A Tale of Two Twin Power Forwards: Brandon Bass for Big Baby

In a surprising move, Boston and Orlando decided to swap undersized big men: Brandon Bass for Glen “Big Baby” Davis. At first glance, the casual fan won’t see the point because the players feel so similar, but on deeper analysis the Celtics got to upgrade their power forward with a better version of himself.

Whenever a team gets the media spotlight and deep playoff runs, the role players on that team often receive more credit than they deserve. Posey leveraged a few open three pointers and decent defense into a long-term deal with the Hornets. Fisher gets minutes and praise on a good Laker team whether or not he’s playing well. Sasha Vujacic got one of the best modern basketball nicknames, “The Machine.”

Big Baby is undersized vertically, not horizontally, and with is lack of jumping ability he cannot block shots or even rebound, while his charges make up for his lack of lift. Bass, however, has similar problems, as his rebounding are nearly identical (rebounding rate around 11 to 12 each season) but he does not take charges at a prolific rate with his decent ability to block shots evening the balance (he almost blocked twice as many shots as Davis in less minutes per game.) Davis’ reputation is probably better than his defense, but he can be a competent defender at the 4-spot. It’s hard to rate him with plus/minus because he’s been backing up one of the best defenders in the league in Garnett. Bass is a decidedly worse defender, but has worked enough to become competent. Hardly a compliment, but he’s not a liability in most match-ups. But this trade wasn’t made for Davis’ defense.

Orlando has also coveted power forwards who can shoot well from distance. Glen Davis has the reputation of being a good spot-up shooter and some commentators are enamored with him for being a center who can hit a jump shot, even though he’s terrible as a center defensively and does not have good numbers from outside the basket. Last season he was at 35.5% from 16 to 23 feet (not a fluke as the previous one it was 33.0%) and a field goal percentage of 44.8% overall. His shooting will not likely improve as he’s been at 50 TS% for three straight seasons. If you say the long jumper is not his forte, then why did he take 4.6 shots from 16 to 23 feet? What is his strength offensively? His percentages near the rim have always been average or below average with a low mark last season of 51.8%.

Brandon Bass, by contrast, is one of the best midrange shooters in the league. Last season he took 3.3 shots from 16 to 23 feet and hit 47% with only six players at a better percentage with more attempts. In fact, out of the last four seasons his worst mark from both 10 to 15 feet and 16 to 23 is 43% last year from the longer distance. Davis’ best was 43.7% from the shorter distance, and it was only for 1.1 attempts a game. Even at the rim Bass has the advantage despite being smaller, and his true-shooting percentage, which takes into account free throws and three pointers, has been in the upper 50’s the past four years, an accomplishment Davis has yet to achieve for a full season.

In other tangible factors, Davis has the advantage in age by only a year, but his extra forty pounds and always hovering around 300 pounds does not bode well for the future. Bass has a good contract with four million this year and a player option for another four next year, which he’ll likely drop for a new contract. If he does well, Boston can retain his services at a time when Garnett and Ray Allen come off large deals. Glen Davis’ new deal (it’s a sign and trade) has not been announced, but it shouldn’t be for too much more than Bass, and it’s unclear to see how this helps them in a Howard trade.

Let’s review: similar players, nearly the same age, who play the same position. If you say Orlando did the trade for Davis’ offense, you are, without a doubt, completely wrong in a way that’s rare in NBA analysis: Bass’ shooting has been consistently excellent, and Davis’ consistently poor to almost terrible. Davis has few other offensive skills to make up the divide, as he’s not a great passer or post player, and only his small turnover rate last season an advantage (though possibly a fluke if you look at this career.) If you say Orlando did the trade because Davis is better in other areas, well, where are they? Is Davis’ defense that great that it trumps the shooting? Can anyone argue that because with box score and advanced statistics and even scouting there is no evidence? Since they are roughly the same age and Davis is the one with an injury and obesity history, I’d argue that there is no conclusive way to prove it was a worthy trade for Orlando. It’s almost as though Davis is viewed as a good player because he plays for a good team, but even the best teams have scrubs on the bench.

When you trade such similar players, you hope you’re the one duping the other team, as it’s clearly not a trade for need. I can understand why Howard wants to leave because his organization is failing to provide him with a real team and instead has traded one of their few good players for one who seems like a fringe rotation player.

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Clippers Use Amnesty on Newly Acquired Caron Butler

The LA Clippers are expected to use their one-time only amnesty on forward Caron Butler, sources say. The NBA’s new collective bargaining agreement allows for each team to waive player’s contract from the salary cap, relieving teams of oppressive contracts. The team still has to pay each player, but luxury tax savings could add up to millions each year and the space created is a boon in the free agent market.

Experts say Butler is a perfect amnesty candidate because he’s a 31 year-old small forward coming off a terrible year ended by a major knee injury with only 24 games played signed to a three year deal for $24 million total.  The previous season was also a disappointment, where Caron slumped to 42.8% shooting from the field and lost nearly 5 points off his scoring average. His defense, already poor, will be tested with a balky knee.

Asked to comment on using their amnesty on Butler only hours after the deal for his contract was announced, an anonymous source within the organization blamed the unjust pressures on organizations for signing players, which led to the lockout. They were excited for the space Butler would create, allowing for the Clippers to sign a talented player next to their young core of Blake Griffin, Eric Gordon and DeAndre Jordan, who will all be using the space when the organization tries to retain them.

An expert was commented as saying he was not surprised given that, “We’ve given the worst decisions makers a do-over on their dumbest contracts, but the same people are still largely in charge so we can expect bone-headed amnesty moves like this. God, the amnesty deal could have been named after Rashard Lewis or Brandon Roy, and I wouldn’t be shocked if they didn’t get the axe.” The Clippers will still have to pay Butler, but his high usage, low efficiency style would not have meshed well with the offensive duo of Griffin and Gordon, who should increase their shot attempts as they mature.

“Tough Juice” was already known for missing games with injury before his knee surgery, but his ring with the Mavericks will act as consolation as he searches for a veteran team on a shorter and less expensive contract.

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NBA finals: Miami Heat versus the Dallas Mavericks

Well, I don’t have time to comment on this series, , but think most numbers analysts agree on the Heat winning. I think this is a safe bet because they hold home-court advantage and the match-ups aren’t lopsided for either side.

Miami in 5. +25

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Conference finals: Dallas Mavericks vs. Oklahoma City Thunder

Well, the game has started, but I haven’t started playing the recording; it’s not like people are reading this anyway. I haven’t had much time to write about or analyze this series, but in thinking about it I always come to the conclusion that it’s a close series that will be determined by luck, meaning a key injury or a shot barely missing at the buzzer. The match-ups are interesting — Ibaka, Collison and Durant will try to guard Nowitzki. I think Ibaka could be an okay defender against Dirk, but he doesn’t have the seasoning to keep up with all his moves. Dallas can use Marion and Stevenson on Durant, but this is the Dallas Marion, not the Phoenix Suns version. Additionally, they don’t have anyone to guard Westbrook, which may sometimes work on Dallas’ favor because Westbrook could play keep away from Durant and fire up errant shots. The battle of the benches may sway Oklahoma City’s direction because Barea could end up on Westbrook or Stojakovic on Durant.

In looking through some adjusted +/- stats, Dallas has the edge with its current lineup, which isn’t surprising given how they destroyed LA (one technique gave a +1 advantage to Dallas.) You can’t just blindly use +/- because it’s largely not situational, but I don’t see any match-up dynamics that put one team clearly ahead of the other. In the end, home court advantage will decide the series, although it’s possible Oklahoma City could win. Watch for Ibaka getting destroyed by Dirk, while Collison provides some surprisingly good defense; the Kidd and Terry backcourt will have trouble with Westbrook; the Mavs’ zone will keep Durant out of two or three games; and rampant discussion on how Oklahoma City’s age is a detriment in close games, where some will come down to the last couple shots.

Dallas over Oklahoma City in game 7. +5 to Dallas.

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Conference finals: Miami Heat vs. the Chicago Bulls

Using a series of 11-sided die, some chicken bones and a coin flip, I have decided the Miami Heat will beat the Chicago Bulls in the 6th game. +7 to the Heat.

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Second round NBA playoffs: Los Angeles-Dallas, and Chicago-Atlanta

(continued)

Los Angeles, Dallas, Chicago and Atlanta — no, it’s not a listing of the busiest airports in the US; it’s the second round playoff games due to start May 2nd. I’m predicting who will win each series with the exact number of games (a la the stat geek smackdown) as well as the playoff game system I created, where you can bet up to 15 points for the winner of a second round series (you can bet 0 if you think it’s a toss-up.)

(1) Chicago and (5) Atlanta

Congrats, Atlanta on your impressive defeat of Orlando! Now prepare to be destroyed by the Bulls.

Given Atlanta’s dismantling of Orlando, one may think they have a chance at making the series interesting. Looking closer at the series, this logic gets crushed by quality evidence.

The first piece of evidence is the scoring differential of each team during the season. The Bulls had a differential of +7.32, and the Hawks, perplexingly, had one at -0.82. How did they manage to win 44 games? Over the last quarter of the season, this dropped to -0.59. How they beat Orlando is a function of the Magic’s terrible bout of shooting, partly as a result of single-teaming Howard.

While Atlanta had a plan to counter Orlando’s best weapon, controlling Rose is virtually impossible now that Hinrich is likely miss the entire season. Rose will be guarded by some combination of Jeff Teague, Joe Johnson, and prayers. Boozer has turf toe, but he’ll likely play and the Bulls amassed their season success with a long stretch without the Alaskan. He’s less important than people think — the Bulls are arguably better with Gibson.

So this series comes down to how much will the Bulls destroy the Hawks. Atlanta could steal one at home, but home court advantage is worth only 3 points for the average team. (Atlanta is not known for its fans, and that 3 points may actually be lower.) Given that their season differentials are roughly 7 points apart, a 3 point gain in differential means they are nearly two standard deviations apart (assuming a 2.7 point difference in opponents standard deviation, which simply means the spread or variation.) Without going into the statistical numbers, I can safely presume the most likely result is that Atlanta loses every game.

I’m not going to blindly follow the (basic) analytics here, but conventional wisdom is in agreement.

Prediction: 4 games, Chicago

15 to Chicago

(2) Los Angeles and Dallas (3)

This is a really interesting series, for more reasons than Kobe-Dirk, who will both likely eclipse 30,000 career points. Will Los Angeles find its groove? Is Dallas a real contender? Will Bynum stay healthy? How did Barea get such a hot girlfriend?

To get a handle on who will win the series in however many games, I created a couple similar measures to assess a playoff team’s scoring differential versus an “average” team. First I had to predict how many minutes each player and player combination was going to have in the series. This is a very difficult task, one that I partly based off the first round.

The first measure used basketballvalue.com’s adjusted +/- stats for each player, weighing this season’s by 2/3rds and the season before as 1/3rds (I used the season before to eliminate some uncertainty, since +/- can be very noisy.) Then I multiplied by the player’s expected minutes per game, and added up the result. This should be the team’s expected scoring differential against an average team.

For the other measure, I used 82games.com’s five man floor units point differential’s divided by the minutes that unit played. Then the result was simply multiplied by the unit’s expected number of minutes played. The problem, however, is that Dallas has a vastly different line-up than what they used during the season. Butler is injured, Roddy is back, and Stojakovic was acquired midseason and is finally healthy. This makes the +/- measures difficult to pin-down, and the line-ups with Stojakovic and Roddy have very limited minutes. The season long differential does not account for the team they’re playing now, but the individual +/-‘s have large variations because these players have not been playing much. Consequently, the X-factor in this series is Roddy Beaubois, and possibly Stojakovic.

The results are listed below where the first measure if “individual projection” and the second is “player unit projection.” The 7 game row is the projected differential of a seven-game series with the adjustment for LA’s home-court advantage (assumed to be +3 points for one extra home game.)

Individual   Player unit     Season
projection    projection   differential
Los Angeles    +2.25          +11.6           +6.11
Dallas              +3.01          +5.73           +4.23
7 game            -0.33          +5.86           +2.31

While the individual project seems off, I just developed this method and I’ll probably change it drastically. But it can be used to compare the two teams, and the results are interesting. Over a seven game series, the average differential between the three is +2.75 for LA (+2.33 without homecourt advantage.) On LA’s home court they expect to win using a Z-distribution 85% of the time, and it drops to just 46% in Dallas. This suggests the most likely outcome is LA in 5 games where the probably of this happening is 33%. I know this is only a model, and there are lots of flaws and assumptions, but I thought I’d test it out because I had problems trying to figure out if LA was going to win in 7, 6 or 5 games. Note that my model has Dallas winning at only 7% of the time.

Prediction: Los Angeles, 5 games

15 to Los Angeles

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Second round NBA playoffs: Memphis-Oklahoma city, and Miami-Boston

I got burned in the first round by Orlando and San Antonio. But who didn’t? +26 so far in my one man betting game.

(4) Oklahoma City and (8) Memphis

Well, this isn’t the series people expected. Memphis has size that few teams can match, and I’m not sure Oklahoma counts. Sure they have Perkins and Ibaka, but Ibaka isn’t exactly strong; he’s a high jumper (and according to the dunk contest a long jumper.) Tony Allen and Battier will make the game difficult for Durant and Westbrook. However, home court advantage gives a slight edge to Oklahoma City.

Prediction: 7 games, Oklahoma City

3 to Oklahoma City

(2) Miami and (3) Boston

This one is difficult to analyze. Miami is easily the better team right now, but Boston’s defense of loading the strong side has frustrated the Heat. After Perkins was traded, Boston struggled, but that was because of their offense. Against New York, an offensive elixir, they’ve regained their torrid shooting. I think Boston could steal this one. Pierce defends Lebron fairly well, Garnett can control Bosh, and Wade has been horrible. I think Miami still wins in most instances, but it’s not their best match-up.

Prediction: 7 games, Miami

5 to Miami

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