Saturday, July 21, 2007

The NBA hates TEAM USA

Click here and spend 5 minutes looking through the pictures. You will notice something about ‘Team’ USA: the NBA people would have you think there are only 5 people on it and their names end with either –obe, -bron, -melo, -wayne or –evin. The fact that the NBA braintrust consiously choses to highlight selective ‘stars’ through their media outlets is an interesting one because it shows that they have made a decision about how to market the game. It is even more interesting because it’s not a simple matter of marketing but rather a deeper indication of how the NBA wants people to approach the game.

Debates about how the American game is ‘one-on-one’ centric in contrast to the European‘team game’ should be centered around the issue of self perception. That is, the American game is the way it is because the entity most responsible for defining [and by extension, projecting] the style and attitude of American Basketall wants people to go ga-ga over certain players and to approach the game in a one-on-one fashion. Next time you are on, notice the amount of ‘star’ names that jump out at you and contrast them with the emphasis that is put on the dynamic (and often, exciting) aspects of team play that led to a certain team’s outcome. It’s always ‘X leads team to victory’ or ‘Y saves team ABC again’ rather than say, ‘team Z’s defensive cohesion on open display’. No doubt that many a time, it really is the case that a certain player’s beasting it for the 4th quarter really did seal the deal. But every single time, the way would have you believe? I doubt it.

For students of the game, they see these things whenever they watch a game. For beginners and kids, it is often taken as fact that it was really Player Y that sealed the game or Player X’s decision to do a certain thing in one play that decided the outcome. In streetball or in a game of one-on-one this is acceptable but in professional basketball where the players and the coaching staff are some of the best in the world? It is simplification to a very nasty extreme.

The fact of the matter is this: things are never as simple or as star-oriented as the institutions would have you believe. They wanna sell tickets at the expense of cheapening the game and making it a mass marketing form of easily digestible entertainment. While it may be a necessary evil to play the whole ‘star-power’ game, one wonders if the NBA and American basketball really do want to maintain the status quo in how they market themselves. I have a sneaking suspicion they think they have found a magic potion and aren’t really interested in messing with a good thing, especially if its bringing home the dough.

Monday, July 16, 2007

Up One, Down Another recently reported that Sixers centre Samuel Dalembert could be well on his way toward playing for the Canadian national team. While born in Haiti, Dalembert spent most of his childhood in Montreal and has apparently expressed a desire to officially be a basketball Canadian. The effects for Dalembert are obvious; he gains the ability to play internationally and to represent our fair White North. For the Sixers, it means he could be tired for the upcoming season even if he'll be in awfully good shape. As a rather cynical Canadian basketball fan, I'm inclined to believe that it doesn't do a whole lot to change the FIBA world.

Dalembert's a nice shot-blocking pivot but he doesn't have a varied offensive game. Canada's team needs a lot and a go-to scorer is usually a good place to start. Dalembert's field-goal percentage is great but other than a single baby hook, all he's got are put-backs and dunks. His 0.8 assists per game aren't scaring anyone.

Even so, this would be a great addition if only because Canada's Olympic team is so desperate for talent. Ever since Steve Nash's retirement a few years ago, the team has been virtually devoid of top-echelon players and Dalembert would certainly count as one. In that sense, in the way that he'd be our franchise player, this is definitely a good thing. Too bad Team Canada doesn't have about six or seven more of them.

In other news, career Raptor Morris Peterson has departed for the New Orleans Hornets, where he's slated to start at shooting guard. Despite a lacklustre '06/'07 campaign that saw him average only 8.9 points per game, he inked a deal worth $23 million over four years.

It seems like destiny that Mo should become a Hornet. Three years ago, they tendered him a $15 million, three-year offer sheet that the Raptors matched. The Hornets have had interest in Peterson ever since and they've always seemed to have a hole somewhere on the wing, meaning that Peterson's always been something of a good fit there. He should complement flashy point sensation Chris Paul well.

I think we'll all miss Mo a little and it'll certainly be strange to see him in a different uniform but it's not so sad. We still have Parker and now we have Kapono, both of whom figure to matter more to our plans. Besides, $6 million per, while not necessarily in the Rashard Lewis school of monetary madness, is a little much for him, don't you think?

Sunday, July 8, 2007

So Colangelo got us a shooter...

It's been a week since it became apparent that the Raptors had signed Miami Heat free-agent swingman Jason Kapono to a four-year deal at the mid-level exception. Due to the Raps' lack of cap space, that will undeniably be their largest signing of the summer and possibly their largest move. Let's hope it was a good one.

Kapono, 26, led the league in three-point percentage last season at a sizzling 51.4 percent. While known for his shooting since his days at UCLA, he's also proven himself as a capable team defender, which fits in with the type of players Bryan Colangelo has been acquiring and Sam Mitchell has been giving heavy minutes. Being able to stretch the floor while also not being a liability defensively is very valuable in any league.

I like the player but I'm not sure about the money. Kapono's only ever had one double-digit scoring season and he's never even averaged three rebounds or two assists - as a player who, on the cusp of entering his prime, probably doesn't have enormous upside anymore, some of this could be unsettling. Whether he averages ten points or fifteen isn't a huge issue but his lack of ability to crash the boards and find his teammates could present a problem. With an already weak rebounding ballclub and an offence predicated on moving the ball, Kapono as a Raptor appears to have both an upside and also a downside.

My personal verdict, for the little it's worth considering we haven't seen him play as a Raptor yet, is that he'll be a niche guy who gets his twenty-four minutes off the bench and scores ten points on a great percentage. His limitations prevent him from being an effective starter at small forward for us, especially with Anthony Parker's underwhelming rebounding numbers and Andrea Bargnani being a work in progress on that front. What he is, though, is a good guy to have on the team. Whether he's worth approximately $6 million per year is something we'll discover in November. (Or perhaps in May?)

Sunday, July 1, 2007

Lies, damned lies, and statistics.

Recently took a quick look at points in the paint for the 2006/07 NBA season. The 82games study focused on both sides of the ball to see if interior play really correlated with winning basketball games and concluded:

The 95% CI's are huge with just a 60 team-season sample, but the basic premise is offensive points in the paint don't have a huge impact, defensive points in the paint allowed are the most connected to winning record (it's showing a negative correlation since fewer points allowed in the paint is the goal) and the net is somewhat related to record.

This is of particular concern to Raptors fans this off season with some people suggesting the need for a big shot blocking presence in the middle to protect the paint. Normalizing the 82games numbers for pace, in the 2006/07 season the top interior defenses were:

Team Pts in Paint (Def)
Houston 37.0
Chicago 38.1
Orlando 38.4
New Jersey 39.6
Miami 40.8
Dallas 41.8
Utah 42.3
Indiana 42.5
New Orleans 42.5
Cleveland 42.6
New York 42.6
Detroit 43.2
Toronto 44.0
San Antonio 44.1
LA Clippers
Washington 44.8
Sacramento 44.8
Phoenix 44.9
Golden State 45.0
Minnesota 45.1
Boston 46.0
Philadelphia 46.1
Charlotte 46.3
Denver 46.6
Portland 47.2
LA Lakers
Milwaukee 47.8
Seattle 48.1
Atlanta 48.4
Memphis 49.3

According to the pace adjusted numbers, Toronto had the 13th most efficient defense in the paint this year.

This obviously begs a few questions. Are the Raptors somehow an average interior defending team...and are the Spurs? Is "points in the paint" too indiscriminate (IE, fast breaks count too)? Is Rasho Nesterovic the greatest C in Raptors history? Is Chris Bosh's interior D underrated?

That last question interests me. Watching the Raptors I have noticed Bosh is not pushed around down low defensively nearly as much as his message board critics like to claim. Some players seem to get stuck with certain labels like "soft" or "bad defender" and that label will stick with them throughout their careers, despite obvious improvement. Watch Dirk defend now and compare that with the Dirk of 2002, for example. I feel that Chris Bosh really stepped up his defensive game this year and was one of the big reasons the Raptors improved their overall defensive efficiency from 29th in the NBA last year, to 12th in the NBA this year, and these points in the paint numbers might help illustrate that belief.

But with that in mind, a great man once said:
Oh, people can come up with statistics to prove anything. 14% of people know that.

Saturday, June 30, 2007

A Quiet Draft In Toronto

Most NBA cities were going crazy over the 2007 NBA Draft, touted as the best since that hallowed 2003 class that brought us LeBron James, Carmelo Anthony, Chris Bosh and Dwyane Wade. Toronto was curiously hushed though; not being in the lottery for the first time since 2002, and not even having a pick for that matter, there wasn't much for the fan base to discuss. In the bar where I watched the draft, for example, I had to request for them to switch one of the TVs from the Yankees game. (They happily obliged, just saying...)

There were a lot of players who would have looked great in Raptors uniforms in that draft, with rumours placing Bryan Colangelo directly in the hunt for a first-round pick. Among the players we allegedly coveted, most of them international, were Rudy Fernandez and Tiago Splitter. Fernandez looks like an interesting player but it's Splitter who's the killer. He's a player I've wanted on the Raptors for a good couple years, he's a lottery talent and, of course, all that meant that he went straight to the Spurs.

Something that alarmed many of the more die-hard fans, myself included, was the ease with which teams bought first-rounders combined with the Raptors not getting one. Portland, the undisputed winner of the draft, managed to buy the #30 overall selection (which became Finnish guard Petteri Koponen) as well as not only buy Phoenix's #24 (the aforementioned Fernandez) but also get James Jones in the transaction. Jones, who was a solid sub for Phoenix, could potentially start in Portland and he'd at least be in the mix for that job here too.

Given Colangelo's track record thus far, though, it's hard to call his inactivity a failure. There were clearly many things going on that we didn't see on draft night, the countless fruitless trade scenarios among them, and it's impossible not to think that Colangelo wasn't trying to do something. Well, something other than land Greek prospect Giorgios Printezis, who'll be a solid guy to have stashed overseas but won't provide the kind of immediate impact a lot of fans wanted.

I suppose all I can say about the Raptors' draft is that we were at a disadvantage going in and you can't win every time. Sure, Canada's team would look utterly formidable if it had Fernandez, Splitter and maybe a swingman like Alando Tucker for good measure. Most playoff contenders would. What's next is to put aside the barely-existing memory of a lacklustre draft and look ahead to free agency. Don't worry - it starts tomorrow.