Saturday, August 28, 2010

France Believes in Miracles. Or At Least Upsets in the Prelims.

Croatia might have given the USA a good run for a quarter, but France was able to pull off the real deal. In what I'm going to call a stunning upset, the French (without Rodrigue Beaubois or Tony Parker) dealt a loss to the heavily favored Spanish team, winning 72-66. And by heavily favored I mean, like, to win the entire FIBA World Championships, depending on who you ask.

It's kind of a big deal.

So how did the French do it? First, the numbers.

Spain shot 39.2% from the field  and hit 37.5% (9-24) from deep. France forced Spain into 16 turnovers. Meanwhile, the French shot 46.9% from the field while going 6-18 (33.3%) from deep. Sounds pretty good, right? Well, France still had 19 turnovers (probably a factor of not having their country's two best PGs on the team, as much as Spain's ball hawkery).

That's +7.7% from the field, -4.5% from deep, and  -3 on turnovers for France. They were also outrebounded, although only by a single carom. On the offensive boards, Spain was +5 over France.

Perhaps more of the story is told when we see that, although the beneficiary of more turnovers (plenty of which led to fastbreaks), Spain had half as many assists as France (7-14). But really, did France have so much better ball movement and execution over that of Spain? Only in the deciding 4th quarter. (More on that later)

One area France did hold the clear advantage was in efficieny in scoring, however. Double-digit scorers for France (Mickael Gelabale, Nicolas Batum, Andrew Albicy and Alain Koffi) each shot 50% from the field or better. Meanwhile, Spain received a double-digit effort from only two players (Rudy Fernandez and Juan Carlos Navarro), with La Bomba shooting 5-12 and Rudy going 3-7, and although both supplemented their high usage with trips to the line by going a combined 9/10, France's double-digit scorers did as well, going a combined 14/16.

Don't let that fool you, however. In the halfcourt, France had to take tough looks in probably 90% of their half-court possessions. Spain didn't get going in the half-court either, judging not only by their shooting percentage, but also the eye test, which showed plenty of frustration on the Spanish side. If we call the offenses a wash from the floor, what do we have left?

Free throws. The Spanish got to the line 32 times to France's 27. So why are we talking free throws if the disparity is so minimal? Because France shot 74.1% from the foul line (for 20 points), while Spain only managed 53.1% (for 17 points). That's a 3-point swing and half of the final deficit. That means that if Nic Batum doesn't hustle and block what would have been 2 (maybe more) wide-open fastbreak layups, and Marc Gasol and Felipe Reyes shoot at least 50% from the foul line, then Spain wins this game. Even with the terrible overall shooting percentage and execution, Spain could have won this game in just about the easiest way possible, from the foul line.

But they didn't. Let's see exactly how it went down, quarter to quarter:

The Spanish generally dominated the 1st quarter, going into the post with Marc Gasol and using him to distribute if a double came. Juan Carlos and Ricky functioned as entry passers, mostly, which worked well. Spain went away from this lineup (which guided them to a 18-9 lead at the end of the 1st quarter) and allowed France to make their comeback in the 2nd quarter, however.

The Spanish offense early in the 2nd quarter featuring Llull as its key facillitator led to a few wild drives, along with some missed easy looks from just about everyone on the floor for Spain. After this failed experiment, Ricky, Rudy and Juan Carlos are counted on to bring the offense back (by way of feeding the post again and hitting open shots), but mostly the Spanish were killed by missed free throws from Reyes (in for Gasol), who also couldn't initiate any offense in the post, unlike Gasol did at different points.

On the other end, Spain did just as well as they had in the 1st, as far as effort and pressure, but France was bailed out by Gelabale several times, along with some good passing late from Diaw, who had been on the bench for most of the quarter. In fact, Diaw was the best facillitator the French had in the first half of the game, as Albicy functioned mainly to throw a single pass and watch Gelabale try to find a way to score against the swarming Spanish defense.

Compounding these problems, Spain went 3-8 from the foul line in the 2nd quarter, with Reyes going 1-6 with a turnover. With no post option, Spain started jacking quick 3s off of screens, none of which fell, leading to a meager 1 point lead at the half (28-27).

In the 3rd quarter, Spain brought Marc Gasol back out along with Reyes, Rudy, Rubio, and Juan Carlos. The Spanish defense remained stout, as did the French, and the teams essentially traded sloppy offensive possessions. Spain clearly wanted to establish Gasol as a scorer and facillitator in the post (just like in the first half), but Ian Mahinmi played absolutely great defense, denying and wrestling position from Gasol each and every time down the court. Without Gasol able to distribute, Spain ends up going to Juan Carlos Navarro again and again, along with Rudy Fernandez hitting a 3 in transition. France struggles at different points in the quarter, but really get going when Bokolo comes in to run the offense at PG rather than Alvice. Bokolo absolutely lights a fire with his passing, including the final assist of the quarter, which pulled France within 1 point of Spain to end the 3rd. Before Bokolo entered the game, France was absolutely reeling on the offensive end, which led to Spain's best offense on the game, due to the many transition opportunities afforded by the bad shots and poor passes.

The 4th opened with Raul Lopez and Bokolo in a duel of backup PGs. Raul functioned to get bigs going in the pick and roll (including a nice dish to Fran Vasquez), as well as a danger to hit deep shots. Bokolo utilized his quickness to slice through the Spanish 2-3 zone (brought out immediately in the 4th), and got both Koffi and Batum going at different points, before getting a little sloppy and being replaced by Albici.

At this point, Batum became France's PG, driving and dishing and trying to get good looks for France. Gelobale makes his return appearance with a clutch 3 just as Spain starts to get back to ball movement and interior passes that got them the lead in the 1st quarter. About mid-way through the quarter (when France got within 1 point of the lead), Spain started to get sloppy.

It went like this:\

Rudy Fernandez isolates and takes a terrible 3, leading to a rebound and outlet to Albice, who Rudy intentionally fouls before a 2 on 1 break develops. Spain gets a steal, but go to Navarro to bail them out on offense and he airballs a 3. France goes down on the other end and Spain leaves Gelobale wide open and France takes a 1 point lead. Rubio with a pass to Rudy for 3, brick. Diaw drives and dishes to Traore for a wideopen baseline 10-footer. Spain answers with a Garbajosa 3 to tie, but you can tell that this isn't the same Spain that we've been watching.

Suddenly, this is a Spanish team that's making one pass and jacking a 3 (4 possessions in a row) to answer a French team that is suddenly finding the open man and getting easy looks. The Spanish give up another drive and commit a foul.
All those missed opportunities are starting to come back to bite them.

"Timeout, Spain."
This wasn't to break a run, this was to keep composure. Batum gives France a 2-point lead and Spain is ready to answer. Whistle. Foul under the basket against Ian Mahinmi. Gasol at the line. 1st one? Clank. 2nd? Clank. But France can't control the rebound. 3 minutes to go. Where does Spain go when they need a bucket? Navarro. He gets the ball on the move and takes it through the lane. Whistle. Travel. France still leads by 2, and now they have the ball. Batum drains a 3 with 6 on the shot clock. 5 point lead, 2:30 to go. Spain finally runs offense and gets a good cut from Rudy who misses a dunk and gets fouled. He goes 1-2. Spain fouls Mahinmi on the rebound. Now things are getting serious. Mahinmi hits both. 6 point game with 2 minutes to go. Gelobale fouls Reyes. You know this guy isn't going to hit, and he doesn't. You absolutely have to feel for Reyes. France runs clock, still up 6. Gelobale slices through the lane and throws a no-look pass to Mahinmi, who is fouled by Rudy Fernandez. 1:43 to go and Spain is trailing by 6 with Mahinmi going to the line. Whistle. Rudy gets T'd up. France ends up scoring 5 points on that single possession. After a little garbage time action that might have given some hope to Spain supporters, the buzzer sounds. France wins 72-66. You just saw the defending champions collapse in the 4th quarter.

What does this mean to me? No, not that Spain isn't going to end up in the semi-final matchup against Team USA.
To me, it means that if Spain can't write anyone off, then neither can the USA. There are no guaranteed spots in this tournament.

Friday, August 6, 2010

Take My Rudy, Please.

It has been known for some time (tracing back to when Matt Moore wrote about the situation for NBC [link:] , and possibly earlier than that) that Rudy Fernandez desires a bigger role than what he has been offered with the Portland Trail Blazers. His playing time in his breakout (and record breaking) rookie season was reduced from 25.6 minutes per game to 23.2 minutes per, not a huge drop by any means.

So what's the problem? Kelly Dwyer makes the argument that Rudy is unhappy and misused, possibly because he wants the ball in his hands as a creator off the bench. More directly, Dwyer says that Rudy's game up to this point should be thrown out, so to speak. The idea portrayed is that Rudy has been so misused that there is no reason to not assume he won't perform better in the previously described role of 6th man creator-scorer with another team.    

The teams rumored to be interested in Rudy Fernandez? The Knicks, Bulls and Celtics.

Each of them would be perfectly happy to pick up a cheap (1.24 million this season, then a team option for 2.1 million next season via, no risk, 6'6 shooting guard that can hit threes and handle the ball. So it's a no-brainer that one of them will go out and get him, right? Nope. Because the Trail Blazers have reportedly beendemanding a first rounder for Rudy, the Celtics went out and got Von Wafer (a guy who after signing overseas last season and later failing a physical that would have allowed him to play for the Rockets, had averages that looked like this: 36.4% from the field, 3.0 points per game, 1.3 rebounds per game with Olympiacos...and it looks like he only played 3 games for them). The Bulls? They went out and signed Keith Bogans for 2 years at around $2.5 million, with the second year only partially guaranteed. The Knicks are apparently refusing to part with a future 1st rounder (why start now?), according to reports.

So is anyone going to take Fernandez and his no-risk deal on? Will he be stuck with the Blazers for another season? No one knows for sure, obviously.

Personally,  my bet is still on the Bulls. They just acquired Bogans, but do they want to play him significant minutes at any position (SG or SF, that is)? Absolutely not. Despite having CJ Watson at the backup PG position, Rudy could still be a primary 6th man creator or secondary ballhandler with the Bulls, which is exactly what the exalted Kelly Dwyer suggests would be his best role. At the same time, despite his poor overall shooting %, he's a good 3-point shooter, which the Bulls certainly wouldn't mind. Sacrificing a late 1st rounder is well worth that, I feel, when they can decline his option if it doesn't work out next season.

Thursday, August 5, 2010

Carmelo Anthony: Misconceptions

I recently took a hard look at some of Carmelo Anthony's numbers, as it was brought to my attention by Noam Schiller that Carmelo Anthony's rebounding numbers have not been steadily improving, but they've actually declined some. I started out with doubts about this, having looked at Melo's numbers when a hilarious argument broke out about Andre Iguodala being a better player than Melo.

Anyway, I thought that my doubts had been made legitimate when I saw that Anthony's rebounding numbers in the 09-10 season had only regressed by .2 rebounds per game from 08-09 (from 6.8 in 08-09 to 6.6 in 09-10), since that's a minuscule change not worth noting. It was then pointed out to me (again by Noam) that Melo's rebounding percentage had decreased from 11.5 in 08-09 to 9.9 in 09-10. Among small forwards in 08-09, that 11.5 TRB% mark puts Melo at #4 in the league among swingmen who played 40 or more games and 30+ minutes per game, trailing only the likes of LeBron James, Mike Miller (!), and Gerald Wallace (the guy they call Crash because of his tenacity). His rate in 07-08 was slightly worse, but still great.

So, does that drop to 9.9 TRB% last year knock Melo way down the list in rebounding rate? Turns out that it doesn't. Using the same parameters, Melo was #7 in the league last season in TRR/ TRB% (same thing), which is well above average.

While I was researching this information, it came to my attention that Carmelo is known as a jumpshooter (and credited with being very good from mid-range). I assumed this to be true, mostly from anecdotal evidence. According to, Carmelo Anthony actually had the 2nd most attempts at the rim of any player last season (outdone only by rookie Tyreke Evans). This is the guy known to not have the "same drive as D-Wade," as well as being called soft, and he gets to the rim more than anyone in the league (other than one great rookie) and is one of the best rebounders at his position.

The mid-range shooter moniker isn't totally incorrect, however, as he shot the most attempts at 16-23 feet of all swingmen (same parameters as used earlier), making just above league average at 40%. He also shot the 4th most attempts from 10-15 feet of swingmen with those same parameters.

By no means am I Carmelo fan, as I feel the main misconception about Carmelo Anthony is that he's an elite player. According to numbers I've seen as far as his TS% etc., and from what bloggers have told me about Tom Haberstroh's recent piece on Melo (which I can't read, thanks to ESPN Insider), Carmelo Anthony is an average shooter that can get to the rim (and shoot slightly below average when he gets there, among swingmen) and gets a lot of attempts. This isn't to say that he's not a good player, it's just as far as the percentages go, he's average.

Nevertheless, I found the numbers pretty shocking, as compared to what most people think about Carmelo Anthony's style as a player.

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

No Guarantees

If you don't mind, denizens of the internet, I'll start everything out by lowering your expectations.

You see, the closest I've come to writing long-form NBA analysis in the past has been through angry E-Mails complaining about horrific Suns draft picks or comically bad  play from the Clippers. As fun and therapeutic as that is, I'll try to offer up a little more than angry rants. Not much more, though, as I find my main skills are ranting and snarky comments on basketball chats and twitter. As a further aside, there may be random notes on non-NBA basketball, or even on other sports, so be prepared for those.