Wednesday, April 15, 2015

2014-15 All Defensive Team

Tony Allen is a lock-down defender. 
We close out the 2014-15 NBA regular season awards with the All-Defensive Team. Using a combination of the Defensive Rating (the number of points per 100 possessions that the team allows while that individual player is on the court), and our own read on players, we came up with these: 

2014-15 All NBA Defensive First Team: John Wall - Washington, Tony Allen - Memphis, Kawhi Leonard - San Antonio,  Draymond Green - Golden State, Marcin Gortat - Washington. 

ALL NBA Defensive Second Team: Stephen Curry - Golden State, Andre Iguodala - Golden State, Khris Middleton - Milwaukee, Tim Duncan - San Antonio, Rudy Gobert - Utah.

NBA All Rookie Team 2014-15

Mirotic is a quality rookie forward
The All-Rookie Team in the NBA is as subjective as you would like to make it. In a season such as this one, I'd bet many voters had a hard time coming up with ten rookie names. The NBA All-Rookie Teams are one award that, to us, is annually goofed up by voters putting too much value in per-game averages. That is how you get Gary Neal on the First Team in 2010-11 ahead of Eric Bledsoe or Derrick Favors. In 2012-13 It was Dion Waiters making the First Team ahead of Andre Drummond. 

It is understandable. Many voters simply compare per-game averages of players and roll with the guy who has the higher numbers. But what if the guy with the higher numbers is playing eight minutes more per-game simply because his team stinks, and is "in the tank"? 

Our issue with using per-game averages as the most important factor is that - not all teams are playing guys the same way. For instance, a rookie on the San Antonio Spurs, a veteran laden, championship winning team, is not going to have anywhere close to the equal amount of opportunities a rookie in Philadelphia will get. By breaking production down to a per-minute basis, we can "level the court" somewhat. 

Since we are way more obsessive than most, and for the sake of further educating ourselves, we took the time to closely examine 44 rookie NBA players, vying for ten spots on the All-Rookie Teams. 

Per-minute efficiency can help focus in on who has a chance to play for years in the NBA. Almost without fail, low-efficiency guys will fade away, into the D-League, or perhaps overseas.  We also believe the defensive aspect of the game is lost too often when it comes to NBA All-Rookie teams. 

We used the following criteria and formula... Total Production - 40% (efficiency rating multiplied by number of minutes played), Efficiency Rating (per-minute) 30%, Defensive Rating 20%, and number of wins 10%. ...We then built two teams using the data and our feel as a guide.

2014-15 NBA All-Rookie First Team

Elfrid Payton, Marcus Smart, Andrew Wiggins, Nikola Mirotic, Nerlens Noel. 

All Rookie Second Team: 

Jordan Clarkson, Zach LaVine, Rodney Hood, Jabari Parker, Jusuf Nurkic. 

Players who were close to making our lists included: Tarik Black, Mitch McGary, James Ennis, K.J. McDaniels, Cory Jefferson, and Langston Galloway. 

Monday, April 13, 2015

All-NBA 2014-15

All-NBA status = stardom
In our opinion, All-NBA teams should recognize the player's total production, defense, and the individual's team success. This year, we tried to use a formula that ranked each of those three categories. "Total production" seems the most important to me. Some players missed chunks of games due to injury, and that should be accounted for when trying to decide who is worthy of being an All-NBA performer any given year. 

We went to great lengths to decide our first through third team selections. We started with 57 players trying to get down to the top 15. After a first look, 13 guys were eliminated as candidates, leaving us with 44 players vying for 15 spots. 

We valued total production (our efficiency rating, multiplied by number of minutes played) as 60% of our formula. The best measure for defense is the Defensive Rating stat. But because Defensive Rating is greatly influenced by a player's teammates, it was weighted at just 20%. The remaining 20% weight went to the number of wins a player's team has. 

The results were eye-opening. Some of the players you would expect to be at or near the top were not there. Others who were overlooked as recently as the NBA All-Star Game, we realized, could make a strong case for All-NBA status. 

Ultimately we used the data to help inform us. But the final decision was not just about the results of the formula. As always, we believe you have to consider the data but also consider your own common sense, and feel for who has impacted the NBA and their team enough to deserve All-NBA honors. 

Please understand that these 15 players who we ultimately decided to go with are not necessarily the 15 players we would want if we were building a team. This is not about "upside" or the future. These first through third team All-NBA selections are instead SOLELY related to this 2014-15 season and who we think impacted the league at each position with their overall play. 
Curry should be MVP

All-NBA First Team: Stephen Curry, James Harden, LeBron James, Anthony Davis, Marc Gasol. 

The picks of Curry and Harden are no-brainers. Lebron as the small-forward is also pretty easy. While I would like to see Anthony Davis have a bigger impact on defense, I also think it is fairly simple to name him as the First-Team power-forward. The shocker in our formula was that DeAndre Jordan, Pau Gasol and Marc Gasol came out in a near dead-heat in the battle for First-Team Center. Presently, the Clippers and Grizzlies both have the same number of wins (54), while the Bulls trail with 48 wins. Jordan has yet to miss a game. He leads the NBA in both rebounding (14.8 per game!) and field goal percentage (70%!). But Marc Gasol has the better Defensive Rating among the trio, and that was the tie-breaker for me. 

All-NBA Second Team: Chris Paul, Russell Westbrook,  Kawhi Leonard, Pau Gasol, DeAndre Jordan.  

The Second Team backcourt of Paul and Westbrook seemed easy to decipher. Westbrook missed 15 games for OKC which is why he fell to Second-Team status. The next three positions really have no correct answer. The NBA landscape at small-forward went through some undulations in the 2014-15 season. Usually, Kevin Durant is a shoe-in for All-NBA but he was injured. Ditto Paul George. Carmelo Anthony's team was pitiful. ...After considering Kawhi Leonard, Klay Thompson (a shooting guard), and Draymond Green, we decided on Kawhi. Leonard is the next best small forward choice even though he missed 18 games this season. Leonard's "two-way" ability, and the Spurs success, is enough for him to edge out the rest in our opinion. The two BIGs on the Second Team are Pau Gasol, and Jordan. 

All-NBA Third-Team: John Wall, Klay Thompson, Draymond Green, LaMarcus Aldridge, Tim Duncan.

The Third-Team shocker is Draymond Green. Again, we doubt he will earn many votes but it says here that he should. Green has been one of, if not the best, defender in the NBA this season (we chose him as the NBA Defensive Player of the Year). His team has 65 wins and although he did spend most of his minutes playing power forward for the Warriors, he often operates in a small-forward-like capacity (he shoots .338 from deep, and has a better than two-to-one assist-to-turnover ratio). ...Tim Duncan is often overlooked. Some say he plays limited minutes too often. Well consider this... Duncan is approaching 2200 minutes (2193 mins.) this season and that is more minutes played than DeMarcus Cousins (2013 minutes played). Duncan is one of eight players in our study of 44 that has a Defensive Rating under 100 (the lower the number, the better). He is also one of eight in our study of 44 guys that has an "EFR" of over .700 (the higher, the better). 

Who was close that deserves careful consideration for All-NBA? Among BIGs it is Al Horford, Cousins, Paul Millsap, Blake Griffin, and Zach Randolph. Perimeter players who nearly made it included Damian Lillard, Kyrie Irving (his poor defensive rating turned me off big time), Eric Bledsoe, and Jeff Teague. 

Sunday, April 5, 2015

NBA Defensive Player of the Year

Draymond will check a point guard.
Your eyes can fool you when it comes to defense. A steal or a blocked shot catch the eye, and are among the traditional statistics tracked and published. In most cases, a steal or a blocked shot is a good thing. However, if a player gambles for a steal, and misses, (as many of the steals leaders do), the TEAM defense is now playing four against five. Likewise, a shot may be attempted to be blocked, which leads to an opening for the opponent on the offensive glass. 

Taking a charge is STILL not a statistic that shows up in the NBA box-score. (You can find charges taken total at 

So, what IS the best way to measure defense? That is a tough question, not easily answered. The "Defensive Rating" stat is our preferred method these days. Defensive Rating measures the number of points scored by the opponent per 100 possessions when any given player is on the floor. 

Recently, I heard someone in the NBA, whom I respect, say that LeBron James was the best defender out of the group of MVP candidates (Stephen Curry, Anthony Davis, James Harden, and Russell Westbrook). That declaration struck me. While LeBron is a freak, and I would have no issue riding with him for a single defensive possession, there are now measurables that go deeper than just a single possession, that suggest there are better choices than LeBron. 

Modern statistical advances now allow us to tabulate how many points the opponent scores on EVERY possession that LeBron, or ANY OTHER player is on the floor. In any one game a single NBA team will average roughly 98 possessions. The Defensive Rating makes it impossible for a player to "take a play off" without it being tracked. Other subtleties that used to go unnoticed include a player who draws technical fouls and gives free points to the opponent in the form of technical free throws. The Defensive Rating tracks all these nuances.  

No ole'.  Defensive Rating catches you.
The issue with using Defensive Rating as the "be all, end all" is that all individual Defensive Ratings are subject to who your four other teammates are. Backline defenders who play with slower, poor, defensive guards, will allow more points per 100 possessions than backline defenders who play, with say, a ball-pressure hawk like Patrick Beverley. Guards who play with great rim protectors (like Rudy Gobert) will see their Defensive Ratings improve. If a guard plays with an undersized center, the guard's defensive rating can suffer. 

The way around some of this confusion is to look at the team's defensive rating and see what players individually are above or below their own team average. 

All of the above prefacing is simply to help non hardcore basketball fans understand how difficult it can be to measure defense, which is rarely highlighted but remains HALF of the game. 

To decide on the NBA Defensive Player of the Year, we looked at four key defensive statistics, and ranked 20 potential candidates. The 20 players comprised any who ranked in the top five in one of the four categories plus others known as great defenders (Marc Gasol, Tony Allen, LeBron, Nerlens Noel, Russell Westbrook).  We assigned points in each category (Defensive Rating 50%, Charges Taken 20%, Steals 15%, Blocked Shots 15%).  

Our method crowned Draymond Green the 2014-15 NBA Defensive Player of the Year. The versatile forward checks perimeter players or BIGs. He has anchored the Warriors defense all season. When Green is on the floor the Warriors give up just 97 points per 100 possessions. The team as a whole has a Defensive Rating of 100.7 which is the best of the 30 teams in the NBA. 

Our top five NBA defenders of 2014-15? Green, followed Bogut, Noel, Leonard, and Gobert. As for LeBron... In our study, he ranked only ahead of Westbrook when it comes to the five players most mentioned in the MVP race. (If you are curious, in our defensive study, Curry edged Davis, followed by Harden, then LeBron, then Westbrook.)

(You can see how each of the 20 D.P.o.Y. candidates ranked  in each category below.)

Blocked shots (total) (15% weight)

Anthony Davis 183
Rudy Gobert 174
DeAndre Jordan 171
Serge Ibaka 155
Nerlens Noel 140
Tim Duncan 137
Marc Gasol 125
DeMarcus Cousins 103
Andrew Bogut 100
Draymond Green 94
James Harden 56
Kawhi Leonard 46
LeBron James 46
Marreese Speights 34
Tony Allen 30
Monta Ellis 24
Stephen Curry 16
Russell Westbrook 14
Chris Paul 13
Kyle Lowry 12

Charges Taken (20% weight)

DeMarcus Cousins 34
Monta Ellis 28
Marreese Speights 28
Kyle Lowry 25
Steph Curry 12
Draymond Green 11
Marc Gasol 8
Russell Westbrook 6
LeBron James 4
Andrew Bogut 3
James Harden 3
Nerlens Noel 3
Chris Paul 2
Anthony Davis 1
Rudy Gobert 1
Tim Duncan 0
Kawhi Leonard 0
Serge Ibaka 0
DeAndre Jordan 0
Tony Allen 0

Defensive Rating (50% weight)

Andrew Bogut 96
Draymond Green 96.5
Kawhi Leonard 96.6
Tim Duncan 97.2
Rudy Gobert 98
Tony Allen 98.4
Nerlens Noel 98.5
DeAndre Jordan 99
Marc Gasol 99.7
Anthony Davis 100.2
DeMarcus Cousins 100.8
Stephen Curry 101
James Harden 102
Marreese Speights 102
Serge Ibaka 103
LeBron James 105
Chris Paul 105
Monta Ellis 107
Russell Westbrook 107
Kyle Lowry 108

Steals (total) (15%)

Stephen Curry 151 
Chris Paul 147
Monta Ellis 145
James Harden 144 
Nerlens Noel 131
Tony Allen 129
Kawhi Leonard 129
Russell Westbrook 129
Draymond Green 117
LeBron James 102
Kyle Lowry 102
Anthony Davis 90
DeMarcus Cousins 89
DeAndre Jordan 73
Marc Gasol 67
Rudy Gobert 58
Tim Duncan 56
Andrew Bogut 38
Serge Ibaka 30
Marreese Speights 16

Saturday, April 4, 2015

NBA Most Improved Player

Greek Freak(y) good!
The Most Improved Player award annually has multiple strong candidates. This year is no exception. Giannis Antetokounmpo has nearly doubled his scoring average from last season. Rudy Gobert helped make the Utah Jazz defense do a 180-degree spin from being terrible to being very good. Jeff Teague and teammate Kyle Korver went from being good players to being All-Stars. Their younger teammate Dennis Schroder barely played last season but this year Schroder has been a dependable backup point guard on the best team in the East. Brandon Knight stepped up his game. Khris Middleton quietly did too. Klay Thompson improved his efficiency by going to the basket more often. Jimmy Butler went from being a solid player averaging 13 points per game to a guy that gets 20 a night for the Chicago Bulls. Evan Turner was virtually left for dead in Indiana at the end of last season, and now he is relevant again after a solid year in Boston. Victor Oladipo made strides in Orlando this season as compared to last. Certainly Draymond Green should be in the mix as well. Donatas Motiejunas parlayed a successful Summer League into a really nice year for the Houston Rockets. Hassan Whiteside was not even in the NBA last season. In 2015, Whiteside has emerged as a legitimate BIG in the league. 

If you are scoring at home we just named 14 players that we think a case could be made for. But let's define "most improved". Is it actually for the player that improved the most? Or is it for the guy who was already pretty good but just was not getting the minutes? As you may have guessed, I like to see who actually improved their game. We can do that by looking at the efficiency per minute from one season to the next, and also by the defensive rating from one season to the next. 

Efficiency improvement from 2013-14 to 2014-15 

Whiteside DNP to .814 = +.814
Schroder .253 to .485 = +.232
Butler .366 to .555 = +.189
Gobert: .488 to .673 = +.185
Thompson .403 to .572 = +.169
Antetokounmpo .371 to .512 = +.141
Green .469 to .582 = +.113
Middleton .387 to .464 = +.077
Teague .500 to .573 = +.073
Motiejunas .409 to .471 = +.062
Turner .427 to .476 = +.049
Knight .459 to .498 = +.039
Oladipo .425 to .464 = +.039
Korver .417 to .441 = +.024

Defensive Rating improvement from 2013-14* to 2014-15

Knight 114 to 104 = +10
Antetokounmpo 110 to 101 = +9
Middleton 111 to 103 = +8
*Whiteside 102 (2011-12) to 96 = +6
Gobert: 104 to 98 = +6
Teague 109 to 104 = +5
Turner 109 to 104 = +5
Schroder 110 to 106 = +4
Thompson 106 to 103 = +3
Green 98 to 96 = +2
Korver 108 to 106 = +2
Motiejunas 106 to 105 = +1
Oladipo 106 to 108 = -2
Butler 100 to 105 = -5

Gobert's D is real. 
The fact that Jimmy Butler's defensive rating took a major hit as his offense improved is enough for me to rule him out in this, winner take all Most Improved Player award, race. Since Hassan Whiteside only played in 43 games this season it is difficult, in my way of thinking, to give him the nod over others who played a full season. ...Oladipo's defense actually took a step backward while he just gained a slight uptick in efficiency. Ultimately, Oladipo is out of consideration. Green has been brilliant this season and while his overall production is up significantly, we always thought he was good. He improved but mostly because his role was expanded. ...Knight, Motiejunas, Turner, Teague, Middleton, and Thompson all improved but cannot make the claim as MOST improved. There can only be one. For us, it really is a tight race between Schroder, Gobert, and the "Greek Freak" (Antetokounmpo). 

While Gobert and Schroder have unquestionably improved their play, we feel like Antetokounmpo made the biggest leap. As a rookie he often looked clueless at both ends of the floor. Now we see glimpses of a player that has a chance to excel as a two-way star in the league. By any measure, Antetokounmpo (age 20) already ranks in the top-tier of NBA small forwards. He improved his defensive rating by a full nine points (110 to 101) from 2013-14 to 2014-15. His per-minute efficiency improved dramatically with a better shot selection this season. 

Again, we think it is close, but in our opinion, it is Antetokounmpo by a vowel over fellow international ballers Gobert and Schroder for the 2014-15 NBA Most Improved Player.  

Friday, April 3, 2015

NBA Coach of the Year is...

Kerr's success surprised us. 
NBA Coach of the Year is a tough call. I think it really comes down to either Mike Budenholzer or Steve Kerr. I would listen to arguments in favor of Kevin McHale, Dwane Casey, David Blatt, Tom Thibodeau, Dave Joerger, and Terry Stotts. But ultimately, it comes down to Budenholzer or Kerr. 

The Atlanta Hawks overachieved and they did it without having a "superstar". Their record of 56-19 is the best in the Eastern Conference. A huge amount of credit, in our opinion, goes to Budenholzer, who from day one of training camp made it clear that he would ride with his veterans. We have always been a believer that who a coach does NOT play is as important as who he does play. Budenholzer has seemingly pulled all the right strings in Atlanta. 

Meanwhile, Steve Kerr has guided the Golden State Warriors to a franchise-best season. The "Dubs" are 61-13, the best record in the NBA. Kerr has a deep roster and possibly the league MVP in Stephen Curry. But Kerr deserves credit for getting David Lee, and Andre Iguodala to accept less minutes without any major distraction. The Warriors defense is ranked number one in defensive rating. Their offense is third offensive rating. Their average margin of victory of +10 is almost unheard of. For those reasons, and mostly because of the historic significance of the Warriors success this regular season, I am giving NBA Coach of the Year honors to Steve Kerr.   

The 2014-15 NBA Rookie of the Year is...

Noel should be the NBA R.o.Y.
Let's face it, this 2014-15 class of NBA rookies has been disappointing as a whole. In a league of grown men, the NBA rookie is lucky to get minutes on a good team. On a bad team, a rookie may find it easier to play extended time. This fact muddies the water when trying to sift out which rookie has been the league Rookie of the Year. In many cases, activity is confused for achievement. For franchises that are in rebuilding mode, the coach may be encouraged to play rookies as many minutes as they can handle. 

So how do we decide who should be Rookie of the Year? I want to go deeper than simply giving it to the guy with the highest scoring average. This is where our efficiency rating (per-minute) comes in handy. The "EFR" tells us who is actually achieving out there. We then will multiply the EFR number by the number of minutes played to find out who has actually produced the most. 

Defense is usually not considered much when thinking about Rookie of the Year. But it should be. It's half of the game of basketball. And I also think we should consider the team's record. 

The candidates worthy of consideration are: Jordan Clarkson, Zach LaVine, Nikola Mirotic, Nerlens Noel, Jusef Nurkic, Elfrid Payton, Marcus Smart, and Andrew Wiggins. 

Using a simple point system, we will rank each player in the three categories we mentioned above. The most important category is total production, followed by defensive rating, and then team record. We will weigh the point system so that team record is worth only half of the value of total production and defensive rating. 

Total production: 

Noel: EFR .508 x 2240 = 1137.9
Wiggins: EFR .370 x 2683 = 992.7
Payton: EFR .427 x 2225 = 950
Mirotic: EFR .564 x 1494 = 842.6
Nurkic: EFR .583 x 984 =  573.6
Clarkson: EFR .470 x 1218 = 572.4
LaVine: EFR .348 x 1621 = 564.1
Smart: EFR .351 x 1597 = 560.5

The EFR suggests that if Mirotic played for a team other than Chicago, where he plays behind Joakim Noah, Pau Gasol, and Taj Gibson, Mirotic would likely stand out more. 

 Mirotic on a bad team = numbers would swell.
Defensive Rating:

Noel 98.1
Nurkic 98.6
Mirotic 101.5
Smart 105.1
Payton 106.9
LaVine 112.3
Clarkson 113.6
Wiggins 114

Team Record:

Mirotic 45-30
Smart: 34-41
Nurkic 28-47
Payton 22-53
Clarkson 20-54
Noel: 18-58
Wiggins 16-59
LaVine 16-59

Using the method described above to come up with a total for each player, we find that Nerlens Noel comes out as our choice for Rookie of the Year, narrowly edging out Nikola Mirotic. (Totals: Noel 17.5, Mirotic 17, Nurkic 14, Payton 12.5, Smart 9.5, Wiggins 8.75, Clarkson 7, LaVine 5.75.)

The points system we used was harsh to Andrew Wiggins. But that is why we do this. While Wiggins has had more highlight dunks than any of the other rookies, his defense has been horrid, and his team has lost more games than any of the other candidates (except his own teammate, LaVine). 

...So voters go forward with Nerlens Noel as your 2014-15 NBA Rookie of the Year. He has the most total production AND the best defensive rating among those considered. Those are two good reasons to give Noel the nod. 

Ranking the five NBA MVP candidates

Warriors: franchise-best mode
The NBA will ask media members associated with each of the league's 30 teams to rank their MVP candidates from one to five. The ballots will be sent electronically next week. You all know I am into per minute efficiency. But when it comes to choosing an NBA Most Valuable Player I like to value total production from regular season game one through time to vote. I value defense and the record of the player's team too. 

For this exercise to determine a 2015 NBA MVP, let's nominate five players. We will rank each guy 1 through 5 in the following categories: Total Production (efficiency rating x mins. played), Defensive Rating, and Team Record. We will give 5 points for a top ranking, and drop by one point per player in each category.

Total Production: 

James Harden .743 x 2729 mins. = 2027.6
Stephen Curry .789 x 2368 mins. = 1868.3
Anthony Davis .843 x 2173 mins. = 1840.5
Russell Westbrook .804 x 2029 mins. = 1647.3
LeBron James .696 x 2323 mins. = 1616.8

Defensive Rating

Stephen Curry - 100
Anthony Davis - 100.3
James Harden - 101.5
Russell Westbrook - 102.2
LeBron James - 104.6

Team Record:

Stephen Curry 61-13
James Harden 51-24
LeBron James 48-27
Russell Westbrook 42-33
Anthony Davis 40-34

The results? Curry is the top point earner at 14, followed by Harden with 12. Davis has 8 points, Westbrook 6, and James has 5. 

It is important that when you look back on a season the year can be quickly identified by the MVP. This season has been the Year of the Warriors. They are breaking franchise records and beating teams by an average margin of 10.8 points per game. Steph Curry not only is the team superstar but also the symbolic torch-bearer that best represents the way the NBA game is changing. 

Pull a transition three pointer lately?