Harris Finds a Home?

The 2019 NBA trade deadline has come and gone and I wanted to take a moment to comment on one of my favorite deals that was struck before the clock hit 3:00 PM. Tobias Harris is a player that is no stranger to relocating mid-season. The twenty-six-year-old is currently in his eighth NBA season and just received news that he has been traded from the Los Angeles Clippers to the Philadelphia 76ers. This will be the fifth team that Tobias Harris will play for in his professional career (He previously played for the Milwaukie Bucks, Orlando Magic and Detroit Pistons).

Tobias Harris 2-7-19
Tobias Harris: Photo Credit usatoday.com

It didn’t take long for Harris to show his excitement. After he was informed of the trade, Harris responded via Twitter with the following post, “Excited for this new opportunity with the @sixers, let’s get to work and bring another championship to Philadelphia”. The post trade tweet from Harris perfectly captures the direction of the 76ers organization. We can see that the team has clearly committed to a win now strategy as they have not been shy dealing young assets and plenty of draft picks to make what I believe is now the strongest starting lineup in the East.

Overall, this seems to be one of the better trades we see at the deadline for both teams involved. The Clippers have fallen through the rankings after a very strong start this season. It seems that now, competing for an eight seed in the West, they have decided that their current roster can’t top the best teams in the league and they are looking to rebuild with future assets as opposed to pushing for what would likely be an early departure from the playoffs.

Tobias Harris Graphs Stacked
Top: Tobias Harris’ Shooting Percentages; Bottom: Tobias Harris’ Scoring Efficiency

Philadelphia on the other hand is bringing in a talented young player who is in the midst of a season where he is posting career bests in three-point percentage, overall field goal percentage, and points per game. Tobias is a player that can contribute in every column on the stat sheet and will be a welcomed addition to this youthful starting lineup.

With the last-minute moves made this season it appears that “The Process” or re-build of the 76ers roster is just about complete. Outside of the Tobias Harris deal, Philadelphia also added depth to their roster with the acquisition of James Ennis from the Houston Rockets and Jonathan Simmons from the Orlando Magic. Many sixers fans are thrilled with the aggressive work of the front office at the trade deadline. It puts the team in a strong position to make a push deep into the playoffs and maybe to their first NBA finals appearance since 2001. The big question that we will have to wait and see the answer too will be can this team really pose a threat to the best rosters in the league? Golden State is boasting a starting lineup of All-Stars and will be a tall wall for any team to conquer this season.

Regardless of where the 76ers season ends, it is nice to see Harris finally find his way to a competitive roster. In his career thus far, Harris has only been on a playoff qualifying team once (Detroit 2015-16) and they were eliminated in just four games by that years Eastern Conference Champion Cleveland Cavaliers. I know I speak for a lot of fans when I say I can’t wait to see how this Tobias new Sixers roster mature together.

End of January Power Rankings 2019

We are approximately two thirds of the way through the NBA season and we have the strongest ranking model yet. With a few changes, the model is now showing an R-square value of 99 percent. The model is still predicting winning percentage which may not be the best way to rank teams since it leaves out strength of schedule. It does however give us a good image of what teams are expected to finish with the best records this season.

Rankings 2-2-19
Rankings based on games played up until 2-1-19

Milwaukee stayed at the top of our rankings and are showing no signs of slowing down. However, there have been some rumors and roster changes that could lead to substantial late season movement. Golden State for example has a very good chance of moving to the top spot. With DeMarcus Cousins’ return from injury, they now have what is likely the best starting lineup in NBA history. In case you didn’t remember, all five Warrior starters were in last year’s All-Star game.

The Los Angeles Lakers are another team I would expect to move a little higher up in the rankings. With LeBron James back in the lineup, there is no doubt the team is better. The Lakers are also one of the most popular teams for last minute trade rumors this season. Based on the feedback they got from their first few offers to the New Orleans Pelicans, it doesn’t seem likely that Anthony Davis will be making his way over to the golden coast before the trade deadline. But, with a plethora of young assets and a need to make space for any the many stars who have expressed interest in joining the King in LA, they could still be working on a last-minute deal to better position their team for the future.

One team we should expect to see move in down in the rankings is the Indiana Pacers. With Victor Oladipo out due to a ruptured quad tendon that is likely to keep him sidelined until 2021, it would be no surprise that the Pacers are not able to perform at the same level. There are some rumors that indicate they are open to trades to keep their team relevant in the Eastern Conference Playoff picture. Memphis Grizzlies’ starting point guard Mike Conley has been rumored to be a player of interest in the Pacers trade rumors.

One last team that deserves a little recognition for their efforts to improve is the Dallas Mavericks. On top of the breakout performance of rookie phenomenon Luka Doncic, the Mavericks worked out a trade to bring in the young star Kristaps Porzingis. Though Porzingis may not see the court this year due to his continued recovery from an ACL tear, fans all around the league are eagerly waiting to see the young duo in action. As long as Porzingis can stay healthy, Dallas may be the up and coming team to watch in the Western Conference next season.

Overall, I am very happy with the new model and will continue to look for ways to improve it. Feel free to contact me through the main website with any ideas, comments, or topics about what you want to hear more about.

Loyal to Rings

Growing up, the one thing I always heard about was players leaving for money. Ben Wallace was one of the first players I remember doing this. He was the first 2004 Champion Starter to depart the team when he signed a four-year contract with the Chicago Bulls for 48 million dollars.

Lots of players were willing to follow paychecks but, unlike today, the top talent seemed to be more prideful and loyal. Players like Tim Duncan, Dirk Nowitzki, and Kobe Bryant were some of the most competitive players in the league and they refused to leave their home teams. Even players like Carmelo Anthony and Steve Nash stayed loyal to their teams until ownership decided to move them.

Today we see tons of star players making trade requests and are leaving the free agency to join forces with other stars in pursuit of championships. Kevin Durant may have been the tipping point when he left a championship contending team to join the team that eliminated them in the playoffs. This left lots of fans with a salty taste in their mouths. Unfortunately, this is becoming more common. Some other notable players that have decided to team up with other stars to try and win championships include: Lebron James, Kyrie Irving, Gordon Hayward, Paul George, Carmelo Anthony, Chris Paul, and Jimmy Butler.

Now, players aren’t even waiting for their contracts to expire before moving (such as Kyrie Irving and Jimmy Butler). This has really seemed to hurt small market teams and the competitiveness of the league. Players have decided that it is more important to bring in rings so they put themselves in a position to join other stars; teams with only one or two All-Stars don’t seem to have a chance at winning a title.

Requesting trades has become extremely common among top talent NBA players. The latest player to request a trade is New Orleans Pelicans star Anthony Davis. Davis is arguably top five talent in the NBA and is passing up on at 240 million dollar supermax extension to find a new, more competitive home.

NBA: New Orleans Pelicans at Brooklyn Nets
Anthony Davis: Photo Credit usatoday.com

This puts New Orleans in a very sticky situation as the February 7th trade deadline quickly approaches. Next season is his last guaranteed year on contract which hinders New Orleans trade leverage around Davis as it is obvious that he will not be looking to pick up his player option. This means potential trade partners may be more interested in waiting and trying to sign him out of the free agency instead of having to give up the insane amount of assets Davis’ trade value will surely command. If the Pelicans want to get anything out of Davis before losing him to the free agency, they will likely have to let him go cheaper than what he is worth.

End of November Power Rankings

For the end of November power ranking I will be using a new more accurate model. This model is based off of regression analysis where the following factors were used to predict winning percentages: three-point percentage, two-point percentage, free-throw percentage, offensive rebounds, defensive rebounds, steals, blocks, turnovers, personal fouls, and points against. Other stats were considered and tested such as assists and were later removed due to autocorrelation issues.

In this model, two-point and three-point percentage are the strongest predictors of win percentage by far. The model has a correlation coefficient of 0.90 which means that it has a very strong linear relationship. The adjusted R square value is a .71 which means that seventy one percent of teams win percentages are explained by the independent variables previously listed. This does represent a relatively strong fit but there is still room to improve in the future.

Final RankingsModel details aside, here are the results. The Milwaukee Bucks lead by Giannis Antetokounmpo have earned the top spot in the rankings. I don’t think that they will finish as the best team in the NBA and they probably aren’t there right now, but with their excellent 58.8 percent two-point percentage and 36.1 percent three-point percentage it is no surprise they earned a high ranking in the current model.

The most underachieving team in the NBA right now, in my opinion, is the Washington Wizards. With names like John Wall, Bradley Beal, and Otto Porter on their roster expectations were high for this team. They have consistently been a playoff caliber team in the East of the last five seasons and were one game shy of 50 wins since the 1979-80 season. The team is likely to be separated soon as all current starters are on the trading block.

Another team I want to comment on is the Detroit Pistons. In ESPNs last power ranking the Pistons made it into the top ten. As much as I want to see the Pistons do well, I’m skeptical as to how long they can keep this level of success. Blake Griffin seems to be the shining point of the teams offense, while the teams overall shooting percentages are average at best. They are still in the bottom three in the league in three-point percentage with a coach who has them taking the sixth most three-point attempts per game. Despite the shooting struggles, the team is off to a great start and could be a few pieces away from becoming a true threat in the east. Carmelo Anthony, Bradley Beal, and JR Smith could all be potential assets if they come at the right price.

Lastly, I want to talk about a few teams that I believe have the best chance of jumping into the top ten before the new year. The Lakers are my first choice here. LeBron and company seem to finally be showing signs of meshing and James has shown he is still capable of putting up the numbers he did in his finals runs with the Cavs. Expect the Lakers to continue to improve as their chemistry grows.

The honorable mention for most likely to hit the top ten before the new year goes to the Philadelphia Seventy Sixers. I loved the move they made to get Jimmy Butler especially because the players they had to give away were mostly role players and can be replaced with signings and draft picks in the future. Butler, Embiid, and Simmons seem to be getting along just fine and should easily make the jump to the top ten very soon as well as move towards the top of the Eastern Conference by the end of the season.

The Warriors Boogie

DeMarcus Cousins has progressed through his rehab with little to no setbacks and is expected to take the court for the first time as a Golden State Warrior shortly after Christmas. Prior to the season, the Warriors’ signing of Cousins had the NBA community in an uproar. Warriors fans were thrilled and others were giving up on their favorite team before the season even started. It’s safe to say that the other teams still have hope as the Warriors have fought through injuries and drama, landing them in the second spot in the West with a 15 and 7 overall record.

With a starting lineup boasting four current NBA stars, there have been lots of questions about what DeMarcus Cousins’ role will be in the lineup. To try and understand Cousins’ role and effectiveness with his new team, I decided to take a look at other players who have gone through serious ACL injuries. For this analysis, I decided to compare player stats from the year of their injury to their first and second seasons back playing after recovering (seasons only counted if the players played 20 games or more). The stats I chose to look at for this analysis were field goal percentage, assists, rebounds, and turnovers. Some of the main stats we see such as steals and blocks were not included because they typically have a small year to year variance and it would be hard to attribute minor changes to the injury.

DeMarcus Cousins Golden State Warmups
DeMarcus Cousins in Golden State Warmups: Photo Credit Sportingnews.com

With the use of Kaggle.com, I was able to acquire a dataset of all NBA injuries between 2010 and 2018. From there I sorted through the data to leave only the players with torn Achilles/ACL injuries. With these filters applied only 38 players remained. Of those 38 players, 9 stopped playing directly after the injury or only attempted one more season (these players were removed from the dataset for lack of relevance). 5 players are currently recovering or haven’t played at least two seasons of 20 games or more since their ACL injury so they were removed from the dataset as well. This left me with 24 players with recent Achilles tears to examine.

In most cases, players returning from serious injuries are eased back into action. For that reason, I chose to take player stats per 36 minutes of playing time so decreased minutes per game wouldn’t skew player efficiency. A common mistake sports analysts seem to make is looking at totals without thinking about why they are the way they are.

When the dataset was finally put together, it lead me to some surprising findings. Regardless of player age we see that players do seem to take a step backwards in their first season back from a serious ACL injury. In the second year, there are still less productive stat lines, but many players start getting back to their output prior to injury. The most surprising observation had to be how close the post injury hustle stats were to their pre-injury output. In most cases, assists and rebounds dropped less than one per game in the averages.

Field goal percentage is a different story. All but four of the 24 players in the study dropped in overall field goal percentage their first year back and for the most part the drops were significant. Even in the second year back we see almost half of the players shooting worse than they were prior to injury.

Achillies Injury Stats
Red areas show stats that are under players production levels prior to ACL injury. 

Shooting appears to the area most significantly affected by ACL injuries and for that reason I think DeMarcus Cousins will actually do well in the Golden State. In fact, this may have been the ideal place for him to land this season. The Warriors certainly have enough scoring and outside shooting. If Cousins comes back and starts shooting like Andre Drummond from the three-point line, he can still be a beneficial part of the Warriors starting lineup. No offense to Jordan Bell, Damian Jones and Jonas Jerebko, but DeMarcus Cousins brings something to the team that the Warriors haven’t had in the splash brother’s era. He is a dominant NBA center and a powerful offensive presence under the basket. Even if Cousins isn’t playing at the level he was prior to injury, he will still be a more effective scorer in the paint than the Warriors’ current options and he will likely be a better defender, rebounder, and passer.

Cousins may have found the best place to get back up to speed. He won’t be forced into a lead offensive role he isn’t ready to take on and he will be a valuable addition to a team that just might bring home a third straight NBA Championship.

The Wild West

For quite a while now, there has seemed to be a discrepancy between the competitiveness of the Eastern and Western Conferences in the NBA. And, for as long as I can remember, the discrepancy has always seemed to favor the West.

In recent years and this season especially, we continue to see this difference in the NBA’s competition level.  This year, eight out of 15 teams in the East that have a 50 percent winning percentage or greater. In the West, there are 11 teams at or above the 50 percent mark in winning percentage. If any of the top 12 teams in the West were to move to the Eastern conference today, they would be a playoff-qualifying team. This seems to happen every year. There are always a few teams in the East who make the playoffs that wouldn’t even get a sniff of them if they were competing for a sport with teams in the West.

The discrepancy between conferences seems to grow almost every year when the free agency rolls around. In recent years, some of the biggest names to flip from the Eastern Conference over to the West are Paul George, DeMar DeRozan, and LeBron James. There doesn’t seem to be one clear answer as to why the West tends to attract and retain better talent. We have seen players move from team to team to follow friends, All-Stars, and coaches while other players seem more interested in large sums of money and the local nightlife. Perhaps some of the movement is based on the competitive nature of players. To some players, it may have felt less rewarding to be one of the best in the East so they moved over to take on a new challenge. Whatever the players’ reasoning for choosing their teams it seems like the majority of big names in basketball end up in the West.

It is certainly much harder for players to make the NBA All-Star team in the West due to the saturation of star players. In the interest of basing these claims on statistics, a friend and I took a minute to look at each player and make a list of this seasons star caliber players based on their performance thus far. Labeling of these players was discretionary based on this year’s performance only compared to the rest of the players in the league (scoring, assists, rebounds, steals, shooting percentages, and blocks were considered in the decision making). After sifting through the data, we found that there were only 18 star players in the East Compared to the 28 star players in the West (full list in table below). Every team in the West has at least one star player while in the east we see five teams (Brooklyn, Miami, Chicago, Atlanta, Cleveland) with no star caliber players at all. Many of these teams do have up and coming talent such as Trae Young, but they just aren’t performing at a level that puts them above and beyond their competition yet.

NBA Star Players as of 11-21-18

If the skill level discrepancy was a once and a while issue, it wouldn’t be a problem. But, year after year we see deserving teams miss the playoffs just because they happen to be surrounded by stronger competition. I believe that the best teams should be represented in the playoffs regardless of their geographic location and under the current system they aren’t. The NBA should make playoff qualifying decisions based on overall record and not solely on conference placement.