Loose Ball Fouls and Rebounding Rates in the Finals

Five games into the NBA Finals, the rebounding has leveled out with Cleveland holding about a two percent edge over Golden State on both the offensive and defensive glass. That’s meant a bit more for the Cavaliers, the underdog that could use every possible chance to score.

Cleveland’s attempt to dominate the offensive glass has been noticeable, as well the effects. Among them, sometimes Golden State has struggled to get out in transition partly because of the threat of a rebound by either Tristan Thompson or the recently reduced presence of Timofey Mozgov. Over the last two games that’s felt like less of a problem for the Warriors, and they’ve looked to score quickly when catching Cleveland with poor floor balance. Below isn’t the greatest example regarding crashing the boards, but Andre Iguodala has feasted on some of these opportunities where Thompson is around the rim and multiple players are around the corner three:

Arguably the least flashy effect of the Cleveland’s rebounding has been watching them draw the loose ball foul. Those are like the rebounder’s version of the and-one, and they happen almost as frequently, or in this case rarely with loose ball fouls occurring 1.3 times per game this season compared to 1.9 times for and-ones. Cleveland drew 1.5 loose fouls per game over the season, and 1.3 in the playoffs until the Finals.

Exciting to read about something that happens not even twice per game, right?

Those versions of the Cavaliers weren’t like the current, though, and in the last five games they’ve drawn an average of 3.8 loose ball fouls, or 16 percent of Golden State’s total committed fouls. That’s a small, but consistent sample size as Cleveland’s drawn between three and five each outing. It’s not like David Blatt is telling their players “go out there and draw some loose ball fouls,” but given the rebounding edge they’ve had to lean on to give them a chance this series, Cleveland’s rate seems sustainable not for 82 games but at least two more. It’s a little thing, one of several, that they wouldn’t mind going their way during their quest to win two straight games.

Should that rate of drawing loose ball fouls continue, it’ll also impact the rebounding rates of Thompson and Mozgov, who have drawn 18 of those 19 fouls for Cleveland. Unlike at the college level, the NBA rarely credits the player drawing those fouls off a missed shot with the rebound, logged instead as a board by the team. Something tells me Thompson and Mozgov wouldn’t mind more appreciation for their efforts.

With that in mind, I looked at their current rebounding rates and what they would look like if we gave 18 of those 19 team rebounds to Cleveland’s starting bigs through the first five games.

timotom

That’s a pretty noticeable difference so far, especially for Mozgov. His per game numbers and overall performance in the Finals took a hit after what happened in Game 5, but Mozgov’s rebounding woes were patched up after adjusting for minutes and the three loose ball fouls drawn on Sunday. He’s done a good job getting position for a rebound after running pick and rolls with LeBron James, and Festus Ezeli has often been the player to foul Mozgov on those plays.

Thompson’s speed has been a problem at times for some guy named Andrew Bogut while he’s drawn a few fouls on Harrison Barnes partly from his strength, though Barnes has gotten his fair share of offensive rebounds too. Thompson seems to both have a knack for where the ball will deflect off the rim and a refusal to let his opponent box out a zone. He never stops moving, and it takes ridiculous endurance to do that for over 40 minutes a night like he has during the Finals.

Unfortunately for the Cavaliers, those drawn fouls haven’t exactly propelled them to four straight wins. How shocking that just one part of a basketball game hasn’t shifted an entire seven-game series, but among other loose ball fouls, the one David Lee committed against Thompson near the end of Game 3 stuck out. It looked like it sealed the Warriors’ fate, but Lee’s foul was also sneaky smart and I think he knew it, never objecting to the call. He used the foul as soon as Thompson was a near-lock to get the rebound, so either Lee gets away with that foul and has another chance at the rebound or he puts a mediocre free throw shooter in Thompson at the line, who was fouled instantly to give the Warriors an extra possession to cut into the 80-87 deficit.

I could be giving Lee too much credit, but it’s a good example of why context matters and how we still don’t have much of it to work with when looking at fouls. At the same time, I don’t think it hurts to try to look at them on paper anyway. In another post I’ll share my results of season-long loose ball foul totals and adjusted rebound rates.

All statistics are from Basketball-Reference. Rebounding percentages were calculated at SacTown Royalty

Recommended Reads and Listens

Before I start writing here and at Nylon Calculus again, I thought I’d update my Great Reads section. Judging by how many people I’m following on Twitter, I’ll be forgetting a few given the number of writers I’ve come across since creating this blog is in the hundreds. Sigh, but this is a decent mix of already well-known writers/sites who don’t need my recommendation (but I included them anyway), and others who are up and coming. I also just respect the heck out of those who write at their own site frequently as it’s a giant commitment. Check out their work.

You can find this all on the right side of the blog (edit: I’ve been expanding the list) along with a few other things, but I also thought I should write up a post for it. This is in no particular order, save for the first two. Only 65 percent sure all of the following links open in new windows…

Basketball-Reference – Basketball-Reference is the greatest creation on planet earth, and eventually I made this blog just so I could write about what I found at that site. Now, I’m actually putting the final touches on a monster event finder I made in Excel, of all places, from the data on B-Ref, and I’m excited for how many weird things I’ll find from it (who wants jump ball stats? Anybody?!). I still don’t think I’ve found everything from that site, though.

Another influence was…

Zach Lowe – I’m embarrassed to say I didn’t know about Zach Lowe before he came to Grantland, but he got me interested in writing about more than per game statistics and whatever else feels antiquated. It’s also been quite a thrill hearing him on some great podcasts and making the occasional appearance on TV.

And some people/sites I stumbled upon along the way:

Tim Sartori – Tim NBA, you fell off planet earth. Get your act together by writing for free again. Tim writes/wrote a good deal of work here.

Seth Partnow – Seth’s everywhere and it can be hard to keep up with him sometimes, but here’s his Tumblr where he puts all of his work into one place. With how frequently he writes, you’re probably better off following him on Twitter.

Inpredictable – Created by Mike Beuoy, and his work is just fantastic. His latest post looked at the arc of shooters and there’s plenty of other great work if you look around his site.

Corbin Smith – Only meant for mature audiences, I think. Here is his work if you want to risk it anyway.

Stat IntelligenceJeff Fogle’s a pretty frequent writer and, among his latest posts, I liked this one about learning from The Onion’s tightness.

JZ Mazlish – JZ publishes NBA Draft-related material at Wingspan Addicts. Perfect time to check it out and I was surprised at how easy it was to look around his blog. Some sites can be messy, unfortunately.

Dean On Draft – Another draft-related blog. I started reading Dean Demakis’ work last summer and have enjoyed it ever since. He’s also been on some podcasts in the past, but none recently as far as I know.

Dunc’d on Podcast – Usually with Danny Leroux and Nate Duncan, the latter guy my favorite in-game tweeter. Sometimes they’ll add an additional, solid basketball mind to the mix. Not only does this podcast bring consistently interesting analysis, but there’s usually a new hour-ish long episode daily.

Over & Back Podcast: Hosted by Rich Kraetsch and Jason Mann, this is a podcast that goes over the history of the NBA one weird, fun episode at a time. In one podcast about the worst teams ever, they took a look at my post about the near-Bobcatters which, after reading that post again, I thought I was way too snarky. So that was weird. Don’t read your work that’s over a year old. Listen to the Over & Back podcast instead. My favorite episode so far is a look at the worst year of NBA jerseys: 1999.

Shitty Data Analysis – Posting just for the blog name. Created by Michael Murray.

Crab Dribbles – This site is about a year old since its last post, or so I think, but like Hickory High (RIP) it still has value. Founded by Scott Rafferty who you can at multiple sites including, but not limited to Upside Motor.

Hardwood Paroxysm and True Hoop – Well, duh.

Like I said earlier, I didn’t mention everybody I’ve come across. Not even close, but honestly I’m just so out of shape when it comes to writing that I’ve already dry heaved a little and had to stop ~halfway through my list of recommendations. If you would like to be included (and especially if you write at your own blog), feel free to shoot me a message on here, in an e-mail or through Twitter and I’ll throw you in the mix. Not a whole lot of eyeballs here lately since I haven’t wrote in several weeks, but with this…thing…I recently put together in Excel, I should have a bunch of fun things to write about over the summer.

Half-court shot totals from the 2014-15 season

Yesterday I posted the season-long non-conference record. Today I regurgitated another stat I decided to track for some reason: Heaves! I defined a heave as any shot from half-court and beyond since these shots mostly happen at the end of a quarter, and since they are low-percentage shots it’s not surprising to see a player be too cool and take one justttt after the horn sounds or take no shot at all. Whatever. I’ll address this later.

There hasn’t been a post here about those numbers since early December, though, back when the league recorded only one made heave and was approaching the least-accurate season in the fifteen tracked seasons on Basketball-Reference. Those missed shots were a really big deal! Well, not really, but made shots are pretty entertaining and good Vine or YouTube fodder, except they just weren’t happening.

Well, after starting one-for-94, the league gave us life. Over the last four months and change, they were 10-for-322 and Zach Randolph became the only player to make two heaves this season. Overall, heaves in 2015 finished with very average accuracy — a whopping 2.6 percent — and an attempt total that fit right in with previous seasons.

Below is an updated look from shots from a distance of 45 feet or longer. I gave a two-foot cushion because there were conflicting measurements with Casper Ware‘s record-breaking heave last season.

heaves

So yeah, not the most accurate shots unless you are Randolph or, in the past, like Tony Wroten who last year was a 21 percent three-point shooter but went two-for-six on heaves. Heal up, Moreyball god. It’s impressive he attempted as many heaves as he did this season in only 895 minutes. Listed below are Wroten and players to either make a heave this season or attempt the most shots without a make because they deserve to be mentioned for their efforts, unlike others who are too cool to heave:

heavers

If you looked at the post from early December, John Henson was the only player to make a half-court shot back then. He’s not listed here anymore. Not sure what happened on Basketball-Reference. He doesn’t even have a three-point attempt this season.

TANGENT: I also included the difference in three-point percentage because it took less than a minute to calculate it for all those players. Why did it take so fast? Because it’s 2015. We aren’t in the stone age anymore, when field goal percentage was looked at as a reliable way to measure shooting accuracy. Sure, missed shots from beyond half court shouldn’t count in the first place (they don’t in college), but in 2015 it’s not a big deal either way when it takes only seconds to filter them out and get a better look at a player’s shooting touch. You can do this easily because the heave totals are on any player page on Basketball-Reference or NBA.com like every other shot from a specific distance or zone. Look up any shot chart on NBA.com and it’s not just a bunch of dots with one single field goal percentage — they’re divided into several zones. We can even look at shots off the dribble, off a pass, and many other situations.

This isn’t the early-2000s, which is why it’s insulting to everybody involved when a player sees a half-court shot as harmful, as if we weren’t smart enough to account for their missed heaves and place them in their own group of attempts like we do with every other shot. We would all take notice if somebody like Stephen Curry decided to take 20 or more of them in a season, filtering them out from the rest of his threes like we’ve done with players who attempt threes most often from the corner and only occasionally take threes from above the break like Tony Parker and Shawn Marion. Knowing who might be a great three-point shooter from around the arc versus only the corners might not be the greatest example, but the bottom line is that it’s okay to take the end of quarter shot the other team can’t rebound because there are so many ways we can all look at shooting besides staring blankly at field goal and three-point attempts and percentages. Heaves are a win-win for the player and the team involved, though they do impact offensive efficiency. More on that in a bit.

There was a time when I took the side of a player padding their stats by being too cool to take heaves, but that’s in the past. It is now a lazy take, and I hate everybody who thinks otherwise. Just kidding about that second part, but in my opinion it is a lazy take in 2015.

END TANGENT…

…though if missed heaves didn’t count in the books, they wouldn’t count as possessions either. So for the heck of it, I looked at each team’s heaves, subtracted the missed ones from total possessions, and looked at what their offensive efficiency would be otherwise. I also included heave-to-3pt rate. The shot totals are from Basketball-Refence’s shot finder tool (edit: and efficiency was from Nylon Calculus):

heaveeff

A little similar to when I looked at technical fouls and their effect on offensive and defensive efficiency, the change when filtering out heaves is not huge, but we’re still moving around the rankings slightly. With about 17 points between first and last place in offensive efficiency, a 0.1-0.3-point boost isn’t…not…meaningful.

I’m also not sure the heave totals both for teams and league totals each season mean much. Less attempts could mean more 2-for-1 opportunities, or more attempts could mean that teams are willing to get off some kind of look with only a few seconds left in a quarter. Who knows?

Something that might help with that would be a new play-by-play option: Player X (or Team X) runs the clock out. Maybe it’s only used for the first three quarters since the fourth quarter is a very different situation. There’s also sometimes an awkward, multiple-second gap between the final shot and the end of a quarter, so maybe the extra play-by-play option isn’t a totally ridiculous suggestion. Oh well, but maybe it could help show when there were heave opportunities and show who isn’t taking advantage of what is a win-win situation for everybody involved, save for fantasy basketball owners and gamblers.

MOAR HEAVES.

East vs. West Final Standings

So the season has finally come to an end. (We made it!) While a number of solid West teams limped to the finish line, the conference still posted a record versus the East that fit right in with their dominance since 2000. Below is a look at their final few weeks versus the East, weeks where non-conference play was all but already wrapped up with only 12 games left:

And a look at each team’s record and conference splits (click to enlarge):

eastwest

And a few stats to measure this year’s non-conference battle with every season since 1971:

weststuff

The 2015 West moved down a bit since my last look at those last few statistics, fitting right in with a typical season since 2000, as mentioned earlier.

Right now, there’s too much left to be decided before taking a stab at what 2016 will look like. We have the playoffs to play out, which seems to lead to one injury that’ll decide a team’s fate. Then there’s the lottery to determine the draft order, which we know from the past can really move the needle. (Think Tim Duncan and a coin flip between which conference he’d wind up in.) And then the draft, free agency, and so on. THERE’S A LOT OF TIME LEFT BEFORE NEXT SEASON, but it should be fun to see if the East gets a boost over the next six months.

So that’s it for this year’s non-conference updates, but if there’s something I missed or you’re curious about feel free to leave a comment on here or over Twitter (my tweets should be on the right side of this blog).

I also plan to post some other silly season-ending stuff before the playoffs start, but until then enjoy the break between now and the postseason!

East vs. West Weeks 19-22: A BLOG POST

Had some laptop problems as of late. My own doesn’t quite work anymore and I’m waiting on a good time to put down some $$$ to get a new one. Meanwhile, the one I’m borrowing is a frequent visitor to the blue screen of death so it’s pretty difficult to research and write anything since I’m constantly at risk of losing that work.

BUT, it looks like I’ll be able to write up a quick post before anything bad happens. I took a look at weeks 19 through 22, which was basically the month of March, updated some splits, and since we’re nearing the end of non-conference play I also looked at how close or far away the West is at breaking some records including ones set last season:

Look at how big that table is. We’ve come so far.

So the West has been pretty strong over the past five weeks, going 70-43. The current top eight teams in that conference fed off the worst ten teams in the East, going 23-8, but also winning a bunch of games against the top five by going 17-9. That’s a bit impressive when non-conference play this season (and probably every other) has typically consisted of the best of the West beating up on the worst of the East and vice versa while the top eight in the West versus the top five out East have played fairly even.

Check out some updated splits I made, separating the playoff teams and lottos out West and the top five out East from the mediocre ten. There were also splits for home-road and rest-B2Bs. COOL:

splits330

Though I probably should include point differentials when the season is over, the playoff teams out West look to be crushing East teams not located in Atlanta, Chicago, Cleveland, Toronto, or Washington including a 63-7 record at home when they have at least one day of rest. Only one bottom-ten team out East has more than ten wins against the West, which is Boston at 12-18. That’s huge, really, as they’ve found themselves in the middle of the race for a sixth to eighth seed in the playoffs. Milwaukee, Miami, and Brooklyn, the sixth to eighth seeds right now, have 11, 12, and 13 wins against the West, respectively.

The best of the East have also beat up on the lottery squads out West, though Phoenix has played the East strong at 18-11. A little bit of cherry picking on their part, but that’s normal and not even that bad compared to past West teams who dominated the East but struggled versus the West. Among other instances, the 2001 Rockets went 25-5 against the East but missed out on the playoffs at 45-37.

As noted earlier, though, non-conference play is winding down with just 12 games over the next three weeks. Below is a look at some non-conference records I’ve looked at since 1971 and how the 2015 West stacks up against them with 97 percent of their games against the East already concluded. Stats I looked at were:

  • Point Differential: This is where 2014 separated itself from the rest of the 2000s and 2010s.
  • West PPG/East PPG: This kind of adjusts for high and low scoring games. A 70-60 victory may or may not be more dominant than 130-120. We can criss-cross eras a bit easier with this.
  • Win Percentage
  • Pythagorean Win Difference: The West’s real record is multiple games worse than their Pythagorean one. How weird is this?
  • Pythagorean Win% Difference: I don’t know. I was bored.

The 2015 West once had a margin of victory of over four against the East, but that shrunk. We’re still looking at a top-five mark, however:

pd

The 1998 East, guys. When looking at point differential percentage, it narrowly tops this year’s West:

pdpercent

The 2015 West’s win percentage isn’t too special, however. Which means, when taking margin of victory into account, their Pyth record is going to be a bit better.

winpercentage

The difference between the real and Pyth win percentage was 1.12 percent. Hardly notable compared to the biggest differences in a season, but still worth noting. Overall, it’s a five-win difference:

pythwinper pythdiff

But, while point differential can be fun to look at it can sometimes be misleading because of what happens during garbage time. Pft, like that’s ever stopped me from getting carried away. I mean…non-conference Pythagorean record…?!

Anyway, nice to see the laptop went a couple hours without bogging down. With some more luck there might be more #stuff posted.

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