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kottke.org posts about NBA

All But the Championship

posted by Jason Kottke   Apr 08, 2009

TrueHoop looks at the recent ABC teams in the teams in the NBA, those that have flown high but have not secured a championship.

Some may argue that the true window to win a title began when Jerry Sloan took over as head coach [of the Utah Jazz] during the 1988-89 season, and while Karl Malone and John Stockton had been paired up since the 1985-86 season, the Jazz did not make it to the Western Conference Finals until 1992. That’s when they became title contenders. As we all know, Stockton’s career consisted of dishing out over 15,800 assists, which is over 5,000 assists more than Mark Jackson, who is 2nd on the NBA’s all-time assists list. Karl Malone, meanwhile, went on to finish 2nd on the NBA’s all-time scoring list. To have that kind of talent for so long and not come away with a title is almost unimaginable, if not crushing to a franchise. The window came to an abrupt close in 2003, when Stockton retired and Malone went to the Lakers in a last-ditch effort to win a title. The ultimate kicker? Between 1991 and 2003, Utah’s 632 wins were the most in the NBA.

Is two steps really traveling?

posted by Jason Kottke   Mar 06, 2009

TrueHoop recently investigated a seemingly simple aspect of the NBA game: the traveling violation.

The question is basic: If you’re dribbling the ball in the NBA, and you pick up your dribble … how many steps can you take before you have broken the traveling rules? It’s a fundamental part of the game. But I asked several NBA players, and the answers were far from simple.

In addition to asking the players, TH’s Henry Abbott also talks with some NBA officials, gets the low-down on how the call is really made, and makes an argument that the rule should be rewritten. The intro to the series is here.

No free throw improvement

posted by Jason Kottke   Mar 04, 2009

As athletes get bigger, stronger, faster, and more well-trained and records repeatedly fall in other sports, the percentage of free throws made in college and NBA games has largely stayed the same.

The consistency of free-throw percentages stands out when contrasted with field-goal shooting over all. In men’s college basketball, field-goal percentage was below 40 percent until 1960, then climbed steadily to 48.1 in 1984, still the highest on record. The long-range 3-point shot was introduced in 1986, and the overall shooting percentage has settled in at about 44 percent.

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: it’s amazing that with so much at stake in the NBA game (wins, money, championships, glory), there are still players whose FT% is in the 50-60% range over the course of a season…for a shot that undefended and never changes! I wonder how the putting percentages have changed over the years in golf (if they even keep such statistics). The Times’ Room for Debate blog has a related discussion on unbreakable sports records.

LeBron averaging a triple double?

posted by Jason Kottke   Feb 25, 2009

If the NBA game were played at the pace of the 1962 season, the year Oscar Robertson averaged a triple double and Wilt put up 50 PPG while pulling down 26 RPG, LeBron James might be averaging 40.1 points, 10.3 rebounds, and 10.0 assists this season.

Okay, so you’ve all seen Wilt and Oscar’s numbers from 1962… but have you ever sat down and looked at the league averages that year? In ‘62, the average team took 107.7 shots per game. By comparison, this year the average team takes 80.2 FGA/G. If we use a regression to estimate turnovers & offensive rebounds, the league pace factor for 1962 was 125.5 possessions/48 minutes, whereas this year it’s 91.7. Oscar’s Royals averaged 124.7 poss/48, while Wilt’s Warriors put up a staggering 129.7 (the highest mark in the league). On the other hand, the 2009 Cavs are averaging a mere 89.2 poss/48. It turns out that the simplest explanation for the crazy statistical feats of 1961-62 (and the early sixties in general) is just that the league was playing at a much faster tempo in those days, with more possessions affording players more opportunities to amass gaudy counting statistics.

(via truehoop)

Basketball, Moneyball

posted by Jason Kottke   Feb 16, 2009

Michael Lewis cast his Moneyball lens on basketball in this week’s NY Times Magazine. The Billy Beane of the roundball story, more or less, is Shane Battier, a guard for the Houston Rockets. Battier doesn’t seem like a great basketball player, but he does a lot of little things that helps his team win.

Battier’s game is a weird combination of obvious weaknesses and nearly invisible strengths. When he is on the court, his teammates get better, often a lot better, and his opponents get worse — often a lot worse. He may not grab huge numbers of rebounds, but he has an uncanny ability to improve his teammates’ rebounding. He doesn’t shoot much, but when he does, he takes only the most efficient shots. He also has a knack for getting the ball to teammates who are in a position to do the same, and he commits few turnovers. On defense, although he routinely guards the N.B.A.’s most prolific scorers, he significantly ­reduces their shooting percentages.

Battier sounds like an intriguing fellow but the most interesting part of the article is about how the players’ incentives differ in basketball from other major American sports.

There is a tension, peculiar to basketball, between the interests of the team and the interests of the individual. The game continually tempts the people who play it to do things that are not in the interest of the group. On the baseball field, it would be hard for a player to sacrifice his team’s interest for his own. Baseball is an individual sport masquerading as a team one: by doing what’s best for himself, the player nearly always also does what is best for his team. “There is no way to selfishly get across home plate,” as Morey puts it. “If instead of there being a lineup, I could muscle my way to the plate and hit every single time and damage the efficiency of the team — that would be the analogy. Manny Ramirez can’t take at-bats away from David Ortiz. We had a point guard in Boston who refused to pass the ball to a certain guy.”

No wonder it’s so hard to build a basketball team with the right balance of skills and personalities. Take five guys, put them on a court, let them do whatever they think they need to do to get a larger contract next year, and maybe you get some pretty good results. Now, consider a situation where the plus/minus statistic is the basis for player salaries and all of sudden, players need to figure out how they can make the other four guys on the floor better. And while everyone is making adjustments to each others’ games, each player is adjusting to everyone else’s game, and the process becomes this fragile and intricate nonlinear dance that results in either beautiful chaos or the 1972-73 Philadelphia 76ers.

PS. The brief author bio at the end of the article continues the recent game of “next book” Whack-A-Mole from Lewis. Since the publication of The Blind Side in 2006, Lewis’ next book has been listed in various outlets as being about New Orleans/Katrina, financial panics (which turned out to be an anthology edited by Lewis), his sequel to Liar’s Poker about the current financial crisis, and now is listed as “Home Game, a memoir about fatherhood”. I give up.

Former Sonics fan files for free agency

posted by Jason Kottke   Nov 18, 2008

When the Seattle Supersonics up and moved to Oklahoma to become the Oklahoma City Thunder, Sonics fan John Moe became a fan free agent. He arranged recruiting calls and visits with several teams around the league to see if they would have him.

So was he welcoming me aboard then?

“I am absolutely welcoming you into our franchise. We could use some [Timberwolves] fans right now. You’re part of the blueprint. Absolutely.”

I thanked him for the offer but told him I had other teams to talk to.

Michael Jordan beat 1-on-1

posted by Jason Kottke   Nov 17, 2008

At one of Michael Jordan’s basketball camps back in 2003, the NBA star was beaten in a game of 1-on-1 by John Rogers, the CEO of a Chicago investment firm. See also LeBron James getting beat at HORSE.

Update: Rogers also regularly hoops it up with Barack Obama.

The next Jordan

posted by Jason Kottke   Oct 29, 2008

TrueHoop’s Henry Abbott makes a list of all the “next Michael Jordans” that have come into the NBA in recent years. Harold Miner! I haven’t thought about that guy in years.

LeBron James loses at HORSE

posted by Jason Kottke   Sep 19, 2008

LeBron James gets beat in a game of HORSE by a mere mortal. The crowd’s stunned silence when James loses is amazing. (via mr)

Celtics win the NBA Championship

posted by Jason Kottke   Jun 18, 2008

John Gruber, the sorest winner on the web when it comes to sports or Apple, points out that I was wrong in my prediction that the Lakers would win the NBA Finals this year. I didn’t actually care about the series either way…but after rooting for him in Minnesota for all those years, it sure is great to see Kevin Garnett win a championship.

I was also wrong about Paul Pierce. I never liked him as a player; thought he was soft, lazy, & petulant, settled for the outside shot too much, and just didn’t have what it took to be his team’s star player. He’s put all that behind him; in this series, Pierce showed that he’s definitely one of the top players in the league, deserving of his accolades. Count me among the number of Paul Pierce fans.

Mirror neurons and sports

posted by Jason Kottke   Jun 13, 2008

Rampant speculation from Jonah Lehrer on why people care so much when they watch overpaid athletes play sports. It is, perhaps, all about mirror neurons:

“The main functional characteristic of mirror neurons is that they become active both when the monkey makes a particular action (for example, when grasping an object or holding it) and when it observes another individual making a similar action.” In other words, these peculiar cells mirror, on our inside, the outside world; they enable us to internalize the actions of another. They collapse the distinction between seeing and doing.

This suggests that when I watch Kobe glide to the basket for a dunk, a few deluded cells in my premotor cortex are convinced that I, myself, am touching the rim. And when he hits a three pointer, my mirror neurons light up as I’ve just made the crucial shot. They are what bind me to the game, breaking down that 4th wall separating fan from player. I’m not upset because my team lost: I’m upset because it literally feels like I lost, as if I had been on the court.

Prediction: Lakers in six

posted by Jason Kottke   Jun 05, 2008

The NBA Finals start tonight, pitting the LA Lakers against the Boston Celtics. Despite having finished with the best regular season record in the league, the Celtics find themselves underdogs against the Lakers, who ripped through the tough Western conference bracket with little difficulty. I’m going with the majority on this one: Lakers in six games (possibly even five) and continued heartbreak for New England fans after the high of the Red Sox’s second World Series victory last season.

Non-player declares for NBA draft

posted by Jason Kottke   May 07, 2008

Despite having no basketball playing ability or experience, college junior Zach Feinstein has declared himself for the 2008 NBA Draft. You can find him listed on the NBA’s official early entry list under “unknown individuals”. (thx, jared)

A list of the top one articles

posted by Jason Kottke   Apr 18, 2008

A list of the top one articles by Neal Pollack about how sportswriters should stop writing about the NBA MVP race and, oh yeah, lists of stuff are dumb:

1. This article right here.

Sportswriters and pundits, on the other hand, are treating the MVP race with the gravitas of a presidential election. That’s because they make up the Electoral College. When they’re debating who’s going to win the award, they’re not really talking about who they think the best player is; they’re talking about whom they should pick as the best player. It’s the ultimate circle-jerk of sports-guy self-regard.

Steve Nash directed his own Nike commercial.

posted by Jason Kottke   Mar 21, 2008

Steve Nash directed his own Nike commercial. Nash’s original concept for the commercial is clever:

At first, the idea was to shoot on different mediums — camera phone, 8-millimeter, 16-millimeter (the eventual choice), security footage. My idea was the city was watching me. The genesis was a lot of people film me or take a picture of me in the city on cellphones. If it’s such an appetite to see me do normal things, it was an idea to do something people like.

(via truehoop)

LeBron James dropped 50 points on the Knicks

posted by Deron Bauman   Mar 06, 2008

LeBron James dropped 50 points on the Knicks in Madison Square Garden last night to chants of MVP from the New York crowd. It’s good to be the king.

Update: Did you see the buzzer beating three pointer at the end of the first quarter?! He shot it almost from mid-court, floating left. It looked effortless. It was almost like Jordan’s game ending shot against the Jazz in game six of the ‘98 Finals, but, again, from almost mid-court.

For the first time since 1982, an NBA

posted by Jason Kottke   Jan 11, 2008

For the first time since 1982, an NBA team has won a game protest and the next time the Atlanta Hawks and Miami Heat meet, they’ll replay the final 51.9 seconds of the disputed game before playing the scheduled full game.

Todd Gallagher explores the myth of grabbing

posted by Jason Kottke   Jan 08, 2008

Todd Gallagher explores the myth of grabbing a dollar bill off the top of a basketball backboard and tries to find someone who can do it.

The legend of touching the top of the backboard has gone on for years, and it has been excitedly attributed to so many different players that it’s commonly assumed any number of guys in the NBA can do it. But in a sport where any individual achievement is promoted ad nauseam, we’ve never seen any proof of it actually being done.

Check out these videos of his leading candidate, James White: White doing a between-the-legs dunk from the free throw line and his dunks from the 2006 NCAA dunk contest.

A good but not great profile of

posted by Jason Kottke   Oct 29, 2007

A good but not great profile of Steve Nash in Play, the NY Times’ occasional sports magazine.

My first and second years in the N.B.A., I used to get really nervous in a tight game. But now I wait for that moment when things are really close — that’s what I really love. Having the ball in my hands and the responsibility makes me feel calm and open. Not to have that, not to get to that point in a game, would feel really…really confining.

I also liked how he involved not-so-good players on his college team:

If he had a guy on the right wing in transition who he knew couldn’t shoot the ball, he’d throw a pass that was just good enough to include the guy in the fast break, but just bad enough that the guy wasn’t in a position to get off a shot and would have to pass the ball back.

This video features a nerdy-looking Seattle Sonics

posted by Jason Kottke   Oct 19, 2007

This video features a nerdy-looking Seattle Sonics fan rapping about Dirk Nowitzki, Kobe Bryant, and Steve Nash. I know that doesn’t sound very funny, but it somehow is. Very. (via truehoop)

Top 20 plays of the 2007 NBA playoffs (so

posted by Jason Kottke   Jun 06, 2007

Top 20 plays of the 2007 NBA playoffs (so far). It’s a good list but YouTube sucks for watching sports highlights…the quality is just too low. (via truehoop)

What a game! How badly does the

posted by Jason Kottke   Jun 01, 2007

What a game! How badly does the NBA want the Cleveland Cavaliers in the finals? Very very. TrueHoop’s got more.

Better living through self deception

posted by Jason Kottke   May 24, 2007

Interesting article about how people tell their stories and think of their past experiences and how that influences their mood and general outlook on life.

At some level, talk therapy has always been an exercise in replaying and reinterpreting each person’s unique life story. Yet Mr. Adler found that in fact those former patients who scored highest on measures of well-being — who had recovered, by standard measures — told very similar tales about their experiences.

They described their problem, whether depression or an eating disorder, as coming on suddenly, as if out of nowhere. They characterized their difficulty as if it were an outside enemy, often giving it a name (the black dog, the walk of shame). And eventually they conquered it.

“The story is one of victorious battle: ‘I ended therapy because I could overcome this on my own,’” Mr. Adler said. Those in the study who scored lower on measures of psychological well-being were more likely to see their moods and behavior problems as a part of their own character, rather than as a villain to be defeated. To them, therapy was part of a continuing adaptation, not a decisive battle.

The article goes on to describe the benefits of thinking about past events in the third person rather than in the first person:

In a 2005 study reported in the journal Psychological Science, researchers at Columbia University measured how student participants reacted to a bad memory, whether an argument or failed exam, when it was recalled in the third person. They tested levels of conscious and unconscious hostility after the recollections, using both standard questionnaires and students’ essays. The investigators found that the third-person scenes were significantly less upsetting, compared with bad memories recalled in the first person.

“What our experiment showed is that this shift in perspective, having this distance from yourself, allows you to relive the experience and focus on why you’re feeling upset,” instead of being immersed in it, said Ethan Kross, the study’s lead author. The emotional content of the memory is still felt, he said, but its sting is blunted as the brain frames its meaning, as it builds the story.

But things like eating disorders and mental illness aren’t external forces and thinking about a bad memory as if it happened to a third party is not the truth. The standard model of the happy, smart, successful human being is someone who knows more, works hard, and has found, or at least is heading toward, their own personal meaning of life. But often that’s not the case. Self-deceit (or otherwise willfully forgetting seemingly pertinent information) seems to be important to human growth.

Consider the recent findings by a group at Harvard about the effects of mindset on physical fitness:

The researchers studied 84 female housekeepers from seven hotels. Women in 4 hotels were told that their regular work was enough exercise to meet the requirements for a healthy, active lifestyle, whereas the women in the other three hotels were told nothing. To determine if the placebo effect plays a role in the benefits of exercise, the researchers investigated whether subjects’ mind-set (in this case, their perceived levels of exercise) could inhibit or enhance the health benefits of exercise independent of any actual exercise.

Four weeks later, the researchers returned to assess any changes in the women’s health. They found that the women in the informed group had lost an average of 2 pounds, lowered their blood pressure by almost 10 percent, and were significantly healthier as measured by body-fat percentage, body mass index, and waist-to-hip ratio. These changes were significantly higher than those reported in the control group and were especially remarkable given the time period of only four weeks.

Just by thinking they were exercising, these women gained extra benefit from their usual routines. The idea of thinking about oneself reminded me of Allen Iverson’s training routine, which utilizes a technique called psychocybernetics:

“Let me tell you about Allen’s workouts,” says Terry Royster, his bodyguard from 1997 until early 2002. “All the time I have been with him, I never seen him lift a weight or stand there and shoot jumper after jumper. Instead, we’ll be on our way to the game and he’ll be quiet as hell. Finally, he’ll say, ‘You know now I usually cross my man over and take it into the lane and pull up? Well, tonight I’m gonna cross him over and then take a step back and fade away. I’m gonna kill ‘em with it all night long.’ And damned if he didn’t do just that. See, that’s his workout, when he’s just sitting there, thinking. That’s him working on his game.”

What Iverson is doing is tricking his conscious self into thinking that he’s done something that he hasn’t, that he’s practiced a move or shot 100 perfect free throws in a row. I think, therefore I slam. (I wonder if Iverson pictures himself in the first or third person in his visualizations.)

Carol Dweck’s research looks at the difference between thinking of talent or ability as innate as opposed to something that can be developed:

At the time, the suggested cure for learned helplessness was a long string of successes. Dweck posited that the difference between the helpless response and its opposite — the determination to master new things and surmount challenges — lay in people’s beliefs about why they had failed. People who attributed their failures to lack of ability, Dweck thought, would become discouraged even in areas where they were capable. Those who thought they simply hadn’t tried hard enough, on the other hand, would be fueled by setbacks.

For some people, the facade they’ve created for themselves can come crashing down suddenly, as with stage fright:

He describes the sense of acute self-consciousness and loss of confidence that followed as “stage dread,” a sort of “paradigm shift.” He says, “It’s not ‘Look at me - I’m flying.’ It’s ‘Look at me - I might fall.’ It would be like playing a game of chess where you’re constantly regretting the moves you’ve already played rather than looking at the ones you’re going to play.” Fry could not mobilize his defenses; unable to shore himself up, he took himself away.

In a slightly different but still related vein, Gerd Gigerenzer’s research indicates that ignoring information is how smart decisions are made:

In order to make good decisions in an uncertain world, one sometimes has to ignore information. The art is knowing what one doesn’t have to know.

Research done by Edward Vogel at the University of Oregon shows the capacity of a person’s visual working memory “depends on your ability to filter out irrelevant information”:

“Until now, it’s been assumed that people with high capacity visual working memory had greater storage but actually, it’s about the bouncer - a neural mechanism that controls what information gets into awareness,” Vogel said.

And data from another study indicates that perhaps one of the things that the brain does best is forgetting (“motivated (voluntary) forgetting”, in the words of one researcher):

The findings suggest that despite the brain’s astonishing ability to archive a lifetime of memories, one of its prime functions is, paradoxically, to forget. Our sensory organs continually deluge us with information, some of it unpleasant. We wouldn’t get through the day — or through life — if we didn’t repress much of it.

Perhaps the way to true personal acheivement and happiness is through lying to yourself instead of being honest, loafing instead of practicing, and purposely forgetting information. There are plenty of self-help books on the market…where are the self-hurt books?

Alex Reisner’s cabinet of statistical wonders

posted by Jason Kottke   May 21, 2007

While bumping around on the internet last night, I stumbled upon Alex Reisner’s site. Worth checking out are his US roadtrip photos and NYC adventures, which include an account and photographs of a man jumping from the Williamsburg Bridge.

But the real gold here is Reisner’s research on baseball…a must-see for baseball and infographics nerds alike. Regarding the home run discussion on the post about Ken Griffey Jr. a few weeks ago, Reisner offers this graph of career home runs by age for a number of big-time sluggers. You can see the trajectory that Griffey was on before he turned 32/33 and how A-Rod, if he stays healthy, is poised to break any record set by Bonds. His article on Baseball Geography and Transportation details how low-cost cross-country travel made it possible for the Brooklyn Dodgers and New York Giants to move to California. The same article also riffs on how stadiums have changed from those that fit into urban environments (like Fenway Park) to more symmetric ballfields built in suburbs and other open areas accessible by car.

Fenway Shea

And then there’s the pennant race graphs for each year since 1900…you can compare the dominance of the 1927 Yankees with the 1998 Yankees. And if you’ve gotten through all that, prepare to spend several hours sifting through all sorts of MLB statistics, represented in a way you may not have seen before:

The goal here is not to duplicate excellent resources like Total Baseball or The Baseball Encyclopedia, but to take the same data and present it in a way that shows different relationships, yields new insights, and raises new questions. The focus is on putting single season stats in a historical context and identifying the truly outstanding player seasons, not just those with big raw numbers.

Reisner’s primary method of comparing players over different eras is the z-score, a measure of how a player compares to their contemporaries, (e.g. the fantastic seasons of Babe Ruth in 1920 and Barry Bonds in 2001):

In short, z-score is a measure of a player’s dominance in a given league and season. It allows us to compare players in different eras by quantifying how good they were compared to their competition. It it a useful measure but a relative one, and does not allow us to draw any absolute conclusions like “Babe Ruth was a better home run hitter than Barry Bonds.” All we can say is that Ruth was more dominant in his time.

I’m more of a basketball fan than of baseball, so I immediately thought of applying the same technique to NBA players, to shed some light on the perennial Jordan vs. Chamberlain vs. Oscar Robertson vs. whoever arguments. Until recently, the NBA hasn’t collected statistics as tenaciously as MLB has so the z-score technique is not as useful, but some work has been done in that area.

Anyway, great stuff all the way around.

Update: Reisner’s site seems to have gone offline since I wrote this. I hope the two aren’t related and that it appears again soon.

Update: It’s back up!

Best-player discussions are commonplace, but who’s the

posted by Jason Kottke   May 03, 2007

Best-player discussions are commonplace, but who’s the worst player in the NBA? I’d vote Antoine Walker as well…I’ve always felt his game was crap. (via truehoop)

LeBron James’ new house: 35,440 sq ft, 2200 sq

posted by Jason Kottke   Mar 28, 2007

LeBron James’ new house: 35,440 sq ft, 2200 sq ft master suite (with 2-story walk-in closet), theater, casino, barber shop, bowling alley, and a limestone bust of LeBron wearing a headband.

Collection of photos of basketball players with

posted by Jason Kottke   Mar 15, 2007

Collection of photos of basketball players with normal people. (thx, brian)

Free throws

posted by Jason Kottke   Mar 05, 2007

Free throw shooting is one of my favorite topics. It’s the whole relaxed concentration aspect of it: can you focus enough so that the years of practice undertaken to train the unconscious self to shoot override the conscious self’s desire to take control of the situation at hand? To me, this battle of the two minds within the individual is the essence of sport: you know how to make the shot, you know you can make the shot, but will you make the shot? Free throw shooting lays this battle bare for all to see. It’s the same shot every single time (and the easiest way to score a point in sports), you don’t have to be in top physical shape to shoot it, and yet a surprising amount of professional basketball players can’t make more than every two out of three attempts.

So, as for Gene Weingarten’s assertion (via truehoop) that if an average person took a year to practice, he could beat the best free throw shooter in the NBA, I say “hell yes”. Maybe a retired podiatrist would be a worthy candidate: 71-year-old Tom Amberry shot 2,750 in a row in 1993. Amberry was a star college basketball player and was offered a contract with the Lakers after WWII, so maybe that’s not fair…but just look at the guy.

Truehoop, a basketball blog that’s one of

posted by Jason Kottke   Feb 13, 2007

Truehoop, a basketball blog that’s one of the best out there on any topic, has been purchased by ESPN. Congrats, Henry.

Before NBA player Jason Kidd split with

posted by Jason Kottke   Jan 26, 2007

Before NBA player Jason Kidd split with his wife, his free throw routine included blowing a kiss to her. After the ugly breakup, he kisses his fingers and wipes them on his butt…kiss my ass!