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Just The Sports: 2006-08-13

Just The Sports

Saturday, August 19, 2006

FIBA World Championship Round-Up (Day One)

With the end of the first day of the FIBA World Championships, here is a look at how the teams did in their games and compared to the other teams in their group and one that is not so USA-centered.

Group A

Lebanon 82, Venezuela 72

These two teams combined the post the worst collective offensive ratings of all the preliminary games played. This could speak to stellar defense being played or just awful offense, depending on whether you value defense over offense. Although, Lebanon did win, their offensive rating (points per 100 possessions) was 90.6, not exactly a stellar output although it looks good compared to Venezuela's 84.7 offensive rating.

Despite the fact Lebanon won, they still did worse than Venezuela in several categories. Lebanon had a slightly worse turnover-to-possession ratio, had a much lower offensive rebounding percentage, a lower assist rate, and a higher turnover rate. What did carry Lebanon to victory was their better shooting and the fact they made more free throws than Venezuela attempted.

Nigeria 82, Serbia & Montenegro 75

Nigeria had a higher offensive rating advantage than they did actual scoring margin in this game (115.5 to 104.6). They managed to be more efficient even while shooting a worse percentage than Serbia & Montenegro. The secret behind that oddity is that Nigeria turned the ball over far less. Serbia & Montenegro had a turnover-to-possession ratio of .237; Nigeria's was only .155. Nigeria also did a better job of rebounding the misses they had, leading to a higher floor percentage (percentage a team scores at least one point per possession and developed by Dean Oliver).

Argentina 80, France 70

These are probably the two teams expected to advance out of this group and Argentina got an edge by not having to play a Tony-Parker led France team. France no doubt suffered from Tony Parker's absence, but the loss of their point guard was no reflected in their ballhandling. Without Parker, France still bettered Argentina in getting assists and avoiding turnovers. Had France been able to shoot better from the free throw line, they would have had a better chance of beating Argentina.

Argentina did put up the best offensive rating of this group in day one with a rating of 117.6.

Group B

Germany 81, Japan 70

Germany was better than Japan in almost every aspect of the game. They were much more efficient on offense (112.3 to 102.6), had an offensive rebounding percentage more than double that of Japan's, shot better from the field, and got to the free throw line more often. Their turnover per possession ratio was only marginally worse than Japan and they shot a slightly lower free throw percentage. Other than that, Germany did all a team needs to do to win a game.

Angola 83, Panama 70

Angola put up one of the more dominating performances in day one both in terms of actual scoring margin and offensive rating margin (+16.8). They were able to do that by not turning the ball over and shooting better from the field, riding their 12 3-pointers to victory. Panama certainly did not help their own cause by missing half of the twenty-four free throws they attempted or having a 42.6 effective field goal percentage. Also not helping was Panama's propensity for turning the ball over while not accumulating enough assists to offset the wasted possessions.

Spain 86, New Zealand 70

If New Zealand wants to stick around for the Eight-Finals, they will have to shoot better from the field and also get to the free throw line more often than they did against Spain. Being more disruptive on defense by causing turnovers would also help their situation.

Spain, on the other hand, will want to improve their ability to rebound their own misses. All in all, it was a good effort by Spain putting up a 110.7 offensive rating and limiting New Zealand to a 95.5 offensive rating.

Group C

Australia 83, Brazil 77

This game was fairly close in three of the four most important factors of the game as determined by Dean Oliver: free throw shooting, rebounding (both offensive and defensive), and turnovers. However, field goal percentage is another matter because Australia had an effective field goal percentage of 55.1% to Brazil's 46.0%. This advantage in effective field goal shooting is because Australia hit three more three-pointers in the game.

Greece 84, Qatar 64

Qatar may have been better off staying in their own country because they were absolutely demolished by the Greece squad. In fact, the disparity between the two teams' offensive ratings was the highest of the day (119.6 to 87.6). A large part of the reason behind Qatar's low offensive rating is that they only managed 45 field goal attempts to Greece's 60 while having three more offensive possions and they certainly did not make up that gap in free throw attempts because they only had 13 of those to Greece's 24. Those missing attempts are the result of their extremely high turnover-to-possession ratio of .411, the highest of any team that played.

Greece also turned the ball over a fair amount, but they made up for it by going 22 for 24 from the charity stripe.

Turkey 76, Lithuania 74

Even though Lithuania lost this game, they still had a higher offensive rating than their opponent (105.1 to 103.0), largely because they scored those 74 points on three fewer possessions. The problem is Turkey managed to turn those three extra possessions into two extra points and it did not matter how much more efficient Lithuania was. Turkey did hit two more three-pointers while making four less free throws so that is probably where the extra two points come into play.

Group D

USA 111, Puerto Rico 100

Despite all the criticisms launched against the US, they still managed to cobble together the most efficient offensive outing of the day with a 133.8 rating. Of course, their opponent had the third most efficient offensive rating of the first day with 122.3 so they did not play a complete game, but they did play well enough to win.

What hurt the US the most was Puerto Rico's ability to shoot 3-pointers at a high make percentage. This helps explain their 61.4% effective field goal percentage, higher than the US's. Also, the US were unable to cause as many turnovers as they had during their exhibition games leading up to the World Championships. Puerto Rico has a knack for lulling the US to sleep with poor play in exhibition games and then playing with a renewed sense of determination when the real tournament begins.

Slovenia 96, Senegal 79

Just like the score says, Slovenia was clearly the better team in this game. Their offensive rating was 118.2. Compare that to Senegal's 98.5 and you will begin to see why the score is so lopsided. Just like the case is with so many games, Slovenia turned the ball over less per possession and had a higher offensive rebounding percentage.

Italy 84, China 69

Even though Italy came in second to the US in offensive rating (129.2), Italy still played a better game, mostly because they chose to play defense throughout the whole game holding China to an offensive rating of 103.0, for the second highest offensive rating advantage on day one.

Italy can thank their thirteen 3-pointers for their high offensive rating. Italy actually shot better from 3-point range than from 2-point range, calling into question whether or not they can duplicate such an excellent shooting display on a regular basis. Another plus for the Italians was their good ballhandling; they had a turnover-to-possession ratio of only .123, 12.3%. That is good enough for offensive success any day and it looks like the Italians will be the US's main competition to see who wins this group.

Friday, August 18, 2006

The Worst Idea

The doomsday attitude some national sports writers are espousing in relation to the 2006 USA men's basketball team is a little confusing. The 2006 team is better constructed, has a better coaching philosophy, and is a far superior team overall than in 2004, which is not saying much but should lend a little more optimism to the USA basketball fan. Yet, writers like's Chris Mannix want to be negative instead of just admitting Jerry Colangelo and Coach Krzyzewksi have put a great product on the court.

But worse than the negativity of Mannix is what he wrote about in relation to roster stability and how the US could garner more of it. Now, roster stability is a very important part of basketball or any sport, but his idea is just stupid.

But the Brazilian team has been playing together for years, as have most of the other teams that will be playing in the World Championship. That's an advantage the U.S. can't match yet, unless it decides to send the NBA champions to international competitions. (Which is not the worst idea, by the way. But seeing as how Shaquille O'Neal would as soon picnic with Kobe Bryant than participate, that isn't going to happen.)

Yes, it is the worst idea for numerous reasons that are so obvious I really cannot believe anything still thinks sending the NBA championship is a viable option. One of the obvious responses to Mannix would be to point out that NBA teams rarely have the same roster for years themselves so there would be no way for the players are the championship teams to have played together for years either. In fact, the most recent NBA champion, the Miami Heat, completely overhauled their roster from 2005 to 2006, had a roster stability of .49, the equivalent of losing two and a half position players from one year to the next. So much for playing together for years.

Another reason why it would be ridiculous to ask the NBA champion to represent the country in an international event is because of the bench drop-off. Having a productive bench is extremely important in any game, but especially in a situation where every country has put together the very best roster that the situation will allow and NBA teams do not have great benches. Now, I pose this simple question. Who would you rather see coming off the bench for the USA when playing other nations' basketball teams: Alonzo Mourning, Gary Payton, and James Posey or Dwight Howard, Kirk Hinrich, and Joe Johnson?

Let's not even talk about the age factor at work.

The most important reason behind why this idea is who plays for these NBA teams. If Jerry Colangelo considered Chris Mannix to be a valued advisor and decreed the NBA champion would go on to the Olympics to play, what happens when the San Antonio Spurs win? You probably already see where I'm going for this, but allow me to complete the thought. If there were such an occurrence, the team would be crippled by the losses of Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili (also Beno Udrih and Fabricio Oberto would be unavailable) and would therefore be an inferior team. Then USA basketball would end up having to select players anyway so of course it is best to simply hand pick players from the various teams.

So there are many more reasons why it should not happen than there are for why it could not happen.

Thursday, August 17, 2006

When Will It End?

Bill Simmons is at it again, but at least his latest article was a sports-themed one, which comes as a surprise. Not necessarily a pleasant one, but one nonetheless. What is not a surprise is that he barely knows what he is talking about.

The thing is, their offense is pretty good now that everyone's healthy, and they completely lucked out with Corey Patterson (the fantasy baseball version of Larry Johnson this season). To put the Patterson thing in perspective, I was reading "Baseball Between the Numbers" earlier this summer (interesting book about statistics by the guys from Baseball Prospectus) and they described this stat called VORP, which calculates how many runs you would be worth (or not worth) compared to a replacement-level player at your position. Patterson's VORP on the Cubs last season? Minus-10.7. Minus-10.7!!!! Now he's a 50-steal guy who is hitting .279? How does this happen? The poor Cubs fans …

From his comments, it is safe to assume that he never actually finished the book, instead opting to flip through from chapter to chapter, look at graphs he couldn't make sense of, and eventually call the book interesting meaning all the math in it went way over his head. If he had read the book in its entirety, a claim he is careful not to make, he would have read the sections where the Baseball Prospectus team detail why batting average tells you nothing about a player's abilities. Batting average certainly doesn't tell you how often a player is on base, although with players like Jeff Francoeur and Robinson Cano it's not far off, and batting average also does not tell you what kind of hits a player is getting. A .333 hitter who hits predominantly singles and only walks when there is a full moon isn't doing much for his team.

Also, stolen bases are overrated when it comes to adding runs for a team and many teams in history would have been better off trying to steal less, but Bill Simmons doesn't care about that because in his world, the stats most helpful in fantasy leagues must also be the most important stats in the real world.

His paragrah did take me back to my elementary school days when my family finally got cable and I watched Martin, The Simpsons, and American Gladiators for the first time. Some of the episodes I thought were new were really just re-runs and the excitement I had over these shows was excitement my classmates had experienced long before my own. I say this because while VORP may be new and exciting to Bill Simmons, the rest of the statistical sports world has moved on.

10. Cleveland
Not sure what happened with these guys. The Indians would have made a much better roto team.

Seriously, Simmons, with every mention of your fantasy league games, you're undermining the last vestiges of your sports writer credibility. Maybe it is best that you write about sports so infrequently now.

(A) Roy Halladay reminds me of the pitchers I grew up watching (like Catfish Hunter or Jack Morris), one of those rugged guys with a cool name and kick-ass facial hair, someone who seems like he'd welcome any slugger charging the mound, the kind of guy who gets pissed when his manager walks to the mound in the ninth because he wants to finish the game. He's just a horse. Love that guy. Great baseball name as well. Sounds like a new character on "Deadwood" or something.

Bill Simmons reminds me of the sports writers I grew up reading, one of those guys who favors empty cliches and superstitious remarks, someone who welcomes researching his writing like his welcomes the bubonic plague, the kind of guy who at his happiest trying to come up with different faces for different situations in a bit that worn thin two years ago. Hate that guy. Pudgy, unathletic looking dude as well. Looks like he'd be a waste of time to hang out with.

The point is, Liriano is so good, he was traded in my league for SIX LEGITIMATELY GOOD GUYS and the trade was allowed to stand. Sure, it was allowed to stand because the commissioner was the one who made the trade, but it was allowed to stand. Now if you'll excuse me, I have to sit inside my car and scream for the next 30 minutes. Don't go anywhere.

No, the real point is you are in a fantasy league (key word is fantasy) and you cannot use trades made amongst your friends as the basis for determining how good a player is in real life.

(And if you think this column was a complicated reverse jinx for the five-game series coming up at Fenway, well, you know me too well.)

See what I mean about the superstitious remarks?

Wednesday, August 16, 2006

2004 Men's National Team vs. 2006 Men's National Team

By now, it is pretty obvious that the 2006 version of USA Men's Basketball is much better than the team fielded in 2004, but just how much better is worth looking at. Each team played five exhibition games leading up to their respective tournaments so those are the games I compared. It remains to be seen how USA will do in the World Championships, but the outlook looks bright for the sort of success that has eluded the national teams for the last few years.

In 2004, the national team played two great games, one horrific game, and two not-quite-good games. They destroyed Puerto Rico and Serbia-Montenegro, outscoring those two teams by 15.9 points per 100 possessions and 14.9 points per 100 possessions, respectively. Italy outscored the US 33.3 points per 100 possessions, a dominating performance in every sense of the word. To be outdone in offensive efficiency by such a margin as this is reason enough to forfeit your spot in any world tournament, but the US kept playing. Overall, the US put up an offensive efficiency of 106.3 points per 100 possessions in their five exhibition games. They allowed their opponents 104.7 points per 100 possessions. That slight advantage for the US speaks of a slightly above .500 team, which is the sort of team they ended up being in the Olympics, going 5-3 (note: I have the advantage of writing this in hindsight, but the numbers did give an indication of what their future performance would be if they stayed the course they were on).

By contrast, the 2006 version has run roughshod over all five teams who have foolish enough to step on the same court. Even in their worst game, when they only beat Brazil by four points, they still had an offensive advantage of 11.9 points per 100 possessions. For the five games, the team has put up 128.0 points per 100 possessions while giving up only 89.3 points per 100 possessions. It doesn't get any better than that.

However, the difference between the two teams do not stop at how efficiently they play on both ends. The 2006 team is also better at taking care of the basketball; they have averaged .168 turnovers per possession while the 2004 squad turned the ball over .222 times per possession. Also, USA men's basketball version 2006 has a higher offensive rebounding percentage (.351 to .260) and they have a much higher effective field goal percentage (.613 to .568), on the strength of making more than twice as many 3's as the 2004 bricklayers.

Those advantages for the 2006 team extend to the defensive side of the ball as well. To shorten things up a bit, here is where the 2006 team is better: creating more turnovers, getting a higher percentage of defensive rebounds, allowing a lower effective field goal percentage, and also a lower floor percentage. Floor percentage is the percentage of a team's possessions where they score at least one point and is a Dean Oliver statistic.

One major difference between the two teams besides the 2006 team clearly being superior is the pace at which they play the game. Because the international games are only forty minutes long, I had to extend the number of team possessions to how many they would have had if they continued their pace and played in an average NBA length game (242 minutes for both 2004 and 2006). After I did the adjustment to their pace, the 2004 team played at a pace factor of 87.8. The average 2004 NBA team had a pace factor 90.1. Now, Larry Brown is notorious for playing at a deliberate pace, but when you have what are supposedly some of your country's best players, your team should play faster than the average NBA team. If the team does not, the players' potential cannot be maximized. Coach K has taken a vastly different approach and what looks to be the right one. Under him, the 2006 version has a pace factor of 100.9 when the average 2006 NBA team played with a pace factor of 90.6. That is how an All-Star squad should be used.

Not only has the 2006 squad played infinitely better, but they have also been coached infinitely better.

I used the term All-Star squad loosely, but All-Star teams play at a frenetic pace during All-Star games. The winners of the 2004 and 2006 All-Star Game had pace factors of 120.3 and 118.4, respectively. Perhaps I should have used the term controlled All-Star squad.

Sunday, August 13, 2006

Titans' Preseason Notes

With the Titans' first preseason game over with, here are some notes to supplement what your eyes saw on the field.

  • According to Football Outsider's definition of success rate for running backs, Chris Brown had four successful runs out of his nine carries giving him a success rate of 44.4%, which is just below what the league average was last year. However, he was not gaining many yards past the minimum needed for a successful run. Take away his long run of 21 yards and Brown only averaged 1.5 yards more than needed to meet the criteria. He was giving enough, but not much more than that.

  • Although neither quarterback overwhelmed, the offense did look better when Billy Volek was running it. Using the definition of a team successful play outlined by Pete Palmer, Bob Carroll and John Thorn in their book, The Hidden Game of Football, the Titans had eleven successful plays and eleven failures with Volek. The offense had only six successful plays with Young while racking up 21 failing efforts. Not all of the blame can be placed on Young, though. Penalties certainly did not help matters. Another thing to remember is Young found himself in many more third down situations than Volek, situations harder on a rookie quarterback; Young faced eight in twenty-seven plays and Volek only faced four in twenty-one plays. Of the eight third-downs, the Titans with Young converted two. The six times they were unable to convert on third down, the average yardage needed was 9.8. The two successes came when the Titans only needed an average of 4 yards. Young's struggle with accuracy tonight may be linked to his being asked to pass predominantly in long-yardage situations.

  • Special teams play by the Titans went relatively well. Bobby Wade had one long kickoff return before being tackled at midfield. The Titans scored a touchdown as a result of the superb field position. Courtney Roby had a long kickoff return as well that resulted in a field goal. Kicker Rob Bironas was the special teams star of the evening. Three of his kickoffs were downed for touchbacks and overall, the Saints's average starting position after kickoffs was the 21-yard-line. Bironas also converted three of four field goals, with the lone miss coming on a 56-yard attempt before the first half ended. As for punter Craig Hentrich, he had a less consistent night. His first three punts had a net yardage of 44.3 yards and his second three, though none were turned, had a net yardage of 34.5 yards. One of the latter three punts was muffed by the Saints and recovered by the Titans so the short punt actually turned out to be a good thing, but there was still a drastic drop-off in punts.

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