"Now, it's time for the happy recap." - Bob Murphy
December 18, 2004
BASKETBALL: Bad Juxtaposition of the Day
NY Daily News website's top 2 headlines, at last check:
Nets get Vince Carter in 4-player deal
In these NBA times, I had to do a double-take to remind myself these were not related items.
December 08, 2004
BASKETBALL: Athletes Out of Action
Slate has an interesting tribute to Athletes in Action, the traveling Christian basketball team that's being pushed to the brink of extinction by the NCAA.
November 24, 2004
BASKETBALL: Simmons on Artest & Co.
Bill Simmons, unsurprisingly, has one of the most insightful columns on the whole Pistons-Pacers brawl. Lots of good stuff there - read the whole thing. I liked his suggestion that David Stern should punish Pistons fans by suspending beer sales at The Palace for 60 days, as well as his defense of Jermaine O'Neal and his suggestion that Artest would probably end up on the Knicks, stepping into the shoes vacated by the departure of Latrell Sprewell. This amused me:
But Bill fails to answer the deep philosophical question: how did this entire thing manage to come off without Rasheed Wallace doing something crazy?
UPDATE: Of course, we Knick fans feel that Artest returning to NY would actually be poetic justice, recalling that he was the man the Knicks passed up to draft . . . Frederic "French Toast" Weis.
November 21, 2004
BASKETBALL: Out of Control Weekend
Daniel Drezner puts the Pistons-Pacers brawl in perspective, noting that it pales in comparison to European soccer hooliganism. Which is fine, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t inexcusable, as was the ugly South Carolina brawl yesterday in Lou Holtz’s final game.
I’m not sure if I agree with Mannix (Chris, that is) that Ron Artest should be kicked out of the NBA for good, but a suspension for the rest of the season may be in order, in light of his repeated involvement in this kind of thing. And I do think the NBA has a major league-wide cultural problem, the roots of which I would blame on its addiction to ever younger, unschooled players. Back when most NBA players had three or four years of college and relative maturity behind them, things like this seemed a lot less common.
Of course, sports-related riots aren’t anything new. Remember the “Nickel Beer Night” fiasco?
Anyway, it was an ugly fighting weekend, with even President Bush and the Secret Service involved in a scrum down in Chile.
UPDATE: I stand corrected. Though I’ve always liked the sound of “Nickel Beer Night”, it appears that the ill-fated promotion of June 4, 1974 was actually “10-Cent Beer Night.” I guess I failed to account for inflation.
October 10, 2004
BASKETBALL: Let Me Tell You Why
Mark Cuban - taking a break from stumping for "The Benefactor" - does something that's rare in today's sports world and offers a lengthy explanation to the fans of his decision to let Steve Nash walk.
August 26, 2004
BASKETBALL: Shooting By The Numbers
The miserable showing by the US Olympic basketball team has people talking about the decline of shooting in the NBA. It's certainly true that this team can't shoot. But is offensive efficiency and skill really in decline around the league? It's an appropriate time to unveil another of my long-standing research projects: a statistical history of offensive efficiency and tempo in the NBA. My apologies if someone else has done this stuff before, but I got tired of trying to find it somewhere; tip of the hat to Basketball-Reference.com for the numbers.
I'll run these in table form, decade by decade. The first four columns of the chart should be familiar enough: the leaguewide averages for team points per game (P/G), shooting percentage on two-point shots (2%), on three-point shots (3%), and on free throws (FT%). A key stat I use here is Points Per Field Goal Attempt (PPFGA), developed by John Hollinger of the Basketball Prospectus; the formula is (P/(FGA+.44(FTA))). Basically, Holinger started by assuming that a free throw is worth 1/2 of a field goal attempt (e.g., you get two shots for two points instead of a single field goal attempt), then cut the ratio from .5 to .44 based on an analysis of how often guys shoot an extra free throw after hitting a bucket, for a technical foul, etc. I use the denominator of this formula to estimate the number of team shot attempts per game (FGA/G). The last three columns seek to break down the components that go into offensive efficiency above and beyond the shooting percentages: the percentage of the league's points that were scored at the line (FT/P), the frequency of free throw attempts per field goal attempt (FGA/FTA; a higher number means less free throws), and (since 1979-80) the percentage of shots that were three-point attempts (%3).
I've listed league expansion and contraction under "Major Rules Changes," but I'm sure I've missed some actual changes in the rules that had some significant effects. Also, I haven't set out the blow-by-blow extension of the schedule; the NBA schedule rose gradually to 72 games in 1953-54, then went up to 75 in 1959-60, 79 the following year and wound up at its present 82 in 1967-68. I also haven't done a similar table for the ABA, for a variety of reasons; maybe another day. Let's begin:
Major Rules Changes: 1947-48, league contracts from 11 teams to 8; zone defenses outlawed
The NBA traces its official records back to 1946-47, although the league was known as the BAA (Basketball Association of America) for the first three years prior to a merger with another professional league. To the modern eye, a league-wide field goal percentage around .280 is almost inconceivable, although to the novice basketball fan at the time it may have seemed to make it easier to grasp basketball statistics (see! they're just like batting averages!). As you can see from the above and the seasons of the early 1950s, however, the offensive skill level of the league was improving rapidly as the league gathered the nation's best basketball players; look at the 60-point increase in the league's free throw percentage in a two-year span. Free throw percentage is a good barometer of basic shooting skill, since free throw shooting is basically just man vs. basket, with no adjustment for the level of competition. The pace of play reached a pre-shot-clock high of 107.9 shot attempts per game in the league's second season, when teams played just a 48-game schedule.
Major Rules Changes: 1951-52, size of foul lane doubled from 6 to 12 feet; 1954-55, shot clock introduced; 1957-58, ban on offensive goaltending
Basketball in the Fifties, especially early in the decade, was a bruising business, as earthbound forwards and centers dominated the game. The level of violence in the game reached a pinnacle in the 1952-53 season, with one foul shot for every 2.15 field goal attempts and a record 31.2% of all points being scored at the line. Perhaps the archetypical player was Dolph Schayes, who shot 40% in a season just once (.401 in 1959-60), but averaged nearly 8 free throw attempts per game for his career while shooting .849 from the line, and averaged 12 or more rebounds a game 11 years in a row. Bob Cousy debuted in 1950-51, and revolutionized the game by being the first true point guard, but took some time to foster imitators; Bill Russell arrived in 1956-57, although black players would not become a common fixture for several more seasons. You can see the immediate and dramatic impact on tempo of the shot clock, as well as the fact that it was introduced to arrest a decline in the pace of the game.
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Major Rules Changes: 1961-62, league expands from 8 teams to 9; 1964-65, foul lane widened again from 12 to 16 feet; 1966-67, league expands from 9 teams to 10; 1967-68, league expands from 10 teams to 12; ABA begins operation; 1968-69, league expands from 12 teams to 14
1959-60, Wilt Chamberlain's rookie year, saw the league shoot above 40% for the first time and never look back; Wilt would be the first significant NBA player to shoot 50% the following year. The 1960s were the golden age of up-tempo basketball, which combined with stars who played more than 40 minutes a night is what gave us all those eye-popping individual stats - in 1961-62 alone, you had Wilt scoring 50.4 points and 25.7 rebounds per game, the Lakers with two 30/game scorers (Jerry West and Elgin Baylor), Walt Bellamy scoring 31.6 points and 19 rebounds/game as a rookie, Oscar Robertson averaging a triple double per game while scoring 30.8 points a game, Bob Pettit scoring a career high 31.1 per game while pulling down 18.7 rebounds/game, and Russell (the league MVP) hauling in 23.6 boards a game while scoring a career high 18.9. Those guys were good, but they weren't that good; they just played in a league with exceptionally favorable conditions.
Major Rules Changes: 1970-71, league expands from 14 teams to 17; 1972-73, ABA contracts from 11 teams to 10; 1974-75, league expands from 17 teams to 18; 1975-76, ABA contracts from 10 teams to 9, only 7 of which finish season; 1976-77, ABA folds, league expands from 18 teams to 22
As it had in 1959-60, the league took a great leap forward to usher in the 1970s, as the 1969-70 season saw the league's PPFGA shoot up from 0.981 (just off the prior year's record high) to 1.022, averaging more than a point per shot attempt for the first time. Why the sudden advance? Probably a combination of factors: with rapid expansion and rising player movement (especially if you count the ABA), team defenses were harder to sustain; Bill Russell retired, the Celtic defense collapsed, and the highly efficient scoring machine Kareem Abdul-Jabbar came into the league (compare Kareem's career PPFGA of 1.184 to Russell's 0.942 for an extreme illustration of the changes in the nature of the game and its dominant figures).
1969-70 also saw the league free throw percentage shoot up almost 40 points in one season, and free throw shooting would reach an all-time high of .771 in 1973-74. One factor was the injury and then retirement of Wilt Chamberlain. I'm not kidding; over his 14-year career, with the exception of the 1969-70 season (when he played only 12 games), Wilt missed an average of 440 free throws per year - about half the number of misses by an average team in those years. Particularly when the league was just between 8 and 11 teams, that can have an impact.
In a related development, the number of free throw attempts fell off sharply in the 1972-73 season, as the field goal/free throw attempt ratio shot from an all-time high of just over 3-to-1 to 3.832 to 1 in one year, and would only rarely again dip below 3-to-1.
1979-80, three-point shot introduced; 1980-81, league expands from 22 teams to 23; 1988-89, league expands from 23 teams to 25
The three pointer was the major rules innovation at the start of the 1980s, but coaches and players around the league clearly judged it a failure, as the number of attempts dropped by more than a third after the first season and didn't recover for five years (the player perhaps most responsible for its revival was Larry Bird, whose 3-point attempts picked up again in 1986-87 along with the league). But no matter; offensive efficiency reached historic highs in the 1980s, as field goal percentages soared close to 50% on the two-point shot, while rates of free throw attempts rose in the middle of the decade, the heyday of the sort of scoring-machine small forward that's almost extinct today (think Bernard King, George Gervin, Mark Aguirre, James Worthy, Adrian Dantley, Alex English, etc.). The Showtime Lakers were the leaders in this, of course. While we think of the 1980s as a great time for scoring, however, the slow decline in the pace of the game was continuing apace, as shot attempts dropped below 104/game in 1979-80 for the second time since the first season of the shot clock, and dipped below 102/game six times.
Major Rules Changes: 1989-90, league expands from 25 teams to 27; 1990-91, league awards 3 foul shots rather than 2 if a player is fouled while shooting a 3-pointer; 1994-95, 3-point line moved in from 23'9" to 22 feet; 1995-96, league expands from 27 teams to 29; 1997-98, 3-point line moved back again to 23'9"; 1998-99, lockout/strike shortens season to 50 games
The 1990s opened with another milestone: the first season below 100 shot attempts per team since the introduction of the shot clock. It should not be surprising, perhaps, that the 3-point shot's rise has coincided with the decline in shot attempts as well as - of course - free throw attempts, as the three places a premium on moving the ball around to get the open man. Offensive efficiency shot upward for a few years when they moved in the 3-point line, but collapsed when the league moved it back. The 1998-99 season proved to be a bit of an aberration, however; if you look at the percentages in context, you can recognize across the board that players were moving unusually slowly and shooting unusually poorly, no doubt showing rust from the long lockout.
Major Rules Changes: 2001-02, illegal defense rules eliminated as part of larger overhaul of defense rules
"Average" is the all-time average since the NBA's beginnings, or since 1979-80 for the two three-point-specific categories. When you take the current decade in context, you can see that three-point shooting and free throw shooting - the better measures of marksmanship - are as healthy as they have ever been; scoring is down today partly because of slow tempo, partly because fewer and fewer guys are getting to the line the past five years, and partly because shooting percentages inside the arc have dropped to levels not seen since the late 1970s. That is where the league's scoring issues lie; I'll leave it to someone who understands the game's nuts and bolts better than I do to diagnose more precisely why that is.
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August 22, 2004
BASKETBALL: New Source
I was contacted recently by the proprietors of the new site Basketball-Reference.com . . . a little background: Sean Forman for years has done great work with Baseball-Reference.com, the premier baseball stats page on the web and one I support with several page sponsorships, and after some stumbles introduced Pro-Football-Reference.com. But for some time, a need was unmet in basketball, and a competitor set up (an extremely useful) knockoff site, Basketballreference.com. I had been using the site for many months and permalinked it here, but an affiliate of Forman has finally established the new site. Check it out; it seems to run a little faster and better than the imitation site.
August 05, 2004
BASKETBALL: Wheelin' and Dealin'
If you missed it, just heard on WFAN that the Knicks completed a trade today:
I will not expose the current state of my basketball ignorance by attempting to analyze this, except to note that the facts that (1) the Knicks are getting thinner and thinner in the middle and (2) Crawford's career shooting percentage of .397 does not bode well for a change in offensive philosophy away from "move slowly and miss a lot of shots".
July 06, 2004
BASKETBALL: Learn 'em Young
Harvard Law School visiting researcher Michael McCann has a study showing that high schoolers entering the NBA Draft "average more points, more rebounds, and more assists than the average NBA player." I'm not so sure history is a fair sample - McCann seems to concede that the good record arises from self-selection that is itself the product of the disincentives maintained by the NBA to skipping college - but the study is reported in this article; judge for yourself.
May 22, 2004
BASEBALL/OTHER SPORTS etc.: Great Sports Moments
Michele asks for greatest sports moments. I'll repost my thoughts here. I'll agree with some of the moments cited by her commenters - Jose Canseco getting hit in the head with a ball and turning it into a home run is still the funniest thing that's ever happened. Bill Mazeroski's homer - ten years to the day before I was born - is tough to top for sheer instant drama and finality, especially when you consider the aura of invincability of those Yankees and the back-and-forth nature of that game and that series. And yes, I once had a poster on my wall of the famous Starks dunk over Jordan.
My personal favorite, of course, is still the bottom of the tenth inning of Game Six, 1986 World Series, specifically Bob Stanley's game-tying wild pitch. Close behind are Robin Ventura's "grand slam single" in the rain in 1999 and virtually every minute of the 1991 Super Bowl.
Probably the most electric moment from a sport I don't follow or, ordinarily, even like that much was Sarah Hughes' gold medal winning figure skating performance, because she single-handedly did what I thought couldn't be done in figure skating: overcome the expectations and grab victory through the sheer brilliance of a single performance. In other words, for one night, she actually made figure skating a real sport.
The most memorable ones I've seen in person: (1) Game Six of the Knicks-Heat series in 1997, when half the team (including Patrick) was suspended and the MSG crowd just tried to will the skeleton roster to victory; (2) Brad Clontz' wild pitch in the last scheduled game of the regular season in 1999 to send the Mets to a 1-game playoff with the Reds.
Posted by Baseball Crank at 01:22 AM | Baseball 2004 | Basketball | Football | Other Sports | Comments (1) | TrackBack (0)
May 21, 2004
BASKETBALL/POP CULTURE: Sports Guy & Wiley
Bill Simmons faced off with Ralph Wiley on Monday, talking basketball and other stuff. As Aaron Gleeman noted, Bill "did the unthinkable" and "made Ralph Wiley seem almost likeable." He did the even more unthinkable by playing the first race card in a chat with Wiley - that's like winning the tipoff against Wilt Chamberlain.
NOTE: SOPRANOS DISCUSSION AHEAD
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Bill also didn't use the term, but he invoked the Ewing Theory on Tony Soprano ("I always thought the best thing they could do is kill Tony off"). I have to agree with Bill and nearly everybody else (see here for Lileks savaging the episode) that the extended dream sequence sucked big time - they could have used 30 seconds of it to tell us that Tony knew what Tony B was up to but couldn't face the implications.
That episode also got rough treatment over at Slate, where the online chats between mob experts on the Sopranos have been tremendous. Tony keeps getting savaged for being a wuss by Gerald Shargel, one of John Gotti's lawyers about whom Gotti memorably said (on tape), in the course of complaining about the bills he was paying them, "Gambino crime family? This is the Shargel, Cutler crime family." Classic.
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May 04, 2004
BASKETBALL: Doing It All
Kevin Garnett runs off with the NBA's MVP Award. This should be pretty uncontroversial, even though Garnett doesn't have the ability to dominate a single game or short series the way Tim Duncan does; Duncan missed 13 games this season while Garnett, as usual, was indestructable. Garnett became the first player since Bob McAdoo in 1974-75 to lead the NBA in total points (McGrady had a higher per-game average) and total rebounds. In fact, Garnett led in rebounds by a huge margin, especially on the defensive glass, where he pulled down 894 defensive rebounds to 682 for Ben Wallace; Wallace was the only player in the league within 250 rebounds of Garnett. John Hollinger also rated Garnett and Duncan 1-2.
Garnett has more in common with Karl Malone than Michael Jordan, in the sense that his game is less dominant and more a display of uncommonly consistent and sustained excellence. It's hard to find a category where Garnett didn't excel - 9th in the league in blocked shots, 19th in steals, 22d in assists. Despite leading the league in shot attempts he finished at a respectable .499 from the field, good for 11th in a league where, amazingly, only ten players shot .500. While this was his best season, he's been churning out years much like this for some time without interruption.
The number that jumps out is that Garnett's season high in scoring was 35, and his career high (reached twice) is 40. Think about that: a career 20-a-night scorer over almost 700 career games, averaging 23 last year and 24.2 this season, who's never scored more than 40 in one night. That's a man who butters his bread with his consistency.
April 28, 2004
FOOTBALL/BASEBALL/BASKETBALL: Lighting Up The Scoreboard
If you're wondering why New York Giants fans are so excited about Eli Manning, well, let me offer some perspective here. Consider my somewhat-typical experience. I'm a Mets/Giants/Knicks fan, and I'm 32 years old. Manning gives me, potentially (if he lives up to billing), the opportunity to see my favorite team develop an offensive superstar. Now, if you're a Red Sox fan or a Lakers fan or, even, a Detroit Lions or Montreal Expos fan, that may not sound like anything terribly novel. But consider the top homegrown offensive stars of my three favorite teams over the past 30 years or so, at least based on their performance in NY:
1. Patrick Ewing
That's a top-of-the head list (feel free to quibble - this one's a natural argument-starter), and after Ewing, it's pretty weak; plenty of individual franchises could do better. And neither of the corresponding lists will knock your socks off, either - the top guys who were brought along in NY but bloomed elsewhere (Rod Strickland, Ed McCaffrey, Lenny Dykstra, Kevin Mitchell, Gregg Jefferies), and the top guys who arrived from elsewhere (a list that starts to fall off after Mike Piazza, Bernard King and Bob McAdoo - meaning no disrespect to Gary Carter and Keith Hernandez - and on which the top Giants are creaky old guys like Ottis Anderson and Fran Terkenton).
Looking at the list above, it's no surprise that the Mets have never had an MVP or a batting champ, the Knicks haven't had an MVP or scoring champ in the past 35 years, and I couldn't find the last time the Giants had a league leader in passing, rushing or receiving yards. My New York, at least, is a defensive town. That's why people went crazy for Stephon Marbury, who seems no more likely to bring home playoff glory than King or McAdoo, and why Mets fans are so hopeful about Jose Reyes if he can ever put together a healthy season.
Posted by Baseball Crank at 06:21 AM | Baseball 2004 | Basketball | Football | Comments (9) | TrackBack (0)
April 08, 2004
March 19, 2004
BASKETBALL: Charity Stripe Trivia
A pair of trivia questions for all you NBA-heads:
1. Only three players in NBA/ABA history have attempted 500 three-pointers and 500 free throws in the same season - and a fourth will join the club with his next free throw attempt. Name 'em.
2. A player has shot 90% or better at the line in 400 or more free throw attempts in one season 17 times in NBA history; the feat has been accomplished by ten different players. Name 'em. Give yourself credit if you get nine; you won't get the hardest one unless you're a real early-fifties history buff. There's also an eleventh who should be added to this list before season's end.
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Answer to #1:
What's amazing is that Adams did it in just 66 games . . . a tribute to Paul Westhead's bizarre experiment running his Loyola-Marymount offense in the NBA, since Adams shot just .296 from downtown. This also helps explain how Paul Pierce is generally a good percentage offensive player despite a career shooting percentage below 44% (although he's stretching it this season). McGrady's numbers updated through last night's action.
#11 should be Predrag Stojakovic, who's 348 for 377 (a .923 clip) thus far this season.
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March 18, 2004
BASKETBALL: It's The Totally Insane Mark Cuban Blog!
Got yer Cuban right here! (Link via Matt Welch). Ooooh, this is gonna be interesting. What's the over/under on how long it takes Cuban to get fined by the NBA for something he says on his blog? (Never mind the fact that he's talking here about investments about which he's making SEC filings - that could get him in a whole lot more trouble than an NBA fine). But it's always entertaining to see a controversial public figure take his case directly to the public.
March 13, 2004
BASKETBALL: One More Glass of Vin
I have to approve of the Knicks scooping up Vin Baker; Baker has mostly played well thus far this season, and unlike the Celtics (who undoubtedly will miss Baker but couldn't pass up the opportunity to get out from under his contract when he backslid on his treatment for alcoholism), the Knicks presumably didn't sign Baker to an expensive long-term contract. In a league where free talent is a rarity, you have to take the breaks as they come.
January 30, 2004
BASKETBALL: Coach Ewing?
The Washingtonian's Capital Comment from its February edition (11th item) reports rumors that Patrick Ewing might be brought in to coach the Georgetown basketball team. Although I must say, the report seems more like unsupported speculation than rumor.
January 11, 2004
BASKETBALL: Dare's Broken Heart
Yinka Dare has died, the NY Daily News reports; the former George Washington University center, whose bad knees never let him develop in the NBA, died of a heart attack related to the heart condition that was discovered when he was in college. Dare was reportedly only 32.
January 10, 2004
BASKETBALL: The Next Big O
Bill Simmons has a fine column on why LeBron James is the real deal. James still needs a lot of work (biggest weakness: he's averaging almost 4 turnovers a game), but his in-season progress has already been dramatic, and the kid just turned 19 two weeks ago.
I disagree, though, with one assertion in Bill's column:
When LeBron hits his prime, surrounded by quality shooters and big guys who can run the floor, he'll toss up a triple-double for an entire season. Comfortably. We're talking 33/12/13 every night.
The scoring and assists, I can see; in that respect, projecting James as a potential next Oscar Robertson isn't unreasonable, although such projections are always speculative.
LeBron is currently averaging 5.8 boards per game, playing over 40 minutes a night on a crummy team with lots of rebounding opportunities (the Cavs are shooting .427 from the field as a team). That means he has to go a long, long way to 12 boards a night. Most NBA players -- with the exception of specialists like Ben Wallace or slow-developing big men like Patrick Ewing or Kevin Garnett -- enter the league at or near their peak as rebounders. Michael Jordan pulled in 6.5 rebounds/game as a rookie, and only once cleared 7 a game. Larry Bird: 10.4 R/G as a rookie, career high of 11 three years later. Clyde Drexler: 6.0 his second season (his first playing starters' minutes), cleared 7/g twice. Magic Johnson: went up from 7.7 as a rookie to 9.6 two years later, and downhill after that. Robertson himself averaged 10.1 as a rookie and 12.5 his second year, and dropped off after that. If LeBron is a star rebounder in the making, I'll be shocked.
I emailed Bill about this, and he does have his reasoning: LeBron's currently playing guard and playing away from the basket, so he'll get more opportunities to hit the boards when he moves to the frontcourt later in his career; plus, he's just a teenager and still growing. Bill knows more about basketball than I do, and he's seen a lot of LeBron's games, whereas I've only seen highlights. It's true enough that Garnett shows how a skinny teenager can develop into one of the league's best rebounders. But I still think history is against LeBron ever developing into a double-figure rebounder.
January 05, 2004
BASKETBALL: Man in the Mirror
More on this later - I think I love the deal that brings Stephon Marbury and Penny Hardaway to the Knicks for Antonio McDyess, Charlie Ward and other suspects to the point of changing my opinion of Isiah Thomas as a GM, but I haven't looked at the financial and draft pick aspects of the trade - but I refer you to basketball-reference.com's list of "Most Similar Player" to Marbury, by age:
Similar Players (By Age)
December 31, 2003
BASKETBALL: Blocked Out, Part II
Further to my point of yesterday about blocked shots, there's some debate about their value. Doug Turnbull assesses the value of a block at a full 2 points per block - thus, he values a man who scores 10 points per game and blocks 4 shots per game the same as an 18-a-game scorer. John Hollinger, in the Basketball Prospectus, values a block as about the same as the negative value of a missed field goal, which he values at around 0.72 points (the figure varies by certain measurements pegged to league averages).
Who's right? Well, sophisticated analysis of basketball statistics is still in its adolescence, if not its infancy. Wait and see.
December 30, 2003
BASKETBALL: Blocked Out
One of my recent interests has been simulated basketball on WhatIfSports.com, a site Bill Simmons got me interested in (on the baseball side) in its infancy some two years ago (my username is crank, for those of you who are denizens of the site). In typically backwards fashion, renewing my interest in basketball's statistical past has revived my interest to some extent in the current game, but that's a topic for another post.
One of the great imponderables in NBA history - with which the "WIS" site has to struggle, since it includes players going back to the Fifties - is the tabulation of blocked shots prior to 1973-74, when the league started counting them. There are few more frustrating unknown statistics in professional sports than Bill Russell's blocked shots; Russell's statistics (despite adequate scoring and assists averages and great rebounding numbers) are otherwise not really impressive enough to equal his reputation, but if we had shot-blocking numbers, there would be something closer to a quantifiable way to measure his defensive greatness. WIS pegs him around 5-6 blocked shots per game; I've heard people who saw him play quote figures as high as 10. That's probably Old Fogeyism talking, but then, there were an awful lot of missed shots in those days, and Russell was on the court for 44-46 minutes a night.
Anyway, one thing I noticed that was unique and repeated in several sources without an explanation of where it came from was the ABA's single season blocked shots record: 422 by Artis Gilmore in his rookie season in Kentucky in 1971-72, an average of just over 5 a game -- one of only two seasons of 400 blocks (the other is the NBA record of 456 by Mark Eaton in 1984-85) in the recorded history of professional basketball and almost 150 above Gilmore's next highest total. What's unusual is that basketball-reference.com has nearly no record for anybody else's blocked shots but Gilmore's for 1971-72. Yet, the NBA's official website cites the figure in Gilmore's bio; so does Gilmore's own personal website; so does ESPN.com.
If anyone knows the true story of how they came up with this figure, I'd love to hear it.
December 23, 2003
November 17, 2003
BASKETBALL: Nothing But Nothing
Now, I don't get to watch a whole lot of basketball these days, but I caught a good deal of Saturday night's Knicks-Pacers game, and it seemed to me that the loss pretty well symbolized the Knicks in the post-Ewing era, with the team busting out for a 24-0 run in the third quarter and still managing enough inconsistency to blow the game at the end. The run was largely feuled by some hot shooting by Keith Van Horn (who finished the game 5-14 from the field), some gritty play by Kurt Thomas, and most of all by outstanding play at both ends of the court by Dikembe Mutombo, who promptly had to take a breather to rest a strained groin.
It's no accident that a good stretch by a broken-down big man made such a difference, even fleetingly. Ever since Father Time caught up with Patrick Ewing, the Knicks have been treading water, lacking an identity without a big presence in the middle; the Sprewell-Houston era featured some memorable victories, especially the trip to the finals that was accomplished with minimal assistance from Ewing, but without a dependable point guard or big man, you need something on the order of Jordan and Pippen to win, and instead the Knicks had Sprewell -- always an inconsistent offensive presence -- and Houston, a born second banana and not one of Pippen's quality. And year after year, the team never seems to bring in any new talent. Until the Knicks can get that signature star who takes the team away from being built around a center who hasn't been there for years, they'll keep on playing like an amputee who favors his missing leg.
October 08, 2003
BASKETBALL: NBA Practices
Newsweek has an unflattering portrait of Kobe Bryant, although really a lot of the stuff in here -- about how he's focused, driven and a loner -- doesn't seem that bad, really; I suspect they're stretching to explain how such a squeaky-clean guy winds up accused of rape.
The article faults Kobe for putting himself in an ambiguous situation by failing to follow standard NBA practices for having casual sex with groupies:
[T]here are also rules of conduct off the court, and players usually swap the do’s and don’ts over dinner after a game. Rule No. 1: Let your crew approach the woman first, to size her up. One baller makes his bodyguards spell out in plain language to potential one-night-stands what the night’s activities will entail. If she hesitates, she’s turned away. Rule No. 2: Give nice parting gifts. One NBA star is known to travel with a treasure chest of diamond tennis bracelets to hand to conquests in appreciation.
This entire scene is appalling, obviously, but at least it does ensure that everyone involved is up front on what they're getting into.
September 12, 2003
BASKETBALL: Too Much Vin
WATFO, as Bill Simmons would say (and undoubtedly will say, about this news): Vin Baker admits that he is an alcoholic. (Link via Boston Sports Blog).
UPDATE: A commenter corrects me - Baker went to the University of Hartford. My bad.
August 08, 2003
BASKETBALL: Now Kobe's In Trouble
July 23, 2003
BASKETBALL: Bad Idea
Now, I don't follow the NBA half as much as I used to, and I've never been a Latrell Sprewell fan, but trading him for Keith Van Horn seems like . . . well, it seems like exactly the same sort of mistake the Mets would make, the same sort the Knicks as well have been making for a decade, always bringing in forwards who are injured, past their prime, unathletic, overpaid, or some combination of the four. Van Horn has missed 20 or more games 3 times in 5 years; his numbers tell you how infrequently he gets physical (he averaged fewer than 3 trips to the line per game the last two years), he's shot above 45% only once in his career, averaged 1.38 turnovers/asssist for his career (he's no Larry Bird), and he's not even a guy who compensates by being a prime time 3-point shooter. Unless I'm missing something, neither is he a guy who does a lot that doesn't show up in the box scores. And he's got 3 years and $43 million left on his contract, an extra year and extra $17 million above Sprewell's deal.
July 22, 2003
BASKETBALL/LAW: Presumed Nutso
ESPN's Kevin Jackson has an important point to remember in the whole Kobe thing: while we should give Kobe Bryant some slack on the grounds that he's presumed innocent, we should also remember not to rush to judge his accuser, either.
I'm sick of this story already, and it will only get worse. I can only imagine if my son was old enough to follow the NBA; Bryant's the kind of guy you wouldn't have minded seeing a poster of on your kid's wall. And then, not only the fall from grace, but to have to explain the idea of rape to, say, an 8-year-old kid . . . innocent or no, I'd be pissed at Bryant for putting us all in that position.
July 15, 2003
BASKETBALL: In and Out
Aren't Karl Malone and Gary Payton going to feel like idiots if Kobe Bryant winds up under indictment and unavailable to play much of this season?
June 16, 2003
BASKETBALL: No Breaks For The Nets
The NBA Finals were so exciting, even Bill Simmons, who wrote a whole column hyping the Nets-Spurs matchup (Page 2 headlined the piece "A series you can't afford to miss"), announced after Game 4 that "this series has been a disappointment in every sense of the word."
Now, I didn't get to see a whole lot of the series myself, but this paragraph from Bill's preview didn't really gibe with my experience as a basketball fan:
The best lesson from this series, especially if New Jersey wins: Fast breaks matter. Wait a second, you're telling me that it's easier to score in transition -- when you have numbers, when the other team is running backward -- then when your opponent has a chance to set up its defense? What a wacky concept!!!!!
As I think the series bore out, this is backward: fast breaks are a by-product of winning basketball, not a cause. It's like big innings in baseball -- while it's true that some teams are more cut out for them than others, the fact is that you don't decide, "let's have a lot of big innings"; you build for success, and the big innings come. Fast breaks are like that; you can try to push the ball as a philosophy, but the things you need to do well to get fast breaks are more important than the decision to have them.
May 15, 2003
BASKETBALL/BASEBALL: RIP Dave DeBusschere
Not much time for blogging this morning, but I would recommend the New York Daily News coverage of the death of Dave DeBusschere yesterday of a sudden heart attack at age 62, including a fine Mike Lupica tribute. (You can get DeBusschere's baseball stats here, including his career ERA of 2.90).
Posted by Baseball Crank at 08:30 AM | Baseball 2002-03 | Basketball | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)
May 06, 2003
BASKETBALL: Boob Ryan
Bob Ryan of the Boston Globe has been suspended a month without pay for saying on a shout show that he wanted to "smack" Jason Kidd's wife, who he finds annoying; this seems a bit harsh, but the remark really was in exceptionally poor taste, given Kidd's arrest for hitting his wife a few years ago.
April 25, 2003
BASEBALL/BASKETBALL: No Comparison
Was Yogi Berra the greatest player in baseball history?
The debate over the proper place of statistics in the analysis of baseball is one that rages on perenially, and probably always will. Sometimes the arguments against statistical analysis descend into self-parody - like when the MVP voters gave Andre Dawson the award in a year when his team finished last, based entirely on his 49 HR and 137 RBI, while refusing to look at the overall picture of Dawson's poor on base percentage and dependence on Wrigley Field. Like when the writers stumped for Tony Perez for the Hall of Fame and simultaneously argued that (1) his career RBI total justified his enshrinement and (2) statistics don't matter, so let's not talk about any of the other numbers, and Perez capped it all off by ranting in his acceptance speech about how numbers don't mean anything (personally, I can't help but wonder every time Perez and Joe Morgan criticize statistics whether it's just a veiled shot at stat-obsessed ex-teammate Pete Rose). Like when pro-Bud Selig sportswriters essentially insist that revenues and expenses are irrelevant to whether a business is making or losing money.
But I digress.
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In fact, there's a fair argument over the outer limits of any statistical analysis to capture everything that happens on the baseball field, as well as the proper balance between statistical metrics that seek to be precise and all-encompassing and those that actually count something. But I write here to zero in on one, narrower pet peeve of mine: the tendency of critics of statistical analyses to use basketball statistics for support. There are a number of examples of this that crop up in the media; here's one I picked sort of at random, from a January 2002 column in The Weekly Standard bashing Wall Street Journal sportswriter Allan Barra. A similar tack was taken by SI a few months before that, if I remember right, comparing the NBA's MVP race to baseball, but I don't have the link. (Can you tell this is a column that was half-written and unfinished for a year?) Let me be very clear about this: basketball stats are different.
An obvious example: Wilt Chamberlain and Bill Russell. Wilt Chamberlain scored 30.1 points per game in his career. Bill Russell averaged 15.1 a game, in a shorter career. Chamberlain had more rebounds, total and per game, and a slighly higher assists/game average. He shot for a higher field goal percentage, much higher. Wilt's signature weakness was free throw shooting, but Russell was also a crummy free throw shooter.
You can slice and dice the numbers severa different ways - playoff stats, run the head-to-head matchups - but no matter how far that narrows the gap, you simply can not make a credible statitsical case that Bill Russell was a better player than Chamberlain, or even particularly close. There's just too much -- too much difference in offense, principally. Twelve points per game for all those years is a lot.
And yet, there are plenty of reasonable people, people quite knowledgeable about the game, who argue that Russell was better. And they might be right - even when you account for better teammates, Russell didn't win all those championships and beat Wilt head-to-head all those times for nothing. The argument can go either way.
Anyway, my point here is not to resolve the Chamberlain-Russell debate, but to make a larger point about statistics. There are people who argue that baseball stats don't matter, but they do, even to the most hidebound fans -- because nobody seriously disputes that they set the parameters of the debate. (This, of course, was the point that Bill James keeps making, and made most pointedly in the Dawson MVP debate: we need to understand the stats first and foremost not because that's how we SHOULD view the game but because that's how we DO view the game).
Arguing for Russell over Chamberlain is very much like arguing for Yogi Berra as the greatest player of all time. Yogi was a great player, quite possibly the best catcher in major league history. His numbers are very good, and he was more consistent and durable than anyone to play his position. He played what some would view as the most important position on the field, and his teams won with incredible regularity - 14 pennants, 10 championships.
But nobody seriously thinks that Yogi Berra was better than Babe Ruth or Willie Mays. The gap in the hard numerical records of their accomplishments is too vast to bridge, because we all know that most of the important things that happen on a baseball field get recorded.
That, ultimately, is what critics of statistical analysis of the game have to contend with. And trying to get mileage out of the fact that basketball stats are more limited just shows how ignorant those critics really are, and how much their facts are determined by their biases, rather than the other way around.
« Close It
Posted by Baseball Crank at 07:01 PM | Baseball 2002-03 | Basketball | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)
April 18, 2003
Bill Simmons argues that it's time to break up Kobe & Shaq. One quibble: Simmons says that "[u]nlike other NBA dynasties, these guys always seem vulnerable . . ." Maybe they seem invulnerable in retrospect, but I always though Jordan's Bulls could be taken, and they often escaped serieses with the Knicks, in particular, by the skin of their teeth. Remember: this team had a committee of mediocre point guards and another committee of mediocre centers; after Horace Grant left, they had a power forward who scored 5 points a game and was clinically insane, plus Scottie Pippen was never exactly Mister Big Game. The Bulls' advantages, of course, each time outweighed those flaws, but you can't tell me they were never in trouble.
March 18, 2003
BASKETBALL: Watch For The Cross
Mike Francesa, on Mike & The Mad Dog yesterday, on the best candidate for a high seed getting upset: "Marquette, by Holy Cross." Francesa calls Ralph Willard's Crusaders "a pain in the butt to play."
GO CROSS GO!
February 20, 2003
BASKETBALL: Where Have You Gone, Rick Pitino?
If you ask Bill Simmons, it's never too late to bash Rick Pitino.
BASKETBALL: Team Defense
John Hollinger of Sports Illustrated has an incisive analysis of a problem that has bugged me for a while: how to measure, statistically, good team defense in the NBA. I'm not sure his solution is 100% successful, but it's a decided improvement on the existing alternatives.
February 11, 2003
BASKETBALL: Jack McCallum's Ideas
January 02, 2003
FOOTBALL: A Syllogism
December 30, 2002
November 29, 2002
BASKETBALL: Out of Air
Is Michael Jordan really retiring this time?
November 26, 2002
BASEBALL/BASKETBALL: Straw Jr.
Posted by Baseball Crank at 07:52 PM | Baseball 2002-03 | Basketball | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)
November 25, 2002
BASKETBALL: Stunning News
Rasheed Wallace, smoking pot? Shocking, truly shocking. What is this world coming to?
November 13, 2002
Bill Simmons waxes nostalgic for the days when being a sports fan sucked. Simmons is perhaps more bitter than I'd be, but he has a point. We lose our individual innocence and wonderment as we age, and the world discovers new ways to be cynical; the combination makes us think the past was a Golden Age. We can always identify ways it really was, but we're selective (Gustave Flaubert: "Our ignorance of history makes us libel our own times. People have always been like this." Bill James (paraphrased): "When people tell me they'd like to have lived in the 18th century, I ask them whether they'd have enjoyed having their teeth pulled without anasthesia."). In the 1930s, fans said, "I remember before all this home run craziness, when scoring a run was a team effort and really meant something." They didn't say, "I remember when I was a kid and the White Sox threw the World Series."
James had a better point in the 80s when he said he wished somebody had told him in the sixties and early seventies to enjoy all the great power pitchers, that they wouldn't always be around. He was writing then about the generation of great leadoff men headed by Rickey Henderson and Tim Raines, and it says something about what followed that generation that both men lasted into the 21st century. Every generation does have its glories that we will not see the like of again. Enjoy Pedro and Randy Johnson; admire Barry Bonds; tip your hat to Shaq. They may not pass this way any time soon.
Posted by Baseball Crank at 08:27 AM | Baseball 2002-03 | Basketball | Football | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)
November 04, 2002
BASKETBALL: The Nugget
More mascot news: the Denver Nugget has been arrested! Do you think this guy lists his occupation as "Nugget"?
October 31, 2002
BASKETBALL/LAW: Jayson Williams in Hot Water
I haven't been following the story that closely, but this certainly puts the case against Jayson Williams in a different light.
October 30, 2002
BASKETBALL: Sports Guy Loves This Game
I haven't linked to him that much, actually, but of course you can't start the basketball season without reading Bill Simmons' previews. The Eastern Conference Preview is here, the Western Conference Preview is here (Simmons always does the East first so he can save his Finals prediction for the second column). Simmons on Joe Johnson of the Suns: "I watched him in Boston for 50 games. Intently. And he doesn't have it. I can spot three things in life -- toupees, fake breasts and NBA players who drift during games. And he's a drifter. Considering that the Suns need him to make The Leap, that doesn't bode too well for their playoff hopes."
October 29, 2002
BASKETBALL: Same To You Buddy
And the same goes double for the Knicks. Yuck.
October 14, 2002
BASKETBALL: Wait Till Next Year.
The Knicks have really killed my enthusiasm for the NBA.
October 13, 2002
BASKETBALL: TFFKA McDyess
Kiki Vandeweghe . . . Xavier McDaniel . . . Charles Smith . . . Larry Johnson . . . Clarance Weatherspoon . . . Antonio McDyess. The Knicks really have a knack for getting scoring forwards who are past their prime and physically damaged goods. Even Camby was in brittle condition when they got him. Ewing is gone - when will they learn to get off the treadmill and start developing their own young players?
September 20, 2002
BASKETBALL: More Dele
More on the Dele saga: his brother was found comatose and arrested. Did they read him his rights?
September 18, 2002
BASKETBALL: More Dele
ESPN has more on the Bison Dele story.
September 17, 2002
BASKETBALL: Bison Dele
French authorities are searching for Bison Dele, the emotionally troubled center formerly known as Brian Williams (no relation to the NBC anchor); Dele and his girlfriend haven't been heard from since early July and were last seen aboard his sailboat, the "Hakuna Matata," whcih has resurfaced without a trace of the two or of the boat's skipper. The authorities are apparently searching for Dele's brother for questioning and suspect foul play.