The Ship Be Sinking

Mouth Almighty

The Season Approaches….

You know we’re getting close to NBA season when John Hollinger’s player previews come out on ESPN. I’ve been reading his stuff since the Basketball Forecast days, and whatever you think of PER (I like it, within its clear limits) I think it has to be agreed that Hollinger is a fantastic scout and knows as much about the minutia of the league as anyone in the media. He’s also an excellent and funny writer, which never hurts. I like to kick off each preseason by going through some of his player cards and looking for odd, weird, strange, queer, overlooked and just plain unexpected details from the last season, statistical and otherwise; it gets me excited for the season- especially a season where, let’s face it, the local teams are going to be pretty bad. Here’s a few of the more interesting ones I’ve found so far:

– Baron Davis shot 37% from the field last year, had the 65th out of 69 true shooting percentage (TS%) among PGs, and had a below-average PER of 14 and change- a drop of over 5 from his previous campaign. He’s now 30 and missed 17 games last season, while reportedly being out of shape most of the year. Another excellent signing by the Clippers!

– In possibly related news, the final tally for Elton Brand’s awful first year in the city of brotherly battery-throwing was a PER of 14.65, down from 23.17 in his last healthy year in LA. So after all the drama and hoopla of those two passing each other in the night and God knows how many words written about what their free agency choices would and would not mean, in the end they were both below-average players by this metric for largely irrelevant teams. It’s a funny ol’ league.

– Shaq’s turnover % in the last 5 years: 11.1, 13.0, 12.1, 18.5, 12.3. Just plain odd.

– Royal Ivey is entering his 6th year in the league, with his third team. His PER in his first five years has been 8.90, 8.48, 9.59, 9.00, and 7.67. And yet, despite this overall consistency, some of his component stats have varied wildly- his assist ratio has veered between 26.5 and 14.7, and his turnover rate between 14.9 and 6.1. This despite playing at least 500 minutes in every season, and having rock-solid consistency in his shooting percentages, rebounding, etc.

– Jason Kapono, renowned for his abilities as a 3 point shooter, took 38% of his shots from that distance last year…and 39% as long 2s. He has officially become the NBA’s Andy Wang. Shoot from three Jason… JASON, SHOOT FROM THREE!!

– Out of these PER figures from last year, guess which one is Nate Robinson:

18.94, 17.65, 16.63, 18.85, 14.54, 17.25

Lil’ Nate is up there at the top with the 18.94; the rest in order are Ramon Sessions, TJ Ford, Chauncey Billups, Baron Davis and Mo Williams. I’m aware of the drawbacks and limitations of PER and I’m not arguing that Nate is better than all of those guys, but he really is underrated at this point- offensively, he’s just really, really good.

– Jordan Farmer’s TS% by season: 51.5, 56.3, 46.6. His free throw percentages: .711, .679, .584. What the fuck?

– In related catch-a-falling-star news, Matt Carroll’s PER has dropped from 14.63 to 10.87 to 5.57 over the last three years. It appears his usage rate dropped first, after which his shooting was shot and his turnovers spiked. Very odd for a guy who’s only 29. He’s signed for 3 more years and $15 million, BTW, because Mark Cuban hates money.

– Speaking of Dallas, their new acquisition Shawn Marion did indeed finish the year with 3 consecutive seasons of declining PER as he’s dropped from 23 and change to 16, and is a 31 year old player hugely dependent on his athleticism, and has a new 5 year $40 million contract. Hates money. Just despises it.

– The Sacramento Kings have 4 players under contract who turned in a single-digit PER in their last season: Kenny Thomas (8.77), Sean May (6.24), Desmond Mason (7.12) and Donte Green (an atrocious 5.18). Sometimes there’s complicated reasons for why a team is bad; sometimes, not so much.

– Courtney Lee. Hollinger clearly loves his defense (“the Magic’s top defensive stopper”) and likes him as an overall player (“an underrated key to Orlando’s conference championship”) but I’m not at all convinced yet, personally. He had a negative adj +/- last year, and both basketballvalue.com and 82games.com show him as having a mild negative impact on the defensive performances of his teams. It’s only one year’s worth of data which means there’s a ton of noise in it, plus not accounting for improvement as a rookie year continues, plus limited correction for substitution patterns, etc.; but there’s just not a lot of statistical evidence so far to suggest a positive defensive impact from Lee, let alone a really game-changing one. I seem to recall him getting lit up like a light bulb during last year’s finals as well. Throw in a middling 10.78 PER as a rookie and his late first round draft status, and I’m just not that excited for a guy who looks on paper like a spare-part roleplayer. Hopefully he’ll end up better than that, but there’s not a lot of evidence trending that way so far.

– Eduardo Najera: 33 years old, knee troubles, PER dropped from 12.05 to 7.71 in a year. He’s signed for 3 more years at roughly $3 million per. We are so screwed.

More of these as I find them.

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On a completely different side note, check out this list of the ten best players of the last decade. It should be pointed out that it gets one thing absolutely correct, which is often missed- much of the time in NBA history, the best player in the world is a center. Because of the greatness of Michael Jordan I think we often fall into the trap of judging the best player to be the one who most resembles His Airness, especially if we’re not using the nitty-gritty of the more advanced statistical measures. I hate to say it, but I think this has been a huge part of the reason there’s even still a debate about Kobe and LeBron, and probably also part of why CP3 and Dwyane Wade enter these discussions much more rarely than their actual production would justify.

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October 8, 2009 - Posted by | Other NBA, The Nets, The NY Knicks

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