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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.

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: