Saturday, April 21, 2012

The Debates: Best Team

The following is part one of three of a series of debates featuring Jonathan Safir, Ricky Winkeller, and Jordan Sperber. For part one, we will be examining the best team in the KenPom era (2003-2012).

Jonathan Safir: 2007 Florida Gators
I refused to allow recency bias to play a factor in my selection. The 2006-2007 Florida Gators did it *big. Florida in 2006-07 was nothing short of spectacular. This team almost made it seem too easy. Even though they had a late season swoon, losing 3 of their final 5 games prior to the conference tournament, they still entered the NCAA tournament as the number 1 overall seed. They certainly did not disappoint: winning their 6 games en route to the title by an average of over 14 points per game. This team made it seem too easy, almost looking bored at times which resulted in those late season struggles. Losing 3 of 5 ended up costing them the number 1 ranking on KenPom (they finished number 2) but that doesn’t stop me from calling them the best team in the KenPom era. 

Consider that during the regular season, they went 2 and a half months without a loss. They lost at Florida State on December 3rd, then not again until February 17th, at Vandy. During this 17 game win streak, they beat the eventual runner up, Ohio State (featuring Greg Oden, Mike Conley, and Daequan Cook) by 26 points and their first 11 SEC foes by an average of 12.9 points per game! In their conference tournament, or NCAA tune up, they made it look like NBA guys against D3 guys, winning by an average of 19 points per contest. These 06-07 Gators not only had the most efficient offense in the nation, they had the 3rd most efficient offense of any team between 2006 and 2012. They had a very strong defense as well, the 12th best according to KenPom’s computer. They defended the 3 point line tops in the nation, and didn’t allow teams to get many free throw attempts or second chance opportunities. At the next level, this squad featured two players who are annually potential all-star candidates (Al Horford, Joakim Noah), another player earning significant minutes (Corey Brewer) and a freshman who didn’t play much on this team who has carved out a niche in the league (Marreese Speights).

Yes, I will in fact take a starting five of Taurean Green, Lee Humphrey, Corey Brewer, Al Horford and Joakim Noah with a solid bench over the 2008-09 North Carolina Tar Heels and the 2011-12 Kentucky Wildcats (my second and third choices who were coincidentally the other two teams picked). 

*Upon looking up information on this Florida team, I was admittedly surprised that the 2006 team finished number 1 in the KenPom ratings and the 2007 team did not.


Ricky Winkeller: 2009 North Carolina Tar Heels
North Carolina’s 2009 national championship team was by far the superior team of the 2009 NCAA tournament and is the best national champion of the past ten years (the KenPom era). Although on paper (KenPom’s end-of-season pythagorean rating has at least 5 teams rated higher than UNC overall) UNC doesn’t appear to stand out, the best argument that could be made for them is the eye test. Yes, the unproven, gets an undeserving Iona into the tournament, eye test.

Starting at the point, no team from the past 10 years has a more dynamic, athletic and effective point guard (other than the 2011 Huskies, but they had a whole other mess of problems with their roster) than UNC with Ty Lawson. Lawson was, in college, unguardable. He pushed the tempo whenever he could and very rarely made mistakes. He was also able to hit a three in your face (though he didn’t utilize this very often). The other major matchup issues this UNC team would pose to opposing teams would be at the power forward and shooting guard positions. Wayne Ellington had a RIDICULOUS, not to mention quick, three point shot to go along with a very effective dribble drive game. There isn’t much to say about Hansbrough that people don’t already know. He was 6-9, 250, and had a motor that doesn’t stop. This to go along with a very physical set of post moves and, by 2009, a proficient mid-range game. The combination of Danny Green and Will Graves at the small forward position was a comparative weak spot (if you can even call it that) to the three players listed above. These guys were the glue guys. They hustled after boards, hit threes on drive-and-kicks, and provided upperclassmen leadership. Note that even though Danny Green is a comparative “weak spot” in their lineup, he’s currently in the NBA. The last member of the starting lineup was Deon Thompson. Thompson didn’t have any skills in particular that stood out, he was a big bodied 4-5 who knew how put the ball in hoop in the paint and guard other bigs on defense.

When watching this team play in 2009, the first thing you will notice is that, aside from the occasional bad game, no one competes with this team; they run over every opponent (in the national championship game, they won by 17, in a game that was really about 20-25 point game). The second thing you will notice is that not only do they run over every one, they run every one out of the gym. Their fast break game was extremely efficient and effective, not to mention fun to watch. Their suffocating defense led to constant fast break buckets led by Lawson and Ellington (think of a more effective 2012 Kentucky).

The teams that I feel would stand the best shot at beating this team are 2007 Florida and 2008 Kansas. The downfalls of these teams are as follows. Kansas would be outclassed at the guard position (Robinson is thinner and slower than Lawson and Chalmers is too undersized to hang with Ellington). Florida matches up very well with this team; however, Humphrey is a defensive liability and liability when he’s not catching and shooting. Don’t think UNC won’t expose him or Taurean Green (especially on the defensive end). I’ll throw in this years Kentucky team for anyone who truly feels that they’re the best. I’ll give 2012 UK props for maturity beyond their years but that’s about all they have going for them. They are way too short off the bench. Thompson and Hansbrough would go at Davis and Jones HARD. And maybe they’ll get an offensive foul here or there, but they can and will remove UK’s bigs from the game. And without Davis in the middle, Kentucky’s entire defense would collapse -UNC wouldn’t need a buzzer beater (Christian Watford, Indiana) to beat this team handily. I would happily take this team over any of the past 10 national champs.


Jordan Sperber: 2012 Kentucky Wildcats
This year's national champs may have been an efficient point guard away from running away with this contest. Marquis Teague's offensive inefficiency is the only blemish on an otherwise spectacularly underrated offense. Davis's shot blocking abilities created all the buzz, but this Kentucky team quietly did everything right on offense. Here are three reasons why Kentucky 2012 may just be the best team in the last 10 years.


The graph below shows the starting lineups of the three teams of emphasis in this debate. The y-axis is usage (percent of possessions each player was used). As you can see all five Kentucky starters were used between 23% and 18% of possessions. There were no Tyler Hansbrough's (high usage) or Lee Humphrey's (low usage) on Calipari's roster.

Two Point Defense
Three point percentage defense has been found to largely be a lottery. However, an opponent's two point percentage is highly controllable and the single most important aspect of defense. The Wildcats, led by Anthony Davis, allowed their opponents to shoot just 39.6% from two. This number led the nation, followed closely by national runner-up Kansas. The following table compares opponent's 2P% for '12 Kentucky, '07 Florida, and '09 UNC:

Doron Lamb
Calipari's players have never been known for being efficient sharpshooters. However, this is understating Lamb's shooting abilities during his two years at Kentucky. Put Lamb on the Wall/Cousins team or one of Calipari's Memphis teams and you develop a whole other element. Lamb has shot fairly close to 50% from three in his career, but also was able to work inside the three point line and take care of the basketball. Overall, Lamb had the 12th best offensive rating in the country. When I did my video charting I noticed just how many double screens UK ran for Lamb and Miller jump shots. On these plays, especially out of bounds plays, Kentucky relied on Lamb's ability to move without the ball and shoot on the move as opposed to their trademarked dribble drive.

NEXT UP: The top player in the KenPom era

1 comment:

  1. The part about Lamb is spot on. Calipari's "dribble-drive" offense requires a sharpshooter to spread the floor.
    I don't see any sharpshooters in their recruiting class: