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Just The Sports: 2010-12-05

Just The Sports

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Chris Paul vs. Deron Williams: Ending the Debate Once and For All

Asking who is the best point guard in the NBA is no different than asking in which direction the sun rises or how many amendments are in the Bill of Rights or how many eggs does it take to make up a dozen. There is a single solution to all those questions and the answers are not up for debate. In the case of who the best point guard in the NBA is, the answer is indisputably Chris Paul with no basis for arguing any differently. Every time the question of who is the best NBA point guard is asked and the answer given is not Chris Paul, it is both an insult to Paul and a display of ignorance by the answerer. Since the erroneous answer most often given to the point guard question is Deron Williams, the time has come to show why thinking such is ridiculous.

From the time Chris Paul and Deron Williams entered the NBA in 2005, there has never been a season where Williams put up better total statistics than Paul. True, there have been times where Williams has bested Paul in one category during a season, but Paul always emerged as the superior player when looking at the season as a whole.

In the 2007-08 season, Williams's .595 true shooting percentage and 0.6 block percentage were better than Paul's .576 true shooting percentage and 0.1 block percentage. However, Paul was better than Williams when it came to PER (28.3 to 20.8), offensive rebounding percentage (2.4 percent to 1.4 percent), defensive rebounding percentage (10.3 percent to 8.3 percent), total rebounding percentage (6.2 percent to 4.9 percent), assist percentage (52.2 percent to 43.6 percent), turnover percentage (12.1 percent to 17.7 percent), steal percentage (3.9 percent to 1.5 percent), offensive rating (125 points produced per 100 possessions to 118 points produced per 100 possessions), defensive rating (103 points allowed per 100 possessions to 110 points allowed per 100 possessions), offensive win shares (13.2 to 8.9), defensive win shares (4.6 to 2.3), total win shares (17.8 to 11.3), and win shares per 48 minutes (0.284 to 0.177). Since Paul led the entire league in assist percentage, steal percentage, offensive win shares, total win shares, and win shares per 48 minutes, it is safe to consider that season a win for him over Williams.

Last season, Deron Williams was better than Chris Paul when it came to block percentage (0.5 percent to 0.4) percent, offensive rebounding percentage (2.2 percent to 1.3 percent), offensive win shares (7.4 to 5.7), defensive win shares (3.0 to 1.5), and total win shares (10.3 to 7.3). Unfortunately for Williams, his advantage in win shares is negated by the fact he appeared in 31 more games than Paul. Based on Paul's superior win shares per 48 minutes (0.204 to 0.177), had he played an equal number of games and kept producing at the same rate, there is no question he would have surpassed Williams's totals.

Despite the advantages Williams had over Paul in those categories, Paul still had the better PER (23.7 to 20.6), true shooting percentage (.584 to .574), defensive rebounding percentage (11.9 percent to 10.4 percent), total rebounding percentage (6.5 to 6.4), assist percentage (45.4 percent to 44.5 percent), turnover percentage (13.5 percent to 16.9 percent), steal percentage (2.9 percent to 1.8 percent), offensive rating (122 points produced per 100 possessions to 116 points produced per 100 possessions), and defensive rating (109 points allowed per 100 possessions to 107 points allowed per 100 possessions).

Also, keep in mind their two seasons were only that close in production because last year was an injury-plagued one for Paul. Whenever both are equally healthy, Chris Paul always surpasses Deron Williams in complete production.

This season, Deron Williams is leading Chris Paul and the entire NBA in offensive win shares with 3.2. Chris Paul's retort to that is to lead the NBA in PER (27.0), steal percentage (4.9 percent), total win shares (4.5), and win shares per 48 minutes (.288). Even at Deron Williams's best, Chris Paul is better.

With the exception of block percentage, over their careers, Chris Paul is leading Deron Williams in every advanced statistical category. To understand just how much more valuable Chris Paul has been to his teams than Deron Williams has been to his, remember that Paul leads Williams in career win shares by 23.0 despite playing in 43 fewer games.

Chris Paul is more than just the NBA's best point guard and a superior player to Deron Williams; he should be regarded as one of the two or three best players in the league. Anything less than that is to do him a disservice.

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Friday, December 10, 2010

Brad Childress Is Wrong; The Minnesota Vikings Are Not Better Off

One can only hope that former Minnesota Vikings head coach Brad Childress did not truly believe himself when he said he is leaving the Vikings in better shape than the franchise was when he arrived in 2006. If he really does believe such a farcical notion, then he is suffering from serious and troubling delusions. Actually, the Vikings are in the exact same position as they were when Childress became the head coach in 2006. The team did not have a viable quarterback option for the long-term future then and they do not have one now.

Why the Vikings, after almost five seasons under Childress's tenure, have failed to identify and develop a quarterback who can be an above average player speaks directly to Childress's poor understanding of what makes a good NFL quarterback prospect. Childress is on record as saying that he drafted Tarvaris Jackson because he wanted a "developmental guy" and a quarterback who was a "diamond in the rough." Childress probably drafted former University of Alabama-Birmingham quarterback Joe Webb for the same ludicrous reasons since Webb possesses the same attribute as Jackson (i.e., athleticism) and also the same deficiency (i.e., inaccurate passing).

The problem with feeling the need to draft such a quarterback is there is really no need to do so. All college quarterbacks are going to spend at least three years at their respective universities with most quarterbacks NFL teams consider worthy of a roster spot spending at least two seasons as a starter. That provides all franchises with plenty of data on which to base conclusions about how good a college quarterback will be as a pro. There is no need to try to outsmart the system; a team just needs to know what to look for.

More than anything else, be it arm strength, vertical leap, 40-yard dash time, or emotional make-up, the rate at which a quarterback completes his passes is the most important tool in determining just how good a player he will be. Give a team a college quarterback's career completion percentage, the number of games he started, and provide the proper context in which to understand those statistics, and any NFL team should be able to predict with a high degree of certainty the amount of success he will have on the pro level. Childress failed to do so and the Vikings are left with a quarterback who will be a below-average passer for his entire career being backed up by a quarterback who will also be a below-average passer for his career.

Looking at Tarvaris Jackson's statistics while at Alabama State, it becomes obvious fairly quickly he was never cut out to be an NFL starting quarterback. Jackson's college career bears more than a passing resemblance to Tyler Thigpen's. Like Thigpen, Jackson played in the Football Championship Subdivision, only completed 55.0 percent of his pass attempts, and had a statistical outlier of a season his senior year.

For Jackson, his senior season was one in which he completed 61.1% of his passes and gained 9.0 yards per pass attempt. In his other two seasons combined, Jackson only completed 52.0 percent of his passes and gained 7.4 yards per pass attempt, production that should not scream to any team that here lies a future second-round draft pick, especially since he was playing in a lower quality division. Is it any wonder then that in games, including the playoffs, where he has attempted the most passes or threw for the most passing yards for the Vikings, he has only completed 57.6% of his pass attempts and does anyone really expect him to complete passes at a much better clip if he is allowed to be a full-time starting quarterback? Jackson had been a below-average quarterback in terms of accuracy his whole footballing life; it only makes sense that he will continue to be one.

Jackson's greatest strength during his tenure at Alabama State was in his touchdown to interception ratio and he has not been able to carry that ability with him to the NFL. In college, Jackson threw 63 touchdowns and just 23 interceptions, a 2.7:1 ratio. However, so far in his NFL career, in games fitting the aforementioned criteria, his 22 touchdowns have been matched by 22 interceptions.

Jackson's lack of passing ability precludes him from being a quarterback the Vikings can depend on to win a sizable majority of games. As does Joe Webb's if he is ever given a chance to start.

Not even Joe Webb thought he was worthy of being an NFL quarterback as evidenced by the fact he worked out as a wide receiver on UAB's pro day. Webb was right to have such a low opinion of his future as a signal caller. Over his career, he completed 59.8% of his passes and had 7.5 yards per pass attempt. Those numbers are not terrible and he is actually a better collegiate passer than Tarvaris Jackson was, but neither are they incredibly impressive. In his 2008 and 2009 seasons when he was UAB's only starting quarterback, his completion percentage was right around the median for all qualifying FBS quarterbacks. Average college quarterbacks do not magically become franchise quarterbacks.

What makes Brad Childress's decision to keep Webb on the roster as a quarterback even more foolish is that it eliminates Webb from playing in roles where he could actually provide real value to the team. Webb might not be a great passer, but he is great at running the ball. His 5.4 yards per rush in college and 2,612 rushing yards look even more amazing after one takes into account that sacks count against a quarterback's rushing numbers in college football. The Vikings' already potent running attack could only be helped by giving Webb a couple of carries a game.

Webb could also help the team as a wide receiver. In his eight games in 2007 where he played the position, he caught 30 balls for 459 yards, good for 15.3 yards per reception. His 46.2 percent catch rate on those receptions looks horrendous at first glance, but that had more to do with the quarterback throwing him the ball than a lack of receiving talent on Webb's part. The quarterback in question, Sam Hunt, completed only 46.5 percent of the throws he threw to his other receivers so Joe Webb did the best he could with what he had to work with. Webb definitely has more potential to evolve into a wide receiving threat than a passing threat.

Without an above-average quarterback on the roster, no NFL team is going to win a great percentage of games and the Vikings have one below-average passer in Tarvaris Jackson and one quarterback who would have more value if he played other positions. So no, Brad Childress, you have not left the Vikings better off.

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Thursday, December 09, 2010

Raymond Felton Is Among NBA's Most Improved As Well

There was a tremendous oversight on my part while compiling my list on the ten most worthy candidates for the NBA's Most Improved award. My list of ten should have included an eleventh, current New York Knicks point guard Raymond Felton.

Raymond Felton was the third point guard chosen in the 2005 NBA draft behind the Utah Jazz's Deron Williams and the New Orleans Hornets's Chris Paul and during his time in the NBA, Felton has lagged behind them both in production by a pretty considerable margin. While Deron Williams and Chris Paul have emerged as top-tier point guards, up to this season, Felton had been nothing more than a middling to mediocre point guard.

One of Felton's main problems was he never shot particularly well from the field, especially over his first four seasons in the NBA; his highest true shooting percentage during that time frame was a measly .500, which is pretty terrible for any player, let alone a point guard. Felton's poor shooting is one reason why in his first five seasons, he only had one, last year's, where his offensive rating was higher than his defensive rating.

Felton's poor shooting in his first four seasons looks like it has become a thing of the past, however, as he is continuing to improve on the improvement he made last year when it comes to converting his field goal attempts. Felton's current .588 true shooting percentage through twenty-three games represents not only a career-best mark for him, but is also far above the league-average .538 true shooting percentage for point guards.

The increased proficiency in Felton's shooting is largely a result of his shooting in two areas of the court. The first area in which Felton is shooting well is at the rim; Felton is attempting 3.6 shots per game at the rim and is converting 62.2 percent of them, the highest rate of his career. Felton is also shooting extremely well from 16-23 feet, so well that a regression to the mean is exceedingly likely. On 2.9 field goal attempts a game from 16-23 feet, Felton has a .490 field goal percentage, .100 percentage points higher than his next best shooting season from that distance.

Due to his excellent shooting this season, Felton has seen a jump in his PER from the 15.2 of last season to this year's 20.3 and in his offensive rating from 107 points produced per 100 possessions in 2009-10 to 115 points produced per 100 possessions in the current year.

All is not coming up roses for Felton this year, though, since even with his improvement, he still carries in his game one major flaw. Felton has never shown any great ability to keep his turnover percentage down relative to his assist percentage and this season has been no different in that regard. His 35.9 assist percentage is a career high, but so is his 18.6 turnover percentage, giving him a ratio that continues a disturbing trend. For the fifth time out of Felton's six NBA seasons, his assist percentage is less than two times as high as his turnover percentage, subsequently limiting his effectiveness as a point guard.

Felton's improvement as a shooter this season should not be undervalued and he is playing the best he ever has, but he also has more improvements to make, most notably in his ballhandling abilities, before he can be considered an elite point guard.

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