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Archive for July, 2010

Hardwood Paroxysm has been keeping track of  this summer’s free-agent contracts and calculating the average value of each in $/WARP. Using Kevin Pelton’s updated version of WARP (wins above replacement player: i.e. the wins produced by a given player above another player who could be claimed at any time), it’s simple to just divide the money each year by the player’s total WARP from 2010. Not a perfect system, and certainly not very predictive, but it’s a good way of judging what the approximate market value is for players this summer.

So far, the going rate per WARP has been $2.2 million. This does not include a few of the max contracts, where guys like LeBron and Bosh took less money than they were worth (or allowed). The Bucks two significant free-agent signings fall like this:

  • Drew Gooden: 2010 WARP = 3.3, 2011 Salary = $6.4 million, $/WARP = 2.0
  • John Salmons: 2010 WARP = 4.2, 2011 Salary = $7.8 million, $/WARP = 1.9

Just from the numbers, it looks like the Bucks grabbed these two guys slightly below market value. Market value, in this case, being defined by the same people who gave Darko Milicic $5 million next year ($32.1/WARP). The going rate was up from $1.49 last year, not surprising considering the amount of money that was available to teams this summer and the reckless abandon with which some of it was spent (Travis Outlaw – $7 million – $7.9/WARP, even Rudy Gay – $16.2 million – $5.8/WARP).

Given this summer’s contract climate, just below market value was probably a relative bargain. Decent deals on two guys with 3+ WARP is not a bad haul for Milwaukee’s offseason.

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For whatever reason, I was upset about the Maggette deal when I first heard it. While I was ecstatic to hear we had moved Bell and Gadzuric, it seemed like the Bucks had taken things too fast. But the more I thought about it the less it worried. By now I’ve warmed up to Maggette considerably (does that sound weird? That sounded weird). I was especially excited when Basketball-Reference.com posted this article breaking down players’ offensive performances against above/below-average defenses last year. As you can see, Corey Maggette  placed 5th among players with the highest usage when ranked by ORtg (an estimate of points scored per 100 possessions) with a rating of 118.6 against above-average defenses. What’s more, Maggette topped the ORtg rankings against top-10 defenses and came in third against top-5 defenses, with ORtgs of 123.7 and 121.8, respectively. These numbers are all higher than his season ORtg of 116 (which, incidentally, was a career high). Take it as you wish, but these stats would seem to suggest that Corey played his best basketball (well, scored most effectively) against the stiffest competition he faced.

Aside from it simply being a fluke season, there are a couple of explanations. First, Maggette is a scorer, plain and simple. Pretty much everything he does on the basketball court serves to drive up a stat like ORtg. Put him on a high-octane team like the Golden State Warriors and he’s gonna go completely ballistic. Second, Maggette fell into a bench role with the Warriors, and was pretty much the focal point of GS’s second unit. All he had to do was put the ball in the net, and he was likely doing it against other subs a good portion of the time. Let’s ignore the “it’s easy to focus on offense when you play defense like…Corey Maggette” reason, if only for the sake of feeling good about this whole thing. For what it’s worth, I don’t think Maggette’s shoddy defense will be a big issue, especially if he can reprise his “bench-scorer” role from GS in Milwaukee, where he’ll hopefully be surrounded by workable defenders.

This stuff might not mean a whole lot in terms of what we can expect out of Maggette next year. I don’t see him as the type of player who consciously thinks, “these guys are playing some great defense, I’ll play extra hard to show I can beat them.” Still, its encouraging. What’s more encouraging, though, are Maggette’s free-throw numbers. Among all small forwards last year, Maggette got to the line 4th most, behind Durant, LeBron, and Melo, averaging 7.9 attempts per game and making 84% of them. With the Bucks coming in dead last in FTA/FGA, they desperately needed somebody who could draw fouls, and Maggette is a wrecking ball when he gets going towards the basket. It’s not always pretty, but the chances are he’s getting some free points out of the trip. Between the points and opponents’ foul troubles, Maggette’s skillset and abilities are just what the Bucks need, and it’s always nice to remember he didn’t cost them anything. Yet.

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I’m no statistical guru, and if anyone reads this blog with any regularity, I think that fact would become rapidly apparent. I know my way around the interpretation of stats and metrics and what-not, but when it comes to actually running regression analyses or coming up with some sort of compounded statistic, I’m a beginner. I mean, are those even things, or do they just sound like things?!

(Okay, I do know what a regression analysis is. I’m not a total slouch.)

The statistical revolution in baseball has been in full swing for some time now, and to just a lesser extent in basketball. The motive is there in both cases: evaluate the effectiveness and value of players in a standardized manner. In this regard, basketball presents more obstacles than baseball because baseball statistics essentially describe a 1-on-1 competition – pitcher/hitter, hitter/fielder, etc. While any baseball fan would probably resent the claim, “there is no teamwork in baseball,” they would have a harder time refuting “basketball is more of a team sport than baseball.” It’s teamwork that is difficult to quantify with statistics, and causes problems with evaluating players. But the power is there, and plenty of people have taken a strong interest in developing advanced basketball statistics along the same lines as baseball.

I am not one of these people (yet?). I think that kind of work is really cool and really valuable, but I don’t have the: a) time or b) mathematical expertise to do it myself at the moment. I’ve read Moneyball, Basketball on Paper is on my reading list, and my bookmark bar is full of basketball statistical databases and blogs, but that’s about it.

While I would not argue the merit of statistical analysis (Moneyball), I also hope that subjective, entertaining basketball journalism isn’t dead, for my sake. A lot of current sportswriting, especially on the internet, is pretty much aimed at determining which players are the best rebounders, how much Kyle Korver is worth to a small-market team, or whether Zach Randolph’s production is worth the trouble.

I don’t imagine this blog ever morphing to such a number-intensive endeavour. Anybody who bothered to read the “About” page knows that this was primarily inspired by Brandon Jennings’ 55-point game, a game which really reminded me of why sports are exciting and worth all the time. I hope I turn out to be a strong enough writer to produce an entertaining product here, even if it’s not revolutionary. Statistics are a huge part of professional sports these days, and that can’t be ignored. For my part, they are merely a tool for evaluating basketball, a game that I love watching and talking about and writing about. And also struggling to play with my small stature and poor jump shot.

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There are a lot of things that can kill a basketball team. Some are obvious, like injuries or a David Kahn-run draft room. Others are less obvious – but no less destructive – like the Disease of More, a crisis of confidence, or when guys draw up secret plays to subvert a star. Wait, no, that’s how you kill the Cowboys.

Aside from another unfortunate injury, I have a good feeling about the Bucks’ ability to avoid these problems. With a strong-willed coach in Scott Skiles and a hot-shot kid named Brandon Jennings, discipline and confidence should be plentiful come October. What worries me, though, is the potential danger in the Bucks’ “win now” team building strategy.

The Milwaukee Bucks are not championship contenders this season. I do think the team will be better this October than it was last April (with the possible exception of the backup PG), but let’s remember that there are still a number of teams in the East that have proven themselves as top-caliber squads. Boston will return most of the team that took the Lakers to 7 games without Kendrick Perkins (albeit one year older). Orlando will remain a strong team (more than strong if they land Chris Paul), and the Bulls might actually be the favorites in the Central. And then there’s the South Beasts, who wouldn’t surprise me if they plowed through the season like a Sherman tank.

Sure, Milwaukee is going to be a deep team, maybe the deepest in the league. But I can’t help feeling like John Hammond has assembled a team with a “quantity over quality” mindset in place. In lieu of any real star power (although Andrew Bogut was rapidly becoming one of the league’s best centers last year), Milwaukee has filled it’s roster with veterans who are capable of winning lots of games in the regular season, but can they do much more than that? What wins championships in the NBA? It’s not a new question, but it’s an important one.

If defense wins championships like they say, the Bucks could do much worse, considering the solid additions they made to an already stout defensive team. But if you need a veritable superstar to carry the load in the playoffs, make all the big shots, and lift the rest of the team to a higher level, we might have an issue. I’d love to say that Bogut or Jennings are capable of this, but I think they both need another year of consistent, high-level play before they can lay claim to such a title. The new additions haven’t been around long enough or experienced enough success elsewhere to suggest they’re capable either.

The problem is, the ability to acquire star talent in the coming years may have been seriously hampered by this summer’s moves. Next year the Bucks will have two RFAs in Mbah a Moute and Douglas-Roberts to deal with, and I expect both to have strong seasons – enough to encourage their resigning. As such, unless Michael Redd walks in FA on his own, Milwaukee will almost certainly be restricted to a few salary cap exceptions in the free agent market. This is workable, but it’s tough to get high-caliber players for under $6 million. Such exceptions are most useful in grabbing role players to shore up weaknesses, and the Bucks are dangerously close to being a team full of above-average role players. With little financial flexibility and a fistful of contracts that will grow more and more untradeable until they hit their expiration year, the Bucks could be committed to this particular roster for the next 2-3 years with few changes.

So that leaves the draft as the primary means of talent infusion for the next few years. I don’t think this is necessarily a bad thing, as I am a strong proponent of building a team primarily through the draft. But if we figure the Bucks will be a competitive playoff team over the next few years (hopefully a safe assumption), it’s unlikely they’ll land a kid with star potential unless they trade for a top-10 pick. What is likely is a jumbled depth chart with declining players making too much money not to start while draft picks with better potential sit on the bench. I’d hate to see another iteration of the Joe Alexander debacle. While Joe had his own problems and wasn’t a sure thing by any means, the Bucks acquisition of Richard Jefferson killed his potential. Kinda like drafting 2 point guards and then trading for another one.

Of course, these fears are all just speculation. As much reason as there is to think this team is limited by it’s lack of star power, there is likewise reason for optimism. Brandon Jennings was a jumpshot away from being a top-10 NBA point guard last year, and John Salmons was more successful in Milwaukee than anyone expected. Barring any serious struggles from these two or Andrew Bogut, that’s a 3-player core with a LOT of promise. In addition, I can’t begin to speculate what kind of moves John Hammond could pull off with the pieces he has assembled. While it’s sad to think that guys like Ersan Ilyasova could get shipped out after their contributions to the playoff run, it seems like the chances are real. Such is the reality of professional sports: complacency will get you left behind, and Ilyasova’s skillset is something that a lot of teams might be willing to bargain for. The depth Milwaukee has assembled, especially at PF, would probably be best used by trading for value at another position, especially SF and the backup center spot (what is this, fantasy basketball?).

A lot can change in rapid fashion in the NBA, and coming off his first Executive of the Year award, John Hammond has given us every reason to believe he can assemble a competitive team. Still, I can’t shake the feeling that last year’s success has gone to the heads of Milwaukee’s front office. Sure, a fanbase will only be patient for so long. After four years of struggles, it’s understandable that Bucks fans want the team to run with their current momentum. But overreaction has a tendency to backfire. In my mind, filling a roster with power forwards on long-term deals because the Lakers won the title with athletic big guys is an overreaction. Prudent management, like the kind running the show in Oklahoma City, will often pay off with huge returns. In their case, in the form of a 50-win team comprised of arguably the best young talent in the league.

This Bucks team has a lot of potential, no doubt about it, and I have full confidence that Skiles will get everything possible out of this team. This wild offseason has gotten me crazy excited for the upcoming season. It’s everything after it that worries me.

UPDATE: A buddy reminded me that Kendrick Perkins didn’t get hurt until game 6. Doesn’t change that Boston will still be good next year.

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Two New Bucks

In – Jon Brockman, PF, Sacramento, and Keyon Dooling, PG, New Jersey.

Out – Darnell Jackson, PF, and a future second round pick.

Brockman comes in via a sign-and-trade with the Kings, and is almost certainly an upgrade over Jackson. While he didn’t accumulate much in the way of stats in Sacramento, his offensive rebound rate of 18.2 led all players with more than 20 GP. His per-40 minute numbers give him a lot of credit too, with 13.1 total rebounds. He isn’t a great defender, though, with almost no blocks or steals to speak of. At only 6-7, his size is probably the limiting factor. Still, those rebound rates are impressive and put him in elite statistical company at a young age. He was a popular guy in Sacramento, so hopefully he establishes a similar rapport in Milwaukee.

Keyon Dooling is cheap, and that’s about all I can say. Assuming it would have cost the Bucks something similar to Ridnour’s 4/16 mil deal to keep him in Milwaukee, Dooling is a big discount. Unfortunately, you get what you pay for. He’s not a great shooter and can’t draw fouls. At 6-3, his sheer size probably lends more to his defense than any sort of athleticism, but he still compiled a 113 defensive rating (not good by any measure).  He did turn in the highest assist rate of his career last season (24%), but finished with a PER of 11.58. There just weren’t many options left on the table to fill that spot, so I suppose we can’t be upset that all it cost was (probably) the biannual exception amount.

In any case, the Bucks’ roster and depth chart is was a crazy mess, and this makes it a little less crazy while maintaining a certain level of messiness. Dooling appears to be the man to back up Jennings at this point, but where the minutes in the frontcourt will go is anybody’s guess. Without a legitimate backup center, it seems like Gooden could spell Bogut in the middle at times. He’s making too much money to not start at PF, and he’s not gonna play both regularly. Things should start falling into place as we enter training camp.

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It’s refreshing to be able to look back on a stretch a games where your team went 1-4 and call it a success. Such is Summer League, which wrapped up in Las Vegas yesterday. The Bucks grabbed their first win over the Cleveland Cavaliers (playing without J.J. Hickson), a 80-66 blowout courtesy of the Bucks’ frontcourt domination. Larry Sanders and Deron Washington led with 17 points each, and Sanders threw in 3 blocks for good measure, including an impressive transition rejection of Jerome Dyson.

Here’s a few things we know after Summer League 2010, and a few things we’re still wondering about:

  • We know Larry Sanders will cause some mayhem on the defensive end of the floor. Sanders finishes SL with 3.2 blocks per game and 1.4 steals per game. He clearly knows how to use his height and length to frustrate opponents. Continued work with Milwaukee coaching staff, especially coach Skiles, will help him apply this raw ability to the Bucks’ game plan with great efficiency. Having Andrew Bogut at his back is nothing but a huge plus, as Bogut’s own defensive abilities around the basket will complement Sanders’ athletic defensive moves.
  • We’re still wondering about Sanders’ role on offense. And we’re not even wondering about that very much, but I’m trying to establish a patter here. Sanders’ speed in transition has me salivating already. Consider Brandon Jennings’ basketball DNA: ultraquick, experienced (as much as a player his age can be) PG with a self-described “pass-first” mentality. If there is anything Mr. 55 needs, it’s an athletic forward who enjoys running the court and stuffing balls through the rim. A Sanders – Jennings fast break combo is certain to be a little crazy in the early season, but it’s got me crazy-excited.
  • We know Tiny Gallon has massive hands with which to snag copious boards. Gallon finished second on the Bucks’ SL squad with 7.4 RPG in under 20 minutes a game. He’s a big guy who should be right at home in the low post. He definitely doesn’t move as well as some of the Bucks other forward options, but he’s got a nice outside shot. Unfortunately, we also know that his conditioning is going to limit his effectiveness in any NBA game. Get into an up-tempo style and Tiny’s gonna have a hard time getting off the bench.
  • We’re still wondering who our backup point-guard will be. The Bucks didn’t address the position in the draft and the SL team didn’t provide many options. Dominic James finished game 4 with 6 assists, the most by any Bucks player in Vegas. Turnovers were a constant issue and outside shooting was lacking from the guard position. James himself refused to take a few open shots, instead driving to the basket in traffic, reminding Marquette fans of his over-dribbling in college. I’m still curious to see what Darington Hobson can do. He’s got SF size, but handles the ball quite well. It’s a stretch to stick him in at PG anywhere on the depth chart, but the possibilities are there. The good news is there are still tons of cheap options on the free agent market. The bad news? There’s a reason they’re cheap.
  • We know not everyone who performed well in Summer League will get their real shot. The Bucks went big in free agency this year, adding Corey Maggette and Drew Gooden, along with their resigning Salmons to a long-term deal. While it would be surprising to see Sanders left off the roster, players like Deron Washington and Sean Williams might not find the bench big enough, let alone any playing time up for grabs. The frontcourt is just too packed when you factor in Luc, Ersan, Delfino, and recent addition Darnell Jackson.

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So the Bucks are 0-3, and it’s not really a surprise. Guard play has been pretty awful through three games, and Summer League is notoriously difficult on young big men getting used to the style and pace of play. So when your first-round pick is a lanky power forward with an undeveloped offensive game, and your top-scoring guard is DeMarcus Nelson (bounced between D-League and European teams), you’re probably not setting yourself up for much success.

Which isn’t to say there haven’t already been some success stories. It’s already apparent that Larry Sanders has a wealth of talent, especially on the defensive interior. His 9.7 RPG ties him for fourth in SL (second among true rookies), ahead of experienced players like Jordan Hill (bustzilla, I won’t deny it) and my pre-draft crush – Patrick Patterson. Deron Washington has made 6-of-10 3-point shots (albeit from the forward position), and Sean Williams hasn’t smashed anybody’s computer or cell phone yet.

It would be encouraging to find some unheralded ball-handler among the draft-day discarded, but in a year that was beaten into our skulls as down on talent, it might not be anything to count on. Still, Wesley Matthews – basically the posterboy for undrafted rookie success stories last season – only averaged 10.3 points in 18 minutes a game during last year’s Summer League, with almost no ancillary stats (Yaroslev Korolev, you can still make it!).

That being said, guard play was probably the least of Milwaukee’s problems last year. Jennings’s shooting woes aside, the backcourt was strong, particularly after the Salmons acquisition. Assuming the usual shooting improvements that come with a year of NBA experience, a backcourt rotation including Jennings, Salmons, Chris Douglas-Roberts, and 4-5 weeks of Michael Redd (before he gets his leg chopped off by a rogue ninja) is seemingly lacking only a clear backup point guard. I wouldn’t be surprised to see Dominic James wind up with a spot, if only because of how popular he is around Milwaukee.

If all the Bucks find from this Summer League is that Sanders is ready to compete as a role/energy/bench guy from Opening Day, it wouldn’t be the worst thing ever. It’s enough to still be excited about the near future.

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