Monday, January 21, 2013

The Pacers Offense and Defense

I'd like to respond to a few comments made in a recent 5-on-5 on and discuss the Pacers offense and defense.

Much has been made about the Pacers defense this season. It is one thing the Pacers have done that has given them the national spotlight. However, most argue that despite their defense, the Pacers will not be able to succeed in the playoffs without scoring more points, most often comparing their scoring average to that of the other Eastern Conference playoff teams.

Kevin Arnovitz of believes "a team with this kind of offensive hardship can't last until June."

Ian Levy, writer for The Two Man Game is of a similar mind. "Their defense is elite and can keep games close against almost any opponent. But their offense is so blunt and unimaginative that scoring points in the playoffs could be a monumental challenge."

It seems so obvious to me, yet few if any writers have acknowledged that a team's points scored on average in a game does not have any effect on how many points they will score in a given game. The Pacers may score fewer than all but one team in the NBA, but it doesn't matter. They give up the fewest points in the NBA and have the record to prove that they don't just play defense against the league's bottom-feeders, but against the elite as well. In the last month alone, the Pacers have held the the number one scoring offense in Houston to 95 points, the sixth-ranked Heat to its season low 77, and the eighth-ranked Knicks to 76 and they have yet to give up 100 points in a game in January. Despite their inability to match other team's points-per-game averages, the Pacers still outscore their opponents by over two points per game, currently eighth-best in the NBA.

I also disagree with Levy's comment that the Pacers offense is blunt and unimaginative. In an article by Tom Haberstoh published on's insider, he discusses the importance of the corner-three to efficient offenses. The Pacers make over 41 percent of their corner-threes, good for sixth best in the NBA, and they take almost six of them per game. Despite their successful use of corner-threes, they only score 98.4 points per 100 possessions, second worst in the NBA.

According to, based on the shot selection of the Pacers and the league average field-goal percentage, the Pacers expected effective field-goal percentage is 11th in the NBA, meaning they should be scoring much more than they are. Part of this is due to the Pacers missing open shots, but the other part is the lack of fouls called on the Pacers end of the court. They are in the top five in the NBA at getting shots inside of 10 feet, yet they attempt only 22 free throws per game, below the league average. 

It is difficult to judge how effective a team can be on offense or defense just from one game, and it can even be misleading to to look at numbers over half of a season. It can take a couple of months for trends to form or for teams to break them, and most successful teams improve throughout the season. If the Pacers keep up their defensive intensity and fundamentals, they should continue to hold teams under 90 points on a regular basis. On the offensive end, given their success on 3-pointers and the large volume of shooting inside 10 feet, the Pacers offense should start to improve and the foul shot disparity should start to even out. With the return of Danny Granger, one of the best perimeter offensive players in the NBA, things will only to continue to get better.


A somewhat unrelated note about large markets and small markets:

What do the Lakers, Celtics, Bulls and Heat all have in common besides their market size? The public gives them the benefit of the doubt because the public wants them to succeed. This of course has little effect on how any games play out, but it plays a large role in each fan's individual feelings about their team and their loyalty to their team.

The aforementioned teams never have to prove anyone right. Until the Lakers actually miss the playoffs, they are still a threat to win the championship. Until the Pacers or the Warriors knock off the Knicks or the Clippers in the playoffs, they will never be respected in the same way as the Knicks or the Clippers are despite the large-market teams' lack of a proven track record. Until the large market teams prove you wrong, they will always get the attention, the accolades and the respect. Perhaps it is an advantage, but here's to hoping the chip on my teams' shoulders gives them the boost to prove critics wrong. Let's keep pumping out praise for our soon to be champion Heat and Knicks and dupe them into relying on pedigree rather than hard work.

Friday, January 18, 2013

The Red Zone

Is there a red one? Or is that even the most important question. I'd argue that it's irrelevant. It is only an example of Bill Simmon's hypocrisy (although in fairness, the article was written by Kirk Goldsberry and only published in Bill Simmon's ESPN sub-site Grantland). For someone to make their living on things so extremely intangible to complain about the inaccurate nature of a general NFL term.... I don't really understand what motivated him to write this. 

While he certainly makes a good point, it's basically the "apple effect." Someone mainstream takes an idea that was created years ago, translates it well to the public and is viewed as visionary. I appreciate his columns, but for their intangible nature. For instance, I love his Mad Men power rankings and his goofy partitioning when evaluating NFL or NBA talent. 
If he had truly attempted to make sense of the red zone, he would have tried to determine if there is any validity in the idea by comparing the larger value of EP once you reach the 20 against the likelihood a team reaching that yard line on any given drive and then doing the same for other yard lines. If the magical yard line isn't the 20, then it surely must exist somewhere else and serve as a benchmark for the ability to close out drives with a short field. If there isn't a magical yard line, then I guess he is correct, but the last line in the following link sums it up pretty well. 

Anybody who has a real problem with [the red zone] -- and I'm not sure the writers of this piece even fall in that category -- is just being pedantic, and holding sportswriting to an absurd standard of strict intellectual rigor.

This one is in response and is basically what I am saying. Nice try Bill Simmons, please be real.

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Georgia Tech 17 - Virginia Tech 14!!!

Phew, I am so relieved we won. I couldn't have been the only one screaming at the t.v. when Paul Johnson called a play to the end zone on 2nd and 10, then waited 20 seconds to call a timeout after 3rd down. And then that horrible, horrible play that somehow someway got a first down. BUT, we scored, and thankfully we  wo-- What?!? We LOST???

Such are the emotions of many Rambling Wrecks each fall. On the bright side, we'll still get a bowl game even if we lose again.

This is absolutely not a knee-jerk reaction to the game, rather an idea that this game strongly validates. Now don't get me wrong, I'm certainly not jumping off the bandwagon or abandoning the Yellow Jackets, I'm just not sure if this is what's best. Every season we dominate our out of conference schedule, struggle through conference play and then lay a post-season egg. I don't think the triple option offense is sustainable outside of a single-game framework.

I consider myself much more knowledgeable when it comes to professional football as opposed to college, so I won't go into a ton of detail on the triple option other than to say that it seems to have some inherent flaws not found in more traditional offenses. To begin with, teams that have more time to prepare for the triple option tend to succeed in defending against it. Georgia Tech is 0-4 in bowl games since employing the new offense. Additionally, the defense get's less time prepare against traditional offenses, of which they play 100% of their games against, than that of other teams. I could be wrong here, but much of the offense is based on misdirection and deception. A defense that doesn't fall victim to those tricks stands a strong chance of completely shutting down the triple option. I've heard it asked which side of the ball should prevail assuming each side executes perfectly and I'm not sure of the answer in most cases, but with the triple-option surely the defense would win.

When it comes to the execution of the offense during games, there are additional problems. A team that runs the ball on 80% of its plays will suffer from a lack of rhythm on any pass play. To make matters worse, defenders in the secondary are likely to maintain fresh legs throughout the game enabling them to defend better than they would otherwise when the offense passes so infrequently. I believe this was one of the problems Tevin Washington encountered during the 2011 season. He had a strong start to the season with a couple of good touchdown passes or other deep passes, but as the season wore on he passed fewer times and less efficiently. The inability to depend on the pass creates problems for the offense when a play is run for negative yardage. The triple option is most effective when it can count on roughly three yards per play and an occasional poorly defended play resulting in big yards or even a touchdown. If however the 1st down play leads to 2nd and 11, the triple option is at a much greater disadvantage than traditional offenses that can rely on the pass to get them out of tough spots.

As for the game tonight, I think the Yellow Jackets showed more determination in utilizing the passing game and to some effect. The offense overall was inconsistent, but made the big plays when it needed to. I'd argue that they could have done it better by sticking with what was working in the 4th quarter rather than shifting to attempted 30 yard pass plays, but I'm not the coach. The biggest problems were the 2nd half defense, some inconsistent play calling, and one very terrible decision. Blitzing on 4th and 4 with 13 seconds left and the offense needing to gain at the absolute minimum 20 yards for any hope of a field goal cannot possibly be the correct call, especially when leaving corners and safeties stranded on tired legs. But the straw that broke the camel's back was the interception throw in overtime.

What can you do at this point but for a 40 point win next week against Presbyterian? Go Jackets!

Friday, August 3, 2012

156-73 - Evidence of a New Dream Team?

156-73. New Olympic records for scoring, three-pointers and now a lead over the other five teams in Group A.  The US Men's Basketball team won by 83 points today in what many will say is confirmation that nobody can beat this team, the '92 Dream Team included.

It's really very difficult to make a direct comparison between teams from different times, but I will try.

To begin with, the NBA is a much more international league than it was twenty years ago. An intuitive argument is that the current team faces a much higher level of competition due to the increase in international popularity of the sport, causing their average margin of victory to be much lower than the famed '92 Dream Team's average of  51.5 points.
Twenty years ago, there were twenty one international players in the NBA ( compared with over 200 today. Canada alone had twenty-one players compete in the NBA this past season. You could create a lineup of five international players just as good, if not better, than five American players. No international player had ever won an NBA MVP award until 2004, when Steve Nash and Dirk Nowitzki collectively won three straight. Prior to the 2000s, only three international players had ever been drafted first overall in the NBA draft, yet three more were drafted first overall in the next ten years (Yao Ming, Andrew Bogut and Andrea Bargnani).
While the US's performances have not appeared nearly as dominant during the last few years as the '92 Dream Team's, their success despite tougher competition tends to favor the 2012 team.

Those who favor the '92 team will still point to that 51.5 number however, and they may be right, but there is another argument for the '92 Dream Team that likely will never be trumped; eleven of the twelve players on the team are currently in the Basketball Hall of Fame. Three of the players (Larry Bird, Michael Jordan and Magic Johnson) are considered to be among the best players in NBA history, and one of them, Larry Bird, only played in two of the six games.
While the credentials of some of the players on the 2012 team are hard to argue against, a number of the players just happened to be in the right place at the right time. Dwight Howard's, Blake Griffin's and Chris Bosh's injuries along with Andrew Bynum's decision not to play in the Olympics allowed Tyson Chandler, Kevin Love and Anthony Davis to secure spots on the team. The same can be said for Deron Williams and Andre Iguodala. While these players have certainly earned their spots and contributed thus far, there is no comparison to the individual accolades of the members of the '92 team.

The game today against the Nigerian team certainly showed us how good the current team can be, but I don't think that it has proven anything. If the argument that the US faces stiffer competition this year has any merit, then this game loses significant credibility as evidence that the 2012 team could beat the '92 team. The best player on the Nigerian team, Ike Diogu, was drafted in 2005 and never played on a team for more than two seasons. He was even waived from the last 3 teams he played for in the NBA.
In addition to the poor quality of competition, the US played nearly as good of a game as is possible. They played smothering defense forcing twenty-four turnovers, made twenty-nine three-pointers and shot over seventy percent from the field. Yes, you read that correctly, over 70%.

To be fair, you cannot simply disregard one game due to the circumstances. The US were told to play Nigeria, and they did. They dominated. The US recorded more assisted field goals than Nigeria recorded total field goals. They made more three-pointers than Nigeria attempted, and completed the game with more than double the amount of points. At one point Carmelo Anthony made a three-pointer in four consecutive possessions. LeBron James intentionally slowed up during a fast break seemingly in attempt to make a more difficult play to prove a point. He was fouled, although it was not called, and made the basket anyway.

If I had to pick a team to win the matchup of the '92 Dream Team vs. the 2012 National Team, I would have to side with the current team. In spite of the apparent difference in the quality of all twelve players for both teams, there is zero drop-off in quality of play when the second lineup enters the game for the 2012 National Team. The defense is absolutely relentless. When you can force twenty-four turnovers in one game, you're going to get free points, and it doesn't really matter who is dunking the ball.

Monday, July 9, 2012


In my inaugural post, I'd like to discuss an idea of extreme subjectivity and apparently rising popularity in the sports world, clutch performances.

As defined by Merriam-Webster, clutch is "to be successful in a crucial situation." The adaptation of this to the sports world is to be dependable in a crucial situation. This idea is an extremely reasonable idea when applied as a situational standard; a home run in the bottom of the ninth inning of a tie game and a three-pointer as time expires are both clutch. The temptation though is too great to avoid crowning any individual or outstanding performance whenever possible as clutch.

A few of the problems with evaluating a clutch player or performance include our interpretation of clutch as an innate quality, the variety of contexts in which we evaluate and inconsistent standards for each evaluation. For instance, we've established that making a three-point shot as time expires to win a game is a clutch play. However, is it still clutch  if it was during an exhibition game or if the team has already secured its playoff spot or been eliminated?

Some athletes establish their identity as clutch with a signature performance. Consider Michael Jordan's fifteen foot jumper over Byron Russell or Adam Vinatieri's field goal against the Raiders in the "tuck-rule game." In these cases, the players went on to make a series of clutch plays leading to their labeling as "clutch players." So are Michael Jordan and Adam Vinatieri inherently clutch? Perhaps. There are a number of factors out of their control during those games. Had the long snapper missed his spot or the ball slipped from the placeholder's hands, then Vinatieri might never have gotten a chance to make his field goal. So are those players clutch as well? Probably not. Those are plays that we expect players to make 99 times out of 100. Maybe then it's best to only label plays that are closer to a 50-50 chance as clutch, but then we'll never know if it was truly clutch or just lucky.

Often the context of the achievement will justify the designation of "clutch." On a large scale, certain contests are of greater significance and we therefore designate otherwise unimportant performances as clutch. Mike Miller's performance in the deciding game of this years NBA Finals is a perfect example. In any regular season game, 23 points and seven made three pointers would be considered a fine performance, but nothing more than noteworthy. In early February the Pacer's Paul George made seven three-pointers but the situation had no impact on the season besides a slight adjustment to each team's standing. If asked out of context whether seven three-pointers on the road against the defending champions is more or less clutch than seven-three pointers at home in a blow-out win, the answer is fairly obvious. Clearly context affects are evaluation of clutch.

Frequently players are granted reprieve from criticism due to a recent clutch performance. If Michael Jordan failed to make the necessary plays and emerge with another clutch victory, most would shrug their shoulders and hope for the best the next time. At the other extreme, if a baseball player known to "shrink under pressure" hits a walk-off home run, fans would celebrate and shortly after declare the player's at-bat nothing more than a lucky aberration.

There isn't anything wrong with debating the merits of any player's clutch performance, but it shouldn't be basis for any evaluation of talent. A series of clutch performances is nothing more than the set of timely successes and shouldn't be treated as anything more unless taken with the context of all the other contests, failures and success alike.