9/27/07

As the Sun Greets the Dawn


Over the past few days, several prominent media types have wondered out loud about how anyone could not want to play with Steve Nash, the consensus (at least in the mainstream) greatest point guard in the league and ultimate distributor of the world. These writers’ takes have come somewhere between outrage and bewilderment. In almost all cases, people just can’t understand why Marion would ever want to leave Steve Nash.

Thankfully, many citizens of Blogburgh have responded with a more respectable view of this situation. In his take on the trade request, David Friedman of 20 Second Timeout wrote a paragraph so good that I will simply reproduce it here:

The Marion story flies in the face of two pieces of "conventional wisdom" that the mainstream media touts: 1) Everyone in the NBA would love to play with Steve Nash and would accept less money to do so; 2) Nobody in the NBA wants to play with Kobe Bryant. Therefore, rather than simply reporting the facts, it will not be too long before many media outlets spin this story to fit in with "conventional wisdom." It will be interesting to watch this unfold and see if the spin becomes an attack on Marion for being "selfish," an attack on Marion for not being that valuable of a player or if somehow someone figures out a way to blame this all on Bryant. Rest assured that the face value facts--Marion wants to be traded from Phoenix to the Lakers--will not be simply reported as such for very long.


I couldn’t put it any better. Instead of dismissing Marion’s issue with the Suns as unreasonable hogwash, let’s try to answer the heretofore rhetorical question and figure out how anyone could not want to play with Steve Nash. (I should also give props to everyone in the FD comments. The idea for this post started there.) Before starting this exercise, I’d like to make it clear that I imagine Steve Nash is fun to play with. Teammates have spoken well of him for years; Marion is certainly an exception and not the rule.


However, that doesn’t mean that Nash’s game doesn’t have some traits that would irk a player of Marion’s caliber. For all his skills as a distributor, Nash gets many of his assists after creating angles with his dribble. When he uses that tactic, he uses up the majority of the possession with the ball in his hands, meaning that the finisher really only has to catch the ball and lay it in. Logically, that shouldn’t be a problem for the finisher, but Nash’s controlling of the ball necessarily focuses most of the attention on him. The other players, who still receive a fair share of attention, become known more as finishers than they would be otherwise.

The media attention that Nash receives compounds this problem. It’s not uncommon for a point guard to get attention, but Nash’s reputation as Ultimate Team Player A-#1 doesn’t perfectly match his penchant for controlling possessions, although they do certainly match closely. Any praise given to Nash for being a fantastic teammate must sting a player that knows he’s capable of being more than a clean-up man, which is a role that Marion and the other Suns often play.



In the end, I think it’s exactly that knowledge that makes this situation tough for Marion. If he hadn’t been successful without Nash, I’m sure he’d be less willing to part, but the fact that Marion was an all-star before Nash arrived means that he knows he can get more attention on another team. His willingness to leave Phoenix might seem odd, but it’s not insane by any stretch.

9/25/07

Crawling Can Be Beautiful


The rumor mill is in full effect. According to Sporting News (via Ballhype, which really means via AZ Sports Hub and some other dudes, doesn't it?), an anonymous source claims there's a 50-50 chance of seeing an Odom-for-Marion blockbuster. Couple that with his fairly-legitimate-sounding trade demand and I think it's fair game to start getting mildly excited.

I know what you're thinking. We all remember what happened last time I got excited when a player the Lakers coveted made a "trade demand." [Tangent: have we ever had a summer filled with so many false threats and half-assed demands?] And god knows how long I've been advocating the AK-for-Odom hotness, which Kirilenko's vocal displeasure seems to have advanced none at all. So what makes this idle speculation any different than the past examples? Nothing, really, but I feel compelled to weigh in nonetheless, mostly because we don't got much else to talk about just yet.

First off, we've already shown that numbers don't lie and Odom isn't as good as I might want to believe he is. Seriously, though, in the PER-battle, Marion wins handily, hitting a career-high of 23.6 with Amare not around and cracking 20 in four other years. Odom peaked at 18.9 his sophomore year and has been under 18 in all three of his years on this end of Staples. (Hypocrite, you say? Agreed) Couple that with the fact that Marion's probably the best (or at least the most versatile) defensive player in the game, and it's hard not to see Marion as an upgrade. The real clincher for me, however, is that Marion hasn't dipped below 79 games a season since his rookie year. Odom, on the other hand, has missed an average of almost 20 games per season. That health upgrade alone could be worth an extra four or five wins over the course of a season. Honestly, the fact that Odom's behind on his recovery from shoulder surgery (via FB&G) and other GMs are even still looking at him is amazing to me.


There are a few downsides worth considering. Losing Odom's passing is probably the biggest problem I see. Not having Odom around would put a lot of pressure on Fisher, Farmar, and Luke to distribute. It's also worth considering that familiarity with the triangle is often cited as one of the most important factors for excelling in it. Odom in his fourth year in the system probably has a considerable edge over Marion in his first. The extra $3 million owed to Marion is also not insignificant, but a contract like Cook's would have to be included to balance the books, making the impact on the team's cap negligible (as far as I understand). At this point, there aren't a whole lot of non-lateral type of moves left out there, and this might be the best chance for the Lakers to make an upgrade. However, the deal would still have its drawbacks. Losing Cook would probably make the guys that made this video extremely happy, but the truth is the lost depth at PF could hurt down the road.

Would this move make the Lakers contenders? Probably not. Do I think that's a fair standard by which to judge all transactions? Definitely not. The bottom line for me is that trading Odom for Marion shows a willingness mix things up. As currently configured, the Lakers would be hard-pressed to make much noise come playoff time. Shoring up one of their major weaknesses (defense) and appeasing Kobe by acquiring a close friend of his (who's already saying things like the Lakes have "a great organization, great ownership") make this possible trade worth the risk.

9/24/07

Let's Plan a Robbery


Last week, ESPN.com's Andy Katz wrote an article on the nonconference schedules of many top NCAA teams and how they could influence the proceedings on Selection Sunday. The Memphis Tigers occupied his top spot (in terms of both schedule quality and his pre-preseason Top 25), and for good reason. In a word, their schedule is just about perfect. Katz gave them a well-deserved A and detailed many of the reasons for that grade, but I'd like to go into more depth to show exactly why this slate of games fits their team so well.

The amount of big-name teams on the schedule is striking. The Tigers open the year with the 2K College Hoops Classic, a regional/NYC tournament that features Kentucky, UConn, and Oklahoma as the other preliminary hosts and logical opponents at Madison Square Garden. While those names all carry some weight, none of those teams is a potential worldbeater, meaning that Coach Cal will have time to bring Derrick Rose along against quality competition without fear of having in over his head right off the bat.


The game against USC in MSG a few weeks later is an absolute master stroke. While it won't be as big a challenge as it might have looked when Calipari scheduled the game (i.e. before the Trojans lost Nick Young and Gabe Pruitt to the NBA), a win over a solid Pac-10 team will carry a lot of weight this year. Perhaps most importantly, though, the Rose/Mayo matchup will undoubtedly bring a lot of attention to both programs, ensuring that Memphis's recruiting pipeline of freak athletes will not dry up any time soon.

As Katz mentions in his article, Memphis has some unbelievable home games on the schedule, including Arizona, Tennessee, Georgetown, and Gonzaga. I have no idea how the Tigers managed to work that slate out, but it ensures that they'll have at least two high-profile wins -- honestly, I'd be shocked if they don't get three or four from that group -- at hand when it comes time to assign #1 seeds.

Now, in looking at Memphis's schedule, it's important to realize that they must play a large number of quality nonconference opponents because of the general putridity of Conference USA. What looks like an incredibly tough schedule now will likely look as difficult as that of every major conference leader by the end of the season. Yet that's exactly what makes the location of the home and neutral games so important to the Tigers' chances of getting a #1 seed; it's as if Calipari knew exactly how many big wins they needed and acted accordingly.

If there's one hole in the nonconference schedule, it's that there's only one true road game, a likely win at Cincinnati in mid-December. However, even that criticism seems unimportant given Memphis's situation in C-USA. Essentially, preconference road games are only important insofar as they prepare a team for their toughest conference games away from home. Memphis, though, will be such an overwhelming favorite in every C-USA game that home and road designations won't even make much of a difference. Memphis's nonconference schedule is in place to win them a high seed and to prepare them for the grind of the tournament. The neutral games in New York do exactly that. The road game is just there for posterity.


Random site news: Things might be a bit spotty over the next week; I just started grad school today and don't want to screw anything up in the first week. However, I'm in the middle of writing a giant post (in terms of both length and importance to this blog) on the systems of college programs, so expect that some time soon.

9/22/07

Take Up Thy Stethoscope and Walk


Filling in for Henry Abbott at TrueHoop, Jeff Clark of CelticsBlog wrote a blogging primer this Friday titled “NBA Blogging 101.” Essentially, Jeff laid out his list of suggestions for creating a quality basketball blog, although his comments could really apply to any blog of any sport or topic. For the most part, he hits the blogative nails on their heads, including a few that the Plissken braintrust hadn’t used: make an email address readily available (hey, when did that show up on the sidebar?!), write every day (uh, not so much this last week), and create some guidelines (our only rule is that there are no rules). The man has been around long enough and writes a good enough site to make him an expert on this topic; I imagine someone fairly ignorant of sports blogs could read his post and start a decent sports blog within days, or even hours. Additionally, his point about being an innovator and looking to new media for analysis is golden advice for someone more creative and tech-savvy than ourselves (see our layout). However, in the midst of all these great suggestions, I take issue with one of Jeff’s key insights: the idea that an upstart blogger must find a niche in order to be successful.


Given our focus (or lack thereof) at this site, it should not come as a surprise that I have a problem with the idea of the necessary niche. For any readers who don’t come here regularly, let me break down what we write: nuts-and-bolts commentaries on games and transactions, philosophical explorations of fandom, investigations of style, and the occasional half-serious goof. And that goes for both the NBA and NCAA. Are we overextending ourselves? I’d say it’s pretty likely. Is this approach any worse than writing a niche blog? I’m not so sure.


Jeff’s argument rests on a few basic points: 1) Broader topics like “the NBA” and “Boston sports” are already covered by bigwigs like Henry Abbott and Bill Simmons, respectively, so there’s no way you’ll stand out given that they dominate the market; 2) A niche—a classification that includes topics as broad as a specific team—addresses an uncovered topic and will therefore draw a readership. 3) You’ll become the expert on that topic, thus ensuring that people will turn to you when a story intersects with your focus. (I assume that Jeff is working under the assumption that the writers of his hypothetical niche sites are talented, so I will treat them as such in my analysis below.)


The first point is true; TrueHoop is the top NBA blog around and no one will be topping it any time soon. In fact, we’re probably at a point in Blogburgh’s history at which there are a fixed number (or close to it) of truly large sports sites. I still think a TrueHoop-type site written by a terrific writer/aggregator (for instance, a Kelly Dwyer clone without the name recognition—let’s call him Delly Kwyer) would be worthwhile, but it would definitely be tough to get it started. If a writer of that quality would have trouble developing a readership, then any young whippersnapper faces a stiff challenge if he wants his blog to become a must-read. I don’t think anyone would argue against that, so, as I stated a few paragraphs ago, the issue becomes whether or not the niche gets you more attention than the big-tent.

In his post, Jeff mentions a sports commercial site, a point guard site, and an NBDL site as potential niche blog ideas. Although I’m a bit skeptical about how much content you could create for a commercials site, a well-written one would certainly be worth a read every week or so. (Honestly, who wouldn’t read fifteen entertaining posts on the Jeremy Piven commercials?)


He deserves to be mentioned among the greatest philosophers of all-time.


The other two examples are tougher to consider. A point guard site would certainly be interesting, but I’m not sure it would feature any content that couldn’t be found on a larger analytical basketball site. I suppose the writer would focus his energies on watching point guards and thus have more to say, but it seems unlikely that a point guard fan would not like the other parts of a basketball game. I’m all for in-depth analyses of Chris Paul and Baron Davis, but those exist on other sites. Does the point guard niche fill a need? A larger niche site like a team-specific blog works because a built-in fan base exists prior to its creation. Once you get into smaller niches, those preexisting readerships dwindle in size.


The same issue comes up in the case of the NBDL site. I don’t deny that such a blog could be very interesting, but would it generate many readers? I’m sure there are six hardcore NBDL fans in Bakersfield who would go there every day, but high-traffic days would only really occur when players get called up to their NBA teams. Given that most smaller blogs (like this one, at the moment) get large numbers of hits only on days when they get linked on the big sites, I don’t see how the niche blog leads to a wildly different traffic situation than does the broader blog. Perhaps the niche would lead to a larger initial hit count. If anything, I imagine the niche would eventually cap traffic whereas the big tent would lead to incremental growth over a long period of time.


Jeff’s advice is still useful, though; I just think it needs some tweaking. If you read a good number of blogs, then you’ve probably seen that the vast majority of the best ones—including the ones that don't live in the high-rent districts of Blogburgh—have clear identities or specialties: The Painted Area provides extremely detailed, no-nonsense analysis; Basketbawful takes a humorous look at a wide range of basketball topics; and the Blowtorch’s Goathair is the male version of Miss Gossip. These sites/bloggers have their clear strengths, but they cover a number of topics and don’t suffer for it. The important thing is that, with all the blogs on the market now, they set themselves apart.


While those bloggers create clear identities out of their content, I don’t think that’s the only way to do it. There’s no reason that bloggers can’t perform the same function as the mainstream press in terms of the services they provide their readers. After a big game or transaction, I never read just one writer or site’s take on the issue; I almost always look at a handful of them. As long as the writer develops a clear writing style and shows a knack for creating unique and legitimate opinions, a blogger can easily enter into that rotation of regularly-read columnists. In fact, I turn to these kinds of bloggers just as often as I turn to mainstream writers, if not more often. Niches can work, but they’re not necessary if a writer’s opinions and approach demand attention.


Now, watch us announce a new direction for Plissken next week when we write a post on the JJ Redick Better Basketball ads.

9/20/07

Things Are More Moderner Than Before

The Charlotte Bobcats have finally reached an agreement with the Montana rancher who owned the rights to bobcats.com, thus ending Charlotte's municipal nightmare over whether or not their basketball team would get to use a site name even simpler than bobcatsbasketball.com (via Charlotte Observer). The Bobcats are not a franchise to parcel out dynamite scoops one at a time, though, so they also announced Tuesday that they'll be trotting out new uniforms, using a new secondary logo, and redesigning the court for next season. In the words of team president Fred Whitfield, these changed "are about us improving as franchise -- on and off the floor." I commend the Bobcats for these changes, but there's one more they should make if they want to make the jump from expansion team to legit franchise: dump Rufus Lynx, their mascot.


At the beginning of August, I wrote a series of posts on the East and West mascots and their fits for their franchises. They were almost entirely lighthearted and two of my favorite posts to write, if only because I got to see some insane mascots I didn't know much about. For instance, you haven't really lived until you've seen the insane dog that Indiana calls Bowser, or Philly's Hip Hop the Rabbit, or Orlando's Stuff the Magic Dragon. Rufus, on the other hand, is shocking on an entirely different, much less innocent level.

Put quite simply, Rufus Lynx is a racist mascot. From his stereotypical slave name to this picture of him in pimp garb, Rufus is as close to a minstrel show performer as you're going to find in an NBA arena. Given that the league consists of mostly black players playing in front of mostly white audiences, I'm shocked that such a clear racial issue hasn't been talked about before. When you factor in that Robert Johnson, the founder of BET, owns the Bobcats, the entire situation just boggles the mind.



In that first mascot post, I summarized most of my thoughts on Rufus, but I neglected to link to his bio, which has so many ridiculous statements that I won't be able to do them justice in a normal paragraph. Trust me, you want these in numbered format:

1) "Those of you who have witnessed this furry but lovable character out in the community can positively testify to his character..." The phrase "furry but lovable" suggests that his fur usually precludes him from being lovable. In a sense, Rufus is "one of the good ones." Additionally, it seems like those that have seen him need to reassure their friends that he's safe. Odd.
2) "This hip team player will even use his natural characteristics..." The first in a series of descriptions that make it seem like Rufus is incapable of learning skills. Everything is a natural advantage.
3) "Rufus likes to ambush his prey with short bursts of speed and agility" This probably wouldn't seem like a big deal if not for the other issues, but it becomes a problem given everything else we hear about Rufus. Again, it's all about athleticism. Also, I realize that the Bobcats want their mascot to seem fearsome, but I doubt that the Jazz make Bear out to be a predator.
4) "It’s well-known that bobcats can leap 10 feet without any problems, but Rufus Lynx reaches even higher heights." Out of all the tremendous athletes of his species, Rufus jumps the highest. Why emphasize his species?
5) "There is an unbelievable soft side to Rufus Lynx" This could either mean that Rufus has a huge soft side or that it's hard to believe that someone like Rufus could have a soft side. Take your pick -- the latter is obviously worse.
6) "At first glance, Rufus appears in his orange color fur, dark sunglasses and high-top sneakers. Underneath his exterior is the heart of a lion, the strength of 10 men and the greatest enthusiasm in the NBA." Carries a good message about looking deep inside of people, but why even focus on his appearance as being the first thing we should look at? Why is his fur so terrifying in the first place?
7) "HEIGHT We can’t measure him; he won’t stand still" I don't even know what to say about this one.
8) There are countless other comments on Rufus's natural abilities, but listing them would be a chore. Honestly, they might as well have said that he has extra fast-twitch muscles.



Now, to be fair, they do explain the name. The genus/species name for a bobcat is "lynx rufus," which means that they didn't just pick "Rufus" out of a hat. In fact, that's mostly why I don't think the Bobcats brass made a conscious decision to make Rufus as awful as he is. Yet that doesn't make all of this business okay. I might be reading a lot into Rufus Lynx, but I think there's something there.

In the midst of all this change in Charlotte, this is an easily correctable issue. Plenty of teams -- particularly those in the Southeast Division -- have insane, nonsensical mascots that work a hell of a lot better than Rufus. Charlotte could have a new mascot after ten minutes of brainstorming, and they'd fix a lot of potential problems. I promise it'll be easy. At the very least, they'll do better than this guy.

9/19/07

Totally Natural


Last Thursday’s news that Greg Oden will miss the entire regular season certainly put a bit of a damper on the greatness of the incoming rookie class, but we must remember that we have many, many good players to look forward to. As great as Oden has the chance to be, Kevin Durant has been considered the most exciting player in this class for quite some time, and, now that Oden’s out, I want to take this post to focus on the great things we have to look forward to about Durant’s game. However, instead of taking a broad look at Durant’s talents, I want to compare one aspect of his style with the same trait in the game of the greatest player ever, Michael Jordan.

When watching Jordan in his younger years (essentially any time up until his first retirement), it’s interesting to see how all of his movements and plays seemed completely natural. When Jordan made a play, it rarely seemed like he was actively trying to make that play throughout the possession. Instead, Jordan appears to have sized up the defense instantaneously and made his move based entirely on what the defense gave to him.



If that sounds like something that many players do, it’s because they all do something quite similar. But, with a player like Kobe, the time it takes to get from decision to play is always noticeable; in short, it looks like they’re at least thinking about what they’re doing. Jordan, on the other hand, internalized that process to the point where it’s not even really noticeable. He didn’t need time to decide; he operated so many moves ahead of everyone else that the domination looks like something he was born to do. In a way, he’s simultaneously and indistinguishably reactive and proactive. A player like Kobe more closely resembles the older Jordan, who clearly inflicted his will on the opposition.

I believe Durant has the same general quality to his offense game as did the younger Jordan. Playing for the strategically-challenged Rick Barnes, Durant rarely had plays run for him, requiring him to improvise in order to score. Whereas most young players—even the most talented ones—Durant took almost entirely quality shots, with the type of that shot largely determined by the defense situation. To be sure, the majority of his looks came from the perimeter because, like Dirk Nowitzki, he can get a perimeter jumper off against his usual defenders due to his height, but only a fool would say that Durant didn’t post up or drive on virtually everyone who guarded him.



Perhaps the most exciting thing about both players in regards to this naturalness is that they don’t appear to change when at their best. For instance, on paper, Jordan’s six three-pointers in the first half of Game 1 of the 1992 NBA Finals against the Blazers is one of the best examples of a player enforcing his will on a game in recent memory: Jordan responded to critics who said he wasn’t as good a shooter as Clyde Drexler by setting the finals record for threes in a half. In practice, though, Jordan doesn’t look to be doing anything other than taking the shots when they’re available to him; the Blazers were playing his drive, so he took outside shots.

Durant’s most famous clutch moments at Texas played out in similar fashion. In many cases, he appeared to take control of games in the final minutes, but those moments were more like extensions of his fantastic play at other points in the game. It’s for exactly that reason that I’ve had trouble referring to Durant as clutch—that term implies that he raises his game in a way that I just don’t see. It might be more apt to say that he maintains a high level or doesn’t shrink in crunch time.


The lack of change in Jordan and Durant’s styles from moment-to-moment likely comes from the immense amount of time they spent/spend in the gym. When one spends so much time practicing, everything becomes second nature. That combination of skill and athleticism separates Jordan and Durant from athletic players who also don’t appear to think much when playing. (I don’t mean to suggest that Kobe hasn’t spent enough time in a gym for his style to work in the same way; Kobe puts in more work than anyone else in the league. As I said above, though, his play seems predetermined in a way similar to that of the older Jordan. I don’t think that’s surprising considering when Kobe entered the league.)

The natural feel of his game is exactly what makes Durant such a promising player. As Bethlehem Shoals said last Thursday when Oden went down, we do not know what Durant will look like as a finished product. The free-flowing, seemingly improvised nature of his game is what produces that sense that anything is possible. When it seems like anything can happen at any single moment involving Kevin Durant, it logically proceeds that his career has no ceiling, too. I use that term in the truest sense; we really just don’t know what he will look like. The McGrady and Nowitzki comparisons make very general sense, but Durant will almost assuredly carve out his own style, if he hasn’t already. Even if he doesn’t reach the highest levels of the pantheon, he will be unique.


Before I finish, I want to make it abundantly clear that I’m not predicting that Durant will become a player of Jordan’s caliber. Durant has his faults (although I think that post goes overboard, most of it is well-reasoned) and has a lot of work to do before he becomes a top-shelf star in the NBA. In particular, Durant needs to improve his defense and passing before he can call himself an overall natural presence on Jordan’s level.

For now, though, these issues are inconsequential. Durant’s game has an exceedingly rare quality to it, and we have the privilege of getting to see what he does with it. Until training camp starts, let that be enough.

9/13/07

We Can Rebuild Him


And suddenly the numbers game feels completely inconsequential now. To be perfectly honest, I don't feel like I have a ton to add to what's already been said, but I've felt the need all day long to share my thoughts here, to comfort and be comforted. It feels similar to the impulse experienced by people in a small town who come together at the scene of a bad accident, congregating without any definite purpose, not necessarily to contribute anything tangible, but just to make their presences felt and to feel the camaraderie of rest of the community.

Abbott's coverage all day long has been phenomenal, as usual, from putting things into perspective, to breaking down the procedure. I'm sure tomorrow he'll continue to stay on top of things. I'm very impressed with how well Abbott, as a Blazers fan, seems to be handling the news, particularly in keeping Oden's interests in the foreground. Similarly, Blazer's Edge has an admirable stoicism that I'm not sure I'd be capable of if I were in their position. Even as a general NBA fan without any personal connection to the Portland franchise, the news has bummed me out quite a bit. I know Henry's right that what we're feeling can't be remotely comparable to what be Greg must be going through, but I still think we can afford ourselves a certain amount of self-pity, as long as we keep that reality in mind.


Unlike Shoals, the idea that "It could have been worse: it could have bee Durant" doesn't really console me. I realize that the wild uncertainty of Durant is tantalizing, but I disagree about how Oden is destined to become a conventional big man. It might have taken some time to adjust to playing against other physically gifted 7-footers, but, if he could have wrecked terror on the defensive end anywhere near the extent to which he imposed himself on the collegiate game, he would have been thrilling to watch this year. Furthermore, I completely agree with Stop Mike Lupica (commenting on the Shoals post) that being robbed of the "Oden vs. Durant" debate definitely hurts. Unlike the LeBron vs. Melo connection, this one has been completely legitimate thus far and could have become one of those telling "Stones vs. Beatles"-type dichotomies in which a person's stance instantly tells you something about that individual. Even if Oden can ever come back 100%, the fact that they're not entering together has permanently altered the way that rivalry will develop.


On the other hand, maybe the fact that the Durant/Oden link has been momentarily severed will make the mailed-in stories like Simmons' post today a little rarer. I know Simmons-bashing has become an art form in Blogburgh -- a tradition we tend to try to avoid when possible -- but today's article was pretty unforgivable. First of all, even if it's your editors who come up with the titles of links to your articles, you can't start your article by saying "[Blazers' fans] don't deserve the 'Bowie 2.0' jokes," and have the link title on the front page be "Bowie Knife." Completely uncool. This situation is so unlike Bowie's for a laundry list of reasons that I don't think anyone needs to even bother arguing it. Additionally, the fact that this happened in no way validates anyone who argued that Durant should be the number 1 pick. There were and are plenty of legitimate points for Durant that don't need to rely on revisionist history bullshit. If Durant, god forbid, has a career-ending injury three years from now, no one is going to go back and question Sam Presti's decision-making. Completely unfair. It's also painfully obvious that Simmons had his anecdote about Oden walking like a 40-year-old completely written in his head weeks before ever going to the ESPYs. Have you seen how fluidly this guy moves on a basketball court? He runs the floor like a guard. Finally, the crap about Oden being a PR-driven pick is beyond absurd. Durant is the bigger marketing draw by far. Sure, Oden is goofy, has a blog, and is super charismatic, but it's not like Durant isn't a straight-laced dude who's going to sell a shit-ton of shoes, video games, and seats wherever he goes.

Because this has been kind of a downer of a day, we would like to end on an upbeat note. The first thing to keep in mind, as Ty pointed out, is that Portland is undoubtedly in the right hands. Pritchard and Nate handled the press conference beautifully, saying all the right things and appearing completely sincere. It's been said in many places elsewhere, but there are plenty of great pieces on that team that have lots of room to grow. The future of Portland definitely still looks bright from my perspective. Most importantly, as microfracture surgeries go, so far this does sound like it was as good as it could possibly be. I hope Oden spends a lot of time watching Amare, smiling. I know I'm going to need to.

So Rich a Stream of Speech


It might seem a bit silly to write consecutive posts on Marco Belinelli when I haven't even watched him play a full game in more than two months, but I couldn't let this one go: Marco has started writing for nba.com about his experience in Eurobasket 2007 (thanks to this GSoM diary for the link). The preamble to his post makes it unclear if this will be a regular or one-time gig, but I couldn't pass up the opportunity to break down a post from one of my favorite players in the league.

When analyzing an athlete's blog, I think there are two important questions to ask: 1) Is it any good? and 2) Did he actually write it? In Marco's case, the first question is very easy to answer, but the second could create one of the great debates of our time. Let's take a closer look.

Is it any good?
No, it's actually pretty awful. Gilbert Arenas's blog is obviously the gold standard for athlete blogs, and this one doesn't come close. As much as I like Gil's insane comments on issues such as his love of Tay Zonday, it's the insight into the experience of being a high-level basketball player, like his recent bit about trash-talking with Gary Payton, that make his blog a must-read instead of a pleasant diversion. Marco's work has none of these qualities. As far as I can tell, he says the following things: the summer has been busy, the American and European styles of basketball are different, Europeans take pride in playing for their countries, good NBA players play in the European Championships, his most memorable basketball moment was dropping 25 on Team USA last summer, and Italy has not played very well this tournament. Not exactly anything I couldn't figure out from box scores, prolonged exposure to Bay Area news outlets, and common sense.

Of course, that doesn't mean I won't read everything he posts. There's a lot to be said for quality, but who wouldn't want to read something from a guy this cool?


Did he actually write it?
My first instinct with an athlete's blog is to assume that a) someone wrote it for him or b) he dictated it to a stenographer. In this case, it's important to note that Marco's blog is riddled with grammatical and stylistic errors, including (but not limited to) missing articles ("This has been very busy summer for me"), verb tense inconsistencies ("That game changed my life because I score 25 points"), circular arguments ("Nowitzki is incredible, now especially, because he is MVP of the NBA."), and general Eurospeak ("that is a game I remember especially").



Given that Marco doesn't speak English very well, it seems entirely plausible that he wrote this without editorial input. I don't have any idea why the league's website editors would allow an ESL student to write without help, but the evidence at hand certainly indicates that there is a slight possibility that this is the case. There's also a chance that Marco dictated it to a typist, which would be in keeping with what we know about Arenas's blog.

However, I find it extremely hard to believe that someone working as a transcriber for nba.com (someone who's presumably interested in writing as a career) could refrain from making simple grammatical changes such as putting verbs into the correct form. So, we have a situation in which a lack of editorial oversight seems highly unlikely due to the sheer stupidity of the decision and a stenographer probably didn't transcribe Marco's words due to the easily correctable grammatical errors throughout his entry.


Given this dilemma, I would like to float out another possibility: nba.com had an intern fabricate a Marco Belinelli blog post. Imagine, for a second, that an intern interviewed Marco about his time at Eurobasket. That would seem to jive with the post's content -- the information is so bland that only a corporate entity could have forced Marco into saying it. (Once again, this suggestion seems to refute the possibility that no editors looked at the post.) Using that information, the intern then set about writing the post, keeping in mind that it had to look like it was written by a 21-year-old Italian shooting guard with remedial English skills. Thus, we get a post with glaring errors, but not too many in every sentence -- that would arouse suspicion.

If this is the case, then I think we can assume that nba.com has a genius intern working for them. It takes great skill to create a poor post like Marco's without having it seem like a parody. Work of this quality demands public recognition.

9/12/07

Be Prepared

The Painted Area's been providing insanely excellent commentary on Eurobasket 2007 over the last few weeks, and I've been eating all of it up. On Monday, though, they made their best post yet, if only because it features the following video. Please watch it with the sound on, if you want the full experience.



We are well-established fans of Marco Belinelli -- I think Carter actually got upset with me when the Warriors drafted him one spot ahead of the Lakers. But, in the break between summer league and this tournament, I'd forgotten how frickin' awesome it is to watch him play. I honestly don't know if this post even has an original point to it (note the time I put it up), but I still think it's important for a few reasons: a) pretty soon, plays like this one will show up every night on our TV screens; b) YouTube is doing divinely ordained work, and it needs to be discussed as much as possible; c) Mullin did his homework, because Marco is an absolutely perfect (I am not throwing that word around lightly) fit for the Warriors.

Now that all that's out of the way, make sure to check out another excellent article on stats by Tom Ziller at Ballhype. The commenters have done their jobs once again, so I'd advise you not to stop with TZ's post. Thanks to anyone who's commented anywhere on the internets about this issue over the last few days -- it's been fun and we feel privileged to have been a part of it.

Of course, the Blowtorch might have outdone us all with a genius math post of his own.

9/11/07

Future Foe Scenarios


It’s time to return to the wonderful world of the NCAA, a land we haven’t visited since I wrote this post on the methods used to create recruiting rankings. It’s been a while, but that doesn’t mean our zeal for college ball has waned at all.

The Pac-10’s shaping up to be the deepest conference in the country by far for this upcoming season, which should create a messy picture in the conference standings. As such, non-conference wins will be of supreme importance to the NCAA Tournament Selection Committee—impressive Pac-10 wins are nice, but you need something extra if you’re hanging around .500 in-conference. With that in mind, here’s a look at the non-conference schedules of Pac-10 teams and what they could mean to each program’s postseason chances. (Full schedules are linked in the team name.)

UCLA Bruins
Total Games: 13
Toughest Games: CBE Classic (neutral) (11/19-20), field includes Michigan State, Maryland, and Missouri; vs. Texas (12/01); vs. Davidson (12/08)
Potential Trap Game: at Michigan (12/22). The Wolverines will take some time to get used to John Beilein’s unusual system, but if they have a hot-shooting game they could always beat UCLA at home. It’s important to note that Beilein’s West Virginia teams had a good deal of success against the Bruins, beating them the last two years (although UCLA was without Darren Collison in last season’s game). This game happens right before the Bruins’ week-long break for Christmas, too.
Verdict: Not as tough as it could be, but good enough given the strength of the Pac-10 this year. UCLA will win a good deal of games with any schedule, so they should be able to get the few quality non-conference wins that they’ll need to be in the running for a #1 seed.


USC Trojans
Total Games: 12
Toughest Games: vs. Oklahoma (11/29); vs. Kansas (12/02); vs. Memphis (neutral in NYC) (12/04)
Potential Trap Game: at South Carolina (11/17). USC is young, it’s early in the season, it’s on the road at an SEC school, and the Gamecocks could be upset that no one outside of the South calls them USC.
Verdict: Floyd probably made this schedule when he thought Pruitt and Young would still be around, but it’s a great one nonetheless. The home game against Kansas is a potential goldmine, and the Memphis contest (aka the Rose/Mayo Battle) will help recruiting, at the very least. They lucked out in getting Oklahoma in the Pac-10/Big 12 event—that one will look better than its actual quality by the end of the year.


Cal Golden Bears
Total Games:
11
Toughest Games: at Nevada (11/28); at Kansas State (12/09)
Potential Trap Game: vs. Missouri (12/01). Mike Anderson’s team plays an unusual, fast-paced style that could get to stellar big men Ryan Anderson and DeVon Hardin.
Verdict: Winning one of those big road games would do wonders for a team that should finish around the NCAA bubble. Home schedule has no big names, but wins over Utah and San Diego State can’t hurt. This schedule can’t hurt them, although you’d like to see a big-time home or neutral game.

Stanford Cardinal

Total Games: 12
Toughest Games: at Northwestern (11/15); at Colorado (12/02); vs. Texas Tech (12/22); vs. Fresno State (12/29)
Potential Trap Game: Almost all of them, but at Siena (11/17) is the biggest of them all. Cross-country trip happening early in the season is a recipe for disappointment.
Verdict: Don’t even get me started. No big-time games in a year when the Cardinal should be pretty good. None of these wins will look particularly impressive at the end of the year, meaning that even an undefeated non-conference season wouldn’t help seeding. Stanford will need to win at least ten games in the Pac-10 to be a lock for the tournament, and ten wins won’t be a sure-thing this year. Thank Yahweh the Pac-10 plays a home/away schedule.


Oregon Ducks
Total Games:
12
Toughest Games: at Kansas State (11/29)
Potential Trap Game: at St. Mary’s (11/20). Comes at the end of a short WCC road trip and two games before the big K-State clash.
Verdict: Kansas State win would be huge, because I don’t think Oregon’s going to be as good as advertised this season. No other big ones on here, which shouldn’t come as a surprise given Ernie Kent’s scheduling habits—this is basically par for the course.

Oregon State Beavers
Total Games:
12
Toughest Games: at LSU (12/22)
Potential Trap Game: All the others. OSU should be better this year, but they’re still not good enough to call any game a gimmie.
Verdict: It makes sense for the Beavers to play an easy schedule, but they don’t have a prayer of making the NCAAs or NIT.

Arizona Wildcats
Total Games:
13
Toughest Games: vs. Virginia (11/17); at Kansas (11/25); vs. Texas A&M (12/2); vs. Illinois (in Chicago, so not really neutral) (12/8); at UNLV (12/19); at Memphis (12/29)
Potential Trap Game: at Houston (1/12). In the middle of the conference season, against a decent opponent, and on the road. Never underestimate having to travel halfway across the country at an inconvenient time.
Verdict: Hellish. I don’t expect Arizona to be a tremendous team this season, so it’s entirely possible they’ll enter conference play with five or six big losses. The good news is that they’re playing legitimate teams, so a big win or two could be the difference come Selection Sunday.


Arizona State Sun Devils
Total Games: 12
Toughest Games: Maui Invitational (neutral) (11/19-21), field includes Duke, Illinois, Marquette, Oklahoma St., and LSU; vs. Xavier (12/15)
Potential Trap Game: Many, but at Nebraska (12/02) should be tough, if not exactly a trap. ASU’s only game away from Tempe outside of the Maui Invitational.
Verdict: Perfect schedule for this team. They’re still finding their way around Herb Sendek’s system, but the Maui should be a great learning experience and the easy home games can bring some confidence-building victories. This is probably my favorite mediocre team in the country.

Washington Huskies
Total Games:
13
Toughest Games: NIT Season Tip-Off (neutral) (11/13-23), field includes Syracuse, Ohio St., and Texas A&M; at Oklahoma St. (12/01); vs. Pitt (12/08); at LSU (12/29)
Potential Trap Game: vs. Long Beach St. (11/26) Sandwiched between the NIT and the Oklahoma St. road game, meaning that the Huskies could overlook a team that made the NCAA Tournament last year.
Verdict: Lorenzo Romar finally schedules real teams on the road, but he does so during a likely off-year. Huskies have talent, though, so they could pick up some big wins, with Pitt and one of the talented NIT teams with a leadership vacuum as possibilities.


Washington St. Cougars
Total Games: 12
Toughest Games: vs. Air Force (11/23); at Baylor (11/30); at Gonzaga (12/05)
Potential Trap Game: Not many, but at Boise St. qualifies. On the road and early in the season.
Verdict: It’s a shame the Coug braintrust created the bulk of this schedule when they thought they’d be bad. All the games outside of the Baylor contest occur in the PNW or very close to Pullman—the Idaho games are basically short bus trips. This schedule could come back to bite them if they have a middling year in the Pac-10.

9/10/07

Territorial Pissings

First things first: On Ballhype, Tom Ziller of Sactown Royalty and Fanhouse wrote a great rebuttal to Carter’s Friday post on PER. TZ's post is terrific, but the discussion in the comments is even better, so I’d advise anyone interested in stats to check it out. That is all.

This summer, I’ve avoided writing about the prospect of Don Nelson leaving the Warriors for several reasons, most notably that I've never believed owner Chris Cohan would be nearsighted enough to actually let it happen. Well, according to Geoff Lepper of the Contra Costa Times, the latest round of negotiations seems to have gone poorly and Nellie is returning to his home in Maui (via Fanhouse). There now appears to be a slight possibility that he won’t coach the team this season.



I can’t even begin to imagine the kind of karmic hellfire that will be visited upon Cohan if Nellie doesn’t come back. As Ziller wrote in the Fanhouse article on the same story (via’d up top), the fans will go apeshit if a deal doesn’t get done. Nellie is our shepherd, the man who brought us back to the playoff promised land. This team is on the rise, and you sure as hell don’t let the coach who helped you get there leave this late in the offseason.


The fans’ retribution, though, should pale in comparison to that of the players. As anyone who watched last year’s Dallas and Utah series knows, the Warriors have a lot of volatile personalities with histories of acting out on the roster. Baron Davis is a noted coach killer, Stephen Jackson can go off at any moment and has said he loves Nellie (“I don’t love no coach, but I love that man.”), and Monta Ellis might start openly weeping if the new coach makes him slow down at all. (At least Patrick O’Bryant would be happy!) I actually think the team would be decent with Keith Smart or Paul Silas running the show, but I’d feel a lot less comfortable about the team’s long-term prospects if one of them was thrown in right before training camp.

For those reasons and more, I still think Cohan’s eventually going to get something worked out. As the recent Foyle buyout and his willingness to sign players like Mike Dunleavy and Derek Fisher at above market-value have shown, Cohan is not cheap (whether or not he’s misguided is another story). If money’s the issue here, then I have to think the two parties will work something out.

Of course, if money were the only issue, the whole deal would probably be worked out by now. From this vantage, the whole argle bargle looks like a high-grade pissing contest, with one participant wanting an ultimately unnecessary extra few million for his troubles and another trying to reassert that he still writes the checks at the Oracle. (Note: For betting purposes, keep in mind that Nellie has the Bud Light Advantage.)



The good thing about pissing contests is that each participant eventually has to finish. Here’s hoping that Nellie and Cohan zip up soon and get back to the real business at hand: forcing out Sarunas Jasikevicius.

9/6/07

A Fraction of the Sum


Last week, I set out to write a fawning post on Lamar Odom and how vastly under-appreciated he seems to be, particularly among GMs. So, like any good researcher, I set out to search for evidence that would support the conclusion I had already reached. I figured Hollinger's Player Efficiency Ratings, a frequent stop for bearers of unconventional wisdom, would be a good place to start. Upon finding that during the 06-07 season Lamar sported a surprisingly average PER of 16.1, I realized I would have to revise my angle. My first thought was that this was further evidence that despite his obvious virtues, maybe Lamar really is just a bad fit on the Lakers alongside Kobe. But after doing a little more digging and discovering that Lamar's PER was worse than the likes of Brent Barry, Earl Boykins, Bernard Robinson, etc., I came to the conclusion that the problem doesn't lie with Lamar or the Lakers' system, but with Hollinger's system and the thinking that goes behind new stats.

While spending a half-hour trying to decipher what caused his PER to drop 1.2 over the past two years, I started to realize one of my problems with stats of its ilk. Despite the limitations of traditional stats, we understand their flaws and can reasonably discuss them while keeping their limitations in mind. We know that the quality of a player's teammates will affect his assists, that a team's pace will skew its numbers, that a player's height should be considered when looking at rebounds (thanks FD), etc. Because we understand the limitations of these numbers, we can use them reasonably when discussing the impact of various players. With PER, on the other hand, nobody (or very few of us, I should say) understands it well enough to even know its problems. Maybe that's our problem, and the stat's been around long enough that the onus is on us to figure out its strengths and weaknesses, but, seriously, look at this monstrosity:

uPER = (1/MP)*
[ 3P
+ (2/3)*AST
+ (2 - factor*(tmAST/tmFG))*FG
+ (FT*0.5*(1 + (1 - (tmAST/tmFG)) + (2/3)*(tmAST/tmFG)))
- VOP*TO
- VOP*DRBP*(FGA - FG)
- VOP*0.44*(0.44 + (0.56*DRBP))*(FTA - FT)
+ VOP*(1 - DRBP)*(TRB - ORB)
+ VOP*DRBP*ORB
+ VOP*STL
+ VOP*DRBP*BLK
- PF*((lgFT/lgPF) - 0.44*(lgFTA/lgPF)*VOP) ]

Keep in mind that's just for the unadjusted PER. That equation still has to be adjusted for pace, and then normalized around 15. As an econ major who's had to take more than his fair share of stats classes, I'm still not capable of breaking down that equation in any meaningful way.



Now, this isn't intended to be a simple "PER sucks because it's complex" rant. My main problem with PER -- and a lot of the modern era stats -- is that by attempting to reveal truths by combining numbers, they often obscure most of the story. For example, I've never been a fan of relying on numbers that have been adjusted for minutes played. Rather than telling me that Ike Diogu averaged 22 points per 40 minutes during his time at Golden State this year, I'd much rather know that he averaged 7.2 points per game while averaging only 13.1 minutes. By combining those numbers, you lose a part of the story. Trying to extrapolate what someone does in limited time by assuming he could continue that production if just given a chance is terribly faulty logic. Unless you're David Lee, most players don't get buried on the depth chart without a reason. It's exactly that kind of reasoning that leads Hollinger to make ridiculous statements like Indiana got the best of the Harrington/Jackson trade.


That per-40-minute nonsense also makes it so Dajuan Wagner's PER was 17.2, Julius Hodge's was 16.0, and Pape Sow's was 16.4. In other words, without knowing a whole lot more about a player's statline, just glancing at their PER will often be completely useless. But isn't the whole point of the number to boil a player's statistical contributions down to one easy-to-reference number? By consolidating stats into more complex measures, you gain the ability to compare across players, but you lose explanatory power. Obviously there's a balance to be struck with this trade-off: for example, if given the choice between knowing a player's field goal percentage or his field goals made and field goals attempted, I'd take the former because it allows for clearer comparisons across players. PER simply takes that kind of thinking to the extreme. What is sacrificed by this metric is rarely worth what is gained.



As usual, I'd like to end this rant with a few disclaimers. I'm not saying I can't ever appreciate what Hollinger and APBRmetrics accomplish. For instance, in a recent post for TrueHoop, Kelly Dwyer used Penny Hardaway's 99-00 PER to explain that he had a quality year; in that case, writing ten stats would have been overkill. When trying to evaluate a player, 82games or Basketball Reference is almost always my first stop. Taking into account the extra value of free throws and 3-pointers when calculating a player's eFG% is a nifty trick. You very well might catch me referring to someone's PER at some point in the near future and will want to cry hypocrisy. But in the end, if you're going to take the time to analyze a player in depth, you might as well look at his entire statline to get the complete picture.

If Anything, They Should Be Rewarded


The WNBA is in its 11th season, and, up until last night, I’d never watched a full game. In fact, until a few weeks ago, I hated the WNBA. I’m not exactly sure why—probably from the constant ads during NBA games—but I couldn’t stand anything to do with the league. Then, a few weeks ago, deep in the dog days of summer basketball withdrawal, I caught a few minutes of a regular season game…and kinda liked it. After talking with Carter about it, we decided to write some general impressions of Game 1 of the WNBA Finals, figuring that if we didn’t like that, we wouldn’t like anything. (Note: Terrible logic on our part. Can you imagine showing a non-NBA fan the Spurs-Cavs series and expecting him to like it?)

Since we made that decision, several other sites in Blogburgh have sang the praises (or at least given respect to) the WNBA: Michael of Project Spurs wrote this little ditty on his newfound appreciation for the San Antonio Silver Stars (via Ballhype) and Sports Media Watch brought up the curious situation of the league’s exciting playoff games and dismal ratings (via TrueHoop). These articles, though, tend to focus on the general perceptions surrounding the league. In this post, we want to talk about the style of basketball played on the floor between the East champion Detroit Shock and West champion Phoenix Mercury.

I’ll start with the positives. First, both Phoenix and Detroit have pretty impressive offensive transition games. (Phoenix, with its trio of Diana Taurasi, Cappie Pondexter, and Kelly Miller, seems to have more of a reputation as a running team, but Detroit doesn’t exactly slow things down.) They know how to space themselves on the break, make an early pass to get the ball back, and execute their clear game plan. Detroit won this game by a high final score of 108-100, and that score does not happen by accident.

That offensive execution extends to the half court, where both Phoenix and Detroit moved the ball excellently. A good portion of the credit for that has to go to terrific cuts and off-ball screens. When people suggest that women’s basketball has better fundamentals than the NBA, they’re talking about these things. As such, the offenses tend to flow pretty freely. The league is not without star power, too—Taurasi and Pondexter get into the lane quite often by way of their superior athleticism. Pondexter in particular is fun to watch.


Of course, the style play is not without some gigantic problems. The WNBA’s unpopularity is usually chalked up to the lack of dunks and other above-the-rim antics, but the speed gap is a much more important issue given that these women play on the same-sized court as the men. As any third-grader knows, a pass moves faster than a runner in any situation, which explains why quality ball movement will beat quality defense nearly every time at any level of basketball. In the WNBA, the offense makes smart passes, but the defense can’t move quickly enough to break them up or close out on shooters as often as more athletic players do. The result is a lot of open shots and easy looks, but it doesn’t look like great offense so much as a combination of solid offense and slow defense. It’s nice that offenses move quickly, but it's tough to say how much that matters when defenses aren’t equipped to handle that movement.

Those defensive problems were most obvious when one of the teams played a zone. With an NBA zone, smart passing can get the defense to scramble. In the WNBA, zone defenses have to contend with the fact that the women can’t slide over for help D quickly enough to deny penetration, which leads to even more collapsing and countless open shots. Frankly, I can’t fathom why a WNBA team would ever use a zone. Additionally, in a person-to-person (we’re PC here) defense, perimeter defenders can’t play up on the true playmakers for fear of getting burnt.


The relationship between quickness and the ball also has a noticeable effect on the boards, where boxing out was a major weakness for both teams. On a basic level, it’s tough to get a body on someone when you can’t move very quickly, but that becomes much more of a problem when you have to get a body on someone and grab a rebound at the same time.

The drop-offs in speed and athleticism were made clear in the quality of each team's non-stars. The best players, such as Pondexter, Taurasi, and Detroit’s Deanna Nolan were clearly the most talented players on the court in the first half because of their creative abilities. However, their actual stats were quite terrible: Pondexter had a horrific shooting half (I don’t have the exact stats in front of me, but she was 2/13 on field goals at one point in the 2nd quarter), Taurasi picked up four fouls in the half and made just a few baskets, and Nolan took just two shots from the floor. The NBA certainly has discrepancies between its superstars and average players, but the difference is nowhere near as stark. If, in my first game seeing LeBron, he put up a statline like those, I’d think him overrated, not the best player on the court by far.

Interestingly, I get the impression that the speed issue is what convinces many fans of women’s basketball that this version of basketball features superior fundamentals to the men’s game. In a system without so much athleticism, the fundamentals necessarily become a more visible part of the game. However, it seems foolish to suggest that NBA and NCAA men can’t make entry passes or slide over for help better than the women at their equivalent levels.



Unfortunately, this problem isn’t going away anytime soon. In a few of my Bloggin’ to the Oldies posts this summer, I’ve mentioned that the NBA needed to introduce the three-point line as a way to limit the clutter produced when ten athletic players all play around the key. Watching this WNBA game makes me think that the three-point line has a similar, yet negative effect on their style of play. If less athletic players set up away from the basket, that puts the defense at an extreme disadvantage. Ditching the three-point line would likely lead to players operating much closer to the basket, likely improving the competitiveness of each possession.

Again, I enjoyed this game, but these issues make it impossible for me to declare the WNBA a great league. There are problems, and I think they can be fixed. Even if they aren’t, though, I can still get behind this league, and I’m glad to know it’ll be there for me again during men’s basketball’s late summer drought. If I can love college basketball while still admitting that it’s not better than the NBA, I don’t see any reason why I can’t like the WNBA while still admitting that it’s not better than college basketball.

Random notes: Nancy Lieberman is an atrocious analyst. During the pregame, she actually said “It doesn’t matter if it’s Macbeth or Shakespeare, the antithesis is Laimbeer.” Now, that quote was in response to a comment about Phoenix Coach Paul Westhead quoting Macbeth to his players, but Lieberman still brought out a complete non sequitir and expected us to follow along. Shockingly, she topped herself at halftime when she asked league MVP Lauren Jackson “Was this part of the plan for you, to have the best season of your career, in your mind?” No, Nancy, I’m pretty sure she wanted to be terrible this year. … The Palace was mostly empty, which makes me wonder why they don’t move the games to smaller arenas to create a better atmosphere. I guess NBA teams like the extra money, but I’m sure they could work out some sort of profit-sharing deal. … The WNBA on ESPN has much better theme music than their NBA friends. I’m not sure what it was—I just know it wasn’t the Pussycat Dolls. … ESPN actually has the assistant coaches do interviews (with headsets!) while the ball’s in play. Even weirder, they interview players at the corner of the bench while the game’s going on, too. I can see how access could improve ratings, but those shenanigans have to have an effect on the quality of play. ... Carter actually put Diana Taurasi on his team in NBA Street a few months ago. After watching the game, he claims that she does not deserve her 100 shooting rating. ... The Mercury and Shock seem to have taken on the personalities of their NBA counterparts, which makes sense given marketing concerns. If the WNBA wants to build up its product amongst the established NBA fanbase in those cities, it makes sense that they'd want to show those fans something they already like.

9/4/07

Inside the Moral Kiosk


Sorry I haven't been as prolific of late as I want to be; fighting the man by day has been sapping some of the creative juices. Thankfully Ty's done a solid job keeping shit humming in my absence, but hopefully you'll be hearing much more from me in the coming weeks. One thing my daytime duties as a class warrior have helped me realize, however, is that there is a gigantic disconnect between my ethics when sports are involved and my personal beliefs in non-sports-related daily life. While I don't think I can fully come to terms with this dilemma in the course of one late-night post, I at least want to get the conversation rolling on the topic with some of initial thoughts.

At the risk of sounding excessively douchey, when we first started this blog I had (and continue to have) aspirations of using sports as a prism for addressing some of society's more significant issues. What sports can tell us about life's controversies interests me greatly, yet the controversies of sports generally do nothing for me. To put it another way, in a perfect world, I'd want the interaction between sports and society to be almost purely metaphor. When the literal creeps up, I tend to shut off. I've had conspicuously little to say about the Donaghy situation, and never bothered touching the Marbury/Vick dust-up. For someone fascinated by corruption and greed in America, you'd think that when these issues directly intersect with what we cover here I'd be anxious to weigh in, but, when it comes to sports, my moral compass rarely get too agitated.

A couple different recent conversations helped bring my indifference to sports-related wrongdoings into focus. The first was an introductory conversation with a co-worker who happened to be a University of Oregon alum. Searching for topics of conversation, I was curious if she had any interest in their basketball or football teams. She was, she responded, to the extent that she had spent her four years ardently protesting the school's Nike ties. During my time in college I saw similar efforts to make Stanford athletics sweat-free, efforts that I never backed out of the fear that losing our Nike affiliation would affect the profitability and competitiveness of our basketball program. Now, normally I would fully support any effort to encourage economic justice in the developing world -- my co-worker and I probably see eye-to-eye on 90% of political issues -- but when my team becomes involved, my politics stop considerably short of my standard ideals.


A couple weeks later, the topic of Michael Vick came up during a conversation among friends. One person expressed that, in the entire debate, his predominant concern was losing the ability to watch Vick play. As someone with very little interest in the NFL, I needed to translate this sentiment into something I could relate to. The closest I could come was that, if Kobe had gone to trial, and I was on the jury and became totally convinced of his guilt, would I be more concerned with enforcing justice or ruining my home team's season? In the end, I have to believe I'd do the right thing, but I have to imagine I'd be at least a little conflicted. The fact that there would be any inner debate at all makes me worried about the amorality with which I treat sports.



Clearly, things are not as black-and-white for me as I might seem to be implying. My moral and political judgments do cross into the world of athletics fairly often. For example, I think LeBron unquestionably should have signed Newble's Sudan letter. Generally, I wish MJ had had a political conscience (at least vocally). I still think Tim Hardaway is a jackass. But I nonetheless have a willingness to look the other way, especially in the cases where the success of the team I root for is at stake, a tendency I have to find somewhat troubling. Perhaps I'm scrambling too many dissimilar things here. The moral question might be entirely distinct from the political one. Furthermore, not letting someone's off-court actions color your on-court view of them is one thing, while legitimately not caring about a person's transgressions simply because of their athletic ability is something else entirely. I think what I'm actually feeling is the former, but what I'm afraid I'm expressing at times here is the latter. I have no ambitions of completely resolving this personal conflict tonight, so I am legitimately interested in hearing whether this is a common struggle shared by other progressively-minded (or conservative-minded) sports enthusiasts. Can you hope to use sports as a tool to inform your world-view without letting your world-view influence how you watch sports?