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Just The Sports: 2007-02-11

Just The Sports

Friday, February 16, 2007

Worse Than Father, Worse Than Brother (UPDATED)

Entering in the same profession as both your father and brother is inevitably going to lead to comparisons as observers, such as myself, attempt to rank the family members in order from best to worst. Surely Eli Manning knew this or had someone inform him of this when he put himself on the path to being an NFL quarterback and surely by now, he knows he is on the way to being the worst NFL quarterback in the Manning family.

Comparing the Mannings to each other requires more than looking at their respective completion percentages and ranking them in that way. Due to the fact that each of them played their first two years as the leading pass attempter for their teams in different eras, the only way to really find out how well they were is to compare them to their peers and figure out where they rank.

In Archie Manning's first year as the quarterback that threw the most passes for the New Orleans Saints, he completed 51.3% of his 448 passes, the lowest percentage of the three Mannings for any of the six seasons I recorded. However, the passing game in 1972 was not the efficient yard-gaining device that it is today and the average completion percentage of the other NFL quarterbacks that attempted the most passes for their teams was 51.4%, making Archie basically an average quarterback.

Archie's second year saw him increase his completion percentage to 52.4%, but the average quarterback in 1973 completed 52.8% of his passes so Manning actually fell off relative to where he stood among his contemporaries in 1972. Manning was -.02 standard deviations below the average for 1972 and -.09 standard deviations below for 1973.

Twenty-five years later, during Peyton Manning's rookie year, quarterbacks had improved dramatically to the point where the average completion percentage was 57.3%. Since Peyton Manning had a completion percentage of 56.7%, his first year was actually a little worse than his father's due to the fact the percentage was -.16 standard deviations below the average.

Being worse than Archie only lasted a year for Peyton Manning as he had the second-best completion percentage (62.1%) in the NFL in 1999, one that put him 1.50 standard deviations above the average completion percentage (57.6%) of the quarterbacks meeting my criterion.

Then there is the youngest Manning, Eli. Even in the few years between 1999 and 2005, quarterbacks had become better passers and 59.9% was the average completion percentage for 2005. Unfortunately for Eli, his 52.8% landed him nowhere near the average and was in fact -1.48 standard deviations below it, which was the lowest mark for any of the Mannings in their first two years of their reigns as their respective teams' franchise quarterback. For an encore, Eli decided he would, in 2006, post a completion percentage -.50 standard deviations below the average, which is the second-lowest standard deviation for the Mannings.

No one ever wants to be the worst out of his or her family at a particular activity, but unless Eli Manning makes a huge turn-around in his career, he will hold that distinction in his family.

UPDATE: To those who were dissatisfied with the Mannings being ranked only by completion percentage standard deviations, disappointment will probably ensue after seeing that the Mannings' yards per pass attempt tell a similar story.

Under the aforementioned conditions, Archie Manning showed no improvement in yards per pass attempt between his 1972 mark of 6.2 yards per pass attempt and 1973's of 6.1 yards per pass attempt. Both numbers were -.75 standard deviations below the league averages.

In the same way Peyton Manning went from below average in completion percentage in his rookie season to way above average in his second year as the starting quarterback for the Colts, his yards per pass attempt increased, too. His rookie season saw him -.40 standard deviations below the league average of 6.9 and his sophomore campaign saw him 1.13 standard deviations above the league average of 6.9.

Eli Manning actually had his better year in terms of yards per pass attempt in the first year of being the Giants' leading pass attempter when he was right at the league average in 2005 of 6.8. The fact his completion percentage was so abysmal and his yards per pass attempt was respectable means that Manning was connecting on long throws, but not consistently enough to be of much help to the Giants offense.

Then he fell off in this past season when his yards per pass attempt was -.75 standard deviations below the 2006 league average of quarterbacks meeting my criterion.

As you can see, unlike completion percentage, the average yards per pass attempt for NFL quarterbacks has remained basically the same over the past thirty to forty years so it is more important for a quarterback to be at least league average in completion percentage than it is for him to be league average in yards per pass attempt.


Thursday, February 15, 2007

On The Other Side Of Hate

Current Human Rights Campaign president Joe Solmonese recently said in a television interview that he would not want any former ESPN analysts, who were fired due to a poor understanding of the English language, its rules, and the exceptions to its rules, to join his organization. The Human Rights Campaign, with more than 650,000 members, is America's largest civil rights organization working to achieve gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender equality, but still has no place for someone who does not allow his subjects and verbs to agree even when talking on national television no matter whether or not he is willing to pay the basic membership fee of $35.

"I just don't think it's right when a former ESPN analyst is allowed to so cavalierly disregard proper grammar while in the employ of the Worldwide Network," Solmonese stated. "And I would not want to have to associate with such a person and it really appalls me that these people are actually allowed to live in the United States and talk amongst us with their overuse of the word 'be' as a helping verb, speaking in double negatives, pronouncing words that begin with "th" like they begin with 'd,' or words that end in 'th' like they end with an 'f.'"

"I would have no problem if they pronounced the letter 's' like it was 'th,' though," Solmonese added. "That 's' is such a tricky letter to say after all."

What Solmonese is most concerned about is that the former professional athlete improper English speakers of the country will try to recruit unsuspecting verb conjugators to their slang side. "They are very crafty in their ways," Solmonese said. "I have heard stories from some of my friends of how they would actually listen to these bastardizers of the English language on ESPN so much so that it eventually rubbed off on them and then my friends would begin to speak incorrectly, too. I just hope for a day when everyone in the country knows when to use the subjunctive and when to use the indicative."

Even knowing that his comments will draw the ire of many across the country, Solmonese still refused to apologize. "If this makes me a grammar elitist, then so be it. As long as those people stay away from me, I don't care what I'm called."


Wednesday, February 14, 2007

The Other Other Washington Wizard

Antawn Jamison may be the captain of the Washington Wizards, Gilbert Arenas and his bold predictions may garner all the headlines, but it is Caron Butler who provides the glue that keeps the Wizards together enough to perform as well as they have. He does this by being the most dependable scorer on the team.

Of the thirty NBA franchises, the Washington Wizards, along with the San Antonio Spurs and the Portland Trail Blazers are the only three teams with only three players averaging double figure point totals per game. On teams with so few scorers, it becomes increasingly important that the players who can score be reliable in their game-to-game productivity.

In addition to being the second leading scorer on the Wizards with 20.4 points per game, he also has the lowest standard deviations in both point totals and true shooting percentage. Jamison is the second most consistent and the increasingly erratic Arenas is unsurprisingly third.

The fact the Wizards still have Butler means they are not going to fall off the map just because Jamison is out with a knee injury. Something like that would only happen if Butler went down, too, forcing the team to rely solely on Arenas to provide their offensive output for them.


Florida's '04 Class

Whatever combination of variables led the University of Florida men's basketball coach Billy Donovan to choosing and convincing Taurean Green, Corey Brewer, Joakim Noah, and Al Horford to play basketball for him, Donovan will credit the '04 Florida recruiting class for saving his job. Saying so is in no way hyperbole. With the way the Florida men's basketball program was headed before these four players started their college basketball careers, there was no reason to expect Donovan would last long in Gainesville.

The impact the now junior players have had on the college basketball landscape is already widely known, including both a national championship and allowing Donovan to change his reputation from being only a top recruiter to being an excellent head coach, but there is more than just those two things to the legacy they will leave behind them whenever they choose to leave.

As for the 2001-02, 2002-03, and 2003-04 seasons, the kindest description of the state of Florida basketball for those three years would be to call the program stagnant. This is not to say that the teams were necessarily bad because they were not, but there was no improvement in any area. Because the program was just good at the time of their stagnation, Florida basketball was kept from joining the elite programs in the country.

That has all changed with the emergence of the '04 class from role players in their freshmen years to bona fide college stars over the last two seasons. Each year with them on the roster, Florida has gotten progressively better, both offensively and defensively, to the point that if the team continues to score and defend at the rate it is at right now, this year will be the best of the three seasons Noah, Green, Horford, and Brewer have played for Florida.

Now that Florida has joined the ranks of the college basketball elite, the true test of Billy Donovan's coaching acumen will be if he can maintain the level of play displayed in this 2006-07 season after these four players end their collegiate careers. If not, we will know for sure whether Florida's recent run of success was due to the '04 recruiting class only or an actual improvement in Donovan's coaching ability.


Tuesday, February 13, 2007

More Peyton Manning...I Know, I Know

It is not enough to simply be consistent in athletics. To have a sporting career worthy of being remembered fondly and even revered after retirement, one must merge this consistency with actually being good. Peyton Manning, as much as any NFL quarterback, exemplifies both attributes, that of being consistent and good. In Manning's nine seasons, he has only had one season, the 2006 one, where his completion percentage standard deviation has topped .100.

Splitting his career numbers into wins and losses uncovers one intriguing fact. Ironically, Manning has played more consistently in the games that resulted in a Indianapolis Colts loss than he did when they won. For completion percentage (.078 to .089), yards per pass attempt (1.7 to 2.2), and yards per catch (2.4 to 2.6) Manning has a lower standard deviation in the Colts losses than the Colts wins.

Even though Manning has been more consistent in Colts losses, his performances in the wins completely blow away what he has done in losses. He has completed 66.6% of his pass attempts with 8.1 yards per pass attempt when the Colts walk off the field victorious and only 59.1% and 6.9 yards per pass attempt when they walk off losers. And although Manning does only average 1.3 less yards per game in the losses, he is only doing so as a result of the fact he is averaging 5.3 more pass attempts per those contests so it would seem the more passes Manning is required to throw over thirty-two or thirty-three, the more likely it is that the Colts will lose.

As is pretty evident, Manning is both consistent in his wins and his defeats so now one can look at only his final statistics and be able to guess with a fair amount of certainty and accuracy what the result of the game was.


Monday, February 12, 2007

Listen To The King

There are legitimate reasons for coaches being involved in sports. The majority of athletes, left to their own devices, will usually find themselves unable to make tactical decisions on a day in and day out basis that will lead them to success. That is why I was skeptical when LeBron James, among other Cleveland Cavaliers, criticized Mike Brown's offensive schemes, practically begging him to let the team run more and get out in transition in order to get easier shots. In this instance, at least, James is correct in his opinion the Cavaliers need fixing and he may even be right in his proposed solution.

Whatever change Brown makes, and if he is able to divorce himself from his offensive philosophy long enough to do so, he needs to do so soon if the Cavaliers hope to recapture the magic from last season. True, the Cleveland Cavaliers are 30-21 through fifty-one games, just like they were last season, but they have arrived at the same record through fantastically different paths. Last season for the first fifty-one games, the Cavaliers had an offensive rating of 109.4 with a 54.0 TS% and scored 1.08 points per shot attempt. This season all three of those statistics fell off dramatically. Despite playing at a similar pace and averaging a similar number of offensive possessions, the Cavaliers have only managed an offensive rating of 105.9, 51.8 TS%, and 1.04 points per shot attempt. Since the Cavaliers have not improved on the defensive side of the ball, with their drop-off in offensive production, they should consider themselves lucky to be as far above .500 as they are now.

With the team already struggling, there is no reason for Coach Mike Brown to disallow the team more fast break opportunities since lay-ups and dunks are the easiest shots available in the game of basketball.

Another reason for James's complaints could be his own shooting decline. He is not quite in the range of posting a stastically significant worse shooting percentage, but he is dangerously close. In addition to his true shooting percentage through the first fifty-one games of last year (57.3 TS%) decreased to 54.8 TS% in the first fifty-two games of this season, but his shot attempts have not yielded as many points (1.15 to 1.10). His precipitous decline in free throw percentage (73.9 FT% to 68.1 FT%) has only served to further exacerbate his shooting woes.

Speaking of free throw shooting, interesting enougly, the Cavaliers ignored that aspect of their offense when they were casting aspersions. While shooting better from the line will not solve all of their problems, it would be a great start. At the very least, greater concentration should be able to improve their free throw percentage from the 68.5% it is this season. Last year, in the aforementioned time frame, it was 74.6%.

In order for the Cavaliers to realize their potential, Mike Brown will need to swallow his pride long enough design an offense that actually takes advantage of the talents of his players. Playing a slow-it-down, half-court oriented offense with a roster that includes no true shooters is not very good coaching and kudos to the Cavaliers for calling their coach out on his poor strategy.


Sunday, February 11, 2007


As expected, the decision by the Philadelphia 76ers to trade away Allen Iverson, who had been the face of the franchise since being drafted first overall in 1996, led to ramifications that affected, if not the whole team, than at least two of his former teammmates, Andre Iguodala and Kyle Korver.

Like I just alluded to, the 76ers have suffered few adverse effects due to the ceasing of Iverson's Philadelphia career, but the gains that have been experienced have been minimal as well and have had no bearing on the team's overall play. Without Allen Iverson, the 76ers have been unable to force as many turnovers per their opponent's possession (.191 TO/Poss. to .161 TO/Poss.). Then again, the team's assist rate has increased significantly, improving from 14.9 during the fifteen games Iverson played for the 76ers to 16.8 in the thirty-six without him. Yet, even these decreases and increases have not been enough to keep the offensive and defensive efficiencies of the two sets of games from being virtual mirror images of each other.

Iverson's individual teammates, especially Iguodala and Korver, have had their career paths indelibly marked by Iverson's departure. When Iguodala looks back on the events of this year during the off-season, he would do well to sit down and express a debt of gratitude to Iverson for being such a fantastic malcontent, which has resulted in Iguodala's scoring average jumping dramatically from 13.3 points per game with Iverson to a robust 19.6 points per game sans the Answer. No longer having to defer to Iverson, Iguodala is now free to take the extra 4.2 shots per game that, along with his increased trips to and makes at the free throw line, are the major reasons for his augmented scoring.

Korver, on the other hand, will not be thanking Iverson now or ever for the effect the trade has had on his season statistics. Like Iguodala, Korver, too, has been able to shoot the ball more, an extra 2.7 times per game to be exact, without Iverson doing his best impression of a black hole, but his extra shots have been a detriment to his shooting percentage, dropping it from 60.5 eFG% to 48.7 eFG%. Korver is not the type of player who should shoot a lot in any given game; he is a much more efficient offensive player when he shoots the ball around nine times per game like he was doing when Iverson was a 76er (9.2 attempts per game) as opposed to the 11.9 shots per game he is taking now. Perhaps Korver values shots less the more he launches, but if the 76ers want him to return to form, they will begin to ration his shots more effectively.

In their play without Iverson, Iguodala and Korver have put their strengths and weaknesses, respectively, on display for the NBA world to witness. Now it can safely be said about Iguodala that he can be a twenty point per game scorer for a team with no chance of making the playoffs and that Korver should never be put into a position where he becomes even the secondary offensive option on an NBA team.