The Week That Was: Playoffs!

I often rip on the mainstream sports media. It seems like there are two or three guys doing the thinking, and everybody else can only repeat the same narrative. For instance, before the first round of the playoffs, ESPN had 15 “experts” pick the winners of each series. In 6 of the 8 series’ all 15 of the “experts” picked the same team, and in the 7th series 14 of the 15 picked the same team to win. That leaves one series (Clippers vs. Memphis) where they were genuinely divided. Is there no original thought, or is nobody willing to go out on a limb and pick an upset? Last year a 5 and an 8 seed won in the first round; the year before a 5 and a 7 seed.

The playoffs are an especially bad time to be in the media echo chamber. Stay there long enough, and you might be convinced the Avery Bradley’s emergence means that the Celtics are even money to make the NBA finals or that Carmelo can play LeBron to a standstill. With that in mind, I’d like to examine the media narratives for each of the four first round series’ that were played today, and see how they held up.

The Bulls played very well when Derrick Rose was injured, and he’s put up a few stinkers since he came back. It is unclear whether they will be able to reincorporate him into the team.

Rose did put up a 23/9/9, but he also only shot 39% with 5 turnovers. Given Philadelphia’s overall anemic display, I was going to write that the jury is still out as to the Bulls identity. And then this happened, rendering this entire exercise moot.

The Bulls do have a few positives going for them. Rose only played 39 games this season, giving backups CJ Watson and John Lucas III plenty of run with the first team. Also, Philadelphia looks so bad. After starting the season 20-10 they finished it 15-21, and looked all out of sorts in game one, even with the Bulls not playing their best. I don’t know if the Bulls have what it takes to go all the way without Rose, but they will certainly get past Philadelphia.

Narrative Verdict: Incomplete

The Knicks actually have a chance. Carmelo will be pumped to play against LeBron and Wade, Novak and JR Smith can get hot and shoot the roof off, and they have the best home court advantage in the NBA. Under Mike Woodson they have been playing much better; they’re going to be a tough out.

Oh boy. The Knicks shot 45% with 24 turnovers. They only had one more made basket than turnovers. Their big off-season pickup, Tyson Chandler, went 0-3 with 3 rebounds, 7 turnovers and 1 cheap shot to the back of the head.

But that’s not the reason the Knicks are going to lose this series in 4 or 5 games. Everybody has bad night’s, and at some point LeBron James and Dwayne Wade are going to have one at the same time, and I doubt Chris “Can’t Shot Put a 4-Footer Into the Hoop” Bosh is going to put the Heat on his back. No, they’re going to lose because Pat Riley and Erik Spoelstra are making Mike Woodson their whipping boy.

When Woodson was coaching Atlanta, it was always joked that their only offensive play was ISO Joe; clear out and watch Joe Johnson make something happening. He may have coached under Offensive Wizard Mike D’Antoni for half a year, but he sure as hell didn’t learn anything from him. Every time down the court, whoever was guarding Melo fronted him. They pushed, bumped, fought and did whatever they could to get in front of him and make Baron Davis/Mike Bibby/Iman Shumpert throw the ball over the top. The Knicks looked like a bad college offense, playing hot potato around the perimeter waiting for Carmelo to fight himself open.

Now that Spoelstra has shown his hand (fronting the post) it’s up to the Knicks to counter.Post Melo higher, give more space for the lob

— SebastianPruiti (@SebastianPruiti) April 28, 2012

Knicks need to be more creative.They are fronting Melo all the way to the three point line, you need to find a way to get him the ball!
— SebastianPruiti (@SebastianPruiti) April 28, 2012

They are letting Melo just stand there, wait for the ball, while everyone stands and watches…
— SebastianPruiti (@SebastianPruiti) April 28, 2012

“Nope’ – Woodson when asked – Any radical changes.Sorry Knicks’ fans
— SebastianPruiti (@SebastianPruiti) April 28, 2012

Complain all you want about bad refereeing or how Miami shot 22 more free throws, but really a 33 point loss is on the coach.

Narrative Verdict: Totally wrong. The Knicks aren’t very good.

Without Dwight Howard, the Magic have no chance against anybody, let alone the team with the fifth best record in the NBA. The Pacers will win this series easily.

By now, I think (hope) we all know that playoff minute allocation is different than regular season minute allocation. In the regular season, especially one as condensed as this one, a team needs to go at least eight players deep to really do well. There are so many games that having just five good players doesn’t cut it.

But in the playoffs, with at least a day of rest in-between every game, you only need to go six deep. According to research from the guys over at The Wages of Wins Journal, in the playoffs your top six guys account for 99% of your wins:

Which brings us back to the Indiana Pacers. Their problem, at least as far as the playoffs is concerned, is their depth. They bring quality players like Tyler Hansbrough, Dahntay Jones and Darren Collison off the bench. Over the last 30 years, the top 6 players on an average team account for 89% of the wins. On the 2011-12 Indiana Pacers, the top 6 they only account for 79% of the wins. They have no superstars on their team, but rather a bunch of guys who are pretty good.

Now, I still think Indiana will win this series. This is the sixth best three-point shooting and third-best free throw shooting team in the league; I doubt they’re going to shoot 31% and 59% respectively very often. But for as good as they looked in the regular season, their depth doesn’t really help them much in the playoffs. But give the Magic some credit. They won, on the road, shooting under 40%, missing their best player. I wouldn’t be so quick to count these guys out.

Narrative Verdict: With other, juicier first round match-ups, the media didn’t do their homework on this one.

The Thunder will probably win this series, but in seven games not five. The Mavericks championship experience, and the Thunder’s bad crunch time offense, will lead to a close series.

If there is one thing I dislike about the mainstream media more than their groupthink narratives, it is their treatment of experience. After the 2006 NBA Finals, and the 2007 first round playoff loss to the Warriors, Dirk and co. were branded as soft chokers. And then, all of a sudden, on their run through the playoffs last year they were suddenly “veteran” and “experienced”. The worst thing about Oklahoma City not winning the Finals this year is that we will be subjected to endless shouting about how they are “not ready yet” and “too young” and need a bigger “veteran presence.” Just shoot me now.

I will admit however, that while watching today’s game, I did feel that the Thunder’s offense ground a lot slower in the fourth quarter. Durant (like all game long) wasn’t getting good looks, and Westbrook wasn’t anywhere to be found. It seemed like Harden and Serge Ibaka were holding down the fort. Looking at the fourth quarter box score though shows that I am wrong. OKC shot 10 for 20 in the 4th quarter, including Westbrook going 3 for 5. They also got to the line 11 times, making 10 of them.

I think here is where we felt the presence of Ron Artest hitting Harden in the head with his elbow. That was a nationally televised game that OKC was controlling before losing Harden. Durant and Westbrook had some trouble in the fourth quarter, and all of a sudden everybody was raising the same questions they raised last playoffs about whether Durant and Westbrook can coexist.

The answer is yes, they can coexist, and they coexist just fine. Their crunch time lineup of Westbrook/Harden/Durant/Ibaka/Perkins is just disgusting. Please, Scott Brooks, I beg you, keep Derek Fisher as far away from the fourth quarter as possible.

Narrative Verdict: Reactionary, but unjustified.

About Jacob Greenberg

Jacob is a behaviorist by day, blogger by night, and founded the Diss. Follow him on Twitter @jacobjbg
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3 Responses to The Week That Was: Playoffs!

  1. omarbagnied says:

    So I disagree with like, almost everything written here.

    We as fans can make unorthodox picks riddled with upsets, but those that professionally analyze basketball will look utterly foolish and unfit for their job if they predict upsets. Choosing the higher seed is strategic because if it's wrong it's an upset, if the upset pick is wrong they look like morons. Analysts picking upsets piques fan interest because we're eager to label them ignoramus or nostradamus.

    You're underplaying the importance of CJ Watson and John Lucas's first team experience. Take a look at this article (http://bleacherreport.com/articles/1165555-why-chicago-bulls-can-still-win-the-title-without-derrick-rose); Watson and Lucas together average 22.2 PPG and 7.7 APG without Rose, which is about on par with Rose's 21.8 and 7.9. They fill in very well for Rose and I still think Chicago has the best chance at winning the title. I'm not a Bulls fan, my prediction is based on their regular season work. It's amazing how many analysts switched their picks yesterday after Rose went down, proclaiming there was no way they'd make it past Boston. But I know no one on this blog believes Chicago can win it all anymore, so we'll all just have to wait.

    On the NY-Miami series, while it should be pretty obvious that Miami will take it, the piece written is recklessly reactionary. And trying to render the critique of referees obsolete because they lost by 33 is conveniently omitting the fact that New York was down 1 (31-32) when the critique (mine at least) begins. In the final 5:47 of the 2nd quarter (began 31-32) New York was called for 11 fouls, 3 offensive. Let me take you through the play-by-play here:

    5:47 – Shooting foul on Carmelo
    5:04 – Offensive foul on Baron
    4:55 – Personal foul on Baron
    4:23 – Personal foul on Iman
    4:15 – Offensive foul on Amare
    3:21 – Personal foul in J.R.
    2:35 – Offensive foul on Tyson
    1:36 – Shooting foul on Novak
    1:34 – Flagrant foul on Tyson
    1:26 – Shooting foul on J.R.
    0:01 – Shooting foul on Jeffries

    Miami was called for two fouls the entire quarter! By halftime Miami was up 21 (33-54). 11 separate fouls in 5:46 has got to be close to a record. And it wasn't one of those deals where New York lost their composure, that would be one thing, this was the officials being one-sided. These are just statistics, without actually viewing how ticky-tack some of these fouls were. Even the Tyson flagrant on Lebron was unwarranted. Initially called a flagrant 2?? Are you kidding me?? After Lebron got away with nothing for this (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AZhDmm8q1YM)??? Look at it and then look at the Chandler-Lebron. Lucas and Lebron's body/head were in the same position when they hit the screen.

    The conclusion that Mike Woodson was the reason for the loss is beyond me, especially given how well he's coached through all the injuries. The two teams were playing an equal game until the refs hamstrung New York at the end of the 2nd. The lead was blown open and they couldn't come back. Their stars sat out almost the entire 4th quarter. Shumpert is the big loss; he's a great scorer and energy guy, Fields can't physically cover Wade as Shumpert could. Either way, when New York wins a game or two you'll look back at how impulsive this article was.

    The claim that Indiana's depth is a shortcoming? “They have no superstars on their team, but rather a bunch of guys who are pretty good.” Since when does the number of superstars you have determine your success? Just look back to last year, Miami had 3 to Dallas's 1. Dallas was 10 deep, quality depth, to Miami's 6, the latter being your ideal number. I don't see much difference between Orlando's depth and Indiana's depth to be honest, they seem pretty equal, 8-9 deep, and Orlando won last night because despite Dwight being out they have solid shooting depth.

  2. What is the point of being a professional analyst if you just pick the higher seed every time? Any idiot can do that. In the first round of the playoffs, at least one of the 1-4 seeds is going to lose. This same logic would suggest that analysts have all four #1 seeds in the Final Four every year, when we know that it is more likely that only one or two are going to make it there. This is the same logic that NFL coaches use to always punt on 4th down, even when it would be to their advantage to go for it: nobody criticizes them for a punt, but everybody criticizes them if their 4th down attempt goes awry. It's easy to say “well golly, I thought the Spurs were going to win it all last year like everybody else”, but the point of being a professional analyst is that you get paid to think critically about basketball, not make non-controversial picks. I mean, I could continue with the history lesson. In the 08-09 playoffs a 5 and a 6 seed won in the first round. In the 07-08 playoffs all of the top seeds won. In the 06-07 playoffs a 5, 6 and 8 seed won. In the 05-06 playoffs a 6 seed won. In the 04-05 playoffs a 5 and 6 seed won. This would seem to suggest that all of the top seeds winning is the exception, not the rule.

    I mainly agree with you on the Bulls. Without Rose they are still certainly one of the best teams in the NBA. I think an Eastern Conference Finals appearance is likely, but don't know if I have the confidence to take them much further.

    As far as the Heat-Knicks are concerned, the refereeing certainly was poor. No disagreement there. But it was 5-10 points poor, not 33 points poor. Let's look at the shots the Knicks took during that time:

    5:33 – Stoudemire traveling
    4:41 – Smith missed 3 pointer
    3:33 – Smith turnover (steal)
    3:21 – Chandler turnover (steal)
    3:02 – Smith missed 3 pointer
    2:07 – Anthony made jumper
    1:34 – Chandler flagrant foul
    1:01 – Turnover (shot clock violation)
    0:39 – Anthony missed 3 pointer
    0:33 – Shumpert missed 3 pointer
    0:26 – Anthony turnover (bad pass)
    0:01 – Smith missed 3 pointer

    So even if the two offensive fouls on the Knicks were on drives (one was Tyson's flagrant) that should have been blocking fouls or defensive fouls, they only drove the ball twice in six minutes! They stupidly turned the ball over at least 6 times (more if you think the offensive fouls were justified) and shot and missed five 3-pointers! Their only made basket was a jumper!

    Looking at foul totals and alleging referee bias is stupid. You don't get fouls when you don't drive to the lane. The Knicks might win one game; certainly not two.

    Indiana's depth isn't a problem per se; their problem is their lack of superstars. According to Win Share, a .100 player is an average NBA player, a .200 player is a star, and a .300 player is a superstar. This year's Pacers team has six guys between .100 and .200, and two above .90. This is the mark of a pretty good team, but they have no superstars. Against the Magic, missing their 2nd best player (According to Win Shares, Ryan Anderson is actually their best player), Indiana will probably triumph. Orlando only has three guys at .100 or above. But next round, when they run up against the Heat, who have two guys above .200 and an astounding nine guys above .100? Their depth isn't going to get them very far.

    You're also pretty far off base about last year. Dallas had two players above .200 (Nowitzki and Chandler) and another ten guys above .100 (though not all of them got run in the playoffs). Miami also had two above .200 (James and Wade) and eight above .100. I'd still call Dallas winning a mild upset, but not the depth over superstar battle you think it was.

  3. omarbagnied says:

    So how many upsets do you expect analysts to pick? Since 2000, 81% of higher seeds have won their first round series, of the upsets more than half have been by a 5 seed, which analysts, as you mentioned, are split on this year anyway. Analysts are picking the 5 over 4 upset, any other upset would be the exception, not the rule. When you have 8 games to predict in the first round, picking more than one upset goes against historical precedent.

    16 of Miami's 22 points in the final 6 minutes of the 2nd quarter came off free throws and 3-pointers; 4 came off jump shots. So this argument about New York's lack of driving is ridiculous. You say the refereeing was poor then say 'looking at foul totals and alleging referee bias is stupid'. So unless it's anyone other than the referee's job to call fouls you're stupid by your own definition.

    According to 'Win Share', Wade, Lebron, and Nowitzki aren't superstars because they're not at .300. And Bosh wasn't a star because he wasn't above .200. Right. Even by your preferred metrics Dallas had more depth than Miami, with Bosh, of course, deemed an 'average NBA player' last year who happened to make the All Star team. And I'm way off base…kettle meet pot.

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