The LeBron Mystery, One Year Later

by Jeff Fogle 30. April 2011 23:48

LeBron James has a return engagement with the Boston Celtics Sunday afternoon. Exactly a year earlier to the day, LeBron's Cleveland Cavaliers started a second round series with Celtics that would mark the beginning of the end of his career with the Cavs. Did LeBron quit on Cleveland? Was LeBron so anxious to "take his talents" elsewhere that he disappeared down the stretch? A forensic study of the stats from that series suggest a very clear answer...

Well, very clear to me at least. It's tough to convince a LeBron-hater that he was anything other than a man in a black hat in the final three games of the Boston series. Haters are expecting more woes when LeBron's Miami Heat take on the Celtics over the next two weeks. If you're on the outside looking in, it's tough to know for sure. You should at least be responsible in your commentary. Calling LeBron a quitter, given the statistical evidence, is about as irresponsible as it gets.

First, some background.

*LeBron James entered the Boston series last year nursing a bad elbow. There were concerns about it after Cleveland eliminated Chicago. It wasn't a secret. Everybody knew it was bothering him, and he was playing through the pain. He shot a free throw lefthanded in the final win of the Bulls series.

*In the media, LeBron kept emphasizing a theme of "no excuses" for himself and his team. He wasn't going to talk about the elbow. They had to win regardless of the hurdles in front of them. No whining to the press. No acknowledgment that it was an issue, period.

*Cleveland had three days off to prepare for Game One of the Boston series after eliminating Chicago on April 27, 2010. With the series starting on May 1, 2010, that's three off days to rest and get ready. LeBron had a great first game. 35 points, 7 rebounds, and 7 assists. Concerns about the elbow disappeared.

*Concerns about the elbow resurfaced quickly! James was clearly favoring his elbow two days later in Game Two (as this game recap from ESPN's website shows). There was a statewide "Uh oh" in all of Ohio because it was obviously bothering him.

*A quirk in the schedule gave Cleveland and Boston three days off before Game Three in Beantown. They played May 1, May 3, and May 7. Again, with a lengthy recovery time between games (and whatever potential treatment may be involved over a layoff), LeBron was great! He had 38 points, 8 rebounds, and 7 assists.

And, THAT was the moment where everyone stopped talking about the elbow. From ESPN's website recap:

"I think he's healthy," said Celtics coach Doc Rivers, who has been dismissive of James' injury. "His elbow looked very good tonight. So enough with the elbow injury. I think we can go ahead and focus on basketball."

Instead of saying "Wait, Doc. He just had three days off before the game. That's not going to happen again in the series," the media went along with the storyline. LeBron was fine. The elbow injury had been overplayed. Rivers had been right to be dismissive. End of story.

And, even though the teams played every other day from that point forward, with only one day off between games rather than two or three...and, even though LeBron had HORRIBLE shooting stats in those games, particularly from distance...nobody was talking about the elbow injury any more. Cleveland was eliminated because LeBron disappeared. Because he was gutless. Because he was ready to leave town and play for somebody with a better chance to win a championship.

Wasn't it possible that LeBron's elbow was functional if he had three days of rest between games...but was A BIG PROBLEM when games were bunched together?! Isn't that more likely than him being the guy in the black hat?

I'm going to run through some numbers from the shot location breakdowns here at Hoopdata (which have been up for a year, by the way, so it's not like they were buried in somebody's backyard this whole time). Here's a link to Cleveland's team page from last year's playoffs. You can click on any individual game for shot location breakdowns and other data.

Remember that Games 1 and 3 came after three days of rest and preparation. Games 2, 4, 5, and 6 came with only one day off between games.

LEBRON AT THE RIM
Games 1 & 3: 12/19 (63%)
Games 2-4-5-6: 15/26 (58%)

A slight drop off. But, the closer you are to the basket, the less an elbow injury is likely to affect your shot.

LEBRON FROM 3-15 FEET
Games 1 & 3: 4/7 (58%)
Games 2-4-5-6: 4/10 (40%)

Quite a difference there. He's dropped off in both cases because he's further from the basket, but the spread is now 18 percentage points rather than just five.

LEBRON FROM 16-23 FEET
Games 1 & 3: 5/11 (45%)
Games 2-4-5-6: 4/16 (25%)

We're in the range where a bad elbow could definitely affect your jump shots. With three days between games, LeBron was at 45%. In the quicker turnarounds, that percentage plummeted to 25%. Note again that both percentages are going down (as expected) the further he gets from the basket. The spread between the two situations is now 20 percentage points.

LEBRON ON 3-POINT SHOTS
Games 1 & 3: 5/9 (56%)
Games 2-4-5-6: 2/17 (12%)

LeBron was hitting his open looks from distance in the games where the arm was well rested. In fact, he was more accurate from behind the arc than in the 16-23 foot range. But, in the quick turnarounds, he was a woeful 2 of 17 on treys (44 percentage points worse). Doesn't THAT suggest a potential injury issue all by itself? A guy's got a bad elbow, and he goes 2 of 17 on long shots in games with limited preparation and rest time. Why wasn't that a red flag to the national media.

Unbelievably, James was 10 of 43 from OUTSIDE OF TWO FEET in those four games. TWO FEET!

Did James take his ball and go home? Did he pout on the sideline? No, the evidence suggests he did what a star would do who could tell he was in trouble away from the rim.

*He picked up his assist totals late in the series, with 25 over the last three games. The elbow moves more side-to-side on passes, compared to straight up and down on jump shots.

*He picked up his rebounding totals late in the series, highlighted by a monster finale. Rebounding from the small forward position is often correlated to positioning and hustle. You can do that with a bad elbow.

*He became so reckless, because he was fighting hard to get close to the basket and either score or kick the ball out to a shooter, that his turnovers shot way up. He commited 7 turnovers in Game Four, and a whopping 9 turnovers in the Game Six finale.

He's been called a quitter because Cleveland didn't win the series. Here are the so-called quitter's stats in that series finale:

27 points (even though he was just 2 of 10 from outside two feet!!!!)
19 rebounds (huge total for a small forward)
10 assists (completing a triple double)
9 turnovers (trying to carry the team on his shoulders)

We have a superstar who refuses to make excuses. We have an opposing coach who convinced the media that there wasn't a meaningful injury. We have a series loss for a heavy favorite who was expected to win the East and battle the Lakers for the league championship (remember they already had those puppet commercials done for when LeBron met Kobe---instead we got to see the cast of "Grownups" sitting behind Phil Jackson before an onslaught of ads featuring purple swimming pool water). It dissapointingly added up to variations of "LeBron quit," "LeBron disappeared," "Something happened to LeBron but we don't know what," "Maybe LeBron had an argument with his mouthy owner behind the scenes and mailed in the last three games." All sorts of conspiracy theories.

The evidence is pretty compelling that a superstar athlete had an elbow injury that needed more than a day off between games within a physical series to recover.

If he goes 10 of his first 43 from outside TWO FEET in this year's series, then let's talk about all the gut check stuff.

An indisputable basketball superstar suddenly couldn't shoot from distance. Do you want to believe that he quit on the team, but creatively posted 27 points, 19 rebounds, and 10 assists in the series finale to cover his tracks? Or, is it much more reasonable that a proud man who won't make excuses did the best he could when dealing with a WELL-PUBLICIZED injury to the elbow on his shooting arm?

If you're a sportswriter who likes touting any of the conspiracy theories, could you at least mention this extremely reasonable possibility to balance things out?

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Second Round Previews

by Jeff Fogle 30. April 2011 18:28

Went back and grabbed the regular season data from the defensive profiles that ran before the playoffs started. Let's match those up with the new pairings. Then we'll try to outline expectations in the second round for what's going to happen inside the arc, behind the arc, and in the turnover department. It's that framework that has risen to the surface so far in game coverage...

MEMPHIS VS. OKLAHOMA CITY
Defense inside 10 feet: Memphis 55.9%, OKC 54.8%
Effective 3-point pct: Memphis 55.3%, OKC 54.2%
Defensive rebound rate: Memphis 72.54, OKC 73.64
Forced turnover rate: Memphis 15.69, OKC 12.95

Oklahoma City did a better job during the regular season in the first three categories. We can assume improvement since acquiring Kendrick Perkins and trending toward more of a playoff style. Joe hasn't been able to get the boxscore bugs fixed yet, so I don't have 10-foot data for the first round. Let's assume for now that OKC is slightly better defensively and on the boards...while Memphis is still the kings of forcing turnovers. Even though San Antonio is a good ballhandling team, Memphis still forced 18 turnovers in Game Two, 17 in Game Four, and 15 in Game Five.

I jotted down offensive data in the counterpart categories back before the playoffs started. But, it was too crazy to try to fit the numbers in for all 16 teams. If situations came up during series where an offensive stat mattered (the Spurs and Magic not living up to regular season trey averages for example), I'd put the specific number in play. With only eight teams left, the size is more digestible to get the offensive side into the previews too.

Offensive Data
Made treys per game: Memphis 3.8, OKC 5.9
Free throw rate: Memphis 29.1, OKC 36.3
Rebound rate: Memphis 28.89, OKC 27.38
Turnover rate: Memphis 12.99, OKC 13.10

The first two categories jump right out. Oklahoma City is better from behind the arc (everyone scores more than Memphis behind the arc!). Memphis starts each game in a six-point hole if they don't counteract that. They did a great job of holding the Spurs below norms. Can they do that to OKC? The second category suggests it will be harder. Oklahoma City is FANTASTIC and earning trips to the free throw line. That continued in the Denver series where they had 22, 24, 33, 24, and 34 makes in their five games.

Memphis did get a little hack happy vs. the Spurs, putting San Antonio on the line 47 times in the series opener, and 32 times on three separate instances (Games 2-3-5). This could develop into a real problem for the Grizzlies.

Inside the Arc: Both are strong here as you saw in the last round. When you add in free throws (which are typically forced on shots inside the arc), the edge is likely to go to OKC

Behind the Arc: Probably Oklahoma City, though San Antonion projected to have a big edge here and couldn't make it happen.

Turnovers: Memphis is probably going to win this category. They may have to win it by a lot to counteract their disadvantages.

Oklahoma City has home court advantage, and they get a very nice perk in the Sunday opener because they're well rested against a team that just played very emotional games Wednesday and Friday nights. Horrible schedule spot for Memphis with an early tip. The Grizzlies have to break serve at least once to win the series...and the hurdle may be so steep Sunday that only three "real" chances to do so exist. Tough to see over a best-of-seven how Memphis will counteract BOTH the projected issues in three-pointers and free throws.


BOSTON VS. MIAMI
Defense inside 10 feet: Boston 54.5%, Miami 52.2%
Effective 3-point pct: Boston 51.0%, Miami 51.7%
Defensive rebound rate: Boston 74.68, Miami 75.52
Forced turnover rate: Boston 14.84, Miami 12.62

We have two very good defenses here. And, Boston kicks it up a further notch by forcing a lot of turnovers. Miami packs it in and grabs your misses. Boston allows a few more inside buckets percentage-wise, but makes up for that by taking the ball away much more often. Elite defenses by any measure.

Offensive Data
Made treys per game: Boston 5.0, Miami 6.7
Free throw rate: Boston 30.5, Miami 36.3
Rebound rate: Boston 21.12, Miami 25.17
Turnover rate: Boston 14.49, Miami 13.52

Miami sweeps the board in these indicators, and does so in pretty dominant fashion.

They were much better in the regular season on treys...though that ceased to be an advantage in the playoffs until their last game (4-3-4-5-12 vs. Philly in makes). Boston has shown in the past they know how to make treys in the postseason...so I'm not ready to pencil in a series win for Miami in this stat just yet. Both teams guard the arc very well.

Miami is extremely likely to win free throws. Boston has to go through histrionics to get fouls called (which works vs. lesser teams but may not work as well vs. another team that gets officiating respect). Miami attacks the basket like OKC and forces you to foul them. The Heat won free throws in all five games vs. Philly. Boston only went to the line 18-16-17 times in their first three games vs. New York.

Offensive rebounding is a stat that Boston basically concedes every game. A jumper goes up, and most everyone runs back down the floor to play defense. If you're the type to evaluate individual players statistically, and you consider offensive rebounding a big deal in those evaluations...remember that some teams are instructed by their coaches NOT to offensive rebound. It's easy to see at the team level, but can be overlooked if you're focusing on individuals.

Boston has always had turnover issues with this core group. They've managed to overcome it in the postseason anyway with their other positives. The numbers suggest we could have some VERY sloppy games in this category.

Inside the Arc: Tough call because both teams emphasize this area. I think Miami deserves the nod overall because they're likely to earn more trips to the free throw line. What happens inside the arc late in close games will probably determine the series. The Heat haven't exactly risen to that challenge this year.

Behind the Arc: The math says Miami, but it's far from a sure thing until the Heat start consistently hitting the long ball. That was missing most of the last series.

Turnovers: Miami isn't great at forcing turnovers, which may help alleviate Boston's sloppiness tendencies. I'm interested in studying this stat as it plays out. Not going to give one team a clear edge up front.

All in all, it's shaping up to be the war many expect. Maybe Boston's too old to play to expectations vs. the younger superstars of the Heat. Or, maybe those ships pass in a night a year from now. Your personal pick in the series probably traces back to your opinion on whether or not that's happened already.


ATLANTA VS. CHICAGO
Defense inside 10 feet: Atlanta 56.7%, Chicago 53.1%
Effective 3-point pct: Atlanta 50.7%, Chicago 49.0%
Defensive rebound rate: Atlanta 74.57, Chicago 76.22
Forced turnover rate: Atlanta 12.29, Chicago 13.61

Chicago's got the much better defensive side. They're even better than Atlanta at Atlanta's strength of guarding the perimeter. Back in the Orlando series, Atlanta had a great jump shooting performance in the opener, but then was just 40-42-47-36-39 in shooting percentage the rest of the way. That's against Dwight Howard and a bunch of weak defenders. Chicago plays "team" defense in a way that really matches up well with Atlanta, and arguably anybody. Well, if you can hit 8-10 treys per game you do some damage to Chicago.

Offensive Data
Made treys per game: Atlanta 6.1, Chicago 6.2
Free throw rate: Atlanta 26.9%, Chicago 30.5%
Rebound rate: Atlanta 23.45, Chicago 29.40
Turnover rate: Atlanta 13.46, Chicago 13.45

Atlanta's not going to do that...and doesn't have an offensive style that's suited to trying to make it happen. Atlanta's another team that doesn't try to do much on the offensive boards as a team. That means Chicago is just going to OWN the glass on that side of the floor. Can Atlanta shoot well enough to make rebounding irrelevant? Not likely.

Key edge in this hunk of stats is at the free throw line. Chicago's going to earn a lot of bonus points at the line as long as Derrick Rose is healthy enough to keep sprinting into the lion's den. Gilbert Arenas actually strolled through the Atlanta lion's den late in the series and did some damage. What's Rose going to do?!

Inside the Arc: Chicago is likely to win here handily because of it's superior defense and ability to get to teh free throw line.

Behind the Arc: Probably a wash. Probably not a category that's going to loom large in the series unless there are some outlier performances.

Turnovers: Edge to the Bulls, not that they needed the kicker.

On paper, and to the naked eye if you watched a lot of basketball this year...this series shapes up as a landslide win for Chicago. Now, they didn't play to expectations in the Indiana series until the fifth game. And, Atlanta played much better than expected vs. Orlando. There are no sure things in sports. Barring an injury to Rose though, it's very hard to see this one going deep. Atlanta had some personnel edges they could exploit vs. the Magic. That doesn't seem to be in play here. The injury to Kirk Hinrich came at the worst possible time too.


DALLAS VS. LA LAKERS
Defense inside 10 feet: Dallas 56.6%, Lakers 53.6%
Effective 3-point pct: Dallas 51.5%, Lakers 50.2%
Defensive rebound rate: Dallas 74.84, Lakers 72.31
Forced turnover rate: Dallas 12.99, Lakers 12.80

We learned in the first round that Dallas is better defensively inside once you factor for cheap points the other teams get off their high-for-a-playoff team offensve turnover rate. In a halfcourt game, the Mavericks are probably better inside than people had been thinking. That being said...one reason people thought they were going to be in trouble last round was because Andrew Bynum had big numbers against them in two late season meetings (22 points and 15 rebounds on March 12, then 18 points and 13 rebounds on March 31). They'll be facing Bynum and the Lakers bigs here obviously.

Both teams guard the perimeter well, which is a characteristic of the smartly run teams. Dallas is better than most realize on the boards, and won that stat in the Portland series.

Offensive Data
Made treys per game: Dallas 7.9, Lakers 6.4
Free throw rate: Dallas 28.6, Lakers 29.3
Rebound rate: Dallas 24.08, Lakers 29.19
Turnover rate: Dallas 13.60, Lakers 12.33

Put Dallas on the list of teams that doesn't emphasize offensive rebounding. They'll really need to make their shots in this series because the Lakers are going to own the boards on their end of the floor unless there's a strategic change.

Three-pointers jump out as an edge for Dallas that could matter. They maintained that pace with 7.7 makes on average vs. Portland (10-8-9-10-3-6 per game, showing that they reached at least 8 on four of six occasions). The Lakers do a good job of guarding the perimeter though. Can they scatter everyone out to distract the multiple long range options Dallas has?

Inside the Arc: You have to give the Lakers the edge here because of the size and length. It may not be a slam dunk (though things got nasty in that 110-82 win in the last regular season meeting). Portland won scoring on 1's and 2's by 17 points in the last round. The Lakers were +25 against New Orleans, which was +40 after they sleepwalked defensively through the first game. 

Behind the Arc: Dallas has the edge on paper. They'll have to make that an edge on wood to take this series deep or score an upset. Or, they'll have to get the Lakers so spread out worrying about three's that they can slide under for a lot of mid-range jumpers THAT THEY THEN HAVE TO MAKE!

Turnovers: Neither team devotes a lot of energy to forcing turnovers relatively speaking. Dallas has had problems committing them. And, some of their guys aren't exactly gazelles if they have to get back quickly. The Lakers quickness comes off the bench...which sets up the possibility for mini-runs from Los Angeles if Dallas loses focus at the wrong time.

The Lakers are series favorites because of their playoff track record and likely inside edges. And, the team that went 17-1 right after the All-Star Break, or the team that squashed New Orleans once it was time to take care of business, should be a series favorite over anyone until somebody knocks the battery off their shoulder.

Back Sunday Night with stat summaries of the first two games of the second round...

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Griz Join Mavs in West Final 4

by Jeff Fogle 30. April 2011 00:07

The Memphis Grizzlies continued their superior play Friday night and finished off a stunning upset of #1 Western seed San Antonio. Late Thursday Night, the Dallas Mavericks preceded them into the Western Final Four with an impressive victory in Portland. Let's crunch the numbers from the last two games of the opening round...

We'll take the games in the order they finished...

DALLAS 103, PORTLAND 96
2-Point Pct: Dallas 55%, Portland 52%
3-Pointers: Dallas 6/18, Portland 5/21
Rebounds: Dallas 39, Portland 41
Turnovers: Dallas 9, Portland 7
1's and 2's: Dallas 85, Portland 81

You'll recall from the beginning of the series that Dallas was concerned about committing turnovers...and letting Portland get too many cheap baskets off those turnovers. The Mavs only had 9 giveaways here, and only dropped fast break points 10-9 (second best performance in the series in that stat).

If Portland isn't getting cheapies...and they can't stop Dirk Nowitzki from scoring...the equation pretty clearly swings in the Dallas direction! Dirk would finish with a plus/minus of +12 in this game with a true leadership performance. He would end with the best plus/minus in the series for the Mavs at +41 (Terry was next at +40, with Kidd at +38 by my count). 

Outside of one horrible quarter last weekend, Dallas mainted a very steady control of this series. It's kind of amazing how consistent it was, particularly since many analysts saw Portland as having the better form coming into the matchup (Dallas had a string of late season losses to playoff caliber teams).

We mentioned the other day that Dallas basically had a "standardized" win that equated to 93-84 over the first 19 quarters in the series that weren't the 35-15 Brandon Roy debacle. The 93-82 win at home in Game Five was a microcosm (11 points rather than 9 in terms of victory margin). Move to Portland, and Dallas was doing the same things adjusted for home floor differential. The Mavs in fact led 91-85 with four minutes to go in a game that saw better combined shooting and fewer combined turnovers than prior games (highest scoring game of the series, best two-point shooting of the series, fewest turnovers of the series). The same relative margin distance that we'd seen the whole way ended with a 103-96 Dallas road victory.

Regular Season Margins: Dallas +4.2, Portland +1.5

That's +2.7 for the Mavericks on a neutral court if you accept the 82-game numbers at face value and don't adjust for late regular season form. That would mean 6 to 7-point wins in Dallas or the Mavs if you allot 3-4 points for home court, and toss-ups in Portland (the prediction markets, by the way, saw these teams as even, generally giving 4-5 points for home court).

Dallas was even better than the regular season differentials had suggested. The Mavs would win their home games by 8, 12, and 11 points, then finish with exact scoreboard equality in Portland. The final average margin in the series was +5.2.

In terms of holding a consistent advantage, Dallas did to Portland what everyone was expecting Chicago to do to Indiana, or Miami to Philadelphia.

MEDIANS (margins listed from worst to best)
Dallas: (-5), (-2), 7, 8, 11, 12 (median 7.5)
Miami: (-4), 6, 6, 8, 21 (median 6)
Chicago: (-5), 4, 5, 6, 27 (median 5)

Miami and Chicago did a lot of late-game grinding, but did score one big blowout apiece. Dallas had stability at a higher level outside of an extreme outlier quarter.

If you're wondering what the other series looked like in median form...

LA Lakers: (-9), (-5), 9, 9, 14, 16 (median 11.5)
Boston: 2, 3, 12, 17 (median 7.5 vs. injured opponent)
Oklahoma City: (-3), 3, 3, 4, 17 (median 3)
Atlanta: (-25), (-6), 3, 3, 4, 10 (median 3)
Memphis: (-6), 0, 3, 3, 8, 18 (median 3)

I used 0 for the overtime game to keep everyone at 48-minute samples.

Quick note that medians are generally better for telling you what a "typical" game is in a series than averages are. An outlier game can warp an average in a short sample size. Medians are less warpable. In this less warpable stat, Dallas reallly shines. Finishing off the first round...

MEMPHIS 99, SAN ANTONIO 91
2-Point Pct: San Antonio 51%, Memphis 58%
3-Pointers: San Antonio 5/22, Memphis 1/9
Rebounds: San Antonio 32, Memphis 43
Turnovers: San Antonio 11, Memphis 13
1's and 2's: San Antonio 76, Memphis 96

Memphis established in Game One that they were the better team right now in terms of "playoff style" basketball. San Antonio couldn't do anything to convince them otherwise! It was amazing to see game after game. The #8 seed showing sounder fundamentals...patiently working for baskets inside...and generally outplaying the conference's top seed.

Here are the game-by-game scores looking only at 1's and 2's...

SCORING ON 1'S AND 2'S
Game One: Memphis 83, San Antonio 80
Game Two: Memphis 78, San Antonio 72
Game Three: Memphis 79, San Antonio 82 (only Spurs edge)
Game Four: Memphis 89, San Antonio 71
Game Five: Memphis 94, San Antonio 89
Game Six: Memphis 96, San Antonio 76

Even with Tim Duncan at the post, slasher Manu Ginobili able to play five of the six games, and healthy Tony Parker still able to penetrate...the Spurs couldn't match up with what Memphis brought to the table inside the arc. As the series wore on, San Antonio wore down inside. Memphis was a stunning +43 points over the last three games inside the arc.

That meant the Spurs would have to make a lot of treys to advance. That wasn't supposed to be a problem because they averaged 8.4 per game during the regular season. They wouldn't reach that season average a single time. 

MADE THREE POINTERS
Game One: San Antonio 6, Memphis 6
Game Two: San Antonio 7, Memphis 3
Game Three: San Antonio 2, Memphis 4
Game Four: San Antonio 5, Memphis 5
Game Five: San Antonio 7, Memphis 3
Game Six: San Antonio 5, Memphis 1

The two times San Antonio made seven treys, they won the game. Not enough otherwise.

SAN ANTONIO'S TREY PERCENTAGES
In wins: 12 of 39 (30.7%, 46.2% equivalent)
In losses: 18 of 70 (25.7%, 38.6% equivalent)

Amazing that Memphis can have such a strong inside presence while also guarding the arc so well. And, as we mentioned before the series started, Memphis was best in the league at forcing turnovers.

Let's check the regular season margin averages for a sense of the scope of this upset. San Antonio was +5.7, Memphis was +2.3. That's +3.4 points on a neutral court. Through six evenly distributed games in terms of home floor, Memphis ended with an average playof margin of +4.3 at the end of regulation. They more than reversed the regular season differential.

Back late Saturday with a stat preview of the Boston-Miami series that starts Sunday. Will also do stat previews for the other matchups before they get started...Atlanta/Chicago, Dallas/Lakers, and Memphis/Oklahoma City.

You know, to keep his karma going, Mark Cuban should really post a comment in the Dallas-Lakers preview...

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Lakers, Hawks Move On

by Jeff Fogle 29. April 2011 00:05

The Los Angeles Lakers look to have regained the form that won them the last two championships. Atlanta had to sweat another ending, but earned themselves a second round matchup with the Chicago Bulls. Both teams finished off their respective series Thursday night in six games. Let's look at the key numbers from tonight and the 4-2 first round victories.

As we've been doing all week, we'll take the games in the order they finished...

ATLANTA 84, ORLANDO 81
2-Point Pct: Orlando 50%, Atlanta 41%
3-Point Shooting: Orlando 5/19, Atlanta 8/22
Rebounds: Orlando 31, Atlanta 38
Turnovers: Orlando 13, Atlanta 13
1's and 2's: Orlando 66, Atlanta 60

Orlando had a big edge in terms of shooting accuracy inside. But, Atlanta made up for that with three additional treys, and their best offensive rebounding performance of the series (14 grabs and an offensive rebound rate of 36.8). You can make up for a lesser percentage if you're getting second chance points.

That was the story of Game Six. The story of the series is that Atlanta completely took away Orlando's three-point potency except in the game they blew off to save their energy for tonight. The Magic averaged 9.4 treys per game this season. Here's what happened in the series...

MAGIC TREYS PER GAME
Game One: 6
Game Two: 5
Game Three: 8
Game Four: 2
Game Five: 11
Game Six: 5

Can you guess which game Atlanta slacked off on perimeter defense?

ORLANDO'S TREY PERCENTAGES
Game Five: 42.3% (63.4% effective rate)
All Others: 22.6% (33.9% effective rate)

It's funny how this series mirrored the Atlanta season in terms of victory margins. Because Game Five was a 25-point loss, Atlanta was actually outscored in the series by 1.8 points per game. They also suffered some massive margin losses during the regular season in games they no-showed.

Full Season: 44-38 (-0.8 average margin)
This Series: 4-2 (-1.8 average margin)

This kind of team can wreak havoc on metrics. The full season math suggested Orlando should have won this series comfortably. They were at +5.5 for the season, compared to that -0.8 for Atlanta. That works out to +6.3 on a neutral court...or around +9 to +10 at home and +2 to +3 on the road when you factor in home court advantage (and, those were the general ranges for this series in the prediction markets). A favorable set of personnel matchups and what may have been polluted perceptions sent the series careening away from expectations.

It's interesting how much of the playoffs has been more competitive than full season data would have anticipated, even when series math ended up getting close to the averages!

Here's what I mean:

*Chicago was at +7.3 for the season in margin average, compared to -1.1 for Indiana. That would suggest +8.4 on a neutral court...with ranges from Bulls by 12-ish at home and 4-ish on the road (in line with prediction markets again). We know the series felt MUCH closer than that. Indiana lost three tight ones before breaking through with a victory. But, Chicago's blowout win at home in Game Five brought the average back in the range of expectations. Chicago's margin average in the first round was +7.4.

*Miami was at +7.5 for the season in margin average, compared to +1.5 for Philadelphia. That would suggest +6.0 on a neutral court...with ranges from Heat by 10-ish at home and 2-ish on the road (prediction markets were in that neighborhood in Miami, but had the Heat in the 4-5 range in Philly). Again, the series felt much closer than a +6.0 differential would suggest. In fact, the Heat were nip and tuck in the final minutes in four of the five games. Their blowout win in Game Two led to a +7.4 edge for the full series.

*The Lakers were at +6.1 for the season in margin average, compared to +0.9 for New Orleans. That would suggest +5.2 on a neutral court...with ranges from Lakers by 9-ish at home and 1 to 2-ish on the roa (prediction markets were bullish on the Lakers because of past playoff success and the late season injury to David West of the Hornets) The Lakers were stunned twice in a series that had many questioning their championship chops with an aging lineup. Yet, the final margin average was +7.2 per game...which is in line with a +6.1 starting point with an adjustment for the absence of West.

In easier to read form:
Chicago +8.4 regular season edge, +7.4 in playoffs
Miami +6.0 regular season edge, +7.4 in playoffs
Lakers +5.2 regular season edge, +6.1 in playoffs

Even though Indiana gave Chicago all they could handle in the first four games...Philly did the same to Miami four times in five...and New Orleans shocked Kobe and Company twice...those series still ended up within a stone's throw of the math. (I didn't do any tweaking for the extra home game Chicago and Miami played...that would knock them to just below 7.0 if you really want to pin things down)

Atlanta/Orlando wasn't like that!

Orlando +6.3 regular season edge, +1.8 in playoffs (despite losing)

Orlando needed a blowout to get to a positive differential. And, even that left them way behind what the regular season had hinted at. That gives you a sense of how important Atlanta's perimeter defense was in this series, and how well their bigs influenced the impact of Dwight Howard.
 
LA LAKERS 98, NEW ORLEANS 80
2-Point Pct: Lakers 48%, New Orleans 48%
3-Point Shooting: Lakers 5/14, New Orleans 3/14
Rebounds: Lakers 43, New Orleans 30
Turnovers: Lakers 12, New Orleans 14
1's and 2's: Lakers 83, New Orleans 71

Once the Lakers got serious, they were very impressive in the areas where they needed to impress. You know by watching they were most serious in Game Two after the first loss, then in Games 5-6 after the second wake-up call. Here's how that seriousness manifested itself in two key areas.

SCORING ON 1'S AND 2'S (Rebounding Totals in parenthesis)
Game Two: Lakers 75, New Orleans 65 (Lakers 44-36)
Game Five: Lakers 85, New Orleans 60 (Lakers 42-25)
Game Six: Lakers 83, New Oleans 71 (Lakers 43-30)

Game Two was a nine-point win that was still kind of pedestrian. The blowouts that finished off the series were very much vintage Lakers. This isn't a team where you ever say "if they don't hit some treys they're going to be in trouble." The most dangerous weapons are inside the arc.

I should also note the evidence for impassioned defense in the turnover category...

LAKERS' FORCED TURNOVERS
In Losses: 3 and 10
In Wins: 16, 14, 17, 14

I don't want to go overboard about the Lakers strong showings the last two games. New Orleans was due to wear down, and the Hornets were shorthanded inside. Boston also ended its first round series with two impressive wins...against a shorthanded team that had a scarecrow in the paint because of Amare Stoudemire's back injury. Those are the only examples so far of consecutive double digit wins in the postseason. And they've come from veteran teams who know how to close. (As I write this, Dallas has a chance to join the short list of teams earning b2b double digit wins with one quarter to go in the late start in Portland.) We're at least seeing championship form from the Lakers now. The high level of play they enjoyed during their 17-1 surge after the All-Star Break has returned. Dallas/Portland started too late for commentary tonight. Will provide a comprehensive stat look at that game and the whole series in a Texas-themed Friday night report that will run about an hour after Memphis/San Antonio finishes (that's the only Friday game).

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Playoffs Trade History

by Matt Scribbins 28. April 2011 02:00

You can follow Matt Scribbins on twitter @mattscribbins

People often say “it’s not the destination, it’s the journey”. Well, the destination is the 2011 NBA Playoffs. Let’s take a look at the journey for some important players who have played in this post-season.

All transaction history is courtesy of Basketball Reference. A name in parenthesis specifies the player ultimately drafted with the pick.

Rajon Rondo

If you think Rajon Rondo moves fast on the floor, wait until you hear how fast his draft pick flew around the league.

The chain of events started in August of 2004 when the Lakers sent a 2006 1st round pick (Rondo), Rick Fox, and Gary Payton to the Boston Celtics. In exchange, Boston shipped Chucky Atkins, Jumaine Jones, and Chris Mihm across the country to Los Angeles.

Six months later, the Celtics traded the 2006 1st round pick (Rondo), Payton, Tom Gugliotta, and Michael Stewart to the Hawks for Antoine Walker.

Atlanta held onto Rondo’s pick for six months before sending it with a 2008 1st round pick (Robin Lopez), and Boris Diaw to Phoenix for Joe Johnson. The Suns held onto the pick ten months before they drafted Rondo in the 1st round of the 2006 draft.

On draft night, Phoenix predictably sent Rondo and Brian Grant to Boston for a 2007 1st round pick. The Suns selected Rudy Fernandez in 2007 with the pick from Boston and traded him and James Jones to Portland for cash.

Kobe Bryant, Ray Allen, and Dirk Nowitzki.

What do these players have in common? For one, they will undoubtedly make the Hall of Fame. Also, they were dealt soon after they were drafted.

The Charlotte Hornets selected Kobe Bryant with the 13th pick of the 1996 NBA Draft, and two weeks later they traded the precocious teenager to the Lakers straight up for Vlade Divac.

The Lakers played in Charlotte for the fourth game of Bryant’s NBA career, and Bryant scored five points while Divac was shutout. Divac toiled in Charlotte for two seasons before he signed as a free agent with the Sacramento Kings. Obviously, Bryant is working on another three-peat in his 15th year as a Laker.

Also in 1996, the Timberwolves drafted Ray Allen with the 5th pick overall. They quickly traded him and a 1998 first round pick (Rasho Nesterovic) to the Bucks for the 4th overall pick in 1996, Stephon Marbury. Marbury played two and half seasons for Minnesota, and Allen was named an All-Star three times during his Milwaukee stint.

In 1998, Milwaukee was involved in another momentous transaction. The Bucks drafted Dirk Nowitzki with the 9th overall pick, one spot before Boston selected Paul Pierce, and then sent Dirk and Pat Garrity to Dallas for Robert “Tractor” Traylor.  Can you imagine Nowitzki and Allen on the same team?

Traylor averaged 4.47 points per game in two seasons with the Bucks. Nowtizki has averaged 23 points per game in 13 seasons as a Dallas denizen.

Pau Gasol

Everyone knows about the 2008 deal that sent Pau Gasol to Los Angeles. Do you remember the deal that sent him to Vancouver?

In 2001, Atlanta drafted Gasol with the 3rd overall pick (the #1 pick in 2001, Kwame Brown, was later traded for Gasol in 2008). The Hawks then made a move with Vancouver to acquire Shareef Abdur-Rahim and Jamaal Tinsley. All Atlanta had to send north of the border was Brevin Knight, Lorenzen Wright, and one of the best big men in the world, Pau Gasol.

Josh Smith

While Josh Smith was in high school, his draft pick was a hot commodity in the NBA. In 2001, the Bucks sent a 2004 1st round draft pick (Smith) and Scott Williams to the Nuggets for Aleksandar Radojevic and Kevin Willis. Willis was later traded the same day to Houston, and Radojevic scored 26 points in his 15 game NBA career.

A year later, the Nuggets shipped Smith’s pick and two other players to Detroit for Rodney White. Finally, the 2004 1st round pick (Smith) moved in a three way trade in 2004. The Pistons sent the pick to Atlanta, and Rasheed Wallace headed to Detroit after he played one game for the Hawks. The Pistons also traded a 2004 1st round pick (Tony Allen) to Boston in the deal. 

Jason Collins and Amare Stoudemire

1999 is legendary for parties and trades involving Jason Collins.

In August of 1999, the Suns traded a 2001 1st round pick (Collins), Pat Garrity, Danny Manning and 2002 1st round pick to the Orlando Magic for Anfernee Hardaway. The Magic later sent the 2002 1st round pick back to the Suns, and Phoenix used it to draft Amare Stoudemire. That’s the circle of life.

Later in August of 1999, the Magic traded the 2001 1st round pick (Collins) and a 2002 2nd round pick (Matt Barnes).  Orlando received Lee Mayberry, Rodrick Rhodes, Michael Smith and something called Makhtar N’diaye.
In 2000, Collins’ pick was involved in a four team trade that sent NBA legend Patrick Ewing to the Seattle SuperSonics.

Finally, in 2001, Collins was drafted by Houston, and then traded with Richard Jefferson to New Jersey on draft night. Ten years later, Collins is asked to stop the man Patrick Ewing coaches, Dwight Howard.

Joakim Noah and LaMarcus Aldridge

The Knicks have superstars now, but a 2005 trade sent away picks eventually used on terrific big men.

On October 4th, the Knicks received Eddy Curry, Antonio Davis and a 2007 1st round pick (Wilson Chandler) from the Bulls. It only cost them Jermaine Jackson, Mike Sweetney, Tim Thomas, a 2007 2nd round pick (Kyrylo Fesenko), a 2009 2nd round pick (Jon Brockman), and 1st round picks in 2006 and 2007. Who did Chicago draft with the 1st round picks? LaMarcus Aldridge and Joakim Noah.

Aldridge’s time in Chicago was brief. A draft night deal sent him and a 2007 2nd round pick to Portland in exchange for Tyrus Thomas and Viktor Khryapa.

Mike Miller

Mike Miller’s draft pick was swapped seven years before he played in the NBA.

On June 30th, 1993, the Warriors traded Anfernee Hardaway, a 1996 1st round pick (Todd Fuller), a 1998 1st round pick (Vince Carter), and a 2000 1st round pick (Miller) to Orlando. The Magic dealt Chris Webber, the man they chose 1st overall the same day, back to Golden State.

Miller was later traded with a 2003 1st round pick (Kendrick Perkins) and additional picks to the Grizzlies for Drew Gooden and Gordan Giricek.     

Glen Davis

On June 28th 2007, Delonte West, Jeff Green, Wally Szczerbiak, and a 2008 2nd round draft pick were shipped to the Seattle SuperSonics. The SuperSonics sent Ray Allen and Glen Davis to Boston, and the move helped the Celtics win a championship in 2008.

Does anything about the trade seem odd? Green, West, Allen, and Davis are all members of the 2011 edition of the Boston Celtics.

Shawn Marion

In 1998, Dallas traded a 1999 1st round pick (Marion), Bubba Wells, Martin Muursepp and Pat Garrity to the Suns for Steve Nash. (Pat Garrity was also involved in the Collins/Stoudemire/Hardaway deal, the trade that sent Shawn Kemp to Cleveland, and he was the player Milwaukee sent with Dirk to Dallas).

In 2008, Phoenix traded Marion and Marcus Banks to the Heat for Shaquille O’Neal. One year later, Marion was traded for another current Celtic center (Jermaine O’Neal). In 2009, Marion was part of the deal that sent Hedo Turkoglu to Toronto.

Larry Drew

The Hawks current coach, Larry Drew, was an assistant for the man he replaced, Mike Woodson. Before the duo coached together, they were both traded in August of 1986. The Sacramento Kings sent Drew, Woodson, a 1988 1st round pick (Hersey Hawkins), and a 1989 2nd round pick to the Clippers. The Kings received Junior Bridgeman, Franklin Edwards, and Derek Smith.

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