Team Efficiency Impact
On Sunday I watched the Celtics and Lakers battle it out in a clash of NBA heavyweights. For about 44 minutes it was a slugfest with neither team able to gain much traction over the other. Then, over the last five minutes, what had been a close game turned into a blowout as the Celtics pulled away for a double-digit victory.
One of the things that really stood out down the stretch was the difference between each team's crunch-time offense. For the Celtics it was a layup drill based off team execution, with 12 of their 13 fourth quarter buckets being assisted. For the Lakers, on the other hand, almost everything came off of the isolation. Only one of their 10 fourth quarter buckets was assisted. Kobe Bryant made several spectacular shots late, but they were low percentage shots that eventually dried up as he went 2-for-6 from the field with an offensive foul on another attempted shot in traffic over the last 5 minutes - a span in which the Celtics were shooting 8-for-10 as a team to ice the game.
There are a lot of interesting takeaways here. There was a national conversation last week about how Kobe's "late game assassin" reputation isn't really warranted, because though he's good at making low-percentage shots that still isn't as effective as just taking higher percentage shots or setting up teammates with good passes late. That Celtics game was a textbook example of that, and it came at the perfect time for the nation to see the "nerd analysis" supported in living color. But though interesting, crunch time offense isn't really of that much relevance to a fantasy owner. So, let's take it in a different direction.
There was another big nerd conversation recently that Carson Cistuli wrote about in his Nerd Alert column, between baseball SABRmetrics expert Phil Birnbaum and Basketball Prospectus writer Kevin Pelton that discussed whether advanced box score stats can work as well in basketball as they do in baseball. Within that discussion, Birnbaum produced this gem: "It turns out that there is a strong positive correlation in shooting percentage among teammates. If one teammate shoots accurately, the rest of the team gets carried along." He provided numbers to back this up, but it also supports what I wrote a couple weeks ago about how the absence of a player like Dirk Nowitzki can cause all of his offensive teammates to struggle.
With Sunday's game fresh in my head, today I want to amplify further what Birnbaum pointed out. I don't think it's just an accident that teammates happen to shoot better or worse en masse, and I don't think that effect is only due to individual talents grouped together making it harder for defenses (though that helps as well). I think that one of the overlooked aspects of this from a fantasy perspective is the effect of team offensive efficiency on player production. We often look at team pace when considering sleepers (e.g. the Nellie-ball Warriors played faster than everyone else, had more possessions, and thus more chances to produce numbers), but we don't often consider teams that might play slower but have systems that maximize what a player can produce per possession.
Here are the top-5 teams in the NBA according to three different measures of offensive efficiency: team offensive rating (points scored per 100 possessions), team assist percentage (ratio of made shots assisted on), and team EFG% (shooting percentage of the team with three pointers factored in):
Team O-Rating: Lakers, Nuggets, Spurs, Heat, Rockets
Team assist percentage: Celtics, Mavericks, Jazz, Hawks, Spurs
Team EFG%: Celtics, Magic, Suns, Nuggets, Spurs
It's ironic that the Lakers lead the NBA in O-Rating, but perhaps that further reflects the idea that their clutch iso-offense is bad for their team since it goes away from their otherwise strong efficiency. Nevertheless, when scouring the free agency wire I would look to role players and injury subs from one of these 11 teams because their systems seem to put their players in position to score efficiently. And qualitatively, we've already seen several examples of successful short-term fill-ins from these teams. Nate Robinson did well when Rajon Rondo was injured, DeShawn Stevenson stepped up in the short term after Caron Butler went down, a whole slew of Nuggets stepped up when Carmelo Anthony was out, and Kyle Lowry became a must-add while Aaron Brooks was injured.
So if next month Jason Terry of the Mavs and Michael Beasley of the Timberwolves (last in the NBA in team assist percentage) both get injured on the same day, it might behoove you to use your free agent slot on Roddy Beaubois instead of Martell Webster. Either way you'd be getting a potential short-term starter, but Dallas puts its role players in much better positions to produce than Minnesota does.
Around the League
• Deron's wrist: Deron Williams has missed the last three games with a hyperextended right wrist, and is expected to miss at least one more game as well. Williams has been considered day-to-day since the injury, which in theory should indicate it's short-term, but the missed games are starting to pile up.
• Rose's Ulcers: Derrick Rose was diagnoised with multiple stomach ulcers last week, but he has not missed any games and in fact continued to produce at 20/10 levels over the weekend. He announced on Tuesday that the ulcers are behind him for now, so he should be good to go moving forward.
• Amare's Knees: Amare Stoudemire missed practice on Tuesday with sore knees. This was done more as a precaution than anything else, and he is coming off a stretch when he's averaged 29 points over his last four games. Nevertheless, Stoudemire has had major surgeries on both of his knees through the years so it's worth paying attention to when those knees are sore.
• Bynum's knee: Andrew Bynum is also dealing with soreness in his surgically-repaired left knee, and this soreness caused him to miss Tuesday's game against the Rockets. Bynum is expected to play on Thursday against the Spurs, but Lakers coach Phil Jackson has said Bynum's availability going forward will be day-to-day. If the injury lingers, it'll bode well for Lamar Odom (who posted a 20-20 effort on Tuesday with Bynum out).
• Kirilenko's ankle: Andrei Kirilenko had to leave the game on Monday with an ankle injury, and is expected to miss Wednesday's game against the Rockets. Consider him day-to-day, but his absence frees up short-term minutes for C.J. Miles, Gordon Hayward and maybe even a few more for Paul Millsap as well.
• Battle of the Kevins: Kevin Love is getting perilously close to challenging Kevin Durant and Chris Paul for the top spot in my fantasy player rankings, this week jumping over LeBron James and into the No. 3 slot. Not only did Love post a 31-point/21-rebound game with three treys and excellent percentages against Durant's Thunder last week, but he also spearheaded the lack of defense that allowed Durant to explode for 47 points, 18 boards and four treys of his own. The more I think about it, Love's defensive contributions to opponents fantasy stats might be enough to justify moving him over Durant in the rankings.
• Mayo's suspension: O.J. Mayo was suspended last week for violating the NBA Substance Abuse Policy, and is currently three games into his 10 game suspension. Mayo had already fallen out of fantasy favor when he lost his starting spot, but this sends him further down the lists and opens up short-term space for Tony Allen to put up bigger numbers and perhaps earn a larger spot even after Mayo returns.
• Bucks' health: Andrew Bogut has a bone bruise on his right knee that has him game-to-game for now. The MRI was negative, but Bogut has a spotty injury history, so owners should be wary. Brandon Jennings has returned from his foot surgery, but he is still operating on a minutes limit in the short term. He played only 17 minutes on Monday, but is expected to start with a 24 minute cap on Wednesday.
• Okafor's abs: Emeka Okafor is expected to miss the next one to three weeks with a left oblique strain that's more serious than originally thought. Okafor had played in 306 consecutive games before missing Tuesday night's game with the Wizards, and he's expected to be on the shelf for the next four to 10 games.
• Best point guards by numbers: In a blog post that's more "real" basketball than fantasy, I looked at several of the available advanced stats to size up the best point guards in the league. It was interesting to note that no matter which stat I looked at, Chris Paul and Steve Nash consistently measured out as the two best this year even over MVP-candidate Derrick Rose, assist-machine Rajon Rondo, Deron Williams, Russell Westbrook, or any of the others that are having big years.
• Samuel Dalembert (44% owned): Dalembert moved into the starting lineup for the Kings on Tuesday in place of Jason Thompson, who's nursing an ankle injury. Dalembert had already been playing better of late, though, averaging 17 points in back-to-back games before Tuesday to go with solid rebound and block potential. He's worth an add for as long as the minutes go his way.
• Tracy McGrady (41% owned): McGrady just keeps teasing with big games before falling back to the pack, but he's been starting for most of the month and on the whole is putting up good enough numbers to be productive. In that month he's got two double-doubles that were within two boards of becoming triple-doubles, and he's shown he can average in the low teens in scoring. He's still struggling with his shot and his shooting range, but on the whole he's worth a spot in most leagues.
• Greg Monroe (39% owned): Monroe continues to start, and continues to be a nightly double-double threat. He has shown some inconsistency like most rookies do, but he is fresh off of a 15-point/17-rebound double-double,
and he continues to be a surprisingly robust source of steals.
• Wes Johnson (36% owned): Johnson has been one of the quietest among this year's top-5 rookie draftees, but over the last week he has scored in double-digits with at least two treys in four straight games. Johnson is a scorer, and maybe his recent play is a sign that he has finally gotten comfortable with playing his role on the big stage.
• Timofey Mozgov (7% owned): After being chained to the pine for the past two months, the 7-footer got the call as an injury sub against the Pistons and responded with 23 points and 14 boards in 40 minutes played. There's just no way to predict anywhere near that moving forward, but he's a young big man on a team without much size and as such he has enough upside to keep an eye on.
Keeping up with the Professor
If you're interested in my takes throughout the week, you can follow me on Twitter @ProfessorDrz. Also, don't forget that you can catch me on the radio every Friday afternoon at 12:30 PM EST on Rotowire Fantasy Sports Today with Chris Liss and Jeff Erickson on XM 147, Sirius 211.