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Nuggets Pre-Game Odds and Sods

What was that sound that caught my sabermetrically-inclined ear in the runway before tonight’s game? Why it was George Karl [1], coach of the Denver Nuggets [2], talking about “efficiency.”  Or, more specifically he was talking about recently acquired Chauncey Billups [3].

Someone asked the question about whether the Nuggets gained anything from Mr. Big Shot’s championship-tested mettle and Karl responded with some wonk about possessions and the like. In other words, Karl went from a question about an intangible to describing a tangible.

“(Billups) is a very efficient player,” Karl said. “He’s not going to be on SportsCenter (intangible). His efficiency is geared toward winning the game (tangible). It helps the coach. It helps the game’s flow.” OK, those last parts were intangible benefits of a tangible, but you all get the drift.

Let’s slow down and talk about what all this means.

In the stat-geek world there is no debate as to what the Allen Iverson [4]-Billups trade meant for Detroit (salary cap). Oh, Joe Dumars may say all the right things but AI, while wonderfully skilled and a beast of a competitor, is a drain on a team’s offense due to the volume of shots he takes. Billups, meanwhile, is a study in efficiency. He’s a high scorer who doesn’t shoot a lot and because he’s not shooting a lot, he gets everyone else involved so they can shoot. Simpler than regression analysis right there.

While they both averaged 18 points or so for the Nuggets, Iverson took more minutes and more free throws to get there. Still, The Answer’s Offensive Rating was a respectable 108, but Chauncey’s number is a whopping 121. Now, small sample size or no, that is a healthy difference and fairly consistent with their career numbers.

Why does this matter? The great Dean Oliver, author of Basketball on Paper (he essentially wrote the book on hoops sabermetrics) is employed by the Nuggets, and Dean’s central tenets are all about efficiency and possessions. Sure enough, after praising Chauncey, and indirectly docking AI, Karl was asked about getting more production out of Nene, who is averaging 15 and 8 but getting only 9 shots a game.

“Balancing out the offense is a major change,” Karl began. “It’s going to take time. There are a few possessions players can get themselves. When he goes and gets it, I’ll make it a priority to get the ball to him.”

Ah, so there is a practical application of: “Nene needs to be more aggressive.” Offensive rebounds, moving without the ball, etc. Those are all ways to create and impact possessions. Regressions digression over.


Karl is also the owner of a cutting wit. When asked about the Celtics [5], Karl offered up this gem about Ray Allen [6], whom he coached in Milwaukee and had “creative differences,” shall we say: “I hope he doesn’t break out of his slump tonight. He seems to make a lot of shots against me though.”

Jess and I will be trading off live-blogging duties again tonight, so check back early and often.