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Saturday, December 10, 2016

The Evolution of the Usage of the Three Point Shot, Part II

Charles Barkley recently made some very derogatory comments about the Golden State Warriors and he reiterated his contention that jump-shooting teams are not built to win championships. As the father of a wonderful young daughter, I echo Rachel Nichols' eloquent statement that "girlie" or "girl" should never be used as a synonym for, as she put it, something that is "weak" or "lame."

Moving past Barkley's ill-advised method of delivering his message, is there any truth to Barkley's assertion about jump-shooting teams purely from the standpoint of strategically analyzing basketball? I have discussed this subject a number of times in a variety of contexts. For instance, I wrote The Evolution of the Usage of the Three Point Shot for NBCSports.com nearly 10 years ago and then a few months after publication (during which time NBCSports.com was torn down and then rebuilt without maintaining links to prior content) I updated the article and posted it at 20 Second Timeout.

To best understand my take on the strengths and limitations of the three point shot as a basketball weapon, it would be helpful to provide some historical background, both in terms of the sport of basketball in general and also in terms of how my involvement in the sport as a recreational player informed my perspective about the three point shot.

Let's start with "advanced basketball statistics." Newer visitors to 20 Second Timeout--and perhaps even some of my veteran readers--may wonder why I refer to high profile advocates of "advanced basketball statistics" as "stat gurus." I borrowed that phrase from a line that Mike Lupica delivered a few times many years ago on the "Sports Reporters"; he would refer to someone who is supposed to be an expert at something as a "guru" and then he would say, "It is time for the guru to start 'guruing.'" I no longer recall who specifically Lupica was talking about but that wry sense of "OK, smart guy, it's about time that you actually prove that you know what you are doing" perfectly captures how I feel about many of the pompous analytics acolytes who act like they know more about basketball than people who have been playing and/or coaching the sport at the highest level for decades. Is there some value in trying to analyze the sport objectively? Of course there is but there should be a sense of humility and an understanding that the numbers don't capture everything about a sport that is played (and coached and officiated) by human beings, not robots.

Dean Oliver and Dan Rosenbaum are two of a handful of people whose basketball statistical work I respect--but far too many "stat gurus" are less concerned with objective truth than they are with making a name for themselves by proving that their pet theories are some kind of basketball gospel. Those self-serving, self-interested and self-satisfied "stat gurus" have had a pernicious effect on the way that the game is played, analyzed and discussed. Those "stat gurus" act like no one effectively utilized basketball statistics until they came along. I've got news for them: Dean Smith was using plus/minus back in the 1970s, if not earlier; Hubie Brown was hired by the Kentucky Colonels--who he led to the 1975 ABA title--because he impressed team management with his intricate understanding of basketball statistics and how those statistics can be used as tools to build a winning team.

"Advanced basketball statistics" are only as meaningful and relevant as (1) the box score numbers upon which they are based and (2) the accuracy of the formulas that are used to slice and dice those box score numbers. I have already demonstrated that assist statistics cannot be fully trusted, which means that any "advanced" formula that places a high value on assists will artificially inflate the value of players who accumulate many assists. There is good reason to question the accuracy/reliability of other box score numbers as well: subjectivity impacts the scoring of rebounds, steals, blocked shots and turnovers.

Hall of Famer/Top 50 player Rick Barry once told me that the only statistic he completely trusted was free throw percentage. Perhaps that seems self-serving of Barry because he owns one of the best career free throw percentages in pro basketball history but his point is that a player can inflate his field goal percentage by only shooting easy shots, rebounds can be padded by tips/taps that are not consistently recorded the same way and so forth. Then there is the reality--acknowledged by Rosenbaum but glossed over by many "stat gurus"--that "advanced basketball statistics" do not accurately measure individual defense. It should be obvious that subjective--but critically important--factors such as leadership, attitude and willingness/ability to play through injuries cannot be measured analytically at all. This is why I roll my eyes when a "stat guru" confidently declares that he can accurately rank every player in the NBA to the second decimal point of his proprietary "advance basketball statistic."

Many "stat gurus" assert that post play and the midrange game are inefficient, while the most efficient basketball shots are three pointers and free throws. The three point shot has evolved from a late game situational shot to a supplementary weapon to the mainstay of many teams' offenses. It should be remembered that even before "advanced basketball statistics" gained widespread influence, teams like the 1990s Houston Rockets and 1990s Orlando Magic utilized a "1 in, 4 out" offense featuring a dominant center surrounded by three point marksmen who punished opponents for double teaming the post. At that time, the three point shot was used to open up the game for the dominant post player but that dominant post player was still the focal point.

Teams that are run by--or at least influenced by--"stat gurus" deemphasize the value of the traditional big man in favor of deploying small lineups, shooting a lot of three pointers and (ideally) drawing a lot of fouls (typically via dribble penetration).

As for my personal involvement in the sport as a player, I have played rec league basketball since I was a kid in the 1970s. The strong suit of my game was always my jump shot (which really is not a traditional jump shot but some hybrid of Michael Cooper's set shot and Larry Bird's two hands behind his head delivery) but I spent my formative years playing without the three point shot. In 1987-88, the 19-9 three point shot was introduced into high school and college basketball. That wonderful arc soon appeared on the courts where I played both pickup ball and rec league ball. In the pickup games, we played to 12 by ones and twos. Under that scoring system, a good three point shooter is more valuable than a good post player; if I made even just 3 of 10 three pointers I scored six points, which is half the amount needed to win the game and a total that a post player could only match by shooting 60% from the field.

I really enjoyed playing 1 on 1 to 12 under that scoring system; I could hit six threes and take out a bigger, stronger opponent who was trying to wear me down one point at a time.

Of course, in league play when threes were not worth twice as much as twos, the math was not quite as favorable for a three point shooter but I did often mention to skeptical teammates that if I could make just one third of my three pointers I was as efficient as a post player who was making half of his shots in the paint. I was often the youngest participant in these games and the older guys who disdained long jumpers (and did not bother to do the simple math) got on my case for shooting so many three pointers. I told them rather bluntly that unless they were shooting 50% in the paint, then my three pointer was a higher percentage shot if I was connecting 33% of the time (and I probably was shooting closer to 40%), without even taking into account that the offensive team was more likely to rebound a long jumper than a missed shot in the paint. In addition, team defense is poorly organized in most rec leagues, so a smart and patient team can easily obtain wide open three point shots, particularly if the league does not use a shot clock.

So, from a young age I understood that in short games scored by ones and twos and in rec league games where post play was erratic and team defense was disorganized the three point shot was a very potent weapon.

Similarly, in the 40 minute college game featuring a short season followed by a one and done playoff system, it is possible to have a lot of success by constructing a good three point shooting team with well conditioned athletes who could beat the defense up and down the floor. Such teams generally play at a fast pace and thrive on shooting three pointers in transition. Rick Pitino has had success with this approach at multiple NCAA Division I schools and Paul Westhead enjoyed success both in NCAA Division I basketball and in the WNBA, where he led the Phoenix Mercury to the 2007 title. Westhead is the only coach to win a championship in both the WNBA and the NBA (1980 L.A. Lakers), though ironically Magic Johnson ran Westhead out of L.A. because Johnson felt that Westhead's offense at that time was too slow and methodical. However, NBA basketball consists of an 82 game regular season followed by four rounds of best of seven playoff series. Each regulation game lasts 48 minutes, not 40. Strategies that work in the college game are not necessarily applicable to the NBA game.

What does all of this have to do with Charles Barkley's comment about jump shooting teams? The NBA does not keep score by ones and twos and NBA defense is infinitely better than rec league defense. The notion that you can win big in the NBA just by shooting a large number of three pointers may make mathematical sense but it does not make real world sense. In that regard, there is some truth to what Barkley said. Take, for example, the Houston Rockets, who are now coached by Mike D'Antoni, whose Phoenix teams led the NBA in three point field goals made for three consecutive seasons (2005-07). The Rockets have a potent offense and are on pace to shatter many three point shooting records but they rank 22nd in defensive field goal percentage after finishing 19th in that category (under Kevin McHale and J.B. Bickerstaff) last season. That is a recipe for elimination early in the playoffs.

The nuance that Barkley is missing when he singles out the Warriors is that the Warriors differentiated themselves from other three-point happy teams (such as D'Antoni's Suns and Rockets) by playing organized, intense and effective defense. In their 2015 championship season, the Warriors led the league in defensive field goal percentage; they ranked third in that category last season and they currently rank second this season despite the loss of Andrew Bogut's rim protection.

Championship teams typically rank in the top five or 10 in defensive field goal percentage. The 2000-02 Shaquille O'Neal-Kobe Bryant Lakers are an interesting example. The Lakers led the league in defensive field goal percentage in 2000 and in 2002. In 2001 they slipped to 11th but still won the title. What happened? Unlike Bryant, O'Neal did not always fully exert himself during the regular season--but O'Neal was capable of playing championship level defense when he felt like it and after coasting through the 2001 regular season he ramped up his effort during the 2001 playoffs, when the Lakers ranked second in defensive field goal percentage. O'Neal decided to "heal on company time" during the 2002-03 season as the Lakers plummeted to 21st in defensive field goal percentage and this time O'Neal was not willing or able to turn it up in the playoffs: the Lakers ranked 15th out of 16 playoff teams in defensive field goal percentage and they lost in the second round to the eventual champion San Antonio Spurs, who ranked second in defensive field goal percentage during the 2003 playoffs and during the 2003 regular season.

In other words, instead of continually bashing the Warriors, Barkley should focus his attention on the Rockets: that is the jump shooting team that will never win a championship (as opposed to the Warriors, a jump shooting team that plays defense and has already won a championship).

There is an important point implied but not explicitly mentioned in Barkley's statement: the three point shot is a high variance shot, as I discussed in The Score, the Key Stat, the Bottom Line: A New 20 Second Timeout Feature, noting that three point field goal percentage can be a misleading statistic: if a player shoots 6-9 from three point range in one playoff game and 1-9 from three point range in the next playoff game that works out to a very good .389 3FG% but his team will likely lose the second game (and may not win the first game, either, if the team is deficient defensively and/or on the boards). In that article, I argued that Gilbert Arenas' three point field goal percentage did not justify his style of play and that a team was not likely to have much playoff success when led by a point guard who is indifferent defensively and who has poor shot selection--even if his overall shooting percentage is not bad, the high variance inherent in shooting a lot of shots from three point range (many of which were bad shots, even if they sometimes connected) is a recipe for disaster for that point guard and his team.

James Harden is similar to Arenas in many ways, though Harden is a better and more consistent player than Arenas was. My prediction for a Harden-led team is the same as my accurate prediction regarding an Arenas-led team: I would be surprised if such a team advances past the second round of the playoffs.

The Rockets' organization has been led for nearly a decade by Daryl Morey, who has been widely praised in the mainstream media as a visionary despite the fact that during his first eight years in Houston the Rockets missed the playoffs three times and only won three playoff series. Last season, the Rockets barely qualified for the playoffs but instead of revising their offense happy/defense optional approach Morey doubled down by hiring D'Antoni. The Rockets might win 50 games this season, as some of D'Antoni's Phoenix teams did. Harden might win the MVP over more deserving players, as D'Antoni's Phoenix point guard Steve Nash did twice. However, it will be surprising if the Rockets advance very far in the playoffs, barring a defensive turnaround similar to the 2001 Lakers (which is highly improbable, to say the least).

Successful NBA teams have judiciously incorporated "advanced basketball statistics" into their programs but teams (like Houston) that have gone all in have not reached the highest level. This is a valid point that Barkley could (and should) make during TNT telecasts.

The Philadelphia 76ers are the poster children for a "stat guru" run amuck or, as I put it a couple years ago, The 76ers Are the Waterloo for "Stat Gurus." Sam Hinkie, a protege of Morey's, instituted an infamous "process" in Philadelphia that came close to ruining a once storied franchise. Hinkie's media buddies still try to paint him as some kind of visionary but he actually is the 21st century Ted Stepien with a much better sense of public relations. In the early 1980s, Ted Stepien tore down the Cleveland Cavaliers to the point that the league had to essentially wrest control of the franchise from him, which is what happened (in a more subtle way) to Hinkie as well. It took Wayne Embry years to undo the damage that Stepien did and by the time Embry turned the Cavaliers into contenders there were no traces left of Stepien's handiwork; it will similarly take years for Bryan Colangelo to salvage the 76ers and by the time they become good again Hinkie's "process" will be a distant, dark memory.

Since the "process" began, the 76ers have never had a winning percentage above .250 and, despite some recent misguided media hype about Hinkie being vindicated, they are currently 5-18 (.217 winning percentage).

One of the many aspects of pro sports that Hinkie fails to understand is that a loser's mentality is contagious and must be purged from an organization if that organization is going to enjoy any success. You cannot turn your franchise into a perennial loser, stockpile some talent and then suddenly become a championship team; the Cleveland Browns' front office has been infiltrated with Hinkie-like thinking and they have turned the Browns into a de facto expansion team on par with the ultimate NFL laughingstock, the 1976 Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

When Mike Ditka was hired as the head coach of the Chicago Bears in 1982, he told his players that he had good news and bad news: the good news was that the Bears would win the Super Bowl within three years but the bad news was that many of them would no longer be on the team by that time. Both predictions came true. No "advanced basketball statistic" blueprint takes the place of a basic understanding of how to build a team that has a championship mindset and championship habits, two traits that are missing in both Houston and Philadelphia.

So, there is some truth to what Barkley said but--because he failed to articulate his message clearly and because he used some unfortunate language that overshadowed his larger point--it is easy to dismiss him as an old school curmudgeon. It is true that teams that rely on jump shooting and do not play excellent defense will not win a championship--but it is not correct to lump the Warriors into a category that should be headlined by the Rockets.

Evolution of the Usage of the Three Point Shot

Most Three Pointers Made

Year/League...Team...3 FGM...Player..(team)...3 FGM

1967-68/ABA..Pittsburgh..243..Les Selvage (Anaheim)..147
1968-69/ABA..Kentucky..335..Louie Dampier (Kentucky)..199
1969-70/ABA..Kentucky..330..Louie Dampier (Kentucky)..198
1970-71/ABA..Indiana..306..George Lehmann (Carolina)..154
1971-72/ABA..Indiana..220..Glen Combs (Utah)..103
1972-73/ABA..Indiana..172..Bill Keller (Indiana)..71
1973-74/ABA..San Diego..216..Bo Lamar (San Diego)..69
1974-75/ABA..Indiana..224..Bill Keller (Indiana)..80
1975-76/ABA..Indiana..250..Bill Keller (Indiana)..123

1979-80/NBA..San Diego..177..Brian Taylor (San Diego)..90
1980-81/NBA..San Diego..132..Mike Bratz (Cleveland)..57
1981-82/NBA..Indiana..103..Don Buse (Indiana)..73
1982-83/NBA..San Antonio..94..Mike Dunleavy (San Antonio)..67
1983-84/NBA..Utah..101..Darrell Griffith (Utah)..91
1984-85/NBA..Dallas..152..Darrell Griffith (Utah)..92
1985-86/NBA..Dallas..141..Larry Bird (Boston)..82
1986-87/NBA..Dallas..231..Larry Bird (Boston)..90
1987-88/NBA..Boston..271..Danny Ainge (Boston)..148
1988-89/NBA..New York..386..Michael Adams (Denver)..166
1989-90/NBA..Cleveland...346..Michael Adams (Denver)..158
1990-91/NBA..Portland..341..Vernon Maxwell (Houston)..172
1991-92/NBA..Milwaukee..371..Vernon Maxwell (Houston)..162
1992-93/NBA..Phoenix..398..Dan Majerle (Phoenix)/Reggie Miller (Indiana)..167
1993-94/NBA..Houston..429..Dan Majerle (Phoenix)..192
1994-95/NBA*..Houston..646..John Starks (New York)..217
1995-96/NBA*..Dallas..735..Dennis Scott (Orlando)..267
1996-97/NBA*..Miami..678..Reggie Miller (Indiana)..229
1997-98/NBA..Seattle..621..Wesley Person (Cleveland)..192
1998-99/NBA^..Houston..336..Dee Brown (Toronto)..135
1999-00/NBA..Indiana..583..Gary Payton (Seattle)..177
2000-01/NBA..Boston..592..Antoine Walker (Boston)..221
2001-02/NBA..Boston..699..Ray Allen (Milwaukee)..229
2002-03/NBA..Boston..719..Ray Allen (Milwaukee-Seattle)..201
2003-04/NBA..Seattle..723..Peja Stojakovic (Sacramento)..240
2004-05/NBA..Phoenix..796..Kyle Korver (Philadelphia)/Jason Richardson (Phoenix)..226
2005-06/NBA..Phoenix..837..Ray Allen (Seattle)..269
2006-07/NBA..Phoenix..785...Arenas (Washington)/Bell (Phoenix)..205
2007-08/NBA..Orlando..801...Jason Richardson (Charlotte)...243
2008-09/NBA...New York..823...Rashard Lewis (Orlando)...220
2009-10/NBA...Orlando..841...Aaron Brooks (Houston)...209
2010-11/NBA...Orlando...770...Dorell Wright (Golden State)...194
2011-12/NBA...Orlando...670...Ryan Anderson (Orlando)...166
2012-13/NBA...New York...891...Stephen Curry (Golden State)...272
2013-14/NBA...Houston...779...Stephen Curry (Golden State)...261
2014-15/NBA...Houston...933...Stephen Curry (Golden State)...286
2015-16/NBA...Golden State...1077...Stephen Curry (Golden State)...402

* The NBA shortened the three point arc to a uniform 22 feet (prior to and subsequent to these three seasons the three point arc was 22 feet in the corners and 23 feet nine inches elsewhere).

^ Season shortened to 50 games by a lockout.

Bold indicates an ABA/NBA record.

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posted by David Friedman @ 3:21 PM

41 comments

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41 Comments:

At Sunday, December 11, 2016 1:08:00 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hi David,

Did you think that down the stretch of fourth quarter in Game 7 of last year's Finals was a good representation of the weaknesses of the 3 point shot?

When it doesn't fall you have less chance of getting offensive rebounds and essentially bailing the defense out. The defense was really good in the last few minutes of Game 7 and neither team could find a basket. In situations like that, that is when you need a low post presence or someone who has the ability to drive to the basket and draw fouls and also be able to rely on your mid-range game i.e. Michael Jordan & Kobe Bryant.

I thought Thompson could develop into being that guy who could get into the lane and draw fouls and also able to post up and shoot the mid-range when the 3 ball isn't working. But obviously he hasn't worked on those aspects as much as I thought.

If you ask me to replay the last few minutes of the fourth quarter with another PG I would prefer having Chris Paul go to his elbow jumper than a Curry 3.

 
At Sunday, December 11, 2016 4:28:00 AM, Blogger David Friedman said...

Anonymous,

In general I agree with your comment but I would note (1) that CP3 has never gotten close to the Finals and (2) I think that offensive rebounds occur at a higher rate on three pointers than other shots (but missed threes can also ignite a quick fastbreak in the other direction if the defense controls the rebound).

 
At Sunday, December 11, 2016 10:56:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I'm not sure if I misread what you wrote but the Rockets did make the playoffs last year. Your larger point still stands as they barely squeaked in as the eighth seed and were promptly dismantled in five games by the Curry-less Warriors. I can't imagine a flawed playoff team being helped by D'Antoni and it could very well be the 2005-2007 Suns all over again where there are more questions than answers at the end of the season with no shortage of finger-pointing by the media/fans.

 
At Monday, December 12, 2016 3:58:00 AM, Blogger beep said...

The best shot is open one, but no one tracks it in the statistics ... so any percetange comparisons are of very limited value without eye test. This is where stat gurus trip over.

 
At Friday, December 16, 2016 12:29:00 AM, Blogger Nick F said...

I disagree that the Rockets have gone "all in" on advance basketball statistics... as advanced basketball statistics clearly show how important defense is. No truly advanced analytic team would hire Mike D'antoni unless that had such astonishingly strong defensive personnel already in place that D'antoni's indifference on that end would not preclude the team from a top-tennish defensive finish.

I do agree with your that the Rockets have gone all-in on the 3, and that it's a high-variance shot. I would draw a distinction between the Rockets and the Suns there, as the Suns used quite a bit more ball-movement in order to create "good" 3s whereas the Rockets seem to be almost more interested in inflating Harden's assist totals than in finding the best shot; very rarely do you see the kind of "every player touches the ball" possessions Phoenix was known for; those possessions usually began with Nash contriving some way to get into the paint, then kicking out to a three point shooter, who would swing it to another, to another, until the scrambling defense was too far behind to contest. The Rockets, despite more or less having the necessary personnel for this approach and the same coach, seem to prefer the first shot off the pass (the one that is usually semi-contested by a late-but-closing defender).

Consequently, I would be surprised if they enjoyed the same level of success as those Phoenix teams, particularly in the playoffs, where the Suns were an often a possession, or a game, here or there from the Finals.

 
At Friday, December 16, 2016 10:15:00 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I seem to remember Nash dribbling around all over the place, and then eventually either shooting or passing to an open teammate. I'm sure PHO had some good ball movement at times, but Nash seemed like the most ball-dominant player in the league during his 2nd PHO stint, but mostly agree with your HOU assessment, though HOU's offense is a top 2-3 offense in the league so far.

Even in a weak year, which this year certainly isn't, HOU's cast would have basically no chance to win a title. D'antoni seems to be maximizing their abilities so far, as they're on pace to win 60 games somehow. Instead of bashing him, how about give him the credit he deserves when he's a doing a great job and enjoy the game for once? HOU can't compete talent-wise with CLE, GS, SA, or even LAC. 3-pointers are a high-variance, not-completely-reliable-every-game shot, but this is exactly what a team facing a huge uphill battle needs to do. The only chance HOU might have in a series vs GS or SA would be to jack up a ton of 3's and hopefully enough go in, in at least 4 of the games. Of course this probably won't happen, but they'd at least have a chance playing this way. Say what you will about Harden, but even if you replaced him with James, HOU isn't going anywhere either. And I find it quite interesting all the blame Harden gets for 'barely' making the playoffs or losing in the 1st round when David gives all these excuses for Westbrook missing the playoffs in his lone year as the #1 guy on his team. Most of his arguments are correct about OKC/Westbrook in 2015, but you can't have it both ways.

HOU might have a gimmicky offense, but they're 2nd in the league in scoring and are 3rd in Off Rtg. Their defense is 17th, which isn't that bad. Their point differential is 6.9(5th in the league), which is very good, and this is often a great indicator of postseason success. I hear all this denigration towards Harden/HOU, but their offense is amazing, so this perceived 'gimmicky' offense is absolutely working, and Harden is highly involved in almost every possession.

 
At Friday, December 16, 2016 1:12:00 PM, Blogger Nick F said...

Nash's usage rating in '07: 22.9
Harden's usage rating this season: 33.4

 
At Friday, December 16, 2016 5:37:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Your point, Nick?

Usage only involves the end result of a possession. Someone could have the ball for 99% of a possession and his usage % will decrease if he doesn't end up shooting or turning the ball over.

And of course Harden will have a higher usage % than Nash since he's a much better scorer, shoots more FGAs, shoots many more FTs, and has more turnovers(though actually just barely more than Nash for their careers). I'm not saying he's more or less ball dominant than Nash, but just looking at usage pct. doesn't necessarily tell us anything.

Also, in a year like this year, most of the league(other than GS, SA, CLE) should be implementing different strategies for success. You're not going to win playing their game. Now, maybe teams would want to play 'their' game against 80% of the league and then switch it up if they face one of these 3 in the playoffs, but this would be hard to do, especially using the same players on your roster. Barkley is often misguided, but he's correct about some things. During the 2010 WCF, he was right on when he said PHO's only chance to win was to play super fast. They did play fast, but they still could've and should've played much faster. You need to take risks, such as playing extra fast or extra slow, depending on your personnel, playing extra-aggressive defense or jacking up a lot of 3's. The latter seems like the easiest risk to take for most teams, and even if your team is only an average 3-pt shooting team, this will likely lead to more offensive rebounds. And it's hard for any team to defend a lineup that features 4-5 at least somewhat reliable 3-pt shooters. Plus, defenses will have to extend much more and defend more space, this will open up other offensive avenues for success.

The mid-2000s PHO teams were much more talented than 2017 HOU, so it's not really an apt comparison. But, if those PHO teams learned to play a little defense, they would've probably enjoyed more success. With so many stacked teams in the league the last few years, if your team isn't also a stacked team, you better find a way to play that could result in high rewards if you want any chance to win.

 
At Friday, December 16, 2016 6:00:00 PM, Blogger Nick F said...

My point is that the whole thing that made those teams so good was that Nash *wasn't* ball dominant; the thing that made him special was how quickly he could get his team into their offense (hence, "7 Seconds or Less"). Yes, when there was nothing else, he'd probe around and maintain his dribble, but the vast majority of Phoenix possessions involved quick actions and lots of ball movement. The vast majority of Houston possessions involve Harden dribbling for a bit, then either shooting or making a single pass to a shooter. Both teams rely on an elite passer/shooter and lots of threes, and both teams play uptempo, but the offenses are extremely different beyond those basic tenets.

And yes, usage =/= exactly the amount the player has the ball, but it tends to ballpark it. Incidentally, Nash was not in the top 20 in Usage that season (or particularly) close. He was efficient and decisive, so he didn't need to be ball-dominant.

 
At Saturday, December 17, 2016 12:02:00 PM, Blogger David Friedman said...

Anonymous:

I made no "excuses" for OKC's performance in 2015; I pointed out two indisputable facts: (1) OKC tied for the eighth and final playoff spot with 45 wins (usually sufficient to make the playoffs) but lost out on tiebreaks and (2) based on OKC's winning percentage when Westbrook played they would have made the playoffs had Westbrook not missed so many games.

As for Harden, when he went to Houston I predicted that he would put up All-Star numbers but rarely make it past the first round as long as the team was built around him--and subsequently the Rockets have lost in the first round three times in four years.

 
At Saturday, December 17, 2016 1:16:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Disagree about Nash. Nash would never shoot that much overall regardless of how much he had the ball, and he didn't get to the line much either, so his usage % would never be that high. Yes, those PHO teams had many good/great players, so it wasn't necessary for Nash to do absolutely everything, but he still absolutely dominated the ball a lot, definitely one of the most ball-dominant players in the league during those years. HOU doesn't have the luxury those PHO teams did with multiple playmakers. Harden is their only playmaker, similar to most Kobe-led LAL teams. When you only have 1 playmaker on a team, regardless if it's ideal, that lone playmaker needs to have the ball a lot more.

David, when OKC missed the playoffs in 2015, yes, you mentioned many reasons why this happened, which I agree with. But, when HOU makes the playoffs and loses in the first round, you say stuff like 'barely' make the playoffs and constantly denigrate them. You really can't see the difference? You imply HOU making the playoffs is worse than OKC missing the playoffs. Harden's only had 2 years with a cast that's played well enough to even have a chance to advance in the playoffs. Both years resulted in 50+ wins, losing in the 1st round to another 50+ win team, and then losing in the WCF to an all-time great team. Harden struggled a little last year, but so did his cast. Howard, someone you like to praise, seemingly at Harden's expense usually, looks like a downgrade from Capela, who's certainly not contending for any AS spot. Meanwhile, Howard's new team is struggling to maintain the 8th spot over in the weaker East. Oscar is another example. He wins 2 playoff series in 10 years, but he's still somehow a top 10 player all-time, which actually might be true. The main argument is that he had to play against much better competition; however, when this happens to Harden or any other player you don't particularly care for, the same logic isn't applied, which I don't understand. There's so many examples, where to begin. I'll just mention 2013. How exactly is Harden supposed to be expected to beat OKC? He did well just to get them to the playoffs.

You like to dismiss HOU's perceived gimmicky offense, but their offense is amazing and it's working. As I mentioned in my previous post, this is exactly the type of risky offense an undermanned team needs to take down a top team. HOU would be playing the same way even with Westbrook running the show, too. It's actually a great strategy. GS and SA don't have to play this way, though, so of course they won't. But, then again, SA might have 5 future HOFers plus a solid cast around them on their team, and GS has 4 top 20 players plus a former Finals MVP coming off the bench. LAC has 2 top 10-15 players plus an AS center around them. I'm not exactly sure what you're expecting the rest of the West to do against these teams, unless something strange happens like Paul/Griffin going down last year allowing POR to beat them, which wouldn't happen under normal circumstances.

 
At Saturday, December 17, 2016 3:48:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

David --

I will be eager to see what you make of Russell Westbrook if OKC loses in the first round this year. We'll see if he can do more than Harden without Durant, and with comparable talent to Houston around him. Maybe he's not a foundational player either.

You continually whitewash your assessment of Harden at the time of the trade. You actually said, "My opinion is that Harden will max out as a two to three time All-Star." You said you couldn't see him as a first- or second-team NBA player. You said he clearly wasn't worth the five-year max Houston gave him. You compared him to Kevin Martin, calling Harden "a little better" than Martin. You said:

"I could be wrong. Perhaps Harden will be this generation's Paul Westphal, a reserve player for a deep team who became an All-NBA Team performer after being traded. If that happens, then clearly my assessment of Harden is wrong."

You were wrong on all of this. Your assessment of Harden was wrong. I know you have great difficulty admitting you're wrong. But you simply were. I hope you'll stop pretending otherwise.

 
At Saturday, December 17, 2016 7:16:00 PM, Blogger Nick F said...

I rarely agree with Anonymous, but there's some potential merit to his point about the double-standard between David's coverage of Harden and Westbrook, so let's ponder it for a minute.

For my money, I think Westbrook is essentially the rich-man's Harden; he's better on both ends of the ball, but neither strikes me as a guy you can build a title team around (or, at least, you'd have to build a *very* specific team around them in order for them to win a title; lest I be called a hater, that's how I feel about Steve Nash, too, and he's one of my ten favorite players ever).

That said, I know David and I have vastly different interpretations of Westbrook's defensive competence- I think he's an unreliable defender who can be brilliant on occasion but is more often either inattentive or overactive, and often undermines his teams' defensive integrity with poorly advised freelancing or surprising apathy in transition. David, I believe, thinks Westbrook is a mildly above-average defender, possibly even a little better (correct me if I'm wrong, David). That's a pretty big distinction, even if it initially seems like a small one.

If David is right, and I'm not seeing something and Westbrook is actually a plus defender, I think David's coverage of the two men makes sense, and is totally fair. A player who can do what Harden, let alone what Westbrook, can do on offense and still contribute positively on defense is pretty neatly the definition of an MVP-caliber player.

On the other hand, if I'm right and Westbrook routinely costs his team 15-25+ points a night on the defensive end... well, he's still better than Harden, but probably not by enough to warrant the disparity in David's coverage.

There's a separate issue at play, which is mindset/personality. David has criticized Harden for choosing individual glory over team success. That's got little to do with his value as a basketball player, but it's fair for David to prefer Westbrook's mentality to Harden's, which is a factor in what may sometimes seem to be pejorative coverage of Harden. That it appears in the same articles commenting on Harden's basketball acumen may muddy the waters a bit, but taken separately there's nothing "unfair" about it; David doesn't agree with Harden's priorities, and he doesn't have to.

The question of who wins what in the playoffs carries less weight to me; they play for vastly different teams and coaches, so I'm not totally swayed by a results-driven approach here. That said, I think Houston would be better with Westbrook (who's both faster and a better passer than Harden, perfect for D'Antoni's system), and I think OKC would be worse with Harden (as they don't have the shooters to give him the space he needs).

TL; DR: If David believed what I do about Westbrook, Anonymous' complaint holds some water. But David doesn't believe what I do about Westbrook, and given what David actually thinks of the two players in question, his coverage reads to me as fair and authentic. Just my two cents.

 
At Sunday, December 18, 2016 12:09:00 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

2nd Anonymous-right on. Almost everything I hear about Harden on here is quite puzzling, but 2 things stick out to me. One is the Kevin Martin comparisons. Kevin Martin's claim to fame is being part of the James Harden deal. He never sniffed the AS team and his teams were almost always awful. The second thing is Harden hasn't gotten better since leaving OKC. If someone actually believes that, then there's no point arguing.

Nick-one thing I've learned from you is that your player analysis is very interesting to say the least, especially concerning the 4 players you talk about the most(Nash, Dragic, Kobe, RW). David and I agree on almost every player discussed with occasional slight differences, except Harden. With you, it's almost every player in the league. 3 things stand out to me right now. One, you tried to say Ariza is better than Harden once. Even for someone who rates Harden much lower than he actually is, this is very odd. Two, you once said Kanter was a bad rebounder last year, which he was actually one of the top rebounders in the game. Three, you once said Dragic was faster than Westbrook and Parker. Need I say more? Westbrook might be the fastest player in nba history, and you think Dragic is faster. How could we have a debate on players when we can't agree on obvious things like these?

I think Westbrook has been a little better than Harden this year. For the supposed inefficient-Harden talk in here, Westbrook is actually much more inefficient, though. I don't subscribe to extremes like you do usually. Westbrook isn't a great defender, but I think he's still decent, and Harden while certainly not a great defender is much better than he gets credit for in here, too, but not going into that anymore as that'll go nowhere. David talks up individual defense as very important, which I agree with, but he recognizes some of the top players in the game like I do such as Lillard/Irving who aren't particularly good on the defensive end. But, Harden seems to be the only player that gets penalized for bad defense. Most people can recognize and give Harden credit so far leading a team on pace for 60 wins and all that without another teammate that is in AS consideration. When RW scores a lot and gets triple doubles, it's amazing. When Harden does it, it's because he plays in a gimmicky offense and he's really not that good. Unless something strange happens, HOU lose in the 1st or 2nd round, which isn't much of a failure given their competition in the West. Still a lot of season left, but at this rate, OKC will face GS or SA in the 1st round and lose badly. Will David be as harsh on Westbrook as he has on Harden? I doubt it since he has been more harsh on Harden making the playoffs than Westbrook missing the playoffs(2015) so far.

 
At Sunday, December 18, 2016 12:09:00 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

The individual glory issue is interesting. As my dad once told me, he'd rather be a HOFer than win a title. That seems selfish and most people would take the the title probably, but I tend to agree with that. I commend a player for trying to be as good as they possibly can. Whether team glory comes along the way is out of the player's hands often. A lot of luck is still involved in just winning one title even with a phenomenal cast around you. Regardless, Harden or anyone else shouldn't been criticized for this. Maybe you disagree with his decision, but that's moot. Harden has now become an MVP-caliber player and perennial AS. He's certainly worth max money and a larger role on a team. RW, Durant, and James all want individual glory, too, it's no different.

Of course you probably say David's coverage of Harden is fair since you're one of the very few you agree with his opinion of Harden. I've noticed a reoccurring theme in here, which is players he likes/respects he talks about in a much better light, and vice versa. Maybe most of what he says is correct, but in a much better light. What perplexes me the most is he dislikes all the negativity about certain players in the media, but then he takes almost every opportunity for a potshot at Harden. I just want to enjoy the game. Ok, you don't think Harden is that good, let's move on.

 
At Sunday, December 18, 2016 12:57:00 AM, Blogger David Friedman said...

Nick:

No double standard is being applied toward Harden or anyone else.

I do rate Westbrook, in your terminology, as a "plus" defender. His individual defense is not as bad as you suggest and his defensive rebounding is valuable not only defensively but also to start OKC's fastbreak. Westbrook is not only getting long rebounds that come to him but he is going into the paint and taking rebounds from much bigger players and then bursting out into transition.

A note about defensive "gambling": I discussed this subject (in the context of the 76ers' team defensive scheme during the Billy Cunningham era) with Billy Cunningham, Bobby Jones and Julius Erving (separately, not all at the same time). Their concept was that going for a steal was not a "gamble" because everyone is on a string; if Jones or Erving went for a steal and missed, then everyone is supposed to rotate to cover for that. Without having a detailed discussion with Scott Brooks and Billy Donovan and Westbrook and Westbrook's teammates (which, sadly, I have not been able to do), none of us know for sure if Westbrook's "gambles" are proper or reckless. We can surmise based on what we see but if Westbrook gambles and the other team scores that might be a mistake by a teammate who was supposed to rotate, not Westbrook.

I will take Westbrook's energy, hustle and "gambles" over Harden's complete defensive indifference all day, every day. Harden is an awful defender, period, and when the team's best player and the team's coach don't care about defense there is a trickle down effect.

I agree with you that Hou would be better with Westbrook and OKC would be worse with Harden if the two players were swapped one for one right now. I just saw a stat that OKC's plus/minus with Westbrook on the court this season is in the top eight in the league but when Westbrook sits OKC is the worst team in the league! His supporting cast is brutally bad (or at least is playing very badly thus far when he sits); the team literally needs for Westbrook to get a triple double every night just to be competitive.

Westbrook had an insane game tonight: 26 points, 22 assists, 11 rebounds. He is having a historically great season and he is validating what I wrote several years ago when I predicted that he would take Bryant's place as the best guard in the league. Whatever anyone thinks of my take on Harden (more on that in my next comment), I was dead right about Westbrook--and I made my prediction when the so-called "experts" questioned whether Westbrook is a legit point guard, let alone an all-time great point guard.

Regarding the "glory" issue, Harden's mindset is relevant because it is reflected in how he plays.

 
At Sunday, December 18, 2016 1:31:00 AM, Blogger David Friedman said...

Anonymous:

As someone noted in another thread, you are writing a lot more about Harden at this site than I am. You are also obsessed with calling me biased and speculating about my motives (and making up things that I never wrote), as opposed to just discussing what I have written.

We have been around and around on this issue, so I will make a few replies and then I am done listening to your pro-Harden propaganda until the playoffs, when we can revisit the issue after Houston loses in the first round (or second if they are really fortunate).

1) Houston did "barely" make the playoffs. That is a fact. The Rockets have lost in the first round three times in four years, as I predicted they would. It is baffling that you get so bent out of shape when I state simple facts. You are entitled to your opinion but you are not entitled to your own facts.

2) Instead of trying to predict what I might write if a given scenario plays out, let's just stick to discussing what I have actually written, since there are probably over 2,000,000 words of content on this site (over 2000 posts and I am guessing the posts average at least 1500 words). Westbrook has been an All-NBA level player for teams that made it to multiple WCF plus one NBA Finals. Harden was a reserve on one Finalist and the best scorer for one WCF appearance. Those are all facts.

If you feel somehow vindicated that Harden may make more All-Star teams then I predicted, good for you. The gist of my predictions about how he would play and how his teams would perform have been validated, over and over.

3) Kevin Martin averaged 20-plus ppg for five straight years before injuries derailed him. For his career he shot .437-.384-.870. Harden is in the midst of averaging 20-plus ppg for five straight years. For his career, Harden has shot .443-.367-854. Harden is a better rebounder and passer. Neither player defends well. Harden is obviously more durable.

It is interesting that OKC replaced Harden with Martin and did not miss a beat, winning 60 regular season games (you are obsessed with Houston's 60 win pace this season) in his only season with the team. OKC did not miss a beat until Patrick Beverley cheap-shotted Westbrook in the playoffs. If Harden were as valuable as you think, then he could not be replaced by a player who you assert was never very good. You can't have it both ways. If Martin is garbage, then how was he able to fill Harden's role for a full season for a 60-win team?

 
At Sunday, December 18, 2016 1:33:00 AM, Blogger David Friedman said...

Anonymous:

Three more points and then I am done dealing with your Harden obsession:

4) Dwight Howard is fourth in the NBA in FG% and rpg this season. He is averaging a career-high in rebounds per minute and he is near his career per minute norms in scoring and blocks. He is averaging a career low in mpg, though. He is still a very effective player but age and injuries have limited his ability to play heavy minutes. Houston's only playoff success in the Harden era came when Howard was healthy and dominant--but Harden does not want to play with a defensive-minded center and he certainly does not want to pass the ball into the post, so he ran Howard (and two coaches) out of town.

5) I have never said that Harden is "not good" or any words equivalent to that, unless I was speaking specifically about his defense. I have said that Harden is an All-Star level player but that he is not a franchise player. I have said that because of his mindset and his style of play he is not suited to be the best player on a championship team. I have said that as long as he is Houston's best player the Rockets will be first round fodder. I did not think that he would be an All-NBA caliber player--and I don't necessarily think that he should have been selected every time that he has been.

I am not surprised by Harden's individual numbers this season. In my season preview, I wrote, "With Mike D'Antoni running the show, Harden may very well post career-high numbers across the board. Harden may even fool the media into voting him onto the All-NBA Team. What Harden won't do is advance past the first round of the playoffs."

Everything that I have predicted about Harden and Houston (other than Harden's number of All-Star selections) has been proven correct.

6) When looking at Houston's 60 win pace, keep in mind that their victims in their recent win streak include Minn, Dall, NO, Sac and Brooklyn. Yes, I know that they also beat GS. I picked Houston eighth but the West is weaker than I expected (the eighth place team is below .500 right now) so Houston is likely going to finish higher than I expected. By the way, I picked OKC to finish seventh and that is exactly where they are right now.

 
At Sunday, December 18, 2016 12:26:00 PM, Blogger Nick F said...

David-

I'm not interested in getting into an extended run about it yet again, but it would be inaccurate to say my primary complaint with Westbrook's defense is his gambling. My primary complaints are, in rough order:

1) He is inattentive in transition, often either not hustling back or not picking up a man when he does. While he sometimes does put in the effort and gets a highlight chase-down block, he much more often (particularly if he did not like a call or a miss on the other end) strolls back and leaves his team playing 4-on-5.

2) He frequently blows rotations, and finds himself in sort of a defensive no-man's land, guarding no-one. He is particularly bad about recovering after an initial rotation or help play, often lingering in the paint guarding no one in particular (hoping for a rebound?) and leaving a perimeter player (often a shooter) unguarded.

2b) Related to the above, when he does try to recover he often miscalculates and recovers to an already-guarded man. It is possible that this is his teammate's fault on a case-by-case basis, but it seems to happen to him more than anyone else in the league and has happened with almost every teammate. At the very least, regardless of who is "right" in these plays, there is a breakdown in communication.

3) He bites on almost every pump fake, ball fake, stutter step, etc.

4) He often gives up on a defensive possession once something begins to go wrong, and rarely makes any sort of second effort. This one I find especially puzzling, given his intensity on offense. Perhaps it is a function of spending as much energy as he does on offense, but it is still frustrating.

5) He is dangerously inept covering the pick and roll. He tends to Wile E. Coyote into screens, and rarely makes much effort to recover once he does. He also seems to struggle to communicate with his defensive big man if it's anyone but Steven Adams.

6) He does gamble too much, and unlike the Philly teams you referenced to, his teams' systems are not built to cover for it.

That all said, he has been better (if not good) on most of those fronts so far this year. However, he similarly started off last season with an improved defensive focus, before lapsing back into old habits around January. His playoff defense was inconsistent at best, particularly in transition, and frequently astonishingly bad.

I also agree that his rebounding is spectacular, I just tend to consider rebounding separately from offense/defense when evaluating players. I think of it akin to "special teams" in the NFL. It is worth noting for fairness that Harden is also a strong rebounder.

It is also worth noting that in my previous post, my conclusion was that there was not a double standard. Sorry if that wasn't clear.

As for Anonymous, I made the mistake of engaging again, and he promptly misquoted, misinterpreted, and misrepresented conversations that are at this point months or years old (and completely out of context, no less), so I'm resuming my policy of not wasting my time arguing with a wall.

 
At Sunday, December 18, 2016 5:54:00 PM, Blogger David Friedman said...

Nick:

I agree about not being interested in revisiting Westbrook's defense in depth. I would just note that on offensive possessions during which he attacks the hoop and ends up deep in the paint the other guard should rotate back in transition.

I agree completely about Anonymous' tendency to misquote and fabricate. I am in favor of healthy debate/discussion but I don't want to argue about things I never said or things that Anonymous expects me to say.

 
At Sunday, December 18, 2016 9:32:00 PM, Blogger Nick F said...

On a previous topic, you mentioned Westbrook's supporting cast and I forgot to comment.

They're very bad without him, I agree. That team badly needs a secondary creator (though Oladipo may grow into that role), though their starting lineup is overall very strong; I'm not yet sure about Sabonis either way but the combo of Oladipo/Roberson/Adams is excellent defensively and Westbrook's offensive brilliance opens things up enough for Oladipo and Roberson to have at least some value on offense. Adams remains criminally underrated and is in my estimation one of the league's five best centers, stats be damned.

I have hesitated to say too much about OKC or Westbrook so far this season as they have had both a relatively easy schedule and excellent injury luck (compare, say, our other favorite bone of contention,Miami, who similarly has only two truly strong players, several interesting but limited players, and little depth, and has yet to start their best four players together (not counting Bosh obviously) in a single game). That said, the longer this winning goes, the more real it seems; if they can maintain anything approximating this kind of production for the rest of the season they will certainly prove me wrong. So far the only real regression to the mean has been Westbrook returning to his usual poor three point shooting after a hot start, but when someone's giving you the points and passing he's giving you, you can forgive a few wasted possessions each night pretty easily.

In a stricter sense, they will probably prove me wrong regardless; as you mentioned, the West this year is weaker than either of us expected and the barrier to entry for the playoffs is much lower than expected. Even if I turn out to be dead on about my prediction of their win total (I think I said 42 games? 44? Somewhere in there.) that looks likely to be enough in the West.

For as much as we argue about him, I've long been a proponent of Westbrook being an underrated passer, and pretty cleanly the best post-Nash passer in the league except maybe/kinda Lebron (whose height gives him a huge advantage) and that 22 assist game the other night is more evidence in that camp. More than his gaudy assist totals, though, his passes correlate extremely highly with an increased shooting percentage from his teammates; you can't really teach that. I would still take Curry over him for "best guard" with a gun to my head, but the reasons for that have more to do with the defensive end (and secondarily the space Curry creates even when standing still off-ball) than anything else. OKC is definitely lucky to have him.

Of course, if Westbrook misses even seven or eight games it could all come crumbling down. The injury gods are fickle.

 
At Sunday, December 18, 2016 9:39:00 PM, Blogger Nick F said...

Speaking of injury, let's revist Miami, since it's been a moment since we've checked in on them. It is quite likely there, too, your prediction will be closer to accurate than mine, though it is worth noting that I prefaced my predictions with the claim that they were a volatile prediction due in part to being especially ill-equipped to handle injuries, a statement that's proven to be very accurate. Miami has lost already 84 man-games to injury (I am unable to tell if that figure includes Chris Bosh (not sure if his status technically counts as "injured" for the reporting site) or not, but even if you deduce his games they only go from the third most injured team to the eighth).

In games Goran Dragic has actually finished (he's missed five and left early due to injury in three others; MIA went 1-7 in those games) they're .500 (good enough for a playoff seed in the East), but they've likely already dug themselves too deep a hole to crawl out of even if their luck reverses. To my surprise, neither Winslow nor Richardson has shown much growth, and in fact both have regressed, though it's perhaps unfair to judge either when they've both missed a lot of time and/or played hurt. On the other hand, Wayne Ellington and James Johnson are both playing the best ball of their careers. Unfortunately, the best ball of James Johnson or Wayne Ellington's career is still not very impressive.

Still, at an individual level Goran has been roughly towing the line of both our expectations, averaging 18.7 and 6.5 (though those numbers are brought down slightly by the half-dozen games he's played hurt, most dramatically a 5-20 performance with a busted elbow vs. Philly and Detroit). His three point shooting has crept up, as I predicted, but his 2pt fg% has dropped slightly (though again this may be a function of injury somewhat).

As they've turned over more of the offense to him, they've show increasing signs of life, but unfortunately an inability to field a stable lineup or any depth has put them, perhaps, already behind the eight ball. Indeed, even when Goran is transcendent (27-17 vs Boston) and Whiteside is excellent (25/17 in that same game) the team has so little else (thanks to both injuries and a gaping hole at the 4) that they still can't really beat top tier teams. Rodney McGruder is an intriguing prospect, but it is never good news when you are forced to start an undrafted rookie for over half of your games. Miami is also only average defensively despite several strong individual defenders, though I lay the blame for that mostly on an unstable rotation as they were pretty solid earlier in the season before the bug really bit them. Spoelstra is a great defensive coach, and for all his overratedness on that end, Whiteside is certainly a great rim protector, but it is difficult to build a cohesive defense when playing musical chairs with the lineup. Or when starting Josh McRoberts, Dion Waiters, and Luke Babbitt a bunch.

If we were to look for silver linings, they appear to finally be getting healthy-ish, and have played the league's sixth toughest schedule so far. It is possible they could go on a run at some point and crawl back into contention, but for the moment their season seems doomed early.

PS: For nothing but my own number-crunching fun, here's how Dragic's stats play out if you remove the three games he left early due to injury:

46.7% (42% from 3), 20.3ppg, 7.5 APG, 4.4 RPG. I'd probably take that over his PHX numbers, personally, though of course everyone has to deal with injuries so those numbers are little more than an amusing picture of what could have been.

 
At Sunday, December 18, 2016 9:56:00 PM, Blogger Nick F said...

Postscript:

Didn't see the game, but just saw the box score from tonight's Miami/Boston game. It appears to have been more of the same. Dragic had 31 and 7, Whiteside had 23 and 17, and Boston won by 10. The combined rest of Miami scored 41 points on 42% shooting. Oof.

 
At Sunday, December 18, 2016 11:48:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I know I've had it, too. Hey, it's your blog. If you want to continue to slight Harden, that's your choice.

1. Never said otherwise. And I understand a lot of what you say is facts, though the same isn't said about other players. For the record, I initially thought Harden would have fewer AS appearances than you did, which you thought 2-3 max. But let's say we switch Durant in for Harden on HOU during 2013-2016, how well would HOU do? Durant's OKC cast in 2013, even with RW going down, would still be better than Durant's HOU cast. Durant wouldn't have been able to beat 2015 or 2016 GS. Probably beats POR in 2014, before losing to SA in 2nd round. Bottomline is that HOU losing in 1st round 3 of last 4 years doesn't prove anything. RW looks like the frontrunner for MVP, but I still have a hard time seeing him leading a team to a title even with quality cast, which has had for several years of his career.

3. If you still feel Martin is better than Harden, great. Not sure where else to go on that. OKC didn't make it back to the finals after Harden left, and I doubt they make the finals without Harden in 2012, as Harden picked up for RW's bad play in the 2012 WCF. And it's no surprise OKC was still a great team with 2 all-nba players and a solid cast around them after 2012.

Let me ask you this. If Durant played on 2015 GS and helped lead them to the title, and then left GS after the playoffs, does that mean Durant is quite replaceable? Or if Durant played on 2012 MIA, then left after the playoffs? Would you be saying similar things about Durant?

4. Howard's been trouble at every stop in the nba, and hasn't been an all-nba player or AS for several years now. He pouts and was a bad fit in HOU. His current team is struggling. Yes, he's not his prime self anymore, but I don't think he was that valuable in HOU or anywhere else now for that matter.

6. HOU has had a relatively easier schedule so far, but they had a lot of road games to start the season, and still have played 4 more road games than home games. But, they've beaten GS and SA so far. The West isn't it's usual strong self, though I'd say 7 of the top 9 teams in the league are in the West still.

And Nick, goes both ways.

 
At Monday, December 19, 2016 3:50:00 AM, Blogger Nick F said...

Minor update: I was able to confirm that the injury number does *not* include Chris Bosh. Entering Sunday, Miami had lost 84 man-games to injury (their only players with perfect health so far? Whiteside and Haslem). Only the Sixers (85) and the Grizzlies (89) have had more injuries. Following Miami there's a decent drop off to NO and Utah at 76, then Dallas at 72.

For reference, the healthiest teams are the Cleveland, Sacramento, Houston, and Phoenix... not that it helps Sac or *sigh* Phoenix. After them are the Knicks, Spurs, Milwaukee, Golden State, Orlando and OKC (at 31 missed games, mostly from Cameron Payne). Interestingly, Oklahoma had the fewest games lost to injury in the league last season, despite the recent spotty injury histories of both RWB and Durant.

It is similarly interesting that the consensus three best teams in the league- GSW/SAS/CLE- have been consistently healthy-ish over the last few years; I would suspect but could not prove that organizations willing to spend enough to assemble those rosters also probably go the extra mile to maintain them. Or perhaps it's just dumb luck.

Of course, not all injuries are created equal- I'd rather miss 82 games of JR Smith than 12 of Lebron James, for example- but it's still an interesting number to keep in the back of mind when figuring out why a team may not be living up to your expectations. In addition to Miami, I expected UTA, NO, and Dallas all to be a bit better then they've been, and would credit injuries at least partly for their underachieving. Houston, on the other hand, is doing a bit better than I expected, and perhaps losing only 12 total man games to injury so far has something to do with that.

 
At Monday, December 19, 2016 9:45:00 AM, Blogger David Friedman said...

Nick:

What is the url for the site providing the injury data you are citing?

 
At Monday, December 19, 2016 12:12:00 PM, Blogger Nick F said...

https://www.mangameslost.com/category/nhl/#masthead

I had to dig around manually to figure out whether or not Bosh was included though.

 
At Monday, December 19, 2016 5:44:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

David --

There are at least two Anonymouses late in this thread, and we both seem to believe you consistently misrepresent Harden's value. I'm the one the posted on Saturday, December 17, 2016 3:48:00 PM. That was my only post in this thread.

So I don't know if you're saying I claimed you said things you didn't. But in fact you said all the things I put in that post: I was in many cases quoting you directly, as the quotations marks indicate. It's all in your blog archive from just after Harden's trade. (The quotes are mostly from your comments in the thread following your initial post about the trade.)

And no, you weren't just wrong about the number of all-star appearances (although the degree to which you've been wrong about that, as Harden is only 27 and will be all-star fixture for many more years, is quite striking). You were wrong about Harden's all-NBA ability; you were wrong that Kevin Martin was nearly as good as Harden. Most of all, you were wrong, and flagrantly so, that Harden wasn't worth the max contract he got, which was the heart of the matter.

I know you'll keep moving the goal posts, selectively omitting data from your assessments, and appealing to patently absurd measures like single-player on-off ratings over tiny samples, if they fit your views about Harden. You've made that clear by now.

Westbrook is a truly great player. In my post, I did not mean to imply otherwise. Rather, I intended to imply that it is absurd to judge a player's greatness by whether his team gets to the finals--that depends on the team, not just the player, particularly over the course of just a year or a few years. Kevin Garnett's MIN team couldn't get out of the first round either. Jordan didn't win his first championship until age 28, which is a year older than Harden is now.

If you want to say that Harden hasn't been as good so far as, say, Lebron (or, of course, Jordan), was through this point in his career, that's fine--but that's quite a high standard. And what you continually elide is that it's a completely different standard than whether Harden is worth a max contract (particularly the first-time max contract in question). You simply have no leg to stand on in that latter argument.

 
At Tuesday, December 20, 2016 2:23:00 AM, Blogger David Friedman said...

Nick:

I don't want to revisit the whole Dragic debate again. We fundamentally disagree about how to evaluate him and that likely will not change. You are correct to note that Miami has suffered a lot of injuries this season, including injuries to Dragic. However, you have asserted that Dragic is good enough to be the best player on a strong playoff team not just one fluky time but on a consistent basis. You have also asserted that PHX misused Dragic and that upon leaving PHX he would be unleashed on the league (or words to that effect; I don't mean to exaggerate what you intended to declare). Spoelstra is a top level coach and may end up in the HoF but he does not use Dragic the way that you keep saying Dragic should be used. Even when Dragic was fully healthy this season, Miami was still terrible. Yes, Dragic has had a couple big games but I never said that he was incapable of having a couple big games. I said that he is not an elite pg or a player who could be a number one option for a legit contender.

I also believe that Tyler Johnson is going to eventually replace Dragic as the starter. Probably not this year, but at some point Riley is going to decide that it makes no sense to have both Dragic and Johnson. Johnson is younger and he will be the pg of the future, unless Riley drafts a pg to replace both Dragic and Johnson.

 
At Tuesday, December 20, 2016 2:38:00 AM, Blogger David Friedman said...

Anonymous:

1) I don't know what you mean when you write "the same is not said about other players." When I evaluate players I regularly cite their playoff success or their lack of playoff success and I always place such statements in context. Many people had high expectations for the 2016 Rockets to be contenders but instead they barely made the playoffs as Harden ran off two coaches and convinced his best teammate to leave as well. Those are facts and those facts are significant.

The Durant stuff you mention is hypothetical and irrelevant. Let's deal with what actually happened and what I actually wrote, not what I might have written if something else happened.

Morey called Harden a "foundational player" and suggested that Harden could lead the Rockets to a title. Morey has built the team exactly the way Harden wants it to be built, from the coach to the supporting cast. Everything is in place for Harden to succeed. Harden has three first round losses in four years--and the one long playoff run was fluky based on Houston's point differential and a host of other factors that I have discussed at length. The Rockets advanced farther in the 2015 playoffs than could be reasonably be expected based on their season-long performance and--barring a change in coaching staff and Harden's outlook--they will not likely advance that far any time soon.

2) I like how you skipped the part where I lambasted you for your wild hypotheticals about what could happen and what I might say if it did happen--but that is the crux of the matter: I make predictions that, for the most part, come true, and you criticize me for what I did not write or what you think I might have said if something else had happened.

3) Have I said that I still think Martin is better than Harden? You are making stuff up again. What I wrote, several years ago, was that Martin could replace Harden in OKC and the Thunder would not miss a beat--which is exactly what happened. Martin only played one season in OKC and after he moved on his body fell apart. As scorers, Martin at his peak was similarly effective to Harden now. Harden is a better rebounder and passer.

As for your Durant scenarios, if Durant flew a rocket ship around the Earth and then was elected to Congress would you say that he was a better Senator than John Glenn? If not, how can you assert that Harden is an All-NBA player?

That paragraph makes about as much sense as your hypotheticals. Again, let's focus on what actually has happened and what I actually wrote about it.

I know why you refuse to do it: there are over 2,000,000 words on this site and you can't find any meaningful examples of me being biased or wrong-headed or unfair. No, not every single one of my predictions is right, but my record is much better than anyone else out there. You know that and it irks you that you cannot refute what I say about Harden.

 
At Tuesday, December 20, 2016 2:47:00 AM, Blogger David Friedman said...

Anonymous:

4) Howard was an MVP level player for several years in Orlando and he was by far the best player on their 2009 team that advanced to the NBA Finals. Injuries have robbed him of some explosiveness and durability. He did not mesh well with Kobe but it is funny how the media blames Kobe for that one but blames Howard for the falling out with Harden. The reality is actually the opposite. Howard had the wrong attitude in L.A. but he was doing the right things in Houston. As I noted in an earlier comment, Howard is playing very well for ATL this season. He is not the reason that they are struggling.

5) I like how you ignored the part where I reminded you and anyone else reading this that I have never in fact bashed Harden. I have called him an All-Star and a very good offensive player and someone who had the potential to play a Ginobili-like role for a championship contender. I also predicted Harden's stat explosion this season in D'Antoni's offense. If I am bashing the guy unfairly why would I predict that he is going to have a career season this year?

6) I agree that the West is weaker than expected but still stronger than the East overall.

 
At Tuesday, December 20, 2016 3:29:00 AM, Blogger David Friedman said...

Anonymous:

I don't know or care how many "Anonymous" posters are in this thread. What I always try to do is answer comments in the order that they are posted (though some comments I choose not to answer at all).

If you want everyone to know who you are, then simply post under an actual name. Problem solved. I've been posting my opinions and analysis under my own name for over a decade here.

Regarding Harden's All-Star appearances, yes he has made more All-Star teams than I expected. What does that prove? Maybe he will be a "fixture," maybe he won't.

My general prediction/statement/assertion was that Harden gave up the chance to be a significant contributor to a championship contender in order to chase individual glory. I never should have put a number on how many All-Star teams he might make because it really does not matter in terms of what I asserted.

Circa 2013, a healthy Kevin Martin replaced James Harden on OKC and the Thunder won 60 games. The two players were certainly comparable at that time. Harden has proven to be more durable. What does that have to do with Harden's choice to sacrifice likely team success for possible individual glory? What does that have to do with Harden's (in)ability to lead the Rockets past the first round of the playoffs on a consistent basis?

Cite one specific example of me "moving the goal posts." You can't. Period. My "goal posts" for Harden are that he is not as good as Morey says in terms of potentially being the best player on a championship team and that I expect Harden to spend his career putting up big numbers for teams that rarely get past the first round of the playoffs. Harden is not a good leader and he is an awful defender.

KG is an interesting case. Years ago, Scottie Pippen--who never minces words--said something to the effect that KG was not the same player in the fourth quarter/crunch time that he was during the rest of the game. Although KG did have some big time clutch moments for both Minn and Bos, overall what Pippen said was true. KG needed to be paired with a clutch scorer in order to get very far in the playoffs. He needed a Sam Cassell (in Minn) or a Ray Allen and Paul Pierce to take the big shots. I think that it is fair to say that KG should have had a little more playoff success in Minn than he did, based on his abilities and the supporting cast that he had.

 
At Tuesday, December 20, 2016 3:34:00 AM, Blogger David Friedman said...

Anonymous:

Do you really want to compare Harden to 28 year old Jordan? Before Jordan was 28, he rewrote the record books, he won MVP and Defensive Player of the Year, etc. He also led the Bulls to the ECF in a very strong conference. Harden squeaked past a mentally weak Clippers team thanks to clutch plays by Howard and Josh Smith and Ariza. Other than that, year after year in the playoffs Harden has been fumbling the ball like Edward Scissorhands and bricking away from the field as his team loses in the first round. In order for Harden to play for a perennial contender--not a team that makes the WCF once--he needs to be surrounded by four defensive-minded players to pick up his slack (and not mind that all Harden wants to do is dominate the ball on offense) and he needs to have a star alongside him who won't collapse in big moments against elite teams. Harden has a good supporting cast now but he is not good enough to take them very far in the postseason.

Regarding the max contract question, here is what I actually wrote right after Harden arrived in Houston: "Harden was the Thunder's third best player. It makes no sense to pay the third best player max money; Harden is not worth max money and the extra cost would not just be a financial burden for Thunder ownership but also greatly restrict Presti's ability to improve the roster in the next few years."

The NBA has a salary cap and a salary floor. The nature of the system is that many players are going to be overpaid relative to their actual contributions. In this system, Harden is far from the most overpaid but that does not mean that it would have made sense for a small market team to try to pay max money to three guys. That was my point, not whether or not Harden is "worth" a max deal in the larger NBA salary cap system.

Also, on April 26, 2013 I wrote this: "Harden is a young player, so if he works on his game perhaps he can become a franchise player--but because he turned down Oklahoma City's reasonable contract offer and gave up the chance to win a ring in order to be the best player on a mediocre team and because Houston has already paid him as if he is a franchise player I am not convinced that Harden has the mindset or motivation to change his game in that fashion: he clearly believes that he is a franchise player and he is being paid like he is a franchise player, so what voice--inside his head or outside his head--is going to convince him that he has a lot of work to do to reach that level?"

I said that he could perhaps become a franchise player but I did not think that he was one yet and I doubted that he had the mindset to become one. His numbers have gone up since that time but we'll see what it all means come playoff time. I don't doubt Harden's talent; I question his mindset and his willingness to do what it takes to win a championship--but to say that I bash him is to misquote and misrepresent all of the hard work that I have done to provide in depth analysis not just of Harden but of the entire league.

If you think that you can do a better job of this than I am doing here, then do it. If you think that someone else is doing a better job, then read that person's work--but don't come here and accuse me of being biased and unreasonable when you have no evidence to support those claims. Stating an opinion, backed by facts and analysis, that contradicts your opinion is not proof of bias.

 
At Wednesday, December 21, 2016 3:15:00 PM, Blogger beep said...

to all anons

There is no measure of "he's worth max contract" unless Houston accountants will tell you. ;-) Otherwise it's an opinion, so bashing David for having an opinion on the matter is foolish. You think Harden is worth it, good for you. I don't agree, but he's flashy All-Star, probably sells a ton of stuff for them, thus from money perspective he may as well be worth his max contract, but from getting championship perspective not so much for all the reasons David put in his analysis. Not that Harden lacks talent either, he certainly lacks required attitude though.

 
At Wednesday, December 21, 2016 6:34:00 PM, Blogger David Friedman said...

Nick:

A Miami Herald article titled "I'm called the franchise player so I should get the ball more, Whiteside says" contains this interesting passage:

"Where Whiteside’s argument for more touches holds more weight is when you look at the big picture.

Although he leads all players in paint touches (7.4 per game), Whiteside ranks 27th among all centers in the NBA in overall touches with 44.5 per game.

He also ranks eighth on the Heat in fourth quarter field goal attempts (2.4).

In clutch situations (when the score differential is five points or less with five minutes or less in regulation), Whiteside ranks third on the team in field goal attempts (10 of 18) behind Tyler Johnson (9 of 20) and Goran Dragic (12 of 28) and just ahead of Winslow (6 of 16), who has played in 16 fewer games than Whiteside has."

Do those numbers suggest to you that Goran Dragic is trying to prove some kind of point at the expense of team success? As the point guard, shouldn't he be making sure that Whiteside gets the ball in the paint, particularly in the latter stages of close games?

Of course, you know that I am tweaking you because of the way that you kill Kobe for supposedly shooting too much in the 2004 Finals--and please don't go there again, but if you have a credible explanation/justification for why Dragic is not making a concerted effort to get the ball to Whiteside more often--particularly down the stretch in close games--I would be interested to read it.

 
At Wednesday, December 21, 2016 6:50:00 PM, Blogger David Friedman said...

Beep:

Of course, the contract is a side issue to my main contention about Harden: that he sacrificed the chance to be a key player for a championship team because he wanted to be "the man," even though that likely meant he would never win a title.

Anonymous' repeated assertion that even LeBron or Durant could not take Houston farther than Harden has is not only wrongheaded, it is irrelevant. If Harden had stayed in OKC the Thunder would have been perennial title contenders for years; they remained title contenders after he left, except for when Durant or Westbrook got hurt.

The question is not how much help Harden would need to win a title versus how much help other players need or have needed. Harden was on a championship contender, he was recognized as a top notch sixth man and he was on a path that would have led to some All-Star appearances a la Manu Ginobili. Instead, Harden wanted all of the shots and all of the glory. His game and temperament are not suited for being the best player on a championship team, so in order to win a title what he needs is not a better supporting cast--he needs to play alongside a better player and to become part of the supporting cast (a leader of the supporting cast, to be sure, but not the top star).

Morey can keep tinkering with the roster and the coaching staff and he actually makes some good moves from time to time--but as long as the Rockets are Harden's show, a string of first round exits will ensue. I've been right about that so far and I will continue to be right about that.

Harden was the Shaqtin' A Fool MVP last year! I know that the whole thing is a bit silly and hardly a scientific measurement of a player--but has any championship team ever been led by a player who would have even remotely been in consideration for that "honor"? There is a saying that if you mess with the game the game will mess with you and I think of that saying every time I see Harden go through his bricklaying/turnover extravaganza during key postseason moments. Will Harden have an epic game seven and lead his team to a playoff series victory? Sure, it could happen--he has the talent to do it--but if I were a betting man I would bet that if Houston makes it to a game seven Harden is going to fumble the ball all over the place and shoot blanks; if Houston advances in that situation, it will be with Harden on the bench and someone else making the plays, just like what happened versus the Clippers in 2015.

 
At Thursday, December 22, 2016 10:57:00 AM, Blogger Nick F said...

David-

You left out a key quote from that article:

"They say I'm the franchise player. I would think I should get more, but I don't know, man," said Whiteside, who is in the first year of a $98 million, four-year deal with the Heat. "I don't think so, to be honest. But coach's gonna coach."

Spo and Whiteside have always had a- let's call it feisty- relationship. There's certainly a mutual respect there, but Spo's been pretty vocal about his (justifiable) want for more consistency from Hassan, and Hassan has been pretty vocal about how great Hassan is. That, and Whiteside's comments being what they are, I don't think Goran Dragic has much to do with it either way.

Lately, Spoelstra has been benching Whiteside for large stretches of crunch time, so I'd say that has the most to do with it, followed by Whiteside's free throw woes. On a related note, my criticisms about '04 have nothing to do with crunch time; I don't think you want the ball anywhere near Shaq during free throw time.

Another distinction, of course, that Whiteside requires a lot more setup to be put in position to score than Shaq did; while Whiteside's one-on-one game has certainly improved this year, he's still quite limited in terms of post moves/self-creation, and giving him the ball outside of about 5 or 6 feet from the rim generally leads to a contested jump shot (which he sometimes makes) or a turnover.

In fact, in the five games Dragic missed, Whiteside actually shot two less shots per game and averaged 5 fewer points; it's tough to get him the ball where he needs it, and on Miami only Dragic seems to be much good at it.

Whiteside's unwillingness to pass also probably makes Miami's ball handers reticent to throw him the ball anytime he's not in scoring position, as well. Where Shaq could draw a double then kick out, Whiteside likes to draw a double then shoot anyway.

Goran also passes to Whiteside on nearly a third of possessions where they share the court (28.8%). Nobody else is above 12%. They also don't share the court as much as you might think after the start of the game, as Goran passes to Hassan on just 11% of Dragic's overall touches. Particularly when Dragic (their only other reliable scorer) is sitting, Miami definitely should be getting the ball to Whiteside.

All that aside, Dragic shoots 1.5 more times per game than Whiteside. That's probably about right, though I'd like to see both guys shoot a few more times a game instead of Winslow/Waiters. Kobe in '04 shot more than 6 times more per game than Shaq. It's not exactly apples-to-apples.

The passage touches on one of the Heat's biggest problems, which is that they keep pretending Justise Winslow has any offensive value whatsoever. I personally think that Whiteside should be shooting more than he is, particularly since he's the only other guy on the team who scores with any consistency, but Miami has been determined this year to allow Winslow to make his mistakes (and were earlier similarly determined to see what they had with Dion Waiters). Whiteside's reticence to move the ball when he does get it complicates this some- but the Heat *should* be working harder to feed him on some of those possessions that instead turn in Winslow air-balls or Josh McRoberts whiffing layups.

If Goran Dragic, though, were shooting 38% over a stretch of five games while consistently shooting 6 more attempts than Whiteside, I'd be killing him for it. Goran, however, tends to accept when he doesn't have it and curb his own shooting; in games where he shoots below 40%, he takes 6.3 fewer shots per game than in games where he shoots above it.

 
At Thursday, December 22, 2016 11:20:00 AM, Blogger Nick F said...

Got curious and dug a little deeper. I think the "he needs help to score" argument might be the biggest factor; Whiteside shoots only about 4 "unassisted" FG attempts per game, and makes two of them (mostly off of offensive rebounds). He shoots over 60% on feeds from Dragic (and 66% from Winslow, though Winslow only passes to him about once a game*).

I don't mean to bag on Whiteside, who I like, and who has definitely worked hard on his offensive game, I'm just trying to look at this critically; as one of their only two real stars, his FGA *does* seem a little low, especially relative to Winslow/Waiters, so it's interesting trying to figure out why. From what I can find, though, it'd difficult to conclude that it's a Dragic thing. You could make a case that it's a Spo thing, but honestly? I think it's a Whiteside thing. If the guy could develop a steady post game/make his free throws/learn to pass when he should pass, he'd probably get more touches/shots. Ultimately, that's on him.

Comparing outside his own team, it starts to look better for him, as he shoots more than similar-ish players Howard, Jordan, and Drummond... but those guys all have more than one other teammate who can score. He's actually fourth among all centers in FGA behind Marc Gasol, Brook Lopez, and Towns. Towns and Lopez similarly have little scoring help. Not sure what's going on in Memphis, as I haven't watched them much this year, but Gasol is at least probably their best half-court scorer.

Still, none of those teams have a 35% shooter taking 12.5 shots a game, I don't think. Until/unless Miami commits to tanking the season (i.e., when they trade Dragic), they gotta redistribute some of Winslow's shots/touches.

*The passing stats on NBA's site seem suspicious to me. To hear them tell it, Whiteside receives only 19 total passes per game, and makes 25 which doesn't jive with the eye-test for me on either end (unless the passes made include inbounding after baskets or something).

 
At Thursday, December 22, 2016 11:23:00 AM, Blogger Nick F said...

Edit:

The list I was looking at for some reason didn't include Demarcus Cousins, who shoots by far more than any other center. This makes sense, as he's got basically no help, *can* create his own shot, and is tantrum-prone when he doesn't like the way things are going. That knocks Whiteside down to 5th among centers.

 
At Thursday, December 22, 2016 7:48:00 PM, Blogger David Friedman said...

Nick:

In other words, you are saying that it would not be fair or precise to attempt to explain Whiteside's role in Miami's offense--late game or otherwise--just by citing one or two statistics. Those numbers must be placed in the context of Whiteside's role, his relationship with the coaching staff, his skill set, his conditioning and other factors.

I agree with you--but that context must be sought out and identified as much as possible in all situations.

One of my law school professors would say that the writer of the article never completed his analysis because the writer never indicated why the stats that he cited matter and/or what those stats even mean. Proper legal analysis must explain not only that something is true but also why it matters.

For instance, is Whiteside's FG% a product of his dominance, a product of him only being given the ball when he has a high percentage shot immediately available or some combination of those and other factors? Also, how many of those fourth quarter "late and close" shots by various players were heaves to beat the shot clock? I could go on but the point is that analysis is not complete until there is an explanation of why the cited facts are relevant and what they mean.

 
At Thursday, December 22, 2016 8:05:00 PM, Blogger Nick F said...

I agree with you about that. It's why I read you, and why I post here. Where we get into disagreements is when our analysis leads to different conclusions. My criticism of the '04 Finals is not solely a function of FG%, but also matchups (particularly how undersized Shaq's primary defender was), likelihood of drawing fouls on Detroit's comparatively thin (defensively) front court, ability to create open looks for LAL's one-dimensional perimeter shooters, what had historically worked for that Lakers team, how good of a passer Kobe is (i.e., I believe he can pretty much get the ball to where he wants it when he wants to), how the Triangle is supposed to work, etc. You disagree with my conclusions, and that's totally fine, but it's not a question of harping on one stat devoid of context.

I agree that writers should always try to provide as thorough and comprehensive analysis as they can in the space allowed; that's why so many of my posts here sprawl to three or four pages :)

As for your possibly rhetorical questions, I'll do my best:

His FG% is a function of where he gets the ball, his inhuman athleticism, and his burgeoning offensive game, as well as Dragic's efficacy feeding him in the PnR or making dump-off passes to him inside. Whiteside's more skilled offensively than, say, Deandre Jordan (and recently called Jordan out for that, because Whiteside is more good than smart), but he's no Hakeem Olajuwon. Hand grenade shots vary team-to-team, though in Miami they're mostly taken by Dragic, most frequently after a failed Winslow or TJ secondary action eats up the back end of the shot clock (Dragic usually initiates the primary action in those scenarios, so it's not like he isn't getting a touch earlier in the clock, but it's usually a touch that ends in a pass as the defense focuses on denying his penetration).

 

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