A Substitute for War

Basketball philosophy

Archive for July 2011

NBA Franchise Power Rankings – #28: Denver Nuggets

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Ty Lawson

(Image by Keith Allison via Flicker)

Previous rankings:

#30 – Charlotte Bobcats (+ introduction)

#29 – Phoenix Suns

#28 – Denver Nuggets

Total Trade Value Ranking: #29 (Feb. 2011 ranking –  #21)

Best assets: SF Danilo Gallinari (young, projects as legitimate to borderline starter), PG Ty Lawson (young, projects as legitimate to borderline starter), 2012 Den 1st, 2013 Den 1st, rights to RFA SG Aaron Afflalo (borderline starter), rights to RFA SF Wilson Chandler (borderline starter), C Timofey Mozgov (borderline starter), SF/PF Kenneth Faried (rookie, projects as bench player to borderline starter), SG Jordan Hamilton (rookie, projects as bench player to borderline starter)

Bad contracts: PF Al Harrington (4 years, 27.6 million), C Chris Anderson (3 years, 13.5 million)

Draft picks indebted/owed: NY owes Den NY 2014 1st unprotected, Den owns right to swap Den 1st with NY 1st in 2016

Other chips: PG Andre Miller (expiring)

Managerial grade: A-

Financial grade: B

Estimated record next year: Bottom 12

Overall synopsis: Doesn’t this seem like a low ranking for the Nuggets, who played some of the best basketball in the league after the Carmelo trade on the way to a 5th seed? It would be if that team had kept in tact. The problem is the Nuggets are no longer that team. Nene and Kenyon Martin, their starting frontcourt for years, as well as longtime 6th man sparkplug JR Smith, are now all UFAs and expected to sign elsewhere. Without Nene and Martin, the Nuggets interior defense and toughness goes from outstanding to weak, with Al Harrington, Timofey Mozgov, Chris Anderson and rookie Kenneth Faried taking their minutes. Dropping in defensive productivity inside and giving Al Harrington starting minutes are two sure roads to a falloff record.

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NBA Franchise Power Rankings: #29 – Phoenix Suns

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Steve Nash dribbling the ball

Image via Wikipedia

Previous rankings:

#30 – Charlotte Bobcats (+ introduction)

#29 – Phoenix Suns

Total Trade Value Ranking – #28 (Feb. 2011 ranking: #29)

Best assets: PG Steve Nash (Old superstar), C Marcin Gortat (legitimate starter), 2012 1st, 2013 1st, PF Markieff Morris (rookie, projects as borderline starter), C Robin Lopez (borderline starter), rights to RFA PG Aaron Brooks (borderline starter), SF Jared Dudley (borderline starter)

Bad contracts: SF Josh Childress (3 years, 20.9 million), PF Channing Frye (3 years, 19.2 million)

Other chips: SG Mikael Pietrus (expiring)

Financial trade: C-

Managerial grade: D

Estimated record next year: Bottom 14

Overall assessment: The Suns are in a transition mode between the Steve Nash era and whatever comes next, except they appear to want to have their cake and eat it too, by rebuilding for the future while keeping Nash to compete and sell tickets. The longer they wait to move on from Nash, the bigger hole they leave for themselves to climb out of it. Nash is both 37 and an unrestricted free agent next summer. If he is not traded this year, Phoenix will get nothing for him. Furthermore, trading him early helps by putting them in prime position to get a top 5 draft pick in a highly regarded 2012 draft, rather than winning enough to get a #13 type pick like they did this draft, but likely not making the playoffs.

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Written by jr.

July 20, 2011 at 8:12 pm

What golf on TV being entertaining tells us about the sports product

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WP Rory McIlroy

Image via Wikipedia

Most people who like watching golf on TV would tell you the same thing – That it translates so well is certainly a surprise with what would otherwise seem like a slow, tedious sport. Who’d have thought that players hitting a ball once every 10 minutes and spending the rest of the time walking would work? But I love the PGA tour. I’m always happy when the week of one of the four majors comes around. Judging by ratings and interest, I’m not alone.

So why does golf on TV work against all odds? As far as I can tell, here are a number of the reasons:


While I don’t mind watching smaller tournaments, it’s the 4 major championships (the Masters, the US Open, the British Open, the PGA Tour) that work the most. As in tennis, it’s like watching the NBA/NHL/MLB/NFL playoffs 4 times a year. It’s where the players prove their rank for their generation.


I always find it interesting how much more “powerful” a player feels once they’ve won a major tournament. It’s like they become a much larger threat and force than before. In tennis the difference isn’t as large after a major victory because the seeding system already gives the players gravitas. In golf a major victory can turn a player from a relative unknown to being one of “the names.” The difference in legacy for golfers between 0 majors and 1 is huge. Going from 1 to 2 or 2 to 3 puts the player in an even more select group. The value and prestige that winning these titles gives a player makes the beforementioned stakes feel even greater.

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Written by jr.

July 14, 2011 at 7:32 pm

NBA franchise power rankings: #30 – Charlotte Bobcats

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Current primary logo (2008–present)

Image via Wikipedia

To fill some of the time during this long lockout, I’m going to rank the 30 NBA franchises’ positions in the league over the next few months. What I mean by position is this: I personally feel the NBA and essentially all professional sports, works like a ladder. You have your bottom 10 teams who are far away from their goals, you have your middle 10 in a better spot than the bottom ones but in a worse one than the top teams, and you have your top 5 and 10 teams, the teams everyone wants to be. The goal is to move up the ladder. Good decisions, good drafts and development, good signings move you up the ladder past the teams who make bad decisions or just get old. I believe every team has a relative position on the ladder.

Last February I introduced the “Trade Value Power Rankings”, hypothesizing that the simplest way to quick glance a team’s position in the league is to look at the added up trade value of their assets – total trade value covers age of players, salary, injury history, how they interact with teammates, future draft picks, and so on. Superstars and all-stars have the most value, high draft picks have a lot, legitimate starters have good value, borderline starters have a little value, bench players have negligible value and bad contracts have negative value. Young players have more value than old players, but only to an extent – A superstar old player likely still have more value than merely good young player. Good teammates have more value than bad teammates, but likewise to an extent – star headcases usually have more value than squeaky clean bench players.

In this, I list total trade value, but I also take into account managerial history, financial situation, their estimated draft pick next year and my personal feelings on how teams cores are set to fit together. Here’s the first entry:

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Written by jr.

July 12, 2011 at 10:49 pm

How the NBA lockout is like the movie Heat

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Cover of "Heat"

Cover of Heat

So if you’re an NBA fan, you probably know lockout has started. So much for the summer of analytical trade reaction articles on A Substitute for War.

You may not believe this, but the best visual representation for the NBA lockout is the movie Heat. Released in 1995, it was the first Robert De Niro-Al Pacino pairing in a movie.

Here’s why the NBA Lockout is like Heat (spoiler alert by the way):

–  The first 2 hours of Heat has LAPD super cop Vincent Hanna (Pacino) chasing armed robber extraordinare Neil MacCauley (De Niro). At first, the LAPD is distant, still searching for the robbery crew’s identities. MacCauley’s group notices this and feels the “heat”, but continues to evade them. Likewise, the new CBA negotiations have been distant for months, one side chasing another. The heat will grow more and more on both sides in this case, but it will take a while before the action is a threat to start – as it does in Heat, which is a legitimate 3 hours long with a good 2 hours until the cops and robbers start shooting at each other

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Written by jr.

July 11, 2011 at 9:04 pm

Stephen A. Smith somehow does not know what a scab is

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Wow. Y’know, it’s fashionable to talk about how so-called experts are actually idiots, but I tend to have a great deal of respect for most of them. Basketball journalists, while they tend to have problems really understand math, they make up for that with a lot of first hand experience and access.

Stephen A. Smith just revealed himself to be shockingly ignorant. In a column talking about Deron Williams signing with a foreign team, he says this:

Exactly. A union — any union — is supposed to personify that (unity). They’re supposed to exude togetherness as opposed to coming across as a filthy-rich scab looking to do nothing else aside from bloating his bank account.

For anyone who doesn’t know, a scab is someone who crosses picket lines to accept an offer from the management the union protests against. A union’s strength is based on preventing management from successfully running their company, so if management can get people to help them run the company during the work stoppage this is very damaging to the union.

Deron Williams is doing nothing like this. He’s going to go play for a competitor to the NBA. This technically weakens the NBA, and the money Williams earns certainly isn’t going to make him any more likely to cave to NBA demands.

For Smith to get confused on something so basic about labor-management dynamics boggles the mind. Smith has always been a bombastic commentator whose success has been more about style than substance, but this is something I would expect a decent high school student to know. For an ESPN multi-media star to have this confusion is incredibly embarassing.

Written by Matt Johnson

July 9, 2011 at 2:35 pm

Deron Williams flattens the world

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Deron Williams has announced that he’s signed a deal to play for the Turkish club Besiktas should the lockout continue what would have been the NBA season…and I love it.

Now, I don’t know if it’s the best move for Deron personally. He’s up for his new, huge NBA contract in a year, so what if he gets injured?

I also don’t know if it’s best for American basketball fans. Right now, if you want to be considered the best n in the world, you simply have to play in the NBA where us Americans get prime viewing access. Should there be a diaspora of talent overseas, maybe I get to see less of the best players in the world, and maybe when I do see them, it’s against weaker talent than now.

Still I get a real kick out of the move. In a world where “the world is flat” has come to mean a euphemism for regular people losing jobs, Williams has turned that on its head.

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Written by Matt Johnson

July 8, 2011 at 4:51 pm

2010 NBA Draft: Ranked & Re-Drafted

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The off-season is a time to reflect on player development from the previous year. We’re going to go through draft by draft, starting with 2010. We’ll rank the top 10 players based on their career to this point, and then do a re-draft based on the teams that picked and what their needs were. 

First, while we were planning on having a data table to start things off, basketball-reference just did too good of a job of that, so we’ll refer you to their 2010 draft page.

Top 10 Careers of the 2010 Draft

#1. John Wall

MJ: Wall had an admittedly tame rookie season compared to what we’ve been used to in recent years, and compared to the hype associated with him in particular. Were this a question of who in the draft was most valuable to their team this season, Wall would not be my pick because he didn’t exactly nail the role he played. However, being handed a team to lead is a hell of a lot harder than being a role player. There’s really no question in my mind that he did more as team leader than any one else in the draft is capable of right now.
#2. Greg Monroe

JR: By the 2nd half of the 2010-2011 season, Monroe emerged as a standout rookie and one of the Pistons’ best players period. More importantly, he did it at C, a hard position to fill. His best trait may be a high FG%, averaging 55% and between 57-60% the last 4 months of the season. His 18 PER for a rookie suggests all-star production with further improvement.

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Written by Matt Johnson & Julien Rodger

July 5, 2011 at 11:57 pm

Posted in Basketball

Novak Djokovic and the best men’s tennis seasons of all time

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Novak Đoković at 2007 US Open

Image via Wikipedia

Wow. Okay, now that Novak Djokovic has defeated Rafael Nadal for the Wimbledon title it’s no hyperbole to say that a shockwave has torn through the men’s tennis landscape this season and we need to take some time to reflect.

The fact that the stranglehold that Nadal and Roger Federer have had on the game for past 7 years is big news in and of itself. We truly are blessed with a golden generation of talent in men’s tennis. Utterly stunning that someone as good as Andy Murray may never end up winning a major.

And yet, the bigger story here is not that Djokovic has emerged as the best player in the game, but how historic his season has been. Djokovic is now 48-1 for the year. I don’t think it’s possible to overstate how impressive this is. Below is a table of the best seasons in men’s tennis by match record going back to 1973:

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Written by Matt Johnson

July 4, 2011 at 5:23 pm