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Hoops Lab: NBA Hoops Lab-Week 11

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

New Millennium NBA II: Did the rule changes kill low-post offense?

Before the Michael Jordan era in the 1990s, one of the "truisms" of the NBA was that you needed a great big man with a true low-post offensive game to win championships. That was part of what made Jordan so special in the eyes of many, that he was able to forge a dynasty without playing next to a great offensive big. After Jordan retired, Shaquille O'Neal and Tim Duncan seemed well on their way to restoring the "low-post offense needed for championship" mantra as between them they won five straight titles and Finals MVPs from 1999 to 2003.

After that a funny thing happened: teams without dominant low-post scorers started winning titles. In 2004 the Pistons won without a consistent low-post offense (Rasheed Wallace could do it, but he plays more often on the perimeter) and guard Chauncey Billups was the Finals MVP. In 2005 the Spurs won, and though Duncan was the Finals MVP a strong case could have been made that Manu Ginobili deserved the award as well. In '06 the Heat won behind Finals MVP Dwyane Wade, as Shaq was a secondary offensive option. In '07 the Spurs won again, but guard Tony Parker was the Finals MVP. In '08 the Celtics won with Kevin Garnett, but wing Paul Pierce was the Finals MVP. So what happened?

Last week I wrote about how the handcheck rules were giving perimeter penetrators such an advantage. Well, a different rule change of the early 2000s also prevents low-post big men from dominating on offense the way that they used to. Namely, the NBA started allowing zone defenses. Before that rule change, it was illegal to double team any player that didn't have the ball. Thus, teams had to defend the Shaqs and Duncans of the world 1-on-1 before they received the ball. They could double on the catch, but often by the time a great post player had the ball in his hands down deep it was too late to prevent easy buckets. Also, having to start the double-team after the post player received the pass put the defense at a disadvantage to crisp passes and ball movement before its rotations could re-settle. In essence, a dominant low-post scoring big man before the rule change was almost undefendable.

After the rule change, though, teams could start their doubling and rotating before the post player ever received the ball. This was epitomized in the 2008 Finals when Kobe Bryant or Lamar Odom would often sag completely off his man to deny Kevin Garnett an entry pass, leaving a player like Rajon Rondo or Kendrick Perkins unguarded and allowing Pierce and Ray Allen to play essentially 1-on-1 against their defenders. This type of defense forces big men either to work much harder to score down low, or to set up further out on the perimeter to get easy scoring chances. It's no coincidence that the only big men to finish in the top-5 in the NBA in scoring since 2003 have been Garnett, Dirk Nowitzki and Amare Stoudemire. Players with throw-back low-post games like O'Neal, Duncan Zach Randolph, or now Al Jefferson can still be effective 20-plus ppg scorers, but seemingly gone are the days when that style lends itself to complete offensive domination.

Situations to watch and Quick Hits

Williams ready to renew rivalry?: Last year one of the big debates in the NBA was Chris Paul vs. Deron Williams. This season an early season injury slowed Williams out the gate, but he's returned to form of late, averaging 26.5 points, 10.8 assists, 2.8 boards and 2.3 treys per in his last four games and is on the verge of re-joining the fantasy elite.

Wade with a 3-point shot, priceless: Dwyane Wade is the leading scorer in the NBA, averages more than seven assists and almost five rebounds, is among the league leaders in steals, and blocks an absurd number of shots for a guard. He even shoots decent percentages from the field and the line. The only thing that he did not have in the repertoire was a consistent 3-point shot. Well, don't look now, but Wade has knocked down eight treys in the last three games, and he's hit at least one long-range bomb in seven of the last nine. In addition, if Wade gains a consistent long-range jumper it could cut down a bit on his need to relentlessly drive to the rim every possession. The equation might look like this: fewer drives = less contact = healthier Wade = priceless for his roto owners.

Kobe dropping dimes: Kobe Bryant has recently been channeling his inner Magic Johnson, dishing double-digit assists in four consecutive games. He also has two triple-doubles over that stretch, and on the whole is averaging 23.8 points, 11.3 assists, 9.0 boards, 1.5 treys and 1.0 steals over the last week. The only negative is that his turnovers have increased in-step with his assists - 4.8 TOs per in that week as well. Nevertheless, most can live with that one minor flaw `in the face of all of that goodness.

Sun Burn?: There are vibes coming out of Phoenix that worry me. The Suns are currently tied for the 8th and final playoff slot out West, and have won only five of their last 10 games. Steve Nash has publicly expressed his displeasure at the trade that shipped his best friend on the team (Raja Bell) out of town. Amare Stoudemire has grumbled about not being featured enough, then he went out and laid a goose-egg against the Celtics this week. The Suns offense is revolving more and more around Shaquille O'Neal, who doesn't even play every game and who at almost 37 years old isn't enough of a force to be the centerpiece anymore. Jason Richardson's offense has disappeared, the team is full of a bunch of older players, and all it would take is one sustained losing streak to drop them out of the playoff hunt. I'm not ready to write them off yet, but I just don't like the whole vibe right now, and if I have Nash or Stoudemire on my team I might quietly shop them around the league and see if I can get good value for them.

Re-org in Detroit: The Pistons got fed up with losing with their undersized four-wing line-up, and have thus moved Rip Hamilton out of the starting five and replaced him with Amir Johnson. This obviously hurts Hamilton the most as a fantasy player, and on the surface it should help the other perimeter starters (Rodney Stuckey, Allen Iverson, and Tayshaun Prince) as it opens up more shots for them. Hamilton should still see enough minutes to produce decent scoring numbers, though, so he's still worth being on most fantasy rosters.

Ouches around the league:

Marcus Camby: Camby is expected to be out until at least next week with a left ankle injury. His absence has opened up time for rookie DeAndre Jordan (see below) to thrive.

Devin Harris: Harris has bruised ribs, and his status is day-to-day.

Andris Biedrins: Biedrins missed his first game of the season Wednesday due to wrist pain. He hopes to return for Friday's game.

David West (back): West has missed the last two games with back spasms, and is not expected to return until next week.

New Additions

Raja Bell (49% owned): Bell has produced consecutive 25 point-games and is averaging 20.0 ppg, 4.7 rpg, 1.3 treys, 54% FG, and 94% FT over the last week.

Andray Blatche (39% owned): Blatche has been solid for the last month or so, and is putting up 18.3 points, 7.7 boards, 3.0 assists, 1.7 steals, 1.0 blocks, and 58% FG over the last few games.

Jason Thompson (30% owned): Thompson had a fast start to the season then fizzled out after Brad Miller returned. He has picked it up again recently, averaging 16.7 points, 9.0 boards, 59% FG, and 86% FT in his last three games as his minutes have increased.

Linas Kleiza (17% owned): Kleiza continues to do a good job as a fill-in for the injured Carmelo Anthony, averaging 20.0 points, 4.3 boards, 1.0 treys, 67% FG, 80% FT over the last week.

DeAndre Jordan (8% owned): Jordan has moved into the starting lineup due to injuries to the entire Clippers frontline, and the rookie has responded with two huge games (15.5 points, 11.0 rebounds, 5.0 blocks per). None of the injured frontline players are due back before next week, which gives Jordan at least another week in the lineup.

Courtney Lee (5% owned): Lee has performed very well over the last few weeks. He's gone 10 straight games with a trey and scored double-digits in five of his last six outings. He has produced averages of 12.5 points, 6.5 boards, 3.0 steals, 2.0 treys and 2.0 assists in his last two games.

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 takes on offensive and defensive rating (ORTG and DRTG). These measures were created by Dean Oliver about a decade ago as a way to measure offensive and defensive efficiencies for either an individual or a team.

For more detailed interpretation you should check out my blog entry, but I'll hit the high points here in my crib notes:

What it is: For an individual player, the basic idea of the rating is to count how many points were produced (ORTG) by the player or given up by the team per possession while that player was on the court (DRTG). The simple formula for ORTG is points produced *100/possessions, and for defense is points allowed *100/possessions. Since ORTG is an individual score, points produced by the individual are calculated from shots made, free throws, assists and offensive rebounds. The DRTG is simpler, as it simply adds up how many points were scored while a player is on the court and normalizes for 100 possessions. The higher the ORTG the better, whereas the lower the DRTG the better.

Strengths: The ratings are simple and easy to understand (very little hard math), and are also intuitive (an efficient offensive player should have a good offensive rating, and a good defensive player should help his team prevent opponents from scoring efficiently). Plus, because they are normalized, the ratings help show the difference between efficient scorers and players that score a lot because they take a lot of shots. Defensively, it helps tell the difference between a defense that makes it hard for opponents to score and one that allows low points/game due to slowing down the game.

Weaknesses: For the ORTG, most efficient does not always mean best. Players that do not touch the ball often, and when they do touch it are often set up for easy shots (like an offensive "Garbage Man" or a spot-up shooter) may score a lot per 100 times they touch the ball, but not have much offensive impact for their team (e.g. Carl Landry, currently fourth in NBA in ORTG). For the DRTG, because it's a team measure it can be unduly influenced by teammates. For instance, if a great defender is surrounded by poor defenders, his DRTG may be worse (i.e. higher) than others on other teams a comparable ability.

Usage: you can't simply say "player X has a higher ORTG or lower DRTG than player Y so he is better". Instead, you say that player X is more efficient on offense or more efficient on defense than player Y, and then you look at other stats that measure things like usage, overall production (i.e. PER), and impact (i.e. +/-) and come up with a more complete picture of that player's quality.

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Article first appeared 1/22/09