Friday, August 10, 2007

Back in the saddle

Finally made it back to the gym yesterday afternoon to play some basketball for the first time since I took the bar exam two weeks ago. You'd think that with the bar exam out of the way I'd be playing ball even more often than I was before. No such luck. Between various trips out of town since the bar exam and the departure from Boston of the people that I'd been playing basketball with this summer, I just hadn't found a good time to go. Even today, I hadn't really expected to find a game. No one was on the court when I arrived, so I did four miles on the treadmill (2.5 running, 1.5 warm-up and cool-down) and then went back to the court to shoot around for a little bit afterwards. Lo and behold, that's when people started showing up.

Why am mentioning my pick-up game from yesterday to you? As I try and figure out which of the various available statistical measures I find most compelling in evaluating players, I've been spending some time thinking through how I would analyze player performance if I could build an evaluation system from scratch. Now, when I'm playing at the gym, I find that I notice when a particular statistic plays a really important role in the outcome of my pick-up games. Today, my team got absolutely hammered on the boards. The other team had a guy who was 6'4", and I was the tallest person on my team at 5'10". Plus, the other four players on the other team were stronger than our players for the most part. Besides the rebounding, I'd say both teams were relatively equal (which, in this case, means equally bad). But with the huge disparity in rebounding, we absolutely got crushed. My initial reaction to the weight given to rebounds (i.e. as much as points) in some statistical measures such as Win Score had been "that's way too high," even though I've always been more focused on defense and rebounding as a player. My thinking has been definitely been changing on that front, and today's games were simply yet another example driving home the importance of rebounding.

What statistics do you think are really important, and which ones do you think are highly overrated?

Thursday, August 9, 2007

Isn't this supposed to be a Sixers blog?

Well, yes, this IS supposed to be a Sixers blog. Unfortunately (or fortunately, since you never know what sort of disastrous moves the Sixers might make), the Sixers just aren't doing anything this summer. Around the time of the draft, the Sixers made some noise about making a move to get a higher draft slot, but nothing ever happened. Then, there was some brief talk about the Sixers going after Darko Milicic, but it seems like that was never really anything more than talk. Summer League happened, but nothing really unexpected was learned (Louis Williams played well, the rookies were up-and-down). And since then? Joe Smith went elsewhere, and other than that negative (but not surprising) development, the only thing you can hear around the Sixers is the birds chirping. Really just a whole lot of silence, and I'm not optimistic that anything of note is going to happen this summer to interrupt this silence. Unless you consider Samuel Dalembert playing for the Canadian National team to be big news, in which case you've had all sorts of exciting news to follow for the last couple of days (talked about here, here, and here). So for now you get to read a whole bunch of my musings about the rest of the goings on in the wider NBA world. Hopefully they can tide you over until the Sixers do something worth talking about here!

Wednesday, August 8, 2007

Is Etan Thomas going to call out Greg Oden and the Blazers?

Henry Abbot, over at Truehoop, points us to a blog post about how much easier it is to root for the Blazers now that they have shed their "Jailblazers" image.

The first line that Henry excerpted caught my attention:
[Greg Oden] plans to live on a reasonable stipend and not partake in the typical excesses of the NBA lifestyle.
I can already hear you saying "What's the big deal?" Normally, I'd agree with you, but it caught my eye because I thought it had particular resonance with the mini-brouhaha that erupted in mid-June over some comments by Andrew Bogut that were quoted in the Sydney Morning Herald. Basically, Bogut said that he wouldn't want to raise his children in an environment where you're supposed to flaunt your money, and he strongly implied (actually, he more or less came right out and said) that the majority of NBA players are arrogant, like to spend money (often foolishly), and have multiple girlfriends.

About a month later, Etan Thomas (currently on the Washington Wizards) responded to Bogut's comments in a piece posted on Slam Online. He took Bogut to task for not knowing what he was talking about and making generalizations, and possibly implied that Bogut's comments might be the result of racial bias (From Thomas' response: "You're equating bad decisions with "ghetto upbringing," leading me to believe that you are referring to an exclusive group of players. Interesting..."). I thought Thomas' response was a bit uneven, but I certainly agreed with (what I took to be) his main point that Bogut had made some very sweeping assertions without any (non-anecdotal) evidence to back them up.

Especially since Truehoop had been the first site to really bring Bogut's comments to the forefront (or, at least, Truehoop was the first site where I saw them covered) and Henry had predicted that Bogut would probably receive a rude reception from some of his fellow NBA players this season as a result of his comments, I expected any post on Truehoop to be especially sensitive to comments that might be interpreted as being similar in substance to Bogut's statements. So when I saw the first line in the blog post quoted by Truehoop, my antennae was raised.

It isn't surprising for a puff piece on a rookie to talk about how the rookie is planning to live responsibly and not let the hype get to them. In that context, the line about "excesses" could have been nothing more than filler (it should also be noted that this line was used to summarize a longer article, not a line from the article itself). However, in reading the article that the original blog post references, I think my initial sensitivity to resonance with the Bogut situation turned out to be well-founded.

The quote from the article that really caught my eye was this one:
"How many No. 1 picks would be driving a Ford Taurus?" said Blazers assistant coach Bill Bayno, who ran Oden's workouts last week. "He's not really caught up in all the hype. And that's nice. I think the NBA needs that. A lot of these guys are caught up in the wrong things: money and cars and bling. Greg's just a good dude; a down-to-earth kid. I don't think he'll let the money or the fame change him, which is rare in the NBA."
I was expecting the article to have some comments that made the same point as Bogut, but with a much different tone--talking about how Greg Oden was living responsibly, and only implicitly contrasting this lifestyle with that of other NBA players (after all, there's no need to talk about a player living responsibly if people assume that most players are living that way). And, for the most part, the article follows this script. Oden's budget and down-to-earth lifestyle are described, and Oden is certainly never quoted saying anything negative about other NBA players. The quote by Bayno, however, strikes me as basically the same as Bogut's comments in both tone and substance (even down to the focus on cars and "bling").

Somehow, I don't expect Bayno's statement to get the same attention as Bogut's statements. I think the reaction to Bogut's comments was less about what was said (since these types of comments about NBA culture have been around for years), and more about who said them. People (myself included) tend to have a circle-the-wagons mentality when people outside of "their" group criticize some aspect of the group's behavior. Bogut, despite having been in the US for six or seven years at this point, still qualifies as an outsider. He is a high-profile, white non-American in a league whose culture is defined by black Americans. Bayno, as an assistant coach, is much lower profile than Bogut. And while he's white (at least when I googled him the picture that I found was of a white guy--I had no idea who he was before I looked him up), he is American, which I think counts for a lot in making the insider-outsider distinction in this context.

If someone makes uninformed comments, then let's hold their feet to the fire. But let's not pretend we're upset with the message (or that the message must clearly be wrong) if we're really just unhappy with the identity of the messenger.

O'Neal-Bryant: An addendum

Two quick points to make as an addendum to my previous post about the possibility of the Lakers getting Jermaine O'Neal:

1. Since I think the Lakers should be willing to trade Andrew Bynum to get Jermaine O'Neal, do I also think they should have been willing to trade him to get Jason Kidd? Yes, absolutely. The idea that the Lakers gave up getting Jason Kidd because they didn't want to give up Bynum is really hard for me to fathom, and I'm not as big a fan of Jason Kidd as most people. I will say that Kidd's age scares me a little--I keep expecting his game to take a sharp decline, but it hasn't happened yet. However, while I readily concede that Kidd is a better player than Jermaine O'Neal, I'm not sure that he would improve the Lakers as much as O'Neal would. Why? First, I think the Lakers major problem last year was interior defense. As good of a perimeter defender as Kidd is, I don't really see how his presence helps the Lakers with their major defensive problems. Second, I think some of Kidd's talents would be wasted on the Lakers because of the triangle offense. In the triangle, the point guard often initiates the offense by passing the ball into a stationary player at the high post and then moves away. I'm not sure you need a point guard with Kidd's tremendous play-making ability and court vision to initiate the offense. Obviously, the Lakers would have been more potent in the open floor with three players who could lead the break (Kidd, Kobe, Odom; and possibly Luke Walton). I'm also sure Phil Jackson would have tweaked the triangle offense to take advantage of Kidd's abilities, but I still think some of Kidd's talents would have been wasted, and his one shortcoming (poor outside shooting) would have been more apparent than it normally is when he's creating for other people. Still, the Lakers clearly should have been willing to give up Andrew Bynum to get Jason Kidd.

2. Would a trade for Jermaine O'Neal that didn't involve Lamar Odom even be feasible under NBA rules? According to the ESPN trade machine (and the proposed trade mentioned in the update to yesterday's post), the answer is "Yes." The first trade I tried (Kwame Brown, Vladimir Radmanovic, and Andrew Bynum for O'Neal) worked fine. However, it's not at all clear that the Pacers would be interested in the available players other than Bynum, and if you eliminate Brown and Radmanovic from the trade equation then it becomes hard to find enough available salary to match up with O'Neal's $19.7 million cap number. So what's the verdict? Feasible? Yes. Likely? No, but certainly doable if the Lakers are willing to throw in cash and draft picks.

Tuesday, August 7, 2007

O'Neal-Byrant: Together again?

No, not Shaquille O'Neal. But according to Arash Markazi over at, Jermaine O'Neal has very clearly told the Pacers management that he has no interest in being part of a youth movement in Indiana, and that he'd welcome a trade to the L.A. Lakers.

The hold-up seems to be that the Pacers want the Lakers to include both Lamar Odom and Andrew Bynum, but the Lakers don't want to give up Bynum. Umm...excuse me? I can certainly understand why the Lakers don't want to give up both players for O'Neal, but I don't understand why Bynum is the stumbling block. If anything, the Pacers' insistence on getting Odom should be the stumbling block.

I look at the Lakers, and I see a team that is basically in the same position the Celtics were in after they had traded for Ray Allen, but before they had traded for Kevin Garnett. They have two current all-star (or better) caliber talents (Kobe and Odom playing the role of Pierce and Allen) and a potential future all-star (Bynum playing the role of Al Jefferson) who is unlikely to fully develop before the current stars begin to fade. Jefferson is probably a little closer to fully blossoming than Bynum, but Pierce and Allen are also a little older than Bryant and Odom.

Trading Odom for O'Neal basically keeps the Lakers in the same place they are right now in the Western Conference. They improve their interior defense, but they lose Odom's versatility on the other end. I don't see how this very slight improvement (at best) is worth giving up a potential future star. On the other hand, adding O'Neal to the core of Kobe and Odom is certainly worth trading away a potential future star. The Lakers would then have Kobe, Odom, and O'Neal to build around--three all-star caliber players entering their prime, instead of two all-star caliber players and a potential star. The Celtics made the trade for KG, shipping out their potential all-star in Jefferson, to make a run for the title, and I think the Lakers could put themselves in a similar position if they would agree to give up Bynum in a trade that enabled them to keep Odom.

The Lakers and Celtics have been connected for a long time, so I think it would be only fitting if this off-season would see them both making similar moves that returned them both to title contention. With Kobe, Odom, and O'Neal, the Lakers would be real title contenders again, not just the pretenders (good, but not nearly good enough) that they have been the last two seasons.

[Update: ESPN's version of this story includes the tidbit that the Lakers reportedly have made a trade offer that includes Andrew Bynum.
However, talks with the Pacers to acquire their own disgruntled star have stalled over Indiana's insistence that the Lakers' package include both Lamar Odom and 19-year-old center Andrew Bynum. The Lakers reportedly have countered with an offer that would send Kwame Brown, Brian Cook and Bynum to the Pacers.
If true (that the Lakers are finally relenting on their insistence that Bynum not be traded and are refusing to trade Odom as part of the package), then two big thumbs up to Mitch Kupchak.]

Monday, August 6, 2007

Lebron James causes global warming

This post (via Truehoop) was too funny not to pass on. Go take a look and enjoy!

EEOC vs the NBA?

Can someone explain what's going on here to me? I first saw a mention of this (potential) lawsuit by Roy Tarpley in the USA Today (I think it was this past Friday, but I'm not sure), but the brief description was more confusing than enlightening. Then I saw this slightly more illuminating article the other day, but I'm still a little confused as to the substance of Roy Tarpley's lawsuit.

First, what I think I understand: When a person wants to bring an equal employment discrimination suit, they first file their claim with the EEOC. The EEOC investigates and either says, "Yes, we think you have a good case," or "You don't have a good case." If the former, the defendant is encouraged (but is not required) to negotiate a settlement, and often they will because the EEOC finding often gives a good indication of the eventual trial result. If the latter, the plaintiff can still file suit, but they're unlikely to prevail (again, because the EEOC finding is often a good indicator of the eventual trial result). This system was implemented to try and encourage settlements, reducing the burden on the court system.

In this case, it appears that the EEOC recently decided that Tarpley has a solid case and that the NBA and Tarpley have not been able to reach a settlement agreement. Now Tarpley is planning to sue. My major confusion is over what damages Tarpley thinks he is going to get. The article indicates that the EEOC agrees the NBA violated the Americans with Disabilities Act because the NBA did not reinstate Tarpley, who has passed all his drug tests over the last four years. It's this last part that confuses me--is Tarpley arguing that he should have been reinstated four years ago when he first passed a drug test? If so, does he think the $6.5 million in damages he's seeking represents the salary he would have earned over the last four years? He's 42 now, so I don't understand why he thinks an NBA team would have picked him up at the age of 38, almost ten years from the last time he played competitive NBA basketball. I don't know the numbers, but I'm pretty sure there are only a handful of players that old in the NBA (Dikembe Mutombo, Kevin Willis, anyone else?).

Or is Roy Tarpley arguing that he should have been reinstated much closer to when he was banned in 1995? From the article, it's very unclear to me when he first started passing drug tests again. If he is arguing that he should have been reinstated years ago, and the EEOC is siding with him, then this holding could be very troubling for any sports league attempting to enforce its policies against illegal drugs. After all, Tarpley was suspended from the league for cocaine use, reinstated after a few years, and then banned for good after he violated the terms of his reinstatement. I'm hoping that it's just a lack of clarity in the article, but from what I read I'm having a hard time figuring out what the NBA did wrong. Hopefully another article will appear at some point that sheds a little more clarity on the issues involved.