One hell of a stat- Stars Win Championships edition

I was having trouble falling asleep, so I looked this up:

The last time a team other than the Pistons won an NBA Championship without having a player who had previously won a regular season MVP award was the 1981 Celtics, and they just happened to have four future Hall of Famers (one of whom later won three MVP’s) in their starting lineup in the form of Larry Bird, Robert Parish, Kevin McHale, and Tiny Archibald.

The NBA: Where it takes a superstar to win a title happens

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Devin Harris trade, revisited

Thanks to being in law school and having finals over the past few weeks, I have not had the chance to tackle a few issues that have stuck in my craw since the start of the playoffs. The first of those comes today: Some people (including a certain ESPN personality who has his picture on the front page but will remain nameless) have backed off their criticism of the Jason Kidd/Devin Harris trade because of the Mavs’ success in the playoffs.

To them, I ask one simple question: Why?

The entire criticism of the trade, as made by a multitude of media members as well as lowly bloggers like myself, still holds completely true, if not more than it was at the time of the trade. What the Mavericks did was wound their future chances to improve a team that had no chance of winning a title in the immediate. It would be hard to find people who thought that Harris for Kidd would make the Mavericks worse in the short term, mostly because that makes no sense. As a Bay Area resident nearly my entire life, there are not many people who have worshipped at the Kidd altar as long as yours truly. He is a phenominal player with elite court vision, passing ability, and one of the rare PG’s who can effectively manage the egos on a top team on the floor. That said, there was and is no chance in hell that he makes the Mavs into even a top 2 team in the Western Conference, much less the NBA. Their 6-seed this year provides as good of evidence as any out there, and injuries do not provide a fair excuse considering the multitude of injuries the other top teams (LA, Portland, and Houston, just to name a few) suffered.

As such, we are left with the exact same question that lingered then: Why give up the PG of the future for moving from a 7/8 seed to a 6/5 seed? Devin Harris is unquestionably underpaid and is easily a starting-level PG even if you discount his stats this year with the fact that the Lawrence Frank system inflated them. Furthermore, Dallas gave up two unprotected #1’s- the first of these produced Ryan Anderson, who should be a rotation player for New Jersey, and the 2nd is an unprotected 1st for 2010, and who knows where Dallas will be then. Hell, there’s a chance Dallas is a lottery team next season, particularly if Kidd leaves, which is a possibility though not probable.

The “cap space” argument fails miserably too, since the only way the Mavs will have cap space is if they don’t have a starting PG on roster, since Dirk, Terry, Carroll, and the other guys on roster take up enough cap that even Dampier coming off the books won’t make them a player in the 2010 boom unless Kidd goes elsewhere or they dump Josh Howard. While it is true that bringing Chris Bosh home has a great deal of cachet (even if he is a terrible fit with Dirk), the slight chance of that is not worth giving up on the PG of the future and two first rounders, especially when they did not and do not have a replacement in line.

 

The Mavericks’ decision to trade Devin Harris and two 1st’s for Jason Kidd was fatally short-sighted then and is now. And anyone who changes their mind on that should explain why they did so.

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Because I’m deathly afraid someone is going to post this first (NBA Draft Lottery)

I’ve had the idea for how the NBA should handle the lottery for a little while now, but have waited to write it up because I’m busy (law school finals) and because this blog does not have enough visibility right now for it to get the penetration it deserves. But I realized that things are moving too fast and I want to make sure it’s out there before someone else writes it up. Keep in mind, I’m someone obsessive enough about this stuff that I run a fantasy sports league where the higher seeds can choose their opponents (and a great deal more innovations that are being saved for a much longer piece).

The NBA has 16 teams that make the playoffs and 14 that do not. At present, those 14 teams go into the lottery, which is weighted by record for the first three picks, then it simply goes in order of regular season record from worst to best.

What I want to see happen is a 14 team single elimination tournament at the end of the regular season. It would behave exactly like a 16 team tourney, except that the top 2 seeds get byes. It would be seeded completely by record, with ties being broken by head to head if just 2 teams, or by record in the last 20 games if more than 2 teams. Naturally, all games would be hosted by the home teams until we get to the “Final Four” which would be held at a neutral site, and that’s a neutral site that is desirable (Vegas, pretty much).

At the end, the two teams that advance to the final game are facing off for the #1 pick. Winning team gets #1 and losing team gets #2, though I could be persuaded by arguments that the losing team gets #3 and #2 is determined by the process below.

The other change is that the day after the final game is the NBA Draft Lottery. We have 12 teams left at this point. The other thing that changes in this lottery is that each of the 14 slots is selected by a lottery. It is easy enough to set odds for each level (3rd pick through 13th) and then just plug in the teams accordingly.

One inevitable criticism is that teams that have traded their #1 would not have an incentive to play their best guys and players would not want to try hard to get a good draft pick and a player that could replace them. How you solve this is the same way the dunk contest is fixable: Add money to it. Each player on the “winning” team gets a decently sized bonus (considering his team just got the #1 pick, I think even the owner/GM of that team would be happy enough to do it), with escalating bonuses each round after the first one. The other tweak is that there is an underlying exception that what becomes the #1 pick cannot be traded under any circumstances. So a pick can be top-10 or lottery protected, but that protection does not mean that the pick is moved if win the tournament- then it works like all other protection and their obligations slide back another year.

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My nickname for Stephen Strasburg

Assuming he gets drafted by the Nationals, his nickname should be “The Majority Whip

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Probably the single dumbest paragraph of Bill Simmons’ career

Here’s what he wrote:

93. Chris Anderson
If the Birdman doesn’t win “Comeback Player of the Year” for (a) bouncing back from a drug violation so seedy that they wouldn’t even tell us what happened, and (b) giving Denver superior bench play this season (6.5 ppg, 6.2 rpg, 2.4 bpg in 20.5 mpg), then let’s dump the award and not have it anymore. 

OK Bill, for someone who purports to follow the NBA closely, that’s pretty damn bad considering:

a.) There is NOT a Comeback Player of the Year award in the NBA and there hasn’t been since 1984-1985. There is a Most Improved Player, but obviously that is different.

b.) A player on his own team, Nene, came back from testicular cancer (16 games played last season) to average 14.6 points, 7.8 boards, and 1.3 blocks per game, all of which are career highs

 

To channel Marc Jackson, you’re better than that (or at least your editors at the Worldwide Leader should be).

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Quite possibly the greatest thing ever

Gotta give credit here to the source: A guy on clutchfans

 

Decision tree!

Decision tree!

 

 

Again, here’s the source.

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An open letter to ESPN

During the excellent BS Report podcast with John Walsh, Bill Simmons and John discuss the backlash for ESPN, but what was surprising to me was how little self-awareness there was in the dicussion, particularly considering Bill is one of the better “big picture” sports minds that has heavy readership. I’m someone who has watched ESPN for literally my entire lifetime- I tought myself to read on the sports page of the San Francisco Chronicle at age 2 and have been a sports diehard ever since. This included waking up a full hour early on weekdays to watch the full SportsCenter before elementary school each and every morning. In the almost twenty years from then until now, I have been a sports consumer of the highest order (in magnitude) given the restrictions on my means. What immediately came to mind were three basic categories that summarize the biggest beefs I have with the Worldwide Leader and those will serve as the organization from here on out.

1. The emphasis on the individual instead of the big picture. Let’s get this out of the way first: I love SportsCenter as a concept and always have. The power to get highlights from one source in such a higher volume than was previously available is something incredible. That said, the problem is that the network never goes beyond the SportsCenter level of depth on teams or schemes. There is a beauty to watching the Spurs play, and you would never know it by watching anything on the Worldwide Leader other than one of their games. Simmons et al have talked about the Battier piece by Michael Lewis at length in the last little while- is there any reason why their network can’t talk about the value of having an unselfish defender in their non-SportsCenter programming? Of course, the effect that we are seeing on individualized play (discussed previously here), particularly in the NBA and basketball in general, is in no way ESPN’s fault alone. Programs like AAU that do not properly teach defense (for the most part) are greater factors, but I sure think we’d see less Gerald Greens if the there were elements of play that carried weight on the network besides dunks, threes, touchdowns, goals, and home runs. Again, it is fine that their flagship show does this, but doing it nearly 24/7 leads into the next problem…

 

2. Catering to a lower common denominator.  In the podcast, Simmons uses the phrase “You can’t follow sports without [ESPN] in a way ,” which I completely agree with. And therein lies the biggest problem. ESPN is doing a much better job now of showing games, but they have been consistently terrible at programming for the more obsessed sports fan. What is so funny about this is that it is such a large (and vocal) subsection of the ESPN audience that has been largely ignored. Instead of having the legions of PTI/Max Kellerman ripoff shows on the network with diluted talent for each one, with shows like Cold Pizza as the posterchildren for the problem, why couldn’t they use that time to have people who really know about their sport (like Jaws and Dilfer for football and any of their high level basketball guys) talk about more nuts and bolts things? There is a gigantic collection of sportsfans that would watch a 30 minute a week program about things like offensive line play, the Triangle offense,  or nuances of football coverage schemes. What’s more, the growing prevalence of DVR’s makes having repetitive programming even more insane, since the sports obessesed can just watch the best programs they have stored instead of being stuck with what’s on.

What’s more, I have no idea why ESPN has been so hesitant to give any stats-heavy people any air time. I’m not talking about the Hollingers of the world having short bits on ESPNEWS- I’m talking about a once a week show where sabermetrics guys in baseball (and/or equivalents in the other sports) get together and talk about either current trends in their sport or other topics. The lack of coverage for minor league sports is baffling too- I don’t think getting the rights to those games would be too costly and it is obvious they have the airtime to fill. If the Sports Reporters could do it every week, they could get 4/5 “nerds” in the same room once a week, changing sports as necessary. Hell, they could do draft roundtables once a month for an hour with ESPN experts and non-ESPN affiliated people (Jonathan Givony of DraftExpress, Scott Wright of NFLDraftCountdown, to name two) to talk about players and picks at a higher level than Kiper and McShay jawing for snippets on SportsCenter. The NFL Network’s “Path to the Draft” is an awfully good jumping off point for this, and it’s hard to figure out why ESPN couldn’t evolve the concept with their incredible resources.

The other major advantage that they are not capitalizing on in this area is the availablily of recently aired games. It would be easy for them to set aside a few hours during decent viewing times each week to re-air recently occurring games that they have the rights to. Wouldn’t it have been nice when ESPN was showing highlights of the Texas/Oklahoma State basketball classic a few years back to say “Hey, and if you missed it last night, ESPN2 is airing it tonight at 6!” Worse comes to worse, none of the games ESPN/ABC/etc hold the rights to for a few days are worth repeating and they have to either dig into the archives for a topical older game (like a previous matchup of two teams in a big game coming up) which they have as well. Furthermore, they consistently miss the boat on creating new stars by the outright refusal to air games of less “sexy” teams in each sport, which delayed or weakened the statutre of teams and individuals like the 2008 Tampa Bay Rays, Dwight Howard, Chris Paul, Grady Sizemore, hockey, and the Portland Trailblazers. I don’t count the NFL because of how small their TV deal is (one game a week), but there is no excuse for the lack of team variety on the ESPN family of networks considering how long seasons are.

 

3. Minimalizing non-ESPN sports events and overcovering ESPN events. How cognizant of this a sports fan is of this issue directly relates to what teams they care about. As an alum of a Pac-10 school, I can attest to the favoritism ESPN shows to conferences that they share broadcasting rights with both in terms of highlights and discussion as a part of other shows. Now, part of this is understandable from a business perspective- they have a product to sell. The problem is that when you are the only game in town it is both smart business and ethically conscious to cast a wider net. You’ve got a captive audience anyway- it’s not like ACC fans or sports fans in general are going to be hurt by spending a more balanced amount and it certainly does not affect anyone’s likelihood of watching future games on the network. Part of ESPN in the E, and “entirely” should be both in terms of what they show and what proportion of the sports world they provide to viewers. Another prominent example of this presently is the amount of coverage the Women’s NCAA tournament gets on the network. While I am someone who fully supports women’s sports, devoting as much time as they do to the sport (pretty much ONLY during the Tournament, which they show) at a time when sports in the US is at its peak is just irritating. Show the games if you like and it’s fine to have the highlights in SportsCenter, but cutting coverage of the big events of the season in terms of sports fan interest just works to alienate the exact people ESPN wants to keep watching their programming as much as possible.

 

ESPN, it’s hard for me because you take such an amazing idea and have kneecapped it for twenty-five years by not using every weapon in your arsenal and blatantly ignoring the hardcore fans no matter what they are hardcore about. Luckliy, no one has fully stepped up to the plate yet so there is still time to get their attention before more fan-friendly options such as the NFL Network and a variety of Internet sites take them away.

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