Derrick Rose Hurt Himself Again and Everything is Awful

Derrick Rose hurt his right knee (the other one, not the one he injured over 18 months ago) in a non-contact injury during the third quarter of tonight’s tilt with the Portland Trailblazers. Rose was just running along normally, making an off-ball cut into the paint on offense and his knee buckled beneath him.

https://vine.co/v/hFEubqqqlz9

I don’t know how bad the injury is at this point, but I do know Rose couldn’t put any pressure on his leg as he left the floor to go back to the locker room.

I also know that I can’t go through this again. I’m an NBA fan, but I’m first and foremost a Bulls fan, and this is just awful. There were so many years of just terrible, ugly basketball following the Jordan glory days abruptly coming to a halt, then there was improvement to mediocrity with dreams of something more. Derrick Rose was that promise of something more and for the too brief moments he’s been healthy since he entered the league, Rose has delivered on that promise. But he just missed over 18 months with a knee injury and now he appears to have hurt his *other* knee pretty badly. If Rose is done for the year again, the Bulls are, obviously, cooked. If his tests come back with bad news, the Bulls absolutely need to blow things up and fast. The franchise’s only hope for relevance will be to draft a new savior.

This is maybe (hopefully) overreaction, but the creeping doubts that had been lingering about Rose’s return had, for me, been on the verge of full blown panic about whether he will ever be the same player. Now, with this newest injury, the concern is about whether his body will stop betraying him long enough to let him continue to play professional basketball at all- never mind whether he will be able to do it at a high level again.

This is just the absolute worst. There is no positive spin on this. The Bulls blew a 20 point lead and Derrick Rose, for the second time in under 2 years, could not walk off the hardwood without assistance. Ugh. Why???

Introducing Another Box-Score Based Stat: Usage Adjusted Rating

I recently began tinkering with a new boxscore based catch-all stat after reading a post on the APBR metrics board. The post, by a poster named v-zero, indicated that he had come up with a simple formula for including a usage and efficiency tradeoff in linear weights based metrics. This immediately got me thinking about Alternate Win Score, the best simple box-score based all-in-one stat for predicting future outcomes. The formula for Alternate Win Score, via Neil Paine of Basketball Prospectus is: (pts+0.7*orb+0.3*(reb-orb)+stl+0.5*blk+0.5*ast-0.7 * (fga-fg)-fg-0.35*(fta-ft)-0.5*ft-tov-0.5*pf)/mp. I quickly got excited about the possibilities of including the linear usage and efficiency trade off described by v-zero in that metric to create a better metric for rating players, relatively quickly.

So that’s what I did. Introducing, the rather boringly titled, Usage Adjusted Rating. I pulled the data, updated to include numbers from last night’s game, from the NBA.com/Stats page using the pace adjusted per 48 minutes numbers. I then set a minimum minutes cutoff of 50 (roughly 5 per game in the young season) and ran the numbers. Here they are:

(For your reference, league average UAR translates to roughly 5.5–5.6)

So far about 14–15% of the way through the season, Anthony Davis looks like the most productive player in the entire league on a per minute basis. He’s not even old enough to drink. Goodness. Also, Jordan Hill, look at you! Anyway, this is by no means a perfect metric. It still has all the same problems that plague other box-score based metrics- namely, not properly evaluating defense- but it’s another fun way to look at it. I plan to try to keep the numbers updated as close to daily as I can (they will be located in a new page in the menu of the site) and maybe I will make a weekly feature out of writing about the Usage Adjusted Ratings. Maybe I’ll even come up with a better name for it. Help me out in the comments!

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Stats used for this post derived from NBA.com/Stats

Friday Night Films: Kevin Love to Corey Brewer is a Beautiful Thing

When I was on the Bulls vs Blazers podcast a few days ago, I recommended the Mavericks-Timberwolves matchup as my game of the week to watch. Both teams are high powered offenses that offer little in the way of defensive personnel. I expected a high scoring game, with plenty of well-spaced offensive sets and the game certainly did not disappoint, as the Wolves bested the Mavs 116 to 108. What I did not predict, but greatly enjoyed watching, was Kevin Love finding Corey Brewer at seemingly every opportunity.

Love has always been a tremendous passer, especially when it comes to throwing outlet passes off the defensive rebounds he is so adept at grabbing. At the time Love was drafted, he drew glowing comparisons to Wes Unseld for his ability to toss chest passes the full length of the court off of his rebounds. With the return of Corey Brewer to Minnesota, the Wolves appear to have found Love a perfect target for those brilliant outlet passes. Against the Mavericks, in the first half of the game, Brewer received 4 outlet passes from Love resulting in 3 made baskets and a trip to the foul line.

When you watch the outlets, you can see in each one that as Love is going up for the rebound, Brewer is already leaking out to beat the Mavericks defense down the floor.

In the clip above, the first of Love’s four outlets to Brewer, Brewer contests Shawn Marion’s corner three attempt with a somewhat lackluster closeout, but then he immediately begins sprinting down the floor, anticipating the Love rebound and bullet pass, which comes and hits him right in stride, allowing him to get the easy, uncontested finish.

On the second outlet, above, we see a similar situation, though instead of being the man closing out, Brewer watches as the action moves away from him and towards the painted area. He sees a heavily contested shot go up in the paint and knows Love is there. Relying on Love’s tremendous defensive rebounding ability, Brewer makes the educated guess that Love will end up with the ball and hit him in stride again for another easy two points, which is exactly what happens.

In this clip, Love gets an uncontested defensive board, as all of Dallas’s personnel are at the foul line or further away from the basket. Dallas has three men back in transition defense, as Love throws the outlet ahead to Brewer. Despite this, Brewer is able to get the ball in full stride and get a head of steam going towards the Mavs. The Mavs are put on their heels and unable to react in time, leading to Jose Calderon fouling Brewer at the rim.

Similar to the previous clip, on this play Love gets the ball to Brewer leaking out in transition with the Mavs having guys back in transition defense (Dirk Nowitzki and Monta Ellis), but it simply doesn’t matter. Brewer is moving too quickly and Love’s pass is too on the money for the defense to have time to properly react and stop Brewer from getting to the rim. The result is a dunk for Brewer at the 1st half buzzer.

Love was also able to find Brewer for an additional couple of baskets in the first half, one of which came off a great pass and smart cut out of the Horns set Rick Adelman is so fond of running.

Love catches the pass on the left elbow and then Rubio and Pekovic both set down screens on the right side of the court for Brewer. Jose Calderon, who gets switched onto Brewer, anticipates the cut and jumps the passing lane, only to see Brewer smartly bend his cut the other way towards the basket, allowing Love to fit in a nifty bounce pass to give Brewer the easy two points.

Finally, Brewer was even able to get a wide open jump shot from Love’s passing and the defensive attention the big man draws. Here the Wolves run a number of cross screens, none of which is set very solidly, but Love is nonetheless able to establish deep position in the paint on Shawn Marion. Love’s positioning near the rim draws Jae Crowder’s attention away from Brewer as Love receives the pass from J.J. Barea, and as a result, Love hits Brewer with a quick pass in the corner for a wide open look, which he knocks down.

If these early returns are any indication, Flip Saunders and the rest of the Timberwolves front office should be applauded for the decision to reunite Corey Brewer with Kevin Love.

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The Chicago Bulls’ New Offense: Reasons for Optimism Despite a Rough Start

This offseason it came out that the Chicago Bulls were installing a new offensive system, which was to be based off of “read and react” principles. The goal is, according to Coach Tom Thibodeau:

If [the opponent’s defense] get[s] set we want to move them side to side. But we want the ball in to the paint. When you have a player like Derrick [Rose] who can force the defense to collapse, now you’re going to get some high scoring or very efficient shooting out of that. Everyone has the responsibility to hit the open man, keep the ball moving.

Via: Nick Friedell, ESPNChicago.com

Getting the ball into the paint for shots close to the basket remains the most efficient way to score in the NBA, with the exception of getting to the foul line, so it’s no surprise that Thibodeau wants to emphasize getting those shots for his team.

The Bulls so far have done fantastically well at getting shots in the paint. They are second in the league, behind only the Houston Rockets, in percentage of shots taken within 5 feet of the basket, with 111 of their 250 field goal attempts coming in close. The Bulls are converting those shots at an above average rate, too, coming in 8th in the league in FG% on shots in that range, at 62.2%. As a result, the Bulls are third in the league in Points in the Paint per pace adjusted 36 minutes at 38.0, behind only the Sixers and the Pistons. All of this seems great, so why are the Bulls 24th in offensive efficiency at an abysmal 95.6 points per 100 possessions?

Turnovers

The Bulls are tied for 6th highest in the league in Team Turnover Percentage (TmTOV%) at 19.1%. A lot of that comes back to Derrick Rose playing out of control and forcing things, a topic which was well covered by Ricky O’Donnell over at BlogaBull. Rose has 17 turnovers in just 3 games for an average of nearly 6 a game. That’s obviously too many, but the Bulls have been averaging roughly 13 turnovers per game from non-Rose players, too. That’s a tremendously high number. So what’s driving all these turnovers? I went back and watched every turnover the Bulls committed over the first 3 games and what stood out was just how many of the Bulls turnovers were a product of lazy passes or miscommunications between a passing Bull and the teammate to whom his pass was directed. There were so many times when guys attempted to throw an entry pass just to initiate the Bulls base offensive set and instead just threw the ball away. It seemed like a total lack of focus, for three games running, on valuing possession of the ball. I mean just watch this montage I made of bad Bulls entry passes from the first three games:

Chicago is clearly making getting the ball into the paint a point of emphasis and trying to get it in to Carlos Boozer for paint catches. The problem has been that they seem to be struggling with the touch on those entry passes, as you can see from all of these needless turnovers. There have been a lot of other turnovers that derive from a lack of focus, like this turnover from Kirk Hinrich as he bounces a lazy pass to Mike Dunleavy Jr., which Carmelo Anthony easily sniffs out and steals:

Or this one against the Knicks, which was a team wide failure, starting with Derrick Rose’s not initiating the offense until 14 seconds remained on the shot clock, and then, the rest of the team seeming quite confused about what they were each supposed to do, resulting in a Jimmy Butler long 2 point jumper which was blocked by Tyson Chandler, forcing Jimmy to scramble to get the ball and then chuck up an air ball at the buzzer.

These kinds of mental errors and miscommunications are somewhat surprising from a Tom Thibodeau coached team, but when you consider: (1) they’ve installed a new offensive system, (2) their core guys all missed time during the preseason to deal with injuries, and (3) their starting unit had never played a minute together as a whole prior to opening night against the Heat, the miscues become much more understandable. I’d expect Tom Thibodeau will hammer out the kinks in short order, especially given that he’s had a lot of time between the Sixer game and tonight’s tilt with the Pacers to get in practice time.

Despite all the bad passes and dumb turnovers, though, the Bulls have still been getting the ball inside well and converting well on the shots they have gotten inside. So what else, besides the turnovers and resulting empty possessions, is causing the Bulls to be so bad on offense? Well, there’s this:

Jumpshots

The Bulls are shooting an absolutely abysmal 24.8% on all jumpshot attempts and an even worse 23.2% as a team from behind the three point arc. As a result of this terrible shooting from anywhere outside the immediate basket area (5 feet and in), the Bulls are 25th in the league in effective field goal percentage, which is just astonishing given how high a percentage of their overall shot attempts have been near the basket and the fact that they are converting those high percentage looks at a top 10 rate. This kind of jump shooting futility is certainly very unlikely to sustain. The Bulls might not have a lot of great shooters, but they do have guys who are better shooters than this awfulness. For reference, the Bulls, as a team, shot 31.5% on all jumpshots last year and 34.3% on three point shots, and all of that was without Derrick Rose creating open shots by drawing the defense’s attention. Going forward, we should expect the Bulls to shoot better on jump shots than their current terrible mark, which, if they continue their effectiveness at getting paint shots and converting them at a high level, should buoy their effective field goal percentage and their overall offensive efficiency to much more respectable levels. The turnovers and bad shooting still don’t tell the whole picture though. There’s one more piece of the puzzle that has held the Bulls back.

No Whistles

As I alluded to above, there is no more efficient way to score in the NBA than to get to the foul line. For a team that’s been getting a lot of shots in the paint, the Bulls have an absurdly low free throw attempt rate (free throws attempted per shot attempt), clocking in at 26th in the league. Derrick Rose, in particular, seems to have reverted back to his rookie days of getting loads of contact, but getting no calls. A team getting the ball inside at such a prolific rate and still getting so few FTAs per shot attempt seems like a circumstance that is simply very unlikely to continue. The Bulls were also unlucky in that they played their first three games against teams that were all pretty good at avoiding fouls last year. Miami ranked 22nd in fouls called against, New York was 15th, and Philadelphia was 25th. As a group, these three clubs seem to have done a great job at either not fouling or not being called for fouls, depending on your level of cynicism about NBA refereeing. Either way, the larger point is that the Bulls played a tough stretch in terms of getting calls on the offensive end, so like the other numbers, expect this one to improve going forward.

The Bulls have been below average to bad in these key areas of scoring efficiently as a team. They’ve still rebounded the ball well, which helped prevent them from being the worst offense in the league thus far. They’ve gotten good shots, for the most part. Looking at things from a process based perspective, rather than a results based one, there’s much to be excited about. The Bulls will shoot better. As they get more familiar with their new offense and their responsibilities within it, they will almost certainly clean up the unfocussed, lazy passes and miscommunication issues which have caused the turnovers which have been a big part of their early season struggles. Finally, they will probably (hopefully?) start getting more of the benefit of the doubt from the referees, especially if they continue living in the painted area.

Statistical support for this post provided by NBA.com/Stats.

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One More Projection Post: A Different Method

After running the team win projections using Nathan Walker’s projected xRAPM numbers, I decided to try a different method for projecting things. I blended a number of plus-minus based advanced stats: xRAPM, RAPM, ezPM, Estimated Impact, ASPM, and IPV, then I added an aging curve. I also added Evan Zamir’s work on home court advantage with a mean regression factor added in. I then ran the relative net ratings of all the team’s through all of their schedules with their HCAs added in. I also adjusted for the Suns’ trade of Marcin Gortat to the Wizards. The results are as follows:

TeamWinsMiami Heat59Houston Rockets56San Antonio Spurs56L.A. Clippers54Brooklyn Nets53Chicago Bulls53Indiana Pacers53Oklahoma City Thunder53Memphis Grizzlies52Golden State Warriors46Denver Nuggets45New York Knicks45Atlanta Hawks44Dallas Mavs43Toronto Raptors40Cleveland Cavs39Minnesota T-Wolves38Portland Blazers38Detroit Pistons36Milwaukee Bucks35New Orleans Pelicans35Utah Jazz35Washington Wizards35Charlotte Bobcats30Sacramento Kings30Boston Celtics29L.A. Lakers28Orlando Magic25Philadelphia Sixers23Phoenix Suns22
The results aren’t terribly different from what I had previously projected, which should make sense as the scale is roughly the same, and the minutes projections are basically the same, except for adjustments for trades. The Suns dumping of Gortat apparently has them in poll position in the Riggin for Wiggins sweepstakes.

Projecting the NBA using xWARP: Phoenix Suns

The Suns project to be our worst team in the Western Conference and after the trade of Marcin Gortat, possibly the worst team in the entire league. In the bid to capture the top odds for the 2014 draft’s first overall selection, the dumping of Marcin Gortat for Emeka Okafor’s contract and an additional 2014 first round pick represents a bit of a coup for the Suns. They were not going to be good this year, no matter what, but Gortat is an above average NBA center who figured to play a starter’s load of minutes for Phoenix. Instead, the Suns have traded him away for a player unlikely to play at all this year due to a scary neck injury and a possible second lottery pick in the best draft in ages. Great work by Phoenix GM Ryan McDonough. So how bad should the Suns be?

The Suns, with their old roster when I first ran these numbers, looked to be a 29 win club, adjusted for league average to a 26 win team. That projection, though, was with Marcin Gortat, Caron Butler, Kendall Marshall, and Malcolm Lee on the team. All of those players have been sent away with nary an NBA player brought in to replace a one of them. That’s roughly 4 to 4.5 wins lost, by our estimation here. So look for the Suns to hover right around 21–22 wins- unless, of course, they go even more totally all-in on the tank and dump Goran Dragic in a deal for further future assets. Such a trade seems at least a 50/50 proposition and probably more likely than that to occur. McDonough has shown no interest in winning too many games this year and damaging his odds at maximum ping-pong balls in May’s draft lottery. It’s a strategy that seems fairly sound given the talent that is available in the top 5 picks of this year’s draft. Of course, there’s no way of knowing whether it will work out, but the logic is sound and the plan has been well executed and that’s really all you can ask for from your team’s executives.

Projecting the NBA using xWARP: Orlando Magic

The Orlando Magic this year have got promise and one of my favorite young players to enter the league in a while in Victor Oladipo. They also have a long way to go to be any sort of winning basketball club. Young players and thus young teams tend to struggle on the defensive end, and teams without an established star player to act as the center of the team’s solar system, allowing the lesser lights to settle into planetary rotation, tend to fall into offensive blackholes. The Magic tick both those boxes, and as a result, they probably won’t win very many games this year.

Relative to their likely low winning percentage, they should still be a fun watch, as Oladipo is the rare perimeter rookie who has the tools, determination, and awareness to make a positive impact on that end, and he has some playmaking ability on the other end. In addition, the continued development of Tobias Harris and Nikola Vucevic piling up double doubles is enough to make things interesting. So what do the numbers from Nathan Walker and my guesses on minutes suggest is a likely win total for this team?

After adjusting the projection for wider league context, the Magic look like a 25 win club. Not great, Bob! But this isn’t a team that’s interested in winning this year. Orlando is, as literally everyone you will read about this team will no doubt inform you, playing the long game. They’re adopting the rebuilding model of the former Sonics, now Thunder, along with fellow expected cellar-dweller, Philadelphia. No shame in that, really. They don’t have the means to go out and get much in the way of established veteran talent and the aforementioned trio of Oladipo, Harris, and Vucevic need developmental minutes. If Oladipo is as good as I think he will be and if the Magic are able to hit on their expected high draft pick in next year’s loaded draft, the future looks much brighter for Orlando than their record this year might otherwise indicate. This is a team that could be a sneaky fun League Pass team, if you’re into watching young players develop and get better, and just want to see Nik Vucevic grab ALL OF THE REBOUNDS.

NBA Game Tracking Project: Volunteers Needed

I need some help. I have a really cool, interesting idea I’d like to make happen. The project is essentially this: I want to track the things the box-score doesn’t and the stuff that Synergy Sports- which I love- doesn’t cover or doesn’t cover exactly the way I’d prefer to see it done. I want to get some of the stuff the NBA teams are undoubtedly tracking out there for everyone to be able to read. In order to do track these things I need eyeballs. Maybe your eyeballs, if you’re interested. Oh and your brain, I’ll need that too. Well, you know what I’ll need your hands, too (for the data entry). If I can get enough volunteers, it should only require about 5 hours or so a week of your time. If you’re an NBA obsessive and want to learn more about your favorite game, tracking these things will be a lot of fun. Please contact me at nbacouchside@gmail.com or @nbacouchside on Twitter if you want in- time is sort of short before the season starts, so please get back to me as soon as possible if you’re interested. Thanks!

Projecting the NBA using xWARP: Los Angeles Lakers

I’m not going to tip-toe around this: the Lakers are going to be awful this season. Kobe will not be ready to start the season and may not be the same great player he has been. Even if he is, the rest of the roster the Lakers have assembled following the departure of Dwight Howard is so, so poor. Steve Nash is a husk of the player he was when he won the MVP trophy twice. Pau Gasol is still pretty great, but when you’ve got such luminaries as Wes Johnson, Nick Young, and Chris Kaman expected to play a major part in your team’s hoped for success, well you just shouldn’t expect very much success, even with a fully healthy Kobe Bryant- which the Lakers just are not even likely to have, at least not until at least sometime in December.

The Lakers struggled badly to eke into the playoffs last year with one of the two best centers in the league on their roster. Yes, Dwight Howard was still that impactful, even with the injuries and the frustration and the disjointedness he seemed to suffer from in his lone year in Forum Blue and Gold. The Lakers replaced him with Chris Kaman, who is just not very good. He’s a below average player replacing one of the very best at his position. That’s, obviously, a huge deal. Wesley Johnson and Nick Young are also just not good at NBA level basketball. They have talent, to be sure. Young, in particular, has no problem creating shots for himself, especially off the dribble, which is a useful skill, but he has no interest in playing anything that might vaguely resemble defense and his propensity for difficult, off-the-dribble, contested jump shots- while entertaining- is just not winning basketball. Just how bad can we expect, by the numbers, for the Lakers to be?

After adjusting for the wider league context, the Lakers Net Rating is -5.6, which translates to a roughly 26 win team. That’s pretty awful, but it’s about right for what Lakers fans should expect from this season. If Kobe is able to return early and play more than 2200 minutes this year, they might scrape up to 30–32 wins, but honestly, what would be the point?

The incoming draft class of 2014 is being hailed as the best since the LeBron-lead class of 2003 and if the Lakers aren’t going to make the playoffs- and they aren’t, Laker fans- why should Kobe rush back early or play extended minutes when he does return? Of course, this is Kobe Bean Bryant we’re talking about, so I would not be at all shocked to see him return to the floor and push himself to play 36–38 minutes a night as he tries, in vain, to drag this awful roster in the playoffs. The guy lives for a challenge and will absolutely want to try to prove all the naysayers like yours truly wrong.

It’ll be fascinating and cringe-inducing to watch him try, but I hardly think I’ll be able to look away- and it’s not like I’ll have much choice, as the Lakers are still going to be playing a staggering twenty-nine nationally televised games, despite their frankly pretty awful roster and irrelevance to the NBA’s big picture this season.

Projecting the NBA using xWARP: Boston Celtics

This offseason, the Boston Celtics blew it all up. As a result of that blow up, and to a lesser extent, Rajon Rondo’s absence to start the season due to the ACL tear he suffered last year, the Celtics will probably be absolutely dreadful next season. They lost two aging future Hall of Famers essentially for nothing of consequence on the court this year from a squad that won just 41 games last year, plus they’ll be without their best player to start the season. It all points to a pretty rough season in Beantown. Just how rough should C’s fans expect it to be, though? What do the numbers have to say?

After adjusting things to the projected league-wide context, the Celtics projected Net Rating is a bleak -5.24, which translates to about 27 wins. To make matters worse, I projected Rajon Rondo to play over 2000 minutes next season, which could prove wildly optimistic. If Rondo is out for more than the first month or so of the season, the Celtics projection gets much worse in a hurry. For an idea as to why, take a look at Rondo’s projected xRAPM relative to the other guards who are likely to fill in at point guard on the Celtics roster. He’s head and shoulders above all of them. Avery Bradley is Rondo’s replacement in the starting lineup and Rondo outpaces him by 4.4 points per combined 200 offensive and defensive possessions.For a frame of reference, that’s basically the same difference between Stephen Curry and Kirk Hinrich this past season. It’s just an enormous gap and the longer Rondo is out, the bleaker things will get for the Celtics.

That bleak outlook may be- and frankly probably is- precisely the point. The Celtics need more than Rondo to win anything of any import, and Danny Ainge knows that as well as anyone. He acquired 3 unprotected first round picks from Brooklyn in order to increase his odds of building a team from the ashes of the Celtics’ former juggernaut, and he’s almost certainly content to let this year’s iteration of the Celtics lose as much as possible to increase the odds of getting a top 5 pick in the 2014 draft, which should allow him to draft the franchise’s next All Star or flip the pick for an established star in a manner similar to the one in which he acquired Ray Allen in 2007. He could then attempt to parlay all of those Nets’ picks into a third star to pair with Rondo and mystery star #2. It’s a plan he’s executed before, and I wouldn’t be at all shocked to see him try it again.

In terms of potential bright spots for this year’s Celtics, Jeff Green, as ever, will tantalize with his highlight plays, but it’s also likely that he will continue to madden with his inconsistency and overall mediocrity, despite his natural gifts. Jared Sullinger, should he be able to get his back issues settled, projects to be a solid, average level NBA contributor. Gerald Wallace will likely win Boston fans over with his proclivity for hustle plays, while also driving the home crowd batty with the spacing problems his presence on the floor with either Bradley or Rondo will compound. Finally, despite a relatively average statistical projection for a rookie, Kelly Olynyk should be an interesting watch, especially if he’s able to continue to find ways to score over and around length, like he did in his head-turning Summer League performance, in the games that count. He’ll probably be a defensive sieve, judging from his college play, but then, most rookies are bad on that end. Celtics Nation should try not to worry too much about this season and should instead feel secure in the knowledge that the man at the helm (Ainge) has built a winner before, knows what he’s doing, and has a clear vision for the future.