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Just The Sports: 2006-12-10

Just The Sports

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

The State Of The New York Knicks

Larry Dolan does not think Isiah Thomas has shown enough "evident progress" so far into the NBA season. Dolan is both wrong and right in his assessment of the state of the Knicks and should be showing more faith in Thomas than he did because the Knicks through twenty-three games this season are better than they were at the same point last this season.

When the New York Knicks organization announced they were firing Larry Brown and that Isiah Thomas would take over the coaching duties of the team, there were a few people who actually had faith in Thomas's coaching acumen. I was one of them and so far Thomas has done nothing to warrant a lack of faith in him as a coach.

Based on the Knicks' last season winning percentage alone, they should expect to win thirty games this season. So far through a little more than a quarter of the NBA season, the Knicks have a winning percentage of .348, which would put them on pace for around twenty-nine wins. Should the Knicks be on pace for more than twenty-nine wins? Probably, but there is no reason to think the Knicks will not at some point go on a winning streak to up that pace a bit. Remember, even the twenty-three win Knicks of yesteryear won six straight games.

Now, let us get to the heart of the matter, which is why Larry Dolan is wrong that the Knicks have not shown "evident progress" this season over last season or to the use the term I prefer, "statistically significant progress." After comparing the two teams' first twenty-three games, last year's and this year's, the Knicks of 2006-07
are a vastly improved offensive team over the Knicks of 2005-06 in the following categories: offensive efficiency (106.4 to 101.2), field percentage (41% to 38%), effective field goal percentage (49.1% to 45.9%), and true shooting percentage (53.7% to 50.9%).

Reasons for this improvement are most likely twofold with first fold being that the players feel more freedom under Isiah Thomas's offensive system than they did under Larry Brown's and so are playing offense more freely. Furthermore, and this is the rationale I give more favor to, with the team's roster stability so high from last year to this, the players are more accustomed to playing with each other and know what other of their teammates can and cannot do, which gives them the ability to give their teammates the ball in the places where they will have the highest chance of success.

On defense, though, Larry Dolan has a point when he says he has not seen enough "evident progress" because the 2006-07 Knicks have not improved over where the 2005-06 Knicks were during the same juncture. However, nor has this year's Knicks' defense worsened over what it was last year twenty-games into the season. Optimists will no doubt point out that with the Knicks improving offensively and at least not worsening defensively, the team on a whole is a lot better. For the purposes of this post, I am one of those optimists.

Of course, the Knicks will need to improve on defense at some point in the season to make the improvement a total one, but there was no reason for the owner Larry Dolan to be anything but positive over the state of the Knicks.


Monday, December 11, 2006

Atlanta Quarterbacks

One almost has to pity those pro and college football fans who were foolish enough to ally themselves with the Atlanta Falcons and Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets. Since 2002 for the Atlanta Falcons, when Michael Vick became the starter and since 2003, when Reggie Ball took over the quarterback reins for Georgia Tech, Atlanta fans have had to endure some of the most atrocious quarterback play ever seen in the world of football. That is not to say that everything about Michael Vick and Reggie Ball is awful. While they have more than their share of warts, the Atlanta quarterback duo also have several positive characteristics: elite athleticism, the ability to retard the progress of any wide receiver they come in contact with, and being capable of Jedi mind tricking their head coaches into starting them every game when it would be more advisable to leave them on the bench.

While I have already written about Michael Vick almost ad nauseam, there is still another point which needs elaboration. For all of Vick's detractors, there are just as many apologists and enablers who want to hold everyone else but Vick accountable for his poor play, by blaming the play calling and the coaching staff in general. Admittedly, the Falcons coaches deserve some amount of culpability, but the apologists and enablers need to understand is that the Vick who sometimes amazes Falcons fans and most of the times frustrates them is the Vick who took Virginia Tech fans through the same gamut of emotions.

Comparing Vick's college career to his NFL career in his non-injury seasons, there is no statistical difference between his completion percentages so he is as inaccurate now as he was while throwing passes for the Hokies. The main differences now are that has attempted more passes per game for the Falcons (25.8 to 17.0) and also since NFL defenses are better than college defenses against the long pass, his yards per pass attempt have suffered a significant decline since leaving Blacksburg (9.8 to 6.7). The irony that Vick is still allowed to play a position for which he has the least value never ceases to amaze me.

Thanks to Reggie Ball we have evidence that it is possible for someone else to perform worse at quarterback than Vick. It is not immediately clear at present what Ball is using to blackmail Chan Gailey with, but it has to be something really good to force Gailey to start a quarterback for four years whose completion percentage has gotten progressively worse since his freshman campaign. As of right now, Reggie Ball's career completion percentage stands at a paltry 48.5%. What makes that number worse is that it is not a result of having a dearth of wide receiver talent to throw to; Ball has actually had the complete opposite at Georgia Tech, having an opportunity to play alongside more than capable wide receivers such as Calvin Johnson. Ball's poor performances leave no one to blame but himself. To put football spin on the old joke that Dean Smith is the only one who could keep Michael Jordan under 20 points, Reggie Ball may have been the only person who could keep Calvin Johnson under 100 yards receiving.

Fortunately for Atlanta football fans, the days of watching Reggie Ball throw 57 touchdowns to 55 interceptions and miss his wide receivers are about to come to an end so that Michael Vick will be the only Atlanta-based quarterback who can inflict pain on them. That is, unless Georgia Tech has another Reggie Ball clone waiting in the wings. Let's hope for the sake of Atlanta's sanity that the university does not.

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The Idea of Quality Wins (Pt. II)

Perhaps, like myself, you have been caught up in the Ohio State mystique. You have watched them dispatch every team they played with relative ease, outscoring their opponents 436-125. Then you watched as Troy Smith, Ohio State's quarterback, walked away with the Heisman Trophy, college football's most prestigious award. Perhaps you have also watch the Florida Gators play football this season, observing how they struggled against many of their opponents, winning by margins that seemed surprisingly slim for a team that was supposed to be so good. After comparing the two team's seasons, you have come to the natural assumption that Ohio State is going to walk all over Florida come January 8. As it turns out, that might actually have been the case as Ohio State has had more dominant showings than Florida while facing comparable opponents.

Doing the same comparison for Ohio State's opponents and Florida's opponents that I did for Michigan and Florida reveals similar findings, although they are not exactly identical since Ohio State did play different non-conference opponents than did Michigan. However, again it is shown that the consensus thinking that SEC teams have more difficult schedules than anyone else is more illusion than anything else.

Offensively, Ohio State's and Florida's opponents have been, if not entirely identical, than not significantly different from each other except in yards per pass attempt thrown. There, Florida's opponents have a pretty wide advantage as they have had 7.5 yards per pass attempts to Ohio State's opponents' numbers of 6.7 yards per pass attempt.

Moving on to defense we find that like in the comparison between Florida and Michigan, Florida's opponents have allowed a lower completion percentage (55.2%) to Ohio State's opponents' allowance of 58.2% of the passes thrown against them to be caught. However, when it comes to yards per rush, Ohio State's opponents have fared better, allowing only 3.7 yards per rush to Florida's opponents' 3.9 yards per rush, not a big difference but still statistically significant. Other than those two statistics, there are no other rate statistic where there is a signifcant difference at the 95% confidence level.

The question heading up to the game will be how much of what happened during the season will translate to a game played after such a lengthy break, but since Ohio State outscored their opponents by 311 points while Florida only outscored theirs by 200, the heavy favorite is and should be the Ohio State Buckeyes.