Bradford Doolittle writes "Court Vision" for Basketball Prospectus.
Bradford Doolittle (Basketball): Greetings to Prospectus readers -- it's great to be with you for a little NBA chatter. Just a warning: I'll probably defer most college hoops queries to our experts on the subject, but I'll cherry pick a few of those questions where possible. Oh yeah, it's not what I'm here for, but I probably wouldn't be able to resist a baseball-related question or two. What's on your mind?
DokLivy (Austin, TX): Please tell me I'm wrong. But I have been watching college basketball for thirty years. The skill level has steadily (and in some cases drastically) fallen since those Larry Johnson-led UNLV teams of the early 1990s. Since then, college basketball is nearly unwatchable. Though somewhat better the last two years, I will never believe that any national champion these days could stay on the court with those Runnin' Rebels, or Jordan's North Carolina team, or Drexler's Phi Slamma Jamma team.
Bradford Doolittle (Basketball): What I can say about this is strictly from an NBA fan's perspective of the college game. I used to watch much, much college basketball than I do now. Part of it is that -- and this is going to sound like blasphemy here -- I don't really like the NCAA tournament. I used to. But for whatever reason, I've just come to believe the purpose of any postseason format is to do the best job of determining the best team in the sport. (An residual attitude from baseball, I suspect.) I don't think a 65-team, one-and-done free for all accomplishes that. But the other part of it definitely traces back to the trend of the top young players leaving school after one or two years or skipping out altogether. That diminishes my interest and, I'll admit, I've been paying a bit more attention the last couple of years because of the NBA's new age limit on draft eligibility.
At the same time, college basketball fans I know -- and there are a lot of them here in Kansas City -- don't have any problems with the quality of hoops being played at that level.
Another key factor, perhaps THE key factor, in my declining interest in the college game is that my school, Missouri, has a program that is in complete disarray. I'm talking to YOU Quin Snyder. The Tigers have never recovered from your presence.
Or (Dallas): If the Mavericks don't bring home a championship this season, will Cuban dismantle the team in exasperation? In many circles this year seems to be portrayed as one final chance for the current squad.
Bradford Doolittle (Basketball): Well, Nowitzki still isn't 30 but with his dropoff this season, Mavericks fans have to be concerned. The main reason the Mavericks won 65 games last season was because of Nowitzki's career campaign. The core group is still in its prime and they came close enough to winning the title two years ago that I doubt Cuban would be ready to break up the team just yet. But Cuban's a progressive thinker, perhaps too much so as was the case when he allowed Steve Nash to leave. You never know what the guy is going to do. If they can swing a deal for Jason Kidd, I suspect this talk of dismantling will go away.
Dexter (Oklahoma): Can you explain, in simplified terms, how you apply defense to your statistical measurement system. Blocks and steals are, at best, weak indicators of overall defense. Is there any simple way to include it into some statistical formula to complement the offensive stats that we all know so well?
Bradford Doolittle (Basketball): This is as simple as I can explain it:
The individual defense component in my rating system doesn't look at blocks or steals, though those stats are part of the overall player rating (which I express as wins added or lost).
I rate individual (or "position" defense, though transition defense would be part of the equation) by first assigning a team defensive efficiency rating to each player. Thus, for example, the Celtics' roster would already have a leg up. I then track every game and assign a "boxscore counterpart" to each player who played a minimum of five minutes, provided a logical matchup can be identified. For each matchup, the system looks at the counterpart's normal rate of efficiency and then calculates his efficiency for that game. The difference between the "expected" efficiency and actual efficiency is determined. The system tallies these differences for the entire season and adjusts the player's team defense number accordingly. This method doesn't penalize players who are routinely assigned to the other team's best players.
Structurally, I am convinced that the method is sound. But any system is limited by the data with which it has to work. Since I'm working off the nightly box scores, that is undeniably a limiting factor. If I could get possession by possession data, that would be the mother lode. Right now, the system seems to work much better for starters than bench players.
As an aside, I will throw out there that I think Bruce Bowen's defense has declined considerably this season.
And, as another aside, I urge you to check out Ken Pomeroy's piece on the defensive value of players who combine high block & steal rates:
jdelavalle ((Pembroke Pines, FL)): Georgetown might be the best defensive team in the nation, and many times it seems like many of their players (Freeman, Summers, Macklin, Wallace) arent playing at full potential; and yet the #6 ranked team in the country, is 0-2 against AP top 25 teams (memphis, pitt) and they have pulled off a number of very very close wins that couldve gone either way against lesser teams. Just how legitimate/good is this team?
Bradford Doolittle (Basketball): Well, again, I defer our college guys for the definitive opinion on the Hoyas, but I suspect they still have a lot to prove. Their non-con schedule (other than Memphis) was a pretty futile exercise. But they are leading the Big East and the last time I checked, about one in three DI teams were in the Big East.
His #1 Fan (Central Iowa): Why didn't Bill Curley's awesome array of talent, post moves, athleticism, and heart translate from Boston College to the NBA?
Bradford Doolittle (Basketball): I think we're all still in shock that Curley's hall-of-fame train got derailed. But, hey, he walked away after a career-best PER (just over 10) and made over $7 million in his career. I doubt he's too disappointed.
Jon (New York): Looking at Durant's numbers, his poor rebounding stands out. While players do develope scoring ability as they mature, it seems that either you come into the league as a solid rebounder or you'll never be one. Considering that his amazing rebounding in college was a big reason for his top prospect status, how big a concern should this be.
Bradford Doolittle (Basketball): You're right -- his rebounding has been awful. Here's a 6'9" player who plays big-time minutes yet more than halfway through the season, his career high is 8 boards in a game.
You're also right that most of the time rebounding is a skill that pretty much manifests itself right off the bat. If you look historically at great players like Larry Bird, Marques Johnson, Bernard King, Rick Barry and Dr. J, their best per game rebounding averages were as rookies.
Rebounding in the NBA is generally a function of desire, athleticism and strength. So far, I don't think Durant's desire to rebound is really there. And we all know that he needs to get stronger. I suspect that when Durant decides he wants to be a rebounder and defender, he'll be an adequate one. Right now, he's satisfied just firing away jump shots and the team is letting him do it.
That said, he looked great against Spurs last night -- one of his best games. Though, even in that one, he was torched by Manu Giniobli.
dangor (New York): I know that this is a basketball chat but I remember your great weekly column on ESPN on the Royals. What's your prognosis for KC this year? Give me a guess on wins.
Bradford Doolittle (Basketball): Yes! I knew a Royals fan would find his way here ... I haven't cobbled together my team projections yet. In fact, I'm seriously concerned about when I going to have time to do so. But I'll answer you like this: I think that at the end of last season, the overwhelming consensus was that the Royals were in a better position than they were at the end of the season before. I'm very confident that at the end of the 2008 season, we'll be able to say the same thing. That said, I wouldn't be shocked if they win fewer games than last season. But a bump up to the 73-76 win range wouldn't shock me, either. Really, it'll come down to how much Billy Butler and Alex Gordon improve. I'm excited, if maybe dreading that NBA/MLB overlap a little bit.
shag (Phoenix): So if Durant doesn't deserve rookie of the year, who does?
Bradford Doolittle (Basketball): Deserve is such a harsh word...
My vote right now would go to Al Horford. He's got absolutely no shot to win the award, mind you. In fact, it wouldn't surprise me if Durant is a unanimous selection.
Durant is the most talented rookie. (Leaving aside Greg Oden.) But his inefficiency is impossible to overlook. If he were a five-year veteran, he'd be getting torched in the press. Of course, we don't look at a 19-year-old rookie the same way, nor should we. But the award should go to the guy who as helped his team win the most games THIS YEAR. With his defense and rebounding, for me, that guy is Al Horford.
Robert (Coral Gables): This is probably a useless question, but what can be done to fix the Heat?
Bradford Doolittle (Basketball): If I knew that, I'd be working for Micky Arison right now.
The situation in Miami is a serious mess. They need to tear it down and start over. That's easier said than done in the NBA, of course. Ricky Davis comes off the books after this season, I believe. But until they figure out what to do with Shaq, the outlook is pretty bleak.
One more thing on Durant: The media out of Seattle suggests that maybe his teammates are becoming a little disenchanged with his shot selection. That's neither here nor there but the key question is whether it's really helping his development at this point to be given that much leeway.
costa24 (Montreal): I recognize that every Raptor fan like myself is driving people crazy shouting "Calderon this..." and "Calderon that...", so I apologize in advance for piling on, but what are your thoughts on him. Is this level of play something he can maintain? How real are his crazy numbers and what would he be worth if he were able to continue to play this way for the next few years?
Bradford Doolittle (Basketball): There is no question Calderon is for real. His number this season, on a per minutes basis, are actually DOWN a little bit this season. I had him at 4.0 wins per 3,280 minutes last season. This season, it's 2.9. Both figures are outstanding.
I still don't think he's quite as good on both ends of the floor than would be a healthy T.J. Ford. But the health factor is huge. The Raptors are lucky to have Calderon. And he's awfully fun to watch. That win Toronto had in Boston was one of the best games to watch this season.
Will (iowa): who is the worst coach in the nba?
Bradford Doolittle (Basketball): Isiah. He's the worst exec, too.
Mike Brown is a good coach, a very good one. But his choice to make the Cavs a slow tempo team (actually middle of the pack this season) is bad for the team and bad for the NBA.
Will (New Orleans): If you were the Sixers FO, how would your 08 FA wish list go? Who do we really have a chance at, and who might actually make us better?
Bradford Doolittle (Basketball): The Sixers have a nice, developing core group in Iguodola (who is only 23) and Dalembert (26). Plus it looks like that Thaddeus Young pick might work out after all.
During the second half, the Sixers need to see what sort of swag they can get for Andre Miller and then find out if Louis Williams can run the team as a regular. They also need to find more burn for Rodney Carney to find otu they have there once and for all.
That's five young players who could comprise a starting five with definite upside. They also seem to like Jason Smith (I'm not sold.)
Before going crazy on the free agent market, Philly needs to sort what they have and add another piece in the draft.
costa24 (Montreal): How about Tyson Chandler? People seem to touting David West as the #2 guy pushing the Hornet train, yet I think Chandler is the more unique and irreplaceable guy there.
Bradford Doolittle (Basketball): If we're talking long-term value, I would no doubt go with Chandler. But in reality, the Hornets need both -- without West, the Hornets wouldn't have enough offense to win at the level they've been playing out. But you're right, West is definitely the more replaceable of the too. But if anyone could do it, it'd be Hornets GM Jeff Bower. He's a good one.
Bradford Doolittle (Basketball): Hey, thanks to everybody that stopped by. I'm finishing up my primer for the second half of an NBA season that is shaping up as one of the best in recent memory. So many teams, so many contenders. Watch for that primer in the next day or two. Cheers.