Articles by Andre Snellings

A listing of all the articles written by Andre Snellings for the RotoWire Blog.

Week in review in the Hoops Lab 11/16/16

As most of you hopefully know, I write a weekly NBA article on Rotowire called The Hoops Lab. But as many of you might not know, I also run a blog of the same name in which I put out NBA content pretty much daily. Here are some of my articles from the past week or so:

What exactly do we have in Andrew Wiggins: A scouting-based look at Andrew Wiggins, the prospect once touted as the Canadian Michael Jordan that had entered his third season overshadowed on his own team by young Karl-Anthony Towns. Wiggins scored 47 points the other night…how good is he?

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What to Expect from LeBron in the Finals

What might we expect from LeBron James in his NBA Finals rematch against the Golden State Warriors? On ESPN for the last couple of days I’ve noticed them really pushing Andre’ Iguodala as a “LeBron stopper” that slowed him during last season’s Finals, and that thus may slow him again this season. However, a closer look at LeBron’s production in those Finals suggests that while Iguodala may have done the best job among the Warriors, he really didn’t slow him any more than the other playoffs opponents.

Plus, this year’s Finals shapes up very differently than last year’s. The Cavaliers have Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love healthy this season, which makes them a much different offense. Plus, the Cavs are stylistically playing offense differently than they did even in the regular season with more small-ball and 3-point shooting. And, as usual, LeBron is at the exact center of everything that the Cavs do, so how he performs in the Finals will go a long way towards determining the final outcome.

So, what should we expect from LeBron in the 2016 Finals?

There are two ways to look at it. One way is that while the Warriors may not have a “LeBron Stopper” they may, in the words of Jason Rubin, have a LeBron Speed Bump. In the 2015 Finals LeBron did struggle with his scoring efficiency while Iguodala was on the court, with a paltry 47% true shooting percentage. I argued in the Nylon Calculus link above that Iguodala didn’t slow LeBron any more in those Finals than his other 2015 playoff opponents did, and that therefore he wasn’t dominating him defensively the way the narrative might suggest. However, @BrianLewis709 had a reasonable counter for me on Twitter, that LeBron’s other 2015 playoff opponents also had very good wing defenders in Jae Crowder, DeMarre Carroll and Jimmy Butler and thus that Iguodala holding him to the same level was an indication that Iggy was making a huge difference defensively.

That’s actually a defendable point. Especially when you factor in that in two regular season games against the Warriors this year, LeBron still managed only 20.5 points on 40.5% field goal percentage. Also, in the Warriors’ recent series against another dominant offensive small forward in Kevin Durant, they held him to only 53.7% true shooting after he had lit up the previously dominant Spurs defense for 60.2% true shooting just a round before. With Draymond Green helping out in addition to Iguodala, the Warriors do have some plus defenders that could make life difficult on LeBron.

However, there is also the opposing view-point that it wasn’t the defenses that slowed LeBron in the 2015 playoffs but instead the circumstances tripped him up. With Irving and Love both injured last season, the Cavaliers’ offense bogged down with a lack of talent around LeBron. Defenses were able to focus on him in entirety, which damaged his efficiency but not his volume. Also, because the Warriors in particular had such a high-powered offense, it behooved the Cavs to slow down and dirty up the game which helped contribute to LeBron’s low percentages while still giving the Cavs the best chance to remain competitive. I tend to agree more with this second point of view, which would suggest that LeBron’s performance in these Finals is less dependent upon the Warriors’ defense and more dependent upon his own approach. So, let’s look at what LeBron is doing differently in these playoffs than he did in 2015.

For one thing, LeBron’s minutes load has been down thus far in 2016 compared to 2015. In 2015 he had to play iron man minutes, 42.2 mpg, in large part because there wasn’t enough supporting talent for him to get much rest. In 2016 he’s playing more than four fewer minutes, down to a career-low pace of 37.9 mpg, that has allowed him to remain fresher. I believe it was Kenny Smith from TNT that pointed out just how high LeBron has been able to get on some of his postseason dunks, higher than expected from a now 30-something with so much mileage on the odometer. But the Cavs swept their first two series which has allowed for plenty of days off, and with healthier teammates LeBron has been able to sit more even during games than he ever has been able to in his career.

Another big difference is that in this year’s playoffs, LeBron has not been settling for jumpers but has instead been taking it to the rim. A LOT. According to his entry at basketball-reference.com, LeBron has taken almost half of his shots (48.6% of them, to be exact) within three feeet of the rim and he’s finishing those shots at a 74.6% clip. That would represent by FAR a career high percentage of close shots for James (his previous best was 38.1% of his shots from close back in 2006), and a sea-change difference from 2015 when he took only 30.3% of his shots from within three feet of the rim. Part of this is due to improved shot selection, but a lot of it is due to talented teammates that space the floor and prevent defenses from loading up on James the way that they used to. Qualitatively speaking, while the Warriors did a great job on Durant overall in the last round it certainly seemed to me that he enjoyed much more success when he went to the rim. A lot of his difficulties came from settling for contested long-range jumpers (he shot only 28.6% on 6.0 trey attempts per game). So if LeBron continues to attack the paint, it would seem that he should find success against the Warriors.

This dovetails in with the third major difference from a year ago: this time LeBron doesn’t have to create everything himself. While only 22.3% of LeBron’s 2-point shots were assisted in 2015, in 2016 a whopping 48.3% of his 2-pointers come off assists from teammates. Similarly, last year 48% of LeBron’s treys were assisted while 68.4% of them are off of assists in 2016. Not coincidentally, LeBron’s 2-point field goal percentage has increased from 46.5% to 61.5% and his 3-point field goal percentage is is up from 22.7% to 32.2%.

Bottom line: the Warriors have two strong defenders in Andre Iguodala and Draymond Green that have proven that they can make life difficult for over-sized superstar small forwards, especially when they try to create a lot off the dribble and are willing to settle for jump shots. However, this season LeBron no longer has to force the action the way that he did in 2015, and I think that this will be the more important factor in determining his Finals production as opposed to Golden State’s defense. I look for LeBron to be a monster in these Finals, which will help make the Cavaliers a lot more competitive in the 2016 Finals than they were in 2015.

Mission Possible: Black People Absolutely Use NBA Analytics

My name is Dr. Andre’ Snellings, and I absolutely LOVE NBA analytics. And…in case you didn’t know…I’m as black as the ace of spades, like my grandma used to say.

As you probably know by now, that “confession” was in response to Michael Wilbon’s article Mission Impossible: African-Americans & Analytics that has the premise that black folks don’t talk about sports in terms of advanced analytics.

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Why the Thunder can beat the Warriors

On the first Monday of May, I went on the Rotowire Fantasy Sports Today radio show on XM/Sirius with Chris Liss and Jeff Erickson, and was asked to weigh in on the Thunder vs Spurs series. The Spurs had just beat the Thunder by roughly 100 points in the first game of the series, and Liss gave me an over-under of 5.5 games for that series. I took the “under”, that the Spurs would finish off the Thunder in five.

Yeah, not all predictions pan out.

So now, two weeks later, the Thunder have completed their unlikely comeback over the seemingly juggernaut Spurs, and are gearing up for a series against the even-more-invincible-seeming Golden State Warriors. The Warriors are the defending champions, they won an NBA-record 73 games this season, they continued to win even when unanimous MVP Stephen Curry got injured, and now Curry is back and doing Curry-like things. The Warriors beat the Thunder all three times they played this year, including by a combined 23 points in two games at Golden State. In a related note, the Warriors have home court advantage in this series.

So of course, when Ken Crites asked for my picks…I said Thunder in six.

Wait, what?

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These Conference Finals are Classics

When I weighed in last week, the San Antonio Spurs had won 20 games in a row and were being seriously compared to the greatest teams of all-time.  The Miami Heat were in the process of walking right through the Celtics, as Stephen A. Smith (loudly) declared would happen.  The Conference Finals were assumed to be a somewhat dull speed bump for the Spurs and Heat on the way to a Finals re-match.

What a difference a week makes.

A week later, the Thunder have won three straight games to put the Spurs back on their heels and on the brink of watching the Finals from home.  Meanwhile, the Celtics have posted double-digit leads in three straight games and held on to win two of those contests to even up their series with the Heat.  Both match-ups have sported some serious heavyweight blows exchanged on both sides, with stars a-plenty all performing at high levels and producing some strong, memorable basketball.  All four of the Conference Finalists would make worthy champions, a rarity in this league.  And every game is must-see TV, as evidenced by Game 4 of the Heat/Celtics series setting the record for the most viewed basketball game on cable television in history.  We’ve had overtimes, 4th quarter heroics, triple-doubles, 4th quarter mishaps, and even knuckle push-ups in these Conference Finals.

In short, the Conference Finals have become instant classics. 

Out West, the Thunder have been re-writing the narrative.  People forget that the Thunder actually controlled most of Game 1 against the Spurs before giving up a 9-point lead in the fourth quarter.  After two games, the narrative was that the Spurs were the much better team and the Thunder didn’t really have a shot.  But a week later, with the Spurs on the ropes, the new narrative is that the Thunder are the younger and better team that just had to work through their postseason inexperience to take over.  What I pointed out last week was that the team that played most like a TEAM would have the advantage in this series.  And as I watched Game 5 last night, I was struck that this was still holding true.  While last week the Spurs were getting contributions from everyone and playing clock-work basketball, in Game 5 it seemed to be only Manu Ginobili and Tony Parker contributing for the lion share of the second half.  When they made their 4th quarter run was when Tim Duncan and Stephen Jackson joined in to make it a true team effort, but the two-man show before that…despite the fact that Ginobili and Parker were playing really great…wasn’t enough to defeat the full team effort of the Thunder.  In the last two games, the Thunder have gotten six 15+ point performances from five different people.  They are hitting the Spurs from every angle, including the shocking one of Serge Ibaka and Kendrick Perkins combining for 41 points on 90|PERCENT| shooting in Game 4.  Once again, team is triumphing over the pairs and trios of talented individuals.

Back East, the Celtics and Heat are locked into the kind of close, hard-hitting dog-fight that we really should have expected.  I’m arrogant enough about my basketball takes that I actually get amused by watching the national media cover this series, as to me they just completely miss the point and talk about all of the wrong things.  On Monday I spent all day hearing about how the Heat miss shots in the last 10 seconds of games, or how Rajon Rondo is the best point guard in the NBA.  While these angles might be worth discussing…especially Rondo, who has been playing awesome ball in this series…when it comes down to the core success of one team or another, the answer is much simpler: which player can force the remaining three games to be played more in his image: LeBron James or Kevin Garnett?  That’s it.  That’s the question.  It’s been the question for the past five seasons, and it’s still the question now.  Don’t believe me?  Check this out.

In every year that Garnett has played in the playoffs for the Celtics they have eventually faced a LeBron-led team in the postseason. In 2008 and 2010 the Celtics sent LeBron home, and in 2011 LeBron returned the favor. And the games have been split right down the middle…coming into this season the teams had played 18 total games, with the Celtics winning nine and LeBron’s squads winning nine.  This season the series is currently 2 – 2, making the overall game record 11 – 11 at the moment.  As close as it can get.  I say that the key stat to look at to evaluate this extremely close match-up is the relative +/- between Garnett and LeBron.

In the nine victories for LeBron’s teams entering this season, here are the on-court/off-court +/- stats per 48 minutes for the main principals:
LeBron: +20.0
Garnett: +7.4
Rondo: -2.6
Paul Pierce: +13.9
Ray Allen: +10.0

In the nine Celtics wins, on the other hand, here are the same on/off +/- results:
LeBron: +2.5
Garnett: +19.5
Rondo: -11.0
Pierce: -5.0
Allen: -18.3

The absolute numbers aren’t so important because the sample sizes are too small for full accuracy.  But the very clear trend is that when LeBron’s teams have won, LeBron has been the one putting up dominant on/off +/- values…and when the Celtics have won it’s been Garnett with the dominant values.  Rondo’s, Pierce’s, and Allen’s +/- scores seem to have little-to-no correlation as to the team’s success in these match-ups. 

And thus far, through the four games of the 2012 series the same pattern is holding true.  LeBron has by far the highest on/off +/- on either team in the Heat’s two wins, and Garnet has by-far the highest on/off +/- on either team in the Celtics’ two wins.

And as always, the most important use for numbers is to put them into context and tie them to what we see on the court.  I think it’s obvious why LeBron would be the weather vane for his team.  But with Rondo putting up nightly triple-doubles, why is Garnett still the key to the Celtics?  One word answer: defense.  When Garnett is on the court and playing well, the Celtics stifle their opponents…when he’s off, the Celtics are a sieve.  In games 3 and 4 the Heat shot in the mid-30|PERCENT| shooting range with Garnett on the floor, but shot up near 80|PERCENT| (not a misprint) from the field with him off the court.

So, that’s what it is.  If LeBron can establish the Heat offense, fast breaks and easy shots, with some James/Dwyane Wade hero ball mixed in for good measure then the Heat likely advance.  If Garnett can lock the Celtics’ defense, making James and Wade over-rely on hero ball and not letting their supporting cast into the equation, the Celtics advance.  It’s really that simple.

These Conference Finals have turned into Instant Classics.  I wonder what the new story will be this time next week.

Notes on Conference Finals

Last night I watched the Spurs beat down the Thunder.  Even though it ended up being a 9-point game, for the most part the Spurs did whatever they wanted to do.

On Monday I watched the Heat beat down the Celtics.  Even though the Celtics went on a second quarter run that tied the game at the half, for the most part the Heat did whatever they wanted to do.

So now, with the Spurs up 2 – 0 on the Thunder and the Heat up 1 – 0 on the Celtics…is it already over?  Are we looking at two lopsided series that will soon give rise to a Spurs/Heat Finals?  Is there any reason to keep watching?

On the one hand it’s hard to question the Spurs and Heat, as they were already favorites coming in and have looked very strong so far.  But on the other hand, "old adages" become "old adages" for a reason…there is truth in them.  And in this case, I’d say that the applicable "old adage" is that the series doesn’t truly start until someone loses at home.  Yes, the Spurs and Heat are up a combined 3 – 0…but all three games so far have been played at their homes.  They’re SUPPOSED to be up a combined 3 – 0.  So no, I wouldn’t say that these series are decided yet.  Maybe by the weekend we’ll have a better idea, but right now it’s still very much game on.

That said, the one commonality I’ve seen so far across all three games is that the team that plays the most like a TEAM is the one that wins the games.  Last night the Spurs put on an absolute clinic of teamwork…every pass led to another pass which led to another pass which led to an easy shot.  Tony Parker was magnificent as an individual, but the reason that he scored so many points was because so many of his shots were wide-open based upon the work of his teammates.  The Thunder, on the other hand, looked like three REALLY talented individuals all doing their things as individuals.  Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook and James Harden combined for almost 90 points, but so much of their action came off the Iso.  Even with three guys that are THAT good, if they run into a team playing at a level as high as the Spurs it just isn’t enough.

In the other bracket, the Celtics SHOULD resemble the team-work of the Spurs while the Heat SHOULD resemble the super-talented individuals of the Thunder.  Ironically, in Game 1 the reverse was true.  LeBron James and Dwyane Wade were dominant, but they were also able to open up the court for Mike Miller and Shane Battier to be strong contributors.  Meanwhile, on the Celtics’ side, there were entire stretches of the game where the only semblance of offense seemed to be to let Kevin Garnett go to work 1-on-1.  I don’t know if the Celtics’ injuries have finally caught up to them…I don’t know if Eric Spoelstra really has upped his coaching to allow LeBron and Wade to play off of each other instead of competing with each other…I don’t know.  But what I DO know is that the Heat already have the talent advantage at the top, so if they ALSO play better team ball then this series really will end quickly.

So.  I’m not going to make any predictions here…the Spurs and Heat came in the favorites, and right now they’re playing like it.  And it’s up to the Celtics and Thunder to prove that they have something in the quiver that will change the dynamic.  I’d say the odds are certainly in favor of a repeat of the 2007 Finals, but I still think the Celtics and Thunder have it in them to make these Conference Finals more interesting.

Greatest Players in NBA History: Kevin Garnett

In this blog I pick one of the top players in NBA history as voted on in this project and discuss some of his career accomplishments…in other words, what made him so great that he deserves a spot among the greatest? This week’s player is Kevin Garnett, either a jack-of-all-trades/master-of-none or one of the most complete players in NBA history that also has had the biggest on-court impact of his generation…depending on who you ask.

KG is one of the most unique players that the NBA has seen.  He is over 7-feet tall (though he is officially listed at 6-11, and anecdotally refers to himself as being 6-13), with mantis arms, a wiry frame, and wing-like quickness.  He eschewed the center slot that would be traditional for a 7-footer, and instead crafted a game that masters elements of both the inside and outside portions of the court.  He is an effective interior post player, but he also has a deadly 19-foot jumper and can run the offense from the high elbow.  He might play at the top of your zone on defense, but he’ll also blow up the pick-and-role and challenge shots at the rim, and then grab the rebound.  As you’ll see in the four facts below, this versatility has led to combinations of accomplishments that have rarely or sometimes never been done before. 

But like all of the greats, what really sets Garnett apart is his mentality.  In a league with perhaps too many games, it has become tacitly accepted for players to not get up for every game, or to maybe coast a bit in practice ("We talkin’ ’bout PRACTICE, man!"  But not Garnett.  Garnett plays absolutely every minute of every game like his team was down 1 point in game 7 of the NBA Finals and he had to will them to victory.  He’s up ALL the time.  There are Bill Brasky-like stories of Garnett running windsprints on the sidelines when pulled out of practice or forcing Celtics captain Paul Pierce to keep up with him in training camp.  The word "intensity" has been used so often to describe his on-court demeanor that it has become almost a punchline, with teammates and detractors alike making fun of his routine to headbutt the basket support before every half. 

And more-so than most players, with Garnett it really does seem to be a case where everything about him can be spun in either a positive or negative direction, depending on the perspective.  By becoming the first preps-to-pros player in 20 years Garnett either pioneered a new direction for the NBA, or he opened the door to the flood of underaged and underpreapared players that weakened both the NBA and the NCAA.  If Garnett plays another season beyond this one, even at the league minimum, he will be the highest paid player in NBA history…but his contract was blamed for the 1999 NBA lockout and for crippling the Wolves’ championship hopes.  He is either a fake-thug bully on the court, or the greatest teammate and player of mind-games since Bill Russell.  Garnett is often criticized for not being selfish or clutch or post-oriented enough on the court, yet according to the advanced stats his impact is almost off the scales in a positive direction.

For every pro there’s a con, and for every con there’s a pro.  I’ll let you decide where you come down on his value.  But before you weigh in, here are four interesting facts about Garnett:

1) Box score stats.  In NBA history, Garnett is the only player in the 20k points/10k boards/5k assists/1500 steals/1500 blocks club (It’s possible that Kareem Abdul-Jabbar might also be in this club if steals were recorded during his first four years, but no one else is even potentially on the list).  Garnett also holds the record with six consecutive seasons averaging at least 20 points, 10 boards, and five assists, breaking the marks formerly held by Wilt Chamberlain and Larry Bird.

2) Garnett is the only forward in NBA history to have won both a Most Valuable Player and a Defensive Player of the Year award.  The only other players to do it at any position were Michael Jordan, Hakeem Olajuwon, and David Robinson. 

3) In 2004 Garnett won the 2nd-most lopsided MVP vote in NBA history (behind Shaq in 2000), totaling 120 out of 123 first place votes.  In that season Garnett became the only player since the 1976 NBA/ABA merger to lead the NBA in both points and rebounds in a single season, and he also notched the single-season record among power forwards in the advanced box score stats PER, Win Shares, and Wins Produced.

4) In his prime, Garnett measured out as by-far the highest impact player in the NBA according to a multi-year Adjusted Plus Minus study conducted by Dr. Stephen Ilardi, now consultant to the Phoenix Suns.  In that study, which ran from the 2003/04 season through the 2008/09 season, Garnett’s APM of  +14.07 was so far beyond second place (LeBron James, +9.5) that this gap was larger than the distance between the 6th best player and the 50th player on the list.  Garnett also dominates the defensive APM studies, as the leader by a distinct margin in every published multi-year APM study encompassing 2003/04 through 2010/11.

Here is his basketball-reference player card which includes career stats.