Archive for the ‘dealing with adversity’ Category

Stat Heads Are Way Above the Rest of Us

Wednesday, May 4th, 2016

One of my biggest pet peeves is someone who refuses to acknowledge that life changes. Or, the improvements that have been made. You know which people I’m talking about – the ones who start conversations with, “Back in the day . . .”  I used to belong to that group, maybe not as a charter member, but, if there were ID cards, I definitely would have had one.

Being a techno-idiot (there was a time I hoped that computers were a fad), it was difficult coming to grips with the fact that I had become a dinosaur. The two main skills I possessed during my youth were 1) I was great with numbers (adding and subtracting, even multiplying and dividing – in my head) and 2) I was a sensational speller. Then, along came calculators and spell check. So, it was join the crowd or allow myself to get left behind.

Or . . . find somebody (or somebodies) who could help. You see, in life, you don’t need to know everything, just know others who do. What I found out was, when you begin to allow others to think for you, if you have a shred of self-respect, the pursuit of knowledge calls and you actually learn how yo do some things yourself. Not everything – but improvement nonetheless. What I’ve learned has quintupled since I opened my mind (don’t be so impressed, the beginning number times five is still somewhere in the neighborhood of infinitesimal).

And so we come to the point of this blog. Due to my love of stats, I could keep score at a baseball game – when I was 10 years old. I knew which opposing player to foul at the end of a game. I understood (depending on certain variables like the weather or what the scouting report said) what play to run if 2 or fewer, 3-7 or more than 8 yards were needed for a first down. I loved statistics.

Until they became lord and master of which players to play, which ones to trade for or draft, which group should play the most because the stats said they made up the best unit. In other words, when, for lack of a better term, the stat heads took over. Joe Lunardi, Brian Windhorst, Skip Bayless and Mel Kiper Jr have a place in the game. Their long term track record are proof of they should be included. They found a shtick, e.g. young guys who had zero physical talent but wanted to be “in the game” so they studied and did whatever they could to get noticed – and carved out a niche. Unfortunately for the rest of us, they spawned a flock of wannabes, some of whom have taken statistics, in particular, to new and unnecessary heights, who really and truly believe that every contest can be explained by their set of statistics. Usually after the game has been played.

Analytics have overtaken everything else in terms of how a game should be evaluated. The Oakland A’s won with a small budget, a book was written, it turned into a movie and now there are actually people in power positions in all of the major sports who think these numbers and formulas were carved out of stone and brought down from the mountaintop. Take basketball, for instance. We used to have points, rebounds and assists per game. Every player had a field goal percentage, free throw percentage and, later, a three-point field goal percentage.

That wasn’t good enough because too many people understood it. The stat heads thought, “What can we come up with to get us accepted? We have no skill or feel for the game. Let’s find something in our wheelhouse – that’s waaaaay beyond what the ‘old-timers’ can easily understand. We have to make sure it sounds relevant, i.e. uses actual recorded stats, but make sure they can’t be comprehended without our help.” What am I talking about? The following are a few examples, along with how they are calculated.

Turnover percentage, the measure of how often a team loses possession of the ball before creating a scoring opportunity.

Or this one I heard yesterday during the Miami-Toronto game: “In games decided by three points or less, the Heat was third in winning percentage.” Does that mean Spo tells his guys to just work on cutting their opponent’s lead to three and “we got this one.” Except, of course, when they’re playing one of the top two.

During that same game, there was mention made of a team that “was second best in the NBA in contested shots.” How proud that club’s fan base should be.

Then, there’s the all-important NBA efficiency rating which is computed by the formula, (points + rebounds + assists + steals + blocks − ((field goals attempted − field goals made) + (free throws attempted − free throws made) + turnovers)). To get a player’s efficiency rating per game, divide all that by the number of games played. Makes the game a lot more interesting, doesn’t it?

And, finally, for the true stat head geek, the Player Efficiency Rating (PER). In order to figure it out, remember that all calculations begin with what is called unadjusted PER (uPER). That formula is (and you have to scroll right for a while):

 uPER = \frac{1}{min} \times \left ( 3P + \left [ \frac{2}{3} \times AST \right ] + \left [ \left ( 2 - factor \times \frac{tmAST}{tmFG} \right ) \times FG \right ] 
+ \left [ 0.5 \times FT \times \left ( 2 -  \frac{1}{3} \times \frac{tmAST}{tmFG} \right ) \right ] - \left [ VOP \times TO \right ] 
- \left [ VOP \times DRBP \times \left ( FGA - FG \right ) \right ] - \left [ VOP \times 0.44 \times \left ( 0.44 + \left ( 0.56 \times DRBP \right ) \right ) \times \left ( FTA - FT \right ) \right ] 
+ \left [ VOP \times \left ( 1 - DRBP \right ) \times \left ( TRB - ORB \right ) \right ] + \left [ VOP \times DRBP \times ORB \right ] + \left [ VOP \times STL \right ] + \left [ VOP \times DRBP \times BLK \right ] 
- \left [ PF \times \left ( \frac{lgFT}{lgPF} - 0.44 \times \frac{lgFTA}{lgPF} \times VOP \right ) \right ] \right )

When multiplied out and refactored, the equation above becomes:

 uPER = \frac{1}{min} \times \left ( 3P - \frac{PF \times lgFT}{lgPF} + \left [ \frac{FT}{2} \times \left ( 2 - \frac{tmAST}{3 \times tmFG} \right ) \right ] + \left [ FG \times \left ( 2 - \frac{factor \times tmAST}{tmFG} \right ) \right ] + \frac{2 \times AST}{3} + VOP \times \left [ DRBP \times \left ( 2 \times ORB + BLK - 0.2464 \times \left [ FTA - FT \right ] - \left [ FGA - FG \right ] - TRB \right ) + \frac{0.44 \times lgFTA \times PF}{lgPF} - \left ( TO + ORB \right ) + STL + TRB - 0.1936 \left (FTA - FT \right ) \right ] \right )

Where

  • \ factor = \frac{2}{3} - \left [ \left ( 0.5 \times \frac{lgAST}{lgFG} \right ) \div \left ( 2 \times \frac{lgFG}{lgFT} \right ) \right ] ,
  • \ VOP = \frac{lgPTS}{lgFGA - lgORB + lgTO + 0.44 \times lgFTA} ,
  • \ DRBP = \frac{lgTRB - lgORB}{lgTRB} .

Maybe this will clarify it for the reader. The highest career player efficiency rating ever belongs to Michael Jordan and the highest single-season player efficiency rating was that of Wilt Chamberlain. If the casual fan was asked the questions, “who had the highest PER ever and who had the highest PER for a single season,” I’d venture to say most people would have each of those in their top 5 guesses. In fact, the top 27 players on the PER list are, or will definitely be, in the Hall of Fame. So, did we really need stats to tell us that?

 

Basketball is a game of action-reaction. My last college boss – and Hall of Famer – the late Jerry Tarkanian was fond of saying, “The more a player thinks, the slower his feet get.” The best players ever were cerebral – in a basketball sort of way. There’s absolutely no doubt that the stat heads think they’ve got the game figured out. It’s just that:

“No matter what you believe can be solved, no matter how smart you are, don’t think you can predict, or even influence, the outcome of a basketball game – or most any sporting event – by crunching some numbers.”

A Playoff Memory that Will Last Forever

Tuesday, May 3rd, 2016

Although the referee obviously missed the call on the final out of bounds play (whatever that call was, no one’s sure, only that the ref blew it, er, didn’t blow it), there were other factors that contributed to the San Antonio Spurs’ 98-97 loss – or Oklahoma City Thunder’s hard fought victory – depending on which side is your favorite.

After being thrashed in Game 1, a 124-92 romp in which the Thunder were down by as many as 43 points, the only chance OKC had was to come out with incredible energy. They did exactly that – and made early shots. In addition, the Spurs missed so many easy shots (1-13 overall to start), maybe due to lack of focus. Even though they’re pros, winning the first game with such ease, human nature sometimes overtakes what a player knows he needs to do.And, sure enough, the game returned to reality.

Every basketball lover recalls seeing the Spurs’ video from a couple years ago, entitled, “The Beautiful Game” in which they move the ball again and again, always being one step ahead of the defense and winding up with a layup or wide open shot they inevitably knock down. Last night, however, it seemed as though they were going “iso” more and more often, e.g. eschewing “the beautiful game” for mismatches for either LaMarcus Aldridge or Kawhi Leonard. Aldridge did have 41 points but the Spurs’ offense didn’t resemble what we’ve become used to seeing from them. Other than the score, the most telling stat was, the severe dip the number of assists San Antonio had – from Game 1’s 39, to 19 last night.

OKC is the league leader in blown leads after three quarters. This one, however, looked safe after Russell Westbrook knocked down a pair of free throws to give his club a five-point lead with about 18 seconds to go. Gregg Popovich called time out to design something – most certainly a three – while Billy Donovan was imploring his guys not to foul.

Just to show professionals can behave inappropriately after hearing explicit instructions, Serge Ibaka fouled Aldridge on a three-point attempt, after the latter player shot faked the former. Whether caught up in the emotion or lacking necessary discipline, Ibaka made a play that, after it occurred, Donovan could be seen (on the replay) mouthing the words, “I can’t believe it.”

Then everything went to hell in a hand basket, e.g. 1) should it have been a five-second violation prior to OKC’s inbounds, 2) why didn’t the ref call the blatant elbow Dion Waiters used to clear space, 3) was Kevin Durant fouled on the desperation lob/inbounds pass, 4) was Patty Mills fouled on his last shot and 5) was it not shocking that, during the last scuffle for the ball that either Aldridge or Leonard didn’t pick it up and get it in the hoop before the buzzer sounded (seemed like destiny).

Chris Webber went so apoplectic over the non-call on the elbow – and continued his rant well past the final horn – you’d think he had money on the outcome. Shaquille O’Neal and Charles Barkley both said they’d never seen anything like it. Kenny Smith’s reaction to the non-call on the out of bounds play?

“That might be the worst non-call in a playoff game I’ve seen in the last five years.”

Why quantify it, Kenny?

You’re Never Too Old to Make a Fool of Yourself

Monday, May 2nd, 2016

For the past week my wife, Jane, and I have been in Colorado. I caught up with a former colleague of mine – and his family – while she got to spend time with a friend of hers from decades gone by. The main purpose of my mission was to receive treatment for my chronic pain.

However, this blog is not about the friends my wife and I reconnected with, nor is it about the technique I experienced (which, to date, has afforded some relief). Rather, it’s about how the week long trip ended. The story of what happened during the week might be told in a subsequent post but, for now, allow me to elevate each reader one spot on the intelligence ladder.

A brief history first: last December, Jane and I flew to Oregon to watch younger son, Alex, play in a basketball tournament south of Portland. Because Alex’s team, Cal State Monterey Bay, played on the coast on Wednesday prior to the tourney which was scheduled for Friday-Saturday, instead of going back to Fresno, we drove up the coast and flew out of San Jose.

We parked in Parking Lot 6, which was located next to the terminal that was for Alaska Airlines flights (short term Parking Lot 5 is in between the two). A shuttle bus picked us up at one of two designated stops and took us to the terminal. Short and sweet – and if I remember correctly, the charge was $8/day.

For our trip that began a week ago Sunday, I drove past one terminal, then proceeded past the other (there are only two) to the parking lot. I glanced at the sign for Parking Lot 5 which had an hourly rate (and a maximum rate of $30/day). Immediately beyond was the entrance to Parking Lot 6. I pulled in, went to the end and saw a spot right on the end of the row, one I’d never forget (because as we get older, our memories . . .).

We got our luggage and went to the area for the shuttle bus to pick us up but, with no bus in sight, and us having plenty of time, remarked to Jane that we should just walk. Rolling our suitcases along (where were suitcases on wheels when I was recruiting in college and had a suitcase, hanging bag, brief case, portable VCR – highlight videos were allowed but many families couldn’t afford VCRs – an overcoat, the book I was reading and the day’s newspaper), we went to the terminal. Our first problem was we were flying United and all of their flights went out of the other terminal. We trekked on to the next one (about 1/4 mile hike).

On our return, naturally, we were at the same terminal. When I asked where to catch the shuttle for Parking Lot 6, no one was quite sure but one fellow said I should take the blue shuttle. It was around 9:00 pm and no blue shuttle was in sight. “Let’s walk,” I bravely said. 1/4 of a mile or so later, we past Parking Lot 5 and rolled into Parking Lot 6. I was telling Jane that I’d remembered where the car was because of the spot on the end. Until I got near that area and . . . everything looked different. Our car was nowhere in sight.

Hmm, what’s a guy to do? I was certain I had parked there. I knew it. Yet, everything looked different. I’ve seen enough TV shows to realize that changes can be made but, come on, who did I think I was? I took out my car key and began to press the unlock button – to listen for the sound that would reveal the car’s whereabouts. Nothing. Then I realized it was an absurd move because I knew that wasn’t where I’d parked the car.

I went to the shuttle area and picked up the phone to let someone other than Jane know of our predicament. The phone was dead. Maybe the TV idea wasn’t so farfetched. Nah. I began to call AAA but thought of what I’d say – “Hi, I’m a AAA member. I’m having car trouble. I’m at the San Jose airport parking lot – and – can’t find my car!”

Then, I remembered being in a similar situation about 10 years ago, coincidentally at the San Jose airport. As was the case on this trip, the plane tickets were about half the price from San Jose as they would have been from Fresno, so we flew out of San Jose. Alex was in a basketball tournament in 7th or 8th grade and we ran into traffic. We were hustling to catch the shuttle bus, get to the terminal, check in, go through security, get to the gate and make the flight – that I had completely forgotten where we’d parked. Since then, I have never left a parking lot without knowing where the car was.

What bailed us out back then was after the attendant at the parking lot heard my story, she said that if I could tell her my license plate number, they could locate my car through video surveillance and computer (something or other). I was so frazzled I have no idea exactly what she said except a guy came around in an airport vehicle and drove me to car. Jane found such a gentleman. First I reported the dead phone. He explained that since the beginning of the month, they no longer shuttled people to the terminal since it was so close. Huh.

He drove me around the lot. He felt that, since I was sure I was in Lot 6, the spot at the end of the row might have been my mind playing tricks on me. Finally, I requested he call into wherever and check my license plate. After a few minutes – it must have been a busy night for people needing such information – a woman said she’d located my car. It was in Lot 5. Since I had looked there as well, I was suspicious until he said he’d drive me to it. In fact, I had checked Lot 5 – but not all of Lot 5. Sure enough, right on that corner spot, was what I’d been searching for. I gave the guy a $20 bill for saving the night and for all the trouble I’d caused him. He refused but I insisted, thinking of all the alternatives to the evening if we couldn’t find the car. Plus, when he retells the story, at least I’ll be a grateful schmuck.

I drove it over to where Jane was keeping the luggage company, we loaded up and, breathing a sigh of relief, headed out for the 2 1/2 hour ride to Fresno. You can imagine how much greater of an idiot I felt, when putting the card into the slot, the machine read, “$210.” For parking!

As I learned long ago:

“The difference between genius and stupidity is genius has its limits.”

Random Thoughts from Rockets-Warriors Game 3

Friday, April 22nd, 2016

As mentioned in yesterday’s post, this blog will return on Monday, May 2.

First, let’s discuss the Houston Rockets performance. Last night they might have done something they’ll wind up regretting, i.e. they exposed themselves. They showed that they can give great effort, that they can play as a team and that James Harden and Dwight Howard can not only (when they want) co-exist but be the dynamic duo everyone had hoped they would be (well, at least for a half). The Rockets also displayed that year-long habits that doing little to none of the above can nearly doom a team – even when they are in total control of the game.

As for their opponents, the Golden State Warriors showed they can battle back from a big deficit – on the road, that when they actually run their offense they can score no matter what personnel group is on the floor and that no other NBA team can come close to the depth their roster affords them.

However, they also opened the basketball world’s eyes in ways fans could only have imagined this season. One example is their all too often disregard for the ball leads to turnovers that translate into easy points for the opposition. They chuck the rock around the gym like it’s an exhibition intramural game. In an astonishing turn of events, they let it be known that “iso” is a part of their offensive vocabulary – and not the kind that are called from the bench.

All of that said, they still only lost by a single digit. Which is exactly the point. Those were the kind of games the Warriors are known for winning. That when things aren’t going their way, they understand that if they play sloppy, even uninspired, basketball they still somehow find a way to leave the arena with a W.

Ah, don’t worry, says Dub Nation, normalcy will set in when Steph comes back. Not to be a Chicken Little, but wasn’t it that group of players who said they weren’t concerned about risking injury when going after the Bulls’ record? But this is different, the Warriors fans claim. Curry could be messing around with his main means of employment – a guy who, with his impeccable demeanor and lifestyle can positively impact so many – if he remains healthy and continues his illustrious career.

When he “tweaked” his ankle, he tried to give it a go in the second half but decided the lead was such that his guys could hold on without him – so he could be ready for the next battle. Then, he gamely attempted to go through his intense workout (most players, in the same situation, would say they wouldn’t be able to play – but give the reason as fatigue after performing his pregame routine). He was a no-go. Same with Game 3. So what? It was a game Golden State thought they could win without him and, with the fragile state of the Rockets, that would mean they’d most likely be chanting the break the huddle mantra Charles Barkley predicted at last night’s halftime: “1,2,3, Cancun!”

The Warriors claim Curry’s MRI was negative. Should that not be the case, we’d have the makings of Watergate, Monicagate, Bountygate and Deflategate all over again. For the good of the game, and more importantly, for Steph Curry and everything he stands for, let’s hope it wasn’t anything serious.

As far as the Warriors’ chances of repeating, they desperately need a healthy Steph Curry. Without him:

“There’s a good chance they don’t get out of the second round.”

Charles Barkley Is Just as Unfiltered Today as He Was Five Years Ago

Thursday, April 21st, 2016

This everyday blogging deal ain’t that easy. Tomorrow’s post will be the last for a while (I plan on resuming on or around Monday, May 2) as I’m undergoing medical procedures which, I hope, will give me some help from the chronic pain I’ve been experiencing for the past 14 years. Some days I find that nothing happens to move me enough to comment on it.

Since I’ve been blogging since 2007, there are a couple thousand or so previous entries to “fill in” when my mind goes blank. What did make an impression on me last night, as it does every time it’s on TV, is TNT’s Inside the NBA. A close friend made a comment that Charles Barkley had to be everybody’s favorite on that show – mainly because he opens his mouth and lets the words fly. Granted, there are occasions when the Chuckster makes comments, the sanity of which are questioned by his fellow analysts, but even then, under “occupation” on his taxes, he ought to put “entertainer.” What follows is a blog I posted five years ago. Read it, then ask yourself how much of a filter has Charles acquired over the years.

Charles Barkley once did a commercial in which he said he was no role model.  Events throughout his life back up this belief.  He has got to be one of the most irreverent characters of this, or any other, generation.

First of all, he, admittedly, was never a serious student. On several occasions, he’s quipped, “No, I don’t have a college degree, but I have lots of people working for me who do.” While no Board of Education wants to hire him as a commencement speaker, the line is very funny – and true.

Then, there was the time Charles was pulled over by a policeman in Phoenix for some infraction – speeding, running a light or stop sign, suspicion of drunken driving – and he not only told the cop that he was on his way to get the greatest oral sex from a prostitute but that, if the officer let him out of the ticket, Charles would tattoo the cop’s name on his butt. People love the guy. Hey, he is a classic.

Barkley is the same way in his commentary. Last night, he referred to Chucky Brown, a former player who used to (try to) guard Charles as a “limo guy.” When his #1 foil, Ernie Johnson, asked what a “limo guy” was, Barkley said that he was the type of guy you wanted to see guarding you so much, you’d send a limo for him to make sure he got to the arena.

Earlier, he asked his other straight man, Kenny Smith, what date was scheduled for the fifth game of the Miami-Philadelphia series, after the Heat took a commanding 2-0 lead by blowing out the 76ers. When the Jet asked him why he wanted to know, Charles said he was going to make plans to be somewhere else because he knew they’d be off that night.

Another Barkley-ism came following a Gatorade commercial which starred his friend Dwyane Wade. In the commercial, Wade remarked how he drinks the third of the Gatorade trio of drinks following a game because he needs to replenish for the next contest. After the commercial aired, Barkley said, as only the Chuckster can, “You know what I think of that. Gatorade don’t help you if you suck. I’m pretty sure D-Wade could drink Pabst Blue Ribbon and still be great.” Let it be noted that Gatorade is a sponsor and Pabst is not.

The answer to the question, “Why does Sir Charles say the outrageous things he does?” might be found in the quote from Richard Needham:

“People who are brutally honest get more satisfaction out of the brutality than out of the honesty.” 

With So Many Good Candidates, How Can an NBA Team Fail to Land a Quality Coach?

Wednesday, April 20th, 2016

Turnover is a word often heard in bakeries and coaching. During my formative years, the former was discussed a whole lot more than the latter. During my three decades as a college coach, while bakeries still held a place in my heart, the coaching version vaulted to the top of the list. (Once I retired, the order switched). My “turnover” interest was of the college variety. This post, however, will discuss the NBA picture. Although the NBA is the highest level of basketball, it has always been the anti-role model for hiring coaches.

Businesses improve in nearly every area as time moves along. There are more studies performed and successful models to emulate. You’d think someone would have discovered a method for the hiring process. In fact, someone actually might just have the key (San Antonio would be a place to start) but, in such a business, nobody is sharing secrets with the competition. Out of bounds plays and defensive coverages maybe, but selecting the right leader (or leadership team) is definitely off-limits. Not only has the process of hiring not improved, it has regressed to epic lows.

Currently, the Nets, Knicks, Rockets, Wizards, Timberwolves and Kings either have openings or an interim in place who most likely will not be hired permanently. Throw in the Suns, who fired their coach in mid-season and that makes seven openings in a league which only has 30 such jobs.

Hot names as far as potentially new hires are former NBA head coaches: Scott Brooks, Jeff Van Gundy, Tom Thibodeau, Mark Jackson, Sam Mitchell, George Karl, Mike D’Antoni, Vinny Del Negro, Jeff Hornacek, Kevin McHale, Lionel Hollins and Mike Brown – each of whom has been fired at least once from a previous head coaching stint.

If teams are interested in dipping into the college ranks, these current college coaches’ names are always bandied about: John Calipari, Rick Pitino, Sean Miller, Tom Izzo, Mike Krzyzewski, Bill Self, Chris Mullin and Kevin Ollie.

Occasionally, an NBA assistant is tabbed to move over a spot. If a team is planning to take that route, the following have been mentioned: Sam Cassell, Luke Walton, Nate McMillan, Mike Woodson, Ettore Messina, Adrian Griffin, Juwan Howard and David Fizdale.

For the ball club looking to make history – and hire the first ever female head coach, Nancy Lieberman and Becky Hammon, current NBA assistants, are viable options.

That’s an awful lot of excellent candidates – and there’s a better than average chance, someone who is not on the above list will fill at least one of the openings. In reality, it probably isn’t that difficult to find someone who could please ownership. The problem is hiring one who will please the fans and the players (which also means the players’ agents).

23% of the NBA coaching jobs will change from last year to this one. The Lakers are rumored to release Byron Scott shortly. If they do, the number changes to nearly 27%. When you think about it, that’s a remarkable statistic – yet next year’s number will undoubtedly be in the same neighborhood. Why? Why can’t bright, highly successful millionaire and billionaire owners ever get this right? In truth, the NBA franchise is not the actual business of the owner. It’s more his “toy.” So, often, he leaves the hiring decision of who is going to coach to others “more qualified.” More than anything, though, it’s a numbers game.

You see, there are 1230 NBA regular season games each year (30 teams, two play at a time, 82 games per club). This season, between the Spurs and the Warriors, their combined record was 140-24, yet:

“Every year the overall NBA record is 615-615.”

How Did Teams Ever Win Before Analytics?

Tuesday, April 19th, 2016

Charles Barkley is known for blunt, honest analysis when making comments for TNT on their NBA studio show. He pulled no punches with his feelings on how to build an NBA team using analytics. Chuck is usually a black and white guy on hot button topics. He loves something or he hates it.

Analytics has entered the world of professional sports, first in baseball with the publishing of the book, Moneyball. An idea is only as good as its success rate. The Oakland A’s won without spending the money other MLB teams did (because they didn’t have it and they weren’t allowed to take a sabbatical), mainly by using a different evaluation tool, one that had never been used in baseball.

Baseball, more than any other professional sport, leans on – and clings to – tradition. The “eye test” was baseball’s best method of evaluation and the teams that drafted best usually were the ones who had the most talented scouts. In most cases, these were old timers, lifers, who’d been around the game for decades, could look at a prospect and compare him to some major leaguer from the present or past. The A’s modernized the way teams scouted, eschewing the old model, while upsetting “true baseball people” in the process. A different set of stats were employed.

Success is an interesting dynamic. Most often, people and companies that achieve it have done so by, to use the term that’s become so popular it’s now a cliche – thinking outside the box. Once that person or company carves a niche in the market, most folks study, i.e. try to copy, what the successful newcomer is doing. Yet, didn’t that group rise to the top by not copying what others were doing but attempting something different that, for whatever reason, they felt should work?

Obviously, there’s a balance between trying to duplicate someone else’s ideas (remember the movie, Multiplicity?) and incorporating some of what they do with the elements of your organization that you like. Arguably, the most successful NBA franchise over the past 20 years has been the San Antonio Spurs. The Spurs got good when David Robinson, not exactly chosen due to analytics, was selected with the #1 overall pick in the NBA draft. They got real good when another #1 selection, Tim Duncan, joined the squad.

Other players on the Spurs teams throughout the years will tell anyone who will listen (and many of those who will not) that those two guys – with their skills, demeanor, unselfishness and work ethic – combined with the coaching prowess of Gregg Popovich and his staff, are the reasons behind the Spurs’ lasting success. An organization like the Spurs is one that will take advantage of anything that will increase its chances of winning. They bought into analytics – without changing any of their core values – and incorporated ideas such as the corner three-point shot is the game’s most efficient and keeping players, especially aging ones, rested.

What many people, certainly including Barkley, have a difficult time grasping is, are those two concepts about analytics or, simply, common sense? Because the three-point line is so much father back than in high school or college, it needed to be tapered or else it would intersect with the sideline. Therefore, the line becomes parallel with the sideline 14′ from the baseline, making the corner three a shorter shot, yet still worth three points.

As far as resting older players, an NBA year is 82 games long (not including exhibitions), with back-to-back contests on several occasions throughout the regular season. It is played by the best athletes in the world and takes a physical toll on a player’s body, whether it’s fighting through screens, getting hits on drives to the basket, having masses of humanity in a confined area near the basket, fighting for the same rebound or just the pounding from running up and down the court. Wouldn’t it stand to reason, since the most important thing is winning in the playoffs (which come after the regular season), that the best players be rested rather than bruised and beaten down? Maybe if home court advantage is at stake (or if the team is trying to break the all-time records for regular season wins – and its core is made up of young guys), an exception can be made but, keep in mind, if an owner feels the chances of winning in the playoffs is compromised, coaches and front office people had better keep their resumes updated.

In addition, a couple of measurements analytics can’t give are emotion and chemistry - which, combined with talent, comprise a winning team. Ironically, in a survey done regarding analytics in professional sports, the lowest rated NBA organization was the New York Knicks, while the top rated one was the Philadelphia 76ers. It appears that can be used to prove analytics works – or it doesn’t.

While it certainly is useful in many instances:

“Just remember, you can’t spell analytics without A-N-A-L.”

Similarities & Differences Between March Madness and the NBA Playoffs

Monday, April 18th, 2016

Which is better – the NCAA tournament or the NBA playoffs? Before anyone votes, let’s keep in mind that, other than the goals of putting the ball through the hoop at one end and trying to prevent your opponent from doing the same on theirs, the post seasons of each are vastly different.

Nearly half of the college game’s tourney is made up of automatic qualifiers (32 of 68). To gain entry into the NBA playoffs, the teams must be in the top eight of the west or the east meaning that, although the ninth (or tenth) club on one side might be better than the (seventh or) eighth on the other, usually the 16 best teams get in.

In Division I college play, never has a #16 seed beaten a #1, yet on eight occasions a #15 seed has beaten a #2. In the NBA playoffs, there have been five times a #8 seed has toppled a #1. The reason #16 has never beaten #1 is because of sheer numbers, i.e. #16 seeds are the 65th, 66th, 67th and 68th best teams in the tournament. Not in the nation – just the tournament because, invariably, there was a bad team in a bad conference that caught fire (or a break or two, e.g. better teams get upset, injury to an opponent’s top player), won its post season tournament, and with it, the automatic bid – and plays one of the top four teams in the country. There are no automatic bids into the NBA playoffs. Tanking does not apply to teams that can make the playoffs, only those vying for the 28th, 29th or 30th slot.

It is true that there are many more upsets, i.e. lower seeds beating higher ones, in the NCAA tourney than there are upsets in the NBA but that is due to three words: best of seven. When the major upsets happen in college (not the #9 over #8 or even the #7 over #10), it’s because either the guys on the lower-rated team caught lightning in a bottle, played the game of their lives or the guys on the favorite stunk it up. Or all of the above. For one night.

Five of this weekend’s eight NBA playoff games (if you like competitive basketball) were absolute torture to watch. And there’s more to come (as many as three more such games in each match up). The drama is greater in college because it’s win or go home. In the NBA it’s win or lose, play again. And again. And again. . . So for drama, the college game trumps the NBA. But as far as sheer talent, seeing players do things you marvel at (but cannot be duplicated in the backyard), there’s nothing like the NBA and the best athletes in the world.

Luckily, we don’t have to choose one or the other to watch. We couldn’t handle such drama/excellence all at once. Maybe that’s why the basketball gods put them months apart. Or maybe it was so each could make more money.

So instead of comparing, why not make a choice that none of the candidates running for president have mentioned:

“Be thankful.”

The Height of Irony

Sunday, April 17th, 2016

Critics of the Golden State Warriors’ championship last season pointed to the fact the Dubs went from the start of the playoffs all the way through without having to play a team whose backcourt was healthy. Their fans countered by saying they had no control over their opponents’ rosters, just the final results.

In the first game of the 2016 playoffs, in which they are the #1 overall seed (that will happen when the number of losses your team has is in single digits), they demolished the #8 seeded Houston Rockets. Last year’s MVP (and, undoubtedly, this year’s as well – the only question is whether he’ll be the first ever unanimous selection), Steph Curry, erased any suggestion that the grind of winning 73 regular season games would wear down the squad. At halftime, the Rockets had managed only 33 points, the fewest allowed by Golden State since the shot clock was introduced. So much for being tired. Oh yeah, they put up 60 on their side of the ledger.

Guess who led them? Yup, that Curry kid – with 24.

Then, something happened that took the shine off of a victory that was decided before the teams came back out. In the first three minutes, Curry tweaked his right ankle. The one he had surgery on. Although, he wanted to re-enter the contest (Steve Kerr refused his star’s pleas, no fool he), there still has to be grave concern in the Warriors camp, as Curry actually left the floor to get treated on a couple of occasions. Mum was the word following the game. After all those guards last year who were unable to compete in the playoffs, it would be some terrible karma if the game’s best (active) player was sidelined.

While it seems premature to question whether Curry will be unable to continue, one thing is for certain. As dominant a team as the Warriors are, if they were to lose Curry:

“All bets are off.”

A Reasonable Ranking of the Best Ever NBA Guards

Friday, April 15th, 2016

On the last day of the 2015-16 NBA regular season, a day in which the Golden State Warriors were going for a record 73 wins – a record that, since the Bulls won 72, no one ever thought would be equaled, much less broken – could any one player in the NBA upstage them? Turns out the answer was yes. If fans were given that question, the percentage of them responding “Kobe Bryant” would most likely be close to 100%.

Think about it. To take the shine off the Warriors, it would have to be a performance of the ages. Unless it was something extraordinary – like a quintuple double – it would have to be Kobe for one main reason. It was the last game of a sensational 20-year career. So the bar was lowered . . . somewhat. Still, it would take an incredibly memorable performance. Scoring 60 points would qualify.

Sure, he took 50 shots. Yes, his teammates constantly fed him the entire game. And, OK, when he hit the final go-ahead bucket, Julius Randle looked more like an offensive lineman than a screener (check the video – while he displayed excellent O-line footwork, he might have been flagged for illegal use of hands to the face). However, while the Jazz might not have been playing at playoff intensity, by no means were they giving a Washington Generals’ performance either. In answer to the questions above, how many players in the NBA could score 60 if they took 50 shots? I have no idea but as for guessing how many players could get their teammates to continually set them up for 48 minutes, I’d venture to say that number is considerably less. As for that absurdly missed illegal screen call? Over the course of this past NBA season, it might rank between 20-30 in terms of worst calls of the year.

The tribute to Bryant has to be about his work ethic. The one that kept him in peak physical condition, the one that allowed him the opportunity to come back from three potentially career-ending injuries. Friend/foe Shaquille O’Neal had told his “little buddy” that he needed him to “put up 50″ in his last fray. At first, the “youngster” laughed but when Shaq told him prior to the game to “Remember our bet,” Kobe, ever the competitor, said he’d go for it.

In order to accomplish something as monumental as a 60-point game, at 37 years of age, with less than a 100% healthy body, the Mamba had to reach deep and constantly remind himself, “I only have to do this one more time” because there really is no more tomorrow. One more ice bath. Lay it all out there. So many of your former teammates are in the crowd. The legacy is on the line.

He’s been roasted all year – and for several years – about being a selfish player. The final season of an otherwise illustrious career had him being compared to the likes of Willie Mays, Brett Favre, Muhammad Ali and, his idol, Michael Jordan. So what did he do? Willed his body to perform one more time, his mind to focus one more time. It was also necessary for the Lakers to win, no small feat this year. He managed to do it all – and now?

Listening to talk shows today, rather than hearing all that talk of overstaying his welcome and having to have his hard core fans defend his “total body of work,” there was talk of the G.O.A.T. Who, in their right mind would criticize a player, with all he’s done – the awards, championships, all-star appearances, etc. – after leading that sorry bunch to a few-and-far-between victory, while pouring in 60 points?

The topic of the Mt. Rushmore of NBA guards was discussed and a list comprising Oscar Robertson, Jerry West, Magic Johnson and Michael Jordan was suggested. So, the question becomes, who do we take off that list?

Before we do, let’s consider this thought. Both Robertson and West retired in 1974. For all intents and purposes, Magic retired in 1994, MJ in ’98, i.e. their brief returns did little-to-nothing to make anyone change their minds – who didn’t already think they were all-time greats). Which means for around 15 years (because it didn’t Magic and MJ all the way to retirement for people to start putting them in the “best ever” discussion) there were only two guards on the list? Maybe because there was no information superhighway and 24-hour sports talk that the only debates were held in sports bars and at water coolers but don’t you wonder how two grew to four?

If Kobe Bryant can’t crack that list (and I am in no way claiming he should), then the list should be expanded to five – because if Kobe Bryant isn’t good enough to be in that company (forget that “just a notch below” it nonsense), then it means that those four were, are and will be the best four guards to have ever played in the NBA. Really, how much better a career would someone have to have to knock one of those guys out? Granted, there doesn’t seem to be anyone on the horizon to require a fifth president to be added to Mt. Rushmore but when it comes to ranking NBA guards, here’s an idea:

“Make it five.”