Defense Is Our Backbone

Posted by Rob Mahoney on March 12, 2010 under Commentary | 10 Comments to Read

I’m a little burned-out on this Hollinger thing, but his new column (Insider) certainly warrants an addendum to my previous post.

Namely, that I think biggest flaw of his system (and one he readily acknowledged, as I noted last time), the lack of recognition and adjustment for significant roster changes, significantly damages his predictive analysis beyond simply the power rankings.

It’s just a difference in opinion, really, and I completely understand that not everyone who watches, thinks, reads, and writes about the game is going to share my appraisal of this Mavericks team. But in justifying his latest power rankings (which have Dallas ranked at 13th), Hollinger takes the data a bit too far. He blurbs each of the top 12 teams to analyze which factors place them ahead of the Mavs and whether or not Dallas could beat said team in a seven-game series at a neutral site. The former is definitely an analysis that needed to be done, and I think should help clarify the Mavs’ low ranking in the same way that I attempted to. But the latter…well…yeah. By Hollinger’s measure, the only teams in the top 12 that Dallas would best would be the San Antonio Spurs and the Boston Celtics. He says that a match-up between the Mavs and Hawks would be a toss-up. But apart from those three teams, the remaining nine — the Magic, Jazz, Cavs, Lakers, Suns, Nuggets, Thunder, Blazers, and Bucks — would top Dallas in seven games.

Some of those selections you live with; the Lakers are the class of the West, Denver is on-par with Dallas in my mind, the Magic are the hottest team in basketball (yes, even hotter than the Mavs), and the Cavaliers could be the best team in the league when healthy. I frown at the idea that Utah would beat Dallas, but we can’t all agree. Oklahoma City, Portland, and Milwaukee, though…come on, John.

I understand that the regular season match-ups play a significant role here, and they should. Dallas hasn’t played particularly well against any of those teams this season, and wouldn’t deserve to be an overwhelming favorite. But they’d still be the favorite. A playoff series between the Mavs and the Thunder would be a ton of fun and incredibly competitive. But Dallas has improved defensively since the trade, and they already boasted one of the best defenders of the Durantula in Shawn Marion. Plus, how does Butler’s impact offensively not help Dallas substantially against OKC’s defense?

No disrespect to the Blazers, who punked the Mavs with Andre Miller and Juwan Howard, or the Bucks, who are on a hell of a tear right now, but it’s the same story against each of those three opponents: Butler and Haywood make a huge difference. Not only in terms of the production that they provide, but how they bolster the Mavs’ depth and shift the match-ups as well. The team’s disposition has changed, and their season’s outlook should change accordingly.

I fully understand that Hollinger and his ratings have been completely under fire from Mavs Nation during the win streak, and the natural reaction is to stand behind the findings of the system. Perhaps John has done that and then some, overcompensating for the fervor of Maverick fans by swimming further and further towards the deep end. Maybe that’s exactly what this conversation needed. But statistical system or not, that opinion will never be popular when isolated on its own, provided the Mavs continue to win games.

But for now, there’s no reason to really argue who might beat who to any unreasonable extent. The playoffs are still a lifetime away, and none of this will really matter until then. I mean, a month ago, no one would have objected to the Mavs being ranked 13th in the league; Dallas was coming off an embarrassingly huge loss to Denver and had dropped a game against the Timberwolves a few days prior. So before we squabble too much about rankings and match-ups, let’s let the games play out, see how the Mavs improve (or don’t), and base our discussion on something a bit more tangible.

  • Andrew

    Hollinger COULD take a ton less heat if instead of using the color commentary he’s been giving to defend himself, he’d at least mention the obvious reasons that he might be wrong–namely that the Mavs are essentially a new team. If he wanted to also mention that this new team’s point differential and strength of schedule has actually been great, that wouldn’t be the worst thing and actually just seems like a reasonable, intuitive thing to mention.

    Continuing to insist that he’s right to the point of, well, that list of teams the Mavs would lose to, is where he gets himself and his model in trouble, and it’s pretty inexplicable. Why take it that far? Does saying it make it true? Can I invent evidence for my theories that are based on me subjectively deciding case studies? Actually, that would be pretty useful.

    But whatever man, Marc Stein loves the Mavs and Lady Victory has too, of late.

  • Cynthia

    John Hollinger never had any credibility to begin with imop and his latest “rankings” just proves that. He’s not only biased but plenty ignorant as well. I’m telling ya…they will let anybody write about sports whether they have any knowlege of the sport they are writing about or not. And to think that ignorant ass actually gets paid to do so.

  • BJ

    This might be a dumb question, but is there any kind of peer review process for sports statisticians? A fella over at the boards did what looks like a pretty comprehensive breakdown of the Power Rankings formula ( duxthaman

  • preet

    my favorite stat to use is one of the most simple:
    road wins to home losses differential

    cavs are on 19 i think, but then next come the mavs, lakers, and magic all tied up on 13, followed by denver atlanta boston etc etc

    it measures the teams ability to defend its home court as well as win on the road. a solid simple stat

  • Aditya

    Preet : Road Wins – Home losses. Very well put. Brilliant in its simplicity. It might be a good indicator during the season.

    All teams play 41 home & away games, so over a full season, its the same as Road Wins + Home Wins, i.e. Total Wins.

    So by the time playoffs come around its as good as looking at the Win-Loss record.

  • Dean

    I think Hollinger needs to release a secondary rating and rank all the teams after the AS break. If that were the case i would love to see where we are and also where the lakers would be….. But i know his over pompous self wont do it so the only thing i can say is you cant put into statistics the fire the mavs have in their eyes.

  • harry

    I know he doesn’t root for teams but he does seem to have a rooting interest in his formula – who doesn’t want to be proven right?
    I don’t want to sound like a whiner who says hollinger is out to get my team, but he can seem selective in which facts he uses to support his arguement. If he was being impartial I would expect him to note while the mavs haven’t blown anyone out lately, their point differial for this win streak is over 7 which puts them in an elite bracket. If you include the OKC loss and go from post trade its at 6. Before the trade it was around 2. That’s a 300% spike with a 14 game sample. Not definitive, per say, but certianly worth noting if you are attempting to be objective.

  • harry

    Uhm, yeah, Great guys. Lose by 30 some odd points to the Knicks at home. That’ll help settle the debate about differntial now that you just tanked it.
    Goodness. Nothing to do but laugh.

  • Blaine

    If he’s so big on could his stats possibly have the Mavs finishing 8-7 to finish the year in the “Playoff Odds”? That’s what makes even less sense to me. A team that just won 13 in a row, and has a fairly easy schedule for their last 15 games is going to play .500 ball? That just seems like a bad formula.

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