DeAndre Jordan and the Crunch Time Conundrum

by Blake Murphy 26. November 2012 19:01

DeAndre Jordan is a worse free throw shooter than some players are three-point shooters.

With a 44% career free throw rate, Jordan is a huge liability late in close games, enough so that coach Vinny del Negro has to be wary of playing him in such situations.

In fact, Jordan averages 26.5 minutes per game but has played just 4.5 minutes per fourth quarter, well below what you’d expect for a starter and one of a team’s core players. He’s been protected on the offensive end such that he’s actually yet to take a free throw in the fourth quarter, and has only been afforded 0.5 field goal attempts per fourth quarter. Basically, when Jordan plays in the fourth, he is there for defense only.

I was interested to see if Jordan (a) is in a unique situation with limited fourth quarter minutes and (b) should be a better free throw shooter given his shooting rates elsewhere.

Is this unique?

For the first point, I used NBA.com’s Advanced Stats Tool to find players in “crunch time” (last five minutes, ahead or behind five points) who had the lowest usage rate.

We are, of course, dealing with very small samples at this point in the year, so Jordan is one of many players with a miniscule usage rate in small crunch time minutes. He’s certainly not unique in this regard, but it warrants further and more detailed study controlling for FT%, position, etc.

Should he be better?

For the second part, I had planned to compare Jordan’s shooting percentages from different distances and come up with a sort of “expected FT%.” However, Jordan shoots so exclusively inside of five feet that the exercise would have been pointless.

Just how limited is Jordan’s range? Well, he’s taken just 23 shots outside of five feet this season, and just five outside of nine feet. He’s a 65% shooter within five feet and shot 66% from there last year (when he took just 32 shots outside of five feet and just 10 outside of nine feet). It makes sense for him to stay there since he’s so effective, and the samples are too small to know if he’d be any good from elsewhere (anecdotally, I doubt he would).

Are they right to bench him?

So the question for the Clippers becomes whether Jordan’s defense (and other offensive tools, such as screen settings, providing the threat of post offense, etc) is worth enough to keep him on the floor despite his free throw shooting.

The Clippers are actually better offensively with Jordan on the court, by 5.5 points per 100 possessions, but this is almost certainly due to him spending all of his time with strong teammates. Defensively, the team rebounds and blocks slightly better with Jordan on the floor but allows a significantly higher eFG%. The net effect is that the Clippers have been 7.1 points per 100 possessions worse on defense with Jordan off the floor.

Overall, the Clippers have been +4.3 points per 100 possessions with Jordan on and +5.9 with him off. He’s a slight net loss if we don’t control for his teammates, which is nearly impossible since he’s played 332 of his 344 minutes with Chris Paul.

Basically, you can’t fault Vinny for gluing him to the bench when the game is on the line. He hasn’t proven enough that he’s a better option than Turiaf, Hollins, or a smaller lineup, and until he can more reliably hit the freebies or more definitively prove himself a defensive presence, there’s not enough evidence to cry foul on del Negro.

And even if you could cry foul, Jordan would likely miss the free throws.

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Clippers Get Horrible News

by Jeff Fogle 26. January 2011 00:23

After posting great results with basically a 3-man team over an extended stay in California, the LA Clippers now lose their high scorer just before the schedule gets road heavy.

Eric Gordon is expected to miss the next 3-4 weeks with a sprain and small bone chip fracture in his right wrist. Gordon was reportredly injured Saturday Night in the team's victory over Golden State.

That game was the Clippers' 14th in California in their last 15 outings. Los Angeles lost their first game without Gordon Tuesday night in Dallas 112-105. The schedule during Gordon's projected absence will send LA all over the country after a three additional games in California.

Tonight: at Houston (night two of a back-to-back)
Saturday: vs. Charlotte
Monday: vs. Milwaukee
Wednesday 2/2: vs. Chicago
Friday 2/4: at Atlanta
Sunday 2/6: at Miami
Tuesday 2/8: at Orlando
Wednesday 2/9: at New York (b2b and 3rd in 4 nights)
Friday 2/11: at Cleveland
Sunday 2/13: at Toronto
Monday 2/14: at Mlwaukee (b2b, 5th in 7 nights)
Wednesday 2/17 at Minnesota
All-Star Break

That brings us to Gordon's estimated return. Only three home games in the next dozen, with some tough opposition and a few fatigue challenges between now and the All-Star Break.

The Clippers already quirky 27-17 home/road split in the schedule will peak at 30-18 after Monday's game in Milwaukee. The next eight will be on the road. LA's hoped for climb back to respectablity, which may be partly an illusion anyway because of that home friendly schedule, just got even steeper than they thought it was going to be. Blake Griffin and Baron Davis will be in the market for sherpas.

Note that the Clippers last road game outside of California was also in a back-to-back spot. It was a 108-93 loss at Portland last Thursday. Eric Gordon scored 35 points in that 15-point decision.

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Tempo and Turnovers

by Jeff Fogle 7. January 2011 00:54

What's the relationship between tempo and turnovers? Does speeding up invariably lead to more turnovers because teams get out of control? Or, does a faster pace just mean more dunks and layups...which are pretty hard to screw up?

A couple of days ago, our article on the Lakers inspired some discussion across cyberspace related to tempo. It was noted that, during the recent Los Angeles mini-slump, the Lakers had slowed down their pace but increased turnovers? Some (including me) thought that odd because slowing down should decrease turnovers. Others were under the impression that slowing down creates more turnovers...possibly because it forces you attack a five-man defense rather than get your team easier shots in transition.

What's the reality? I have a personal bias towards "faster" meaning "sloppier." We saw that with Charlotte last week when Paul Silas tried a short-lived up-tempo approach with a group that immediately went out and committed 20 turnovers. I've logged the stats from many slow playoff games over the years where each team treasured every possession because so much was at stake.

Yet...I think we've all seen games where a change in tempo took a team out of its comfort zone in either direction. If you force a fast team to slow down against a good defense, they can have a lot of miscues in the halfcourt game. If a slow team gets caught up in a track meet, they're prone to throw the ball away. 

So, what is it? What's the relationship between tempo and turnovers?

I did a quick and dirty study focusing on the fastest and slowest teams in the NBA the past three seasons. The numbers were tabulated Wednesday afternoon, so they may have changed a smidge by now. I wanted to compare the turnover rates (turnovers committed per 100 possesssions) of the fast teams to the slow teams. If you just look at raw volume, there's a potential that faster teams create more turnovers just because there are more possessions. The increased tempo doesn't make them "sloppier." It's just the same level of sloppiness in a game with a few more possessions. Looking at turnover rate will give us a better sense of the true impact.

THIS YEAR'S TURNOVER RATES
6 fastest teams: 24.7
6 slowest teams: 23.8

That's about one extra turnover per 100 possessions if you round up. To this point in the 2010-11 season, faster has meant a little sloppier.

2009-10 TURNOVER RATES
6 fastest teams: 23.7
6 slowest teams: 22.9

Same story last season, which is a larger sample size obviously. Faster meant sloppier by about one turnover per game.

2008-09 TURNOVER RATES
6 fastest teams 23.4
6 slowest teams 22.5

Consistent reads, with the faster teams once again committing about one more turnover per 100 possessions. Can't ask for a better indicator than that. I won't suggest this is anything close to a definitive study. But, it's a quick and dirty study that passes the eyeball test. Slower teams take care of the ball better than up tempo teams. Fast teams hope to get enough dunks, layups, and kick out treys to make up for the extra miscue (at least when you're looking at the extremes over the last two and a half seasons!).

So, until someone has time to do a more comprehensive study (and, please feel free to comment with a link to one if it's already been done), we can assume a slight general tendency for faster to mean sloppier...with the understanding that moving out of your comfort zone in either direction can lead to problems protecting the ball.

In terms of the Lakers situation, the high turnover numbers in their slower games may have represented being taken out of their comfort zone, or may have been a red flag that the team lost focus for a stretch. The increase in turnovers was at least going against the grain of what we normally see with slower tempos.

And...in terms of the Lakers...that tendency immediately stopped! You get the sense that players said to themselves "This is ridiculous!" after watching recent game films.

LAKERS' LAST TWO GAMES
6 turnovers in 91 possessions vs. Detroit
10 turnovers in 89 possessions at Phoenix

They cleaned up their turnover mess in a hurry. Interesting that they slowed THAT far down from previous norms in the two-game set. Smart move in a back-to-back. It's tough to slow Phoenix down to just 89 possessions. That tied for Phoenix's third slowest game this season.

Lakers fans had to be happy with the improved level of play. Though, the sweep still came against losing teams. It's amazing how weak LA's schedule has been so far this year!

I promised last time to take a quick look at the Clippers/Nuggets game from late Wednesday.

LA CLIPPERS 106, DENVER 93
Efficiency: Denver 96.9, Clippers 110.4
Two-Point %: Denver 36%, Clippers 45%
Rebounds: Denver 43, Clippers 57

You can see the big inside edges for the Clips. Blake Griffin had another double double. By halftime! Baron Davis continued his recent impactful play with 16 points and 8 assists in 31 minutes. Eric Gordon added 28 points. For Denver, Carmelo Anthony and Chauncey Billups combined for 40 shots and just 5 assists.

Great showing for the Clips as they continue their long stay in the Golden State. Their next opponent will be Golden State in a Sunday afternoon tip at the Staples Center. Blake Griffin and company won't leave California until a January 20th game in Portland. Can they really make it to .500 by the end of the year? We'll know more by that Portland tip off.

The Dallas Mavericks had another disappointing offensive showing Thursday in the early TNT game. This despite a great first half that saw them score 55 points. Only 40 came after the break, in a 99-95 loss.

Offensive efficiency without Dirk Nowitzi in the lineup:
87.4 vs. Toronto
100.0 vs. San Antonio
90.6 vs. Milwaukee
113.0 vs. Cleveland
101.2 vs. Portland

They were at 106.0 for the season heading into Thursday night. Won't have Thursday's official numbers until Friday. Only the game vs. Cleveland was above their norm...and Cleveland's defense has been horrible lately.

Back late Friday night with notes from a busy 11-game schedule...

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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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