NBA Four Quarters (02/24/17)
The smoke has cleared, the Woj bomb bombardment has subdued, and the trading window has expired leaving a new NBA landscape in its stay. Repeating the pattern of the past couple of years, a gang of teams in the midst of a playoff race in one conference made big moves simultaneously. While the morass of teams in the middle of the Eastern Conference stood pat in the midst of Category 5 rumors, four of the teams within 2.5 games of the eight seed in the West made moves in the run-up to the deadline – the Nuggets and Blazers swapped centers, the Mavericks nabbed Nerlens Noel, and of course the Pelicans landed DeMarcus Cousins (more on that below).
This year marks the third consecutive year at least three teams on the edge of the playoffs made moves to gain a competitive advantage over the others. By and large, over the past five seasons, these playoff chasing moves near the deadline have proven successful as the table below indicates. One of the exceptions, last year's Detroit Pistons, is a bit misleading. While they did have a negative net rating after trading for Tobias Harris, that number was skewed by a random 43-point loss to Washington and the Pistons did improve where it counts and made the playoffs. An exception in the other direction involved an unlucky Milwaukee Bucks team that performed very efficiently but simply couldn't keep pace with the New York Knicks – who skyrocketed after Coach D'Antoni “resigned.” It will be fascinating to see which team emerges with the eight seed out West this season, particularly because both Dallas and New Orleans have the 0-5 start stink on them.
|W/L (seed)||Net Rating||W/L||Net Rating|
The Good, the Bad and the Boogie
Incontrovertibly, the biggest trade of the deadline brought DeMarcus Cousins from Sacramento to New Orleans – without any interference from the Commissioner, despite the unanimously perceived one-sided nature of the trade, although in the Pelicans favor. The Brow and Boogie suited up to play with one another competitively for the first time since the 2014 FIBA World Cup last night and the results were mixed. Each of them had phenomenal individual statistical games, but the Pelicans took a 30 point beating at the hands of the Rockets. It was obvious from the beginning of the game that there is going to be a steep learning curve to incorporate Cousins into the schemes on both ends of the floor. It is unclear whether Cousins knows who Clint Eastwood is, but I thought it best to break out the Pun Gun to break down the good, the bad, and the Boogie from last night's game.
Remarkably, Cousins finished one block shy of a five-by-five in his first game – an extremely rare feat accomplished only 16 times in the history of the league by only nine players. Justifiably still learning the offense, Cousins was limited to simple post-ups and pick-and-pops for most of the night, good enough to overwhelm the centers of Houston. When the Rockets came with double teams, Cousins displayed his incredible vision and unselfishness with master precision. Flat out, Cousins played a phenomenal offensive game. There were a few highlights on the other side of the floor to fill the box score, but beyond the box score it was not such a good night.
Cousins meandered along the fine line between confused and disinterested all night. From being late to rotate in help, finding himself out of position when defending pick-and-roll, and simply failing to communicate with teammates, it was a disastrous night on defense for Cousins and the Pelicans. We can't know what the game plan was for defending pick-and-roll and we should be lenient as Cousins adjusts to a new scheme, but he routinely found himself in the position of allowing the roll man to get behind him without providing resistance to the ball handler – no man's land, as I like to call it.
The most worrisome part, though, was how Cousins mere presence in the lineup affected Anthony Davis. New Orleans had put together a top-10 defense with Anthony Davis exclusively playing the five. After the trade, Davis is pushed back to the power forward position, which greatly diminishes his value on that end. You can see in the clips below how hopeless he is fighting through screens and attempting to contain Trevor Ariza. Houston is not the only team in the league that can present this matchup problem.
Unfortunately, years of losing have reinforced some bad habits in Boogie Cousins that reared their ugly heads in an all-too-familiar blowout. On multiple occasions he found himself mixing it up with opponents, leading to fouls and his trademark dramatic whining. On several other occasions, Cousins could not resist the urge to gamble and reached in lazily, leading to more fouls and even worse: wide open shots. Worst of all, he was slow. Chris Herring at FiveThirtyEight wrote a nice little blurb about the contrast between the Pelicans up-tempo style and Cousins preference to saunter up and down the court. A great percentage of possessions started with Cousins not entering the frame until six, seven, eight seconds had come of the shot clock, leaving his man free to roam and disrupt any early offense that guys like Davis and Jrue Holiday are accustomed to exploiting. The Warriors made it work with Andrew Bogut, another tardy big man, when current Pelicans head coach Alvin Gentry was on staff in Golden State, so there is hope New Orleans will be able to stabilize their kinetic frenzy offense with a more static piece like Boogie.
Skeptical Statistics Teaser
Each of the following clip pairs have been chosen because they are linked by a common antecedent. Take a look at the following clips and ask yourself whether the pair belong in the same classification or if they should be differentiated?
After a made basket:
After a defensive rebound:
After a steal:
The race to the bottom is officially underway. Sacramento and Los Angeles are on the border of the protection of their first round picks they owe to Chicago and Philadelphia, respectively. Orlando and Philadelphia just traded starting caliber big men with a short-term sacrifice. Of these teams, Philadelphia has the most tank friendly schedule remaining. The majority of games left are on the road, opponents play twice as many games with a rest advantage than vice versa, and the Sixers have yet to play Golden State. With Joel Embiid hurt, two starting caliber big men eliminated from the roster via trade in Ersan Ilyasova and Nerlens Noel, and Ben Simmons' debut up in the air, a very real path is there for another tanked season - ideally, bumping the Lakers outside the top three in The Process.