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Just The Sports: 2006-04-16

Just The Sports

Saturday, April 22, 2006

Eastern Conference Playoff Breakdown (New Jersey vs. Indiana)

New Jersey (3) vs. Indiana (6)

If you ever look in your thesaurus under evenly matched playoff teams, if there is such an entry, you will find New Jersey versus Indiana. Despite the obvious difference between the two teams' records, probably skewed because New Jersey was playing in an extremely weak division, there is no other evidence to suggest New Jersey is a better team than Indiana is, which has led me to two conclusions. Either New Jersey is not as good as its record may indicate or Indiana is better than its record. To further prove my point that these teams may be underrated and overrated, respectively, Indiana won the season series 2-1.

The two teams' offenses and defenses are almost identical to each other. The offenses play at the same tempo so neither team should encounter unfamiliar in this series. Each team should pretty much be able to score where and how it wants to. What will be the deciding factor in this series is who can play better on the road.

New Jersey Offense: 93.8 ppg
Indiana Defense: 92.0 ppg

Indiana Offense: 93.9 ppg
New Jersey Defense: 92.5 ppg

Like I said. Pretty much identical.

New Jersey Offense: 104 points per 100 possessions
Indiana Defense: 102 points per 100 possessions

Indiana Offense: 104 points per 100 possessions
New Jersey Defense: 102 points per 100 possessions

Even more identical, but New Jersey's team statistics should raise a red flag. They are certainly more indicative of a .500 team, which Indiana happens to be, than they are of a team who went 49-33 during the season. With average statistics like these, New Jersey has further corroborated my conclusion that they are a worse team than their record would suggest.

Since neither team has a clear advantage in the team statistics, we must return to comparing the net PER ratings, created by John Hollinger, of the teams' position players.

Anyone familiar with the Nets roster knows that it is a predominantly three-guard lineup and the net production stats bear that out. Meanwhile, Indiana is carried by its frontcourt. If the two teams play as they normally do, each team will be able to exploit the other's weaknesses. But which team has more weaknesses?

Point Guard-Although Jason Kidd is still considered to be one of the top point guards in the NBA, his net production demonstrates he is only a slightly more productive player than his opponents' point guards. Still, the Nets' point guards, +0.7, are more productive than the Pacers' point guards, -1.3. Advantage: New Jersey

Shooting Guard-The Nets also have a significant production advantage at this position, thanks in large part to the play of Vince Carter. Nets' shooting guards have a net production of +3.5. Pacers' shooting guards have a net production of -1.6. Advantage: New Jersey

Small Forward-At this position, Indiana's players finally have a net positive production of +1.6, which is respectable. Unfortunately, the Nets have a net production of +3.7. Advantage: New Jersey

Power Forward-The Nets confirm what most people who have watched this team has seen since the beginning of the season. Their frontcourt players are a joke. Nets' power forwards have a net production of -2.0 and the Pacers' power forwards have a net production of +1.3. Advantage: Indiana

Center-With an abysmal net production of -4.7, the Nets might be better served to only play with four players and just get a fan out of the stands to take up space in the middle of the lane. The Pacers' centers give slightly more production than opposing centers at +1.0. Advantage: Indiana

Prediction: New Jersey wins this series in seven games, solely because the team possesses home-court advantage. With the difference in the net production of all five positions being only 0.2 in favor the Nets, it will not be an easy series win by any standard.

Stats courtesy of

Eastern Conference Playoff Breakdown (Miami vs. Chicago)

Miami (2) vs. Chicago (7)

The matchup between Miami and Chicago is another one which may seem lopsided if one were only to look at the overall records of the two teams. Miami won 63% of its 82 games. Chicago had to win its last 6 games just to make it back to .500, albeit while playing in a tougher division than Miami's. Miami won the season series between the two teams 2-1. Miami's lone loss to the Chicago Bulls came when Miami was resting its starters and Chicago was making a furious run to qualify for the playoffs. Thus, you have to take that win with a grain of salt.

Each team plays at a similar offensive tempo, with Chicago playing slightly faster than Miami. Although, Chicago averages two more possessions a game than Miami, it is not reflected in their offensive output in relation to Miami's.

Miami Offense: 100.0 ppg
Chicago Defense: 97.2 ppg

Chicago Offense: 97.8 ppg
Miami Defense: 96.1 ppg

Even though, Miami does have less possessions in a game than Chicago, Miami remains a more efficient offensive team. Further evidence of Miami's superior offensive efficiency is evident in how many points each team scores over 100 possessions.

Miami Offense: 109 points per 100 possessions
Chicago Defense: 104 points per 100 possessions

Chicago Defense: 104 points per 100 possessions
Miami Defense: 105 points per 100 possessions

The difference is not great, but over the course of a best-of-7 series, Miami's greater efficiency should prove to be a significant advantage.

And as one would expect from a .500 team, the Chicago Bulls score exactly as many points as they allow their opponents to score. Not a very good recipe to win four games out of seven to move on to the next round.

Now, we must look at the net production the two teams get at their five positions. As mentioned before, I will be using net PER, a rating developed by John Hollinger.

Unlike Detroit, who is the best team in the East, Miami with the second seed in the East does not get net positive production from its players. Actually, only two positions, shooting guard and center, give the Heat significantly more production than their opponents. This should be a cause of concern for them going into this playoff series.

Chicago, on the other hand, while not getting stellar production from any one position does get enough consistent production to make them a dangerous team for the Miami Heat.

Point Guard-Chicago gets better production from its point guard position than Miami does from its point guards (+0.4 to -2.4). Advantage: Chicago

Shooting Guard-When you have Dwyane Wade on your team, it is only to be expected that your team will have a net positive production over any shooting guard the team might face. The question is if this shooting guard advantage will prove strong enough to lead the Heat to victory. Miami gets a net production of +7.7 while Chicago gets a net production of +1.4. Advantage: Miami.

Small Forward-Although both teams get net negative overall production from this position, Chicago gets less net negative production from their small forwards (-1.0 to -5.0). If that makes any sense. Advantage: Chicago

Power Forward-The two teams are basically equal at this position. Equally below average. Chicago's net PER is -0.5 and Miami's net PER is -0.6. Advantage: Push

Center-At this position, mostly like because of one Shaquille O'Neal, Miami has a great advantage over Chicago's centers. Miami has a net positive production of +9.0 while Chicago gets below average effort from their centers at -1.4. Advantage: Miami

Each team holds the advantage over the other at two positions, splitting the fifth. Miami still has the overall advantage, though, because the combined advantages it has at shooting guard and center is greater than the combined advantages Chicago has at point guard and small forward.

Prediction: Miami will end up winning the series, but it will probably take six or seven games to do it.

Stats courtesy of

Eastern Conference Playoff Breakdown (Detroit vs. Milwaukee)

Detroit (1) vs. Milwaukee (8)

The gut feeling in this series is to declare that Detroit will run Milwaukee out of the gym and sweep the series. Detroit won 78% of the games it played in this season while Milwaukee did not even win half of its games. In addition, Detroit won 3 of the 4 games it played against Milwaukee. The only game Detroit lost was when it chose to rest its starters in the second to last game of the season. So, in essence, one could make the case that if Detroit had employed its regular lineup, the team would have proved victorious yet again against Milwaukee.

However gut feelings will only take you so far and then one must look at what the statistics say. So let's see how Detroit's team statistics stack up against Milwaukee's.

Detroit Offense: 96.9 ppg
Milwaukee Defense: 98.9 ppg

Detroit Defense: 90.2 ppg
Milwaukee Offense: 97.8 ppg

It would seem that Detroit has the clear advantage over Milwaukee in both categories. Not only does Milwaukee allow more points than Detroit scores, but Detroit regularly holds its opponents to less than what Milwaukee's offense averages.

However, the difference between the two teams is not really indicative of what one might think. Since Milwaukee plays at a faster tempo than does Detroit, it makes sense that their numbers are higher in both categories. But when the average points scored and allowed are pro-rated to 100 possessions, the disparity between the two teams shrinks.

Detroit Offense: 111 points per 100 possessions
Milwaukee Defense: 108 points per 100 possessions

Milwaukee Offense: 106 points per 100 possessions
Detroit Defense: 103 points per 100 possessions

Each team scores three more points per 100 possessions than the other team allows, which is more even than one might expect given their overall records. So where does one of the teams have an advantage?

One obvious advantage Detroit has is the team actually scores more points than its defense allows, a failing that goes a long way in explaining Milwaukee's sub-.500 record.

However, the main advantage for Detroit comes when comparing the production each team gets out the five positions. To compare the net production of each position for the respective teams, I will be using the PER rating, developed by John Hollinger. The net PER rating will tell whether or not a team is getting a net positive or negative production output from a particular position.

With the stellar starting five Detroit has, it is no surprise that Detroit gets a net positive production from each position. What is surprising is that the net overall production for each position is not astoundingly positive. Milwaukee, on the other hand, gets a net positive from only one position, shooting guard. Still, let's break down each position to see which team has and advantage, and just how big of an advantage it will be.

Point Guard-Detroit has a decided advantage at the point guard position, mostly because of the play of Chauncey Billups. Detroit's point guards' net overall production is +9.4 compared to -2.2 for Milwaukee. Advantage: Detroit

Shooting Guard-At this position it is Milwaukee who has the advantage over Detroit, +4.0 to +0.2. It will be up to Milwaukee to exploit this slight edge and hope it is enough to overcome the team's deficiences. Too bad it will not be. Advantage: Milwaukee

Small Forward-Here Detroit has another advantage, albeit smaller than the one it has at the point guard position. Detroit gets a net production of +2.7 while Milwaukee's net production is -0.4. Advantage: Detroit

Power Forward-Once again, Detroit has an advantage in net production. The Pistons power forwards have a net positive PER of +1.1. The power forwards for the Bucks have a net negative production of -3.5. Advantage: Detroit

Center-Milwaukee's situation gets no brighter when looking at production from the center position. Detroit's net production is +2.3 and Milwaukee's is -1.6. Advantage: Detroit

Prediction: With Detroit winning the net production battle at four of the five positions, all signs points to Detroit winning this playoff series. Do not be surprised, though, if each game is the series is very competitive, considering how close they are on the team scoring statistics.

Stats courtesy of

Thursday, April 20, 2006

Don't Do It Arron or Do It; What Do I Care?

The point of leaving college early to pursue an NBA career is to leave when your draft stock could not get any higher. Now, if Arron Afflalo would be so kind as to remember his last college basketball game, the national championship game, where he did not score at all in the first half and finished with only 10 points (on 3 for 10 shooting) as his team lost by 16 points, perhaps he would reconsider his decision to forego the last two years of his collegiate career.

At least he didn't hire an agent.

Wednesday, April 19, 2006

Are Statistics That Hard To Understand?

John Hunt may not be a complete idiot, but he is not far from it.

For Adrian Beltre, all signs pointed to a comeback season in 2006: He reported to camp in great shape, he hit .300 with four home runs in the World Baseball Classic in March, and, well, things couldn't have gotten much worse than his 2005 season (.255, 19 home runs).

Comeback?! Comeback from what? I hope John Hunt doesn't mean what I think he does. Namely, that he expects Adrian Beltre to have a significantly better season this year than Beltre had last year because that is highly unlikely. If John Hunt had spared a couple of minutes in his busy day to check out Adrian Beltre's career statistics, he would see that Beltre's 2005 season where his batting statistics were .255 BA, .303 OBP, .413 SLG, and .716 OPS are pretty indicative of his major league career. In fact, in six of the eight seasons Beltre has played, he has been an average to below average hitter.

The season on which Hunt is probably basing his comeback theory is 2004, a season so non-representative of Beltre's career it should never be used to base an argument on. Yes, Beltre had a phenomenal season that year where his batting numbers were .334 BA, .388 OBP, .629 SLG, and 1.017 OPS. However, after examining the special set of circumstances surrounding the aforementioned season, one has to look at these numbers with a heavy dose of skepticism. For Adrian Beltre, 2004 was a contract year, meaning he would be a free agent after that year and was essentially playing so that he could trick a team in signing him to a lucrative contract. This meant he actually had to try hard for the first time in his major league career and the fact his concentration had to be so high is reflected in the way he vastly out-performed his career stats. His efforts were rewarded after the Seattle Mariners foolishly gave him a 5 year, $64 million contract. Since then, Beltre has regressed to the hitter he really is.

So what do Beltre's career stats look like once we remove this anomalous year? Like this:

BA: .260
OBP: .317
SLG: .425
OPS: .742

All of these stats are right around the league averages for the same time span, reinforcing that Beltre is no more than an average batter.

The consensus is that Beltre is pressing. But some blame the WBC for disrupting his preparation in the spring.

Beltre isn't pressing. He is this poor a hitter.

Now, the second statement is just ridiculous. How can playing competitive games against some of the best players in the world disrupt Beltre's preparation for the season where he will be playing a lot of competitive games? And do you know what he would have done if he had gone to spring training instead of the WBC? He would have been playing in pseudo-competitive games, facing inferior pitching. So if anything, the WBC was a better tune-up to the season, especially when one considers that the Dominican Republic made it to the championship game, allowing Beltre more repetitions at the plate.

Tuesday, April 18, 2006

Occam's Razor

When Washington Nationals GM Jim Bowden traded for Alfonso Soriano before the start of the season, he caused many people to raise their eyebrows and look around in confusion. Why would he trade for a second baseman, who is a defensive liability, when the Nationals already had a very good second basemen in Jose Vidro? Also, why would Bowden then try to move Soriano to left field after Soriano had made it clear while he still played for the Texas Rangers he had no desire to play any position other than second base?

Well, it seems we can finally put these questions to rest. And as with most perplexing questions, the simplest answer is the right one. Jim Bowden was drunk when he traded for Soriano.

Monday, April 17, 2006

Colin Cowherd's Dumb Statement of the Day

With some of the shit that comes out of his mouth, this could very well turn into a daily item. Today, on his morning radio show, Cowherd made the claim that the New Jersey Nets had the best starting five in the NBA. He then proceeded to name three of the Nets' starting five (he probably didn't know the other two). Needless to say, I thought this claim was ludicrous and to show just how ludicrous it is, I decided to compare the Nets' starting five to the team who I think has the best starting five in the NBA, the Detroit Pistons. You know the Detroit Pistons, right? The team that had four of its starting five represented in the NBA All-Star Game. Yes, those Pistons.

Starting Five Stats Only*:

Minutes played
Detroit: 1674
New Jersey: 1106

Points Scored
Detroit: 3454
New Jersey: 2218

Points Allowed
Detroit: 2978
New Jersey: 2003

Net Points
Detroit: +476
New Jersey: +215

Effective Shooting Percentage
Detroit: .516
New Jersey: .505

Effective Shooting Percentage Allowed
Detroit: .466
New Jersey: .466

Net Free Throws
Detroit: +265
New Jersey: +99

The numbers certainly don't lie, and maybe if Colin would pay attention to stats, he wouldn't be so bad at his job.

*Stats courtesy of

He's Back

Monday means only one thing. Peter King is back and as dumb as ever. Let the clowning begin.

10. The winner of the smartest signing in all of free agency (after Adam Vinatieri, of course) is Tampa Bay.

This sentence really doesn't make sense at all. Unless, of course, Adam Vinatieri is the name of an NFL franchise or Tampy Bay is the name of a person. Since neither one is those things, I am going to re-write the sentence as it should have been written to begin with.

10. The winner of the smartest signing in all of free agency (after Indianapolis, of course) is Tampa Bay.

There. Much better.

1. I think the reports over the weekend that the New Orleans Saints are interested in drafting Matt Leinart with the second pick in the draft are absurd. The Saints are not taking Leinart, not unless they want to set a world record for dumbness. You don't spend what they spent on Drew Brees ($10 million in the first year of the deal, $12 million due in a roster bonus next March) and then go spend $22 million more in guaranteed money on another quarterback.

Previously, in this article, Peter spent two paragraphs detailing how NFL contracts are never as lucrative as they appear, because of back-loaded money and big roster bonuses. Every big contract is usually quietly reconstructed if a player wants to remain with a team. In other words, whenever you see a large roster bonus, $12 million for example, that is usually a red flag that the player will never see the money. So why Peter now thinks Brees's contract situation is more stable than Terrell Owens's contract is a mystery. Actually, the two contracts are very similar because they both have $10 million in guaranteed money in the first year, Brees through his signing bonus and Owens through his $5 million signing bonus and the $5 million roster bonus he will be getting sometime this summer.

If Peter King really thinks the Saints will actually be giving Brees a $12 million roster bonus next March, then he is as dumb as he looks.

And that is saying something.

a. Tom Rinaldi, you made me cry. I used to work with Tom at CNN and now he's with ESPN doing tremendous work. His piece over the weekend on Travis Roy, the quadriplegic former Boston University hockey player, was one of the most touching pieces I've ever seen. How about when his father said, between sobs, "It's a lousy life." What great work.

Yes, what great work. It really takes great journalistic acumen to get someone to cry during an interview. Especially about a subject so trivial as knowing your son will never be able to walk again.

Still Overrated

On the day when Rudy Gay declares for the draft, I feel it is my duty to warn any unsuspecting NBA GM about the player he may foolishly be thinking of drafting. In a previous post, I addressed Rudy Gay's shooting efficiency, or inefficiency, depending on if you like Gay as a player or not. However, after re-reading the post, I was left feeling dissatisfied with the way in which I presented the information. Therefore, I am going to present the information again, but instead of merely giving you a number and sending you on your merry way, I am going to compare Gay's shooting efficiency with three players who have a reputation for taking a lot of shots during the course of a game: JJ Redick, Adam Morrison, and Kobe Bryant*.

JJ Redick's Shooting Efficiency: 1.50 points per shot
Rudy Gay's Shooting Efficiency: 1.24 points per shot

JJ Redick was basically the Duke offense this past college basketball season, averaging 26.8 ppg, 8 more points than Shelden Williams. How well he shot went a long way into determining whether or not Duke was going to win the game. What this meant was that every team Redick faced came up with a game plan to stop him and to force him to take bad shots. Despite that, though, Redick still proved to be a very efficient shooter. What is also amazing is how he proved to be so efficient even though he took the large majority of his team's shots. Redick averaged 17.9 shots per game, 6.5 more shots than the second leading shooter on the team. He was, in every sense of the word, the team's first offensive option.

Compare that to Rudy Gay who was never required to be the main offensive threat for a UConn team who shared the points among its players. In theory, this should have let Gay pick and choose his shots without having to force up bad ones. Thus, his shooting efficiency should have risen greatly, especially considering he took many more 2-point field goals than 3-point field goals. It did not.

Instead, Gay found a way to have an average shooting efficiency. He only scored 2.4 points per game more than UConn's second leading scorer, Rashad Anderson. In addition, he only took 1.9 shots per game more than Rashad Anderson, which again supports the fact that Gay was in no way the first option for the UConn offense. So why did he still manage to fumble away his scoring opportunities? Perhaps it speaks to his infuriating inconsistency, which I do not see him overcoming any time soon.

Adam Morrison's Shooting Efficiency: 1.50 points per shot
Rudy Gay's Shooting Efficiency: 1.24 points per shot

This particular comparison is no more favorable to Rudy Gay than the last one. Like JJ Redick, Adam Morrison was the number one offensive weapon for the Gonzaga Bulldogs. If anything, Morrison may have been more of his team's first option than Redick was for Duke. Morrison averaged 28.1 ppg, 8.8 more than Gonzaga's leading scorer. He also managed to take even more difficult shots than Redick. Morrison shot when he was double-teamed, when he was triple-teamed, and when he was off-balance. Sometimes he seemed as if he was deliberately not choosing to pass to his teammates. Couple that with the fact he took 8.7 more shots per game than the next Gonzaga player and it is no wonder Morrison got a bit of a reputation for being a ball hog. Still, he managed to be a more efficient shooter than Rudy Gay.

What makes this comparison a little more accurate than the one with Redick is the fact both Morrison and Gay play the small forward position. And if this shooting efficiency is any indication, Morrison was a lot better at playing the position than Gay was.

Kobe Bryant's Shooting Efficiency: 1.30 points per shot
Rudy Gay's Shooting Efficiency: 1.24 points per shot

On the surface, there does not seem to be much difference between Kobe Bryant's shooting efficiency and Rudy Gay's. Once one looks beneath the surface, it becomes apparent just how amazing it that Kobe even manages to score that many points per shot, thereby making Gay's already low shooting efficiency seem even worse. Throughout the season, nothing is more obvious than that Kobe Bryant is hellbent on making his name synoymous with ball hog and black hole. He averages a preposterous 15.6 more shots per game than his next teammate. That is 15.6 more opportunities to miss a contested jumper or an ill-timed 3-point attempt. 15.6 more opportunities to decrease his shooting efficiency. But he is still shooting better than Rudy Gay who is made to force nothing.

Kobe's saving grace, though, is the frequency with which he goes to the free throw line, averaging 10.3 free throw attempts per game. He also makes his free throws at an 84.5% rate. What should concern NBA GM's is Gay only manages 4.2 free throw attempts per game. This is probably a reflection of the low number of shots Gay takes, in comparison. It could also speak to Gay's inability to take over a game and his propensity to drift through long stretches of his games.

I only hope that whoever does draft Rudy Gay does not expect him to be a star at the NBA level, especially since he was not one at the college basketball level. I predict Gay will be a role player in the NBA. Nothing more.

*Stats courtesy of