Wednesday, December 19, 2007

I Am Now a Multimedia Personality

Hey, I was on my boss at SportsHub LA's internet radio show today. Instead of having me tell you about it, here's the link. Scroll down on the right and you'll find the applet.

Monday, December 17, 2007

I suppose it's my duty to put this up

Here's a link to the Basketball Jones' podcast prominently featuring The Fedora. I feel offended I was mentioned at no point during the coverage of this story. Guess I haven't made it yet. Oh, and new post is up on FreeDarko. Go check it out. CHRISTMAS BREAK!

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Slightly Less Crappy than bullets, but not the quality of a real column!

Update: Two new posts I actually like up on MVN. There's a happy one and a sad one. Go forth boldly.

Is anyone else perplexed by the fact that LeBron is a truly horrible dresser? It's odd for two reasons; first of all, I assume, like everyone else, that Nike is more or less running LeBron's public life like the mafia ran Tom Cruise's life in The Firm, so I can't figure out why there wasn't a Gulfstream flying from Oregon to Cleveland the first time LeBron came to the sidelines in jeans and a test pattern.

Second, LeBron makes no bones about MJ being his idol, and seems to be on board with Nike's plan of modeling his persona in the Jordan/Tiger mold. Well, a huge part of Jordan's image was of Jordan as consummate businessman and member of high society. We know now that MJ has a serious gambling problem, still rolls with his old enforcer, whips out the cigars and the cards whenever he gets a chance, damn near ran the Wizards into the ground, and isn't doing the best job with the Bobcats so far; he's nowhere near the businessman that Magic Johnson has been into his retirement. Mostly, MJ was a businessman because he let his name on the right things and looked the part. Nike knows this better than anyone, which means LeBron should know it as well. So why does LeBron dress the way he does?

One thing to note is that LeBron's not dressing like a gangster, which set AI's mainstream acceptance back a good 6 or 7 years. He's just dressing like he's intentionally trying to be goofy, which could tie back to his surprisingly wacky turn as the host of the ESPYs, trying to remind us all that he's a big kid at heart beneath the two kids and 90 million dollars and MVP numbers and the absolving of sins. Or it could just be that he was trying to look like Kanye and Maverick Carter told him it looked good. Or it could be the other end of the bet that led to Drew Gooden's ducktail. As we found out far too well recently, Nike really can't keep their biggest clients in check the way we think they can sometimes.

Thursday, December 6, 2007

Redemption in Las Vegas

This summer, the titans of the game, LeBron and Kobe, went to Las Vegas with holes in their hearts and chips on their shoulders, the both of them coming fresh off of utter beatdowns at the hands of better teams. Both of them saw that they still had a ways to go before getting their teams a championship, which LeBron needs to take the next step towards becoming the Next and Kobe needs to redeem the second volume of his story. Both of them saw they had a ways to travel to get the ring, but they would have to go in different directions. LeBron's road led him to look inward, while Kobe had to look outside.

LeBron and the E Street Band's improbable path to the NBA Finals saw LeBron lifting one weight from his shoulders and finding another-in one week, LeBron took the final step in clearing himself of all the "too soft," "doesn't want it bad enough," and "can't make the big shot" labels by slamming the door on the seemingly superior Pistons in games 3 and 4, having his legendary game 5, and then out-thinking the Pistons' reactionary double-coverage with deft passing in game 6 to seal the series. In leading his ragtag bunch to the finals by systematically mixing in his stretches of dominance with deft leadership and team-involvement, LeBron proved himself the consummate team leader, a man capable of putting an entire team on his back and carrying them to an entirely different plane with not just his skills but his knowledge of when to deploy them, a distinction previously reserved for MJ.

Unfortunately, LeBron was stopped cold in his tracks by a San Antonio team hellbent on exposing LeBron's still-incomplete individual game, cutting off his driving lanes, keeping him from getting his teammates involved, and forcing them to beat him by doing something other than going to the basket and leading a trail of bodies in his wake. Their strategy worked; LeBron's mid-range jumper continually fell short, and when he tried to post up Bruce Bowen to keep the defense from loading up on him, his lack of refinement in the post and inability to create easy looks for himself was exposed as well. (Quick aside: KD's got a New Job! Thank God; I was going through withdrawals.) All told, LeBron shot the ball 90 times in 4 games and only made 35% of his shots; in a series decided by 24 points, LeBron knew that while many would say the Cavs were simply overmatched, in reality he knew that the ultimate reason for the loss, or at least the sweep, was that holes remained in his game.

Meanwhile, Kobe Bryant quickly suffered a 5-game loss to the mighty Suns. Kobe played spectacularly in the series, slapping up 33/5/5 on 47% shooting, numbers as good or better than any player in any series during the entire playoffs. Yet Kobe was unable to impose his will on the series the way MJ did back in the day; his greatness failed to carry over to the rest of his team, and only Lamar Odom posted double figures in scoring for a talented offensive team in a high-scoring series. The Suns may even have stifled a chuckle; not only was their strategy to let Kobe get his points and leave his teammates out, they put that strategy in :07 Seconds or Less, which included the Suns' strategy meetings against the Lakers when they met in the playoffs the previous season. Coupled with Kobe's inexplicable fold in Game 7 the previous year, many began to say (okay, this is mostly my theory, but I think a lot of people secretly thought it), that while Kobe had raised his game to a level of individual perfection not seen since Jordan, he did not possess the mysterious and intangible quality that Jordan acquired in the legendary stage of his career-the ability to individually control any and every game, to make his teammates better, and to win big games through sheer savvy and force of will. While Kobe was great as Shaq's partner, and may even have been better than Shaq in the 3rd championship year, as an alpha dog he was no Jordan. Kobe then compounded all the questions about his leadership by getting caught on tape ripping teammate and future franchise center Andrew Bynum, and capped it all off by demanding a trade on May 30th, looking to flee the team he had ultimately built in his image by chasing out Shaq. (I know this is now a disputed point-Kobe was a free agent, and made it clear to the Laker brass that if they retained Shaq, he was not going to sign with the team, forcing them to choose. It's in Phil Jackson's book, and I'm going to trust him on this one.)

Then, as it so often does, Las Vegas changed everything in a hurry. On a team full of franchise guys like Jason Kidd, Chauncey Billups, Dwight Howard, 'Melo and LeBron, Kobe stepped into the alpha dog role with ease. On a team that even LeBron and 'Melo said was Kobe's to command, Kobe checked his ego at the door; the NBA's scoring leader the last two seasons kept his shots in check, finishing 3rd on the team in scoring. He stayed within the offense, almost never forcing a fadeaway, and made sure the hot scorers kept the ball in their hands. He gladly took the toughest assignment on defense every night and gave his man 40 minutes of hell. He even gave pep talks. He was, finally, the undisputed leader of a truly great team.

Meanwhile, LeBron, the memory of all those bricked midrange jumpers still fresh in his mind, came out and unleashed his new jumper on the unsuspecting international community. It was revealed that he'd been more or less living with a shooting coach all summer, and had taken the fade and "string-pull" out of his shot entirely, making him LeBron 2.0. This was not the LeBron we'd come to know and love over four years, disregarding entire chunks of the "right way" playbook and instead simply overpowering everyone with his unprecedented bag of skills. This was the perfect machine of basketball, drilling spot-up jumpers when he didn't feel like just going right through everyone and throwing it down. His 11-11 game shows a game so perfect it's legitimately frightening. After a 35% performance in the Finals, LeBron shot 76% in the FIBAs, along with 62% from beyond the three-point arc. And he led the team in assists. For one shining tournament, LeBron not only could do many things better than anybody had ever dreamed of, but his game was entirely devoid of flaws. Somewhere, Charley Rosen officially gave up.

Then, just like in the real world, the summer was over and reality set in-it's a lot harder to lead a normal team to glory than a team whose worst player is probably better than anyone else in the tournament's best player, and it's a lot harder to hit shots when you don't have Jason Kidd, Kobe, and Carmelo setting you up with perfect looks. While Kobe may never triumphantly lead a team he can truly call his own to the promised land, and LeBron will almost certainly never shoot 76% over an entire season, Kobe and LeBron have been able to carry over some of the lessons from their summer of redemption into the games that count. Kobe's "only" scoring 27 points a game this year, and has yet to enter himself into the MVP discussion, but his team is off to a solid 11-8 start, and youngsters Jordan Farmar and Andrew Bynum are blossoming under Kobe's leadership. What's more, Kobe is starting to show the will to win games by himself; tonight, Kobe put the upstart Nuggets and AI's 41 points away with an MJ-style 4th quarter. Finally, Kobe vetoed an offer that would have put him alongside Chauncey, Rasheed, and the rest of a Pistons squad almost undoubtedly more talented than Kobe's Laker teammates, and in the weaker Eastern Conference to boot, showing, at least to me, that Kobe's committed to sticking with the Lakers and being the kind of leader he was in Vegas.

Meanwhile, LeBron's team is 9-11, and clearly worse at this point than Boston, Orlando, and Detroit, who have their swag back; while the team could afford to go without LeBron for a game or two last year, this year they've become dependent on him, and have looked positively lost during his 4-game injury stint. However, LeBron is getting as close as we've ever seen anyone to individual perfection, putting up an obscene 31/8/8 nightly on 49% shooting, putting up triple-doubles and 40-point games so often they're just not surprising anymore. His jumper is still a weakness, and he's only at 70% from the free throw line, but a new post game and commitment to going all-out every night have allowed him to seize the crown of the league's best right now.

LeBron and Kobe still have a long road ahead of them, but here's hoping that what happened in Vegas for those two will know the rest.

Tuesday, December 4, 2007

Where to go for Your Advanced Basketball Stats

First off, here's a link to an epic post I slapped up on SportsHub LA about all the games during USC/UCLA weekend, which even got linked on TrueHoop with a glaring grammatical error right there in the quoted paragraph. Hey, it's not like I'm an English major or anything.

Today's Berri/Bynum/Kobe debacle made me finally get around to putting up a kind of "Beginner's Guide To Advanced Basketball Stats," which I've wanted to do for a while. I'm a bit of a stats junkie: when I read "Moneyball" as a kid, a light kind of went off in my head and I've been a die-hard stats guy ever since; I'm a huge proponent of knowing everything possible about a topic before forming an opinion, and a big reason I don't write about baseball is that guys like Bill James have nearly reduced the game to a science, and I don't think there's more informative/insightful work on baseball than what the guys at Baseball Prospectus are doing, and I don't have anywhere near the resources to keep up with them and tell people anything Prospectus can't. I could say "The Yankees should think about the fact that horrible, horrible things often happen to teams that put a lot of stock into young pitching," and mention the A's and Cubs, but BP could easily break out an analysis of age, usage rates, and everything else and have a definite answer where I could only offer a few anecdotes. Because of the team nature of basketball, it's still more art than science, which is why it's much more fun for me to write about.

That being said, there's been a movement to provide Moneyball-type basketball statistics in the last few years, and of course I've been keeping up. Here are my favorite advanced-stats websites:

1. John Hollinger

Synopsis:'s resident basketball statistician and thus probably the best-known one of all, which is fortunate, because he's probably better than anyone else at navigating the uneasy divide between basketball science and basketball art.

Signature Statistic: PER (Player Efficency Rating), a stat that takes all of a player 's points, shooting percentage, rebounds, assists, etc. on a per-minute basis and puts them into one individual statistic.

Uniting Theory: Basketball stats should not be measured by the gross of what they do over a game or a season, because those numbers are skewed by usage, pace, league conditions, and minutes played but what players and teams to on a per-possession basis.

Useful Statistics: True Shooting %(Takes free throws and 3-pointers into account and gives a shooting percentage based on all of those-hugely valuable when comparing guys like Shaq and Steve Nash), "pace" factor (how many possessions a team uses in a given game), usage rate (how many possessions a player uses in a given game), assist ratio (what % of a player's possessions end in assists), rebound ratio (what percentage of rebounds a player pulls down).

Sample John Hollinger Column: A great piece about how the point guards that age well are the ones that shoot well, have good size, and pass well, while the ones that do only one or none of those things will fall off rapidly after 30.

Pretentiousness factor: Low to Moderate. Hollinger believes in his statistics, but knows they don't exist in a vacuum; in his player previews, he includes a more conventional paragraph explaining what about that player may have caused his numbers to fail to describe him, such as that player's defense, how young players can mess up his system, how he'll be playing a different role this year, how a trade may have affected his team, etc. However, if you argue with one of his findings, like that a team's true quality is better calculated by their average scoring margin than their actual wins and losses, prepare to feel his wraith.


Synopsis: Essentially a no-frills pile of stats compiled by a small army of "game charters" who watch every game and record things that aren't reflected in a box score.

Signature Statistic: +/-, which was started on and subsequently grabbed by the NBA and now exists as the Lenovo Statistic. Their catch-all statistic is the "Roland Rating," which puts +/- along with the player's PER and his defensive counterpart's PER to make an overall rating.

Uniting Theory: Hey, there's a lot of things that happen in an NBA game that aren't in a box score! Let's record them!

Usful Stats: Breakdown of each player's shots into jumpers, "close" shots, and dunks, with how many of each the player takes and their percentage on each, +/- statistics for offense, defense, and rebounding, if their assists led to 3s, jumpers, layups, or dunks, crunch time statistics, data on which players play well together, production by position...the list goes on.

Sample Column: Their columns are an extension of their site; examinations of interesting things. (Last-second shot performance, how teams perform after timeouts, who took the most charges, etc. They've shied away from more ambitious columns like "The value of a Steve Nash" in recent years, although they did just do a nice study on how the pre-season reflects on the actual season.

Pretentiousness Factor: Zero. You can easily spend 20 minutes on without seeing a word, and most of their columns are basically "Hey, here's a table! Here's what the table says! I wonder what that means!"

3. The Wages of Wins guys

Synopsis: The first chapter of their book, The Wages of Wins, said that it intended to be basketball's answer to Moneyball. Naturally, I plowed through it. When I finished it, I felt sick to my stomach. That's all I'll say for now.

Uniting Theory: They've run retroactive regression analysis on past games, and have decided that they can then go back and assign "wins" to each player based on his rebounds, assists, and scoring efficiency. Usage means nothing to them: They believe that it a player who goes 2 for 3 is more valuable than a player who goes 18 of 30, since a team ends up shooting on every possession anyways. However, they do not believe that carries over to rebounding, and believe that Jason Kidd's 8 rebounds per game is in no way effected by the fact that his big men are poor rebounders. Based on this, they award each player with a number of "wins," even though the numbers don't carry over-the 5 best players each year amass a cumulative win total of over 82, which clearly shows the rating is fluid, but they stick to it like it is absolute. Their unifying theory is a load of crap. I'm an English major who intends never to take another math class in his life, so I'm out of my league with this stuff, but Hollinger and the guys at 82games have both written up pretty convincing cases against the book, so read those, since those guys know what they're talking about better than I do.

Signature Statistic: "WP48" (Wins Produced per 48 minutes), which I described above.

Useful Statistics: None. Everything is about WP or WP48, which are both essentially useless takes on data everyone already has.

Pretentiousness Factor: Extreme. These guys firmly believe that everything they say is right and everyone in the NBA is stupid for not believing them, and never comment on when things like Ben Wallace being a horrifying bust happens. In their book, they drop gems like "People fail to consider that points scored in the first quarter count just the same as points scored in the 4th quarter" and "If every team played their mascot, people would conclude that the mascot is an integral part of the game." They're even annoying when they're right, saying things like "People say that Adam Morrison is on his way to Rookie of the Year this year. But what has he done well? Basically, he's shot more than anyone else. So what he's good at is throwing the ball towards the basket." Of course, maybe we deserve to be talked down to: not all of us are able to see into the future and know that Nick Fazekas will be better than Al Horford and Greg Oden. I'm being a bit hypocritical in dishing out venom to these guys when my big problem with them is their attitude, but these guys get under my skin. I'm sorry. Go to the first two sites, and hopefully we can keep anyone from trying to reduce the beauty of basketball to some sort of Excel experiment, and not even being right.