Today’s NBA: 5 Need-To-Knows, 3 Misconceptions, and 1 Proposition

Five Need-To-Knows

1) The referees of today condone traveling (as long as it looks good)

We can’t expect referees to catch every single thing that goes down on a basketball court. Missed calls happen, and fans, players, and coaches are rightful in expressing their complaints from time to time. But in today’s NBA, there’s something peculiar about a specific no-call - one that seems to slip past the officials each and every time. So I must ask: am I really that observant, or is the NBA knowingly permitting this violation?

This specific violation occurs when a player transitions from a run to a pivoted spin to a shot, dunk, or jumping pass. We most often see run, spin, dunk - this is generally done by the league’s most athletically gifted players. Due to their running speed, though, in the midst of this process their pivot foot slides; in some cases it is picked up and put down in a completely different spot. The movement of a pivot foot is, without a doubt, a traveling violation.  Here are few of your favorite players in violation – er, action:

If someone informed me that the league was knowingly permitting such types of movement for the purpose of better entertainment, I suppose I wouldn’t be completely surprised. But I still don’t agree it with it one bit. If we’re to dismiss the very rules that the game is based upon, there is no limit to the degree the game will devolve in the future.

2) The silliest rule in sports is present in today’s NBA

This “shooting foul” rule has troubled me for years and years. Say a player shoots a jumpshot. There’s contact after the release, often on the arm or the hand. The referees proceed to award the shooter… with foul shots? The shot has already occurred, yet the player is supposedly in an “act of shooting”. A bit counter-intuitive, isn’t it?

3) The NBA currently employs the two all-time best ball handlers for their size

Tyreke Evans and Jamal Crawford. I know, it’s not what you were expecting.

4) Despite its inherent value, proper screening is done far too infrequently

I recently attempted to conduct a study on the impact of good screen setting, but it was an impossible task. This was simply because roughly 70% of the “screens” people were setting weren’t really screens at all – just guys running through the motions. Maybe they were tired due to the compressed schedule, but if you ask me, that shouldn’t excuse their failure to set good, hard screens where contact is made with the defender. The pick-and-roll is absolutely the best play in basketball, and the league’s most talented big men are often half-assing it. If Kevin Garnett (the elderly version) gets a 9/10 for screen setting, I’d give Blake Griffin about a 4 and Chris Bosh about a 0.5.

5) Carlos Boozer spends 63.2% of his time on the court by clapping, air-sitting, or airsit-clapping

Yes.

One Simple Proposition

Increase the penalty for reoccurring violations

Have you ever felt that games are carrying on way too long when a team intentionally fouls at the end of games? This usually occurs when Team A has slight chance of coming back if they can connect on a couple miracles, hoping team B will miss their free throws at a detrimental rate. The repetitive actions of foul, quick three, foul, quick three can sometimes lead to the remaining 43.1 seconds taking a full 20 minutes to play out.

Solution: A gradual increase in awarded foul shots. Currently, a rule is in place to give Team A bonus free throws once Team B has reached five team fouls, right? So why not be awarded three free throws once ten team fouls has been reached? It eliminates excessive repetition to prolong the inevitable and simultaneously penalizes for repeated violations.

Three Common Misconceptions Lasting Into 2012

Common misconception #1: It is always better to box out

It’s not. Don’t get me wrong – boxing out correctly is one of basketball’s most crucial fundamentals. Nine times out of ten, the action of boxing out is going to be advantageous for your team. But taking the time to find your man and concentrate on bodying him can sometimes work against you; the most elite rebounders have a clear understanding of this. Depending on players’ positions relative to the ball, it can be more important to focus on the trajectory of the ball in order to better react to the bounce.

Common Misconception #2:  A player and his team have total control of their destiny

Most of us are aware that several factors play into which teams win and lose, particularly in playoff settings. However, as of late, it appears that many of these factors are being overlooked. Fans will go as far as blaming a single individual for an entire season’s results. How fair is this, exactly? Other than talent and skill level, let’s review some of what plays into the possibility of one team’s successes:

·    Familiarity with each team’s philosophy and personnel (all teams, stages)
·    Seeding of playoff teams
·    Playoff teams’ injuries (degree, total, and timing in season)
·    Previous matchups, duration, and outcomes (all teams, stages)
·    Coach’s decisions (all teams, stages)
·    Roster depth (all teams, stages)
·    Teammates’ familiarity with one another (all teams, stages)
·    Collective playoff experience amongst teammates (all teams, stages)
·    Collective playoff experience amongst opponents (all teams, stages)
·    Ability to compensate for opponent’s style and abilities (all teams, stages)
·    Ability to properly execute towards end of close games (all teams, stages)
·    Existence or nonexistence of star players (all teams, stages)
·    Health of star players (all teams, stages)
·    Occurrence of random “table-turning” events (all teams, stages)
·    Home court advantage (all teams, stages)

The list goes on. There are, of course, plenty of other factors of a more discrete nature. A great example: Scorecasting authors Tobias Moskowitz and Jon Wertheim explain that due to loss aversion, certain coaches will pull out their stars earlier than they should in order to avoid blame. The authors proceed to estimate that leaving a superstar with five fouls on the floor increases chances of winning by a full twelve percent. How many times have teams lost key games because their coach was being too careful? Likely more than we had thought. One can only estimate the vast number of factors at play in NBA basketball that are of a similar nature.

Not the most fortunate

The reality is, playoff outcomes are hardly predictable. If the 2011 Miami Heat didn’t face a zone by Dallas – a defense their personnel was unable to dissect – would they have won? If Ron Artest hadn’t caught Kobe’s airball and converted a game winner, the Lakers may not have beaten the 2010 Suns, either. The same applies to Kendrick Perkins’ injury and the Celtics loss in the same year. We mustn’t forget everything that goes into the game of basketball, as it’s not all about a specific star’s “success” or “failure” – sometimes things are just out of a player’s or team’s hands.

Common Misconception #3: PER is perfect indicator of player production

Yesterday was the same as any other day: I woke up, rinsed my mouth, and immediately did a Basketball-Reference Player Comparison between Jamaal Magloire and DJ Mbenga. Following that delightful refresher, I somehow found my way to a comparison between Larry Legend and Sir Charles. I realized that something just didn’t seem right – particularly with the fact that Bird’s career PER (Player Efficiency Rating) was inferior to Barkley’s. Their statistics seemed to hint at the very problem with how PER is calculated.[21] First, a look:

Larry Bird——-: 24.3 PPG, 6.3 AST, 10.0 TRB(2.0 ORB), 0.8 BLK, 1.7 STL, 0.7 3PT, 3.1 TOV, 2.5 PF, 38.4 MP = 23.5 PER on .564 TS%

Charles Barkley: 22.1 PPG, 3.9 AST, 11.7 TRB(4.0 ORB), 0.8 BLK, 1.5 STL, 0.5 3PT, 3.1 TOV, 3.1 PF, 36.7 MP = 24.6 PER on .612 TS%

Bird scored more points (+2.2 PPG), assisted much more (+2.4 AST/G), rebounded on the defensive end a little better (+0.3 DREB/G), fouled less (-0.6 PF/36 MIN), turned the ball over a little less (-0.2 TOV/36 MIN), made more three pointers (+0.2/36 MIN), and stole the ball more (+0.2 STL/G)…but we must also consider that he played a tiny bit more, his teams consisted of a 4% faster pace (roughly) and he shot the ball less efficiently. To be fair, we can only speculate as to who “deserves” a higher PER without fully going into the formula, its variables, and the weight of the values.

One thing we can be more sure of, though, is John Hollinger’s (creator of PER) apparent tendency to overvalue rebounds – namely offensive ones. Such might explain the very reason why great rebounders like Barkley tend to best the most efficient of scorers in a statistical sense. Below are the values that John Hollinger (and everyone else)[22] assigns to assists as opposed to offensive rebounds:

Hollinger: Assist: 0.79 PTS
Hollinger: OREB:0.85 PTS

Everyone else: AST:  1.02875 PTS
Everyone else: ORB:0.89875 PTS

A noticeable difference – one that would definitely affect the outcome of a formula. If Mr. Hollinger would reassign his values for rebounds and assists, PER might just be as perfect as it can get; ideally we will be able to see players like Bird and Barkley on a more even scale. Until then, I…will continue to use PER constantly. Okay fine, it’s still my favorite statistic in the world.

Footnotes    (Back returns to text)
  1. That’s not to say that others haven’t pointed out problems with the formula before. Hollinger has received some criticism for overvaluing offensive contributions and not fully taking into consideration what type of minutes people are playing – against starters, second string players, etc. Furthermore, according to David Berri, it is possible to increase one’s PER by shooting a mere 30.4%.Back
  2. These nine individuals: Martin Manley (Manley’s Credits), Joshua Trupin and Gerald Secor Couzens (Hoopstat Grade), Doug Steele (Steele Value), Bob Bellotti (Bellotti Points Created), David Claerbaut (Claerbaut Quality Points), The Mays Consulting Group (Mays Magic Metric), Joe Schaller (Schaller TPR). See Dean Oliver’s Basketball on Paper for more information.Back

About Keeper Of The Court

KOTC is from the team-less city of Seattle, Washington. He is currently exploring the East Asian side of the world while living in Japan, but basketball never fails to occupy his mind. ESPN TrueHoop's Truth About It, Hickory-High, HOOP Magazine (JP), and @KeeperOTCourt (Twitter) are other places to find his thoughts on the NBA.
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