Wednesday 24 March 2021

Whenever Two or Three

Paige Bueckers. More on that in a bit.


On an night when two top tier NBA teams shot 28 of 85 from three — which included their best players James Harden (Brooklyn) going 0 for 7 and Damien Lillard & CJ McCollum (Portland), who some argue, in spite of the existence of Stephen Curry & Klay Thompson, are the best backcourt tandem in the game's history, combining for 7 of 26 — there are people who think the NBA needs a four-point line because the three-pointer has become too easy.

Despite my innuendo, the analytics argument stands; at 32.9 percent, that's right on the cusp of the proportion needed to have made chucking up all those shots preferable to taking the same shot from just inside the line. The point being, if you're going to shoot from about that distance, it is better to slip your toes behind the line and make a third of them than to take a shot a few inches nearer for fewer than half.

What this doesn't take into account is how ball movement and wide open looks, not to mention ones far closer to the basket, are the common element in the league's most efficient offenses. Then there's the defense that leads to the same.

I don't wanna short shrift the analytics, which in proper context takes these things into consideration. Except when it doesn't. For example: the winning team in that game was outshot from three-point land 34.5 to 30 percent. What gives? So much.

That the loser was able to take 55 three-pointers to the winner's 30? That's twenty-five more shots, and at a 4.5 percentage point clip higher. The simpleton's analytics would look at that in a vacuum and conclude that all those extra shots are a good thing, and conclude that having sunk them at the higher rate would mean they'd had a pretty good chance at winning the game. And they'd be right. Except, when one includes all field goals and not just threes, Portland took only three more shots, 90 to 87, at 40 versus 49.4 percent.

Think of that. That's a big swing. Those extra threes really drag Portland's efficiency in the dirt. If you subtract the 3-pt shots, Portland shot 17-35 (.486), Brooklyn 34-57 (.597). Yet, for Portland's three-point shooting to have overcome this discrepancy to win the game, all they had to do was make a measly two more of those three pointers. So bombs away, I guess.

And that's not all. Portland lost, as well, in spite of having three more offensive rebounds, the same number of turnovers, and the all important advantage at the freethrow line, 91 to 78 percent, with each team sinking exactly 21 of those.

Ah, but Brooklyn got to the line four more times. Might even this paltry difference in foul calls made a difference in the game? Well, yeah, when you consider that Portland's Robert Covington, who is known mostly for his superior defensive skill, played seven fewer minutes than his season average, sitting on the bench in foul trouble. As well, for the night he just happened to have been their most efficient starter on both sides of the court, minus the foul thingy.

In other NBA news:
ESPN: "What are the odds? Russ has two dunk attempts fly out of bounds." Me: "Likely... at some point." And I'd be right.

Still to come: How the league's best player, LeBron James, is an efficiency hog.

In a sequel to Monday's White Bread's Burden, your opinion is not your own and freshman guard Paige Bueckers is the real deal. Don't look at ESPN for finer details, though. Unlike on their men's pages for both college and pros, they don't make the effort to aggregate individual or team stats from their box scores. If they do, they don't link to them.

There is a version of the free market argument - goes that if there were more money to be made with the WNBA and women's college hoops, then it would be. Their product on the other hand is far inferior. Sure, there's relative talent, they're just not as fun to watch and not worth of extra investment in promotion.

The free market lives off this circular reasoning because it effectively undercuts the competition it alleges to encourage and undermines the culture they pretend to be in awe of. This translates to the potential fanbase as "Nobody wants to watch. I don't watch. Therefore it's clearly boring."
The intended result, as far as I can reckon, is to keep more for fewer instead of risking a more for more, which would mean less for the fewer. Mixing metaphors, it amounts to maintaining more eggs of interest on one basket of goods, lest their attention hatch and wander off to untold half-a-dozens of the other.
I can't speak to anyone else's experience, but what I can tell you from recent observation is that not just Paige Bueckers, but that whole University of Connecticut women's team is at least as much fun to watch as what I've seen from the men's march through madness over the years, the latter weary watching of which could contend, relative to the professional game, too frequently features teams that can't seem to make a layup no matter how many offensive boards they grab in succession. Doh! Doh! Doh! Doh!
Anyway, least of all, maybe, are your mind's eyeballs free from the attempt at market control. No matter what they say, the big money doesn't want to spread itself thin.