Cleaning Out the Notebook

This post got pretty long pretty quickly. Please click through for a potpourri post that includes...

  • A video clip reel of Nicolas Batum's defensive effort on Kevin Durant and some notes on the Thunder's offense, Batum's defense and Kevin Pelton's take on the match-up.
  • The Invisible Ninja and I are back at it again with a follow-up to yesterday's "Points Per Possession" chart that includes an explanation of PPP as well as a new chart: Points Per Possession Plus Assists.  The new chart aims to better represents the overall influence of pass/score point guards. Also, a brief discussion of the relative merits of PPP and PP(P+A).
  • The biggest local preps news of the 2010 season.

-- Ben Golliver | benjamin.golliver@gmail.com | Twitter

Batum on Durant 

Last night I wrote that Nicolas Batum was pretty hard on himself for his defensive performance on Kevin Durant.  

"I didn't do my job on Durant. I just let him play. I didn't get physical enough on him. I just let him play. He got more than 30 points so I didn't do my job. I didn't body him, I gave him too much space."    

Down the stretch, it's fair to say Batum got torched a little bit.  But I went back through the game tape and spliced together all the plays that found Batum matched up on Durant one-on-one.  Here's the clip reel.

I'm not going to break this down in as much detail as I did Batum's earlier work against Dirk Nowitzki but there are a few interesting things to point out.

  • The Thunder do an outstanding job of mixing things up in freeing and feeding Durant while staying within a team offensive framework.  Note that this video only includes plays where Batum and Durant face off. Aside from plays in which Martell Webster switched onto Durant, there were plenty of others that found Durant in transition, in mini-transition or shooting over guys like Steve Blake thanks to switched pick and rolls.  The diversity in locations for his isolations was also excellent and he ran off picks hard and regularly.  Just like it's the defense's job to make a scorer work, the scorer can gain an advantage by forcing the defense to work too.  A big key last night was how early the Thunder got their offensive possessions started.  Often they would post up one of their bigs on the opposite side of the court early enough so that when the ball reversed to Durant he was effectively in isolation on the weakside and still had plenty of time to operate one on one.  His man was therefore "left out on an island" and vulnerable to Durant's full arsenal.
  • Overall I thought Batum played Durant "good but not great." Certainly better than he gave himself credit for after the game.  Durant has a streakiness to his game and he was able to find a lot of points in transition that helped build his confidence  What resulted at the end was an explosion that couldn't easily be stopped at that point. Of course Batum is going to hold himself responsible for those points (as he should) but it wasn't his fault alone.
  • I really enjoyed watching how often the two tangled well before Durant receives the ball.  They are fighting to get below each other almost like two bulls locking horns.  Batum's footwork is pretty solid although you can instantly see the difference in quickness between Durant and a guy like Nowitzki.  Whereas Batum was able to keep Dirk in front of him on most possessions, Durant gets the step multiple times (going both left and right) and has him back on his heels by the end of the game.
  • The plays that get forgotten by the box score (and probably Batum himself) are the deflections he created that he wasn't able to control.  One in particular that's in the tape above had the potential to be a momentum-shifter but he couldn't get to it before it went out of bounds.  That's a nice play regardless.
Kevin Pelton had a nice take on the match-up in his post last night.

Tonight was the first look this season at a matchup that figures to be an entertaining one in the Western Conference for years to come, Thunder star Kevin Durant and Blazers defensive specialist Nicolas Batum. Batum, who recently returned from shoulder surgery, missed the first meeting of these two teams. In that game, Martell Webster did an excellent job defending Durant, and though Batum made his first start of the season, Webster initially got the call against Durant defensively. With the Oklahoma City forward starting as well as Portland came out cold on the other end, Webster sat in favor of Steve Blake little more than three minutes into the game, passing Durant along to Batum.

Both players are incredible athletes whose arms seem to reach almost to the floor. That makes Batum an ideal defensive matchup for Durant, and he did a better job of man defense than Durant's final line of 33 points and 11 rebounds would indicate. Through the first three quarters, Durant shot just 9-of-21 from the field. And if that still sounds pretty good, remember that Durant has shot 50.6 percent from the field in calendar 2010 as part of a stretch that has seen him elevate his game to another level. Beyond that, Durant rarely beat Batum one-on-one early on, getting most of his points in transition or as part of pick-and-rolls. But Durant would eventually get the better of his opposing number, knocking down a long jumper and a pull-up three-pointer in Batum's face to salt the game away late in the fourth.

As for Batum, in the nine games he has played since returning to the lineup he has looked like a different player than during his solid rookie season. Then, Batum was very much a role player whose involvement in the Blazers' offense was limited to transition and spot-up three-pointers. Building on his strong effort for the French National Team in last summer's EuroBasket 2009, Batum has been much more aggressive in his abbreviated sophomore campaign, increasing his usage rate to 16.6 percent of Portland's possessions while on the floor and creating more for himself. That's a good sign that Batum, still just 21, has a chance to develop into a valuable player at both ends of the floor.

Points Per Possession Plus Assists

Thanks for all the feedback on yesterday's chart which looked at the 50 NBA players who use the most possessions and their offensive efficiency as measured by PPP.

PPP is by no means a perfect barometer.  The main reasons I prefer using PPP are 1) the highest scoring players via PPP closely align with those players who are generally considered to be the best players in the league by media, fellow players and coaches and 2) it's relatively simple.  Points Per Possession is an easy concept to wrap your head around and it's great for comparing the apples and oranges of guys who play in different paces and the effects of guys playing different positions.  I like to think of PPP as a barometer of an "offensive weapon" rather than a measure of the "best overall offensive player."  It's difficult if not impossible to get everyone to agree on a perfect offensive rating formula or measure.  If PPP falls short in any major way, it's undervaluing pass-first point guards.  Guys like Steve Nash and Deron Williams are efficient scorers in their own right but their efficiency only increases when you take into account how many buckets they help set up.

With that said, PPP is not the only barometer we have available.  There is another measure called "Points Per Possession Plus Assists" which aims to account for the offensive impact a player creates from both his scoring and his passing. 

The Invisible Ninja (follow him on twitter here) and I spent a fair bit of time over the last 24 hours assembling and charting Points Per Possession Plus Assists ratings. Here's what we came up with.  Click here for the full size chart

Possavspppa_medium

On the X axis you'll see what we are calling PossA.  This is simply a player's possessions (plays that end with that player shooting, being fouled in the act of shooting or turning the ball over) plus that player's raw assist total.  On the Y axis, you'll see Points Per Possession Plus Assists, also known as PP (P+A).  This number ranking is generated by Synergy Sports to balance a player's PPP as well as measure the effects of his assists for 2 point baskets, 3 point baskets, etc.

(To compile this chart, we started fresh, looking for the top 50 players who have generated the most PossA this season.  44 of them were in the top 50 for Poss in our previous chart, in case you're interested.)

There is a ton to take away from this chart but here are a few of the more obvious notes...

  • Point guards that are able to score and create for their teammates see a huge bump here. 4 of the top 5 players in efficiency by this measure are point guards.
  • LeBron James is the only one of the top 5 PPP guys that remains in the top 5 for PP (P+A).  He really is in a class by himself.
  • Kevin Durant, who charted so impressively in PPP, takes a big fall when it comes to PP (P+A).  This is true for just about anyone regarded as a "pure scorer." True to form, Durant scored 33 points and tacked on just 1 assist last night.  Consistency in defensive effort and passing the basketball are the two most obvious growth areas for Durant's game.
  • Interestingly, the Blazers are actually the only team to have 2 players in the top 10 for PP (P+A) ranking: Brandon Roy and Andre Miller.  They score nearly identically.
  • The only big man to make the top 10 is David Lee of the New York Knicks.  He will cash in big this summer.

To me, both PPP and PP(P+A) are useful.  I tend to lean more heavily on PPP for its ease of use and the fact that both bigs and smalls find their way onto the top end of the list.  But PP (P+A) is also interesting.  Why not look at both if they're both available?

Huge Preps News

In what can only be described as gigantic high school basketball news, Tim Brown of Oregonlive.com is reporting that Terrence Ross will transfer back to Jefferson High School and is seeking eligibility for this season.  Great scoop and reporting by Brown, who has become the single best source of local hoops coverage in the state.  If ruled eligible, Ross will be paired with Terrence Jones, giving Jeff two of the nation's top 25 high school seniors. 

-- Ben Golliver | benjamin.golliver@gmail.com | Twitter

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