Tag Archives: Kyrie Irving

Previewing the 2014-15 season with Adam Mares

My worst Kirby photoshop yet.

My worst Kirby photoshop yet.

With real basketball and cool things like televised games on the horizon, I exchanged a few e-mails with Adam Mares on what we’re most looking forward to this upcoming year. Adam is the creator of the NBA PhD program on Reddit, writes for Analytics Game, and in my opinion is underfollowed on Twitter. You can reach him there at @Adam_Mares.

Below is what he and I had to say about this upcoming season over the span of a few days:

Adam Mares (October 14, 2:17 PM):

Hey Matt! The NBA season is almost here! That means we don’t have to replace Kirby’s head with Carlos Boozer or Ty Lawson’s head with Peyton Manning. I mean, we still will, of course, we just won’t have to. We can start to watch and talk about actual basketball. And there is so much to look forward to this season. Like, hundreds of thousands of things that I am excited about.

I’ll get the obvious one out of the way first. Lebron is back in Cleveland! And he brought some friends with him too. It’s almost impossible for this Cavs team to disappoint, at least when it comes to entertainment. They’ve got the best basketball player on the planet, the most unique power forward in the game, a point guard with a ridiculous handle and the potential to be one of the game’s best, and enough outside shooting to fill a 3-point contest for all-star weekend. And yet I’m most excited about David Blatt. I’ve allowed myself to become convinced that he is a basketball messiah, sent to Cleveland to create the world’s greatest offense. And I say that having only seen a few press conferences, a couple of clips of his former teams in Europe, and some nice reviews from former players.

Blatt is like the hot foreign exchange student that shows up one day in your class. The one who has that thick accent and weird clothes, and yet somehow after seeing her you are convinced that you’ll never fall for an American girl again. They all pale in comparison to her and her glowing blonde hair and the way she says “mercy” after she sneezes. That’s David Blatt! He might just be another guy, but I’m convinced he’s the one!

Matt Femrite (October 14, 3:25 PM):

First off, I might’ve attended the wrong high school and college because there was no female Blatt that I know of. Then again, I may or may not have napped my way through those years. Cavs fans would’ve been wise to do the same the last four seasons, and Blatt (along with, you know, LeBron and everyone else acquired this off-season) is like that fresh cup of coffee or three to get back up and going again.

IT’S ONLY PRE-SEASON, BUT Cleveland’s offense looks like it will end up as the most efficient in the league, and it’s been super fun to watch so far with Blatt deserving a lot of credit. The weave in particular and the off-ball movement produces spacing that’s just unfair. Kevin Love‘s going to have more than a few nights like against the Heat where he quietly scores 25, and we’ll have the 12th straight year wondering if LeBron will flirt with a triple double because of all the open looks this offense will create. There’s a lot of lineups that produce a ton of spacing, and sometimes defense just doesn’t matter when Cleveland could snap a 10-2 run in a minute.

Back to Blatt, though. Seems fair to put him near the top of the Coach of the Year candidates. That award has some, well, interesting names receiving it over the last 15 or so years. Quite a few have been awarded after a surge in wins which Blatt is going to qualify for, but Stan Van Gundy (Detroit), Monty Williams (New Orleans), and Mike Budenholzer (Atlanta) are a few who could be in the running as well. Is Blatt your pre-season pick?

And I’ll lob (or outlet pass?! Or both, like a full-court alley-oop?!?!?!) another question to you: With Kevin Durant about to miss a good chunk of time, is LeBron the #1 and #2 MVP candidate or do you see anybody taking the #2 slot up to the New Year?

Adam (October 14, 4:31 PM):

Lebron has been my #1 MVP pick every year since about 2008 and I think the odds are strongly in his favor for this season, but I actually think his usage will go down this year even if his impact is as big as ever. He’ll also get some competition from Blake Griffin, the three-point specialist. I think people, myself included, tend to think of Blake as a finished product when really he’s 25! This will likely be the first year of his prime. It’s entirely possible that Blake makes a leap this year not just as a shooter, but as an all-around player. Durant could also be in the mix, especially if the Thunder struggle without him and his return helps bring them back to the top of the Western Conference. People’s memories are short and if he returns on Christmas most people won’t even remember that he missed games by the time votes are due in April.

And what about the Unibrow? This promises to be a big season for him since his learning curve has been ridiculously steep. The Pelicans probably won’t make the playoffs in the loaded West, but how are teams going to score against Davis and Omer Asik? Anthony Davis reminds me of sci-fi movies when a robot slowly gains consciousness to the point where they can no longer be controlled. Or that movie Lawnmower Man! Anthony Davis is basically a basketball lawnmower man. Every game he is better than the last. Davis started last season as the 33rd ranked player on ESPN’s player rank. He finished last season as the fifth or sixth best player in the league. Where will he rank by the end of this season?

Matt (October 14, 6:09 PM):

Fair point on Durant. Game totals will impact voting for awards and All-NBA teams, but memories are indeed short and if anybody was going to win MVP on less than 70 games for the first time since Bill Walton in 1978, it would be Durant. It’s a steep hill to climb, having to surpass a few big names, two you mentioned in the Brow and Griffin, but also possibly splitting votes with Russell Westbrook. Voting history over the last 20 seasons, via Basketball-Reference, suggests Durant could place in the top 3 if he ends up playing around 60 games.

For the Brow and his age, history suggests a tough obstacle to climb into the top 5. 2006 LeBron, 1994 Shaquille O’Neal, 2010 Durant, and 1998 Tim Duncan are the only players to place in the top 5 voting and be 21 years or younger, which is where Davis is currently at. He’s just as freaky as each of those players, but making the playoffs like the rest of those guys would help a ton.

Regardless, it feels like this is the year Davis starts to terrify people for betting against him and the Pelicans. Like, Zach Lowe just took Serge Ibaka over him for Defensive Player of the Year? What does Pierre think of this? I also give it two months before Davis’ basketball-reference page looks like this:

borw

Adam (October 15, 12:09 PM):

Ha! I love it, although I doubt Lawnmower Man catches on. The brow is just too solid of nickname to be replaced. I think Ibaka as DPOY is as good a bet as any although there are plenty of challengers. Davis is certainly a contender for the award along with… Dwight Howard. The Rockets have become a punchline for the league, especially James Harden and his matador defense. They’re going to need 2009 Dwight back if they plan on being in the conversation this season and that means dominant on both sides, especially defensively.

Speaking of defense, how about the new look Charlotte Hornets? I am fully aboard the Steve Clifford bandwagon, I’m running for president of the Steve Clifford fan club, I’ve even ordered my Steve Clifford tiger beat pinups. Okay, maybe not that far but I am a believer. Have you seen the way his players talk bout him? And on top of that, in one year he turned Charlotte from the worst defensive-rated team in the league to the fifth best. Look at guys who had career years for them last year. Al Jefferson, Josh McRoberts, even Kemba Walker improved greatly as the season went on, averaging 5.4 assists in December, 6.3 in January, 7.3 in February, 7.5 in March and 8.5 in April. And now you add Lance to the mix? A guy that grew up competing against Kemba in NYC? I’ve got a feeling I’ll be watching a LOT of Hornets games this year on league pass. I know there are sexier picks out there, but I’m going with the Hornets as my pick for league pass team of the year!

Matt (October 15, 3:54 PM):

Charlotte’s new court gives them a few extra wins, no? I’m just glad the Bobcats are gone. It was mostly a forgettable 10 years and last season looked like it was going to fit in with the first nine, but yeah, it’s remarkable what Clifford has done with that defense.

We could see some really ugly scoring out East. The Bobcats, Magic, Pacers, 76ers, Celtics, and Bucks… I mean, 7 of the 9 worst offenses last season came out East. I’d like to see how they play against a team like Cleveland, just from how well Charlotte would defend the Cavs’ fast break and such. Are there any matchups you’d really want to see, no matter how weird? Let’s stick to regular season games for now since everyone’s going to play everyone at some point or another.

Adam (October 15, 5:49 PM):

There are soooooo many match ups I want to see! Cavs vs Bulls will be the ultimate Offense vs. Defense matchup. Cavs vs. Wizards has rivalries at every position — Kyrie/Wall, Dion/Beal, Lebron/Pierce, Varajao/Nene. Any matchup between ATL, CHA, TOR, BKN, and WAS will be fun since I think they will all be neck and neck in the standings. How about GSW vs NYK? Will the garden give Steve Kerr an earful for leaving Phil at the alter? In Texas, I love that Cuban and Morey are beefing. I fully support a front office beef. I wish there were more. I want a Steve Ballmer/Paul Allen feud.

how

vs. Utah

Then there’s the Lakers and their rivalry with logic and progress. Seriously, I am pretty neutral when it comes to all things Lakers but I have to admit that I am kind of looking forward to seeing just how bad this team will be. It’s not just the age or lack of talent on D, it’s what they seem to want to represent: A return to some idealized version of old school basketball. I hope we see more nights where the Lakers stick to their guns and shoot 70 mid range jumpers and go 0-3 from behind the arc. Nothing will demonstrate more perfectly just how much the game has changed.

Then there are the rookie matchups. We’re gonna get Wiggins vs. Parker, Smart vs. Exum, Randle vs. Noel. Nurkic in Denver is looking like a rebounding machine. This rookie class is going to be a story in and of itself. Which of the rooks are you most excited to see and who do you think finishes with the ROY?

Matt (October 15, 7:15 PM):

Totally agree with why the Lakers should continue what they’re doing. They’re going to be something of a time machine, possibly surpassing the KG-led Wolves as the least “Moreyball” squad since shots have been tracked on NBA.com. FUN TIMES.

Jabari Parker should be the favorite for Rookie of the Year, and looking at Bovada’s Sportsbook he’s the clear leader with Andrew Wiggins, Nerlens Noel, Julius Randle, and Doug McDermott (!!!) rounding out the top 5. I’m most looking forward to Wiggins, though, partly because he’s on the local Timberwolves but with Zach Lavine and Ricky Rubio he should also ease the rebuilding process. Orlando’s rookies Aaron Gordon and Elfrid Payton have a lot of intrigue, too.

Like you said, there are quite a few fun rookie matchups, and it’s going to be a fun storyline both early on and hopefully during the last 20 games or so when the season can get stale.

Just for the heck of it since awards keep popping up, who do you have for each?

Adam (October 16, 2:33 PM):

I’ll stick with Lebron at MVP; it’s the only real choice. I’m really tempted to go with Wiggins for ROY. A LOT of people I really respect are down on Wiggins but I love his game and think he’ll have a more immediate impact than most. Clifford at COY for all of the reasons I already mentioned. I’ll go with Taj Gibson as 6th man of the year. This award typically goes to high volume scorers like Crawford but I think Taj is in a great spot now with Pau taking over the starting 4 duties. I think he’ll be more useful and more efficient behind Pau and will even get to play the 4 alongside Pau in some lineups. Also, the Bulls will be good and they need an award to show for it.

I think Steven Adams wins most improved. This might finally be the year Brooks realizes that the Thunder are better without Perkins on the court and I love what I’ve seen out of Adams. He fits that roster perfectly. Defensive player of the year award will be a tricky one. I could see Dwight stealing this one if Houston can become a better defensive team, which I suspect they will replacing Parsons with Ariza. I could be waaaaaay off on this one but I think Dwight has one of his best seasons ever this year and that starts with his defensive impact. Executive of the year will go to Lebron James. How can it not? He created a super team in a city that used to be free agency poison. The league will hand it over to David Griffin but we know who really deserves it.

Are you seeing what I’m seeing?  And lastly, who do you see bringing home the title?

Matt (October 16 4:25 PM):

MVP: LeBron James, but I can see Jon Leuer giving him a run.

ROY: Jabari Parker. I just see him as getting the most bulk stats and he has nobody to split votes with unlike, say, the Orlando Magic with Payton and Gordon.

Most Improved: Anthony Bennett should be the favorite for this, but it’s such a weird award. Like, Kobe could be in the running. Adams is a fun pick, maybe Reggie Jackson too. Is it bad if I don’t know?

[Throws dart at board.]

Cole Aldrich?

COY: Clifford’s a fun pick, but he may have missed his chance as this award is usually given to teams with big improvements in regular season win total. I’ll lean on Blatt.

6th man: Taj Gibson is a nice pick. Probably should’ve won it last year. I’ve wanted to modify who qualifies for this award, but that’s a post for another time.

DPOY: I’ll go with the Brow because I don’t want to upset Pierre.

GM: Heh, LeBron is a solid choice. This award will go to somebody in Cleveland.

As for which team survives the gauntlet that is the playoffs, I like the Spurs to repeat. It’s so close, but I like whoever gets that 1-seed out West. It’s a disaster to fall to #3 which OKC, another decent choice to title, might be placed.

It’s just so hard for a new trio to win it all, and while I always thought the ’08 Celtics were going to win a championship, them winning it all looks more impressive each day. The ’11 Heat ran over teams on the way to their first Finals appearance, but even they fell short in the end. For Cleveland this year, sure, the players will probably be disappointed if they don’t title, but to me that’s more than okay. If we learned anything from the SSOS Suns or the early-2000s Kings it’s that teams with great, super-fun offenses have lasting power.

What about you?!

Adam (October 16, 10:43 PM):

I have absolutely no reason to pick against the Spurs. They perfected basketball last year. Their finals performance was a work of art. They made a team that featured one of the best 10 players of all time look like a J.V. And yet, my gut tells me it won’t be them this year. My gut is telling me that Lebron and the Heat made it to the finals in Year One with Carlos Arroyo running point! Lebron learned the hardest lesson of his life that season, and I think he’ll take those lessons with him into this season. There are so many questions surrounding that team, but I take Lebron at his word this time around, that he’s ready to accept the challenge.

My head tells me there are a half dozen teams that could give the Cavs trouble. Chicago, San Antonio, OKC, the Clippers. But my gut tells me this will be Lebron’s season. My gut and my head are usually in sync but on this one I have to pick a side. I think we get a pantheon year out of Lebron.

It’s something of a transition period in the league. It’ll be a fast, short one. The Heatles era is over. The Pacers era might be over, at least the one we’ve come to know over the last few years. The David Stern era is over. As is the Donald Sterling era. The Spurs era might never truly be over, but it’s entirely possible that the dynasty is coming to a close. Kobe’s era is also a flicker. KG and Paul Pierce are on their last legs. Steve Nash, Vince Carter, and perhaps even Dirk Nowitzki are all writing their final chapter. But new, bright and exciting chapters are being written. One in Cleveland. Another in New Orleans. Another, in a sense, in Clipperland. And in Minnesota, Boston, Milwaukee, and so many other cities the new book is being written. This will indeed be a season of new beginnings.

Matt (October 17, 2:18 AM):

Could a contender please sacrifice 10 projected wins and trade for Kevin Garnett already? Is there a bizarro trade Cleveland can pull off to get him there? Regardless of what happens, I’m going to soak in the final days of his career and potentially the last from so many other stars of the late-90s, early-2000s. They’re my childhood and last major rooting interests around the league. That’s not to say the players of this era are dull or anything. They’re absolutely not and this is a golden age for basketball, but my fandom with most players, much like my rooting interest in the Timberwolves, comes and goes.

I very much agree that this season brings new beginnings and the excitement it could provide down the road will make for some great discussions, but right now the careers winding down mean a little more to me. The league is going to continue to soar when they’re gone, but like those before them we shouldn’t forget who helped pave the way. The nostalgic side of me sees this season as one of endings.

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The players above average in attempts from everywhere

Lately I’ve fooled around with player field goal attempts per 36 minutes, but mostly from a specific shot zone and compared that to the player average by dividing by it. While it’s a statistic I’ve yet to filter by positions, it should still have some value (as you might have noticed on Twitter if we’re friends on there). It’s weird that it’s rarely cited if at all when we sometimes compare a player’s shooting percentages from shot zones with the league average, even though that has its flaws too.

One reason could be be that the player average of attempts/36 minutes is a stat that’s probably hard to find and, at least for me, takes a little bit of time to calculate. Taking that into account and since it’s a key part of this post, it’s probably helpful to post a breakdown of the player averages from each shot location from 1998 to 2014. Numbers were calculated about a couple months ago from NBA.com, and the chart is interactive so sort, filter, even type into the chart if you’d like:

We can use those averages for silly things like to see if any player over the last 17 seasons took an above-average amount of attempts/36 from every shooting location and from the free throw line. As you might’ve guessed from the title, that’s what I did here. With the minimum minute total set at 1,000 for every season except 1999 (set at 600 minutes) and 2012 (800), 46 made the cut out of a possible 4,296. Quite a few players made repeat appearances.

Below is the list where I divided their attempts/36 minutes by the player average that season, so for example if a player’s above the break 3s spat out a number of 2 or higher, it means they took at least twice the player average of above the break 3s per 36. The table itself is ordered by years but the chart should allow for sorting and filtering. You can also find a player’s per-36 numbers in a second sheet:

There are definitely some odd names on that list. Among them: 2009 John Salmons, 2012 Jordan Crawford, 2004 Tim Thomas, even last season’s Jeff Green. Those guys narrowly made the cut. Some more expected names are probably Allen Iverson, the early to mid-2000s Vince Carter, the first Shaq-less year of Kobe Bryant, the rise of LeBron James, and, of course, Toni Kukoc.

Just about all players were comfortably above the player average in attempts/36 from the above the break 3. I suppose this isn’t surprising since most centers bring the average 3PA/36 down and wings were likely impacted negatively when it came to filtering shots in the two zones inside the paint. Again, adding a position filter is a project before next season.

Overall, though, the corner 3 was the biggest dealbreaker when filtering out players who didn’t take the average attempts from a certain spot. Below is the number the list grows to if we take out the filter from each location and minutes, along with some notable players who would then make the cut:

  • Restricted Area: 113. So much Ben Gordon, Jamal Crawford, Kevin Martin, and Ray Allen. Also 2003 Rasheed Wallace.
  • In the Paint (Non-RA): 87. Some random names but also lots of Jerry Stackhouse, Paul Pierce, Peja Stojakovic, and Stephen Jackson.
  • Mid-Range: 75. Nobody from the recent Rockets squads show up, but Manu Ginobili and Antoine Walker make multiple appearances. Also much more Gary Payton.
  • Corner 3: 147. Basically every season from Iverson, Bryant, and LeBron.
  • Above the Break 3: 65. Shareef Abdur-Rahim, Luol Deng, and 2014 Evan Turner.
  • Free Throws: 60. Lots of randomness: 2005 Keith Bogans, 2007 Randy Foye, 2003 Rodney White, 2008 Willie Green, and 2013 Michael Beasley.
  • And also minutes: 56. Lester Hudson (!!!).
  • If we even made every filter 90% of what it normally was (minutes included): 137. Lots more Antawn Jamison, Metta World Peace, and about every 2004-2010 season of Michael Redd. Also included would be 2014 Goran Dragic.

Something else worth noting is how rare something like this is happening over the last half-dozen seasons. A thought on why: The change in the shooting guard and wings overall. Looking at some of the teams those players were on, it’s also understandable a few had carried a significant load of the scoring.

Overall, the last six seasons make up 35% of the time between 1998 to 2014, but the players from that span make up only 21% of the list. Nearly half of it comes from 1998 to 2004, though quite a few players are repeats. If we took out the free throw filter (which felt kind of unfair to begin with), the ratio of players from 2009 to 2014 and 1998 to 2014 is nearly the exact same.

Going forward, I actually thought Paul George was a strong candidate to join this list in 2015 despite a likely decline from the corner three, but unfortunately we know now his campaign won’t happen.

Lastly, below are radar charts visualizing the stats in the two sheets previously listed. I also tried to make the axis on each chart as consistent as possible but exceptions were made for one player. The galleries below are probably on auto-play, but they should be fairly easy to toggle through. There’s even a little animation between each screenshot. Hopefully they’re not ridiculous:

Player’s FGA per 36 / Player Average FGA per 36 (sorted alphabetically)

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Player’s FGA per 36 ( sorted alphabetically)

After charting a players’ attempts per game for a while, you get to see what kind of players take on certain shapes. For the high-usage, high-scoring player, the shape is often what is seen here: A…stingray? Sometimes it’s a fat one or whatever.

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All stats are from NBA.com. Not expecting these to be shared, but if you’d like to share those charts please either link back to this post or give some kind of credit involving Chicken Noodle Hoop or my name. I know both are weird to type out or say out loud, but it would be greatly appreciated. Thanks.  

Looking at the NBA’s 2015 non-conference schedule

Last week’s release of the NBA’s 2014-15 season schedule marks the return of the non-conference posts. Maybe we’ll find something that gives one conference a scheduling edge over the other in their non-conference matchups. For the East, that would be nice.

As a reminder, 450 non-conference games are played each season, basically taking the number of teams (30) divided by those in each conference (15). The matchups last season were historic in several ways, one being that the West outscored the East by 4.09 points per game, the highest ever point differential in the last 17 seasons, according to NBA.com. The 2014 West nearly finished with the highest winning percentage in non-conference play, but fell just short of the mark set in 2004 at 63.33 percent.

Below is a breakdown of point differential, wins and losses, and win percentage in non-conference play since 1998. You can find the same chart in the last East vs. West post last season. All stats are from NBA.com:

It’s probably obvious, but the 450 non-conference games next season are not scheduled at a consistent frequency over the season nor do they all take place within designated weeks. Below is a chart of how many of these games take place in each of the 25 weeks.

2015 non-conf games

19 of those 25 have anywhere from 14-29 non-conference games and the ones that fall below that range are opening week, the week just before and after the all-star break, and the last three weeks of the season. On the other end, weeks 5&6 (11/24-12/7), 13&14 (1/19-2/1), and 20&21 (3/9-3/22) combine to take up over a third of the non-conference games. Those two-week stretches feature 50, 51, and 56 games, respectively.

And though each team has 15 home and road non-conference games, they don’t happen equally either. Below is a chart looking at how many more home games each conference plays versus the other each week. For example, on the first week (10/28-11/2) the West has five home non-conference games versus two for the East, which amounts to +3 in the chart.

2015 non-conf home and road games

The East will have more home games early on, but it will catch up to them as we head into 2015 when the West will have 30 of the 45 games from 12/30 to 1/11 at home. From 1/26 to 2/22, the East will have 10 more home games than the West, but then the West hits another home-heavy stretch from 3/9 to 3/22.

Rest is also a factor in quite a few non-conference games. 238 (52.9 percent) of the 450 matchups will feature teams playing on equal days of rest, with 191 featuring both the West and East team on a one-day breather. Below is a chart of the total games on equal rest and those that feature rest advantages:

2015 non-conference rest

 

The advantage of playing games on more rest than an opponent goes to the East, 108 to the West’s 104, but the West holds arguably the most important rest advantage: Games with rest vs squads on back-to-backs, 69 games to 65 but also a 60 to 49 edge in games at home vs squads on a back-to-back. An advantage for the East is having six more games where they’ll have more rest vs opponents coming off a one-day break, best when an opponent is in the middle of a stretch of four games in five nights or three in four.

Of course, not all back-to-backs are equal. A back-to-back combo of Philadelphia and Boston is less intimidating than 2/3 of the Texas Triangle. Then again, the Knicks went 2-1 through the Spurs, Rockets, and Mavericks. Injuries and mid-season trades also happen, though the latter not nearly as often as in the past.

Predictions for teams and conferences is pointless to me, but I still see a top-5 point differential for the West with the reason as simple as the West remaining lo-o-o-oaded. That prediction isn’t as bold as saying the West will record their best ever winning percentage versus the East, but like last year a ton would have to go wrong for that to have a chance of happening. For the sake of a great season and competitive balance, hopefully Derrick Rose and the Bulls stay healthy, Toronto picks up where they left off since trading Rudy Gay, Chris Bosh returns to a strong #1 option, Cleveland has a hell of a year with LeBron James, Kevin Love, and Kyrie Irving, and the middle of the East wins a few more games than last season.

But we’re still over two months away from the regular season, which I struggle to accept. First hopeful thing comes first: Hopefully this off-season doesn’t last forever.

High-usage backcourts and efficiency of their lineups

High-usage backcourts were something I fooled around with earlier in the season, though the filters I made back then (usage rates: 25 percent, players had to start together) were so stiff I had to look at backcourts across nearly 20 seasons. That was sort of the point, but at the same time there weren’t as many really high-usage backcourts as I initially thought.

This time I scaled back on the filters, making room for guards this season (74) that used higher than 20 percent of their team’s possessions. I also didn’t leave out players who didn’t start and instead fiddled with 2-man lineup stats from NBA.com featuring guards meeting both the 20 percent usage rate requirement and logging over 250 minutes together. In the end, 32 backcourt pairings made the cut. If I went by duos that each used up 25 percent of their team’s possessions, only the Dion Waiters/Kyrie Irving and Wroten/Carter-Williams duos make the list, though those tandems have rarely started games together.

Below is a visualization of each duo’s efficiency while on the court compared to their team’s average. For example, Brooklyn has scored 3.5 more points per 100 possessions than their team average with Deron Williams and Joe Johnson playing together but they’ve allowed 3.1 more points on defense. I also added “BRK” next to that duo because of how common their last names are. Hopefully the others are self-explanatory.

The color of each duo represents the range of minutes they fall in, located in the upper left. Klay Thompson and Stephen Curry have both logged more total minutes (1,904) and averaged more minutes per game (30.7) together than any other tandem, though DeMar DeRozan and Kyle Lowry are close behind (1,803 and 30.0, respectively). Duos that are in the bottom-half of the chart have their names below their dots and the opposite for those in the upper-half.

duos Rtgs adjusted (MP)

Click to enlarge.

It doesn’t seem too surprising that no combo is stifling on defense but bad on offense. Goran Dragic and Eric Bledsoe barely make that fourth of the graph with Suns lineups scoring 0.4 points less per 100 possessions with both of them on the court. If anything, lineups would normally be the other way around which is the case for 10 of the 25 pairings that score higher than their team’s average.

It’s also not surprising that the combos that stray furthest from the average are the ones with the smallest sample sizes. The larger the minute total, the closer they should be to their team’s average. Minutes per game will be looked at further down in this post.

19 of 32 backcourts logged a positive net rating, but five of the seven with nets of +9 or higher belong to the Lakers and Cavaliers combos. Some of this is because they overlap with each other while working as a trio. Below are the three most notable teams with trios along with their minutes and efficiency splits. all according to NBA.com:

Cleveland

  • Irving-Waiters-C.J. Miles: 82 minutes, 112.7/107.2/+5.5

Los Angeles Lakers

  • Jordan Farmar-Nick Young-Xavier Henry:  133 minutes, 113.2/89.3/+23.9

New Orleans

  • Gordon-Evans-Austin Rivers: 104 minutes, 109.3/125.2/-15.8

The Thunder’s combo of Russell Westbrook and Reggie Jackson (+16.2) and the Spurs’ of Manu Ginobili and Patty Mills (+15.8) stand above the five pairings from the Cavs and Lakers as the best duos.

The biggest disaster comes from Minnesota with Kevin Martin and J.J. Barea, logging 313 minutes together over 49 games for a net of -17 points/100 possessions, at least compared to their team’s overall efficiency. Over 100 of their minutes have come with Corey Brewer, Kevin Love, and either Dante Cunningham or Nikola Pekovic. The one with Cunningham gets killed on the glass and can’t take care of the ball, altogether allowing 133 points per 100 possessions while the unit with Pek has a net of -8.3 points. There are a couple Barea-Martin lineups that have yielded good results, though they’ve totaled only 20 minutes or so. Judging by the players filling out the rest of those positive lineups (Alexey Shved, Robbie Hummel, etc.), they likely beat up an opposition’s second unit.

Overall their sample size is one of the smallest. Not nearly as big of a struggle, though still pretty bad are the Gordon-Rivers and Evans-Gordon combos in New Orleans and the Rodney Stuckey-Will Bynum duo in Detroit.

So the biggest upswings or downswings come from duos and their lineups with the smallest samples, but do they also log the least amount of minutes per game? Below are the same pairings with the color of their dots representing minutes per game instead of total minutes. As usual, click to enlarge if you’d like.

duos Rtgs adjusted (MPG)

Below is a GIF that might help look at combos that log the most minutes per game.

mp/mpg on Make A Gif

There’s a slight difference in the combos that are negatives on both sides of the floor, but probably the most noticeable change comes where other pairings score a few points more. Most play a good chunk of minutes per game. Dragic and Bledsoe fit into that category and would log hundreds of more minutes if not for the latter guard being sidelined with a right knee injury.

The last graph shows which duos play the most games:

duos Rtgs adjusted (GP)

This all isn’t to say these combos are the only reason for the collective success or failure of their lineups. Maybe they compliment each other or the rest of the lineup well (or not, in terms of negative duos), benefit from playing alongside a star forward or center (or not), or beat up a second unit as opposed to starters (or…not..). As noted before, some sample sizes are smaller than others.

Some of the duos, though, just look like they’ll give up more points than they generate over the long haul, like Tony Wroten and Michael Carter-Williams not exactly being a pairing that will stretch the defense. Others like Dragic and Bledsoe look like they’ll cause chaos no matter who they play.

Any other thoughts are certainly welcome.

All stats are according to NBA.com unless noted otherwise.

Why Kyrie Irving and Dion Waiters remind me of a backcourt duo from the 90s

Erik Drost | Flickr

Erik Drost | Flickr

Lately I’ve been getting my cavalier on, both with a more-lazy-than-usual weekend and a couple of my latest posts featuring the rebuilding, possibly playoff-contending franchise out in Cleveland. It wasn’t my intention to continue discussing them through this week, but the young backcourt of Kyrie Irving and Dion Waiters felt worth looking at.

Irving and Waiters arrived in Cleveland through the 2011 and 2012 NBA Drafts, respectively. The former went first overall and the latter sparked a lot of discussion about going fourth, drafted when Cleveland also could’ve used a small forward or center for the future. Nevertheless, Cleveland locked up their backcourt.

But the Cavaliers continue to struggle, 11 games under .500 as they approach the halfway point in the season. (They were 9-28 through 37 games a year ago.) Waiters is no longer in the starting lineup (not a terrible thing, to be fair), and he’s had a few words about his difficulties playing with both Irving and Tristan Thompson. He’s floated around in trade rumors since last summer, and it’d be no surprise if he’s playing for a new franchise by the end of his rookie contract.

It all reminds me of a backcourt duo from over 15 years ago, back in the mid-90s when the Philadelphia 76ers retooled their backcourt with the third and first picks of the 1995 and ’96 drafts, respectively. Jeff Malone and Dana Barros were out and replaced with Jerry Stackhouse and Allen Iverson.

Since ‘Stack’ was drafted before Iverson, it’s a little hard to make statistical comparisons between the Sixers’ ’96 and ’97 backcourt and Cleveland’s the last two seasons, which was built with the point guard first. Here’s my best shot though, with the help of Basketball-Reference. As always, you can click to enlarge each screen shot:

per game wsai

per 36 wsai

adv wsai

There’s a lot to discuss from there. (If I missed something you’d like to include, feel free to use the comment section.)

First, I’m not comparing Waiters to Stackhouse or Irving to Iverson, though Cleveland could build around their point guard much like Philadelphia did with theirs. I’m grouping them together mainly because of their unique situations: two young, ball-dominant guards on the same team. Already mentioned was Waiter’s issues with Irving and Thompson, but Stackhouse had his own reported problems with Iverson that you can find here and here from the SI Vault. Bad things happen when backcourt duos consist of each wanting to score. Speaking of that…

Another reason I compared the two duos was because of their usage rates. Iverson and Stackhouse were the only starting backcourt in 1997 to each use up over 25 percent of their team’s possessions, according to Basketball-Reference. The same went for Waiters and Irving in 2013. Backcourt combos with similar high usage rates can succeed as long as they complement each other well, like Ray Allen and Sam Cassell for the 2001 Milwaukee Bucks and Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili for the 2010 Spurs. More often than not, however, guards with similar usage rates feature one starter and another as a spark off the bench, like how the Spurs have often used Ginobili.

That wasn’t the case for the ’97 Sixers or the 2013 Cavaliers, though, and neither team won all that many games as a result. That’s not to say those four players were solely responsible for so many losses, but a team isn’t going far with two players taking over a combined 30 field goal attempts per game while recording effective field goal percentages (EFG%, when accounting for threes worth more than twos) below league-average, which usually ends up between 47.5 and 50 percent. In particular, Iverson and Stackhouse couldn’t spread the floor, shooting around 30 percent from the arc and playing an average of nearly 40 minutes per game. Bad times all around.

Cleveland has since put Waiters in the role of a sixth man rather than pull the trigger on a trade. Philadelphia eventually scrapped their backcourt pairing and surrounded Iverson with players known more for their defense, starting when Stackhouse was sent to Detroit in December of ‘97 with Eric Montross and a 2nd round pick for Aaron McKie, Theo Ratliff, and a 2003 first-rounder. That first rounder, with the help of hindsight, was treated pretty unfairly. 25 months after trading Stackhouse, that pick would be sent to Houston for Mirsad Turkcan. (Turkcan didn’t do much at all in the NBA, but in fairness he ended up being a force of nature overseas. He was a nominee for the 2001-2010 Euroleague All-Decade team, but did not make the list.) In June of 2001, the first-round draft pick was then traded from Houston to Atlanta for Terrence Norris, then traded to Sacramento for Dan Dickau, and finally sent back to Detroit with Jon Barry for Mateen Cleaves. The draft pick ended up being Carlos Delfino, but treating a pick like that in the one of most loaded talent pools could’ve led to disastrous results.

But trading Stackhouse deserves a ton of credit when the Sixers’ front office had top-10 draft picks each year from 1992 and 1998, yet only kept two of them – Iverson and Larry Hughes – by 1999, when Philadelphia finally made the playoffs. They too logged usage rates of over 25 percent each, though Hughes came off the bench instead of starting. He was traded the following season for Toni Kukoc.

This all actually makes it a little more interesting that, despite the results from the Stackhouse-Iverson combo, Denver made the trade in 2007 to pair Iverson with Carmelo Anthony. Denver had a better supporting cast than Philadelphia in the mid-90s, and the Nuggets played 10 points better/100 possessions when Iverson was on the court in 2008 (according to Basketball-Reference), but it’s hard to expect two mediocre perimeter defenders and outside shooters like themselves to go deep in a loaded Western Conference.

In Cleveland, Irving remains relatively safe from trade rumors while Waiters, like Stackhouse, has been thrown around in plenty. The Cavaliers still have plenty of trade assets left over even after acquiring Luol Deng, so it wouldn’t be all that surprising if Waiters is eventually moved before his next contract. The value of rookie deals in today’s NBA is so different from when Stackhouse and Iverson entered the league, though. Both trading and keeping Waiters feel like gambles, but at least Cleveland still has time to decide which decision is better for their long-term future.

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