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Hoops Lab: NBA Hoops Lab-Week 10

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.

The Hoops Lab

By Andre' Snellings
RotoWire Staff Writer

Did the NBA go too-far with the handcheck rule changes?

I was watching NBA highlights Wednesday night, and when analyst Eric Snow discussed Chris Paul's absurd near quadruple-double (33 points, 11 assists, 10 boards, seven steals) he brought back a line of reasoning that I hadn't heard for awhile: that part of the reason that Paul was so unstoppable was because of the rule change of five seasons ago (2004) that prevented more physical perimeter defense. He suggested that Paul came along at the perfect time in NBA history, that though he would always have been good, with the physical hand-checking defense of yester-year he would not be able to just carve up defenses at will the way he can now.
That got me to thinking. In the last few years we have witnessed a boom in what I call "video-game stats" in the league, especially among perimeter players. Guys like Paul, Kobe Bryant, LeBron James, and Dwyane Wade just keep pushing the statistical envelope to places that it has never gone before. And for all four of these players, a key tenet to their game is that they pretty much can't be stopped when they drive to the rim. No single perimeter defender can prevent them from getting into the lane, and when they get there it is either a layup, a pass to a wide-open teammate from a collapsed defense, or a foul. And here is where maybe it has gone too far.

I remember when Michael Jordan played, I always felt like the refs protected him by sending him to the line if someone even breathed on him. But looking back, Jordan never averaged more than 8.8 free throw attempts per game during his championship runs despite playing against ultra-physical defenses like the Bad Boy Pistons and Pat Riley Knicks that just beat on him all game. Meanwhile Bryant, James, and Wade are all operating on four-year streaks where they have each taken at least 8.9 free throws per game in every season. That is a LOT of free points for the wings, and could play a part in why there hasn't been a power forward or center finish in the top-3 in NBA scoring since 2004, the year the rule changed.

Now, don't get me wrong, I love watching brilliant scoring. And I completely understand that from the NBA's point of view, an perimeter offense-oriented league is much more marketable than the physical, defensive drudgery that dominated much of the 90s. But part of me does wonder if giving perimeter offensive players such an advantage won't eventually affect the balance of the NBA the way that emphasizing the home run did to baseball over the last decade (minus the PEDs, of course).

Situations to Watch and Quick Hits

Young Heat Rising: Don't look now, but the Heat are suddenly just two games out from the fourth seed and home court advantage in the playoffs. Although Dwyane Wade has been consistently amazing, the key to their post-season success may depend on the continued development of Michael Beasley. Beasley was a preseason favorite for Rookie-of-the-Year, but his slow start has him out of the spotlight. He seems finally to be arriving, though, as he has averaged 20.3 points in only 27 minutes on 57 percent shooting from the field over the last four games (three road wins and a 3-point road loss to the Lakers). He has seemed extremely confident on the court, taking and making big shots in important moments late in games. This bodes well for Beasley's fantasy prognosis in the second half of the season, so he makes a solid buy-low candidate.

Throwback 76ers: Last season the 76ers were one of the more promising young teams in basketball, and when Elton Brand joined up many expected them to make some noise in the East. Instead they limped out of the gates so slowly that it cost their coach his job. Suddenly, though, the 76ers are on a 5-game winning streak and flying high to the tune of 103 ppg during that streak (vs. only 95.9 ppg on the season). So, what happened? Well, it appears that with Brand (shoulder) injured the 76ers have returned to the running and gunning that made them so successful last season. Andre' Iguodala (22.3 points, 6.5 assists, 4.7 rebounds, 2.2 blocks) and Andre' Miller (20.5 points, 6.0 rebounds, 5.7 assists, 1.3 steals) are looking like fantasy studs again through six January games, and several others (Thaddeus Young, Lou Williams, Marreese Speights, Samuel Dalembert) are producing enough to remain on the fantasy landscape. Word out of Philly is that Brand is back at practice and could return to the lineup as soon as this weekend, so pay attention when he comes back to see whether their high-scoring renaissance lasts or whether they go back to being the low-scoring disappointment that was making fantasy owners everywhere gnash their teeth.

Broken Record: I refuse to do another whole write-up on Tracy McGrady's knee again this week, but in case you didn't know he will be sitting for the next couple of weeks to let it rest. I got stuck with McGrady in far too many leagues this year. Moving onů

Horford on Sidelines: Al Horford has been sidelined since Sunday with a bone bruise in his right knee, an injury he sustained on Friday night. He is out indefinitely, so keep an ear out for word of a timetable for his return.

Calderon Can't Go: Jose Calderon has missed six of the last seven games due to a hamstring injury, and in the one game he did play during that stretch he was forced to leave early after aggravating it. The Raptors have said he will miss at least up through Friday's game, and that his actual return date is uncertain. There have been a rash of hamstring injuries this season, and as Corey Maggette has shown, they can linger on for months.

Ginobili Awakening?: Manu Ginobili has been slow to return to form after his long ankle injury layoff, but he has recently shown signs of life. He has averaged 17.8 points, 3.6 boards, 3.2 assists and 2.8 steals over his last five and is coming off of a 27-point/four-trey explosion last night against the Lakers. If he is finally playing his way into shape, Ginobili could be a good buy-low candidate for the second half of the season.

Return of the Deng: Deng returned to the court on Monday after having missed two weeks with an ankle injury. On Wednesday he was back in the starting lineup with a 16-point/14-rebound double-double, so he's looking good to return to your lineups as well.

Kobe Takes Sam's Dance: After knocking down a big 3-pointer Wednesday night, Kobe Bryant performed "the marbles dance" made famous in recent years by Sam Cassell. For those that haven't seen it, the dance is hilarious and emphasizes that it took a lot of... guts to hit such a big shot. Anyway, this wasn't fantasy related, but I hope this is a tradition that continues long after Cassell retires. As Pedro Cyrano found out in Major League II, you can't win in the big time without marbles!

New Additions

Travis Outlaw (50% owned): Outlaw has been a solid source of bench production all season, and he has picked it up recently to the tune of 20.0 points, 4.7 boards, 2.3 treys, 2.0 blocks per in last week.

Luke Ridnour (48% owned): Ridnour continues to quietly produce solid numbers on a consistent basis. He is averaging 15.3 points, 6.3 assists, 6.0 boards, and 1.3 steals over the last week to further strengthen his grip on the starting point guard position in Milwaukee.

Nick Young (18% owned): Young is a pure scorer, and when he doesn't contribute there he doesn't contribute anywhere else. When he's on like he has been the last week (25.8 points, 2.0 treys), though, he is worth taking a flyer on for teams that need a role-player perimeter scorer.

Daequan Cook (14% owned): Cook is dramatically inconsistent right now (two games of at least five treys surrounded by a goose-egg in the last three games), but he's also a cheap source of volume 3-pointers when he is locked in. Despite the ups and downs, he has averaged 3.3 treys and 12.8 points in the last week. If your threes need is great, he could be worth a shot.

Von Wafer (11% owned): Wafer has stepped into the void left by injuries to Tracy McGrady, Ron Artest and Shane Battier to establish himself on the fantasy landscape. He's averaged 16.1 points in the month of January, and has upped that to 17.3 points along with 3.0 boards, 1.7 treys, 1.7 steals per in the last week.

Rodney Carney (2% owned): Carney has replaced Rashad McCants as the perimeter scorer off the bench for the Timberwolves, and he's responding very well with averages of 18.5 points and 3.5 treys per in last week. He's on a three-game streak of at least 26 minutes played, 14 points scored, and four threes attempted and could be worth keeping an eye on as a scoring/distance role player in deep leagues.

Professor's Crib Notes

"Just like I told you, you must learn!"

- KRS One, Retrospective, 1989

Continuing my series on advanced basketball stats, this week I cover the +/- stat. Unlike PER, which is based entirely upon the individual numbers that a player produces, the +/- stat is based wholly upon how the team performs when the player is on the court. Whether a player scores 5 points or 50 is irrelevant to +/-, it's all about team results. Thus, for many +/- has become the key stat to try to gauge a player's impact on winning. For more detail you should check out the blog, but I'll hit the high points here in my crib notes:

What it is: The basic +/- stat measures net points for the team when a player is on the court vs. net points for the team when that player is on the bench. Net points is points scored minus points allowed. So this stat measures whether a team is better off when that player is playing or when someone else is taking his place. A positive +/- value indicates the team was better with that player on the court, while a negative value indicates that the team played worse.

Strengths: The basic +/- stat is easy to understand (no hard math), intuitive (you would expect teams to play better when a better player is on the court), and is a good catch-all stat for "intangibles" that aren't measured in traditional numbers.

Weaknesses: Causation: does the team play better because a certain player is out there? Or does that player just happen to be part of a unit that is successful without contributing much himself? Also, +/- does not correct for team role. Thus, a successful role player can have a higher +/- than a less successful stud, despite the stud being clearly the better player. Finally, a player with a solid backup, e.g., Carlos Boozer, will have a lower +/- than players with bad backups because the dropoff won't be as steep when a solid backup comes in to spell him.

Usage: You can't simply say "player X has a higher +/- than player Y, so he is better". Instead, you can use +/- to say how important a particular player's production and role are to a particular team, and how well that player fulfills that role. After that, you have to apply your own reasoning regarding how useful it is for whatever you're comparing. Corroborate it with other data and good-ol' common sense, and make your determination from there. Some examples of good ways to use +/-:

  • Measuring the impact of players with similar roles across teams
  • Identifying good role players
  • Gauging "empty" numbers vs. "good player on bad team" syndrome

Article first appeared 1/15/09