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Archive for July 2013

A crazy idea to make the MLB more fun and relevant!

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Mike Trout

Mike Trout (Photo credit: Keith Allison)

Of the four major sports – the NFL, NBA, NHL, MLB, I have little doubt about which appeals to me least. Regular season baseball games are long, slow and they mean half as much as the others. It’s just not as fun or compelling.

Here’s a idea I came up with that’s a radical change, but maybe one is needed!

First of all, we can’t change the amount of innings in the game or the amount of games of the season. The former because it’d be far too heavy a sledgehammer to the format and tradition of the game and its fans, not to mention it’d cost too many players their jobs. The amount of games are staying for financial reasons.

Here’s my proposal: Don’t change the length of the season, but change what the games mean. Instead of every game counting for one win or loss, make every 3 or 5 games between teams a “best of” series. So if two teams play 3 times, the team that wins 2, gets the “series win”. And this is what counts in the standings – the amount of series wins vs losses that a team accumulates over the season.

The first immediate problem that comes to mind for this idea, is that a best of three consecutively can’t work, because if a team wins the first two games, the third becomes meaningless. The way to fix it is this. A series doesn’t have to be completed on consecutive days. Say Detroit and Oakland are having a 3 game set. Detroit wins the first 2 games, meaning they add a series win to their record without having to play a third game for it. The 3rd game that week thus, becomes the first game of the next series. Then perhaps Detroit and Oakland aren’t set to play again for another month. When they do, the final one or two games of the series are played, if not the beginning of the next series right after it. This also allows 4 games series to still exist as they do now. In that case the teams would be guaranteed to both complete one series that week, in addition to starting the next one, whether it’s 1 or 2 games played in it.

This still presents a concern that the amount of series two teams play in a year is not set. For every team a series ends 2-0, it starts the next series a game earlier than if it goes to three games. So by the end of the year, the amount of “series” two teams have played is not entirely set and it’s likely teams would have a different total amount of series played in the year, even if playing exactly as many games. However I assume this isn’t a major concern. For one, records could be counted by winning % of series, moreso than the raw W/L of them, making it irrelevant if one team has played more series than another. Secondly, games could be cancelled on the end of a team’s schedule or a make-up game could be added to balance it out, without a huge hassle, I assume.

As for the benefits, it adds a fresh spin to the schedule. Instead of 162 games with diluted value, teams may have 60-70 series a year for whom the winner of each, is very important. Furthermore every 3rd game of a series in a “winner takes it” situation (or 5th, if best of 5s are included), becomes more exciting and important than any regular season on the present schedule. In addition, teams are put into “close-out” or “elimination” game situations in these series even before the ‘winner take all’ game, also adding a layer of intrigue and reason to watch them. That every week would have a varying combination of series beginning games or potentially series-ending ones, would make the schedule and the upcoming games for the team more compelling. Within the games, it also creates the potential for bigger moments for its players. It’s one thing for a player to hit a game-winning hit or walk-off home run, or a reliever to blow a save in regular games, when there’s 162 of them. But a walk-off hit when it wins a series, or a reliever blowing one? That play becomes twice to three times as important and thus, twice to three times as interesting. It also provides a reason for very casual MLB fans like me to watch. Right now I have no incentive to watch any baseball game except my team the Cubs or the Blue Jays because I live in Canada (truthfully, I’m usually hoping for them to lose). However, in this now series system, now I can look at the scores and see that Detroit and Oakland or Cincinatti and Pittsburgh are in the 7th-9th innings of a series deciding game. Aren’t I more likely to turn on that game as a neutral fan of those teams, or to care who wins, or if a player is specifically responsible for that win? And to be honest, I can go weeks without watching a full Cubs game in the dog days of the season like this. But if there were series-deciding games on the schedule, I could pick out 30-50 full games to watch a year – the most important ones. This works for the very casual baseball fans like me.

It’s a big change and unlikely, but I think it’d make Major League Baseball more fun and appealing to me.

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Written by jr.

July 14, 2013 at 9:02 pm

Posted in Baseball

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On Kelly Olynyk’s summer league and upside, gauging athleticism

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Kelly Olynyk was the star of Orlando Summer league. His averages of 19.5 points, 8.0 rebounds. 2.8 assists and 2.3 steals per game in 26.5 minutes is dominant production per minute. More impressive to people was how he did it. Easily. Consistent. With a variety of skill moves. On a different level than his peers.

Naturally summer league statistics are close to meaningless. Just check out the history of players like Jerryd Bayless and Anthony Randolph during it. However, since he’s a hot product at the moment, I thought I’d dive into why I was so high on Olynyk before his draft – ranking him as my 2nd most talented prospect behind Anthony Bennett.

What’s obvious about Kelly is his feel for the game is one of the best in the class and potentially will be one of the best at his position in the NBA. Everything he does is smooth, under control and with layers of craftiness if he needs it. These instincts and superior sense of space were clear in summer league, as they were at Gonzaga.

His shooting skill may actually be a little overstated. Olynyk has been rated by some as a future Mehmet Okur, Ryan Anderson type 3 point shooting big, but he only hit 9 of 30 from the shorter NCAA 3 point line his entire senior season as Gonzaga and 25 for 75 his entire college career. Anthony Bennett took and hit more 3s as a freshman at UNLV than Olynyk did in his three seasons at Gonzaga. In summer league Olynyk went a fairly meek 3 for 13 from 3 point range. With that said, hitting 77.6% of his FTs his final year in college is impressive touch for a big man and it’s clear that Olynyk’s midrange shooting tough is great. Furthermore even hitting any 3s at this stage in summer league is fine, considering many prospects need time and struggle early extending their range from NCAA to NBA. For example, Trey Burke went 1 for 19 from 3, while Kentavious Caldwell-Pope went 7 for 31, in both cases far below their shooting aptitude in college. With that said if I had to venture a guess, it’d be that Olynyk’s shooting career based on his numbers now is more likely to resemble Chris Bosh and Kevin Garnett’s. Both players had an exceptional midrange stroke but didn’t lean on their 3 point shot as a consistent weapon, albeit both did occasionally take them. Bosh attempted 1 3 pointer a game last year for the first time, his career high before that 0.6. Garnett attempted over a 3 a game on two occasions in Minnesota, peaking at 1.4 3PA – but 13 of his 18 seasons he had 0.5 3PA or less.

The most interesting area of debate for Olynyk is his athleticism and general physical talents. The reason Kelly slipped in the draft is that despite gaining obvious attention for his skill and feel, he had been labeled too underwhelming an athlete to be more than a 3rd big. Some said his footspeed was too poor to guard PFs, forcing him to be a stretch center who would potentially be abused in the post defensively.

First of all even in a vacuum, the idea that Olynyk is any sort of weak athlete, just seems false to me. This play alone dispels the myth of Olynyk being a plodding spot up shooting C who can’t move, such as what Ryan Kelly is:

That one play covers a lot of athletic skills. He shows elite transition speed for a 7 footer and even acceleration late. Then of course, he shows impressive leaping and finishing ability for the poster. While one play is one play, a Kelly-like slouch athletically can’t make that play, ever.

However what really impresses me is shown in this video

The whole video serves to show some of Olynyk’s athletic traits, such as his transition speed and leap finishing. However, the section that really stands out to me starts at 1:26, in “Off the Dribble”. On a few plays Olynyk creates plays by facing a defender off the dribble, then driving into the paint, going right by them to score. He does this with what appears to be a very good, long first step for a PF, which is the most important thing for just about any prospect. In the NBA not all athletic traits are created equal. One of the reasons that Kyrie Irving and James Harden were underrated coming out of college – they were labeled as not having perennial all-star upside – is that they were called average athletes despite their skills. One of the reasons for this is that you didn’t see Irving and Harden showcasing their vertical leap and putting down highlight reel dunks. However, both Irving and Harden do have an exceptional first step, allowing them to attack the basket off the dribble. In reality, this first step meant more than standout leaping ability. More leaping ability presumably helps finishing skills at the basket, however Irving and Harden have the size, enough vertical athleticism and skill to finish there not only passably, but an elite level for their position. In reality, their athletic strength of a first step has unlimited value to their games, while their weakness of lacking a high max vertical, doesn’t seem to affect their game at all. My lukewarm position on Andrew Wiggins is built on a similar idea. Where Wiggins is wowing people athletically is that he jumps higher off two feet than just about any NBA player we’ve seen has. However personally I see a decent, but not great first step and ability to attack the basket off the dribble. This has made me presume that Wiggins from an NBA/value perspective, is a good but overrated athlete. It may be true that he’s one of the most athletic HUMANS of his size that has played basketball, in a vacuum – but if it’s not the right combination of athleticism to translate to equally elite NBA value, it won’t matter. Wiggins is an excellent prospect and potential all-star for other reasons (I see Paul George’s feel and athleticism, but in a 6’7 body with a raw jumpshot) but I do not see a generational athlete, for the inverse reasons of why Irving and Harden’s athleticism is so valuable. The opposite of Wiggins is Julius Randle, who may have one of the most explosive first steps and ability to penetrate that the power forward position has seen. I would call Randle the most physically gifted player of his highly ranked 2014 peers and the most likely superstar, although he needs to prove himself on a skill level to cement that.

Like Harden and Irving, Olynyk’s outstanding ballhandling for a 7 footer, helps mask some of that athletic “weakness”, if he has it. That ballhandling is one of the reasons why he looks to have the potential to attack the basket off the dribble. From a slashing perspective, his good athleticism with elite ballhandling, may be as good for as having more clearly explosive athleticism, but average to subpar ballhandling. As for his finishing at the basket, Olynyk has both showed the ability to leap vertically, plus at 7 feet tall he may not need to leap once he gets there. I’m not positive that Olynyk’s ability to slash off the dribble will stand out, but it has the chance to. In addition to his skill and feel, it could make him a tremendous prospect.

Olynyk really has many similarities to Chris Bosh. Bosh has an elite feel for the game and is a strong midrange shooter. Bosh is also skinny like Olynyk and is one of the best ballhandlers for a PF, which along with his elite first step, allows him to attack the basket off the dribble to compliment his shooting game and feel. The main difference between them is I feel Bosh has the superior first step. Where Olynyk could actually make up that difference, is if his 3 point shot developed into a more consistent weapon than it has for Bosh. In that case Kelly could showcase similar talent. Either way, the comparison is favorable to Kelly and it wouldn’t surprise me if we see him in an all-star game, if not multiple ones.

Written by jr.

July 13, 2013 at 12:45 pm

Sam Presti’s real devastating blunder: Ibaka over Harden

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English: Serge Ibaka, basketball player from O...

English: Serge Ibaka, basketball player from Oklahoma City Thunder (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Oklahoma City’s James Harden trade which is now turning into one of the most important in NBA history, has been much derided. Two main criticisms are that they didn’t get enough back in Kevin Martin, Jeremy Lamb and picks, or that they should have just played out the year with Harden to try and win the title, before moving them. I’m not as critical as the former as many because I see Lamb as a future star. The latter is a very valid criticism, the Thunder degraded their title chance in 2013 unnecessarily.

However what I see as the real head scratcher and devastating move for Presti, is the decision to essentially choose Serge Ibaka over James Harden. The team clearly couldn’t keep both on large contracts with Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook with owners who wanted to stay under the luxury tax, but by trading one it would have worked. The Thunder chose to keep Ibaka and trade Harden. In the long run this is the decision that truly matters.

The justification some gave for this, is that Ibaka compliments Durant and Westbrook more. Ibaka is the defensive heart of the team while Harden was an offensive star like Durant and Westbrook. Ibaka is a big while all three of Durant, Westbrook, Harden are perimeter players taking each other’s minutes and shots.

Using this to take Ibaka over Harden was a huge mistake. What really rules the NBA is star talent. And even before his Houston breakout as a franchise player, it was clear Harden was the special, star talent and Ibaka closer to a role player.

The idea that Ibaka was more desirable because he plays defense, is flawed because star talents make it easier to build defensive teams. First of all, with Durant, Westbrook and Harden on the team, the Thunder could fill out the entire rest of the roster with plus defensive players, if not specialists. Last year in the playoffs the offensively significant, defensive sieve Kevin Martin had a featured role and defensively significant, offensive liability Ronnie Brewer wasn’t playing. Having Harden instead of Ibaka allows the Thunder to put Brewers on the teams instead of Martins.

Also relevant is the concept of energy. When playing with Durant, Westbrook and Harden, everyone else would be depended on to expend energy on the defensive end that they didn’t offensively. Arguably one of the reasons that players like Norris Cole, Iman Shumpert, Avery Bradley have struggled shooting the ball so far in their career, is that they’re giving everything they have defensively. For a player like Reggie Jackson, his defensive energy is likely to be different if he’s depended on as the Thunder’s 3rd option next year, than if he had a Cole-like strict defensive specialist role on a team with Harden on it.

The point is that a team with Westbrook, Durant and Harden wouldn’t have had a problem playing defense, whether it’s because they could fill out the roster with defenders, or because those defenders would have energy. Furthermore all three of those stars are physically superior to their position, giving them the opportunity to play better than average defense as they mature, especially with having each other to take off the pressure of carrying an offense from each other. In addition to this, the Thunder also had other defensive role players like Thabo Sefolosha, Nick Collison and Kendrick Perkins. I have little doubt the Thunder would’ve been good enough defensively to contend year in and year out with Durant, Westbrook and Harden.

The other relevant point is that Serge Ibaka isn’t THAT good at defense. He is not Ben Wallace, he is not Kevin Garnett or Tim Duncan on the defensive end. He blocks shots at a great level, but has a disappointing feel for positional rotations and defense that doesn’t show up on the statsheet. I strongly object to Ibaka getting put in the defensive player of the year conversation with other more instincts-friendly players like Marc Gasol, Joakim Noah, Roy Hibbert. I certainly didn’t see Ibaka making a real defensive impact on the game when the Thunder needed it against Memphis this year. Serge Ibaka is a good player, but he is not a great player. What really moves the needle in the NBA is great players.

As for Ibaka playing a big man position being more appealing than three perimeter players, what really matters is how much a player helps a team win, not what position he plays. Harden may not have been able to play as many minutes at SG as Ibaka at PF, but in my opinion, not enough to make up for the difference that Harden is the superior player per minute.

While the hindsight-trades game can get dull, to me the real moment for the Thunder was this. If they had put Ibaka on the trade block on draft night 2012, surely they’d have found suitors. The Sacramento Kings reportedly were shopping the 5th overall pick or upgrades and Ibaka is a perfect fit beside Demarcus Cousins. The Detroit Pistons likewise could’ve paired up Ibaka and Greg Monroe for the 9th pick. The Milwaukee Bucks drafted John Henson 14th, a similar enough prospect to Ibaka that surely they’d have preferred the established version. The natural move for the Thunder was to get a lottery pick for Ibaka and draft a cheap big man in one of Thomas Robinson, Andre Drummond, Meyers Leonard or John Henson to replace him at PF. Some of those picks would’ve worked out better than others it appears, but Oklahoma City have already proven they’re reliable at drafting, why not lean on it again? Not to mention that even if the worst case scenario of drafting a bust, with Durant, Westbrook and Harden, they’d have gotten over it just fine. Trading their 4th best and most talented player in Ibaka for a cheap big man who could do 80-100% of what he does was the move, not trading one of their star talents.

Ultimately Sam Presti has done a lot right with the Thunder, but the decision to take Ibaka over Harden is crippling. Sometimes it’s as simple as “Team up the best players and figure out the rest later”, seemingly taking Ibaka for positional and fit reasons, is missing the forest from the trees.

Written by jr.

July 6, 2013 at 11:53 am