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Inside the numbers: more interesting tidbits from multi-camera tracking stats

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Andre Miller, Ty Lawson were among top PGs in potential assists by shot metric. (Garrett Ellwood/NBAE/Getty Images)

On Thursday, I wrote about what the Knicks might learn from a fancy multi-camera tracking system installed last season at Madison Square Garden and nine other NBA arenas. The system, called SportVU and run by STATS, LLC, tracks every movement during an NBA game. It can generate an almost infinite amount of data, on everything from how fast a player runs to that player’s shooting percentage from 19 feet away on the left wing after three dribbles to his shooting percentage with a defender less than two feet away.

The subscribing teams — New York, Toronto, Washington, Golden State, Houston, San Antonio, Boston, Milwaukee, Oklahoma City and Minnesota — can look through the raw data themselves and/or have STATS generate specific reports. The folks at STATS gave SI.com an exclusive first look at three such reports last week, and two of them supplied much of the data for that Knicks post. A few readers requested more statistical nuggets, so I thought I’d dump a bunch of interesting findings in bullet point style below. Enjoy:

• Something really interesting happened in Denver last season. One report tracked every time a player drove the ball from an area 20 feet or more from the basket into an area 10 feet or fewer from the hoop — an event generally considered a healthy thing for an offense. The data excluded fast-break drives, which is important to note, since Denver ended up leading the league in qualifying drives by a wide margin. The Nuggets averaged 24.5 drives per game, miles above the league average of 14.6 and pretty significantly above the No. 2 mark (Cleveland, 18.5). Ty Lawson averaged 9.1 drives per game on his own, the highest mark in the league, and more than the Lakers averaged as a team (7.2, a league-low).

It is here we must note the sample size issues involved. Denver is not one of the 10 teams that subscribe to the system, so STATS only had data for road games in which Denver faced a subscribing team — 10 in total.

Still: It’s interesting, especially since the data excludes transition chances; Denver played at the league’s fastest pace last season, and when I first saw the data, I assumed those fast breaks fueled Denver’s huge lead here. Some delayed transition stuff probably trickles into these numbers, but they are still worth noting, especially in conjunction with a second set of numbers from a different report.

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  • Published On 10:03am, Aug 31, 2012
  • Offseason evaluations: Assessing the Raptors, Bucks, Cavs, Bobcats, Pistons

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    Toronto regrouped to acquire Kyle Lowry (left) after striking out on Steve Nash. (Ned Dishman/NBAE via Getty Images)

    I’ve named the offseason’s winners, teams that left me a bit confused or concerned and the seven most intriguing clubs. Now I’m on to the rest: teams that mostly stood pat or left me without a hot or cold reaction to their July moves. Today: five teams in the Eastern Conference.

    Toronto Raptors

    If there’s a team from this group that belongs on the “intriguing” list, it’s probably Toronto, which landed its franchise point guard in a fascinating trade with the Rockets after improving from cover-your-eyes awful to league average on defense in coach Dwane Casey’s first year. Kyle Lowry will serve as the team’s major free-agent prize because the Raptors reserved their rather significant cap space for a two-pronged pursuit of Steve Nash, a strategy that included both a sizable offer to the two-time MVP and a crazy offer sheet to Landry Fields designed to block the Knicks from a sign-and-trade deal for Nash.

    Fields will make just shy of $6.5 million annually over the next three seasons, a drastic overpay for a wing who shot 25.6 percent from three-point range last season and struggles to defend quick shooting guards. Fields will likely begin the season as the starting small forward for a team that had one of the NBA’s worst wing rotations in 2011-12, when the likes of Rasual Butler and a slightly out-of-position James Johnson mostly started there. The 24-year-old Fields will represent an upgrade if he can shoot a league-average mark from deep, and his cutting game generally functioned much better before the Knicks dealt for Carmelo Anthony, the sort of dominant, ball-stopping scorer not present in Toronto. And it’s not as if Toronto missed an obvious gem in free agency; the small-forward market was top-heavy, with the prime options being either restricted (Nicolas Batum) or aging/potentially overpriced (Gerald Wallace, Andrei Kirilenko), and the Raptors used the draft to find a potential replacement (Terrence Ross) for DeMar DeRozan at shooting guard.

    The Fields deal will hurt the Raptors’ flexibility, but not fatally. Toronto is set to have about $11.5 million in cap space next summer before factoring in DeRozan’s $8.4 million cap hold. DeRozan’s future is one of the interesting questions that Toronto faces. Ditto for the frontcourt, where the anticipated debut of Lithuanian center Jonas Valanciunas will make for a crowd of players who all want minutes. Andrea Bargnani is obviously a heavy-minutes starter, and he played the best ball of his career early last season before suffering a series of nagging leg injuries. The Raptors, who had the second-worst offense last season, actually scored at a league-average rate when Bargnani was around to spread the floor.

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  • Published On 2:24pm, Aug 09, 2012
  • Youngsters shining at summer league

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    Royce White

    Rockets rookie forward Royce White has been turning heads with his elite passing ability. (Garrett W. Ellwood/NBAE/Getty Images)

    I’ve been in Las Vegas since Monday, watching the youngsters play and chatting up scouts, executives, agents and all the other NBA diehard types. Here are some quick thoughts, informed by those conversations, on the players I’ve seen over the last 72 hours.

    • Royce White, Houston Rockets

    Some summer league teams are random collections of draft picks, fringe players and veterans given a charity invite. Then there are teams like the Rockets, loaded with first-round picks and other guys who should play pivotal roles on next season’s roster. When Houston played Portland on Tuesday night, there were stretches in which all 10 players on the floor had guaranteed roster spots for 2012-13.

    White has created as much buzz as anyone, a credit to his intoxicating passing game from the power forward slot. And it’s addictive. White tossed multiple no-look, underhanded scoop passes at least 20 feet on Houston fast breaks, most of which led to scores or decent looks. White’s passes are productive, and he will enter the league as an elite passing power forward. He can pass from the high or low post, as well as on the move in pick-and-rolls. He sees both simple and complicated passes all over the floor.

    It will be interesting to watch how quickly White can add real substance to the rest of his game. Teams are already playing off him, daring him to shoot jumpers that he is reluctant to take. He also has a Boris Diaw-like tendency to over-pass around the rim and is a low-to-the-ground player that has trouble finishing around the basket at times.

    And he obviously has a lot to prove on defense. He’s stout in the post and generally understands what’s going on, but he’s a bit upright in moving to cut off ball-handlers on the pick-and-roll. White also has had foul issues, racking up a whopping nine in Houston’s last game.

    • Jeremy Lamb, Houston Rockets

    Lamb has been explosive and efficient, though a 6-of-17 outing in Houston’s finale against Chicago on Wednesday dropped him to 35-of-75 (47 percent) from the floor and an underwhelming 8-of-27 from three-point range. But he has managed to earn a decent number of free throws and seems to be looking to score every time he touches the ball — especially in transition. Lamb has also helped himself by hitting the defensive boards fairly well. Executives in attendance are generally very positive about him.

    Lamb already looks comfortable curling around picks for catch-and-shoot and catch-and-drive opportunities, though he’ll need to improve his passing on those plays. He goes through stretches in which he gets a bit carried away, hoisting up contested shots out of pick-and-rolls and forcing runners, attempts he generally won’t be able to take in the NBA. Physical defenders who deny the ball will give him issues when the real games start, and Lamb will have to work to find an efficient role within Houston’s half-court offense. Still, the tools are there.

    Defense will be a struggle, as it is for most young players. Bigger two-guards with post-up skills will be a problem, and Lamb has had issues negotiating off ball screens.

    Read More…


  • Published On 11:14am, Jul 19, 2012
  • Rockets retain salary flexibility, build intrigue in pre-draft trade with Bucks

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    Samuel Dalembert averaged seven rebounds and 1.7 blocks a game for Houston, numbers that should help the Bucks improve next season. (Steve Babineau/NBAE via Getty Images)

    The fun continues in Houston, where the Rockets have traded Samuel Dalembert and the No. 14 pick in Thursday’s draft to the Bucks for three role players and the No. 12 pick. Which is another way of saying that Houston gave up the only actual center on its roster to move up two spots in the draft.

    The Rockets now own the No. 12, No. 16 and No. 18 picks (the last acquired on Tuesday for Chase Budinger), and whether the target is Dwight Howard, Pau Gasol, Josh Smith or Unidentified Player X, it’s clear the Rockets are up to something.

    The Budinger deal was fine even in a vacuum, separate from any potential future larger deal. The Rockets turned a player made somewhat superfluous by the emergence of Chandler Parsons into a mid-first-round pick — the kind of win on the fringes that general manager Daryl Morey has been good at engineering over the last few years. The deal presented little chance for major harm and a slightly larger chance at a bigger-than-expected benefit, especially since the player Houston drafts will earn substantially less than Budinger after this season.

    Wednesday’s deal creates a potentially damaging hole in Houston’s roster — and fills one in the same spot for Milwaukee, which boosted its chances of making the playoffs without damaging its present or future cap flexibility. Dalembert isn’t a star and won’t ever log 38 minutes per game, but over 25 or 30 minutes every night, he can protect the rim, clean the glass and use his long arms to make things more difficult for opposing offenses. The Bucks had precisely zero players who could do that after the Andrew Bogut/Monta Ellis trade at last season’s deadline, and their defense collapsed as a result. Ekpe Udoh has the wing span and defensive ability to play center on some nights, but he can’t play 48 minutes, and he doesn’t quite present the same type of shot-blocking threat as Dalembert.

    Dalembert is not a night-to-night stopper or an All-Defensive player, but he is an upgrade in Milwaukee and ensures the Bucks can have a decent big man on the floor for entire games if they wish.

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  • Published On 5:08pm, Jun 27, 2012
  • Warriors pay price to get Andrew Bogut

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    There has been a growing impatience among the Golden State fan base, grumbling that the Warriors’ new ownership lacks a grander vision, the guts to break up a failing team and the ability to put together a roster that might back up the boasts of coach Mark Jackson. That kind of skepticism comes with grand entrances and big promises, and it grows when you do things like use the amnesty provision on Charlie Bell’s $4 million expiring deal instead of Andris Biedrins’ $9 million annual sunk cost.

    But look carefully, and you can see something: Golden State was in on Tyson Chandler until the last moment. They amnestied Bell to chase DeAndre Jordan. When that failed, they used their cap space on Kwame Brown, a solid, if overrated, post defender. The message was clear: We know we need a stud, defense-first center to cover for Stephen Curry and David Lee, and we’re skeptical that Ekpe Udoh, a defense-first lottery pick with an outstanding plus/minus two years running, is going to develop into a 36-minutes-per-game, two-way player fast enough to achieve our goals.

    And so on Tuesday, the Warriors acted boldly in trading Udoh, Brown’s expiring deal and Monta Ellis, a beloved player in Golden State, to Milwaukee for Andrew Bogut and the toxic contract of Stephen Jackson. The move creates major 2012-13 cap savings for the Bucks, who save nearly $10 million in 2012-13 salary and could get down to about $45 million on the books for next season, even without using the amnesty provision. It has the potential to help Milwaukee in the Eastern Conference playoff race (thus hurting the Knicks) and torpedo Golden State’s slim playoff chances, making it more likely that the Warriors keep the top-seven protected first-round pick they would otherwise owe Utah. The Warriors weren’t doing any damage in the playoffs this season, and any move that increases their chances of keeping that pick in a loaded draft is a smart one. Read More…


  • Published On 10:55am, Mar 14, 2012
  • Andrew Bogut: Injury-prone or unlucky?

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    Andrew Bogut is expected to miss 8-12 weeks after fracturing his ankle in a game against the Rockets. (Jesse D. Garrabrant/NBAE via Getty Images)

    The science of injuries, and specifically of predicting injuries, is among the least-advanced types of analysis in professional sports. People who study this sort of thing are pretty certain at this point that very tall people — 7-footers — are more likely to suffer foot, ankle and knee injuries. And it seems logical to exercise caution when a player enters the NBA with pre-existing health issues — knee surgeries, concussions, whatever.

    But the holy grail is for teams to be able to place two equivalent, healthy players side-by-side, conduct a series of tests and determine whether one is more “injury-prone” than the other. And at this point, what we don’t know about the notion of being injury-prone trumps what we do know by such a large degree, that even throwing around the phrase injury-prone seems dicey.

    “There is no data, anywhere, NBA or otherwise, to predict who gets injured,” says F.D. Kharrazi, a surgeon at the Los Angeles-based Kerlan-Jobe Orthopaedic Clinic who also consults for the Lakers. Trainers and executives around the league wish such data existed in even a semi-reliable form; if some tech company comes up with an acceptable way to test for injury predictability in sports, it will make a huge amount of money. A team in the English Premier League has experimented with genetic tests, but a major subset of NBA players and their advocates would resist such testing, since it raises privacy concerns and brings the possibility of a player testing out as injury-prone on shaky scientific grounds and losing millions of dollars.

    “It’s very unscientific at this stage,” says Will Carroll, an expert on sports injuries and a contributor to SI.com. “You have doctors and trainers and coaches looking at it, but it’s still a whole lot of guessing.”

    Carroll, by the way, believes in the concept that an individual’s genetic makeup can make him or her injury-prone. The connection between tall people and leg/foot injuries is real, he said. And some people likely have weaker ligaments, just as some people are at greater risk for heart attack. Read More…


  • Published On 2:33pm, Jan 27, 2012
  • The importance of Andrew Bogut

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    The fact that Andrew Bogut is eager to start competing again is good sign for his health. (Jeff Hanisch/US PRESSWIRE)

    Whether it’s out of comfort or patriotism, it’s cool that Andrew Bogut has decided he’s going to play ball in his native Australia in the event of an extended NBA lockout. Bogut would face better competition playing in Spain’s ACB and perhaps earn better money, but he seems to care more about being at home and raising the national profile of Australia’s domestic National Basketball League. The NBL got a boost this week when Patty Mills, an Aussie and a restricted free agent tied to the Portland Trail Blazers, signed a deal with the NBL’s Melbourne Tigers that includes an out clause, allowing him to return to the NBA when the lockout ends.

    Bogut is on a different level, and the executives chasing him on behalf of the Perth Wildcats know it, according to this piece in the West Australian:

    “We’re not talking about Patty Mills, we’re talking about a superstar of the NBA living in Perth and playing in Perth.”

    That’s some cold truth. But that Perth exec, Nick Marvin, reminded readers how difficult these signings will be when you start talking about NBA stars with massive contracts — contracts that must be insured for those stars to feel comfortable risking injuries overseas:

    The Wildcats would need to come up with $500,000 for every three months that the Milwaukee Bucks centre was based in Perth.

    “For Andrew Bogut to play for us, and if that is the only hurdle we have to cross, I would hope that government and corporate Western Australia would support us and make it work,” Marvin said.

    “I don’t have $500,000 sitting in my back pocket, but would it be important to the people of Western Australia? Absolutely.”

    Read More…


  • Published On 12:23pm, Sep 02, 2011
  • A little work could turn Jennings into All-Star

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    Brandon Jennings' affinity for difficult floaters and mid-range jumpers added to the Bucks' offensive woes last season. (Mike McGinnis/Cal Sport Media)

    The Bucks now have four guards capable of playing the point, which was the main reason I put Brandon Jennings atop a list of players who were “on notice” after the draft and its accompanying trades. Jennings has the most upside of the bunch, but with Beno Udrih, Shaun Livingston and Keyon Dooling all aboard, Scott Skiles could shorten Jennings’ leash a bit on those nights when all those step-back jumpers aren’t falling.

    The Bucks’ offense has been abysmal since Jennings took over the point, and he probably hasn’t gotten as much blame for that (outside of Milwaukee, at least) as he deserves. There are caveats, of course: Jennings is only 21, and Milwaukee has surrounded him with marginal offensive players and a coach who isn’t exactly known for his creative offensive system. But nonetheless, it’s hard to not hurt your team when you take a lot of shots and hit less than 40 percent of them, as Jennings has done in each of his first two seasons.

    The problems with Jennings and the Bucks’ offense go deeper than their point guard’s love of step-back, mid-range jumpers and difficult floaters. This is a team that simply does not produce good shots, and Jennings is part of that. He averaged just 4.8 assists per game last season, the fewest of all starting point guards, save for the non-distributors in Atlanta and Miami. Only 1.5 of those were at the rim (the best kind of assists) to rank 45th in the league, below all non-Hawks/Heat starting point guards except for Indiana’s Darren Collison, per Hoopdata.

    This inability to penetrate and create good shots shows up in another way: Nearly 16 percent of Milwaukee’s offensive possessions ended with a pick-and-roll ball-handler either shooting, drawing a foul or turning over the ball. Only Orlando saw a greater percentage of its possessions end this way, according to the stat-tracking service Synergy Sports. The roll men on those Milwaukee pick-and-rolls finished only 5.4 percent of Milwaukee’s possessions; only the Magic, Thunder and Lakers had a larger gap in terms of the ratio between pick-and-rolls finished by the ball-handler versus the roll man, and one of those teams ran the triangle offense.

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  • Published On 1:52pm, Jul 19, 2011
  • Kings are biggest losers in three-team trade

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    John Salmons is on the move again, this time to Sacramento. (Jeff Hanisch-US PRESSWIRE)

    Draft day has been heavy on rumors and light on action so far, but now we have a three-team deal involving the Bucks, Kings and Bobcats. The particulars:

    • The Kings traded the No. 7 pick to Charlotte and sent Beno Udrih to Milwaukee. Sacramento received the No. 10 pick from the Bucks and (gulp) John Salmons.

    • The Bobcats snagged that No. 7 pick to go with the ninth pick they already own. To do so, they acquired Corey Maggette from the Bucks and sent Stephen Jackson and Shaun Livingston to Milwaukee.

    • If you got all that, you know Milwaukee dealt Maggette (to Charlotte), Salmons and the No. 10 pick (both to the Kings) for Jackson, Udrih, Livingston and the No. 19 pick.

    Whew.

    Let’s start here: If the Kings don’t have a second trade lined up for later Thursday, they have done something very puzzling here. They have voluntarily moved down three spots for the privilege of taking on Salmons, who is owed $24.16 million guaranteed over the next three seasons — and another $1 million for the season after that, just for kicks. Udrih is the only current player the Kings sent away in this deal; he is on the books for $14.3 million over the next two seasons.

    In other words, the Kings took on an extra $11 million in payroll, dropped three spots in the draft and acquired a 31-year-old swingman who was one of the very worst heavy-minutes offensive players last season. In Salmons’ defense, he was banged up from the start, and he’s a much better scorer than he showed last season. He also fills a need in Sacramento because he can swing between shooting guard and small forward.

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  • Published On 5:51pm, Jun 23, 2011
  • The Opening Tip: Wednesday, March 23

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    • Paul Coro, Arizona Republic: [Robin] Lopez averaged 7.2 points and 4.9 rebounds in 19.3 minutes per game last season and is playing and producing less this season, getting 7.2 points and 3.5 rebounds entering Tuesday night. His shooting percentage dipped from 59 percent to 51 percent, but that is because he has taken more mid-range shots, an area of improvement in his game.  “That’s probably been the biggest mystery for our team,” coach Alvin Gentry said when asked why Lopez’s progression has stopped. “In actuality, we really thought that he would probably be the second-most-important guy on our team, especially if he took a big leap. I’m not real sure if it’s the injury or what, but he hasn’t been able to give us the consistent play that we thought we’d be able to get from him.  We could use it. It’s something that has hurt us a bit. We haven’t really had much inside play. [Marcin] Gortat gives us some. Other than that, we’ve been pretty much resigned to the fact that we’re a perimeter team. That hurts you when you’re going to rely on jump shots night in and night out, even as good of a shooting team as we are.”  Lopez, who turns 23 on April 1, began Tuesday’s game with an offensive rebound that he could not put back on two tries, failing to rise and getting his shot blocked for the fourth time in the past three games. His vertical leap has decreased.
    • Ronald Tillery, Memphis Commercial Appeal: However, [Rudy Gay's] surgery to repair his partially dislocated left shoulder should be routine.  “No surgery is 100 percent but he has a very good chance. We expect him to make a full recovery,” said Grizzlies physician Fred Azar, who is the lead orthopedic surgeon at Campbell Clinic. “As a track record, this surgery is a successful surgery. The odds are he’ll do very well.”  Gay suffered the injury Feb. 15 as he was fouled while attempting a shot. His shoulder slipped out of his back and popped back into place, which is rare.  About 90 percent of the time, the shoulder slips out of the front socket and that scenario presents the best prognosis.  Gay suffered a capsule tear that lines the joint. That means arthroscopic surgery is required to repair damaged tissues that occurred at the time of injury. Read More…

  • Published On 8:21am, Mar 23, 2011


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