Here's a round-up of recent Portland Trail Blazers coverage. Lots of good stuff out there the last few days.
Dave's latest mailbag is right here.
Kirk Goldsberry of Grantland.com is offering a new advanced statistic called "EPV" (Expected Possession Value) that attempts to capture the value of a player's every action on the court. You'll need to read the full introduction to get a good sense for how ambitious of a project this is, but it incorporates the SportsVU cameras that now track every NBA game.
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."
Here's a Sloan Sports Analytics Conference research paper on the subject. The paper includes a list of the top 10 EPV-Added players (the guys who are supposedly doing the most to boost the value of their team's possessions) in a small and irregular sample of games from the 2012-13 season. Three of the players in the top 10 are Blazers: LaMarcus Aldridge, Wesley Matthews and Damian Lillard.
Last week, one stat "geek" argued against LaMarcus Aldridge's MVP merits based on his True Shooting %.
Tom Haberstroh of ESPN.com (Insider) also took up Aldridge's True Shooting % topic.
Although we don't typically think of big men as high-volume shooters, Aldridge is more Allen Iverson than he is Tim Duncan. He leads the league in field goal attempts (he has 42 more than Kevin Durant in 89 fewer minutes), and his 51.5 percent true shooting percentage -- a shooting efficiency metric that incorporates 3-point shooting and free throws -- ranks 138th among those qualified for the scoring title. Again: 138th. Bottom line: Aldridge is an elite shot-taker, not shot-maker.
Bradford Doolittle of ESPN.com offered a lengthy counter-argument defending Aldridge's value, noting his ability to draw attention, find open shooters and avoid turnovers.
We've seen numerous examples of a low-efficiency, high-volume scorer sinking his team's offense despite a lofty points per game average that keeps his name in the spotlight. Among players with a usage rate of 25 percent or higher, Aldridge ranks just 30th in the league in true shooting percentage, so he qualifies as a low-efficiency, high-volume scorer. Nevertheless, if you take the necessary next step and consider the player's performance record in the context of his team's performance, you're left with a paradox. How can a player use so many possessions at such an iffy level of efficiency, yet be the centerpiece of what may well be the league's best offense?
The bottom line is Portland has an elite offense, and Aldridge is the biggest part of that. Efficiency is never a bad thing, and if Aldridge could nudge his true shooting percentage up a few points, it would make the Blazers that much more dangerous. However, this is a case where the mainstream read on a player may be closer to the true version of reality than that of our next-level analytical tools.
Zach Lowe of Grantland.com took another look at the Blazers' defense.
There are a few things behind the struggle, but here's a big one: The Blazers almost never force turnovers. They simply don't do the sorts of things that produce turnovers - aggressive help in the passing lanes, frenzied traps, packing the paint to force risky inside-out passes around the horn. Portland has forced turnovers on just 11 percent of opponent possessions, per Basketball-Reference. That would be the third-lowest turnover rate in the entire history of the league.
Conservatism can be healthy for an NBA defense. Coaches preach it all the time: Stay home, don't gamble, don't reach yourself into a foul. Let's force them into a long jumper, clean the rebound, and move on with life. If they make it, they make it. What can we do?
Dwight Jaynes of CSNNW.com offers some drawbacks to using Nicolas Batum to defend opposing point guards.
Batum defending the point guard sets off a chain reaction that sends Damian Lillard over to check the off-guard spot, thus pushing Wesley Matthews down to defend the small forward. There are many nights when that small forward is going to be too big for Matthews to handle. Matthews works his tail off at the defensive end and is generously listed at 6-5. Small forwards these days in the NBA aren't small -- and on many nights it's going to be too big a load for Matthews.
As we detailed yesterday, Batum is already logging more miles on the court than any other player in the NBA. Now you're going to ask him to chase small, quick point guards all over the floor for 36 minutes a night? Not sure that's going to be sustainable.
Seth Partnow of BBallBreakdown.com has assembled all sorts of GIFs showing defensive mistakes by the Blazers.
The most obvious answer is often correct. In the case of the Blazers, their guards simply can't keep their men from getting to the basket. Both Lillard and Williams are easy to put on skates, and neither is especially adept at recovering once beat, almost always sliding instead of turning and running.
Bethlehem Shoals, writing for TrueHoop, offers some thoughts on the Blazers' rise.
There's another side to the Blazers this season that might be even trickier for hometown fans to appreciate. They may not be the most exotic or enthralling team in the league, but they're certainly one of the prettiest. Strip away all concerns about winning and losing and focus only on the aesthetic of basketball; spend enough nights there and Portland will become one of your favorites really fast. The Blazers' ball movement, the jump-shooting that splits the difference between fearless and mechanistic; Aldridge's sweeping movements, Lillard's nightly derring-do, and Batum's sleek resourcefulness. All of this make for a team that's irresistible if you happen to flip past one of their games.
The Blazers are, for lack of a better word, one of the NBA's great foils this season. Anyone versus the Blazers is going to be an entertaining matchup, something maybe only the Warriors can claim with any consistency. They somehow bring out the best in other teams, pushing the game without things erupting into run-and-gun absurdism. Portland's not a team you want to play because there's a high probability you will lose. However, playing them practically guarantees something entertaining.
Joe Freeman of The Oregonian has a transcript of Lillard's reaction to all the All-Star news.
Q: The debate seems to be: Is this too much? At a time you should be resting, you're going to overextend yourself. How do you respond to that criticism?
A: "If you pay attention to it, the Skills (Challenge) is two rounds, maybe a minute a piece. That's two minutes. The Three-Point Contest is probably two minutes. The (Slam) Dunk Contest will probably take five. And then the Rookie-Sophomore game is not like a real regular season game. So I'm not going to be out there exerting all of my energy, playing as hard as I would for the Trail Blazers. And who knows how many minutes I'll play in the All-Star Game? So, in reality, it's probably 45 minutes of work actually on the court. I don't really think I'll be tired from that."
Q: Which event are you looking forward to the most?
A: "Shooting. I wanted to shoot in the Three-Point Contest and I think that'll be the one that I'm most excited about."
John Canzano of The Oregonian has a column on Damian Lillard competing in five All-Star events.
Be sure, the Blazers won't say a peep to Lillard on this issue. As much as they've love for him to rest, stay healthy, and prepare for a brutal stretch run, they know they're not driving the bus here. In fact, general manager Neil Olshey knows that the absolute ham-handed and worst thing he could do is attempt to dictate what Lillard should and shouldn't do with his weekend.
Camp Lillard wants to expand the brand. The All-Star weekend is the perfect place. I have no doubt he's capable, and that he'll fare well. But it's the risk to the Blazers great season that doesn't feel right.
Jason Hortsch of Rip City Project likes the approach that Lillard is taking to All-Star Weekend.
I could not be prouder of the attitude Lillard is taking into the weekend. When we pull ourselves away from the media-driven talk surrounding the NBA about killer instincts, cutthroat desires to win, legacies, and greatest of all time debates, we can start to realize again that it's all a game. Sure it's an enormous business as well, but most of these guys wouldn't be playing if they didn't truly love basketball.
All-Star weekend is supposed to be fun, for both the fans and the players. What better way for Lillard to get the full experience, for himself as well as his fans, than by participating in everything? That would be an impressive feat without mentioning history, but the fact that he will be the first one ever to do so makes it all the more special.
Damian Lillard is going to be co-hosting a rap event with DJ Mannie Fresh while in New Orleans.
Terrence Watson of Vibe.com has an interview with Lillard that touches on branding, All-Star stuff and more.
Balance between remembering that Basketball is what got you here but don't limit yourself?
Yeah. Don't limit yourself. I saw a Kanye interview and everybody kinda laughed because he kinda snapped on Sway, but he was saying ‘don't marginalize me.' That stuck out to me because, a lot of times, that's what happens. We're satisfied with who we are as NBA players or NFL players and what we get out of it. But in reality, we could use who we are to get a lot of other things going.
Kevin Pelton of ESPN.com (Insider) notes, in advance of Portland vs. Indiana on Friday night, that elite offenses have prevailed more often than not over elite defenses during the regular season over the last three years.
Over the last three years, offenses have had the upper hand, going 33-18 against elite defenses. Offensive-minded teams have been better over the course of the season, outscoring opponents by 7.3 points per 100 possessions as compared to a plus-5.7 differential for elite defenses.
However, the gap is much larger in head-to-head matchups, where the best offenses have outscored the best defenses by 3.7 points per 100 possessions -- a drop of 9.4 points per 100 possessions from what the defensive-minded teams did over the course of the season.
The numbers also show the elite offenses specifically winning the offense-defense confrontation. They averaged a 109.2 offensive rating in matchups with the best defenses. While that's a drop of 4.9 points per 100 possessions from their season-long performance, it's 7.3 more points per 100 possessions than the top defenses allowed over the course of the season.
Howard Beck of Bleacher Report with some quotes from LaMarcus Aldridge tracing the ups and downs of the last few years.
For the Blazers, it was a bleak, depressing harbinger. Coach Nate McMillan was fired the next day, the first casualty of a disengaged locker room.
"That was definitely our lowest point," forward LaMarcus Aldridge recalled late Wednesday, sitting in the same visiting locker room at the Garden. "You feel helpless. Because I want to win. I'm a winner. I felt like I was helpless, because I was trying to do everything I could. But when guys don't want to play anymore, there's not anything I can do."
The Blazers are a surprising 35-14, third in the West, with the NBA's second-ranked offense, beautiful chemistry and a renewed spirit.
"We definitely see ourselves competing for a title really soon," Aldridge said. "We feel like we have all of the core pieces."
I noted on Twitter the other night that Lillard has dunked just eight times this season according to NBA.com's stats tool. Chris Haynes of CSNNW.com got reaction to that former Dunk Contest champion Fred Jones.
"Have you seen them eight dunks? It don't matter how many you got, if you've seen the ones he did, then you understand. I wasn't really a big time, a lot of dunks in the game, but my dunks counted. He goes down the lane and he dunks in traffic. That's what people want to see and it will transfer over."
Here's Lillard's reaction to the same question via Casey Holdahl of Blazers.com.
"Only eight dunks, that means my legs are fresh," joked Lillard. "I can get a lot more dunking in ... The contest will be short. I've got to go out there and show some of the tricks that I do."
Here's my breakdown of the Slam Dunk Contest's new format, which is significantly different than previous years.
The NBA.com guys debate the best franchise power forwards in the league.
Gwen Knapp of SportsOnEarth.com writes a big-picture piece about the Blazers.
Paul Allen paraded through Seattle with the new Super Bowl champions on Wednesday, completing an experience that few team owners can dare to imagine. He brought the Lombardi Trophy to the place where he grew up, the city where he and Bill Gates had huddled together over their prep school's lone computer terminal. He had kept the franchise in town 17 years earlier, when the previous owner threatened to move it, and the 2013 Seahawks ended 35 years without a major pro sports title for Seattle.
About 175 miles down the Interstate-5 corridor, followers of Allen's first pro team had to wonder how soon they might stage a similar parade, ending a drought that goes back to 1977. The Portland Trail Blazers, the wonderkids out of the NBA gate this season, have cooled off in the last six weeks, but they remain something of a revelation. They sat at 35-14, two wins ahead of their total for all of last season, and in third place in the Western Conference after Wednesday's 94-90 win in New York, which ended a four-game road losing streak.
They have gone 11-9 since Dec. 27, after a 24-5 start. At the time, general manager Neil Olshey knew exactly how to describe the Blazers' feverish pace. "Yes,'' he said, ''this is still a small sample size.''
David MacKay of Rip City Project has an apology to Blazers center Robin Lopez.
The same young man that I clowned during his Phoenix years, that I ‘good riddanced' on a failing New Orleans team, and that I yawned at last July, has become more than I ever thought possible. Robin Lopez is the anchor of the Portland Trail Blazers. On any given night, he is good for about 10 points and 8 rebounds (give or take) while creating better matchups for LaMarcus Aldridge. That may not sound like much, but there is something to be said for dependability.
The rebounding alone makes him invaluable. The quantity might dip from time to time, but the quality of his contributions on the glass is steady. He fights to create second chance opportunities. I don't mean that he's in the right place at the right time; I mean that he battles for the ball after every shot. That's why he has been able to reel in 187 offensive boards this season, good for third most of any NBA player. Last season in New Orleans, Lopez finished at 15th in this category.
-- Ben Golliver | firstname.lastname@example.org | Twitter