Point Blank – February 16, 2017
On the challenges of the Michigan power rating…Will Beal’s snub be a force for the Wizards…Any five Point Blank readers chosen at random should be able to hold the Suns to 136 or less…
It is no secret that John Beilein has been among my favorite coaches for quite some time, and yes we are all allowed to be fans on occasion, in addition to ruthless investors. It actually helps. Tonight the ESPN cameras focus on Wisconsin/Michigan, and it is an opportune time to bring that focus here, another of the case studies in basketball consciousness that help to enlighten on the process of how better power ratings get created. For the current Wolverines, it is a bit complicated.
Item: Beilein focuses on what he does have, not what he doesn’t
The 2016-17 Michigan team does not have NBA scouts drooling at the front-court prospects; there just isn’t much talent or upside to the big guys inside. To set the perspective, let’s take a look at where the Wolverines sit after 12 Big 10 games in the key categories involving defense and rebounding -
Total Defense #12
Effective FG% #14*
2-point FG% #14*
3-point FG% #13
Def Reb% #9
Off Reb% #14*
* - Last in conference
Ordinarily that would get you buried. Michigan is allowing 50.3 percent shooting to Big 10 opponents, and is being out-rebounded by 4.8 per game. Yet the Wolverines enter tonight’s game at 16-9 overall and 6-6 in the conference, putting them squarely on the NCAA tourney bubble. And across those dozen Big 10 games they have actually out-scored the opposition by 47 points. How can you be so bad in so many things and yet be in the hunt? You take what you do have and focus on it.
Beilein has the luxury of a couple of senior floor leaders in Zak Irvin and Derrick Walton Jr. that have been through the grind. They are combining to average 70 floor minutes per game in conference play (out of a possible 80 at their positions), and while Irvin has been battling through a shooting slump, their ability to play the floor game has been the key – Michigan stays in position to overcome all of those weaknesses by having 51 fewer turnovers than their Big 10 opponents, which negates almost all of that rebounding disadvantage. When the Wolverines have the ball they are almost always assured of getting shots, and they have been finding their way to good shots –
Michigan Big 10 Offense
Total Offense #1
Effective FG% #1
Let’s give much of that credit to Walton, who has played as well as any player in the nation over the last five games – 23.0 ppg, 32 rebounds and 25 assists.
In germs of flexibility, and what it allows Beilein to do, this will be career game #115 for him, 114 of them being starts. For Irvin this will be game #130, and start #92. The fact that these two have played so much together allows a chess master the opportunity to play strategies that will tax opponents, because Beilein can shift his strategies from game to game, making it difficult for the opposition to anticipate what is coming.
Tonight the challenge is made tougher for Wisconsin because the Badgers prep has already been limited. Senior guard Bronson Koenig has struggled mightily from the field since suffering a calf injury vs. Penn State, and his ineffectiveness reached the point at which he has been given the last couple of days off at practice. You can see the decline in his numbers across league play –
First 7 games 35-68 23-40
Last 5 games 14-55 7-31
I will likely not have any involvement tonight because of questions both concerning Koenig’s status, and the level he can produce at if he does play, but I will be watching closely, a window to learn more about the sport by watching how Beilein crafts a game plan, and to also understand the complexity of power ratings. To merely assign something to Michigan based on the scoreboards would bring little understanding of the complexity of the process, a team that is very good at some things, and downright awful at others, having those various components interact in the ultimate mix.
Item: Will the Wizards bring an extra chip on their shoulders tonight?
There are reasons to like Washington to beat the Pacers for the second time within a week tonight, after they got a 112-107 decision at the Verizon Center last Friday. The surging Wizards are 14-2 over their last 16 games, and consider that in each of the losses they had the lead in the final half-second of regulation play. Meanwhile the Pacers had put a good defensive cycle together following the down time after their London trip, and then it came apart – in a current 0-5 SU run they have allowed 116.6 points per game.
There is also the energy aspect – this is only the second game in six nights for Washington, which blitzed Oklahoma City so easily in the lone contest that none of the starters got to 31 minutes. Meanwhile the Pacers were letting most of what they have hang out in a revenge match at Cleveland last night, including 36:00 for Paul George and 35:07 for Jeff Teague.
I can’t get to the windows at the price point, however, with the markets grasping the schedule setting, which is why the -6 closer from last Friday is at -2.5 for the rematch, not the usual adjustment for the change of venues. But might there be another added factor in play that is worth some consideration?
One of the keys to the Washington surge is team chemistry, and I noted some aspects of that in last Friday’s edition,including the positive public statement John Wall and Bradley Beal made regarding the fan base. Might the Wizards bring a chip on their shoulders tonight because it was Carmelo Anthony, not Beal, being given Kevin Love’s spot for this weekend’s All Star game?
I have not found anything in the Thursday morning reading because it was not the sort of thing that the Washington media members were going to call players out of their Indianapolis hotel beds for. But there was considerable discussion of this on Wednesday, and when the announcement was made former Wizard Jared Dudley went on a bit of a Twitter rant, with Marcin Gortat among those that re-tweeted.
This is something I will follow over the course of the day, and for those in the props market there may be a window of opportunity there as well – it may not just be about Washington playing a little harder tonight, but potentially of trying to generate some numbers for Beal.
About Last Night, Lakers edition…
Post-mortems following the last night before the All Star break are often taken at a leisurely pace – there is no particular hurry for most of them, and many of the games carry lesser weight, especially when it is bad vs. bad, and the bags are already packed for the mini-vacation ahead.
There will need to be some digging done with the Lakers over the next few days. There were causes for alarm three weeks ago when they lost 122-73 against a short-handed Dallas team, arguably the worst effort of any team for the NBA season to that point. Last night they issued a serious challenge to that, falling 137-101 at Phoenix. It isn’t easy to allow the Suns to ring that up – they had not topped 120 in a game previously, and that is with five overtime affairs thrown in the mix. They enter the break at #21 in offensive efficiency, even with last night’s boost to the numbers. Yet Phoenix scored at least 32 points in each quarter, the first team this season to accomplish that.
Hence Luke Walton’s “break” now becomes anything but a chance to relax –
"It's an honor and a privilege to play in this League, and we've got a great fan base and a great organization and I don't think that's right. We're going to lose games and I'm OK with that and I know that, but when we give in like that and don't play with a certain competitive level, that's not right for anybody involved."
Within a span of 11 games, the Lakers may have turned in the two worst efforts of any team this season, and over the last 17 games have lost three times by 36 points or more. Instead of a young team developing, there may be a bit of a train wreck here.
For your listening pleasure...
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