Eric: Hi all. It’s been a crazy week in Sixers land, with the … well, the season’s basically over. But there’s still plenty to talk about. Long two pointers, Moultrie’s minutes, two for ones, Stan Van Gundy, cardiology and all the usual Hoop76 topics. This week’s hoop76 chat will be Sloan Sports Analytics Conference/rodeo-themed. Minus the rodeo part, though Charles did watch some bulls get tortured at a rodeo in Houston over the weekend. That was after he watched the Bulls torture the Sixers on Thursday. The following is a loosely edited gchat convo.
What we don’t know.
Eric: I want to start by talking about this article by Ian Levy on Hickory High. He writes about why Stan Van Gundy is against the two-for-one. Even though it’s the right thing to do, mathematically, in a given situation there are long-term consequences that are unknown.
But Van Gundy’s point was that rushing a possession, any possession, undermined the system and culture his team spent the other 47 minutes of the game trying to establish. If your offense is built on always taking good shots, encouraging a player to take a bad one, regardless of the situation, chips away at that foundation. Van Gundy’s argument was that the simple math of two possessions is greater than one ignores too many variables.
Tom Sunnergren: Needless to say, I don’t buy Stan Van Gundy’s argument. I don’t think players are so stupid, or psychologically fragile, that they’re unable to handle the notion that there are times when you have to play basketball differently. Things that work in one situation don’t work in another
Charles Baron: His argument is almost predicated around a lack of trust in your players, which is an interesting angle to take.
Eric: I don’t think it’s a matter of buying SVG’s argument. I don’t buy into it either. But there are 10,000 variables that we don’t even think about.
Tom: Is it a matter of leavening analytics with conventional wisdom? If so, then yes. I think there’s a lot to that. That is, actually, analytics. There was a lot of conversation this weekend at the Sloan conference about “what analytics is?” Or, what does it mean to be analytically minded. I don’t think it’s just a naked read of the numbers, or a full-armed embrace of new spatial data or whatever at the expense of older ideas about how to play basketball. It’s just this: our best effort to understand how games are won and lost, and try and do something about it. And that approach, I think necessarily, will involve the incorporation of ideas from all kinds of hoops thinking styles
Eric: So, keeping the Sixers’ “anti-analytics” in mind, which we’ve covered as extensively as possible in our one month of existence. Do you think there’s something that we, as third party observers, are missing?
Tom: I think the Sixers just hew entirely to one sort of hoops thinking style at the expense of others. And they’re suffering for it. It’s not a collage of ideas that drive their decisions: it’s Doug Collins stomach. That, I think, is at the end of the day why I’m so bugged by the Sixers. It’s arrogance. “Coach, an overwhelming amount of data is saying this?” “Phewy to the data, my heart tells me this.” My dad is a cardiologist. He practices in a certain way. He does a lot of stenting, and doesn’t recommend quite as many full on surgical procedures for blocked arteries. if a whole bunch of information came out that said stenting was inferior to bypass graft surgeries, you know what he’d do? He’d stop putting in stents so often. Doug Collins just keeps putting in those goddamned stents
In defense of the easily defensible “long two.”
Eric: The Sixers lost 93-82 to the Bulls on Thursday. They made an effort to get in the paint that game and were blocked 15 times (11 by Joakim Noah). On the season, they take the 20th fewest shots from inside five feet and when they get in there, they aren’t efficient. They don’t get to the line and their fg% inside five feet ranks 25th. Do you think this lends some credence to Collins’ “long two” strategy?
Charles: So I guess the answer may be yes. With this team, more long twos make sense. But that’s not a good thing.
Tom: I agree. But I don’t think one game is overwhelming evidence in favor of the Doug Collins approach to offensive (double-entendre intended) basketball. I talked to Aaron Barzilai, the Sixers director of analytics, this weekend (NAME DROP!!!) and asked him the same question: why does the team shoot so many long 2s. Now, granted, he’s not going to publicly criticize his new employer, but he said it’s mostly context and roster. If the Sixers had Bynum, which they planned to have, they would be playing a wildly different kind of basketball. He also suggested that the fan/non-expert obsession with the 16-23 footer is a little misplaced. In a vacuum, yeah, you don’t want to take that shot. But often enough in the course of individual games, there are situations where it is the best shot, that the stat becomes polluted. Again, context is king, being the general thrust
Charles: I agree with that idea. A wide-open jumper from a player within his range is almost always a good shot. But, that doesn’t mean that an offense should be designed to end in open long jumpers, as it appears the Sixers offense is.
Tom: Right. The optimal percentage of 16-23 footers is definitely not 30, or wherever the Sixers are. Also: the Sixers don’t just take a lot of long 2s, they’re awful at hitting them.
Eric: Do we know that the long twos are not the most efficient route for this particular group of players? And do we know there’s not sort of long-term developmental advantage to playing in this style?
Tom: So the argument that, “well, that’s just the way the O is designed. Those are the best looks they get” doesn’t really stand scrutiny.
Charles: Yeah. It has more holes than Andrew Bynum’s cartilage.
Tom: Zing! Even if you could argue that it makes the most strategic sense right now, and I don’t think you could, I still think you’re encouraging bad habits.
Arnett you glad he got some PT last night?
Eric: Arnett Moultrie hasn’t missed a shot since Feb. 26 and last night he was finally rewarded with some playing time, getting a 20-minute run against the Celtics. Is this something we’re going to see more of?
Tom: It’s hard to say. He’s played extended minutes in fits and starts before, but never when they had something like a complete lineup. He played well enough though, and has played well enough in general, that if he doesn’t get regular minutes after this, if we haven’t crossed a sort of “Arnett Moultrie Rubicon,” someone needs to have a serious sit down with Doug Collins. That said, Stan Van Gundy made an interesting remark at Sloan about playing young guys. You don’t play someone when they’re developing on the basis of what they do in limited game minutes, as much as what they do in practice. It’s how you incentivize good habits, and situate them to be successful in the long-haul. Maybe Arnett talks smack and jacks up lazy 20-footers every day in practice?
Charles: Wouldn’t that count as good habits by Collins’ standards?
Eric: That’s well said. The reason I think this 20-minute game is different is because of Collins’ comments, via Philly Burbs’ Tom Moore: “Arnett’s got to get out there more. He’s played well. Arnett is getting better, which is encouraging.” That sounds like a pretty clear indication that Arnett has to get out more, right?
Tom: I would hope so. It’s definitely in the best interest of the franchise to develop Arnett, but I think Collins thinks he’s either coaching to get his next job, or coaching to keep this one. He wants to win basketball games. I think he thinks playing vets is the best way to get there. (Obviously, that he doesn’t realize playing Moultrie is the best way to get there speaks volumes about his eye for what’s happening on the court.)
Charles: It is worth pointing out that he has played a decent amount over the past month or so. Maybe not as much as some might like, but let’s not overstate his potential. Normally guys fall to 27th in the first round for a reason.
Eric: Going back to that SVG point. I think there are A LOT of things that Collins does wrong (free agency, press conference, offense…). It’s important though that we don’t underestimate the knowledge that experienced coaches – even the bad ones – may have about player development. Stuff that we doesn’t show up in numbers, not yet at least. There are things going in with Moultrie that we really have no idea about. Maybe he’s a head case. Maybe he’s out of shape. Or maybe he’s a practice slacker, as you mentioned.
Tom: That’s true, and you could argue that Collins has earned the benefit of the doubt vis-a-vis player development. Minus Turner, he’s been very good on that front
Charles: Don’t forget about Craig Brackins!
Tom: I NEVER forget about Craig Brackins
Eric: Do we even know about Turner though?
Tom: You’re right. We might not know about him. Maybe he was doomed from the start. He got by with a certain physicality at the college level that just didn’t translate against more filled-out NBA bodies. Plus, he was pretty old. He wasn’t a 19-year-old kid dominating the Big 10, he was a 22-year-old man.
Eric: Fun fact: he’s exactly one year younger than Bynum. Same Oct. 27 birthday.
Tom: Wow. Firmly in the “he is what he is” stage of his career.
Charles: I disagree. The Sixers’ team situation has been a mess for a while now. He came to the team with Iggy still here, filling ET’s ideal role. Then, once Iggy was shipped out of town, the player they got in return hasn’t played a minute. Also, he’s a point-forward sort of player, who probably operates ideally out of the post or as a secondary ball handler – the sort of guy who would probably benefit from playing with a strong post presence or 3-point shooters (who wouldn’t). The Sixers have neither.
Tom: Okay. You’ve talked me out of it.
Charles: That being said, I was never a big Turner fan to begin with.
Eric: Tom, earlier today, you were telling me that last night’s loss to Boston was one of your favorite games of the year. Tell me why.
Tom: I did. The Sixers and Celtics both moved the ball expertly and really raced up and down the court at a really high/intense level for long stretches. Mike Fratello compared it to an All-Star game at one point. Maybe a college All-Star game, but I basically agreed. It was a fun watch. Also, it was heartening to see them attack the basket. And to see Moultrie do Moultrie things.
Charles: (Fratello also constantly lamented that the Sixers broke up a team that was within one win of making the conference finals)
Eric: What exactly are Moultrie things?
Charles: Stealing the ball and scoring all while tying his shorts come to mind as a “Moultrie thing.”
Tom: Grit, gumption, glue guy stuff. An athletic glue guy. A rookie who knows his limits, and plays within them. And does it all fast. And what Charles just said.
Charles: A young big man who is willing to bust his butt for 10-15 minutes is useful on almost any team, in almost any situation. And that’s what he’s been doing recently on the court
Eric: Defensively, I haven’t been overly impressed. How do you think he looked against Boston?
Tom: I didn’t really see him do anything that stood out defensively, good or bad. For a rookie, I’ll count that as a win. And, it’s not like having Roy Hibbert in the middle, obviously, but he definitely seems to provide a presence down there. Not sure he’s played enough that it’s quantifiable yet.
Charles: Well, this is a rookie big man who spent the 2010/2011 season sitting out while transferring colleges – I’m willing to give him some time before judging his court awareness out there.
Tom: The question is, is Doug Collins?
Eric: Time to wrap it up. Sixers-Hawks game is coming up and I got that down as a loss. And if I’m counting right, the Heat will be on a 16-game winning streak when they host Philly on Friday. Odds the Sixers snap that?
Charles: About the same as their chances of making the playoffs?
Tom: Yeah. Add one more to that total.
Eric: Sounds about right. Thanks for reading and enjoy tonight’s game. Tom will have the reactions.
Tom: Until we meet again.