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Just The Sports: 2010-08-29

Just The Sports

Saturday, September 04, 2010

US Basketball Only Has Two Legitimate Challengers

As the FIBA World Championships has entered the knockout stages, the United States need only concern itself with two other countries in its quest to win its first world championship title since 1994. Even though it has been popular among the media to talk mostly about what the United States cannot do, they are still in the pole position of the tournament and should be considered a favorite to walk away with the gold medal.

During the group play, the United States won their five games in the most dominating fashion of the tournament field, defeating their opponents by 32.6 points per 100 possessions.

Their extremely large margin of victory is slightly better than the country who is the United States' biggest challenger to the title. The host country, Turkey, has also completely manhandled every opponent they have faced so far. In their group play games, Turkey has outscored their opponents by 31.5 points per 100 possessions, only trailing the United States by 1.1 point per 100 possessions.

The way in which the FIBA bracket is set up, Turkey and the United States would only play each other in the championship game, which would be the best match-up of the tournament.

The second best match-up of the tournament would see the United States pitted against Serbia, who is the second-most dangerous opponent the United States could face. Serbia outscored their group play opponents by 29.1 points per 100 possessions, demonstrating they too are able to dominate. The better a team is, the more able the team is to demolish lesser competition.

Fortunately for the United States, the way in which the FIBA bracket is set up means only facing either Turkey or Serbia and not both as Turkey and Serbia would play each other in the semi-finals if both continue their winning ways.

Although Spain and Argentina are also seen as major threats to the United States, their play in the group stages cannot match what the United States, Turkey, and Serbia did. Argentina was undefeated, but only outscored their opponents by 9.5 points per 100 possessions, which means the Argentinians are not as great a team as they are made out to be.

Spain was the fourth most dominant team in the group stages, outscoring opponents by 17.0 points per 100 possessions, but still not approaching elite level. Also, Spain is in the half of the bracket with Turkey and Serbia so based on the luck of the draw, the United States will only have to play one of the top teams to win the gold medal.

The toughest path to the FIBA World Championships title for the United States would include a championship game against either Turkey or Serbia. Any other opponent and the United States should be able to win fairly easily.

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Wednesday, September 01, 2010

Examining Four Vastly Overhyped Quarterbacks

As Vladimir Lenin once said, "A lie told often enough becomes the truth." This proof by assertion logical fallacy is running rampant across the college football landscape as at least four quarterbacks are receiving undue and undeserved hype as once again people are making the mistake of valuing physical tools over actual performance.

The quarterback who has been the recipient of the most undeserved praise is senior University of Washington quarterback Jake Locker. Based on absolutely nothing that he has actually done on the football field, which is the best way to truly evaluate the pro potential of a quarterback or any player really, Locker is projected as the top quarterback in the 2011 draft.

By now, I should be used to overrated quarterbacks going too high in the NFL draft (see Matthew Stafford, Matt Ryan, and Josh Freeman for starters), but any objective observer should be able to see why Locker is simply not good enough to succeed in the NFL, especially once you take into consideration the fact he has struggled so mightily in the inferior college game.

Locker possesses skills quarterbacks do not necessarily need (extreme athleticism and running) and does not possess the one skill quarterbacks absolutely need (accuracy). In Locker's best season, which took place last season, he only had a 58.2 completion percentage on 7.09 yards per pass attempt. Elite quarterbacks in college football simply do not complete less than 60 percent of their passes; usually, they are at 63 percent and higher. The fact Locker did not even come close to that mark speaks to his mediocrity as a passer. Since the NFL is a passing league, there is no way he should be highly regarded as a future NFL quarterback.

In the case of junior University of Arkansas quarterback Ryan Mallett, people are once again being fooled by size and arm strength. True, Ryan Mallett is both big (6'6, 238 pounds) with great arm strength, but he is also incredibly inaccurate and inconsistent as his 55.8 completion percentage demonstrates. When such a low completion percentage is mixed with a high yards per pass attempt average like Mallett's 9.00 mark, it means that while a quarterback is giving his team a good share of big plays he is just as often throwing incompletions and killing the team's offense.

Since it is far easier to remember a forty-yard touchdown pass than all of the incompletions before it, people tend to focus only on Mallett's good plays to the detriment of their evaluation of him as a player. If he were a truly elite player, his statistics would look more like Sam Bradford's who paired a 67.9 completion percentage with 9.19 yards per pass attempt. Mallett's inconsistency and inaccuracy should scare people off from anointing him as a great quarterback.

Stanford University quarterback Andrew Luck has a similar resume as Ryan Mallett, which does not speak well in his favor. Last season, Luck completed 56.3% of his passes and had 8.94 yards per pass attempt so he was also a big-play or incompletion type of quarterback. Although some people think that is good enough to put him on the top of an NFL draft board, I do not. Luck will need to improve greatly over the next two seasons in order to justify all the hype that is currently being heaped on his below-average quarterback shoulders.

As much as people might like to see junior Ohio State University quarterback Terrelle Pryor succeed, there is no indication it will ever happen. Last season, when Pryor was actually asked to throw a significant amount of passes per game (22.7 per game), he only had a completion percentage of 56.6 and 7.10 yards per pass attempt. Those are mediocre numbers, not ones that give any sort of indication he should be competing for a Heisman trophy.

Most of this hype is based on Pryor's Rose Bowl performance against Oregon where he completed 62.2% of his thirty-seven pass attempts and netted 7.19 yards per pass attempt on the way to 266 yards. The fact that so much is being made of what would be an ordinary game for a truly elite college quarterback really speaks to how disappointing a passer Pryor is. Just because a C student gets an A on a test does not magically turn that student into an A student. The same goes for mediocre quarterbacks who have good games; at the end of the day, they are still mediocre.

For Jake Locker the ship has sailed and it is too late now for him to enter the rarefied air of great college quarterbacks; he is the below average passer he will always be. For the rest, however, if they can make significant improvements in their passing numbers, then they might be actual viable draft prospects instead of just being overrated draft prospects.

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Monday, August 30, 2010

The Most Valuable Of The Celtics' Big Three

On every basketball team, there is one player whose offensive output goes a long way in determining how the entire team performs. Sometimes this player is also the best on the team, but what is always certain is that how well or poorly this player shoots can be used as a bellwether to predict the entire team's offensive output.

The Boston Celtics are a very interesting case when it comes to determining which player has been most important to the team's offense because they have all been franchise players at some point in their careers. Therefore, one would reasonably expect that each player would be equally valuable in the three seasons they have played together.

In order to determine what sort of effect each player had on the Celtics' offense, I took the games in which all three players played and ran a correlation between their true shooting percentages and the team's offensive efficiency (points per 100 possessions) and also between their true shooting percentages and the team's true shooting percentages.

For the 2007-08 season when the Boston Celtics won the championship title, it was Paul Pierce who determined the course of the team's offense more than his two teammates. The correlation between his true shooting percentage and the team's offensive efficiency for that season was .514 and the correlation between his true shooting percentage and the team's true shooting percentage was .558.

Ray Allen had the second most influence on the team's offense with correlations in the two categories of .400 and .401, respectively. Kevin Garnett's correlations of .110 and .319 mean how he shot had the least predictive power.

During the 2008-09 season when the three teammates only played fifty-seven games together due to Kevin Garnett's knee injury, Ray Allen took over the reins as the driver of the Celtics' offense. His two correlations of .458 and .531 are much larger than Paul Pierce's .278 and .364 correlations and Kevin Garnett's .241 and .299 correlations.

Allen's shooting had such a large impact on the team mostly because he was the most inconsistent shooter of the three. His true shooting percentage standard deviation of .188 outdistances Paul Pierce's .157 standard deviation and Kevin Garnett's .147 standard deviation.

Once again, Kevin Garnett's superior consistency kept his shooting statistics from being used to determine the rest of the team's performance.

For the 2009-10 season, their latest together, the Big Three of the Celtics came the closest to having an equal impact on the offense. All of their standard deviations were fairly close together; Kevin Garnett's standard deviations were .394 and .435, Paul Pierce's were .362 and .378, and Ray Allen's were .408 and .366. Last season, they were truly the Big Three.

Going forward, as Garnett, Allen, and Pierce continue to age and we see their skills diminish, it will be intriguing to see which player continues to have the greatest impact on the offense.

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