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Archive for the 'Rants & Ramblings' Category

Layups: A chance to educate

21st July 2011

Here's a great post at TrueHoop by Zach Harper, about NBATV's lockout programming schedule.

Oddly enough, one of the few silver linings of the labor dispute has been the fact that NBATV can't show any current players. Why? Because in the scramble to fill airtime, we've been treated to a number of classic games with great historical players.

A few weeks ago, it was Michael Jordan & Karl Malone. Last week, Bill Walton and Charles Barkley. And just last night, we got to watch Larry Bird's 50 greatest moments, a Celtics-Bulls game from 1981 (Artis Gilmore!), and Game 4 of the 1984 Finals. It was because of the lockout... and it was great. Since I don't have ESPN Classic, I've probably watched more old NBA games in the past 3 weeks than I had in the previous 3 years.

I'm sure that if NBATV had its choice, it would show nothing but the usual offseason talking-head commentary about free agency and the like, but for now I'm actually enjoying the absence of that. Who needs Dirk & LeBron when you have Magic & Larry?

Posted in Rants & Ramblings | 9 Comments »

The Moral of the Story: Humans and Computers Both Suck at Predicting

30th June 2011

One of my favorite quotes from Jonah Lehrer's oft-ripped Grantland piece was this:

"By nearly every statistical measure, the Mavs were outmanned by most of their playoff opponents. (According to one statistical analysis, the Los Angeles Lakers had four of the top five players in the series. The Miami Heat had three of the top four.) And yet, the Mavs managed to do what the best teams always do: They became more than the sum of their parts. They beat the talent."

Yep, because the stats guys were the only ones who didn't predict the playoffs with perfect accuracy:

ESPN National Expert Picks vs. Simple Rating System (no HCA), 2011 Playoffs:

Round Team A Team B Winner Adande Broussard Ford Legler Sheridan Stein Wilbon SRS
1 IND CHI CHI 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1
1 PHI MIA MIA 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1
1 NYK BOS BOS 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1
1 ATL ORL ATL 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0
1 MEM SAS MEM 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0
1 NOR LAL LAL 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1
1 POR DAL DAL 1 1 0 0 0 1 0 1
1 DEN OKC OKC 1 1 1 1 1 0 1 0
2 BOS MIA MIA 1 1 1 0 0 0 1
2 ATL CHI CHI 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1
2 DAL LAL DAL 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0
2 MEM OKC OKC 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1
3 MIA CHI MIA 1 1 0 1 1 1 0 1
3 OKC DAL DAL 1 1 0 0 0 1 1 1
4 DAL MIA DAL 1 0 0 0 1 1 0 0

ESPN Experts: 63.5%
SRS: 66.7%

I'm not doing this to pick on ESPN's national NBA experts, by the way. It's just my way of showing that nobody predicted the playoffs very well, and nobody saw Dallas going as far as they did. Nobody. For Jonah Lehrer to act as though statheads were the only ones who failed to see the potential for Dallas to upset L.A. and then win 4 games in a 6-game sample against the Heat is beyond absurd. (But you probably already knew that, because you've read the 600 other takedowns of Lehrer's article.)

The point: when it comes to the unpredictability of sports making them look silly, computers hardly have the market cornered.

Posted in Playoffs, Rants & Ramblings | 38 Comments »

Layups: How LeBron James Broke the Golden Rule of Sports

14th June 2011

Posted in Playoffs, Rants & Ramblings, YouTube Finds | 37 Comments »

For James, East Final Is an Ex-MVP’s Shot At Redemption

15th May 2011

For the first time in three years, LeBron James did not give an acceptance speech at the Most Valuable Player's press conference. Now, as he faces his successor at the podium, Derrick Rose, in the Eastern Conference Finals, James is hoping his Heat can do exactly what the Magic and Celtics did to him -- prevent the reigning MVP from advancing to the NBA Finals.

In the NBA, the Most Valuable Player carrying his team to the brink of a title is the rule, not the exception. Since the league began handing out the hardware in 1956, the MVP's team has appeared in the championship round 28 times, good for a 51 percent rate. And during the NBA's halcyon era of Magic, Larry, and Michael, the clip was even higher: from 1983-2003, the MVP made a Finals appearance in 16 of 21 seasons, more than 75% of the time. In a world where current players are largely measured against those three names alone, it makes headlines when a reigning MVP fails to reach the league's grandest stage.

Perhaps this is why the drought of recent winners has been met with so much scorn. Since 2004, only one MVP (Kobe Bryant in 2008) has led his club to the Finals. The others -- Kevin Garnett, Steve Nash, Dirk Nowitzki, and James -- flamed out in the Conference Finals (or in the cases of the latter two, earlier), provoking backlash from the Skip Bayless set and anyone else preoccupied with legacies or comparisons to long-retired legends. That it has been viewed as a blemish on James' otherwise staggering resume is undeniable.

Yet now he has a chance to inflict the same criticism on Rose, the youngest MVP in league history. It's strangely fitting, because their paths have run parallel ever since the Rose-for-MVP talk rose from a whisper at the lunatic fringe of Bulls fandom to a din heard across the entire country. In the wake of 'The Decision', the media tried to talk itself into casting Kevin Durant as James' foil, but Rose out-Duranted everyone, ranging from his own sharp improvement to the Bulls' unexpected #1 seed and the endearingly humble manner in which he carried himself (culminating in a truly beautiful moment at his MVP presser). In the minds of many, he embodied the yin to James' preening yang.

For these reasons, the media will doubtless go easier on Rose than they did James, should the Bulls' season end early. And by the same token, the fact that James felt he needed two other big names, one of whom is nearly his equal in the universe of NBA megastars, to reach the Finals again will continue to dog him if the Heat prevail. But even if his legacy cannot be fully repaired through victory, it's clear that in a twist of fate, the only way James can gain some measure of redemption for his "incomplete" MVPs of 2009 and 2010 is to stamp Rose's 2011 award with the same stigma.

Posted in Analysis, Awards, History, No Math Required, Playoffs, Rants & Ramblings | 123 Comments »

Danny Crawford and the Mavs

19th April 2011

ESPN had an interesting news story today about Danny Crawford's history with the Dallas Mavericks in the playoffs:

NBA playoffs 2011: Referee Danny Crawford assigned to Game 2 of Dallas Mavericks-Portland Trail Blazers series - ESPN Dallas

The gist is this:

"The Mavs have a 2-16 record in playoff games officiated by Crawford, including 16 losses in the last 17 games. Dallas is 48-41 in the rest of their playoff games during the ownership tenure of Mark Cuban, who has been fined millions of dollars in the last 11 years for publicly complaining about officiating."

At the risk of running afoul of the Wyatt Earp Effect again, what is the probability that this has happened due to chance alone?

In his book Mathletics, Wayne Winston finds that the final margin of victory  in an NBA game can be approximated by a normal random variable with a mean of the point spread and a standard deviation of 12. Using that knowledge and the handy chart ESPN provided at the bottom of their story on Crawford, we can calculate the probability of Dallas winning each of their Crawford-officiated games since 2001:

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Posted in Analysis, Insane ideas, Just For Fun, Playoffs, Rants & Ramblings, Statgeekery | 36 Comments »

Layups: Jalen Rose vs. Grant Hill

17th March 2011

Surely you've seen this already, but if not, a brief recap:

My take on this:

Hill was understandably upset and hurt by the statements Rose & his teammates made -- it's never easy to hear that people harbored negative feelings toward you because of factors that were beyond your control. But I think Hill missed Rose's point. In essence, Rose was giving voice to his mindset as a 19-year-old and how it motivated his play back then. And the level of honesty & self-examination with which Rose looked at those emotions was a meditation on Rose's own life more than a knock on Grant Hill. Though he doesn't come out and say it, it seems somewhat obvious that Rose no longer holds the same feelings, if not just from the fact that he now recognizes the true source of his resentment (Rose admits it came from a place of jealousy, not a hatred of Hill himself). That Hill seems unwilling or unable to make a distinction between feelings at 19 and feelings at 38 makes me wonder whether he or Rose has grown more as a person in the last 20 years.

Of course, that's just my opinion -- what's yours on this Jalen Rose-Grant Hill spat?

Posted in Layups, No Math Required, Rants & Ramblings | 106 Comments »

Time to Face Facts — Miami is Unlikely to Be a True .500 Team in Close Games

8th March 2011

The close-game struggles of this year's Miami Heat are nothing if not well-documented. A 5-13 record in games decided by 5 or fewer points has become the team's defining stat, far surpassing LeBron James' gaudy all-around numbers or the scoring brilliance of Dwyane Wade. As far as the mainstream media is concerned, it is now assumed this team will choke until they prove otherwise.

As statheads, we typically detest this sort of cliched, pseudo-psychological nonsense. Part of the sabermetric orthodoxy is to deny the existence of "clutch skills", or at least to minimize them relative to overall factors that impact every minute of the game. But with the Heat so dominant in blowouts and so vulnerable in close games, perhaps there is something to the old sportswriter aphorisms about certain teams being unable to close the deal when the margin gets tight.

As mentioned earlier, Miami is 5-13 (.278) in games decided by 5 points or fewer, while they sport a sterling 38-7 (.844) mark in games decided by 6 or more points. The Heat now have the biggest differential in NBA history between wpct in games decided by 6+ pts and games decided by 5 or fewer:

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Posted in Analysis, Rants & Ramblings, Statgeekery | 106 Comments »

The Don Nelson All-Star Team

5th March 2011

Hanging out with Hoopism's Bailey brothers (Jason & Matt) and Harold Shanafield of Haystack Scouting on Friday night, we had a great conversation about the "ultimate teams" of a given coach. The idea is this: if you had a certain coach, and you had to play a pickup game in his signature style with players from NBA history, who do you pick to play?

Specifically, we were joking around and picking Don Nelson all-stars, thinking of freakish lineups with a SF at the 1, a PG at the 2, a SG at the 3, a SF at the 4, and a PF at the 5. Jason had a few too many beers and picked Travis Outlaw as his PG, I called on Antoine Walker's services at point forward, Matt built a team around Anthony Mason, and I also think Wang Zhizhi was somehow involved. This was all for fun, but what if we actually picked the players who put up the most Win Shares while playing for Nelson?

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Posted in Insane ideas, Just For Fun, Rants & Ramblings, Totally Useless, Win Shares | 26 Comments »

Searching For the NBA’s Version of the Charlie Sheen Fiasco

2nd March 2011

In the wake of the ongoing Charlie Sheen chaos, I was (of course) racking my brain to find a comparable NBA analogy. Ideally you'd want to find a situation with the following parallels:

  • It involves a winning team. Although I have personally never seen an episode, Sheen's show Two and a Half Men is apparently wildly successful, as Sheen is quick to point out to anyone who will listen. So any NBA equivalent would have to involve a good team, probably one that had been a contender for multiple years.
  • It involves that team's best player. Monetarily speaking, Sheen is the #1 scorer on Two and a Half Men, and in fact the league's top player -- he made $1.8 million/episode in 2010, making him the highest-paid actor on television. The basketball equivalent would have to deal with a similar star in his prime.
  • The team releases that player mid-season. Production on Two and a Half Men's 8th season was halted midway due to Sheen's behavioral problems, so an NBA version would have to involve a team waiving their best player in the middle of the season.

Unfortunately, there isn't a single situation in NBA history that meets all of those requirements. In fact, as far as I can tell, there are only a few remotely comparable situations:

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Posted in Analysis, History, Insane ideas, Just For Fun, No Math Required, Rants & Ramblings | 21 Comments »

Where Would They Be Without Him?

28th February 2011

Tom Haberstroh had a great piece at ESPN last week in which he broke down the ongoing Derrick Rose-vs-LeBron James MVP debate. To me, the key passage was this:

"Oddly enough, what's not helping Rose's MVP case is his plus-minus numbers. And implicitly, this is where most Rose supporters state their case. When his advocates ask, 'Where would the Bulls be without Rose?' the question is meant to be a rhetorical one. The obvious implication is that a Rose-less Bulls squad would instantly become a basement dweller. But rather than blindly accept it, we can actually see how the Bulls have managed without him on the court. And how have they fared with Rose benched? By beating opponents by 51 points on the season, or an average of 4.9 points every 100 possessions. Why? Whether Rose is in the game or not, [Tom] Thibodeau’s game-changing defense remains."

I don't want to get into Rose-vs-James specifically here, but I do think what Tom wrote is a very important concept to apply to all NBA MVP debates in this modern age of plus/minus.

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Posted in Analysis, Awards, Rants & Ramblings, Statgeekery | 90 Comments »