April 24, 2014

Playing the Odds: Everything we know about the Cavaliers and analytics

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Where numbers and charts collide with the “eyes and ears” of NBA decision making

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On defensive analytics and the Cavs’ recent issues

Cleveland Cavaliers v Dallas Mavericks

“Math is winning out on offense in the NBA.”

These were the words of Grantland’s Zach Lowe, the man whose writing represents basketball’s best combination of analytics with the league beat. But what does Lowe mean by that exactly? And where can we see information relevant for the struggling Cleveland Cavaliers, owners of the NBA’s worst defense since Luol Deng’s debut last month?

Looking into those questions requires background information on the rise of basketball analytics and a look into what we actually do know about defensive analytics in the game today. [Read more...]

The Diff: Revisiting ShotScore and how the Cavs are terrible

The Diff is your weekly WFNY look into the amazing world of sports statistics. For a complete log of articles, click this link. Last week, I wrote about the downfall for the Cavs in four terrible home losses. This week, I’m focusing on shooting data again.

The Diff

Within the next 15 days, this Cleveland Cavaliers roster should undergo yet another significant shift. The past few weeks of speculation have made it perfectly clear that not everyone – front office and/or personnel-wise – will survive this season from hell. While there are storylines for days about what that means for the organization’s future, I wanted to focus – perhaps for one of the final actually meaningful times – on what we’re seeing out on the court from these Cavaliers of late. Today, I’ll be looking at the Cavs’ efficiency from a number of different areas, again highlighting the ShotScore statistic. [Read more...]

The Diff: C.J. Miles, Cleveland Cavaliers difference-maker

The Diff is your (usually) weekly WFNY look into the amazing world of sport statistics. For a complete log of articles, click this link. Two weeks ago, I recapped all of the Cleveland Indians pitching moves this offseason. Today, I’m writing about an unheralded Cleveland Cavaliers hero.

The Diff

C.J. Miles is an inconsistent NBA player, generally regarded as a near-average shooting guard. He’s been around the block and has a decent amount of career minutes for only being 26 years old. This season, he played fairly miserably for a solid six-week stretch. The season is exactly halfway over so that’s a pretty large chunk of the total games played. But yet, somehow, he’s numerically been the Cavs’ biggest difference-maker on the court. This post will attempt to show how exactly that’s happened. [Read more...]

WFNY Stats & Info: Assessing Luol Deng’s value in Cleveland

deng bulls2Luol Deng, 28 years old, represents a tremendous upgrade at small forward for the 11-23 Cavs. He’s a back-to-back All-Star scoring the most points in his career this season. He’ll take away minutes from Alonzo Gee et al in the team’s rotation. While the future ramifications of this move are up in the air, here are my four favorite statistic-based notes when it comes to showing Deng’s worth and his value with this team.

1. Cavs SFs have a 9.2 PER this season. Yes, that’s astoundingly correct, per the mathematical minds at 82Games.com. As you may recall, PER is normalized to be an average of 15.0 for all NBA players, not position-adjusted. On the season, Alonzo Gee has a 6.3 mark in 564 minutes and Earl Clark is at 9.7 in 551 minutes. I’m not a huge fan of PER, but at the extremes, I think it tells a pretty decent story: Gee is a near-replacement level player and Clark is a below average starter. Luol Deng has a 15.9 career PER and is at 17.4 this year; more than Gee and Clark combined and clearly a valuable starter in the NBA. He has a far higher usage than either Gee or Clark, inflating his numbers, but is undoubtedly a far better all-around player. [Read more...]

The Diff: The Cavs and their terrible, horrible offense

The Diff is your (usually) weekly WFNY look into the amazing world of sports statistics. For a complete log of articles, click this link. Welcome to 2014. Two weeks ago, I wrote about Omer Asik trade rumors and the Cavaliers. Today, I’m writing about the Cavs’ no good, very bad offense.

The Diff

The Cleveland Cavaliers somehow won last night to improve to 11-21. Within this disappointing season, there have already been a number of issues on and off the court. The most troubling aspect of this year’s terrible start might just have to be the team’s abysmal offense. Overall, the Cavs now sport the NBA’s 27th-best offensive efficiency rating at 97.0 points per 100 possessions. That might surprise you a bit based on the presence of All-Star Kyrie Irving. But 2013-14 has proved to be a collective offensive mess of epic proportions. [Read more...]

WFNY Stats & Info: C.J. Miles’ extended slump

The Cavs are now 10-19. There are a myriad of reasons why they’ve been a bad team through the season’s first two months. But of late, one of the issues is starting shooting guard C.J. Miles.

Miles, plucked away in free agency from Utah last summer, actually was off to a great start to the year. In the season’s first six games, he averaged 14.3 points in just 20.7 minutes off the bench with an uber-efficient .645 efficiency field goal percentage.

Since then, over the last 19 games (16 as a starter) and including his 10-day absence with a calf injury, he’s been quite the opposite. The damage: 17.5 minutes per game, 6.1 points and a dreadful .402 efficiency field goal percentage. Take a look at the stats below for a more complete breakdown of the shooting zones.

He had a .433 efg in the 2011-12 season, his last with Utah. In his first Cavs season, he shined en route to a .519 efg, a huge jump in efficiency. But was that improvement sustainable? One can note that about 50% of Miles’ shooting attempts are now more profitable three-pointers, a huge increase over his Utah days.

Of late, he’s been pretty bad at his usual above-the-break three-pointers and very bad in the restricted area. He has always seemed to struggle with paint shots not in the restricted area, a zone that sees 40% as the NBA average along with mid-range. Miles is not usually average in either zone.

It’s not certain what Miles’ future might hold. He is what he is, in a sense, that he’s just a 26-year-old scoring guard/forward. Those should usually be replaceable, but his struggles are reflective of the Cavs’ difficulty of finding any suitable small forward over the past four years.

[Related: Cavs at NBA’s one-third mark: How much patience is left?]

The Diff: Cavs big men trio among NBA’s best of late

The Diff is your weekly WFNY look into the amazing world of sports statistics. For a complete log of articles, click this link. Last week, I wrote about “ace” Justin Masterson’s future with the Cleveland Indians. This week, it’s back to basketball to talk Cavaliers big men.

The Diff

The Cleveland Cavaliers have suddenly won four of their last five games. During these contests, the triumvirate of Andrew Bynum, Anderson Varejao and Tristan Thompson has averaged a combined 37.6 points and 32.0 rebounds on 54.9% true shooting. The resurgence of these three has been a huge reason for the recent streak. Now that they’re all (currently) healthy, they might be one of the best frontcourts in the very weak Eastern Conference and perhaps in the entire NBA. Let’s dive into their recent success and look at their possible future together in leading the Cavs. [Read more...]

Cavs thoughts on Dion’s success, trades, Kyrie’s struggles and more

Kyrie Irving, Dion WaitersDuring Thanksgiving eve and the actual holiday itself, I got a lot of questions from family and friends about those pesky 4-11 Cleveland Cavaliers. I’m sure you did too. Here are my assorted takes on the hottest of Cavs topics at the moment.

On the Dion Waiters trade options listed so far … meh. That’s what I have to say. The three main options rumored via ESPN’s Chris Broussard: Chicago’s Luol Deng, New York’s Iman Shumpert and Philadelphia’s Evan Turner. Don’t get me wrong; Deng and Turner would be excellent fits on this small forward-lacking roster. But both are free agents on the verge of big paydays in summer 2014.

Deng is an old 28 because he has nearly 25,000 career NBA minutes including playoffs. He never has been a major offensive weapon, but has been a consistent piece for Chicago for the last decade. Turner, on the other hand, is having a breakout season at still only 25. He’s averaging 21 points, seven rebounds and four assists for the overachieving 76ers. Which means his agents will make some unfortunate team pay massive money for his services next year. [Read more...]

The Diff: Making sense of Dion Waiters’ present and future

The Diff is your weekly WFNY look into the amazing world of sports statistics. For a complete log of articles, click this link. Last week, I shared some stats after the Browns’ depressing loss to the Cincinnati Bengals. This week, I’m talking at length about Dion Waiters.

The Diff

Dion Waiters is the most polarizing player on the Cleveland Cavaliers. He supersedes the tweener rookie with a 2.3 PER, the former All-Star coping with his battered present state, the current All-Star perhaps struggling to lead the charge and all the other enigmatic players on this disappointing 4-10 squad. In just 17 short months since the 2012 draft, the soon-to-be 22-year-old Waiters continues to be a target of negative commentary. David Thorpe of ESPN and Scouts Inc. is the latest to do so. [Read more...]

The Diff: SportVU and early Cavaliers shooting data

The Diff is your weekly WFNY look into the amazing world of sports statistics. For a complete log of articles, click this link. Last week, I looked at the Cleveland Indians offseason with their 2014 salary situation. This week, I’m talking about advanced shooting stats in the NBA.

The Diff

The NBA is on the verge of something humongous. And it has to do with big, gigantic data. MLB had its signature data moment with the 2003 publication of Michael Lewis’ “Moneyball.” Now an over-used economic reference, “Moneyball” was actually about past events and what the Oakland A’s were already doing with proprietary data. In the NBA, the ground-breaking data just was released en masse in its most complete form. And there’s no telling what the consequences of SportVU could be. [Read more...]

While We’re Waiting… Still giddy about Cavs’ opening victory

Cleveland sports fans are waiting. Thus, while we’re all waiting, the WFNY editors thought you might enjoy reading. Because you never know how long we might be waiting. So here are assorted reading goodies for you to enjoy. Send more good links for tomorrow’s edition to tips@waitingfornextyear.com.

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Great read from the fantastic Opening Night victory: “Cleveland was the most thirsty place on the planet last night. There’s a pain, but also a power to that. It makes you cheer for violence and other things you are normally against. You sit among the thugs, you are them. You are thinking unspeakable thoughts. It’s if a boat has landed full of us on a beachfront. We are exploding with glazed eyes and savage ideation. And the season begins.” [Cleveland Jackson/Stepien Rules] [Read more...]

The Diff: Projecting the Cavs’ 2013-2014 rotation

The Diff is your weekly WFNY look into the amazing world of sports statistics. For a complete log of articles, click this link. Last week, I wrote about how Kyrie Irving might actually be over-rated. This week, I’m writing about typical NBA rotations.

The Diff

The Cavs have had some strange players take the court over the three years of the Byron Scott era. I’ve shared this chart before many times that breaks down the minutes of those three seasons. It’s dreadful. You’ll see players like Samardo Samuels, Ryan Hollins, Manny Harris and Christian Eyenga with over 1,000 minutes! Alonzo Gee is the overall minutes leader! Anthony Parker and Ramon Sessions are in the top seven! That’s the biggest change for the 2013-14 season: The entire bench has been remodeled and fans will see a very, very new Cavs rotation. [Read more...]

The Diff: Estimating NBA ShotScores through shooting zones

The Diff is your weekly WFNY look into the amazing world of sports statistics. For a complete log of articles, click this link. Last week, I wrote about three intriguing stat-lines to watch for the 2013-14 Cavaliers. This week, I’m getting into NBA shooting charts.

The Diff

One of my favorite sportswriters is Grantland’s Kirk Goldsberry. Like many of my favorites, he’s a non-traditional writer. A geography professor at Michigan State, he emerged onto the NBA scene via the 2012 Sloan Sports Analytics Conference. His project, titled CourtVision, applied his signature specialty of spatial analysis to the game of basketball. It went viral – or at least basketball Twitter viral. Since then, Goldsberry has taken off, and the visiting scholar at Harvard also contributes regularly to Grantland and ESPN properties. His latest column from last week, about a new statistic called ShotScore, is what I’ll be writing about today. [Read more...]

The Diff: Fun Cleveland Cavs facts fans keep forgetting

The Diff is your weekly Wednesday WFNY look into the amazing world of sports statistics. For a complete log of articles, click this link. Last week, I provided an All-Star Break update of the top prospects in the Cleveland Indians system, This week, I’m talking about the Cavs’ offseason.

The Diff

This NBA offseason seems like it has lasted quite a long time. The Cleveland Cavaliers last played a regular season game exactly three months ago on April 17. While one could point out it’s been even longer that since they played even a somewhat meaningful game, the team’s flurry of moves this offseason has passed by like a blur. Thus, today, we’ll review four Cavs facts that fans may have been forgetting of late. Feel free to chime in with your own as well. [Read more...]

WFNY Stats & Info: Tristan Thompson’s improving blocked rate

I noticed this comment on my latest edition of The Diff from Wedensday. This one fellow believes that Cavaliers power forward Tristan Thompson is being blocked less often than last year.

So, I decided to look into his game log from this season, before/after Dec. 19, the game when center Anderson Varejao got hurt.

Type GP FGA/G BLKD/G BLKD%
Since 12/19 28 11.29 1.50 13.3%
Thru 12/18 26 7.42 1.27 17.1%

Verdict: Yes. Along with the better shooting percentages (or intuitively because of it?) Thompson also is getting blocked less often since Varejao’s been out. Still a pretty high number. But noticeably less.

For a bit of added context, according to HoopData, the average blocked percentage in the NBA this season is 6.1 percent. Among full-time regulars, I only spot three players that are clearly worse than Thompson this season at this category: Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, Reggie Evans and Austin Rivers. Yikes.

Also notable, ESPN stats guru Kevin Pelton mentioned rookie Thomas Robinson’s blocked percentage in his trade analysis today. He wrote: “He has had a tough time dealing with shot-blockers in the paint and is getting more than 10 percent of his shots rejected, per Hoopdata.com, one reason he’s shooting just 42.9 percent from the field.”

So yes, again, this isn’t exactly time to celebrate boisterously about Thompson’s blocked shot improvements as he’s still well below league-average. But improvements are improvements nonetheless.

[Related: The Diff: Cavalier notes on Tristan, turnovers, trades, etc]

Small goals paving the way for big wins in Cleveland

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The mountain has been turned into a series of considerably smaller molehills. While the Cleveland Cavaliers have a long way to go before they are even within eyesight of the top, each rest station along the way comes with its own intrinsic reward.

After being embarrassed by 18 points in Detroit late last week, the Cavaliers — the team as well as the front office —  had a series of meetings. There was a closed-door meeting with Byron Scott, his assistant coaches and all 15 players. Blunt objects were not thrown, but choice words most definitely were. From there, Scott and his coaches sat down to focus on the short and intermediate term. Long term talk is fantastic fuel for narrative, but it was obvious that young players needed something on which to hang their respective hats.

[Read more...]

While We’re Waiting… Super Bowl Halftime Show Facts, PER, and Michigan Catfish

While We’re Waiting serves as the early morning gathering of WFNY-esque information for your viewing pleasure. Have something you think we should see? Send it to our tips email at tips@waitingfornextyear.com.

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Leading off, it’s Super Bowl Sunday, so let’s look at some fun, potentially unknown to you facts about the Super Bowl Halftime Show, “Of course you read this on Shutdown Corner yesterday, but Beyonce won’t get paid for performing. Nobody else has gotten paid by the NFL for performing at halftime either. The artists get expenses paid for and that’s it. It makes sense, because even the biggest artists in the world aren’t going to have an audience of more than 110 million people ever again. The exposure is priceless, as long as you don’t screw it up (hello, Black Eyed Peas!). And if Michael Jackson didn’t get paid for his halftime show, you’ve got no shot.” [Shutdown Corner]

For those who are player efficiency rating (PER) fans in NBA stats circles, here’s someone who isn’t a fan and uses computer science sort algorithm analogies to make his point (ahh, the undergraduate days for yours truly), “There is really no reason to use PER.** At least, not if the advancement of useful stats in basketball is your goal. The truth is that PER is still heavily used. ESPN has a vested interest in using it. Many analysts on the web use it, because candidly, it’s hard to get stats. It’s a lot of work to break apart metrics and understand how they work (something we’re trying to do a better job of with Wins Produced). The simple fact is when people bring up PER or use sentences like “I know +/- is noisy, but…” well all I can say is that it’s a wrong way to go.” [Wages of Wins Journal] [Read more...]

WFNY Stats & Info: Cavs’ efficiency up despite Anderson Varejao being out

The Cleveland Cavaliers may have had a rough stretch of games out west, and while it may not exactly be leading to a significant difference in the win column, the Wine and Gold have been playing markedly better when on the floor. Let’s take a look…

Cavs’ efficiency in first 28 games (record: 5-23): 99.1-105.9 (-6.8)
Cavs’ efficiency in last 15 games (record: 6-9): 102.9-106.4 (-3.5)

Would-be All-Star center Anderson Varejao has been out for all of these last 15 games…

The team is doing slightly worse defensively (still among the bottom five in NBA, either way), but notably better on the offensive efficiency side. An offensive efficiency mark of 99.1 also is in the bottom five of the NBA on that side of the ball, but 102.9 is pretty mediocre with league average being 102.4 so far this season.

This is pretty intriguing to me, so I tried to figure out why.

The Cavs are notably rebounding awfully during this stretch. That’s especially true on the offensive end.

Rebounding margin: +1.1 margin in first 28 games; -5.1 in last 15 games
Offensive rebound rate: 30.6%  orb% in first 28 games, 27.1% in last 15 games

But the biggest positive differences? Fewer turnovers, better two-point shooting percentage and better free-throw shooting percentage.

Turnovers: 14.8 pg in first 28 games, 12.5 pg in last 15 games
2-point shooting: 43.7% in first 28 games, 45.5% in last 15 games
Free throw shooting: 72.4% in first 28 games, 79.6% in last 15 games

Given that the Cavaliers are among the league leaders in pace of play, this improved efficiency — coupled with fewer turnovers and improved conversion rates at the charity stripe — have proven to be huge despite the absence of a player who was averaging 14 points and 14 rebounds while providing heart, soul, energy and a career-best PER.

[Related: The Diff: Franchise comparisons for the Cavaliers]

WFNY Discussion: Dion Waiters’ shooting at the rim

As you may know from being a WFNY reader, the WFNY writers have a daily email chain that can linger on and on. Sometimes, we’ll discuss prom jokes and other unsurprisingly immature topics for a group of 10+ males. But also, we really have some great discussions off the cuff about sports. Today, we bring you inside the WFNY email thread for a stats-based discussion about Cavs rookie Dion Waiters.

Jacob: Here’s your stat of the day y’all: (Source: HoopData as of games played on 12/10)

Of all 174 NBA players with at least 35 FGAs at the rim this season, Dion Waiters ranks LAST in shooting percentage at the rim at 41.2% (28-68). The average of these 174 players is 64.7% (44.6-69.0). The average of the 59 guards in this list is 60.9% (40.3-66.2).

Of the 59 guards, Waiters ranks in the top-fifth (No. 11) with 15.7 FGAs per 36 minutes.
Of the 59 guards, Waiters ranks in the upper-half (No. 23) with 4.5 FGAs at the rim per 36 minutes.
Of the 59 guards, Waiters ranks in the bottom-eighth (No. 8) with a 44.5% efg. [Read more...]