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Just The Sports: 2007-11-04

Just The Sports

Friday, November 09, 2007

LSU's Running Backs

Watching as much football as I do, I am continually baffled by some of the decisions made by head coaches: why they punt as much as they do instead of going for it more on fourth down, why they play certain quarterbacks, why they give away valuable yards of field position with squib kickoffs and the like, and for the purposes of this article, why LSU head coach Les Miles has given running back Jacob Hester almost three times as many carries as the next most used running back, Keiland Williams. My eyes have deduced that Hester is a capable running back, but they have also informed me that LSU has a stable of running backs who if given more carries would give LSU's rushing attack an explosive boost.

Sifting through LSU's play-by-play data turned up surprising info in some instances and confirmed my original assumptions about the running backs that play in Baton Rouge and went a long way in my determining whether or not Jacob Hester deserves his lion's share of the carries. The answer is no and that LSU would benefit from giving other running backs more carries. Although Hester never fumbles the ball, he is not even the most consistent running back on the team out of the backs who have at least twenty carries, having a success rate higher than only two of the seven players who meet my criterion (Ryan Perrilloux and Trindon Holliday). That person is Charles Scott, who has a success rate of 63.6%, but even Scott is not the best running back on LSU's roster. Keiland Williams carries that distinction with a 61.4% success rate, averaging 7.0 extra yards per successful run, and coming up an average of 3.6 yards short on failed runs.

Not only does Hester come up short in success rate, but he is unable to break long runs. Trindon Holliday averages the highest number of extra yards per successful run (7.6), but that achievement is diminished by the fact when he fails to have a successful run, he does so by an average of 5.2 yards even though that is not entirely his fault as I will elucidate shortly. Returning to Hester, he is tied with quarterback Matt Flynn as having the lowest average of extra yards per successful run (3.9).

One hook Hester can hang his hat on is the fact when he does fail to have a successful run, he only does so by an average of 2.6 yards, but even if he does so, his hat will only have a tenuous hold on the hook. Part of the reason why he fails by so little is he, unlike his fellow running backs, is not asked to run in many long yardage situations almost as if the LSU coaches are actively seeking to keep Hester from embarrassment. Perhaps they do not want to expose too many of his deficiencies.

If given the chance to be in charge of who rushes for LSU in the future, I would certainly take carries away from Hester and give them to Keiland Williams and Charles Scott. Then I would not have to worry about trying to figure out how my team is going to win another close game.

Success Rate is borrowed from Football Outsiders and is as follows: 40% of needed yardage on 1st down; 60% of needed yardage on 2nd down; 100% of needed yardage on 3rd/4th downs. My own twist is that when a team goes for it on 4th down, I count 80% of needed yardage on the previous 3rd down.


Thursday, November 08, 2007

Howard vs. Okafor

Even though the Charlotte Bobcats have only been an NBA franchise for three complete seasons, with the 2007-08 season being their fourth, the front office of the team has always made a a number of questionable roster decisions. With the franchise's first draft pick ever, when the Bobcats selected Emeka Okafor second overall in the 2004 draft (one slot behind Dwight Howard), a precedent was established which has since become a disturbing trend when it comes to drafting players. The Bobcats have made a habit of only drafting college basketball veterans who really have little to no potential to improve on the NBA level since they have already reached their ceiling by the time they put on the Bobcats jersey. This problem will only be exacerbated by the naming of Michael Jordan as managing member of basketball operations for the Bobcats. Ever since he drafted the largely useless Kwame Brown (at least as a basketball player), Jordan has been afraid to draft anyone based on potential, resulting in his teams being worse than they should be.

Such an auspicious past is reason why I am about to heap a goodly amount of praise on the Charlotte Bobcats franchise for not giving in to Okafor's contract demands when he asked to receive the same amount of money as Dwight Howard when Howard signed a maximum five-year, $85 million contract extension; the Bobcats offered Okafor only around $13 million a year for five years instead. When Howard signed his deal, he subsequently set the market value for all players who play his position, which Okafor happens to do. Therefore, for Okafor to be paid at least the same amount of money as Howard, he would have had to show himself to be a better player than Howard over the past three years.

The problem with Okafor's wanting the same kind of deal as Howard is he is not as good as Howard, either offensively or defensively so he should expect to be paid less or in other words commensurate with his basketball ability. One would think someone who majored in finance at UCONN and claims to be good at math would understand that and take the completely fair deal offered to him. Even though Okafor has averaged 2.5 more field goal attempts per game than Howard over his first three NBA seasons, he has averaged .6 points per less per game. Okafor is statistically significantly worse at getting to the free throw line than Howard (4.6 FTA per game to 6.8 FTA per game), at shooting from the field (50.4 TS% to 58.6 TS%), and at rebounding (19.7 RbR to 18.2 RbR). The only facet of the game in which Okafor is appreciably better than Howard is in keeping his turnovers lower, but that is only good for ten sandbags against a tsunami. Another indictment against Okafor is his offensive rating increased the lighter his offensive load was made. Meanwhile, Howard is taking a more dominant role in the Magic offense and showing he can still be efficient with more usage. Defensively, Okafor has only a career defensive rating of 104 to Howard's 102 with the lower number indicating a better defensive player.

Statistics aside, Dwight Howard holds another advantage over Emeka Okafor that makes him a much safer investment for any team willing to hand out max contracts. Three season Howard has completed in the NBA and he has yet to miss a regular-season contest. Okafor, on the other hand, has failed to appear in eighty games out of a possible 246.

If some team does decide to pay Okafor $17 million a year, I will not begrudge him the money, but it is clearly obvious he does not deserve to be paid more than Howard and so when he is not, he should not be surprised again and cut off talks with an NBA team, lest he find himself without a team to play for.