Nightly Picks: 11-19-13


Minnesota Timberwolves (-3.5) at Washington Wizards

Washington’s defense, absent Emeka Okafor, has not yet approached last year’s potency, while John Wall and Bradley Beal have struggled offensively.  They face the Timberwolves, who, after a season of three point ineptitude, rifled the barrels of their once useless muskets, adding Kevin Martin and a healthy Kevin Love.  Now, the Minnesota offense is among the best in the league. While Minnesota’s lack of rim protection remains an issue, they rebound well enough to muster a respectably efficient defense.  The John Wall-Ricky Rubio matchup will be fun.  Both point guards are creative passers -Rubio especially so- and pesky defenders.

Detroit Pistons (-4) versus New York Knicks

Though Tyson Chandler is considered the anchor of the Knicks’ defense, it is their offense that has suffered most dramatically in his absence.  New York has taken threes at a much lower rate compared to last season, and is embroiled in typical Knickerbocker dysfunction.  Carmelo Anthony will have many opportunities to score against Corey Brewer and Minnesota, however it is unlikely that he or the rest of the Knicks can overcome a more talented, less dysfunctional Minnesota team.

Atlanta Hawks (+9.5) at Miami Heat

Houston Rockets (-11) versus Boston Celtics

Phoenix Suns (+1.5) at Sacramento Kings

The Hidden Value of Stephen Curry

Centuries from now, as our descendants laugh at the misguided politicians denying the presence of a global cooling epidemic, the preachers will tell tales of the legend that was Stephen Curry, he of the golden jump shot, flames spewing from his fingertips. No spot on the court was free of his fury, no shot too far, no lane too tight.  However, for all the glorious parts to his game, one significant facet often goes unmentioned.

Watch the Thunder defend Curry on this possession:

The Warriors set a basic down screen for Curry. Typically, a player would run outside the screen closer to the sideline.  Russell Westbrook knows this, and, wanting to deny the jump shot, tries to fight over Bogut’s screen rather than sliding under.  Curry recognizes Westbrook’s strategy, and cuts back on the other side of the screen.  Steven Adams, Oklahoma City’s rookie center, steps towards Curry to delay his catch and give Westbrook time to recover. This action gives Bogut an easy lane to the hope, and, more importantly, Adams almost definitely knows this.

A huge portion of the value of Curry’s shooting is not the shooting itself, but the threat.  Players know that the expected value of a Curry three is very high. Per Vantage Sports, Curry shoots 55 percent on three point attempts after using an off ball screen. To put that in perspective, a Curry three point attempt off a screen is worth 165 points per 100 possessions. The Miami Heat, the league’s best offense, score 111.5 points per 100 possessions.

Against nearly every other player in the league, Adams would simply allow the player to receive the ball a bit more open than usual, trusting Westbrook to recover.  Against Curry, Adams takes two steps to hedge, hoping that Serge Ibaka can rotate to Bogut with minimal time.

Stephen Curry is already considered one of the most productive offensive players in the league.  His passing creates a variety of opportunities for teammates, while few parallel his scoring prowess. However, the attention Curry draw’s off the ball is itself incredibly valuable.  While many factors have contributed to his success, Andre Iguodala is having the best season of his career in part because of the space he receives playing alongside Curry.

Offensive creation is often discussed, and, with the emergence of SportsVu and similar technologies, we will soon be able to quantify what was once an ephemeral description.  Stephen Curry’s mere presence shapes the movements of everyone on the court, and, while the magnitude of this effect remains unknown to the common observer, NBA teams can make much more concrete judgements, measuring the deviance from expected location of defenders in Curry’s presence, or similar actions.

Nightly Picks: Night Two

Once more unto the breach, dear friends”


In which our valiant hero again attempts to conquer the enigmatic lands of predictive analysis.

Miami Heat (-12.5) versus Milwaukee Bucks

The Heat, as per usual, have not had a strong start to the season.  However, with Larry Sanders expected to miss the next six or so weeks, LeBron James and Dwyane Wade should not have too difficult a time finishing through the Milwaukee defense. At least Sanders thumb did the world a service before its demise:

Washington Wizards (+6.5) at Dallas Mavericks

Coming off what may be their best game of the year, an overtime loss to the Thunder, Washington looks to take advantage of a mediocre Dallas defense.  Through eight games the Mavericks have surrendered 106 points per 100 possessions.  While Washington has been no better on the season, the integration of Marcin Gortat has slowed their progression towards last season’s levels. While the absence of Emeka Okafor removes the anchor of what was a top five defensive unit, Washington retains the surrounding personnel.  Okafor, while good, is not irreplaceable.

Detroit Pistons (+10) at Golden State Warriors

Despite two recent losses, the first without Steph Curry, the Warriors have impressed to start the season. Detroit, contrary to expectations, has overcome spacing issues on offense, scoring 105.5 points per 100 possessions. Detroit, on the second night of a back to back, appears unlikely to win in Oakland, but has the interior defensive presence to mitigate the chances of a dramatic blowout.

New Orleans Pelicans (-2) at Los Angeles Lakers

While the Pelicans have suffered through offensive and defensive inconsistency to begin the season, they have one significant advantage over the Lakers: good players.  Los Angeles has done a good job embracing the high variance strategies optimal for underdogs, gunning threes and gambling defensively, but has already lost to the Pelicans, and does not have the defense to contain New Orleans’ bevy of creators.

Also of note:


Nightly Picks: The Return

To the degenerate gamblers worldwide, for they shall inherit the earth… on this next hand, I swear.


Atlanta Hawks (-2.5) at Charlotte Bobcats

Although both teams are 3 and 3, this is not an even game.  Basketball-Reference’s Simple Rating System ranks Atlanta at 0.00, exactly average, while Charlotte is -5.75 27th in the league.  While SRS is not incredibly predictive, it provides a nice summary of the relative schedule difficulty and performance of teams. With the much maligned Josh Smith and his shot selection now in Detroit, the Atlanta defense has suffered.  Al Horford is a very good defender, and one of my favorite players in the league, but he cannot entirely compensate for Jeff Teague and Kyle Korver’s weak perimeter defense and Paul Millsap’s absent interior protection.  However, the Atlanta offense has been excellent, scoring 106.9 points per 100 possessions, and Charlotte, while better than in years past, is simply not a very good team.

Memphis Grizzlies (+6.5) at Indiana Pacers

Indiana, though undefeated, has not been untouchable to start the season, facing close finishes versus the Pelicans and Nets.  The excellent defense typical of these teams has only consistently appeared in Indiana, as Memphis has allowed 105.1 points per 100 possessions 18th in the league.  However, so long as Memphis has Marc Gasol and Tony Allen on the roster they should capable of dominant defensive performances, especially against an Indiana offense that is prone to some very ugly spurts, scoring 102.6 points per 100 possessions, 16th in the league.  Do not think that the Pacers are “due” for a loss, a basic gambler’s fallacy. Indiana is 5-2 against the spread (Memphis is only 1-5), and 6.5 quite a few points to be giving a team that just shut down the mighty Warriors offense.

San Antonio Spurs (-6.5) At Philadelphia 76ers

Although Philadelphia, with the emergence of Michael Carter-Williams, is a more talented team than expected, the Spurs, resolute in their march against time, will not halt for the upstart Sixers. San Antonio has been out of rhythm offensively, but boasts the third best defense in the league, allowing 96.7 points per 100 possessions.  Kawhi Leonard and Danny Green leave San Antonio capable of defending Philadelphia’s perimeter creators, while Thaddeus Young and Spencer Hawes can do little to defend Tony Parker’s forays to the rim.

Orlando Magic (+3) at Boston Celtics

In this matchup of expected tankers, one bold team must shrug off the narrative and win.  Of course, the Magic have actually done a pretty good job of this so far, beating the Clippers and destroying the Nets and Pelicans.  While the Celtics have three wins as well, including a win over Orlando, they have not played at the same level.  Both the Celtics offense and defense rank below Orlando’s, and, without Rajon Rondo in the mix, Orlando has a much more talented squad. Home court advantage has historically been worth around three points, meaning Vegas thinks that these teams are approximately even (or at least they think that the betting public thinks so, which may be a more accurate conclusion).  Orlando, despite what single game results may show, has been a better team so far this season.

Cleveland Cavaliers (+8) at Chicago Bulls

It may have been more efficient to abandon these picks and simply say “all the road teams”.  Both Cleveland and Chicago have struggled this season. Chicago should be a much better team, but has not adapted to a re-structured read-and-react offense and is not performing near its potential defensively.  Cleveland, much like Chicago, has floundered on offense, as Mike Brown coached teams are wont to do, but has excelled defensively, as is also typical of teams under Mike Brown’s tutelage.

Utah Jazz (+3) versus Denver Nuggets

The first home team picked on the night, Utah, faces a team whose starting center, Javale McGee, is expected to miss an extended period of time with a stress fracture in his left leg.  While Javale has not exactly excelled to start the season, anything that results in more minutes for J.J. Hickson is inherently bad. The Jazz awful start to the season may be remedied by every NBA teams favorite medicine, an opponent completely lacking in defense.

Detroit Pistons (+4.5) at Portland Trailblazers

Detroit and Portland are in similar positions. Both teams have solid young cores, along with veteran stars in Josh Smith and LaMarcus Aldridge, and are fighting for a playoff spot from the fringes of their conference.  However, the Pistons and Blazers face contrasting problems. Detroit faces a spacing crisis, but should be an effective defensive team, while Portland has incredible offensive firepower and little to back it up on the other end.

Minnesota Timberwolves at Los Angeles Clippers: Off the Board

As of 12:06 Monday morning, Pinnacle Sports and Bovada Online have not released a line for this matchup.  I would guess that the Clippers, at home, will be favored by around three points.  Both teams offer incredible offenses, questionable defenses, and MVP candidates. This should be a very, very fun game.

A Look Into Tyreke Evans’ Struggles

Written for The Bird Writes:

New Orleans Pelicans v Houston Rockets - Pre-Season

So far, the Pelicans’ season has provided mixed results.  While the both the offense and defense have struggled for spurts, New Orleans ranks 11th in the league in both categories, per Basketball-Reference.  Perhaps more importantly, Anthony Davis has been incredible.  Through six games, Davis has played at a level he was not expected to reach for several years. Although their scoring could be more efficient, Eric Gordon has effectively carved through opposing defenses, while Jrue Holiday is developing chemistry with Davis in the pick and roll.  However, something has been missing (besides Ryan Anderson): Tyreke Evans.

This offseason, the Pelicans traded Greivis Vasquez and Robin Lopez for the right to sign Evans to a 4 year, $43.9 million deal. Last season in Sacramento, Evans added to the relentless rim assaults of his rookie year. After underwhelming second and third seasons, Evans developed a more consistent off ball game and refined his jump shot, resulting in the most efficient scoring season of his career.

Evans was expected to provide the Pelicans with a consistent offensive presence off the bench, and perhaps to serve as the long-term replacement for Eric Gordon. Instead, he has brought, well, mostly nothing.  Through six games, Evans is shooting a 2013 Austin Rivers-esque 37.2 percent true shooting percentage, scoring 8.5 points on 10.8 shots per game.

Although the diminutive sample size means that a portion of Evans struggles are simply the random variance in missed shots, a there appear to be a few recurring issues limiting Evans’ effectiveness.

While no more than a mediocre shooter, an increased willingness to attempt three pointers last season made Evans a much more effective off-ball player, and opened occasional opportunities to drive throughout the game.  After attempting a three pointer on 17.4 percent of his field goal attempts last season, Evans’ three point attempt rate has dropped to 9.2 percent, only slightly above Al-Farouq Aminu territory.  However, the absence of any three point shooting seems to be the symptom of a more important issue.

When the Pelicans acquired Evans during the offseason, I expected him to fill a similar role to offseason, primarily functioning as an on ball creator complemented by occasional off ball spurts.  While I assumed that Evans main role would be as the offensive focal point off the bench, his incorporation into the Pelicans’ offense should be much more creative than it has been so far this season.

Evans has been successful initiating an offense. However, repeated attacks of a set defense from the top of the court will never produce efficient results.  Far too many of Evans’ offensive possessions look like these:

While Evans’ has always been relied upon as a halfcourt creator, New Orleans has the personnel to put Evans in better positions.  While Ryan Anderson’s absence limits the offensive possibilities, even a simple pin down to give Evans’ space before receiving the ball would be preferable to seconds of standing above the break, staring at a prepared defense.

Last season, 24.4 percent of Evans shots, free throw attempts, or turnovers were generated in transition. In this season’s six games, transition has constituted only 18.3 percent of Evans’ offense, per Synergy Sports.  Transition is generally the most efficient offensive category, and Evans’ with his unique combination of strength and speed, has excelled in the open court through his career.  It seems likely that this low volume of transition opportunities is more of a product of a small sample size than of a conscious.  However, the Pelicans were a very “slow” offensive team last season, and currently sit at 26th in pace in the young season. A portion of these pace “problems” appear to be rooted in the lack of speed among non-Anthony Davis big men.  When Davis and Evans play together, the Pelicans average 95.7 possessions per 48 minutes, the equivalent of a slightly above league average pace.  When Evans plays without Davis, the Pelicans slow to 82.4 possessions per 48 minutes, 7.6 possessions per 48 fewer than the league-slowest Toronto Raptors.  Expect this without-Davis pace to rise, especially once Anderson returns, hopefully providing more opportunities in transition for Evans.

The central facet to Evans’ success has been his ability to get to and finish at the rim.  So far this season, it appears as if someone has robbed Evans of this power (trying to avoid a Thunderstruck reference).  After converting 55.8 percent of his of his 495 shots near the rim last season, Evans has converted only 16 of 37, 43.2 percent, of such attempts this year.

Evans’ struggles around the rim results from two issues.  He has received fewer opportunities to get all the way to the rim, resulting in more contested layups and floaters, and is shooting a very low percentage on these attempts.  Evans has the strength and body control to make a higher percentage of these relatively difficult attempts:


Though disastrous so far, the Evans’ experiment is nowhere near a failure.  Six games is never a determinant sample, unless of course you are determining that Anthony Davis is the greatest player in NBA history, and many of Evans’ struggles are rooted in solvable problems.