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Friday, April 18, 2008

Deconstruction

Posted by Eboy



*Well folks, our first guest contributor is none other than the uber intelligent, thought provoking, incredibly quick typing SLAMOnline commentor Krazie Bone or the Artist Formerly Known As Krazie Bone now known as James or whatever title he's working under today. We gave him the fantastic (cough, cough)assignment of doing the 1st round playoff preview for the Utah/Houston series. Hope everyone enjoys it and I guess this make's him our sixth man!

written by Krazie Bone (James)


Being a stats junkie, not having league pass, and generally not favouring one team over the other in this playoff series, prepare yourself for a dry academic exercise on the potential fortunes of two teams few people outside of their respective cities care for very much. I’m not going to create some sort of system of numbers a la Hollinger mind you, but I will take a look at a few things from this past season which will give me a sense of what way the NBA wind is blowing down in the U.S. nether regions.

Now, being that all scientific endeavours start with an observation, and are followed by a hypothesis, I will begin my prediction thusly: the Utah Jazz are the superior team, and will win this series. I have very little doubt about this, but since all hypotheses need support or verification to be called theories (something the citizens of the nether regions should consider at school board meetings), the above mentioned states must come into play.

Hot/Not?:

First thing to consider is that the Utah Jazz are pretty hot and very consistent. Since March 1, they have gone 17-6 for a .739 winning percentage, with an average margin of victory just over 11 ppg. In the last 10, they are 7-3 with the margin at 11.3. This consistency is an important factor when entering the playoffs, which are of course known more as a test of will than athleticism (witness of course the historic collapse last year of the Mavs to a hyper-kinetic team of miscreant Warriors as the most recent example).

It also helps to have the coach with the longest continuous tenure in the league at the helm to guide the way in Jerry Sloan. Seriously, all this dude does is win year after year. You want to talk about Kobe not getting respect for not having one the MVP yet, how about some love for Coach Sam the Eagle (seriously does he ever smile?). 23 years in the NBA, a winning percentage of .602, 1089 wins in the regular season. His only true blemish is the 87-88 playoff record, which demonstrates that he still gets his teams to the playoffs year after year. Coach of the year? 0 times. Anyway, to get off of this detour, let’s recall that the whole point of this is that they have a super steady hand at the top to ensure that they continue to play the right way, even if he has to make them cry.

Let’s turn to the Rockets. Since the beginning of March, the month where there incredible win streak finally ended, the Rockets have played some very good basketball. They are 17-7 since that date, and 6-4 in their last 10. The Rockets, lacking players with the shooting ability to throw the ball into the gulf of Mexico (.446, 20th in the league), have been relying on their ability to Fratello up the game in order to keep things close. This method has served them well, particularly over their 22 game tear. Still their respective 4.3 and 5.3 ppg spread over the two surveyed time periods, suggests that they have less margin for error in their games, which can be disconcerting for their fans. Their brand of slug it out basketball could indeed work for them in the playoffs, but its difficult to tell if it will work in their favour or not. Utah did shoot .497 from the floor this year.

Head to Head:

These teams have played each other 3 times this year, with the Jazz winning twice. The Jazz’s victory become more important when it is understood that McGrady went for his season high in the win back in November (47 pts.) and Yao was available for that game. The Yao-less Rockets are 0-2 versus the Jazz, and have lost by an average margin of 8.5. To their complicate things further for the Rockets, the Jazz, their mercurial point guard Raefer Alston is out for the opening games of the series. While Utah has been shaky on the road this year, it always helps to have a starter out. While Bobby Jackson matches up better against Deron Williams that Alston does, the loss of depth means that the Rockets may be sucking wind by the time the this series starts to linger.

At the point guard spot, even with Alston Healthy, the Rockets do not match up with the improving and deadly talent of Williams. While Chris Paul solidified himself as the number one 1 in the league this year (and may own that title for a few years), Williams would fit well on every team in the league better than the guy they have (yes that includes Captain Canada and B. Diddy). While he shot an uncharacteristically low 40 percent against the Rockets this year, he still put up number close to his average in every statistical category, and his apg (11.3) against them mitigates his shooting woes a great deal. Conversely, Alston was in the single digits against the Jazz (as was Jackson, but he is a bench player getting bench minutes).

At shooting guard, Ronnie brewer has played efficiently this year, especially against the Rockets with his .632 (!) fg %. And aside from the 47 point explosion from T-Mac on November 1st, Tracy has had some shooting woes against the Jazz this year. Of course that doesn’t matter because McGrady is so talented, and does so much for the Rockets, that its not even fair to compare the two. The Rockets have a major advantage at this spot. McGrady averaged a career low 25.2 ppg in the playoffs against the Jazz last year, which is still more than double what Brewer brings. So if unless McGrady catches about of murdered-by-anvil-to-the-skull or phones it in like his cousin in New Jersey, expect him to steal a game or two for his squad.

The small forward position is a major disappointment for the Jazz. The Avtomat Kalashnikova obraztsa 1947 goda has recovered somewhat from his bout of metrosexuality this year, but has revealed that his is now struck with terminal overpayment syndrome. Though the former quintuple threat has put up semi decent numbers this year, Kirelenko has been outperformed by his Houston counterpart Shane Battier in head to head match-ups this year. Combine this with the fact that Battier seems to be about as difficult to rattle as the cyborg of the Alamo, and methinks that the wing players from Houston are going to cause fits for the Jazz.

Power forward presents and interesting problem for the Jazz. The Jazz would seem to have a mortal lock on this position thanks to the contributions of the man whom many consider to have the scalp that most resembles corn rowed hair in the NBA (can someone do something about that head of Boozers? Seriously?. It looks like you could actually sew seeds between the lines in his scalp. I haven’t seen a head that scary since Gar Heard was coaching the Wizard. Rant over). Boozer did perform slightly above average against the Rockets this year, but Luis Scola put up some solid numbers againt the Jazz. At 15.7 points and 9.3 boards, he more than held his own. While I would still rather have Boozer, this isn’t the disparity that the Jazz have at their pg position over the rockets, or vice versa with the Rockets at the 2 guard.

Center is a no brainer for the Jazz. In spite of the impressive efforts of Dikembe Mutombo in trying to save his homeland from the most deadly conflict since World War 2 (forget Darfur and Iraq…well don’t forget them either…fuck the world really sucks), by sacrificing his geriatric body on the alter of professional sports, long after his time to retire has come, he can’t be expected to (and won’t) guard Mehmet Okur. Nor will Carl Landry be able to do it. While Memo did struggle against the Rockets this year (12.3 and 9.7) he has stepped up huge in March and April (17.5 and 10.7). While he may not break the games open himself, this is by far the biggest advantage at any position either team has in the series.

The two benches for both teams tend to emphasize backup skill where they are weakest. The Jazz have 3 players that can fill in the 2 and 3 spots with CJ Miles, Kyle Korver and the incomparable Paul Milsap who nicely offer depth where the Jazz need it. Similarly, the Rockets with Bobby Jones at guard, and Chuck Hayes and Carl Landry up front plug the holes that the Rockets have defensively. However, the Jazz players I think are superior, and will likely give more to their team this series than the Rockets players can, particularly since Landry will be playing starters minutes backing up Mutombo (please stay next year Deke, the world needs you).

The coaching staff I have mentioned obliquely above in my Hagiography of Sloan. I must say that I can’t really get a sense of Adelman’s style, other than that he seems to mesh well with the talent he has. I give the edge to Sloan because of the power he has over his team, but I must admit to ignorance in my ability to assess Adelman. Any fans of his work, or the Houston McGradys can feel free to set me straight here.

Theory Construction:

Now that I have established grounds for supporting my hypothesis, it’s time to refine it into a theory. Having established that the Jazz are the superior team this season head to head, and have been slightly better in the stretch, I will refine my prediction. Because of Houston’s lack of depth, and the Jazz’s depth all over the court, McGrady and his bad back will suffer another blow this year in the form of a 5 game deconstruction. Many commentators are saying 6, which is in the realm of the possible, but I have a feeling that the Rockets are going to struggle to pull off the 2 home games necessary to stretch it that long, particularly with Alston being gone when they will have home court advantage (we all know what Utah did at home this year. Holy schnikees).

8 comments:

AR said...

He's better than us,you know.

Sabonis15 said...

I'm not better, it took me untold hours of research to come up with a clone of what Russ put up on Slam today. I'm a fan of players more than teams, so this was painful believe me. I should write a post about Krayzie Bone so I can justify my use of his moniker.

Tariq al Hayder said...

Good stuff, James.

"...the playoffs, which are of course known more as a test of will than athleticism (witness of course the historic collapse last year of the Mavs to a hyper-kinetic team of miscreant Warriors as the most recent example)."

I'd say the Warriors were the more athletic team, wouldn't you?

ASPOV said...

Nice work, James. You put us to shame with that one, you know! :-)

Eboy said...

James is the man.

Sabonis15 said...

Tariq, I would agree that the Warriors as a team on average run faster and jump higher than the Mavs, raw athleticism. But the fine art of shooting and brute strength, something I think the Mavs had in spades over the team of small forwards Nelson trots out every night, are also a part of the athleticism equation. That being said, execution under pressure by even a very unathletic team in both dimensions, say Karl Malones Utah Jazz of the late 90's, could kill a team like the warriors.

Tariq al Hayder said...

James:

I wouldn't count "shooting" as a component of "athleticism". If you want to include all aspects of the game into a broadly-defined "athletic equation", and say that Dallas were the better team, but lost anyway, then that's true. But like you say, the Dallas players were not as athletic as Golden State. Jason Richardson has more athleticim in his left hamstring than the entire Maverick roster.

Sabonis15 said...

I'll concede that. Talent is the better dimension.