Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Aaron Gordon's Dime Q & A



Orlando Magic rookie forward Aaron Gordon is wise beyond his 18 years. It was more than evident again while he along with Elfrid Payton and Devyn Marble were attending the Rookie Transition Program. The folks at Dime put together a wonderful Q & A piece with Aaron that was too good for just one post, but that it needed two posts.


Dime: How’s the Rookie Transition Program going so far?

Aaron Gordon: I think it’s an excellent program. I believe that it’s really progressing and I can tell from some of the current and former players that are here talking to us that that’s the case. There’s a lot of great life advice here. It’s long – it’s 13 hours out of your day – but every hour there’s stuff for us to learn at and get better at as young players.

Dime: Is there anything specific you want to take from the program? A lot of players talk about the financial lessons – both basketball-related and otherwise – they learned at the program as things they really enjoyed. Is there anything specific you want to the from the RTP?

Gordon: You know, we’re here for a reason. So I believe that everything that’s been said and talked about is everything that I need to take in. There’s been a lot of things. But at the end of the day if you’re not gonna apply them to your life then this is a waste of time. So there’s not one specific thing that I would take over anything else – this is all really important stuff. Every single person here is saying what they’re saying to help guide us along our young careers. So for me not to take their advice would just be stupid, you know? I just want to apply everything I’ve learned here. That’s the main thing.

Dime: Has there been a presentation or speaker so far that’s made an especially big impact on you?

Gordon: Yeah, yeah, yeah. Chris Herren’s was really cool. I’ve seen the 30 For 30 on ESPN, but to see him in person and see how passionate he is, and hear him talk about everything he’s been through has just been a huge, huge motivation for me to stay away from things like that, you know? He had everything going for him and was almost homeless by the end of his bad experiences. Him and Jason Williams – J-Will went through some stuff, too. I just think those are two perfect examples of wrong decisions that really affect your life.


Dime: All of the presentations, speakers, and stuff like that is obviously really important, but I assume getting to spend some time with your fellow rookies is another benefit of the Rookie Transition Program. Are there any guys you’ve become especially close with throughout the draft process and going through to the RTP?

Gordon: All of these guys are great guys. They all have personalities and they’re all fun in their own specific way. Basketball’s a really small world, so I’ve known a bunch of these guys for a long time. What I’m really trying to do is get more acquainted with [Magic teammates] Elfrid Payton and Roy Devyn Marble because that’s who I’m going to be spending so much time with during the season. At the end of the day we’ll leave this Rookie Transition Program as competitors, you know? It won’t be so happy, fun-and-games with everybody. But if I can continue getting to know Elfrid and Roy Dev better, it will just really help us as a team.

Dime: It’s funny you should say that about competition with your fellow rookies – my next question is whether or not you take any pride of being part of such a talented draft class, if in 10 years you’ll look back and be proud to be drafted in 2014 with guys like Andrew Wiggins and Jabari Parker. I’m guessing not?

Gordon: It’s hard to say one way or another because for me it’s hard to think so far forward and then have to think back to and live in the moment. But I’m proud that I’m part of such an elite group of basketball players and that I’m playing with the world’s best. But at the end of the day I’m not too worried about them; I’m only concerned with what I can do.

Dime: So what is it that you’re going to bring to the Magic this season specifically? As an 18, 19 year-old rookie?

Gordon: A little bit of everything. I believe that I’m a 6-9 playmaker, so whether that’s getting an offensive rebound and bringing it down myself, being able to knock down a periodical three-pointers and mid-range jumpers, and getting to the rim I just want to be aggressive. I think I’ll be able to do a lot of things. But what I’m most looking forward to is defending. I want to be able to defend the greatest players in the world and see how I stack up. So every single night I’m gonna give it my all because I don’t want to be the one on SportsCenter getting blasted for 30 points, you know?

Dime: What’s the biggest difference between the pro and college games that you noticed during Summer League. The competition will be different during the regular season, obviously, but I’d imagine even Summer League requires quite an adjustment for rookies.
Gordon: It’s been real rapid. I went from high school to college to the pros in two-and-a-half years, you know? In high school if you see something, your instincts will allow you to do it a second or two late. In college, your instinct has to be right on time. And in the NBA, your instinct has to be a second early. That’s pretty much the main difference.

Dime: You mentioned that you really want to make an impact on defense this season, and that’s been a strength of your game for a long time – guarding multiple positions, getting steals and blocks, and wreaking general havoc on that end. Is there any NBA player you’re especially looking forward to guarding?
Gordon: Just everybody, man. Like I said, there’s no bad players in the NBA. Every single night I’m gonna come out and give it my all. Yeah, sometimes I might get a little more up for a LeBron or KD and some other people, but at the same time I’m always gonna play defense and try my hardest to help my team win.

Thursday, August 7, 2014

Andrew Nicholson, Canada Exhibition Tour Footage


If you've been following Andrew Nicholson and his Canadian national team during their 11-game European exhibition tour, then you know that it's been very difficult to hunt down live streams of the games. Thanks to Youtube user BasketArena, you can now watch Nicholson (wearing #7) in international action. Keep in mind, Andrew's post and paint game looks great. The problem has been his sporadic 3-point shooting and struggles to rebound and defend.

August 6th: Canada loses 82-70 to Spain
Andrew Nicholson: 13 points and 5 rebounds
Full game is here.


August 5th: Canada defeats Bosnia-Herzigovina 84-66
Andrew Nicholson: 13 points and 1 rebound


August 4th: Canada loses to Serbia 78-73
Andrew Nicholson: 10 points and 4 rebounds

Click here for game footage.


Monday, July 21, 2014

The Frye Effect & Andrew Nicholson's Potential Second Chance

Since signing with the Orlando Magic, it's been mentioned by numerous media outlets that Channing Frye is a better player than his statistics indicate. I figure this blog is as good a platform as any to share an outstanding analysis created by RealGM's 'doct3r dr3' that precisely outlines that notion. Fan message boards get a bad reputation at times and solid quality such as this can sometimes get lost in the midst of annoying forum threads. Whether you agree with everything in the post below is beside the point, this is a very nicely balanced piece on Channing Frye's value and how Andrew Nicholson has an opportunity to get back into Jacque Vaughn's rotation by emulating his developing offensive game to be similar to Frye's in a way that benefits the team as a whole.


Frye Ef·fect \ˈfrī-i-ˈfekt, e-, ē-, ə-\
The positive offensive impact generated by a floor-spacing big through the creation of driving lanes, cutting lanes, and passing lanes for guards and wing players.


The effectiveness of Channing Frye in the Suns offense has been in the spotlight in the past couple of weeks. By now you've probably read the articles and watched the youtube videos that show his effectiveness (especially with Dragic) in the pick & pop.

But Frye's real impact on offense extends far beyond the actual shots he makes. It's in the spacing he creates for his teammates: slashers like Eric Bledsoe, and especially Goran Dragic. Frye's mere presence on the floor, as a three-point shooting big man with a quick trigger, forces opposing big men out of the lane, which creates driving lanes, cutting lanes, and passing lanes for guards and wing players.

Zach Lowe: "Frye becomes dangerous just by setting a pick, and there are Phoenix baskets that happen three or four passes after that pick precisely because of how Frye’s initial screen scrambled the defense."
Kirk Goldsberry: "Dragic is quick to point out that the return of Frye — the team’s most vital spacing agent — has been central to Phoenix’s dramatic offensive improvements. “Last year he had some heart problems and couldn’t play with us, so when I played pick-and-roll I didn’t have that space guy,” he says. “This year, when we play pick-and-roll, Channing stretches the floor so I have room to operate; I can get inside the paint and make other plays for him and everybody else. He just gives us that spacing, and especially for me and Eric he makes things much easier because nobody can rotate from him.”
[...]
Frye has a gravitational pull that forces bigs away from the rim, creating attacking corridors for Dragic, who excels at “turning the corner,” attacking the basket, and making plays. In turn, Dragic’s attacking abilities create wide-open looks for Frye or other perimeter shooters. This symbiosis is the heart of the Suns’ offensive ecosystem, and it is by no means an accident."

Let's have a look at the Frye effect in action.

Watch (0:40-1:35)

In the first play at (0:40), Frye takes his time coming down the court in semi-transition offense. Anthony Davis hangs around near the three-point line waiting for him, which leaves Dragic only one big man to beat at the rim. Next at (0:59), the Suns spread the floor with 5 three-point threats around the three-point line. When Dragic curls off the Frye down screen, he's all alone at the rim. Next, at (1:11) Frye sets a high screen for Dragic, drawing Babbitt out to the three-point line. Babbitt tries to hedge on Dragic, but he has to keep an eye on Frye, and so Dragic blows by him, with only one big man (who is also out of help position due to the Suns' floor spacing) left to beat at the rim. Finally at (1:26) the Suns again space the floor with 5 three-point threats. Frye spots up on the right wing, drawing Anthony Davis out to the free throw line. When Dragic cuts backdoor, he's by himself at the rim.

It turns out that what we observe on film is reflected in the numbers (obtained from nbawowy.com). When Frye is on the floor, his starting backcourt mates --especially Dragic-- shoot better from the field than when he's off.

TS% (with Frye)
+4.5 - G. Dragic (56.9% --> 61.4%)
+0.0 - E. Bledsoe (57.3% --> 57.3%)
-0.4 - G. Green (58.4% --> 58.0%)

eFG% (with Frye)
+7.0 - G. Dragic (51.3% --> 58.3%)
+1.6 - E. Bledsoe (51.2% --> 52.8%)
+0.6 - G. Green (54.3% --> 54.9%)

When we drill down into the numbers, we can start to paint the picture of what's happening with Dragic. When Frye takes the floor, Dragic becomes a more aggressive driver. His usage rate goes up, (23.9 --> 25.8) and the share of his made field goals that are unassisted goes up (69.1% --> 73.1%). A smaller percentage of his total FG attempts are three-pointers (29.9% --> 26.2%) and a larger percentage are shots within 3 feet of the rim (33.9% --> 37.7%). Along with this, his 3P% shoots up dramatically (29.1% --> 46.9%), suggesting the threes he does take are wide open when Frye is on the floor.

All of this has exciting implications for the Magic, whose offensive attack figures to feature a number of guards and wing players who primarily like to drive (Oladipo, Harris, Payton, A. Gordon) and slashers who can hit an open three (Oladipo, Harris, Fournier). The question is: what happens when Frye goes to the bench?



After attempting none his rookie year, Andrew Nicholson unveiled a new weapon in '13-14: the three-point shot -- specifically the corner three. After a hot start to the season, he cooled down and eventually settled into a respectable, if not world-beating 31.5% three-point percentage. It's still coming along, but with continued repetitions, Nicholson is on his way to building a reputation around the league as a three-point threat, demanding attention from opposing bigs.

Even now, in the nascent stages of his development as a stretch 4, Nicholson appears to be getting some respect from defenses. And that, as much as anything, contributes to the effectiveness of a team-oriented offensive attack. Without making shots or getting assists, or even touching the ball, watch how his threat from deep and intelligent floor spacing open things up on offense.

Watch (1:30-2:11)

In the first play at (1:30), Anthony Davis and Jrue Holiday opt to switch on an Oladipo/Nicholson pick & roll. Oladipo could have easily passed it back to Nicholson in the post after the PG Holiday switches on to him, but after the switch Oladipo is able to elude Anthony Davis just enough and when Morrow collapses to help, Oladipo makes a tough cross-court pass to an open Afflalo in the corner. In the next play (1:40), Nicholson's high screen draws Jason Smith out to the three-point line, and Rivers and Morrow are forced to collapse to help on the driving Oladipo, which leaves E'Twaun Moore wide open for three. Next at (1:49), Nicholson and O'Quinn set a high double-screen for E'Twaun Moore, cutting off the ball. This action, along with Oladipo's dribble drive, causes enough confusion in the lane that it frees up both Nicholson and O'Quinn for open jumpers, which O'Quinn is able to convert. On the final play (2:03), the Magic's floor spacing, with Nicholson spotting up in the right corner, leaves Jeff Withey in a no-man's land for help defense. When Oladipo blows by Rivers and forces Onuaku to help, all it takes is a quick pass to O'Quinn and he's all alone at the rim.

Given the similarity of Nicholson's role as a floor spacer to Frye's, we might expect to find stats that show that Nicholson's presence is met with a similar improvement in the shooting of the Magic's guards; and it is -- but first a caveat. Nicholson played as a backup, so his lineups faced the defense of backup units more often than a starter's would. Now, it's not as though Nicholson didn't play with the starters at all: 60% of his minutes came with Oladipo, 44% came with Afflalo, 41% came with Harkless, and 39% came with Nelson. But without controlling for the level of opponent it's impossible to say how much of this observed effect is attributable to these sorts of opponent lineup effects.

TS% (with Nicholson)
+7.6 - J. Nelson (49.9% --> 57.5%)
+7.2 - E. Moore (47.7% --> 54.9%)
+3.7 - V. Oladipo (50% --> 53.7%)
+1.1 - T. Harris (54.2% --> 55.3%)


eFG% (with Nicholson)
+7.9 - J. Nelson (46.9% --> 54.8%)
+7.4 - V. Oladipo (43.7% --> 51.1%)
+6.3 - E. Moore (46% --> 52.3%)
+3.6 - T. Harris (47.9% --> 51.5%)

With Nicholson on the court, Oladipo seemed to become a more aggressive driver. His effectiveness also improved from both of the main high-yield areas. Oladipo's usage increased (23.6 --> 26.5) with Nicholson on the floor, and so did his propensity for dunks, as a share of his total FG attempts (3.5% --> 5.9%); a shift which helped improve his field goal percentage within 3 feet of the basket (50.7% --> 63.8%). These close shots were also more likely to be unassisted (68.3% --> 73.1%), suggesting he was driving into these shots himself [other sources of unassisted close shots are fast breaks and tip-ins, but when Nicholson took the floor, the share of Oladipo's FGs that were tip-ins stayed about the same (0.5% --> 0.4%), and game pace actually decreased (94.4 --> 93.6) so these explanations aren't very likely in this case]. Like Dragic with Frye, Oladipo's three point percentage also improved with Nicholson on the court (31.0% --> 36.8%), suggesting his threes were more open.

A similar effect is seen with Tobias Harris. When Nicholson takes the floor, his usage increases (21.5 --> 27.1). His shots were more frequently layups (23.6% --> 25.8%) -- which he converted at an improved rate (67.4% --> 70.6%) -- and less frequently three-pointers (18.0% --> 15.9%). The three-pointers that he did take, he converted at a dramatically higher rate (22.9% --> 38.1%), suggesting the threes he did take were more of the wide open variety.

So it seems as though, much like Frye, Nicholson's presence brings a positive impact on his teammates. But while Frye's presence results in a big net positive to his team's offense, the same wasn't quite true for Nicholson last season. Various plus/minus stats show that Nicholson was a net negative on offense this year, which means that whatever positive effects were seen in those players, must have been offset by his own struggles and/or concurrent lapses in other players. Indeed, Nicholson's presence seemed to bring on negative effects for some Magic players, most notably Vucevic, Afflalo, and Harkless.

TS% (with Nicholson)
-10.2 - N. Vucevic (55.0% --> 44.8%)
-4.4 - A. Afflalo (58.2% --> 53.8%)
-3.9 - M. Harkless (54.8% --> 50.9%)


eFG% (with Nicholson)
-9.9 - N. Vucevic (52.2% --> 42.3%)
-5.8 - A. Afflalo (53.5% --> 47.7%)
-5.1 - M. Harkless (53.4% --> 48.3%)


The reasons for this might have something to do with the kind of scoring threat Nicholson was last year. While Nicholson spotted up for three a lot and drew defensive attention like Frye did, the location of his spot-ups was very different. Consider their shot charts:


Clearly much more of Frye's threes came above the break, and much more of Nicholson's attempts were from the corner (91% of Nicholson's, versus 9.5% of Frye's). This is an important difference. The corner three is shorter than the above-the-break three. And while that makes for a more efficient shot in itself, it also causes the floor spacing effects to diminish. When you spot up in the corner, the defender does not have as far to travel to help out in the post, or to close out from the post.

Nicholson also operated more in the low post than Frye. About 37% of Nicholson's FGAs came within 10 ft of the rim, while only 21% of Frye's FGAs came from that range. And that combination (corner 3s + low post) means that he resided a lot on that baseline axis. Perhaps one explanation for the divergent effect Nicholson had on certain teammates is this very geometry. It is why he helped complement players that play on the wings (Oladipo, Nelson, Moore, Harris), but got in the way of players who thrive in the low post (Vucevic), baseline (Afflalo, Harkless) and corners (Afflalo, Harkless).

The numbers for Vucevic support the floor geometry theory. When Nicholson takes the floor, Vucevic strays further from the basket. The percentage of his FGAs from 0-3 ft decreases (43.2% --> 34.6%); while the percentages of shots from 4-9 ft (18.9% --> 23.1%) and 10-15 ft (10% --> 14.4%) increase. The percentage of his FGAs that are tip-ins decreases (13% --> 7.7%), as with dunks (4.4% --> 3.8%), layups (21.3% --> 20.2%), and hooks (18.1% --> 14.4%); while the percentage of midrange attempts increases (43.2% --> 53.8%). This happens despite the fact that offensive rebound opportunities are more plentiful for Vuc when Drew is on the floor, as the team shoots worse from the field (45.7% --> 40.1%) and records more field goal misses per 100 possessions (48.6 --> 52.6).

The numbers for Maurice Harkless also support the floor geometry theory. Harkless, whose offensive game largely consists of corner threes and shots at the rim, and who relies on assists from others to score, was taken out of his game somewhat when Nicholson took the floor. His FGs were assisted less often (66.3% --> 59.5%). He shot threes (32.5% --> 29.1%) and dunks (13.9% --> 8.1%) less often, and midrange shots more often (17.9% --> 23.3%) as a share of his overall attempts. His field goal percentages from within 3 ft (57.6% --> 48.8%) and from 3-point range (38.8% --> 36.0%) decreased.

Afflalo seemed to go into hero mode when Nicholson took the floor. His usage rate went up (22.8 --> 24.3). His share of layups (16.1% --> 14.4%) and three-pointers (29.8% --> 29.3%) decreased, while his share of midrange shots increased (53.8% --> 55.8%). Those midrange makes were assisted on much less often (52.1% --> 38.8%) as were his three-point makes (90.7% --> 76.2%). And, perhaps as a result, he shot a lot worse from midrange (45.3% --> 40.8%) and from three-point range (45.1% --> 33.3%). For all his improvement as a go-to scoring option, Afflalo is still better off taking shots created from good ball movement, but when Nicholson took the court, it appears he decided to run more isolations and take more midrange shots off the dribble.

The good news for Nicholson, going into 2014-15, is that these players that didn't work as well with him on offense are either gone (Afflalo) or figure to have their roles limited due to new acquisitions (Vucevic--Frye; Harkless--Gordon). And in their place will be more players who play on the wings (Oladipo, Payton, Harris, Fournier, Frye, etc.). Even if he makes only slight improvements as a threat from the corners, he should make for a really nice backup to Frye, providing a similar offensive impact on slashing guards like Oladipo and new additions Payton and Fournier, from the bench. And if he can add the above-the-break three, which seems like the next logical progression of his game, he'll be able draw defenses even further, and become something of a "mini-me" Frye clone off the bench.


But who's to say there can only be one floor-stretching big at a time? Frye played about 67% of his minutes at C last year, and by some measures he was more effective there than at PF. So what might happen if the Magic played them both together -- Frye at C, Nicholson at PF?


It just so happens the Suns rotation provided a nice natural experiment in that very question, in the form of their backup PF, the 6'9" Markieff Morris, a career 33.3% three-point shooter. Morris shot more from above the break than in the corners (about 89% above the break, 11% from the corners), making him more similar to Frye than Nicholson. But Suns coach Jeff Hornacek played Frye and Morris together a fair amount of time, so we can observe the effect these two floor-stretching bigs brought to the slashing backcourt.

There are sample size issues with some of these conditions, especially with Dragic, and particularly in the "both off" condition, which didn't see a lot of floor time. The most common scenario during Dragic's minutes was with fellow starter Frye, and without Morris (49.5% of Dragic's minutes). After that was with backup Morris and without Frye (28.3% of Dragic's minutes). Then comes BOTH Frye and Morris (18.1% of Dragic's minutes). And finally, almost insignificantly, NEITHER Frye or Morris (only 4.9% of Dragic's minutes). The "both off" condition was similarly rare for Bledsoe and Green (5.3% of Bledsoe's minutes, 6.3% of Green's minutes), so we probably ought to take that first column with a grain of salt.


We see here that in isolation, Morris has roughly similar effects on the guards' shooting (Green and Bledsoe actually seem to prefer Morris a bit). Again, the effect of facing backup opponent defensive units should be taken into account. But whatever the impact of one or the other stretch big man, the effect is greatly magnified by playing both together. Dragic, for example, goes from 49.3 eFG% with Morris and no Frye, to 55.8 eFG% with Frye and no Morris, to 66.1 eFG% with Frye and Morris together. This is truly a dramatic shift in shooting efficiency, which all told, translates to an increase of about 20 points per 100 possessions (108-->111-->128), and nearly 30 points per 100 shots (109-->118-->137).


One driver of this observed increase in shooting efficiency is that the Suns guards' three-point percentages improve fairly uniformly, suggesting that Frye and Morris together are creating more wide open looks from outside.

While much has been made of Rob Hennigan's accumulation of defensive-minded players (Oladipo, Payton, A. Gordon), and much concern raised about the offensive side of the ball, the Magic actually appear to be well on their way towards creating a very effective offensive team. The addition of Channing Frye should opens things up significantly on the offensive end. And if Andrew Nicholson keeps making strides and extends his range to above break, watch out NBA.

Orlando Magic Top 10 Plays of 2013-2014 Season