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Hoops Lab: On My Way to Sloan!

Andre' Snellings

Andre' Snellings

Andre' Snellings is a Neural Engineer by day, and RotoWire's senior basketball columnist by night. He's a two-time winner of the Fantasy Basketball Writer of the Year award from the Fantasy Sports Writers Association.

On my way to Sloan!

For those that have been reading the Hoops Lab for awhile, you know that I'm a basketball nerd in every sense of the term. I'm a scientist/engineer with a bent for statistics by training, and of course I'm a basketball junkie. Put those two things together, and it's less than shocking that I've been all over the APBR-metrics movement in the NBA.

For those that don't know, APBR-metrics is the movement to identify new ways to quantify "good" play and productivity in basketball, similar to the SABRmetrics and Moneyball mindset that started sweeping baseball a bit more than a decade ago. The process is more complicated in basketball, though, because of the dynamic and inter-related nature of the game. In baseball, everything can be broken down to a 1-on-1 matchup between the pitcher and the batter, and the box scores contain just about all of the information that a SABR-metrician would need to do their analysis.

In basketball, though, there are always 10 players on the court at the same time, and the actions of any one player influences what every other player should do. Plus, the box score stats don't cover the entirety of the basketball game. In some ways, they don't even come close. While the box score can tell you who scored or made the final pass before the score on offense, it tells you very little about who actually created the shot. It says nothing about how a player being double-teamed on the post opened up backside action that led to an easy layup from a teammate. It says nothing about the crushing screen set by a big man that led to an open three. It says nothing about how the presence of a good long-range shooter stretches the defense and allows penetrators to get to the rim. And that's just on offense. Don't get me started on how woeful the box score can be at judging defense...there's no box score stat for "stopping an opponent from scoring", and that's by far the most important part of defense!

So, in the face of this complicated, dynamic game, there was a huge space for improvement in evaluating the game. These days, there is a lot of work being done on those very improvements. Video tracking of NBA action is now keeping track of a lot of those elements mentioned above that had no home in the boxscore, with sites like Synergy.com as a pioneer for giving the pulbic access to that information. And of course, the entire family of impact stats, led by the +/- approach, is helping to advance our understanding of what individual players can do to promote team success. And even though I've talked about how limited the box scores might be, there is still good information there that can be looked at and used more efficiently.

Every year around this time, some of the best analytical minds in sports get together on the campus of MIT to discuss the newest state of the art tools in sports analytics. That meeting, called the Sloan Conference, will be held this Friday and Saturday.

And I'm going to be there!

I flew into Boston Wednesday night, and I'm currently posted up and waiting for the festivities to jump off Friday! As you might be able to tell, I'm pretty excited about going to this, my first Sloan Conference. This year's list of conference speakers includes new NBA commissioner Adam Silver, Colts quarterback Andrew Luck (this analytics approach encompasses all sports now, not just baseball and basketball), Rockets GM Daryl Morey (dubbed "Dork Elvis" by Bill SImmons a few years ago, because of how much attention he receives at these conferences), former NBA coach George Karl, Phil Jackson, Stan Van Gundy, and about 100 other heavy hitters from front office types to coaches to players to professional statisticians to sports writers.

Everyone I've spoken to that has ever been to this conference talks about how fun it is, how accessible the various speakers are, and just how much they learn. And though these analytics are primarily being developed for understanding the sports as a whole, you better believe that this analytic approach is extremely useful to those that gamble or play fantasy sports. There will be entire panel discussions on the subject, in fact.

So, be on the lookout for my next Hoops Lab, where I'll hopefully have a lot of cool, new cutting edge stuff to talk about after my trip to the "Dorkapalooza" (again, trademark Bill Simmons).

Around the League

Trade deadline: If a trade deadline falls in the woods with no one around, does anyone hear it? Stretched analogies aside, last week's trade deadline came and went with hardly anyone the wiser. There's been more talk since the deadline about how nothing happened than about the few trades that actually got done.

On the fantasy front, there weren't any player movements worthy enough to warrant immediate value changes among those that moved. However, there has been one clear winner in the midst of all this...Thaddeus Young. The Georgia Tech product has gone absolutely nuts since the deals that moved running mates Evan Turner and Spencer Hawes to new locales, averaging 25.7 points, 7.0 boards, 5.3 assists, and 5.0 steals in those three games. Young's numbers, especially the steals, aren't sustainable for the year, but the telling stat moving forward is field goal attempts. He has taken 66 shots in the three games since the deadline, a whopping total that shatters his previous high of 54 shots over any three games earlier this season. Somebody has to shoot on the 76ers, and it certainly looks like that person is going to be Young.

Davis's shoulder: Anthony Davis appeared to strain his shoulder early in the Pelican's game on Wednesday, and he did not return. He traveled with the team to Phoenix where he'll have further testing done, but for now, there isn't much known on the severity of the injury. Consider him day-to-day until more is known, but clearly this is a situation to watch closely.

LeBron's nose: LeBron James took a playoff-type foul from Serge Ibaka in last week's tilt against the Thunder that left him on the ground, bleeding from his nose. James missed one game, and was a game-time decision for the Heat's game against the Knicks on Thursday before returning. He should be fine the rest of the way, and his mask looks pretty cool.

Aldridge and the banged up Blazers frontline: LaMarcus Aldridge strained his groin right before the All-Star break and has missed the Trail Blazers' last four games. He was seen doing some shooting in pre-game warm ups on Tuesday, but Portland is not taking any chances with the franchise player. Expect him to rest until he is fully recovered, which could extend into next week.

Meanwhile, Aldridge's injury came simultaneously with injuries to backup bigs Meyers Leonard (sprained ankle) and Joel Freeland (right medial collateral ligament). The dearth of depth up front provided some opportunity for second year man Thomas Robinson, who exploded for a 14-point/18-rebound career night against the Timberwolves before he too sat out Wednesday with a strained patellar tendon. Of course, Robinson only has 14 points and 17 rebounds TOTAL in the other three games that Aldridge missed, so his big game was looking flukish anyway. The bottom line is that, outside of Aldridge, none of the other Blazers bigs are trustworthy or apparently able to stay healthy for long enough to garner much value.

Dragic's ankle: Goran Dragic missed Wednesday's game with a sprained right ankle that he suffered on Tuesday against Minnesota. He was a game-time call for Wednesday before ultimately sitting out. Dragic is considered probable for Friday's game against the Pelicans, but keep an eye out for updates closer to game time.

Millsap's knee: Paul Millsap has missed the last two games as he recovers from a knee contusion. He is expected to return to the lineup on Sunday against the Suns, but look for updates as the game approaches.

Crawford's calf: Jamal Crawford left Wednesday's game right before halftime with a calf injury, and he didn't return. He had an MRI on Thursday that came back negative. The Clippers have him listed at day-to-day with a mild left calf strain. In the interim, Darren Collison should get a few extra minutes.

Sully's concussion: Jared Sullinger has missed the last week with a concussion. He has passed the required concussion test, which means that he could return as soon as Saturday, but concussions are tricky injuries, and these days, teams seem to be erring on the side of caution when dealing with them, so don't take Sully's return as a sure thing until you see him back on the court.

Felton's gun: Raymond Felton was arrested this week for felony gun possession, and has been arraigned on two charges (one a felony, one a misdemeanor). If convicted, he could face 2-to-7 years in prison. This is obviously a huge situation for Felton and the Knicks, but in the short term, apparently it won't be enough to keep Felton out of the lineup as he played on Thursday against the Heat. The league or the Knicks could step in at any time with a suspension, but unless/until they do, he apparently would be able to play until the legal system runs its course.

Buyouts: While there were few actual trades at the deadline, there has been more action than usual post-deadline among veterans that were stuck on lottery-bound teams. Glen "Big Baby" Davis, Danny Granger, Jimmer Fredette, and Caron Butler have all been bought out by their respective teams and thus became eligible to sign as free agents with other teams. Davis has already signed with the Clippers, who are also rumored to be in the lead to sign Granger, while Butler is still on the market. These buyouts are unlikely to change the fantasy landscape much, as the vets all want to go to contenders which necessitates them taking on lesser roles than they had on the weaker teams.

Won my league (Thursday's rule): As some of you may remember, I started getting into daily fantasy leagues around the start of the year. The leagues I play in tend to have thousands of entries, so anyone that finishes among the top several-hundred places is considered to be among the winners. But last Thursday I won my league outright, topping all 3,500 teams to claim the victory. For those interested in daily leagues, one trend that I've noticed is that it's easier for me to control my team quality on days like Thursday when there are generally fewer games. When everyone plays, there are so many combinations of players that you can choose that it is harder to estimate who will have a great game. But on the days when there aren't many games, I can have a firmer grasp on who is likely to do well (both among the superstars and among the role players), and I tend to do better on those days.

New Additions

Vince Carter (38% owned): Carter has been having a solid if unspectacular year, but he's been picking it up of late to the tune of 16.3 points, 5.0 boards, 3.0 treys, 3.0 assists, 1.0 steals and 0.8 blocks in his last four outings. Carter's rise has coincided with some lackluster games from Shawn Marion, but it seems that the veteran is making his late-season push as the team prepares for the playoffs.

Kyle Singler (18% owned): Kyle Singler has been solid of late, averaging 14.0 points and 2.0 treys on 59% shooting from the field over his last five games. Singler is not the biggest name on a Pistons squad with several fantasy options, but he is starting and producing so is worth consideration.

Giannis Antetokounmpo (13% owned): The "Greek Freak" has been playing well of late, averaging 10.7 points with 5.3 boards, 3.0 assists, 1.0 steal, and a strong 2.3 blocks in 28 minutes per game over the last week. He is the brightest spot in the Bucks' future plans, and the team is anchored in the lottery, so he would seem to be in for a lot of action down the stretch of the season.

Matt Barnes (11% owned): This is both a short-term ‘add' and a ‘situation to watch'. Matt Barnes has been hot from downtown lately, knocking down 12 treys over his last four games. Jamal Crawford strained his calf on Wednesday, which could open up a few more shots for Barnes in the short-term. By the same token, if Danny Granger does sign with the Clippers as expected then it could cut into Barnes' opportunities in the long term.

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 on RotoWire Fantasy Sports Today with Chris Liss and Jeff Erickson on XM 87, Sirius 210.