Tag Archives: LeBron James

The Wizards and the rare three-second violation in crunch time

The play often discussed from Washington’s 125-124 victory over Portland has been the game-winning basket from Markieff Morris, but just after he stepped out of bounds. Unfortunately for the Blazers, the missed call couldn’t be corrected with a review and the Wizards escaped in overtime. It was a crucial win for Washington after a second straight game on the road, while Portland fell two games behind Denver for the final playoff spot in the West.

But there was another usual play that NEEDS to be talked about, one that happened with a minute left in the fourth quarter. No, not the four-point possession from Washington that put them up six points after trailing by 21 at halftime, but a defensive three-second violation against Morris. We can assume it was the right call (NBA.com’s play-by-play feed doesn’t offer a good look), but it’s one rarely ever made in crunch time.

Since 2002, there have been 12,773 defensive three-second violations in the regular season, or about 0.7 per game. That’s slightly more often than the similar violation on offense (0.5 per game), but they’ve occurred less frequently as the game progresses. The first half has accounted for about two-thirds of defensive three-second violations, 23 percent for third quarters, and 11 percent in fourth quarters and overtimes. Offensive three-second violations are more evenly distributed, though if we divide games not by quarters but four-minute blocks, both occur less often late in games.

Going back again to 2002, Morris’ defensive three-second violation was only the ninth called with one minute or less remaining and the first time since 2012. Even with fouling and garbage time, that seems weird given how much isolation occurs at the end of games as teams trade efficiency for having the final possession of the ball. With less player movement away from the ball, maybe it’s just easier to have those three seconds in a player’s mental clock, though it’s hard to camp in the lane against a high pick-and-roll and/or shooting spread out across the arc anyway. Cleveland, for example, sometimes gets these violations called in their favor not while LeBron James pounds the ball above the arc, but as he posts up on one side of the floor and the help defense waits at the rim for a bit too long. Those are the type of plays that have been pointed out in the NBA’s Last Two Minute Reports when a violation was missed. Who knows, maybe it’s something defenses have commonly taken advantage of, at least in crunch time.

The Wizards were up six points at the time of the call on Morris, still a nice lead (97.6 percent win probability, via Inpredictable) where the Blazers had to score every time they had the ball and get defensive stops each time, but the technical free throw opened more scenarios for how that could be accomplished. Portland scored four points on one possession (the technical free throw plus a three-pointer), two points on another, and stopped Washington twice on defense. They almost prevented another game-winner in overtime, but we know now Morris’ bucket couldn’t be overturned.

All statistics were according to play-by-play data from NBA.com. Violation totals were through March 11.

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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 as 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 Cleveland’s rebounding has been drawing 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.

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

East vs. West Weeks 12 & 13: Atlanta and the East hold their own

After a two-week hiatus, Chicken Noodle Hoop is back with an East vs. West roundup. Since Week 11, 42 non-conference games went down and the East held their own by going 20-22, including 67-78 over the last six weeks. Not great, obviously, but not bad really, though the West ran 8.4 wins below their Pythagorean record.

Below are the updated standings through Sunday. After that I’ll do a quick summary of each conference over the last couple of weeks.

The West

  • The top nine teams (New Orleans replaced with Oklahoma City, since Anthony Davis missed some games) went 17-8 with a +5.28 point differential. They also had 12 road games, so the home-road games were split. The same teams against the top five East squads went 4-5 with a -4.22 point differential. San Antonio and Oklahoma City got the worst of it.
  • So that means the worst of the West was, well, bad. 5-12. This was the weirdest stretch of the season from New Orleans, losing to New York, Philadelphia, and Boston. There’s no way that doesn’t haunt them when looking back on how they didn’t make the playoffs this season.

The East

  • Atlanta is obviously hot, SO HOT RIGHT NOW, but Cleveland looks much better than what we’ve previously seen from them. LeBron James looks like his old self. So, too, does J.R. Smith. This piece about his threes was nice. The top five East teams went 10-5 against the West, and as mentioned above performed well against the best of the West.
  • Boston survived a road trip out West, which was surprising to see from the post-2013 Celtics. The post-Rajon Rondo squad right now is, um, interesting? Two crazy wins against Denver and Portland, plus a chance to upset the Clips. They even rate well in my Watchability Rankings, though they’re declining in that metric.
  • Kevin Garnett stuck on the declining Nets bums me out every day, though this writeup about his career was fantastic. The Nets got washed against the West, outscored by 106 points and finishing 1-4. Atlanta can take Brooklyn’s first round pick if they choose, so this could be a monstrous year for the Hawks in more ways than one.
  • In the rest of the mediocre East, Miami went 2-2 (HASSANITY) while Milwaukee, Indiana, Orlando, and Charlotte went a combined 1-6. Ew. Luckily New York and Philadelphia picked on an Anthony Davis-less Pelicans squad that still should’ve been fine against the most heavily-armed tanks in the league.

Overall, the record-setting point differential has disappeared and the worst-half of the West still has plenty of non-conference games remaining. Below is a look at what games are left to play with top eight seeds shaded:

gams

Atlanta, the team that saved the East from disaster?

The West teams still have an uneven distribution of East games remaining, though maybe this is typical because of geography. Teams furthest out West are are among the ones with most and least non-conference games, which obviously includes Golden State, undefeated against the East with a mammoth game against Atlanta on February 6. WEEEEEEEEEEEE!

57 non-conference games will be played out from, well, yesterday to the all-star break with the West 2-1 so far. I probably won’t update this until that mid-season break since there are a bunch of other posts I’m trying to write up.

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.

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.

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