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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.

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. 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 revolving around 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 FootballOutsiders.com, 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 Sports-Reference.com

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.

PLAYER 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.