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Just The Sports: 2010-07-11

Just The Sports

Friday, July 16, 2010

Who The Buffalo Bills Should Start

There is only one viable starting quarterback option for the Buffalo Bills for this season and for future ones. If the Bills are truly interested in turning around their franchise's losing ways and fielding a team that is actually in danger of consistently winning games, then they have no choice but to hand the starting quarterback job to Brian Brohm. Of the four quarterbacks currently on the roster, it is Brohm who has the greatest chance for success. The other three all have deficiencies they will be highly unlikely to overcome.

Brohm's biggest competition for the starting quarterback position is Trent Edwards, who has already attempted the most pass attempts for the Bills in twenty-nine games. Fortunately for Brohm, Edwards has two major strikes against him, strikes that should keep the Bills from continuing to trust in him to lead the Bills to victories. For both Edwards' college and professional careers, he has struggled to stay healthy, suffering myriad injuries and missing multiple games. Therefore, the Bills cannot even depend on him to appear consistently in the starting lineup.

Edwards' second strike is even more alarming than his injury history. Even when Edwards is healthy, he is not a particularly good quarterback. Before he was drafted, I used his mediocre college numbers (57.3% completion percentage and 6.5 yards per pass attempt) to predict he would have an equally mediocre NFL campaign. Nothing he has done since then has convinced me that I was wrong. Yes, Edwards had a surprisingly good 2008 season where he was actually an above league average quarterback except for his passing touchdown percentage, but overall during his three seasons, he has been an unsurprisingly below average quarterback.

Edwards has only completed 60.9% of his passes for 6.7 yards per pass attempt during the NFL games, which is slightly better than his college numbers, but not statistically significantly so. Therefore, Edwards can now make the claim that he is a little less terrible quarterback with the Buffalo Bills than he was at Stanford. Even so, he is still not good enough to have earned the right to start any more games for the Bills unless Brohm suffers an injury.

Ryan Fitzpatrick is the quarterback the Bills are second most likely to start over Brian Brohm, which would be an even more egregious error than starting Edwards over Brohm. Fitzpatrick is the epitome of a back-up quarterback as whenever he has been given the chance to start a number of games, he has been incredibly underwhelming and has actually hurt his teams by playing. Of course, that is to be expected from a player who didn't even complete 60% of his passes in college playing in the Ivy League conference, a league not exactly known for its football prowess. It is no surprise then to see a player not even equal his already pedestrian numbers when playing against superior competition. The only playing time Fitzpatrick is worthy of is mop-up duty.

Levi Brown is the seventh round draft pick the Bills just selected in April's draft. Hopefully, the Bills do not think they drafted their quarterback of the future because Brown is anything but. While his completion percentage of 61.7% and 7.1 yards per pass attempt in games where he played significant time is better than anything either Edwards or Fitzpatrick did, they are still not good enough to expect him to play well in the NFL. In addition, Brown was a wildly inconsistent college quarterback. His standard deviations in completion percentage (0.123) and yards per pass attempt (3.3) were far and away the highest of the four quarterbacks at which I looked.

Compared to these three quarterbacks, Brian Brohm looks like the second coming and I feel if given the chance, he will establish himself as a good quarterback in the NFL. For awhile, I was hesitant to give him my stamp of approval as I felt like he was a product of the offensive system the Petrino brothers (Bobby and Paul) implemented at Louisville, especially when I realized the amazing numbers he put up in his first two years as a starter for Louisville were matched by his predecessor, Stefan LeFors.

Then came Brohm's senior season, after the Petrinos had absconded to the Atlanta Falcons, where he did not experience the slightest drop off in his accuracy numbers. Even though he attempted ten most pass attempts per game his senior year without the Petrinos than his sophomore and junior seasons with the Petrinos, he still completed 65.1% of his passes compared to the virtually identical 66.0% completion percentage he had the previous two years. That level of consistency demonstrates that Brohm could have succeeded as an elite quarterback in any system, even one that relies heavily on him. Therefore, the Bills should be counting their blessings to have a quarterback of such supreme talent on their team and should use his abilities.

The Bills should already know what they can expect from Trent Edwards and Ryan Fitzpatrick: mediocrity and below average play. In Brian Brohm, they have a quarterback that has not been tested in the NFL, but based on his college track record, they also have a player who can finally return the Bills to their former winning ways.


Thursday, July 15, 2010

Let's Just Wait And See

Our expectations color the way in which we watch sports and perceive a player's worth or talent level. We, as humans, also have a tendency to overvalue the accuracy of our expectations and overly punish a player who falls short of our expectations while overly rewarding a player who exceeds them. Such a phenomenon is especially common in the way in which we regard players who have just been drafted. Even though everyone realizes that when a player is selected in a draft has little bearing on the course of his career, we still fall prey to such a logical fallacy of thinking simply because a player is drafted high, he will be greater than a player who is drafted lower. Therefore, when the player who was drafted lower ends up having a better than expected season, we want so much to correct our original hypothesis about the player's worth that we end up overrating him. This is what happened with everyone's perception of Darren Collison.

No one really thought much of Darren Collison leading up the 2009 NBA draft. Collison stayed four years at UCLA and played very well, but since UCLA struggled a bit his senior year, losing in the second round of the NCAA tournament, after going to three successive Final Fours, he fell off of most people's radars and ending up being selected twenty-first overall in the draft and the tenth point guard drafted.

Then Chris Paul suffered multiple injuries during the 2009-10 season, missing thirty-seven games, and Collison performed better than most people expected him to in Paul's stead. Collison's unexpected exploits led a majority to opine that should the Hornets ever lose Paul to free agency or a trade, then Collison would be able to step in and the Hornets would not miss a beat. Those people are grossly incorrect as it stands right now.

For everything positive Collison did on the court for the Hornets last season, there is one important thing he failed to do, which was to equal Chris Paul's overall rookie numbers. Looking only at the thirty-seven games in which Paul did not play, it is obvious Collison has a lot of work to do if he wants to follow the track of an elite point guard like Paul. Where he does already equal Paul, though, is in shooting prowess. Collison's 56.0% true shooting percentage is slightly better than the 54.6% true shooting percentage Paul shot as a rookie. However, there is more to being a point guard than the ability to shoot; a point guard must also distribute the ball to his teammates while avoiding turnovers.

In the ballhandling categories, Paul is clearly Collison's superior. Paul put up an assist percentage of 38.2 and a turnover percentage of 13.7 his rookie year for a ratio of almost three to one (2.8:1); Collison's assist percentage of 35.5 and turnover percentage of 19.6 leave him with a ratio that is not even two to one (1.8:1). The fact that Collison is lagging behind Paul now does not bode well for his future since Paul has only improved his assist to turnover percentages ratio to otherworldly numbers. Before we anoint Collison as Paul's successor, we should wait to see if he can make the same leap in his own ballhandling abilities.

Paul also bettered Collison in rebounding and steals. His rookie rebounding percentage of 8.5 and his steal percentage of 3.4 far surpass Collison's more meager 5.2 rebounding percentage and 1.9 steal percentage, making Collison the inferior defensive player in addition to being an inferior offensive player.

While Collison has proven himself adept at being a scoring point guard, he still has improvement he needs to make in other areas if he will ever be truly worthy of all the praise that has been heaped upon him. Everyone should exercise patience with him and wait to see where his career path takes him. Collison may already be better than several other starting point guards in the NBA, but he should not be mentioned as being one of the top point guards in the league, especially not as being on par with Chris Paul.


Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Free Agent Mistake

Forward Al Harrington may be many things in his life, but worthy of playing for the Denver Nuggets he is not. Yet, inexplicably, the Nuggets just signed Harrington to a five-year, $34 million contract; in other words, the Nuggets just signed him to a contract that is five years too long and worth thirty-four million dollars too much. Harrington would be a poor signing for any team, but for the Nuggets, it is an especially poorly thought out signing.

Over the past two seasons, the Nuggets have been in the top ten of NBA teams (7th in 2008-09 and 3rd in 2009-10) in terms of points per 100 possessions, making them one of the most efficient offensive teams in the league right now. Harrington, on the other hand, is one of the most inefficient offensive players currently employed by an NBA franchise, although it would seem Harrington does not realize that considering how much he likes to dominate the ball on offense.

Throughout the course of his career, Harrington has only had two seasons when his offensive rating (an estimate of how many points a player produces per 100 possessions) was greater than his defensive rating (an estimate of how many points a player allows per 100 possessions). Therefore, his teams have actually suffered for the most part by having Harrington on the court. Sure, he has had a few good games, but overall, a team will run a point deficit if they choose to play Harrington regularly.

If the Nuggets signed him for his defense since they obviously could not have signed him for his offensive exploits, then they are mistaken on that front as well. Yes, Kenyon Martin is entering his age-33 year and has a history of suffering major injuries so the Nuggets should be looking for a player who can replace his role on the team, which is to provide some sort of defensive presence on the interior. Sadly, Harrington has not played defense since 2003-04 when he last played on a team that stressed defense and cannot be counted on now to play defense on a team where defense is simply not a priority. Harrington neither blocks shots nor rebounds at a high rate, making him a defensive liability.

The only thing Harrington will be able to do over the next five years is be overpaid. If that is what the Nuggets signed him to do, then the transaction can easily be considered a success. Of course, they are probably expecting a return on their investment so they will no doubt be disappointed they spent their mid-level exception on a player who cannot help them win.