Where in the World Is Leon Powe?

When Levitt and I were up in Boston a couple months ago to write about the Celtics’ reliance on statistical analysis to make strategic and personnel decisions, one goal was to figure out strengths and weaknesses the Celtics knew about their own players and other teams’ players that weren’t obvious. Danny Ainge and Mike Zarren were understandably not very forthcoming — trade secrets and all that — but Zarren was willing to admit that:

Ray Allen‘s worth goes far beyond his perimeter shooting, that Rajon Rondo‘s rebounding was an undervalued asset, that Leon Powe‘s surprisingly strong play was not so surprising to the Celtics …

It’s true that Allen found ways to score in the last few weeks even when his jumper was stone cold. It’s also true that the diminutive Rondo loves to get inside and grab rebounds. But watching the Celtics beat the Pistons last night, I found myself thinking: Where in the world is Leon Powe?

By the end of the season, he was getting a lot of minutes, and that continued through the first two rounds of the playoffs. But he hasn’t set foot on the floor in the past few games; it’s as if he’s been disappeared.

Why? I haven’t heard the broadcasters on the Celtics-Pistons series (Mike Breen, Jeff Van Gundy, and Mark Jackson) mention Powe; quite possibly they have and I missed it. I like Van Gundy and Jackson a lot, in part because they aren’t shy about offering real critiques of players and coaches: that’s refreshing.

But even if Powe isn’t a topic of conversation on the game broadcast, I am hardly the only person to wonder where he’s gone. The blogosphere is rich with speculation and innuendo.

One blogger asked “Is Leon Powe Dead?” Another wondered whether Powe might be injured, or if he’d simply gotten in coach Doc Rivers‘s doghouse for some blown defensive assignments. (It has been interesting to watch how Rivers really goes with the “hot hand,” be it on offense or defense, and similarly keeps a cold guy on the bench for days at a time.) The Leon Powe Fan Site puts it bluntly: “Doc Rivers Doesn’t Like Leon,” and explains why.

I know far, far less about basketball than anyone mentioned in the paragraphs above. Still, it is strange to see an asset as valuable as Powe be taken out of commission. (His personal background is also fascinating, and heartbreaking, but that is another story.)

For the record, when I was on The Takeaway on May 14, I was asked to predict the outcome of the N.B.A. championship. I said it’d be the Celtics against the Lakers in the finals, with the Lakers winning. (Sorry, Mike and Danny.) I’m still feeling good about that prediction — although maybe, if the Celtics would un-bury Leon Powe from the bench, I might get proven wrong.


MM

My guess is that the Celtics are afraid to give a the young guy minutes. Although it must be more than that since Rondo is getting his (well deserved) minutes.

After playing fantasy basketball for so many years it really isn't that surprising to see a young guy, who has shown he can play well, not get very many minutes.

Dane

I would be interested to see what Ray Allen's worth is beyond his jump shot.

Defense? NO
Getting to the basket? NO (especially when not shooting well)
Clutch? Last night was the first glimpse but mostly NO
Intangibles? NO

frankenduf

this one's easy- as you get deeper in the playoffs, you maximize your more experienced players more- plus, the celtics have a bevy of talent at Powe's position- he's gotta wait on a seasonal line before he gets significant playoff minutes

doug

Powe was hurt in practice and deactivated for last nights game.

the Gooch

The Celtics front office may be smart enough to use statistical analysis, but that doesn't mitigate the fact that Doc Rivers is an atrocious game-day coach.

Jim

In response to Chris #19, Powe played 8 minutes in game one against the Pistons, scored 4 pts and grabbed 2 rebounds while the Pistons scored 79 points. In the next 4 games, Powe virtually did not see the floor, playing just 4 minutes total, and the Pistons scored 103, 80, 94 and 102 respectively. The Celtics defense is really no better, at least from a statistical standpoint, when Powe is not playing i.e. the one game Powe received substantial minutes is the lowest scoring game by the Pistons during the series. And there is no basis for your claim that Powe cannot be effective offensively against the Pistons due to their length because Powe has only played 2 minutes against the Pistons during the 3 regular season games and 12 minutes during the playoffs. Powe hasn't even gotten the chance to show whether he can get his shot off against the Pistons, unlike Davis, who seems to get every other shot rejected.

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mike

Along with other reasons already given above, Brown largely has replaced Powe after Brown's 10-point, 4-for-4-from-the-field performance in Game 7 against Cleveland, which included some key rebounds and baskets down the stretch.

Re' elavator shoes

Dear Kangs;

I guess that's progress of a sort. Men should try watching ballet.

Kangs

Mike #15 is right, most people who love stats don't understand that in basketball for an offense to be productive proper spacing is needed. Ray Allen spreads the floor and usually attracts a double team on the perimeter. Think about that for a minute not close to the basket but away from it, with proper ball reversal a mis match is almost always created. But hey thats just my two cents.

No joke

Are we comparing all boys- research shows boys do better when they play together- girls are better off on their own- Old stats on college sports taught me that- so guys- this would suggest that if you are married, are a member of a church, fraternity ..... you'll be a better sportsman- i.e., your team is more likely to win because of your contribution to it. And then if you are living alone, a ladies man (no real ties)- I wouldn't bet on ya be'en a team player.

Mike Roddy

Coaches choke in playoff games just as their players do. The classic examples from football are Chuck Knox and Marty Schottenheimer: When with the Rams, Knox once went for a field goal on fourth and and goal from the one on the opening drive. The other team blocked it and returned it for a touchdown, which was a just outcome. Marty got better toward the end of his career, at least.

In poker, it's called playing too tight when you move up to a bigger game.

Rivers is probably guilty of this. Going with the more experienced players based on defensive rotations is not a good argument: team defense is only one element of basketball. The best players should play, period, and Power earned his minutes all season.

BT had it right: the bench, as with the Lakers, should learn to expect the consistent faith of their coach. It helps their confidence, and puts less pressure on them and the starters who are resting. The starters know they won't be yanked back in when the bench players miss a few shots.

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Scott Condren

Kangs #23- I think a lot of stat heads understand the value of spacing. True, its not captured in stat's like Hollinger's PER or Berri's Win Score (or whatever its called. However, in things like +/-, that value should come through.

Diego Baldusco

I think Doc is giving Powe a rest to have at least one important player in perfect conditions. Maybe he thought Powe is replaceable and the others are not.

steve w

Re # 11. There isn't a definitive paper out (yet), but True Hoop on ESPN did post a quick hit on +/- ratings for the 4th quarter for a couple of teams some months back. The result was that younger players scored much, much higher (at least on Detroit or Philly). Powe on the other hand scored much much lower (-18.9 in crunch time minutes). While this could still be skewed from garbage minutes, the relative depth of the teams involved, etc, I'd suspect that younger players are better than believed in playoff atmospheres. Rondo-Cassell has been a good anecdote in all this (Cassell absolutely kills the C's when he plays, for all the "experience" he has). Powe has by most metrics been ineffective thus far in the playoffs when he has played, but he can't do much worse than Davis.

Since Allen's +/- came up, Boston was a much better offensive team with him playing (+8) all season. He just wasn't hitting his shots.

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@JdotD

Reading this three years on is somewhat funny! Less than a month later and Powe has a game of his career!