Sunday, December 2, 2012
Since we've hit December, I will present my Christmas wish list for the 49ers:
* Delanie Walker: Good hands tutoring sessions. What are these stone metacarpals protruding from Walker's wrists? How can someone be so prone to dropsy at all the wrong moments? Can Michael Crabtree (great hands) and Vernon Davis (reliable hands) work with this guy?
* David Akers: a time machine. For this 2012 version of Akers to occupy the same physical space as the 2011 Akers is downright insulting. There've been whispers of a hip ailment of some sort. There must be. Anything else outside of injury doesn't add up. We might have been 4-12 last year (as opposed to 13-3) with this version of Akers. As I told one friend, FGs have ceased to be a strategic option. They are, for the time being, an absolute last resort.
* Colin Kaepernick: A Swiss timepiece. It's great that the kid is so willing, and seemingly adept at, reading defenses at the line and changing plays accordingly...but he can he do it with a little more than 5 seconds left on the play clock? We are guaranteed at least 2-3 reading-defense timeouts and 1-2 delay-of-game penalties per game. At least get out of the huddle faster to give him a precious few more seconds to do his thing.
* The whole team: Discipline. False starts and neutral-zone infractions. Unsportsmanlike-penalty-earning extra-cirricular kicks and head-slaps. Illegal motions. Can we stop with the dumb play-killing penalties already?
* Aldon Smith: a choreographer. When you're about to set a new record for sacks, you need your very own dance to celebrate the record-breaking and all future sacks. Actually, I'm joking. Seriously. Please don't invite any excessive-celebration yellow flags. A humongous yellow flag is likely going to torture me in my dreams tonight. But let's get Smith a few more sacks to solidify that most career sacks for a sophomore player record.
* Fans: Muzzels and non-functional keyboards. I can't take any more of the Smith/Kaepernick comments and arguments.
Monday, September 10, 2012
Not much to report, other than the San Francisco 49ers surprising everyone except themselves and their supporters (present company included) by going into the house that cheese built and "upsetting" the Packers. I certainly found it strange that all these pundits were picking Green Bay to win without much trepidation: you have arguably the #1 defense in the league going against arguably it's top offense -- a wash -- but on the other side of the ball, you have a swiss-cheese defense going against a middle-of-the-pack offense with improved weaponry. I'm not saying this automatically spells a 49er victory, but it should certainly be enough to offset the home-field advantage and make the game's outcome a difficult pick. If nothing else, didn't anyone see what the Giants did -- when their defense was performing on all cylinders -- in Green Bay the last time a meaningful game was played there?
This was the one game I watched fully, and if the officiating was any indication, Lord help us in 2012. As a fan, your gut tells you to say your team got an unfair share of calls against it; as a person who keeps his emotions in check, I know there were just far too many questionable calls on both sides of the ball. So while the non-call on the block in the back during Green Bay's TD punt return was easily the biggest game-changing referree error of the game, that was only due to the immediacy with which it affected the scoreboard. The game's outcome turned out the way it should have, but there is easily a missed interefence call that disrupted a drive or two for both teams.
In any case, kudos to the Niners for hitting the ground running in a big game on the road. Big things lie ahead if they just keep playing their game, improving every week, and believing in 'team team team'.
* Sports Illustrated's Peter King gets a big huge shout-out for coining a term that really should be standard issue around the NFL:
"Did you see the silly interception Mark Sanchez threw on the first possession of the Jets' season? Rolling out on second down at his 47, Sanchez neared the sideline when, for reasons known only to him, he tried way too hard to make something happen, flipping the ball *in Favrian style* to tight end Jeff Cumberland. But safety Bryan Scott picked it off"
Priceless! Favrian! Has there ever been a more perfect marriage of player and tendency than described here? Every ill-advised, overly-forced pass should henceforth be labeled "Favrian". Hell, I'm submitting this to Webster's. There's simply no quarterback in NFL history with a greater tendency to get himself in trouble trying too hard to force an issue than Brett Favre. I may start using this term in analogies outside of football, it's so perfect. Take a bow Mr. King. Take a bow.
Wednesday, July 11, 2012
What if just about every one of you critical of Dwight for repeatedly changing his mind have it completely wrong? Let's see, run both of these scenarios through your thinking cap and see which one makes the most sense:
Scenario 1: Dwight Howard, the affable lovable smiling character we've known, is torn between feelings of loyalty for the NBA city that's cheered him from day one, and a desire to start anew on a new team. He doesn't want to leave Orlando high and dry (like a certain other franchise center did over a decade prior), so he requests a trade, allowing the team to get value upon his departure. The trade deadline comes, but the team, unhappy with the offers that've come their way, doesn't pull the trigger on any deals. So, again, rather than leave the team for nothing, Dwight signs an extension, giving the team one more trade cycle -- the summer of 2012 -- to make a deal for him.
Scenario 2: Dwight, the uber-selfish Orlando hater we've all come to know, can't wait to leave the team and city, so he demands a trade. The trade deadline comes and goes, but the team is either unable or unwilling to find a deal for him. Dwight, by some random act of coincidental timing, suddenly rediscovers his love for all things central Florida, and decides to stick it out for another year, and signs an extension. Then, two months later, he again morphs back into Bizzaro-Superman, decides that he's fed up with everything from Mickey Mouse to the inability to pay state taxes, reverses course yet again and demands a trade.
Everyone is so incredulous that someone could (supposedly) change their mind repeatedly in such a short period of time. Well humans, is it not possible, that perhaps, just perhaps, it sounds utterly ridiculous because...it never happened? Is it not at all possible that Dwight's biggest flaw is simply trying to please everyone? For being too self*less*? That for example the alleged 'blackmail' comment was in reference to a reneged promise to trade him as quickly as possible for a reasonable offer to (one of) his choice destinations?
Just something to chew on, if you ever get tired of masticating on his name that is.
- Disclaimer: nothing of the above is a hard-set opinion on past events. Just something to make us all think: does what I believe even make a bit of sense?
Wednesday, June 13, 2012
I recently read an article in the Chicago Sun-Times where the writer mixed and matched singulars and plurals with the team names; i.e. he wrote sentences such as "the Heat is" and "the Bulls are". Now, while this seems to be perfectly acceptable to some people, it bugged the living hell out of me. I have long believed that team names are plural, in all cases, end of story. However, being the objective chap that I am, I went googling thru the interwebs for support of my belief.
Sadly, until now, there seems to be no singular consensus on the usage, with arguments made on both sides...until now. Strap yourselves in my English-speaking Western-Hemispherical Earthlings; I shall put this ambiguity to rest once and for all.
First, for those who think we should strictly follow singular/plural rules, I have news for you: you already break your own shoddy theory every day of your life. Would you tell us that Ford *is* hiring while General Motors *are* laying off employees? Do you say that Dunkin' Donuts are opening a new location? Do you say that this Starbucks are closed? No, you don't. Because you recognize that type of flip-flopping sounds dumb, that we have all accepted that a company's name refers to a singular entity.
Well, it's time to stop flopping around like the Miami Heat on defense when it comes to team names. We have equally well-established rules when it comes to team names: that they refer to a small group of athletes, that we preceed them with the word "the", and that they are plural. The Bulls are injury-prone. The 49ers are poised for a title run. The Knicks are an enigma. And yes, The Heat are down 1-0. The Thunder are clicking on all cylinders. And no, it doesn't sound awkward or incorrect. You are talking about a team of athletes, not a singular atmospheric disturbance.
What I found particularly amusing was one blog I found on the topic -- lisakusko.wordpress.com/2012/01/05/how-the-miami-heat-upset-the-grammar-world/ -- where the writer nearly came to a similar conclusion, yet ended with the following:
"What's the difference? Maybe having the word 'the' in front of band and team names makes the plural version a natural choice."
Umm, maybe? Actually, that's exactly it my fellow grammar-ponderer. We don't stick 'the' in front of franchise names unless we're including another descriptor (the Starbucks franchise, the General Motors brand) because, again, we recognize sports teams (and also music bands as he pointed out) as different entities than corporations. Same as we do when referring to the companies behind the self-same sports teams (the New York Yankees organization verses New York Yankees history).
So, again, unless you're prepared to walk around flipping all over the place saying "the Ford is building a new plant" or "General Motors are releasing a new hybrid" or "this Starbucks are closed", please stop the flop with sports team names. Strict rules of singulars and plurals have never applied to brand names and corporations. They need not apply here.
Friday, February 17, 2012
"For all the scoring and distributing Lin has done, [the New York Knicks] offense has been only marginally more efficient. I'm happy for the Knicks and Jeremy Lin, but plenty of problems remain unfixed in New York."
Right away, that statement bothered me, because it seemed to fly in the face of everything we've been witnessing. And when something I read or hear doesn't quite sound right, it tends to stick in my mind and annoy me like a poorly-designed t-shirt tag. Could this be correct? Was the Knicks offense pre-Lin -- the main anchor weighing down the team's poor record -- really be only "marginally" worse than the one that's been passing and swinging the ball to and fro, racking up high assist-to-FG ratios, and playing happily inspired basketball together, during this streak? I had to fact-check.
And fact-check I did; after which, armed with the stats, I concluded that either Levy 1) is a complete liar, 2) didn't bother to do any homework to qualify or quantify his statement, 3) is unschooled as to what offensive efficiency actually is, or 4) is very unclear on the meaning the word "marginal". The Knicks, prior to Lin, scored roughly 99.5 points per 100 possessions, which ranked them 25th in the NBA in offensive efficiency. During the current win streak, they have been pouring in over 105 points per 100, which would be good for around 8th-best in the NBA.
Perhaps Ian can explain how jumping 17 spots in offensive efficiency ranking is a "marginal" improvement. I suppose an "adequate" improvement is then, what, the 30th-ranked team instantly becoming the top-rated team overnight? I'm not sure what a "good" improvement would be though. Perhaps being able to beat the NBA's 50-greatest-players team, or to outscore Zeus and his collection of Greek gods.
What would cause Ian to make such a patently-false statement? Did he see the high rate of turnovers the Knicks are still producing and conclude -- jump to conclude, rather -- poor efficiency? That in of itself would be pretty dumb, seeing as how FG% is a better, albeit oldschool, measure of offensive efficiency. Looking at effective FG%, the Knicks are around .500 for the streak, a good number and much (not marginally, much) better than the .474 they're averaging for the year overall. So it couldn't be that. On the other hand...maybe we're just overthinking this and giving this writer too much credit. Given that the "marginal" statement smelled fishy from the start, perhaps that alone is evidence of the nether-regions source from which the statement originated.
For making baseless statements without bothering to do the two minutes of work it takes to validate them, you Ian Levy are our latest Sportswriting Moron Of The Week.
Keep talking and writing sports analysts. The Moron-Awards committee will find you soon enough.
* So former Denver Nugget and Chinese-league escapee J.R.Smith announced he will sign with the Knicks. This after a friend informed me that the esteemed Stephen A. Smith had to restrain himself from cussing his co-analysts on an ESPN show who suggested J.R. would possibly choose NY over the Clippers. Stephen whitled down the comparison to a choice between "playing with" Jeremy Lin or Chris Paul, a comparison that is both simple-minded, myopic, and may actually be a logical fallacy. To be technical, both the Nuggets and Knicks would use J.R. off of the bench, so it's a little faulty to say he would be "playing" with Lin or Paul; he'd be playing primarily with their backups. Furthermore, if you look at the teams' rotation, you'd have to say that J.R. would get more playing time in NY than in LA, former all-star and free-agent signee Caron Butler being juuuust a bit more accomplished than second-year player Landry Fields. So that further erodes the notion of "playing". Finally, it also is worth noting that the Knicks can and were offering their full mid-level exception of $2.5 million over this season *and* next season, whereas the Clippers could only offer the veteran's minimum salary. More money, a longer contract, more playing time and a more significant role on the team. Suddenly, Stephen A.'s "dumb" choice seems like it got "smartified". But hey, just keep opting for histrionics and hyperbole Stephen...it might not always make you right, but it's certainly made you successful. I ain't mad at you for that. It sure is fun to be able to repeatedly punch holes in these tirades.
Anyways, I'm off, back to the Martian grind...
But as I failed to restrain myself from responding to the empty-headed recitations of Carmelo's supposed offensive deficiencies, I came across a few more interesting, glaring, statistics:
2011 Nuggets: with Melo: 107.75 ppg. w/o Melo: 107.16 ppg.
2011 Knicks: w/o Melo: 106.2 ppg. with Melo: 106.8 ppg.
Hello! For all the "Nuggets are better without Melo" talk du dour, both the Nuggets AND the Knicks scored more points per game with Carmelo on their teams than without? Like hell you say! How could this be?
It "be" for the simple sad fact that this generation of people, armed with all the tools of the Information Age, are every bit of the -- and maybe moreso -- misinformed, lazy robots as we've seen in any other generation. It is...well, sad. If Carmelo somehow "clogs" an offense, then I'd hate to see what happens when we add Liquir Plum-r.
* Iman Shumpert snubbed for the Rookie-Sophomore Challenge game.
Are you kidding me? Like, are you for real? Let's take a look at the rookies who *were* selected:
MarShon Brooks (Nets), Kyrie Irving (Cavs), Brandon Knight (Pistons), Kawhi Leonard (Spurs), Markieff Morris (Suns), Ricky Rubio (Wolves), Tristan Thompson (Cavs), Kemba Walker (Bobcats), Derrick Williams (Wolves).
Irving, Rubio, Brooks, all don't-even-try-to-argue selections. Walker, Knight, Williams, Morris (as of late), no qualms. But umm...Kawhi Leonard? Tristan Thompson?
Let's get something out right now: since early in the season, nba.com has had Iman Shumpert firmly seated in the 3rd slot on The Rookie Ladder (their rookie rankings). Basically the best of the class outside of Rubio and Irving. Walker has currently joined the upper rankings, so Shumpert is now 4th. Hardly anything to be upset over. But the 3rd-to-4th best rookie in the entire NBA doesn't make the rookie challenge? Leonard isn't even in the top-10, and Thompson? He didn't even make the just-missed-the-cut list. How do you not find room on this team for the rookie who's top-5 in the entire NBA in steals? I rarely complain about snubs this openly...but this one defies any stat-based, performance-based, by-position-based, or any other, explanation.
To quote Coach D'Antoni, upon receiving the news of Shumpert's snub: "Defensively I can guarantee there's no rookie better. That's half the game; so half the game he's better and the other half he's played well. He's been put into a spot where he had to be the point guard and he's not naturally a point guard. His best position is the two. He can play three. He's probably one of our best post defenders. He has to get better like all rookies, but he's played well. I'm shocked."
I am too coach. I am too.
* There seems to be more and more bad news recently. Rest in peace to ex-49er great, wide receiver Freddie Solomon. One of Joe Montana's top-2 targets in the 1982 and 1985 Super Bowl runs, and still the 49ers team-record holder for highest yards-per-catch average over an entire season (a hefty 21.4). Also, rest in peace to ex-Met, Hall-Of-Fame catcher Gary Carter. One of those guys who carried himself in a way and gave the vibe that made you feel you couldn't help but respect and admire him, no matter which team or rival you rooted for. Hope they're both at peace.
Tuesday, February 14, 2012
Now that we’ve gotten through our first week of Linsanity, had a chance to breathe in-between games, and started looking towards the future of the 2012 New York Knicks, there is one question de jour that has emerged as all the rage among all circles: can Carmelo Anthony fit in with Jeremy Lin?
We’ve heard the supposed pitfalls; Melo is a ball-stopper, a ball-hog, a black-hole on offense. In some ways, there can be some truth to the criticisms, at least if you watched the P.L. Knicks (that’s Pre-Lin) this year. However, there is something completely laughable in the predictions of impending doom certain to befall the Knicks upon Carmelo’s return from injury. There seems to be this implied (and sometimes expressed) notion that Anthony has never played with a capable, offense-initiating point guard at any point in his career before now. And to that notion I retort: does the name Chauncey Billups mean anything to you people?
Whether or not Carmelo’s return will take the Knick offense and team to greater heights remains to be seen. But let’s put some things in their proper perspective. Last year, with Chauncey, Anthony, and Amar’e Stoudemire leading the way, getting the ball into the bucket was not at the top of the list of Knick problems. Hell, it wasn’t on the list at all. New York ended the 2011 season ranked fifth in the NBA in offensive efficiency (108.3 points per 100 possessions). Let me repeat that for you: the Knicks were the fifth-best team last year on the offensive end of the court.
Their problem last year, as apparently the scant few of us with any sense would recall, was on defense. The Knicks ranked 23th in the league in team defensive efficiency in 2011 (106.9 p/100). Simply put, they gave up just as many points than they scored. When you look at it from that perspective, you can understand why the Knicks essentially shed Chauncey Billups in lieu of Tyson Chandler in the short offseason. Neither the Knicks nor their fans had any reason to cry tears at not having the assets to make a run for Chris Paul. Paul is a decent-to-good defender, and can disrupt an offense with his ball-hawking and playing the lanes, but 6-foot point guards are not what turn defenses around in this league. Big men are. CP3 wouldn’t have solved the Knicks' most glaring deficiency, their defensive woes, the way Chandler has, and as much as I love CP3's offense, scoring the ball wasn’t even the Knicks’ problem in the first place.
And just how much has the addition of Chandler, and other changes such as the emergence of ball-hawks like Iman Shumpert and improving players like Landry Fields, meant on defense? The Knicks now give up 97.7 points per 100 possessions, good enough to rank 10th in the league. Scoring in this lockout-shortened season has been down, but you can’t mistake a team’s moving up 13 spots in a particular rank relative to the rest of the league.
This year, however, the Knicks problem has been that, without a capable point guard P.L., their offense has suffered – a lot. It is down 10 points per 100 possessions from last year, and that 5th-best ranking has fallen all the way down to 23rd. However, seeing as how Carmelo and Amar’e were around for a significant portion of last season, and obviously this season as well, they are the constants here, so they are not what has changed on offense. What has changed is the Chauncey Billups-for-Tyson Chandler swap. One might conclude, then, that they simply exchanged one problem for another. However, it is much more difficult in this league to find a quality big man than it is to find a capable guard. Chauncey, were he being objective, shouldn’t have felt slighted by the Knicks’ decision to amnesty him – though he completely reserves the right to put that chip on his shoulder, right or wrong. They needed to shore up their defense in the worst way.
In any case, let me drop some more numbers on you. 46%: that is what Anthony shot in a Knick uniform alongside Chauncey Billups last year. 26.3: the number of points per game he scored during that time. And the best number of all, 42.4%: that is what Carmelo shot from 3-point range in those 27 games. The shooting percentages, by the way, are better than he's shot in any season for his career. So apparently, whether he black-holes the offense, puts up bad shots, or whatever other criticisms people come up for his game…42.4%. I don’t really need to say another word or quote another fact.
Now, I'm loathe to making predictions, and I'm not about to put my neck on a block for the possible future performance of total strangers, but the things that people are saying about Carmelo's past results are, simply put, complete and utter fiction. If Jeremy can keep getting by his defender and into the lane, Carmelo should have open mid-range and beyond jumpshots...the same kind of shots he knocked down last year.
As time goes on, incidentally, it appears that Lin is going to have to develop a left-hand dribble drive, or learn to drive to his left in some fashion. All the sneaky moves and quickness can only take you so far when people know you're only working one side of the court. However, he seems to have a tirelessly studious approach to the game -- I read a story that highlighted how he's been known to spend an hour or two in practice working on a single move, over and over and over again -- so there shouldn't be any reason that he shouldn't eventually add that and other facets to his game. And, surrounded by scorers and two low-post guys that love the pick-and-roll more than anything, the team has a lot of complementary parts and, as such, loads of potential.
And they will all happily co-exist, and give themselves a chance to max out that potential. Yes, even Carmelo.
A former coworker and friend of Chinese descent hit me a text this morning to say that he watched a sports talk show where the analysts were baffled as to why so many teams purportedly passed on Jeremy Lin. They wondered what took so long for the Linsanity train to leave the station. My friend, understandably, wondered why they didn’t just come right out and point to the race factor. I, however, wondered who in the world was paying these clearly uninformed, baffled, head-scratching pundits he was watching.
Let’s just get this out of the way: race was and is certainly a factor in the story of Jeremy Lin’s path to NBA relevance. The question is, however, just how much of a factor, and when?
That the sports talking heads my friend was watching couldn’t come up with valid reasons to explain Lin’s path to the Knicks is unforgivable, as far as I’m concerned at least. Again, these people are PAID to know what they’re commenting on. 5 minutes on Google – plus an objective mind – is all it takes to understand the long road that brought Lin to this point. Maybe 7 minutes if your internet connection is slow.
The road to Lin’s professional career begins, naturally, in high school. Jeremy as a prep was a 2-time MVP of his high school league, was rated the #1 player in California by virtually every major publication in the state, and his team had a high-profile state-championship victory over a much higher-rated team. Yet, Jeremy did not receive a single scholarship offer from even one Division-1 school. Let me repeat that: the consensus #1 player in the largest state in the entire United States did not receive so much as ONE scholarship offer. Now, objectivity might allow one to say, perhaps there were some other mitigating circumstances here; common sense tugs at you to point to his ethnicity. I have a very hard time believing there are circumstances mitigating enough to warrant his being bypassed by every Division-1 college in the country, outside of him being a convicted serial murderer. There’s just no plausible explanation that is going to be compelling enough, outside of “Asian guys can’t ball”.
So, Lin took his skills to Harvard, where he excelled in the Ivy League. By the end his college career, he was the #2 scorer in Ivy League history, and racked up equally-impressive numbers across the board. However, on NBA draft day 2010, his name went uncalled. Now, you may say again that race was a factor, but an equally-valid reason may simply be the view of the Ivy League at the time (or, at least, until Harvard’s current surge into national rankings). I’ll leave that call up to you. I tend to believe him coming out of the Ivy League is at least as much a factor as race or anything else.
So, from that point, Lin took his talents to the NBA summer league, and it is from there that it becomes increasingly difficult to blame race as the singular factor in his being “passed over”. He impressed everyone by going toe-to-toe with John Wall in one game in particular, raising eyebrows and getting notice is an fair amount of print publications. Measuring up to the #1 pick and eventual rookie-of-the-year will have that effect. He eventually found his way to the Dallas Mavericks prior to the 2010-2011 season – and it is at that point where simple circumstance and bad luck becomes the #1 factor for his delayed path to NBA relevance.
The 2011 Dallas Mavericks, for who may not know, were pretty stacked at the point guard position, with future first-ballot Hall of Famer Jason Kidd, speedy J.J. Barea, and capable Rodrigue Beaubois. It’s not much of a stretch to see how Lin wouldn’t make such a team. Eventually, he got picked up for the duration of the 2011 season by the Golden State Warriors. Golden State, however, is pretty well-to-do in their backcourt, with sharp-shooting Stephen Curry and the perennial almost-an-all-star Monta Ellis, as well as veterans Charlie Bell and Acie Law. Also not a stretch to see how a rookie might have trouble getting much more than garbage time on that roster – which is exactly what Lin got in 40-some-odd games for the season.
2012 is where the story gets interesting. The major factor in Lin’s long road at that point becomes the NBA lockout, which led to a truncated free agency and training camp period, and a compressed regular-season schedule built for robots, not human athletes. The Warriors, looking to clear cap space to make an offer to the L.A. Clippers restricted free agent center DeAndre Jordan, parted ways with Lin via the waiver wire. Now, we all like Lin’s talents, but when you already have Curry and Ellis, and you think you have a chance to snag someone like Jordan to man your frontcourt, the rookie guard on your roster is gonna be the one to hit waivers. Hey, that’s life.
Next up was the Houston Rockets, who claimed Lin off of the waiver wire. Houston’s backcourt roster, however, already consisted of Kyle Lowry, Jonny Flynn, Kevin Martin, Courtney Lee, and Gordon Dragic. These are all guys who have long proven they can play in the NBA. Honestly, it’s more a wonder why the Rockets bothered to pick up Lin at all. Perhaps they thought they would still somehow be parting ways with Martin and Dragic via trade (similar to the Lakers-Rockets-Hornets deal that was declined by the Hornets owner), and would need to add depth. Not so far-fetched. However, the Rockets soon found they too needed to shed roster spots in order to sign a center, free-agent Samuel Dalembert. It was deja-vu all over again.
Moreover, with the lockout-condensed off-season, there was no time for a guy like Lin to even show he could outwork one of those proven guys. In a typical year, NBA training camps last the entire month of September, followed by a 3-week preseason schedule, then a few days to a week layoff before the real games begin. This season? After unlocking the doors to the arenas on December 9th, teams had exactly 16 days till the Christmas Day start of the season. That’s over 7 weeks condensed into 2. 2 weeks to get guys into playing shape, practice, and prepare for the season. What would you spend those two weeks doing: practicing with the guys who have already produced for you and others in the past, or dropping their practice time to give workouts for brand new players? Exactly.
So, again, Lin hit the waiver wire, without even playing a game for the Rockets. Then is when the Knicks finally get involved. After an injury to guard Iman Shumpert in the first week of the season, the Knicks needed some insurance depth, not knowing how long Shumpert would be out, but fearing the worst. As it turned out, the initial 4-week prognosis for Shumpert’s injury turned into barely a 2-week stay-cation. Who knows, had that initial prognosis been for 1-2 weeks, would the Knicks have bothered to look outside the team to shore up their backcourt? We’ll never know. However, once Shumpert returned, and proved he was healthy, what happened to Lin? The Knicks sent him down to the NBA Developmental League.
Here is where the lockout really screws everything up – unless you’re a Knick fan. The schedule this season has teams playing 66 games over 120 days, somewhere around 55% of the days. A normal NBA schedule sees 82 games stretched over 6 months, somewhere around 175 days. So they’re usually playing closer to 45%-47% of the time. What suffers? Practice time. In that, there is none, barely. This season is the worst possible scenario under which an unproven 2nd-year player acquired during the season would have the time to show off his skills. Knick coach Mike D’Antoni has been criticized for saying he had “no idea” what he had with Lin, but that criticism is completely unfair. Teams don’t even have adequate time to practice with their proven players, much less work out new guys.
However, after recording a triple-double in his first D-League appearance, Lin found his way back to the Knick bench. Why? Point guard Baron Davis. Once slated to be days away from taking the court for the Knicks, and looked upon (probably far too optimistically) as the possible savior to their season, Davis’ recovery hit a setback. An elbow infection halted his training cold, putting his return from a back injury completely on ice until the infection clears up. So once again, the Knicks found themselves in need of point guard depth. So then, finally, comes the day, Saturday February 4th, the day desperation turns to hope. Out of answers, and running out of time, after giving Toney Douglas, the ghost of Mike Bibby past, and Iman Shumpert all ample opportunity to masquerade at point guard, Coach D’Antoni turned to the very end of his bench. And the rest, as they say, is history.
So, did race play a role in the delay of Jeremy Lin’s opportunity on the big stage? Certainly, at least early on in his basketball career it likely did to some degree. But people need to not be so callous to paint Houston, Golden State, Dallas or any other NBA franchise with the racism brush. By a fortunate set of circumstances, Jeremy wound his way onto the Knicks roster, and naturally, after watching this kid play for the bulk of last week, I am more than glad that things panned out the way they did. All hail the lockout!
Saturday, February 11, 2012
The one sports story that has supplanted a Super Bowl champion. In New York City. The media capital of the world. It's nothing short of Lincredible!
By now you've already read and/or heard plenty about Jeremy, so of course I need to cut a different angle than what's been covered (no need to beat a drum that has a thousand musicians standing in line).
First was the silly notion by Stephen A. Smith and others that the game versus the Lakers earlier tonight would prove as some sort of litmus test for Lin. Yes, we know the Lakers are a playoff team, perhaps even a title contender...but have we forgotten that this is the team that was so desperate to upgrade the point position that it was set to trade two-thirds of its front court (Odom and Gasol) to do so? I immediately (read: prior to the game) scoffed at the notion that the Lakers would provide some stiffer level of competition for Lin (and have the tweets to prove it); the ghost of Derek Fisher past and Steve Blake do not put the fear of God into opposing point guards. And, lo and behold, we saw Kobe Bryant switch onto Lin 7 minutes into the game, and everyone from the aforementioneds to Metta World Peace and Matt Barnes taking cracks at trying to slow Lin down. By my count, at least 6 or 7 Lakers took pre-conceived turns guarding Lin (i.e. not counting guys like Pau Gasol who guarded him off of pick-and-roll switches). The result? Well, unless you've been under a media blackout, you know they were none to successful in corraling Lin. As expected...by me, I mean.
I think we should wait for the Knicks to play a team with a lockdown-defender point guard (think Rajon Rondo) or great all-around team defense (think Chicago Bulls) to say that Lin is facing something in the way of stiff competition. Of course, I'm starting to hear whispers that the rumours of Minnesota Timberwolf Rick Rubio's poor defense have been exaggerated, so it's possible that Lin's first exam may come as early as tonight's game.
The other point I wanted to address is the trepidation (or in some cases, downright belief) that Lin and/or the Knick offense will suffer with the return of Amare Stoudemire and, even moreso, Carmelo Anthony. In the rush to point out that Lin's first three starts have come without two-thirds of the Knick big-3 (haven't we all gotten tired of the big-3 designation in the NBA? If we haven't yet, I use it here to speed us along to that day), some people seem to have totally forgotten that day one of the Lin experiment came in a game with a full Knick lineup. In last Saturday's contest with the Nets, Lin played a hefty 36 minutes, as did Tyson Chandler, Carmelo logged 35 minutes, and Amare saw 25. More importantly, Chandler and Amare shot well from the floor and scored 17 points apiece, and Melo, while shooting a poor percentage, managed to get up 15 shot attempts. In the midst of all that offense, Lin was still able to carve out 19 shot attempts and 25 points for himself. One game is certainly not a sample size, but if those four guys are capable of playing together offensively on command, without any preparation, surely they can do it after a few practices and games together. The biggest fear here seems to be Carmelo's ball-stopping reputation; however, he *did* play with one Chauncey Billups in Denver, and Raymond Felton in NY. It's not as if he's *never* had a traditional point guard in his life. Time for Melo (whenever he returns) to simply make better use of those 15 shots.
In any case, welcome to NY, Jeremy. Get up off your brother's couch and contact a real estate agent. It seems you've finally found a home.
Friday, January 27, 2012
ESPN's John Hollinger took a (stat-based, of course) crack at trying to explain their offensive woes, in the following article:
In short, he concludes that the Knicks are actually distributing the ball well (assisting on 55.4% of the their buckets, as compared to 55.7% for the top-rated Heat offense), but that their shots are, for whatever reason, simply not falling. He quotes a set of numbers to illustrate their blind-man marksmanship, numbers that you've either seen before, or are better off not seeing anyway. To that end, he wonders (or predicts) that Baron Davis may not be the saviour many are expecting him to be.
While his analysis is interesting, it doesn't really delve far enough into the issue. Is it simply that the Knick players are poor shooters? Rarely can things be explained so simply. There are ways of looking at the issue. Specifically, what *types* of shots are the Knicks getting? What is the breakdown of the number of 2s and 3s? I've heard numerous times that the Knicks are among the league leaders in 3-pt attempts. One wonders what you'd see if you further divided the issue into the locations on the court from where those 2-point attempts are coming, whether the shots are under duress, and where in the shot clock the shots are occuring. Those issues all affect the quality of shots taken, and thus the percentage of shots made.
It would hardly surprise me if another too-high percentage of their shots are occuring from 16-22 feet, as opposed to at the rim and from 3-9 feet (three of the four 2-pt shot locations quoted by advanced statisticians). If a bulk of those shots were also coming with defenders close by and late in the shot clock, I'd be equally unshocked to hear it.
And if so, maybe, just maybe, if B-Diddy can work the pick-and-roll, and rediscover some form of youth by getting into the lane, he may be able to raise the *quality* of the shots the Knicks are getting, which should affect their shooting percentages...or earn them a seat on the bench if not.
Perhaps one day I'll be bored enough to dig thru basketballreference.com to uncover those stats...or maybe some writer out there may earn his pay by doing so.
Salient points raised by Hollinger, but the analysis could go much deeper into the numbers to uncover the source(s) of the Knicks' struggles to score the ball.
Saturday, January 21, 2012
Of note, in the above-linked blog, which analyzes the 4 potential Super Bowl matchups, Adam, while discussing a potential Patriots/49ers game, includes this fantasic gem of historical inaccuracy:
And once, the 49ers played the way the Patriots do today: high-flying offense, limited defense.
Limited defense Adam? Excuse me? Were you awake, or even alive, during the 49ers run? Mercy me. Where do I begin? Well, since we're discussing the Super Bowl, let's just start with a number from there: 17.8. That's the average number of points scored by 49er opponents in their 5 Super Bowl victories (26-21, 38-16, 20-16, 55-10, 49-26). Limited?
But naturally, it's far too simplistic to stop there. It's just one game, right? After all, the Buffalo Bills were a great team, but you'd never know it from their final three Bowl appearances. So how did the 49ers defense fare over the duration of those Super Bowl years? Well, for starters: 1st, 2nd, 3rd, 6th, and 8th. Those are where their defense ranked among the league in points allowed during those runs. An average of 4th-best in the league in limiting the amount of points by the opposition. Limited? Was that perhaps a typo for limitING?
It gets worse. For four of the 5 Super Bowl runs, the 49er defense actually ranked just as high or *higher* in the league than their offense. In 1981, the defense actually carried the team more than the offense, ranking 2nd in the league in points allowed, as compared to the offense's 7th-place points-scored rank. In 1988, the defense was 8th and the offense again 7th. The 15-1 '84 team and 14-2 '89 team -- the two best of the dynasty -- had an offense-defense rating of 2-1 and 1-3 respectively. Do you really think that the 1984 team that shut down the high-flying, Dan Marino-led, record-setting Miami offense to a tune of 16 points is something to call "limited"? Nope. #1 in points allowed, the stingiest defense in the entire NFL that year. What a coincidence.
The only year you could make so much as a weak case for the offense carrying the team would be in 1994, when the offense ranked 1st and the defense 6th. However, good luck trying to convince anyone with a pulse that a defense that ranked 6th out of 30 teams is somehow "limited".
It is commom knowledge by now, among football circles, that the idea that the 49ers were all flash and no substance is ridiculous. Bill Walsh, Joe Montana and the West Coast Offense certainly made all the headlines, but anyone who truly follows football knows they had a stout defense each and every year, chock full of pro-bowlers and eventual Hall Of Famers.
Ronnie Lott. Charles Haley. Dwight Hicks. Keena Turner. Dana Stubblefied. Eric Wright. Fred Dean. Those names mean anything to you? They should. Hell, that 6th-rated 1994 defense had nearly their entire secondary (Tim McDonald, Merton Hanks, Deion Sanders) in the Pro Bowl.
Seriously, when you really take a good look at those 49er teams of yesteryear, you realize just how complete they were from top to bottom. Among the best teams the NFL has ever seen. There isn't a team among the 5 that even remotely resembles top-heavy teams like the 2011 Packers and Saints.
By the way, for the sake of comparison, this year's New England Patriots ranked 15th in the NFL in points allowed; 31st in yards allowed. (The 49er Super Bowl teams ranked 5th in the league in yards allowed on average, only once as low as 10th). Nevertheless, our dear Adam saw it fit to compare a defense that ranks 15th and 31st to one that averaged 4th and 5th. Sure, that makes sense.
Adam Schefter, hands off your keyboard, stand and take a bow; you are this week's sportswriting moron. Congratulations!
Tuesday, January 17, 2012
The weekend began with smashmouth pounding a New Orleans Saints RB (P. Thomas) out of the game, starting a contant stream of turnovers that put the Saints behind early. And though they eventually overcame the early deficit with their high-powered GQ glamour offense, it was their defense that failed to hold onto a fourth-quarter lead given to them -- twice. Then, in the weekend's final game, button-downed glamour football tried to make one last desperate stand against smashmouth, when the Green Bay Packers cut their deficit to the New York Giants down to 2 TDs halfway thru the fourth quarter. This gave the Pack some measure of hope that their own high-caliber pretty-boy offense would ride thru on a white horse to rescue the day. But, as with the Saints, their defensive deficiencies betrayed them, as the Giants -- armed with smashmouth running -- immediately marched right back down an onside-kick-shortened field and restored an insurmountable 3-TD lead. Both Green Bay and New Orleans were held in check by stingy opponents' defenses -- as well as their own costly mistakes -- and ultimately done in by the porousness of their own defenses. In between, the New England Patriots showed that maybe, just maybe, their reorganized defense can actually perform (statistically-speaking, their defense kept the Packers' company at the very bottom of the NFL rankings), and the Baltimore Ravens just went about their ho hum workmen smashmouth day, giving up exactly zero points in the 2nd half of their game.
What's somewhat strangely ironic in all this is that the San Francisco 49ers, the one team built more on smashmouth football than any left in the playoffs, were almost betrayed by their usually-stout defense (missing tackles, making judgment errors, and giving up 2 late TD drives) and had to be rescued by glittery offensive plays. I suppose the gods were subtly whispering to us: balance, it's all about balance.
So, the result of all this is that three smashmouth teams -- and a team who performed like one -- are all that remain in this year's playoff field. Those luxurious high-powered offense-driven teams? They will be parked in the garage at home watching with the rest of us.
We've heard it innumerable times: offense wins games, defense wins championships.
Betrayeth ye not the football gods, or suffer the wrath of agonizing playoff elimination. Purists rejoice!
(For the record, this is by no means armchair quarterbacking on my part. I hated the meaningful-exhibition-game idea the moment it was introduced. And actually, I didn't much care for the alternating-league home-field advantage rule that it replaced. Playoff teams should be rewarded for having better records than their opponents. We do it that way in the other two playoff rounds. In any case, I simply knew everyone would yawn at the "it counts!" idea. I certainly did.)
Not one to rest on his laurels, Bud now has a new target for generating fan interest: the MLB playoffs themselves. Specifically, Bud is furthering the push to add another wildcard team to the playoff pool, an idea that has been bantering around for the past few years. However, it's not a real playoff team per se; this 2nd team will merely lock horns with the other wildcard team for a one-game playoff, the winner of which will go on to face the #1 team in the league. If that sounds eerily like the NCAA Basketball play-in game, then congratulations, you are paying complete attention. Now, when was the last time you rearranged your work and/or personal schedule so that you could catch that compelling all-important 64 vs. 65 matchup? Never? Like hell you say.
Simply put, this idea is dumb. It's not going to have any grand effect on fan interest...if it has any effect at all. The problem? There is simply no foolproof playoff scheme that can account for every possible playoff race scenario. If it's "boring" to have one team far ahead of the others in a wildcard race, it will be just as boring to have two teams far ahead of all the others in the race. Will these two teams break their necks down the stretch, jockeying for positioning to have that all-important play-in game at home? Maybe...but not as much as they'll be trying to set up their pitching rotation to make sure their ace is pitching that game. Ask any manager if he'd rather have his #4 pitcher starting at home, or his ace pitching on the road.
And what of the playoffs after the play-in game? Now you have a slightly-weary team, perhaps one that's flying all over the country in a span of days, unable to start their ace in game one of the divisional series, and unable to use the ace twice in the 5-game series, thereby eliminating one of the most exciting, most compelling and scariest prospects of the MLB playoffs. I cannot wait for some top-heavy-pitching team -- i.e. a team with one good starter and a bunch of also-rans filling out the rotation -- to finish 10 games in back of the first wildcard team in the standings, win the play-in game (due to their one superb pitcher), and then become chew-toy playoff fodder for their best-in-league divisional series opponent.
We see versions of this kind of one-trick pony team with some regularity; opening up the pool of teams only increases the chance of having such a team sneak into the divisional round, only to be overmatched and massacred by their league-leading foe, all because they've been forced to exhaust the one competitive advantage they could have used, the one chance they might've had to keep up with the bigger dog.
Naturally, this scenario of de-fanging a one-pitcher staff is but one specific risk. However, each and every one of these wildcard teams would undoubtedly be negatively affected by that one-game playoff. Okay, so maybe the rest of your rotation behind your ace isn't made up of single-A callups and home-run derby pitching coaches. But there's a reason why you consider one pitcher on your staff to be your ace. It's because he's the one guy you feel most confident turning to when you absolutely positively have to get a win. He's the one guy who you *will* turn to in that situation. Teams who have 2 or more of those guys? They don't end up as 5th and 6th seeds in the league. They win divisions.
So, regardless of the makeup of the wildcard teams, you are fairly assured of having a lower-seeded divisional series opponent that will be starting on the road *and* unable to use their ace until game 3 or 4. Wait, what's that? There *is* no game 4 because your team got swept, so your ace *never* gets to pitch in the series at all? Poor you. How'd that play-in game win work out for ya? This is something that happens occasionally in the playoffs; having a mandatory play-in game ensures it will happen on a near-yearly basis -- twice.
Last season, September saw Tampa, Boston, and LA in the AL, and St. Louis, Atlanta and Milwaukee in the NL, engaging in two frantic "races" in the final weeks of the season for the single wildcard spot in each league (I use the term 'race' loosely, because you normally don't see a contestant in a race running in reverse the way the Red Sox and Braves were). But what if there were two wildcard spots? The final week of the Tampa/Boston American League race would've been wholly uninteresting. No amount of clubhouse chicken and beer would've made Boston get lapped by *two* teams. Once the Greater Los Angeles Anaheim Area Angels of Disneyland Incorporated fell too far behind both Boston and Tampa, the lure of the 'race' would've been over. Same with the National League race. The magical final weekend would've lost all significance and suspense. That final day I spent in my local sportsbar with my head on a swivel following four (or was it 6?) games? I wouldn't have bothered to leave the house. That absolutely magical (no histrionics here; it truly was) 3-minute stretch where Boston and Tampa swapped playoff positions one final time? Who would care? Hell, would it have even happened? A weekend, if not an entire week, of excitement and suspense, sacrificed for a single game. One which could very well end up being a blowout, further whittling down a week's worth of suspense into two or three innings.
Did I mention that this change would also likely completely kill the fantastical notion of the one-game playoff? Now, instead of having a handful of these games scattered throughout MLB history (Yankees/Red Sox in the 70s, Tigers/Twins a few seasons ago), you will have two, every single year. The uniqueness of the game, the lore of the phrase, will be completely lost. Hell, a decade from now, we may not even view those historical game-163's in the same nostalgic light.
So, from the final weeks of the regular season, to the divisional playofs, to the mystical history of past playoff games, there will be no end to the carnage Bud is about to unleash on us.
Attempting to create a false pretense of excitement at the end of the regular season, meanwhile simultaneously diluting one entire divisional playoff series...which naturally effects the league championship series and beyond. Brilliant Bud. Simply...brilliant.
Thursday, January 12, 2012
Dumb Writer #1 and Dumb Writer #2.
Now, NY Daily News -- and NY Post -- are publications of which I loathe to read any section, so it took my boy Cook to point me to these lazy pieces of journalism. (Not that all of the major sports publications aren't saddled with their own shabby writing.) But, right after watching the NY Knicks defeat the Philadelphia 76ers at the Garden last night, Cook and I predicted there would be some dumbwriter that would draw for the easy "the Sixers were playing their third game in three nights and were tired" excuse. And right on cue...What is almost comical is the offhanded way in which the second dumbwriter constantly refers back to the Sixers 3-in-3 stretch and their supposedly-tired legs. "The Knicks could've pulled away, but didn't manage to against a team that must've had dead legs..."
Now, perhaps you're thinking that the 3-in-3 stretch was, in fact, a plausible excuse. Allow me to halt your thinking in its tracks. To start, Philly is a young team, among the youngest in the NBA. If there's anyone equipped to handle a brutal stretch, it's them, even taking into account the fast pace at which they play. However, was this stretch really brutal? The first two games were in Philly, and the third in NY. With the lack of travel, you might as well just call that three home games. Hell, with Philly players typically calling New Jersey their home, there's a very real chance there is a Sixer or two for whom the trip to the Garden was a shorter commute. But here's the real kicker: the second game, the one just prior to last night, was a blowout. A laugher. A brutal 27-point beatdown (of the Sacramento Kings). None of the Sixer starters even played the 4th quarter; all but one played under 30 minutes. Outside of Holliday and Turner (a sub), the top rotation guys logged 29, 25, 22, 22, and 21 minutes. THIS is the team you think is so worn out? Give me a freakin' break.
Last weekend, Oklahoma City had a 3-in-3 swing where they had to fly to Houston, then back home, in between the games. Then, after an off-day, they had another back-to-back (so, 5 games in 6 nights). That is a brutal stretch. A 3-game stretch with 2 home games, the 2nd a blowout, and a 90 mile trip on New Jersey Transit? Boo hoo cry me a river.
Now, if these writers were angling for excuses, for mitigating factors to devalue the Knicks win, they might have noticed that the Sixers starting center, Spencer Hawes, got injured in that second game and didn't play the Knicks. Hawes has been getting print all over sports websites for his surprising early-season play. Scan both articles above; neither of the words "Spencer" nor "Hawes" even appear once! Two writers and neither of them noticed the opponent was without their starting center? One of the most improved players in the entire league so far? What the hell do they pay these sportswriters for?
Hawes being out had much more to do with last night's game than some cookie-cutter lazy notion of tired legs. Anybody who watched that game and surmised the Sixers were tired needs to visit their optometrist. Hawes being out obviously altered the Sixers rotation, disrupting their bench which, as the writers pointless trotted out, is among the league leaders in scoring. Well, lo and behold, late in the 1st and 3rd quarters -- when the bench came in -- the Knicks went on big runs, 14-2 to end the first. Those two runs effectively decided the game, forcing Philly to play uphill all night long. Hmm, an offensive eruption against a bench playing their first game with an altered rotation. Gee, who would'a thunk it. Seriously, this really is not rocket science, people.