Meadow Muffins of the Mind

The droppings of some guy's imagination.

Tag: Washington

2012 NFL Update #1

Ahoy mateys! Finally, with Week 2 in the books and all 32 teams having 2 games in the bag – we have enough schedule data to start putting some power rankings together. The methodology and consistent updates are here per usual, but what does the first snapshot of the season look like?

Rank Team W L RPI Margin PairWins
1 49ers 2 0 1 (1) 21.75 (5) 30
2 Cardinals 2 0 0.938 (2) 30.5 (2) 30
3 Seahawks 1 1 0.813 (3) 21.25 (6) 28
4 Packers 1 1 0.763 (5) 20 (7) 27
5 Broncos 1 1 0.75 (6) 26.5 (3) 26
6 Eagles 2 0 0.688 (7) 19.25 (8) 26
7 Falcons 2 0 0.688 (7) 15 (10) 24
8 Texans 2 0 0.625 (10) 36.5 (1) 22
9 Ravens 1 1 0.688 (7) 24.5 (4) 22
10 Steelers 1 1 0.563 (12) 16.5 (9) 20
11 Lions 1 1 0.813 (3) 10.5 (13) 19
12 Dolphins 1 1 0.5 (15) 14 (11) 17
13 Bears 1 1 0.563 (12) 6.25 (16) 15
14 Rams 1 1 0.5 (15) 8.25 (14) 15
15 Jets 1 1 0.438 (18) 11.5 (12) 14
16 Patriots 1 1 0.563 (12) 4.5 (18) 13
17 Cowboys 1 1 0.613 (11) 3.75 (20) 13
18 Bucs 1 1 0.438 (18) 5.25 (17) 12
19 Giants 1 1 0.45 (17) -1.75 (23) 11
20 Jaguars 0 2 0.313 (22) 4 (19) 9
21 Chargers 2 0 0.375 (21) 3.5 (21) 9
22 Colts 1 1 0.438 (18) -6.5 (26) 7
23 Raiders 0 2 0.313 (22) -4 (25) 6
24 Bengals 1 1 0.313 (22) -6.75 (27) 5
25 Browns 0 2 0.313 (22) -12 (29) 3
26 Bills 1 1 0.25 (28) -10.5 (28) 2
27 Redskins 1 1 0.238 (30) 7 (15) 2
28 Titans 0 2 0.313 (22) -14.5 (31) 1
29 Panthers 1 1 0.188 (31) 0.5 (22) 1
30 Chiefs 0 2 0.313 (22) -17 (32) 0
31 Vikings 1 1 0.25 (28) -13 (30) 0
32 Saints 0 2 0 (32) -3.75 (24) 0

Obviously – as one could surmise – there is not a lot of data here, just two weeks of quality to evaluate, but that doesn’t mean that there are not things to discuss.

  • Ahoy NFC West!  The 49ers we knew should be good.  But the authoritative wins over Green Bay and Detroit were eye openers.  The combined 2-0 record of opponents obviously overstates the schedule, but not that much.  Seattle and Arizona also have 2-0 schedules.  Arizona’s win at New England ties the Saints loss to the Redskins as the season’s biggest surprise to date.
  • The Saints at #32 are obviously the big surprise in the other direction.  The losses, and truly hideous defensive performances, have taken a lot of the bloom off of the Super Bowl contending rose.  Obviously the coaching staff shakeup has caused some strife – but still, these were not particularly distinguished teams they have lost to.
  • Both Andrew Luck and RG3 look like the real things.  RG3’s results are better so far yes, but his team is more talented, and it is easier I think for a dual threat quarterback to have an early impact.  Griffin’s cool and decision making have been excellent, but Luck has had a lot more put on his shoulders.  The Colts are further behind in development, and he has been given more of the finished NFL offense (somehow I suspect Griffin running option out of the pistol will not last if Shanahan had his druthers).

2012 MLB Update #4 – The Home Stretch

First, apologies in advance for the lack of attentiveness and diligence with putting together baseball missives – indeed the season has flown by, and the Red Sox-Dodgers blockbuster clearly announced the exit of Boston from the pennant chase and reconfigured the race for 2012 and beyond.  Or did it really?  A bit more on this, but first, the rankings as of today:

Rank Team W L Pythag SOS Recent RecRank Total
1 Saint Louis Cardinals 71 57 0.61 (1) 0.51 (2) 0.573 3 0.564
2 Atlanta Braves 73 56 0.579 (5) 0.496 (20) 0.616 2 0.564
3 Tampa Bay Rays 70 58 0.57 (6) 0.493 (23) 0.625 1 0.563
4 Washington Nationals 77 50 0.6 (2) 0.505 (6) 0.561 4 0.555
5 Chicago White Sox 71 56 0.565 (8) 0.505 (7) 0.557 5 0.542
6 Texas Rangers 76 52 0.593 (3) 0.496 (19) 0.536 11 0.542
7 Cincinnati Reds 78 52 0.568 (7) 0.508 (3) 0.537 10 0.538
8 New York Yankees 74 54 0.585 (4) 0.484 (30) 0.538 9 0.536
9 Oakland Athletics 70 57 0.541 (9) 0.493 (25) 0.544 8 0.526
10 Detroit Tigers 69 58 0.528 (12) 0.495 (22) 0.552 6 0.525
11 Milwaukee Brewers 60 67 0.507 (17) 0.514 (1) 0.545 7 0.522
12 Los Angeles Dodgers 69 60 0.53 (11) 0.507 (5) 0.523 14 0.52
13 Arizona Diamondbacks 64 65 0.527 (13) 0.505 (8) 0.525 13 0.519
14 San Francisco Giants 71 57 0.53 (10) 0.501 (11) 0.506 16 0.512
15 Seattle Mariners 62 67 0.504 (18) 0.488 (28) 0.533 12 0.508
16 Boston Red Sox 62 67 0.527 (14) 0.493 (24) 0.49 17 0.503
17 Pittsburgh Pirates 68 60 0.51 (16) 0.507 (4) 0.463 23 0.493
18 San Diego Padres 60 70 0.452 (23) 0.504 (9) 0.513 15 0.49
19 Anaheim Angels 66 62 0.52 (15) 0.492 (26) 0.451 25 0.488
20 Philadelphia Phillies 61 67 0.478 (19) 0.5 (12) 0.479 19 0.485
21 Kansas City Royals 56 71 0.451 (24) 0.499 (15) 0.484 18 0.478
22 Baltimore Orioles 70 57 0.46 (22) 0.488 (27) 0.474 20 0.474
23 Colorado Rockies 52 75 0.423 (25) 0.5 (13) 0.474 21 0.466
24 Minnesota Twins 52 76 0.41 (27) 0.496 (21) 0.466 22 0.457
25 New York Mets 59 69 0.464 (21) 0.497 (18) 0.41 27 0.457
26 Chicago Cubs 49 78 0.4 (28) 0.499 (14) 0.456 24 0.452
27 Miami Marlins 58 71 0.411 (26) 0.498 (16) 0.439 26 0.449
28 Toronto Blue Jays 57 70 0.47 (20) 0.488 (29) 0.367 30 0.442
29 Cleveland Indians 55 73 0.386 (29) 0.498 (17) 0.378 28 0.421
30 Houston Astros 40 88 0.338 (30) 0.502 (10) 0.369 29 0.403

If we went and projected records (using ranking for rest of season), your playoff seeds:

American League:

  1. Texas Rangers (94-68)
  2. New York Yankees (92-70)
  3. Chicago White Sox (90-72)
  4. Oakland Athletics (88-74)
  5. Detroit Tigers (87-75)

National League

  1. Washington Nationals (96-66)
  2. Cincinnati Reds (95-67)
  3. San Francisco Giants (88-74)
  4. Atlanta Braves (92-70)
  5. Saint Louis Cardinals (90-72)
  • Obviously, the Nationals’ magical season has continued unabated.  There is the Stephen Strasburg drama – and the Nationals decision is defensible, although I definitely disagree – but even without him their rotation is formidable.  That said, a rotation sans Strasburg and a fairly pedestrian lineup could spell a short stay in October.
  • On the other hand, the Cardinals are still in a strong chase for the wild card.  The Giants, Dodgers, Pirates are all still very much in the chase.  That said, unlike the Nationals, the Cardinals seem the total package.  Their league best pythagorean speaks to just how strong their peripherals are.  The wins have not showed up frequently enough, but this is a seriously dangerous outfit if they can find their way into the main draw.  The Braves-Cardinals wild card game might be the most dramatic single game of the entire NL playoffs.
  • The Dodgers as of now rate as an 86-76 team, but this is without considering the fascinating trade which netted them Josh Beckett, Adrian Gonzalez and Carl Crawford.  Is there reason to think these changes will help them to close the gap with either the Giants or Cards?  Well, Adrian Gonzalez is going to have a huge impact – not just because he is a good ballplayer, but because he is replacing James Loney – who is providing middle infield level production at first freakin base.  Anytime you can bounce back from true replacement level to fringy elite, there can be an outsized impact in the wash.  As a Red Sox fan though, it is hard to see Josh Beckett bouncing back to more than 4/5 sort of starter though.  The pitches don’t work anymore and his own approach to pitching has never been “crafty”.
  • The deal guarantees nothing for Boston obviously.  Prospects are dudes who haven’t delivered in a major league capacity – that is the point.  The only major league body they have is James Loney, who is barely that.  That said, the prospects Boston did get were among the best in the Dodgers’ system – both De La Rosa and Webster have been graded very favorability as arms with significant promise.  That the Red Sox got actual prospects in a salary dump is a small miracle.  The Red Sox have some of their future back – which says good things about Ben Cherington as GM – if the bizarre, status obsessed ownership lets him do his thing.  But can these owners leave well enough alone and let winning move the needle?  Well, that’s the allotment of optimism I have for my day.

Unlocked … 2012 NBA Season Report #2

Well, since the last time we did this report, the league has crammed in another 116 games.  As we had pointed out then, the effects of the lockout and the accelerated offseason showed in some pretty shoddy basketball.  Well with more data, through 241 games the league PPP is still at 0.998, a far cry from last year’s 1.04.  Put another way, currently only 6 teams are above that number this season compared to 15 a year ago at this time.  Just like last week, we can see other metrics.

  • Turnover Rate: Last Year: 15.3% of possessions, This Year: 16.0%
  • TS%: Last Year: 54%, This Year: 52.1%
  • Shots per possession: Last Year: 0.962, This Year: 0.958.

With even two more weeks, the trends have been getting worse, instead of better.  The turnovers remain up, while the shooting is going down, and so the leaguewide scoring has gone down with it.  Just like we mentioned last time, it is tempting to attribute this to great defense – but given the lack of cohesion on so many rosters and the limited time together, it feels a lot like poor offense is much more to blame.  One place this might be evident is leaguewide foul shooting.  A year ago it was 76.4%, while this year it is down to 74.5%.  There is no reason for this to be the case other than guys just shooting poorly.  The league 3P% (35.6 to 34.0) has dipped as well.  So if you think that there have been a lot of low scoring, high turnover, poor shooting games – it’s not just you.

That said, despite the hide your eyes bad level of offensive play, and the way too aggressive schedule – the league is starting to unfold.  The latest rankings are in a permanent home this year, so hopefully you can skip right to the good stuff without reading all this jibberish.  However, if you are reading this – might as well get some observations out of the way:

  1. The Sixers hold the number one position again.  Granted, their losses to the Knicks and Heat do not give much confidence that this is the team’s true level.  However, they have clobbered the flotsam on their schedule.  120-89 over the Wizards, 112-85 over the Kings, etc etc.  This has led to that very lofty league’s #1 defensive ranking.  The Sixers are still excelling at preventing good looks, as their league best TS% allowed shows.  In particular, they continue to do a sensational job at limiting high value shots – leading the league in fewest three pointers allowed and 3rd in FT rate allowed.  That said, in the blowout loss to Miami, the Sixers allowed 54% shooting, 7 threes made in 89 possessions and 21 FTs, all much higher than their lofty levels, and all actually closer to last in the league than anything.  The Sixers seem to be above their heads, but the empirical case for them is still strong.
  2. This early in the season it is interesting to note teams whose rankings and record do not match.  A glaring case is the Indiana Pacers, whom the writer-sphere seems to think is a team to watch and whatever.  Certainly their depth is a virtue in this short season, and they have a number of good, close wins – last night at the Lakers most prominently.  The defense has been excellent, in particular leading the league in FG defense.  Without any other sensational fundamentals, their 41% FG allowed has carried them to the league’s 5th rated defense.  However, their scoring margin has not been that eye popping, mostly because of a gang which so far has not shot straight.  The 41% FG allowed is great.  The 41.9% FG of their own?  Yikes.  Fortunately, they have shot the three well (4th in the league and could stand to shoot it more) and have been one of the best teams in the league at converting at the foul line.  This has propped them up to 23rd in TS%, still not good, especially with the team being a pedestrian 26th in shots per possession.  The Pacers need to crank up the efficiency on that end of the floor.
  3. The big mover in a good way though has clearly been the Grizzlies – which is particularly surprising given the extended absence of Zach Randolph.  As you recall, last year’s late run sans Rudy Gay was driven by almost a 1976 style of play with very few three pointers and a maniacal attention to getting inside.  What is interesting is that much of their offensive style has not changed – actually they have kind of turned into the 2008-2010 Boston Celtics.  They are still not shooting the three (second from the bottom in threes per possession), they don’t get to the line much – but they shoot the twos very well, 4th in overall FG% and that has kept their TS% in the middle of the pack despite being only average at generating shots (16th – this is better tham the Celtics normally do since the Grizzlies actually crash the boards and limit turnovers).  The drop in shot generation and getting to the line has limited the offensive bonanza that their FG% would portend.  Z-Bo clearly helps in both areas.  Just as clearly, he doesn’t help play defense – and the Grizzlies have continued to be an elite turnover generating team – the Tony Allen Experience indeed – and that has been more than sufficient to offset any defensive rebounding help Z-Bo offered.  The Grizzlies were the best team in the league a season ago at preventing looks at the basket.  Now, that is not the case, but they have managed to stay a respectable 7th.

As far as the rankings through the games of 1/22/12? (Rankings from the first report – 1/8/12  – in parentheses):

  1. (1) Sixers (11-5)
  2. (5) Bulls (15-3)
  3. (3) Heat (11-5)
  4. (6) Hawks (12-5)
  5. (10) Thunder (13-3)
  6. (4) Nuggets (12-5)
  7. (9) Lakers (10-8)
  8. (13) Jazz (10-5) Suns (4-4)
  9. (16) Mavericks (10-7)
  10. (2) Blazers (9-7)
  11. (24) Grizzlies (9-6)
  12. (17) Magic (11-4)
  13. (12) Spurs (10-7)
  14. (7) Clippers (9-6)
  15. (14) Pacers (11-4)
  16. (11) Timberwolves (7-9)
  17. (19) Rockets (9-7)
  18. (8) Suns (6-9)
  19. (20) Celtics (6-9)
  20. (18) Hornets (3-13)
  21. (23) Bucks (6-9)
  22. (22) Warriors (5-10)
  23. (25) Knicks (6-10)
  24. (15) Raptors (4-13)
  25. (21) Cavaliers (6-9)
  26. (29) Nets (5-11)
  27. (28) Kings (6-11)
  28. (27) Pistons (4-13)
  29. (30) Wizards (2-14)
  30. (26) Bobcats (3-14)

Anyway, hopefully the season report will be a semi-regular feature.  Even still, the rankings will be updated at least once a week.

Unlocked … 2012 NBA Season Report #1

So, let me get this straight.  We are trying to squeeze in 66 games in 4 months, instead of the normal 82 games in 6 – all of this with a two week training camp and offseason?  And the basketball was going to be good?  Ummm … ok.  Yeah, the Christmas games between New York and Boston and the Lakers and the Bulls were false alarms apparently – as we have had some really crappy basketball to start the year.  How crappy?  Well, last year overall we were averaging 1.045 points per possession.  Right now, the number is 0.998.  Put simply, was was 27th a year ago is 15th right now – yeeah.  So if you thought the points have dropped off (with the pace staying the same), you’re right.  Even if we just compare the first 125 games of the league season (how many games have been played to date), last season we had 1.033 points per possession.  1.033 this year would place you at 8th in the league.  Compare some other stats across the last two season’s first 125 games:

  • Turnover Rate: Last Year: 15.9% of possessions, This Year: 15.9%
  • TS%: Last Year: 54%, This Year: 52%
  • Shots per possession: Last Year: 0.98, This Year: 0.96.

Basically the game has slowed, down – teams are shooting less efficiently, and getting fewer looks at the basket.  It is tempting to salute defense, but this early in the season – one thinks that it is more shoddy play than high quality defending.

That said, despite the hide your eyes bad level of offensive play, and the way too aggressive schedule – the league is starting to unfold.  The latest rankings are in a permanent home this year, so hopefully you can skip right to the good stuff without reading all this jibberish.  However, if you are reading this – might as well get some observations out of the way:

  1. Yes, that is right, the Sixers start out at #1.  You get through a five game road trip to start the season with just two losses and have a +15 normalized scoring margin?  You’re doing something right.  As we know, Doug Collins – the Al Dunlap of NBA Coaches – took this merry band of misfits into a playoff team a year ago, and with almost no personnel changes – what is this?  The Sixers have the league’s top offense AND league’s top defense, and the way they have done both is a study in contrasts.  On offense, it has been a possession based strategy – the Sixers turn the ball over less than anybody, and have ended up 2nd in the league in shots per possession.  Take a pretty good 6th in TS%, and you have a team that is scoring at a very high level.  On defense, they have struggled taking the ball away or preventing offensive rebounds.  This could cause a problem down the road, but their top ranked TS% defense has held up its end of the bargain.  They have been very strong in all phases of ball shooting defense – tops in FG defense, tops in fewest FTs allowed, tops in fewest three point looks.
  2. The Heat of course were the favorites entering, and have done nothing to dissuade those bullish about them.  One obvious thing the Heat have changes tactically is getting out and running.  Their pace has risen from 21st to tops in the league – and so have the points, as they are still a good offensive team.   The pace increase has come from obviously their own priorities, but also their league leading turnover forcing defense – lot of chances to get into the open floor.  That said, there are some things to clean up – in particular trouble defending the 3 and fouling too much.  But the Heat are the league’s best TS%, and it is hard to say a whole lot bad about them.  The win at Atlanta with a skeleton crew and no James or Wade was particularly impressive.
  3. On the other end of the spectrum is the local entry, the Washington Wizards.  They are the league’s worst offense – by 4 points over 29th place.  To put it another way, the difference between 29 and 30 is larger than the difference between #29 and #25.  The Wizards badness on offense is a bit of a surprise with one of the league’s best offensive coaches in Flip Saunders and the Point Guard of the Future in John Wall.  However, John Wall has just been a dreadful shooter, and the Wizards in general do not seem to be getting good shots.  They are bad at shooting in general, and shoot two many contested two pointers – consider they are 29th in three point rate and 24th in FT attempts.  The Wizards have a knack for avoiding all high efficiency scoring – and as a result they are 30th in the league with a thud in TS%.

As far as the rankings through the games of 1/8/12?

  1. Sixers (5-2)
  2. Blazers (6-2)
  3. Heat (8-1)
  4. Nuggets (6-3)
  5. Bulls (7-2)
  6. Hawks (6-3)
  7. Clippers (4-2)
  8. Suns (4-4)
  9. Lakers (6-4)
  10. Thunder (8-2)
  11. Timberwolves (3-5)
  12. Spurs (6-3)
  13. Jazz (5-3)
  14. Pacers (6-2)
  15. Raptors (3-5)
  16. Mavericks (4-5)
  17. Magic (6-3)
  18. Hornets (3-6)
  19. Rockets (2-6)
  20. Celtics (4-4)
  21. Cavaliers (4-4)
  22. Warriors (2-6)
  23. Bucks (2-6)
  24. Grizzlies (3-5)
  25. Knicks (4-4)
  26. Bobcats (2-6)
  27. Pistons (2-6)
  28. Kings (3-6)
  29. Nets (2-7)
  30. Wizards (0-8)

Anyway, hopefully the season report will be a semi-regular feature.  Even still, the rankings will be updated at least once a week.

2011 NFL Power Rankings #2

With last week’s number one going down in Oakland, we were going to get some shuffling at the top.  In a scant three weeks we are almost out of unbeatens – and have some real intrigue here.  As noted before the rankings compare each team with the other in terms of: RPI, adjusted scoring margin, record vs good teams, head to head and common opponents.  Also note that the model is meant to be unbiased – so it only knows what the season has told us so far, and as we learn more about the teams, the results will reflect that.  So without further intro:

Rank Team W L RPI Margin PairWins
1 Bills 3 0 0.861 (1) 16.667 (6) 28
2 Packers 3 0 0.833 (2) 17.583 (5) 27
3 Raiders 2 1 0.746 (4) 19.042 (3) 26
4 Saints 2 1 0.667 (7) 20.333 (1) 25
5 Cowboys 2 1 0.746 (4) 15 (7) 24
6 Patriots 2 1 0.662 (8) 18.792 (4) 23
7 Jets 2 1 0.681 (6) 12.5 (11) 23
8 Lions 3 0 0.75 (3) 13.958 (9) 23
9 Ravens 2 1 0.607 (10) 19.292 (2) 22
10 Redskins 2 1 0.625 (9) 14.417 (8) 22
11 Titans 2 1 0.583 (12) 12.542 (10) 21
12 Texans 2 1 0.579 (13) 12.417 (12) 19
13 49ers 2 1 0.572 (14) 8.917 (13) 18
14 Bucs 2 1 0.53 (17) 7 (16) 13
15 Bengals 1 2 0.414 (21) 8.917 (14) 12
16 Giants 2 1 0.565 (15) 3.833 (19) 12
17 Bears 1 2 0.435 (18) 4.167 (17) 12
18 Steelers 2 1 0.593 (11) 0.458 (22) 11
19 Broncos 1 2 0.393 (22) 7.167 (15) 11
20 Cardinals 1 2 0.389 (24) 2 (20) 8
21 Panthers 1 2 0.365 (25) 0.417 (23) 6
22 Jaguars 1 2 0.431 (19) -6.667 (27) 5
23 Browns 2 1 0.419 (20) -6.417 (26) 5
24 Chargers 2 1 0.556 (16) -7.542 (28) 5
25 Falcons 1 2 0.361 (26) -4 (25) 4
26 Seahawks 1 2 0.389 (23) -8.75 (29) 4
27 Eagles 1 2 0.331 (27) -3.917 (24) 3
28 Vikings 0 3 0.25 (29) 3.917 (18) 3
29 Dolphins 0 3 0.194 (30) 1.167 (21) 2
30 Colts 0 3 0.167 (31) -9.667 (30) 1
31 Chiefs 0 3 0.306 (28) -17.583 (32) 0
32 Rams 0 3 0.167 (31) -15.208 (31) 0

Some notes:

  1. The big mover of the week was San Francisco going up to 13.  Their win against Cincinnati, combined with the Seahawks first win of the year and the Cowboys win over the previous #2 Redskins gives their schedule a boost.  The Steelers similarly benefitted from their own win over the Colts as well as the Ravens and Seahawks each winning.
  2. The plunge of the week goes to the Redskins and Jets.  That said, both lost to solid opponents, so not a whole lot bad can be said – except that the Redskins will be kicking themselves for blitzing on a 3rd and 21.
  3. It is way too early to say there will be a lot of turnover in the playoff pecking order this year, but 4 division winners from a year ago have faced some tough sledding.  The Eagles in particular have gone 1-2 against a not that impressive a schedule.  Of course one expected that they’d be a better team in Week 11 than Week 3.

Dare to be Stupid – The Hawks Try to Break the Glass Ceiling

We have discussed in earlier posts about how the East is basically a four team oligopoly.  Indeed the rankings bear this out.  Four of the top six teams are in the East, while … all the way at #15 are the lonely overachieving (frankly, lucky) Atlanta Hawks.  The Hawks seem firmly in the #5 position, but with the Knicks landing some player or another, could Atlanta be looking behind itself a touch?

Hawks receive Kirk Hinrich and Hilton Armstrong

Wizards receive Mike Bibby, Jordan Crawford and Maurice Evans and Atlanta’s 2011 first round pick

Hilton Armstrong is another frontcourt big for the Hawks – but really flotsam.  The story is Hinrich and whether he is an improvement on Bibby.  Defensively, this is beyond reproach.  Hinrich is one of the league’s better defensive point guards, while Bibby was among its very worst.  Offensively – it is a wash.  Hinrich is more versatile and still quicker, but he is a terrible shooter and always has been (there is a meme that he is a good shooter – probably because he is white).  Bibby can still space the floor, and that skill never goes away.  This though on whole improves the Hawks – at least enough to remain locked in the #5 spot.

For the Wizards, they unload an albatross contract in exchange for lesser ones.  Bibby is a nice player even as a fossil.  Maurice Evans is expiring and Jordan Crawford is young and showed at Xavier that he could be a gunner.  They also get the Hawks first rounder, which in this draft seems highly speculative.  The Wizards really are getting a look at whether Jordan Crawford can be a Juan Dixon 2.0.  Hey, it ain’t much – but then neither is being a Wizards follower these days.


Dare to be Stupid: The Magic Double Down

Well, you gotta give the Magic credit for going big.  We all knew they had the best roster to organize a big trade to reshape a roster that maybe might not be good enough to match Boston and Miami in the East.  Marcin Gortat, arguably one of the 10 best centers in the game, was BACKING UP Dwight Howard, while Vince Carter’s partially guaranteed 2012 salary made him a very attractive chip too.  So they took their two major chips and turned them into … the two worst contracts in the NBA??  What??

Gilbert Arenas has shown signs of being a good player again.  He is a bit more creative than other perimeter options, as is Hedo Turkoglu.  Indeed, the lack of perimeter creativity is what the Magic wanted to fix.  But is Arenas better than Jameer Nelson, now, in 2010 – at THAT price?  Turkoglu has sucked donkey balls the last two stops – why should that change here?  There is a lot of money being spent here and a lot of tilting at windmills.

Of course, the deal also brings back Jason Richardson and Earl Clark from the Suns.  Earl Clark is a project, but has some talent – but frankly has been a bust so far as a lottery guy.  Richardson is a poor defender, but can really fill it up.  His shooting is a great fit with the Magic 3-point gunning, but he does not solve the creativity gap on the perimeter either.

For the Wizards this move was a no-brainer.  Considering the size of Arenas’ deal, any trade made would be a mistake for mistake exchange.  The Wizards, without having to give away a draft choice – got a less onerous mistake in Rashard Lewis.  So this is an obvious fit – and it commits them fully to John Wall, which was the sensible thing to do anyhoo.

For the Suns, this is a strong move.  Gortat gives them some beef they desperately needed, considering how putrid their defense and rebounding are.  He and Robin Lopez make a pretty good center combination.  Mikael Pietrus is a guy with some talent, but is relatively throw-in like.  Vince Carter is at least as good as Jason Richardson.  Hedo Turkoglu was useless to them, so his departure is great contractually.  This move makes their roster more sensible while adding a first round pick – and Vince Carter is very much moveable if that tickles their fancy.

Ultimately, the headlines will be about Orlando re-shaping their team, but it is hard to see where the true marginal gain is.  This feels like re-arranging deck chairs to sate the talk show calling hordes.

 

2011 NBA Power Rankings – Week 2

Wow, is it ever a long season.  It is hard to reasonably say that the season is taking shape, but we can draw some trends from the first couple of weeks.  The methodology is outlined here:

Rank Team W L Off Def Road SOS Rating
1 Heat 5 2 104.681 (4) 91.061 (2) 2 4.42 (5) 20.039
2 Lakers 7 0 111.797 (1) 98.553 (10) 1 2.285 (14) 16.529
3 Hornets 6 0 102.624 (11) 94.345 (5) 1.75 6.047 (1) 16.076
4 Nuggets 4 3 103.214 (8) 96.771 (7) 2 5.406 (3) 13.849
5 Magic 5 1 102.206 (12) 90.265 (1) 1.167 0.188 (22) 13.296
6 Celtics 6 2 100.549 (15) 93.642 (3) 1.75 2.796 (11) 11.453
7 Mavericks 4 2 99.547 (18) 94.062 (4) 1.167 3.504 (8) 10.156
8 Hawks 6 2 107.564 (2) 101.264 (18) 2.188 -1.105 (29) 7.384
9 Knicks 3 3 101.418 (13) 99.101 (11) 1.75 2.151 (15) 6.217
10 Suns 3 4 105.156 (3) 107.06 (28) 2 5.742 (2) 5.837
11 Sixers 2 5 100.832 (14) 98.253 (9) 1.5 1.712 (17) 5.79
12 Blazers 5 3 104.105 (6) 101.59 (19) 2.188 0.912 (20) 5.614
13 Warriors 5 2 102.793 (10) 100.653 (14) 1.5 1.27 (19) 4.91
14 Bulls 3 3 99.388 (19) 99.357 (12) 1.167 3.104 (9) 4.301
15 Rockets 1 5 104.175 (5) 106.129 (27) 1.75 3.968 (6) 3.764
16 Grizzlies 4 4 99.935 (17) 100.831 (16) 2.188 2.362 (13) 3.653
17 Spurs 5 1 103.004 (9) 100.622 (13) 1.75 -0.902 (28) 3.23
18 Jazz 3 3 99.042 (20) 97.455 (8) 1.75 -0.424 (24) 2.912
19 Raptors 1 6 98.651 (21) 102.285 (20) 2 2.688 (12) 1.054
20 Bucks 2 5 91.424 (29) 95.098 (6) 2 1.359 (18) -0.316
21 Cavaliers 3 3 100.031 (16) 104.17 (23) 1.75 0.283 (21) -2.107
22 Nets 2 4 96.117 (25) 105.029 (25) 1.167 4.755 (4) -2.99
23 Bobcats 1 6 96.651 (24) 101.095 (17) 2 -0.742 (27) -3.186
24 Pistons 2 5 98.574 (23) 104.059 (22) 1.5 0.017 (23) -3.968
25 Clippers 1 6 94.551 (26) 103.414 (21) 1.5 2.933 (10) -4.43
26 Wizards 1 4 94.029 (27) 105.076 (26) 2.1 3.93 (7) -5.017
27 Thunder 3 3 98.579 (22) 104.919 (24) 1.75 -0.523 (26) -5.113
28 Kings 3 3 103.319 (7) 108.112 (30) 1.75 -3.14 (30) -6.183
29 Pacers 2 3 92.889 (28) 100.71 (15) 2.1 -0.486 (25) -6.207
30 Timberwolves 1 6 91.059 (30) 107.777 (29) 2 2.147 (16) -12.57

As we know, the rankings are based on normalizing offensive efficiency based on possessions.  Using a possession view, one way we can look at any offensive possession is that all possessions result in two outcomes – either a possession gives a team at least one chance to score (a FT trip/FGA) or a team turns it over.  It follows that teams that covert lots of scoring chances and/or GENERATES a lot of scoring chances can be successful.  How do you generate scoring chances (in my best Hubie Brown voice)?  By grabbing missed shots or by not turning the ball over.

Obviously most great offenses succeed with a combination of both quality and quantity.  The Suns last year led the league in offense and true shooting percentage (essentially shooting percentage counting threes and free throws), the Magic as the #2 offense was 2nd in TS%, the 3rd rated offense was Cleveland with a TS% that was 3rd in the league.  But 4th in offense was the Hawks, which was an ordinary 14th in TS%.  They were not efficient at converting shots relative to other great offenses, but the Hawks were the best show generating team in the league.  Last year, the Hawks were 4th in offensive rebounding and the best at not turning the ball over.  Their playoff failures showed that maybe this was not the best way to deal with really good teams – that shot selection might take on a premium.  But their method in the long run was very solid.

Once again this year, the Hawks are still elite offensively, but doing it in a nearly upside down way compared to a year ago.  This year the Hawks (granted against a not at all inspired schedule to date) are actually making shots, leading the league in true shooting percentage.  In contrast, they have slipped noticeably in their shot quantity stats, dropping from 4th to 15th in offensive rebounding and from 1st to 14th in turnover rate.  What is particularly notable is that the team is virtually identical to last year – the only change was Larry Drew taking over as coach, and he was a holdover assistant.  Much has been made of the Hawks change of offense to a more motion and passing oriented attack and less of an isolation one.  The change of their offensive composition seems to point to a chance in underlying philosophy – I’d be interested to see for myself.

On the other side of the scale are the Washington Wizards and their 27th ranked offensive attack.  We all know that their team this year lacks many nuclear physicists with the likes of Andray Blatche, Nick Young, Gil Arenas and Javale McGee.  John Wall is going to be a megastar, but we know rookies are full of turnovers.  What is interesting is that usually efficient offenses are a hallmark of Flip Saunders coached teams.  However, this team is different.  First, there is the 20th ranked true shooting – which is not good, but at least in the ballpark of average – it could be redeemed with quantity.  However, the Wizards offense has really been plagued by a simple inability to get shots up, good or bad.  The Wizards have been the worst offensive rebounding team in the league, and are 28th in the league in turnover rate.  Put simply, they cannot afford bad shooting nights, the marginal value of each shot is too precious.

2011 NBA Preview: Teams 24-19

This is the third entry in our NBA preview series.  In the prior installment we unearthed our picks for the six worst teams in the NBA.  Now we rise up from badness to mere irrelevance:

24. Sacramento Kings (23rd overall in 2010, 22nd offense, 18th defense)

After much of the walking disasters in the previous section, the teams here seem to either be just unappealing in a boring, non transcendental way, or they are teams like the Sacramento Kings – a team with a lot of raw materials, but without a discernible near term recipe to put the flavors together.  Tyreke Evans, while playing wildly out of position as a lead guard, is one of the most impressive physical forces in the NBA, a pocket version of the LeBron James wing player as-linebacker.  Jason Thompson is an interesting forward, Carl Landry has always been a super productive forward for his pedigree, and Beno Udrih seems like he might be a competent point guard.  DeMarcus Cousins, entering as the #5 pick, is certifiably crazy.  But he is also the single best talent to enter the draft, a big man with soft hands, amazing rebounding instincts and the ability to go for 20-20 any night.  There are going to be some nights where they could crush a team like the Lakers or Celtics on the second night of a back to back.  They will also pile up a lot of losses while trying to put this chemistry experiment together.

CAN WIN THE TITLE IF: Tyreke Evans morphs into the junior Oscar Robertson his talent tracks with.  DeMarcus Cousins IS the best big man rookie since Dwight Howard and Paul Westphal learns how to coach defense.

23. Washington Wizards (26th overall in 2010, 25th offense, 20th defense)

After the colossal disaster of a season ago, the Wizards seemed without hope – sure they had cap space, but who would buy, especially when the three top free agents were making a pinkie swear promise?  Flip Saunders did a decent job defensively – 20th is no great shakes, but at least they gave a shit compared to what Eddie Jordan wheeled out there.  However, his offense predicated on smart reads and cuts was dependent on the basketball acumen of people like Nick Young and Javale McGee.  Oops.  This is not to say these are bad players, but “heady” is not a popular descriptor.  But alas, there is hope with Ted Leonsis owning the team and John Wall landing in their laps as the #1 overall pick.  Wall is the first true facilitator the Wizards have had since Rod Strickland, and if Gilbert Arenas can handle playing shooting guard competently, they could be entertaining pretty quickly.  While the albatross of Kirk Hinrich’s deal is not great, at least he can play basketball and not just run and dunk and shoot wantonly.  Wall, Arenas’ return and the growth of Aundray Blatche could keep things interesting for a couple of months.  Really this is a step in a solid rebuilding process.

CAN WIN THE TITLE IF: Wall is even better than I think he will be (and that’s saying a lot), Gilbert becomes an efficient shooter and Blatche emerges as one of the East’s top power forwards.  The team learns Saunders’ defensive schemes more and become a tough team to score on.

22. Memphis Grizzlies (20th overall in 2010, 17th offense, 23rd defense)

The Grizzlies are the first (ok I forgot the Cavs) 40 win team from a year ago to be on this list.  How they did it though was a bit lucky.  First of all, they were among the healthiest teams in the league.  It is hard to remember any of their core guys, Rudy Gay, OJ Mayo, Zach Randolph missing any significant action.  The Grizzlies were an athletic team that relied on volume to account for relative inaccuracy.  So while their shooting percentage (true shooting) was merely 21st, their league leading offensive rebounding pushed them up in efficiency.  That said, their defense was bad and their bench was worse.  The bench will improve as Hasheem Thabeet might be a bust at the 2nd overall pick, but should be improved as a backup center.  Also the drafting of Xavier Henry gives them some more depth in the wing.  That said, the extension for Rudy Gay was nonsensical, and the odds of human carcinogen Zach Randolph staying engaged again is low.

CAN WIN THE TITLE IF: They played in the NBDL.  Their starting five stays as healthy and focused as they did last year and Xavier Henry plays like the guy who the college basketball experts thought Kansas was getting and not the one dimensional wimp who actually played for them.  But there is just not much ceiling here – considering what a best case scenario last year’s 40-42 was.

21. Los Angeles Clippers (27th overall in 2010, 27th on offense, 21st on defense)

This is one of the first solid upside plays we have in this list.  I could see this team making the playoffs in an everything goes right sort of way.  The key is Blake Griffin.  After missing his entire rookie season, the slam dunk #1 pick of last season shows signs of being that sort of guy this year.  If he is the real thing, then the notoriously unfocused Baron Davis could match it also.  Even as he has gotten older, Davis to me is the best package of pure point guard skills in the game.  When he focuses and stops launching 3s, he dominates games like no other point can.  But he does it so rarely that we are staring a 21st ranked team.  There is a decent amount to like even if they ARE a laughingstock franchise and hiring a crappy coach like Vinny Del Negro.  Griffin and Eric Gordon are building blocks, Al-Farooq Aminu is one of the most talented guys in this draft class (raw but a great homerun swing) and Eric Bledsoe could be a great combination guard.  But it comes down to Baron.

CAN WIN THE TITLE IF: If Blake Griffin is the type of superstar that can get Baron Davis to be a superstar like he can be too.  This team has the parts of a dangerous playoff team … but bet on any Clippers team at your peril.

20. Philadelphia 76ers (25th overall in 2010, 20th offense, 24th defense)

It is funny what coaching can do.  Under Maurice Cheeks, this team was young, fast and energetic.  Sure they couldn’t shoot, but they could defend and out-athlete more veteran opponents.  But their offense lacked, so the management picks up Eddie Jordan.  But the management forgot Eddie Jordan has no concept of coaching defense.  The accountability was gone and these guys fell like a rock.  Enter Doug Collins.  Collins, ever the ambulance chaser, comes out of his cushy TNT gig to try to rescue the team he played for.  Collins is a great rebuilder, but notoriously bad with young players.  Jrue Holliday is the youngest, and Evan Turner, the 2nd overall pick this year is no grizzled vet either.  Will Collins tear them a new Kwame Brown?  One hopes not, because if their confidence is not shattered (and Evan Turner is a legitimate solid fringe all-star sort as he seems to profile), they have pieces.  Andre Iguodala is a terrific glue guy, Louis Williams is a solid combo guard, Maresse Speights is a terrific post scorer.  The players under Collins will be accountable, and he has always been able to develop underachieving veterans (witness his tour in Detroit).  This team will be better just by having defensive accountability.  That said, I am not sure if they have solved their shooting problems which is years old now.  The Sixers were the 22nd ranked TS% team, and while they might get to the line more now (only 2 teams went less), they still do not have much shooting.

CAN WIN THE TITLE IF: Thaddeus Young or Jrue Holliday make the leap based on their talent, Elton Brand steps in the way back machine and Doug Collins works his Doug Collins miracle while not turning Holliday or Evan Turner into a fetal puddle of goo.  Evan Turner also has to be that point forward/Brandon Roy type and not an overrated non athlete who succeeded due to being in a non athletic Big Ten.  Someone needs to shoot the ball too.  

19. Charlotte Bobcats (14th overall in 2010, 24th offense, 2nd defense)

This is the team I am most confident that I will underestimate.  If Doug Collins in an ambulance chasing miracle worker, Larry Brown positively has healing hands.  Look at that roster.  When Gerald Wallace or Stephen Jackson is your best player, this is not the stuff of a title winner.  There is still a lack of wow on this team, even if they were the first team to really tap into the physical gifts of Tyrus Thomas.  Out is Raymond Felton at the point and in is the oft-injured Shawn Livingston.  Livingston has the talent to be a terrific big point guard, but his lack of shooting ability limits his ceiling.  Besides that, with no first rounder infused into the team, only Thomas’ improvement provides hope offensively – that and cutting down their league worst turnover rate.  Owner Michael Jordan could suit up again and be a net positive with this bunch (it’d better than him as a General Manager).  But somehow Larry Brown persists, and he makes this mishmash competitive by using good position defense that does a good job defending (3rd best forced turnover rate) without fouling.  (lowest FT rate allowed in the league and 2nd at defending 3 pointers). 

CAN WIN THE TITLE IF: They could let the 2010 Phoenix Suns play offense for them.  This is such a weird mishmash of mediocre talent and unproven upside that Larry Brown getting them 44 wins a year ago is a major league miracle.  He might get 50 wins this year with his skill for all I know.  But this is not the roster with that sort of ceiling, and given Michael Jordan’s work as a GM both here and in Washington, he is not someone you can immediately assume will identify that ceiling. (Adam Morrison, cough cough)


NFL Power Rankings – Week 4

Four weeks in the books, and this past week got some real key results – the Steelers no longer being unbeaten and the Bears being undressed in New York in maybe the worst football game of the season so far.  Add in the Patriots well rounded demolition of Miami, and we get a lot of change. As always, 50% of the rating is average margin of victory with adjustments for home field and diminishing marginal returns (so running up the score has less value) and the other half is the average margin of victory of a team’s opponents in all the other games those opponents play. (i.e. a team’s 3 opponent rating is 50% based on the team’s effort, and 50% on the average margin of the 3 opponents in their other games against the other teams on their schedule to date)

Rank Team W L T Margin Sched Rtg SOS Rank Last Wk
1 Steelers 3 1 0 20.708 10.021 1 1
2 Jets 3 1 0 14.604 1.604 16 5
3 Chiefs 3 0 0 14.278 3.111 9 8
4 Ravens 3 1 0 13.021 8.896 2 11
5 Chargers 2 2 0 12.042 0.167 22 10
6 Patriots 3 1 0 11.479 1.292 20 14
7 Titans 2 2 0 11.271 2.896 11 4
8 Packers 3 1 0 8.854 -1.146 28 3
9 Colts 2 2 0 8.417 -0.458 24 7
10 Falcons 3 1 0 8.354 -0.896 25 2
11 Eagles 2 2 0 5.688 0 23 9
12 Redskins 2 2 0 5.625 5.375 4 23
13 Broncos 2 2 0 4.958 2.708 12 21
14 Cowboys 1 2 0 4.833 2.167 14 13
15 Texans 3 1 0 4.479 1.229 21 12
16 Bengals 2 2 0 4.438 1.563 17 20
17 Seahawks 2 2 0 4.208 2.958 10 15
18 Bears 3 1 0 3.958 1.958 15 6
19 Browns 1 3 0 3.646 4.146 5 19
20 Rams 2 2 0 2.813 -4.313 31 24
21 Lions 0 4 0 0.708 4.083 6 22
22 Saints 3 1 0 0.333 -2.292 29 16
23 Vikings 1 2 0 0.167 -2.667 30 16
24 Giants 2 2 0 -1.75 1.375 19 28
25 Bucs 2 1 0 -2.833 -1 27 25
26 Dolphins 2 2 0 -3.188 1.563 17 18
27 Jaguars 2 2 0 -3.75 5.375 3 31
28 Raiders 1 3 0 -6.938 -0.938 26 26
29 49ers 0 4 0 -6.979 3.146 8 30
30 Cardinals 2 2 0 -9.563 2.5 13 27
31 Bills 0 4 0 -10.688 3.563 7 29
32 Panthers 0 4 0 -13.083 -4.583 32 32

Some observations:

  • The Chiefs are the last unbeaten – amazing.  They bubble up to #3 based on positive results by teams they’ve beaten, the Chargers and Browns specifically.
  • The Redskins probably are not this good.  But their win at Philadelphia paired with the Rams and Texans victories elevated them the most this week.  The Patriots did not have that sort of schedule jump, but their battering of Miami was big.
  • The plunge of the week thusly goes to Chicago after that disgrace in New York.  Add meh performances by Green Bay get you spiraling downward.
  • Despite the close loss to the Ravens, the Steelers hold the top for another week.  No team has played better against a better slate – for now.
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