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Just The Sports: 2007-03-11

Just The Sports

Wednesday, March 14, 2007

Joakim Noah and Glen Davis

How quickly we lose interest in people we classified as stars after moving onto the next big things. Such is the explanation behind the decreased attention given to Florida Gators center Joakim Noah and LSU Tigers forward Glen "Big Baby" Davis this season. Thanks to impressive runs through the NCAA Tournament for both the Gators and the Tigers, both players found themselves running the risk of being overexposed as everyone wanted to brand them as being at the very least worthy of an NBA team's draft lottery pick. Then both Noah and Davis decided to stay in school for at least one more year and have seemingly ruined their draft stock depending on which star freshmen decide to declare themselves eligible for this year's draft through no fault of their own.

Comparing last season to this season for Noah and Davis reveals that they have largely maintained this year what they did in the last one, at least when it comes to points per game, true shooting percentage, points per shot attempt, assist rate for Noah, and rebound rate for Davis. Noah is turning the ball over at a higher rate this season, but he has balanaced it out with upping his rebounding rate. Davis, on the other hand, has extended his shooting range, hitting eleven more three-pointers in eight fewer games and has increased his assist rate significantly. If anything, these two players are a little more well-rounded than they were when they were receiving the accolades of a nation.

If anything, the story of these two SEC players should serve as a cautionary tale on getting too high on any one player based on only a handful of games. The natural impulse is to put more stock in spectacular exploits, especially when they come on national televison, and then to be bored when the players become only consistent. The truth is Noah and Davis are just as good this year as last and some mention of that should be made when mentioning either one of them. Only then will the coverage be worthy of fairness.


Monday, March 12, 2007

Assimilating Greg Oden

It is a testament to both the Ohio State players and their head coach, Thad Matta, that they were able to integrate center Greg Oden seamlessly into the Buckeye basketball product. The feat involving a switch from a perimeter-oriented team to one that involves a 7-foot center with range that does not extend outside the paint into the gameplan for success is not an easy one to complete satisfactorily. In the first seven games of the season, before Oden recovered from his off-season wrist surgery, the Buckeyes averaged 10.9 made three-pointers a game and in the twenty-six games with Oden, they have only made 6.6 three-pointers per contest. Yet, they have kept up their winning ways.

In order to gauge how difficult it was for the Buckeyes to include Oden, I split up the twenty-six games Oden played into thirteen game halves. After creating those two data sets, there was really no difference between how Ohio State performed in the first thirteen games with Oden and how they played in the second thirteen games, either offensively or defensively, when taking into account all the second set of thirteen games were played against Big Ten (11) opponents. The only improvement seen in the Buckeyes' production was that they have been turning the ball over less in the second set of thirteen games, going from a turnover rate of 13.6 to one of 10.3, but that has more to do with the emergence of star freshman point guard Mike Conley, Jr. than it does with Oden because Oden is a lot of things, but one who keeps turnovers to a minimum is not one of them.

Even Oden himself had no trouble transitioning to the college basketball game. Oden got off to a torrid start in his first thirteen games as a Buckeye with 15.4 points per game on a 66.6 TS% and 1.33 points per shot attempt; also, Oden managed a 19.5 rebound rate. In the second thirteen games his shooting touch cooled off slightly to a 61.0 TS%, but he has maintained his other statistics, averaging 15.7 points per game and a 19.3 rebound rate. Where Oden really saw an improvement was in his free throw percentage as he became more proficient shooting free throws with his left hand, increasing his free throw percentage from 61.0% to 65.8%.

Come NCAA Tournament time, Buckeye faithful will be glad Oden was assimilated so easily.


The Importance Of Having A Point Guard

Anyone who has ever played any type of basketball at any level already knows how valuable a good point guard is. An able point guard brings consistency to the team's play, creates stability out of chaos, and plays at a tempo optimal for the most efficient output of the team's resources. Without a true, healthy point guard for an entire season, a team can find itself in the NIT instead of the more prestigious single elimination post-season tournament, the fate that befell that North Carolina State Wolfpack this season.

To get at what the Wolfpack lacked with Atsur nursing a bad hamstring requires one to put the numbers in the proper context. Without that context, it doesn't look as if the Wolfpack really improved with Atsur in the line-up than without him. Although the Wolfpack did score 3.2 more points per 100 possessions with Atsur, this increase was more than negated by giving up 6.4 more points per 100 possessions. Not surprisingly, the Wolfpack has a higher assist rate (16.0 to 16.7) and a lower turnover rate (17.3 to 15.9) with Atsur, but even those differences are not statistically significant.

Now for the context. What really makes the improvement in assist rate and turnover rate impressive is the quality of teams it came against. Of the thirteen games Atsur either did not appear in or did not play at least half the game, only four of those were against fellow ACC schools while the rest were against opponents inferior to ACC teams. Conversely, of the twenty games in which Atsur played at least twenty minutes, sixteen were played against opponents from the best conference in the nation this year so even the little bit the Wolfpack improved in ball control with Atsur is significant. Had the Wolfpack had him for an entire year and fully healthy, they would probably find themselves playing on either Thursday or Friday of this week instead of Tuesday.


Sunday, March 11, 2007

Flip Saunders and Larry Brown

Following a legend in any field will result in the successor receiving a larger helping of criticism than praise. Every move made ends up under the lens of a high-powered microscope and antagonizing questions are asked when the successor performs tasks in a different manner, as if different is somehow magically synonymous with worse. When the succession happens in a nationally prominent field, such as NBA coaching, the criticism becomes worse since more than a few media members have no idea what they are talking about, as Flip Saunders has found out.

The way in which some journalists and pundits describe matters, Larry Brown was the best defensive coach in the history of NBA basketball, the Detroit Pistons played the best defense ever beheld by the eyes of man with him as the coach, and the replacing of Brown with Saunders has resulted in the Pistons no longer caring about the defense they play or even playing it well.

For a team, providing a comprehensive measure of how well they do requires more than just picking which part of the team's proudction, offense or defense, to examine. Neither offense nor defense can be looked at in a vacuum. If a team scores 115 points per game and gives up 120 points per, then there is no point in praising the players for their offensive capabilities. The same can be said for a team that holds its opponents to 65 points per game, but struggles to score even 62 points per game. Only in outscoring an opponent is offense or defense something a team can take pride in.

So while the Detroit Pistons did play better defense under Larry Brown than they have under Flip Saunders-they gave up 98.7 points per 100 possessions under Brown compared to 104.2 points per 100 possessions under Saunders-that deficit does not matter. That is because the Pistons have more than made up for it on the offensive side, scoring 110.8 points per 100 possessions with Saunders coaching and 104.5 points per 100 possessions with Brown coaching, which gives the Pistons an overall advantage of +0.8 points over 100 possessions with Saunders at the helm. In this way, it can be said that the Pistons are playing better defense with Saunders relative to their offensive output.

Assigning all the credit to Saunders, though, may just be a simplistic answer. Although he is a more offensive-minded coach than Brown, the personality of the Pistons has not changed all that much. They are averaging almost the same amount of possessions per game so the gain in efficiency may be more a result of roster stability than coaching. Whatever the case may be, the criticism of Saunders for the defense played by the Pistons under his helm is both unwarranted and ignorant.