"Moneyball" in Basketball

by Jeff Fogle 30. March 2011 23:58

If you're a regular visitor to a stat site like HoopData, you're probably already very familiar with the principals of "MoneyBall." That's the 2003 book written by Michael Lewis about Billy Beane and the Oakland A's. An under-reported element of the A's success story may be providing some hints about an NBA team here in the latter stages of the 2010-2011 season.

Because you're familiar with that book, and what are generally considered to be the keys to Beane's success, I won't review them all here. I'll just talk about the element I think was under reported!

Beane's A's during the "Moneyball" era were always better after the All-Star Break than before it. Always. Beane took over before the 1999 season. The book was written in 2003. The "era" of value that Beane was exploiting looks to have ended after the 2006 season. That's the last time the A's made the playoffs. By then, many other teams had copied some of the strategies in a way that may have either diluted or taken away Beane's advantage. In every single season from 1999-2006, Oakland had a better record after the Break than before.

1999-2006:
Before the Break: .539 combined winning percentage
After the Break: .634 combined winning percentage

To help you visualize what those percentages mean...a .539 winning percentage over a full 162 games would represent an 87-75 record. That's roughly a Wildcard contender or a little bit worse. A .634 winning percentage is the same as 103-59 over 162 games.

Beane's A's were basically a superpower after the All-Star Break. Pretty good before the Break, a superpower afterward.

The biggest extremes were these:

2001: 44-43 before, 58-17 after
2002: 50-38 before 53-21 after

A 58-17 record in the majors is amazing, particularly when you're not a big market team. Certainly it was those two seasons that did the heavy lifting for the 1999-2006 superpower record. But, again, the A's were better in the second half every single year.

As this was happening, I thought it was an important element of Beane's success. It's hard to know for sure from a distance why this was happening. My pet theory was that the A's were taking advantage of the tendency for many professional teams to coast in the second half of a season.

*Teams who are out of the playoff picture just kind of play out their schedule. Nobody will admit this happens until they write their memoirs 20 years later. But, if you keep game by game "hustle" stats in pro sports you can see it happening.

*Teams who are in great shape to make the playoffs take their foot off the gas a bit because they're pacing themselves for the long haul. It's easier to beat a contender when they're not breathing fire every game (you've seen some of that this week in the NBA...Chicago and Miami suffered surprising losses...and shorthanded teams like San Antonio, Boston, and Orlando are saving their best for later).

*In September, minor leaguers get called up and get into games. Given Beane's penchant for finding value with unknown guys...he probably had an edge here as well. Or, he kept his best players in while other teams were experimenting.

Or, maybe the young and hungry players Beane brought to the bigs knew they had no margin for error, and just kept right on playing at peak intensity when everyone else just did what it took to earn their paychecks.

Why so many paragraphs about a baseball team at a basketball website?

The Houston Rockets are the "Moneyball" team of the NBA. And, they're showing the same tendency post-All Star Break tendency under General Manager Darryl Morey. You may have read Henry Abbott's article at TrueHoop Wednesday about Houston's strong recent run. It's a replay of two of the last three seasons.

I'll run the records. Remember that the NBA All-Star Break is well after the true halfway point of the 82-game season, so you'll see a lot more games before the Break than after.

2007-08: 32-20 before, 23-7 after
2008-09: 32-21 before, 26-8 after
2009-10: 27-24 before, 15-16 after (no surge)
2010-11: 26-31 before, 13-5 after so far

Morey was hired as Assistant General Manager in April of 2006. He became General Manager in May of 2007.

2007-present:
Before the Break: .549 winning percentage
After the Break: .681 winning percentage

Before the Break, Houston plays like a 45-37 caliber team (pretty good). After the Break, like a 56-26 team (representing three seasons of posting superpower-type results and one near break even).

Those of you familiar with "Moneyball" know that Beane was quoted as saying something like "my stuff doesn't work in the playoffs." The A's have been disappointments in the postseason when they got there. Houston has won one playoff series with Morey as GM, and lost two. That's at least circumstantial evidence that part of the great second half surges are coming against teams that aren't as intense...and the edge seems to dissipate or disappear vs. quality in the games that matter most.

Interesting that we see these parallels between baseball's "Moneyball" team, and the NBA team most often associated with that approach. Looks like it's at least a contributing factor in terms of "squeezing out value" over a full season.

Transition Points

*Fatigue got the best of Houston Wednesday Night. They were playing in a back-to-back at rested Philadelphia (and their 3rd game in four nights after that track meet Sunday in Miami). Houston led 55-52 at the half but, ran out of gas in a 24-15 fourth quarter fadeout.

Houston falls to three games out of the Western playoffs behind Memphis (who beat tired Golden State). Both Houston and Memphis have seven games left. Philadelphia is still two games ahead of New York for the sixth seed in the East.

*New York moved back within a game of .500 with an exciting 120-116 win over New Jersey on ESPN. New Jersey is 5-32 on the road this year. So, it's pretty bad news if you're playing an exciting home game against the Nets!

The Knicks are back to playing a faster pace now that their schedule density has lightened up (the 104 vs. Orlando was probably about 94 after regulation...but that's still faster than the 89-92 string they had been involved in).

*Wanted to check in on Kevin Love since he returned to the lineup after an injury hiatus for the Minnesota Timberwolves. We've compared Love to Anthony Randolph and Anthony Tolliver given the stat production during Love's absence. All three saw between 19 and 27 minutes tonight vs. the strong defense of the Chicago Bulls.

Love: 27 minutes, 16 points, 9 rebounds
Tolliver: 24 minutes, 14 points, 3 rebounds
Randolph: 19 minutes, 15 points, 5 rebounds

Not time at the moment to figure out how often any of the trio overlapped. Good per-minute scoring for all three considering the defense they were facing. Randolph has had the most time to look like Love in recent games. Let's pro-rate them both to 36 minutes.

Pro-Rated to 36 minutes:
Love: 21 points, 12 rebounds
Randolph: 28 points, 9 rebounds

Hopefully we'll get more data points the rest of the way. It's important for properly evaluating Love in the big picture to know how much of his production is just what most guys would get as a focal point on a crappy up tempo team...and how much (if any) is Love establishing himself as a true superstar the way some stat methodologies are suggesting.

Or, maybe we're seeing a red alert about the development of Randolph. He's actually younger than Love even though they entered the league at the same time.

Randolph: 21 years old, #14 pick in 2008 draft
Love: 22 years old, #5 pick on 2008 draft

*Only two games Thursday, and Boston-San Antonio probably won't be much of a playoff indicator given all the injuries. Dallas-Lakers is a late starter. Will skip those, and return Friday Night to look at highlights from the 13-game schedule. Then I'll plan a Saturday night report to talk about the Final Four game stats (where I'll whine about how many three-pointers the losers missed---the NIT semfinal losers were 8 of 35 by the way, 23% shooting) along with more NBA. I'll do a Sunday night post too since Denver-Lakers is a big ABC game, and several relevant teams are in action.

Enjoy MLB's opening day if you're a baseball fan. Bring a jacket! See you Friday night...

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And Down the Stretch They Limp!

by Jeff Fogle 29. March 2011 00:18

The dramatic race to the finish line of the NBA season found itself Monday night without Tim Duncan, Tony Parker, Manu Ginobili, Antonio McDyess, Jameer Nelson, J.J. Redick, Quentin Richardson, Ronny Turiaf, Devin Harris...

Andrei Kirilenko, Mehmet Okur, Shaquille O'Neal...well, you get the idea.

On a relatively light six-game schedule, four very important teams were NOT racing at full speed:

Current #1 in the East Chicago lost at home to Philadelphia

Current #2 in the East Boston lost on the road at Indiana

Current #4 in the East Orlando lost on the road at New York

Current #1 in the West San Antonio lost at home to Porltand

*The Bulls were playing their fifth game in eight days, and could afford an off-night after winning five straight and 12 of 13.

*The Celtics were still biding its time until they can get some healthy bodies on the bench (particularly a relevant Shaq). They've just played 10 games in 16 days including three back-to-back sequences. A 5-5 record at three-quarter speed may have cost them the #1 seed. Will it matter in May?

*The Magic were missing several key contributors in New York Monday, and were locked into the #4 seed anyway barring multiple miracles. They had just won five in a row too, making the result at MSG superfluous. It's a strike against New York that the Knicks had to go overtime to get a game they called a "must win."

*The Spurs were missing their big three and McDyess. Monday's matchup with Portland was night two of a b2b, and San Antonio's 7th game in the last 11 nights. The backups put on a good show before succumbing late. The Spurs may have lost four straight...but you get the sense they'll be ready come playoff time.

So much for a dramatic stretch run heading into the NBA playoffs. Veteran teams know that health is a top priority. Discretion is the better part of valor. Save the valor for next month.

The lack of drama and meaning takes away the need to review keys from the evening. Maybe the lesson of the night concerns the difference between how teams like Boston and San Antonio are handling recent challenges, and the way the New York Knicks are handling challenges.

Consider:

*New York is on a short rotation because they traded away depth to get Carmelo Anthony and Chauncey Billups.

*New York has had a very heavy schedule in the month of March. Monday's overtime win over Orlando was their 17th game in 28 days (including SIX back-to-back sequences!).

*New York has been virtually assured of a playoff spot for weeks. And, their recent 9-loss-in-10-game spiral only dropped them from a 6th seed to a 7th seed. Given the tightness of the race amongst the top three Eastern contenders...there's basically no difference between a 6th and an 8th seed.

There isn't drama around San Antonio, or Boston. Couldn't the leadership of New York have made it clear WEEKS ago that the team was focusing on:

A: The Playoffs
B: Next Year

And avoided the recent soap operas? Just say, "Please be patient fans. We're short on bodies after the trade, and we have a lot of games in March. We want to be at our best in the playoffs. The trade for Carmelo Anthony was about the future of the Knicks organization, not what happens in the first month. We're going to work on getting everyone on the same page offensively and defensively through March and not sweat the record. That will put us in the best position to perform at a peak level in the playoffs...and will give us a head start on what we're all hoping will be a great 2011-2012 season."

Do that UP FRONT, from a command position. Have the stars go hard for 30-33 minutes a night intead of constantly getting accused of not playing hard over 36-42 minutes...keep expectations low and the focus on specific points in the future. Wouldn't that have been better than having the same handful of exhausted (and puzzled) people shaking their heads and saying "It's going to take some time" over and over again?

If you make it clear you're treading water, nobody's going to wonder if you're drowning.

Tuesday's schedule is light. Of the four games, none match playoff contenders. Wednesday's schedule is huge. Back late Wednesday with more notes...

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Stat Inflation

by Jeff Fogle 27. March 2011 23:42

It's one of the biggest migraines statheads have to deal with in all sports. To what degree is the statistical record a reflection of reality? To what degree is the record disturbed by pollution?

In football, quarterbacks can pad their passing yardage and TD totals when facing prevent defenses after they've fallen way behind. In baseball, hitting in Colorado guarantees stat inflation...while pitching in the poor visibility and heavy marine air of San Diego will guarantee ERA deflation. In college basketball, tempo...strength of schedule...when the head coach calls off the dogs in a blowout...(and probably a dozen others we could think of after watching March Madness this year)...can muddy the waters significantly.

In the NBA, stat inflation can be at the mercy of these elements:

*Tempo: which is why so many methodologies try to pro-rate to 100 possessions or other equalizers.

*Role on Your Team: which can wreak havoc in either direction depending on which stat you're talking about.

*Whether Your Games Matter or Not: meaning that it's easier to compile stats in games where one or both teams are just kind of playing out the string rather than battling with peak intensity. The lack of parity in the NBA leads to several teams that are out of the playoff picture by midseason.

There are a lot more we could think of. But, I want to stop right there because I think those are the three that are at the heart of the Kevin Love conundrum right now.

Kevin Love of the Minnesota Timberwolves is a hustling 22-year old power forward (who plays like a center) with a great future ahead of him. He certainly is somebody you'd want on your team. Is he one of the best players in the league? Is he THE best player in the league?

If you were watching Portland/Oklahoma City on ESPN Sunday night, you saw the scroll at the bottom of the screen listing John Hollinger's top five players in the NBA. Love ranked fifth out of everyone. The mainstream audience might find that odd. But, the stathead audience may not argue. In fact, Love ranks very high pretty much any which way you can measure anything. On the individual players page here at HoopData, Win Shares and Adjusted Win Shares actually rank Love as FIRST in the NBA. Best of everyone. Better than LeBron James, Dwyane Wade, Dwight Howard, and any player on either All-Star team.

It's worth noting that Love is right in the sweet spot for stat inflation.

Tempo: Minnesota currently ranks as the fastest team in the league, meaning that point and rebound production are not quite what they seem in their games. Some methodologies account for this influence. If you're the type to just see 20 points and 15 rebounds per game and draw a gut conclusion...be sure you're making a mental adjustment for Minnesota's very fast pace.

Role: Love's a key player on a horrible team...meaning he's an important part of the offense, and the man in the heart of the defensive scheme. The ball is going to find his hands a lot. The easiest things to measure in basketball are the things that happen when a ball is in somebody's hands. Also, current research on rebounding is looking into the role that choice plays within a defensive structure. If there's a ball that a few guys can get, do some players defer while others grab the ball? Is Love getting his share of rebounds, PLUS more than his share of the "optional" rebounds because his teammates just let him grab everything? There's a theory that this played a role in David Lee's big numbers in New York.

Meaningless Games: Minnesota's horrible. Their games don't matter. Opponents who need the win will usually get the win. They don't have to go all out for four quarters to take care of business. They can trade baskets much of the night, and have the one big quarter that gets the job done. Could Love be benefitting from the equivalent of a football's "prevent" defense much of the time? There's no reason to clamp down on Love if the game's already won...or if you know that you can trade baskets now and clamp down in the fourth quarter if needed.

I won't pretend to offer up certain answers tonight. I will point out what's happened to the players who have replaced Love (and his role) for the T-wolves the last three games while he was recovering from a groin injury.

Kevin Love's per game numbers:
20.3 points, 15.4 rebounds, 36 minutes per game (99 possessions)

Anthony Randolph vs. Dallas:
31 points, 11 rebounds, 36 minutes (96 possessions)

Anthony Randolph vs. Oklahoma City:
24 points, 15 rebounds, 37 minutes (101 possessions)

Anthony Tolliver vs. Boston:

16 points, 15 rebounds, 36 minutes (mid 80's in possessions)

Randolph started Sunday vs. Boston, but committed 3 fouls in 3 minutes of action. That brought in Tolliver to fill the role of the big man for the night...and he basically did what the others were doing after you adjust for tempo. Fifteen rebounds in a slow game is pretty darned good!

The three replacements pro-rate to roughly 25 points per game and 14 rebounds in 36 minutes using the 99 possession benchmark. Hey, it's only three games, and anything can happen in three games. Those three games do provide some evidence, though, that it's not that hard to compile Love-type stats if you're playing in the paint for Minnesota at this stage of the season. Even for horrible teams, somebody has to score the points in losses...and somebody has to grab the rebounds off shots the opponents are destined to miss.

Is Love truly one of the best five players in the league? Or, is he hitting clean-up for Colorado? Or passing for almost 4,000 yards on a 4-12 team like Carson Palmer did for the Cincinnati Bengals last year?

Fun player to root for. Extremely bright future. Would he strike you as one of the best players in the league if he played on one of the best teams in the league? It's a bit tougher to make that case based on what Randolph and Tolliver just did the past few nights. Let's see if we get additional data points before Love returns to the lineup.

Transition Points

*Boston beat Minnesota 85-82 Sunday night, blowing a huge lead before finishing off the job late. Once again, the bench was a problem for Boston. Nobody on the Celtics bench had a positive plus/minus even though they were facing a very bad team. All five starters were positive. Note though that Rajon Rondo didn't play because of a bad thumb. So, the team was even more shorthanded than usual.

*Houston and Miami played a wild one, providing some evidence for the "teams will trade baskets until it's time to decide a winner" line of thinking.

Miami led 38-37 after one quarter
Miami led 71-68 at the half
It was tied 93-93 heading into the fourth quarter

So much for Miami having a playoff caliber defense. Of course, we KNOW that they do have a playoff caliber defense...so you almost have to throw this one out when thinking about what will happen in the playoffs. It was more of a 125-119 scrimmage with a serious ending rather than a game matching playiff contenders.

*Kendrick Perkins is having an immediate impact in Oklahoma City. He had a plus/minus of +13 in 31 minutes on Sunday's 99-90 victory over Portland. Mentioned earlier that was an ESPN game. Great energy. It definitely had a playoff feel to it much of the night.

You get the sense Russell Westbrook is tired of hearing so much about Derrick Rose. Westbrook had 28 points and 7 assists. As I mentioned the other day, it's very hard to separate Westbrook from Rose in a meaningful way in the stats. The case for Rose seems to be that Westbrook has teammates who can score, so he doesn't have to carry all the load. Is a player's value based on what he accomplishes? Or, who his teammates are? Age old questions.

*Virginia Commonwealth had a great first half from behind the arc in a 71-61 upset of Kansas today. They join Butler in the final four as a team scoring more than 30% of its points from long range this season. I didn't think my "no #1 seeds in the Final Four" prediction was going to have a chance with Kansas such a heavy favorite. Congrats to VCU for rising to the occasion.

Three-Point Shooting Today:

VCU: 12 of 25
Kansas: 2 of 21 (!!!)

Kentucky: 12 of 22
N. Carolina: 3 of 16

Four Weekend Losers: 12 of 72 (17%)

All four games were certainly dramatic. I don't think I'll ever be a fan of the impact trey randomization can have in small sample sizes in this sport. The drama of watching a ball spin around a roulette wheel loses its zing after awhile. That can wreak havoc with efficiency data too...as a string of five blacks will look more efficient than a string fo three reds...but that won't influence what color comes up next.

There will be a mid-major in the finals for the second straight year because VCU and Butler are in the same half of the bracket. Gotta be driving the power brokers nuts!

Back late Monday to talk about Orlando/New York, Philadelphia/Chicago, Boston/Indiana, and maybe Portland/San Antonio. Manu Ginobili only played 19 minutes Sunday in Memphis after suffering a "left quad contusion."

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Dynamic Skill Set

by Jeff Fogle 27. March 2011 00:05

You're at the local gym shooting some baskets. So are a few other guys. A 10th man walks through the door and it's only a matter of minutes before a pick-up game is going to get started. Who do you want on your team? You don't have any stats to look at. You may not even know some or most of the others. Do you trust your eyes to make the right decisions? If you HAD stats, would you use them?

Most basketball players trust their eye and their instincts in that kind of situation. You can tell who can play and who can't. You can tell who can shoot with some range, and who has to work their way in close. You can tell who has hops.

Typically, you're looking at skill sets. With any sort of experience in pick-up games you're very likely to have everyone categorized fairly accurately. If you see a guy with a dynamic skill set, you're going to pick him first if it's your call. The guys who can probably do one thing acceptably well go next. The guy in the headband and too much enthusiasm goes last. Funny how ultra-enthusiasm in most fields is kind of a bluff designed to distract from weakness.

Who in the NBA right now has the most dynamic skill set? Offense..defense...rebounding...ball movement? Leadership is a skill too. So is staying composed when the game is on the line. Who has the MOST dynamic skill set that includes all the keys besides just scoring a lot?

Is that the most valuable player in the league? He'd get picked first in a leaguewide pick-up game. He's probably the highest paid player too. Isn't he the man best suited to lead somebody to a championship?

There are a lot of ways to define "value." Many will lead to arguments because everyone's kind of right with the framework of the definitions. Often the debates for MVP awards come down to "Who's the best overall player?" vs. "Who has the crappiest teammates?" Guys with crappy teammates always seem more valuable from the "Where would they be without him?" perspective.

Maybe the stathead field can start working toward providing evidence for that framework? Which players have the most dynamic, versatile skill sets? Which players are the very best within their specialty (point guards who aren't great defenders, shooting guards, defensive minded centers, etc...)?

Ultimately, each player and each team is a collection of skills. They can do some things. They can't do others. Statistics can help shed light on these issues. But, statistics aren't the teams themselves. They're a measure of their skills, the choices they make, their intensity over a full grinding season.

Why this theme today? This issue strikes me as being at the heart of many recent discussions.

*Those studying skill sets are having more predictive success in the NCAA Tournament than those studying full season efficiencies. Once you're watching games, particularly the second half of close games, does efficiency even enter into your thinking? You're thinking about who's going to find a way to score, and how they're going to do it. 

*The debate about Derrick Rose being an MVP is largely about skill sets (can a little guy who doesn't do much in the areas of defense and rebounding really be the most valuable player in the league...when his team has a great record because of its defense and not its offense?).

*The debate about the impact Carmelo Anthony would or wouldn't have on the Knicks centered around how his skill set would mesh with Amare Stoudemire's (with pessimists talking about the lack of defensive chops in each player's skill set).

You can take it all the way back to the heart of "Moneyball" I guess. Skill sets vs. production. Scouts vs. statheads. You get the sense a happy medium will eventually be reached when stats can tell you what you need to know about skill sets, and the best production will be the result of the best combined skill sets.

For now...there's still plenty of work to do!

Transition Points

*Butler advanced past Florida today in the Elite 8, despite shooting just 9 of 33 on three-pointers. Florida was a poor 3 of 14 themselves from long range. Butler will become the first Final Four team since 2005 to finish the season scoring more than 30% of their points on treys.

*Trey heavy Arizona was less fortunate. They were a poor 4 of 21 on treys, and lost to Connecticut 65-63. UCONN was just 5 of 18 themselves from behind the arc. Old grouches who think that the 3-point line has ruined college basketball got to spend the day yelling at a combined 21-86 performance (24%) over about 5 hours of television.

Losing teams Friday night were 19 of 77 for 25% on treys.

*The New York Knicks finally had a good fourth quarter, beating Charlotte 27-22 in the final stanza. Unfortunately they were down by 13 after three.

Defense and rebounding were issues again. New York allowed 52% on two-point shots to a team that's offensively challenged. They were outrebounded 46-39, and let Charlotte post an offensive rebound rate of 35.5.

Just heard another media analyst suggesting that Carmelo Anthony, Amare Stoudemire, and Chauncey Billups just need more time to figure out how to work together...while saying that it's bad luck that the transition came during a difficult time in the Knicks schedule.

It doesn't take practice time to learn how to guard people and box out. And, granting that some back-to-back's have been bunching up lately...you still have this during the 1-9 slump (opponent's current record in parenthesis):

Lost to Indiana (32-42)
Lost to Indiana again
Lost to Detroit (26-47)
Lost to Milwaukee (29-43)
Lost to Milwaukee again
Lost to Charlotte (30-42)

The Knicks could reasonably have been expected to win six or seven in the 10-game stretch. They suddenly have the roster of a 20-53 caliber team or something?

They need more time to become a serious threat in the East. They need more time and somebody who plays defense to become a championship threat. They shouldn't need more time to avoid going 0-6 against the likes of Indiana, Detroit, Milwaukee, and Charlotte.

*Big night for Derrick Rose as the Bulls rallied late to beat Milwaukee. He had 30 points and 17 assists. I'm not a fan of the "Rose for MVP" bandwagon. That was certainly an MVP caliber performance though.

*After beating Cleveland on Friday January 14th, the Utah Jazz were sitting at 27-13 in the standings. The poor four-game Eastern swing that started at Washington on MLK day showed the first signs of turmoil. The franchise has virtually imploded since. A 94-77 home loss to Dallas Saturday puts Utah at 9-25 since that win over the Cavs.

*I was kind of hoping Kevin Love would have an extended recovery break for his injured groin. His absence would shed some light on the "Is he just a stat accumulator for a horrible team, or is he one of the best players in the league" debate.

Anthony Randolph scored 24 points and had 15 rebounds as Love's replacement Friday at Oklahoma City. Randolph had 31 points and 11 rebounds the night before at Dallas. Those are Love-type numbers. Would be great to have more than two data points. Love has been upgraded to probable for Sunday's game against Boston. Unheralded Randolph sure accumulated some noticeable stats in his absence.

*Some interesting games Sunday on the NBA card, and there are two more games in the Elite 8. So, I'll plan on a late Sunday report of any key developments...

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Nix "The Knicks Offense is Fine" Chatter

by Jeff Fogle 26. March 2011 00:44

This won't become a daily Knicks diary. But, I was reading some things around cyberspace that seemed to be missing a key point about New York's recent slide. Be careful falling into the trap of thinking the offense is just fine "based on the numbers." Here are some numbers that suggest otherwise...

17 points in 4th quarter vs. Detroit
23 points in 4th quarter vs. Milwaukee
17 points in 4th quarter vs. Boston
21 points in 4th quarter vs. Orlando
19 points in 4th quarter vs. Milwaukee

Yes, if you look at ALL the games since Carmelo Anthony joined the Knicks, you'd get the impression that the offense is great and the defense is horrible. That includes a few red hot games from long range...the early surge of enthusiasm after the trade...and the rest of the league trying to figure out how the heck they were going to defend what they thought had become a two-headed offensive monster with multiple arms that can make treys

The league adjusted...the enthusiasm war off...and you can't count on being hot from long range on command.

In the fourth quarter...WHEN IT MATTERS...when it isn't just trading baskets back and forth through the evening in wormanlike fashion (which can look great in efficiency measurements)...the Knicks offense has run into a brick wall.

Yes, the defense is atrocious. The offense is too. When it matters. That's why New York is 1-8 its last nine games.

This is a tough stretch of opposing defenses New York has been facing. They may go back to making three's and having more fun in upcoming games. Four of the next five are against Charlotte, New Jersey, Cleveland, and Toronto.

Let's keep an eye on how Chauncey Billups runs the offense. It's like he's back in Detroit. The current halfcourt style...which basically takes turns isolating Anthony or Amare Stoudemire...has turned the team in to a one-headed monster at any given moment. Good NBA defenses know how to defend one-headed monsters, particularly in the fourth quarter of close games.

Transition Points

*Derrick Rose had the city of Chicago chanting "MVP..MVP" again Friday. That despite going 6 of 22 from the field, 0 for 5 on treys, and turning the ball over four times. He did score the last seven points of the game for the Bulls in a 99-96 victory over Memphis.

Comparisons to Allen Iverson in his prime are becoming more and more apt. That used to drive me nuts back in the day. Iverson earned all the "he's a warrior" praise with a zillion variations of 6 of 22 in close games vs. good teams. Make sure you see the negatives as you celebrate the many positives.

Rose is definitely a terrific talent. If all NBA contracts were declared null and void at midnight tonight, and all NBA players were re-drafted, would Rose go first? Can you find meaningful statistical differences this year between Rose and Russell Westbrook (they sit next to each other on this page)? It takes some significant rhetorical limbo to get a point guard on an offense that's only a point per 100 possessions better than league average as the MVP...particularly when it's DEFENSE that's taken the team to new heights...and he plays one of the least important defensive positions.

*Miami played a weird game with Philadelphia. They seemed to be turning a faucet on and off at will. Philadelphia would make a run...then Miami would storm past them. Philly would make another run. Miami would ignite again. Miami won the fourth quarter 34-17 to put the game away. Chris Bosh had an amazing plus/minus of +33 in 39 minutes. The Heat only won by 12! The team was minus 21 points in the nine minutes Bosh sat out.

*Boston continues to gift wrap the top seed for Chicago. The Celtics inexplicably blew the fourth quarter 30-15 in an 83-81 Friday loss to Charlotte.

The bench was an issue again. Glen Davis had a plus/minus of -13 in 24 minutes. Jeff Green was at -7 in 26 minutes. Delonte West was -9 in 18 minutes. The bench was handed a big lead...against a team that's shown little interest in trying to make the playoffs...and the game got away from them.

*Here's the updated race amongst the big three in the East:

1...Chicago 52-19
2...Boston 50-21 (2 games back)
3,,,Miami 50-22 (2.5 games back)

Boston is on the verge of falling to #3, which means losing home court advantage to Miami in a projected second round matchup. The Celtics are 4-6 the last 10 games. Don't think they anticipated that at the time of the Kendrick Perkins trade.

Chicago visits Milwaukee Saturday night. Miami hosts Houston Sunday. Boston has a back-to-back at Minnesota and Indiana Sunday and Monday.

*Let's catch up with March Madness. The playful prediction that none of the top seeds would reach the Final Four got three-fourths of the way there by the end of the Sweet 16 round. But, Kansas is now a heavy favorite to get through thanks to a schedule that included nobody better than a 9th seed.

Congrats to Charles Barkley for telling the world that Arizona would beat Duke before the game started, and that Kentucky would beat Ohio State. He's put at least a dozen prominent people to shame in the past two weeks just by applying common sense basketball in games that matter. Sometimes the fundamentals get in the way of the stories everyone wants to tell.

Updating the list we ran in our college digression about emphasis on three-pointers. I won't run all 16 teams again. Here are the ones that registered at 30% or better of their points coming on treys.

Wisconsin 36.0%
Virginia Commonwealth 34.6%
Richmond 33.7%
Butler 31.5%
Arizona 30.9%
BYU 30.6%
Ohio State 30.0%

Wisconsin, Richmond, BYU, and Ohio State are out.

Butler was only 5 of 18 on treys, but won because Wisconsin was 7 of 29.

VCU kept it going with a stellar 12 of 26 performance from long range in a 1-point overtime win over Florida State.

Arizona was an amazing 9 of 15 on treys for 60% vs. Duke.

Will the sine curve take out VCU and Arizona this weekend? Nobody at 30.0% or higher has reached the Final Four the last five seasons, and only two have done it since 2003. Butler finished at 29.9% last year, but will likely be over 30.0% if they make it this time around.

Since I took Thursday off because of the light schedule, I'll pop in for a late Saturday report to talk about New York-Charlotte, Chicago-Milwaukee, and the college games. Joe may add a college statistical element to HoopData down the road. Fun to pop in during the tourney this year. See you late Saturday...

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