What are they teaching those kids in Miami? LeBron James and non-history

You may have heard that LeBron James will be returning as a member of the Cleveland Cavaliers next season. He announced his decision in a first-person Sports Illustrated post last week.

While sportswriters generally fell about the place in sharing how emotional they thought James’ letter was/made them, no one seems to have examined James’ history recitation with any care. James said that “Miami, for me, has been almost like college for other kids.” Did they offer a course in American Athletic History there? If so, can someone leak us the syllabus?

James goes on to make the following statement (emphasis added):

When I left Cleveland, I was on a mission. I was seeking championships, and we won two. But Miami already knew that feeling. Our city hasn’t had that feeling in a long, long, long time. My goal is still to win as many titles as possible, no question. But what’s most important for me is bringing one trophy back to Northeast Ohio.

Unless James plans to suit up with Johann Von Football and defend Akron’s 1920 APFA title, it’s difficult to understand what James is talking about. The context of that final quoted sentence clearly indicates James is referring to the Larry O’Brien trophy. That’s the trophy they give to the team that wins the NBA championship. The Cleveland Cavaliers have not ever won the NBA championship. They only even made it to the finals once, in 2007, when the eternal Spurs swept James and the Cavs. You can handle the math from here.

ALDLAND Podcast

Even the ALDLAND Podcast is not immune from Lebron discussion, and so we start off the episode with that very topic. Where will he go? Why will he go there? All these questions and more are discussed. But don’t worry, Carmelo Anthony, Chris Bosh and Dwyane Wade, we haven’t forgot about you and also predict your landing destinations. Not to be left out, soccer makes its presence felt in this edition of the ALDLAND Podcast as the World Cup final gets a healthy preview.

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Families that play together (periodically) win together: NBA champions edition

Following the San Antonio Spurs’ dominant win over the Miami Heat in the NBA finals, FiveThirtyEight decided to examine whether the popular narrative about the winners and losers– that the Spurs played a more complete, team-oriented style of basketball the Heat, increasingly reliant on their solitary superstar, could not combat– was borne out in the numbers. They did this by comparing the relative usage rates (USG%) of the teams’ lineups. Plotting the difference in USG% between each team’s “top” player, the one who “used” the most possessions to either shoot, be fouled, or commit a turnover, and each successive player, should show how well the team spread the ball around. A team that did a good job of sharing the ball should plot a flatter line than a team that did not. FiveThirtyEight’s chart supported the popular narrative: San Antonio’s line was flatter than Miami’s, and the league average, while Miami’s line topped both.

As FiveThirtyEight pointed out, this isn’t how NBA championships are supposed to be won. As much as the Heat’s assemblage of its “big three” was seen as groundbreaking, it fit the narrative that grew out of Michael Jordan’s Bulls and Kobe Bryant’s Lakers (and certainly existed before Phil Jackson coached both of those teams to multiple championships) that the NBA was a star-driven league, and the way to win championships was to have a superstar. The Heat simply presented as an extreme version of that reality, with little in the way of supporting cast members.

FiveThirtyEight only compared this year’s teams, but the article made me wonder how the last NBA champions who deviated from the star-heavy model– the Detroit Pistons team that won it all exactly ten years ago amidst a solid run– compared statistically to this year’s Spurs.

I tallied the numbers using Basketball-Reference‘s team playoff data, sorted by USG%. Before doing so, though, I made an executive decision to omit data from players who appeared in fewer than ten playoff games that year, which swept out Austin Daye (one game for the 2014 Spurs) and Darko Milicic (eight games for the 2004 Pistons). The resulting plot lines for each team are essentially equally flat:

nbachampusagechartFor perspective, keep in mind where the Spurs’ line– red on my chart, black on the one above– is situated relative to the rest of the (2014) league. It seems these Spurs and those Pistons were on the same page when it came to playing team-oriented basketball. Meanwhile, Miami is discussing adding Carmelo Anthony for next season. Anthony has been in the top ten in the league for USG% in nine of the past ten years.

ALDLAND Podcast

ALDLAND is in finals mode . . . NBA and NHL finals that is! Your favorite hosts are here to break down, or at least pay lip service to the championship rounds in both hockey and basketball. And that’s not all. Stay around after finals talk for a quick discussion on the upcoming Vanderbilt-Stanford series in the NCAA baseball tournament. It’s really the most fun you can have listening to a podcast.

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ALDLAND Podcast

Coaching changes are happening everywhere these days, and by everywhere we mean in Detroit and San Francisco or Oakland or wherever the heck Golden State is. And since they are happening, ALDLAND is going to talk about them. But we haven’t forgot college hoops, as we touch on the biggest story of 2014, coming out of New Haven, CT. Come for the basketball, stay for the soccer, which is also here in this podcast too.

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ALDLAND Podcast

It’s time for another ALDLAND Podcast, and this one has it all. There’s NBA playoff coverage, discussion of retirement gifts for Derek Jeter, and even live NFL draft updates that won’t matter by the time you listen to this because you will know who was drafted where already. But I’m sure you would agree that it’s the thought that counts.

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No Place Like Home: Hawks drop game six, 95-88

pacers-hawks game 6

AD and Commodawg were at Phillips Arena– a/k/a The Highlight Factory a/k/a The Hawk’s Nest– last night with the hopes of seeing eight seed Atlanta clinch a first-round series over one seed Indiana. Instead, we saw a suddenly tentative Hawks team repeatedly surrender leads, including a four-point lead with about two minutes to go in the game, while the Pacers played as steady of a game as they have all series. I don’t know enough about the NBA to offer any real insight or analysis about what happened last night, but on the offensive side, it seemed to me that Atlanta kept finding the wrong shots for the wrong people. In particular, Jeff Teague, Kyle Korver, and Paul Milsap seemed to fail to fully embrace their roles on the team last night. Korver is a starter who also is a three-point specialist. He needs to make more than three treys, and he probably needs to attempt more than eight for the Hawks to win. Atlanta was good from the free-throw line as a team (87.5%, Teague was 9-9), but it would have been great to see Teague take over in this game, which neither team really seemed to want to win. In general, the Hawks need to improve their shot selection in game seven: 35.8% from the field isn’t going to cut it.

The atmosphere at the arena last night was a fun one. All the seats were filled, and everyone was dressed in red and engaged in the game from start to finish. For one night anyway, the Hawks had captured their home town’s attention. Here’s hoping they close out the Pacers on Saturday evening in Indiana and give those fans another reason to come out and support them in the postseason.

DataBall (via Grantland)

Early in the spring semester of 2013, Cervone and D’Amour proposed a new project to measure performance value in the NBA. The nature of their idea was relatively simple, but the computation required to pull it off was not. Their core premise was this:

Every “state” of a basketball possession has a value. This value is based on the probability of a made basket occurring, and is equal to the total number of expected points that will result from that possession. While the average NBA possession is worth close to one point, that exact value of expected points fluctuates moment to moment, and these fluctuations depend on what’s happening on the floor.

Furthermore, it was their belief that, using the troves of SportVU data, we could — for the first time — estimate these values for every split second of an entire NBA season. They proposed that if we could build a model that accounts for a few key factors — like the locations of the players, their individual scoring abilities, who possesses the ball, his on-ball tendencies, and his position on the court — we could start to quantify performance value in the NBA in a new way.

In other words, imagine if you paused any NBA game at any random moment. Cervone and D’Amour’s central thesis is that no matter where you pause the game, that you could scientifically estimate the “expected possession value,” or EPV, of that possession at that time.

If we can estimate the EPV of any moment of any given game, we can start to quantify performance in a more sophisticated way. We can derive the “value” of things like entry passes, dribble drives, and double-teams. We can more accurately quantify which pick-and-roll defenses work best against certain teams and players. By extracting and analyzing the game’s elementary acts, we can isolate which little pieces of basketball strategy are more or less effective, and which players are best at executing them.

But the clearest application of EPV is quantifying a player’s overall offensive value, taking into account every single action he has performed with the ball over the course of a game, a road trip, or even a season. We can use EPV to collapse thousands of actions into a single value and estimate a player’s true value by asking how many points he adds compared with a hypothetical replacement player, artificially inserted into the exact same basketball situations. This value might be called “EPV-added” or “points added.” … Read More

(via Grantland)

ALDLAND Podcast

On the ALDLAND podcast this week we surprisingly don’t talk all about college football. We have learned that there are other sports out there, and we are going to talk about them to. Among the topics this week are football of the pro variety, one of the biggest soccer rivalries out there, and the NBA. So many topics, so much enjoyment.

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A note on the occasion of Allen Iverson’s impending retirement

As reported yesterday afternoon by SLAM Magazine, Allen Iverson is planning to announce his retirement from the NBA “in the coming days.” Iverson, who played for Philadelphia, Denver, Detroit, and Memphis, has not played in the NBA since 2010, and he has not played anywhere professionally since 2011, when he was playing in Turkey.

Chronicling Iverson’s on-court greatness is best left to the many others who are far more qualified to do that. Instead, I’ll recall the most memorable off-court moment from The Answer’s career: his May 7, 2002 press conference. If you’re not tracking, direct your attention to this video. (Here’s the full transcript for the textually inclined.)

In a post-Chuck-Sheen-meltdown world in which web memes are very much a valuable currency, it’s easy to underestimate how severely that segment would break the internet today. In a society that is, by orders of magnitude, more plugged in today than it was in 2002, it’s difficult to appreciate the viralty of that moment. You basically had to have played in the NBA and been tasked with guarding Iverson to be the sort of person who, when asked in 2013, “when I say ‘Allen Iverson,’ what do you think of?”, would not blurt out, “practice!” By being that person, Gary Payton nevertheless revealed more about the origins of Iverson’s press conference moment than heretofore was known: