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Thursday, October 08, 2015

2015-16 Eastern Conference Preview

LeBron James' return to Cleveland proved to be successful by any objective measure, as he lifted the Cavaliers to the franchise's second NBA Finals appearance.  With Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love sidelined by injuries during the NBA Finals, the supposedly pass-first James fired up nearly 33 field goal attempts a game and averaged 35.8 ppg, 13.3 rpg and 8.8 apg as the Cavaliers fell to the Golden State Warriors in six games. James' raw box score numbers were incredible, but he shot just .398 from the field and .687 from the free throw line and he could not seize the championship despite having a 2-1 series lead with Game Four at home. As is often the case with James, his play and his statistics were simultaneously astounding and mystifying. He largely escaped any criticism for being inefficient and taking so many shots, as commentators felt that he had no choice with the team's second and third best players on the shelf. I think that James played the right way and that if he had played that way throughout his career--accepting the challenge to be great, instead of being passive in key moments against top teams--he would have more than two championships now. I also think that if Kobe Bryant ever attempted 33 shots a game in the NBA Finals that several NBA commentators would spontaneously combust. It is worth noting that in the pivotal Game Four, when the Cavs could have put a stranglehold on the series, James shot 7-22 from the field. That performance sticks out not just for James' poor shooting percentage but also because he took far fewer shots in that game than any other game in the series. Why take your foot off of the pedal with an opportunity to go for the kill?

The Atlanta Hawks surprised just about everyone by leading the East with a 60-22 record but the Hawks faded down the stretch before righting the ship and advancing to the Eastern Conference Finals for the first time in franchise history (the Hawks made it to the Western Division Finals 12 times between 1956 and 1970, winning the NBA championship in 1958). The Hawks proved to be no match for the Cavaliers, though, falling in four straight games.

The Chicago Bulls had a typical season for them, finishing third in the East with 50 wins despite battling through injuries to several key players. After a second round loss to Cleveland, Chicago's management decided to get rid of Coach Tom Thibodeau in favor of Fred Hoiberg, who will install a run and gun offense featuring a lot of three point shooting.

If Chris Bosh and Dwyane Wade stay healthy, the Heat might pose the biggest threat to Cleveland. Miami's projected starting lineup of Bosh, Wade, Hassan Whiteside, Luol Deng and Goran Dragic looks formidable on paper.

Listed below are the eight teams that I expect to qualify for the Eastern Conference playoffs:

1) Cleveland Cavaliers: The Cleveland Cavaliers had an up and down season before ultimately arriving in the NBA Finals. They started out just 5-7 before winning 12 of their next 15 games. Not long after that, James took an eight game hiatus during which the team went 1-7. Was that a brilliant strategy to rest and recharge, did James just need to heal some minor injuries or was that James' way of getting some of his teammates in line by withdrawing and in effect asking them, "How far do you think you can take this team without me?" We will probably never know the real answer but we do know that after James exited his tent and rejoined the battle the Cavs went 32-10 the rest of the way, aided by some shrewd midseason roster adjustments that added Timofey Mozgov, J.R. Smith and Iman Shumpert to the rotation. 

First year Coach Dave Blatt looked clueless and overwhelmed at times and he never seemed to fully win James' support but the East crashed and burned around the Cavs while James and his new teammates found their way. Blatt was exposed in the NBA Finals as Golden State's Steve Kerr completely outcoached him by going small when it became clear that the Warriors had no way to match up with Cleveland's big lineup. Blatt should have stuck with his best players but instead he went small as well and the Cavs lost three of the last four games of the series.

The Cavaliers' projected "Big Three" of LeBron James, Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love did not look entirely comfortable playing together but when Irving and Love suffered injuries during the playoffs the Cavs discovered that a big frontline of Mozgov, Tristan Thompson and James created a lot of matchup problems. It will be very interesting to see how Blatt deploys his roster this year if all of his players are healthy. It will also be interesting to see if Tristan Thompson--who is represented by LeBron James (I mean, Rich Paul)--reports to camp and what kind of deal James (I mean, Rich Paul) negotiates for Thompson. James (I mean, Rich Paul) is seeking maximum dollars for a player who had a good postseason run but is projected to come off of the bench.

The bottom line is that there will likely once again be drama, injuries and strange coaching strategies in Cleveland but would you bet your life that any Eastern Conference team can beat the Cavs four times in a seven game series if James is physically healthy and mentally engaged?

2) Atlanta Hawks: The Hawks were a surprise team last season and I sense that some people still view them as a fluke. I certainly underestimated the Hawks but now that I see that they have a good coaching staff in place, a sound system and a deep roster--albeit one devoid of a superstar--I fully expect them to remain in the upper echelon in the Eastern Conference. Losing Demarre Carroll hurts but let's not go crazy about a guy who averaged 12.6 ppg. His contributions can be replaced collectively, which is the way the Hawks do things; no one on the team averaged more than 16.7 ppg but six Hawks averaged at least 10.0 ppg and four Hawks made the All-Star team.

3) Toronto Raptors: General Manage Masai Ujiri is a very good talent evaluator. The Denver Nuggets have not been the same since he left and the Raptors have been a team on the rise since he arrived. The Raptors needed to bolster their defense and so in the offseason Ujiri added Demarre Carroll and Bismack Biyombo to a team that won 49 games despite being hampered down the stretch by a back injury that slowed down All-Star guard Kyle Lowry. Yes, I just wrote that the Hawks can replace Carroll but that does not mean that he will not help Toronto.

4) Miami Heat: The Miami Heat have a stacked starting lineup. As I noted above, if things break right they could very well be the biggest threat to knock off the Cavaliers. So why do I rank the Heat just fourth? Except for Dragic, each of Miami's projected starters missed at least 10 games last season. The team's three most valuable players--Wade, Bosh and Deng--each missed at least 20 games. I think that we are going to spend a lot of the season hearing about how good this team could be but I am not quite convinced that everything will hold together through 82 games plus the postseason. 

5) Chicago Bulls: The Bulls could be anywhere from the second best team in the East to a team struggling to make the playoffs but fifth sounds about right. Pau Gasol enjoyed being freed from the shackles of Mike D'Antoni's offense but he does not figure to be featured in Fred Hoiberg's run and gun attack. It is not clear if Derrick Rose will ever regain his MVP form. At this writing, Rose is recovering from an orbital fracture and facing the prospect of sexual assault charges. Chicago's offense may be better under Hoiberg but it is doubtful that the defense will be as good as it was under Thibodeau and the net result figures to be a slow but steady slide from contending status.

6) Washington Wizards: I like Washington's young nucleus, particularly the dynamic John Wall-Bradley Beal backcourt. However, the Wizards did not do enough in the offseason to move up in the standings. It seems like they are treading water hoping that their core players will continue to improve and/or that Kevin Durant will join the squad when he becomes a free agent.

7) Milwaukee Bucks: Remember when many members of the mainstream media questioned Jason Kidd's coaching ability? Kidd silenced a lot of his critics while guiding the surprising Bucks to the sixth seed last season. The addition of Greg Monroe will help but is somewhat offset by the loss of Zaza Pachulia and Ersan Ilyasova. The Bucks just do not seem to have enough talent to take the next step.

8) Boston Celtics: The battle for the last playoff spot will probably be won by a team with just 40-42 victories. The Indiana Pacers, with a healthy Paul George, could make the playoffs, as could the Orlando Magic with Scott Skiles at the helm or the Detroit Pistons in year two under Stan Van Gundy. However, I like Boston's program, mainly because the Celtics are not buying into the nonsense that it is better to be really bad, miss the playoffs and get a Lottery pick than to build a team piece by piece while gaining postseason experience along the way. The Celtics are the anti-76ers. Not that there is anything wrong with Indiana, Orlando or Detroit--those teams are also on the right track--but I think that Boston's playoff experience last year will be an asset for the team's core players this year.


I correctly picked five of the eight 2014-15 Eastern Conference playoff teams. Here are my statistics for previous seasons:

2014: 6/8
2013: 7/8
2012: 8/8
2011: 5/8
2010: 6/8
2009: 6/8
2008: 5/8
2007: 7/8
2006: 6/8

2006-2015 Total: 61/80 (.763)

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posted by David Friedman @ 2:09 AM


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At Thursday, October 08, 2015 2:56:00 PM, Blogger Nick F said...

Good preview as always.

I agree that Cleveland will win the East in the regular season, and probably in the playoffs.

I think you're underestimating how much losing Carroll will hurt the Hawks, as he was their best perimeter defender. Sefalosha can somewhat fill that role, but as we saw in OKC it's difficult to involve him in the offense and his slow release and iffy shooting can lead to teams playing 4-on-5 when he plays.

Toronto at #3 seems about right.

I of course disagree that Deng is more valuable than Dragic- and at this point in their careers, I'm not completely convinced Wade is- but you're right that they'll likely be hampered by injuries all year. They've also got a problem in that their best two perimeter players (Wade and Dragic) both need the ball to be their best; Wade was willing to defer for James, but it remains to be seen if he's willing to do the same for a lesser star like Dragic. Deploying Dragic as the rich man's Mario Chalmers- standing in the corner waiting for Wade to pass him the ball- turns him from one of the most dangerous offense guards in the league into, well, Mario Chalmers. On the other hand, there may not be a more unguardable play in the current NBA than a Dragic/Bosh PnR; Dragic led the league in points per PnR two seasons ago with Channing Frye, and Chris Bosh a much better (and more versatile) player than Frye who can be a threat both rolling and popping.

Their bench is interesting, but probably can't guard anybody, and Hassan Whiteside remains a psychological landmine waiting to go off. They're the only Eastern team that can beat a healthy Cavs team four times, but they need so much to break right- health, roles, Whiteside- to be able to do it that they probably won't get the chance. Still, they'll probably finish second or third in the East and if they're relatively healthy and have a defined identity by playoff time, they have the weapons to beat Lebron.

Pretty much agree with everything else until the Celtics. I'm pretty sure Detroit's getting that last spot, with Monroe out of Drummond's way and a deep (if overpriced) back court.

At Thursday, October 08, 2015 6:16:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I'm shocked that David Blatt is still with the Cavs. I can't imagine a scenario where LeBron and his camp approve of this. Just as he is the de facto agent for Tristan Thompson, LeBron also appeared to be the effective GM for the Cavs.

At Saturday, October 10, 2015 6:26:00 PM, Blogger David Friedman said...


Thank you.

I doubt that Dragic will be running the offense--at least in the half court--when Wade is on the court but since Wade is often hurt we will probably get at least a limited chance to see if Dragic can have the impact that you think he can have.

As I mentioned, there are several teams that could get the eighth seed and Detroit is certainly one of them. I don't have a strong feeling about that spot but I had to pick someone and after careful consideration I went with Boston.

At Saturday, October 10, 2015 6:30:00 PM, Blogger David Friedman said...


If Blatt had succeeded in calling that wayward timeout and cost the Cavs the series then I think he very well might have been fired but it is hard to can a rookie coach whose team makes it to the Finals and is competitive despite losing their second and third best players to injuries. Granted, Cleveland's competitiveness had a lot more to do with James than with Blatt but after the backlash from the Decision I don't think that James wants to campaign for Blatt's ouster right now. You can be sure that if the Cavs struggle James will make sure that everyone blames Blatt and/or Kevin Love.

Speaking of being the de facto GM, the Cavs brought in the guys that James wanted on the bench, so it was funny to hear James complain during the Finals about his weak supporting cast. Likewise, during his first tour of duty in Cleveland the Cavs brought in the players that James wanted, though the organization was a bit hindered by the fact that James would never commit to staying in Cleveland.

At Sunday, October 11, 2015 3:11:00 AM, Blogger Nick F said...

I agree that they'll probably have Wade run the half court offense, I just disagree that they *should*. Dragic is a better creator than 2015 Wade, and Wade is a better cutter than Dragic. It's possible I'm missing something, but it strikes me as backwards to have both guys play against their strengths.

It will also be interesting to see what their transition attack looks like; they've paid lip service to wanting to play "fast" this year, but besides Dragic and Green, they don't really have the horses to do it unless Wade, Deng, and Amare hop in the way-back machine.

At Sunday, October 11, 2015 12:14:00 PM, Blogger David Friedman said...


Riley, Spoelstra and the rest of the Miami brain trust seem to know something about basketball, so if they elect to have Wade run the offense and Dragic occupy a lesser role--which is what happened last season after the Heat acquired Dragic--they probably have good reasons for doing so. I know that you questioned how PHX used Dragic but Miami's decision makers have excellent basketball pedigrees so it will be harder for you to argue that the Heat just do not know how to properly utilize Dragic's talents.

Everyone is talking about playing small, running and shooting three pointers but it will be interesting to see which teams stick with that plan and which teams have the personnel to do so effectively. GS did those things while also playing excellent defense, a critically important but often overlooked aspect of their success.

At Sunday, October 11, 2015 1:16:00 PM, Blogger Nick F said...

Miami's decision makers DO have excellent pedigrees, but they tried playing Dragic off-ball last year to middling success. It's fairly obvious what the guy's strengths are- give him ball and run him off picks and he'll either score, feed the big for a high percentage shot, or create an open perimeter shot via penetration. It's telling that his '14 Suns team performed better in the West doing that than his '15 Heat team did in the East doing the opposite, especially considering the Dwayne Wade, Luol Deng, and Hassan Whiteside are much better basketball players than Gerald Green, PJ Tucker, and Miles Plumlee.

If Miami thinks giving Wade the ball is the way they want to run their team, that's not necessarily a bad idea- they've won a title doing just that, although they've won two more with him playing off a superior ballhandler- it just makes signing Dragic for that much money something of a head-scratcher. Without the ball in his hands, Dragic is a mildly above average perimeter shooter and an above average but unspectacular defender; nice to have, but hardly worth 90 million.

As an aside, I also worry that they need more shooters on the perimeter; neither Wade nor Dragic nor Deng is a truly deadly spot-up three point shooter (though Dragic is a great 3pt shooter in transition and off step-backs), and I suspect defenses will take an extra step or three into the paint against them, which is bad news for Miami no matter who's handling the ball.

Basically, I'm confused. Perhaps Miami's brain trust sees something I don't - or perhaps they're simply waiting for Wade inevitable injury to see what they've got- but the move doesn't make sense given the way they're currently using their pieces. It's not just misusing Dragic, either, it's all but begging for a Wade injury, and removing his deadly cutting game from the equation.

At Sunday, October 11, 2015 11:49:00 PM, Blogger David Friedman said...


Unless Miami's decision makers suddenly lost their collective minds last season or unless they harbor some inexplicable bias against Dragic, there are probably good reasons that they did not elect to utilize Dragic in the manner that you deem ideal. I would suggest to you, again, as I suggested in our earlier conversations regarding Dragic, that perhaps Dragic is not quite as good as you think, despite your subjective observations and despite what you believe some of the "advanced basketball statistics" indicate.

I think that Dragic is a very good player but that he is not as good as you think that he is. I think that Miami paid him $90 million because Arison can afford to do so, because the salary cap is going to go up soon (meaning that $90 million will not seem like quite so much in the near future) and because Dragic may be the best player that the Heat could acquire without giving up assets that they do not want to give up. The Heat clearly decided that they needed to upgrade the point guard position and they did so without giving up any key players from their nucleus. That does not mean that the Heat believe Dragic to be as good as you think that he is or that the Heat intend to build their entire offense around Dragic. Wade will handle the ball, Bosh will be a major factor, Deng will be the third option and Dragic will be a guy who can push the ball up the court in fastbreak situations and who can be a spot up shooter/secondary playmaker in the half court. Dragic will probably average about 16 ppg and 5 apg; his per minute numbers with Miami were about the same as his numbers with PHX last season and I think that the coming years will prove that 2013-14 was a career year aberration for Dragic, not the emergence of a superstar.

I doubt that the Heat are waiting for a Wade injury "to see what they've got." Riley knows exactly what he's got and if he thought that Dragic was a franchise player then you can be sure that the Heat would be using him that way. The media made a big deal asserting that LeBron James would become Wade's sidekick in Miami but that was an absurd backlash against the Decision; James is a much better player than Wade and James immediately became Miami's best player/scoring leader/assist leader and Wade became his sidekick, though James needed some prodding to do what needs to be done against elite teams in the playoffs (a curious weakness that James has displayed throughout his career). Dragic is a 16 and 5 guy, not a franchise player who is going to take the keys to the car from Wade.

At Monday, October 12, 2015 12:18:00 PM, Blogger Nick F said...


You're right that Dragic's per-minute numbers stayed about the same. But his per possession numbers actually went up quite a bit (an extra point and two assists per 100 possessions); he played better in Miami- having real live basketball players on the court with you will do that- but Miami plays a slower pace.

That said, I don't necessarily have an answer for why Miami is doing what they're doing. My best guess is that Wade prefers to be the primary ball handler after years of side kicking for Lebron (and if you remember, in their first year together Wade handled the ball a bit more, to the consternation of many), and that since he's the emotional leader of the team, nobody's arguing. It's not a terrible choice, just probably a sub-optimal one, and again, one that seems to be begging for a Wade injury.

Alternatively, Dragic will get more touches and I'm a sucker for drawing any conclusions from pre-season games.

Still, I struggle to conjure a more dangerous play in the current NBA than a Dragic/Bosh PnR.

At Monday, October 12, 2015 2:47:00 PM, Blogger David Friedman said...


In the first year, when Wade handled the ball more at times, the Heat started out very slowly, eventually made it to the Finals and then lost to an inferior team. Teams are at their best when players fill their optimal roles. I will be very surprised if Dragic ever fills the number one role that you think that he can fill on a championship caliber team.

I think that just about any play involving LeBron James, Kevin Durant or Russell Westbrook is more dangerous than a Dragic/Bosh PnR.

At Monday, October 12, 2015 3:14:00 PM, Blogger Nick F said...

"I think that just about any play involving LeBron James, Kevin Durant or Russell Westbrook is more dangerous than a Dragic/Bosh PnR."

We can get pretty close to testing that theory, actually. We have to make exactly one assumption- that Dragic/Bosh PnR will be as good or better than a Dragic/Frye one (and, hey, it might not)- but otherwise the numbers are right there for us to look at. The below includes any possession ending in a turnover, score, free throw attempt, or assist. It does not factor in "hockey assists", but based on the play styles of the team in question, that additional statistic would be more likely to help Dragic than hurt him.

Dragic/Frye '14 PnR Points Per Possession: 1.30
Lebron James '15 Points Per Possession: 1.12
Kevin Durant '15 Points Per Possession: 1.21
Russell Westbrook '15 Points Per Possession: 1.10
MIA Dragic '15 Points Per Possession: 1.15
2014 Dragic Points Per Possession: 1.19
Dwyane Wade '15 Pointer Per Possession: 1.02

So... we'll see, I guess? But assuming Bosh can perform at least as well in Frye's role as Frye did (again, not necessarily a given; I'm assuming Bosh's superior athleticism and roll game will make up for his slower release), it's statistically likely to be be the most dangerous play in the NBA, or at least more dangerous than "any" play involving your selected players. It's possible that one of them has a pet-play with a better return, but whatever it is they don't go to it often enough to out-balance the Dragic/Frye PnR's success rate.

This isn't to suggest that Dragic is "better" than James or Durant- he isn't, nor is he close. They attract much more defensive attention off-ball (where Dragic is basically a much more expensive PJ Tucker), they get a lot more rebounds, and in James' case at least they're a much much better defender. Moreover, teams gear entire defenses around trying to stop them, which has a chain-reaction effect that leads to easier coverages for their sidekicks (Westbrook/Irving). Durant's also the only player above who last season out-stripped Dragic's per-posession production (James did in Miami a few times as well). But it does suggest that it's difficult to find a better thing to do with an NBA possession than put the ball in Goran Dragic's hands.

"In the first year, when Wade handled the ball more at times, the Heat started out very slowly, eventually made it to the Finals and then lost to an inferior team. Teams are at their best when players fill their optimal roles. "

That's exactly my point. Wade's optimal role is cutting off the ball/secondary ballhandler, and Dragic's optimal role is creating out of the pick and roll.

At Monday, October 12, 2015 3:38:00 PM, Blogger David Friedman said...


The information that you alluded to in passing is actually vitally important: "Moreover, teams gear entire defenses around trying to stop them, which has a chain-reaction effect that leads to easier coverages for their sidekicks."

Merely citing Dragic's stats with Frye PnR plays outside of any other context does not come close to proving what you seem to be trying to prove, namely that Dragic is an elite creator. The elite creators--James, Durant, Westbrook, Bryant when healthy--attract defensive attention that opens up opportunities for their teammates that are not captured just by looking at one stat. Tyson Chandler and DeAndre Jordan both post high FG% but no one would suggest that they are the most efficient offensive players in the NBA; well, actually, "stat gurus" say stuff like that...

You missed my point regarding James and Wade. Wade is not a better player than James and thus the ball belonged in James' hands. However, Wade is a better player than Dragic and thus the ball belongs in Wade's hands.

It will be interesting to see how the Heat perform this year. If Dragic averages 20+ ppg and 7 or 8 apg for a Heat team that wins 50+ games I would be open to considering the possibility that he is as good as you suggest. Is there any scenario that could happen that would cause you to reconsider your position? So far, no team has granted Dragic the role that you think he deserves and his career numbers are not exceptional. He has had one All-Star caliber season. Nothing suggests that he is elite, other than stats cited out of context and your subjective observations.

At Monday, October 12, 2015 4:19:00 PM, Blogger Nick F said...

I mean, there's a world of difference between a stat like FG% and points per possession, especially when the specific question was "is there a more dangerous play than that one." That said, I agree that:

"attract defensive attention that opens up opportunities for their teammates that are not captured just by looking at one stat"

and said as much. But with the ball in their hands, they do not create more scoring per possession than a Dragic/Frye PnR, and most of them don't even create more points than an average Dragic possession. That's a literal fact, not speculation. Again, I don't mean to suggest that Dragic is better than any of those guys except maybe- and I'm not sure yet- Old Man Wade, only that in terms of scoring the basketball, running the ball through a play that yields an excellent return on investment and has demonstrably better offensive outcomes than the alternative- is a good idea, and asking Wade- an objectively less effective PnR option at this stage in his career, and a better off-ball threat than Dragic anyway- is probably a good idea. LeBron and Durant are the two best players in the world. Dragon's somewhere between 10th and 25th, most likely- but he's a top 10 offensive player when he has the damn ball, and he's the single most effective pick and roll ball handler in basketball today.

Your point about FG% is well taken, but not exactly fair. FG% can be influence by being open, by a superior player initiating the play, etc. PnR stats, though, depend on the player in question to create, and include every outcome, not just field goal percentage; they also factor in turnovers, assists, and free throws. So do Points Per Possession. Like, you can argue with me about context here, but I fail how to see Dragic's in a better position surrounded by mediocre Suns players than Lebron or Durant surrounded by All-Stars.

Every metric we have suggests that Dragic is one of the single most effective per-possession offensive players in the league. That doesn't make him anywhere near as valuable as Durant or Lebron- but it does defend my point that assuming a Frye-ish level of competency, a Dragic/Bosh PnR would be the most dangerous play in basketball.

"Nothing suggests that he is elite, other than stats cited out of context and your subjective observations."

Show me the stat that says he isn't, then. He's had literally the best PnR numbers in the league in '14 (overall as well as with Frye), and he was surrounded by scrubs. His per possession numbers stayed great last season, he just got fewer possessions.

As to your other point, what would it take me to change my mind? I'd have to see him actually be allowed to run the offense and then fail. Neither sides of that equation are likely, but if either happens, I'll happily eat my words. But the guy's been putting up league-best caliber per-possession numbers for two years now; at some point it's not an aberration anymore. The difference between his numbers last year and the year before are a function of possessions, not quality of play. Hornacek was married to his idiotic "point guard by committee" plan (and his team still got a lost worse losing Dragic), and then Miami couldn't guard anybody with half their roster injured, and kept running the same Wade-centric offense they'd been running all season (though their offense did spike after the trade; off-ball or no, Dragic's still an upgrade).


At Monday, October 12, 2015 4:24:00 PM, Blogger Nick F said...

Don't believe me? Here's the craziest stat to show what I'm talking about (and I just now learned it).

Dragic PnRs 2014: 1,172 as of February (couldn't find an accounting of full season; NBA stats just started publicly sharing these numbers last year, so I'm sourcing this: http://hangtime.blogs.nba.com/2014/02/28/pick-and-roll-data-likes-the-suns/ for 2014 numbers). Let's say for the sake of argument he ended up around 1400 or so.
Dragic PnRs 2015: 370. For the entire season, as per NBA stats.

To be fair, his numbers in those were worse- but then he was running them mostly with Alex Len, Markieff Morris, and Hassan Whiteside, who aren't exactly Channing Frye or Chris Bosh. His MIA per-PnR numbers (.83 PPP) are still better than Lebron's (.82), Westbrook's (.79), or Wade's (.73), though (Durant kills them all, though, at .93). It's telling that his MIA numbers still beat Wade's despite Wade getting to play half the season with Chris Bosh. It's almost like Miami does better when Wade's off ball and Dragic's running the point, or something.

His '14 number (1.16) would have easily led the league (Lou William 1.03 was the best this season).*

The guy's number went down because he had the ball about a third as often. Safe to say anybody's going to see their numbers dip a little in that scenario.

*I suspect that there's some distinction in how PnR possessions are being defined between these two sources, most likely that non-assist scores by players outside of the PnR off of the initial action are being counted in the '14 numbers but not the '15 numbers. Otherwise the 10th best PnR play from '14 is better than the best from '15. Still, this season's numbers tell us that Dragic was better than Wade out of the PnR this year, never mind his nuclear performance with Frye in 2014.

At Monday, October 12, 2015 4:51:00 PM, Blogger Nick F said...

Last little bonus point:

The Heat were 30th in the league offensively coming into the Dragic trade. They ended up 21st. Something must have happened in those last 28 games or so to make that happen. I'd say it was probably that they scored at a top 5 rate while Dragic was on the court (and a top 1 rate while he was handling the ball), but that's just me. You can argue that Wade just "played better" those last 28 games- better enough to make up for the absence of Chris Bosh and sometimes Hassan Whiteside- but it's more likely that it was the injection of an elite offensive player. Particularly since Wade's numbers in those games weren't terrible different from his numbers the rest of the year.

Ultimately, Miami's going to be better offensively with Dragic on the court, even off ball. But they'll be elite with him running the offense through the the PnR. I don't know why they wouldn't wanna be elite, and save Dwyane Wade's glass bones some abuse in the doing.

At Monday, October 12, 2015 8:38:00 PM, Blogger David Friedman said...


I understand that FG% and the PnR stat are different. My point is that any one stat, taken in isolation and out of context, can be deceptive or, at the very least only provides incomplete information. Chandler's FG% does not prove that he is the most efficient offensive player in the league. Dragic's PnR points per possession with Frye does not prove that Dragic is the best PnR guard in the league or that he is an elite player.

I don't want to revisit the whole Dragic discussion that we had in another thread. There are no new data points to consider since the last time we discussed this and I am sure that neither of us has changed his mind on the subject. I believe that Dragic is a good, solid pg who can start for a contender and you believe that Dragic is an elite player. As far as I can tell, few if any basketball authorities share your view. The coaches have never voted Dragic to the All-Star team. Last year's poll of NBA decision makers that I cited in our previous conversation did not rank Dragic as a top 10 pg, much less a top 10 player in the league.

I think that we can agree that Dragic is in an ideal situation now, with a stable organization run by a championship-winning executive who was a championship-winning coach. Spoelstra is a two-time championship-winning coach. Wade and Bosh are perennial All-Stars. Deng is a former All-Star. There are other talented players on the team. If Dragic is as good as you think he is, then this will become evident even to casual fans and your case will state itself. I expect Dragic to be the fourth best player on the team and to make a solid 16/5 contribution.

We'll see what happens and reexamine the subject once we have some more data.

At Monday, October 12, 2015 10:34:00 PM, Blogger Nick F said...

I don't especially want to re-visit the Dragic argument either; this all spiraled out of my confusion with Wade being their primary ball handler in the pre-season, when every available data point suggests that Dragic is a better primary ball handler option at this point in their respective careers, and that Wade thrives off the ball in a way that Dragic does not. I cited those PnR numbers to make that case. Dragon's MIA #s vs. Wade's MIA #s are as close to an Apples to Apples comparison as you can hope for- though of course Wade had the benefit of playing with Bosh and Dragic did not.

You also argued that any play for Durant/Westbrook/James is more valuable than a Dragic/Frye PnR; the number don't bear that out.

It's true that I have an uncommonly high estimation of Dragic; that estimation dovetails with my basketball philosophy that people who make good decisions with the ball, score efficiently, force defenses to make hard choices, and pull their weight on defense are underrated regardless of their individual scoring or assist numbers, and that one-way dynamos like James Harden who put up gaudy scoring and assist numbers but contribute little else are overrated. Dragic's teams consistently enough perform much better on offense with him than without him that I think we can draw a line between correlation and causation; you do not. I similarly think that it's telling when a player like Dragic can turn an otherwise non-entity like Channing Frye into the most efficient PnP option in basketball (and can drag a nothing Suns team full of role players who accomplished nothing before or after playing with him to 48 wins in the strongest Western Conference in NBA history); you think that can be explained away by context and/or is unimportant, which is also fine... but it doesn't necessarily mean I'm wrong. If basketball were that much of an exact science, it wouldn't be any fun to watch.

TL;DR, after looking at the numbers I'm even more perplexed by Miami's apparent strategy. Hopefully Dragic gets his chance at the helm this year- ideally with a relatively healthy roster around him- and we can see which, if either, of us is right.

At Tuesday, October 13, 2015 1:44:00 AM, Blogger David Friedman said...


The Heat have been a very successful franchise and they purportedly utilize "advanced basketball statistics" to some extent, so I doubt that they are unaware of the numbers you presented. It is pretty evident that the Heat and other NBA teams do not share your vision of Dragic. Maybe you are right but if Dragic does not emerge as a star in Miami under these highly favorable circumstances you might want to reconsider your theories about him.

One number may not "bear out" my assertion about James/Durant/Westbrook versus Dragic but the overall impact of those players is obviously significantly greater than Dragic's impact. The success of the Dragic PnR play with Frye based on one metric does not convince me that I would rather run that play than run just about any play with LeBron James involved. I am confident that 100% of coaches and GMs would agree with me (well, maybe Morey and Hollinger might try to get "creative" but 100% of coaches and GMs who have won or ever will win championships would agree with me).

I actually agree with your basketball philosophy as you articulated it in paragraph three and I agree with your specific comment about Harden--but I disagree that Dragic is anywhere close to being as good as you think that he is. Dragic may play the right way according to the philosophy that you expressed but he does not have a superstar level impact on the game. The ceiling for him is third best player on a championship team (or best player on a team that struggles to make the playoffs, depending on whether you define "ceiling" by his individual prominence or by his contribution to a winning program).

I think that if Dragic does not "get his chance" this season that tells us something, particularly if Miami is one of the top teams in the East with Dragic as a 16/5 third or fourth option. Riley and Spoelstra are not stupid. If they thought that their best chance to win a title was to give the keys to Dragic then they would do that. Wade may be a Miami icon but when he would not commit to staying in Miami a few years ago and then complained about his supporting cast Riley basically told him to shut his mouth and play if he was not going to commit to the team and help recruit players. If Riley felt that Wade needed to take a lesser role now in favor of Dragic I am confident that Riley would deliver that message (privately) to Spoelstra and Wade.

At Tuesday, October 13, 2015 10:25:00 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Nick, how about Dragic make at least 1 AS team, please? And now that he's in the putrid East, this should be a given, if he's anywhere near as good as you say he is.

Regardless of what you and David think of Harden, coaches/GMs/nba insiders/JVG/Doug Collins and on and on all pretty much think otherwise. Harden is now a perennial AS, back-to-back 1st team all-nba, led his teams to consecutive top 5 finishes in the league, and a western conf. final. Much like David often says Kobe was the reason LAL even won a game in the 04 finals, which he's correct saying; the same thing can be said for Harden and HOU in the 2015 WCF. Harden had a good cast, not great, but compared to GS; they were certainly overmatched. Harden may have stunk at times, but he was awesome at times too, and overall played very well, but not as well as Curry in the playoffs. What's most perplexing is how highly you view Nash, maybe the most one-way player in nba history; but how little you think of Harden. And I often hear you use steals/blocks as a good way to evaluate defense. In today's nba, Harden is elite in these stats for his position. He's also at least an average defender now. He wasn't a one-way player last year, but still needs to improve on defense obviously. And if he's so one-dimensional offensively, how can he score so much, and so efficiently? And he's an elite rebounder for his position as well. Actually, the only area on the court where he isn't great offensively is midrange, and that's mainly because of team philosophy, not because he doesn't have these skills. We saw at times in last year's playoffs when he took over from the midrange.

At Tuesday, October 13, 2015 11:34:00 AM, Blogger Nick F said...

The only real reason I rate Nash above Harden is that Nash consistently correlated to a #1 offense, regardless of who his teammates were, and moreover basically everyone who played with him during his prime had career years (with the notable exception of future MVP Nowitzki). He was a guaranteed #1 offense, more or less, and had Phoenix been smart enough to surround him with quality defenders- particularly in the front court- that team probably could have won something.

In fact, if you put '07 Nash on those Rockets teams- and swap Beverly for an equivalent skill set 2 guard to make up for the position switch- I posit they'd be at least as good as they are with Harden. Nash was definitely a bad defender- and Harden still is, no matter how much you like his steals numbers, which paint only a small part of the picture- but he brought out the best in his teammates in a way that Harden simply doesn't. Neither guy helps you on D, but Nash help you more on offense.


I basically agree about Miami's pedigree, which is why I'm confused. Reading up on it, apparently they're having everyone advance the ball in the pre-season to "build chemistry," but according to Ira Winderman:

"Spoelstra reiterated that Dragic is his primary ballhandler, "We want the ball in Goran's hands," he said. "We want him to be aggressive. We want him to have more opportunities in the open court."

But Spoelstra added, "Just by the nature of our roster, there will be times that he has to play off the ball. But we want him to create that pace for us.""

So maybe I'm overreacting to the preseason. You're right that time will tell.

You're wrong that I'm taking a stat out of context, though. Points Per Possession are a pretty cut-and-dried stat, that factors in every outcome of a player's possessions, and tells you how many points they scored. You could argue that teammates influence that- and you'd be right- but everyone we were comparing Dragic to above had markedly better teammates that he did, and still couldn't touch his PnR production with Frye (or in general in '14). Again, that doesn't make him better than those guys- he isn't- but it does make me right about how deadly that play is. And in the case of Dragic v Wade as primary ball handler, the numbers are right there and it's apples to apples, seeing that they played with the exact same people (though of course Wade's number benefitted from half a season of Bosh while Dragic's did not).

You said that Morey and Hollinger might "get creative" but championship teams- implicitly including Miami- are too smart to rely on a play like that over just feeding a superstar... but Morey and Hollinger saw their teams make deep Western playoff runs while Miami- despite a pretty loaded (albeit injury prone) cast couldn't crack the playoffs in the East. I don't wanna get into an argument about that- this conversation is and should be winding down- but it's hard to give Miami too much credit when last year they couldn't turn a stacked- if injury prone- roster into an Eastern playoff berth. Even before Bosh left, they were right around 500 in a weak conference with two of the best twenty players in the league, as well as former All Star Luol Deng. That isn't a great commercial for their strategic wisdom.

That said, I'd obviously rather have Lebron than Dragic; he can do a lot more things well, and has probably nine or ten plays that are 80% as dangerous as a Dragic/Frye PnR (which you can only run so many times a game); doesn't change the fact that factually there wasn't a stronger single play than that one in '14.

Also, it's hardly an all-or-nothing proposition. Let Dragic run 10 or 15 PnRs per game and there are still plenty of opportunities for everybody else, especially since Dragic passes on 80%ish of his PnRs.

At Tuesday, October 13, 2015 12:48:00 PM, Blogger Nick F said...


The All-Star comment, at least, is an interesting one. I don't think Dragic is as good as John Wall (though in '14 I would have preferred Dragic, Wall has improved and Dragic hasn't). I'm still not sure he's as good as the declining Dwyane Wade, though the more I look into it the more I think he might be. He's better than Kyrie Irving, but if Cleveland is winning enough Kyrie will get in regardless of his shoddy defense. I'd personally take Dragic over DeRozan, but DeRozan puts up gaudy scoring numbers which is the most important thing to AS voters. If I were to predict the 5 Eastern guards for the AS team (assuming 5):

Wall, Irving, Butler, and DeRozan are all probably shoe-ins unless their teams under-perfrom.
The last spot or two will be some combination of Dragic, Wade, Lowry, Beal, Teague, or maybe Thomas or Ellis if the Pacers/Celts overachieve. Gun to my head I say it's probably Beal (Wiz will be good and Wade/Dragic are likely to split the vote for the Heat's 2nd All-Star spot after Bosh) and/or Lowry, as they both play on teams that figure to be good despite no gaudy front court names. If either the Raps or the Wiz perform more poorly than I expect, then (assuming 6 guard spots instead of 5) either Wade or Dragic- likely whichever one's getting more possessions- will get in.

But in terms of actual quality of basketball player? I'd take Dragic over everyone on that list except Wall, Butler, and maybe Wade (certainly over Wade if we're factoring in health, but for a single game I'm not sure which is better right now). Though if I'm taking them long-term I might take the younger Beal, as well. If I got to pick- and assuming no huge jumps or declines from the guys in question- I'd take Wall and Butler as the AS Starters, with Wade, Dragic, and either Beal or Lowry as the other three guards.

At Tuesday, October 13, 2015 2:37:00 PM, Blogger David Friedman said...


I agree with you about Dragic.

I think that Harden is a top 25-30 player and I have said that all along but he is not an elite player and he is not a good enough player to lead a team to a championship. Harden is a guy who could have been Manu Ginobili (third option on a championship team) but decided to go for the money and the glory. That is his right and his prerogative but when he is 33 and still has not won a title I don't want to hear any sob stories about how sad it is that he will retire without a ring (or that he will need to go somewhere and ride the bench as an over the hill player while great players win a ring for him).

Regarding Houston's WCF run last year, statistically speaking it was very fluky. The Rockets' point differential suggested that they were not as good as their record. They fell down 3-1 to the Clippers but rallied from a 19 point deficit in game six with Harden on the bench. I will be very surprised if we see this Houston team in the WCF again.

I think that there are at least a couple dozen guys in the NBA who could put up numbers like Harden's if they had the opportunity to play in the same system with the same role. Marbury put up big scoring and assist numbers but he was not a great player. There are other examples as well.

Harden's playoff numbers are consistently worse than his regular season numbers because his style is not nearly as effective in a playoff series against a good team as it is during the regular season. As I noted in several articles about the Rockets' 2015 playoff run, the Rockets often did better with Harden on the bench than they did with him on the court and Harden was a non-factor in the Rockets' two big fourth quarter runs in key games (game two versus Dallas, game six versus Clippers). Harden's propensity to alternate some good performances with some atrocious ones is a main reason that he should not be mentioned in the same breath as James or Durant (among others).

At Tuesday, October 13, 2015 2:40:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Your team advanced, and individual stats for that matter, kind of give you tunnel vision. Some of Nash's teams may have been rated very high, but that doesn't mean he's some type of offensive genius or even an all-time great, and the game is played on the court. The facts remain that he played with multiple AS; current, past, and future, at multiple stops during his nba career, and never even once made the NBA finals. And he wasn't always losing to just Duncan and Kobe; and his teams were much steadier and better than Kobe's during their respective careers.

I'd hope HOU could be nearly as good with Nash instead of Harden, given how highly you think of Nash and lowly you think of Harden. I only brought up steals because you like to. I don't think steals stats are that great of an indicator of anything in a volume, but I don't think they should be completely ignored either. And if you're close to 2spg, that's pretty good, and you can't get that without playing some defense. Harden was bad defensively in 2013/2014. He wasn't bad before then, and he wasn't bad last year. Nobody's saying he's good either, but he's certainly not bad now and certainly not a liability.

Not sure how you measure 'bringing out the best in your teammates.' Nash had awesome teammates, and they were stars before playing with him and after playing with him, and he still never made one nba finals. And DAL basically replaced Nash with Terry, and got better immediately. If anything, Nash brought out the worst in his teammates, though I wouldn't say that either. For Harden to keep his team an elite team in a stacked West for half a season without Howard or any other stars, I think you're forgetting a lot of stuff. That's pretty amazing. HOU had several other injuries to deal with as well.

At Tuesday, October 13, 2015 2:44:00 PM, Blogger David Friedman said...


Yes, it is a cut and dried stat, but how meaningful is it? Why weren't 30 teams clamoring to sign the Dragic-Frye combo and build their offense around it? Sometimes I feel like you form a subjective opinion (Dragic is great) and then look for a number to support it while ignoring all contrary evidence, such as no team has built its offense around Dragic, the coaches have never voted Dragic as an All-Star and a poll of NBA decision makers did not rank Dragic among the top 10 pgs (while you rank him as a top 10 player). One stat, two stats or even three stats do not tell us everything about a player's skills and impact. Dragic is a good player and he does some things very well but if he is as good as you suggest then there would be more concrete evidence of it and his teams would use him differently.

Memphis can't get past the second round right now and that does not figure to change. Morey has been in Houston nearly a decade with carte blanche to do whatever he wants and all he has to show for it is a NYT article about Battier being a "No Stats Superstar," some praise from Henry Abbott/Bill Simmons and one fluky WCF run that is not likely to be duplicated. I will take Riley's last 10 years over everything that Hollinger and Morey have accomplished and ever will accomplish and won't even bother to mention Riley's 25 prior years of accomplishment as a coach/GM.

At Tuesday, October 13, 2015 3:06:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I continue to find David's Harden-bashing agenda very perplexing, especially when he talks about so many other players being unfairly treated, including his 2 favorites(Dr.J/Pippen). Did Harden not grant you an interview or something? What did he do to you? You praise players you like, and kind of disrespect others you don't so much. Iverson went 1-8 in 2 playoffs in DEN playing with Melo. Pau went 0-12 in 3 playoffs in 7 seasons with MEM, while his best teammate was Mike Miller maybe. It's nice that you actually don't elevate Pau to some elite status like a lot of people do mainly to denigrate Kobe; but to be fair to Pau, he had no chance to succeed in the playoffs in MEM. Maybe Billups in DEN wasn't as good as most like to think, but he did better and was a better leader for sure than Iverson. Talk about Harden putting up pointless stats all you want, but look no further than Iverson in his entire career. Iverson was great and a HOFer, but his efficiency was off-the-charts terrible and he was a headcase for his coaches/teams.

Nobody is saying Harden is better than James/Durant, if those 2 are healthy and playing hard, which isn't a given for either. Whether HOU's WCF run was fluky, lucky, or whatever, that's moot. They made it there, and Harden led them there, that's the bottomline. If HOU lost in the 1st round to LAC while Duncan and SA did, you'd be writing nonstop and bashing Harden for being overrated. But, instead, not a peep about SA losing and Duncan and company just weren't that good. Instead, it's more Harden bashing. How come even the real nba experts you respect say Harden was an amazing player last year? Also, the media voted him 2nd in MVP. The players voted him 1st. Maybe there's some bias with the players, but there's a lot more bias with the media, you'll never get rid of bias completely. Usually, your fellow colleagues know who's the best. Has Doug Collins and JVG suddenly just become inept nba reporters about Harden, but competent with everything else?

It's interesting to hear the examples you give. Marbury was actually a very good player who was an AS. He was never considered even near elite, and did nothing in the playoffs, quite different than Harden, and Harden is still a young player. Ginobili was a good player, but he's been a bench player for most of his career, and a #3 guy. I don't see it. Scoring even 20ppg in the nba is ridiculously hard, let alone 25ppg +, and Harden does that and does it very efficiently, too. Sure, he has weaknesses, but this very rare to be able to do this. He's certainly good enough to lead his team to a title, however, so are several other players. But, that doesn't mean he will, and I don't think he will either. You'd never think Curry could do the same thing. However, GS was absolutely stacked, and there were injuries to key players to many of the teams that helped GS mightily last year.

At Tuesday, October 13, 2015 4:25:00 PM, Blogger Nick F said...

"Yes, it is a cut and dried stat, but how meaningful is it?"

When the question is, "what play scores more points?" it's very meaningful. You said you'd rather take any play involving Durant/James/Westbrook. In effect, you would rather score fewer points that possession. There is no wiggle room here; the numbers cited are literally what happened.

As for why teams didn't kill themselves to build a team around it? Well, first and foremost, you can't- or at least shouldn't- build an entire team around one play (players can only run it so many times before exhaustion, and defenses will eventually adapt to any one play if it's overused). Also, PHX is very very dumb (witness their trading away three players for nothing in order to get a player who never actually said he'd sign with them this off-season), and no one else had the opportunity. Additionally, Frye stinks on defense.

Doesn't mean that play wasn't the single most reliable high-usage play in the 2014 NBA, though, because it was. And it doesn't mean Dragic shouldn't be running a version of it with Bosh as one of Miami's primary options, because he should.

As for your belief in my thought process, you're entitled to it; I sometimes feel the same way about your assertions (particularly regarding Westbrook, and particularly particularly regarding his defense). I think Dragic is good because he dragged an awful team- Dragic was the only player- never mind starter- who'd been a starter the year before, and only Bledsoe, Frye, and Tucker stayed starters the year after- to 48 wins in the most competitive Western Conference ever while putting up one of the most efficient scoring seasons in recent memory and participating in one of the strongest defensive 5 man units in the league (although unfortunately for the Suns removing any single player from that lineup led to a defensive meltdown; likely more Hornacek's fault than any specific player's, given that). Everyone who's made those All-Star teams has had a lot more help; Durant hasn't played with an All-Star since backing up Steve Nash (excepting the 28 games with Wade after the All-Star break), and has only rarely played with above average starters. Moreover, his presence consistently correlates to great offense, and he has no major weaknesses (though larger guards can bully him a bit).

Like Nash before him, his teammates seem to shoot their highest percentages and score the most points- exempting Bledsoe for obvious reasons- when they play with him, and flounder without him. PHX won 48 games giving the ball to Dragic, but they won 39 when they took it out of his hands. Captained by Dragic, their offense in '14 ranked 8th in the league; captained by Bledsoe, it fell to 16th, despite an allegedly stronger roster with Thomas/Knight/Len added. Even in 2015 were 10-28 after trading him, and 29-15 before the trade. They went from a roughly 50 win projection (a mid tier Western playoff team) to lottery bait in a third of a season; not exactly a stellar supporting cast once you removed the catalyst. Meanwhile, Miami's offense bounced from dead last to scoring at a top ten rate once Dragic arrived (losing Bosh meant their defense suffered but that's not chiefly/only on Dragic).

Also, point of order, I said he was in the 10-20 range, not top 10, although he may have been top ten in 2014, and was voted among the top 15 that season suggesting I'm not as alone in that belief as you make me out to be.


At Tuesday, October 13, 2015 4:28:00 PM, Blogger Nick F said...

Your best point- and the one that I continue to be perplexed by/don't have an easy answer for- is why teams don't build around him more. In PHX it can be chalked up to stupidity/bad logic (Dragic can shoot 3s! Bledsoe can't! Better have Bledsoe handle the ball so Goran can space for him!) , but in Miami it's admittedly confusing. We'll see how serious Spoelstra is about making him the primary ball handler. Still, in the four years he's been starting, he's been the team's primary option in two of them (though he wasn't great in that first year), so it's a little disingenuous to suggest no team's built their offense around him.

Also, I'm a Suns fan. I watched my team suck whenever they didn't have the ball in his hands, and murder when they did. It's not rocket science.

Quick aside: You keep belaboring the point that he's "only" made one All NBA team; I'm not arguing he's been great his whole career. He steadily improved throughout, then erupted in 2014 once he got the ball in his hands and somebody to run PnRs with in Frye. He made one of the last two All-NBA teams; the same number as Klay Thompson or Russell Westbrook, and one more than John Wall.

Ultimately, it's a question of what you value; relative team performance, ORTG, and basically every per-possession number say Dragic's a star. Raw scoring numbers and All-Star selections don't. But it's a little insulting to suggest that my evidence follows my conclusions and not the other way around.

At Tuesday, October 13, 2015 4:31:00 PM, Blogger Nick F said...

Re: Harden

I pretty much agree with everything David's saying. He's an elite offensive player who's success doesn't really translate to an elite offense, and a bad defensive player who needs three elite defenders around him (Beverly, Ariza, Howard) to cover for him. He blows rotations, doesn't move quickly laterally, and makes dumb gambles for both steals and blocks that rarely pay off. I don't like the comparison David makes to Ginobili, because Ginobili is a much better defender (albeit a flopping coward of one), and a smarter passer, though Harden's a much better scorer.

At Tuesday, October 13, 2015 4:46:00 PM, Blogger David Friedman said...


It is tiresome to read accusations that I have an "agenda" regarding Harden. Can you actually refute anything that I have said or predicted about him? Don't tell me who disagrees with me, tell me what I said/predicted that is wrong. Go back and read what I have written about Harden and try to refute what I have actually said.

I don't have an "agenda" regarding Harden (or anyone else). I have an informed perspective about pro basketball and that is what I convey in my writing. Other informed parties may have a different perspective and that does not necessarily make those parties (or me) uninformed because we disagree. I have never said that Collins or JVG are incompetent, though I have come to realize that JVG is not particularly informed about NBA history prior to his tenure in the league (at least regarding his comparisons of Jerry West to modern players). If all informed commentators agreed about everything then there would be no need for any discussion or debate.

Iverson carried a weak supporting cast to the NBA Finals. He performed at a very high level as a first option player for more than a decade. I praised him for those things but I never touted him as being equal to Kobe or LeBron and I don't think that Iverson should have won the MVP (Shaq deserved it that year). I do think that Iverson received too much blame for things that happened in Denver and Detroit, as I discussed in some articles at that time. "Stat gurus" picked on Iverson to try to prove that their methods work and I pointed out the flaws in what they were asserting, both regarding Iverson and in general. I also said immediately that Dumars' plan to get rid of Billups and then Iverson to elevate Stuckey was a mistake and that Stuckey would never be the star that Dumars touted him to be--and I was clearly right about that.

When Harden left OKC, I predicted that he would put up big stats but have trouble getting out of the first round as long as he was his team's best player. He has been in Houston for three years putting up big numbers and he has exited the playoffs in the first round two of those three years despite supposedly being one of the top five players in the NBA. During his three Houston postseasons he has averaged more than 4 turnovers per game overall while shooting .391, .376 and .439 from the field. Those are not efficient numbers.

At Tuesday, October 13, 2015 4:57:00 PM, Blogger David Friedman said...


Regarding Duncan and the Spurs, they have had some strange playoff losses over the years and they have never won back to back titles--but they also have won five championships and Duncan is a force at both ends of the court. If Harden has that kind of career rest assured I will change my tune. If you go back and look, I questioned some of the hype about Durant and asserted that he would never reach his potential until (1) he was switched back to forward and (2) he worked on some flaws in his game--and when those two things happened I revised my descriptions of Durant accordingly.

If you go back and look, when Stephen Curry entered the league the predictions and analysis of his game varied widely. That does not necessarily mean that all of those commentators are incompetent (though, of course, some of them are, but not necessarily because they were wrong about Curry). I always said that Curry would be a very good NBA player and I distinguished his skill set from Redick, a pure catch and shoot player. Many experts disagreed with my assessment.

Harden is the popular flavor now but if that 2015 playoff run is the fluke that I think it is and Houston racks up a few more first round exits then I think a lot of people will start to question his true value. You can see that happening now with Chris Paul. Some "stat gurus" ranked him ahead of Kobe for years but I always said that Paul was both great and overrated. More and more people are starting to see that my assessment is correct.

Last year, Houston had a mediocre point differential but achieved a higher seed than that point differential would predict and the Rockets beat a feuding Dallas team, snuck by a Clippers team that had them on the ropes and got destroyed by eventual champion Golden State. Houston's rise in the West was assisted by injuries that took out OKC and by the Spurs' questionable resting strategy that landed the Spurs in the sixth spot, leading to a first round exit.

I agree that scoring 20+ ppg in the NBA is hard. Still, most teams in the league have at least one guy who is capable of doing that in the right situation. Houston gives the ball to Harden and lets him control the action. Ginobili could have done the same thing in his prime but he chose to stay with the Spurs and be the third option. I don't believe that Harden has the skill set or the temperament to be the best player on a championship team. Maybe I am wrong but he has not proven me wrong yet. His Houston career has gone the way that I expected in terms of his individual production and his team's success, though he has received more awards than I thought he would or than I think he deserves. Sometimes a team has one fluke playoff run that is not duplicated (there are many examples of this). I think that Houston's 2015 playoff run was a fluke. Obviously, if it happens again then I will need to rethink that. I also think that the playoff run had a lot to do with Howard's dominance and contributions by Smith and others, and not so much to do with Harden, as shown by the fact that Houston did as well or better during the playoffs with Harden on the bench as they did with Harden on the court. Do you think that was the case with the 76ers during their run to the Finals with Iverson?

Harden is a very good player. I have never said otherwise. I just don't think that he is an MVP caliber player nor do I think that he is good enough to be the best player on a championship team.

At Tuesday, October 13, 2015 5:00:00 PM, Blogger David Friedman said...


My evaluations have nothing to do with which players spoke to me or did not speak to me. Yes, Erving and Pippen are my two favorite players of all-time but my evaluations of their respective places in history are objective and fair. Regarding other players, I assure you that you would not be able to figure out what kind of interactions I have had (or not had) with them based on looking at my rankings. I can personally not like a player and rank him highly and I can personally like a player but not think that he is as great as others say. To cite just three examples of players with whom I have personally interacted, Steve Nash is a wonderful, patient and thoughtful interview subject and he is a lot more likable than many NBA players--but I still don't think he deserved two MVP awards. On the flip side, I disagree with a lot of things that Shaquille O'Neal has said and done but I also believe that he deserved several more MVPs than he won and I have repeatedly said that; also, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar would barely give me the time of day when I tried on more than one occasion to interview him but I still think (and have repeatedly written) that he is perhaps the most underrated great player of all-time.

At Tuesday, October 13, 2015 5:21:00 PM, Blogger David Friedman said...


I would rather have LeBron James running my offense overall--even without having the capacity to run a Dragic PnR with Frye--than have Dragic and Frye sans James. So, the PnR numbers you are citing don't mean much to me in terms of how to construct a team or who is more valuable. I am not sure what you think that those numbers prove. We would need to see who those plays were run against (which players defended Dragic and Frye), what the situations were, etc. I know that LeBron James commands double teams and affects defensive game plans in a significant way. I see no reason to believe that Dragic has a remotely similar effect. So, yes, I would rather run any play with James, Durant or Westbrook causing defenses headaches as opposed to running a Dragic/Frye PnR. It is also a fact that Chandler scores on 60% or 70% of his shot attempts but I would not pass him the ball every time down the court or even 10-15 times a game.

As I mentioned in a previous thread, Phx' other players during Dragic's tenure there are better than your descriptions suggest. Phx' decline last year correlates, in timing and impact, just as much with Thomas' departure as Dragic's--and since Thomas actually helped an East team make the playoffs while Dragic did not, your argument about Dragic's impact in both places is seriously if not fatally weakened.

Phx saw Dragic at his best and decided to use him in a different role and then ran him out of town when he didn't like it. Miami hardly handed Dragic the keys to the car last season and I doubt that they will do so now. If you are right about Dragic then you are seeing something that literally no one else sees. Also, I believe that your win projections are wrong and that Phx was 29-25 when Dragic departed, not 29-15.

As for Harden and Ginobili, I agree that their skill sets differ. My point is that Ginobili is a guy who could have received a lot of money and glory on the open market but he correctly determined that his best chance to win championships was to stay with the Spurs. If Harden valued winning a championship as his top priority there is no way he would have left Durant and Westbrook. Harden made a Marbury-like move. Marbury could not stand Garnett getting the money and the glory.

At Tuesday, October 13, 2015 5:39:00 PM, Blogger Nick F said...

"I would rather have LeBron James running my offense overall--even without having the capacity to run a Dragic PnR with Frye--than have Dragic and Frye sans James."

So would I. But the issue wasn't "who would you rather have running your offense" it was "which play is most dangerous?" The play that scored the most points per use is objectively the most dangerous.

"I am not sure what you think that those numbers prove."

That the Frye/Dragic PnR returned more points per possession than the average James, Westbrook, or Durant play, or indeed any other play at all. It was run around 500-600 times, so you'll be hard pressed to find a larger sample size in one season. It was guarded by most if not every point guard and power forward in the league that season.

"I know that LeBron James commands double teams and affects defensive game plans in a significant way"

He absolutely affects defensive gameplans more than Dragic. One of the many reasons I'd rather have him than Dragic. Still doesn't mean his average play is more consistent than the Dragic/Frye PnR, though.

"So, yes, I would rather run any play with James, Durant or Westbrook causing defenses headaches as opposed to running a Dragic/Frye PnR." Then you will usually score fewer points on that play.

"It is also a fact that Chandler scores on 60% or 70% of his shot attempts but I would not pass him the ball every time down the court or even 10-15 times a game."

This is a straw-man and you know it. Chandler finishes opportunities created by others; a PnR ball handler is initiating the offense and creating those opportunities.

"As I mentioned in a previous thread, Phx' other players during Dragic's tenure there are better than your descriptions suggest." The fact that none of them have played as well without him- before or since- argues against that.

"Phx' decline last year correlates, in timing and impact, just as much with Thomas' departure as Dragic's--and since Thomas actually helped an East team make the playoffs while Dragic did not, your argument about Dragic's impact in both places is seriously if not fatally weakened."

This is a good point, and you'll get no argument from me that Thomas meant more to Boston last season than Dragic meant to Miami. He meant a lot less to Phoenix, though, fatally wounding their chemistry and compromising their already suspect defense whenever he played. Also, those players we mentioned before had their career years in 2014- long before Thomas got to PHX. Seems silly to give him credit for that.

"Phx saw Dragic at his best and decided to use him in a different role and then ran him out of town when he didn't like it. " He demanded a trade; that's not "run out of town" and in fact if you followed the story closely, they did everything they could to keep him, up to and including offering to move Thomas (and by some accounts, Bledsoe). You're not wrong that they decided to use him differently, though, and their win total reflects that.

"Also, I believe that your win projections are wrong and that Phx was 29-25 when Dragic departed, not 29-15." You're absolutely right. I thought that number seemed too high. Mea culpa. Bad math on my part. They still fell from 4 games over 500 to 18 games under it. That's pretty dramatic.

I think we're on the same page about Harden.

At Tuesday, October 13, 2015 10:29:00 PM, Blogger David Friedman said...


This thread is devoting a lot of coverage to the fourth best player on the fourth best team in the East and I am not sure how much new ground there is to cover until the Heat play some games in the 2015-16 regular season.

I disagree with your premise that "most dangerous play" is synonymous with most points per possession. Again, the Chandler analogy is very apt. Chandler's FG% superficially suggests that he is the most "dangerous" offensive player on the court but anyone who understands NBA basketball realizes that is not the case. It is interesting to know that Dragic PnR plays generated a lot of points per possession but I doubt that any NBA decision makers were having sleepless nights figuring out how to contain Dragic and/or Frye. I do think that NBA decision makers have sleepless nights figuring out how to deal with James, Durant, Westbrook and a handful of other legit MVP level players. If you think that the points per possession numbers equate with "danger" that is fine but to suggest that this one number is THE objective measure of which NBA play is most dangerous is a bit bizarre. Again, this seems a lot like you decided that Dragic is really, really good and looked for the number that "proves" this, kind of like someone trying to prove that Chandler is an offensive powerhouse and latching on to his FG%. I understand that points per possession involves more than just one player's FG% and that the analogy does not fit 100% but, conceptually, it accurately describes the misconception involved in the comparison you are making.

In other threads we have already exhaustively examined Dragic's impact on two Phx teams that failed to make the playoffs and a Miami team that failed to make the playoffs. I think that you are confusing correlation with causation, while you think that you have found the NBA's great unknown secret weapon.

I will repeat what I have said all along: Dragic is a 16/5 third or fourth option on a contending team. He could possibly put up slightly bigger numbers in a larger role on a non-contending team. That's it. That is who he is and what he does. If he puts up 22/8 for a Miami team that wins 60 games then I am open to revisiting my scouting report--but I suspect that after he puts up 16/5 for a Miami team that finishes fourth in the East instead of acknowledging that you were wrong you are going to question why Pat Riley and Erik Spoelstra do not understand the greatness of Dragic the way that you do.

At Wednesday, October 14, 2015 12:44:00 AM, Blogger Nick F said...

"I do think that NBA decision makers have sleepless nights figuring out how to deal with James, Durant, Westbrook and a handful of other legit MVP level players."

I do not disagree. The Dragic/Frye PnR is more effective than any single Durant/James play, but of the top 20 plays involving Durant/James and Dragic, I would assume that 15 or so of them are Durant and James. I would posit that teams spent as much or more time game planning against the Dragic/Frye PnR than any single James or Durant play, though. James and Durant may not have a pet play as dependable as that one, but they have a lot more total effective plays, and an ability to create something out of nothing when a play breaks down. Dragic has some of those skills as well, but not to the same extent. If you change the argument into "who's better?" obviously Durant and James win. If the argument is "what single play is most dangerous" then we have factual information already telling us; it's the play that results in the most points. Chandler's FG% is irrelevant here; it's largely the product of other players' skill; the PnR is chiefly about the ball handler and secondarily about the roll man; the credit belongs with them. If you think there's context I'm missing that mitigates this, please share it, but simply saying "it's like Chandler's FG% and it doesn't tell the whole story" doesn't help; especially since the same complaint could be made of any other play, including those by James or Durant. Nothing tells the whole story, but I'd argue points per possession on a given play tell more of it than most- and especially more of it than raw points.

"I think that you are confusing correlation with causation, while you think that you have found the NBA's great unknown secret weapon." I think that I've correctly interpreted the data; you think you have. Considering he just landed a 90 million deal from a team you've been touting as one of the smartest in the league, and recently made an All-NBA team, it's safe to say he's far from a secret.

"If he puts up 22/8 for a Miami team that wins 60 games then I am open to revisiting my scouting report--but I suspect that after he puts up 16/5 for a Miami team that finishes fourth in the East instead of acknowledging that you were wrong you are going to question why Pat Riley and Erik Spoelstra do not understand the greatness of Dragic the way that you do."

Here's the crux of our disagreement. You care more about points and assists, I care more about the difference between the team with and without the player. We both care about overall team success, though you probably place more of an emphasis on specific playoff seeding or win totals while i'm more interested in their relative performance (as that's an easier comparison to draw accurate conclusions from, with a lot fewer variables). If Dragic puts up 20/20 but the Heat finish with a league-worst offense (like they had last year before they traded for him), I'll be disappointed in him. By the same token, if he puts up 16/5- or, hell, 14/3- but the Heat are suddenly a top 10 offense and top 4 playoff seed- after struggling to stay above .500 even when healthy last year despite the allegedly superior Deng/Bosh/Wade- then I'll correctly conclude that Dragic had an enormous impact.

For the sake of playing the guessing game, I suspect he'll end up somewhere around 18 ppg. The assists are difficult to predict; probably about 5 or 6 if Wade is the primary ball handler, probably closer to 9 or 10 if Dragic is (and Bosh stays relatively healthy).


At Wednesday, October 14, 2015 12:45:00 AM, Blogger Nick F said...


It's a little strange to me that you are quick to point out the subjectivity of assists and points as player evaluation tools when talking about Harden- which I agree with, by the way- but seem to judge Dragic by them first and everything else second. You'll notice my argument is not that Dragic needs to score more necessarily- though he's a very good scorer- but that he needs to initiate the offense, because he creates the most opportunities for the team when he does, including those on which he does not record a bucket or an assist. Many of PHX's points, for example, came after Dragic penetrated, drew two or three defenders into the paint, kicked the ball to a shooter, who then kicked the ball to a second or third shooter as the defense desperately rotated into an open shot; Dragic records no statistic on that play, but it's all made possible by his initial penetration and the highest degree of difficult part of it- the initial penetration and kicking the ball out past 2-3 defenders- is done by him. Plays like that- very common for Dragic- are why his teams perform so much better offensively when he's out there, even if that team has other great or solid (Wade, Deng) individual scoring options. They're also why guys like PJ Tucker, Channing Frye, and Gerald Green recorded their best scoring and shooting season playing with him.

At Wednesday, October 14, 2015 2:47:00 AM, Blogger David Friedman said...


The quote from me that you are running with and using as an excuse to hijack this thread and turn it into a paean to Dragic's greatness is "I think that just about any play involving LeBron James, Kevin Durant or Russell Westbrook is more dangerous than a Dragic/Bosh PnR." There is nothing in there about Frye or points per possession on PnR plays. You speculated about what I meant by "dangerous" and jumped to the conclusion that Dragic's PnR numbers with Frye are somehow relevant to this discussion. When James, Durant or Westbrook have the ball, they are bona fide threats to get all the way to the rim and finish with a dunk. They are also great passers and at least competent shooters. Their presence with the ball is very "dangerous" for opposing defenses for multiple reasons. Opposing teams have to worry about many things with those guys, not just one particular action. I thought that when I wrote that one sentence that all of this is obvious.

Dragic's PnR stats with Frye or anyone else do not prove that he singlehandedly boosted Phx' offense or Miami's offense. They do not prove that this one play is more "dangerous" than any one play that James, Durant or Westbrook do. Those stats tell us that this one play was effective in certain circumstances at certain times. James, Durant and Westbrook are effective over a much wider range of circumstances and times. That is why they win scoring titles and take their teams deep in the playoffs. Dragic is a good player, not a great one. That is why he does not take his team deep in the playoffs.

Since you are a Phx fan you have probably watched Dragic play more often than I have but I have seen enough of him in Phx and Miami to know that you are overestimating his impact.

Landing a $90 million contract does not prove his value; living up to that contract will prove it. The salary cap is about to go up and a lot of players are receiving big money. Juwan Howard once received a $100 million deal but that did not make him an all-time great. I already explained why I think Miami paid Dragic $90 million.

I don't just care about points and assists. However, when a player puts up regular numbers I need to see something else to convince me that he is special. Dragic is a 16/5 player. I don't see teams game-planning to stop him, nor do I see his team making him the focus of the attack.

If he puts up 14/3 and Miami is a top team then my first theory is not going to be that Dragic made the difference. I am pretty sure if both of those things happen then other factors are at play.

Again, last season you kept saying that if Dragic landed elsewhere we would see how great he is because Phx did not know how to use him. I said that if he landed elsewhere his individual numbers and collective impact would be about the same. I was right. His numbers in Phx and Miami were about the same and he left one non-playoff team only to arrive on another non-playoff team that remained a non-playoff team after he arrived. In contrast, his former teammate Isaiah Thomas left Phx and had an immediate impact on a non-playoff team, playing a major role in Boston becoming a playoff team.

Again, this is a lot of coverage for the fourth best player on the East's fourth best team. Let's give it a rest until the season starts. When December rolls around and the Heat have the fourth best record in the East and Dragic is averaging 16/5 it will be interesting to resume this thread.

At Wednesday, October 14, 2015 5:59:00 PM, Blogger Nick F said...

"I think that just about any play involving LeBron James, Kevin Durant or Russell Westbrook is more dangerous than a Dragic/Bosh PnR."

The wider context, though, was that I was assuming that, considering he's a superior player with similar skills, the Bosh version of that play would be as or more effective than the Frye version.

"Those stats tell us that this one play was effective in certain circumstances at certain times."

It tells us that one play was effective more often than any other play, which is all I'm saying.

"James, Durant and Westbrook are effective over a much wider range of circumstances and times."

I agree (at least about James/Durant) and said so. But the issue in question wasn't who's more dangerous more often, it was "Can you imagine a more dangerous play [than an improved version of 2014's most effective play]?"

"That is why they win scoring titles and take their teams deep in the playoffs."

Westbrook missed the playoffs entirely last year. He has never made the playoffs as his team's best player. In fact, even with the benefit of 27 games from Durant, his team last year won three fewer games than Dragic's team the year before (which did not have another player as good as Durant, or even Ibaka). Beyond that, I agree that Durant and Lebron are much better than Dragic and have never said otherwise.

"However, when a player puts up regular numbers I need to see something else to convince me that he is special."

First of all, I struggle to see how league-leading (for a guard) FG% and an elite (for anyone) FG% around the rim are "regular."

Moreover, I've attempted to show you some of that "something else" but you do not agree that Dragic was the reason for PHX's success (despite their poor play after his role reduction and especially after his trade), you do not care that he shot the highest percentage of any guard in the league as his team's primary option (and therefore opposing defense's primary target), that Miami's offense immediately jumped from league-worst to a top ten level upon his arrival despite losing their only dependable interior scorer, or that his teammates have almost unanimously had their best seasons playing beside him, or that his team was more successful with him as their primary option than Westbrook's was with him. You presumably also do not care that Kevin Durant campaigned for him to make the All-Star team, that he was voted to the All-NBA 3rd team, or that Pat Riley- not the idiot who signed Juwan Howard to 100 mil- saw him worth not only a massive contract but also two first round picks. What is the "else" you would need to be persuaded that a player who puts up 16/5- or 21/6 as a primary option- is better than his raw numbers?

"His numbers in Phx and Miami were about the same and he left one non-playoff team only to arrive on another non-playoff team that remained a non-playoff team after he arrived" That's somewhat incorrect. PHX was on pace to (barely) make the playoffs before he was traded, and his per-possession numbers actually went up a bit in Miami. Also, his arrival in Miami coincided with Miami losing their best player (Bosh) for the season; it is highly probable that had Bosh stayed healthy Dragic's arrival would have lifted the team- then stuck below 500- into enough wins to make the Eastern playoffs, considering they won at about the same rate w/ Dragic/no Bosh as they did with Bosh/no Dragic.

"Let's give it a rest until the season starts."

Fair enough. I'll let it lie for now.

At Thursday, October 15, 2015 10:16:00 AM, Blogger David Friedman said...


You are very preoccupied with the fourth best player on the Eastern Conference's fourth best team. You are confused about the distinction between causation and correlation; just because two or more events are correlated does not mean that there is a cause/effect relationship between those events. Such a relationship must be PROVEN, not merely asserted. Saying that Dragic left Phx and Phx fell apart does not prove why Phx fell apart. Dragic's individual FG% and the relative effectiveness of a Dragic/Frye PnR play are not sufficient evidence to prove your case, either.

One could just as persuasively argue that Thomas' departure from Phx caused Phx' decline; at the very least, to prove your point you would have to separate Thomas' impact from Dragic's impact (please, just leave it alone for now). Then, you would also have to account for the arrivals, departures and injuries of a variety of players. Look, if Dragic were putting up huge individual numbers and drawing double teams (not just occasional traps after PnR plays, but the kind of double teams that great players regularly draw because the opposing team wants to force someone else to shoot) then one could have more confidence about asserting that he is as valuable as you suggest. One does not need a lot of proof that LeBron James' departure hurt Miami and helped Cleveland.

However, regarding a good, solid player like Dragic it makes no sense to suggest that he had such a huge impact on Phx and on Miami, an impact completely disproportionate to his pedestrian individual stats.

Possession stats and per minute stats are interesting tools but let's not forget that basketball is actually played in full game units (and full series units during the playoffs, though Dragic has only played 16 playoff games--all as a reserve player--and thus his playoff career is not even worth discussing). Dragic's per game stats are nothing special:

1) Dragic ranked 39th overall in PPG last season and did not crack the top 10 for PGs.

2) Dragic ranked 31st overall in APG last season and did not crack the top 20 for PGs.

3) Dragic ranked tied for 69th overall in SPG last season.

4) Dragic tied for 76th overall in FTM/pg last season. Thomas finished 15th, so one could at least hypothesize that his ability to draw fouls and get the other team in the bonus makes him more valuable than Dragic unless Dragic has a lot of other skills to compensate for not getting to the line--and if Dragic has those skills we see no evidence of them in his other statistical rankings.

5) Dragic ranked 100th in 3PT FG%. Thomas ranked 52nd, so we see that Thomas is better than Dragic both from long range and in terms of getting into the paint to draw fouls.

6) Dragic ranked 45th in FGA/pg among the 110 qualifiers for FG% leadership, so one could plausibly say that part of the reason that Dragic led pgs in FG% is that he could be very judicious in his shot attempts precisely because he is not an elite player who is called upon to shoot the ball 15-20 times a game. Also, since Dragic did not draw many FTAs per game it could not be said that his FGA numbers do not reflect his overall offensive impact.

I have watched Dragic (and the rest of the NBA) for years and I know these and other numbers about Dragic and other NBA players. I predicted that if Dragic went elsewhere he would be, roughly, a 16/5 guy, a solid player but not an elite PG or elite player overall. So far, my prediction--based on facts, not based on really liking the guy and really disliking the moves made by Phx management--has been correct. I am further predicting that this season Dragic will be, roughly, a 16/5 guy, a solid player but not an elite PG or elite player overall.

The evidence does not support your extremely elevated ranking of Dragic.

Let's let it rest for now. There will be no new data points to consider until the regular season begins.

At Thursday, October 15, 2015 11:25:00 AM, Blogger Nick F said...

This will be my last post on the subject since we're both clearly tired of it, but considering that my argument all along has been that he was misused last year as a secondary option, citing his per-game stats from a season in which he wasn't given the ball nearly as often (witness the 1/3 number of screens he received) is hardly compelling. More relevant are those same numbers from the 2014 season, when he WAS his team's primary option:

1) Dragic ranked 17th overall in PPG that season and 3rd among PGs.

2) Dragic ranked 18th overall in APG that season. Worth noting is that everyone above him was passing to at least one current or former All-Star except for Ricky Rubio and Brandon Jennings.

3) Dragic ranked tied for 28th overall in SPG that season.

4) Dragic tied for 21st overall in FTM/pg that season (7th among PGs).

5) Dragic ranked 18th in 3PT FG% (6th among point guards). Thomas ranked 105th.

6) Dragic ranked 33rd in FGA/pg among the 110 qualifiers for FG% leadership, 9th among points guards. He ranked 19th in FG made. He shot 14.4 times per game, so not quite 15, though he shot more than 15 while Bledsoe was out and actually saw increased efficiency during those games.

7) As far as Advanced stats go, he was 16th in PER, 9th in True Shooting percentage (trailing only Steph Curry among PGs), 13th in the admittedly noisy O-RTG, 9th in offensive win shares, 15th in total win shares, 18th in box +/-, 9th in Offensive box +/-, and 14th in VORP. So, basically, all of the advanced metrics agree with my placing Goran-whe he actually gets the ball- as a top 5 PG and a top 10-20 overall player. So did the All-NBA voters.

8) Channing Frye, Green, Eric Bledsoe, PJ Tucker, Markieff Morris, Marcus Morris, and Miles Plumlee all had their best statistical seasons that year- all of their performances went down the next season when playing with Thomas (or Orlando, in Frye's case).

9) PHX was the 8th ranked offense in the league in 2014. They were 16th in 2015.

10) Miami scored at a 30th in the league rate with a core lineup of Chalmers/Wade/Deng/Bosh/Whiteside and a top 10 rate with Dragic/Wade/Deng/Haslem/Whiteside.

Those numbers are much more relevant to my argument that giving him the ball is a good idea than the numbers from that season where they didn't give him the ball.

At Thursday, October 15, 2015 11:33:00 AM, Blogger Nick F said...

PS: Thomas' numbers you cited are buoyed by his awesome performance in Boston- which is great- but his PHX numbers were atrocious, where he averaged about 15 and 3.5 assists and 2.4 rebounds on 41% shooting, with 4 made FTs per game and a net rating of -5. It seems odd to credit him with any of PHX's success given those numbers, which are all lower- except free throws, admittedly- than even off-ball Dragic's numbers, to say nothing of Thomas' abominable defense.

At Thursday, October 15, 2015 1:15:00 PM, Blogger David Friedman said...


I cited Dragic's most recent per game stats. One of your previous contentions about him is that he is still growing and improving as a player, so if you are correct about that then it is logical to assume that the most recent data should be most relevant. You assert that Dragic is the main reason that Phx was in the playoff hunt (though, if memory serves me correctly, they were not a top eight team in the West when Dragic departed) and that Dragic is the main reason that Miami improved. Though you often seem to like to have things both ways, in an argument based on logic you cannot do that. If Dragic was an impact player for two teams last season then it is fair to look at his individual stats to find evidence to support your assertion; I did just that and found that the evidence does not support your assertion.

You say, with no supporting evidence, that Dragic was misused in Phx--but you contradict yourself by pointing out that Thomas' numbers soared in Boston. Maybe Dragic's numbers in Phx were helped by teams focusing defensive attention on stopping Thomas, who--statistically, on a per game basis last season--is a better and more versatile offensive threat than Dragic. Maybe Thomas, not Dragic, is the player who Phx did not use correctly. I am not saying that these theories are true but I am saying that, to prove the point you are trying to prove about Dragic, you have to address these theories far more convincingly than you have.

Dragic has averaged 12.2 ppg and 4.5 apg in his seven year NBA career. You are looking at a small sample size--his career best year, which he did not come close to duplicating the next season--and asserting that this represents his overall value. I doubt that Dragic will ever match what he did in 2013-14. When Dragic slipped last year, instead of making the logical inference that he is a good player who was coming off of a career year, you insisted that Phx did not know how to use him and you lamented, as a Phx fan, that he would end up with another team that does know how to use him. Then Dragic landed with a team that has a championship pedigree in terms of front office/coaching. I predicted that he would be, roughly, a 16/5 guy and that is what happened. Again, you ignore the evidence that Dragic is not as good as you think that he is and instead insist that he is being misused.

At Thursday, October 15, 2015 1:21:00 PM, Blogger David Friedman said...


Points 8-10 are perfect examples of not understanding the difference between correlation and causation. You have not PROVEN that Dragic is the reason for these players' performances, you have merely asserted this.

Also, since you keep mentioning Dragic's one All-NBA Third Team selection, let's look at that. I won't even get into how many top NBA guards went down with injuries that season, opening up a spot for Dragic, but let's keep in mind two things:

1) The coaches have never voted Dragic on to the All-Star team. There is no evidence that NBA coaches share your high view of Dragic.

2) Here are some players who made just one All-NBA Third Team during their careers: Andrew Bogut, Carlos Boozer, Juwan Howard, Eddie Jones, David Lee, Anthony Mason, Michael Redd, Kevin Willis. Those are some very good players who had (or are still having) nice careers. Those guys are not elite players by any reasonable definition of elite. None of those guys could be the first or second best player on a championship team.

Maybe Dragic will make the All-NBA Team again. Maybe he will even make the All-Star team once. As of now, though, there is no statistical evidence to support your repeatedly stated belief that he is an elite player who can change the direction of a franchise by himself and there is no anecdotal evidence that NBA coaches/executives think of him as such a player.

I don't doubt that Phx got worse without him, at least in the short run; the Suns gave up a good 16/5 player to get some draft picks. We will see if those draft picks become a player or players who can do better than 16/5. I don't doubt that Dragic helped Miami; he replaced Chalmers, who was the weakest link in the starting lineup. If you had just said that losing Dragic made Phx worse and Miami better in the short run then I could agree with those two uncontroversial assertions. Anything beyond that has to be proven, not just stated repeatedly with misplaced confidence.


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