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Just The Sports: 2007-01-07

Just The Sports

Friday, January 12, 2007

I Told You So

There are some people who are above saying 'I told you so.' I do not happen to be one of them. Those four words, more than any knowledge that might be gleaned from statistical research, prompted me to take a look at three NBA rookie point guards: Jordan Farmar, Marcus Williams, and Rajon Rondo. The number would have been four had Kyle Lowry not broken his wrist after seeing action in only ten games, thus rendering any comparisons involving him inconclusive.

Before the 2006 NBA draft, I told anyone who might read my words that Jordan Farmar was the best point guard prospect in the draft class, Kyle Lowry was second best, Marcus Williams was third best, and Rajon Rondo was the worst of the four point guards in overall play. Of course, those making the draft selections ignored everything I said, which resulted in Rondo being picked first out of this bunch, Williams second, Lowry third, and Farmar fourth.

At this point in the season, though, I am feeling vindicated as Farmar has outplayed both Marcus Williams and Rajon Rondo. None of these point guards are averaging mind-boggling minutes or points, but Farmar has made the most of his time on the court. He is averaging 6.0 points per game on 56.0% eFG% shooting, meaning that he is more efficient with his scoring than Williams, who averages 6.3 points per contest on 43.9 eFG% from the field, and much more efficient than Rondo, who manages 3.6 points per game while shooting 41.1 eFG% from the floor.

Farmar is also at the head of the class in terms of the ratio of his assist rate to his turnover rate. Currently, Farmar's ratio is 2.2:1, Williams' ratio is 1.7:1, and Rondo has a ratio of 1.6:1 so not only has Farmar been the better shooter, but he has done a better job than the other two point guards in his handling of the basketball.

My only hope now is for Farmar to maintain his superiority lest I have to take back my words.


Thursday, January 11, 2007

Draft Stock Satire

After hearing rumors from the so-called draft experts that Troy Smith's draft stock dropped after his abysmal performance against Florida in the BCS Championship game, quarterbacks JaMarcus Russell of LSU and Brady Quinn of Notre Dame are confident that it is only a matter of time before their own draft stocks plummet after scouts find out about two of their worst games in college.

While a true freshman, JaMarcus Russell had a terrible game against the Ole Miss Rebels where he completed only six of nineteen pass attempts and threw one interception that an Ole Miss defender returned for a touchdown. "If they are going to base my ability to perform in the NFL off a single bad game," Russell said, "then there's no way I deserve to be picked in the first round. I mean, really, to complete only 31.6% of my passes. With that sort of game on my resume, I'll be lucky if I even get drafted."

Brady Quinn had a similarly awful game as a freshman in a contest against Pittsburgh where he threw for thirty-three yards, attempting seventeen passes and only connecting on five of them. He also threw an interception. "Before I remembered that game, I was pretty confident I was worthy of a first-round selection," Brady stated. "But now I don't know. How can I do anything productive in the NFL if I can't even go through four years of college without having an off day?"

Although the two quarterbacks still feel their draft positions are tenuous, they are hoping that since both horrific games took place so many games ago that scouts will not pay that much attention to them. Also, Russell and Quinn are counting on the fact they are 6'6 and 6'4, respectively, with good arm strength to make up for their bad games and any other deficiencies they might have.


Wednesday, January 10, 2007

Ted Ginn Satire

As details surrounding the origins of Ohio State wide receiver Ted Ginn, Jr.'s sprained foot came out, Ginn found himself inundated with contract offers from all thirty MLB franchises. Ginn sprained his foot in the first quarter of the BCS Championship game while celebrating with his teammates in the end zone after taking the opening kickoff ninety-three yards for a touchdown against the Florida Gators, forcing him to witness the dismantling of the Buckeyes from the sidelines. Since that night, though, Ginn's phone has been ringing off the hook.

"It was really weird," Ginn recalled. "After the game, my voicemail box was completely full. I assumed it was your run-of-the-mill death threats from sports fans who take the games too seriously, but when I listened to the messages, they were all from baseball executives who were telling me how much they wanted an injury talent like me on their team and how I would fit in with all the other baseball players who get injured in the most unorthodox and shady ways.

Mark Shapiro, general manager of the Cleveland Indians, was one of those baseball executives who expressed injury in Ted Ginn after learning after his freak injury. Shapiro happened to be watching the game, but thought Ginn's sprained foot was a normal injury suffered during the course of a football game. When he learned that the injury was the result of an impromptu team celebration, it was then he began coveting Ginn for his own team.

"Everyone thinks he knows what a baseball team looks for when evaluating talent, but no one but only those on the inside know what we really look for," Shapiro stated. "Hitting for power, hitting for average, fielding a position well, arm strength, and running ability are all well and good, but there is another tool that baseball management has looked for in players ever since Wade Boggs sprained muscles in his back while pulling on cowboy boots; that is the ability to injure oneself either completely away from the field of play or in the course of celebrating a play. And it looks like Ted Ginn, Jr. might be one of the special ones in that category."

Players, too, have expressed interest in being able to play alongside someone who can possibly match them freak injury for freak injury. Clint Barmes, shortstop for the Colorado Rockies who fell down some stairs and broke his collarbone while carrying venison, says that he would love to play with Ginn any day of the week. So, too, would Ken Griffey, Jr. who admitted that it was players like Ginn who kept him motivated to find new and innovative ways in which to injure himself.

Ginn still has not officially accepted any of the contract offers, but admits that it is not outside the realm of possibility that the world will hear about his next injury while he is pursuing baseball stardom. "Right now, I think of myself as a football player, but who knows what the future holds?" Ginn remarked. "If I hurt myself again while celebrating or if I dislocate my shoulder while trying to tear a phone book in half like Steve Sparks or even if I burn my chest while ironing a shirt that I am wearing while trying to iron it like John Smoltz, then I will know for sure that baseball is the sport I should be pursuing."


Sir Steve Francis The Unnecessary

If Steve Francis never plays another game for the New York Knicks, it will be no great loss to the team. In fact, his absence will provide only benefits to the franchise that calls Madison Square Garden home. After Francis was acquired from the Orlando Magic via trade last year, heads were scratched raw everywhere by those trying to figure how much sense it made to pair Stephon Marbury, an unreliable point guard, with another unreliable point guard. The answer is none. Assembling a playoff-caliber team requires the construction of a roster where every player is able to bring something new to the court when he is called upon to enter a game. Having clones, or players with identical attributes, playing together at the same time does nothing but make sure the opponent is the only one to receive an advantage.

When one of the clones is gotten rid of, the play of the whole team improves, which is exactly what has happened to the New York Knicks this season. Of the thirty-six games the New York Knicks have played this year, Steve Francis has appeared in twenty-one of them, a little more than half. Comparing the games where the Knicks had Francis on the court to the ones where he was unavailable shows the Knicks have done a little better without him, both on offense and defense. Without him, they are more efficient on offense (108.9 points per 100 possessions to 106.0 points per 100 possessions) and also turn the ball over less (13.0 turnover rate to 11.6 turnover rate).

Almost the exact opposite is true on defense. Sans Francis, the Knicks hold their opponents to a lower offensive rating (108.6 points per 100 possessions to 109.4 points per 100 possessions) and turn them over at a marginally superior pace (11.2 turnover rate to 10.3 turnover rate). However, the turnovers forced number is made less impressive by the fact opponents have a higher assist rate when Francis does not play (17.2 assist rate to 15.4).

Although none of the differences is large enough to be significant, that does not mean the indictment of Steve Francis is any less damaging. What the data are really saying is that it does not matter to the New York Knicks whether or not Francis plays. When he is gone, they do not miss him and when he is there, he does not add anything. Therefore, the Knicks would be wise to look into foisting Steve Francis on an unsuspecting NBA franchise.


Tuesday, January 09, 2007

Mustafa Shakur Spotlight

"Finally" has to be the word on the lips of both Mustafa Shakur and Arizona Wildcats basketball fans everywhere. Finally, the player who arrived on Arizona's campus in 2003 as the top point guard prospect in the nation looks like he is in danger of living up to his promise. Finally, Mustafa Shakur looks like a player who is worthy of a second-round draft pick. And it only took him until his fourth year to get off to the best start (in this case, start is synonymous with the first 14 games of the season) of his collegiate career.

What has made Shakur's journey to NCAA stardom so arduous is the fact he never progressed as a point guard and looked like someone whose potential would always outweigh his output. Up until this season, Shakur's freshman season held the honor of possessing both his best start to a season and his best overall statistical campaign. There is nothing wrong with a player's freshman season being his or her best as long as said player immediately jumps to the professional level after completing his first two semesters of college. Since Shakur did not do that, there was something very troubling about him using his middle two years at Arizona to regress, not progress, which to his credit, he did very well.

To start his freshman year, Shakur had a 57.4% true shooting percentage, an assist rate (assists per 100 possessions) of 28.9 and turnover rate (turnovers per 100 possessions) of 18.5 and finished the season with a 60.6% true shooting percentage, 29.8 assist rate, and 18.8 turnover rate. He did not better these overall numbers in either his sophomore or junior years.

Luckily for both he and the Arizona Wildcats, Shakur, through the first fourteen games of the season, has put it all together in impressive fashion. While he has increased his shooting and scoring touch, currently sporting a 66.5% true shooting percentage and averaging 14.3 points per game, which would both be career highs should he be able to maintain his level of play, that is not even the most important improvement to Shakur's game. Most notably, Shakur is taking better control of the ball and making better decisions on the court, as evidenced by his assist rate of 36.2 and a turnover rate of only 14.7. Those two numbers would represent Shakur's career high and career low, respectively, in those two categories.

It has taken a while, but now Wildcats basketball fans can stop asking themselves why Lute Olson went all the way to Philadelphia, Pennsylvania to recruit Mustafa Shakur. He is showing them right now.


Monday, January 08, 2007

JaMarcus Russell As The Test Case

As the NFL draft approaches, LSU quarterback JaMarcus Russell will be the test case for which aspect of a college player scouts put more stock in: physical attributes or college productivity. Already, as talk about Russell inevitably revolves around his size (6'6, 260 lbs.) and his incredible arm strength, evidenced by his ability to launch a football eighty-five yards in the air, I suspect scouts are more likely to invest their paychecks in a player's physical prowess. While this feat of fast-twitch muscle fiber is impressive, there are not that many 85-yard pass attempts in the NFL so there is more to being a successful quarterback than that.

Should any NFL team decide to draft an SEC quarterback this year, they can do worse than drafting Russell. However, should a team choose to draft a quarterback this year, they can do better than the quarterback from LSU. He is not the best quarterback who will declare himself for the NFL draft. Nor is he the second-best. In my estimation, he is the third-best quarterback the 2007 draft has to offer, behind Ohio State's Troy Smith and BYU's John Beck.

The reason why I place Russell behind these two other quarterbacks has nothing to do with his overall completion percentage, which is not statistically significantly worse than Smith's and Beck's. What causes me to pause in evaluating Russell and thinking of him as a future NFL star is his lack of consistency when it comes to completing passes. Of the seven draft-eligible quarterbacks I have looked at this season (Drew Stanton, Brady Quinn, Drew Tate, Troy Smith, Chris Leak, John Beck, and JaMarcus Russell), Russell has the highest standard deviation when it comes to completion percentage, meaning that while the overall completion percentage of 62.0% is above-average, it does not inspire the confidence it should because there is no guarantee he will be able to complete that percentage of passes on a game to game basis.

Based on this fact, I would recommend NFL teams evince prudence when thinking about drafting JaMarcus Russell.