Sunday Syncopation #42

The NBA season is a go, and as a result, so am I.

The Lockout is over, or ending, or about to end . . .

First of, I want to come out and say that I honestly felt that there would be no season this year. I didn’t think that the two sides would get to where they are now. Perhaps the collective weight of Stern not wanting to miss Christmas Games and the futile efforts of the players got us to where we are. I don’t know. I was up late most nights in twitter following the conversations we were having – but I don’t have the full information. From what little I’ve read this is a victory for the owners (primarily the big market ones) and for David Stern. I did not expect anything else. This wasn’t a coup in favor of some minority power brokers on the owners side. I’m still trying to figure out what has changed and what hasn’t. Ultimately, there’s no nuclear winter anymore. But it remains to be seen how the players will actually vote. We’re not out of the woods yet, but there appears to be some sort of direction now.

I’m cautiously optimistic that we will have basketball before the world ends in 2012.

 

Hater is gonna hate…

I was more than willing to set our group of collective youth back an entire calendar year, losing this season, for the benefit of stealing away an entire year from the finite NBA careers of:

Clearly, robbing all these guys of a year from their finite careers is a hater move. I guess it’s because even before I’m an NBA fan I’m a Jazz fan. By the time the dust in the playoffs this year settles everyone is going to be a year older. If there was no season these guys would have lost a year of playing at this level, and gotten rusty. It hurts all those other teams more than it hurts our Jazz team for sure – so I was not going to cry over missing out on a potentially great year for the Dallas Mavericks (9 guys who are in the 30-35 or 36+ categories) or Miami Heat (also 9 guys). I looked at all of the rosters of each team last season, collected the ‘at risk’ player’s names and added a year to their ages. (To show their age during the playoffs, for the most part) The Utah Jazz don’t stand to be losing much, compared to the other teams out there. Take a look for yourself!

N.B. ages are for playoffs in 2011-2012 season

The teams looking to suffer the most would have been the Boston Celtics, Los Angeles Lakers, Phoenix Suns, Detroit Pistons, Portland Trailblazers, Miami Heat, Dallas Mavericks, and San Antonio Spurs. The groups of players on those teams (for the most part) have a lot of miles on their legs, are old, have some history of injuries, or some combination of factors. As a Jazz fan living in a zero-sum world a season (or lost season) that hurts precisely those teams is a good season (or non-season). The Lakers and Celtics are the best franchises in the history of the league – I wouldn’t mind it if they both had a long string of bad seasons. Phoenix, Portland, Dallas, and San Antonio? These are some of our largest rivals over the last few seasons (outside of Denver and Houston). And Detroit – well, we haven’t had much trouble with Detroit since Karl brought his elbow into the equation.

I admit to being a hater, and I do hate. If there was no season it would have hurt the other teams more than us; particularly because a) guys like Francisco Elson and Raja Bell aren’t in our long term plans, and b) because I’m sure we would have found a sneaky way to organize training somehow. After all, Mark McKown sends a lot of guys down to P3.

 

Rookie Expectations:

You may remember that whole NBA draft thingy we had light years ago. We came into it with two lotto picks, and came out of it with Enes Kanter and Alec Burks. Burks was the #12 pick, and depending on whom you ask: slid down there, or was lucky to be there because of a weaker draft. Kanter was the #3 pick – and there is no telling what or where this guy should have been picked at. I clearly have made my mind up about these two kids already – or at least I did months ago. I wish I had more stuff to go on for these two, besides their pre-NBA pedigrees and a little thing call the history of the #3 and #12 draft picks. I think Kanter can be a Scola / Ruland type. But after 4 seasons. That’s a pretty long incubation time for a #3 pick – and it’s not a very high ceiling either. He’s a really strong kid, but I’d like to see him use his size and strength effectively. I failed to see him box out in the European tournament he played in, and managed to see his lack of hops hurt him as he got destroyed by Kenneth Faried in an exhibition game. I’m also more likely to call him a power forward than a center at this stage. If he was taller, or more athletic I think he could handle the center spot. Right now I feel like he’s not going to be that ‘last line of defense’ that a center should be in the NBA. I want him to succeed, and with world renowned bigman coach Sigourney Love Sidney Lowe on the case, I am sure he will.

I’m willing to say that Burks has a much higher ceiling – but high potential guys don’t always pan out at the #12 spot. This isn’t me being a Debbie downer, this is me looking at the past 25 years of NBA drafts – the #12 spot is a tricky one to succeed from. The easiest path appears to be guys who have that one NBA ready / NBA quality skill that they can ride for their careers despite other limitations. Kelly Tripucka was a shooter. Darrell Walker was a floor general. John Williams was a better than average scorer. Muggsy Bogues was super quick and had great instincts. Harvey Grant had great defensive footwork. Mookie Blaylock was probably the most all-around talent to succeed from the #12 spot, ever. Greg Anthony was a defender. Khalid Reeve was a monster at the buffet. Vlad-Rad had crazy range. Nick Collison isn’t afraid to be physical and be a garbage man. These are, really, the best guys to stick in the league from the #12 spot. What does Burks have that makes him an NBA capable specialist?

Before the Draft Combine I was led to believe it was his athleticism – but it was not really elite level. I also had hopes for his abilities to be a good defender, but I also don’t know if that’s a possibility. What he does have is an ability to get to the line and score. None of the #12 picks in the last 25 years were guys who could get you buckets and buckets. Maybe Burks is just that guy? Or maybe – just maybe – he can be one of the few ‘all-around’ players from this draft spot who can succeed? I have higher hopes for Burks than Kanter, but this probably has more to do with how much of an unknown Kanter is than what a lock Burks is.

Regardless, I think the expectations we would normally have for a rookie get thrown out the window in this year, where there’s no summer league and no month long training camp. Also a compact season means less off days, less recovery days, and less practices. It’s not going to be easy for either of them (especially if one of them sits so much we don’t know anything about them). The least we can do is not get too high on them if they look good early, and not get too low on them if they start slow.

 

Stats Class:

Depending on what the Jazz do between now and the end of free agency and the trade deadline – we’re going to have a pretty strange team. Over the last two decades the Jazz have been abnormally blessed at point guard and have a strong scoring forward. What we all continue to worry about is shooting guard. The last time we didn’t have to worry was when we had Jeff Hornacek running around on one leg, and defending Scottie Pippen in the NBA finals. That was a long time ago. One could even argue that the most ‘complete’, ‘traditional’ shooting guard that we’ve had since then was Gordan Giricek – but if you do make that argument Jerry Sloan breaks into your house, abducts you, and ties you to the bench, somewhere in an abandoned gym.

It is an understatement to say that shooting guard is a continuing concern going forward. According to 82games.com the Jazz got a 11.2 PER rating from the shooting guard spot. Just so we all are on the same page, the NET, average, neutral PER is 15.0 – so right off the bat, the Jazz SG Per is below average. Compounding this problem is that the Jazz opponents SG PER was above league average: 15.8. That’s a SG difference of -4.7 PER. If you added the net PER advantages that the Jazz benefitted from at the PF and C spots you get a +4.3 PER. So the Jazz couldn’t even make up for how poorly we were out gunned from the 2 spot by adding together the top two positions where we actually had success during the season. (For those scoring at home the Jazz were a +0.9 PER from the SF spot, and a -2.2 PER from the PG spot)

Of course, PER isn’t everything. You don’t have to like PER at all. That said all the traditional metrics that we use to evaluate players do tell the same tale. Our SGs fouled 4.6 times a game, while the Jazz’ opponents only fouled 3.5 times a game. The Jazz SGs shot only 48.0 fg%, while the other team enjoyed a whopping 51.3 fg%. Letting the other team’s shooting guards shoot BETTER than 50% (from the range that SGs take the majority of their shots at) is not going to get it done. (Maybe it’s a product of poor dribble penetration defense? Who is to say?) Our guards get to the line 2.1 times less per game as well. Over all it adds up to their shooting guards scoring 4.3 more points per game than our shooting guards.

Who played SG for us last season? C.J. Miles played 20% of all the possible SG minutes this past season. That’s 1/5th and is a healthy chunk. Ronnie Price played 13% of all the SG mins, and was a defensive monster as part of the SWARM line up. Gordon Hayward played 5% of the total possible mins at the 2, when he was in he was usually getting torched (-9.1 PER), but the Jazz did manage to win when he was there. Devin Harris played 2% of the total SG minutes, he gets a pass here, but he’s super DUPER guilty for poor PG defense. Kyle Weaver barely played 1% of the possible minutes at the shooting guard spot last season so I’m giving him a pass.

Am I leaving anyone out?

Oh yeah, Raja Bell. Raja played 51% of all the SG mins last season. He was amazing. If you’re looking at just the most simplest of metrics (+/- points) – he was a huge loser. When Raja was in the game and playing the 2, the Jazz net score from shooting guard was -218. There are only 82 games in a season so that means that BY HIMSELF Raja was getting worked to the point that his man was scoring +2.7 points more than him, every game.

 

Wait, let me pump the breaks a bit. That’s really unfair to say . . . you can’t blame Bell for that, and you can’t come out there and say he was getting worked every game he played, and on average letting his man get +2.7 extra points. Why? Because Bell didn’t even play in 82 games last year. Our "defensive stopper" only played in 68 games last season. So the real bloodletting of -218 net points over the season actually results in Raja getting worked for 3.2 more points a game than he would have if Raja was "average" for his position. (Btw, don’t even look up the number of games we lost by a FINAL margin of 7 or less; which means that our late game fouling would bump up a close game into a solid win for the other team.)

It’s not like we got Raja for his scoring though (which is fine because he didn’t shoot too poorly or too great last season), we got him for his defense. And in this case his defense bothered the other team’s SGs to shooting 51.2 fg% when he was out there. Wait a second . . . when he’s not out there and we have a better offensive option the other team only gets better by 0.1 fg% ? Why do we put Raja out there in the first place, so he can flop with Manu?

Well, hand picking things like net points and fg% doesn’t really tell us anything. Let’s look at the whole picture. Is there something that does that? Oh yeah . . . PER kinda does. Well, Raja’s PER last season at SG was 8.3. (Again, 15.0 is NEUTRAL) Raja did harass the opponent into accumulating a below average per, but it was still a PER of 14.1 – which is a difference that’s bigger than when he’s not in the game.

Average NET SG PER for the JAZZ: -4.3

Average NET SG PER for the JAZZ when Raja is at SG: -5.7

I’m really glad that KOC give him a three year deal, and Jerry secretly promised him a lot of playing time (what else would have made Raja choose to play here instead of Miami or LA?).

"C’mon Amar, this just sounds like you have an axe to grind against Raja?"

Well, let’s look at the other guys . . . CJ’s NET points was -2 at the SG spot (FOR THE ENTIRE SEASON, RAJA’S WAS -218!), had a PER that was 1.5 times larger, and had a lower NET PER than Raja. Ronnie P had a net points of +73 at the SG spot, had a PER and NET PER worse than Raja – but played way less minutes and the Jazz net points was +291 compared to when Raja was out there. And Gordon Hayward was a rookie . . . and he only played 5% of the SG minutes. He seemed to give Kobe more trouble than Raja did this season. But that’s a qualitative observation.

It’s clear to me that Raja of 2011 isn’t the Raja of his peak in Phoenix. It’s also clear that 82games doesn’t tell the full picture. Synergy Sports, on the other hand, can attempt to. According to their data for last season Raja Bell was the 408th best defender out there, in the entire NBA, based on opponents’ points per possession (PPP). Every time his opponent had the ball, his opponent scored 0.99 points. He was better at defending isolations, and the ball handler in a pick and roll situation – but those only accounted for a portion of the types of defensive possessions he was in. On defense Raja let his man score on him 51.4% of the time when defending post ups; 45.5% on spot ups; and 43.2% when defending his man coming off of a screen. By absolute direct comparison by the exact same metrics, C.J. Miles let his man score on him on post ups 45.0% of the time, spot ups 41.3%, and his off of screens 47.1% of the time. Raja does a little better on that last category – but how many single things does CJ do better than him on the basketball court? I’m not even getting into things like getting to the line, or being able to score in transition (where CJ was the 52nd best transition scorer per possession in the entire league last year) – CJ is even ranked as a better over-all defender by Synergy in terms of opponents’ points per possession. So . . . there’s that . . .

There’s also the theory of Alec Burks . . . who is going to need to get his time in at the SG spot. All the more reason for me to suggest using the amnesty clause on Raja Bell so he can join the Miami Heat and destroy their chances for a championship – he loses every NBA Finals he participates in. As long as I’ve got my GM hat on, let’s also put on my head coaches hat . . .

I’d split up all the SG mins next season between CJ, Hayward, and Burks – with a token there to be given to a Price / Weaver type. I’d give CJ 50% there (up from 20%); Hayward 25% there (up from 5%); and 20% for Burks (up from 0%). The rest can be given to the other guys – including Raja if he’s still here. So that means that during an average 48 minute game: CJ will play 24 minutes at shooting guard, Gordon will play 12, Alec will play around 10, and the rest is up for grabs. CJ and Gordon will play the rest of their regular minutes at small forward. Alec may get situational minutes at the PG or SF spots as well – however I do not expect him to average more than 14 mpg as a rookie, even if we are a lotto team.

Hmmm, maybe all of this would be better represented if I put it in a chart . . . don't hate, it's my pre-season too!

 

Hater is gonna hate… part 2

And just because the NBA is back doesn’t mean that we all should give them a free pass, and love them unconditionally again. It’s hard, I’ve been in love with the NBA for over two decades. I know it is hard but when the owners lock the players out, take out 149 days and countless hours of meetings, and none of the real problems are resolved (save for making sure the owners get more money) is hardly justified in my mind. I’m not going to go to any NBA games this year. I’m not giving my money to support a broken system for at LEAST a full season. Of course, I support the Jazz and live in an NBA city that’s in the Eastern Conference. There is less temptation to support the team financially because they aren’t in the same city. I’m not going to get league pass either. I’m not going to buy any merch. We, the fans, were treated like significant after thoughts during the entire process. The owners wanted more money. The players wanted to lose less money than the owners wanted them to. Money is a big deal, it runs the world. Or in the case of this lockout – it grinds the world to a halt.

As a fan I have even less power than the NBA players did in this debacle. I love the team. I love all the cherished memories I have of rooting for them, and of supporting them *and* the league. That doesn’t mean I shouldn’t have to subsidize the league holding their own employees (more than just the players, but trainers, people working in all the office buildings, security guards, food services, clean up crews, parking attendants, and so on) hostage because they want a bigger piece of the pie. Sure the owners take all the risk, but owning a team is a risk – just like all businesses. Furthermore, no one told them to invest in a team to make money. You own a team for the prestige of owning a team. You don’t own a team hoping that it performs as well as a mutual fund – and then when it doesn’t try to garnish the salaries of all your employees so you make up the difference. That’s evil. I don’t mean it in hyperbole either, I mean that’s something Satan would do. The owners acted like Satan. All of them, though in varying degrees. I’m not going to support Satan. At least not this year.

Call me a hater. The NBA – who took all this time and didn’t fix itself – does not deserve o be treated like it did something good. If the NBA was a puppy I would say "bad puppy". If the NBA was a cat, I’d spray it with some water. If the NBA was a baby elephant – okay, clearly I don’t know enough about them to know how to discipline one who is acting up. But my personal point of view is that when you do something bad you should not be rewarded. I love the Jazz. I love our players. I love our history. But in my view, the NBA doesn’t deserve to be rewarded with my hard earned money. Not this year. They really have a lot of ass kissing to do. All of us fans deserve it. Fan night shouldn’t be just one night of the year – especially when it’s our money that makes all the systems run. Sorry Greg Miller, you’re not getting any of my scratch. Not because I’m a bad fan. Not because I don’t love the Jazz. But you are being punished because the system you are a part of is wrong. It’s unfair. But so is locking out the players which negatively affects the ability of your OTHER EMPLOYEES to make ends meet, pay their bills, and buy groceries every month. I know the ushers and other workers here in Detroit who work at the Palace. They don’t have nest eggs. I’m sure a lot of the people who work at the ESA hours after the game is over do not either.

 

Video of the Week:

I was super nostalgic for the NBA a few days ago. I loaded up YouTube and found this amazing mix uploaded (and probably also created by) DamnMixes. Let me tell you again: this is an amazing mix. It’s also my good luck mix now because later on that same day twitter exploded with news that the Lockout was over. Like I said, it’s amazing. The audio track is filled with NSFW lyrics, and to be frank – the video of Larry Johnson, Shawn Kemp, and Karl Malone dunking all over the decade is so nasty that it’s probably also NSFW either . . . .

In other news, Derrick Favors needs to watch this every day, in between working out in the gym.

 

Hope you didn’t miss . . . .

. . . summer league, free agency, trades, training camp, and 14 games so far this season – oh wait, we all just did. We’re going to have to fit it all into less than 30 days now. I guess the 66 game season is going to be filled with an even worse schedule than the one we were already supposed to play.

Matt Moore going crazy that one night.

Really, this off-season had a billion great posts for me to include here, but I can’t post them all, so I will post none today.

 

Did you know . . . ?:

. . . that today is my birthday? Had the season started as normal the Jazz would not have been playing today; which is par for the course as most of the schedules in previous seasons have the Jazz playing on the 26th, the 28th, or both. This is fine for me because it usually allows me to enjoy my birthday without having to worry about our Jazz for at least one night. However, the Jazz franchise has played on my birthday 16 times in previous seasons:

The Jazz are 8-8 in games played on my birthday, and have scored a total of 1665 points in these 16 games. That’s an average of 104.06 ppg. The Jazz have also given up 1665 points over this time frame, with a points against average of 104.06 ppg. You don’t need an expensive degree from a private school to see that those numbers are pretty even, statistically speaking. The largest Jazz win was by 37 points (against the Nets in 1989). The largest margin of defeat was by 33 points (in 2004 against the Spurs). As even as this all looks the Jazz are currently on a two game losing skid. So maybe it’s a good thing the Jazz aren’t playing tonight . . .

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. . . also I can’t help it, but the Standard Deviation for the final score margin is ±17.54 . . . you know I missed the NBA.

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