Category Archives: with apologies to stephen hawking

Why measuring player development’s easier than developing players

DipoDunk

Where did Victor Oladipo’s 2013 came from? (Yes, this was a miss. Still.)

In the coming days I’ll post a piece at ESPN.com that purports to rank major-conference coaches on how well they’ve performed in terms of player development over the last eight years.

This might therefore be an appropriate moment to offer the following disclaimer: I’m not really sure to what extent, in the most literal and causal sense, coaches develop players.

More importantly, no one, to my knowledge, is sure on that score. I suppose what we mean by a seemingly benign and straightforward compound noun like “player development” is actually something more like “developing your players’ naturally increasing ability to score and prevent points even faster than opposing coaches do.” That’s quite different than young players merely improving measurable NBA combine-variety skills.

The analytic nut to be cracked is that all college players get better at combine-variety skills. These are athletes between the ages of 18 and 20-something, they’re going to improve naturally and at a fast rate. You did slash are doing so too at that age. Continue reading

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

You say you want a (three-point) revolution

Marjack

Mark Jackson, three-point forefather. Yes, Mark Jackson. (Photo: Ray Chavez)

Today at ESPN.com, you’ll find a good many words in two pieces on the three-point shot written by Myron Medcalf and yours truly, respectively.

It’s a good topic upon which to lavish a good many words. You can make a case that the rapid increase in three-point attempts is the central performance story in the sport of college basketball over the last five years.

Here, in thumbnail form, is one possible version of how that story’s played out thus far, and what may lay ahead. Consider what follows as a conjectural narration of the three-point revolution’s origins, spread, and limits, delivered in handy pocket size.

Origins
Somewhere in the front offices of the late-1960s-era American Basketball Association (ABA), there resided a pioneering thinker who had the idea of resurrecting a novelty dating from (we think) the early-1960s-era American Basketball League. It seems unlikely in retrospect that said thinker could have had any idea of exactly what it was being unleashed. Continue reading

Is UK’s perimeter D good or lucky?

UK

(Photo: Elliott Hess)

John Calipari’s even-younger-than-usual team has a chance to make some history in 2018. This could turn out to be the most effective perimeter defense we’ve seen in the last five years in major-conference play, eclipsing the mark set by the storied UK team of 2015:

Lowest opponent 3FG%s
Major-conference games only, 2014-18

                     Opp.
                     3FG%
Kentucky     2018    27.3
Kentucky     2015    28.0
Texas A&M    2014    28.0
Providence   2016    28.5
Syracuse     2016    28.9

The Wildcats’ prowess at or good fortune in forcing misses from beyond the arc is important for understanding this team in performance terms. Actually, said ability-slash-happening is, by far, the outstanding characteristic of an otherwise so-so defense. Can it continue? Continue reading

Bigs, Bagley, and evaulative habit

Bagley

This week I re-ranked the top 25 players in college basketball on the occasion of Marvin Bagley III reclassifying and joining this year’s freshman class. I put Bagley at No. 1 because he’s been termed the best player to come out of high school since Anthony Davis. If Duke’s star does indeed have a Davis-level impact for the Blue Devils this season, I’ll come off looking like a genius in a vast hegemonic horde of parroting savants.

Whether that particular scenario pans out or not, I do wonder whether this Bagley moment itself may not function as a handy summation, one that can be called The (Evaluative) Trouble with Freshmen. On the one hand, the get-off-my-yard gene in all of us says that, at the very top of the rankings, freshmen are pretty much always overrated.

Markelle Fultz turned out to be as good as advertised, his team missed the tournament entirely, and his coach was fired. Ben Simmons turned out to be as good as advertised, his team missed the tournament entirely, and his coach was (eventually) fired.

Even Jahlil Okafor, who, whatever else you may think of him, was a first-team All-American as a freshman and was the leading scorer on a team that won a national title, is now being pointed at as some kind of museum exhibit for obsolete basketball artifacts and cautionary draft tales. Freshmen are always overrated. Continue reading

The Gonzaga miracle before our eyes

Zags

Mark Few (partially obscured), Matt Santangelo, and Dan Monson in the huddle, 1999.

Gonzaga as a program and Mark Few as a coach were written off for years as never being able to win the big one. Then when the Bulldogs and their coach finally did reach the Final Four, they were greeted with the same ho-hum reaction that North Carolina’s getting as a No. 1 seed while everyone (quite rightly) rubs their eyes in amazement at the presence of South Carolina.

That is entirely fitting, and possibly the highest compliment to be paid to a program that was once a mid-major. No one thinks of the Zags as a mid-major program any more. When Few lands a McDonald’s All-American like Zach Collins or schedules a neutral-floor game against Arizona at the Staples Center, no one bats an eye. Well, those are not the hallmarks of a mid-major. Continue reading

What I saw at the scoring revolution

Lauri

He makes twos, threes, and all kinds of symbolic sense. (Kelly Presnell, Arizona Daily Star)

With February now upon us, I want to update the yay-scoring hallelujah I posted at ESPN.com a few weeks back. Here are the changes we’ve seen in major-conference play since 2013, in order of magnitude…

1. Scoring’s up 12.3 percent
There are exactly eight more points scored per 40 minutes of major-conference play than there were in the 2013 season. You can now expect a team to put 73.3 points on the board. (Well, not literally. On average.)

2. Three-point attempts are up by 9.4 percent
Changes Nos. 1 and 2 are correlated. (Ahem, coaches.) Note that both major-conference play and Division I basketball as a whole are more perimeter-oriented than they’ve ever been. This statement specifically includes the 2007-08 season, back when it was widely said there were “too many threes” and the three-point line was therefore moved back a foot. Now there are more threes than there were when there were too many threes. Personally I’m fine with it. Continue reading