Tag Archives: National Basketball Association

Part 1: The Return of Adrian the Canadian

It’s been awhile since we’ve heard from the real Rules Guru, Adrian the Canadian. He has a good excuse – he’s been busy studying rules that actually matter to prepare for Ontario’s bar exam. However, my recent post addressing two soccer articles by my brother Conor lulled him out of hiding. Conor’s spot-on tribute to the toughness of Carles Puyol set me off on a tangent about soccer’s worst trait: diving. In Part 1 of his return, Adrian tells FIFA how to clean up this eyesore:

I’ve been watching a lot of Euro 2012 recently. The standard of play has been high. Games have featured ample scoring, good defense, and the top teams have made it through, leaving us with two potentially excellent semi-finals and the prospect of an even better final. And yet I’m still deeply troubled by the amount of diving in the game. Every half features at least one or two incidences of notorious play acting as players, in an attempt to draw a foul, contort and moan on the grass. It’s not just inelegant, it slows down the game and interrupts potentially excellent passages of play. Worst of all, I think the problem is a tractable one, just one that football authorities have been reluctant to combat.

The biggest problem with eliminating diving is that there will always be a tremendous incentive for players to dive. As we all know, it’s very difficult to score in soccer. Having a stern penalty for fouls in the penalty area – a penalty shot and near sure goal (unless you’re England) – opens up play and increases scoring. The issue is compounded by the fact that soccer is a fast game. It’s very difficult for officials to determine whether a challenge was legitimate or not or whether a player is diving or was actually hurt by a tackle. Thus, we should avoid a rule that makes scoring more difficult or a rule that puts a greater onus on the referees – they’re in a difficult enough situation as it is.

The most intuitive solution is what the MLS does (and what the NBA is threatening to do) – it decreases the incentive to dive Continue reading

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Basketball questions

I’ve been watching my fair share of basketball during the playoffs — very exciting, compelling series so far, despite the injuries. However, I have a few questions:

  1. Why do you have to hand the ball to the ref before you throw it in? Wouldn’t it be much more exciting to let players throw it in as soon as they can get a ball, like a soccer throw in? Teams are allowed to do this after a made basket already. Add another commercial break to balance out the faster pace if that’s what it takes.
  2. Why can you only draw a charge if you stay on the ground and fall over? The offensive player can draw a foul while jumping and keeping his feet, why not the defense? If the defender jumps, the best case is a no call. Referees have a big say at the end of basketball games, but it’s not a bigger say than baseball umpires, for example, who must make every ball and strike call. I think one of the reasons people persecute basketball refs (besides the Tim Donaghy scandal) is that the foul rules aren’t especially consistent.
  3. Why do teams get so many timeouts, especially in the first half? They have lots of practiced plays that they can signal in from the sideline. I suppose that the endgame timeout flurries increase the tension on those individual plays, but the downtime in between is no fun, and I bet the rest of the game seems less important by comparison. Again, if we need a couple more evenly spaced TV timeouts or sponsors on the jerseys to compensate, I’m fine with that.

These are my questions. Do you have any answers?

More NBA spatial data

Adrian the Canadian — my designated Deadspin trawler — sent me an interesting graphic by Kirk Goldsberry and Matt Adams showing the highest percentage shooters from various regions of the court. You might recall that Goldsberry presented similar work at the Sloan Sports Analytics Conference in March (runner up for the research award). My take on this work is that, while interesting and impressive in terms of data, much of the spatial variation in shooting could be explained by factors other than location-specific shooting ability (this will sound familiar if you read my post yesterday on player tracking data).

First, random chance is an issue, especially when trying to identify the best shooters at each location. I think Goldsberry requires a certain number of shots for inclusion at each spot, but he doesn’t do the statistical analysis to determine whether the differences he presents are statistically significant (i.e., large enough such that they are probably not due to chance variation). His big surprise — Rondo leading the league in one mid-range zone — is likely based on a fairly small sample of shots.

Second, defensive position is missing from the analysis. A big red flag for this one is that Durant, at only 40% shooting, leads in the three point zone just to the shooter’s right at the top of the key. Every other three point zone has a guy over 50%. Unless there’s something challenging for right handers Continue reading

The Tank Watch (4/27/2012, final edition)

Earlier this spring, my coauthor Chris and I discovered that NBA teams tank a lot, especially teams in the first or second lottery position. This season, I’ve been tracking team performance before and after playoff-eliminated teams locked in to their lottery position. Once teams clinch their spot, there’s no incentive to tank anymore. We found that teams play much better after clinching. Here’s what things look like this year:

The Tank Watch

As I thought a couple weeks ago, the lockout bunched everyone up this year. There just weren’t enough games for teams to separate at the bottom. Only the Bobcats, Wizards, Timberwolves, Trail Blazers, and Bucks clinched their spots before the season ended. This doesn’t mean that teams weren’t tanking (see my post on the Cavs yesterday), but I can’t really test for tanking in a foolproof way. And, comparing pre/post clinch winning percentage doesn’t identify all tankers, since some teams may make personnel decisions that are irreversible (Exhibit A: the Warriors) and others just get so used to losing or are so terrible that motivation fades (Exhibit B: the Bobcats).

The one team that looks like a tank show for sure is the Wizards, who essentially clinched the second lottery spot a week ago, and rattled off five wins to finish the season. While the Wiz were playing all their stars down the stretch (since they had no reason left to lose), their buddies at the bottom (Cavs, Timberwolves, Warriors) were sitting everyone down or trading them. The big outlier of course is the Hornets, who, due to their league ownership, kept Eric Gordon alive and played GREAT down the stretch. At least it only cost them one spot in the end (they finished tied for third), and Hornets fans can be optimistic about next year with Gordon.

Now that we’re done with all that tanking, let’s get on to the NBA’s second season, where all the best players get to play, all the stadiums are full, and all the teams are above average.

Cavaliers, what have you done?

Yesterday, based on my past research with my buddy Chris, I predicted that the Wizards would take it to the Cavaliers last night. The Wizards were already locked into the 2nd lottery position, while the Cavs could still move up or down. Well, I was right. The Cavs looked good to start the game and then slowly faded away.

Our research shows that teams who haven’t clinched play worse than teams that have. In other words, they tank. However, we haven’t determined how they do it. Are players actually trying to lose, or is it all personnel decisions? Last night’s game gave us some evidence for the latter: Continue reading

Here come the tanks

There’s a lot to decide in the NBA draft lottery still, with six teams bunched between 21 and 23 wins. The most unfortunate of these teams is the Hornets, who have won 62% of their games since they were eliminated from the playoffs on March 31st. They’ve beaten such quality teams as the Nuggets, Rockets, Jazz, and Grizzlies in that stretch — pretty much unheard of for a team in their position — and risen from possibly 2nd in the lottery to a potential tie for 5th (meaning they get the average lottery odds between 5th and 6th places). I’m sure this is due to league ownership (which forced the Hornets to bring back Eric Gordon). It’s a great “natural experiment,” actually, that provides further evidence of tanking by all other (individually owned) teams.

A few teams have clinched their lottery spots already: the Bobcats, Wizards, Timberwolves, and Trail Blazers. My research with my buddy Chris shows that these teams should pick it up now that there’s no reason to tank. Stay tuned for the final Tank Watch in a couple days. There’s a good test match up tonight between the Wiz and the Cavaliers — I expect the Wizards to take it to them. We’ll see if the clinched teams outperform the other playoff eliminated teams over the next two days.

The Tank Watch (4/23/2012)

Last week, the tanking was going strong. Only the Hornets had played well among playoff eliminated teams. My guess is that league ownership made them bring back Eric Gordon, and it’s about to cost them a lottery position after they won again in the last few days. They helped boot the Rockets out of the playoffs and Gordon had another superb game.

A couple other teams played well since the last Tank Watch. The Wiz have now beaten the Bulls, Bucks, and Heat in succession, but their spot is basically clinched, so their incentive to tank is diminished. One more loss in their last three games or a win for the Hornets will lock them in. The Pistons also posted a couple of wins, though over Cleveland and Toronto. Here are the updated numbers:

The Tank Watch

Tonight, we get a treat! The Bobcats travel to play Washington. Below is an incredible craigslist post that my buddy Tony sent me about this game (click to enlarge). Apparently there were zero tickets listed on Stubhub around 4pm.