Tag Archives: Kevin Durant

Stabs at Westgate SuperBook’s 2016-17 Over/Unders

The Westgate Las Vegas SuperBook released their over-under lines for win totals for all NBA teams recently, which means it’s time for predictions. I finished the 2015 season 17-13, which I still maintain meant that I was better than 17 out of every 30 NBA players back then. 2016 was a year of rebuilding, finishing 11-19. Being better than only 11 out of every 30 players was unacceptable.

It’s time to bounce back in 2017.

One problem, though. I honestly have no idea where most teams will finish. It seems very top heavy with Golden State and Cleveland set for a third straight meeting in the NBA Finals, though San Antonio and the Los Angeles Clippers loom, and maybe Toronto and Boston can make things interesting by grabbing home court throughout the Eastern Conference playoffs.

Everything after that is so murky, though, so to help with predictions I created a win projection model. The model takes into account various statistics that may or may not be important. Results are private, but many of the statistics used were cited for why I took the over or under for each team, which you can find below.

Atlanta Hawks (2015-16 record: 48-34, 2016-17 over/under: 43.5)

No surprise they didn’t win 60 games like in 2015. Part of that was because it’s possible they simply overachieved two years ago, but also because they made the most substitutions in the league last year (2,527). The model read that as fear and over-analyzing. It expects the Hawks to get worse, but still over 43 wins.

Over.

Boston Celtics (48-34, 51.5)

They had the lowest shot clock violation total in the league last season (20), which is all on Brad Stevens. What a genius. My model loves him.

Over.

Brooklyn Nets (21-61, 20.5)

Abbreviated as ‘BRK’ on some sites, ‘BKN’ on others. The model penalized the Nets for this stupid problem when analyzing play-by-play data, and projects another bad season in Brooklyn.

Under.

Charlotte Hornets (48-34, 39.5)

They will struggle with jump balls thanks to Roy Hibbert (32-59 last season) and Cody Zeller (20-47), but that didn’t stop the Hornets last season.

Over.

Chicago Bulls (42-40, 38.5)

The model likes their strong net attendance (home attendance – road attendance), but that hasn’t helped in recent seasons. Will it change thanks to a backcourt of Rajon Rondo, Dwyane Wade, and Jimmy Butler? The model says yes, but I’m overriding it. My eyes say no.

Under.

Cleveland Cavaliers (57-25, 56.5)

Lowest strength of schedule last season (-0.55, via Basketball-Reference), which clearly means the Cavs will have a setback during the 2016-17 season.

Under.

Dallas Mavericks (42-40, 39.5)

Averaged the most minutes per game in 2016 at 48.8, which clearly meant they were run into the ground. Trading for Andrew Bogut was a questionable move.

Under.

Denver Nuggets (33-49, 34.5)

Just seven shot clock violations in 4th quarters and overtimes, tied for the lowest in the league, which the model loved. They are basically the Boston Celtics of the West.

Over.

Detroit Pistons (44-38, 45.5)

Stan Van Gundy has the Pistons headed in the right direction. One obvious reason was leading the league in most attempted end-of-quarter heaves (30). They also had the most team rebounds with 832. Domination.

Over.

Golden State Warriors (73-9, 66.5)

Lost a lot of jump ball skills in Andrew Bogut (44-30) and Festus Ezeli (9-9), but the model despised Harrison Barnes just because, and liked Kevin Durant strictly for his foul-drawing (4.5 team fouls drawn per 36 minutes last season).

Over.

Houston Rockets (41-41, 41.5)

2,020 substitutions last year. Dope. The model likes fancy numbers and gave Houston a few extra wins as a result.

Over.

Indiana Pacers (45-37, 43.5)

Called over 500 timeouts last year, which the model read as fear.

Under.

Los Angeles Clippers (53-29, 53.5)

Most technical fouls per game, but also the highest shot distance at 14.2 feet, which the model interpreted as more heaves in 2016-17.

Over.

Los Angeles Lakers (17-65, 24.5)

Toughest strength of schedule last season (0.64), which the model doesn’t expect to change anytime soon. Wonder why?

Under.

Memphis Grizzlies (42-40, 43.5)

They forced the most defensive three second violations last season (0.585 per game, via NBAminer), a clear sign of an offense that should be elite with a healthy roster.

Over.

Miami Heat (48-34, 36.5)

31 goaltending violations last season, tied for third worst. Hard to see Miami being a top five defense if that continues.

Under.

Milwaukee Bucks (33-49, 37.5)

Most defensive three second violations (0.451 per game). No wonder they had a terrible defense last season.

Under.

Minnesota Timberwolves (29-53, 41.5)

If the Wolves are going to have any chance at making the playoffs, it will come down to Karl-Anthony Towns‘ improvement in jump balls (45-64 during rookie campaign). Maybe Thibs will set him straight.

Under.

New Orleans Pelicans (30-52, 36.5)

Most kicked ball violations (72), and then New Orleans drafted a 22-year-old whose only hope at competent defense is kicking balls out of bounds.

Under.

New York Knicks (32-50, 38.5)

Going to ignore the model and roll with blog momentum.

Under.

Oklahoma City Thunder (55-27, 45.5)

Lowest shot distance allowed at 11.7 feet, which meant they prevented heaves, which means a top 10 defense even without Kevin Durant.

Over.

Orlando Magic (35-47, 36.5)

So much jump ball potential with Aaron Gordon, Serge Ibaka, and Bismack Biyombo. A lineup of all three, with the live jump balls they could force, is why the model projects Orlando as an elite defense.

Over.

Philadelphia 76ers (10-72, 27.5)

Highest free throw percentage allowed last season (78.6 percent), which is hard to turn around in just one season.

Under.

Phoenix Suns (23-59, 26.5)

Same problem as Brooklyn. Phoenix is sometimes ‘PHO’ and other times ‘PHX’ on websites. Unnecessary issue that’s held the team back for decades.

Under.

Portland Trail Blazers (44-38, 46.5)

Lowest Adjusted Distance Traveled: (Distance traveled on offense) – (Traveling violations * 10) at 713.9. Pathetic.

Under.

Sacramento Kings (33-49, 32.5)

The model projects Sacramento to win over 60 games because of how much penalty time DeMarcus Cousins generates for their offense (second-highest last season). At the least, they’ll have a decent offense again.

Over.

San Antonio Spurs (67-15, 56.5)

Losing Tim Duncan hurts, but not that much. Nobody talked about how he was a jump ball hog.

Over.

Toronto Raptors (56-26, 49.5)

Most shot clock violations (71), which means Toronto could slip a bit this season, but stay in the 50s.

Over.

Utah Jazz (40-42, 47.5)

They fouled a ton while defending in the penalty, 5.1 more fouls in the penalty per 48 minutes compared when not in the penalty, which is a wordy way to say the timing of their fouls were really bad. That will keep them from winning 60 games.

Over.

Washington Wizards (41-41, 42.5)

Second-most and-1s last season with 141, but the model worries about the jump ball chemistry between Marcin Gortat (84 jump balls) and Ian Mahinmi (82).

Under.

My model projects these predictions to go undefeated.

The best, worst, most even, and most lopsided matchups by SRS

As noted in my previous post, we’re about 1/4th of the way through the NBA season. There’s very little time to reflect, however, as there are 10 games scheduled tonight. There are a couple nice matchups in Pelicans-Mavericks and Rockets-Warriors, some lopsided ones in Knicks-Spurs and Clippers-Pacers, and finally some in-between, perfectly mediocre games in Celtics-Hornets and Heat-Nuggets. WHAT A GREAT NIGHT.

I actually looked at which games applied to each of those categories over the first fourth of the season, measuring them by Basketball-Reference’s metric labeled SRS, or Simple Rating System. SRS takes into account a team’s point differential and strength of schedule. It is not a perfect metric, ignoring wins and losses as I’ve explained here, but to me it’s better than looking strictly at margin of victory, among other statistics. For reference, the Golden State Warriors currently have the best SRS at 9.54 while the 76ers have the league-worst at -11.89. Anything above, say, 5.00 is very good.

I like the metric, so I’ve kept track of every team’s SRS on game nights. The first couple weeks were cut out from this post, though, because SRS needs to even itself out over the first handful of games or so. We will always have the -22.20 from New York and +25.46 from Golden State on November 2.

Below have been the 10 best matchups so far, sorted by the sum of the SRS from both teams:

best 10

There are some expected teams like Memphis and Dallas, but hello Toronto and Sacramento! The Kings, partly from being without DeMarcus Cousins, now have an SRS of just 1.96. Toronto, meanwhile, currently has the second-best mark in the league at 8.15. Unsurprisingly, a lot of teams from the West are listed here.

Tonight’s matchup between Houston and Golden State would place eighth with an SRS total of 13.01. None of the games would place among the 10 worst:

worst 10

So much tire fire, or dumpster fire? Any game featuring the 76ers rounds out the top five, but New York and Minnesota are also included in a decent amount. There is also Oklahoma City in one game. This may be #BOLD, but with Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook back that team will likely never add to the 10 worst matchups.

Looking ahead, it’ll be “interesting” to see if a game with two teams’ SRS’ summing to a total of -20.00 or worse happens again. Only the 76ers and Timberwolves have an SRS of -10.00 or worse while third most-embarrassing Detroit sits at -7.63. The next 76ers-Timberwolves matchup takes place on January 30. Mark that down, figure out what kind of unsatisfying dinner to have, choose your least-favorite Gatorade flavor, and we can all be miserable together.

Lastly, the 10 most-even and, well, least-even matchups:

20 diff

Tonight’s Portland-Minnesota game barely misses out on the 10 largest differentials. Surprisingly, some of those games in the screenshot have been pretty fun, or at least close. The team with the worse SRS in those matchups is, to no surprise, 0-10.

The home team in the 10 most-even matchups, at least by SRS, is 8-2. Most look decently contested, but we’re not taking into account rest advantages, injuries, players returning from injuries, etc. Again, Oklahoma City is likely to see a rise in their SRS, the Kings may continue to dip, Detroit’s should be twice as bad for being as disappointing as they are, and Golden State should get a boost just because. Maybe I’ll make a new metric called SoupRS. If a team was a soup and I had a spoonful, my reaction would either hurt or help their original SRS. Basketball stats: Tasty, edible, digestible?

East vs. West Week 6: The East sort of strikes back

The West may have finished Week 6 over .500 at 15-10, but the East put a dent in the record-breaking point differential after laying some smackings on them. Those were mostly thanks to the Toronto Raptors and Washington Wizards as they went a combined 4-0, each win by eight or more points.

It wasn’t too pretty for the rest of the East teams in non-conference play. Chicago, Detroit, Indiana, and Milwaukee all went winless, a combined 0-9. At least Philadelphia scored their first win of the season…on the road…against a West team. (Dammit, Minnesota). The undefeated West teams last week with multiple non-conference games were Dallas, Golden State, Oklahoma City, and Portland. Utah and Denver went winless. COOL.

Below is the updated non-conference stats through Week 6, and below is a screenshot of the scores from all the games. Thought I’d include them in case anybody was curious.

week6scores

Statistically, Week 6 may have been the East’s best showing so far. I mean, there’s even a loss by San Antonio. GOOD GRIEF. It’s between Week 2 and 6 for the best, which is pretty pathetic since the East finished neither of them over .500.

Week 7 is a slightly shorter non-conference schedule with 20 games versus the 25 we saw the last two weeks. There’s also finally a home-road edge for the West, though a small one.

weeky7

Cleveland, Detroit, Miami, and New York take road trips out west while the Clippers and Blazers will or are already playing multiple games on East courts. The other teams with multiple games this week are Indiana, Milwaukee, Washington, Denver, Memphis, New Orleans, Oklahoma City, Phoenix, and Utah. For the West, only San Antonio and Sacramento are on the non-conference schedule but with only one game.

FUN STUFF. Kevin Durant is back, so we’ll see him in what looks like a great matchup vs Cleveland on Thursday night. There are some other goodies like Portland-Chicago, Clippers-Washington, and a good ol’ repeat of the 1999 NBA Finals in San Antonio versus New York. The Spurs still have the same roster, pretty much. Kind of crazy that Tim Duncan, Tony Parker, and Manu Ginobili all came together only a few years after that first title.

ANYWAY. If you somehow made it to the end of this post, I’d recommend checking out Zach Lowe’s column about non-conference disparity and Ziller’s fantastic piece about a solution for it. I’ll roll out at least a couple of more posts this week, including an addition to the My Soup section. Unfortunately it’s not really soup but weird stats I’ve put together. They don’t taste like anything and if they smell bad it’s probably you. Sorry.

Have a good week, though.

Dream Team #3 within the salary cap, Part 2–Bench

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This is part 2 of my dream team series and now my most pointless off-season post. That is, until the next post is published, and then the one after that, and…(for part 1, click here)

It’s a two-part series dedicated to the bi-annual construction of a team that doesn’t even exist (you can view past ridiculous squads here and here). I try to mix talent with cap-friendliness since I can’t go over the salary cap for any reason. This year, that limit is $63.065 million. All contracts are fair game, save for rookie deals. From there, I try to make the best roster to my limited abilities. This post covers the reserves. Below is a quick look at the starters I selected. You can find more regarding them in part 1:

The starters combined for $49,397,823 which left $13,667,177 for the last seven players. That’s an average cap hit of $1,952,453 for each slot. Not great, not terrible. We can still splurge on a player who’s on a good, $5-9 million contract, and fill the rest of the bench with minimum deals.

So let’s get started. As a reminder, all cap hits are according to Spotrac.com. Shot charts are from Nylon Calculus.

#6: Goran Dragic, Phoenix Suns

  • Cap hit: $7,500,000

dragic 2014

I was lost on who to select. It felt mandatory to take Greg Monroe because of his qualifying offer, but I’m not sure a small ball center was best. Kyle Korver was another tempting player and I love his game, but he felt redundant with Dirk and Curry, Channing Frye would’ve made for some fun combos as a stretch-5, Wesley Matthews would’ve started but the extra few million impacted the options for this slot, and a few others were intriguing. For the sixth man I felt like I mashed buttons, clicked and prayed.

I settled with Goran Dragic. Mike Conley was another guard considered but, well, I don’t know.

Two words to describe Dragic, though, are electrifying and fearless, challenging behemoths at the rim even LeBron would shy from. Check out a couple of these moves against the Pacers:

Imagine the pick-and-roll with either Nowitzki or LeBron after being so good with Channing Frye. Dragic is also one of the best shooters in both pull-up and catch-and-shoot situations. Just look at his shot chart overall. It’s so nice and balanced. He finished 2014 with a true shooting percentage over 60%, a rarity for a 20+ points per game guard with above-average usage.

Is that all coming back in 2015? The threes concern me the most. In 2012 and 2013, Dragic shot a combined 32.6% off 478 three-point attempts, and the spike in 2014 was aided by a higher dose of attempts from the corners. Only 18 guards, 6’4″ or smaller, have finished two seasons shooting 40% from 3 with a usage rate over 20%, so that doesn’t help, but plenty of great point guards have cleared those arbitrary benchmarks only once. It’s not terrible to decline to, like, 37%.

As you can see, though, I’m still talking myself out of this selection, and it’s weird that Dragic is coming off the freakin’ bench. It’s possible he’d in crunch time lineups. In part 1, I projected how many points the starters would score per 100 possessions, but let’s see what could happen if we plug in Dragic.

dragic lineups1dragic lineups2

As explained in part 1, a study by Eli Witus years ago showed that a lineups’ offensive rating increases by .25 points/100 possessions when it has to decrease it’s usage 1%, and vice versa. Depending on the 5-man unit featuring Dragic, it made for projected ratings of 126.5 and 124.6. Both ratings are higher than the 122.9 points/100 possessions for the starting lineup.

Using Neil Paine’s model that combines not just Witus’ but Dean Oliver‘s work, let’s see how these lineups perform when adjusting for all the high-usage players (again, for further explanation, check out part 1). Here’s what they look like when shifting usage proportionally:

projected1 projected2

And now optimizing for the best projected points per 100 possessions:

optimized1 optimized2

Not quite the results expected from Witus’ study alone, but still 120+ points per 100, so, that’s okay. Danny Green’s offensive rating means he disappears when fiddling with usage, and hurts the bottom line of these units. I didn’t project numbers for any other 5-man combos.

Player #7: Shawn Marion, Cleveland Cavaliers

  • Cap hit: $915,243

marion 2014

I may or may not be depressed Marion is 36 years old. It makes this something of a gamble even on a minimum contract. I’m using a roster spot on him, after all.

Al-Farouq Aminu was available and offers rebounding, but on my imaginary team I’d rather take the guy proven to also make a corner 3 and fit in right away. Maybe that’s why Cleveland went with Marion too. Should his defense slide, that’s an issue, but this roster doesn’t need him to turn back the clock.

Player #8: Patrick Beverley, Houston Rockets

  • Cap hit: $915,243

bevs 2014

A bit weird to select both Dragic and Beverley, but I’m not too confident Beverley can hound point guards for 31 minutes like last season, so he’s going to be turbo-charged for like 20, or something. He’ll be a pest off the bench during the season, playoffs, and even the pre-season. Remember this?

Like Green and LeBron, he’s a one-man wrecking crew versus fast breaks.

I’m not the biggest fan of the Houston Rockets, but Beverley alone makes them watchable. Below are two places, either games or eras, where I wish we’d see him play:

  • The ‘90s. Beverley may not be the tallest, strongest, or greatest point guard, but can you imagine him playing defense with the freedom defenders once had?
  • All-star games. If voted in, I could see Beverley sucking the the fun out of next year’s festivities.

Offensively, Beverley is all right. Low-usage, high-efficiency, league-average 3PT%, and below-average finishing but the mid-50% around the rim isn’t terrible. His defense certainly propels him into a rotation.

Player #9: Troy Daniels, Houston Rockets

  • Cap hit: $816,482

daniels 2014

Like Beverley, Daniels is a role player who should make the Rockets entertaining. I look forward to seeing what kind of looks Harden gives him with two seconds left on the shot clock.

Undrafted with only five NBA games (shot chart is from the D-League), Daniels is still a solid candidate to become one of the best shooters. In the D-League, he attempted 12.5 threes PER GAME and made 40% of them. Even the ‘meh’ areas in his chart look good. When he and Curry are on the floor, either on my fake team or against each other in real life, threes will be hoisted and fire will be made.

My backcourt is crowded. Finding minutes for Daniels will be tricky. Now to forwards and rim protectors:

Player #10: Cole Aldrich, New York Knicks

  • Cap hit: $915,243

Cole  Aldrich 2014

I can’t believe I’m doing this, but I’ll admit Aldrich wasn’t so terrible as a backup for the Knicks.

When looking at per-36 numbers, Aldrich cracks the top 20 in Seth Partnow’s rim protection stats. He also grabs defensive rebounds like crazy, snatching 33.8% of all missed field goals while on the floor, and he blocked 4.8 shots per 100 possessions all while not looking like the hack he was in previous seasons with Oklahoma City, Houston, and Sacramento. He finished 2014 with a PER of 19.1.

The problem is that he’s rarely played, only logging 1,033 minutes over four seasons. In 2014, a good load of it was in garbage time versus fringe-rotation players. 60% of his 330 total minutes came in the fourth quarter and 70% while up or behind by double-digits, per NBA.com. Hopefully the Knicks take a closer look at what they might have in Aldrich, but if he wants to converse with Jose Calderon about human ham, that’s fine too. I selected another potential rim protector in case that happens.

Player #11: Ed Davis, Los Angeles Lakers

  • Cap hit: $981,084

ed davis 2014

The Lakers and their pull when it comes to minimum deals continues, as Davis is a nice third big deserving of a larger check. Hopefully he doesn’t get buried behind Carlos Boozer, Jordan Hill, and Julius Randle. The Lakers’ frontline is quite crowded.

Like Aldrich, Davis was a lottery pick in the 2010 Draft and probably expected to be a larger contributor by now, but let’s not confuse the two. He has a career sample size 5x as large and just barely missed 1,000 minutes with an OREB% and DREB% of 10 and 20, respectively. He’s long and rangy, an active defender, though with more important minutes under his belt he doesn’t hold up well in the same rim protection stats as Aldrich. His build also means he gets pushed around, but it also helps him move well for someone in that 6’10”-6’11″ish range.

Playing Davis with LeBron, Beverley, and either Lopez or Marion would be interesting defensively.

Player #12: Jon Leuer-Durant-Chamberlain-Jordan***, Memphis Grizzlies

Cap hit: $967,500

Leuer 2014

Saving the best for last, Leuer is the greatest player I’ve ever seen. He’s Memphis’ Kevin Durant, only better. Unfortunately, Leuer took only 49 threes last season, and defensively he doesn’t look too hot in a few all-in-one metrics. Hopefully he’ll be more consistent next year. Up to this point he’s played just 123 games and 1,384 minutes. Leuer needs to stop screwing around and take over the league already.

***This was a lame attempt to get Jon Leuer a nickname on Basketball-Reference.

So there’s my 12-man squad. Below is a similar stat summary as in part 1, but with all the players. Click to enlarge because holy hell that looks blurry.

team overlay

Among other things, this is an efficient scoring bunch. Those that take more than a few mid-range shots (Curry, Nowitzki, LeBron) are either good to great at them. Also, look at Daniels’ secondary percentage. It’s from the D-League, sure, but that would flirt with the best marks in NBA history.

As for defensive metrics, they don’t look too bad for this team. It’s kind of embarrassing where Leuer ranks among the league, though, and all of my backup bigs are hacky. Walking fouls, literally.

Below is a breakdown of player salaries and how close I came to the cap:

team salary

The total salary of my roster left me with over $650,000. I spent $100,000 on a lifetime supply of waffles and used the rest to sign a 13th man. Like Leuer, the player I chose is a legend in the making:

Player #13: Sim Bhullar, Sacramento Kings

  • Cap hit: $507,336
embiid chart

Projected shot chart

This team would rule planet earth.

Honorable mentions:

Center: Pau Gasol, Omer Asik, and Channing Frye.

Power Forward: Nick Collison, Amir Johnson, Ryan Anderson, Greg Monroe, and Jeff Adrien.

Small Forward: Richard Jefferson, Paul Pierce, Kyle Korver, and Vince Carter. 

Shooting Guard: Arron Afflalo, Leandro Barbosa, Francisco Garcia, Alan Anderson, Wes Matthews, and Jamal Crawford.

Point Guard: Jose Calderon, C.J. Watson, Pablo Prigioni, Mike Conley, Jameer Nelson, and Qualifying Offer Eric Bledsoe

And any others who flew over my head.

Dream Team #3 within the salary cap, Part 1–Starters

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Let there be no cap or CBA (CDA?) on your dreams.

The deadest part of the off-season is here, but soon there will be #MuscleWatch, training camp hype, hopefully the disappearance of rankings, and eventually buzz around pre-season performances. We’re almost to the 2014-15 season, and good lord it can’t come fast enough.

There’s still enough time to write posts that are pointless like this one, about a team that doesn’t even exist: My dream team within the salary cap. It’s a series I started last pre-season with a revised squad over the all-star break. This year I’m not patient, posting a month earlier than last year, but all major contracts are signed save for Eric Bledsoe’s. His would actually alter the roster if he took a $3.7 million qualifying offer. It’s disappointing that, despite writing at a slothful pace, there’s little chance any Bledsoe news will explode before part 1 of this series is published. (Edit: I was sort of wrong.)

But yes, there are not one but two posts for this team. Part 1 covers the starters, part 2 the reserves. The guidelines for selecting this team are fairly simple. Make a 12-man squad without exceeding the 2014-15 salary cap of $63.065 million. Rookie deals are off-limits, but I don’t feel the same about minimum deals or exceptions since I can’t go over the cap in any way.

Some notes before I rattle off my starters. I’ll expand on these later:

  • I don’t think this is the best roster I could put together, mostly because of my math skills and overall intelligence of the players in my made-up, cap-friendly player pool. I give the team a B+.
  • Only one of LeBron James and Kevin Durant made the team. I WILL TRY TO EXPLAIN THIS.
  • Cap hits were via Spotrac.com. Many of their contracts match Basketball-Reference’s, though they are up to date with recent signings across the league. Don’t worry, B/Ref. I still love you.
  • I’ve never went back and forth with so many players. A few slots were chosen at the last second.

On to naming the starters, each with a Nylon Calculus shot chart. Austin Clemens for off-season MVP!

Center: Robin Lopez, Portland Trail Blazers

  • Cap hit: $6,124,728

Lopex 2014

Timofey Mozgov was the center for the longest time, even in some projected lineup stats until I caved with Robin Lopez. Mozgov was $1.5 million cheaper, cracked the top 35 in Seth Partnow’s rim protection stats, and held up in a few all-in-one metrics. He was also productive as last season came to a close, averaging 14 points and nine rebounds in 27 minutes over the final 16 games. There were also flashes of becoming a stretch 5. Well, sort of. Regardless, Mozgov should be the Nuggets’ starting center rather than JaVale McGee or the out-of-position J.J. Hickson.

But I went with Lopez, on the team a second straight time. Here’s a video of him kicking some ass:

He doesn’t have the silky smooth 3-pointer Mozgov possesses, but he’s one of the very best rim protectors and holds up better in the same all-in-one metrics. He also used only 14% of possessions last season while on the floor, often with one of the most potent starting lineups in the league. Sure, Lopez will make an awkward hook shot, maybe swish a mid-range jumper or make teams pay for fouling him with a free throw percentage surpassing 80, but for the most part he’ll bang with opponents, protect the rim, and get boards. He actually led the league in contested rebound% and would be a terror on the offensive glass if his defender sags off him and helps against any of the high-usage players I chose.

Lopez can also log more playing time than Mozgov, finishing last season just over 30 minutes per, and he’s durable, missing only two games the last three years. Mozgov has yet play the same major minutes over a full season, but 2014-15 could be a year when he clears those benchmarks.

Power Forward: Dirk Nowitzki, Dallas Mavericks

  • Cap hit: $7,974,482

Nowitzki 2014

In 2014, Nowitzki recorded a career-high in eFG% and a 3-point rate not seen since teaming with Steve Nash. With a pay cut that will last through possibly 2017, he might be in this series for a while.

The higher 3-point rate makes sense when Nowitzki is 36 years old, and combined with a declining free throw rate he’s a glorified role player on this squad. He can still create and his assisted field goal rate on made two-pointers (50%) resembled what we saw during his prime. The shot chart is fire overall and Nowitzki’s mid-range game generated about the same efficiency as a league-average three-pointer:

ian2

Maybe Nowitzki would be like 2011-14 Chris Bosh, but the holes he can drill in a defense just off the ball would open a ton of room for younger, springier players I selected.

Defensively, it’s possible Nowitzki could be hidden thanks to another forward I chose, one with height and strength to play the ‘4’ in doses, but this squad was made to outscore than lock down. It looks like both Lopez and Nowitzki would hang back in pick and roll coverage.

Small Forward/Utility – LeBron James, Cleveland Cavaliers

  • Cap hit: $20,644,400

leBron 2014

I still can’t believe I can type LeBron James, Cleveland Cavaliers.

If I had to, I’d fit both James and Durant on this team, but together they take up $40/63 million in available cap space and, while it’s tempting to go top-heavy with this roster, a LeBron-Durant-Nowitzki/Curry trio with nine minimum contracts isn’t as fun a roster to write about as one with depth. We don’t yet know who the injury bug will bite anyway. In the all star break-related post, I might go with a huge 3, but this off-season brought nice, still-healthy bargains.

This wasn’t an easy choice. Durant was about $1.5 million cheaper, and that million or two saved for each slot adds up. He has more range, should be a better defender next season, and can carry a higher scoring load with less long-term effects. He might also improve on his assist rate, and, who knows, he may play more power forward and add a clever post move. Durant may very well repeat as MVP.

I wondered if he was the best fit with all the other shooting I plucked. To get the juiciest looks at the basket, somebody needs to consistently bend the defense and LeBron can do just that, able to get to any spot. Durant isn’t at that level partly thanks to a slimmer build. Pesky defenders take advantage of that. It looks like LeBron will be bit slimmer this season, though, so we’ll see how that impacts him.

LeBron is as positionless as it gets, and if not for the slip in defense is as perfect a player as could be, but his defense has slipped. We’re probably at the slight downturn of his career, and if this team was made for five years versus one, I’d flip-flop my choice for small forward. Regardless, this is LeBron’s third straight appearance here, and if it’s in his diet he should celebrate with a ham sandwich.

Shooting Guard – Danny Green, San Antonio Spurs

  • Cap hit: $4,025,000

Danny  Green 2014

Green is third to repeat here, on the first team before replaced by the ~$900K salary of P.J. Tucker.

He is by some metrics the best 3-and-D shooting guard in the league. Here is one via Tom Haberstroh:

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3-and-D players are an essential piece to any winning team, but especially one with three high-usage players who aren’t elite defenders for long periods of time. Green would take on the toughest defensive assignments, though it wouldn’t exactly be ideal to have him chasing point guards.

With both Green and LeBron, that’s a fantastic fast break defense with the chase-down block for LeBron and Green consistently anticipating angles below the rim to bottle up the strongest of players. Even his flybys tend to happen at the perfect moment. Below is a video showing some of this:

Some on/off fast break stats for Green are pretty interesting. Opponents scored 1.1 less points per 100 possessions when he was on the floor and two less points after all turnovers, per NBA.com. The difference in the former stat would’ve bumped the Spurs from 11th in the league to the top five while the latter would take them from eighth to behind only the Hornets who were in a league of their own.

It’s also worth noting Green has never fouled out in his short career, and the five-foulers are nearly as rare. Some of this is helped by minute totals, but the Spurs organization should also get credit.

Now to Green’s offense. According to Basketball-Reference, 75% of his shots came within three feet or beyond the arc where he shot 69.8% and 41.5%, respectively. He’s a limited scorer, though, an adventure when dribbling despite a solid pull-up shooter, and only shot 35.8% from the corners. That corner 3P% might be an outlier when the past two seasons were 45.1% and 43.3%, respectively, and ~36% is fine anyway. Sometimes that and ~55% around the rim is criticized too harshly.

Despite Green’s limits offensively, he has a history of explosive performances in high-pressure games. Hopefully someday my point guard gets a really deep postseason run so we can say the same for him.

Point Guard – Stephen Curry, Golden State Warriors

  • Cap hit: $10,629,213

stephen curry 2014

Many of the best shooters need a teammate to bend the defense before being fed an attempt, and what better teammate to do that for Curry than LeBron? But Curry can do it by himself, something similar to what Ian Levy wrote about recently. Curry not only demands attention off the ball, but defenses shift to his movements on the dribble as well. He can get shots off anywhere with the smallest of spaces to work with, either with some crazy dribble combinations or off the catch.

Curry’s flamethrowing makes him a one-man offense for stretches, his heat waves sometimes more like…tsunamis? He’s somehow taken over 1,200 threes the last two seasons and made 44%. For this team, he could carry bench units, playing off the ball when alongside LeBron, but it would be something of a waste to not unlock his on-ball shooting in stretchy, starter-heavy lineups.

How good could Curry be alongside, say, Nowitzki? We could look at his shooting alongside a stretchy forward like Draymond Green instead of David Lee. With Green on the floor, Curry shot 50% from three compared to 38.6% with Lee, according to nbawowy.com, and hoisted 11.9 threes per 100 possessions with Green compared to 9.5 with Lee. Overall, his usage increased from 26.2 to 31.4. This isn’t meant to blame Lee’s limitations for Curry’s drop in those stats, but stretch and space matters for all positions.

With all the scoring in this lineup, Curry would still take a backseat some of the time. Not the worst thing in the world since he, like Durant, is on the slimmer side with some of the same problems with pesky defenders, and he can be turnover prone. In particular, he sticks out quite badly in this passing chart I made a while back. Regardless, he’s only 26, and it’s not at all bold to claim he’s the best shooter alive. Soon he might also be the best point guard in the league.

Some Stats

So this is how the starters stack up in a variety of numbers (click to enlarge):

starters overlay

Every player played for very successful offenses last season, minus Curry. There’s a mix in usage, some are slashers and others high in assisted shot %, and most hold up well in all-in-one metrics. It also looks like my starters will never commit a foul.

Obviously most stats would change, for better or for worse, if these players were together. Most obvious might be Basketball-Reference’s usage rates since, together, this unit would have to top out at 100%. That would actually help the projected offensive efficiency. Right now, without tinkering with the usage, the points per 100 possessions balance out to a whopping 118.6, 6.5 more than the 1st-place Clippers last season. That number would only improve as the lineup is forced to use less possessions, according to a couple notable people.

Some time ago, Eli Witus found the following related to lineups and usage, among other super interesting things in his study: “In general, for every 1% that a lineup has to increase its usage, it’s efficiency decreases by 0.25 points per 100 possessions, and vice versa.” It’s a bit harder and probably pointless to project a lineup of five guys who weren’t teammates last year, but under Witus’ study this lineup go from scoring 118.6 points/100 possessions to 122.9. We can tack on an extra point or two with amount of three-point shooting provided from four of the five players.

A couple years later, Neil Paine created a simple lineup efficiency model that combined Eli’s and Dean Oliver’s findings, the latter super intelligent guy making a distinction between low-usage, mid-usage, and high-usage players. Adjusting Paine’s model to 2014’s league-average offense, we get the following tradeoffs in offensive rating for increasing or decreasing each of my starters’ usage rates by 1%:

usage type

 

 

 

 

So I tinkered with the players to find their offensive ratings if their usage rates were anywhere from 10 to 40%. As usual, click to enlarge:

graph22112

With the low-usage, Lopez and Green dive harder than the big 3, but Lopez’ offensive rating gives him a head start. Nowitzki and Curry are neck and neck while James, as expected, is in good shape.

So we can use that info while tinkering with the lineup’s usage rate to see if we can reach the projected 122.9 points/100 possessions. The first adjustment is what would happen if we proportionally shifted every player’s percentages to a total of 100%:

proportioned starters

 

 

 

 

 

Not bad, and somewhat close to the previous projection of 122.9, but keep in mind the usage rates of Lopez and Green. What if each player was at 20%?

20 everyoen

 

 

 

 

 

The offense still improves from the 118.6 we started with. You can tinker quite a bit until the offense falls off the rails:

more rologreen rologreen

The best scoring projection involved Danny Green getting the shaft, thanks to his lower offensive rating last season, and Lopez’ usage actually increasing from 2014’s total:

optimized

That comes pretty close to what Witus’ study would suggest this lineup would score, but I can’t see those usage rates actually happening for a bunch of reasons. It would involve Green passing up what’s probably a few juicy looks from the arc, specifically from the corners since he’s the least versatile shooter, and those shots need to be taken. Who knows, though. Maybe he just never commits a turnover. As for the other players, it’s probably not ideal for LeBron to use over 27% of possessions and Dirk about 25% for an entire season.

So those projections might’ve been iffy, but the starters are a decent blend of players. Lopez and Green are already two of the best low-usage complimentary players out there, both providing some nice defense in the process. As for the trio, Curry and Nowitzki’s skill sets allow for a seamless transition into second and third options while LeBron, despite in his 12th season already, should be just fine.

The rest of the roster will be explained in part 2.

Honorable mentions (some players made the reserves, most didn’t):

Centers: Timofey Mozgov, Channing Frye, Omer Asik, Serge Ibaka, Al Horford, Tim Duncan, not Andrea Bargnani, Pau Gasol, and Boris Diaw.

Power Forwards: Kevin Love, LaMarcus Aldridge, Blake Griffin, not Amar’e Stoudemire, Greg Monroe, Kevin Garnett, Amir Johnson, Ryan Anderson, Paul Millsap, and Boris Diaw.

Small Forwards: Kevin Durant, not Gerald Wallace, Paul Pierce, Kyle Korver, and Boris Diaw.

Shooting Guards: Wesley Matthews, not Kobe Bryant, Vince Carter, Arron Afflalo, and Boris Diaw.

Point Guards: Goran Dragic, not Deron Williams, Mike Conley, the unsigned Eric Bledsoe, and Boris Diaw.

And all other players that are cap-friendly (or not) who flew over my head.

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