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Just The Sports: 2007-02-18

Just The Sports

Saturday, February 24, 2007

Arbitrary Percentages

With more and more professional athletes choosing to conduct their inner retirement debates via the national media, arbitrary percentages everywhere are campaigning for the opportunity to be used by these athletes to describe their chances of returning to their fields and courts of play for one more season.

"Ninety-nine percent, 99.9%, and even 99.999% have all had their days in the sun, but it's time for them to move on and make room for more arbitrary percentages," 94.3% said to a collection of professional athletes, including Brett Favre and Roger Clemens, who always have retirement on the mind. "My numbers can be used for more than just a radio station. Just remember that the next time some reporter asks you what is the chance of you playing professional ball again."

Ninety-four point three percent is not the only arbitrary percentage who thinks he would suit over-the-hill athletes' needs as much as the more popular percentages. Seventy-seven point eight percent also feels all he needs is one chance to show the world what he can do.

"There is no doubt in my mind that I can be as arbitrary as, if not more so, than any other percentage out there," 77.8% stated in his first press conference after declaring his candidacy. "Although I am a dark horse candidate right now, given the chance, I can show any retirement-minded athlete that I, too, can mean absolutely nothing, no matter what question is asked."

Roger Clemens, who is the world's foremost arbitrary percentage user, says that he has been more than impressed by the platforms laid out the arbitrary percentages he listened to, but does not want to endorse any arbitrary percentage just yet.

"During my career, I have been very imaginative when it comes to arbitrary percentages," Clemens said, "not afraid to switch from 99.9% to 80%, even though they both mean the same amount of nothingness. And for all my arbitrary percentage fans out there, don't worry because the next percentage I use will be the most arbitrary of them all."


Friday, February 23, 2007

He's One Karl Malone

After signing a six-year, $60 million contract, when Nene Hilario expressed his desire to be like Karl Malone, I scoffed, assuming he meant that he wanted his play to mirror that of Karl Malone in Malone's prime. One look at Hilario's career numbers would have cast a long, dark shadow over the likelihood of that happening so I dismissed him out of hand. Recently, I realized Hilario's proclamation was just vague enough to make it unclear which Karl Malone he actually wanted to be like. Since my realization, I have had to endure the side effect that attacks someone who assumes.

However, in his first season after signing that monstrous contract, it is now clear which Karl Malone Nene Hilario was referring to. He has no interest in being like Karl Malone's prime. The Karl Malone Hilario is emulating is the 40-year-old Karl Malone in his last season of the NBA where he set career lows in games played (42) and scoring average (13.2 ppg). With the identity of the Karl Malone settled, the similarities between the two are now easy to prove.

Hilario has played in only thirty-five games this year, but his true shooting percentage (56.1 TS% to 55.5 TS%), points per shot attempt (1.12 to 1.11), turnover rate (14.8 to 13.5), and rebound rate (14.7 to 15.1) are all comparable to the 2004 40-year-old over the hill version of his idol, Karl Malone. To fully match Malone in his last NBA season, Hilario will need to raise both his scoring average and his assist rate. Malone currently leads him in both categories, 13.2 ppg to 10.9 ppg and 21.3 AsR to 8.0 AsR.

Lately, there has been no stopping Nene Hilario from scoring so he will probably soon match 2004 Malone's scoring prowess. In the month of February, Hilario has scored 18.2 points per game on 52.2% from the field. If he keeps that up, he may actually find himself playing at a level somewhere in the middle of the spectrum of Karl Malone at his best and Karl Malone at his worst.


Thursday, February 22, 2007

Riley Takes Leave Of Absence

Following Dwyane Wade's potentially season-ending shoulder injury, Miami Heat head coach Pat Riley has decided to take a leave of absence from his coaching duties until he can once again step in to coach a healthy Heat team after forcing one of his underlings to coach an injury-depleted roster.

"I'm not going to lie," Riley said. "My passion to coach is directly tied to whether or not my two stars, Wade and Shaq, are both healthy at the same time. If they're not, then I am more than happy to come up with a flimsy excuse for why I'm unable to perform my coaching duties."

Riley, this season, has already had knee surgery in an attempt to avoid coaching the Heat without center Shaquille O'Neal and in a stroke of pure uncoincidence timed his return perfectly to O'Neal's return from injury.

"Everyone around me kept telling me that I should have the surgeries during the off-season so that I wouldn't miss any coaching time," Riley stated. "But I kept telling them that with an injury-prone Shaq, I should wait for him to go down before I tried to do anything about my knee and hip. That way, I could just blame the losses they tried to pin to my win-loss record on a poor job by my assistant coach, Ron Rothstein. And it worked out just like I planned."

Stan Van Gundy, who was forced into retirement by Pat Riley last year so that Riley could coach the Miami Heat, said that Riley's latest leave of absence from the team comes as no surprise. "Anyone who saw how he blamed me for going 11-10 last year when Shaq only played three games for me and then took credit for going 41-20 with a healthy team knows that this is the kind of coach Riley has become. Not there when the best players aren't, but more than happy to coach when they return to the court."


Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Non-Conference vs. Conference

The NCAA basketball season does not really begin until teams begin their conference schedules. Non-conference games, or rather the preamble to college basketball teams' seasons, are used by teams as a way to iron out the wrinkles and also to pile up enough wins to keep indiscriminate alumni boosters lending their financial aid to the coffers of the universities' athletic programs. Usually, because conference opponents are of a higher quality than those of the non-conference variety, teams experience a decline in their play during the transition from non-conference play to the conference portion of their schedules.

For the purpose of this post, I looked at the top ten teams as ranked by the ESPN/USA Today Poll at the beginning of the week and compared their non-conference statistics to their conference ones. The only difference between the top ten teams of the poll I used and the AP Top 25's top ten is the inclusion of the University of Nevada at the expense of Washington State.

Of the top ten teams in the country, six of them-Ohio State, Wisconsin, UCLA, UNC, Kansas, and Memphis-have managed to sustain their level of play, offensively and defensively, no matter what the affiliation of their opponent happens to be, be it an opponent in the same conference as they or not. Due to this achievement, these are the teams one should put most of his lot behind when it comes to the NCAA Tournament since their best will show up no matter which opponent they play.

With six teams already labeled as college basketball's elite by this post, four teams are left, of which three have something in common. This thing is the fact that Florida, Texas A&M, and Nevada have found it impossible to maintain the level of defensive efficiency they display against non-conference foes when they are competing against their conference mates. Interestingly enough, these teams have not faltered on the offensive side of the ball, putting up comparable offensive numbers against whichever team they face. It seems that the conference opponents on the schedule are simply better at scoring than the non-conference ones.

Pittsburgh is the one team in the top ten to have put up statistically signficantly worse offensive efficiency numbers in conference play than in non-conference play, but they do play defense just as well against the Big (L)East teams as other teams. Obviously, the defense the Panthers face in their conference is too much to handle.

It should be noted that no teams perform significantly better against conference opponents so at least the teams do not find themselves in cupcake conferences that would keep them from potentially going deep in the NCAA tournament.

One other common thread that links five of these universities (Ohio State, Wisconsin, Florida, UCLA, and Memphis) is that they are averaging significantly fewer possessions per game against teams from their respective conferences. Instead of simply being able to bludgeon teams with superior athleticism as they are able to do against non-conference teams, they are either forced or choose to slow down considerably and instead use basketball intellect and decision-making skills to win games.

Of course, what really matters to most college basketball fans is how these teams perform against the non-conference opponents they will find awaiting them during March Madness.


Tuesday, February 20, 2007

The Source of Tom Brady's Excitement

New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady, who is already on the path to first-time fatherhood, is looking forward not only to watching his new child grow up and learn about life, but also to the incessant arguing, countless disagreements, and general angst that raising a child with a woman named Bridget Moynahan, whom he no longer desires to be around will bring.

"I really can't wait for the chance to argue with Bridget again," Brady stated through a press release. "When I think about what the future holds in terms of fighting with Bridget about the proper way to raise our child, working through visitation rights schedules, calculating proper child support payments, and allowing my child to experience what life is like when he is conscious of the fact his parents loathe each other, I get a warm, tingly feeling deep inside. There really is no greater blessing than an unplanned child who is able to keep two people uninterested in each other's company together for the rest of the child's life."

Brady is already preparing himself for the rows to come by watching film of the ways in which other couples fight with each other over their children. "I really want to be ready for when it happens," the press release further noted. "Since I wasn't prepared with contraceptives, I should at least be prepared for this."

Brady added: "If only Bridget had actually been a successful actress and had had a career to occupy her days without me, none of this would be happening right now."


Monday, February 19, 2007

A Legendary Point Guard's Successor

From the looks of NBA goings-on, when the Utah Jazz drafted Deron Williams with the third pick of the 2005 NBA draft, they were drafting their point guard for the next decade or so and if they were lucky, the next John Stockton or at the very least a close approximation. In only his second NBA season, Williams has shown enough improvement that announcers have started pronouncing his name correctly. For the record, it is pronounced like Darren and not like De-Ron.

When I decided to compare Williams's exploits in 2006-07 to what John Stockton did in the 1987-88 season, I was doing so because both seasons represented the first years where the two players averaged over thirty minutes a game. What I did not realize at the time I selected the 1987-88 season for John Stockton is that it represented one of the best offensive seasons he ever had in his nineteen seasons in the NBA. In that season, Stockton had his highest assist rate (48.5) and the third highest true shooting percentage (64.5%) of his career. Stockton also posted an amazing 1.29 points per shot attempt on the way to averaging 14.7 points per game. Not surprisingly, those numbers make what Deron Williams has done look worse than it really is.

Williams, though, has acquitted himself fairly well even if he has not reached legendary point guard status. Right now, Williams is averaging 17.4 points per contest, which is more than Stockton scored in 1987-88 or in any other season for the matter, but he only has a true shooting perccentage of 54.3% and points per shot attempt of 1.09, much worse than Stockton in both categories. Even Williams's assist rate of 32.7 looks embarrassingly mortal when stacked up against Stockton.

Part of the reason Williams's numbers look different from Stockton's is he is asked to be a different player than Stockton was. Williams is not just a distributor for the Utah Jazz, but he is also asked to shoulder a little bit more of an offensive load. His 14.4 field goal attempts per game are a higher total than John Stockton ever shot and it stands to reason that the more shots Williams attempts, the fewer assists he will be able to dish out. The most important thing for Williams is to continue to improve and then to maintain his peak for as long as possible, a la John Stockton.


Tom Brady's Answer To Peyton

No quarterback supremacy question can be completely answered without mentioning New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady. Owing to the fact he has won two more Super Bowl titles than Peyton Manning, Brady poses the only obstacle to Manning being crowned in the public's eye as the best quarterback in this era.

Like Peyton Manning, Tom Brady is a very consistent performer game in and game out and someone his teammates know they can count to perform well in a large percentage of their games. However, while Brady rivals Manning when it comes to consistency, he poses no threat to Manning's overall quarterback throne. For their careers, Manning has put up statistically significant numbers in both completion percentage (63.9% to 62.0%), yards per pass attempt (7.7 to 7.1), and yards per pass completion (12.0 to 11.4).

Where Brady holds the true advantage is in his consistency in the post-season. He only has a standard deviation of .058 for his completion percentage, which is only 41.1% of Manning's post-seasn completion percentage standard deviation of .141. In addition, Brady is the more consistent quarterback in yards per pass attempt, with a standard deviation of 1.5, 46.9% of Manning's 3.2.

Yet, Brady does not have significantly better cumulative passing stats than Peyton Manning in the playoffs when it comes to completion percentage, yards per pass attempt, or yards per pass completion.

When everything is taken into consideration, it is immensely difficult to assemble an objective, rational, and convincing argument for why Tom Brady is the better overall quarterback.


Sunday, February 18, 2007

Webber and the Pistons

Admit it. When you heard that the Detroit Pistons had signed Chris Webber after the Philadelphia 76ers bought him out of his exorbitant contract, you scoffed because you said to yourself that there was no way Chris Webber would be able to help out the Pistons, what with his inability to jump more than a foot off the ground and all. You even suspected Pistons general manager Joe Dumars was starting to believe so much in the accolades he has received for putting together the Pistons roster that he was turning into the NBA's version of Denver Broncos head coach Mike Shanahan. In other words, he was making foolish deals for no other reason than to see if someone would dare criticize him for them.

Now that the Pistons have a record of 11-4 with Webber, you have landed on a more positive square of your jump to conclusions mat, proclaiming that Chris Webber's career has been rejuvenated and he is the final piece the Pistons need to waltz their way easily into the NBA finals.

This is a correct observation. Webber has seen his shooting touch surge upwards since leaving the Philadelphia 76ers where he had a 39.1% eFG in eighteen games; he has a 58.2% eFG for Detroit in twelve games and he is making his shots count more with 1.20 points per shot attempt, much better than his Philadelphia mark of 0.82 points per shot attempt. So far, so good with your drawing of conclusions.

The problem lies when you start whispering that the acquisition of Chris Webber mirrors the acquisition of Rasheed Wallace in the 2003-04 season, which propelled the Pistons to the NBA title. Stop and think about what you are saying when you say that. Better yet, read further and let me tell you what you should be thinking instead.

In order to mimic the impact Wallace had on the Pistons in 2004, Webber will have to play better defense than he has ever played in his career and at the age of thirty-three, the likelihood of him doing so is slightly unlikely.

The only significant improvement Webber's play has given the Pistons has been in terms of assist rate, from 16.5 without Webber to 19.4 with Webber. Two theories can help explain the increase in the number of assists. One is that Webber's passing prowess has led to more assists for his teammates and the second says that the Pistons are getting more assists because Webber makes more shots per contest than Nazr Mohammed ever thought about making (5.4 FGM per game to 2.7 FGM per game).

When Rasheed Wallace landed in Detroit in 2004, after a one-game pit stop with the Atlanta Hawks, his presence totally revamped the Pistons defense. The Pistons went from giving up 99.0 points per 100 possessions in their fifty-nine games without him to only allowing 90.5 points per 100 possessions in their twenty-two games with him (I discarded the 82nd game because the Pistons didn't take it seriously). Out of defensive efficiency allowed, floor percentage allowed, field percentage allowed, effective field goal percentage allowed, true shooting percentage allowed, points per shot attempt allowed, assist rate allowed, turnover rate forced, offensive rebounding percentage allowed, and turnovers per possession forced, the only category the Pistons with Wallace did not have a statistically significant improvement over the team without him was in offensive rebounding percentage allowed. Like I said, Webber really has his work cut out for him.

In fairness to Webber, he does have a start on helping improve the Pistons' offensive and defensive efficiencies, with the Pistons' offensive rating increasing from 109.6 to 112.9 and the defensive rating decreasing from 106.2 to 103.2, but those numbers could be attributed to Lady Luck and Random Fluctuation instead of to Chris Webber. He will have to maintain, and probably improve on, his impressive Pistons statistics for the rest of the season to match Rasheed Wallace's contributions three seasons ago. My guess is he will be unable to do it.