Serious Questions Emerging About Bulls' Medical Staff

The Bulls' recent rash of injuries has focused an unwelcome spotlight on the way the organization manages injured players.  It is unclear whether the culprit is the Bulls' medical staff, coach Tom Thibodeau, management, or some combination of the above, but the organization has now developed a substantial track record of allowing players back on the court when evidence indicates they should be on the bench.

For the 2012 Bulls, injuries like these have too often resulted in a return to the game.

The Fly on Blake Griffin's Ceiling

Over the weekend, I stumbled upon Kevin Arnovitz and Jordan Heimer's excellent Clippers Week Podcast. Episode 2, in which the hosts discussed the Clippers' long-term fortunes with David Thorpe, got me thinking more about the Clippers' current usage of Blake Griffin, his fit long-term with center DeAndre Jordan, and Griffin's ultimate ceiling as a player.

At the quarter pole of this truncated NBA season, it seems fair to start making some observations about Griffin's performance this year. As some have noted, including Arnovitz himself, Griffin has been viewed as somewhat of a disappointment.  The hope was that Griffin would improve this year as a young player with Chris Paul joining his team. But looking at the numbers, it appears that Griffin's offense has stagnated and even regressed in some crucial areas.  
Even last year, Griffin's 54.9% True Shooting Percentage (which incorporates three pointers and free throws into a player's field goal percentage) was only slightly above the league average--rather middling for a star big man of Griffin’s athleticism. Griffin’s real value-added was in his rebounding, high usage rate, and fantastic assist rate for a power player.  This year his TS% is down to 52.5%. In fairness, the league TS% decline this year has mirrored Griffin’s, but the hope was that he'd improve this year.  He hasn't.

Blake Griffin's free throw shooting may spell trouble for his development.

Do Heavy Minutes Prevent Championships?

As a Bulls fan, I've been thinking quite a bit lately about how whether the heavy minutes Tom Thibodeau plays Luol Deng and Derrick Rose will come back to bite the Bulls in the playoffs.  There has been quite a bit of talk about how stars' extended minutes could hurt teams this year with the compressed schedule, and I've been wondering if there have been any studies concluding that less rest hurts players' production.

This morning I had an exchange on Twitter (@TheTeamRebound) with Henry Abbott, inspired by an article he wrote for TrueHoop on this very subject entitled "Heavy minutes hurt title chances."  The basis for the article was Henry's observation that no team since the 2004 Pistons has won a title with a player exceeding 3,000 minutes in a regular season, which is 37 minutes per game over an 82 game season.  This was true despite the fact that many of the NBA's luminaries the last 7 seasons exceeded 3,000 minutes.

Henry likewise noted that no player has averaged more than 39 mpg and won the title since Tim Duncan in 2002-03.  He also provided some anecdotal evidence from NBA insiders that the game has evolved so that it's simply harder to play as many minutes now.*

*I'm pretty sure I agree with this assessment.  If you look at games back in the 80s, even the Finals, teams just didn't play anywhere near the type of pressure defense that is played today.  Also, nobody shot 3s back then so the defense didn't have as much ground to cover.  Even in the 90s, as defensive intensity markedly improved, isolation ball became more prevalent so defensive players could take a lot of possessions off.  One caveat though is that the pace was quicker back then, and there were less--and shorter--TV timeouts in a lot of games.

One other fact lends credence to Henry's theory: Of the 56 teams to make the conference semifinals since 2004, 23 are represented on the 3,000 minutes played list.*  Assuming, in a vacuum, a 1 in 8 chance for each conference semifinalist to win a championship, one would have expected approximately 3 of the last 7 championships to have been won by this group.  Instead, these teams won zero.

*The 2010-11 Bulls and the 2004-05 Suns each had two qualifying players.

All of this begets the question of whether those players didn't win titles because they played long minutes.

On reading the article, I tweeted that two additional factors might contribute to the fact that teams with heavy minute players haven't won championships of late.  One was that really good teams have more blowouts and/or meaningless games at the end of the season, and thus less need to play their key guys so many minutes.  John Hollinger later made this same point, which he clearly stole from me.  *sarcasm font*  The second reason is that older teams tend to win championships, and veteran players are not driven as hard by their coaching staffs.  This would certainly seem to be the case with the recent vintage Spurs, Celtics, and Mavs champions in particular.  Tonight I thought of a third potential factor: Every team that has won a title since 2004 has done so with a star big man who was one of the top 20 players in the NBA, and big men in general play less minutes.

Baylor/Kansas Prospect Live Blog

The Baylor/Kansas game is probably the 2nd best prospect game of the year. It features Kansas power forward Thomas Robinson, ESPN's Chad Ford's #4 prospect, and Baylor PF Perry Jones III (#5), with the added hook that the two would be matched up against each other much of the game. It also featured possible first rounder Quincy Miller (#12) and three players currently thought of as possible 2nd round prospects in Kansas PG Tyshawn Taylor (#84), Baylor PF Quincy Acy (#139 but potentially with enough athleticism to make a roster) and Kansas C Jeff Withey (potential 2013 prospect).

I'm relatively familiar with Taylor, Robinson, and Acy from NCAA tournaments past. I took notes throughout the game on the prospects' NBA potential, concentrating mostly on the two stars, Robinson and Jones. I'll be the first to acknowledge that I haven't seen enough of these players to make a definitive evaluation. Small sample size caveats apply, especially when it comes to outside shooting ability. That said, I think it's possible to determine a lot about a player's potential in watching one game. Whether his performance will ever catch up to that potential, however, requires a lot more statistical and scouting analysis.

I took a ton of notes on the game, but to avoid TLDR status I'll present my overall impressions first:

Team USA Roster Quandary, Part 2, or Where I Almost Leave DRose Off the Team

There were no surprises on Team USA's 20-man preliminary roster that was announced today.  In Part 1 of this post, I winnowed the list down by picking my locks to make the team (Durant, James, Howard, Bryant, Wade) and miss the team (Billups, Odom, Gay, Curry, Granger).  I also selected two reserve big men, Chandler and Bosh.

That leaves 5 slots to fill out of "smalls" Rose, Westbrook, Williams, Paul, Gordon, Iguodala, and Anthony.  Although Love and Griffin weren't among my top two reserve big men, I will still consider them for the final slot as well.  I should note again that these are my picks for who I think should be on the team, rather than who will be on the team.  Who should be on the team will be determined almost exclusively by who would make this team play the best in this Olympics, but if there's a near tie (especially in the deep bench spots), it should be resolved in favor of younger players who could learn from this experience in order to help the team in 2014 and 2016.

The Team USA Roster Quandary, Part 1

With all of the drama of the lockout,Team USA's return to international preeminence in its past two tournaments, and resulting bye from the 2011 Tournament of the Americas, there's been little talk of Team USA with the London Olympics only a few months away.  Recently though, there have been some leaks regarding Team USA's preliminary roster, reported to be either 19 or 20 players, and set to be announced today. It's an amalgam of the 2008 and 2010 teams, with the addition of Blake Griffin and LaMarcus Aldridge and subtraction of Jason Kidd, Carlos Boozer, Michael Redd, and Tayshaun Prince from the 2008 team.

A look at the remaining candidates shows that Team USA will have a much harder time picking a squad out of what is an embarrassment of riches.  In this analysis, I'll handle the position groupings a bit differently than I would in the NBA, because under Mike Krzyzewski the preference has been to play smaller and use the Americans' superior athleticism to make up for the height difference.  As result, the team has often played big 1s as 2s, big 3s as 4s, and 4s (big or not) as 5s.

Point Guard:
Derrick Rose
Russell Westbrook
Deron Williams
Chris Paul
Stephen Curry

Pure Wings:
Eric Gordon
Dwyane Wade
Chauncey Billups (here because he played SG in '10, is playing SG now for the Clippers, proved he can guard international 2s just fine, and has no prayer of beating out any of the PGs)
Andre Iguodala
Kobe Bryant

LeBron James
Carmelo Anthony
Kevin Durant
Rudy Gay
Danny Granger

Chris Bosh
Tyson Chandler
Blake Griffin
Dwight Howard
Kevin Love
Lamar Odom
La Marcus Aldridge

The First

I feel I should begin on a personal note, if only to provide context for the opinions and analysis to come.  For the last few years I've wanted to start an NBA blog, and finally found the impetus when I registered for the Sloan Sports Analytics Conference and realized I'd look pretty stupid going there without ever having written a word about the NBA.  In light of the exponential growth I expect for this blog (sarcasm font), it's best to get these boring personal details out of the way now when I have precisely zero readers.

I grew up in the Chicago suburbs and have loved sports since 1985, when my nascent sports fandom was nurtured by one of the greatest football teams of all-time.  Chicago in the 80s and 90s was, of course, a fortuitous time and place to fall in love with the game of basketball.  My dad certainly played his part in that as well.  He made sure I was the only 4th grader at my local park who could make a left-handed layup, even if I was also the only one who couldn't jump.