Catching Up

by Jeff Fogle 31. December 2010 00:47

Several topics have been posted for thought and discussion the past few days. I promised to keep checking on these as the season progressed. Let's do a quick status check on as many as we can before the busy Friday and Saturday schedules.

*The Lakers got a win in the Superleague Wednesday Night, dominating New Orleans 103-88. They're now 2-4 in games within that "top 12" subset we discussed the other day. Big "defense and rebounding" performance, with a 44-24 victory on the boards, and a gaudy 94.6 mark in defensive efficiency. Philadelphia and Memphis are on the schedule Friday and Sunday.

*New York has dropped a couple of Superleague games, with not unexpected losses in Miami and Orlando. We called the Knicks a "tweener" team as their hot stretch came to an end. They consistently beat bad teams. The Superleague study now gives us a better sense of where they sit:

NY Superleague wins:
Chicago (twice)
New Orleans
Oklahoma City

NY Superleague losses:
Boston (twice)
Miami (twice)

They're not likely to compete with the true powers in the East. But, they're certainly in position to get a quality seed below them. The Knicks aren't just between good and bad. They may have a leg up on some of the good teams like Chicago, New Orleans, and Oklahoma City. The Knicks don't play again until an early Sunday tip vs. Indiana at MSG. Tuesday will bring a home tester against San Antonio.

*Charlotte slowed down after pushing tempo in their first game without Larry Brown. Turnovers and fatigue seemed to be a real issue while racing right away under Paul Silas. Game two came at home against Cleveland, and it saw only 91 possessions per team. Charlotte reduced their turnovers down to 11, but did lose the fourth quarter by five points. Running with a short rotation is a big gamble. Silas looks like he's already realized he needs to be careful with that 14-second shot clock in practice.

Note that DJ Augustin is 4-6 and 5-6 on three pointers since Brown left. He's not going to keep up that torrid rate. Charlotte plays Friday Night vs. Golden State. Wonder what will happen with the tempo there?

*The LA Clippers flunked a home test with Utah, falling 103-95 after failing to recover from a 30-13 third quarter blitz. Blake Griffin did have another double/double (30/12). Baron Davis had 9 points and 9 assists in 29 minutes. Maybe the Clippers are going to be a tweener above the hapless but below playoff caliber. This long California stay will provide plenty of evidence in that regard. Next up for the Clippers is a Sunday afternoon game with Atlanta.

*Oklahoma City played great defense in a Wednesday Night win over New Jersey. The Thunder posted a sparkling 93.9 defensive efficiency mark. We talked about their improving defense several days ago. As was pointed out at the time by a reader, that may have been correlated to a weak schedule stretch. Subsequent action bears that out. OK City seems to be struggling badly on defense vs. good offenses but really shutting out bad ones. Obviously that should be fairly standard, but OK City is taking it to extremes.

OKC Defensive Efficiency last 9 games:
84.6 vs. Cleveland
111.7 vs. Houston
93.5 vs. Sacramento
115.3 vs. Phoenix
88.0 vs. Charlotte
113.1 vs. New York
110.4 vs. Denver
108.4 vs. Dallas (Nowitzki hurt in 2Q)
93.9 vs. New Jersey
That's 84.6, 93.5, 88.0, and 93.9 vs. bad offenses, but four games at 110 or higher vs. good offenses, and a 108.4 vs. Dallas in the game Nowitzki got hurt.

Bleak outlook for the playoffs if that continues. My earlier optimism about a return to last year's defensive form has officially been tossed out the window. Oklahoma City hosts Atlanta Friday Night, then visits San Antonio Saturday Night. Brutal to have to play a back-to-back over New Year's Eve and New Year's Day!

Hope everyone has a very Happy New Year! Will try to post again by the end of the weekend.

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NBA Superleague

by Jeff Fogle 29. December 2010 01:33

LeBron James' contraction brouhaha got me thinking about an exercise I like doing periodically in all the professional sports. Focus on what the best teams in the league are doing only against each other to see if you develop a better sense of how everyone really stacks up.

When I saw that the LA Lakers were visiting the San Antonio Spurs tonight, it seemed like the ideal time to present the concept of a Superleague to you. I have to say...what I learned from crunching the numbers took me by surprise.

Wherever you make the cut-off for a Superleague study is always going to be arbitrary. The last team in is going to be borderline. The first team out would whine if they knew what you were doing. I try not to let my personal feelings get in the way. I let won-lost records or key indicator stats suggest a logical cut-off. For today's exercise, I decided to use the differential between offensive and defensive efficiency (points scored and allowed per 100 possessions) for each team.

It's good to have about a third of the league involved, so it's not too small...but we don't get too big and drift down to .500 caliber teams. Let's see what the differentials show.

(Compiled Tuesday afternoon 12/28)
1...Miami +11.6
2...Boston +9.7
3...San Antonio +9.3
4...Dallas +7.4
5...LA Lakers +6.4
6...Orlando +5.8
7...Chicago +5.2
8...New Orleans +3.1
9...New York +2.6
10...Oklahoma City +2.5
11...Utah +2.3
11(tie)...Atlanta +2.3

That's an even dozen right there, a little more than a third of the league. Next in line would be Denver, who entered Tuesday action at +1.5 (0.8 to 1.1 behind that compact cluster of four teams that closes out the sample). I'm sympathetic to the thought that Denver belongs...but their record was just 16-13 entering the day, and there's a chance Carmelo Anthony won't even be on the team in the very near future. It's not hard to add them down the road if they take their efficiency differential up to +2.5 or better.

For now, let's stick with those dozen and call them the Superleague. Here's everyone's won-lost record through Tuesday Night's games within the Superleague. Again, these are only games played within the subset of elite teams. You don't get any credit for beating the lesser lights. An upset loss to somebody like Milwaukee or Indiana doesn't count against you either. We want to see what the best teams are doing against each other.

(Including Tuesday Night's action)
Dallas 10-2
Boston 9-3
San Antonio 8-3
Miami 7-7
Utah 7-5
New York 4-5
Orlando 5-7
Oklahoma City 5-7
New Orleans 5-8
Chicago 3-8
Atlanta 3-8
LA Lakers 1-4

Whoa, what's happened to the World Champs?! They were 1-3 entering tonight's game at San Antonio, then lost badly. You probably watched their loss on Christmas Day to Miami. They were just 1-2 before that.


*The Lakers are playing poorly vs. quality.

*The Lakers are playing an amazingly soft schedule! Most teams are up around 11-12 games in the Superleague. The Lakers lag behind everyone with just five.

This is either evidence that the Lakers are less likely than everyone realizes to finish off their three-peat. Or, it's evidence that the Lakers are pacing themselves for the long haul. There's no trophy for being great in December.

Time will tell. Monitoring Superleague results throughout the season should help us see when the Lakers kick things up a notch. Or, it will show us that they've lost that extra gear they thought they had.

Right now, the standings are showing us how much better Dallas, Boston, and San Antonio are than everyone else. Miami has surged to 7-7 with a string of recent victories, so it's probably better to think of them as part of a "big four" at the top of the league than a 7-7 team.

I'll monitor Superleague results as the season progresses, and provide updates periodically. On the schedule in the coming week:


LA Lakers at New Orleans

New York at Orlando
San Antonio at Dallas

New Orleans at Boston
Atlanta at Oklahoma City

Oklahoma City at San Antonio



Challenging week for the Spurs.

Would you have guessed that the Lakers had only won 20% of their efforts vs. the top dozen teams in the NBA? Or that they had played only half as many games vs. quality opponents as most everyone else?

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Charlotte Wins Debut for Paul Silas

by Jeff Fogle 28. December 2010 00:25

The good news for Charlotte Bobcats fans is that the "new look" team won its first game in the "post-Larry Brown" era 105-101 Monday Night over Detroit. The Bobcats definitely increased their tempo after practicing with a 14-second shot clock under temporary head coach Paul Silas. Ticket buyers will see a fan friendly style that will make a losing season easier to swallow.

Now, the bad news...

*The win came over the struggling Pistons, who were playing night two of a back-to-back...with the first game going overtime.

*The 105 points were inflated by a 59% shooting night on three-pointers. Unless Silas has figured out how his team can make 10 treys a night with an amazing percentage, that level of production won't hold up.

*There are certainly upsides to increasing tempo. One of the downsides is that you create your own turnovers by trying to force things. Charlotte had a whopping 23 turnovers Monday, losing that category by 10.

*Another downside is that you wear down your own defense. This is particularly dangerous when you first make the transition. If nobody's used to running, the legs won't respond well to the tempo. Detroit won the fourth quarter 31-20 Monday, which started with a 31-16 run before Charlotte scored the last four points of the game to finish off the victory.

Check out this defensive sequence for Charlotte. All players listed are Pistons, on consecutive possessions when the game was on the line.

97-86 Charlotte
3:41: Chris Wilcox makes slam dunk
3:08: Richard Hamilton makes layup
2:33: Ben Gordon makes 3-pointer
2:00: Will Bynum makes driving layup
1:31: Richard Hamilton makes 3-pointer
1:00: Chris Wilcox makes 2 free throws
101-100 Charlotte

No dry possessions. Detroit scored on every trip from the 3:41 mark to the 1:00 mark, and cut a 97-86 deficit to 101-100. Dunk, layup, open trey, layup, open trey, free throws. That's a tired defense Detroit was facing.

Let me repeat this for emphasis. Detroit rallied from 11-down with 3:41 to go with dunks, layups, and open treys, while playing on night two of a back-to-back where the opener went overtime (!). They were the fresher team in crunch time.

If you're going to push tempo Coach Silas, your guys better have the legs for it!

A very friendly schedule should help the transition. Between now and January 10th:

Wednesday: vs. Cleveland
Friday: vs. Golden State
Monday: vs. Miami (this one isn't friendly)
1/8: vs. Washington
1/10: vs. Memphis

Sharp decision to try and transition now vs. that slate. Let's monitor tempo, treys, turnovers, defense, and particularly fourth quarter defense for the Bobcats during this transition period. It's easy to dream of turning yourself into Phoenix in the Nash era by pushing pace. You don't want to turn yourself into Golden State in the Don Nelson era.

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Can the Clippers Reach .500?

by Jeff Fogle 27. December 2010 02:02

That may sound like a crazy question. LA is off to a 9-22 start. And, it's THE CLIPPERS after all.

But, there are a few indicators that may suggest a surge toward respectability the rest of the way is in the offing.

*The Clippers started the season 1-13. They're 8-9 since then, which means they're close to playing .500 caliber ball for more than a month. There are wins over San Antonio, Chicago, Phoenix, and New Orleans in the mix, so it's not eight wins only over the likes of Sacramento, Golden State, and Minnesota.

*Their efficiency numbers on offense and defense are very close to league average during that 8-9 stretch (I'll spare you the math because it's within a point per 100 possessions of league average both ways). 

*Blake Griffin has had 18 straight double doubles. You'll note that corresponds to the recent respectability. He's a young player who continues to improve. (An in-depth report on Griffin's rookie season to date written by Joe Treutlein is here)

*Baron Davis is getting back into game shape, and seemingly playing with a purpose again. He signalled intensity with a 14 shot performance vs. Philadelphia six games ago. He hadn't been shooting much before then, content to pass the ball around. In those last six games, Davis has scored 18-7-16-8-5-15 points, and dished out 5-6-7-12-4-9 assists. His career marks obviously suggest there's room to get better.

*Head coach Vinny Del Negro was a very slow starter in Chicago in his first two seasons at the position.

Year One: Chicago started 18-27 but still surged to finish 41-41 before losing a very tough series to Boston in the first round of the playoffs.

Year Two: Chicago started 10-17 but still managed to finish 41-41 before losing to Cleveland in the first round.

Put that all together...and you get a team that's starting to get healthy and find its form...playing for a coach who has established a slow start-better finish track record in his limited career.

Now, obviously, the 2010 start with the Clippers is worse than anything Del Negro experienced early with the Bulls. And, it's still the Clippers. We can't even imagine the potential injuries that could occur to any key player over the next several weeks because of the cloud that hangs over the franchise. Let's at least keep an eye on them in the coming days to see if indicators for improvement continue to be in play.

There are some good tests over the next few weeks:

Monday: at Sacramento (in a back-to-back spot)
Wednesday: vs. Utah
Sunday: vs. Atlanta
1/5: vs. Denver
1/9: vs. Golden State
1/12: vs. Miami
1/14: at Golden State
1/16: vs. the Lakers
1/17: vs. Indiana (in a back-to-back spot)
1/19: vs. Minnesota

The Clippers literally do not leave California until a January 20th game in Portland! This is as fresh and rested as they're going to be. They flunk this sequence, and we can probably stick a fork in them. This schedule sequence at least gives them a chance to make the rest of the season more interesting...

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Haven't We Seen This Before?

by Jeff Fogle 26. December 2010 00:55

Miami's 96-80 win over the LA Lakers on Christmas Day looked a lot like Cleveland's 102-87 win over the Lakers exactly one year earlier.

Miami 20, Lakers 14
Cleveland 23, Lakers 19

Miami 47, Lakers 38
Cleveland 51, Lakers 42

Miami 75, Lakers 64
Cleveland 76, Lakers 59

Miami 96, Lakers 80 (Heat by 16)
Cleveland 102, Lakers 87 (Cavs by 15)

Today: 27 points, 11 rebounds 10 assists
2009: 26 points, 9 rebounds, 4 assists
(He has more teammates who can shoot this year!)

Same game...with a bit less scoring in the early stages.

You heard some in the media suggesting Miami "sent a message" here. Others were saying the Lakers just HAVE to take games like this more seriously. Well, what happened to the Lakers last year after they lost to Cleveland?

5-1 the next 6 games
14-6 the next 20 games
23-10 the next 33 games
31-13 the next 44 games

Then, in the playoffs, a 16-7 record vs. a tough draw to win another NBA Championship.

Saturday's loss won't mean anything in the big picture as long as the Lakers are ready to roll come playoff time. It probably won't mean anything if they're not either. It's dangerous to develop a mindset that any given NBA regular season game is just an exhibition. Still, last year's loss at home to Cleveland makes it clear that there's just no reason to draw negative conclusions from this result.

We've seen this show before. When we something that hasn't happened before (like a slump closer to the All-Star break, or down the stretch run), then it will be time to wonder about the Lakers.

Hope everyone had a great holiday, whomever your favorite team may be...

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