Anatomy of a stretch four

The NBA’s favorite power forward is the stretch four. We are in a league that ultimately favors perimeter players, although there are a few exceptions. In basketball’s history, the most complex offenses have still been about getting easy buckets and layups, and the best complement to an efficient inside offense is deadly perimeter shooting.

In a basketball play, no one is necessarily a certain position – no one is a ‘center’ or a ‘shooting guard’, for example. But people play the roles of a screener, someone can play the role of a shooter, a cutter, the ball handler — and these roles can certainly change as a possession unfolds. This brings up something interesting with basketball stats, and maybe why we have struggled to have any breakthrough with basketball analytics.

The average NBA team has 98 possessions a game. While we remember all the amazing plays by star players, even the most prolific offensive threats account for less than half those possessions (I’m estimating based on field goal attempts, free throw attempts, assists, and passes to missed shots). And the rest of the possessions depend on fundamental basketball concepts like ball movement, exploiting mismatches, making the right screens and cuts. Anyone can score points or collect rebound in garbage minutes. It may make more sense to try and quantify boring basketball things instead.

But the shooter role is pretty defined in any given play. His role is to spread the floor and be an offensive option that defenses always have to look out for. Think about Steve Novak – if you put a man on him he’s a harmless NBA player. Leave him open, and is the most efficient offensive players ever.

Since perimeter players are usually the best ball handlers/facilitators, and centers are usually the screeners, by allocation, it makes sense for the stretch four to exist. The stretch four also serves another useful function, which is the chance of pulling the opposing team’s big man out the paint.

Another thing to consider is that no defense is perfectly balanced. Zone defenses are effective in protecting the basket, but zones are defeated by smart ball movement and perimeter shooting. The shots that most teams are most willing to give up is a long jump shot – the long two in particular. We saw one of the big differences in the Warriors’ resurgence was them going under on the pick and roll more, gambling on the long jump shot not going in and setting themselves up better for the defensive rebound. If there is a shot that the defense is willing to give you, then the best thing to do is the capitalize on it.

This breakdown will borrow from whatever tools I have available to me – Basketball-Reference’s shot finder has a lot of great options and splits that I can play with. I have been utilizing the NBA’s video box scores a lot too, as well as looking at their shot charts.

One common misconception on the stretch four is that it is a modern thing, and a result of the league ‘softening up’ or the extinction of the powerful big man that scores in the paint. This isn’t really true because guys like Barkley and Malone were considered their best when they added a consistent jump shot to their offensive repertoire.

What has been different though, is pulling the stretch four out to the 3-point line. In fact the whole NBA has changed the way they look at the 3-point line. They say that NBA players are truly great if they force a rule change, or change the landscape of the game. The Warriors backcourt have completely revolutionized 3-point shooting since they’ve shown that a a high usage, high efficiency 3-point attack is possible at an NBA level. The only knock against a power forward that shoots 3s is that there are so few of them that they tend to be rather one dimensional, although this is starting to change. Here are a few stats and visuals on how each of these players are used.

Ryan Anderson

Ryan Anderson Shotchart 2012-13

Ryan Anderson Shotchart 2012-13

Ryan Anderson Shotchart 2013-14

Ryan Anderson Shotchart 2013-14

My take on Ryan –  He is incredibly high usage and shoots as many threes as Curry and Klay. Anderson was assisted on 95.8% of his threes. Anderson gets a lot of these threes through starting along the baseline, then moving off the ball well, utilizing screens, and losing his big man defender who doesn’t guard the three often. He’s a black hole in the sense that he won’t hesitate to shoot, and on almost all his shot attempts, his field goal attempt was also his first touch of the possession. He shoots very few two point jump shots, which is completely reasonable given his shooting ability.

We also see that Anderson doesn’t shoot from the corner nearly as much. Ryan only gets that many makes and attempts a game because he works his butt off to get those looks, and not from camping in the corner like Battier.

Note the symmetry in Anderson’s shot distribution (count the attempts) compared to Kevin Love, whose shot chart is below. Love has more offensive dictatorship than Anderson and makes more of his own shots without the assist of a teammate. Love was assisted on 92.4% of his three point jump shots in the 2011-12 season, compared to only 52.9% on two point jump shots.

Kevin Love

Kevin Love Shotchart 2011-12

Kevin Love Shotchart 2011-12

Kevin Love Shotchart 2013-14

Kevin Love Shotchart 2013-14

It’s interesting to dissect what’s going on. When Love isn’t shooting jump shots, he plays with his back to the basket on the left block, either in the high post or low post. He loves to take the step back 3 because very few power forwards can close out on him effectively, so the left 3-pointer is the closest shot for him to take.

The next part is that Rubio favors the right side when he is handling the ball. As a top 5 passer/court vision guy in the league, he is one of those few guys who can recognize and make those efficient cross court passes leading to baskets (think LeBron + Ray Allen). So when Rubio is dribbling down the right side of the court and Kevin Love is trailing down the left, Rubio will hit Love cross court, and defenses don’t have time to recover because the other team’s power forward is supposed to be helping out near the paint.

Granted Bargnani is a terrible defender, this is still a shot that the Wolves look for against a lot of teams. It is an efficient look with a high reward, that is early in the shot clock. If the Love three is not there, you have one of the best passing big men in the league at a spot where he can see the floor and has plenty of options. Adelman is no stranger to big men passing from the high post, and Love has pulled out the high post to the three-point line because of his shooting ability. Pekovic is an entry pass away from a bucket down low, and Kevin Martin is an incredibly versatile scorer.

Sometimes change is a good thing, and we shouldn’t be resist change due to traditional basketball wisdom. The big man is moving away from the basket, and many teams have been successful with it. The Spurs have been able to keep playing at a high level by pulling Duncan further out from the basket. LeBron will be the first to claim that Chris Bosh is a focal point of the Heat offense. Part of the Blazers success has been due to Aldridge shooting more two point jumpers (41.5% of shots compared to 38.4% last year) and converting at a much higher rate (45.4% from the field this year compared to 41.9% last year). This year’s top power forward prospect Julius Randle has 3-point range, and we will definitely see more of it at the next level. Don’t be surprised to see Anthony Davis become a viable three-point threat in the next few seasons either.

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A new website worth talking about – Basketball Passport

How do you combine basketball and our generation’s obsession with social media technology?

Basketball passport – A site that is able to track every single NBA or NCAA Division 1 game you have ever been to, every arena you’ve been to, the records of the teams you’ve watched, and the best individual performances you have witnessed.

I have a hard time trying to remember all the basketball games that I have been to, but with this app, I am really getting mad at myself for not going to a Blazers game that one time I visited Portland, and with an app like this that is able to track a game I’ve been to and link it to the game’s boxscore, I have a lot more incentive to visit my friends at their schools and to watch basketball games. Like who knew that Long Beach State had a basketball arena that looks like a fucking pyramid!?

The Walter Pyramid at Long Beach State

Holy shit is the right word. Here is the current list of arenas that I have been inside.

NBA

  • Oracle Arena – Golden State Warriors
  • Toyota Center – Houston Rockets
  • Sleep Train Arena – Sacramento Kings

NCAA

  • Maples Pavilion – Stanford Cardinal
  • ARC Pavilion – UC Davis Aggies

Okay. The list sucks, but whatever. There are actually a few more arenas that I’ve been into/near but I’ve never watched basketball games there, or official basketball games. For reference, those arenas are:

NBA

  • United Center – Chicago Bulls
  • Madison Square Garden – New York Knicks
  • Rose Garden – Portland Trail Blazers

NCAA

  • Haas Pavilion – California Bears
  • Event Center – San Jose State Spartans
  • Leavey Center – Santa Clara Broncos
  • Pauley Pavilion – UCLA Bruins
  • Galen Center – USC Trojans
  • Hec Edmundson Pavilion – Washington Huskies

My plan is to leave some in-depth reviews at each arena I go to through the rest of this blog, because this blog is really just general material but more basketball centric.

I do plan on hitting as many basketball arenas I can, and make that part of my bucket list (which is a convenient feature on Basketball Passport). I think it is relatively realistic to hit all the ones in California, and I think anything west of Texas is still relatively drivable. It’d be unrealistic to hit these during the school year but over any long weekends this could be relatively fun. One of the problems with basketball though is that the season is pretty much during the school year, so if I go in the next two years it would have to be on weekends or something.

Anyway, destinations that I want to hit (and probably won’t), not including the places that I’ve kind of already hit.

California

NBA

  • Staples Center – Los Angeles Lakers & Clippers

NCAA

  • Robert Mott Gym – Cal Poly Mustangs
  • Rabobank Arena – Cal State Bakersfield Roadrunners
  • Titan Gymnasium – Cal State Fullerton Titans
  • Matadome – CSUN Matadors
  • Walter Pyramid – Long Beach State 49ers
  • Gersten Pavilion – Loyola Marymount Lions
  • A.C. Spanos Center – Pacific Tigers
  • Firestone Fieldhouse – Pepperdine Waves
  • Colberg Court – Sacramento State Hornets
  • Jenny Craig Pavilion – San Diego Toreros
  • Viejas Arena – San Diego State Aztecs
  • War Memorial Gymnasium – San Francisco Dons
  • McKeon Pavilion – St. Mary’s Gaels
  • Bren Events Center – UC Irvine Anteaters
  • UCR Rec Center – UCR Highlanders
  • Thunderdome – UCSB Gauchos
  • Anaheim Convention Center
  • Honda Center
  • SAP Pavilion

Nevada

NCAA

  • Thomas & Mack Center – UNLV Rebels
  • Lawlor Events Center – UNR Wolf Pack

Arizona

NBA

  • US Airways Center – Phoenix Suns

NCAA

  • McKale Center – Arizona Wildcats
  • Antelope Gymnasium – Grand Canyon Antelopes
  • Wells Fargo Arena – Arizona State Sun Devils
  • Walkup Skydome – NAU Lumberjacks

Oregon

NCAA

  • Matthew Knight Arena – Oregon Ducks
  • Gill Coliseum – Oregon State Beavers
  • Chiles Center – Portland Pilots
  • Stott Center – Portland State Vikings

Good luck trying to get all of these… Would definitely be fun later when I kind of have the means and I find the perfect group of people to do this quest with.

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FUCK YEA!!!!

I’ve been on a hiatus, and that’s because I don’t try so hard in the offseason anymore. Also, now there are so many more amateur basketball bloggers (I’ve been doing it for a while now now that you think about it) and so much great material out there that. In other words, if there is Coca Cola and I am some cheap knockoff Cola brand, why do I even exist?

But in the words of the great Walter White, I’ll admit that blogging about basketball was always for me. I wasn’t necessarily good at it, but I enjoyed it. I did not really start as a way to provide for my family (LOL oh god no) but as a way to practice my writing, be better at expressing my thoughts, and to challenge myself analytically. Basketball no longer became just a sport I watched. I forced myself to pay more attention, with the chance that I get some new, better material. It also serves as a chronicle to my life, because each and every blog post I write is somewhat of a snapshot of that part of my life. I really can draw a parallel from my blog to my life. I first started this blog with my best friend Brian, and it was supposed to be our basketball blog. As time progressed Brian became more busy with school, while I continued to bum my ass around watching basketball and writing about it every now and then.

With the basketball season starting again, comes another saga in my blogging career. Maybe now that I am supposedly more mature than I was before, I could make better, more enlightening posts.

We are spoiled that the season is starting with such a fantastic matchup. LeBron James needs no introduction, and at this point he is at the prime of his career, challenging all-time greats.

Tom Thibodeau and the Bulls have made a statement in the current landscape of the NBA. Thibodeau is a defensive mastermind and has proved how far a team’s defense can take them. Think about how MVP LeBron James left Cleveland and the Cavaliers plummeted to the bottom of the standings, while the Bulls were able to throw an undersized Nate Robinson in the place of their MVP and still be one of the top teams in the east.

Whatever dude.

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hey

hi

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A Different Reality

19.4 seconds left, Game 6, NBA Finals.

“Should the Spurs foul? Should Miami go for the 3 right away?”

“Just attack the basket,” says former NBA coach Jeff Van Gundy.

“James catches, puts up the 3…”

The ball is released from LeBron’s hands. James just had a legendary performance up until this point, and this shot could very well determine the rest of his career. LeBron’s right arm is reached out with perfect follow through. He doesn’t feel that this shot is good, but it has a chance. Upon landing, he hops on his feet again, hoping that any tiny, superstitious action can help will this ball in.

“Won’t go…” beams the voice of play-by-play announcer Mike Breen.

Chris Bosh’s long outstretched arms reach for the rebound, but Manu Ginobili is right there with him. The rebound’s trajectory just misses Bosh’s hands, as Manu rips down the rebound into his chest, protecting the ball with both arms.

“Rebound Ginobili, and Bosh fouls him with just over 8 seconds to go!”

There is a ghastly silence in the American Airlines arena. More Miami Heat ‘fans’ start heading towards the exit, as every camera and every pair of eyes are fixated on LeBron James. Boos are heard around the arena, and some fans are too disappointed to give any sort of reaction.

Arena workers continue to wheel out the Larry O’Brien trophy, and a disappointed Miami Heat intern helps carry out the boxes containing Spurs championship apparel.

On the bench, Duncan and Popovich are still emotionless, knowing very well that the series was not over.

Ginobili walks towards the opposite free throw line, rolling his shoulders and stretching his arms out on the way. He practices his free throw motion with the air, takes a deep breath, and stands in a position ready to receive the ball.

Popovich breaks his silence, and signals for Duncan and Splitter to check into the game after Manu’s first free throw.

On the other end of the court, LeBron James tries his hardest to keep his composure. Over the last year he has won the world’s heart back, and the next two free throws might send him back to media abyss.

The Heat’s role players all give each other looks, but no one dares to make eye contact with James, Wade, Bosh, Allen, or Coach Spoelstra.

“Ginobili steps up to the line, about to shoot his first free throw,”

The world watches as the Argentinean takes a deep breath, lines his shot up, and shoots a free throw.

“First one is good,” calls Breen.

Fans across the world watch in anticipation. Spurs fans have been waiting for this moment for 6 years. The LeBron critics have already started to type their page long essays on why LeBron will never be greater than Jordan. How can you be the greatest if you’ve lost three times out of four in the Finals?

The substitutes check in, as the cameraman starts capturing the emotion of different people. Juwan Howard tells off all the younger guys who think that the game is over. David Fizdale, the Heat assistant coach that looks like Mr. Potato Head, can be seen adjusting his glasses. We see Ray Allen’s mom crying into a towel. Tracy McGrady has his head bowed down, praying for his first NBA championship. The cameraman then pans towards Aron Baynes, but is quickly told that nobody on earth knows who Aron Baynes is, or cares about his reaction.

Ginobili takes his second free throw.

“The second one is also good. Miami now faces a 5-point deficit with just over 8 seconds to play. Can they pull this one out, or is Tim Duncan going to receive ring number five?”

The Heat’s Big 3 and Ray Allen huddle together on the side of the court.

“Set me a screen and pass me the ball,” says a confident Ray Allen.

On the inbound, James races down the court to find Ray Allen, but a poorly timed Chris Bosh screen does not give Allen the separation needed.

Allen catches, rises up, and shoots. He has perfect form, mechanics, and a release, but that was the last thing on any Miami fan’s mind.

“Please…” LeBron mutters under his breath.

The ball rims out, as Danny Green and Shane Battier bat the ball around, fighting for possession.

5 seconds…

David Stern straightens up his tie and puts down his half-finished bottle of scotch. After decades of being commissioner, he is about to do his last trophy presentation. He takes one more swig from the bottle.

“Can someone wake up Bill Russell from his nap?”

4 seconds…

Somewhere, the Nike marketing team is calling off all LeBron championship products and advertisement. LeBron’s loss will cost Nike approximately $10 million in potential revenue, and also cost a young, aspiring filmmaker the opportunity of a lifetime. This unnamed filmmaker had created an ad based on an answering machine, and it was supposed to air if Miami won the championship.

3 seconds…

Tony Parker recovers the loose ball and accelerates down the court. A wave of smiles and happiness start to infect the Spurs bench and staff, with the exception of Popovich.

2 seconds…

Sports analysts around the world get ready to give their opinion on what they had just witnessed. Maybe 2012 was just a fluke, and it was classic LeBron James to dominate everything except for that last moment that really mattered.

1 second…

All the Miami Heat players start pulling their jerseys out their shorts. All eyes are on LeBron, who can do nothing but sulk into his mouthguard. James leads the Heat players to center court to shake hands with the Spurs… then get out of the building as soon as possible.

The buzzer goes off.

The Spurs team clears the bench and run towards Tim Duncan. The gentle giant politely responds to every cheer, hug, and high five, but the whole time he has locked eyes with the man he has called coach for the last 16 years.

Popovich’s stern face broke into a smile, and he gave Duncan a nod. It did not matter that this cemented Popovich’s legacy as one of the greatest coaches in the modern era, nor did it matter to Duncan that his fifth ring gave him a stronger case as one of the greatest players of all time. Neither of Duncan or Popovich cared about the money, the fame, or the recognition. Throughout both their careers, they have been known to only care about one thing.

“That’s five for Duncan and Popovich, the Spurs have won the 2013 NBA Championship!”

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The 3-point Assist

My favorite box score stats in basketball is by far the 3-point shot.

It’s hard to not like the 3-pointer as a Warriors fan. Teams live and die by the 3, and the Warriors have died by the 3 way too many times. Until last season of course.

From a fan’s perspective the 3-pointer is brilliant for many reasons:

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Summer NBA Playlist: Week 1

Since I’m too lazy to write full posts, I’ll compile a list of good NBA videos to watch so you can kind of get your basketball fix. Each week I’ll find 10 videos to watch.

Video 1 – Chris Paul Highlights

The last image of a point guard most NBA fans have is Tony Parker playing a well-fought series against the 2013 Miami Heat. Some people might even forget just how Chris Paul is. Here’s a compilation of some of his season highlights.

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