Would you like Ray Allen to lie?

We desperately want to know these athletes, but we refuse to have a grownup conversation with them. We’re really too angry and jealous to be trusted with so much as a paragraph of their actual thoughts. If a quote can be potentially mocked, it will often get suctioned into the LOL vortex, where middle school sneering obliterates all memory of the source material context. If a great many fans are already angry at the quote giver, then LOL framing gives way to STFU framing. Mad people like to stay mad, or at least, to validate their rage. If you already hate an athlete, you’re liable to sculpt his sentences into one, long, middle finger.

It would seem that a certain former Celtic is trapped in that STFU box because he joined a historically hated franchise. Ray Allen is 37 years old. His team was inclined towards a future involving other, younger options. Allen wanted a different style of play from Boston’s PG-dominant approach. Few expected Ray to get through five Celtics seasons when he was traded there at age 32, so you could say that it’s been a bountiful relationship for both parties.

This is one of the most common occurrences in the NBA, as aging stars often believe in themselves more than their teams do. Reggie Miller is an exception that proves the rule. Even the most cherished, beloved players are either forced to go, or depart on their own accord–often in pursuit of championship.

And for the most part, they are forgiven for doing so, even if the new squad is a rival. Laker fans had few bad words for Derek Fisher when he signed with OKC. Robert Horry was a beloved kind of foe when he came back to Staples in a Spurs jersey. Rasheed

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HoopSpeak Network

Why Ray Allen might not care about Boston fans

Many are shocked that Ray Allen would “betray” his Boston fans. “Judas Shuttlesworth,” they call him. That’s a clever jab, one that’s also funny because it places the stereotypical Massachusetts sports lover at the Last Supper table, serene expression, open palm protruding out of his beer-stained Sawx jersey.

Steve Nash left for the Lakers, the archetypal hated team to those Nash-loving Phoenix fans. Dwight Howard probably uses a metaphorical Magic fan voodoo doll as an insole.

The aftermath of fan slight prompts punditry on how athletes just don’t get how much we love them, or about how they just don’t love us like we love them. I disagree with both notions. My guess is that pro athletes understand the depths to which we love them, but also perceive that the love as false, or worse, unsettling.

Think about it from their perspective. In the absence of knowing someone, how much should your affection matter to that person? And if you don’t know that person, then what is that love? It can be obsession. It can be misplaced narcissism. Fans are body snatchers, living vicariously through these men until the bodies break. At that point, the vessel is discarded, exchanged for a newer, springier avatar by which to romp around your TV screen in.

Ricky Rubio’s draft night was an informative, formative experience for me. The two of us experienced it together, though Ricky probably doesn’t remember my name. I was his draft escort, the PR sherpa who was charged with dragging him through hours of repetitive English interviews. His hatred of that night was palpable. Perhaps he sees my stupid, sweating face in his nightmares. I have an inkling as to what else Ricky might also glimpse in those dark dreams.

It’s a vision that still haunts me.

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Zach Attacks: Time Expiring


From December 12th to opening night, I’ll be releasing a random essay on each team in the league. This post is about the Boston Celtics. You can follow the series with the “2011-12 Team Previews” and “Zach Attacks” tags at the bottom of the page.

The Mayans, man…

They’re really trying to screw everything up for us.

I have a theory without any scientific evidence to back this up. So naturally, I figured the Internet was the perfect place to unveil it. What if time is actually speeding up because the world is going to end when the Mayans are making it end? Sure, some may say the Mayan calendar isn’t predicting the end of the world and really they’re just showing the end of a certain era. Plus, there isn’t any real evidence to show that time is ever or could ever get faster.

However, I remember when I was a kid everything in the world took forever to happen. Summers would last for an eternity, as we’d go swimming, play basketball, and try to find creative ways to hurt each other. School days never ended as we waiting for the final bell to ring and our fun to start. I never remember anybody discussing just how quickly Christmas had happened upon us, even if I was probably distracted by the Shaq-Fu Schnickens combination or knee deep in Saved By the Bell reruns.
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Re: Kevin Durant Doomsaying

Tom Ziller wrote a meaty piece in response to my “Kevin Durant will be marginally worse than the consensus would predict him to be” spiel. To summarize my KD concerns: The kid scores beautifully, but he racked up more turnovers than assists in each of his four seasons. I’m expecting an excellent career, but it would surprise me to see such a monodimensional talent claim the “league’s best player” mantle at any point. Tom’s counter:

“Durant is a finisher. Russell Westbrook, James Harden and Eric Maynor set Durant up, and he puts the ball in the bucket. More than a third of the time, he skips the middle man and does it himself. In every other economy in the world, specialization is valued, appreciated for the benefits it presents. Different scales of specialization have transformed industries and, hell, civilization itself.”

Disagreements like these speak to my love of basketball. More specifically, they speak to my love of thinking about basketball. Ziller has an incisive point: An excellent specialist can be more helpful to a team than a jack of all trade machines. I appreciate this logic line, especially when it’s deployed to defend Dennis Rodman’s Hall of Fame selection. Tom goes on:

“Yet because Durant is single-minded in his focus and singularly talented in one given area of import, he’s dinged and it’s suggested he’s not a reasonable candidate for the label of Greatest Of All Time. It doesn’t make any sense. But it’s easy to see why Strauss would get to this point: in sports, we’re in love with the well-rounded player.”

I don’t need Kevin Durant to transform into Larry Bird, but I expect a modicum of roundedness from a G.O.A.T challenger. His game doesn’t have to be round like a hippo; I’d settle for a

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Boston Basketball Death

The Celtics are dying. The Spurs are dead. Right now, Andrew Bynum might agree: Never trust anyone over 30.

The Celtics fascinate in a way they couldn’t mere months ago. Back then, they rendered competence rote. Garnett, Pierce, Allen, and Rondo played so beautifully together that it just seemed reflexive, and the novelty of such synchronicity wore off. I took it for granted because subconsciously, I assumed it would last forever. Recent events are to blame. Though Boston was spectacular early in the season, the ancient Spurs were even more impressive. Kobe Bryant’s numbers served as a continued rebuttal to time’s designs on the body. The only drop off in Steve Nash’s game was the occasional pocket pass, dropped off to a dunking Grant Hill.

It seemed back then, that age didn’t exist, due to new training techniques, diets, supplements, possibly even untraceable PEDs. An unknown something was propping up this 90’s generation, at times I wondered if God would descend to let us in on the joke. It felt as though old timers had constructed an impenetrable wall between themselves and emerging talent, with increasing numbers of challengers crashing up against the barrier–in perpetuity. I could imagine a 32 year-old Derrick Rose, shaking his head, stymied once more by the middle-aged Boston Celtics in the 2021 Eastern Conference Finals.

It is often said about aging: “It happens little by little and then all at once.” I tend to view age as an encroaching fog that slowly approaches from all sides–until suddenly, it swallows you up. For Boston, the fog-swallow certainly feels sudden. Or, as Dan LeBatard brilliantly put it: “If what we have seen so far is real, if the Heat is indeed fast-forwarding the aging of the Celtics and putting an expiration date on their time…”

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Optical Tracking Data and the importance of screening in the Boston Celtics’ offense

Perhaps the star presentation of the 2011 Sloan Sports Analytics conference was Sandy Weil, who two years ago dropped a bomb on the NBA community by proclaiming, with copious data to back him up, that the “hot hand phenomenon” simply does not exist.

If Weil’s 2009 presentation made people reconsider elements of the epic opening round series between Chicago and Boston (take that, Ben Gordon!), his 2011 presentation reminded me immediately of the current Celtics team.

This year, Weil and the people of STATS, LLC brought less conclusive, but maybe more provocative thunder to Boston, with a presentation titled “The Importance of Being Open: What Optical Tracking Data Can Say About NBA Field Goal Shooting.” Weil explained how cameras in the rafters of a few NBA buildings were capturing every movement of every player and producing data about how teams move, pass and score. For a more full explanation of why this technology will change the way we analyze basketball, read this report from Brett Hainline.

Here’s what Hainline pulled as the salient takeaways:

The three primary results of Weil’s poring through the data and accounting for things like historical player shooting percentages, distance, and shot type:

Tight defense (within three feet) drops expected shooting 12 percentage points (a 50 percent shot becomes a 38 percent shot). Field goal percentage drops one percentage point for every 1.5 feet from the rim. There is something beneficial about the catch and shoot, beyond expectations.

It’s that last one that is most fascinating to me: There is now empirical proof that crisp ball movement can result in a better outcome for the offense. Weil’s data shows that even when accounting for the defender’s proximity, the field goal percentage on catch and shoot plays was higher than expected for the distance of the

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Iso A No-No For Boston

As Zach Lowe of Sports Illustrated has pointed out, the Celtics offense manages to be incredibly efficient despite a high turnover rate, low free throw rate and lack of three-point attempts—the typical markers of an inefficient offense. The degree to which Boston excels at the team game versus isolating its top players also appears to be following an interesting pattern. The Celtics are second in the NBA in percentage of shots assisted and have gone 0-7 this season in games in which the opposing team has accumulated more assists.

Of particular interest is that in these seven games, Boston employs significantly more isolation plays, increasing the rate of one-on-one scoring attempts from 8.5% — (the lowest in the NBA)– to 11.9% which would place them at 15th in the league according to Synergy Sports Technology. Boston has proven to be one of the most efficient isolation scoring teams in the league (6th overall), but that’s at least in part due to the infrequent manner in which the C’s go to this offensive option. Consider that, overall, they shoot 43.9% in isolation derived offense this season, with that number dropping to 32.8% in the aforementioned losses. While it’s entirely possible this drop comes as a result of forced isolation attempts at the end of the shot clock after an offensive set fails, which would be indicative of defensively superior foes ,this does tell us one important truth: the more the Celtics isolate their top players, the lower their success rate in the win column.

Paul Pierce, Kevin Garnett and Ray Allen have all seen their assisted field goal percentage(the percentage of makes that are assisted) increase significantly from where they were two seasons ago due in part to the inevitable aging process as well as the emergence of Rajon

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Why the Heat could Playoff FAIL

Heat Playoff Logo

When pundits talk Heat, conversations are caveat laden.

“Ya, they’re playing great right now. But in the playoffs…”

In the playoffs, the ball is square, the rim’s actually underground, and the Chinese government pressures David Stern into letting a giggling Yao play jetpack-aided. Or something like that. It’s as though nobody wants to admit an inconvenient truth: The Heat are great. America’s not getting redeemed through their demise. Sympathies to sports school marms everywhere.

The winning Heat remain enemies to many, and in the absence of current South Beach pain, LeBron haters are paying the schadenfreude forward–to the playoffs. Others hold no grudge, but favor the success they know (Lakers, Celtics) over the succes that hasn’t occured yet. Either way, hordes are grasping for reasons, rationales and talking points to explain a negative prediction.

What confuses me is, why aren’t Global Heating deniers grabbing the right arguments? Miami could suffer a playoff stumble, for reasons that aren’t these:

“In the playoffs, they can’t run that fast pace! Everything slows down.”

That makes sense, except the Heat don’t exactly run.

“They’re too small! That can’t work in the playoffs.”

Yes, the Heat big men are staring at the Retirement Reaper, but know that 7-footers Illgauskas and Dampier are looking down when they do it.

“Who gets the last shot! Who gets the last shot!”

Um, the guy who shoots last, I would presume? Contrary to widespread belief: The rules allow more than one player to score in crunch time.

“How are they going to defend and protect the rim in the playoffs?”

My guess is that Miami’s top 3 defense will be allowed to play during the postseason.

So, why all the flawed “Heat-flaw” arguments? Why are Heat-haters juggling red herrings with their feet? Perhaps this

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The Boston Celtics’ Secret To Efficient Crunch Time Scoring

Last night fellow HoopSpeaker Ethan Sherwood Strauss and I were G-chatting during the final moments of the Celtics-Knicks game. With thirteen seconds left, the Knicks had given the ball back to the Celtics, and we were both certain  the Celtics would get a great look and probably score. In fact, Ethan, who is a Knicks fan, was so nervous, he wondered if New York would be better off fouling immediately, going down one or two points, then getting the ball with about 10 seconds to run a final play. His reasoning:

Ethan: call me nuts, but shouldn’t the knicks just foul

i trust their ability to make a shot better than their ability to defend

annnnnd

me: so true

Ethan: bam.

As predicted, Paul Pierce got a favorable match up, went to his happy place on the right side, free throw line extended, and put in a routine 16 footer.  A simple ball screen between Pierce and Garnett switched one of the Knicks’ worst defenders, Amar’e Stoudamire, onto the Celtics’ best one-on-one player in his favorite place on the court. It was merciless, it was clean, and it was routine. That’s how the Celtics are able to get great looks down the stretch– they run the plays and take the shots that they take for the first three and a half quarters.

And why not? So far this year, the Celtics have the most efficient offense in the league shooting 50.9% from the floor with an Effective Field Goal percentage of 54.27% and a True Shooting percentage  of 57.9%. All these metrics lead the league.

Paul Pierce, probably about to get "fouled"

This incredibly efficient offense kicks into another gear in the final minutes of tight games, which is important because the Celtics have already played thirteen games

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On Chemistry: It’s Time For Some Role Playing In Miami

On Wednesday, Tom Haberstroh, in the finest tradition of statistical analysis, asked if team chemistry could be more accurately quantified by altering the statistical indicators we currently use, like usage (an estimate of the percentage of team plays used by a player while he was on the floor), individual and team field goal percentage. Four months ago, when I envisioned the two best wing players in the world on one team, I saw endless high flying alley-oops, backdoor cuts and the seemingly limitless potential for defense-obliterating pick-and-rolls between Wade and James. We’ve seen some dunks, but, as Haberstroh notes, despite being friends off the court, there seem to be some very real chemistry issues between Wade and James that are entirely rooted in on-court dynamics.

I hate to play the role of hoops psychologist, and I’m not a fan of using out of context quotations to make sweeping generalizations about a player’s character or attitude. But, uhm… here I go.

It’s my belief that LeBron and Dwyane’s chemistry issue—which has caused LeBron to turn the rock over at a league high rate and Wade struggle with his field goal percentage (a career low 44.3%)—stems from a lack of definition in their offensive roles. For their entire careers, both players have had free license to define their roles as they saw fit. This is not because the two All Stars share a deep seated hubris (though this is a possibility), but because their talent for pure creation both as scorers and passers defied the traditional scoring/distributing dichotomy. LeBron in particular is famous for switching between what is often called “Magic” and “Jordan” modes. They earned that freedom by taking on more responsibility than practically all other players in the league.

Some specialization could go a long ways for these

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