Monday, December 15, 2014

9ers and Falcons and Bears, Oh My!

I've gone on a brief hiatus over the last few weeks as I am contemplating a re-vamping of my QB Corner series. Also, I know Kevin Love, Part 4, is still on my hard drive for the 1.5 of you that have managed to stay awake as I've cherry-picked through stats in Parts 1-3.

Today, I wanted to write in essay format about something more anecdotal. I've mellowed considerably as a sports fan over the last 18 months, and when my 49ers were eliminated from playoff contention in the most 'Hawks/9ers fashion ever this last Sunday, my usual disappointment was quickly replaced by a whimsical attitude - only one team will win the Super Bowl, and it clearly wasn't going to be San Francisco, so what's the harm in starting the off-season a little early.

I know other fans fret about championship windows missed, new coaches galore, and why our QB is broken (don't worry - my next QB Corner is on the 49ers former current starter), my mind took me to all sorts of places. I wondered if the defense and offense switched places, which would be more effective (I think defense - they could run the ball with a healthy Borland and I'm pretty sure the CBs have better hands than the WRs at this point). I also randomly started thinking of who the 49ers NFL doppelganger would be and immediately had this = thought pop into my head: the 49ers are basically the Falcons, just playing in the NFC West.

Monday, November 3, 2014

Kevin Love, Part 3: Does Love Make A Difference?

A Journey Through NBA Team Statistics

Problems with Statistics

We’re nearing the conclusion of a 4-part series on the Cavaliers’ new big man that started once it became clear he was leaving Minnesota. Parts 1 and 2 examined why he was left Minnesota and how he compares to other great players at his position. But stats like rebounds and assists and 3s tell only part of the story. That part of the story is rosy for Love – comps include historically great players like Kareem, Wilt, Worthy, Bird, and Garnett. Part 3 will look at if Love’s statistical output had an effect on his previous team. Part 4 will examine if that effect translates into winning games.

Comparing players with Basketball-Reference’s season finder tool present two immediate problems. First, it’s easy to cherry-pick an individual’s stats, coming up with a unique combination that only elite players have accumulated over a season. I’m not sure of this, but I suspect that we can take a merely above-average player, like say Deron Williams, and cherry pick a set of numbers that will place him in elite company. Oh look:

Monday, October 27, 2014

QB Corner: Ryan Tannehill vs. Jake Cutler (Week 7)

2014 has been kind to Ryan Tannehill. His Dolphins may sit only 3rd in a crowded AFC East, but at 4-3, the team is performing at a higher level than the Bills (beset by injuries) and already have a win over the 1st-place Patriots under their belt. I watched most of that Week 1 win and came away impressed with Miami's young signal caller. I noticed tangible improvement over my analysis from 2013, and was curious to see if that would continue.

My primary concerns from that previous piece were A) a high sack figure (9.0% of dropbacks), B) a highly conservative scheme that averaged only 6.7 yards/attempt (one of the lowest in his cohort), and C) a mediocre completion % for someone who ran such a conservative offense. He was inconsistent handling pressure and could get stuck on reads, which explained the sack issues. That also explained the low yards/attempt, as he missed numerous open receivers downfield.

I like to look at a QB's film against a good defense, one that can generate 4-man pressure as well as play different looks. Unfortunately, the Bears are not a good defense, beset by a litany of injuries and an inability to reload at linebacker. They're 14th in pass DVOA and 18th in run DVOA (per Football Outsiders). But the buzz about Tannehill after this game was too much to ignore. Most of the time, when you hear superlatives heaped upon a player, the truth is somewhere in-between, and I wanted to diagnose this case with my own eyes.

A second interesting thing about this game is the now well-known Bears locker room incident regarding the offense's poor showing. Chicago QB Jay Cutler was playing a tough Miami defense (4th in overall DVOA, 5th in passing, 9th in rushing), but Jay received a lot of criticism, especially for turnovers. I wanted to see what, if anything, Cutler could have done differently.

This film analysis won't be a fair comparison since I'm trying to objectively analyze Tannehill's game while seeing what went wrong with Cutler (introducing an element of bias). Still, I enjoyed comparing the two QBs in my Locker vs. Dalton piece, especially when taking game flow and situations into account. Let's start with Tannehill on the Dolphins' first possession:

Sunday, October 19, 2014

Kevin Love, Part 2: Is Love Even Good?

If you missed Part 1, of my Kevin Love triple-header, click here to see why the Minnesota Timberwolves lost their franchise player to begin with.

An interesting thing happened in the weeks leading up to the Love trade. The trade became a culmination of peoples' opinions on love, a referendum of sorts. This makes sense - it was fans' way of inserting themselves into the trade, figuring out what Love is worth, and what assets they would demand (or give up, from various suitors' perspectives) for the All-Star. What I didn't expect was an outpouring of disdain mixed with disappointment, and maybe even hostility, from some Timberwolves fans. These fans, pointing to the zero times a Love team has made the playoffs, seemed to cast doubt on Love's stature as a franchise player, with some indicating the franchise might be better off without their star.

This reaction caught many other basketball writers off guard as well. This launched a whole series of articles either trying to gauge Love's value or coming to his defense (here, here, here). ESPN's David Thorpe even posted a cryptic article directed at supposed Kevin Love "haters."

I don't want to add mindlessly to a growing list of articles evaluating Love's skills, but wanted to provide some context using numbers. We hear all the time how Love is a fantastic rebounder, 3 point shooter, passer, etc., but how good is he really compared to his peers?

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

QB Corner: Jake Locker vs Andy Dalton (Week 3)

Welcome to the 2014 NFL season! My plan for QB Corner (#QBCorner) this year is to first review film of the starters I examined in 2013, starting with the ones that struggled. Nobody is replacing Andrew Luck in Indy; that may not be true of a guy like Jake Locker. After doing so, I'll turn my attention to what second-year starters are left (Manuel - gone, Glennon - maybe gone).

The first game I chose was a Week 3 Titans @ Bengals contest which allowed me to watch two QBs, Jake Locker and Andy Dalton. Andy is clearly outplaying Jake this year, with a 7.99 ANYPA that would be elite over a full season; Drew Brees only hit 7.51 last year. Locker, not so much: 5.21 ANYPA is worse than last year and the result of declines in almost all passing stats. Oh, and he's still an injury risk. Locker was the last QB whose 2013 film I looked at, and it wasn't pretty. I wrote concluding:

There are just too many things to fix... With his injury history, I can't justify the Titans investing further in their young QB

I don't mean to be harsh; I know I could never play the position. But it seemed clear from the film that Locker couldn't either. So I started watching this film against the Bengals, a game that would end in a Cincy blowout, looking for ways that Locker was throwing the game away.

And you know, what? It surprised me. I originally wasn't even going to use this film, because performance, playcalling, and tactics by both teams changes when the score gets out of hand (the game would end 33-7). But the more I watched the film, the more I realized that the score was a by-product of some really fluky stuff. I'll explain through the post below.

Friday, October 3, 2014

The YMTC Football Rant

This is a free-flowing blog post that may occasionally touch upon controversial subjects. Reader discretion is advised.

Bill Simmons had his rant and was taken off the air, figuratively. I am the chief executive of You Make the Calls and cannot be banned (YMTC – is that as good an acronym as ESPN? Do you even know what ESPN stands for? How about Entertainment Sports Programming Network? Not so sexy, eh? The major issue with YMTC is a litany of youth musical theater, youth muslim teen, and other groups that already use #YMTC). This diatribe will depart from the mostly analytical nature of most of my posts. If you do not want a highly opinionated column based on subjective information, please move on. I’ll cover a broad range of on- and off-field subjects.

Monday, September 22, 2014

QB Corner: Jake Locker (Week 9 TEN @ STL)

2014 is confusing. I feel like I know less about football after the last two weeks than I did in preseason. Are Atlanta good or bad? Same for New Orleans. What is going on in Ohio? Can we chalk the Pats and Seahawks losses to wrong opponent, wrong time, wrong place? And what happened to Colin Kaepernick and Nick Foles? I know this happens every year, but the number of Jeklyl and Hyde teams/players seems above average. I feel like everyone is on track to go 8-8.

To get away from 2014, I wanted to finish my QB Corner series from 2013. It takes me on average 2 weeks to cut, edit, and write about a QB's games, which is why I don't have anything from 2014 yet. The lucky subject this time is the Tennessee Titan's Jake Locker. I originally planned to look at films of all young QBs, including Mike Glennon, EJ Manuel, and other rookies, but decided not to since rookies are generally very raw in their first year and their performances may not be representative of the QBs they'll become. It's also hard to compare those guys to the more advanced QBs and frankly, it was a lot more work and I needed the hard drive space.

Locker, though, has been in the league a few years now and by the end of last year had started 18 games and had dropped back 610 times. I think that's a decent sample size and also a period over which he should have grown into an adequate NFL starter. Let's run the numbers and see how he stacks:

Saturday, September 6, 2014

2014 NFL Preview and Picks

Isn't football season the best? College football on Friday and Saturday (currently USC @ Stanford) mixed with a little US Open (KEI NISHIKORI!), the a full Sunday slate of games. It's one of the reasons why having the Basketball World Cup this time of year was a horrible idea. I loved watching the 2010 World Championship in the dead of the summer, but with so much going on, it's hard to flip to watch our men's team annihilate Mexico.

As is our tradition, my colleague @BPix03 and I started the season by picking overs and unders on team win totals. This is how it went (I'm not especially proud of myself):

Friday, September 5, 2014

QB Corner: Ryan Tannehill (Week 12 SD @ MIA)

Are you ready for some football!? After a summer filled with basketball free agency, it's nice to be writing about something else. Tomorrow, I'll post my NFL over/under picks. Today, I wanted to continue in my QB Corner film study series. I've looked at film of some exciting young QBs in QB Corner. This time, my subject is Ryan Tannehill, starter for the 8-8 Miami Dolphins. I think he's an especially interesting case because of his conversion from receiver to QB in college. In my mind, that should put him behind many other QBs in footwork, pocket presence, and other throwing mechanics. I still expect him to have a good understanding of offensive and defensive concepts since A) receivers often know more about coverages than QBs and B) many QBs don't learn an advanced progression-based offense in college anyway. Basically, I expect him to know where to put the ball but have occasional accuracy issues and have a tendency to want to escape the pocket.

I always start with the numbers, and they aren't pretty. Miami as a team were 22nd in both total and weighted DVOA last year (per, with weighted DVOA placing emphasis on the last few games). The team were the definition of mediocre and didn't improve much through the year, eking out 8 wins by virtue of a weak schedule playing in the AFC East. I expect with Cameron Wake their defense would be the strong suit of the team, and that proved true with total/weighted defensive DVOA rankings of 14th/18th, respectively. But the offense ranked only 22nd/17th. Breaking the offense down reveals the passing game produced a 4.0% DVOA (20th) while the run game posted -4.3%/18th. Tannehill specifically was -9.8% on the year, or 26th among all QBs, sitting behind the likes of Sam Bradford, Alex Smith, Ryan Fitzpatrick, Mike Glennon (!), Matt Cassel (!!), Jake Locker, and Kellen Clemens (!!!). Basically, this puts Tannehill in career-backup territory. If you think Football Outsiders are wrong, ESPN has him 26th in total QBR.

Comparing his individual numbers to the other QBs I've analyzed looks like this:

Monday, August 18, 2014

Kevin Love, Part 1: KAHN!!!

So Kevin Love, an All-Star still hitting his prime, is getting traded. What a mess. Can we all just say it one more time? KAHN!!!!! I don't know David Kahn personally. Maybe he's a nice guy. But his body of work with the Minnesota Timberwolves is nothing short of sabotage, with losing Love as the coup de grace. After LeBron to Cleveland (which seems to be widely and wildly acclaimed), this has taken over as the basketball story of the summer. The situation has stirred analysis from a variety of angles from the obvious (DAVID KAHN!!!) to the ambiguous (is Kevin Love even that good??). I thought I'd throw my hat into the mix looking at three basic questions:

  1. Why is Minnesota losing Kevin Love?
  2. Where does Kevin Love fit in the NBA hierarchy? How good is he, and can you win with him?
  3. Which situation fits Love the best? I know he's going to Cleveland, but would another team had made more sense?
In this part, I'm focusing on the Minnesota Kevin Love. So about David Kahn. I'm not talking about Johnny Flynn or Wes Johnson - those moves are horrible in hindsight, but a little more defensible at the time. Flynn could dribble and get to the line - seriously, take a look at these stats:

College numbers from

Thursday, August 14, 2014

Better Championship Trophies

I love Bill Simmon’s periodic podcast with Kevin Wildes in which the two discuss half-baked ideas. Why? We all have half-baked ideas that we think could be doable if only we had the resources to make them happen. But many times we keep those ideas to ourselves (or our spouses, depending on the level of support you can predict) for fear of derision. It’s refreshing to hear a guy openly talk about his ideas and have his friend critique them.

Many of Kevin’s ideas are more than half-baked. Like his ideas for alternative sports trophies, or even championship belts, in the latest podcast. Love it. This entire post is about taking that idea and running with it. I will focus on individual awards first then team awards.


The coolest pieces of individual hardware, hands down, are the championship belts used in boxing/wrestling. What makes these belts so cool? Their functionality. Unlike a trophy you leave at home, belts are worn to events, especially to title-defending matches. They become part of the champions’ persona which rarifies their status. This is one reason why Lord Stanley’s Cup is known as the best major sports trophy – the winning players get to spend a day with it, be seen/photographed with it, and generally do awesome things with it. Nobody lugs the Larry O’Brien trophy around to parties.

So first and foremost, individual award trophies need to need to be just functional that players would bring them out but a little ridiculous as well. I’m also looking for things that work well for the sports they represent. Since it’s baseball season, I’ll start with the American pastime.

Cy Young Award - Ball Cap

New Era already produces awesome hats. The idea would be for the 2 Cy Young Winners to get together with those guys and make an awesome hat that will be worn during games. Just like the yellow jersey lets the audience know who the man is in the Tour de France, distinctive caps will let fans know who bossed last season on the mound. And pitchers need the swag – usually it’s the position guys that are the prima donnas. Not so if the ace has a hat that only he can wear.

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

2014 NBA Draft Grades

Chad Ford has his draft grades, I have mine. There are a lot of ways to look at a team's prospects and its draft: fit, potential, NBA-readiness, etc. But I want to concentrate on something that others may not be - how much a team's draft reflects and magnifies its organization's overall strategy. Does it show a unified, coherent, top-down strategy or dysfunction somewhere along the chain of command? Let's go through in Chad's order:

Atlanta Hawks: C

I'm grading on a curve here with a B- as the passing grade. The Hawks are a full letter grade below that. In the past few years, the Hawks have shown a willingness to go against the grain, divesting themselves of high-priced talent such as Joe Johnson and Josh Smith. They've decided to rebuild around a young core of Jeff Teague and Al Horford while maintaining the flexibility to move any and all players for a better team.

This draft doesn't fit that forward-thinking philosophy. Adreian Payne is a fine player who shoots well and rebounds his position, but the Hawks have a logjam at big forward with Horford coming back and Paul Milsap/Mike Scott/Pero Antic in the fold. How are they going to develop him if he gets no minutes? Payne is also 23 years old and limits that flexibility the Hawks have craved - they have maybe 2 years to decide yes/no on him before the clock starts ticking really loud. This organization has chosen to be patient but didn't continue that in this draft. Any one of the Jusuf Nurkic, James Young, Gary Harris, or Rodney Hood types that went after Payne would have been a better fit both in terms of need and organization strategy.

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

2014 NBA Finals: What I Learned

I’m not going to bore you with a recap or an analysis of why the Spurs won. They obviously did because they were the better team and deserved to win. I will admit a dash of disappointment – watching the Spurs brand of basketball at its apex is exhilarating, couldn’t we have gotten a couple more games? I’m not going to talk about what I got right (Spurs need for another ball handler) and wrong (Heat shooters failing spectacularly). I wanted to share some of the things that I learned watching this series.

The Spurs’ Offense – If It Were Easy, Everyone Would Play Like This. The Spurs offense is so fun to watch. The ball flies around, from corner to corner, from one pick-and-roll into another, form dribble drives to shooters and back to the rim. Last year, the Spurs started figuring out the Heat defense, but Erik Spoelstra gamely made some lineup adjustments and Miami cranked up the pressure in Games 6 and 7. There was nowhere to hide this year. Guys rocketed of screens, made heady, quick decisions, and shot the ball with confidence. One of my favorite plays of the Finals was an innocuous Patty Mills leakout where, upon seeing no defenders back, Mills pulled up and canned a 3. Some coaches deride this kind of play – you can shoot 3’s any time, why not take it to the rim? But I enjoyed how decisive Mills was, how he was unafraid to take a three in this moment, and that open threes are what the Spurs’ offense is designed to generate in the first place – why not take the first one and push the pace?

Monday, June 9, 2014

A Quick Note About the French

No, not the French side that will be in Brazil. I'm talking Roland Garros, and specifically, a Spaniard at Roland Garros.

I've seen Rafael Nadal play a lot. I'm not able to catch every tournament, or even every match of the majors. But I try to tune in around the 3rd round or so at big tournaments and see how these guys are doing. The end can come terrifyingly quick for even the greatest of players, and I don't want to have missed any legendary matches while they're occurring.

So I'm no Rafa expert, but I do know his game a little. And it seems a little like a team from South Florida that's pretty good at basketball. Rafa is tennis' Miami Heat.

Flashback to the 2013 NBA Finals

I just wrote a post comparing the Miami Heat and San Antonio Spurs to their counterparts from last year's historic series. I thought it would be interesting to revisit my comments previewing that series, indicate where I was right or wrong, and how things have changed. Original thoughts in italics, new thoughts in orange.

Here's the one all of you have been waiting for. In fact, I've been waiting for it too because as of this writing I have no idea who will win this. First, let's get some logistical stuff out of the way:

The Heat have had 3 days off, the Spurs a week. Strangely I think this benefits both teams. The Heat don't need a long layoff, they need a light at the end of the tunnel. Dwyane Wade's knee is not going to feel better with a few extra days may actually have felt worse. I wouldn't be surprised if he had an arthroscopic procedure after the season to clean up bone spurs or something. On the other hand, the Spurs are a veteran team; I don't think the layoff affects them but will give Parker, Ginobili, Duncan, and Splitter extra R&R. I just can't imagine the Spurs coming out flat in Game 1. 

2014 NBA Playoffs: Finals Top 10

This is the series I wanted. I wanted Game 7 in San Antonio, with the River Walk, with Spurs fans urging their team to finish something 24 months in the making. After it became apparent that neither the Thunder nor the Pacers have any semblance of the depth required to compete with this Spurs team, I wanted the Heat just like Tim Duncan did. They can elevate the Spurs to a higher level with their athleticism, intelligence and depth. Erik Spoelstra and Gregg Popovich (possibly two coaches with the most miss-spelled names) took turns throwing haymakers at the other until neither had anything left for an epic Game 7. Both coaches drew deep from the well: lineup switches, ice cold guys getting hot of the benches, on the fly scheme and offense changes. And the players. Records fell. Young guys like Kawhi Leonard and Danny Green proved they were ready for the Finals. Old vets like Shane Battier and Mike Miller showed they had something left. And the stars were stars. It was brutal and beautiful series all at once.

This is my Twitter feed in the waning moments of that exhilarating Game 7:

2014 NBA Finals: 2 Games In

What well-played basketball. After 2013's magnificent spectacle, anything less would be a disappointment, and this has not been disappointing. Both teams are better. Miami have improved its spacing with Bosh and Lewis in the starting lineup and has a healthy Dwyane. San Antonio have a savvy Boris Diaw making plays all over the floor, spry-looking guards, and a fired-up Duncan. I wanted to examine how these year-over-year differences change the complexion of the teams and the series:

Monday, June 2, 2014

The Donald Sterling Problem

The NBA has a problem. Many think that their problem is Donald Sterling, the embattled owner of the Los Angeles Clippers franchise. Or perhaps their problem is with Shelly Sterling, Donald’s wife who has emerged as a feisty, combative wildcard. Maybe their problem is about race relations given that a high percentage of players and fans are black, and yet blacks are under-represented in the upper echelons of coaching, management, league leadership, and ownership. My contention is that none of these are truly the heart of the issue, none are the reason why this situation has made America so uncomfortable with race.

About Race

Donald Sterling's problem is NOT that he is racist. It is that he is despicable.

Let’s tackle that last part, the part about race, first. My comments on race may sound controversial, so hang on:

Donald Sterling’s problem is NOT that he is racist.

Donald Sterling’s problem is that he is despicable.

And those are two different things.

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

2014 NBA Playoffs: 2nd Round

I know it's 3 games into the Conference Finals. I wanted to get this up earlier but have been working on a Donald Sterling piece that has taken a lot of thought and introspection. But these games keep coming and I can't keep falling behind. After a dramatic 1st round, the 2nd round had its work cut out and wasn't nearly as exciting. It did reveal something about each of the winners and losers, however.

Monday, May 5, 2014

2014 NBA Playoffs: 1st Round

Let me echo this statement that had been ad infinitum, because the significance of it is special: this was the best first round, EVER. We thought that the pall tanking, injuries, and even scandal have cast on the league this year may negatively affect the product or our ability/willingness to connect with that product. We were wrong. Game 7s. Buzzer-beating game winners. Over times. Best round ever. I'll try to recap some key points in each series and throw up some 2nd round predictions, too.

Monday, April 21, 2014

2014 NBA Playoffs: The Not-Quite Preview

I had a chance on Thursday to put up a post previewing the NBA playoffs... and then went to the driving range for my first bucket of the year. But I did have thoughts about each of these series! Originals are in italics, reflections on this weekend's games following:


Indiana Pacers - Atlanta Hawks
The Hawks lack of interior scoring will hurt against a Pacers defense that will regain some of its footing in a focused, playoff atmosphere. Atlanta have nobody to check Hibbert inside and will have a tough time stopping penetration by Stephenson and George. Indiana though is playing poorly enough that a random Jeff Teague, Kyle Korver, or Paul Milsap scoring bonanza will give them trouble. Pacers in 6.
For some reason I thought a different Indiana team would show than the one that did Saturday night. For an anachronistic team that prides itself on defense and interior play, Indiana's lack of either was egregious. Each Hawks pass looked a few steps faster than the Pacers defenders making the defense bend in all sorts of convoluted ways. On offense, David West and Roy Hibbert were complete non-factors. The broader issue is that these do not seem like problems of scheme; rather, it's the players' inability to execute at a high level. How much these Pacers need a guy like Tyler Hansborough to inject their bench with much-needed athleticism and energy. The other problem? The Hawks won that game handily and it was no fluke - all their shots were good ones. Maybe the extra days of rest between games will benefit Indy's energy level after a grueling season as the top dog in the East, but that rest benefits Atlanta, too.

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

2014 March Madness: Finale

Congratulations to the Connecticut Huskies, the 2014 Men's and Women's basketball champions. Congratulations also to those that bet against me these last few rounds and made some fat stacks. I wrote before the game that I was rooting for Connecticut but picking Kentucky. So what happened?

Foul shooting. This was rightfully brought up multiple times during the TV broadcast. Kentucky's inability to hit free throws and UConn's inability to miss changed the game. The broadcasters brought up this issue in the UConn - Iowa State game: when you don't miss from the line, it's incredibly hard to lose a lead. That is a preeminent reason why I stated in my preview that if UConn got a lead, look out. On the other end, I can't prove that foul shooting influences Kentucky's aggressiveness, but my conjecture is that it does. It's hard to summon the will and skill to bully your way inside and draw fouls, time after time. When the freebies aren't dropping, I think that challenge gets harder. Something to study in the future. 

Dribble Drive Offense. I believed that Kentucky's relatively simplistic dribble drive offense would provide a release valve against UConn's perimeter pressure. I was wrong. Very wrong. Ryan Boatright made sure of that. It's a funny thing how intense off ball pressure, pushing guys off their spot, can make them tentative when they get the ball. Is there really a difference between catching the ball at the 3-point line and catching it a few feet further back? If anything, the latter gives you more room to accelerate. But for the young, inexperienced Kentucky guards, it made them hesitate, doubting their ability to go around defenders and attack the rim. Remember James Young's nasty dunk and procession of freebies that cut the lead to one late in the 2nd half? Those came on rim runs, runs the other Kentucky guards were unable to replicate. Nothing against the dribble drive, but Kentucky's inability to get the defense off balance with fake actions didn't help their cause. Again, I was dead wrong. 

The Kentucky Bigs. All those highlight reel putback dunks are fun, but Kentucky's bigs also caused some major spacing issues that didn't help their guards' cause. On defense, it was a bad matchup for the Wildcats, going up against a team that relies on jumpers and consistently made the bigs show on the pick and roll. Then there's Julius Randle, who some are decrying for a poor performance in this game. My response would be that Randle balled for several straight games. He clearly needs polish, but I never doubted his effort. But his inability to take UConn inside, even with guys like Niels Giffey guarding him (sorry Niels), was a concern. I think he's a sure-fire NBA starter for defense and rebounding, but will he develop the skills to create his own offense? I didn't see that this season. 

Shabazz Napier. Shabazz was electrifying in this game. He had no problem dribbling into the teeth of the Kentucky defense, using a low handle to get inside and crafty hesitation moves to throw defenders off balance. A few more turnovers than you'd like, but he made some incredible passes too; that's the way he's played all year. I have little doubt that he'll succeed in the NBA as a backup guard who can start alongside strong defenders (a bigger version of Boatright). For some reason I like players that see the floor, can dribble to anywhere they want, and can shoot the lid off the defense (see Burke, Trey). 

UConn Bigs. The box score stats are wholly misleading. Phillip Nolan, DeAndre Daniels, and Amida Brimah shot 4-19 and grabbed only 11 of UConn's 34 boards. They also held Kentucky's NBA bigs to 7-17 shooting and 15 boards (out of 33). They did all the little things: protected the rim, spaced the floor, boxed the Kentucky bigs out so their guards could grab rebounds. Nolan had more fouls (4) than every other box score stat combined (1 rebound, 1 steal), but had a tangible effect on the game when he was in. 

There are some saying now that UConn wasn't this year's best team. That may very well be true (the purpose of the tourney is to crown a champion, not find the best team). But you know what? These UConn Huskies are well coached, play fantastic defense on the perimeter and inside, hit their freebies, know who their best player is, and saw the best player if this year's tournament do some ridiculous things. If this tournament was played again starting tomorrow, the Huskies probably don't win it. But with those attributes, I'm done betting against them.

#YouMakeTheCalls #YMTC #MarchMadness

Monday, April 7, 2014

2014 March Madness: The Title Game

For how great this year's games have been, Saturday's Final Four match between Florida and Connecticut was surprisingly anticlimactic for most of the second half. Good thing we had Wisconsin - Kentucky still ahead! A few thoughts and a prediction for tonight (bet against it).

NOTE: I watched Florida - UConn on tape delay as I was attending sessions of #LDSconf - a highly recommended source of inspiration
I don't know what UConn does to  opposing offenses, but this is the second straight game where a veteran bunch running a proven system have seemed discombobulated against the Huskies D. Scottie Wilbelkin and Co. have gotten what they've wanted all tournament - pick-and-rolls that lead to layups, rim dives by the roll man, and a bevy of pie threes. Then undersized Huskies amp up the perimeter pressure and everything falls apart. Even the Gators' made baskets often came of incredible individual athleticism, the type of shots that aren't sustainable over 40 minutes. 

On offense, the Huskies took care of a few mistakes by the Florida half-court defense, and combined with a few opportune run-outs on offense, provided the catalyst for a lead the Gators couldn't surmount. That lead will be key for the Huskies tonight - for several straight games, Kevin Ollie's team have proven that they don't give up second half leads. If they can get some room tonight, expect Shabazz Napier, DeAndre Daniels, and the UConn Huskies to take down the  nets. 

The problem the Huskies have to solve, one they haven't really faced all tournament, is that of Kentucky's size. Every time the Wisconsin Badgers would go on a run, every time they seemed to have the Wildcats offense solved, someone would come up with a offensive board and putback. This Wisconsin team had 5 full days to prepare for Kentucky's size and couldn't do it. Can UConn? The other thing about Kentucky that impressed me was Coach Calipari emploring his team in the second half to act like winners and to go to the rack. It's exactly what I would have told them. The ability to take the ball via pass or dribble from the high post near the 3 point line to the block without turning it over is the most valuable perimeter offensive skill. It's why I thought Trey Burke was the best of last year's rookie class (and still believe so). The Harrisons are great shooters, but Calipari's system is designed to give them space to attack the rim. That may be a problem for UConn - they have played great defense against teams using more inclusive offensive sets. A team that relies on individual brilliance may in a weird way work against them. 

As for the Badgers - what a game. This game did nothing to disprove the fact that Frank Kaminsky, a scrub from last year who can't crack the NBA draft's top 100, was the Final Four's most impactful player. He compromised Kentucky's defense with his existence, opening driving and passing lanes for his teammates. He competed and protected the rim on D despite not having the physical tools that will see the Kentucky frontcourt players drafted ahead of him. He was a joy to watch. 

Wisconsin also impressed me with their offensive discipline and patience. They nary took a poor shot - time after time, when a Badger dribbled into trouble, he would turn, pivot, and reset the ball at the top. Despite Kentucky bottling their best player for most of the game, Wisconsin submitted a masterful offensive performance. It's hard to get to the Final Four, but something tells me Bo Ryan will be back, soon. 

You have seen how pitiful my predictions have been. Yet, like Monty Python's black knight, I forge on. I've written both of these teams off so many times, to Michigan State, Wichita State, Louisville, Florida, and the like. You would think me learned by now, loathe to write one of them off again. But at that risk, I proclaim that the Kentucky Wildcats will vanquish the Connecticut Huskies and claim their 9th national title. I'm rooting for the Huskies. I love Shabazz Napier's story and Kevin Ollie's Ollieness. But Kentucky has size you can't coach, and their dribble drive offense is opening the court for the bigs. After two weeks of laser focus, the young Wildcats faltered in their last game - and still won. That's why I'm picking them in this one. Go on, Shabazz, Kevin, and DeAndre - prove me wrong. 

#YouMakeTheCalls #MarchMadness #YMTC

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

2014 March Madness: The Final Four

Each year, I think to myself that the tournament cannot get better. Each year I'm wrong. The George Masons, Butlers, and VCUs of the past are replaced by new mid-majors who play as a team and throw haymakers. Stars come out of nowhere and dazzle. Thrillers upon thrillers. And despite a bevy of last-second shots, remarkable comebacks, one of my feelings about this final four is that each team deserved to be here. Each team deserved to win. Here's why.

I know, it's a lot of red. I'm guessing you have a lot of red on yours, too.

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

2014 March Madness: The Sweet Sixteen

I did not take long for me to abandon my picks and start rooting for the Dayton Flyers. I wrote when posting my bracket that "Dayton has a shot." Did they ever. Let's recap another fantastic opening weekend while looking at the bracket carnage:


Thursday, March 20, 2014

2014 March Madness: The Billion Dollar Bracket

The year: 2009. Like always, I entered a bracket pool with my high school buddies Ryan and Brian. Like always, I chose the Duke Blue Devils to win it all, partly because of my respect and admiration for Coach K and his players and partly to rile the anti-Duke crowd (who I maintain are irrationally so). Back then, I had time to watch more regular season and conference tournament games. I was impressed by Jim Boehim's Syracuse squad for their defense, and Bob Huggins' collection of athletes at West Virginia (I was pulling for Da'sean Butler to make it with the Heat). I was one step from putting Butler in the Final Four, too - I hadn't watched them play and really hadn't heard much about them, but the team was getting some analytical love and I went with them to the Elite Eight. When Duke went to the Championship game and then won it all - ecstasy (though I had to keep my immediate celebration in-check, respecting the pro-Butler crowd). My bracket:? 99.9% on ESPN (I had a screenshot of it but my hard drive crashed the following year - get a backup, Xing!).

That's the best it's ever been. Usually I'm lucky to clear 70 - 80%. Even in 2009, I missed a Final Four contestant and I'm sure my opening rounds were riddle with errors. This prepares me to say confidently that I harbor no illusions of winning Quicken Loan's and Warren Buffet's $1bn challenge. I've watched sports for just over 2 decades, have filled out brackets for 1, and have been analyzing games for 5 years. In that span, I've had one really good bracket. One. I'm not going to win this thing. You aren't either. But that doesn't stop me from publishing my thoughts here.

I usually do a bunch if research, read stacks of stats, and watch game after game in preparation for bracketology. This year I went with something simpler: pick the best coach, the best talent, and most importantly, the best point guard. Just look at this list of recent Final Four PGs: Trey Burke, Michael Carter-Williams, Peyton Siva, Malcolm Armstead, Aaron Craft, Marquis Teague, Tyshawn Taylor, Joey Rodriguez, Kemba Walker, Brandon Knight, Jon Scheyer (my favorite Blue Devil, all-time), Ty Lawson, Kalin Lucas, Derrick Rose, and Mario Chalmers. Half of those guys start in the Association! May the best point guard win:

Monday, March 10, 2014

QB Corner - Matthew Stafford (DET @ PIT)

My goal for QB Corner is to survey the league's young starting quarterbacks, see how they're developing, and try to determine if they're on the right trajectory to becoming elite signal callers. How does Matthew Stafford fit in that mix? Isn't he a 5th year vet? I thought the following was kind of interesting - see if you can match the QB with his age. I'll wait:

Thursday, February 27, 2014

QB Corner - Colin Kaepernick (SEA @ SF)

QB Corner first looked at Colin Kaepernick in a tough defensive game against the Carolina Panthers. As multiple 49ers expressed prior to their playoff date in Carolina, the 49ers were missing key offensive personnel in the earlier game, including Vernon Davis for the 2nd half and Michael Crabtree for the entirety of the game.

The Crabtree injury is especially interesting given the monstrous numbers he had with Colin under center in 2012. Through the first half of this year, despite a few big games from Anquan Boldin, the 49ers receivers never looked like they had the space that Crabtree was getting last year. Even Boldin isn’t necessarily open – I have long maintained that he simply makes catches through coverage.

The real weakness was secondary receivers, as Kyle Williams, Quinton Patton, Jon Baldwin, and Company who couldn't separate from coverage. Did you know that after Boldin and Davis, the next-leading receiver by catches was fullback Bruce Miller? Or that 49ers backs had 48 catches for 443 yards and 0 TDs on the season compared to 40 grabs for 454 yards and 0 TDs from receivers not named Boldin, Davis, or Crabtree?

I wanted to study Colin in a game where he had his #1 target back, and what better game to analyze than against another fantastic defense in the Super Bowl Champion Seattle Seahawks. This is especially important this offseason as the 49ers are looking to extend their QB. My goal is to use his numbers and tape to give a ballpark range for how much Kaepernick is worth to this team. First, the numbers from the season:

All numbers from Pro-Football Reference

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

2014 Sochi Olympics - Games Review

I like rankings. Like in Part 1, where I ranked the best uniforms at the Olympic Opening Ceremonies. Rankings can turn virtually anything into a competition. Best uniforms are just the start. Today, I will be ranking the events themselves (with some commentary of the performances thrown in). For the first time in my memory, I managed to watch each Olympic event.

Starting from worst to first:

Figure Skating Team Competition: I know this is really a combination four different events. But why are we seeing the best skaters perform both short and programs twice, once for the team competition and once for the individual medals? There's nothing really "team" about skating. Unlike gymnastics, where teammates cross train on various apparatuses, singles skaters don't skate in pairs and pairs don't ice dance. I know that more figure skating = better, but they are literally performing the same programs twice. The worst part was this format unnecessarily deprived the world the opportunity to see Evgeni Plushenko, the best male skater I've ever seen, go for one last individual gold as he left all of himself on the ice for team Russia. Ditch this format and award team medals to the most outstanding nations at the end of all the individual rounds.

Monday, February 24, 2014

2014 Sochi Olympics - Opening Ceremony Outfits

Before we begin with a review of the 2014 Winter Olympic Games at Sochi, I have to take a moment to reward the best dressed at the opening ceremonies. Hey, if competitive ice dancing is a sport, so is looking the best at the gala. Think about it: it requires preparation, training (you think they get those bodies on accident?), attention to detail, dramatic flair, and essentially all the other elements that make competitive ice dancing compelling.

These are only best outfits sorted least stylish to most. I separated them into completely arbitrary categories with an overall winner at the bottom. Let's start though with a country that really disappointed.

France - Classiest (runner up)

Thursday, January 30, 2014

QB Corner - Russell Wilson (SEA @ SF)

Congratulations to the 2013 Seattle Seahawks who have become the 2nd youngest team to make the Super Bowl. They even have a coach that looks young (despite being 62). Crucially, they are led by a young, dynamic QB, a player that has surpassed all expectations and taken the league by storm. In only his second year, Russell Wilson has exhibited tremendous command of the offense and perhaps become the league's most valuable player due to his absurd cap number of only $681 thousand. Peyton Manning may be better, but with a cap hit of $17.5 million, is he really 25x better? I think not.

First, the numbers:

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

The Richard Sherman Show

A 49ers fan's honest letter to @RSherman_25


It is now a few days after last Sunday's NFC Championship game. In the internet age, societies are more and more preoccupied with rapid reactions to complex events, often inciting severe feelings on just a few sides of a multi-faceted issues. I felt the need for a more nuanced reply that took time.

I first want to say: "I'm sorry." You've written and spoken that after the game, you have received insults (including racist ones), threats, and the like from a legion of internet users and others with whom you're not acquainted. I apologize for this; I feel qualified to do so as I am one of the faceless mob that hide behind a Twitter handle and write without heed to consequence. No one should be the target of belligerence and belittlement. Criticism, yes, but only when used to build, and only when delivered from a trustworthy source.

I wanted to write to you about my son. He's a handsome 1 year old boy that doesn't know what he's seeing, only that he loves watching the moving pictures on the television with his dad for a few moments before he's distracted by a toy that catches his eye. I hope that as he grows and understands more, he will find mentorship and guidance from those close to him: family, friends, neighbors, teachers, church members, and the like. I wish he would be less affected by professional athletes not because I believe such to be bad influences, but because I am wary of his looking to people that he does not know well and may not take their association with him seriously. I think real role models are invested in the lives of the people they touch.

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Rushing to the Super Bowl

You hear it all the time: The NFL is a passing league. The spread is revolutionizing the passing game. Teams are scoring more than ever. Matthew Stafford can throw for over 5,000 yards in a season. Joe Montana never threw for 4,000 yards in a season. Those who study football know that these things come and go in cycles: the Single Wing (shotgun) turned into the Wing-T offenses of the 50s, the open passing attacks of the 70s, the blitzing defenses of the 80s, the West Coast of the 90s, and the throwback runners of the early 2000s. The 2010s have been about throwing the ball short (screens), middle (seams), and deep (Megatron). 

Then, the playoffs. New England, once the gold standard for passing touchdowns, rushed for 234 yards and 6 TDs in their Divisional win over the Colts. The Patriots ran 46 times to only 25 passes. The Saints rushed for over 100 yards in 2 straight games (against playoff defenses) after doing so only 5 times during the regular season. The Chargers rushed 40 times against the Bengals, manhandling Cincinnati to the tune of 196 yards. San Diego have not run for so many yards since 2011. The Seahawks set off earthquake monitors on their way to 174 rushing yards. Pass-happy Green Bay and Denver ran for 124 yards and 133 yards, respectively. The Packers were done in by a 49ers team that ran for 167 yards on a ridiculous 5.57 yards/carry.

In other words: what in the hey is going on?

Saturday, January 11, 2014

QB Corner - San Diego at Denver Flashback

I know, football isn't all about the quarterbacks. Many have (rightfully) written/said that you can't simply point to a quarterback as the reason for a team's success/failure. Notably, there are 52 other players available for each game, a bevy of coaches on the sideline (Kansas City has 23), trainers, doctors, etc. I get all that. On the other hand, when a player takes roughly 10% of the team's salary cap (as Peyton does), or 7.7% (like Phillip Rivers), I think it's fair to hold that player more responsible for a team's performance. And also - they're freaking quarterbacks!

So it's not incorrect to label today's Chargers @ Broncos (#SDvsDEN) match as a contest between the two QBs. One fact that has been brought up ad nauseam is that these two teams have played before by virtue of being in the same division, and more importantly, the Chargers won one such game in Denver. They did so by holding the Broncos to 48.8% fewer points than their average from the other 15 games. This included a stretch in the middle of the game where the Chargers held the Broncos, and then picked off Peyton for good measure. I took a look at the game tape of the two quarterbacks to see how the Chargers were so successful:

First, I wanted to analyze the stretches where the Broncos struggled, but given I couldn't help throwing these passes in from the Broncos first drive:

Two deep crosses with a go on the left side. The Chargers have man coverage on the outside and cover-2 safeties.

Thursday, January 9, 2014

QB Corner - Cam Newton (NO @ CAR)

What an exciting time to be a Panther's fan! This year's teams exorcised multiple demons on its way to earnings a first-round bye, winning multiple close games against strong competition, including one-score victories over the 49ers, Patriots, and Saints, all teams still alive in the playoffs. That must feel good after losing seven games by one score last year, including one overtime game and two others decided by three points or less.

Perhaps the biggest win of the season was the 4-point victory in Week 16 versus the rival Saints. Winning that game helped Carolina clinch its bye and home game; lose, and the Panthers likely would have traveled to Philly, then to Seattle this weekend. I'm not saying that Panthers can't beat the Seahawks in Seattle, but I can't imagine wanting to go there unnecessarily.

In many ways, that win over the Saints was a microcosm of the Panthers' season, and especially that of star QB Cam Newton. He has finally put things together this year, and in that game, delivered the game-winning TD drive with less than a minute on the clock. That's one reading. Another is this: that Sunday, Cam Newton and the Panthers were bailed out by their defense which intercepted Drew Brees twice and sacked him 6 times, killing several promising Saints drives. The Panthers won despite Cam throwing for only 181 yards, completing only 59% of passes, and taking 4 sacks for 40 yards. In fact, Cam's QBR of 16.6 was his second worst of the year.

So which is the real Cam Newton? In almost all cases I've examined on #QBCorner, the answer is somewhere in the middle. I went through an exhaustive post on his performance in the 49ers game, finding that he is a talented though sometimes inconsistent QB. I again analyzed every pass from the last Saints game and while I won't go through that much detail on him again, here's list of things I liked and didn't like:

Greg Olsen

After the 49ers game, I noted that the Panthers coaches called a lot of deep passes and didn't really take advantage of the middle of the field. Notably, Greg Olsen saw only 3 targets, catching one for 14 yards. There's a big difference between throwing against Navarro Bowman / Patrick Willis and and Junior Gallette / David Hawthorne / Curtis Lofton / Parys Haralson. But the Panthers coaches made the right choice to get Olsen involved in the intermediate areas where he presents a big target for his young QB. On the day, Olsen was targeted 7 times (next most was Ginn with 4 targets), catching 4 balls for 35 yards. Olsen gives the passing game a much-needed extra dimension given the backs aren't involved at all (see below).
Cam does a great job getting his feet aligned to the right. It's harder to do this going right than left for a right-handed QB because you need to adjust both your front and your back foot. Throwing left often only requires a simple step with the front foot to open the hips.

Saturday, January 4, 2014

QB Corner - Andy Dalton (IND @ CIN)

So far, QB Corner (#QBCorner) has looked at five starting NFL quarterbacks (Newton, RG3, Kaepernick, Luck, Foles) and found good things to say about all of them. But my job isn't to be nice; it's to be fair and have good judgment. Take this as a warning, #Bengals fans - you may not like everything you see here.

In my last post, I analyzed Andrew Luck's performance in the loss to Cincinnati. While losing by 14 points may not qualify as much of a performance, I found Andrew's fundamentals to be supremely sound and that he was victimized by poor play from the rest of the offense. Of course, tight coverage and decent pressure from the Bengals defense had something to do with that as well. Today, I will analyze the other QB that played in that match.

Andy Dalton threw for 275 yards and 3 TDs against Indy, both statistics part of a career year for him. The Bengals enter the playoffs having scored 34 or more points in 4 of their last 6 contests. They play the Chargers, a team that used 3 4-leaf clovers, a rabbit's foot, some horseshoes, and a bucket of voodoo to make the playoffs. It's all good, right?

Not exactly. Dalton had a good year, but he ranks only 18th in Football Outsiders QB DVOA. Of the 206 points scored by the Bengals in their last 6 games, 35 were scored by the defense/special teams. Dalton was notably horrible in the last game of the season, a win over the Ravens despite his 4 interceptions. Let's take a look at Dalton compared to some of his peers:

All stats pro-rated for a 16 game season

Friday, January 3, 2014

QB Corner - Andrew Luck (IND @ CIN)

In anticipation of this weekend's games, QB Corner (#QBCorner) will be working overtime to provide analysis on the game tape of young playoff quarterbacks. Many young quarterbacks have made it back to the playoffs for a second year, including Andrew Luck, Andy Dalton, Russell Wilson, Colin Kaepernick, and Cam Newton. In fact there are as many young signal callers (including Nick Foles in his first playoff appearance) as older ones: Manning, Brady, Rivers, Smith, Rodgers, Brees.

One interesting game from this last season that made one team look a lot better than the other was the Week 14 Indianapolis at Cincinnati match. The Bengals won 48-28, kicking off a hot streak of 4-straight 30+ point games to end the season. That win, along with home wins over Green Bay in Week 3 and New England in the driving rain of Week 5, were the the Bengals only victories over playoff teams this season.

For the Colts, the blowout loss happened in the middle of a 4-4 stretch when the offense caved without Reggie Wayne and the defense looked solved as teams figured Robert Mathis as the only potent pass rusher. During these 8 games, the Colts were outscored by a whopping 63 points, including losses to the Chargers, Rams, Cardinals, and of course, Bengals. In fact, the Colts' season-long point differential of +55 is worse than every playoff team except Green Bay (for obvious reasons) and San Diego.

Of course, there are extraneous reasons for those losses, including the aforementioned Wayne injury. But the Colts' young signal caller, Andrew Luck, has not been above reproach. Despite posting a decent win total for the second straight year, Luck was only 16th in Football Outsiders DVOA. Look at some of the stats:

Wednesday, January 1, 2014

NBA Trade Machine - Part 4

Happy New Year! This has gotten a little ridiculous, yeah? A 4-part post on fake trades? Maybe. But analyzing the statistical effect of these trades is some heavy work. Well, at least as long as you're not the Jacksonville Jaguars. In Parts 1 and 2, I used the ESPN Trade Machine to conjure some fantastic trades that either pushed teams closer to playoff contention or to more lottery balls. In Part 3, I provided the statistical backdrop for projecting team wins based off PER. Below are the projected records of each team post-trade: