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Wednesday, December 03, 2008

"Fortuitous" Murphy Tip-In Lifts Pacers Over Lakers

Troy Murphy's left handed tip-in as time expired enabled the Indiana Pacers to defeat the L.A. Lakers 118-117 at Conseco Fieldhouse; the Lakers, who still own the best record in the Western Conference (14-2) and are tied with the 17-2 Boston Celtics for fewest losses in the NBA, squandered a 16 point fourth quarter lead. Murphy finished with 16 points and a game-high 17 rebounds as the Pacers controlled the boards, outrebounding the Lakers 50-41, including a 19-8 advantage on the offensive glass. Danny Granger scored a game-high 32 points but he shot just 10-27 from the field. T.J. Ford added 21 points, eight assists and three steals while committing just one turnover; his dribble penetration repeatedly broke down the Lakers' defense, leading to open shots (and offensive rebounding opportunities even if the initial shot did not go in, because the Lakers had to scramble and rotate). Rasho Nesterovic scored 16 points and grabbed 10 rebounds, essentially playing Andrew Bynum (17 points, nine rebounds) to a standstill in a matchup that the Lakers surely expected to dominate. Kobe Bryant led the Lakers with 28 points on 10-21 field goal shooting, while Pau Gasol had 20 points and nine rebounds. All five starters for both teams scored in double figures; the Lakers' Trevor Ariza was the only bench player to reach double figures, contributing 13 points, five rebounds, three steals and a blocked shot but he also had four turnovers in just under 25 minutes, a high total for a player who is not a primary ballhandler.

One of the biggest stories in the NBA this season has been the Lakers' improved defense but you wouldn't believe that if this was the only Lakers' game you've seen; during Laker Coach Phil Jackson's postgame standup, someone asked him what he did not like about the Lakers' defense versus Indiana and Jackson replied, "Everything."

Indiana jumped out to a 9-4 lead less than three minutes into the game. Right from the start it was clear that the Lakers were not playing the way that they did in most of their previous games, as the Pacers repeatedly drained wide open shots. In many games this season Bryant has not looked for his shot early and then contributed whatever scoring was needed later on but against Indiana he attempted three shots in the first 49 seconds, making a midrange jumper and missing a short jumper and a three pointer. Nesterovic scored eight points on 4-4 field goal shooting in the first quarter, with three of his makes coming on long jumpers. A knowledgeable courtside observer said to me after the first quarter that at first Bynum gave Nesterovic--a proven jump shooter who has no offensive moves when closely guarded--too much room in order to defend the lane against cutters but after Coach Jackson berated Bynum the young center ended up in no man's land "guarding air," positioning himself too far away from Nesterovic to bother his shot but not close enough to the hoop to deter cutters. That is the type of information that boxscore data does not reveal but that plays a role in how coaches design game plans and react during games; the numbers tell you part of the story of what Nesterovic and Bynum did while they were on the court but only by watching the game with understanding can you determine how their actions not only affected their individual matchup but also impacted other players (cutters to the hoop in this instance) and thereby the overall course of the game. One numerical hint in the boxscore is that Nesterovic had a +2 plus/minus rating, while Bynum had a -6 plus/minus rating but without watching the game you cannot possibly know why that was the case.

Eventually, the Lakers found a useful mismatch that they could exploit: Pau Gasol versus Murphy. Gasol scored 10 first quarter points and the Lakers led 30-28 after the first 12 minutes. Still, this was hardly a satisfactory performance from their standpoint: they committed five turnovers and allowed the Pacers to shoot .542 from the field.

Bryant took his usual rest with 41 seconds remaining in the first quarter and the Lakers ahead, 28-26. When he returned at the 6:57 mark of the second quarter, the Pacers led 42-40. I have not seen every single Lakers' game this year and I know that they have one of the highest scoring second units in the league but it still seems to me that--just like last year--the Lakers' bench players perform better when Bryant is in the game with them than when they are on their own or paired with a starter other than Bryant. People always focus on the last play or final minutes of a game but what happens in the "hidden" minutes is just as important, so we should not dismiss the significance of a four point swing in a game that was ultimately decided by a last second shot--particularly since the bench players were also involved in another negative point swing later in the game.

With Bryant back on the floor, the Lakers kicked into high gear: Bryant got a steal and orchestrated a slick fast break, passing to Lamar Odom, who fed Ariza for a layup. Ariza got fouled and made the free throw to convert the three point play to put the Lakers up 43-42. The Pacers fought back to take a 48-44 lead but then Bryant scored 11 points and had one assist in the last 3:45 of the half: he hauled in Odom's errant lob pass, landed and made a reverse layup, fed Gasol for a jumper, made a driving left handed layup, spun away from a double team on the baseline for a reverse layup, tossed the ball to himself off of the backboard in traffic in order to escape a trap and make another layup (!) and then crossed over multiple defenders, made a layup, drew a foul and converted the three point play. The self-pass--reminiscent of a maneuver that Tracy McGrady has pulled off in the All-Star Game, except that McGrady dunked the ball (albeit against much less defensive resistance--was as stunning as it was unexpected and would probably have been remembered as the play of the game if not for Murphy's game winner. The Lakers led 66-61 at halftime after Bryant's scoring outburst.

At the start of the third quarter, Bryant picked up right where he had left off, scoring seven points in the first 3:09, but the Lakers were not able to pull away because the Pacers answered in kind, largely as a result of opportunities created by Ford, who made a three pointer and had three assists in the first 4:20 of the third quarter. I have often talked about Bryant being the most fundamentally sound player in the league. What does that mean? It refers to a lot of things about his game, including the overall completeness of his skill set and a lot of "little" things that he does that casual observers might not notice but that those who understand basketball see and appreciate. In my Slam Online article about Bryant and LeBron James I noted Bryant's savvy as a free throw line offensive rebounder. One third quarter play demonstrated a different kind of awareness; after Bryant missed a three pointer, Gasol snared the offensive rebound. Instead of simply watching the action, Bryant immediately cut hard to the hoop and made eye contact with Gasol (who is also a very savvy player). Gasol passed to Bryant, who banked in a short jump shot. That scoring opportunity was created not by great athletic ability but by moving without the ball and knowing how to find the soft spot in a defense. Is Bryant the only NBA player who does something like that? Of course not; this is just a specific example of the type of thing that I mean when I talk about fundamentals and complete skill sets and I make comparisons that are not purely based on raw numbers.

Another example of Bryant's court savvy did not result in any tangible box score numbers; with the score tied at 84 late in the third quarter, Bryant and Bynum ran a screen roll action on the left wing. When both defenders attack the ballhandler--Bryant in this case--their goal is to either trap him completely or at the very least force a pass away from the hoop to a player who is not in scoring position but Bryant accepted the trap, split the two defenders and delivered a beautiful feed to a cutting Bynum, who was fouled by a rotating defender; it takes a combination of mental skills (reading the defenders in a split second) and physical skills (ballhandling, agility, speed) for Bryant to make that play. Bynum did not make the shot, so Bryant obviously did not get an assist--and after Bynum missed both free throws that possession essentially became the equivalent of a turnover. Again, Bryant is not the only player in the NBA who reads and splits traps--but if you are wondering what I mean when I talk about skill sets and about unselfish, playmaking actions that are not recorded in the boxscore as assists, that is a good example to consider in both regards; it is worth noting that even if Bynum had made both free throws Bryant would not have received any boxscore credit for a scoring opportunity that was created by his ability to draw double teams and then beat the trap.

I can't write about the third quarter without mentioning Ariza, who reminds me of Inspector Gadget because of the way he uses his long arms to poke the ball free for steals; you could almost hear him saying "Go, go Gadget arms" as he repeatedly pilfered the ball and headed downcourt to either dunk the ball or get fouled. At times, Ariza's disruptive defense is reminiscent of the way that Scottie Pippen played defense, though Pippen could sustain that impact for a longer period of time and against a greater variety of positions, guarding anyone from point guards to power forwards (Pippen also had a much more complete offensive game than Ariza).

The Lakers led 88-86 when Bryant went to the bench with 2:07 remaining in the quarter. This time, the bench players performed well without him: Jordan Farmar scored on a drive to the hoop, then penetrated to the hoop and delivered a behind the back feed to Bynum for a dunk. Inspector Gadget--I mean Ariza--got a steal and a slam, Sasha Vujacic drilled a three pointer and Bynum scored a reverse dunk on an alley oop feed from Odom. After Bynum hit a pair of free throws the Lakers enjoyed a 101-86 lead heading into the final 12 minutes.

So, that flurry proves that I have underrated the Lakers' bench, right? Sorry, I have to go Lee Corso here and say, "Not so fast, my friend." Or, if you prefer, Ray Lewis' line--"The same thing that will make you laugh will make you cry"--will also suffice. Coach Jackson kept Bynum on the court with four reserves--Odom, Farmar, Vujacic and Ariza--to start the fourth quarter and that group missed two out of three shots and committed four turnovers as the Pacers sliced the margin to 104-96 in less than three minutes, forcing Jackson to call a timeout and bring in the other four starters to play alongside Bynum. Jackson later said, "I didn't like at all the way that we started the fourth quarter. They came out and fiddled it away. You can't do that on the road. That gives momentum to the home team."

It is easy to say that the Lakers were still ahead at that point so the starters should have been able to finish the game but that discounts the intangible basketball reality of momentum--you may not be able to quantify momentum in a boxscore but that does not mean it does not exist. Players who are out of the game can lose rhythm and the team that is making a comeback gains confidence, energy and enthusiasm, so it is not always possible to stop a run simply by taking out players who were performing poorly. In his great book "Those Who Love the Game," Doc Rivers described how it would frustrate him when he would lock down an opposing player defensively, head to the bench for a brief rest and then have to deal with a raging inferno after the man he was guarding got hot--and gained confidence--against whoever had subbed in for Rivers.

There have been several times this season that Bryant rode in to rescue the Lakers after the bench was not able to maintain a comfortable lead--here is a recap that I wrote about one such game--but against the Pacers he was not quite able to do so. Bryant missed the first two shots he took after coming back into the game and then he split a pair of free throws, putting the Lakers up 105-98 with 6:47 left. Granger scored all 10 of his fourth quarter points in the final 5:32, including a big three pointer at the 1:42 mark to pull the Pacers to within 115-114. After Gasol missed a jumper and committed a loose ball foul, Marquis Daniels sank two free throws to give the Pacers their first lead of the final stanza. Bryant answered with a cold blooded jumper that momentarily silenced the crowd and then the teams traded misses: a Ford jumper blocked by Odom and a Bryant jumper that could have put the Lakers up by three with :14 left. That set the stage for a wild closing sequence after an Indiana timeout. Daniels drove to the hoop but his flailing reverse layup completely missed the mark. As the clock approached triple zeroes, several players scrambled for the rebound and Murphy reached it first, stabbing at the ball with his left hand. Time seemed to freeze as the ball massaged every part of the rim before sinking through as time expired. The home crowd erupted and the Lakers stood around with dazed looks on their faces as the officials completed the obligatory video review. The call stood, the basket was good and the Pacers had earned a hard fought win.

The "go figure" stat of the night is that two of the Pacers' seven wins have come against last year's NBA Finalists; the Pacers won their home opener 95-79 against the Boston Celtics. The Lakers swept the season series against the Pacers 2-0 last year and own a 51-19 advantage in the all-time series but they have not had much success at Conseco Fieldhouse, falling to 3-7 in that building. You may recall that two seasons ago the Lakers blew a nine point third quarter lead at Indiana in a 95-84 loss that Coach Jackson, tongue planted firmly in cheek, called "sad," saying, "They just got 'sad' tonight--'s-a-d,' you know what that is, right? It's sunlight deprivation--when you get out here, it's all gray and the California boys get depressed and they can't take it. They were very 'sad' tonight."

This time around, Jackson offered a more serious explanation for his team's struggles: "I'm always worried when we travel across three time zones. We just don't seem to function right. I was a little bit aggressive with the team tonight because I didn't think they functioned right. They didn't react well defensively. As a result, Indiana hung around and found a way to win it."

Jackson called Murphy's tip-in "fortuitous"--not in the sense that it was a lucky play but that the ball rolled around for so long that time expired, preventing the Lakers from having an opportunity to go for a last second shot. Bryant echoed that sentiment: "I knew it was going in by the way that it was bouncing, so I was hoping that the (shot) would drop in the basket so that we would have one second at least. It stayed up there forever and the clock ran out."

I asked Bryant, "What did you think was the difference defensively tonight versus the other games? It seemed like right from the start you guys gave up more points and a higher field goal percentage than usual."

Bryant answered, "Their penetration hurt us a lot. They kept the middle spread. The penetration, particularly by their guards, getting in the paint and creating opportunities--and the opportunities that they missed, they got second and third chances."

I asked if the dribble penetration put the Lakers in a scramble mode that enabled the Pacers to get more offensive rebounds. Bryant said,"Sometimes it's just the way the ball bounces and guys going after it. They ran down a lot of balls."

Gasol said, "We could have done better out there. In the fourth quarter, one or two more defensive rebounds, one or two more actions on offense would have probably given us the victory. Those things, little plays at the end make a big difference."

I asked Gasol, "Even earlier in the game the Pacers were shooting a higher percentage than your oppponents usually have this year. What did you think was the difference for you guys defensively right from the start of the game?"

He replied, "They were running well. They were into the flow. They were hitting a lot of open jumpers. Our defense was not as intense as it could be in the first quarter and pretty much through the whole game. There was a stretch where we played the defense we are capable of playing but for most of the game we weren't active enough and we didn't communicate enough to make the appropriate rotations."

I then asked, "How does that happen? You've played so well as a team. What causes a team to not become active or not communicate?"

Gasol answered, "Coming out a little too flat is part of the reason. A little too confident, sometimes; it happens."

I also asked Odom why he thought that the Lakers' defense was so subpar right from the start of the game. He said, "We gave them too much space. They got hot from the outside. They did what they needed to do to win the game."

Naturally, Indiana Coach Jim O'Brien was thrilled by the victory: "What a great win for our team and our fans...That's special. It's a great, great feeling for everyone who is a Pacer. It feels great whenever you pull out a win against a great team. To see our players rewarded for their hard work makes me feel great."

*****************************
Notes From Courtside:

Lakers assistant coach Jim Cleamons made the All-Defensive Team once during his nine year playing career, won a championship ring as a rookie with the 1972 Lakers and has won four championship rings as an assistant coach for Phil Jackson (1996 in Chicago, 2000-2002 in L.A.). I spoke with him before the game about a variety of subjects, focusing primarily on defense and on how this Lakers' team compares to some of the great championship teams that Cleamons was involved with as a player and as a coach. I will post the whole interview soon but I will relay one of his comments now because it was very prescient regarding this game and is worth keeping in mind as the season progresses:

When I asked him to compare this year's Lakers to the 1972 Lakers and the 1996 Bulls, Cleamons immediately had a wry smile and I hastily added that I fully realize that it is early in the season to make such a comparison but that I am interested to hear his perspective about how the current Lakers match up to those great teams and in which areas they fall short. Cleamons said that the current Lakers lack the "maturity" that the old Lakers and Bulls' teams had but that part of the objective this season is to develop that characteristic: "We haven't seen too many tough teams this year and the one tough team we saw (Detroit, the other team that beat the Lakers) handed our hat back to us. That's a learning process. Hopefully this team will grow and mature. We've got some tough games ahead of us before we finish out the year and we'll see where we are."

Go back and look at what Gasol said about this game: the Lakers came out flat and a little overconfident. The teams that won 65+ games and went on to win championships--the '67 Sixers, the '71 Bucks, the '72 Lakers, the '83 Sixers, the '86 Celtics, the '87 Lakers, the '92, '96 and '97 Bulls, the 2000 Lakers, the 2008 Celtics--had killer mentalities and were trying to bury their opponents every night. We all know that Bryant has that kind of mentality but it remains to be seen how many other Lakers--particularly the all important members of the frontcourt, the guys who the Celtics dominated in the NBA Finals and who were outrebounded by a smaller but hungrier Pacers team--share that mindset. The Lakers are going to win a ton of games and contend for a title but whether or not they complete the job will be decided by that factor, whether you call it "maturity" or a killer instinct.

***

During pregame warmups, Lakers' assistant coach Brian Shaw played post defense as several Lakers tried to score on him. Perhaps his efforts were an omen of how the Lakers would play in the paint: It can't be a good sign when a retired shooting guard blocks starting center Andrew Bynum's shot. Luke Walton, D.J. Mbenga and Sun Yue also went against Shaw, with varying degrees of success; Mbenga actually showcased an array of fakes and spin moves that I've never seen him use during real games.

***

The game was not a sellout, which is surprising because the Pacers have won back a lot of fans this season with their revamped roster and energetic play and because the Lakers are usually a very popular road draw.

***

Just like I did with LeBron James--and like I plan to do with each and every Team USA member who I encounter this season--I congratulated Kobe Bryant on winning the Olympic gold medal and thanked him for helping to bring that prize back to the United States. Bryant warmly accepted my congratulations with a big smile and when I told him how much I had enjoyed watching the team play he said, "We had a blast." A big part of the reason that Team USA won is that Bryant, James and the other team members not only put in the necessary work--both on the practice court and in the games--but that they filled that process with joy, so it is great that they created such a wonderful memory that will last a lifetime for themselves and for everyone who watched them play.

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posted by David Friedman @ 5:38 AM

25 comments

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25 Comments:

At Wednesday, December 03, 2008 12:26:00 PM, Anonymous Allen said...

That game was given away by the Lakers, with a little bit of good fortune for the Pacers.

I was surprised not to see Bynum on the court for the final minutes. I believe that he and Gasol should be on the floor together when the Lakers really need a defensive stop, as they did last night.

 
At Wednesday, December 03, 2008 2:23:00 PM, Anonymous Allen said...

I stand corrected.

Bynum was in for Odom for the last possession of the game.

 
At Wednesday, December 03, 2008 2:29:00 PM, Anonymous J said...

Great write-up, and it's especially interesting/fun to read the pre- and post-game interviews/observations that you were able to write by attending the game. Will you be attending games and have this kind of access more frequently?

Somewhat off-topic, I'd be interested in seeing you write some recurring "power rankings" posts (at least for the top 10 to 15 teams or so). Yes, many other sites/media do them, but I'd be interested in reading your perspective.

 
At Wednesday, December 03, 2008 7:06:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Any thoughts on Bynum's comments after the game?

“The second unit played well, got a 16-point lead in the fourth quarter. We were all taken out with six minutes to go in game,” Bynum said. “We didn’t get any rebounds [after that]. I don’t know what to say about that.”

He was asked why he was taken out of the game, considering how the Pacers out-rebounded the Lakers 50-41 overall and 19-8 on the offensive end. “I don’t know,” Bynum said. “That’s a question for Phil.”

Owen

 
At Thursday, December 04, 2008 5:24:00 AM, Blogger David Friedman said...

Allen:

Even if a team "gives a game away," the other team still has to do something to take it--make shots, get stops, etc. The Pacers performed close to their maximum capability based on their current roster composition, while the Lakers had an off night in a few areas and the result was a last second win for Indiana. I said in the offseason that the Pacers were my "sleeper" team in the East and that Granger is one of the most underrated players in the NBA and both of those statements are proving to be pretty accurate.

Bynum did not have a great game defensively, as I noted in the post. For reasons that I explained in the offseason, Coach Jackson is not going to play Gasol, Odom and Bynum at the same time, so who is on the court at the end of games depends on matchup considerations, who played well that game, etc. I would expect Gasol to almost always be in the game, with Odom at pf or Bynum at c depending on what team they are playing.

 
At Thursday, December 04, 2008 5:31:00 AM, Blogger David Friedman said...

J:

I'm glad that you enjoy the game recaps from games that I attended. I like to think that my recaps of such games are different and more in depth than anything else that is out there. My approach is always to ask the questions that I think should be asked but no one else is asking--not about off court nonsense but about actual basketball strategy--and I always enjoy the opportunity to talk to "insiders" such as assistant coaches, head coaches, scouts and so forth; a lot of off the record information and insight that I glean helps to shape my perspective on what is happening in the league, either reinforcing things that I already believed to be true or providing an alternative way of looking at certain things.

I don't know exactly how many games I will go to this season but I certainly try to make up in quality whatever may be lacking in quantity.

 
At Thursday, December 04, 2008 5:55:00 AM, Blogger David Friedman said...

Owen:

The funny thing is that I must have been in the locker room when Bynum said those things but I did not actually hear (or record) those remarks. I think I was still with a group of people who were interviewing Ariza when Bynum started talking to a different set of reporters; when I walked over to where Bynum was he must have already made those comments.

My general thought is that, as I have been indicating to you all along, Bynum is still maturing mentally and physically; Berri's suggestion that Bynum's value at this point--let alone last year--even approaches Bryant's is laughable, because Bynum is still a work in progress. His coach understands that as well as anyone.

However, more interesting than my take on this is Jackson's response to Bynum's comments. According to the L.A. Times article about the Lakers' win on Wednesday in Philly, Jackson was asked before the game about Bynum's comments (Jackson had already left Conseco Fieldhouse before reporters could ask him about what Bynum said). Asked why he took Bynum out of the Indy game, Jackson said, with a smile, "That's none of his business. He just goes out and plays. That's his job." When someone asked Jackson if he discussed the issue with Bynum, Jackson said, "He's a kid. He doesn't know any better."

Bynum is "a kid." He's still learning the NBA game, still learning how to play and still learning how to manage his emotions.

As I noted in the post, Bynum had a negative plus/minus number in the game. That first three minutes of the fourth quarter illustrated a lot of the things that I have been saying to you for months: without Bryant on the floor, the bench players could not create good shots and they looked sloppy and disorganized; the earlier run by the bench had been based on getting steals and scoring on run outs but when the bench has to play half court basketball without Kobe they don't look so good. Yes, this is just one three minute example but I've seen the same thing happen in several other games. Did you notice that no one could even make a decent post feed to Bynum? It's not like the Pacers are a great defensive team, either. Bynum looks great when he can run the floor and catch lobs or when he runs screen/rolls with Kobe in the halfcourt but he's not a Dwight Howard or Shaq who commands double teams and thus creates open shots for the other four players. If Bynum were on a bad team he would not have solid veterans around him, nor would he have a great coach, and he would be complaining even more often about minutes, shots and who knows what else; he also would not be as effective as he is with the Lakers, even if his per game numbers would increase because he would get more touches.

Bynum played 32 minutes versus Indiana, which is more than his season average, so I'm not sure why he is complaining. Jackson took out the four bench players but left Bynum in the game for a little longer before taking him out. Ironically, Bynum was in the game for the last possession, when the Lakers lost because of an offensive rebound/tip in.

Bynum played 30 minutes versus Philly but only had three rebounds and again was on the bench down the stretch.

I keep hearing about how great the Lakers bench is but so far on this mini road trip, the Lakers needed 28 points on efficient shooting from Kobe to have a chance to win in Indiana and they needed 32 points on .600 field goal shooting to beat an iffy Philly club. The Lakers still have some unresolved issues defensively and with mental/physical toughness.

How many road wins against good teams do you think that the Lakers would get without Kobe?

 
At Thursday, December 04, 2008 6:03:00 AM, Blogger David Friedman said...

J:

Instead of doing power rankings, I prefer to write long form articles describing the specific strengths/weaknesses of the various teams based on what I see while watching them play. As the season goes on, I will do game recaps about all of the top teams and those articles will contain my thoughts about where those teams rank.

I will also be doing an NBA Leaderboard every two weeks or so and those posts will not only list the teams with the top five records but provide an opportunity for me to comment about which teams are moving up and which teams are sliding--basically, I will be able to briefly supplement/amend the longer analysis provided in earlier game recaps.

 
At Thursday, December 04, 2008 10:20:00 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

All the starters had a negative +/- in the Indiana game, while Odom was a +10 and Farmar was a +6. You must mean that Bynum was negative in the Philly game. Bynum did in fact play very badly there, posting a Win Score of just 3, due to a lack of rebounds and 5 turnovers that were very helpful to my fantasy team.

I only watched a part of last night's game and nothing at all of the Indiana game. But it's just not my impression that the second unit is struggling without Kobe. Two of the top 30 five man units in the NBA this year include Farmar, Vujacic, Ariza, and Odom. That quartet with Gasol is 26th and with Bynum is 29. I simply don't think its accurate to say that they can't function without Kobe. And when I think about Lakers games I have watched, including the Toronto game I mentioned recently, what really sticks out to me is how incredibly effective the bench has been.

I'll be honest, i just don't follow your argument about the bench unit giving Indiana momentum, despite picking up 4 points on them net. It's a strange argument, as if momentum (not that I believe any such thing exists) is more important that points. Would you rather that the bench had gone down sixteen points, then clawed back to 6 points down, and handed Kobe "momentum" rather than a six point lead?

That's the kind of analysis that just puzzles me. Kobe was handed a six point lead, a larger lead than when he left the game, and Jackson is blaming the bench for losing momentum. I don't care how many rings he has, to me, it's just dopey to blame the loss on a unit which widened the Lakers lead.

One final note, George Karl was on PTI last night. We have had a lot of discussions about the Nuggets and about Karl, and how much he understands about basketball. Before giving you a quote, I would like to point out that the Nuggets are currently 7th in the league in defense and 13th in offense. But anyway, here is what Karl had to say about Chauncey Billups. Just the kind of idiotic blarney you hear all the time from coaches in the NBA. My comment is appended.

“Chauncey is not a spectacular player, he is not even a statistically special player. His presence, his character, his leadership, his locker room demeanor, all these little things that coaches love to talk about and drink beers over, Chauncey has and now gives to us, and gives us the opportunity to be a great team.”

So George, what about the 60% ts% and the 19 points per game he is averaging? What about the 7.2 assists versus just 1.6 turnovers, or the 1.5 steals he has averaged so far?

Owen

 
At Thursday, December 04, 2008 12:29:00 PM, Anonymous Allen said...

You can really tell that Granger has indeed worked on his offensive game. Even though he shot a low percentage, he looked very smooth on his shots.

I understand that the Odom, Gasol, and Bynum would not be on the floor at the same time for offensive reasons, but for a one-time defensive stop, wouldn't the Lakers best defensive lineup be: Ariza, Kobe, Odom, Bynum, Gasol?

 
At Thursday, December 04, 2008 4:23:00 PM, Blogger David Friedman said...

Owen:

Well, that clinches it: Odom must be the MVP of the team.

This is why I said in the post that plus/minus data--and any other stats--have to be considered in a larger context. Odom was on the court when the Lakers made a big run, which accounts for his positive plus/minus number, but that does not mean that he had a great game overall.

Bynum was -6 and Nesterovic, who he guarded most of the time, was a +2. Bynum was not having such a great game that one has to wonder why would Jackson ever take him out. Bynum played slightly more than his normal minutes despite having a subpar performance but Jackson elected to go in a different direction for a stretch in the fourth quarter. The rebounding problem was not so much caused by lack of size but because the Pacers were breaking down the Lakers' defense with dribble penetration and also because the Pacers were running down loose balls and long rebounds in addition to taking advantage of rebounding lanes opened up by the dribble penetration. Rebounding is one of the better facets of Odom's game, so the Lakers should not drop off in that sense when Odom is in the game for Bynum, unless the Lakers are playing a team with two massive 7 footers who Odom cannot check.

When you talk about five man units you get into the same thing that we have when we talk about Denver's defense last year; Denver padded their point differential and other stats by blowing out weak teams. I'm not saying that the Lakers' bench is weak or incompetent overall; I'm saying that they do better with Kobe than without. I would also add that it is easier to be effective in short spurts when you know that you don't have to carry the entire game; in other words, if Kobe were not on the team then they would have to build leads instead of protecting them and they would not have the comfort zone of knowing that Kobe can come in and bail them out if they mess up.

The Toronto game was an aberration; go back through the Laker game recaps that I have written this season and you will find several examples of leads dwindling with Kobe on the bench and Kobe having to come back in to restore order, including games in which the substitution pattern makes it clear that Jackson would have preferred to not have to put Kobe back in the game at those particular points (there were also some games in which Kobe started the fourth quarter instead of getting his usual rest precisely because things looked a little shaky).

Hey, there is no doubt that the Lakers are better, deeper and more talented than they were in the Kwame-Smush era but Kobe's supporting cast at that time was worse than many people admitted and--although it is very good now--it is not quite as good now as some people are suggesting.

My "argument" about momentum echoes what Jackson himself said (though of course I would not say it if I disagreed with Jackson). I realize that to "stats gurus" it makes as much sense to speak of momentum as it does to talk about the Easter Bunny but just because momentum cannot be charted does not mean it does not exist. I would say that momentum consists primarily of confidence and energy level. The point margin is not always as significant as which team is playing with greater confidence and energy. I give the Lakers' bench credit for playing well at the end of the third quarter but they were horrible at the start of the fourth. Keep in mind that during the bench's other stint--late first through early second--the Lakers went from being up two points to down two points.

Versus Indiana, Kobe scored 16 straight Laker points bridging the late second/early third. What would the margin have been without that contribution? Again, I ask you to honestly say what you think the Lakers' road record against good teams would be without Kobe? This team heavily relies on his scoring, defense, playmaking and presence (for instance, drawing double teams).

After a slow start initially, Chauncey has played very well for Denver. His scoring, assists, steals and all three shooting percentages (fg, 3fg and ft) are above his career averages; his scoring (18.9 ppg as a Nugget) would be a career-high if he maintains that level for a full season. Is this a "honeymoon" effect of playing for a new team? Is this a result of a small sample size? Has Billups actually become better than ever at 32 years old despite seemingly slowing down for the past couple seasons? We'll find out over the course of the season.

As for Denver's recent success, it is easy to forget that the Nuggets put up pretty good regular season records with Iverson as well and they had some very impressive looking stretches, including an eight game winning streak (and nine out of ten--10 out of 11 including a game in which Iverson did not play) to close the 2006-07 season. Still, the Nuggets lost in the first round both years. Before lauding Billups' transformational effect on the Nuggets, let's see what their final record is and let's see if they get out of the first round this year.

The Nuggets have the third best record in the West at the moment. However, in my estimation six of the teams that trail Denver in the standings are stronger than the Nuggets: New Orleans, Houston (if healthy, admittedly a questionable proposition), Utah, San Antonio, Dallas, Phoenix. All of those teams are within two games in the loss column from the Nuggets, which literally means that one bad week could send the Nuggets from third to ninth. I would not be a bit surprised if Denver misses the playoffs altogether. In fact, barring injuries to Houston's key players or some other factor derailing the other teams, I think that Denver will have to really fight to get that eighth playoff spot. Those other teams are rounding into form, while the Nuggets have likely played about as well as they are going to play. Since you like stats so much, tell me the probability that Billups will play at career-best norms for the next 65 games or so at 32 years of age. We are going to see some "regression to the mean" by Billups and Denver.

 
At Thursday, December 04, 2008 4:49:00 PM, Blogger David Friedman said...

Allen:

The Lakers' best defensive lineup for a one possession defensive stop depends a bit on what lineup the other team puts on the court.

On the last possession versus Indy, Jackson matched up defensively this way:

Fisher on Ford
Kobe on Daniels
Bynum on Rasho
Gasol on Murphy
Ariza on Granger

Daniels inbounded to Ford, who ran a screen/roll at the top of the key with Rasho. Bynum jumped out on Ford, then Fisher recovered and they switched back. Rasho fumbled the ball and had to chase it out to the free throw line. Meanwhile, Daniels cut through and Gasol, who was playing a one man zone in the middle to deter dribble penetration, picked him up, while Kobe switched to Murphy. Gasol then wandered back over in the direction of Murphy, leaving Daniels a wide open cut to the hoop. Rasho passed to Daniels, who threw up a wild shot as Gasol contested him. Kobe also went for the block as Daniels attempted a reverse layup and as Kobe was descending, Murphy jumped in the air and stabbed at the ball with his left hand, tipping it in as time expired.

If you put Odom in for Fisher in that situation, how would you match up differently? Kobe would have to guard Ford but Kobe is not a pg. Bynum and Gasol could only guard Rasho and Murphy, so Odom and Ariza would be left with Granger and Daniels. This is why I said months ago that Gasol, Bynum and Odom will rarely if ever be on the court together: Odom is not the best choice to be guarding a small forward or shooting guard.

As for the last play, when watching the replay it is clear that the defense broke down when Gasol switched to Daniels and then tried to switch back at the last second. I don't know if he was supposed to switch in the first place or not but once he switched I doubt that he was supposed to simply leave Daniels wide open; that was the breakdown that ultimately led to the offensive rebound. Bynum was at the free throw line guarding Rasho when Daniels took the shot and he did not exactly move with breakneck speed to attempt to get the rebound, though it may not have made a difference considering the distance that he had to cover.

 
At Thursday, December 04, 2008 5:17:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Billups' ts% of 60% is squarely in line with the numbers he has posted recently. In the last four years he was at 59%, 62%, 59, and 60%. So I wouldn't expect that to change at all.

When looking at his other box score numbers you have to consider the effect of the faster pace he is playing at in Denver. His assist rate is at 36%, which is completely in line with the numbers he has put up in the last four years in Detroit. His steal rate is exactly the same as last year. The biggest difference is his turnover rate, which is much lower than it has ever been before. I would expect that to regress to the mean. But basically, as is so often the case, after adjusting for pace and minutes played, very little has changed about Chauncey Billups.

My point re the qoute is that Chauncey Billups is, or at least has been for the last five years, a statistically special player. He has been probably the second best point guard in the league in that time, after Nash. although Paul is better than him. Anyway, it's just amazing to me that George Karl could say something like that.

As for the Nuggets, you are correct that they have played a soft schedule. But they are legitimately good. Nene, who I think we both agreed was greatly overpaid, is fully healthy and more than justifying his contract. They are getting very solid contributions from a number of players, including Chris Anderson.

I don't know what I would project for the Lakers without Kobe. It's an interesting question. The stats indicate that the drop off in efg would be very small. However, their rebounding would suffer.

I don't know, without thinking about it too much, I think the Lakers will win close to 70 games this year. I think they would win about 60 without him. I think Kobe is probably worth ten wins more than Sasha V and whoever else would replace his minutes. But it's entirely possible that the Lakers would be the best team in the West without Kobe.

Which sounds crazy to you I am sure, but I don't know that any team in the West fields a better quartet than Odom, Gasol, Bynum, and Ariza. I would love it, as I think I have said before, if Bryant could go down with some sort of mild injury that would be healed perfectly after ten games, just to see how good they are without him.

Re Odom - His boxscore numbers haven't been that good so far, although they have improved significantly over the last ten games after a very slow start. So I wouldn't say he has been responsible for that +/-. In fact, I wouldn't hesitate to say that the best Laker, per minute, has been Trevor Ariza. Which is not to say he is better than Kobe or Bynum or Gasol, but simply that he has played better in a small sample.

And re momentum, and having played hoops, I know that it appears to be real. I know that feeling. The question is if it really there. Having read Dean Oliver's treatment of the subject, and having played a great deal of poker, as well as having been immersed in the markets, I don't think it exists. Predictable I know.

If you watch a coin flip 200 times, you are going to have sequences where heads comes up 5 times in a row, rather predictably. The same thing happens in poker. Make enough low probability bets and you will win 3 or 4 of them in a row. Or lose with pocket AA's four times in a row. Those swings have happened to me so much that it has really influenced how I perceive basketball games. One of my fellow basketball obsessed friends calls hoops, "hands down they best way to watch coins being flipped." There is a lot of truth in that, although each team, depending on its talent level is flipping differently weighted coins.

But it is a lot more fun to try to find explanations for what is going on out there, rather than just attributing it to random variations. And it makes much more sense to most people that way.

Owen

 
At Thursday, December 04, 2008 7:41:00 PM, Anonymous Allen said...

Owen -
It's not whether you lose your lead, it's the manner in which you lose it. The net points is not all that matters.

This is one of the problem with pure statistical analysis of basketball, as it does not care as to the "why", just that it happened.

David -

It would have been interesting to see Ariza on Ford, I don't think he would be much worse than Fisher, in fact Ariza's length might have made up for any lack of quickness vis-a-vis Fisher (if he is indeed, slower than Fisher). Odom could guard Granger, and the rest would stay the same. I would be curious to see Ariza guarding the quick guards that seem to blow by Fisher and Farmar regularly.

 
At Thursday, December 04, 2008 11:00:00 PM, Blogger David Friedman said...

Owen:

I think that you are being a little unfair to Coach Karl. I did not see the episode that you are referring to but I assume that what Karl meant is that Billups has never been a player who averaged 25 ppg or led the NBA in assists or put up conventional box score numbers that would blow someone away. You are correct that if you dive deeper into the statistics that Billups has always been an effective and efficient player but I think that this is what Karl meant, in a roundabout way.

Five years is kind of an arbitrary time period. Paul and Williams have not been around that long but I'd take either of them over Billups now. Last summer, I said that there are four "elite pgs" in the NBA right now: Paul, Nash, DWill and Tony Parker. I granted Billups "elite emeritus" status. For the five year period as a whole, I'd take Nash and Kidd over Billups. Parker's got three rings and one Finals MVP in that time frame, so if he's behind Billups it's not by much and I'd take him over Billups now (when healthy, of course).

So, you think that Kobe's number one contribution is rebounding? You really have been influenced too much by WoW's overemphasis on that stat. Kobe is a great rebounder for a shooting guard but his greatest impact is that he creates scoring opportunities for himself and his teammates. He also has a significant defensive impact.

Barring injury, the Lakers will probably will 65+ games this year. Typically, a superstar, MVP level player is "worth" about 20 wins. I would say that if the Lakers were without Kobe for the entire season--and did not replace him with an MVP level player--that they would win 45 games or so.

If Kobe missed 10 games and came back that really would not prove too much; depending on the strength of schedule in that stretch and the home/road balance, the Lakers could win six or seven of those games or they could go 2-8. My contention is that Kobe's value over the course of the season is highly significant.

By the way, you still have not directly answered my question, namely: How many road games against good teams do you think that the Lakers would win without Kobe? Based on what Kobe has done over the last three MVP level years plus the early part of this season, I say that they would win very few road games against good teams without him. They would surely be a sub.-500 road team overall, so your idea that they could win 60 games without him is flawed.

One interesting comparison is the '94 Bulls, who only won two fewer games than the '93 Bulls despite MJ's sudden retirement. The only significant roster addition was rookie Toni Kukoc but what made the difference is that Pip was an MVP level player (finished third in the voting) who elevated the play of his teammates at both ends of the court. The Lakers do not have a top five player who could have that kind of impact in Kobe's absence. What Pip did that season is actually quite remarkable and I won a lot of bets with people who thought that the Bulls would be terrible without MJ (long before Kobe was underrated, Pip was--and still is--underrated).

When healthy, I'd take the quartet of Duncan, Manu, Parker and choose a Spur over the Lakers quartet that you mentioned. I'd also take Paul, West, Chandler and Peja. I'd take Houston's top four if they could ever get on the court together healthy.

Ariza is having a wonderful season as a role player with limited, specific tasks to perform but if he really has to be a team's fourth best player that team is not going to win a title. This is where stat analysis breaks down (assuming that is the basis for the conclusions you drew). Ariza cannot create shots for himself or others. He is a very good defender and energy player but if you bump up his minutes and give him more responsibilities you are not going to get significantly greater contributions.

I just don't see the result of a skill based game--basketball--being equivalent to flipping coins or playing poker. The team that plays the best over the long haul is going to win the most basketball games; there is nothing random about that, though of course injuries and other factors introduce some randomness. That is why I prefer chess to poker, even though a lot of strong chess players have quit chess because there is more money in poker; I like the fact that in chess the player who plays the best is going to win. In poker, the randomness of the deal means that the player who plays the strongest is not always going to win. No one is going to study chess on the internet and show up and win the U.S. Open the way that internet poker players can win big poker tournaments.

 
At Thursday, December 04, 2008 11:07:00 PM, Blogger David Friedman said...

Allen:

I agree with your point about how leads are lost. That all gets back to momentum swings, one team gaining energy while the other team is losing it. The games are played by players, not robots, and if their actions are affected by their perceptions of momentum then momentum is real, even if it cannot be found in a boxscore.

I don't think that Ariza has a lot of experience guarding pgs. There is a difference between guarding a pg and guarding a sg or a sf. One of the reasons that Pip was so exceptional is that he could guard pgs, sgs, sfs and even some pfs, but even he mentioned a few times that he did not like being matched up with quick pgs. Pip guarded Magic Johnson, Mark Jackson and John Stockton very effectively but none of them had the blazing speed that a T.J. Ford does.

Odom is more used to playing inside than chasing a guy like Granger on the perimeter.

My guess is that Jackson would not use the lineup that you are suggesting unless foul trouble or injuries forced him to do so.

 
At Friday, December 05, 2008 2:21:00 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

u continue to overlook kobe's accomplishments.

he is clearly a top 10 player.

go on hating, but he is the man

 
At Friday, December 05, 2008 12:26:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Lol, that anonymous must have been talking to me right?

How many road games against tough teams would the lakers wins without Kobe? I would say about .500%. I don't know, it depends on how you define tough team. But I think the Lakers without Kobe would probably win in Boston 35% of the time. But they would win well over 50% of their road games against bad teams.

I think Kobe is worth 15 wins. I think Sasha would probably only be worth 5. So I give Kobe ten wins above his replacement.

I don't mean to give Karl a hard time. I have no problem with him. But he has said a lot of things in the past that have puzzled me, especially his contention, which we have argued about, that the Nuggets were a bad defensive team last year.

I don't know how I forgot Kidd, ridiculous omission. He and Nash are clearly top of the pack. And you know I think Paul is the best player in the NBA right now. My point is simply that Billups has been really really good for a while now. Good enough to lead a team to a championship.

The comment about Kobe was simply from having looked at his on court/off court this year. The most dramatic difference is in defensive rebounding right now. Which could easily change. He wasn't scoring very efficiently until lately. But they are +2.3 in that category. Kobe does a lot of things extremely well, but his ability to rebound is a very significant part of his impact on the court. He is a lot better than most shooting guards in that area.

Re the Bulls - Pippen and Grant improved their performance. Diminishing returns exist in basketball. If you remove a great player his teammates stats will improve, even if the team's winning percentages suffer. That's one reason I have never thought all that much of the argument you frequently use about Kobe having to play with Smush and Kwame. Ditto for Durant. In the NBA, you are either good or you are not. The better your teammates, the worse your stats generally look. That's certainly true of Garnett and Duncan. KG has much better stats, but has had much worse teammates.

Anyway, if you check, you will see that the Bulls had a pretty fluky season that year. They outperformed their pythagorean expectation by 5 games. Even with the addition of Kukoc, (who actually wasn't that good I think his first year) they were 8 games worse without Jordan. And they didn't have that strong of season that last championship year. I think if you look back a year before that, when they had a pythag of 67 wins, you get a sense of the difference between Jordan and no Jordan. But that is massaging the statistics a bit. Berri covers this 'anomaly' in vivid detail in the WOW if you are interested.

As for poker, is there no skill in poker? :-). I must be extremely lucky then. Poker is very much a game of skill in the long run. The best poker player is going to win more money over the long haul, just like the best basketball teams generally win in the playoffs. But on any given night anything can happen. I think basketball is a lot closer to poker than chess because of that, since the better player almost always wins in chess, but that would be a dumb argument to get into. Would be an interesting topic for a post if I could ever get organized to write it...

Owen

 
At Saturday, December 06, 2008 12:45:00 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

reggie

it was a game the lakers gave away kobe made a mistake on the last play by not covering daniels and jumping to soon for the rebound. but the lakers still best team and the buck dont stop there they 16-2 and will be a team to reckon wit in the now and for years lakers number 1 right now.

 
At Saturday, December 06, 2008 8:47:00 AM, Blogger David Friedman said...

Owen:

Yes, I would assume that Anonymous is referring to you.

Only top teams win half of their road games and the Lakers would not be a top team without Kobe. I'll be covering this subject in depth soon but the early evidence already shows that the Lakers would struggle to win on the road without Kobe; in fact, in some of these games they are struggling to win even with Kobe--and don't even try to say that Vujacic or someone else on the roster would be more "efficient" than Kobe.

I am confident that the differential between Kobe and Vujacic is more than 10 net wins. I would place the value at no less than 15 and probably 20.

Billups already led a team to a championship, so there is no disputing what he can do if the pieces are in place--but those pieces are not in place in Denver.

Paul is the best pg in the league but he is not the best player. I'd take Kobe and LeBron over him for sure.

Again, I agree that Kobe is an exceptional rebounder at the sg position but it just sounds odd to me to say that his primary value to the Lakers is as a rebounder.

As for the '94 Bulls, that season demonstrated what savvy observers already knew: Pip was an MVP level player. The drop off from MJ as the number one option to Pip as the number one option was not severe; the problem came in trying to find someone to fill Pip's old number two spot. The Bulls did not exactly do that but they coaxed improved performances out of several players; Pip's passing and defensive versatility greatly helped out his teammates.

Like Kobe in the Shaq years, Pip could have used some p.r. help, assuming that he cared about such things (there is evidence that he did not). Pip never got full credit for his performance in '94 because the Bulls lost the Knicks' series largely as a result of a terrible foul call and because some of Pip's actions (sitting out one play, some off court situations) gave people excuses to bash him. If the Bulls had beaten the Knicks then they would have had a good chance to defeat Indiana in the ECF and they matched up well with Houston at that time. Much like some people say Kobe needs to win a title without Shaq, Pip's reputation would have been enhanced by winning a title without MJ and that was his best shot. Instead, although Pip was a quite deserving Top 50 selection he remains someone whose impact is appreciated more by insiders than by casual fans.

I don't say that there is no skill in poker; however, in poker there is a greater amount of luck involved than there is in chess. Really, in chess the only "luck" that you can even speak of is who you get paired against in a Swiss System tournament, because you may "match up" better with one player than someone else (though, if you think about it, that ultimately has to do with skill as well). The outcome of a chess game has nothing to do with luck.

I am puzzled by your suggestion that basketball resembles poker more than chess. In chess, we use the ELO system to rate players. The ELO system provides a percentage expectancy based on the rating difference between two players, i.e. a player who outrates his opponent by 200 points is expected to win three out of four times. In that case, if the lower rated player wins this is not luck but simply a small sample size. Similarly, the Pacers beating the Lakers is not luck but an example of small sample size. Presumably, at the end of the season the teams' records will reflect their differing strengths.

When a lower rated player or team wins in a contest of skill that result is not "lucky" because no one can be expected to win 100% of the time.

 
At Saturday, December 06, 2008 8:52:00 AM, Blogger David Friedman said...

Reggie:

The mistake was made by Gasol, who switched to Daniels and then left him wide open. I'm not sure if Gasol was even supposed to switch at all but I'm pretty sure that once he switched he was not supposed to then leave him open. The Lakers had to scramble to contest the shot and in the confusion Murphy was able to tip the ball in.

Gasol had a similar lapse near the end of the Washington game on Friday, losing sight of Blatche, who cut to the hoop and almost tipped in Butler's missed three pointer as time expired.

 
At Sunday, December 07, 2008 9:12:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

"I am puzzled by your suggestion that basketball resembles poker more than chess. "

I think it's hard to argue this one either way. To me, as a poker player, I am constantly judging probabilities. And I see the same kind of thing when I watch a basketball game. What seperates good players for great players in athleticism and measurables, but more importantly decision making. Great basketball players are always making better decisions. That's why they are great

But chess is just as good a comparison, no question.

 
At Monday, December 08, 2008 6:58:00 AM, Blogger David Friedman said...

Owen:

I agree that good decision making is vitally important in basketball, poker, chess and many other fields. However, luck is not a factor in skill set based actions like shooting, dribbling, passing, etc. It is true that someone who really understands probability has some kind of an edge versus a poker player who does not have that understanding but poker players are still at the mercy of which cards they are dealt.

In contrast to poker, chess is a game of "perfect information"--both players are aware at all times of the full deployment of both armies, so there is no luck of the draw.

I would suggest that basketball is closer to being a game of "perfect information" than a game in which cards are randomly dealt.

 
At Monday, December 08, 2008 2:57:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Well, as is so often the case, I just don't agree. :-)

"I would suggest that basketball is closer to being a game of "perfect information" than a game in which cards are randomly dealt."

I would suggest the opposite. There is a lot of luck involved in the short run in basketball. Every night, players use skills yes, but with probabilities attached. Ray Allen is a 40% 3pt shooter. On some night he will be 4-10. But usually, there are wild variations around the mean. He goes 1-7 one night and 7-12 the next. That to me is the luck that operates in basketball. There is a lot of variance in basketball, which is why good teams are often losing to bad teams. I see similar probabilities everywhere on the floor. Will DLee get that rebound? Will Kobe get to the foul line? Will Duhon commit a turnover or get an assist?

Poker players are not really at the mercy of the cards that are dealt. Over the long run, everyone gets the same cards, everyone gets the same share of good luck and bad luck. The only difference is the skill with which players play their cards.

In the short run, anything can happen, which is a real similarity to basketball. But in the long run, the better players win more money, just like the better teams generally win games.

 
At Monday, December 08, 2008 3:23:00 PM, Blogger David Friedman said...

That is a very interesting perspective. However, I think that there is an important, subtle distinction that should be made between poker on one hand (no pun intended) and basketball/chess on the other: a basketball player or a chess player is able to be in control throughout the contest based on his skill set advantages. You are right that in the short term a shot may roll off of the rim, a lesser player may get a rebound or a weaker chess player may enjoy a slight advantage (perhaps if he has White and moves first) but for the most part the player controls the game throughout. In poker, a skilled player is probably in control in the long run but there is little that he can do if he is dealt bad cards. A basketball or chess player does not face the equivalent situation of being dealt bad cards. Just because a lower rated chess player or a lesser basketball team wins sometimes does not mean that luck is involved. Again, if you think about this the way that Elo did when he invented his chess rating system, the lower rated player is expected to win a certain amount of games. That is not luck.

 

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