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The Goldman Sachs Approach to the NBA

OK folks, we have a lot to talk about today so I'll put it below the fold.  Before you click on the "read more" button, scroll down the page or click here to read Britt's interview with Kurt Rambis and Ryan Gomes.  You should also head on over to to read his latest column on the strong start of the 09/10 rookie class. 

One more thing before we go below the fold.  The WNBA is holding its draft lottery on Thursday afternoon at 1 PM CST.  As I have mentioned several times before, the Lynx have a legit shot at walking away with 2 of the top 3 picks in next year's draft.  Here is a link to some of the top players in women's college ball.   We'll have more coverage on the lotto tomorrow.

Let's get around to talking about the game against the Celts.





The Wolves ended their 8-game preseason averaging 39 FTA/game.  They gave up 32.5 FTA/game to their opponents.  In 5 regular season games, the Wolves are averaging 20.6 FTA/game.  They are giving up roughly 26 FTA/game to the opposition.  There are obviously many things that are different between preseason and regular season basketball.  From rotations to coaching to intensity, things turn a tad more serious on Day 1 of the 82 game marathon and it is admittedly impossible to quantify all of these differences.  

That being said, when the differences become as big as they are shaping up to be in terms of free throws and free throw differential, it begs the question of "why?" What on earth could be the reason for not only such a dramatic reduction of free throw attempts, but a reversal of fortune?  My own personal take on this is that there is probably something along a 70/30 split between unquantifiable differences between the two seasons and the change in game management between the replacement refs and the seasoned pros.  Yes, game management.  Mark Cuban put it nicely in an interview with Dan Patrick:

"They've done a really, really good job. There's no agenda, there's no game management. It's just call the game the best you can. And to me that's refreshing," Cuban said.

Cuban said the replacement refs are just calling what they see. For example, they made a tough call on Dirk Nowitzki that Cuban didn't expect.

One of the most impressive parts of the preseason was the Wolves' new found ability to draw fouls, specifically with Jonny Flynn and Corey Brewer.  Brewer averaged 7.25 FTA/game in the preseason while Flynn put up 7.1 attempts per contest.  This development, more than any other, gave Wolves fans (and probably coaches) a sense of optimism about the development of these two young players.  When all else is failing with your game, one of the big things you can always fall back on is solid free throw shooting.  With the replacement refs in place during the preseason, the Wolves' games were not managed.  They got calls I had never seen them get before and their ability to get to the line was a surprisingly large part of their relative success. 

Flash forward to the regular season and the Wolves are now back to playing in contests that have a managed feel to them. Whistles get put away in the last 20 seconds of each quarter, players with high scoring averages draw a foul on the assumption of contact, and guys who are viewed as solid defenders can get a little more than a piece of the ball while not drawing the call.  This change in atmosphere has had a fairly significant affect on the team and the two players I mentioned above. 

Corey Brewer is averaging 3 FTA/game in 5 regular season games.  He had 1 attempt vs the Celtics.  It wasn't for a lack of contact.  Not against the Celtics.  Jonny Flynn is averaging 4.2 FTA/game in the regular season.  He also had only 1 attempt vs. the Celtics. 

Let me be very clear about what I am suggesting here.  We all know that Corey Brewer makes a lot of crazy drives into the lane.  For all of the (largely unintended) entertainment value that comes along with seeing a professional athlete like Brewer flail around like he doesn't know how to dribble the damn ball, it's quite easy to overlook the fact that the whirling dervishness often comes along with a fairly significant amount of contact.  In the preseason, this contact was viewed as a "foul" rather than the regular season equivalent of being "out of control".  The result of this change as been that his offensive game has dried up and 6-16 nights with 18 points and more pressure put on opposing defenses turn into 6-16 efforts with 14 points and lost possessions.

I am in no way suggesting that the Wolves lost the game vs. the Celts because of the refs.  What I am suggesting is that we got a quick view of what a classless NBA society looked like in the preseason and a small change in the way fouls were called with the old refs back in place re-stratified things and created a big impact on how the Wolves are able to play.  

Wolves fans are especially aware of these minor changes.  Imagine the surprise of Boston fans if the replacement refs were subbed into last night's contest and KG's regular season "defensive hustle" to force a jump ball on Corey Brewer with 3.6 seconds left to play was turned into its preseason equivalent of "gratuitous arm hack".  Imagine the Tommy Points that would be taken away from this ref crew!  This isn't a complaint.  It is what it is and I think it is a lot more consistent and constant than what people give it credit for.  What it is is a frustrating mess for fans of a team who watch one approach in the preseason and another one when the big lights turn on.  It's not just that there are differences between regular season and preseason play, it's that there was such an obvious change in approach between the group of inexperienced refs and the experienced ones.  The rub here is that part of NBA fandom seems to be hoping that your favorite team can one day achieve the benefit of the doubt, thus allowing you to crack a wry smile as the guys in gray bend all the rules in your favor.  This is one of the reasons why the NBA makes for the best male soap opera.  It's real life.  It's why fans of win-poor teams hope for liberal changes to the reffing policy while the upper crust of the league enjoys things just they way they are.  How American is that?!  As a perfect gift-wrapped example of this phenomenon, Tommy Heinsohn chalked up the win to the "poise and experience" of the Celts.   What Heinsohn doesn't do is finish the thought.  What he really means to say is that the Celts won because they had the "poise and experience to know how the sausage is made and the means to act accordingly."  Call it the Goldman Sachs approach to basketball.

Anywho, aside from the ref-related funny business associated with last night's game, Wolves fans were treated to a fantastic contest.  Granted, the other team was on the 2nd night of a B2B on the road and we did not see their best effort.  However, this is also a team that the Wolves have played closer than expected over the last two years and while we keep expecting a blow-out, it just hasn't happened. 

Whether it was intended or not, the Wolves adopted a Rondo-or-no-one approach to losing last night.  Time and time again, Jonny Flynn left Rondo with 10 feet (yes, 10 feet) of open space to double on Ray Allen and Paul Pierce (who looked especially elderly against the Puppies).  Time and time again Rondo took advantage of this space to grab an offensive rebound, tip a ball to a teammate, and make a nice pass to an unguarded big underneath the bucket.  The Wolves bet against Rondo and they lost. 

Let's end with some random thoughts:

  • Kendrick Perkins is a human moving screen.
  • The White Hole had the game of his life and he didn't back down when KG started up his played-out get-in-the-face-of-the-big-dopey-white-guy routine in the 3rd quarter. 
  • Speaking of class and KG, the Boston League Pass telecast caught him dropping a "get the f#$k out of here" into the open mic of CSN's poor sideline reporter.  Earlier in the game, KG dropped a "get that s%*t out of here" that was loud enough to shake the rafters.  I'm not a prude but I am a professional. I will never get why KG gets a pass on that part of his persona.  He's paid to not have that sort of crap work its way to the surface. 
  • Putting aside the ridiculous side of KG and getting around to the considerably larger great one, I was listening to KFAN today when Dan Barreiro trotted out the tried, true, and tired KG-isn't-really-as-good-as-Duncan-or-Kobe talker.  This is almost as ridiculous as the he's-not-a-4th-quarter-finisher argument.  (Quick side note: I'm reading Bill Simmons' new book and he pulls a similar argument; placing KG as the 22nd greatest player of all time while jacking Duncan all the way up to #7.) Let me lay out the two most important points that can be made about KG.  First, he couldn't control who played with him.  No matter how down he was with T-Hud or Joe Smith, he wasn't his own GM and the player-personnel buck did not stop with him.  Second, whenever you surround a healthy KG with at least two competent top-half scorers, you either go to the conference finals or win the title.  With KG, the Celts win a title and they currently are the best defensive team in the NBA with some solid signs that they will go a long way in the playoffs.  Without him, they barely beat the Bulls.  I will expand on the statistical component of the KG/Duncan comparison in my Simmons book review post but the take-away here is that KG was surrounded by inferior players for the vast majority of his career while producing similar raw numbers and slightly superior win scores than Duncan.  When he was finally surrounded with talent that could somewhat compare with what Duncan had in San Antonio, he won at a level every bit as high as Duncan.  Danny-B needs to direct his next talker at McHale, as KG was easily a top 5 player for a large chunk of his time with the Wolves...and he's still a top 10 player to this very day. 
  • While I am writing this, Andy Pettitte is thanking god for his World Series win.  I had no idea that god was the street name for steroids. Kids these days!

Here are your Four Factors for the game:

Pace Eff eFG FT/FG OREB% TOr
Boston 90.0 102.2 47.6% 15.7 19.0 10.0
Minnesota 100.0 53.3% 13.3 17.6 18.9


You will notice that the Wolves lost this game for the exact opposite reasons they lost their last game: because they were turned over more and couldn't get as high a percentage of offensive rebounds as the Celts (as opposed to getting out-shot while turning the ball over less and gathering more offensive rebounds). 

The Celts really turned up the defensive pressure in the 2nd half.  The Wolves finished the game with 17 TOs and they went to the 1/2 with 3. 

Well, that about does it for the wrap-up.  It's time to turn in for the night.  What caught your eye about the game? 

Don't forget to check out Britt's posts and to keep an eye out for the WNBA lotto today. 

Until later.