Dribbling for Dollar$ begins across the Traveling Circus: Can the Celtics play defense tonight, and will the T'Wolves learn defense at all...The Dodgers might literally put the Wood to the Cubs...
The process of generally being busy around the clock this time of year got jumbled a bit in 2017, the return of the NBA earlier than usual generating challenges across the work day. And with 11 games on the Wednesday board The Circus is indeed back in town.
I call it that because the long and winding NBA schedule is much like a troupe being out on tour, with so many acts played across so many cities that any notion of putting on the best performance every evening isn’t realistic. As such the game tracking is far different than the other professional sports, so let’s establish that as the running theme from the start, and over the course of the grind we will find the opportunities to get some edges into play.
There is even a path to the basket tonight that I believe works, which I will get to in a moment, as well touching base (literally) with the MLB playoffs, and our usual Wednesday routine of bringing in the NFL team ratings across the various performance categories from Hector Mendez. Let’s start our Wednesday by setting some baselines for the hardwoods…
Item: The NBA has been changing, so be prepared to roll with those changes
One of the first cautions as each season begins is to not be in a hurry, largely because the players and coaches aren’t. For those at the top a run to the championship can mean playing more than 100 games, so the focus goes to building towards the playoffs, while for those at the bottom it can often be a never-ending series of experiments with player rotations.
That part of projecting and breaking down NBA results is timeless, but there is also the matter of the league itself changing. Let’s take a look:
Season PP100 EFG% Pace
2015 105.6 49.6 93.9
2016 106.4 50.2 95.8
2017 108.8 51.4 96.4
Scoring has increased 11.2 points per game over the last two seasons (from 200 to 211.2), and it has been a combination of both a faster tempo, and also better offensive execution on those added possessions. I like to use Effective FG% as the measure because that better incorporates 3-point shooting into the mix, and you can note the connection between more perimeter shots and a faster pace – getting the ball to the post for shots near the basket requires more passes, and naturally more time.
Will we see another increase in these categories? That will be a big part of my tracking in the early stages, to help set the parameters for other measures. For the next step we move to particular teams that will be under the microscope to look for particular edges.
Item: One-and-dones struggle to play good NBA defense
Sub-Item: Are the Timberwolves fixable
Something that past readers will be familiar with is the notion that most one-and-done players, no matter how physically gifted, aren’t really ready for the NBA because they haven’t learned the nuances of defense. The college game is where that generally needs to happen, coaches having practice time to teach the fundamentals, and if a player doesn’t have a grasp of the basic principles they are difficult to pick up at this level; once the season begins it really is a circus tour, without all that much teaching time available.
A prime example on this front are the Minnesota Timberwolves, a team with lofty expectations in the marketplace because the individual talent is so tantalizing, with Jimmy Butler and several other veterans added to that core of Karl Anthony-Towns and Andrew Wiggins. In theory the ceiling is extremely high, especially since Tom Thibodeau has such a strong reputation as a defensive coach. But the first practical applications of Thibs trying to teach defense to the young corps didn’t play out well. As will be the case all season, I use PP100 (Points per 100 Possessions) as the standard measure:
2016 107.1 (#27)
2017 109.1 (#26)
There wasn’t any progression as a team, but what has to be particularly alarming was the lack of progression from Anthony-Towns and Wiggins individually. Real +/- is a flawed statistic, so it must be taken with a grain of salt, but there is still merit to be found in it. Now consider this - there were 59 centers that were tracked for their defensive play under that metric, and Anthony-Towns was #59. At shooting guard there were 87 players tracked, and Wiggins rated #86. And that was with Thibodeau coaching them up.
Want to have even more fun with this? The only shooting guard rating worse than Wiggins on defense was Jamal Crawford. Who does Crawford play for now? The T-Wolves. Good luck with that Thibs.
Tonight’s Minnesota opener at San Antonio will play out in front of the ESPN cameras, and while there won’t be a major ability to learn because the Spurs rotation is so short-handed (no Kawhi Leonard or Tony Parker), I will be watching closely to see if the commitment to fundamental defense shows any improvement. The real story for the season for the T’Wolves may not be the battle for “who gets the ball” between Anthony-Towns/Wiggins/Butler that much of the Sports Mediaverse will focus on, but instead whether they buy in to the fact that they are going to have to stop the other team if they want to become contenders.
Item: The “About Last Night” files
As we begin charting the various ebbs and flows the Tuesday results already brought plenty to absorb, so “About Last Night” will be a major part of the process here each day. Something that should already be a part of your consciousness was at play with the Warriors, the glue that Draymond Green is to the process:
Tuesday Minutes +/-
Green In 27:39 +7
Green Out 20:21 -8
And how did the Celtics manage to overcome the loss of Gordon Hayward to be in position to win into the final stages at Cleveland? How about Derrick Rose and Dwyane Wade looking rather old. Those two combined for 8-24 from the field, with more turnovers (6) than assists (5). The Cavaliers were -7 in the 31:15 that Rose played, and +10 in the 16:45 he sat out, while they were even in 28:30 with Wade on the court, and +3 in the 19:30 without him.
Their lackluster showing made things easier on the Celtics than it had to be, which makes me wonder if tonight might genuinely be a greater challenge for Brad Stevens and his team…
In the Sights, NBA Wednesday
It will look like playing the obvious here in calling for Boston to struggle without Hayward, and the markets have made an adjustment in going from -5.5 to -3. I don’t believe the adjustment was far enough this time, and that will call for about a half of a unit on #709 Milwaukee (7:35 Eastern) as long as the +3 holds.
Here is the gist – I believe the circumstances call for an even bigger adjustment because the Celtics are still in a major search for an identity. When they took the court last night Al Horford was the only returning starter from last season, and 10 of the 14 roster players were new. It means that instead of the usual patching together to make up for an injury, with players understanding each other and adapting to higher levels of responsibility, the fall-back isn’t really there.
Stevens had to get 39:37 out of Jaylen Brown and 36:43 from Jayson Tatum at Cleveland, which is already a big load for their experience levels, but that is because it is not just Hayward being out, but Marcus Morris as well. There aren’t many #4’s around the league that can match up to Giannis Antetokounmpo, but Boston is particularly weak at that spot right now, and it may show even more tonight than it would have in the past, Antetokounmpko having added 10 pounds in the off-season to become more of a force around the basket.
Stevens has to coach a rotation down two starters, and with the remaining players having precious little experience at working together. There won’t even be a shoot-around to do any tweaking, which is the standard when playing back-to-back nights. I believe their team defense will be a weakness this evening, and after being one of the worst rebounding teams in the league last season that area is even weaker right now.
But it won’t be just basketball going into pocket today…
In the Sights, MLB Wednesday
I don’t think the markets are in the right place for Dodgers/Cubs this evening, with the ability to find Los Angeles out there at even money this morning (you can take a couple of pennies in a few key precincts), and at -105 or less I will have #967 LAD (9:00 Eastern) in play. From a general standpoint this series has been a mismatch, which helps to set up the price point advantage:
Team Runs AVG OBP SLG
Dodgers 15 .242 .360 .484
Cubs 4 .160 .202 .266
How dominant has the Los Angeles pitching been? The Cubs have 15 hits and four walks, while striking out 32 times. But tonight Joe Maddon also now faces pitching issues of his own, questions as to whether Jake Arrieta is really ready to go, and a bullpen that lacks confidence from just about anyone other than Wade Davis.
This will just be the fifth appearance for Arrieta since September 1, only lasting 14.1 innings across the first four outings, and in three of them his PPI was 21.9 or higher. Do not be misled by four innings against the Nationals in which he did not allowed an earned run – Arrieta labored to 90 pitches across that stint, with more walks (5) thank strikeouts (4). Pencil him in as vulnerable, and even if he has his best stuff he is unlikely to get deep into the game, which brings that middle relief corps into play
Alex Wood has had electric stuff this season, only an injury keeping him from Cy Young contention, and while it has been a while since he worked, which is a money management factor in tempering the investment amount, it was a 2-0/2.00 over his last three regular season starts, two of those outings on the road, which leads me to trust his confidence level.
While you are watching the MLB and NBA play out, you can also be doing some advanced analysis on this week’s NFL card...Item: Time for the next set of the Hector Mendez ratings
Hector Mendez does some meticulous work in putting his NFL power ratings together, and in addition to being a regular in the comments threads (the grey balloon in the upper left gets you into that sanctuary), he also generously shares those ratings with us. You can find the team power ratings each Tuesday in the comments section, and every Wednesday I will run the team performance categories here, where they can be spread out much better:
You can find the Point Blank archive here.
And if you want to know when PB is ready to go each day, as well as following along for some of the most important Sports Betting news as in unfolds, make @Vegaspointblank a part of your routine.