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Archive for March 2013

The sneaky high talent and upside of Eric Maynor

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Eric Maynor

Eric Maynor (Photo credit: Keith Allison)

I like using my talent evaluation system to measure developing players in the NBA, as much as draft prospects. Which available player has the potential to be a steal?

One guy I really like is Eric Maynor. Conventional wisdom says Maynor’s lack of results as a nearly 26 year old backup point guard in his 4th season, makes him a surefire long term backup. But did you know because of only playing 9 Gs his 3rd season and otherwise limited minutes, Maynor has only played 3511 minutes so far, regular season and playoff combined? 2nd year PGs Brandon Knight and Kemba Walker have 4090 and 4070 minutes so far, while Kyrie Irving even with all his injuries, is sitting at 3279. Maynor has the minutes played of most 2nd year lottery picks. I tend to believe 6000-8000 minutes is a good benchmark for when a player hits “he is what he is” range in all likelihood. For example before this season, other 2009 picks Jrue Holiday had 7546 minutes played, while Stephen Curry had 6117 before taking their games to another level. Darren Collison, widely seen as a doppelganger for Maynor’s career, is at 8633 minutes now, 6698 before this season – way more than Maynor. If one connects minutes as the biggest indicator of development, Maynor’s is well within range to make breaking out and taking his game to another level, plausible.

Here is my breakdown of Maynor:

His standout trait for talent, is his feel for the game. Maynor is a tremendously smooth player as if he’s playing on water, always under control and aware of teammates – playing the “game manager” role he’s been known for since VCU. Maynor’s feel for the game is exceptional.

Maynor is a respectable outside shooter, hitting .348 from 3 for his career, at a rate of 1.2 3PM/3.3 3PA per 36 minutes for his career. He shows deep outside range which is an encouraging sign. Because of his great ballhandler, Maynor is also quite strong at creating his own perimeter jumpshot from midrange. He also is a skilled finisher with a great floater. Maynor hasn’t been a dynamic threat shooting from the perimeter and only a .746 from the FT line for his career is middling, so I wouldn’t give him an elite grade here as a skill impact talent, but average to solid seems warranted.

What most would consider his weakness is physical tools and talent. True, he’s not a breathtaking athlete and while having solid height at 6’3, doesn’t have a huge frame. But his first step is solid and more importantly, his elite ballhandling helps him get by opponents and drive into the paint. He has respectable ability to slash and create points attacking the paint.

Here is some videos showing evidence of these talents:

First off, throughout these videos his feel for the game is easy to spot and obvious. He’s smooth, under control, able to adjust and finding teammates well. Now a breakdown of his physical impact and skill impact plays:

At 0:04 he shows the quickness to get in the paint and the skill to score with a floater.

At 0:08 he once again drives into the paint and finds an open man, after the defense rotates.

At 0:41 and 1:15 he scores 3pters, with excellent looking form on his shot and deep range.

At 0:50 he once again shows how he has the speed and ballhandling to slashing, driving past an opponent and drawing a foul

At 0:02, he uses his speed, ballhandling and finishing skill to drive to the paint and score

At 0:23 he uses his ballhandling to cross-over and create a jumpshot off the dribble

At 0:48, 1:10, he once again scores 3s with deep range

At 1:02 he impressively drives into the paint and scores

At 1:36 he shows his speed catching a pass and driving to the rim

Wrapping up, my grades for Maynor are the following:

Maynor’s feel for the game is clearly exceptional, if one of the best in the league. He makes the game look “natural”, at an easy pace and under control. My grade for him in feel for the game talent is 9.

He shows a solid ability to create plays attacking the basket off the dribble, with reasonable speed but great ballhandling. He’s not a top flight athlete and could be stronger, but has enough for my grade for in physical impact talent to be 5 or 6.

His upside may depend on his skill impact. Although not an elite shooter from outside or the line yet, his form is terrific, he has deep range showing confidence in his shot and his ability to create jumpshots off the dribble looks great. I will give Maynor a grade of 5 or 6 in skill impact talent through by the time he’s played 10,000 minutes, it’s not inconceivable he hits a higher level than that.

My overall grade for Maynor is thus 19-21, which is a score worthy of a true “blue chip” PG and a player just below all-star status.

His talent reminds me a lot of Mike Conley, Jr., who has an exceptional feel for the game and enough slashing and perimeter scoring, to be a blue chip and championship caliber PG. I feel Conley, Jr. is more explosive athletically, but Maynor has an even better feel for the game and more upside as a shooter. It will be interesting to see if he lands with the right opportunities to prove himself a starting PG, or whether he’ll toil as a backup for some time longer in a spot with an established franchise PG like Portland. I believe Maynor is one of the more underrated young talents in the game and a team grabbing Maynor for cheap this summer would find considerable upside in it.

Written by jr.

March 17, 2013 at 4:19 pm

Posted in Basketball, NBA Draft

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Good Draft/Bad Draft, High Upside/Low Upside – The strange presence of certainty statements in a sea of assumed uncertainty in the NBA Draft

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Stephen Curry

Stephen Curry (Photo credit: Keith Allison)

Since following the NBA draft, I’ve noticed a strange dichotomy between accepted uncertainty and certainty. By that I mean on one hand, you’ll often hear the draft is a “crapshoot”, or Jerry West’s quote that hitting 50% of the time in the draft is  a huge success. This uncertainty principle serves to let teams off the hook for bad picks under the guise of “Hey, being wrong is just part of the draft, it’s an unscientific process”

Yet at the same time there’s statements spoken with certainty. By that I mean two labels. One is the “good draft/bad draft” label. More times than not, a draft gets called terrible or hopeless and one where teams and fans should expect any stars, or should be happy just to make it out alive with a role player. Every once in a while, there’s a draft widely accepted as a standout, as well.

The other label is “high upside/low upside”, or statements about a player’s ceiling or floor. Players are often separated into groups including “He doesn’t have a high upside, but he’s a safe bet to be a solid contributer”, or “He might be a bust, but the upside he’ll be a star”.

Of course, neither of these labels have a success rate much above West’s 50%, if they do at all. I remember the 2009 draft was called one of the worst of all time and how if teams didn’t get Blake Griffin, they had no other chance at a blue chippers. Years later it’s produced not just a star in Griffin, but an MVP candidate in James Harden and 3 other established star PGs in Stephen Curry, Ty Lawson and Jrue Holiday, as well as other intriguing players like Ricky Rubio, Tyreke Evans, Demar Derozan, Taj Gibson, Jeff Teague, etc. The flipside is 2010, called a great draft because of two surefire stars in John Wall and Evan Turner, along two other draft stars in Derrick Favors and Demarcus Cousins. None of Wall, Turner, or Favors are stars and Cousins, while productive, is a headache. While players like Paul George, Gordon Hayward, Larry Sanders have stood out, unless the top 5 turns it around, 2010 will likely go down as a weak draft.

Likewise, the “high upside/low upside” labels are often proven very wrong. Half the stars in the NBA, weren’t expected to be stars when they entered the NBA. For every Anthony Davis, Derrick Rose, or Blake Griffin, there’s a Kevin Love, Stephen Curry, James Harden, Joakim Noah, Brook Lopez, etc., players who supposedly didn’t have “star upside” at the time of their draft. Not to mention stars picked outside of the lottery entirely such as Tony Parker, Rajon Rondo, Marc Gasol, Lawson, etc. Likewise, there are “safe” prospects who are the biggest busts. Wes Johnson in 2010 was a definitive “No star upside, but safe!” player who busted for Minnesota. Cole Aldrich, Jordan Hill and Turner are also recent examples of “safe” prospects who weren’t – as was Thomas Robinson labeled safe, but now appears to have high bust potential with his early play and Sacramento dumping him.

The reason the NBA isn’t great at evaluating safe and high upside prospects, is they do it based on a few traits. The incredibly athletic, but raw players are called high risk, high upside. Mediocre athletes with a high skill level and feel for the game are called low upside. Players who are good in college are deemed to be safe, while players who are projects in it are deemed to be risks.

Naturally there’s a lot of problems with this approach. As stars like Love, Curry, Marc Gasol, etc. have shown, elite athleticism is not a requirement for stardom, if the player’s skill and feel is high enough. Yet all players who are not athletically dominant in college, especially the white ones, are deemed to have limited upsides. Then there’s the raw athletes, where it’s ignoring that skill and instincts are innate talents, which makes it erroneous to assume their upsides are unlimited. A lot of the “high upside, high risk” players, such as Derrick Favors or Demar Derozan, end up neither – instead being players with flawed skill games, who are physically gifted enough to land in the middle class of the NBA. Finally, the idea that college stars are safe bets is a problem. College is a place where less talented players can dominate, especially if they’re older and physically superior to their peers. A weak talent who plays above his head in college because of age and physical advantages that won’t be there in the NBA, is exactly how a player busts.

 
What’s ironic about the “high upside/high risk” labels in particular, is that they claim the player’s range between how good or how bad his career could be with massive, and thus totally uncertain – But this claim itself is usually spoken with utter certainty.

If the draft as a whole is widely considered uncertain and riddled with misevaluations after years after hindsight – Why are people so convinced when they say a draft is good/bad, or which prospects have the highest ceilings and highest floors? In reality, the history of mistakes in the draft process makes it more logical to say it’s just as uncertain how strong the draft will be, and just as uncertain which players have the high ceilings and high floors. To recognize which drafts are good or which prospects have a high upside, would require effectiveness and efficiency ranking the prospects in that draft – it goes hand in hand. Since we know teams are inefficient evaluating prospects, there’s no way anyone should trust their claims about how strong the draft is or what a prospect’s ceiling is. To claim “This process is a sea of uncertainness, but we KNOW this” is illogical and contradictory.

Written by jr.

March 15, 2013 at 8:41 pm

Posted in Basketball, NBA Draft

Is Brittney Griner an NBA talent?

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With a recent 50 point performance capping off a stellar career at Baylor, Brittney Griner’s profile for a women’s basketball player is as high as we’ve seen for some time. Jonathan Tjarks at RealGM.com wrote an article covering Griner’s dominance and unique talents among peers.

But while Tjarks focuses on her physical tools as what separates her, I believe it’s only a portion of what makes her unique for a women’s player.

What stands out as much to me, is Griner’s feel for the game. She’s smooth, natural and instinctually in the post, driving and turning for jumpshots – as well as anticipates well defensively. Griner’s feel for the game jumps off the screen. I’d argue Griner has world class feel – not just for women’s players, for ALL players – and I’d grade her above average in the category among NBA PFs.

Not only does she dominate with physical tools and feel, but skill. Although her post game wouldn’t translate to the NBA without the ability to hold position, shooting range to the edge of the paint is a valued skill, as well as general touch around the rim and the ability to put the ball on the floor. Locking down a midrange shot would give her a useable weapon in the NBA.

Griner’s great weakness is her strength among women, her physical tools. 6’8 may be huge for a women’s player, but is an undersized PF in the NBA. Albeit her 7’4 wingspan helps make up for that. She’s athletic and mobile for a PF and can play above the rim. Her weakness is her strength and frame, likely to be targeted by the stronger men in the NBA in the post. Furthermore she may be hapless rebounding in the pros. But what’s interesting about Griner is even if a huge disadvantage, for a woman her physical tools are so great that it’s not RIDICULOUS for her to hang physically in the NBA. She’s longer than most of them, she can play above the rim and she has mobility. The strength isn’t there but other than that she isn’t in a different plane physically than say, Tyler Zeller, Matt Bonner, Brian Scalabrine, etc.

In truth, my talent grading system ranks Griner as NBA caliber. Her skill and feel for the game in combination is above average for a 4, which my by system is enough for a player to stick in the NBA even with weak physical tools. Giving her a 7 or 8 in feel for the game, 5 or 6 in skill impact and 1 in physical impact, would put her at 13-15, rotation player caliber (with players above 10-11 typically sticking in the NBA.) Now this system be unreliable in that, Griner may be at such a disadvantage physically to wipe out the other strengths out completely.

 
What I do believe is she’d play on a NCAA Men’s team – in fact, I believe she’d start. In the future can also see her trying out or playing for a Men’s European team, following the lead of Hayley Wickenheiser.

But personally, I’d say she has the talent to be worth a look in summer league or training camp. And I believe Bill Simmons once suggested, if you’re a franchise like the Charlotte Bobcats putting up historically bad seasons and struggling to sell tickets or gain attention, what do you have to lose by inviting Griner to training camp? I certainly wouldn’t count out the chance of the impossible happening with Griner. A female NBA player.

Written by jr.

March 13, 2013 at 4:18 pm

Why I believe Jeremy Lamb will be a superstar

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Jeremy Lamb Dribble

Jeremy Lamb Dribble (Photo credit: American Odyssey)

The James Harden to Houston trade fascinated me, because as I wrote at the time, I felt both Harden and Jeremy Lamb had outright superstar potential. I realize I’ve never written a longer explanation of why I’m so high on Lamb, ranking him neck and neck with Anthony Davis in last year’s draft.

For one, Lamb’s feel for the game isn’t just good or great, it’s incredible. Like one of the best in the league incredible. He’s among the most supernaturally smooth and natural offensive players in years, drawing Tracy McGrady comparisons for just how easy it looks for him.

I see his skill impact upside as nearly unlimited. He has deep range with a jumpshot that simply looks perfect, excelling in college both spot up and off the dribble from 3. In the D League he’s shot an impressive 36% from 3 considering he’s adjusting to a longer line. Scarily, he’s at a 90% clip from the FT line (63 for 70 attempts). FT shooters in the 85 to 90% range if he stays there, are often the league’s elite shooters. Lamb may not be a guarantee to be among the league’s best perimeter skill players and shooters, but his potential in the area is as good as it gets.

Finally, Lamb has considerable upside as a slasher. He has an explosive first step, which when combined with elite ballhandling makes him more than able to get to the basket. He also has excellent size for a wing and amazing length, helping him finish and giving him huge defensive potential.

Adding it all together, Lamb has a terrifying combination of talents. My talent grades for him is 11 in feel for the game, 9 or 10 in skill impact and 8 or 9 in physical impact. That leads to a total of 28-30, when 24 or 25 is enough for me to call a player a perennial all-star talent. Lamb’s score is in the mix with Kevin Durant, James Harden, Kyrie Irving and Anthony Davis among recent Hall of Fame caliber talents.

Furthermore, I’m shocked there isn’t more people that can just “see it” with Lamb. The guy overwhelmingly passes the eye test for a future star wing. Take this clip of a D League game:

 

It’s all there. The shooting, the ballhandling, the ability to get where-ever he wants on the court and of course, the “on a different level” feel and smoothness to his offense. To be blunt, obvious star talent is obvious.

In my mind the only thing that can hold Jeremy Lamb back is himself, as a player flagged for motor inconsistency for years. But Lamb is so talented that even if he has “the T-mac gene”, I expect him to produce well in the category of stardom.

The Thunder getting this guy is scary. I wrote an article earlier today about how the Thunder are sitting on a top 10 point differential of all time and what it means for their title chances – if that’s where they are right now, now imagine adding a shooting guard talent in the realm of an Irving or Davis to that core, a player who happens to fit the team perfectly stylistically with his shooting and floor spacing. The closest comparable may be the Lakers getting to add the 1982 #1 overall pick James Worthy to a squad with Magic Johnson and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar already on it.

Prepare for doom.

Written by jr.

March 12, 2013 at 3:20 am

Do we have the title favorite wrong? Check out Oklahoma City’s historical point differential

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Wizards v/s Thunder 03/14/11

Wizards v/s Thunder 03/14/11 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

With the Miami Heat on an 18 game winning streak and Lebron playing at a historic level, many people are resigning that they’re the easy favorites to repeat for the title. Myself included.

As for the Thunder, I have my doubts because I personally I tend to think their brand of athleticism over skills/fundamentals, is typical of teams that do better in the regular season than playoffs. I’ve been pushing the Spurs as the true favorite in the West.

Then I saw the Thunder’s SRS (point differential, adjusted for competition): +9.5! How impressive is that number? Check out this list of teams above 9 in SRS here

If they finish above 9 in SRS, they’ll be only the 9th team to do it. Currently, their +9.5 would rank 6th all time. Of the 8 teams to finish above 9 before – the 71 Bucks, 72 Bucks, 72 Lakers, 86 Celtics, 92 Bulls, 96 Bulls, 97 Bulls and 08 Celtics, only the 72 Bucks didn’t win the title – because they lost to the 72 Lakers, who had an even higher SRS – someone had to lose. So historically once a team crossed that point differential barrier, they’ve become unbeatable by mere mortal teams.

This is a big deal. While it’s a small sample size and eventually “someone has to lose”, until that historical streak is broken, it’s arguably enough to at least, call the Thunder the favorite.

Written by jr.

March 11, 2013 at 5:39 pm

Is Paul Pierce as talented as Larry Bird?

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, American basketball player for the Boston Ce...

, American basketball player for the Boston Celtics (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I’ve resisted applying my talent grading system to historical players for a few reasons. For one, I consider my system useful to separate talents into tiers, but not evaluate players in the same tier against each other. If a player has a score of 30 in my grading and another a score of 32, that difference is small enough that it played little to no role in their careers, not to mention within the range of subjectivity.

Secondly, ranking players’ talents before my time has its difficulties.

However in my private rankings of players, a player who’s score stands out to me as against conventional wisdom and against my previous opinion of him, is Larry Bird. Bird grades as a superstar talent, but there are around 30 players who’d grade higher than him. Certainly this seems low for a player in everyone’s top 10 players of all time. To be fair, even a top 30 or 40 talent in the NBA is a freaking awesome player. Furthermore talent is not production and it’s reasonable to argue Bird outperformed his raw talent level to become of the top 10 or 15 players of all time.

So why does Bird grade lower than expected? Noteably, in the skill impact and feel for the game categories, Bird cruises to perfect scores of 11. He’s arguably the greatest of all time in both categories, not just for small forwards but for any position. His shooting, shot creation, passing, post skills are otherworldly – and he’s a definitive example of a basketball genius instinctively.

Where Bird slips is his physical impact on the game. In regards to explosiveness and attacking players off the dribble, he is average for the small forward position. Part of the evidence for this Bird usually putting up 5 to 6 free throw attempts a game, mediocre for a high volume scorer. Bird is not a player who overwhelmed players physically, just like Dirk Nowitzki and Steve Nash and post surgery Chris Paul didn’t/don’t have to in modern day. To his credit, one way Bird impacts the game physically is his excellent rebounding numbers for a small forward, albeit I’d give more credit for his rebounding to his instincts and feel than physical tools.

It’s hard for me to justify giving Bird more than a 5 or 6 in physical impact on the game. When added to his skill and feel for the game, his total grade is 27 or 28. This is well past the range I consider a perennial all-star threshold (23-24) and typical for some other superstars, so it’s nothing to sniff at, just not as high as expected.

I find it interesting to compare him to Paul Pierce. Now, conventional wisdom says Larry Bird is on a different plane of talent than Pierce. One is transcendent and the other, very good.

But Pierce rates well against Bird. Like Larry, Pierce’s most noticeable trait is his supernatural feel for the game. He’s one of the first players that come to mind for the term, Pierce has the ultimate “old man’s game” in his natural smoothness, ability to make his game look slower than it is and instincts. Pierce’s skill impact is also one of the best of his generation for a wing player. He’s a terrific 3pt and midrange shooter and shot creator, with an array of post abilities and moves. He’s also a great passer. In regards to skill plays, Pierce can do just about everything he wants. Pierce isn’t at Larry’s level as a perimeter shooter and passer, but he’s not far off. For these categories, I like a grade of 11 in feel for the game for Pierce and 10 in skill impact.

On the other hand, Pierce’s physical impact impresses me more than Bird. Pierce especially in his younger days had deceptively great explosiveness and slashing ability, as evidenced by much greater free throw attempt numbers than Bird, peaking at 8-9 attempts a game. Helping his slashing is that Pierce is such a great ballhandler, that it helped him penetrate and attack even if other players were more athletic. In regards to slashing off the dribble, Pierce isn’t at the level of freakish wings like Lebron James, Dwayne Wade and Tracy McGrady, but he’s above average. I’ll give him a grade of 7 or 8 in the category.

When added together, this gives Pierce a score of 28 or 29. This puts him in the conversation for top 30-35 most talented players in history, which I believe is fair.

All in all, it’s hard for me to see where Bird separates himself in talent from Pierce. He’s the more skilled perimeter player, but Pierce is more talented at slashing and physically imposing himself on the game.

Part of this isn’t so much about Bird, as it is Pierce’s talent being underrated, perhaps. The guy has a fantastic and unique skillset, one of the best pure scorers and most intelligent players in history. One wonders if Pierce had found himself anchoring 60 win teams at the same point Dirk Nowitzki was, if Pierce would’ve also made the leap to widely considered MVP caliber player. I don’t believe in either talent or statistics, the difference between Pierce and a Dirk Nowitzki is significant.

For this reasons, Bird being called “only” as talented as Pierce, is not that large of an insult. Bird is a fantastic talent who’s will, work ethic and confidence helped his maximize his talent level and have one of the best careers ever. But I don’t consider the gap between him and Pierce to be as significant, as others do.

Written by jr.

March 10, 2013 at 3:43 pm

The Curious Case of the Indiana Pacers’ offensive talent vs results

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Pacers Paul George

Pacers Paul George (Photo credit: IsoSports)

With a 38-23 record, the Pacers are in contention for the 2nd seed in the East and on pace for 51 Ws. In judging their talent alone it’s easy to see why. Paul George, David West and Roy Hibbert have all made all-star teams, giving them SF-PF-C rotation that can hang with anyone’s. Add in another respectable starter in George Hill and a few other respectable players like Lance Stephenson and Ian Mahimni and the Pacers have the horses to be a top 3 seed.

What makes the Pacers interesting is how they are exceptional defensively and below average offensively, ranking 1st in DRTG and 20th in ORTG. The latter rank is even an improvement over where they sat before the all-star break. The Pacers are a classic example of a team that expects to suffocate a team defensively, then score just enough points to win.

The reason I find this interesting is it’s clear the Pacers have above average offensive talent. Starting with their star frontline, both West and Hibbert have impressive post skill as well as shooting range, opening the frontcourt for drivers. Then there’s their star of this season George, who’s shooting and spacing at small forward is a valuable asset in any offense. All 3 have exceptional intelligence and feel for the game to go along with their offensive skill, making them great offensive talents. While the Pacers’ guard play is not their strength, Hill and Stephenson can get to the rim and make plays which is all that’s asked of them.

Look at some of the teams ahead of the Pacers in team ORTG: Sacramento, New Orleans, Cleveland, Toronto. These are very flawed offensive teams, lacking in skill, spacing and cohesion/intelligence on that end. All 4 of those teams are also ahead of the the 2nd best defensive team in the league the Memphis Grizzlies, who rank 19th in ORTG despite talented offensive horses like Mike Conley, Jr., Zach Randolph and Marc Gasol.

What’s likely is the value of the Pacers and Grizzlies offensive talent, actually shows up in their DRTG. By playing with better offensive teammates, more energy can be expended on the defensive end. Moreso maybe simply because Frank Vogel and Lionel Hollins will it, the Pacers and Grizzlies are more likely to take plays off offensively, than they do defensively.  This seems especially true of the role players, who’s minutes are constantly on a hook. Presume Vogel and Hollins pull a role player if his defensive effort lapses, while an offensive coach like Mike D’Antoni lets that end determines who stays on the floor. With a different coach the Pacers’ ORTG may be top 10-15 matching their talent, but the cost may be defense. Not to disrespect their defensive talent, as they have as much length and intelligence on that end as anyone.

Finally in regards to the Pacers, even if they’re 20th in the league in ORTG, they still have to score enough points to win every game. Any team on pace for over 50 Ws, still requires a lot of offensive production. George, West, Hibbert and co. deserve credit on that end for the reason that, it could be worse.

Written by jr.

March 8, 2013 at 2:19 pm

Why Dodgeball could be the 5th major sport in North America! (hypothetically)

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English: Photograph of two players participati...

English: Photograph of two players participating in a charity dodgeball event (Lansing Area Credit Unions Coed Dodgeball Tournament) held near Lansing, MI at “The Summit at the Capital Centre”, a regional sports facility. The one dodging the ball is Jacob Murphy from East Lansing, Michigan (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Whether there will be a 5th major sport in North America is certainly something people ask. As sports fans we love the existence of the first 4 (the NFL, NBA, MLB, NHL) that if we like it enough, surely we can fit another. Not to mention on the business side, another sport on their level would be a massive source of revenue for many involved.

Now it’s unlikely a 5th major sport comes. Soccer and the MLS may have the best chance, though with the best players and teams in the world playing in Europe is a barrier.

Let me throw out the name of a sport: Dodgeball. Yes, Dodgeball. That goofy sports you played in gym class. Purely theoretically, here is why I believe if given the push, Dodgeball would have massive “upside” as a TV sport:

A simple goal

Dodgeball at its core is simple and explainable. Two teams are separated by a line throwing balls at each other, hits eliminating the player. Which continues until everyone on one side is eliminated.

A variety of skills and roles

A reason a professional Dodgeball league would be complex is the roles and talents needed to succeed.

Throwing/Hitting – The marquee skill. There would be intricacies in throwing however. Power, accuracy, curving the ball, banking shots if teams play against a wall, as in most leagues and games, underhand throws. Think of it like pitching in baseball, which has a variety of complexities and ways to succeed.

Dodging – The name of the game, reliant on both reaction speed and vision.

Passing – An obvious element in the game. Passing creates unpredictability, which would be important when trying to hit professional dodgers.

Rebounding/Possession – If played against walls, balls thrown against the wall can often roll back to the team that threw them. Thus the team thrown at securing and stopping these balls to gain possession of the balls, is a huge element.

One reasons sports like the NBA and NFL are interesting is different position and roles. This creates players with different combinations of skills and talents and teams with different combinations of strengths and weaknesses. The variety of skills above, taking physical, mental and skill talents would give the pro Dodgeball league and its players nuance and complexity.

Strategy

With the above variety of skills, this creates opportunities for plays and formations. One can imagine offensive first coaches emphasizes their players more aggressively playing towards the middle of the court, increasing their chance of hitting the other team but also making them easier to hit. Likewise defense first teams may do the opposite by holding back.

Furthermore the act of many plays throwing balls at once, opens the opportunity for complex formations and timing making those throws, especially when aided by passing. This would be complimented by formations on the defensive end counteracting this.

Dodgeball would be a strategy and “chess match” friendly game.

Stars

The sport seemingly would favor a hierarchy of stars and players emerging as the stars on their teams, while teammates are “role players”. With visible faces and presumably little to no padding, the sport would have a great opportunity for face-up shots when filming, helping stardom opportunities.

“Clutch” and Comeback narratives

A close game or match (I assume a game, set, match format fits the most, with short-ish “games”) may come down to a few players on each side. This is an ideal “crunchtime” scenario, where a 1 or a few players, decide the fate of their team on their own, the hyper-focus on them. In basketball a player may figuratively win the game himself in the 4th quarter, in Dodgeball in an equivalent situation he’d literally do it – imagine the narrative and media lore behind those games. Furthermore, add this crunchtime scenario to the narrative of comebacks. A team with 1 or 2 players left, may single handily beat a team who has many more players left (say 5-10). This creates both heroes out of the comeback team’s players and huge chokers out of the other side’s. Both are what television sports and talking heads live on.

Statistics

A sport made for statistics. Just on an individual level – Hits per game, hits per throw (efficiency!), average minutes before getting hit, rebounds, assists, crunchtime stats, +/-. Then all that for team stats as well. On a statistical level, due to the parallels of points per game and efficiency vs hits per game and efficiency, plus rebounds and assists, it’s a direct clone of basketball’s statistical opportunities.

Highlights

Aside from the 1 on 1/”crunchtime” highlights, impressive hits (would head shots be the dunks of the sport?), passing plays, acrobat dodges, diving catches, etc. Plenty of opportunities for highlights.
Easy for people to play and learn

An important factor for a sport’s upside in culture, is how much it can be adopted recreationally. Dodgeball is one of the most easily played sports, with only ball(s) as the absolute necessity. It’s already popular to play as a result, but if a pro sport may take on anything in how often it’s played. It’s also a gender-neutral sport.

Dodgeball really has a lot in common with the major sports. It has a simple goal, but the potential for complex strategy and plays. If played at a world class level, it would take athletic tools, polished skills and vision/feel for the game, as well as containing different roles like hitting, dodging, passing, rebounding. It’d work on TV visually, as well as containing the necessary theatre drama for it and then some. Highlights and chances for stardom out of its players would be there, as would statistics. I’d say of the major sports, basketball would be its closest comparison, as many games would come down to individual duels in a team setting, as well as its obvious statistical similarities. Who wouldn’t want another basketball?

Written by jr.

March 5, 2013 at 7:53 pm

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Paths of Glory: How 2013 NBA draftees can become stars

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Andy Katz interview Cody Zeller post-game

Andy Katz interview Cody Zeller post-game (Photo credit: Indiana Public Media)

The label for this NBA Draft is “Unlikely to find a superstar”. While normally I take labels before the draft like this with a grain of salt, in this case I agree that no player in this draft is a surefire star player. But a number are close to it. So much that it’s conceivable they get there, even if it’s likely they don’t.

Here’s my take on the prospects right now. I generally consider a talent grade of around 24-25 as when a player crosses into true stardom, which no player ranks as high as right now:

PF Anthony Bennett

Current talent grades: Physical impact – 7, Skill impact – 7, Feel for the Game – 8, Total: 22 (Blue Chip)

Bennett has the strength and explosiveness to attack the basket and stand out physically and a very strong feel for the game. But what makes him intriguing his skill level for a young PF. Aside from a great outside jumpshot, his combination of touch around the basket and a wide body/low center of gravity, give him considerable post potential. His skill game needs polishing, but Bennett’s path to stardom is if he became not just an impressive skill player for a power forward, but one of the best in the game – doing this by either becoming a demon in the low post in addition to his shooting game, or developing strong 3pt shooting range for a 4. If so I would bump up his skill grade to the point of making him a star.

HYPOTHETICAL STAR BENNETT: Physical impact – 8, Skill impact – 9, Feel for the Game – 8, Total: 25 (Star)

PF/C Cody Zeller

Current talent grades: Physical impact – 6, Skill impact – 7, Feel for the Game – 9, Total: 22 (Blue Chip)

At power forward which is I expect his long term position, Cody has an impressive combination of length and footspeed to attack the basket, if his strength still isn’t great. He reportedly has a better shooting game than he’s shown at Indiana and is a skilled post player, though it remains to be seen whether he’ll hold position well in the pros. But his strength is his tremendous feel for the game and IQ. He is a basketball surgeon in the NCAA on the block, feeling the space and air to pick players apart. His path to stardom is most likely in the skill category, where I’ve ranked him as good, but hypothetically he could become dominant if he bulks up enough to be a great post player and/or becomes a lockdown shooter. He could also be a more impactful player physically than I’ve given him credit for.

HYPOTHETICAL STAR ZELLER: Physical impact – 7, Skill impact – 9, Feel for the Game – 9, Total: 25 (Star)

SG Ben McLemore

Current talent grades: Physical impact – 6, Skill impact – 8, Feel for the Game – 8, Total: 22 (Blue Chip)

McLemore’s perimeter skill game and feel for the game looks to be top notch in the NBA. He’s a sure bet to be a top notch shooter and tremendously smooth. What he needs is slashing, to help him attack the basket off the dribble and physically impose himself, instead of settling for jumpshots. The reason this makes him intriguing is how great of an athlete he is. The speed and size is there to be a high end slashing, but the handling isn’t yet. If he tapped into his physical tools to attack the basket to make his physical impact high instead of decent, the shooting and feel he’d add to that, would grade him as a star.

HYPOTHETICAL STAR MCLEMORE: Physical impact: 8, Skill impact – 9, Feel for the Game – 8, Total: 25 (Star)

C Alex Len

Current talent grades: Physical impact – 7, Skill impact – 8, Feel for the Game – 7, Total: 22 (Blue Chip)

Len has a very promising skill game for a center, with shooting range and the ability to score in the post. True skilled offensive centers are so rare that this is enough for a high grade. He has the athleticism to attack the basket and the length to block shots, giving him physical impact potential and he has decent smoothness and feel. His pathway to stardom would entail either becoming a dominant skill player, perhaps by gaining weight enough to make him stronger in the post – or by becoming a deadlier physical impact player, say by being one of the league’s best shotblockers or attacking the basket more than he has in college.

HYPOTHETICAL STAR LEN: Physical impact – 8, Skill impact – 10, Feel for the Game – 7, Total: 25 (Star)

SF Le’Bryan Nash

Current talent grades: Physical impact – 8, Skill impact – 6, Feel for the Game – 8, Total: 22 (Blue Chip)

Nash has the speed, strength and ballhandling to slash and finish and a very impressive smoothness and feel for the game. What his game depends on in his skill level. His outside shooting has been inconsistent in college, but he has a promising post game thanks to his strength and touch and his shooting form is fine. If he breaks out as a shooter and skill player, the physical talents and feel is there to have serious star ability.

HYPOTHETICAL STAR NASH: Physical impact – 8, Skill impact – 8, Feel for the Game – 8, Total: 24 (Star)

PG Marcus Smart:

Current talent grades: Physical impact – 8, Skill impact – 5, Feel for the Game – 8, Total: 21 (Blue Chip)

SG Victor Oladipo:

Current talent grades: Physical impact – 8, Skill impact – 5, Feel for the Game – 8, Total: 21 (Blue Chip)

I grade Smart and Oladipo together because their outlook is similar. With a dynamic ability to slash and attack the basket, impact the game physically on the defensive end and very strong instincts/feel for the game on both ends, the only thing missing from making them the complete package, is a reliable skill and perimeter scoring game. Both can hit the outside shot, the question is whether they have the potential to be great in that area instead of passable. In the scenario where they became high end shooters for their position, when added to their slashing and feel, they’d be star prospects. Furthermore the grades I gave them in physical impact could end up undercutting them, depending on whether their ballhandling devleops to the point where they’re not just great but elite attacking the basket.

HYPOTHETICAL STAR SMART: Physical impact – 9, Skill impact – 8, Feel for the Game – 8, Total: 25 (Star)

HYPOTHETICAL STAR OLADIPO: Physical impact – 9, Skill impact – 8, Feel for the Game – 8, Total: 25 (Star)

PF CJ Leslie

Current talent grades: Physical impact – 7, Skill impact – 4, Feel for the Game – 9, Total: 21 (Blue Chip)

Leslie is another prospect with a tremendous combination of physical talents thanks to his first step, agility and explosiveness allowing him to attack the basket, plus an elite feel for the game as he picks apart defenses. His outside shooting numbers are weak and he lacks a post game. If he can add the perimeter shooting game to his athleticism and feel, his upside is to be the next Chris Bosh.

HYPOTHETICAL STAR LESLIE: Physical impact – 8, Skill impact – 7, Feel for the Game – 9, Total: 24 (Star)

PG/SG CJ McCollum

Current talent grades: Physical impact – 2, Skill impact – 10, Feel for the Game – 9, Total: 21 (Blue Chip)

Truthfully I nearly left McCollum off this list, because he’s the player I see having the least likely pathway to stardom. His skill and feel for the game is incredible, but he’s not explosive enough to be a dynamic slasher. But if he can become a respectable slasher to mix up his game, his Stephen Curry like mix of amazing and feel, could push him over the edge at PG. Perhaps if he takes his ballhandling to another level.

HYPOTHETICAL STAR MCCOLLUM: Physical impact: 5, Skill impact – 10, Feel for the Game – 9, Total: 24 (Star)

C Rudy Gobert

Current talent grades: Physical impact – 9, Skill impact – 5, Feel for the Game – 6, Total: 20 (Blue Chip)

Gobert has a fantastic combination of physical tools, with great shotblocking length and athleticism attacking the basket. He also has superb touch around the basket and a seemingly decent feel for the game. What he likely needs to be a true star, is his skill game to take a leap up from hyper efficient low volume player, to a guy who can either create in the post or has a perimeter shot.

HYPOTHETICAL STAR GOBERT: Physical impact – 10, Skill impact – 8, Feel for the Game – 6, Total: 24 (Star)

Analysis:

In the case of all these players, the key is development. For McLemore and McCollum that development is in regards to the ballhandling to increase their physical impact, while for Bennett, Zeller, Len, Nash, Smart, Oladipo, Leslie, Gobert, it’s in their skill games and impact, in areas such as shooting and post play, depending on their style.

So gun to my head, if I was asked to “draft” players based strictly on their liklehood of say, making 6 or more all-star teams, how would my order go? I’ll say this:

1. PF/C Cody Zeller
2. PF Anthony Bennett
3. SG Victor Oladipo
4. PG Marcus Smart
5. C Alex Len
6. SF Le’Bryan Nash
7. PF CJ Leslie
8. SG Ben McLemore
9. C Rudy Gobert
10. PG/SG CJ McCollum

That’s right. Cody MF’ing Zeller.

Written by jr.

March 3, 2013 at 9:04 pm

Posted in Basketball, NBA Draft

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Was Dwight Howard’s defense always overrated?

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The Dwight.One of the reasons Dwight Howard hasn’t improved the Lakers as much as expected, is a less than significant defensive impact. The team ranks 19th in DRTG, low for a team with a 3x Defensive Player of the Year. There are a lot of factors that can be blamed for this. Mike D’Antoni’s systems have never been known for defense, the Lakers are filled with slow perimeter players and Howard isn’t healthy. That’s fine.

But I’d like to re-examine how we came to the conclusion Howard is an elite defender. For one, he dominated in the flashiest defensive statistics, blocks per game. But what it really came down to is Orlando’s elite defensive teams and the personnel he played with.  The Magic finished 1st, 3rd, and 3rd in DRTG in Dwight’s DPOY years from 09-11, made more impressive when considering he played with anti-defensive players like Jameer Nelson, JJ Redick, Vince Carter, Hedo Turkoglu, Rashard Lewis and Ryan Anderson during that time. On the surface it looks like Dwight was carrying otherwise terrible defensive teams to top 5 rankings on his own.

This may be true, but contextual factors may have helped. The Magic’s slow pace and reluctance to send anyone to the offensive glass but Howard, may have helped them prevent any transition baskets, as well as gang rebound on the defensive glass instead of trying to leak out to score any fastbreak points. This may be while in 2009 they finished 1st on the defensive glass and 29th in offensive rebounding, in 2010 they finished 1st in defensive rebounding and 25th in offensive rebounding, while in 2011 they finished 1st in defensive rebounding and 15th in offensive rebounding. Such a wide gap between defensive and offensive rebounding performance is likely related to players making an effort to go for the former and not the latter, something halfcourt defensive coaches often employ. Furthermore in general, while the Magic’s supporting cast wasn’t athletic, what they almost all had in common is a high basketball IQ. If one considers IQ and positional awareness to be as important as physical tools when judging defense (personally I think it’s more important, possibly even 70% position and IQ, 30% physical tools), those Magic perimeter players aren’t as defensively inadequate in talent as one would think.

Judging Dwight defensively by his team results is difficult. He might be responsible for those results, he might not be. The results themselves aren’t necessarily proof. So let me throw out my objective way of judging defense. I believe it’s a combination of physical tools and intelligence/feel. While having the speed to rotate hard on opponents and length to disrupt them is important, rotating correctly positionally is also huge. That’s why Kevin Garnett and Tim Duncan are still very effective defensive players after their athleticism has slipped and why a players like Luol Deng and a younger Shane Battier didn’t need amazing speed to be great defenders. Where players get particularly devastating defensively to me, is when they have both dominant physical tools and dominant positional intelligence. The younger Garnett and Duncan exemplified this, as well as other historically great big defenders like David Robinson, Hakeem Olajuwon, Bill Walton, Bill Russell, etc. As for perimeter players, Michael Jordan and Scottie Pippen had both. While in modern day aside from Lebron James and Dwyane Wade, Andre Iguodala and Paul George are two wing defenders I consider to be that complete package defensively of knockout physical tools and feel.

This is the main reason I’m not sold on Dwight Howard defensively. His physical tools and impact for his time were exceptional, no doubt. However his positional IQ and feel is behind the greats. He’s certainly not bad in that category, maybe even above average. But players like Duncan, Garnett, Russell, Robinson, Walton, etc. are geniuses on that end of the floor. Howard positionally is less than flawless. While the defense of his teammates and his health hurts his defense, there have been many plays as a Laker where positionally he found himself in a questionable spot or late. Present Howard is still a level up athletically from present Garnett and Duncan and he’s worse defender than them. Joakim Noah, Tyson Chandler, Roy Hibbert are playing better defense not because they’re physically more imposing than present Howard, but because they’re smarter players. This is something Howard can’t blame his banged up body on. It’s a flaw and I wonder if it extends back farther than people realize. Putting aside the Magic’s defensive results which may be affected by noise, without believing in Dwight’s IQ or feel as elite, I can’t say he passes the sniff test as a historically great defender during his prime. In fact if my estimate of 70% of defense being related to non-physical tools is true, I’m not sure I love more than like Howard as a defender at all.

Written by jr.

March 1, 2013 at 10:45 am

Posted in Basketball

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