Monday, December 13, 2004

The Fifth and Sixth Games of the Seventeenth Year

First off, I've reached the age where it takes an entire weekend to recover from a trip to Athens. I know that as I younger man, I didn't sleep this much, went longer periods without sleep, and did not need time to recover. Maybe it wasn't so much fatigue as too much rocking.

Neither the TCU nor the Louisiana-Lafayette games deserve even the pretense of the official recap my subjective player ratings imply. Thus, random notes...

1) I'm going to stop being so hard on Christian Moody (for a while). Some of his play in the second half against TCU could accurately be described as "aggressive." After the first four games, "self-defense" would have been a step up. (And, no, that's not a lame Bill Self pun. Please America's Sports Media restrain yourselves. It was kind of desperate at first and gets only more annoying with time.)

2) The freshman big men are still not coming around. CJ Giles has provided Sasha Kaun with company in hitting the side of the backboard with a field goal attempt which began as a low-post move. Against Louisiana-Lafayette, perhaps the least competent Division I team I've seen, the freshmen combined for 10 points (3-9 from the floor, 4-9 from the line) and 5 rebounds in thirty-two minutes of play. Moody is the best option alongside Simien right now.

3) Though a freshly healthy Alex Galindo might be an option in the "high" portion of the high-low offense. Galindo played the four some against the Ragin' Cajuns. I don't know if this was to get him some much needed minutes or if Coach Self is fully exploring his options. Either way, Galindo was 3-4 from the floor with all the makes three-pointers, two rebounds, an assist, and a steal, numbers which, were they to be maintained against better competition, might free us from the sight of Michael Lee on the court.

4) Michael Lee had a very nice sophomore year that met an unfortunate end at the outstretched hand of Hakim Warrick. (I will take that loss, the nature of that loss, and the sight of a jubilant Mike Tirico celebrating directly in front of me to my grave.) Lee had the prototypical role player season. He played decent defense, made half of his (unguarded for obvious reasons) threes, and didn't turn the ball over. Last year, he missed time with injury, pressed when on the court, and showed no understanding of his role or his limitations. By all accounts, he's a nice young man and I hope he follows through on his interest to play football for the Jayhawks next fall. That being said, he's playing even worse this year than he did last year. His assist-to-turnover ratio is lopsided in the wrong direction and his other offensive stats are buoyed only by a nice performance against St. Joseph's. More disturbingly, I'm not sure he could guard me coming off a screen. He was a good three steps behind Louisiana-Lafayette's wings as they came off of baseline picks. Against a team that can make shots, he could be a real liability.

5) Keith Langford is starting to look healthier though he still has yet to dunk on an unwitting defender. His assist-to-turnover ratio stands at 4:1 and he made two-thirds of his free throws against TCU and Louisiana-Lafayette.

6) JR Giddens has been playing better defense the last three games. He's managed eight steals and three blocks in the wins over Pacific, TCU, and Louisiana-Lafayette largely due to making better use of his long arms. His technique lags behind, but his improved effort speaks well of the coaching staff. Should they conspire to make Giddens interested in rebounding the ball, Kansas could take a step forward.

7) Kansas still can't rebound the ball effectively. TCU had 10 offensive boards, Louisiana-Lafayette 15. Self called a timeout a half-minute into the second-half against the Ragin' Cajuns despite the thirty point lead because (in rough order of culpability) Simien, Giles, Langford, Giddens, and Miles had allowed four shots to go up on one possession. Good teams will exploit this flaw before all others.

8) Aaron Miles is good, but I doubt he can continue to post career high rates in scoring, assists, turnovers, steals, blocks, field goal percentage, and three-point percentage. Should he maintain his current rates, he'll break the fifth-place tie with Jacque Vaughn on the list of the best post-Larry Brown Kansas guards. (1-Kirk Hinrich, 2-Kevin Pritchard, 3 (tie)-Adonis Jordan and Rex Walters, 5 (tie)- Jacque Vaughn and Aaron Miles, Honorable Mention: Keith Langford, Jeff Boschee, Steve Woodberry)

Wednesday, December 08, 2004

Basketball Statistics Could Be So Much Better

Responding to Ken's post...

Before we consider the relative difficulty of passes counted as assists, we could take the intermediate step of counting all the points derived from good passes. I've always thought it silly that a passer gets no credit for a pass that forces the defense to foul a shooter rather than allow a lay-up. I'll speculate that giving credit in an assist-type stat (Points Created?) for free throws made following a good pass would separate passers to a greater degree than differentiating between setting up 2- or 3-point shots. Consistently getting the ball to a good free throw shooter with positional advantage has better than value than, say, consistently getting the ball to Nick Collison on April 7, 2003.

On the flip side, turnovers that merely end a possession (traveling, three seconds, offensive foul, shot clock violation, etc.) are not quite as bad as being stripped of the ball and immediately surrendering a fast break bucket.

You'd probably need a baseline of points per possession and points allowed per possession in order to normalize both the value of Points Created and Points Surrendered. In fact, in an ideal model you'd differentiate between points and points allowed per half-court and fast break possessions. That, in itself might sort out some of the degree of difficulty with regard to passes. Converting a 3-on-1 break is a generally available skill. The act of breaking one up is extremely valuable, akin to Torii Hunter reaching over the fence to bring back a home run. (Granted, preventing two points in a basketball game is less valuable in context than preventing 1 to 4 runs in a baseball game.)

Monday, December 06, 2004

The Fourth Game of the Seventeenth Year

Kansas 81 Pacific 70

It's difficult to put Kansas basketball into perspective. I don't have a platonic ideal of how Illinois or Oklahoma State should play basketball. I watch them play and they look good, bad, or indifferent. A mediocre performance by the Jayhawks, however, inspires hours of reflection and worry.

Four games into the season Kansas is a poor free throw shooting team, a decent team in transition offense, an average team in the half-court offense, a mediocre rebounding team, and an average defensive team.

The rest of 2004 should offer little danger. I have no idea if Kansas will be ready to face Georgia Tech, Kentucky, and the Big 12 schedule in 2005.

Player comments and ratings (1-low, 5-average, 10-high):

Wayne Simien, 6.5: Simien's rebound numbers are impressive, but he should not be mistaken for Gooden, LaFrentz, Collison, or even Scot Pollard on the boards. Simien works hard and is an adequate rebounder, but gathers several defensive rebounds each game by default. Is Christian Moody going to get them instead? Pacific won't be the last team to collapse on Simien in the post. Until another big man establishes himself as an offensive presence, Simien must strike a balance between drawing multiple defenders, thus freeing Langford (and theoretically Giddens), and stepping out to shoot face up jumpers in order to remain an active offensive factor.

Christian Moody, 4: Again, Moody didn't do anything actively detrimental to the team, but his passivity, though less ostentatious, will be just as damaging against better opposition. To be fair, he did earn three points in the second half by outrunning Pacific's big men. An aggressive Christian Moody, should such a creature be lying dormant might be useful in certain situations though not as useful as a Darnell Jackson who knew the plays, a stronger CJ Giles, or a Sasha Kaun who had more than three years of experience playing basketball.

Keith Langford, 6.5: The praise for Keith Langford's return to prominence shows how little attention people pay to defense. Yes, Langford was much improved on the offensive end and his 7:1 assist-to-turnover ratio a credit to his effort rounding out his offensive game. On the other end of the court, Langford struggled to fight through screens and got burned a couple of times by taking a chance at creating a turnover after losing his man. I hesitate to place the blame for the poor defensive performance solely on Langford, Giddens, and Lee because good defense depends on teamwork and there may have been larger communication problems, but the none of those three guarded much of anybody Saturday afternoon.

Aaron Miles, 9: 19 points, 8 assists, 6 steals, 2 turnovers. Six-of-eight from the floor, three-of-three on three-pointers, four-of-four from the line. Another excellent game from Miles and a much-needed one at that. His on-the-ball pressure is the only consistently positive element on the defensive end of the court.

JR Giddens, 3.5: Giddens looks as one-dimensional as a young Billy Thomas this year. Towards the end of last season, Giddens began to offer an occasional pump fake to defenders, put the ball on the floor, penetrate past his man and shoot a fifteen foot jumper. Through four games, he's reverted to catching the ball and either shooting it immediately or taking one dribble then struggling to find an open teammate. The less said about his defense the better.

Russell Robinson, 4.5: An average game overall, but I can't think of an average or even a routine play that Robinson made. His impact on the game was alternately terrific and terrible. Undeniably passionate, Robinson is not yet composed on the court. He's a talented freshman, fully embracing the implications of both those words.

Michael Lee, 1: The boxscore credits Lee with an assist, a rebound, a steal, and a block in fifteen minutes of play. I can't say that I recall any of those plays. I do remember Lee fouling Webb on his attempt at a fall-away three-pointer. I remember Lee attempting to create his own shot off the dribble with predictable results. I remember Lee futilely attempting to fight through screens and mark Pacific's guards. These are not good memories.

Darnell Jackson, 4: Six points and five boards in eight minutes versus seven points and three boards in twenty-five minutes: Jackson versus Moody, December 4, 2004. It's clear that Jackson is more talented. It's also clear that his teammates have to give him instruction mid-possession, but, hey, Drew Gooden had trouble figuring out who he was guarding almost his entire freshman year. His rebound numbers are inflated because he took three chances to lay the ball in from the front of the rim on a single possession. Jackson appears most likely to relieve Christian Moody of his burden.

Sasha Kaun, 2: Sasha Kaun's potential is clear. He's a big guy, fairly athletic and a hard worker. Barring an epiphany he's going to be at Kansas for four years. On Saturday, he hit the side of the backboard attempting a six-footer. For the second time this season. Project.

CJ Giles, incomplete: Comcast had a little trouble getting the Full Court package to work properly on Saturday. I missed the first six minutes of the game. During that time CJ Giles apparently took four shots in three minutes. As Giles did not reappear in the game, I'm assuming they weren't well-chosen attempts on goal.