Category Archives: hoops

The cumulative game

EP

There’s something to be said for combining a very low turnover rate with normal (or even below-average) offensive rebounding, a la Villanova. Conversely, other teams may be underperforming by four or even five points per game due to a sheer lack of scoring chances. (Bill Streicher, USA Today Sports)

Over the past couple years, I’ve started wondering whether the manner in which our brains are hard-wired is conspiring with the inherent nature of basketball to keep us from recognizing how important it is to generate a lot of shot attempts.

Consider the Premier League. A proper appreciation of shots that had a chance to go in but didn’t for Arsenal or Chelsea constitutes a rudimentary level of “well, duh” analysis. In that setting, shots on goal are a really big deal. They’re tracked closely and dissected individually by the studio talent after the match.

In basketball, however, attempted shots are the fabric of the game itself. Attempts in this sport are numerous, unremarkable in isolation, and, indeed, most of them (56 percent, give or take) are misses. Shots that don’t go in aren’t exciting visually, they’re never featured in highlights, and each miss represents a failure, of sorts. Continue reading

RPI, fatally flawed metric, finally dead at 38

ncaanews

NCAA newsletter, 1981

The Ratings Percentage Index, a misbegotten multi-sport statistic that mistakenly became an object of misplaced obsession for everyone connected with men’s college basketball, died Wednesday at the age of 38. The death was announced by the metric’s lone sponsor and last surviving adherent, the NCAA.

No official cause of death had been announced by Wednesday afternoon, though the RPI had long suffered from complications associated with chronic analytic confusion.

When the RPI was born in the fall of 1980 (no definitive birth date has ever been established), college basketball games were only sporadically televised, the NCAA tournament field consisted of 48 teams, and the men’s basketball committee had little or no reliable data with which to support its selection and seeding decisions. Continue reading

Prepare for (by far) the most perimeter-oriented first round ever

RW

Even Robert Williams attempted 12 three-pointers last season. (Don’t ask how many he made.)

The 2018 NBA draft is now just hours away, and it’s already a virtual certainty that the 30 players selected in the first round will be far and away the most perimeter-oriented such group we’ve ever seen.

Just how different is this 2018 bunch? Here’s a handy graphic representation…

first_round_threes

Behold, seven years of first-round picks. I’ve even thrown in a special bonus surprise in the form of the 2018 first round. No, it hasn’t happened yet, but I trust a fair portion of these players will in fact hear their names called. (I’ve used Jonathan Givony’s projected order of selection.) Continue reading

If lottery selections just parrot earlier high school rankings, does the NBA really need one-and-done?

Ayton

(Kevin Jairaj, USA Today)

One fascinating aspect of one-and-done has always been that, at least in theory, it has no logical basis for existence. Recall that the rule was instituted on July 29, 2005, in part, to give NBA franchises additional and badly needed information on draft prospects. There were to be no more Kwame Browns.

An understandable wish, surely, but one that affords an exceedingly odd occasion for a proscriptive rule. After all, in a world where high school graduates are immediately draft-eligible, why would you need to make this a rule in the first place? If a front office feels insufficiently confident to draft a player right out of high school, they can just pass. No one’s holding a gun to their head and saying they must draft an enigma.

If you’re more confident using a draft pick on a player who’s been in college for one season, fine, draft a freshman. Make one-and-done the “rule” for your franchise. It’s a free country.

Or so it would seem, based on how markets are supposed to work in a classical model. Then again, that’s not how professional basketball functions. Indeed, the NBA tried that very system 20-some years ago, and, eventually, found it wanting. Continue reading

Style, talent, and the eclipse of the chess match

Nova

(villanova.com)

Villanova has succeeded to a degree that is seen in post-Wooden college basketball only once every decade or so, and that success, of course, comes with some very serious role-model responsibilities.

There’s just one problem. Holding up the Wildcats as a paragon of How to Win in 2018 and Beyond turns out to be more easily proclaimed than promulgated. It’s difficult if not impossible to find any discretionary schematic, stylistic, and/or demographic characteristic wherein Jay Wright’s men rate out as No. 1 the way they so clearly do in terms of bottom-line results.

Take the scheme on offense. Villanova has indeed performed remarkable feats using it, and, in the 2018 afterglow, this usage is being depicted as decade-plus-long reign of laudable (if not mandatory) NBA awareness, one dating all the way back to the four-guard Wildcat lineup that reached the 2006 Elite Eight.

Those memories aren’t incorrect so much as incomplete. For, in the early years of this decade, the Wildcats consistently ranked outside the top 100 nationally for three-point attempts and, on occasion, put paint-shooting-only 6-foot-10 and 6-foot-11 types at both the 4 and the 5 spots. All it got Nova in between 2011 and 2013 was a 54-45 record and zero NCAA tournament wins. Going small has clearly been the correct choice for Wright, but his is far from the only small-ball team in Division I. Continue reading

Rapidly improving defense is so 2018

FF

(Tom Pennington/Getty)

Defense may or may not win championships, but it is true that 75 percent of the teams in San Antonio are showing a remarkably similar performance arc on that side of the ball.

Defense, conference play vs. tournament
Opponent points per possession

                          Opp.PPP
              In-conference     Tournament
Michigan          1.02             0.89
Villanova         1.06             0.93
Kansas            1.09             1.02

Loyola Chicago, as always, is an outlier, stubbornly playing a similar level of D (albeit against better competition) as what we saw from the Ramblers in the regular season. They are bold iconoclasts, these lads from Rogers Park.

Now, why are these other three teams suddenly such world-beaters on defense? Good question. Here’s what appears to be taking place, with some null-hypothesis words devoted to Porter Moser’s group for good measure…. Continue reading

Loyola says a lot about selection, but its run says zero

sj

(loyolaramblers.com)

When a No. 11 seed gets an automatic bid at 28-5 and then makes the Final Four, the irresistible temptation is to draw lessons from that tournament run with regard to selection. A team as good as Loyola Chicago, it is said, should have been in the running for an at-large bid even if, by chance, the Ramblers had lost to Illinois State in the Missouri Valley tournament final.

I know it is said, because I’ve said it.

Just so we’re clear, however, the fact of the matter is that we knew or should have known before the NCAA tournament that Loyola was good enough to merit an at-large bid. Porter Moser’s team outscored the No. 9 KenPom conference in Division I by 0.16 points per trip. That’s a classic bid-worthy profile, up there on the same at-large bleachers as VCU last year (a No. 10 seed), BYU in 2015 (another No. 11), or Creighton in 2012 (a No. 8).
Continue reading