Hornets Edge Nuggets, 105-101The New Orleans Hornets defeated the Denver Nuggets 105-101 in the second half of TNT's Thanksgiving doubleheader. This game involved some interesting subplots and storylines.
1) I have written several times about questionable scorekeeping regarding assists, most recently in a post titled Smooth All-Around Performance by Paul Lifts Hornets Over Heat. One of the recurring themes when I have charted Chris Paul's assists is that he received credit for assists on plays when the recipient of his passes made several dribbles and/or fakes before shooting; an assist is only supposed to be awarded when a pass played an important role in creating the shot opportunity and not merely because it was the last pass before a shot was attempted. At the 6:31 mark of the first quarter of the New Orleans-Denver game, Paul passed to David West, who took two dribbles, made a jump stop and then hit a short jumper; in the previous games that I charted (all of which took place in New Orleans), Paul received assists on such plays but on this occasion he did not.
If the definition of an assist has been liberalized to include such passes, then all such passes should be deemed assists--not just passes thrown by certain players or passes thrown by certain players in their home arenas. Otherwise, this statistic loses meaning.
This is not about slamming Paul--who is of course not at all responsible for how his statistics are recorded--or some scorekeepers. All I am saying is that there should be a more consistent standard regarding exactly what an assist is and that standard should apply equally in all arenas and to all players. With the video technology that is available today it would not be that complicated for the league to monitor this and to make appropriate rulings when necessary; the NBA has stepped in on a few occasions when a generous home scorekeeper helped a player obtain a triple double by awarding a dubious late assist or rebound, so what I am suggesting is that instead of just looking at such "high profile" cases the league take advantage of technological advances to ensure that its statistical legacy is as accurate as possible.
The interesting subplot to all of this is that Paul only scored two points and was credited with just four assists in the first half but Kenny Smith and Charles Barkley both correctly noted during the halftime show that Paul was controlling the game (New Orleans led 52-46 at the time); Denver was frequently double-teaming Paul and he was accepting the trap, passing the ball and then the second pass out of the trap created open shots (just like Hubie Brown always preaches when he does a telecast). A more extreme example of this is the recent game in which college sharpshooter Stephen Curry was double teamed constantly; he simply stood in the corner, enabling his team to play four on three while he went scoreless for the first time in his collegiate career. Any player who is good enough to draw that much defensive attention is extremely valuable, even if the boxscore cannot prove it because he did not score; I have been saying this about Kobe Bryant for years: he impacts the game even on possessions when he neither shoots nor passses because his presence distorts the defense. Bryant is not the only NBA player who has that kind of impact but that aspect of his value is often overlooked in order to focus on his scoring prowess.
Down the stretch of the New Orleans-Denver game, Paul exploded for 13 points in the final 8:22--including a long three pointer at the 2:07 mark that tied the score at 92--so he did end up with good boxscore numbers (22 points, 10 assists) but Smith said afterwards that Paul's impact in the first half was just as significant as his impact in the second half. This is the kind of truth that "stats gurus" will have to find ways to quantify in order to accurately assign credit to players; there is a value to Paul's presence and unselfishness in the first half that is not recorded in the boxscore.
2) Carmelo Anthony scored 24 points on 8-13 field goal shooting but his overall scoring and shooting numbers have plummeted since Denver shipped out Allen Iverson in exchange for Chauncey Billups. Anthony's rebounding and assist totals are at career-high levels but one of the supposed advantages of playing with Billups instead of Iverson is that Billups would create higher percentage scoring opportunities for Anthony. Iverson has received a lot of public blame from various commentators for the recent decline in Richard Hamilton's scoring average and field goal percentage, so it seems strange to not apply a similar standard vis a vis Anthony and Billups. Perhaps these numbers are just an artifact of small sample sizes. Perhaps Anthony and Hamilton are simply getting used to playing with their new teammates and will soon be producing at their previous levels--but it makes no sense to say that Iverson has hurt Hamilton's offensive game unless one is willing to say exactly the same thing about Billups' impact on Anthony. The real problem here is that too many members of the media prefer to deal in stereotypes and stock characterizations as opposed to actually analyzing the game; Billups has been assigned the role of unselfish point guard, while Iverson has been assigned the role of shoot first player, even though reality is much more complex than that: Billups often takes the responsibility on himself to shoot the ball late in games, while Iverson has demonstrated the ability and willingness to pass to open teammates. Near the end of the New Orleans-Denver game, Billups attempted a tough three point shot with Denver trailing by three even though there was still enough time to try to score a quick two pointer and commit a foul; if Iverson takes that shot he would get killed in the media but when Billups tries it then this is an example of him trying to step up in the clutch (it is worth mentioning that Barkley said point blank that Billups took a bad shot).
When the Nuggets first acquired Iverson, the spin was that having another player on the court who demands a double team would free up Anthony's game and Denver would become an unstoppable offensive juggernaut. Now the new story is that Iverson held back Anthony's game--though Anthony's offensive statistics while playing alongside Iverson suggest otherwise--but that Billups will help to create open shots for Anthony. It is funny how the same people who claim that Hamilton's catch and shoot game will not mesh well with Iverson's style completely ignore the fact that Anthony is a one on one player who creates his own shot, not a dependent player who spots up and waits to receive a pass. Frankly, it is more likely that Hamilton will ultimately benefit from Iverson's ability to break down defenses with speed and dribble penetration than that Anthony will shoot and/or score any better with Billups than he did with Iverson.
3) A lot of attention is being paid to the fact that Denver is 9-3 with Billups while Detroit is 5-5 with Iverson. This supposedly proves that Billups has helped Denver to become a better half court team and a more sound defensive unit while Iverson has allegedly damaged Detroit's delicate chemistry--but let's take a closer look at those records.
The Billups era in Denver started with three straight victories against teams that do not currently have winning records (Dallas, Memphis, Charlotte). Then came a loss against Cleveland, an impressive win at Boston, home victories versus Minnesota and Milwaukee and a win at San Antonio over a Spurs team without Tony Parker and Tim Duncan. Denver lost on the road versus the Lakers, beat the Bulls and Clippers and then fell to the Hornets yesterday. The Nuggets are 5-1 at home with Billups but all five wins are against teams that are currently at or below .500.
In Iverson's first game with the Pistons, Detroit lost at New Jersey. Then the Pistons fell to the Celtics in Boston. Detroit next played four road games in six days, winning three of them, including one over the Lakers, the only defeat that the Western Conference Champions have suffered this year. In their last four games, the Pistons beat Cleveland, lost again to Boston, got blown out by Minnesota and then bounced back to rout the Knicks. The Minnesota loss at home is bad, no doubt about it, but over the course of an NBA season every team has some bad losses. Iverson's Pistons have played six of their 10 games on the road.
The Anthony-Iverson Nuggets piled up wins--even blowouts--against the weaker teams but they could never consistently beat the good teams. That is why they were always a low seeded team that got bounced in the first round of the playoffs. The schedule has been a bit kinder to Denver than Detroit in the immediate aftermath of the trade but I see no reason to believe that the Nuggets are any more equipped to beat good teams now than they were previously.
The developing situation involving Iverson skipping practice on Thanksgiving could turn out to be significant or it could just end up creating one more Iverson soundbite to go along with the constantly replayed "We talkin' about practice." I suspect that after Iverson is disciplined this will not have a lasting effect. It will be interesting to compare Detroit and Denver's records after both teams have played a larger, more representative sample of their schedules.
posted by David Friedman @ 8:19 AM