails to net anything substantial from trades. If we’re not taking Andre Miller here, then you can have an up-tempo team with Knight/Boykins. So I think Shawn Marion is the right fit here.

#9 Phoenix – Corey Maggette
The Suns are probably crushed that they didn’t get Marion. They have Jason Kidd, and are about to offer Anfernee Hardaway to a huge contract. Maggette’s scoring and rebounding would be adequate in lieu of Marion’s energy game.

#10 Atlanta – Trajan Langdon
The Hawks have Mutombo and Rider and are in dire need of a point guard. So with Andre Miller on the board, they’re going to draft Trajan Langdon. This way by 2005 they’ll have learned their lesson and take Deron Williams or Chris Paul with the #2 pick instead of Marvin Williams.

#11 Cleveland – Jason Terry
With the Cavs comitting to an up-tempo offense with their #8 pick, they should take Terry here. Knight, Terry, Marion, and Donyell Marshall are undersized, but should make for a laser fast offense. With Zydrunas healthy in 2011, that’s not such a bad team.

#12 Toronto – Aleksandar Radojevic
As I said earlier, the Raptors really need front court depth, so this is why they reached for the 7-3 Euro. And this is why you don’t draft for need.

#13 Seattle – Wally Szczerbiak (traded to Orlando)
The Magic who acquire this pick in a trade have Darrell Armstrong, Bo Outlaw, and Ben Wallace. They need someone who can score, and don’t care about defense. Wally fits the bill here.

#14 Minnesota – James Posey
In this world, McHale is a genius, and the best player on the board is Andrei Kirilenko. But taking Kirilenko after reaching for an unknown in Ginobili would get him fired. Also having Kirilenko and Garnett on the court at the same time would be too weird. That’s like 60 combined feet of skinny arms & legs. Terrell Brandon, Manu Ginobili, James Posey, Kevin Garnett, and Rasho Nesterovic – that’s a nice team for 2000.

#15 New York – Andrei Kirilenko
Ahhh to dream. The Knicks dared to take a European, but clearly the wrong one. In 2000, Kirilenko would have fit in well with that Knicks team giving them so much depth. The starters would have been Ward, Houston, Sprewell, LJ and Ewing with Camby, Kurt Thomas, Childs and Kirilenko off the bench. That’s one scary team defensively. Additionally AK-47’s arrival might have prevented the team from trading Ewing for Glenn Rice, keeping the franchise from self destruction via salary cap. Perhaps the 2001 Knicks with Camby starting, Ewing coming off the bench, the addition of Mark Jackson, and Kirlenko instead of Rice could have given the team another title run.

#16 Chicago – Andre Miller
Here are your early aughts Bulls: Andre Miller, Jamal Crawford, Toni Kukoc, Elton Brand, and Brad Miller. Not a bad rebuild post-Jordan. Try not to break that team up this time.

Mock Three

Since last we talked mock draft the Lakers dispatched with the Orlando Magic and the off-season has kicked into full gear. I was out of town on business and have thus pretty much missed basketball from the past week or so. I suppose that’s fortunate in some ways.

I hope the third version of this mock is less impacted by the rumors, smokescreens, subterfuges, and misinformation that normally clouds my mocks this time of year. My gut tells me that this draft will be the 2006 draft (Bargnani, Aldridge, Morrison were the top 3) of 2009. There will be tons of busts, but a smart front office will be able to find good players late.

Onto the picks…
2009 Mock Draft, 3.0

1. Clippers – Blake Griffin, PF, Oklahoma
Nothing to see here. Moving right along.

2. Grizzlies – Ricky Rubio, PG, Spain
Poor Grizz. This isn’t the draft to have the #2 pick. I still say they’re looking to move this pick to someone who wants Rubio.

3. Thunder – Hasheem Thabeet, C, UConn
I don’t think Thabeet is a top three talent but this draft couldn’t have worked out any better for him. He’ll be an excellent defender and he can run the floor a bit. The Thunder don’t need another guy who needs the ball to be effective.

4. Kings – James Harden, G, Arizona State
I’m guessing the Kings just go best player available regardless of position. I think they wouldn’t mind getting out from under this pick.

5. Wizards – Jordan Hill, PF, Arizona
Hill will provide some rebounding and a big that runs the floor.

6. Timberwolves – Tyreke Evans, G, Memphis
It’s hard to know what Minny will do with a new management team and a lot of picks. Nothing they do would surprise. The 6-10 area just seems about when Evans should go off the board.

7. Warriors – Brandon Jennings, PG, Italy
The Warriors want no part of Jamal Crawford and don’t think Ellis can run the point. Jennings seems like the right fit for this group.

8. Knicks – Stephen Curry, G, Davidson
I just don’t know that there will be a big man available Walsh will like more than Curry. I suspect that a big man is probably the only real competition for Curry.

9. Raptors – Jrue Holiday, G, UCLA
Ultimately, defense, ball-handling, and floor vision will keep him in the league but Holiday is one of the biggest question marks in the draft.

10. Bucks – DeJuan Blair, PF, Pittsburgh
If Milwaukee takes Blair they’ll be putting together a nice little frontcourt.

11. Nets – Demar DeRozan, SF, USC
Lottery pick least likely to live up to expectations. What does he do?

12. Bobcats – Austin Daye, F/C, Gonzaga
I love this kid’s game and maturity but he may not be a player until he’s on his second contract (after he’s filled out a bit). He’s thinner than Anthony Randolph. Just let that roll around in your head for a bit.

13. Pacers – Ty Lawson, PG, UNC
I won’t be surprised to see him go higher in this draft. The way people dismiss his production doesn’t make sense to me. It’s not like Carolina does anything particularly unorthodox. They just play a fast pace.

14. Suns – Jonny Flynn, PG, Syracuse
Flynn is a pure point guard, yet I’m not crazy about his decision making.

15. Pistons – Earl Clark, F, Louisville
I hate his offense but Clark’s a very capable defender.

16. Bulls – Gerald Henderson, G, Duke
The Bulls have claimed that their top off-season priority is to re-sign Gordon. Mmm. Yeah.

17. 76ers – Chase Budinger, G/F, Arizona
Budinger is a nice fit for that roster, especially as a decision-maker should they lose Andre Miller.

18. Timberwolves – B.J. Mullens, C, Ohio State
Given Al Jefferson’s health, this would be a decent gamble on size and provide some depth.

19. Hawks – Sam Young, F, Pittsburgh
Young would be a nice fit on Atlanta; a tough guy who can defend both forwards and hit an outside shot.

20. Jazz – Tyler Hansborough, PF, UNC
Hansborough is good value at this point in the draft. He’s going to rebound and run the floor and he’s developing a faceup jumper.

21. Hornets – Jeff Teague, G, Wake Forest
Teague would bring a bit of what Jannero Pargo did, for better or worse.

22. Mavericks – Terrance Williams, G/F, Louisville
Should Williams fall this far he’d be exactly what the doctor ordered Dallas: perimeter defense and depth.

23. Kings – Eric Maynor, PG, VCU

24. Trailblazers – James Johnson, F, Wake Forest
Portland could really use someone that can score in the post–at least a little bit.

25. Thunder – Darren Collison, PG, UCLA
He’ll be a quality backup point in the league.

26. Bulls – Nick Calathes, F, Florida (Greece)
Somebody is going to select Calathes and hold onto his rights. Presumably it will be a team with multiple first rounders that has difficulty moving a late pick. Any number of these late picks may be guys already overseas who can be stashed away.

27. Grizzlies – Wayne Ellington, G, UNC
Right now he’s a one dimensional shooter with a long windup, but worth a late first round gamble.

28. Timberwolves – Omri Casspi, F, Tel Aviv
I’d be stunned if Minny keeps all its picks, but if it does I figure they’ll select Calathes or a player they can stash overseas.

29. Lakers – Marcus Thornton, G, LSU
Thornton is a potent offensive player and a solid rebounding guard who is better in short spurts because of his questionable shot selection.

30. Cavaliers – DeMarre Carroll, F, Missouri
I’m going out on a limb and saying that Mizzou’s version of the “Junk Yard Dog” works his way into the late first round. Carroll has Anderson Varajao’s energy as a combo forward. He’s really improved his jump shot. He has a high basketball IQ, and is a very good passer as well.

Changes in the CBA Could Help the Fans

Back in February the New York Times published an article on agent David Falk and the next NBA Collective Bargaining Agreement. In it, Falk said that the NBA owners will push for serious changes in the next CBA and since they are prepared to lock the players out for two seasons, they will likely get their changes approved. Two weeks ago the player’s union president, Billy Hunter, refuted the claims that the league will win on all fronts, saying the players would negotiate not surrender. As opposed to the overhaul Falk is suggesting, Hunter said the players will only agree to minor changes to the CBA. Some of the changes that Falk is proposing won’t affect the average fan, like the percentage split between players/owners or the age limit. However there are a few changes to the salary cap that could benefit the common follower.

Understanding the ramifications of the NBA’s salary cap can be difficult for the average viewer. The NBA has a soft cap, meaning all teams over the cap are unable to sign new free agents except for the mid-level exception (about $5/$6M per year) and the low level exception (about $1/$2M per year). Using the Bird exception a team over the cap can usually resign their own player. Additionally a team that is over the cap can only swap players whose annual salaries match. Although the rules are simple, their constraints make for strange results. For instance, last year the Blazers sent Zach Randolph to the Knicks for Steve Francis and Channing Frye. Randolph played nearly every game for the Knicks for a year and a half, while Portland instantly cut Francis, and Frye eventually fell out of the rotation. Yet the Blazers received the better end of the deal!

NBA trades aren’t evaluated at the talent level, but at the financial one. There’s a problem with the league when fans can’t analyze a trade without consulting an accountant. It’s hardly something you’d expect from a business in the entertainment field. The issue stems from guaranteed contracts, or more specifically bad contracts. Nearly all NBA contracts are guaranteed, which means that if a team cuts a player, his contract stays on the cap for its entire length. A player can be overpaid when a team misjudges his potential (Eddy Curry, Larry Hughes), the player regresses due to injury (Antonio McDyess, Darius Miles), or bad management (Jared Jeffries, Jerome James). Since NBA contracts can last 6 years, when a team hands an oversized contract to a player the effects last a long time. Once the contract is signed, the only option the team has to get out from its length is to trade for another player with a contract of similar size but shorter length. But from the league’s perspective, the unwanted contract isn’t removed. It is just redistributed to another team. Hence as these bloated contracts float from team to team until their final demise, the overpaid player becomes a burden on the entire league. It’s not a surprise that players with bad contracts are the ones that are frequently mentioned in trade rumors, since teams are always looking to move them.

While it’s easy to lay blame at the feet of the team presidents that hand out such ridiculous contracts, it’s ultimately the fans that end up suffering. One GM with a few bad moves can cripple a team for half a decade. It will take the Knicks two years post Isiah Thomas (on top of the four years with Zeke at the helm) to be able to get out from the salary cap landslide he created. But this isn’t isolated to the Knicks, because bad contracts are commonplace in the NBA. One misguided front office can hurt a team years after they have been removed.

Adding to the problem is the league’s tough stance on guaranteed contracts, which are seemingly written in stone. Darius Miles was given a contract extension by Portland back in 2004 that lasted until 2010. He played his last game for the Blazers back in the 2006 season. The team petitioned the league to remove his contract from their books due to injury, and the league capitulated. However this year Miles has resurfaced to play in a handful of games for Memphis, and the league has applied his salary back to Portland’s cap. Also this year the Knicks received Cuttino Mobley in a trade, who was forced to retire due to a heart condition. New York was denied a disabled player exception from the league, even though Mobley’s “hypertrophic cardiomyopathy had progressed to the point that playing professional basketball could be life-threatening.

The two other major American sports don’t have this problem. Major League Baseball’s lack of a salary cap means teams are able to sign any player regardless of how much the team has already spent. Unfortunately this model would be a disaster for the NBA because the league isn’t as stable and lucrative as baseball’s. However the NFL’s model would be a good fit. Football has a hard cap, which means teams are not allowed to exceed their cap number. And to allow teams to accomplish this goal, most contracts in the NFL are not guaranteed. According to wikipedia:

Because of this treatment, NFL contracts almost always include the right to cut a player before the beginning of a season. If a player is cut, his salary for the remainder of his contract is neither paid nor counted against the salary cap for that team. A highly sought-after player signing a long term contract will usually receive a signing bonus, thus providing him with financial security even if he is cut before the end of his contract.

Which leads us back to the NBA’s next CBA. Falk suggests the owners will push for a hard cap and shorter contracts. And I hope they win, because the soft cap/guaranteed contract is bad for the league and its fans. Imagine if player deals were only guaranteed for the first 3 years. Almost instantly the Knicks could have jettisoned any unwanted players and reshape their team in a single offseason. On his first day Donnie Walsh could have cut Stephon Marbury, Zach Randolph, Eddy Curry, Jerome James, Jamal Crawford, and Malik Rose. With the players cut from other teams, Walsh could have had a wider berth of players to chose from when building the 2009 roster. Unfortunately the current cap rules forced Walsh to stick with these undesirable players and allowed him to trade them only for matching salaries (and in Eddy Curry’s case – not at all). It’s easy to see why this would benefit teams and their fans. Bad franchises would be able to fix their mistakes quicker, which means fans wouldn’t have to wait years for the hometown squad to turn things around. And since winning correlates to ticket sales more than anything else, it means the owners would see more money in their pockets.

Switching to a hard cap would probably add one more added benefit to the league: parity. The NFL’s popularity can be partly attributed to the ability of teams to make single season turnarounds. This means that every franchise with competent management (everyone but the Oakland Raiders) has a chance to make the playoffs and go to the Super Bowl. Last year the Dolphins, Falcons, and Cardinals had years that surpassed their fans’ wildest dreams. Over the last three years, the NFC has seen a different winner in 3 out of 4 of their divisions. In that same time span the NBA has had only 1 of their 6 divisions with three different winners (the Southwest). With the current rules, rebuilding in the NBA is a slow and tedious effort. Allowing GMs to cut their players without long term harm means that more players would become free agents each year. This increased player movement would give teams more flexibility to address their needs.

Of course the biggest hurdle in this change would be the players. Overall shorter contracts probably wouldn’t fly with players, since that curbs the earning power of the sports’ best players. And many players would balk at non-guaranteed contracts, since that wouldn’t allow them get that lucrative 5 or 6 year deal for financial security. However by asking for non-guaranteed contracts instead of shorter ones, the league can keep their top earners happy (who would cut LeBron or Kobe?) while making a pitch to the underpaid. For instance if teams weren’t bound by large contracts to undeserving players, there would be more money to sign those who merit it. In other words, some of the younger Knicks might be splitting Stephon Marbury’s $19M per year. And Portland could take the nearly $40M they’re giving to Steve Francis, Raef LaFrentz, and Darius Miles and use that on some of the players that have actually played for the team this year.

Perhaps to even things out for the players, the league would have to make the concession to raise the salary cap. Currently the cap is at $57M, but since it’s a soft cap teams can exceed that number. Using the salary data from hoopshype, it seems that the league paid out an average of $72M this year. Although some players may object to such a concession, there seems to be room for negotiation. And it does redistribute the wealth to players that deserve it more. If there’s resentment in NBA locker rooms over disproportionate salaries, this would go a long way to remedy it. When some players are getting paid more than they are worth, it hurts both the league and the players that deserve more money. And last but not least, the fans.

The Siren Song of the NBA: Creationism

Yesterday the Knicks beat the Hawks at home, and I had one thought on my mind during most of the game. Earlier that day I had read Alan Hahn’s live chat where a questioner said the following:

“Is David Lee overrated? Double-doubles are great, but not when they don’t impact games. IMO Nate is more valuable to the Knicks right now in that he has the ability to carry a team on his back when he erupts for 20 pts in a single quarter…”

Now, I like Robinson and have been lobbying for him to get more playing time from his first season. I hope the Knicks will keep him around for a few more years at a reasonable price without hurting their chances for a couple of major free agents. And I don’t want to get into a discussion about who is the most valuable Knick, because it’s tough to answer that question. For instance what does “most valuable” mean? It could mean if you were building a team, which player you would choose first. It could mean which player, if removed, would hurt the team the most.

What I want to talk about it the siren song of the NBA – the creative scorer. As a fan who watches many games, it’s easy to understand the lure of the volume scorer. The average fan focuses on the guy with the ball, and the scorer tends to have the ball in his hands more often than his teammates. Additionally he is able to create the shot by his own ability, independent of his teammates. It’s easy for the fan to see the benefit of the scorer’s efforts, since it connects directly to the main goal of the team: points. Rebounds don’t change the point totals on the scoreboard. When the news covers the game, usually you hear something like “Robinson led the Knicks with 29 points, while Duhon and Hughes chipped in 19 each.” You don’t hear about the other stats unless it’s a phenomenal number (20 rebounds). And the players listed are in point order, even if they score 19 points on 20 shots.

What strengthens the bond between the fan and the scorer is that sometimes the scorer performs in an amazing manner. Watch any NBA game and you’re likely to see a few spectacular shots, most by the high scorer. Hence it’s easy for the average fan to relate to the leading scorer. But that doesn’t necessarily mean that it’s the most important event on the court. Other things lead to a team’s victory, including defense, rebounding, turnovers, and free throws. But most of these aren’t as sexy as the made basket. When was the last time you saw a spectacular rebound? Has there even been a spectacular free throw? A turnover can excite the crowd, but unless it’s followed by a score the buzz is lost.

Now I’ll agree that the double-double is an overrated stat, but is it that much more overrated than points per game? Or even the ability to create your own shot? This final component seems especially important for the average fan who plays basketball. At the level of the average fan, being able to create your own shot is more important than many other attributes. In other words your neighborhood version of Al Harrington is worth more at the park than the NBA’s version is to his team. In the Hawks game thread, a game that Robinson missed due to injury, “ess-dog” commented “Now this is the kind of game that makes me wonder if Nate’s scoring and penetrating is overrated.”

During Isiah’s tenure New York was stuck with two players that could create their own shot, but do little else. Crawford & Curry seemed to divide Knick fans between creationists who worshiped their ability to make shot attempts, and those that covered their ears to the siren song of YouTube highlights. This year the team has traded one and marginalized the other, and their record is on track to improve by 10 games. It’s no coincidence that this improvement has occurred by replacing the inefficient ex-Bulls’ minutes with the more efficient Robinson and Lee. Additionally the latter pair gives the team more than just field goal attempts. Lee provides rebounding, while Robinson sprinkles the stat line with rebounding, assists, and steals.

As advanced statisticians already know, at the highest levels of basketball shooting is the most important factor with regards to a team’s chances of winning. But it’s not shooting volume that we use to measure it, but rather shooting efficiency. If a team can shoot at a high percentage and prevent their opponent from doing the same, they’re going to win a lot of games. Creating a shot does have value, but it must be taken in the proper context of the ability to make the shot. On the night the Knicks won without their best creative scorer, Golden State got blown out by the Bulls. They were ‘led’ by Stephen Jackson 19 points (on 20 shots), Corey Maggette 14 points (on 16 shots) and Jamal Crawford 11 points (on 15 shots).


Per 36 minute stats comparing last year’s creationists to their 2009 counterparts.

       Player  Season  Age  G  MPG  FGA  ORB TRB AST STL TOV  PF  PTS  TS%
Jamal Crawford 2007-08  27 80 39.9 15.7 0.4  2.3 4.5 0.9 2.2 1.6 18.6 .528
 Nate Robinson 2008-09  24 52 1561 16.9 1.7  5.1 4.7 1.7 2.1 3.4 21.1 .559
 
       Player  Season  Age  G   MP  FGA  ORB TRB AST STL TOV  PF  PTS  TS% 
    Eddy Curry 2007-08  25 59 1530 12.8 2.6  6.5 0.8 0.3 3.0 3.7 18.4 .578
     David Lee 2008-09  25 60 2134 11.9 3.2 12.1 2.0 0.9 2.0 3.4 16.7 .599