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Just The Sports: 2007-02-04

Just The Sports

Saturday, February 10, 2007

Back-to-Back Games

When a season lasts as long as eighty-two games like the NBA season does, the motivation needed to treat every game like your last proves too difficult to maintain for most players and teams. Nowhere is that more apparent than when an NBA franchise is required by the schedule makers to play back-to-back games. Then the teams are presented with a dilemma on par to the ones given to superheroes at least once, but instead of having to choose between saving the life of a loved one or the lives of complete strangers, they have to choose whether to play hard during the first game of the back-to-back or the second one.

The majority of NBA teams this year, nineteen to be exact, have chosen to put together their better performances in the first games due to having a higher efficiency margin (offensive efficiency minus defensive efficiency) in those contests. This phenomenon is somewhat expected due to the fact that one would make the supposition that a team would be fresher during the first game and then watch their ability decline during the second game when fatigue sets in, but eleven teams prove that is not always the case.

To fully illustrate the difficulty of playing well on consecutive days, only five teams out of thirty NBA franchises (Chicago Bulls, Detroit Pistons, Dallas Mavericks, San Antonio Spurs, and Phoenix Suns) have positive efficiency margins, providing concrete evidence these teams are the elite of the NBA this season. Since I am unable to give the Bulls any sort of praise without adding some sort of negative disclaimer, it should be noted that their efficiency margin is only 0.4 for the first game so they barely make the list. The other four teams qualify with room to spare.

Some leeway must then be given to NBA teams when their respective fans see a game on two consecutive days looming on the calendar. Hope that your team will win both games, but expect them to only do well in one of them.


Wednesday, February 07, 2007


Citing the $10,000 fine levied against him for doing so, Chicago Bulls rookie forward Tyrus Thomas has pledged to never tell the truth again, especially not to reporters who are only looking to twist a player's words in order to create a news story anyway. Looking back at the maelstrom his words created, Thomas regrets being honest about how the $16,125 he could expect for simply being in the All-Star Slam Dunk Contest was the only impetus for his participation and how he has no interest in associating with any of the NBA's legends during the All-Star Weekend.

"I blame my mama for this one," Thomas stated. "All my life she kept telling me that honesty was the best policy and that I would get punished a lot less if I just came clean and told her the truth about what I had done wrong. Obviously, she was wrong and my life would have been a whole lot easier if I had learned to lie convincingly at an earlier age."

Thomas added: "Maybe if I had starting lying earlier, I wouldn't find myself in a situation where I might only be making $6,125 net for dunking a basketball."

Not only is Thomas saying that he is planning to lie to news reporters from now on, but he has already begun to do so by saying he regrets the statements he made about the slam dunk contest and that he really is looking forward to it since it is such an honor to even be invited. Thomas has also bought Sports Cliches for Dummies and claims he will only speak in sports cliches from now on no matter what the question in order to avoid criticism from the media for having even one original thought in his brain.

In order to avoid having other future professional athletes meet the same fate that he did, Thomas has planned a lecture series where he will talk about the dangers of telling the truth to anyone holding a microphone or video camera or tape recorder.


Tuesday, February 06, 2007

Turnover Schmurnover

Should you have found yourself in the position of being bored enough to or actually interested in watching a University of North Carolina women's basketball game, you no doubt heard the commentators remark multiples times during the course of the game that head coach Sylvia Hatchell will worry about her team's turnover totals only if they approach some exorbitant number such as forty in one game. A mantra like that from a head coach might lead one to surmise that the team as a whole does not prize possessions in a manner that would lead to efficient play on offense. That assumption would be incorrect in relation to the 2006-07 Tar Heel women's team.

Among the top ten teams in the country as ranked by the AP Poll, it is true that the Carolina women have the most turnovers per possession (.246). Yet, UNC has the second-highest offensive rating (112.7) with only Maryland ahead of them (115.0). Part of the reason why they are able to shake off those turnovers is because of very good overall shooting (55.6 TS%); again, Maryland is first in this category among the top ten women's teams with 59.5 TS%. The rest of the reason for maintaining a high level of efficiency is due to the fact that Carolina is such a great offensive rebounding team, as evidenced by a offensive rebound percentage of 47.6%, tops among the top ten teams.

Having such a high offensive rebound percentage improves a team's efficiency in this way. A basketball possession only ends when the opponent establishes control of the ball so when a team is able to rebound its own misses, it is keeping its possession total down so that if it does score off an offensive rebound, the team is credited with scoring points off a singular possession even though it may have taken three shots and three offensive rebounds to score. Being a good offensive rebounding team allows one to avoid wasting possessions in a less conventional manner than merely keeping down turnovers, but it is a no less effective method of doing so.

Maryland is similar to Carolina in that the women on the team also have a high turnover per possessions number (.241), but make up for it with good offensive rebounding (44.1 OReb%).

On another note, at least among the elite of women's college basketball, the women look like they are catching up to the men in offensive efficiency. Of the top ten teams, only one (George Washington) has an offensive rating below 100, although LSU is dangerously close to falling below that mark. As the seasons go by, women's college basketball seems to only be getting better.

As Carolina and Maryland have shown, a team can have a propensity for turning the ball over, but be a good offensive rebounding team and take that path to elevated offensive efficiency. No matter what a team does, each must find a way to prize possessions or else find numerous losses in their stockings at the end of the season.


Monday, February 05, 2007

Peyton Manning

Now that Peyton Manning has won that ever elusive first Super Bowl, what has changed for him? Really, nothing. The only change that will be brought about by the Colts winning Super Bowl XLI is the perception of Peyton Manning by others. Finally, sports writers can say out loud what they have know to be true for several seasons, which is that Peyton Manning will go down as the best quarterback to ever play in the NFL, without fear of someone coming back at them by saying Manning could not be the best because he had never won the "big one." A comeback no more effective than one that evokes rubber and glue.

For the brief span of this paragraph, let's take a moment to examine the silliness of determining a quarterback's legacy, for good or bad, based on such a small sample set, one that in any other context a person would be laughed out of the room for trying to use to make a convincing argument. In nine NFL seasons, Manning has thrown 4,870 meaningful passes* in the regular season and 475 passes in the post-season for a total of 5,345 in his career. Therefore, Manning is being unfairly judged based on 9% of his passing career while the other 91% is being discarded like it either does not matter at all or matters less. Never mind that a quarterback must play well in the regular season to even lead his team to the playoffs.

Even when Manning's post-season performances are compared to what he has done in the regular season, his pass attempts, pass completions, passing yards, yards per pass attempt, and yards per pass catch are not significantly worse; indeed, they are fairly comparable. Where Manning has come up short and the only way in which he can be criticized is in his interception rate. For the regular season, he has thrown one interception for every 35.0 pass attempts, which increases to one every 31.7 pass attempts in the playoffs. Yet, that is still not enough to deprive Manning of his rightful quarterback mantle.

Manning is the best quarterback in the NFL and he will continue to be so until he either retires or regresses to a Brett Favre-like state in his later years.

*I discarded the handful of pass attempts Manning threw when he started the game before Jim Sorgi finished the game because the Colts were not interesting in winning, having already locked up a spot in the playoffs.