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Precision of form proves crucial on three-point accuracy in the NBA

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Ray Allen

Tracking data in use at NBA arenas suggest that the consistency Ray Allen demonstrates in his shot attempts translates into a greater accuracy from the three-point line. (Jesse D. Garrabrant/NBAE via Getty Images)

The best thing about the NBA’s summer league in Las Vegas is that everyone is there — players, scouts, executives, agents, writers and hangers-on. The basketball itself often gets lost amid endless opportunities to chat with team employees and others sitting in the reserved sections of the stands at Cox Pavilion and sitting in random places all over the bigger Thomas & Mack Center.

There were also various consultants hanging around, including a group from STATS LLC, the guys who build and sell the fancy tracking camera systems installed now in 10 NBA arenas — with more teams likely to buy in at a low six-figure price before next season. I’ve written about the data the systems provide several times. The cameras track every movement of player, ball and referees, giving teams that subscribe access to a trove of data — player running speeds, how often particular players hit their highest running speeds (Kevin Love blows everyone away by this measure), how often players dribble, shooting accuracy based on how many times a particular player dribbles the ball before firing away, and a million other things. Teams also hope to learn a bit more about fatigue and health via a news STATS partnership, and one unnamed team already found last season that an early injury to a key starter resulted in the other four starters suddenly exerting a lot more energy — sprinting more, and reaching peak cutting speed much more often.

The challenge for teams is going to be sorting all the data, finding the useful bits and then settling on ways to actually make use of it. Some teams are already ahead of others in that regard.

Over the last year, STATS has been kind enough to give previews of new data as they get it (and as teams, always so secretive, allow STATS to discuss it publicly), and Brian Kopp, a STATS vice-president, visited courtside with me in Las Vegas for a bit during summer league. He showed me a preview of this must-read charting work by Kirk Goldsberry, currently teaching at Harvard, who used the STATS data to chart whether the location of a shot attempt influences the location of the eventual rebound. (Hint: It does, and more than some prior studies suggested. Go read it).

One fun tidbit Kopp shared: Information on the trajectory of three-point shot attempts for some of the league’s high-volume long-range shooters. This strikes me as the kind of data teams would find relevant, depending on what it shows. Is a guy’s trajectory too high? Too low? To line drive-ish? Does it vary more dramatically than average between makes and misses? This is stuff coaches can use to teach and change behavior; coaches have always worked to teach proper mechanics and shot trajectory, often using sophisticated machines that measure shot arc, but the STATS data provides harder numbers — and more of them from in-game situations. Read More…

  • Published On 12:10pm, Jul 25, 2012
  • Nuggets build team their own way

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    Point guard Ty Lawson (left) isn’t a star yet, but he’s improved in each of his three seasons. (Garrett W. Ellwood/NBAE via Getty Images)

    LAS VEGAS — The Houston Rockets have figured prominently in the offseason news cycle, mostly for happily parting ways with quality NBA players in pursuit of a star. They chose a lottery pick from Toronto over the right to pay point guard Kyle Lowry, who was nearly an All-Star last season, an average of $6 million over the next two seasons. They used the amnesty provision to release power forward Luis Scola, who is guaranteed a reported $21 million in the next three seasons. They balked at signing point guard Goran Dragic to a four-year deal averaging $8.5 million annually.

    The goal was to collect cap space and first-round picks to flip for Dwight Howard or another franchise star. Houston isn’t inflexibly opposed to the mid-range NBA veteran contract that typically runs between $6 million and $10 million per season. It’s hard to field a team without one or two such deals, given the minimum payroll teams must meet and the importance of Larry Bird Rights. Houston just signed point guard Jeremy Lin for about $8 million per season over three years (not the four years Dragic wanted, and only after roping in that extra lottery pick for Lowry) and may win restricted free agent center Omer Asik from the Bulls for similar money. But the Rockets minimized those kind of commitments and clearly prioritized space and asset collection over solid talent; there was no guarantee, after all, that Houston would tear away Lin from the Knicks or Asik from the Bulls.

    Then there are the Denver Nuggets, who are building a starless team on mid-range contracts. They capped it off last week by re-signing center JaVale McGee, once a punch line, to a four-year, $44 million deal that makes him Denver’s highest-paid player. The Nuggets traded small forward forward Carmelo Anthony in February 2011 in part because they understood that he was not a true franchise player, a move that led them to collect — and happily keep — a bunch of decent players. They have now committed about $35 million per season to four classic “pretty good” players with zero All-Star appearances between them: McGee, shooting guard Arron Afflalo and small forwards Danilo Gallinari and Wilson Chandler. They will likely have to pay at least $10 million annually to keep point guard Ty Lawson, who also has never made an All-Star team, after next season.

    In a league in which just about every champion has featured a top-five or top-10 all-around player, the Nuggets are building around the “pretty good.” The Hornets, thanks to the NBA’s veto, rejected the pretty good in the aborted Chris Paul deal to bottom out, (luckily) win the No. 1 pick and clear their cap sheet. The Rockets were pretty good for three years — they finished ninth in the Western Conference each time, above .500 but outside the playoffs — got sick of it and positioned themselves to bottom out or acquire a foundational superstar. The Nuggets, on the surface, are doing the opposite.

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  • Published On 11:53am, Jul 23, 2012
  • Terrence Ross could help determine DeMar DeRozan’s future in Toronto

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    Raptors’ first-round pick Terrence Ross could push DeMar DeRozan for minutes this season. (Garrett Ellwood/NBAE/Getty Images)

    LAS VEGAS — Raptors coach Dwane Casey knows that when he talks about the skills and limitations of first-round pick Terrence Ross, it sounds as if he could be talking about DeMar DeRozan.

    “It’s funny,” Casey said. “With both guys, the biggest chink in the armor is the need to get stronger and being able to fight for space and create off the dribble. They’ll both need to be in that weight room.”

    Casey will never say it directly, but the Raptors’ drafting of Ross was a clear signal that the organization is ready to move on from DeRozan next summer if he doesn’t develop, or if his price in restricted free agency climbs too high. The Raptors are on pace to have a decent chunk of cap room — something like $10 million — even after overpaying for Landry Fields. But they could have max-level room without DeRozan’s cap hold, and given that DeRozan is still just 22 with room to grow, he may be in line for one of those four-year, $28 million deals that can hamper a team’s flexibility. Smart organizations understand the value of replacing so-so veterans with nearly equivalent players on rookie deals. That was the driving force behind San Antonio’s surprising George Hill-for-Kawhi Leonard trade, though that deal was even sweeter from the Spurs’ perspective since Leonard filled a positional need.

    Casey swears that the Raptors didn’t draft Ross for this reason. “We didn’t necessarily look at Terrence as someone who would replace DeMar,” he told in Las Vegas during the summer league. “I haven’t thought about that at all. We just needed a shooter. We need as much shooting as we can get.”

    Casey does concede that Ross will push DeRozan for playing time (“They’ll be battling for minutes,” he said), however, as both project as shooting guards more than small forwards when given traditional positional designations. But Casey prefers the generic term “wing” and says that Ross and DeRozan could play significant minutes together against the right opponents. That said, Landry Fields is now penciled in as the team’s starting wing alongside DeRozan, according to Casey.

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  • Published On 11:18pm, Jul 19, 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.

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  • Published On 11:14am, Jul 19, 2012
  • Sights and sounds from Philly-Melo showcase

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    LeBron James poured in 43 points and 23 rebounds in Team Melo's loss to Team Philly on Sunday. (Brad Bower/Reuters)

    By Nicki Jhabvala,

    PHILADELPHIA — NBA basketball returned for a night … at the famed Palestra.

    With the league locked out and 43 preseason games already cut from the schedule, some of the game’s biggest names held their own offseason competition in a Philadelphia charity game dubbed the “Battle For I-95” on Sunday. Organized by Phoenix Sun and Philly native Hakim Warrick, the home team took on Carmelo Anthony, LeBron James, Chris Paul and the rest of the Melo All-Stars in front of a sold-out crowd on the University of Pennsylvania’s campus.

    And the NBA’s stars shined bright.

    The Philly crew tore up Team Melo’s defense, throwing up alley-oop after alley-oop to take a 66-58 lead at the half and overcoming LeBron James’ monstrous second half (LeBron in the fourth quarter — you read that right) to claim a 131-122 victory.

    In case you missed the live stream on, here are some highlights from the Philly-Melo showcase:

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  • Published On 10:58pm, Sep 25, 2011
  • LeBron, Melo, Paul to take on Team Philly

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    Carmelo Anthony, Chris Paul and LeBron James will take on Team Philly at the Palestra. (Patrick Smith/Getty Images)

    By Nicki Jhabvala,

    Team Melo was no one-shot deal.

    Nearly a month after entertaining thousands in Baltimore, the star-studded group of Carmelo Anthony, LeBron James, Chris Paul and Kevin Durant will return for another lockout showcase, this time against Team Philly at the Palestra on Sept. 25 at 6 p.m. ET.

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  • Published On 11:15am, Sep 13, 2011
  • Melo, LeBron, Paul to play in Baltimore game

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    Carmelo Anthony has recruited Chris Paul and LeBron James to rep the Baltimore-based Melo League. (AP)

    By Nicki Jhabvala,

    The summer may be nearing an end, but the best NBA action since the start of the lockout is just now getting underway.

    Plans for a rematch of last weekend’s Drew League vs. Goodman League showcase have been put into gear for next month (and it may include Kobe Bryant), and a two-week league featuring 50 NBA players at the Impact Academy in Las Vegas is slated for mid-September (possibly including Blake Griffin, Kevin Durant, John Wall and Rudy Gay).

    But the most star-studded game yet will be in Baltimore, on Aug. 30.

    Read More…

  • Published On 6:09pm, Aug 27, 2011