Wednesday, August 12, 2015

QB Corner: Geno Smith's SIlver Lining

I might be crazy. Apparently that’s the way the NY Jets like it. An NFL preseason that has already seen one or to fracases entered the Tyson Zone Tuesday morning as I got a tweet form Yahoo! Sports that Jets QB Geno Smith suffered a broken jaw from a sucker punch.

I started getting more tweets, from reputable sources even. I Googled IK Enemkpali and learned to spell his last name. I read from Neil Paine how the Jets will be better without their purported starter. That sounds like crazy talk, but Neil uses good data and this whole situation is ludicrous anyway. So let’s go  further off the rails and posit: missing 6 – 10 will make Geno a better QB.

Saturday, July 11, 2015

Wimbledon 2015: Federer vs. Murray

I have to write about Roger Federer before his magnificent career is over (which doesn't looking imminent). Brian Phillips already wrote about the match and Louisa Thomas covered it for Andy Murray. But I'm obliged to make my own record  because Friday's match between these two was sensational.

First, a shoutout to Richard Gasquet who did his thing - flitting around the court until he could unload on that gorgeous backhand. He hung around valliantly until the difference between his serve and Novak's finally became too much.

But back to Roger - Andy. I don't think I'll ever get sick of seeing Federer serve. The power of the first serve and the audicious verve of his second, the way he mixes spins and locations, the lines that he paints. The deception, grace, and beauty. It reminds me of Greg Maddux on the mound. For those that aren't familiar with the Maddux, this is a good start. Just like Federer's service game, Maddux was known for efficiency, accuracy, and beauty. Both confounded their opponents with debilitating deception. Both men's form and mechanics are textbook. Both are ruthlessly efficient, yet a joy to watch. Maddux breezed through his innings making everything look easy, never looking like he's throwing that hard or trying too much, the ball seemingly on a string. Federer does the same, though he does have that power.

Thursday, June 25, 2015

2015 NBA Finals Review + Bonus NBA Draft Edition!

You’ve heard all the stories about the Finals. How the Warriors went small and changed the complexion of the Cleveland defense. How LeBron and his tattered supporting cast finally ran out of steam. How Steve Kerr pushed all the right buttons while David Blatt bumbled his way. The inspiring story of Andre Iguodala going from starting lineup to bench to Finals MVP.

I want to hit on that last point a little though. We’ve all heard the training camp stories when Kerr had to tell Andre that Harrison Barnes would start at small forward. I think it’s naïve to think that Andre would have caused a riot in the Warriors’ locker room; he’s too much a professional for that, he wasn’t much more a team vet than Kerr, and the Dubs had just come off a disappointing first round loss to the Clippers (though it was a good Clippers team that should have taken the Thunder to 7).

He wouldn’t have become a locker room cancer. But it certainly could have thrown off his game. And in some ways, it might have. I don’t know what it’s like to play in the NBA, but a lot of people say that at the highest level, a lot of it is confidence. You have to believe that you belong, believe that you’re a starter, believe that you can score, believe that you can defend. Maybe Andre lost some of that confidence – his well-documented free throw woes (59.6% from the line against a 71.7% career average, though that average is weighted by his 70%+ average in his Philly days, which are not coming back) indicate a player that thrives on more attempts, a statistical darling whose usage correlates positively with his efficiency. But away from the charity stripe, his per-36 minute numbers are almost identical to last year. Have a look:

Wednesday, June 10, 2015

2015 NBA Finals - Games 2 & 3

After 3 unpredictable, exhilarating Finals games, this is what I've learned:

LeBron James is the best player in the world. He approached this season with a different outlook and physique, which may have contributed to some inconsistency early. He took that 2 week break. But this is peak LeBron. The difference between this guy and the pre-Miami LeBron is huge. He controls the game and has remade the entire team in his image. I wrote before the Finals that the Warriors can play any style, and I still believe so. But they cannot play into LeBron's hands so completely.

Sunday, June 7, 2015

2015 NBA Finals - Game 1 Diary

After a nervous start from both sides, this turned into quite the fun game. I’m not going to tell you what happened, but want to see what we learned from the game and what implications it has for the series.

Of course, none of this is possible without knowing the status of Kyrie Irving’s knee. It was tough to see him go down with what appeared to be limited contact – those are often the worst type of knee injuries. But he did walk off. I’m hoping for a DeMarre Carroll-type recovery for Cleveland’s exciting point guard – he’s good enough to take over one of these games by himself. So before we begin, big prayer for Uncle Drew.


Both teams started off running good sets. Cleveland’s offense has devolved into one long LeBron isolation, but there creative ways to give him the ball and creative ways to move pieces around him once he gets it. The Cavs are actively cutting and screening on offense, which can prevent the Dubs from helping effectively. But the Dubs defense is just an amoeba. It’s incredible to see them shift with the help, pointing out cutters, neutralizing threats and recovering. The communication is superb.

Thursday, June 4, 2015

NBA Finals Preview

I'll admit that this is the Finals I wanted to see. As fun as the Hawks were, they just didn't finish the season right. They should have been sitting guys in January to rest them for the playoffs, not because that would have kept them healthier, but because it showed long term vision and awareness compared to the rash of DNP-CDs they racked up in April and May. And the Cavs beat them. They were the best team. Atlanta had no answer for LeBron and couldn't press its advantage at point guard. 

Something tells me the Warriors will be able to do that. Steph isn't on every game, but when he is, it's incredible. He snuffed multiple Rockets/Grizzlies runs with spectacular shot making. That is going to be a problem for Cleveland - I just don't think Kyrie's knee gets better very quickly. Everything I know about tendinitis is that it's a long-term injury. Add that to the foot injury, and his already poor pick-and-roll defense, and the result is a player the Cavs will have to hide on defense. 

Problem is the Warriors have few safe harbors. Klay will shoot over him. So will Barnes. Green would bully him and you can't treat Bogut like Noah. The Dubs would be more inclined to yank Bogut and go small anyway. The bench is no better - Livingston will abuse him and Andre might offer more as a 2-way player at this point. Man, that bench. Steve Kerr can act magician with those guys. Need defense and rim protection? Ezeli. Post production to buy Green/Bogut some minutes? Lee. Perimeter defense. Ball handling from Livingston and Barbosa. A dash of shooting. Lots of switching. Meanwhile, David Blatt will turn to J.R. Smith, James Jones, and Matthew Dellavedova. Shawn Marion can't get in the game. Neither can Mike Miller. 

With those logistics, I see only one way out for Blatt: Muck the game up. Slow it down. Extend your (and their) starters. Bully them in the post with LeBron and crash the offensive boards for extra possessions in a low-possession game. 

The problem with that plan is the Warriors can play it too. Harrison Barnes showed me in the Grizzlies series that he can not only defend the post (with help), but crash the boards too. Kerr worked magic with his bench to find combinations that would work when Green got in foul trouble. David Lee had to guard Gasol, but Gasol was gassed by Game 6. Is Timofey or Tristan that worse of a matchup? And I know the Grizzlies were close in those games, really close, but so were the Warriors in their losses. And once Kerr figured out how to best the Grizzlies, it was over. I think if the two teams played 10 games now, the Grizzlies would be lucky to win 3.

That's why I think the Warriors win this series. I know Cleveland is clicking on defense and LeBron is a force the Warriors won't be able to prepare totally for. He has been the most reliable player of his generation. Getting to the Finals for the last few years has basically correlated to having LeBron on your team. He's incredible. But slowing the game also makes every Curry three that much more a dagger. Every go-go Warriors run has that much more impact on the game. And they go on runs. They will. They'll speed you up when you want to go fast and when you don't. When they're hot, nothing can stop them. And when they're not? Their defense, depth, IQ, chemistry, and confidence can beat you anyway. 

Warriors in 6

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

NBA Playoffs: Conference Finals Preview

Houston vs. Golden State

What a rollercoaster ride for the Rockets. Many people think the Clippers lost that series. I don’t disagree (more on them later). But don’t understate how well the Rockets played in the last three games. They finally began to understand that playoff basketball requires effort, determination, and focus on each defensive possession.  Their execution from a coaching and playing standpoing on that side of the ball changed the nature of the series. Sure, the Clippers were up big in Game 6 and should have won that – but the Rockets were still executing their defense. That defense sprang leaks as the Clippers got out in transition, but so will any defense. They key is they stuck with it and got the stops they needed to in the 4th quarter. I killed Josh Smith earlier in the series for loafing on defense when it didn’t involve his mark. His coming to play changed the complexion of the lineup – instead of the Rockets compensating for an iffy jump shooter with a questionable motor, he was an iffy jump shooter that provided valuable rebounding energy.

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

A Quick Note About Scott Brooks

Soon after the regular season ended, talk of the Thunder firing Scott Brooks started. This was my Twitter reaction:

Let me expain.

In 2015, the Thunder lost 14 more games than they did the previous year. The Thunder, according to Kevin Pelton, also lost 19.2 wins above replacement to injury this year. They lost 14.4 wins from Kevin Durant's injury alone, measured by the year over year change in his win shares. The point? The Thunder didn't miss the playoffs because of Scott Brooks. It was a minor miracle that Brooks was able to keep his team together, adjust on the fly, and give the Western Conference shivvers at the prospect of playing his Thunder squad.

The major differences between this year's Thunder and the teams that made deep playoff runs in past years are injuries and luck. That sounds simplistic or misleading, but it's true. Last year's bunch survived a seven game first round series against Memphis on the back of some timely shooting and good luck. The next round, they won in six against the Clippers, a series that may have been decided by a few bad calls. Would Brooks have been fired if they had lost in the first round instead of the conference finals?

Scott Brooks hasn't really changed in three years. He still manages his team well. He's gotten better at rotations, though still fails to make adjustments quickly. He still doesn't know what a modern NBA offense looks like but his guys play hard on the defensive end. He's the same guy. If you thought Brooks should have been fired two years ago, then today is a belated vindication, and a sad one since the Thunder have missed out on two years of potential development. But if you thought that Scott Brooks was a good coach a year ago, then he's still a good coach now. He's the same guy.

My point isn't to defend Brooks. My point is that the process behind his firing is indicative of everything that's wrong with the league's darling small-market team. By firing him now, Sam Presti is acknowleding that he knew - he knew his coach was holding the team back - and did nothing. He sat by because the Thunder were getting lucky and going on playoff runs. He sat by as his players went through a streak of injury luck before the wheels fell off in the worst possible way. He watched the Thunder waste the beginning of Durant's prime without a guarantee that Kevin will stick around for the end of it.

Presti took two seasons too long to decide to part with his coach, and that has had a cascading effect on the franchise. Forget the Harden trade. They had their reasons for that. Over the last two years, the Thunder have gone from timid (keeping Brooks and Kendrick Perkins too long) to panicked (trades for Dion Waiters and Enes Kanter). Instead of trusting whatever process he sold himself on two years ago, he's gone off-script. And that tells me Sam Presti may need to go. He has done great things for this franchise, and has Durant, Russel Westbrook, Serge Ibaka, and Steven Adams to show for it. But those were decisions made under the auspices of the broader plan. He isn't so good at improvising - just look at what happened with Harden. Maybe he can get his mojo back. But my guess is that with Kevin Durant's free agency looming, the Thunder will be forced to think more about results than process. They'll be forced to go against everything that made them the NBA's small market template.

I really hope that they can get it together and keep Kevin. I think the Thunder make the NBA better. I hope that Presti can take a deep breath, trust the process, and reboot. I will admit that part of me will miss decrying Scott Brooks and his decisions on Twitter. Here's hoping that he, too, can get back to the big stage.

NBA Playoffs First Round – Eastern Conference Edition

Atlanta Hawks. I did not like the way the Hawks ended their year. Yeah, a few guys were banged up – is it possible that’s because they were playing at half speed, trying not to get injured (obviously I’m speaking of guys other than Thabo Sefolosha). They would get up for marquee games, like a late matchup with the Cavs, but otherwise coasted with that huge lead for the 1st seed. And I hated it. Full disclosure – I had Kyle Korver and Paul Misap on my fantasy team, and they killed me in the semifinals with DNP-rests. But compare this to how the Warriors finished the year. Sure the warriors had guys miss games too, but for the most part they kept everything going. Momentum in sports is notoriously hard to quantify, so much so that it doesn’t exist. But I believe that there is something to the notion of the hot team, the team that peaks in May and June. It’s like when you play pickup and your team wins two or three in a row – you get fatigued, but you also build a nice chemistry, you start figuring out what each person can and should do. Maybe Atlanta will be fine – of course, they will win their first round matchup easily and possibly their second as well, considering how Washington and Toronto are playing. I’m just concerned that after a few weeks of playing disjointed lineups, the defensive rotations won’t be as crisp and the ball won’t fly as fast on offense.

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

NBA Playoffs First Round – Western Conference Edition

Yes, I realize the playoffs already started. I wanted to get some thoughts down while they're fresh.

The Warrior’s defense is like ballet. Nobody is on an island. For a jump shooting team, being able to rely on the defense is such a relief. Bogut is causing havoc in the lane – just watch what happens when anybody, with or without the ball, tries to cross that area. He’s irreplaceable, and so is Draymond Green. How many players in the NBA can do what Green does? Kawhi gets close, but there’s a difference between a small forward that can slide to big forward and a big forward that can slide to shooting guard (defensively). LeBron could do it but we haven’t seen peak defensive LeBron for two years. Milsap has the body to do it but his instincts and feet are nowhere near as good.