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Friday, November 09, 2007

Wizards' Win Total Still Matches Arenas' Jersey Number

The Washington Wizards squandered a 20 point lead and lost 87-85 to the New Jersey Nets, falling to 0-4 to start a season for the first time since 1992-93. Gilbert Arenas had a chance to go for the tie or the win on the last possession but he dribbled out the clock before launching a terrible, twisting shot from the right baseline that was partially deflected by Vince Carter and fell well short of the goal. Arenas candidly admitted after the game, "I should have stayed straight up going toward the basket instead of going right. Once I went right, there was no time left and Vince jumped pretty quick...It was just a bad shot on my part." Honesty is nice but good execution would be even better. This is a good illustration of why the purely statistical approach to player evaluation leads to results that are more quirky than Arenas himself. There are all these numbers about "clutch shooting" but the reality is that the percentages are against any player who is taking a last second shot to win the game, so how well a player shot in a small sample size of that nature does not tell us too much. Ideally, you'd like your best player to be someone who puts you in a position to be leading the game at the end so you don't need such heroics, but I guess there is not a statistic for scoring 15 points in a fourth quarter or making shots with two or three minutes left in a game, which is at least as "clutch" as making a shot with five seconds left. The other thing to consider is that if your team does end up in a situation where it needs a last second shot then you want your best player to have the judgment and skill to create a high percentage attempt for himself or a teammate. The Wizards were only down two points at the end and Arenas had more than enough time to attack the hoop and score, get fouled or pass to an open teammate. The likelihood that Kobe Bryant would, of his own volition, dribble into the corner and shoot the shot that Arenas did is very low. I realize that someone is going to find YouTube clips of Bryant shooting off balance shots, so please note the words "of his own volition": sometimes there is only one or two seconds left and a player does not have much choice but to fire away and hope for the best--but with plenty of time to work with there is no way that Arenas should have ended up with the shot he took, as he acknowledged.

Enough about last second shots. How did the Wizards blow a 20 point lead? Let's look at the play by play sheet, starting at the 7:07 mark of the second quarter when Washington led 37-17. Arenas had eight points and four assists at that juncture. Vince Carter made a couple free throws sandwiched around a missed jumper by Antawn Jamison. The next two Wizards' possessions read "Arenas 3pt Shot: Missed" and "Arenas Turnover:Bad Pass (2 TO) Steal:Kidd (1 ST)." By then New Jersey had cut the lead to 37-24. Caron Butler made a layup and Antonio Daniels missed a jumper. The Nets kept scoring and now only trailed 39-29. Arenas missed another three pointer and New Jersey scored again to make the score 39-31, so the lead had been slashed by 12 points in a little over four minutes. The quarter closed with Arenas getting his shot blocked by Carter, who then missed a dunk, after which Arenas made a jumper as time ran out to give Washington a 41-36 halftime edge. The game was nip and tuck the rest of the way.

The point is not just that Arenas missed a last second shot or even that he used poor judgment with how he conducted the last possession; the point is how he ran the game from the point guard position throughout the contest. Arenas finished with 21 points, six assists, four rebounds and six turnovers while shooting 7-17 from the field, 2-7 from three point range and 5-7 on free throws. Nets' point guard Jason Kidd finished with six points, 10 assists, eight rebounds and two turnovers while shooting 2-9 from the field, 1-6 from three point range and 1-2 on free throws. The box score does not tell us much about either player's defense--which is a serious drawback for statistical based analysis since half of the game is spent playing defense (adjusted plus/minus supposedly accounts for this but it cannot tell you which players are responsible for good defensive plays and which players are responsible for defensive breakdowns). Neither player shot well, but Kidd shot a lot less frequently and got the ball to his teammates in scoring positions more often than Arenas did while turning the ball over less frequently. Kidd also finished second on his team in rebounds. Arenas had a -2 plus/minus rating, while Kidd had a +5 plus/minus rating. I don't know how the two players' box score numbers compute in PER or anything else but I know that I'd rather have Jason Kidd as my point guard than Gilbert Arenas. There is no doubt that Arenas is a talented player but his outgoing personality--and a few spectacular performances--have convinced a lot of people that he is a much better player than he really is. This may sound harsh, but the best thing that happened to Arenas' reputation as a player last year is that he went down with a knee injury before the playoffs; that enabled Wizards' fans to believe the fantasy that if he had been healthy that the Wizards, not the Cavaliers, would have gone on an extended run in the Eastern Conference playoffs. Reality check time: Cleveland beat Washington 4-2 in the 2006 playoffs and after beating the depleted Wizards in the first round in 2007 the Cavaliers beat a solid Nets team that had upset Toronto and then the Cavaliers closed out the Pistons by winning four straight--and a team that beat the Pistons four straight times in the Eastern Conference Finals was not going to lose to the Wizards in the first round, Arenas or no Arenas. The problem for Arenas and the Wizards is that the myth of how well they might have done in last year's playoffs is going to be exposed by how poorly they actually do in this regular season.

Obviously, the Wizards are not going to go 0-82. They will start winning some games soon and Arenas will have some good performances along the way. I also realize that Arenas is not 100% healthy in the wake of his knee surgery; I expected as much and that is part of the reason that I ranked the Wizards lower than other analysts did--Arenas should probably have considered his physical condition before he shot off his mouth about how he and Washington were going to beat the Celtics in Boston's home opener. That kind of trash talk is why I'm not dwelling on Arenas' injury as a major factor in his performance; if he has enough confidence to tell the world what he is going to do, then I am going to assume that he is healthy enough to back it up.

The bottom line is that last year's Arenas for MVP talk was more than a little out of hand and that in the improved Eastern Conference it is going to be tough for the Wizards to make the playoffs this season. The rise of the Celtics means that at least one of last year's playoff teams is headed for next year's draft lottery and Washington is the most likely candidate.

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posted by David Friedman @ 7:04 AM



At Friday, November 09, 2007 12:22:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

"This is a good illustration of why the purely statistical approach to player evaluation leads to results that are more quirky than Arenas himself."

Most statheads don't believe in clutch, dude. That was an unnecessary jab.

At Friday, November 09, 2007 3:51:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...


gilbert arenas a great player his team started out slow this year and there not playing weel right now but they will pickup the pace this year. agent zero still my guy tho for real he is not as great as he thinks and should kep his mouth shut sometimes but thats just his personality and what he says i dont think it's great alot especially if you dont back it up like he didnt. but hell be fine and hel play great this year.

At Friday, November 09, 2007 4:42:00 PM, Blogger David Friedman said...

My comment about the clutch was in reference to the recent Ford piece at ESPN.com that talked about Kobe's performance in the clutch, along with other statistical measures, as a reason that Kobe is not the best player in the NBA.

Statistics are a valuable tool but the output you get is only as accurate or meaningful as the data that is used--and we do not have enough data to make the statistical approach as foolproof as its most diehard adherents think that it is; I realize that a lot of statheads take a more measured approach (pardon the pun) to what can be done with stats at this point.

At Friday, November 09, 2007 7:12:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

"I don't know how the two players' box score numbers compute in PER or anything else but I know that I'd rather have Jason Kidd as my point guard than Gilbert Arenas."

You would hear loud agreement from many statheads on that one. Jason Kidd was the most productive player in the NBA last year according to the WOW. Arenas is excellent, but not nearly as good.

For the game he posted a winscore of .5. Average would have been around 5.5 I think.

Kidd posted a winscore of 7.5 in 38 minutes, well above average, but low by his standards.

I don't believe in clutch either, but performance does drop off for everyone in those situations, as it does in the playoffs also. I agree it was a bad play...


At Saturday, November 10, 2007 2:55:00 AM, Blogger David Friedman said...


Based on what I have seen of Berri's work, Kidd rates highly because Berri overvalues rebounding a bit--the same reason that Rodman rates so well in his system. I don't think that Kidd was the best--or "most productive"--player in the NBA last year but I think that he was more productive than a lot of people realize. Nash is supposedly clearly the best pg in the NBA but in, my opinion, if Kidd is behind him then it is not by much.

The problem with the "clutch" statistics that I have seen is that they deal with a small number of shots taken with very little time on the clock; many of those are little more than desperation shots and I do not evaluate players based on their ability to make desperation shots. As I alluded to in the post, great players make shots--and other plays--down the stretch to help their team win. A jumper with two minutes left and the score tied is every bit as "clutch" as the same shot with five seconds left--and the ability to execute the shot with two minutes left, in the flow of the game, is probably a better indicator of overall skill than the ability to make a desperation shot.

The thing with the Arenas play is that it is a bad shot whether or not it goes in; even if he wins a game here or there with that kind of shot, in the long run if your point guard does not have good judgment then he will lose more such games for you then he wins. Arenas is a talented player, an All-Star for sure, but I about fell out of my chair when people started seriously suggesting him for MVP last season. People said that it was sour grapes when Kobe said (after Arenas' 60 point game versus the Lakers) that Arenas takes a lot of bad shots. Maybe Kobe should not have said that but whether you go by the numbers or rely on observation it is apparent that Arenas takes a lot of bad shots.

At Saturday, November 10, 2007 5:23:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

You could say better than I whether Nash is considered superior to Kidd. If that's so, I think its because people prefer offense to defense. I would definitely say Kidd has been the better player the last two years, but not by a huge margin. The two of them are head and shoulders above all the other PG's in the NBA, other than maybe Chris Paul.

I think it's unlikely Kidd's rebounding is overvalued. The rebounds he gets really are very often rebounds that would go to the other team. He has an amazing ability to get to long rebounds. Also, no one I have ever seen is better at turning a rebound into a fast break. That has huge value I think, not having to outlet. The absence of Kristic and jefferson last year helped him to get to 8 boards, but he has always been a remarkable rebounder.

But I don't want to talk about rebounding, lol. Just did it on the Deng thread over at the WOW. 130 comments and counting.

I agree with you about clutch statistics. I don't think they are very accurate. However, I think they do tell a story that is generally true, which is that star players do struggle at the end of the games relative to their performance at other times.

And having said that, I watched the end of the game, and Lebron was absolutely ridiculous in the last five minutes. Just incredible.

Re Arenas, I agree with you about the evaluation. Re bad shots, at the end of the day last year he was a 56.5 ts%, which means he is fairly efficient. (was going to beat a dead horse and point you to a comparison of Arenas and Kobe's numbers last year, but probably better to leave it alone....

At Sunday, November 11, 2007 12:21:00 AM, Blogger David Friedman said...

Nash has won two MVPs while Kidd has not won any, so obviously someone thinks that Nash is better than Kidd. Nash is clearly the better shooter and if you call their passing a draw then Kidd probably has the edge in every other category (defense, rebounding, size--which is important in switching pick and roll plays--to name three).

I don't mean that Kidd's rebounding is not important; I am simply saying that my observation is that Berri places a higher value on rebounding stats in general than I would. That said, Kidd is the proverbial one man fast break with his ability to get a d-reb and push the ball up the court. Magic did that and Pip did that but few others have done it as well as Kidd.

When people ask me what LeBron has to do to equal or surpass Kobe in my book I now have the perfect answer: look at the last few minutes of the Sacramento game. If he does that night in and night out, offensively and defensively, then he is as good as Kobe. We've seen LeBron do that offensively but it is just as impressive that he not only guarded Martin but that he guarded him well.

Arenas had a very good season last year, just not quite as good as a lot of people think. He takes a lot of bad shots and makes some of them. Take a gander at Kobe's scoring average in the last couple months of the season and his shooting percentages--Kobe was off the charts and he carried the injury depleted Lakers into the playoffs. Think about how good you have to be to score like that with those shooting percentages when everybody knows that you are going to take 20-25 shots. Arenas has Butler and Jamison. Kobe had Smush and a bunch of frontcourt players who were nursing various injuries (and none of them are All-Stars even when they are healthy).

At Sunday, November 11, 2007 10:03:00 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Lol, two mvps. You are right about Nash. He has played on better teams, he is more offensively oriented. that probably accounts for it.

But it's amazing to look at what the nets have done since Kidd arrived. He is a special player.Not a very good shooter though, he has a career ts% of just 50%. I think that probably gets in the way of people's evaluation of him...

Kobe is better than Arenas. Even the WOW can see that. It has Agent Zero ranked as the 30th most productive player in the NBA last year, which seems about right. He isn't a first class superstar.

Re effect of teammates, Kobe actually shot better last year, surrounded by the bad players on the Lakers, than he ever has in his career. His ts% was at 58%, versus a previous high of 56.3%. Obviously this can be read two ways. I think you would say it makes his year even more impressive. And I would say it shows that having bad teammates doesn't always hurt your stats as one might expect.

Re Lebron, I actually don't think he is very far behind Kobe, if at all these days, and if he is it wont be for long.

But basically, I think we are pretty much in agreement.

I think your next post, writing project etc should be, Friedman explains to Dirk Nowitzi why he is playing so bad, what this means to Owen's fantasy team, and how he can correct it...


At Monday, November 12, 2007 3:20:00 AM, Blogger David Friedman said...

If you look at Kidd's career, every team he has gone to got better and every team he left got worse; I believe that is true going all the way back to high school but I don't have the numbers in front of me at the moment.

Nash is really a remarkable shooter. He literally never misses in warmups (most NBA players are very accurate in warmups, of course, but Nash is unreal--and I'm talking about long range jumpers, not layups). Kidd is a more complete player, though. The question is if Nash's shooting advantage cancels out the other areas.

I agree that 30th sounds about right for Arenas; if anything, I might place him a little higher than that, which would no doubt surprise people who think that I "hate" him. Whether he's 20th or 30th, he does not even belong in the MVP discussion no matter how many points he scored. How can you be the MVP if you are playing with two other All-Stars and your team can barely win a single game?

I would say that Kobe's shooting last year is even more impressive considering the circumstances. He simply destroyed any defense that was put in front of him, particularly after the All-Star break. No other player in the NBA could have done what he did down the stretch; in fact, no players other than Wilt, Elgin or MJ have done similar things in the history of the NBA (in terms of 40 point games, 50 point games, scoring average over certain stretches, etc--every time Kobe did something, one or more of those three names came up).

When LeBron has a full season of playing defense like he did at the end of the Kings' game and when he improves his outside shot a bit then I would put him on equal footing with Kobe. That said, I agree that the difference is not much. I think that people confuse me saying that Kobe is the best player with me saying that Kobe is way better than anyone else; I'm not saying the latter at all. I'm a "LeBron guy" and a "Duncan guy" as much as I'm a "Kobe guy"; Kobe just has the perfect skill set, while the others have slight flaws.

I don't know why Dirk is playing poorly but most of the problem is in the area that is usually his strength: shooting. His assists are way up and his rebounding, steals and blocks are about at their normal levels. In six games he had one great shooting night, one decent shooting night and four bad shooting nights. I attended one of those games in person and have seen bits of the others and I don't see anything fundamentally wrong or different with his shooting stroke, so I expect that his field goal percentage will move upward soon. I already explained how Dallas did him no favors by trying to post him up versus Golden State; I don't know if that was his doing or if he was following instructions from the coaching staff but Dirk is most effective as a faceup player.


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