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Just The Sports

Just The Sports

Wednesday, March 07, 2012

Kobe Bryant Does Not Deserve To Be In the MVP Race

Los Angeles Lakers head coach Mike Brown meant well when he said that Kobe Bryant deserved to be in the MVP race. No doubt, his comments were probably just a way for him to strengthen the relationship between a first-year head coach and his superstar player, but that does not change the fact his comments were completely erroneous. In no way, shape, or form does Bryant deserve to even have his name mentioned in the MVP discussion unless it is to say that Bryant in no way deserves the MVP.

Yes, Kobe Bryant is currently leading the league in scoring with 28.7 points per game, but he is doing so in such an inefficient manner that it actually precludes him from being considered even the most valuable player on his own team.

Bryant is not leading the NBA in scoring because he is shooting the ball well; he is leading the NBA in scoring because he is taking a lot of shots. In fact, according to, Bryant has taken the most field goal attempts this season and it is not even close. Bryant has attempted 903 shots this year, which is 155 more than the second-place player, Kevin Durant, has attempted.

To put that extreme difference into context, between first and second in field goal attempts is almost as great as the difference between second and tenth in the same category (157 FGA).

One would hope that the person who is taking the most shots in the NBA would also lead it in scoring, although it is not like Bryant is even leading the league by scoring by that much despite his enormous advantage in the number of shots he hoists up every night. He only has a .6 points per game edge over Durant's 28.1 points per game, underscoring just how inefficient a scorer Bryant has been.

Bryant is attempting all these shots despite the fact he currently has the lowest effective field goal percentage (46.7 eFG%) and true shooting percentage (52.7 TS%) of his career so, in essence, he is hurting the team with all his field goal attempts more than he is helping them.

His shooting woes are so problematic to his performances that Bryant's offensive rating this season of 104 points produced per 100 possessions is his lowest since his rookie season and his win shares per 48 minutes (.157) are the fifth-lowest of his 15-year career and his worst mark in that category since the 2004-05 season.

To suggest Bryant is worthy of being discussed in the MVP race is ludicrous when one considers just how poorly a season he is having compared to other seasons he has had in a career that is frankly absent of many MVP-caliber seasons.

While Kobe Bryant is not even measuring up well to his usual production, when you compare him to the players who truly deserve to be discussed as MVP candidates, he looks even worse.

Using Basketball-Reference's win shares per 48 minutes statistic, which is vastly superior to PER since it does not reward production totals over efficiency, finds that Bryant is not even in the top 20, and he only shows up as 17th in win shares (4.7) because of all the minutes he has played this year.

There is no objective evidence one could use to make the case that Bryant is a possible MVP as everything shows that while he is still better than the vast majority of NBA players, he is not in the upper echelon of players this season.

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Saturday, May 14, 2011

Detroit Tigers: Austin Jackson Will Never Be That Good Again

With each passing month of Detroit Tigers center fielder Austin Jackson's career, it becomes ever more apparent that the way he tore the cover off the ball in the first month of his career was not representative of the kind of player he actually is. In fact, he has not come close to the heights he reached in the March/April days of the 2010 season.

Over the first 23 games of his career, Jackson probably did not know what the big deal about being in the Major League was all about; professional baseball, even at the highest level, was incredibly easy.

During that time span, Jackson hit .364/.422/.495 with a .410 wOBA, which is the hitting line for an All-Star and a borderline MVP candidate. Jackson's elite production was aided by an absolutely unsustainable .530 batting average on balls in play and a 37.5 line drive percentage.

For the season, Jackson hit .755/.748/1.000 with a .757 wOBA on line drives, further providing proof that line drives are the hits that help a batter the most, and he hit an inordinate amount of line drives in March and April of 2010. Since April 2010, ended, however, Jackson has yet to have a month where his line drive percentage was higher than 28.0 percent so he has not been able to benefit from as many line drives.

Jackson's opening month of his career was so extremely not indicative of his actual talent that his next-best month, which took place in July, represents a 13.7 percent drop in his batting average (.314), a 15.2 percent decrease in on-base percentage (.358), a 6.9 percent drop in slugging percentage (.461), a 12.4 percent decrease in wOBA (.359), an 18.5 percent decrease in batting average on balls in play (.432), and a 31.5 percent decrease in line drive percentage (25.7 percent).

His other months are an even more precipitous drop-off in his hitting ability as he spent just as much time being a below-average hitter as an above-average one. Last season, the average wOBA for a player was .320; for three months, he was an above-average player, and for three months, he was below-average.

Luckily for Jackson, his above-average months outshone his below-average ones so he still finished the season with a .333 wOBA.

Jackson's struggles as a hitter continued over the first month of this baseball season as he hit only .181/.252/.257 with a .232 wOBA. During those 27 contests, Jackson also posted the lowest batting average on balls in play of his career (.265) so it is no wonder it was another mediocre hitting month for Jackson.

With the way in which Jackson's career path is trending, his biggest struggle will not be trying to duplicate the first 23 games of his career. Instead, the biggest battle he will face is not being a below-average hitter more often than he is an above-average one.

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Monday, May 09, 2011

New York Yankee First Baseman Mark Teixeira Will Not Have To Play Catch-Up This Season

For the first time in his three seasons with the New York Yankees, first baseman Mark Teixeira will not have to spend every month of the baseball season after April playing catch-up so he can match his career numbers. Instead, all he has to do for the rest of this regular season is to match the production he had over his great first month of the season.

Over the first month of the season, including a lone game in March, Teixeira posted a batting line of .256/.392/.549 with a .410 wOBA. His .256 batting average and his .273 batting average on balls in play are not as good as his career marks of a .285 batting average and .302 batting average on balls in play, but Teixeira is not letting that keep him from having his best ever opening full month of the season; in 2004 over the course of eight games of a truncated April, Teixeira hit .276/.432/.552 with a .422 wOBA, but there is no certainty that he would have done that for the whole month.

The reason why Teixeira's start to the season has been so excellent has everything to do with his on-base and slugging percentages, percentages that are more indicative of a baseball player's true hitting level than batting average anyway. Riding the strength of a 15.7 walk percentage along with being hit by pitches on three separate occasions, Teixeira has managed to get on base at an MVP-level clip.

In fact, should Teixeira manage to maintain that on-base percentage for the rest of the season, it would give him his third-highest on-base percentage for a season since his career began in 2003.

Teixeira's March and April were also witness to a power explosion, the likes of which he has never experienced over a full March and April. His .293 isolated power is so impressive that should he manage to sustain it, it will be the highest such mark of his career. To sustain his stratospheric isolated power, however, he will need to also keep up a very impressive 20.0 home run to fly ball percentage. Since he has already had a higher home run to fly ball percentage in two previous seasons, 2004 (22.4 HR/FB%) and 2005 (21.2 HR/FB%), it is not outside the realm of possibility that he can do so again.

The 2011 March and April Teixeira put up is a far cry from what he did in his other two seasons as a New York Yankee. In 2009, he started off the season hitting .200/.367/.371 with a .330 wOBA. To get to his season totals, Teixeira had to improve his batting average by 46.0 percent (.292), his on-base percentage by 4.4 percent (.383), his slugging percentage by 52.3 percent (.565), and his wOBA by 21.8 percent (.402).

Last season, Teixeira dug himself an even deeper hole, starting off with a March and April batting just .136/.300/.259 with a .270 wOBA. With such a slow start to the season, Teixeira was required to improved his batting average by 88.2 percent (.256), his on-base percentage by 21.7 percent (.365), his slugging percentage by 85.7 percent (.481), and his wOBA by 35.9 percent (.367). The opening month hole was so deep that even with his stellar hitting the rest of the season, 2010 was his worst hitting season since his rookie year.

As one can see, it has been when Teixeira has put balls in play that he has struggled the most for the Yankees in March and April. Fortunately for him and his team, that has not been a concern this season since he is hitting with such a tremendous amount of power, he will not have to scramble to try to turn an awful start into a productive season.

With the sort of confidence that such a hot start brings with it, we might all be witnessing one of the best seasons Teixeira has had as a professional baseball player.

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Friday, May 06, 2011

2011 NFL Draft: Philip Rivers' Big Pass Plays Will Continue With New Target, Vincent Brown

For three straight years San Diego Chargers quarterback Philip Rivers has led the NFL in yards per pass attempt, and his reign at the top of that passing category will no doubt continue with the drafting of former San Diego State wide receiver, Vincent Brown, in the third round. Of course, Rivers will only be able to benefit from Brown's big play ability if Brown is able to replicate what he did in college football, especially his last two seasons.

Over Brown's collegiate career, he provided a decent amount of value to his San Diego State quarterbacks, but he was not overly impressive in his production by any means.

After Brown's wide receiving statistics, which include his receptions, passes on which he was targeted, and receptions, were removed from San Diego State's quarterbacks' passing statistics, the quarterbacks experienced a .9 percent decrease in completion percentage (from 57.0 percent to 56.5 percent), a 5.5 percent decrease in yards per pass attempt (from 7.3 to 6.9), a 4.7 percent increase in yards per completion (from 12.8 to 12.2), and an 8.3 percent decrease in touchdown percentage (from 4.8 percent to 4.4 percent).

Brown's career numbers are not as impressive as some of the top wide receivers taken in the draft like Jonathan Baldwin, Aldrick Robinson, Torrey Smith, A.J. Green, or Leonard Hankerson, but the Chargers are not interested in what Brown did over his whole career. They want him to do for them what he did over his last two seasons at San Diego State.

Over his last two seasons, which included 20 games, once Brown's wide receiving statistics are removed from San Diego State's quarterbacks' passing statistics, the quarterbacks underwent a 2.3 percent decrease in completion percentage (from 56.8 percent to 55.5 percent), a 12.9 percent decrease in yards per pass attempt (from 8.5 to 7.4), a 10.7 percent decrease in yards per completion (from 14.9 to 13.3), and an 8.8 percent decrease in touchdown percentage (from 6.8 percent to 6.2 percent).

While those fantastic seasons still were not better than the best seasons of Baldwin, Robinson, or Smith, they are still extremely valuable and made Brown the fourth-best wide receiver in the draft in terms of value given to his college quarterbacks.

Since Rivers has already proven so adept at gaining huge chunks of yardage per pass attempt, adding a wide receiver of Brown's caliber, who has elite-level ability in terms of aiding a quarterback in that statistical category, will ensure that the Chargers continue to have one of the most dangerous passing attacks in the NFL.

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Wednesday, May 04, 2011

2011 NFL Draft: Pat Devlin Deserves A Legitimate Chance In The NFL

Based on the quarterbacks who were drafted in the 2011 NFL Draft, the fact that former University of Delaware Blue Hen quarterback Pat Devlin went undrafted shows just how convoluted the NFL's process for selecting quarterbacks truly is. Despite the numerous interviews and the multiple workouts NFL teams put prospective quarterbacks through, most teams have no idea what they should truly look for when trying to predict how a college quarterback will perform in the NFL.

Even though Devlin went undrafted, his college football résumé measures up extremely favorably to every quarterback who was drafted; for the purposes of this article, his college statistics will only be compared to the six quarterbacks taken in the first three rounds of the draft who started at least two seasons of college football.

Accuracy is the most important tool a college quarterback can possess when making the transition to the NFL, and those quarterbacks who have been able to consistently put up excellent completion percentages across multiple seasons are those who are most likely to experience success in professional football.

Under that criterion, it is Devlin and no other quarterback who is best suited to quarterback an NFL team. In his first year as Delaware's primary quarterback (games in which he either attempted the most passes or threw for the most yards) after transferring from Penn State, Devlin completed 64.0 percent of his passes for 7.7 yards per pass attempt. Devlin then followed that up in his second year as a starter by completing 67.9 percent of his passes for 7.9 yards per pass attempt.

Part of his improvement in completion percentage from his junior to senior season is because his yards per completion dropped from an average of 12.1 yards to 11.6 yards. Even so, there is no doubt Devlin has elite accuracy.

It becomes even more elite when compared to the quarterbacks drafted in the first three rounds who started more than one season in college football. Devlin's career completion percentage of 66.0 percent as a primary quarterback is statistically significantly better than Jake Locker's (54.0 percent), Blaine Gabbert's (61.2 percent), Christian Ponder's (62.4 percent), Andy Dalton's (61.6 percent), and Colin Kaepernick's (58.3 percent). Although Devlin's career completion percentage was not statistically significantly better than Ryan Mallett's (60.2 percent) due to Mallett's incredibly inconsistency in his accuracy, it was still much better; in fact, it was 9.6 percent better.

Since no other quarterback in the draft could hold a candle to Devlin in terms of being very accurate across multiple seasons, it is absurd that no team was willing to reward him for his college football career. He should have been at the very least highly drafted. In a perfect world, he would have been the first quarterback chosen.

Devlin's college career is also superior to the career of former Delaware and current Baltimore Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco.

For his college career, Flacco completed 63.4 percent of his passes for 7.5 yards per pass attempt, both worse than Devlin's 66.0 completion percentage and 7.8 yards per pass attempt.

Devin also had a higher touchdown percentage than Flacco (5.2 percent to 4.4 percent), which made up for the fact he had a slightly higher interception percentage (1.7 percent to 1.6 percent).

There is not much more a college quarterback could have done to convince the NFL he is worthy of a shot to start than to have a better college career than an NFL starting quarterback than what Devlin accomplished. Devlin did every single thing he needed to do to warrant an NFL team giving him a legitimate shot to be a team's franchise quarterback.

Unfortunately for Devlin, based on the fact he went undrafted, it is improbable that a team will allow him to truly compete for a starting quarterback position. Therefore, the NFL's thinking that he will not succeed in the NFL will become a self-fulfilling prophecy as he will probably never be given a chance to prove otherwise.

Devlin certainly deserves that opportunity, however.

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Monday, May 02, 2011

LeBron James And Not Derrick Rose Was The NBA's MVP

Miami Heat forward LeBron James has proved himself a prophet. By joining Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh in South Beach, James predicted that he was eliminating himself from MVP contention, and that is exactly what has happened. Despite being the most valuable player in the league for the third straight season, he will have to watch as his award goes to a much less deserving player in Derrick Rose.

Even though James was unable to duplicate the efficient production of his two previous seasons, seasons which rival Michael Jordan at his best, James was still the best player to step on the court for the 2010-11 NBA season.

James once again led the league in PER (27.3), offensive win shares (10.3), total win shares (15.6), and win shares contributed per 48 minutes (0.244). By every objective statistical measure, James was the MVP and all the voters who elected not to give it to him are putting their complete ignorance on display.

Rose's MVP campaign was so full of erroneous conclusions that it hid the fact he was not even the second-best candidate for the award. Dwight Howard, Pau Gasol, and Chris Paul can all claim to have contributed more total win shares to their teams than Rose. Rose drops to eighth in the league when win shares contributed per 48 minutes are factored in.

There was an award that Derrick Rose did deserve, but the voters wrongly gave the Most Improved Award to Kevin Love instead. It was Rose and not Love that improved the most from last season to this one.

Rose experienced a 26.3 percent decrease in his PER (from 18.6 to 23.5) and a 108 percent increase in his win shares contributed per 48 minutes (from 0.100 to 0.208). Love can only boast a 17.4 percent increase in PER (from 20.7 to 24.3) and a 52.2 percent increase in win shares contributed per 48 minutes (0.138 to 0.210). Just like there was no contest between James and Rose as to who was the league's MVP, there was no contest between Rose and Love as to who was most improved.

Although Rose might take the NBA MVP award home with him, it is not rightfully his. Only James is worthy of that title this season.

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Indiana Pacers Might As Well Hire Frank Vogel

Frank Vogel wants the interim tag removed from his head coaching title, and while he does have a case that he earned a chance to be the Indiana Pacers' head coach, it is by no means an airtight one. The Pacers improved under Vogel, but the improvement was more slight than the increase in winning percentage might lead one to believe.

Before Vogel replaced former Indiana Pacers head coach Jim O'Brien, the Pacers had limped to a 17-27 record, giving the team a .386 winning percentage after the first 44 games. After Vogel assumed the reins, the Pacers went on to win 20 of the 38 regular season contests remaining for a .526 winning percentage.

However, sometimes win-loss records do not tell the whole story, and what those win-loss records do not reveal is by what a small amount the Pacers really did improve.

With O'Brien as their head coach, the Pacers were outscored by their opponents by 1.6 points per 100 possessions, scoring 104.1 points per 100 possessions on offense and allowing 105.7 points per 100 possessions on defense.

Under Vogel, the Pacers increased overall by one point per 100 possessions and were outscored by their opponents by 0.6 points per 100 possessions, scoring 107.1 points per 100 possessions on offense and allowing 107.7 points per 100 possessions.

The Pacers' inferiority to their opponents increased to being outscored by 1.4 points per 100 possessions when the playoff series against the Chicago Bulls is included, but if Vogel is hired, it will probably be because of how the Pacers finished the regular season.

Of course, improving by one point per 100 possessions does not suddenly thrust the Pacers into the conversation of elite NBA teams so if Vogel does have the interim tag removed, do not look for the Pacers to compete for a title next season.

Vogel has already made it very clear that he thinks he deserves a chance to be the team's head coach. His campaign should also be supported by Tyler Hansbrough, Dahntay Jones, Roy Hibbert, A.J. Price, and Paul George.

It is Hansbrough who received the most benefit from Vogel taking over head coaching duties. Hansbrough went from playing 32.4 percent of the Pacers' minutes for O'Brien to 54.7 percent of the Pacers' minutes for Vogel. His role in the offense also increased as his usage percentage went from 21.3 percent to 23.9 percent and the percentage of shots he took for the Pacers while on the floor went from 21.2 percent to 25.0 percent.

Hansbrough rewarded Vogel's confidence by largely maintaining the 53.4 true shooting percentage he had for O'Brien; he posted a 52.7 true shooting percentage over the rest of the regular season under Vogel.

Jones would also have a lot to look forward to from Vogel being retained as head coach. His percentage of team minutes played also increased dramatically from 13.4 percent to 29.2 percent. Additionally, his scoring average improved from 2.7 points per game to 7.2 points per game while his true shooting percentage went from 48.9 percent to 56.6 percent.

Hibbert will also remember his time under Vogel as a time when he played his best basketball even though it took him accepting a different role to do so. After a hot start to the season, Hibbert started playing tremendously poor basketball, and at the end of O'Brien's tenure, he had just a 47.5 true shooting percentage.

For the rest of the regular season, Hibbert posted a 54.5 true shooting percentage helped in part by the fact he was asked to do less on offense. Vogel no doubt realized Hibbert is not a player who is able to carry a high percentage of the offense and so decreased his usage percentage from 24.9 percent to 22.4 percent and the percentage of shots he took from 25.1 percent to 21.8 percent.

Since Hibbert did play so much better, it was a necessary trade-off.

Price and George are in the same boat as they would look forward to a return from Vogel because it would allow them more time on the court. Price's minute percentage increased from 26.3 percent for O'Brien to 33.9 percent for Vogel and George's minute percentage jumped from 33.4 percent under O'Brien to 47.2 percent for Vogel.

With the Pacers' modest mid-season improvement and the support of the five players who all benefited from having him as their coach, Vogel should have a decent chance of getting the Pacers' head coaching position; the Pacers could do a lot worse than Vogel.

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Monday, April 25, 2011

NBA Draft: Isaiah Thomas Will Be A Better Pure Point Guard Than Nate Robinson

Soon there will be another diminutive (by NBA standards) point guard in the NBA that hails from the University of Washington and this one, Isaiah Thomas, has the potential to be a more pure point guard than Nate Robinson, by which I mean that he will be able to do a better job of setting up his teammates for baskets while avoiding turnovers.

Both Robinson and Thomas had very similar career paths in college in terms of both their shooting and distribution of the ball. During each of their three seasons at the University of Washington, they saw their shooting percentages increase while the percentage of the shots they took for their teams decreased.

Robinson's true shooting percentage and percentage of shots taken for his teams went from 52.3 percent and 30.0 percent as a freshman to 55.9 percent and 24.1 percent as a sophomore to 58.7 percent and 22.9 percent as a junior.

Thomas' true shooting percentage and percentage of shots taken for his teams went from 51.1 percent and 28.9 percent as a freshman to 54.0 percent and 26.9 percent as a sophomore to 55.6 percent and 23.6 percent as a junior.

Robinson was a better shooter in college than Thomas and would probably be better off playing more shooting guard in the NBA, but his lack of height pretty much forces NBA teams into playing him at point guard and it is there where Thomas has more potential than Robinson did before he entered the NBA.

Although neither was really asked to be play point guard exclusively in their first two collegiate seasons, as juniors, each was asked to assume more point guard duties. Robinson split distribution duties with teammate Will Conroy as head coach Lorenzo Romar also realized that Robinson was at his best when he was not the team's primary point guard and could better help the team in more of a combo guard role.

Still, Robinson had his best year as a distributor. He averaged 4.5 assists per game and assisted on 23.6 percent of his teammate's shots while on the floor. His 12.7 turnover percentage was also the lowest of his career in college.

Thomas had no teammate with which to share point guard duties in his junior season and it showed as he handled his role as the team's primary point guard extremely well. In that season, Thomas averaged 6.3 assists per game and assisted on 33.5 percent of his team's made field goals while he was on the floor. He also managed to keep his turnovers down to a respectable level with a 16.8 turnover percentage.

If Thomas does elect to remain in the NBA Draft, he will have an advantage that Robinson never experienced. Due to the fact he has already had the experience of running an offense full-time and has shown the ability to do it proficiently, he will enter the NBA more ready to take over a team's offense, which will make his transition a lot easier and set him up to be a more successful point guard.

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Wednesday, April 20, 2011

UNC's Harrison Barnes Still Has Something To Prove

With Harrison Barnes' decision to return to the University of North Carolina for his sophomore season, he accomplished two tasks. The first was to set up the Tar Heels as one of the top national title contenders for the 2011-12 season and the second was to allow the NBA to find out if Barnes really is as good as he was over the second half of the season.

Although Barnes entered college as a much-heralded player, his Tar Heel career got off to an abysmal start by any measure, especially when it came to his shooting. Over the first 19 games of his 37-game season, Barnes posted a woefully inadequate effective field goal percentage of 42.8 percent and true shooting percentage of 47.0 percent, not what one expects from a supposedly star player.

Barnes also struggled when it came to his handling of the ball as he turned the ball over more than he dished out assists. His 15.2 turnover percentage easily negated his 9.6 assist percentage.

All that changed over the last 18 games of the season, starting with UNC's contest against rival North Carolina State where Barnes netted his first 20-point game as a collegian. From that game onward, Barnes became a statistically significant better player in terms of effective field goal percentage (53.5 percent), true shooting percentage (56.1 percent), and avoiding turnovers (8.4 turnover percentage).

Not only did Barnes shoot better over the second half of the season, but he did so while assuming a larger role in the team's offense. Barnes' usage percentage jumped from 25.0 percent to 28.0 percent and the percentage of the team's shots that he took while on the floor increased from 26.4 percent to 31.7 percent. That combination of shooting well from the floor and taking such a high percentage of UNC's field goal attempts meant Barnes was a legitimate star and go-to player in the second half of the season.

With his expanded role in the offense and his much improved shooting, it should come as no surprise that Barnes' points per game average increased by 66.9 percent from 11.8 points per game to 19.7 points per contest.

The only facet of the game where Barnes did not improve was in his ability to get to the free throw line as he took 4.8 field goal attempts for every free throw attempt over the second half of the season as opposed to 3.3 field goal attempts for every free throw attempt during the first 19 games.

However, that is a minor quibble since he shot so well from the field that a lack of free throw attempts was something with which the Tar Heels could live.

Now all Barnes has to prove is that his exploits over the second half of the season are indicative of how he can really play. If he can accomplish that feat, then he will have earned the high draft pick an NBA team will no doubt use on him.

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Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Carmelo Anthony Has Played His Best Basketball For The New York Knicks

There can be no arguing that the blockbuster trade that landed the New York Knicks forward Carmelo Anthony has paid off in the short run. Not only did the Knicks improve as a team after the trade, but Anthony played the best basketball of his career for the franchise.

In the 54 games prior to Anthony's arrival on the Knicks' roster, the Knicks had only outscored their opponents by 0.4 points per 100 possessions, which is the make-up of a team barely above .500. Yet, all that changed after the trade.

Over the next 27 games, the Knicks played a much more efficient style of basketball, outscoring opponents by 2.0 points per 100 possessions; the last game of the season was not counted because Anthony did not appear in it. The Knicks were not playing elite basketball by any means, but they were significantly better than they had been before the trade.

A large part of the reason for the Knicks' improvement was the play of the true target of the blockbuster trade deal, Carmelo Anthony. Anthony easily outpaced what he had done for his previous team, the Denver Nuggets.

For the Nuggets this year in 50 games, he posted a true shooting percentage of 54.7 percent, produced 107 points per 100 possessions, and contributed 0.127 win shares per 48 minutes. Had he continued along that same track for the rest of the season, he would have had the fourth-worst season of his eight-year career.

However, he did not. His true shooting percentage jumped up to 57.5 percent, thanks in large part to him shooting an uncharacteristically high 42.4 percent from the three-point line; for his career, including those 27 games, Anthony has shot 32.0 percent on three-pointers.

Due mostly to his increased shooting efficiency, Anthony produced 114 points per 100 possessions and contributed 0.157 win shares per 48 minutes, which are superior to anything he has ever done over a full season.

Since Anthony's offensive proficiency is unlike anything he has ever accomplished in his career, it will probably be too much to expect for him to continue to play as well in the future as he did over those 27 games for the Knicks, but it has certainly been an extraordinarily good ride for Anthony and the Knicks so far.

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Thursday, April 14, 2011

Rudy Gay Is Not That Valuable To The Memphis Grizzlies

Even though Rudy Gay played the best basketball of his career this season in his 54 games before suffering a season-ending injury, there cannot help but be some doubt in the Memphis Grizzlies organization about the decision to award Gay a maximum contract extension. The doubt has surely crept in because of how little the Grizzlies have missed Gay over the past 28 contests. In fact, the Grizzlies have actually played better without Gay in the line-up.

Over the course of the 54 games in which Gay was in the line-up for the Grizzlies, Memphis outscored their opponents by 2.0 points per 100 possessions. Yet, in the 28 games in which the Grizzlies did not have Gay, they outscored their opponents by 3.6 points per 100 possessions, games which include the last two contests of the season where the Grizzlies were not even trying to win.

There was no single statistical category in which the Grizzlies became worse when they played without their second-highest paid player.

The way in which the Grizzlies have easily been able to survive without Gay is reflected in the fact he has been just the fourth most valuable player for the Grizzlies in terms of win shares per 48 minutes behind Zach Randolph, Marc Gasol, and Tony Allen.

Despite Rudy Gay playing better than ever before, he has been just another guy for the Grizzlies this season, and maximum contract guys are supposed to be so much more than that.

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Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Shaka Smart's True Coaching Ability Is Still To Be Determined

North Carolina State should not feel too disappointed that Virginia Commonwealth basketball head coach Shaka Smart turned down a job offer to coach the Wolfpack. In the end, it might be a blessing in disguise because the jury is still out on just how good a coach Shaka Smart truly is.

The excitement that surrounded Virginia Commonwealth's road to the Final Four covered up both the advantages Smart had this season with his team and also where the Rams came up short even with those advantages.

This past season, Smart's Virginia Commonwealth squad enjoyed a roster stability of .81, meaning that 81 percent of the team's minutes were played by players who were on the roster last year. That is the equivalent of losing just one position player and should have set up the Rams to have a better season than they did last year.

Yet, despite having such a veteran squad and winning their five out of their last six games, the Rams were not as dominant as the 2009-10 team. This past season, the Rams outscored their opponents by 7.4 points per 100 possessions, but last season, the Rams outscored their opponents by 14.2 points per 100 possessions.

They might not have had as much national exposure as the 2010-11 team, but they were better over the course of the season. However, even the accomplishments of the 2009-10 roster that went on to win the CBI championship are made a little less noteworthy by the fact that the team also had a lot of experience; the roster stability in 2009-10 was .80.

In his two seasons as a college basketball head coach, Smart has enjoyed an amazingly high level of roster stability, which usually makes a head coach look better because the longer a group of players stays together, the better that group will perform. Therefore, Smart deserves some criticism for the fact Virginia Commonwealth had a less dominant season than last year since the team should have been expected to at least maintain their level of play if not improve due to the overwhelming veteran presence on the roster.

Of course, Smart's luck will run out next year and he will actually have to prove to everyone he can build a winning program across multiple seasons. This season, 54 percent of the team's minutes were played by seniors so for the first time next season, Smart will be working with a team that is not so veteran-laden. How his teams perform over the next couple seasons will go a long way in allowing us to truly gauge his coaching acumen and determining his level of competence in actually building a successful college basketball program.

Smart's situation is very similar to that of current Virginia basketball head coach Tony Bennett. He, too, enjoyed the benefit of having great roster stability his first two seasons as a head coach at Washington State.

His first team in 2007-08 had a roster stability of .85 and outscored opponents by 12.2 points per 100 possessions. His second team in 2008-09 had an astounding roster stability of .98 and outscored opponents by 17.0 points per 100 possessions.

Then, in his third season, Bennett's team's roster stability dropped to .63 and when he needed to coach his best, he was not up to the task. That squad managed to outscore opponents by only 6.5 points per 100 possessions. It was in his third season where we first glimpsed that Bennett was not necessarily that great a coach and was only a product of having such veteran-laden teams in his first two seasons.

The Virginia Cavaliers decided to ignore that glimpse and hire Bennett anyway. They were rewarded by having him coach a team with a roster stability of .90 that outscored their opponents by 5.4 points per 100 possessions, which was an improvement, although an expected one no matter who was coaching the team, over how the Cavaliers had played the previous season.

In this past season, however, with a roster stability of .62, the Cavaliers were outscored by .9 points per 100 possessions, demonstrating once again the fact that Bennett struggles whenever he does not have an abundance of veteran talent on his roster. It is his failure in that aspect that will keep him from being a good coach.

Smart will have to avoid the same fate that has befallen Bennett to truly earn the accolades that have been showered upon him thus far, and we will all have to wait and see just how good a coach Smart really is, starting with next season.

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Monday, April 11, 2011

Blake Griffin Should Never Have Defended Former Oklahoma Basketball Coach Jeff Capel

Blake Griffin can complain about and defend Oklahoma's decision to fire former basketball head coach Jeff Capel all he wants, but that will not change the truth of the situation. Capel's firing was completely warranted for the simple fact that he failed at the most basic aspect of coaching college sports; Capel failed to reload his roster and sustain success.

The best coaches and those who have the most job security are those who are able to replace star players with more star players and maintain a constant level of elite play from their teams across multiple seasons. Those who are fired after a couple of seasons are the ones who are unable to do so.

Capel falls into the latter category because he was never able to duplicate the success he had when Blake Griffin was on the court for him. In the 68 games during which Griffin played for Oklahoma, the Sooners outscored their opponents by 12.0 points per 100 possessions.

In the subsequent 63 games the Oklahoma Sooners have played, they have been outscored by 2.9 points per 100 possessions so his teams have been 14.9 points per 100 possessions worse since Griffin left for the NBA.

The differences between the offensive ratings (from 110.9 points per 100 possessions to 105.3 points per 100 possessions) and defensive ratings (98.9 points per 100 possessions to 108.2 points per 100 possessions) from the Blake Griffin era to the post-Blake Griffin era were both statistically significant ones.

Unfortunately for the Sooners, they forgot both how to score and defend in a proficient manner over the past two seasons.

Even without the decline the Sooners experienced after Griffin left Oklahoma, Capel deserved to be fired because his teams were not even equaling his first year in Norman, Oklahoma. Capel's first-year record of 16-15 was pretty misleading because despite having a record just a little bit above .500, the Sooners still outscored their opponents by 13.8 points per 100 possessions thanks to some really impressive blowout wins. They did not come close to that over the past two seasons.

Although Capel's struggles after Griffin left is the most readily apparent line of demarcation in his coaching tenure at Oklahoma, his last two teams have left a lot to be desired compared to his first Oklahoma team.

No matter what kind of coach Griffin believes Capel is, there is no denying he has been mediocre at assembling a successful basketball program over the past two seasons and deserved to be fired.

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Monday, April 04, 2011

UCONN Is Riding More Impressive Winning Streak Than Butler

Both the Connecticut Huskies and the Butler Bulldogs enter the national championship game with double-digit winning streaks as Connecticut has not lost in 10 games and Butler has won the last 14 games in which it has played. Yet, not all winning streaks are equal and Connecticut's winning streak has been the more impressive one, making them the hotter team.

Over the course of the Huskies' 10-game winning streak, they have managed to outscore their opponents by a very impressive 16.1 points per 100 possessions. That tops the 14.4 points per 100 possessions with which the Bulldogs have outscored their last 14 opponents.

Although the Huskies are owners of the more dominant winning streak, Butler's has come with a little more consistency. The standard deviation for the Bulldogs' offensive rating during their winning streak is 8.1 points per 100 possessions and the standard deviation for their defensive rating is 10.6 points per 100 possessions.

On the other hand, Connecticut's standard deviations for their offensive rating and defensive rating are 12.3 and 12.7 points per 100 possessions, respectively.

The reason behind Connecticut's more inconsistent results is that the Huskies have won in a couple of really big blowouts in addition to playing in more closely contested affairs while Butler has been unable to win in quite the same commanding fashion and has played in a higher percentage of close games.

Ten of Butler's 14 wins have come with a winning margin of fewer than 10 points compared to six of Connecticut's 10 wins being single-digit affairs.

Should Connecticut emerge victorious tonight, the Huskies may very well have the fact that they have played a better quality of basketball during their winning streak than the Bulldogs did during theirs to thank.

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Saturday, April 02, 2011

Virginia Commonwealth Has Had Easiest Road To The Final Four

Virginia Commonwealth's improbable run to the Final Four makes for a great story, but the Rams have benefited from having a lucky draw in the NCAA Tournament. Of the four teams remaining, Virginia Commonwealth has faced the least dominant competition.

Before facing the Rams and having their seasons ended, Virginia Commonwealth's four NCAA Tournament opponents combined to outscore their opposition by 14.0 points per 100 possessions, which is the smallest such winning margin of any of the Final Four's NCAA Tournament opponents.

Although Virginia Commonwealth's offense has had to play against the stingiest defenses based on the fact its opponents have held their opponents to only 95.9 points per 100 possessions, Virginia Commonwealth's defense has benefited by having to defend offenses who have scored just 109.9 points per 100 possessions. That offensive rating is the lowest of any of the Final Four's NCAA Tournament opponents.

As for the other teams left, Connecticut and Kentucky have faced almost equally dominant opponents in the NCAA Tournament. Connecticut's tournament foes outscored their opposition by 15.4 points per 100 possessions before Connecticut ended their seasons, and Kentucky's tournament opposition outscored their opponents by 15.3 points per 100 possessions before they played Kentucky and were subsequently sent home.

Unsurprisingly, based on the fact Butler had to play Old Dominion, Pittsburgh, Wisconsin, and Florida to make it to the Final Four, the Bulldogs can boast that the road they traveled to make it to the Final Four was the most difficult, making it even more impressive that they made it to Houston. Butler's tournament opponents outscored their opponents by a combined 16.0 points per 100 possessions before they squared off against the Bulldogs.

Teams can only play the teams on their schedule, and Virginia Commonwealth does deserve credit for beating multiple opponents who had better seasons, but if they had had to face the other three teams' opponents, they might not have made it to the Final Four.

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