Homeostatic

Posted by Ian Levy on October 22, 2012 under Commentary | 2 Comments to Read

Screen shot 2012-10-19 at 7.11.13 AM

I’m not sure if it comes through in my condescending tone or consistently judgmental world-view, but I support my basketball blogging habit working as an elementary school teacher. Both pursuits are challenging, rewarding and intellectually stimulating, but the nature of each means there is generally very little crossover. Over the past year however, I’ve been looking for ways to bring my hobby and professional life closer together. The latest iteration of that pursuit is a project I helped start this summer at Hickory-High called the K-12 Analytic Challenge. This project aims to get students engaged with scientific reasoning and mathematical argumentation through basketball analytics. Every few weeks we’ve been posting a basketball question and asking students to submit answers supported by statistics.

I’m sharing this project, not (entirely) for shameless self-promotion, but because in preparing the latest challenge I stumbled across a Dallas Mavericks story I had missed from last season. The most recent challenge asked students “Who will win the NBA’s Most Improved Player Award for the 2012-2013 season?” Each challenge also comes with a set of scaffolded hints designed to make the project accessible to students with all levels of statistical sophistication. In putting together one of those hints I pointed out that one group of players who often win the Most Improved Player Award are those who have been very effective in limited minutes the season before, and are then given a big bump in minutes the next season. These players don’t really improve, so much as they are given more opportunities to show off their skills — think Ryan Anderson last season or Kevin Love the season before.

In guiding students to use this line of thinking in the challenge, I used a search from Basketball-Reference’s Play Index to generate an example list of players who fit that set of circumstances for this season. I was looking for players who had been very productive in limited minutes last season, and who might have the opportunity to play a larger role this year. I set the criteria for my search as players 25 and under, who had played more than 500 minutes and less than 1200 minutes with a minute per game average below 25.0. If you sort the results by PER you find a Brandan Wright second from the top.

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The Difference: Dallas Mavericks 104, Minnesota Timberwolves 97

Posted by Rob Mahoney on February 11, 2012 under Recaps | 2 Comments to Read

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Box ScorePlay-by-PlayShot ChartGame Flow

TeamPaceOff. Eff.eFG%FTRORRTOR
Dallas110.094.648.325.619.015.2
Minnesota88.244.339.230.223.2

You know the drill. The Difference is a reflection on the game that was, with one bullet for every point in the final margin.

  • Jason Kidd (eight points, 2-3 3FG, 10 assists, two steals, eight turnovers) returned to the lineup on Friday after a six-game absence, and brought plenty of good to overpower the unfortunately-too-familiar bad. Those horribly misguided passes are back with a vengeance; though Kidd looks more energetic and better prepared to play than he was previously, he’s still making the same head-scratching blunders that got him into trouble earlier in the season. Those bafflingly bad passes will have to go, and hopefully without penalty to Kidd’s more sensible playmaking endeavors. Kidd’s identification of mismatches and potential advantages was as impeccable as ever (Read: Jason Kidd stays Jason Kidd), and his work as a help defender was nothing short of spectacular. It’s just a matter of hedging the bad to better accent the good at this point, and hopefully Kidd is just a few weeks away from finding a happier balance.
  • The box score makes this game look like a bit of a scoring duel between Dirk Nowitzki (33 points, 11-19 FG, 4-7 3FG, four rebounds, three assists, three blocks, one turnover) and Kevin Love (32 points, 9-18 FG, 12 rebounds, three assists, five turnovers), but both players were scoring as components of their respective teams’ runs rather than the sole proponents of them. Dallas and Minnesota’s bursts of scoring and defense were fairly balanced overall, and though Nowitzki and Love ended up as the most productive players on the court, this game wasn’t some powerful demonstration of their individual brilliance. It was merely the latest exhibit in the ridiculous effectiveness of both players, stretched over a prolonged period of time, and enhanced by fairly complete — if still relatively inefficient — team efforts. (That said: A season-high 33 points on just 19 shots for Nowitzki? Yes, please.)

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The Difference: Minnesota Timberwolves 105, Dallas Mavericks 90

Posted by Rob Mahoney on January 25, 2012 under Recaps | 5 Comments to Read

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Box ScorePlay-by-PlayShot ChartGame Flow

TeamPaceOff. Eff.eFG%FTRORRTOR
Dallas96.093.844.210.524.611.6
Minnesota109.450.042.919.314.1

You know the drill. The Difference is a reflection on the game that was, with one bullet for every point in the final margin.

  • Ricky Rubio (17 points, 12 assists, seven rebounds, four steals, seven turnovers) did a terrific job of getting the Wolves good looks both inside and out, be he hardly did all the work. Minnesota’s bigs fought hard to get good interior position and create contact once they received the entry pass, and the perimeter players worked diligently for a slice of open floor. The Wolves’ offensive success was hardly constant, but they at least seemed to know what worked and what didn’t, and sought to capitalize on their in-game strengths. Dallas, despite being a team of mismatch creation and utilization, didn’t quite share in that approach.
  • That said, there was a time in this game when the Mavs were pushing the pace not only as a means of getting easy transition buckets, but also forcing opponents to scramble into mismatches. On one particular first-quarter possession, Rubio was mismatched on Lamar Odom, giving Delonte West a chance to pull the ball out for a fake entry look before darting a pass to a wide open Brendan Haywood for an easy dunk. Haywood’s defender had snuck away to help on Odom, and West had correctly identified not only the mismatch, but its ripple effect.
  • The most succinct explanation possible for why the Mavs withered away on offense: they settled. Rarely is it so simple, but Minnesota applied defensive pressure, and Dallas recoiled. No rally. No response. There were simply too many pull-up threes and too many lazy sets. The Mavs tried to speed up their futile comeback attempt with quick jumpers early in the shot clock, but bricked pretty much every “momentum-changing” shot they attempted. I guess they did speed things up in a sense, merely not in the direction that they intended.

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The Difference: Minnesota Timberwolves 99, Dallas Mavericks 82

Posted by Rob Mahoney on January 1, 2012 under Recaps | 4 Comments to Read

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Box ScorePlay-by-PlayShot Chart — GameFlow

TeamPaceOff. Eff.eFG%FT/FGORB%TOR
Dallas94.087.242.222.114.018.1
Minnesota105.348.220.037.017.0

You know the drill. The Difference is a reflection on the game that was, with one bullet for every point in the final margin.

  • This is just the way of the season’s early going, apparently. The Mavericks more closely resemble themselves for a few games, but then dissolve completely on offense against a pretty poor defense just a few days later. We knew to expect struggles. We knew it would take time for the new Mavs to work their way into the system, and time for the old Mavs to work their way into game shape. But now we also know to expect complete inconsistency, as there are no assurances at all of which Maverick team will show up on a particular night. In this one? A team that scores 87.2 points per 100 possessions, and will wither away even against the most questionable defenses.
  • Dallas managed a brief return to normalcy with a fourth quarter combination of the zone defense and Dirk Nowitzki (21 points, 9-20 FG, four rebounds) attacking from all angles, but a timeout gave Rick Adelman a precious opportunity to calm down a jumpy young team. Ricky Rubio (14 points, 2-3 3FG, seven assists, four turnovers) drew the attention of defenders and hit spot-up shooters in the corners and bigs rolling to the rim, attacking the Mavs’ zone at two particular points of weakness. Kevin Love (25 points, 9-16 FG, 5-8 3FG, 17 rebounds) took over from there, and the Wolves finished the game on an uncontested 15-point spurt that left several minutes on the clock but no doubt in the game’s result. This year’s Timberwolves are every bit as entertaining as the manic team that ran up and down the court last season, but this year they’ve traded the unintentional comedy of a Michael Beasley-driven offense for a more sensible, balanced attack driven by pace and Rubio’s guile. It may not result in a playoff berth, but Minnesota is more than capable of “stealing” a game like this one against a supposedly superior team.

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The Most _________ Player Award

Posted by Ian Levy on April 8, 2011 under Commentary | 2 Comments to Read

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Ian Levy is the author of Hickory High, a contributor to Indy Cornrows, and a part of The Two Man Game family. He’ll be bringing his intelligent brand of — mostly quantitative — analysis here on a weekly basis. You can follow Ian on Twitter at @HickoryHigh.

The MVP debate has heated up with detailed defenses offered for several players, as well as plenty of commentary on the amorphous, shifting, and individualistic parameters used to define this award. Earlier this week, I shared my opinion on the MVP race at Hickory-High; my thought is that, with no consensus on the criteria for determining an MVP, there can be no definitive right or wrong answer. The discussion itself is then the crux of this whole affair. People from all sides seem to be wailing at the heavens over potential injustices yet to be meted out, instead of enjoying an opportunity for a rich and passionate exchange of ideas.

Towards the end of my piece, I admitted that I’m still not sure who I would vote for, were I lucky enough to be a part of the official process:

I don’t have a problem with Rose winning MVP. I’m not entirely convinced he’s the best choice, but it’s certainly not a travesty if he wins. I do have a problem with the vocal minority who have been arguing it’s a travesty if he doesn’t win. There is a reasonable argument to be made for Rose. I think there is also a reasonable argument to be made for Dirk, LeBron and Howard.

Argue your belief, passionately and completely. However, acknowledge that someone else may do the same and reach a perfectly reasonable, albeit different conclusion from your own. Enjoy the discourse and exchange of ideas. There is no wrong answer in this discussion. Except, of course, for Kobe Bryant. That guy is terrible.

Putting my money where my mouth is, I’m going to shamelessly pander to this audience and argue the case for Dirk Nowitzki. Respecting the spirit of my previous statements, I’m not here to say he is THE Most Valuable Player, rather that he is one of many valuable players with a legitimate claim at being the Most. I’ll lay out his case, and you can decide for yourself.

MVP profiles seem to fall into one of three categories, or occasionally, an amalgamation of some of the three. The first is a player with an overwhelming statistical profile (Think Shaquille O’Neal’s 29.7 PPG, 13.6 RPG, 3.8 APG, 3.0 BPG campaign in 2000). The second is a player who represents the defining storyline of the season, (Think Steve Nash and the “Seven Seconds or Less Suns” of 2005). The third is a player who, in apparent single-handed fashion, drags a collection of sub-par teammates to a spot among the league’s elite. The best recent example of this third type of candidate would be Allen Iverson in 2001.

Nowitzki’s season definitely doesn’t fit into the first category. The table below shows his per game averages from this season compared to the averages for the last 20 MVPs:

Pts/GReb/GAst/GStl/GBlk/GFG%FT%
Average MVP 1991-201026.68.75.41.51.350.6%79.2%
Dirk Nowitzki 201123.07.02.50.50.651.8%88.9%

Looking at these numbers, Nowitzki gets his foot in the door, but just barely. Clearly his MVP claim can’t be based on individual statistical achievements alone.

Nowitzki also isn’t going to win the award this season for sentimental reasons, or the nature of his narrative. Voters hungry for compelling storylines will find more sustenance with LeBron James struggling to overcome the negative backlash of his move to Miami, Derrick Rose pushing his game and his team to new heights and Dwight Howard holding the Magic together through a merry-go round of roster and lineup changes. I’d even wager that, a decade from now, more fans will remember what Kevin Love accomplished this season than the play of Dirk Nowitzki.

Nowitzki’s claim then, is based on the way he has pushed the Mavericks to achieve this season. In this regard, he is, at worst, on par with any other player in the league. The most commonly quoted statistic accompanying any mention of Nowitzki as an MVP is the team’s 2-7 record in the nine games he’s missed this season. Preferring instead to look at things in a positive light, I’ll rephrase that statistic and point out that the Mavericks have gone 51-17 with Nowitzki on the floor. That’s a win percentage of 75% — the highest win percentage of any of the MVP candidates’ teams in games they’ve played in.

  • Dirk Nowitzki – 75.0%
  • Kobe Bryant – 72.7%
  • Derrick Rose – 72.3%
  • LeBron James – 72.0%
  • Dwight Howard – 65.3%
  • Chris Paul – 57.3%

Every one of those players makes a huge impact for their team, but by win percentage, Nowitzki’s impact would seem to be the largest.

That’s not the only statistic that shows him as the most valuable to his team’s success, out of that group of players. The Mavericks have outperformed their Pythagorean Win projection by 5 games this season. The Spurs are the only other team in the league to outpace their Pythagorean Projection by at least 5 games. This fact is a testament, in part, to Nowitzki’s ability to make plays when they matter most. If I may indulge in an incomprehensible arrangement of words, Nowitzki’s performance in clutch situations has helped the Mavericks outperform their performance.

Nowitzki also has the second best Unadjusted On/Off Net Rating (the difference between the team’s Net Rating (ORtg-DRtg) when Nowitzki is on the floor vs. when he’s off the floor) in the league this season. In this category, he trails only Paul Pierce, but has a significant edge on each of the players we mentioned above.

  • Dirk Nowitzki: +16.00
  • Chris Paul: +12.77
  • LeBron James: +10.62
  • Dwight Howard: +7.87
  • Kobe Bryant: +5.62
  • Derrick Rose: +1.90

This statistic is certainly influenced by the quality of competition and the abilities of teammates and backups. Nowitzki is a starter and plays the majority of crunch-time minutes, so a bias based on quality of competition is a non-issue. The matter of the his teammates’ contributions actually seems like it helps Nowitzki’s case. The common argument against this type of measure is that a player’s numbers can be inflated by the play of inferior teammates. However, if Nowitzki’s numbers are inflated, it should only serve to decrease our opinion of his supporting cast — and make what Nowitzki has done this season that much more remarkable. Helping the Mavericks accomplish what they have with less than ideal help from teammates should increase our opinion of Nowitzki’s importance.

The arguments against Nowitzki are fairly obvious; people who favor individual statistical achievements or compelling storylines in their MVP evaluations will dismiss Nowitzki out of hand for not fitting into either. Additionally, those who disagree with Nowitzki’s candidacy (even based purely on impact) will argue that almost all of his damage is done at the offensive end of the floor. It’s a common refrain. It’s also wrong, and a bit irrelevant. Nowitzki wouldn’t be the first MVP — nor the last — whose contributions come primarily at one end of the floor. Plus, Nowitzki’s offensive contributions are among the most valuable in the league, and the idea that he is a non-factor at the defensive end is raking an extremely narrow view.

There are 13 players with a usage rate of at least 28% this season. Among them, Nowitzki has the lowest turnover rate, a full percentage point below Kevin Durant, at 9.2%. This means a greater portion of his possessions are used on scoring opportunities than anyone else in this group. That’s a good thing for the Mavericks, because he also leads this group in true shooting percentage (TS%) at 61.4%. In fact, Nowitzki is the most efficient offensive player of this group overall. I used the totals from Basketball-Reference to calculate the points per possession average for each player. The table below shows that information alongside each player’s usage and TS%:

MVP Offensive Efficiencies

PlayerUsg%TS%PPP
Kobe Bryant34.9%54.7%0.98
Derrick Rose32.9%54.4%0.96
Carmelo Anthony32.0%55.6%1.00
Dwyane Wade31.8%57.9%1.03
Russell Westbrook31.6%53.4%0.91
LeBron James31.4%59.4%1.04
Amare Stoudemire30.9%56.8%1.00
Kevin Durant30.5%58.7%1.07
Kevin Martin29.6%60.4%1.10
Monta Ellis28.2%53.7%0.95
Dirk Nowitzki28.2%61.4%1.13
Michael Beasley28.1%50.7%0.97
Andrea Bargnani28.1%53.3%0.90

Nowitzki has turned in an elite offensive campaign, possibly the league’s best this season. That alone has been good enough, in some years, to lock up an MVP.

I also find this idea that Nowitzki’s contributions are one-sided completely absurd. Dirk is obviously no Dwight Howard, but he’s also not a Bargnani-like sieve. The Mavericks’ defensive rating is 6.23 points better with Nowitzki on the floor. He doesn’t offer much in the way of blocks or steals, but he still has the 17th best DRB% among forwards who have played at least 2,000 minutes despite some age-related decline. I’m willing to accept that Nowitzki doesn’t provide a ton of help at the defensive end, but we also need to acknowledge that the Mavericks’ have built a scheme around him, where his shortcomings don’t hurt them all that much either. His length, experience, and understanding of the system hamper the opponent’s ability to score, even if he isn’t swatting shots into the twentieth row. Perhaps, instead of thinking of Nowitzki as a one-way player, it’s most fitting to think of him as a one-and-a-half-way player.

The one other unavoidable piece of this discussion is the fact that Nowitzki has already won an MVP. He took home the award in 2007 and I’ll save Mavs fans the reminder of how exactly that particular season ended. Suffice it to say that events which took place four seasons ago have a bearing on his chances this year. There are certainly people who have allowed Nowitzki’s — and the Mavericks’ — performance in the playoffs that season to color their opinion of his regular season accomplishments. This strikes me as unsavory for two reasons, both of which  revolve around the one piece of this MVP debate that does seem to be defined by the league. The MVP award covers the accomplishments of one, and only one, regular season. This is hardly the first time the entirety of a player’s career has bled into the MVP voting, but the Mavericks’ prior failings seem to be the one piece which clearly has no place in this discussion. It likely won’t get this far, but should it come to it, I feel confident in saying that what happened in 2007 would act as a final barrier, preventing Nowitzki from winning this season.

Like each player under consideration, Nowitzki’s case for MVP has strengths and weaknesses. As I noted above, the glory of this discussion is that each individual gets to decide their own definition of the words “Most Valuable,” and specify the optimal technique for measuring that definition. If your definition includes an elite offensive player, who has done as much as anyone in the league to push their team to exceed its limitations, then Dirk Nowitzki just might be your man.

The Difference: Dallas Mavericks 104, Minnesota Timberwolves 96

Posted by Rob Mahoney on March 25, 2011 under Recaps | Be the First to Comment

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Box ScorePlay-by-PlayShot ChartGameFlow

TeamPaceOff. Eff.eFG%FT/FGORB%TOR
Dallas94.0110.654.114.124.416.0
Minnesota102.153.812.517.518.1

You know the drill. The Difference is a reflection on the game that was, with one bullet for every point in the final margin, give or take a dozen or so considering the ridiculous scoring margin of this game.

  • 50 wins is a big deal or something, right? Seriously, though: Savor these incredible seasons. I know everyone within the Maverick organization will downplay the significance of 11 straight 50-win seasons, but it’s a remarkable accomplishment and has been an incredible gift to this fan base. Title or not, good basketball is good basketball, and that’s been the Mavericks’ #1 export for a little over a decade.
  • Anthony Randolph, who had been in hibernation for the last 10 months, was roused from slumber to thoroughly dominate a would-be contender. Last I checked, this isn’t the way it’s supposed to work. With Kevin Love out, the Mavs were supposed to go about their business and check out with a ho-hum, double-digit win. They weren’t supposed to allow a player without a meaningful basketball performance in months completely tear apart their defense from inside and out. Dirk Nowitzki couldn’t stay with him. Tyson Chandler wouldn’t step out far enough to contest his jumper. Shawn Marion was undersized around the basket. No Mav could stick Randolph, and though he’s admittedly a unique basketball specimen, let’s just mark this game down as another blemish on Dallas’ defense. Good on Randolph for his new career highs (he finished with 31 points, 14-20 FG, 11 rebounds, three assists, and two turnovers, for the record), but this — and the fact that Randolph’s night wasn’t the sole representation of Dallas’ defensive problems — doesn’t bode well for a team entering the playoffs in a matter of weeks.
  • The Mavs’ offensive execution wasn’t that bad. Not where it needs to be, mind you, but certainly not deserving of substantial criticism. The turnovers are still a bit too high, but quality attempts were there all night. That’s to be expected when facing the league’s 25th ranked offense, but it still deserves a note considering how poorly the Mavs shot from the field. Dallas made just eight of their 25 field goal attempts in the first quarter, including a horrendous 1-of-11 mark from three-point range. That shooting normalized as the game went on (and really, had already done so by halftime, as the Mavs shot 13-of-19 in the second quarter), but Dallas’ shooting numbers were sandbagged by the dead weight of that first frame.
  • Fine, fine work by Shawn Marion (17 points, 8-14 FG, six rebounds, two steals, two blocks) and Peja Stojakovic (16 points, 6-10 FG, 4-8 3FG, four rebounds) on the offensive end. Both were dynamite in their movement without the ball, and the Wolves’ defenders often got lost on curls and cuts. When Marion and Stojakovic can function this efficiently, it gives Dallas a brutal level of offensive versatility. They won’t both be rolling every night, but their performances in this one weren’t merely indicative of Minnesota’s defensive lapses; this was solid offensive play. Dirk Nowitzki (30 points, 12-26 FG, 11 rebounds, four assists) and Jason Terry (18 points, 7-12 FG, three assists) did their thing, but the former is expected and the latter is unsurprising. Enjoyed every high-arcing jumper nonetheless, but this is just what Dirk and JET do.
  • An interesting wrinkle to the Corey Brewer situation we saw manifest itself last night: when healthy, Dallas doesn’t even really have room for him on the active roster. Last night’s 12-man roster: Kidd, Beaubois, Marion, Nowitkzi, Chandler, Terry, Stojakovic, Haywood, Barea, Mahinmi, Cardinal, Stevenson. Brewer has been able to rock the warm-ups lately because of minor injuries to Marion and Stojakovic, but when both are active, I’m not sure where exactly Brewer fits at the moment.
  • Not a great night for some of the other Maverick regulars, but let’s dig for the silver lining amidst all the gloom naturally emanating from this game. Rodrigue Beaubois finished with just three points on 1-of-5 shooting, but did make a handful of nifty passes (several of the around-the-back variety), even if he doesn’t have the assists to show for it. Tyson Chandler didn’t have a great game, but he neared double-double territory while playing some nice defense in the second half. Jason Kidd had 13 assists and six rebounds, and isn’t that enough, really? J.J. Barea picked up six assists in 16 minutes, Brendan Haywood played passable basketball, and DeShawn Stevenson got to step on the court for four seconds of actual game action.

The Clearest Of All Laws

Posted by Ian Levy on March 24, 2011 under Commentary | 15 Comments to Read

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Ian Levy is the author of Hickory High, a contributor to Indy Cornrows, and a part of The Two Man Game family. He’ll be bringing his intelligent brand of — mostly quantitative — analysis here on a weekly basis. You can follow Ian on Twitter at @HickoryHigh.

It’s been just over three weeks since Corey Brewer signed with the Dallas Mavericks. Brewer is young, athletic and by all accounts, an extremely hard worker. However, the chief attraction for the Mavericks was his reputation as an excellent wing defender. So far he’s had trouble carving out a place for himself in Rick Carlisle’s rotation, averaging just 8.9 minutes per game over seven games. It’s difficult to draw conclusions with such a small sample size, but he hasn’t yet done anything to stand out at the defensive end.

What exactly is his defensive reputation based on? Watching him play we see a long and bouncy sliver of a forward. He competes on every defensive possession; he battles through screens, moves his feet on the perimeter, and displays a knack for using his length to contest shots. Defensive impact is notoriously hard to measure statistically, but is there any numeric evidence that his excellent tools and motor translate to an effect on an opposing team’s offense?

There are plenty of defensive statistics available. The issue is that none are accepted as a completely accurate metric, with opinions varying wildly on the value of each. Today we’re going to take a tour through some of these available statistics, examining Corey Brewer along the way and trying to pin down the quantity and quality of his defensive contributions. Since he’s spent such a short time with the Mavericks, most of the stats we look at will cover his entire season or just his games with the Minnesota Timberwolves.

Box Score Statistics

These are the basics that everyone is familiar with: steals, blocks and rebounds. When we look at these stats per 40 minutes we find Brewer averaging 2.6 steals, 0.4 blocks and 4.5 rebounds. Compared to the league average for swingmen, Brewer is sub-par with regards to rebounds and blocks. However, he steals the ball at a rate nearly twice the league average.

Another way to look at these basic statistics is as a percentage of their opportunities. Steal Percentage, Block Percentage and Rebound Percentage (Ed. note: These measures have also been referred to as “rebounding rate,” etc. on this blog. The terms are completely synonymous.) are all statistics available from a variety of sources, including Hoopdata.com and Basketball-Reference.com. Stl% is calculated as the percentage of the opposing team’s offensive possessions on which a player records a steal. Blk% is calculated as the percentage of the opposing team’s shot attempts which are blocked by the player. Reb% is calculated as the percentage of available rebounds which a player grabs. Reb% is available as a total number, but can also be split into Offensive and Defensive Reb%.

Brewer’s total Reb% of 6.2% and his Blk% of 0.8% are both below average. Again, where he really shines is stealing the basketball. This season, Brewer ranks 4th in the league in Stl%, at 3.2%. He trails only Tony Allen, Rajon Rondo and Chris Paul. Over the past four seasons, Brewer has the 17th best Stl% in the league, at 2.5%. Forcing turnovers is something the Mavericks have struggled with all season. They are currently 24th in the league, with an Opponent’s TOV% of 12.4%, well below the league average of 13.5%. Having Brewer on the floor to wreak havoc in the passing lanes could be a real asset in the playoffs.

On Court/Off Court Statistics

The premise with On Court/Off Court statistics is simple: look at how a team’s defense performs when a player is on the floor and compare that with how it performs when they’re off the floor. Theoretically, the player should be responsible for much of that difference. The problem is that these statistics have a lot of inherent “noise” in them. Since this model is essentially about comparison, trading minutes with a horrible defender can make someone look much better than they are. By the same token, a back-up may look much better than they are because they’re matched up against the opponent’s back-ups.

These statistics are available in a lot of different formats. 82games.com tracks several categories for On Court/Off Court, including Defensive Rating, eFG% allowed, Blk%, Reb%, Turnovers and Free Throw Attempts allowed. BasketballValue.com allows you to look at the On Court/Off Court Defensive Rating for a player overall, and broken down by the different five-man units the player was a part of.

Looking at these stats for Corey Brewer incorporates a lot of the “noise” we mentioned above. Brewer’s place in the Timberwolves’ rotation varied quite a bit. He started just under half of the 56 games he played with them. In 11 of those games he played fewer than 20 minutes. He played over 30 minutes 9 times. The Timberwolves are also ranked 26th this season in Defensive Rating, meaning Brewer played alongside some less than ideal defensive teammates, in a less than ideal defensive system.

To try and limit the influence of some of those factors in the statistics I isolated some five-man units Brewer was a part of to look at the On Court/Off Court Defensive Ratings. I started with the 6 units Brewer spent the most minutes playing with. For comparison, I pulled out any units that had the same four teammates but a replacement for Brewer. The table below shows the Defensive Ratings for each of those units.

Brewer Lineup Graph

In three of those lineups the team’s Defensive Rating was better with Brewer on the floor, in the other three it was worse. Inconclusive to say the least. I went over these lineups several times and couldn’t identify any common patterns, such as Wesley Johnson replacing Brewer making the defense significantly better. For the purposes of our discussion, it’s convenient that this case is a perfect illustration of some of the problems with On Court/Off Court statistics.

Play-by-Play Statistics

These metrics come directly from analysis of play-by-play data. The three I see utilize the most often are Individual Defensive Rating from Basketball-Reference.com, counterpart statistics from 82games.com, and possession category data from Synergy Sports Technology.

Individual Defensive Rating is a metric that was introduced by Dean Oliver in his book, Basketball on Paper. It’s based on the same principle as team Defensive Rating: how many points are allowed per 100 possessions. It’s calculated by using play-by-play data to figure out how many points the opposing player creates while the defensive player is on the floor.

Extensions of this data can be unreliable because it often assumes match-ups based on listed position, which is not always the case. Teams like the Mavs have a lot of positional interplay on both offense and defense, so some of the metrics derived from play-by-play data can be a bit problematic.

Brewer’s Individual Defensive Rating has only been below 110 once in his career: this season, where his time in Minnesota and Dallas have worked out too a rating of 109. The league average this season is 107.1. Granted, he’s played on some bad defensive teams in Minnesota, but this statistic theoretically captures just the points created by the opponent he’s guarding. Even when accounting for the defensive deficiencies of his teammates, Brewer does not look impressive by this metric.

Counterpart statisics are just an extension of Individual Defensive Rating. They’re also culled from play-by-play data, and show the eFG%, FTA/48, Reb/48, Ast/48, Pts/48 and PER for the opposing player while the defensive player is on the floor. Being calculated in the same way as Individual Defensive Rating, they can be unreliable for some of the same reasons. 82games displays these statistics broken down by the position that the defender was playing. The table below shows the counterpart statistics for Brewer’s time in Minnesota this season.

Pts/48Reb/48Ast/48TO/48FTA/48eFG%PER
SG21.84.93.53.35.549.0%14.8
SF22.17.43.82.86.850.2%17.5

Keeping in mind the shortcomings of these stats, we still don’t see much evidence of defensive impact. Brewer seems to be more potent defending shooting guards but still allows fairly healthy production. I would guess that shooting guards are a better matchup for him because his height creates an advantage and his lack of strength is less likely to be exploited. These numbers also reinforce his strength in creating turnovers. However, Brewer sends opposing players to the free throw line at a fairly high rate, which indicates that his aggressiveness may be hurting nearly as much as it helps.

The possession statistics from Synergy Sports Technology are a little different in that they come from video analysis. Each play from each game is reviewed on video and than categorized by the type of possession (post-up, transition, etc.). The fact that the data comes from video analysis solves some of the defensive cross-matching problems that the other play-by-play statistics have. The table below shows Brewer’s defensive possession statistics from his time in Minnesota.

Possession% of PossessionsPoints per PossessionRankFG%SF%TO%
Overall100%0.9228038.9%7.3%9.1%
Isolation16.8%0.9223344.3%13.3%12.0%
Pick-and-Roll Ball Handler20.5%0.8814339.7%10.9%15.8%
Post-Up4.5%0.73-29.4%4.5%9.1%
Pick-and-Roll Screener1%1.80-75.0%20.0%0%
Spot-Up36.9%0.9413036.1%2.7%4.4%
Off-Screen13.4%0.856036.8%4.5%7.6%
Hand Off6.5%1.097047.8%12.5%12.5%

Shoddy team defense certainly affects Brewer’s numbers here, but again there is very little to indicate we’re looking at an elite wing defender. He’s solid against the pick-and-roll, does a good job closing out on spot-up shooters, and creates a lot of turnovers. But he’s not in the top 50 in any category, and on several possession types, particularly isolations, is nearly as likely to commit a shooting foul as to force a turnover.

After all looking at all these numbers we end up right about where we started. Our eyes tell us that Brewer’s physical tools and motor make him a terrific defender. The statistics say he generates a lot of steals, but plenty of fouls as well, and for all his tools doesn’t seem to make a huge impact defensively, either individually or at the team level.

Both sides of this equation could change over the next three seasons in Dallas. Perhaps playing alongside better defensive teammates and in a more cohesive system will allow the statistics to catch up with what we see when we watch Brewer play. Or perhaps playing alongside more effective defenders will expose him as spastic in the Hansbroughnian style, not always able to control and channel his effort and energy into positive outcomes. The good news for Mavs fans is that, barring injury, I can’t envision any reasonable scenario where his defense would get worse.

Brewer is a perfect microcosm of the debate between old-school and new-school methods of player evaluation. Fans who gravitate towards observation for player evaluation will likely find some reasons why the numbers don’t fully capture his performance. Fans who gravitate towards statistics for player evaluation will likely find some reasons why our eyes can’t discern his true defensive impact. The truth probably lies somewhere in between, illustrating there’s still a wide gap between what we think we see and what we think we’ve measured.

The Difference: Dallas Mavericks 108, Minnesota Timberwolves 105

Posted by Rob Mahoney on March 8, 2011 under Recaps | 4 Comments to Read

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TeamPaceOff. Eff.eFG%FT/FGORB%TOR
Dallas96.0112.552.423.829.315.6
Minnesota109.450.618.233.316.7

You know the drill. The Difference is a reflection on the game that was, with one bullet for every point in the final margin.

  • The Minnesota Timberwolves made it clear early in this game that they came to play, but as has been the case with that team so many times this season, even their most honorable intentions culminated in a chaotic mess. Kevin Love (23 points, 7-14 FG, 17 rebounds, five assists) had another exemplary game, but most everything else for Minnesota was just a shade below what was needed; Michael Beasley turned the ball over too often, Darko Milicic was a non-factor on the glass, Luke Ridnour’s shooting was off, and Brian Cardinal — Dallas’ best three-point shooter this season — wasn’t given the respect he deserves on the perimeter. Those developments aren’t damning on their own, but collectively they collapsed an otherwise commendable effort from the Wolves. The Mavs got away with a game they likely should have lost, but there was certainly an element of predictability here: the team of stable vets out-executed a crew that has made a routine out of fourth quarter implosions.
  • Dirk Nowitzki (25 points, 7-12 FG, 10-10 FT, six rebounds), Jason Terry (11 points, 3-11 FG, four assists, four turnovers), and J.J. Barea (eight points, 3-7 FG, five assists) combined for 25 points in the final frame, which matched Minnesota’s total scoring output for the quarter. Otherwise though, the Maverick offense hardly went according to plan. If not for Cardinal’s flurry of three-point makes and Jason Kidd’s (13 points, 4-8 FG, nine assists, four steals) play, Dallas would have faced a considerable deficit going into the fourth — and likely failed in their efforts to salvage the game. This team misses Tyson Chandler, and if that wasn’t made clear by some of the uncontested buckets surrendered around the rim, it should be obvious in the way the Mavs’ offensive efficiency dips in his absence. There are a lot of places to point the finger — the team as a whole for not getting Nowitzki more touches, Terry and Shawn Marion (nine points, 10 rebounds, four assists) for failing to convert their opportunities, etc. — but there’s a profound difference between the influence of Chandler and Brendan Haywood (eight points, 10 rebounds, three turnovers) on the Mavs’ offensive flow. Haywood had a very solid game, but even if the quantifiable elements of his performance are respectable, they don’t come paired with Chandler’s knack for creating open looks for his teammates via screens and hard rolls to the rim.
  • Corey Brewer has yet to have the kind of performance that will win over Mavs fans, but he did play pretty effective defense on Michael Beasley during some of his six minutes of action, and threw in this fantastic two-way sequence:
  • That said, it was Marion who acted as the Mavs’ defensive stopper on Beasley during the second half, not Brewer. Beas dropped nine points on eight shots in the first quarter as he victimized both Nowitzki and Peja Stojakovic, but Marion blanketed Beasley in the second half, when the Wolves forward shot just 3-of-12 from the field.

Every Last Smudge

Posted by Rob Mahoney on December 3, 2010 under Commentary | Be the First to Comment

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By most measures — objective or otherwise — the Minnesota Timberwolves are among the worst teams the NBA has to offer. They have the league’s second worst offense and its fifth worst defense. Their rotation is a mess. Their system and personnel are an odd fit. Most everything on the court is a bit of a struggle, save for one particular dimension of the game: rebounding.

Minnesota is a top-five offensive rebounding team and a top-10 defensive rebounding team, which is fairly remarkable given their weaknesses in every other aspect of the game. Kevin Love is a huge part of their success on the glass, but contributions from Darko Milicic and Anthony Tolliver round out the Wolves’ rebounding numbers, and offer the franchise some small token of success amidst all their ineptitude.

That makes the Mavs’ performance on the glass Wednesday night all the more significant. Dallas out-rebounded their opponents on both ends according to the single-game rebounding rate. Not worthy of a commemorative plaque, but considering Dallas’ relative struggles on the boards (the Mavs rank 13th in the league in defensive rebounding rate and a horrible 24th in offensive rebounding rate), it’s a showing that warrants a moment’s notice.

Or maybe more than a moment in the case of one particularly exemplary rebounding performance.

Tyson Chandler came out of the first half with four rebounds, but somehow finished the game with 18. Nice, right?

Oh, one more thing: he didn’t play a single second of the fourth quarter.

Chandler grabbed 14 boards (10 on the defensive end and four on the offensive end) over an eight-and-a-half-minute stretch in the third quarter. It was a favor to Chandler that the Wolves are the fastest team in the league and managed to pull the notoriously slow Mavs into playing an uptempo game, but 14 boards are 14 boards. Even the healthy push of pace doesn’t devalue that kind of volume.

It’s not that Chandler did anything out of the ordinary. This is just one of those occurrences in which effort and luck formed that perfect cocktail, one which all of us on this side of the lines had the pleasure of drinking in. Eat, watch Tyson Chandler, and be merry, folks.

Dallas Mavericks 125, Minnesota Timberwolves 112

Posted by Rob Mahoney on March 9, 2010 under Recaps | 3 Comments to Read

Photo by David Sherman/NBAE via Getty Images.

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Safety is something that happens between your ears, not something you hold in your hands.
-Jeff Cooper

See, it doesn’t have to be so difficult.

The Timberwolves have inexplicably matched up quite well with the Mavericks this season, taking one of their two prior meetings this season (in Dallas, no less) and nearly taking another despite not having Al Jefferson in the lineup. That’s more than a bit odd considering each team’s relative standing, particularly the fact that despite the fact that Minny has twice the wins of the New Jersey Nets, they could very well be the worst team in the league. The Wolves’ talent is far less balanced and cohesive than what the Nets have to work with, and though Jefferson and Kevin Love are terrific players, their individual brilliance is often diminished by the odd collection of talent David Kahn has assembled.

In short: the Wolves aren’t very good. The Mavs will inevitably struggle against some inferior teams. That doesn’t mean that Minnesota should be capable of challenging Dallas on a regular basis, particularly because on paper, the Wolves don’t seem to have any clear match-up advantages ripe for exploitation. Jefferson and Love against the Mavs’ bigs isn’t exactly Dwyane Wade v. Adrian Griffin.

So in a fit of irony, the one occasion in which Minnesota would appear to have a clear advantage (with the absence of Erick Dampier and Brendan Haywood due to injury) comes on the same night as the Mavs’ first double-digit win since February 19th and the Mavs’ most convincing win against the Wolves (hey, small victories are still victories, right?) this season.

For once, Dallas wasn’t battling Minnesota to the game’s final seconds. Not that Jefferson (36 points, 15-21 FG, 13 rebounds) didn’t fight the good fight, but Love (six points, 1-7 FG, six rebounds, three turnovers) could do little more than rebound in his 12 minutes on the floor…which was a pretty poor showing from both Love (despite the prodigious rebounding rate) and Kurt Rambis. Darko Milicic played more minutes. Sasha Pavlovic played more minutes. Ryan Hollins played over double the minutes. I don’t care how badly Kevin Love is playing, there really isn’t an excuse to run that kind of rotation barring Love snapping his femur in half. No one on the Timberwolves (save Al) is good enough to displace Love, which tells me one of two things:

  1. Kurt Rambis has gone completely batty.
  2. Kurt Rambis has visions of ping pong balls dancing in his head.

At this point, neither would surprise me.

But Jefferson went wild, the Wolves put up 112 points. Not bad, except that in such a fast-paced game, the Mavs put up a whopping 125 on 50% shooting. Without anything resembling a traditional center (Dirk and Eddie Najera filled in at the 5 for the Mavs), the Mavs pushed the ball with abandon…and still only turned the ball over eight times. That’s Jason Kidd (12 points, 10 assists, three turnovers, three steals) doing his job and doing it well. That’s J.J. Barea (nine points, nine assists, two turnovers) and Rodrigue Beaubois (11 points, five rebounds, four assists) taking care of the ball and not trying to do too much. That’s just tremendous efficiency in the passing game for the Mavs’ guards, and the team-wide ball protection (Dirk Nowitzki, Shawn Marion, and Caron Butler, the Mavs’ leaders in FGAs, combined for just one turnover) was just phenomenal. Dallas played reasonable defense considering the circumstances, but they earned the W on the offensive end last night.

That’s where Shawn Marion (29 points, 14 rebounds, three steals) had an unexpected explosion. Dirk Nowitzki (24 points, 8-15 FG, six rebounds, three assists) picked up his second foul just a minute and a half into the game. That would seem incredibly troublesome, especially when considering that Jason Terry is still out recovering from surgery. But Marion and Caron Butler (23 points, 9-19 FG, three rebounds, three assists) keyed a tide-turning 19-2 run for Dallas that flipped an eight-point deficit and then some and secured a lead that the Mavs would never relinquish. Hot starts have been pivotal for the Wolves in their last two games against the Mavs, and the first five minutes were no different. But once Marion, Caron, and surprisingly, Jason Kidd started piling on the points, it was all downhill from there.

You’ve heard me say it a dozen times about just as many spectacular performances this season: don’t expect it every night. Marion is capable of scoring in volume if given the chance, and he can do more with the ball than he’s been able to this season (include hit the mid-range J, which he wasn’t as reluctant to pull the trigger on yesterday), but that’s not his role on this team. Nowitzki, Terry, and Butler are going to get the shots. Marion knows that, and he’s comfortable with it. But don’t think for a second that he didn’t like showing off for a night, and don’t think for a second that he didn’t enjoy every one of those 25 field goal attempts.

Closing thoughts:

  • Aren’t the Mavs on a winning streak or something?
  • The reason the Mavs were able to hold down the fort defensively without Haywood or Damp: the zone defense. It absolutely killed the Wolves, who lack consistent outside shooting (they finished 4-of-22 from behind the arc). Once Dallas decided to zone up, the Wolves became tentative, they took bad shots, and the turned the ball over. A ton. But they also finished with 15 offensive rebounds, which is about what you’d expect given the lineup and the defensive scheme. Any strategy change comes with a give and a take, and while the Mavs took away plenty of opportunities by zoning up, they also gave quite a few back.
  • Ramon Sessions (11 points, 5-5 FG, two assists, two turnovers) gets an absurd number of crazy and ones against Dallas. What’s more: they’re usually on fouled runners and jumpers. These are shots with some decent range where Sessions absorbs a bit of contact and finishes over Kidd, Barea, or Beaubois some eight or 10 feet from the basket.
  • Beaubois had another highlight reel block, although one of the foul-ish variety. Jonny Flynn had what looked to be a breakaway dunk to close the first half, but Roddy stopped him at the cup by swatting the ball and plenty of Flynn’s hand. No blood, no foul, right?
  • I was very impressed with Jefferson’s passing. Not a big assist night for him, and he’s not a big assist player, really. But both of his dimes came off perfect, no-look dishes to backdoor cutters. That’s about as sexy as it gets for passing bigs.
  • Tough luck: J.J. Barea rolled his ankle in the game’s closing minutes, and he could end up missing some time. He was able to limp off the court, but he looked to be in quite a bit of pain.
  • Matt Carroll (four points, 1-2 FG)saw seven and a half minutes of actual playing time, and connected on a shot to boot. Great for him, and it would certainly be nice if, in Tim Thomas’ absence, Carroll could crack the rotation once in awhile.
  • Ryan Hollins is always hyped up, and particularly so when he plays against Dallas. That energy helped him to a near double-double with 13 points and nine rebounds, but his tight winding was also the impetus that caused him to hit two Mavs, DeShawn Stevenson and Dirk Nowitzki, in the face. He’s a bit out of control to say the least, and while his smack on DeShawn’s cheek wasn’t even whistled as a foul (though Stevenson was assessed a technical for yelling at a referee about it), the swipe that connected with Dirk’s noggin earned Hollins a flagrant two and an automatic ejection.
  • Caron Butler is showing the range. He had made exactly one three in his first nine games with the Mavs, but three in each of the last two games (on an average of five attempts per). Najera got in the act as well, and he’s hit four out of his nine attempts in the last two contests.